Category Archives: We The People

What is the American thing to do?

UPDATED BELOW

There is a strongly held belief amongst many Americans that the Constitution (in particular the Second Amendment) not only protects the right of citizens to revolt against their government but in fact encourages them to arm themselves in case of an oppressive government. At the same time, America’s founding document – the Declaration of Independence – sets forth the oppressive conditions upon which a people have a right to revolt and seek independence from an oppressive government. Yet these same Americans NEVER take the side of African Americans when they are regularly abused by police. To the contrary, they take the side of the agents of the government, and deride them both when they protest peacefully as being unpatriotic and then as barbarous and counterproductive when they burn and loot.

The question is: how should an American act when treated with violence by the state that is supposed to protect them?

It is June 2020. Imagine having witnessed the following:

  • One hundred thousand Americans have died due to a pandemic. A disproportionate amount of the victims have been African Americans. While wealthy and suburban White Americans are able to either work from the comfort and safety of their homes or take private transportation to work, many African Americans in places like New York do not have these luxuries. They have to take mass transit and are required to work from the office. The White House refuses to roll out mass testing yet tests all of its personnel on a daily basis to keep the President safe. And just as the White House was pushing factories and working-class people to return to the office with no absolutely no health or legal protections for workers – ignoring its own experts’ warnings – Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar blames African Americans for their high death toll as if it were caused by their own moral failings.
  • Who is looting whom? The billions in Covid aid have gone to the wealthy and their businesses, including those close to the president — with only a couple of trinkets going to the average Joe. The President regularly milks the tax-payer for the costs of trips and events held at his personal businesses and resorts. Meanwhile, the police are constantly looting African Americans. After the Ferguson protests, the DOJ investigated the local police department finding coordinated efforts between the police, prosecutors and judges to shakedown African American citizens to get them to pay fines to make up from shortfalls in tax revenues caused by reducing taxes on the wealthier citizens. Then you have civil forfeiture that allow for police departments to keep any cash they seize during drug raids and stops even if the police do not prevail at court. That is looting.
  • A lynching
  • A white woman playing the race card to threaten a Black man.
  • More police violence and murder
  • Concerted efforts by the president to make it more difficult for African Americans to vote.
  • A president who constantly whines that he is uniquely the victim of law enforcement abuses while constantly accusing other of crimes and threatening them with prosecution from the Central Park Five to Ted Cruz’s father, Hilary, Biden and Morning Joe.
  • After years of calling on the NFL to fire athletes who exercise their First Amendment right of free speech through peaceful protest, President Trump whines about Twitter oppressing his rights by putting a caution label on tweets where the President himself is threatening violence.
  • Small groups of white people – though highly publicized in the press – protest against social distancing and mask-wearing ordinances imposed to protect society. Some of them protest heavily armed, forcing the Michigan legislature to close – a threat of violence for political gain is terrorism by definition. Nevertheless, none of these White protesters were treated with the type of hostility and show of might that are so common whenever African Americans protest.

So now all hell breaks out on the streets of many US cities. At first, I agreed with this impassioned speech by Killer Mike:

Ultimately those who believe they can overthrow oppression with force have no means to stand-up to the militarized police, not even the White Second Amendment Crew decked out in the favorite costumes. Plus, we all know that Trump will spin the protests to only increase tension.

Then I saw this monologue by Trevor Noah of the Daily Show:

And he is absolutely right: when the people do not believe the rules of the game protect them, then they will stop playing by the rules. This is a truth as old as time. So why not loot? Plus, there is an argument that these past days of rioting have achieved more attention than a QB taking a knee or years of peaceful BLM rallies?

I definitely don’t know the answer to how people should act. But I do know that I cannot stomach when the oppressed are told violence is not the answer, especially after their peaceful protests are constantly mocked and when done by those who ALWAYS resort to violence or the threat of violence as the solution to any dissent.

Last night I went on a Facebook rant:

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One thing I find so astonishing about America is this particular group of conservative psychopaths who are obsessed with cosplay/fantasy military fetishism. They dream of playing GI Joe and are convinced the Constitution gives them the right to be terrorists. Well, they don’t call it terrorism. They call it arming themselves against a potentially abusive government. Ironically they are the same people who worship unfettered police power and the militarization of police. What is more representative of big government out of control than a militarized police force that is almost never held accountable or “personally responsible” for their actions? These same role play fanatics get to protest against having to wear masks during an unprecedented pandemic. And how do they protest? By threatening violence, decked out in full fetish military costumes. How does the police react? They do nothing!!!!!!

