Trump Is Gutting Our Democracy While We’re Dealing With Coronavirus


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is btn_donateCC_LG.gif
CLICK ABOVE to DONATE

By Noah Bookbinder

Mr. Bookbinder is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, on Capitol Hill last fall.
Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, on Capitol Hill last fall.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

When President Trump announced late on Friday that he would fire the government watchdog who told Congress about the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint, which ultimately led to his impeachment, it touched off one of the most acute threats yet to our democracy. But it didn’t even make the front page of most papers.

That’s understandable. Thousands of Americans are dying every day from the terrifying coronavirus pandemic. People are worried about their own safety and that of their families, as well as about their jobs and livelihood. Questions abound about how the crisis got to this point, whether the Trump administration took appropriate steps to address it and what steps are needed to minimize the devastation going forward; there is little bandwidth for anything else.

But we can’t afford to ignore the anti-democratic steps the president is taking while the American people are appropriately preoccupied with this outbreak. If we don’t respond to these outrageous abuses now, the damage may be done by the time anyone is the wiser.

The worst of the president’s latest round of steps to undermine checks and balances came not just in this time of crisis, but on a Friday night, the classic black hole for sweeping problematic actions in Washington under the rug.

First, the president announced that he would be firing Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community. Mr. Trump said in a required letter to Congress that he no longer had “the fullest confidence” in Atkinson; there was not even an effort to disguise the fact that what caused the president to lose that confidence was Atkinson following the law and allowing the truth to come out about Mr. Trump’s lawless attempt to pressure a foreign power to announce politically helpful investigations. Mr. Atkinson will be fired 30 days after the letter went to Congress, the soonest he can be under law, but the president undercut even that law by putting Mr. Atkinson on immediate administrative leave.

Michael Horowitz, the respected inspector general of the Department of Justice and chairman of a council that coordinates inspectors general, went out on a limb to vouch for Mr. Atkinson, praising his integrity and his handling of the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint. Mr. Horowitz is right, and his affirmation that the inspector general community “will continue to conduct aggressive, independent oversight” is heartening.

But President Trump’s further action makes that claim questionable at best. The president compounded the Atkinson announcement on Friday night with his intention to nominate White House lawyer Brian Miller to be special inspector general for pandemic recovery, a key position for oversight of the just-passed $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, which is ripe for fraud and corruption without aggressive review. The position demands ironclad independence, particularly with the risk that the president’s company, relatives, customers and donors could seek to benefit from the stimulus package. Mr. Miller, who served for nearly 10 years as inspector general at the General Services Administration, but more recently played a role in the White House’s response to the impeachment inquiry, is precisely the wrong person to ensure independence. A former senior Senate staff member praised Miller’s “loyalty to the administration” in explaining why he’ll make a good choice, even though loyalty is the exact opposite of what is needed.

The one-two punch of Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Miller is, unfortunately, just the tip of the iceberg of the president’s dangerous attacks on the independence of inspectors general. Mr. Trump will likely fire additional inspectors general because he and his allies view them as “deep state” operatives who undermine him. Indeed, the president seems to view any independence within the government and certainly any checks on him as intolerable disloyalty; that notion, of course, runs counter to our entire system of checks and balances.

Friday night’s actions came at the end of a week of scary departures from democratic practices. Reporting indicates that more and more power has gone to the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose coronavirus “shadow task force” of government allies and private sector connections may run afoul of federal law. Mr. Kushner is meanwhile also reportedly playing a significant role in the Trump re-election campaign from the White House, which may also violate federal law. Nepotism and disregard for the law have characterized this administration from day one, but the volume and brazenness of these anti-democratic tendencies is increasing.

Indeed, earlier Friday, the government changed its description on a federal website of the strategic national stockpile to correspond to Mr. Kushner’s description of it as being for the benefit of the federal government, not the states. Also last week, the Navy fired a captain who blew the whistle on the scope of a Covid-19 outbreak on his ship, another example of apparent payback for truthtelling, and the president reportedly wants to have his own signature on stimulus checks to Americans, which may also run afoul of law. All of these autocratic steps come on top of the president’s February purges of officials who testified in the impeachment trial and attempts to meddle in the sentencing of friends and allies convicted of crimes.

Here’s why this matters: times of crisis are when democracies are in the gravest danger of crumbling. We are seeing that play out in the world right now. Hungary, which has watched its hard won post-Cold War democratic reforms slipping away for some time, this week saw its Parliament give Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whom Mr. Trump has praised, unlimited authority, effectively turning the country into a dictatorship. Dictators around the world are using the pandemic to tighten their control.

