Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Shaming Trump Supporters

The New York Times published a series of short essays after the election that sought to explain or complain. I thought this one made several good points. But is it also an example of what right wing pundits would call liberals' reflex reaction to blame ourselves?

It turns out that shaming the supporters of Donald J. Trump is not a good political strategy.
Though job loss and economic stagnation played a role in his victory, so did shame. As the principal investigator on a study of the middle class for the National Institute of Mental Health, I found that working people’s stress is often intensified by shame at their failure to “make it” in what they are taught is a meritocratic American economy.
The right has been very successful at persuading working people that they are vulnerable not because they themselves have failed, but because of the selfishness of some other villain (African-Americans, feminists, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, liberals, progressives; the list keeps growing).
Instead of challenging this ideology of shame, the left has buttressed it by blaming white people as a whole for slavery, genocide of the Native Americans and a host of other sins, as though whiteness itself was something about which people ought to be ashamed. The rage many white working-class people feel in response is rooted in the sense that once again, as has happened to them throughout their lives, they are being misunderstood.
So please understand what is happening here. Many Trump supporters very legitimately feel that it is they who have been facing an unfair reality. The upper 20 percent of income earners, many of them quite liberal and rightly committed to the defense of minorities and immigrants, also believe in the economic meritocracy and their own right to have so much more than those who are less fortunate. So while they may be progressive on issues of discrimination against the obvious victims of racism and sexism, they are blind to their own class privilege and to the hidden injuries of class that are internalized by much of the country as self-blame.
The right’s ability to portray liberals as elitists is further strengthened by the phobia toward religion that prevails in the left. Many religious people are drawn by the teachings of their tradition to humane values and caring about the oppressed. Yet they often find that liberal culture is hostile to religion of any sort, believing it is irrational and filled with hate. People on the left rarely open themselves to the possibility that there could be a spiritual crisis in society that plays a role in the lives of many who feel misunderstood and denigrated by the fancy intellectuals and radical activists.
The left needs to stop ignoring people’s inner pain and fear. The racism, sexism and xenophobia used by Mr. Trump to advance his candidacy does not reveal an inherent malice in the majority of Americans. If the left could abandon all this shaming, it could rebuild its political base by helping Americans see that much of people’s suffering is rooted in the hidden injuries of class and in the spiritual crisis that the global competitive marketplace generates.
Democrats need to become as conscious and articulate about the suffering caused by classism as we are about other forms of suffering. We need to reach out to Trump voters in a spirit of empathy and contrition. Only then can we help working people understand that they do not live in a meritocracy, that their intuition that the system is rigged is correct (but it is not by those whom they had been taught to blame) and that their pain and rage is legitimate.
Michael Lerner, the rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, Calif., is the editor of Tikkun magazine and chairman of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Just So There's No Confusion

Reince Priebus's Christmas message:

Merry Christmas to all! Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King. We hope Americans celebrating Christmas today will enjoy a day of festivities and a renewed closeness with family and friends.

Hat tip to Daniel W. Drezner, who apparently actually reads Reince Priebus's Christmas messages.

UPDATE: The RNC is offended that anyone read Priebus's Christmas message as referring to Trump.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Romney Punked?

What Mitt Romney said about Donald Trump:
Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.
His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.
Yet Romney showed up for a job interview as Trump's Secretary of State.

I guess there's a couple of ways you can look at Romney's wanting to be considered for the job. In one version, he's doing his patriotic duty by trying to insert at least one responsible adult (himself, he imagines) into the Trump Administration. Maybe he could limit the damage.

In the other version, he's a man who doesn't even pay attention to himself: "Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud."

The crazy old uncle at Thanksgiving Day dinner, and a confident of Mr. Trump's, Roger Stone, clues us in on what was going on with the job interview:

“Donald Trump was interviewing Mitt Romney for Secretary of State in order to torture him,” Stone claimed.... "To toy with him. And given the history, that’s completely understandable. Mitt Romney crossed a line. He didn’t just oppose Trump, which is his democratic right, he called him a phony and a fraud. And a con man. And that’s not the kind of man you want as Secretary of State.”

The Cabinet

Here at Sempringham, we're trying to be fair to Rex Tillerson, the current ExxonMobil CEO who appears to be Trump's nominee for Secretary of State.