Then you get a group of people who are protesting against being killed and hunted by the police and lynched in 2020 and the police show up dressed in military gear like they’re about to invade Iraq. Do the conservatives who believe in standing up to oppressive government support them? No! Of course not, they’re too busy having boners watching the police in their sexy military gear.

And there it is folks, I just revealed the dark secret of American culture. The same people who worship violence and the military, who use the threat of violence ALL THE TIME, have the gall to tell others that violence is not the way to protest.

When has Trump not threatened every American or foreign country that has disagreed with him? He either insults, belittles, threatens with incarnation, sanctions or invasion and violence. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

I am against violence. Is anyone else in America? I have been living abroad for 20 years. No one else in the world talks like Americans. No one else throws around the threat of violence like Americans. No one!!!!

You can’t make this shit up. As if to prove my point that Americans – even when denouncing violence, always turn to violence as the solution — President Trump then uses tear gas (a form of violence) to disperse peaceful protestors so he can give a speech. And what is his message? Does he stand arm-and-arm with African American leaders and police forces to march as a symbol of peace? Of course not. He holds a Bible and threatens the citizens of the United States of America with military force if they cannot behave.

Somehow along the way, the President forgot that this all started with the police killing people with impunity. Yet again We the People can only seem to muster up two types of solutions to all our problems: violence or tax cuts. Wait, when White people are killed by other armed White people there is another option: thoughts and prayers.

So what is an American to do? If violence doesn’t work, then why is violence always the answer?

UPDATE June 5, 2020: Who is looting whom?

How is the stock market reacting to having received billions in bailouts will 100,000 Americans have died, we have record unemployment, and a social unrest? Not too shabby. We’re seeing one of the greatest transfers of wealth in modern US history. So how is looting whom?

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Everything Trump Accuses his Rivals of Doing, He Excuses himself of Doing

Hypocrisy from a politician, especially from Trump, should come as no surprise. And now after three years with Trump, we’ve seen that whenever Trump’s poll numbers look real bad or when Trump has almost no excuses for his own incompetence, misdeeds, or misuse of power, Fox News will always run headlines about Obama or Hilary (or accuse his rivals of felonies. This is to remind Republicans that even though Trump may be scum, the reason they support him is because they hate Obama and Hilary.

So with the Covid-19 death toll now exceeding 80,000 with no plan or end insight, Fox News and Trump are – you guessed it — focusing on Obama. But what I find most interesting is how all of Trumps’ defenses to his own misdeeds are a direct contradiction to every allegation he makes against his rivals.

Trump has two defenses:

  1. those who accuse him are partisan, and therefore per se those accusations are illegitimate (unfair, no due process and fake news), and
  2. as his entire legal team argued before the Senate, a president is essentially above the law. A president does not commit a crime or engage in wrongdoing as long as he believes it is in the country’s best interest, and if the president believes it is in his own political best interest then it is per se in the country’s best interest.

So if Trump and Republicans are accusing Obama or Biden (in the case of Ukraine) of having acted improperly shouldn’t we then have to apply #1 above and disregard these accusations as being political motivated and therefore illegitimate? How is there due process and impartiality in leading crowds with “lock her up”? Furthermore, if Obama believed it was in his own political interest to have Flynn investigated (or if Obama and Biden believed it was in the White House’s best interest to have Hunter on the board of Barisma), then according to Trump’s own defense in #2 above, it was 100% kosher.

Next you have the Trumpsters telling us that Americans should be extremely concerned that if the government can spy on Flynn, they could be doing it to you too. I would definitely agree that from Bush to Obama to Trump, the unfettered surveillance of American citizens is appalling. So are Trumpsters now calling Edward Snowden a hero or demanding an end to the Patriot Act or FISA? Of course, not. In fact, Mitch McConnell is expanding the Patriot Act to make it easier to do exactly what Trump is accusing law enforcement of having done to Flynn.

