Sunday, October 28, 2018

Donald Trump on the Pittsburgh Shootings

Guns in a house of worship? That is what Trump wants. He blames the dead for not bringing guns to synagogue. He blames the dead in high schools for not bringing guns to school. Trump has Jewish grandchildren, a Jewish son-in-law, a daughter who at least nominally converted to Judaism. Does he care about them? Does he assume they'll never have a problem because he can always hire bodyguards who carry guns?
He cares more about the NRA than he does about his family. Or about the American family. A mafia don, he's telling us we need protection.
Gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control!
Please, gun control. That must now become our political, religious, moral, philosophic, and patriotic goal. All hands on deck.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Weathering it: American Serial Bombers

"We will get through this," I thought wearily, watching police cars zipping along a Manhattan highway with a bomb container unit. From the Weather Underground to the Unabomber to the Chelsea bomber, Americans have seen too many serial bombers. But the notion of bombing as an heroic act is unfortunately enshrined in our national anthem--the rocket's red glare is just what a crazy person imagines will give proof through the night that our flag is still there. He (it usually is--have there been any female serial bombers?) is lunatic enough to think our omnipresent flag, our flag that can't be avoided on T-shirts, pencils, decals, coffee mugs, aprons, is in danger of disappearing. And that the only thing one can do to protect it is bomb somebody you don't like.
What if America reformed itself the way Germany has? The Germans got rid of Hitler's "über alles," the notion of Germany "above all," and the German national anthem is now all about unity, protecting the fatherland through peaceful brotherhood:

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Für das deutsche Vaterland!
Danach lasst uns alle streben
Brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Sind des Glückes Unterpfand;
 |: Blüh' im Glanze dieses Glückes,
  Blühe, deutsches Vaterland! :| 


Unity and justice and freedom
For the German fatherland!
Towards these let us all strive
Brotherly with heart and hand!
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the foundation of happiness;
 |: Flourish in the radiance of this happiness,
  Flourish, German fatherland! :| 

Like the American national anthem, the German one leaves women out--efforts have been made to put them back in, or at least to speak of "homeland" rather than "fatherland" and "courageous" rather than "brotherly." Change doesn't happen quickly in Germany--possibly happens more slowly here than elsewhere. But you don't see serial bombers sending explosive packages to their least favorite politicians. There's no NRA dominating the economic scene. Violence is unfortunately enshrined in the American national anthem, associated with glory, with a perverse version of "manhood" and with the gory triumphs of violent conquest. How about a makeover in the national anthem department?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

"American History is Immigration" and the Honduras Caravan

In The Uprooted (1951) the historian Oscar Handlin observed, "American history is immigration," a statement that stirred pride and perhaps stemmed racism. The Irish, so abused a century before, had settled into the middle class. Other groups became the new kid on the block. Although the tension between the notion of the "natives," sometimes deeming themselves the "real Americans," and the recent arrivals has never been eliminated, the Trumpesque choices to separate Mexican babies and children from their mothers, to turn back the desperate Honduran group on its way to the U.S. border, and to tell the president of Honduras that all aid will be denied if he allows Hondurans to enter the United States, represents yet another un-American low. Trump has normalized trauma, but the wholesale rejection of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free destroys the ideal on which America was founded. Not to mention his earlier scapegoating remarks. Divide and conquer, divide and conquer, divide and conquer: that is Donald Trump's modus operandi. Can we return to the foundational concept of E. Pluribus Unum, out of many, one, instead of the divisive "In God We Trust?" Our gods are as diverse as our origins, Oscar Handlin might have observed. But out of our many, we can still make one group dedicated to the peaceful betterment of all. And that includes welcoming the the wretched refuse of some other nation's teeming shore. America is rich, and could use its wealth to welcome those who want to work, to belong, to help.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cringing at Kavanaugh

Watching Brett Kavanaugh get sentimental--"My little daughter--she's all of ten (choke!) said we should pray for the woman!"--was sobering. Does he actually believe what he's saying? Or does he feel his past just doesn't work in the conversation right now? Or is it dawning on him that he hopes to protect her from guys like himself? Would anyone be surprised if, when she grows up, she goes for guys who have alcoholic blackouts?
In 1991, when Anita Hill was testifying about her boss, Clarence Thomas, eyeballing her and commenting on her "large breasts," Senator Arlen Spector seemed to think this was "not too bad" and Senator Joe Biden questioned her in jawdroppingly inappropriate ways--the C-SPAN recording of the event may be found on You-Tube but not uploaded, but at approximately one hour and three minutes the harassment of Hill by senators who ought to have known better intensifies. Politico has harvested the worst moments on another video that won't upload.
The difference between the "younger, whiter Clarence Thomas," as Randy Rainbow dubbed Brett Kavanaugh, and the original lies in the degree of violence. Both men kept going when the women whom they assaulted said "no," and "please stop." Thomas's assault remained verbal--urging Hill to watch a video called "Long Dong Silver" when she wouldn't accept his invitation to go out with him. Kavanaugh's drunken physical assault on a terrified Christine Blasey Ford, who thought she would die of asphyxiation, when both were teenagers, may be something he can't remember--but he remembers going out with his friends, partying, and drinking into oblivion.  As many American law professors have noted, a man who responds with the arrogance and belligerence of Kavanaugh on the witness stand is not a man whose judgement is steady enough for the highest court in the land--whether he's guilty of assaulting Ford or not. Asked whether he'd had an alcoholic blackout, Kavanaugh retorted, "Well, have you?" His tears came across to me as "No fair, Mommy." A woman crying like that on the witness stand would have been shredded by her questioners. Somehow, his tears were seen by those in power as humanizing him. And they do--they show our worst side. No one, he has said, is above the law. He may well get away with lying--it looks as though he has done so, and I wish I could be optimistic about efforts to impeach him. But the truth has a way of worming its way to the surface. No matter what he may achieve, no matter how high he climbs, he'll always know how drunk he got and how the booze brought out his worst side. He'll always know from his pals what he did when he was drunk. What affect will his past have on his daughters? The truth will out in their lives, possibly in their choice of future life partners.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Criminal Confirmation

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a symptom. A man of bad character, a liar, one who feels entitled to lie, has just been confirmed to the Supreme Court. He's not the first justice unworthy of the court--we can look back to the Dred Scott decision, the Plessy Vs. Ferguson decision. Lists of bad justices are popping up on the net. But we thought we'd risen above. We have Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We still have her. A man like Kavanaugh, however, makes it impossible to respect one of the most powerful institutions of the land--a defining American institution. Our democracy is in tatters. Is civil war next? We are already engaged in a civil war, divisions growing ever deeper. The answer is to "hold together, try to be nice," as the German satirist Jan Bohmermann sang, prophetically, in his video, "Be Deutsch," reminding Germans who reject immigrants of the dangers of division and racisim:

We Americans have to hold together, try to be nice, too. Even with Kavanaugh in the court. The next step is impeachment, of him, of Trump. Not despair--not screaming through confirmation hearings, either. Just unified, absolute opposition. Kavanaugh is a symptom of who we are becoming--behaving as badly as he behaved during his hearings should not be one of our options. Removing him from office in a quiet, absolute, legal way is the next step.