Steve Coll in the New Yorker says this:
In nominating Tillerson, Trump is handing the State Department to a man who has worked his whole life running a parallel quasi-state, for the benefit of shareholders, fashioning relationships with foreign leaders that may or may not conform to the interests of the United States government. In his career at ExxonMobil, Tillerson has no doubt honed many of the day-to-day skills that a Secretary of State must exercise: absorbing complex political analysis, evaluating foreign leaders, attending ceremonial events, and negotiating with friends and adversaries. Tillerson is a devotee of Abraham Lincoln, so perhaps he has privately harbored the ambition to transform himself into a true statesman, on behalf of all Americans. Yet it is hard to imagine, after four decades at ExxonMobil and a decade leading the corporation, how Tillerson will suddenly develop respect and affection for the American diplomatic service he will now lead, or embrace a vision of America’s place in the world that promotes ideals for their own sake, emphatically privileging national interests over private ones.
 Matthew Yglesias tweets:
After you float Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani honestly any Secretary of State pick ends up looking good.

Phil Rucker at the Washington Post tweets:
Other Tillerson boosters, in addition to Gates & Rice: Stephen Hadley, Jim Baker & Dick Cheney. Full court press planned for confirmation.
It looks like Rick Perry is getting the Department of Energy post. Remember Perry's "Oops!" moment in the 2012 Republican debates? Pundits have been having a great time reminding us that it was the Department of Energy that Perry wanted to abolish, but couldn't think of.

Christopher Hayes at MSNBC wonders:
Is it crazy to think Trump named him to the post just so everyone would re-run his most mortifying moment on TV?

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Secret Anniversaries of the Heart

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows....

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Kicking Off the Holocaust - Part 2

As Yale University Professor Timothy Snyder reminded us in Thursday's post, the Nazis created or waited for crisis situations, then took advantage of them to take drastic actions. The day after the Reichstag fire, nearly all civil liberties were suspended in Germany: freedom of speech, freedom of press, habeas corpus, etc.

Professor Snyder's cautions hit home with me because for more than a year I've been immersed in 1930's Germany. I'm working on a book about Emily's family's escape from Mannheim, Germany, and because of that, parallels between that time and our own come screaming out at me.

It's scary.

The Hauptsynagogue in Mannheim, roofless after being set ablaze on Kristallnacht.

The Holocaust began with Kristallnacht, an orgy of thuggery across Germany in early November 1938.  Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps, Jewish businesses were vandalized and ruined, and 1000 synagogues in Germany and Austria were destroyed. As the elimination of civil liberties was "justified" by the Reichstag fire, the destruction and arrests associated with Kristallnacht were "justified" by the assassination of a German diplomat. Interestingly, the assassination was in revenge for the deportation of immigrants.

I have a section in the book about it:
Most mornings a barber visited the Rosenberger apartment in Mannheim. Opa Freiberg had a standing appointment – not for a trim, but to have his head shaved. Heinrich Freiberg's grandchildren thought he was mostly bald anyway, but he actually had a full head of hair; he just preferred a shaved head. Because it was not safe for the barber to serve Jewish customers in his shop, he came to the Rosenberger apartment, where he would not be observed.

On the morning of November 10, 1938, a Thursday, Emil was lying in bed when the barber arrived. Emil had a cold, and his mother decided it was best to keep him home from school. As he was lying there, he might have been thinking ahead to his bar Mitzvah, planned for later that month.
But on that morning, he heard the barber arrive with a terrifying warning: During the night mobs had burned down the Rosenberger's synagogue, he said, and now the SS were going from door to door, arresting all Jewish men.


Just two weeks before the barber’s warning, 17,000 Polish Jews (called Ostjuden, or Eastern Jews), including many living in Mannheim and attending synagogue there, had been rounded up and expelled from Germany without warning.  The deportation was the culmination of a German/Polish tit-for-tat of legislation and decrees, each government determined to reduce the number of Jews within its borders.

In March 1938 the Polish legislature passed a law, targeted primarily at Jews, which revoked the citizenship of any person who had lived outside the country for 5 or more years without being in touch with the Polish government.  According to Nazi estimates, there were up to 70,000 Polish Jews living within German borders. If the Polish law  applied to them, they would be rendered stateless – with no country that would accept them – and thus permanent residents of Germany. At first, little action was taken by the Poles to implement their law, allowing the Germans to make a move of their own.