And finally, the epitome of hypocrisy here is Kenneth Starr. Remember Ken Starr? Ken Starr who just a few months ago was part of that entourage of Trump lawyers arguing tooth and nail in the Senate that presidents can do whatever they like. Now Starr suddenly thinks those novel rules would not apply to Obama and just as he previously believed they didn’t apply to Bill Clinton. Ken Star who — together with none other than Brett Kavanaugh — deliberately orchestrated a series of salacious questions about sex acts to entrap Bill Clinton into perjuring himself (knowing it would be a major personal and political embarrassment) because they didn’t have enough evidence to get him on the underlying crimes they were investigating. Now that same Ken Starr is arguing that the FBI improperly entrapped Mike Flynn into perjury, and therefore Flynn’s guilty pleas should be withdrawn, and all charges dropped. Like magic!

Absolutely everything that Trump, his Republican henchmen and Fox News have excused Trump and his entourage of doing, they now accuse their rivals of doing. You cannot make this stuff up !

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Either Trump is an Idiot or He is Convinced You Are

Trump announced yesterday that the U.S. will close its borders to immigrants. That was news to be me because I would have thought that in Trump’s infinite wisdom this was already the case. Most countries in Europe, for example, took those steps in March and have strictly limited not only the entrance into the country but even domestic travel.

Come on! What impact would this announcement have. Hasn’t almost all travel been halted?

But another thing confuses me. We keep hearing from Fox News and the president himself that we should immediately open up the economy and remove restrictions. They say things aren’t so bad after all. So we should open up, then why do we need to keep the borders closed?

Oh, there’s the jobs arguments. If we don’t let in foreigners, then they won’t take the jobs of unemployed Americans. But who is going to work the fields? Who is going to take the jobs that Americans don’t want or aren’t qualified to do? How can you get your economy back on track if your food supply chain is severely hindered by not having field workers or if your companies cannot compete with the best workers? Didn’t Republicans tell us for years that regulating the labor market was bad?

Maybe Covid-19 has finally lifted the veil of the American lie and has George Packer writes, “We Are Living in a Failed State”:

When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

Jared – the expert – has become the poster-boy for the final nail in the American-greatness coffin:

So when his father-in-law became president, Kushner quickly gained power in an administration that raised amateurism, nepotism, and corruption to governing principles. As long as he busied himself with Middle East peace, his feckless meddling didn’t matter to most Americans. But since he became an influential adviser to Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, the result has been mass death.

. . .

To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing. It turns out that scientific experts and other civil servants are not traitorous members of a “deep state”—they’re essential workers, and marginalizing them in favor of ideologues and sycophants is a threat to the nation’s health. It turns out that “nimble” companies can’t prepare for a catastrophe or distribute lifesaving goods—only a competent federal government can do that. It turns out that everything has a cost, and years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflict a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation. Then came the virus and this strange defeat.

You almost wonder whether the president is an idiot. Or maybe he just thinks you are the idiot who is going to buy one of his steaks or a degree from his university.

We need to being screaming “the Emperor is naked” at the top of our lungs or we’ll never survive !

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What’s the Plan, Jerry?

 

Jared F-ing-Krushner, folks. Jared Krushner has addressed the nation. Jared did a bunch of research and, despite his lack of a scientific background or any academic training in how to conduct research, Jared Krushner has pulled it off again. He is now qualified to address the American people on undoubtedly the biggest humanitarian and national security crisis in American history since World War II.

I did a little experiment. I posted a few lines on facebook to see if my two or three (out of 1000) openly Trump supporting friends would bite, knowing full well that it would take a huge leap of intellectual dishonesty and hours of Fox News to come up with a rationalization for (i) why Jared even has a position in the White House, and (ii) more importantly, why Trump’s son-in-law is more qualified than any of the other +300 million Americans to address the nation in a health crisis where hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk, as well as Pax Americana.

Here is what I posted:

Sorry for the political nature of this, but at the time of the biggest crisis facing the world since WWII, why is Jared Kushner addressing the nation? Who the hell is Jared? Besides what he is saying makes absolutely no sense, He clearly has never taken a civics course. We mind as well ask Hunter Biden give press conferences! Please can we let the adults do their jobs and leave the children at home!!