We’re not there yet. But the president’s attempts to rid the government of those who would provide appropriate oversight and accountability for abuses and speak truth to power, to put in place loyalists who will look out for him rather than providing independent checks, and to empower relatives and disregard laws sets us on a dangerous trajectory. Firing inspectors general and replacing them with loyalists is a serious threat to our democracy. The American people must register our outrage; Congress must investigate the firings aggressively and rigorously vet nominees. If we ignore the erosion of checks and balances because we are preoccupied with more immediate concerns, we may find that our democracy — when we need the institutions of this country the most — is disappearing. Just ask Hungary.

We greatly thank you for your on-going generous financial and enthusiastic personal support in appreciation for this site!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is btn_donateCC_LG.gif
CLICK ABOVE to DONATE
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is facebook-logo-images.png
https://www.facebook.com/groups/377012949129789/
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is twitter_dnxmh0vuaaexy0f-large.png
https://twitter.com/ageofblasphemy

TWITTER

How the Vatican Manipulates the American Democratic Process


Catholic_spain1
How the Vatican Manipulates the American Democratic Process

Editor’s note: The following has been adapted from Chapter 4 of our chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s book, American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security (1984). This book is available on Kindle here.

The Abortion Movement

In 1980, Federal Judge John Dooling, United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, declared that the Hyde Amendment, which prevented Medicaid payment for abortion, was unconstitutional. (Copies of Judge Dooling’s 328-page decision in McRae vs. HEW are rare. During a recent conversation with the Brooklyn United States District Court, I was told that their copy had disappeared and, for this reason, they were not in a position to reproduce it.) Judge Dooling had spent a year gathering evidence and studying the anti-abortion movement, and his findings showed that the anti-abortion movement was essentially a Roman Catholic movement with a little non-Catholic window dressing.[8] The amendment, says Dooling bluntly, was a ploy by anti-abortion congressmen frustrated in their attempt to pass a constitutional amendment that would override the Supreme Court’s 1973 pro-abortion decision; its purpose was quite simply to circumvent the Court’s ruling and prevent as many abortions as possible. Dooling, a practicing Catholic, makes short shrift of the anti-abortionists’ pretensions to be a spontaneous grass-roots movement that owes its political victories to sheer moral appeal. He confirms that the right-to-life’s main source of energy, organization, and direction has been the Catholic Church, and he describes in detail how the movement uses one-issue voting to put pressure on legislators, candidates, and the party organizations that nominate them—a tactic that gains influence far out of proportion to its numbers. Please see appendix one for excerpts from Judge Dooling’s decision in McRae vs. HEW.

What is most significant in this extract is Judge Dooling’s finding that the anti-abortion movement’s main source of energy, organization, and direction has been the Catholic Church. The bishops’ Pastoral Plan prompted the creation of the Moral Majority. Richard A. Viguerie, a Catholic, is the man most responsible for the development and success of the New Right, and he will be the first to claim that honor. He was also involved in the original discussions that led to the creation of the Moral Majority and, as its fundraiser, can be credited with its financial success. Paul Weyrich, a Catholic, claims credit for originating the idea for the group and the name itself. In their search for an attractive front man for the organization, they chose Jerry Falwell, who, according to intimates, has an insatiable lust for power—and, thus, Moral Majority, Inc., was born.[9]

It is inconceivable that these Catholic laymen were not responding to the bishops’ Pastoral Plan. Much went into avoiding public disclosure of the role of the Catholic Church in the creation of the Moral Majority. Maxine Negri, in “A Well-Planned Conspiracy,” exposed involvement of the Catholic hierarchy in the Moral Majority.[10] Then, the June 21, 1982, issue of U.S. News and World Report noted:

At the heart of Moral Majority is a direct-mail operation…. Membership claims … put the number of Moral Majority’s active supporters at roughly 4 million Roman Catholics, Protestant fundamentalists, and orthodox Jews. The organization says its “hardcore contributors,” numbered at more than 400,000, include a cadre of 80,000 priests, ministers, and rabbis organized into fifty autonomous chapters.

This claim of autonomy should not be taken seriously. What is described here is exactly the organization described in the Pastoral Plan of Action down to the details.