On August 22, a German police order announced that all residence permits for foreign nationals would expire by March 31, 1939. Although foreigners could request new residence permits before the end of 1938, the permits would be issued only to those considered “worthy”.  In the Nazi state, no Jew qualified as “worthy”.

The Polish government understood that the result of the German legislation would be the return of tens of thousands of Polish Jews, and moved to quickly cut off that possibility. On October 15 an order was published by the Polish Ministry of the Interior requiring citizens living outside the country to present their passports at a Polish consulate within the next 15 days. If, upon inspection, the provisions of the March legislation concerning 5 years’ absence from the country were found to apply, the presenter’s citizenship would be immediately revoked.

After seeking assurances from the Polish government that Polish Jews resident in Germany would be allowed to return to their native country regardless of the Ministry’s order – and receiving no such assurance – the German government took action. On October 27, Polish Jews were arrested throughout the country – including at least 75 men, women, and children from Mannheim. They were forced to leave all their possessions behind and transported to the border, where they were unceremoniously, and with great resistance from the Poles, deported.

North of Mannheim, in Hanover, a Polish family named Grynszpan was one of those arrested. Sendel Grynszpan and his wife, Rivka, had lived in Hanover for more than 25 years. At the trial of Adolph Eichmann in 1961, Sendel, a tailor, described his family’s deportation:
On [Thursday] October 27, 1938, in the evening, a policeman came to my home and asked us to go to the 11th precinct with our passports. He assured us that we would be returning directly and that it was unnecessary to take our belongings with us. When I arrived at the precinct with my family, we found many people there, seated and standing, and some of them in tears. A police inspector was shouting at them, “Sign this paper. You are expelled.”

… On Friday night they put us in police vans, 20 to a van, and took us to the station. The street was full of people chanting, “The Jews to Palestine!” We were taken to Neu-Bentschen, the last German city before the Polish frontier, arriving at 6:00 a.m., Saturday the 29th.

… At the border we were searched and our money taken from us. They left us with only 10 RM each. German law forbade the export of capital. They said to us, “When you arrived, you only had 10 RM; there’s no reason for you to leave with more than that.”
Arrested and deported with Sendel Grynszpan were his wife, a daughter, Berta, and probably others of the couple’s six children. A son, 17-year-old Herschel, was in Paris for schooling.

Herschel received a note from his sister Berta on Thursday, November 3, describing what was happening to his family. On Friday he pored over lengthy and graphic accounts of the deportations in Paris’s Yiddish press, becoming increasingly agitated. Sunday Herschel purchased a pistol, and on Monday morning, November 7, he appeared at the German embassy, intent upon assassinating the German ambassador to France in revenge for what had been done to his family. Instead, he shot and wounded the first embassy officer to appear, a third secretary named Ernst vom Rath.
Herschel Grynszpan in French custody after shooting Ernst vom Rath.

Vom Rath died on the afternoon of November 8. Reaction from Berlin was swift in coming.  All Jewish periodicals in Germany were ordered to cease publication immediately. On Wednesday, November 9, inflammatory articles in the non-Jewish newspapers quoted Joseph Goebbels as saying, “The German people are entitled to identify the Jews in Germany with this crime.”
 And that night, using the excuse of a murder by a Jewish immigrant, Kristallnacht began.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Kicking Off the Holocaust – Part 1

The Reichstag Fire, 1933. Hitler used it as justification to suspend civil liberties.

To be clear: we are not predicting that America will become a fascist state. But we will not say it couldn't happen, either.

Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale University and a scholar of the Holocaust, is disturbed enough about the President-elect that he offers "twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today."

A number of items on his list are chilling, like:
15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks. 
17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.
19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
 One item, number five, touched on something I've been meaning to write about for months:
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don't fall for it. [My emphasis.]
Professor Snyder mentions the Reichstag fire, but he may just as well have mentioned the assassination in Paris of the German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, the event that Joseph Goebbels seized upon to launch what became known as Kristallnacht, the first pogrom of the Holocaust.

More about that tomorrow.