I also recognized that in this press conference, Jared sounded just like I do whenever I have to speak publicly about something I don’t really understand. No beating around the bush: Jared doesn’t understand the science, and he doesn’t understand civics. He seemed to believe there was some Federal territory where the Trump family lived where stuff belonged to them, and then the states where everyone else resided where people had to make do. It was surreal. Maybe in a small family-run business you can get away with play-acting, but this is not Reality TV.

My personal favorite defense of Jared (which I alluded to above) was but Jared did all of this research. Again, I don’t care how much research he has done. Jared has no training in how to do scientific research of this nature. You don’t agree? Then let me ask you a question: if your life was in danger and you needed an urgent medical procedure, would you allow Jared Kushner to perform the operation because he done a lot of research? Why not call Hunter? Maybe he’s free.

Then, of course, there is the fact that absolutely everything the Trump administration has said about Covid-19 since the first reported case has been absolutely wrong. They have had to walk back every statement from soon there will be zero infections to there will be a miracle to it will be over by Easter Sunday. We now know that the US will be one of the worst hit countries hit in the world. Meanwhile, South Korea which reported its first infection at the same time as the US has been incredibly successful at controlling the virus. We have not.

Many leaders around the world have made mistakes, so I am prepared to forgive some of these fatal missteps assuming that our leaders have a plan. So as Jake Tapper just raised “Mr. President, what is your plan?” Shit, I’d like to know.

Or should we wait for Jared-when you meet him you’re going to love him … only the best people-Kushner for the answer? Forget about his inability to fill out a security clearance form or his billion dollar real estate losses. But for his father-in-law being the president, would anyone ever ask Jared for his opinion on anything let alone on how to save hundreds of thousands of live?

Sure, Jared’s no microbiologist or doctor, but he’s read up a lot. He’s not an expert and therefore technically does not have an expert opinion. But as the president’s official son-in-law, we’d like him to address the nation. Can we really trust anyone else?

So Jerry, what’s the plan?

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Remember 911? You haven’t seen nothing yet!

I moved to Spain in September 2000. Almost a year to the day later 911 hit and the world changed. Once I made all the necessary calls to make sure my friends and family were safe, my next thought was that this was going to be really, really bad. I never considered that the terrorist would win but that the U.S. would over-react, ignore its traditional allies and take revenge. That is in fact what the U.S. did. We singlehandedly destroyed Iraq and went on to occupy Afghanistan for 19 years and counting, the longest war in American history against an enemy that likely cannot find the U.S. on a map. None of the terrorists were even from those countries!

And now nineteen years after 911, the U.S. and the world are facing another unique national security and health crisis. Again, I am sitting in Spain watching it all unfold before my eyes. Already the U.S. president is calling Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan virus”. Why is only the U.S. president trying to turn this into an enemy with a name and place? Besides obvious concerns that China will benefit from the outbreak, when American leaders feel threatened outside of their control (and/or it is an election year), their instinct is to fabricate a new enemy, take advantage of the situation and then funnel trillions of dollars to the benefit of special interest groups and government contractors. Covid-19 will surely kill more Americans than at 911 and all the terrorist deaths since 911.  So forget the Patriot Act, enhanced interrogation, or warrantless surveillance (the kind Trump thinks were unfair when applied to his campaign staff). Expect our leaders and their donors’ companies to have a field day! Any criticism of the steps they take will be tantamount to blasphemy. Have you seen this movie before?

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

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If you think the Cure is Worse than the Disease You are either a Psychopath or in Self-Destructive Denial

UPDATE BELOW

Are there really lots of smart people debating whether the economic pain is worse than the cure? I honestly don’t think that anywhere where people are dying in the hundreds per day anyone is having that argument. That argument is murder. Make no mistake.

This is funny coming from people who claim to be Pro Life or who complained that Obama Care would create Death Panels. But precisely what these people are saying is that we should sacrifice potentially tens of thousands of lives (maybe hundreds of thousands) in order to avoid short or mid term economic loss. That is literally the government deciding who lives and who dies.