None of us who has ever worked extensively with fundamentalist churches or lived among fundamentalists ever took the claim that the Moral Majority was a fundamentalist organization seriously. One characteristic common among fundamentalists is a keen sense of individualism, and individualists are often fundamentalists because of this trait. There is self-selection. They strongly resist the “herding” that characterizes other major denominations such as the Catholic Church. It is very difficult to organize two or three local fundamentalist churches to carry out even a local short-term civic activity. Organizing much beyond this is inconceivable. In contrast, the Catholic Church, with its keen sense of organization acquired over a two-thousand-year history, found the “organization” of the fundamentalists a relatively simple task by providing with few exceptions the entire organization infrastructure, including the organization of the fifty autonomous state chapters and the organizations in the 435 congressional districts.

The far more experienced and autocratic Catholic Church found the fundamentalists easy prey. They created “leader” Jerry Falwell and they sought out for other visible positions others who also had an insatiable lust for power. These fundamentalists toe the line of the Catholic Church to maintain their newly acquired visibility and their sense of power. And, of course, the purse strings of the Moral Majority are controlled by those who collect the money—represented by Richard Viguerie. As the old adage goes, “he who controls the purse strings, controls the organization.”

The Family-Planning Movement

There is little doubt that virtually all opposition to the family-planning movement is Roman Catholic. The anti-family-planning movement’s main source of energy, organization, and direction clearly has been the Roman Catholic Church. Most people outside the family-planning field are not aware that this anti-family-planning movement continues to score major victories, such as preventing the U.S. sale of Depo-Provera, the birth-control injectable given every three months, a method which all available data indicate is safer than birth control pills. Depo-Provera is used by tens of millions of women around the world and is now approved by over one hundred countries, including most European countries, WHO, and other prestigious groups. Other victories include successfully laying roadblocks that prevent tens of thousands of women from receiving sterilization operations when they want them, roadblocks which result in thousands of unwanted births yearly. Far more important are the successes of the Church in minimizing U.S. assistance to family-planning efforts in developing countries.

Many of these victories for the Church come under the heading “Administrative Areas” in the bishops’ Pastoral Plan of Action. Two recent examples of Catholic Church activity are the mandatory notification of parents of teens who seek contraceptives at federally funded clinics and the banning of federal funds for family-planning clinics which provide abortion.

The ERA Movement

The Equal Rights Amendment died June 30, 1982. I am certain that its failure was the result of the success of the Catholic hierarchy’s bold efforts to defeat it. As with the anti-abortion movement, the main source of energy, organization, and direction of the anti-ERA movement is the Roman Catholic Church.

In June 1978, I received a Planned Parenthood Washington Memo which contained an article entitled “U.S. Bishops Block Pro-ERA Statement.” In part, it read:

The Roman Catholic hierarchy, in early May, refused to permit issuance of a subcommittee’s statement supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, indicating that the fight against legal abortion takes precedence as its preeminent concern.

The pro-ERA statement was supported by the bishops’ six-member Ad Hoc Committee on Women in the Church and Society, which took pains to separate support for ERA from any connotation of accepting abortion. Furthermore, they sought only to issue the statement in their own behalf and had reportedly consulted with the Family Life section of the bishops’ Department of Education, which apparently approved their conclusions “that the ERA will not threaten the stability of marriage in family life.”

According to a report of the National Catholic News Service, acceptance of the statement had been urged by ninety-four employees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Catholic Conference, but advance disclosures about the issue also generated heavy mail from the “right to life” groups opposing the ERA. The NCCB’s forty-eight-member administrative board, which sets policy for the 345 U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, rejected the pro-ERA document during an early May meeting in Chicago, contending that it could hurt anti-abortion efforts.

It is now apparent that this move by the bishops was a brilliant ploy. The Church not only evaded taking a positive stand on an important social justice issue which threatens its power but it has worked diligently to defeat the ERA by using the very same political action organization used to combat abortion!

In my home state of North Carolina, one of the last hopes of the ERA movement, we saw statewide polls in May 1982 show that two-thirds of our citizens favored the amendment, and, in June 1982, we saw two-thirds of our lawmakers vote to defeat it. Clearly, a vast superior organization killed the ERA in North Carolina, a finely honed and skillful operation, one two thousand years in the making—the same one continuing to fight legalized abortions in our fair state.

Actions Taken by the Church

What actions has the hierarchy taken to counter the abortion, family-planning, and ERA movements?