But before we get there, a little context: I live in Madrid, Spain. In a country with a population of 40 million, as of March 25, 2020, some 3,400 people have died in the past two weeks (more people than died in China). Today alone, 738 people – all human beings like you and me – died. Life over! Yesterday the number was +500, the day before +400, the day before +300. So many people have died in Madrid that there is no place to put the bodies. In fact, they have converted the shopping center literally across the street in front of me – the only place I go these days to buy groceries and to go to the pharmacy – into a make-shift morgue. I kid you not. This isn’t a fucking joke. This isn’t a fat lady that Trump can insult.

A friend’s sister is a nurse here. She says that her hospital sees 4-5 new ICU patients every hour. These are not just grandma and grandpa. They are people of all ages who desperately need respirators. All of the medical staff at her hospital have tested positive, but they work on. They have no other choice. Either they work or even more people die. Again, this is not a fucking joke. This isn’t a fumbling, senile Democratic presidential candidate Trump can make fun of.

Just to give you another quick example, I spoke to two people on the phone today who are positive. They haven’t been tested because hospitals and the authorities don’t have time to waste testing people. They ask you a few questions about your symptoms and make a quick determination. Both of these people are at home, their children are also positive, but the hospitals won’t take them until they are on the verge of respiratory failure. There is just no space in the hospitals. Not enough doctors. This is not a fucking joke. This isn’t CNN you can whine about on Fox News for treating you unfairly.

Sorry, but if your biggest concern is the economy, then you are a psychopath. According to Wikipedia, psychopathology is “a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.”

OK, maybe saying that we should prioritize jobs over the lives of tens – maybe hundreds – of thousands of human beings in Trump and Biden’s age range is rational and not psychopathy. Fine, I will concede that point if those making the argument agree to forgo treatment if they become ill. Any takers? And guess who is infecting all of the elderly? You guessed it: younger people who are asymptomatic or have yet to show symptoms.

So far the best article I have read about the current predicament is the Hammer and Dance. If governments and people take responsibility now – meaning that they engage in extreme social distancing and make some economic sacrifices, in a few months this pandemic will likely be under control. In the meantime, governments should be using what resources and expertise they have to ramp-up medical supplies like protective gear for health care workers, urgently manufacture mechanical respirators, and order tests. After they have taken those measures, then they can engage in aggressive spending initiatives to protect business and individuals affected by the short and mid-term economic impacts of the absolutely dire measures to protect lives. But saying that we should merely accept the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives (which would otherwise be preventable) for short term economic stability and to maintain the comfort of our daily routine is EXTREMIST by definition. It is also delusional.

Imagine what would happen if we did nothing. No quarantines. We let people go to the stores, get on planes, hang out at Mar-a-Lago. What would the economic impact be? Clearly it would be worse than the cure. Not only would more people get sick, more people would need hospitalization and instead of people Trump and Biden’s age dying, people in their 30s and 40s would be dying because the current infrastructure simply cannot manage the increased volumes of patients. The infrastructure can’t manage under quarantine conditions, so it certainly cannot manage without them.  What would happen next? People would start social distancing anyways. People wouldn’t go to the store, to a hotel or get on a plane. It would never be worth the risk! The hospitals would be so overloaded that they would have no bandwidth to manage even the run-of-the-mill medical emergencies you have during normal times, like kidney stones, appendicitis, car accidents, or kids needing stitches. Unless of course you just stop treating anyone with Covid-19 and left them to die on the streets.

Even in places like Hong Kong, South Korea or Singapore where they have engaged in less social distancing, they have imposed very strict testing and control measures, and no one is traveling. No one! I was told today by a colleague in Singapore that anyone entering the country is put in a hotel for quarantine for 14 days, and if you are a non-citizen resident who leaves the country and comes back infected, the national health care system will not cover you. Everyone wears masks to work, and everyone wipes the button on the elevator with alcohol before selecting their floor. Is America ready for that?

So please stop saying that the cure is worse than the disease. It is bull shit propaganda. It is about politicians who are too scared that that an increase in unemployment or a poor economy will ruin their chances at reelection. If they are not sociopaths, then they are in absolute denial – straight from The Plague — that their own lives are at risk. Don’t ask me, walk across the street from where I live. It is full of dead bodies.

If you are not convinced then ask yourself these questions: are you willing to reject a respirator in favor of helping the economy? Would Trump reject a respirator to protect the Dow Jones or his chances at re-election? Would you rather save your job or your parents’ lives?

I can promise you that until it hits your neighborhood – and when it hits, it hits so sudden you never saw it coming — you have no idea what you are up against. This is no joke.

And what is the US government about to do? It will pass the largest stimulus bill in American history. But it will do so without first taking the absolutely necessary measures to protects the lives of its citizens. It will prioritize the livelihood of its economy first. That is by definition … well I don’t need to say it. You already know what it is.

UPDATED March 26, 2020:

Let me explain it another way: Covid-19 presents the moral test of our time. The only way to save lives is for individuals — people like you and me — to make sacrifices to our normal, daily way of life. We need to stay indoors, limit our outings to a bare minimum and to the bare necessities. We need to manage life with our children at home, instead of outsourcing their care to schools. More importantly we must assume that we ourselves are infected but asymptomatic. Therefore, we — each one of us —  are the biggest risk to our fellow human beings and to society. If all you care about is your job or your routine, then you are the one killing your neighbors. This will only be resolved by each individual taking personal responsibility for the situation.

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The Peace at Omaha Beach

 

Last summer on a road trip through the west of France, I decided that as an American I needed to do the obligatory stop at Omaha Beach, the site of the infamous D-Day.

Not a huge World War II buff, I didn’t have many expectations. But, the moment I arrived, crossing the bluff just across the street from the La Sapienere Hotel (a must place to stay) – past the Charles Shay Indian Memorial with an American flag flapping in the wind – I was absolutely moved to behold the absolute peacefulness of the beach before me.

How could so many young people’s lives be shattered – many due to poor planning, poor strategy and poor logistics – on this very beach, one of the most peaceful and rustic beaches I have ever set foot on. In front of us was a local man, a father with his two small children pulling small octopuses and flounders from the surf with his little homemade net. Explain to me how this seemingly empty and pristine beach, full of tiny aquatic life,  was in reality the brutal resting place of +2000 young lives on a single morning 75 years ago. How could a place of such natural beauty, simplicity and calm once have been a theater of death, a turning point in history?

The next day when we walked by the various monuments and plaques commemorating the allied forces, I came across one that listed the National Guard units from my home state of Maryland, and I had to turn away so that my children wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes.

My grandmother’s two brothers – both the sons of immigrants – had been drafted and sent to fight in Europe (though not in Normandy). One was left for dead on a battle field near to where his parents had emigrated from. He eventually survived (never to discuss any of it). Most Americans today do not know that our involvement in the War was controversial. Many Americans, especially on the Right, were against U.S. intervention, and many claimed FDR was a communist for taking us to war and thus benefiting the Russians. I cannot imagine my great uncles or their cousins as having gone to war  enthusiastically to put their lives on the line. We forget that today.

We also forget, as the New York Times mentions, that our current president has been outspoken against those institutions – in particular NATO and the European Union – that have been absolutely fundamental in the unprecedented peace and stability that has been sustained in Europe since World War II and that so many of our young men fought for with their lives for 75 years ago today.

Any of you who know me, know that I am no fan of over-the-top worship of men in uniform or public displays of patriotism. But, please if you have the chance, travel to Normandy. Walk on that pristine beach at Omaha. There is nothing more moving than the peacefulness there today that was achieved by the sacrifices of so many young men 75 years ago. It is the most peaceful place that I have witnessed.

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Is White Southern Culture Compatible with Our Democracy and Values?

What would happen if another religious, ethnic or cultural group voted in large numbers for a racist, xenophobe who was nostalgic for a time of oppression and didn’t believe in science? We would question whether they were compatible with Western values and ready for democracy.

Guess what just happened in Alabama this week? A majority of white men and women of all socio-economic groups voted for just such an extremist and an alleged pedophile at that. Only African American turn-out kept the extremist Moore from going to the United States Senate. Maybe this shouldn’t be so shocking.

In 1965, the Alabama State Troopers beat the shit out of peaceful protesters, marching because in places like Selma with majority African American populations, not a single black person was allowed to vote. Yet today in 2017, the South is riddled with Confederate flag and Confederate general worshipers, both of which represent by their very nature the exact opposite of the American flag and Constitution.