In 1980, Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, a Canadian Roman Catholic professor of sociology at the University of Montreal, published a book entitled Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control Over Lay Catholic Elites.[11] This is a study of the techniques intensively used by the Vatican in many countries to control Catholic laypersons in Italy over the past one hundred years. In 1875, the Vatican created a system of local parish committees of at least five members each, called Catholic Actions. These committees were created to organize laypersons to assist the Vatican in seizing control of local, state, and national political machinery. Over the years, the Church gained considerable experience in organizing these committees and in ensuring obedience and a very high degree of responsiveness to the chain of command by the committees. These committees and their more recent counterpart, civic committees, are highly effective in mobilizing Vatican efforts. Vaillancourt places the role of the committees in proper perspective by discussing

a famous open letter presented to the Pope in 1968 by dissatisfied Catholics from France and elsewhere. The letter severely criticized the Vatican’s excessive attachment to wealth and power, stressing the idea that Church authorities are too repressive and manipulative:

“The whole Church apparatus is organized for control: the Roman Curia controls the bishops, the bishops the clergy, the clergy controls the laity … and the lay Christians control (what an illusion!) mankind. Hence a multiplication of secretaries, commissions, structures, etc., with their programs and rules…. Underhand influences have suffocated the openness which had manifested itself at the lay conference in Rome, a congress which had very little communication with the bishops who were then meeting in a synod.”

After this attack on the abuses of social and legal power by church authorities, the letter goes on to describe three of the favorite techniques of control used by the Vatican: secrecy (there are secret files even against bishops), spying and informing, and repression (used even against some of the most respected theologians).

Secrecy can be classified as either a legal or a social method of control, depending on whether it is used as an administrative-legal procedure or as a simple social defense mechanism. Spying and informing would clearly be instances of social power, since they entail the use of social processes. Finally, repression, as discussed in the open letter, refers to a mixture of legal, coercive, and even remunerative power. Concretely, it includes the habitual recourse by Church officials to excommunications, censures, condemnations, demotions, and the removal or firing of offenders from their ecclesiastical jobs.

In researching Papal Power, Vaillancourt studied Vatican control over lay Catholic elites for years, spending a large part of his time at the Vatican. To effect this control, Vaillancourt has found that the Vatican exercises eight kinds of power—all of which have been used and have proved effective in opposing social issues in the United States.

ECOLOGICAL POWER, based on the physical control of material environmental conditions. An example of this is the use of territory, buildings, or real estate to control people through the domination of their environment.

REMUNERATIVE POWER, based on material or nonmaterial rewards or compensations. An example of this is the way the Pius XII Foundation uses its funds to support some lay activities and not others.

COERCIVE POWER, based on physical or psychic violence. Examples of this are burning at the stake, torture, imprisonment, banishment, blackmail, removal from office, denouncement.

SOCIAL POWER, based on the use of structural-organizational or psycho-sociological mechanisms such as Catholic Action congresses, peer-group pressures, rumors, co-optation, social ostracism, socialization, use of mass media, nepotism, and selective recruitment. An example of social power is “conditioning.” …

LEGAL POWER, juridically founded, or simply based on bureaucratic and administrative norms, procedures, and maneuvers. An example of this is the rule of secrecy which affects, under the pain of “grievous sin,” the affairs of the Secretariate of the Pope and the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church in their relations with Vatican diplomats and other high-ranking prelates. Another example is censorship, through the nihil obstat and imprimatur.

TRADITIONAL POWER, based on the use of traditional symbols, rituals, ideas, and sentiments. The cementing of loyalty through a mass of torch-lit procession during a congress would be an example of this kind of power. Appeals to practices (for example, speaking Latin) and documents popular or prevalent in previous times are also instances of the use of traditional power.

EXPERT POWER, based on professional, technical, or scientific or purely rational arguments. An example of this is the recourse to commissions of experts in theology or the social sciences to bolster one’s position. Pius XII’s speeches to numerous groups on a multitude of topics was also an effort to control through expert power.

CHARISMATIC POWER, based on exemplary or ethical prophecy. Examples of this are calls for social justice and equality (used extensively in recent years) or the giving away of some of the Church’s possessions for certain causes (for example, a ring in a Brazilian slum). In a less prophetic vein, the replacement of personal charisma of office and the routinization of charisma are other examples of the use of this kind of power.

The Vatican with one hundred years of experience in controlling nations through these lay Catholic organizations, has chosen to export this highly developed mechanism for control of lay Catholics and democratic processes to the United States. In 1975, the Church launched its Pastoral Plan of Action. The “committees” discussed in this plan are the same “committees” discussed by Vaillancourt that are used to control lay Catholics and to serve as political machinery. These “committees” which make up anti-abortion organizations are openly being used by the Vatican to manipulate the American democratic process. This includes the Moral Majority organization, as unsuspecting Protestants lend their support. For those who have figured out that they are being used, the lust for power or attention given them is enough to keep them in the fold.