Furthermore,  contrary to the narrative of Trump winning because of “working class” white people, white men and women of all stripes voted in large numbers for a candidate who, besides having a long public record of being a scoundrel and having bragged about sexual assault, ran an openly racist and misogynistic campaign.

So, is White Southern Culture reflective of Western values and compatible with American democracy? Are African Americans the last custodians of our liberal democracy and our only hope?

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The First White President

UPDATE BELOW

The First White President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates is the most provocative and compelling article I have read to date about the phenomena of the Trump presidency. You may not like and it may make you feel uncomfortable, but it should be read. Coates argues that the single, underlying factor that defines Trump’s election is race, plain and simple, and that liberal pundits and politicians who push the “working white class” narrative are either in denial or complicit in the racism.

Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a “piece of ass.” The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy—to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible.

. . . The scope of Trump’s commitment to whiteness is matched only by the depth of popular disbelief in the power of whiteness. We are now being told that support for Trump’s “Muslim ban,” his scapegoating of immigrants, his defenses of police brutality are somehow the natural outgrowth of the cultural and economic gap between Lena Dunham’s America and Jeff Foxworthy’s. The collective verdict holds that the Democratic Party lost its way when it abandoned everyday economic issues like job creation for the softer fare of social justice. The indictment continues: To their neoliberal economics, Democrats and liberals have married a condescending elitist affect that sneers at blue-collar culture and mocks the white man as history’s greatest monster and prime-time television’s biggest doofus. In this rendition, Donald Trump is not the product of white supremacy so much as the product of a backlash against contempt for white working-class people.

Yes, as Coates explains, Trump won every single demographic of white voters, regardless of whether they were working-class:

Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent. Hillary Clinton’s did, in states as disparate as Florida, Utah, Indiana, and Kentucky. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascar dads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant. According to Mother Jones, based on preelection polling data, if you tallied the popular vote of only white America to derive 2016 electoral votes, Trump would have defeated Clinton 389 to 81, with the remaining 68 votes either a toss-up or unknown.

. . . Part of Trump’s dominance among whites resulted from his running as a Republican, the party that has long cultivated white voters. Trump’s share of the white vote was similar to Mitt Romney’s in 2012. But unlike Romney, Trump secured this support by running against his party’s leadership, against accepted campaign orthodoxy, and against all notions of decency. By his sixth month in office, embroiled in scandal after scandal, a Pew Research Center poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater with every single demographic group. Every demographic group, that is, except one: people who identified as white.

Coates is brutal in his criticism of Democratic politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and of liberal pundits like Nicolas Kristof for playing into white identity politics, pushing the disaffected work-class white voter narrative.

My only question to Coates and what I still cannot figure out is why Obama continues to be the most popular political figure in America?

Ultimately, though, Coates’ parting words are indisputable, similar to my own sentiments:

And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon. It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, “If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president.” And in that perverse way, the democratic dreams of Jefferson and Jackson were fulfilled.

UPDATED 8 SEPTEMBER 2017

A colleague I discussed this article with noted that Coates did not focus enough of gender, specifically that Hillary-hatred, in large part due to her gender, was a decisive factor in Trump’s victory. I have read some criticism of Coates in the the past that he focuses almost exclusively on race at the expense of gender. I would argue that Coates’ statements about white supremacy and Trump could be easily extended to white, male supremacy.

Trump ran a shockingly overt misogynistic campaign. He was relentless in his attack of female journalists and politicians who disagreed with him, always focusing on their physical attributes. But what was particularly disturbing, revealing, and utterly offensive was his insistence that Bill Clinton’s extramarital behavior was a sign of Hillary’s shortcomings.  That all of America witnessed this (in combination with his “grab’em” statement) and still a majority of white Americans voted for Trump speaks volumes about gender equality in this country.

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East West Street and MAGA

I recently finished Philippe Sands’ East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” which tells the interwoven stories of the author’s own family origins in Lviv with the lives of the two central legal scholars behind the theories of genocide and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials. Besides being an excellent read and reminder of the horrors in the not so distant past of European and Western culture, this story made me reflect on how MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) relates to America’s past and present, and how I now as a father relate to the Holocaust.

How Great Were We?

When we think about America at its greatest (what Tom Brokaw called the “Greatest Generation”), we think about Americans (including my grandmother’s two brothers, who were the children of immigrants) putting their lives  and resources at risk to save Europe and its minority populations from the Nazi Germany. Any time a European criticizes the U.S. or our policies, we Americans proudly remind them of the beaches of Normandy and our conviction that they owe us eternally for having acted as their savior. Furthermore, our self-image has always been fortified by the contrast between our young men fighting to save the world and the demonic, goose-stepping Nazis.

I certainly won’t deny the bravery of my ancestors and fellow countrymen and women both fighting abroad and working for the war effort at home to make the world a better place. But when we talk about the superiority of American values over say those of the Nazis – now rightly synonymous with evil – I am often reminded of what Jesse Owens had said when asked about Hitler refusing to shake his hand at the 1935 Olympics: that the U.S. president wouldn’t invite him to the White House either. Or that black soldiers returning home from the war in Europe, instead of being treated as heroes were once again assaulted by the Jim Crow South and a G.I. Bill that that  discriminated against them.

What I hadn’t realized (and it shouldn’t be a surprise) was that the U.S. team at the Nuremberg trials was staunchly opposed to prosecuting the Nazi defendants for the crime of genocide for fear that it could open the door to Americans, especially in the South, being tried for their abuse of black and Native Americans. In other words, as heroic as Americans may have been in “saving” other minority groups from tyranny abroad, our government wanted to protect its ability, under International Law, to mistreat and abuse its own citizens and minorities with impunity.

Our greatness was still tainted by our greatest shortcomings.

MAGA and Repeating History

The Nazis did not suddenly come into power one day and on the next day put all of the Jews in concentration camps where they were murdered in mass two days later. No, it was a long, slow process of instilling racist and nativist fear, followed by a series of laws that restricted movement (including entry), employment and association, attire, segregation, all leading to the ghettos, concentration camps and murder. While today in America there has been an increase in open association with white supremacist groups and an increase in open anti-Islamic discourse in private and political life, I don’t believe that the U.S. is on the path to becoming a Nazi state. Yet the similarity with the early days of the anti-Semitic propaganda is uncanny. Ultimately, a large enough chunk of German society bought into the narrative that Jews were dangerous, destructive and incompatible with German values to accept the anti-Semitic laws and then actively participate in or turn a blind eye to one of the most the disturbing massacres in modern human history.

So how easily are we today convinced that Muslims and/or Islam is the problem? How many times have we heard that we should “bomb” or “carpet bomb” an entire region or country? How many times have we heard that their culture is incompatible with our culture? And how many times have politicians and political pundits whether on TV, in print or on the internet advocated for travel bans, bans on immigrants, their attire, language, or religious practices, regardless of the fact that all of these measures violate what we celebrate as our Western values? Glenn Greenwald here gives the perfect example of how everyone was all Je Suis Charlie when Charlie was anti-Muslim but not so much when they were making fun of Texans.

So to make a long story short, the Nazis were not built in a day. Their movement started out with the same type of narrative that we are hearing today from the MAGA folks, one that popular culture has arguably already bought into. And as much as we hail the superiority of the West, the 20th Century’s greatest crimes were perpetrated in the West by a Christian people under the veil of protecting Western values.

As a Father

I have always been very conscious of the Holocaust, not in terms of a mere historical fact that you read in a text book or watch countless movies about, but as a real, concrete horror story that had an ongoing effect on the lives of people around me. As a child visiting my grandparents in the Bronx, I remember being introduced to a woman on the elevator and my grandmother asking her to show me the concentration camp tattoo on her arm. My grandmother wanted me to know what people had gone through. Then a large percentage of the kids that I grew up with had parents who were first generation Jewish Americans whose families had fled from Europe. While no one ever discussed what had happened to their family members who did not make it to America as refugees, the Holocaust was a living, breathing and evident part of their personal experience.

But now as an adult, as a husband and father of three small children, when I read East West Street or think about anything related to the horrors and desperation of trying to protect one’s family (be it from the Holocaust, Slavery, Jim Crow, or a flood in Houston or Bangladesh), I am left speechless, with nothing else to say . . .

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Filed under Friends / Family, Literature, Parenthood, Trump 45, We The People