The Pastoral Plan of Action was supposedly initiated by the Vatican because “the will of God and the law of reason” demanded an unrelenting fight against abortion. However, by 1978, it became apparent that the Vatican had simply seized upon a golden opportunity to mobilize Catholic America into a political party using its “right-to-life committees”—including the Moral Majority. Some observers began to recognize that these very same “committees” were being used to fight the other “enemies” of the Catholic Church: the ERA, family planning, the environmental movement, illegal immigration control, and support for the Global 2000 Report. I am now convinced that abortion was simply an excuse to politically mobilize the American Catholic Church and create, de facto, an American Catholic Political Party. The same techniques and tactics developed and used by the Church one hundred years ago to manipulate local, state, and national governments on other continents are exactly the same techniques and tactics seen in America today!

In 1977, victory for the ERA movement seemed almost certain. Few Americans realize the fantastic amount of organization and mobilization of human resources, funds, and commitment it took on the part of the Vatican to turn apparent victory for the ERA into defeat. Phyllis Schlafly, a Catholic, and the “organization” she headed, got more help from the Vatican and the American bishops than most Americans can possibly imagine. Judge Dooling found the anti-abortionists’ claim that they were a grass-roots movement to be spurious; the belief that the anti-ERA forces are also a grass-roots movement is ridiculous.

As serious observers study the opposition to the family-planning movement, the environmental movement, illegal immigration control, and the Global 2000 Report, they recognize just how sophisticated the opposition is—the amount of energy, organization, and direction each has—and that the opposition is all the same people, the same committees.

Conclusion

This is not an abstract theory. Such organization has been effective in Italy and other countries and was described by Vaillancourt before it got underway in earnest in the United States. Until those of us who are concerned about these social justice issues are willing to confront the Catholic hierarchy, there will be no significant advances in these areas of social justice. So long as the Church can act “undercover,” it will continue to be effective in thwarting significant advances. Our willingness to permit the Church to act in secrecy in America vastly enhances its power. It is absolutely essential that our silence be shattered. If not, then no matter which of these causes is “our cause” it’s a lost cause. Just as important, the strength of a threatening Vatican-controlled political party in America will continue to grow. American Catholics who are seriously concerned about social justice must take the pope and the Vatican at their word when they say that they do not intend to change their course. Catholics must be aware that the pope and the Vatican are choosing their social justice issues very selectively. In the 1970s, Cardinal Leo Suenens proposed that the position of pope and the Vatican, as we know it, be eliminated and that four “mini-pope” positions be created; this is consistent with Catholic teachings. He insisted that this is feasible. Perhaps it is time for socially responsible American Catholics to break the American Church away from the control of the Vatican. Otherwise, they as individuals stand to be accused of the same hypocrisy practiced by their Church hierarchy.


[8] D. J. Dooling, decision in McRae vs. HEW, New York: U.S. District Court. See, Appendix 1 for a more complete extract from Judge Dooling’s decision.

[9] P. D. Young, “Richard A. Viguerie: The New Right’s Secret Power Broker,” Penthouse (December 1982), p. 146.

[10] Maxine Negri, “A Well-Planned Conspiracy,” The Humanist (May/June 1982), 42:3:40.

[11] Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control Over Lay Catholic Elites (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

Dr. Stephen Mumford is the founder and President of the North Carolina-based Center for Research on Population and Security. He has his doctorate in Public Health. His principal research interest has been the relationship between world population growth and national and global security. He has been called to provide expert testimony before the U.S. Congress on the implications of world population growth.

Dr. Mumford has decades of international experience in fertility research where he is widely published, and has addressed conferences worldwide on new contraceptive technologies and the stresses to the security of families, societies and nations that are created by continued uncontrolled population growth. Using church policy documents and writings of the Vatican elite, he has introduced research showing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church as the principal power behind efforts to block the availability of contraceptive services worldwide.

In addition to his books on biomedical and social aspects of family planning, as well as scientific articles in more than a score of journals, Dr. Mumford’s major works include: The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1996); The Pope and the New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1986); and American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security (Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1984).

Professor Milton Siegel, who for 24 years was the Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaks to Dr. Mumford in 1992 to reveal that although there was a consensus that overpopulation was a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future, the Vatican successfully fought off the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

The Fascist Vatican

Empire – The Vatican: A Wholly Roman Empire?

 

 

 

Be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook