Esau and Jacob

Tol’dot: Jacob and Esau Genesis 25:19 – 28:9


Howard Adelman

Yesterday, I distributed a movie review of Hell or High Water. Two central figures in the movie were brothers, Toby and Tanner. Toby was the younger one, very reserved, very repressed, with an enormous sense of responsibility for the future and, yet, a loser. Tanner was the older brother, a wild one, an excellent marksman and a high risk instigator of trouble. Jacob and Esau are not identical to Toby and Tanner, but there are enough similarities in character that analyzing both the bond and the tension between Jacob and Esau against the backdrop of Toby and Tanner can be revealing.

Quite aside from the particular character and connections of the two sets of brothers, there are some constants that characterize the character of older brothers and their younger siblings. In The Right Stuff (Thomas Wolfe) and in the movie of the same name, fighter pilots are characterized as confident, assertive, competitive, brash and flamboyant. And two-thirds of those who fly fighter planes are firstborns (during the second world war virtually all fighter pilots were firstborns or only children), greatly disproportionate to the number of firstborns in the population. Further, most pilots (a minority of the total), who are neither firstborns nor only children, are far less driven and competitive than the firstborn or only child pilots. Some of those non-firstborns are decidedly cautious and far less enamoured with the romance of flying.

More loose generalizations can be found. In general, firstborns are not the ones you find buried in books in a library though the two classes of males are equal in general cognitive ability. Though firstborns may have to study, most really must be active. And they are always striving to surpass themselves. They are restless. They are ill content with who they happen to be at any time. They are assertive. But they also have difficulty in emotionally connecting. What they want and seek is excitement rather than introverted self-critical analysis. They have a great sense of space, but a weak ability to formulate what they see as pictures or to grasp an overall picture. They identify areas through map coordinates rather than by way of images. Generally, they are brilliant at immediate spatial data coordination.

Firstborns must win. They are quarterbacks and political leaders (most U.S. presidents). More CEOs are firstborns. They are perfectionists and driven. They prefer the dominant position. In terms of goals, firstborns generally prefer to set their own goals; later-borns are more prone to accept goals set by others. But perhaps the biggest difference is in romantic attachments. Firstborns have a much higher propensity to separate and divorce their romantic partners while second born males, particularly middle-borns, tend to have much more stable relationships. The differences extend into studies of homosexuality. Simplified, the later your birth order, the higher the propensity to homosexuality.

Now, I am not going to speculate here about the cause, whether these differences result because the firstborn paved the way through the birth canal. It may or may not be the case that, as a result, firstborns have the highest neonatal mortality rate, the smallest mean birth weight, inflict a longer period of labor on their mothers (hence, mothers possibly love later-born sons more than firstborns), experience greater head compression or more frequently suffer from permanent neural damage because of hypoxia during delivery. On the other hand, there are studies that show that the perceived rather than actual birth order (PBO) is the significant variable. The latter claim may or may not be true.

However, I am not concerned with the biological explanation, the nature versus nurture issue – though the Torah clearly seems to favour the explanation that the differences are rooted in nature. I am concerned with the social and psychological consequences of male birth order. I am more concerned with noting that, in spite of any possible extra trauma of a firstborn in birth, contrary to expectations, firstborns exhibit better perceptual motor skill in coordinating targets at a distance, with pulling a trigger of a rifle and downing a duck. Firstborns, in general, also make better surgeons or, at least, are more likely to become surgeons than internists. In the extreme, there is a correlation between increased rates of autism, attention deficit disorder and dyslexia in firstborns (hypothetically explained by some to result from maternal immune responses and the release of androgen).

In science, there is even a tool for measuring these differences. The Frostig Development Test of Visual Perception measures the differences between firstborns and later-borns. On that test, later-borns perform significantly better, but only on specific subsets of these measurement criteria – perceptual constancy and intelligence related to global perceptual performance. To put it more graphically, firstborns are better hunters of moving targets, whether these be tigers or enemy fighter planes, while later-borns can keep their “eyes” on a specific fixed target over time. Further, later-borns identify objects within a global reference field as distinct from a finite visual field. In sum, later-borns have a higher abstract intelligence quotient. On the other hand, it should come as no surprise that firstborns have brain neurons that make the strongest axon projections to remote physical targets.

There is one other bit of scientific data I want to put on the table – the distance in time between the birth of a first born male and a later-born male sibling. In studies of sibling dyads, the more widely spaced the birth, the greater and broader the later-born experiences his intellectual and social environment. In contrast, the firstborn is better attuned to what used to be called his “instincts.” The fact that Esau and Jacob were twins, but Jacob was born immediately after Esau (biting his heels as it were) might indicate that the two boys had similar experiences. Or it might suggest that order of birth is even more important than the birth experience itself. Alternatively, it could mean that each one copes with similar experiences in very different ways. The Torah text suggests the order of birth combined with the very close timing of birth leads to the most radical differences.

However, it seems the birth order is most important as indicated in the dramatic differences in the behaviour of Toby and Tanner in the movie Hell or High Water. It is clearly the case when comparing Esau with Jacob who are fraternal twins. However, I do not want to use these differences as scientific diagnostic tools to explain the radically antithetical characters of Esau and Jacob. I am not interested in going on a scientific expedition to test the validity of the claim, for example, that these differences result from the way daughter cells in the developing infant produce particular transmission factors at the time of birth to embody memories that maintain differences based on both the time of birth and the experience of that birth. Rather, I want to use these supposedly scientific differences as a series of metaphors to highlight the characters of Esau and Jacob to help understand and grasp the significance of their relationship.

Tol’dot is about the generations of Isaac. The parshat begins with Rebekah giving birth to fraternal twins, Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25: 19-26) after 20 years of being barren. It was clearly a painful pregnancy blamed on a struggle between the fraternal twins in the womb. Set aside for the moment the prophecy that the descendants of the younger son will become more preeminent than the children of the elder fraternal twin and “the elder will serve the younger.” (25:23) The two were dramatically different in both appearance and behaviour. Esau, who emerged first, was ruddy and covered with hair. Jacob is not really described except to say that he emerged with his hand holding Esau’s heel. Esau grew up as a hunter and man of the field. Jacob grew up as a quiet homebody but one with a cunning and determined personality. Esau will give rise to the Edomites. Jacob will give rise to the Israelites.

Further, the two parents had different favourites. Isaac preferred the more manly alpha male, Esau, while Rebekah favoured her quieter, more domestic and more self-reflective child, Jacob. (25:8) What is the nature of the first significant encounter when they have grown up? Jacob is cooking and Esau comes home from being out in the field and is starving. Jacob offers to feed Esau, but only if Esau trades his birthright. So Esau, in order to eat, agrees to sell his birthright. What does this text mean when it records that “Esau despised his birthright”? (25:34)

Is this assessment self-serving? Judaism as a religion seems to favour the traits associated with later-borns over those characteristic of firstborns and only male children. It is clear that the rabbinical commentators also favoured Jacob over Esau. Rashi described Rome, and its successor, the Holy Roman Empire of Christianity, as the children of the brutality of Esau. Esau was seen as hateful and wicked. But it is Jacob that tricked Esau out of his birthright for a mess of pottage. Esau is straightforward, driven by his appetites. Jacob is the trickster with his eye on the long game rather than immediate sensual satisfaction.

So the question I pose is why is there such a clear favouritism in Judaism? Why do the choices of the mothers matter far more than those of the father? Why in social and collective life are the traits of the second-born or middle male child favoured? Why are values given priority that stress negotiations over fighting it out, peacemaking and mediation skills over the traits characteristic of a heroic warrior? Why do Jews seem to esteem what is misleadingly said to be brains over brawn?

If we take the story of Esau and Jacob as paradigmatic of a value scale of social mores, the construct of the Jew as the archetypal sabra seems to run contrary to the historical value set. Further, in spite of strenuous efforts over several generations to remake Jews as a warrior nation, they are not. They are not conquerors. The territorial goals are very boundaried, even for the right. On the other side, the products of intellectual work and of scientific research seem to garner the greatest accolades. What does this say about the social dynamics within Jewish families and about the nation as a whole? Or is all of this just an exemplar of an abuse of science and a false and misleading extrapolation? But even if the natural basis for such claims may be problematic, this evaluation bias, if there proves to be one in the text, might indicate how the people of the book survived as a community of social practices.

It also suggests a predestined relationship to the two nations that emerge from Rebekah’s womb. Or does it, for oracles are always equivocal? The text reads:

וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ
וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר: One people shall be mightier than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.

But the text may also be translated as the younger will work for the elder. There are four logical possibilities. The older may be mightier. The nation derived from the younger may be mightier. Each of these two variations has two alternatives with respect to the relationship. The younger may serve the elder. Or the elder may serve the younger.

I suggest the text and the story means that the progeny of Esau will be mightier than that of Jacob. If so, which nation will emerge as having the dominant value system? If one takes the former rivalry between Ishmael as the elder half-brother and his younger brother, Isaac as a case in point, Sarah secures the inheritance for Isaac by sending Ishmael and his mother off into the wilderness. In this story, it is Jacob who hits the road and, even when he returns, avoids a full reconciliation with his brother and moves on.

The more telling point, however, is not the two different paths the different pairs of children take, but the role the mothers play in the determination. Further, in the Jacob-Esau story, Jacob not only engages in tough bargaining, but uses trickery to deceive his father that he is really the first born. And even Rashi will endorse this trickery by insisting that the Midrash that says that Jacob was really the first born is the correct one. Jacob was not really a trickster but was merely claiming what was his by right of being the real first born. He may have been born on the heels of his brother but was conceived first. Very clever, but also a totally unconvincing apologetic for Jacob’s trickery!

יעקב נוצר מטיפה ראשונה ועשו מן השניה, צא ולמד משפופרת שפיה קצרה, תן לה שתי אבנים זו תחת זו, הנכנסת ראשונה תצא אחרונה, והנכנסת אחרונה תצא ראשונה, נמצא עשו הנוצר באחרונה יצא ראשון, ויעקב שנוצר ראשונה יצא אחרון, ויעקב בא לעכבו שיהא ראשון ללידה כראשון ליצירה, ויפטור את רחמה, ויטול את הבכורה מן הדין:
Jacob was formed from the first drop [of semen] and Esau from the second. Take, for example, a tube with a small mouth. Place two stones inside it one after the other; whichever enters first will be come out last, and whichever enters last will come out first. We see from this that Esau was formed last but came out first, and Jacob who was formed first came out last. Thus Jacob wished to stop him, so that he could be the first born just as he was first conceived, and would be the one to open [his mother’s] womb and receive the birthright legally.

I think the real issue is not who was justified by nature in gaining the inheritance, but the role of the cunning of reason in the unfolding of history. We can see this device at work as the story continues.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Hell of High Water – a movie review

Hell or High Water: a movie review


Howard Adelman

There is a very revealing scene in the movie that we saw last evening, Hell or High Water, directed by David Mackenzie. Jeff Bridges, a crusty retiring Texas ranger, Marcus Hamilton, and his partner, the Comanche Texas ranger, Alberto, played with puritanical stoicism by Gil Birmingham, are riding in their police vehicle attempting to track down two men responsible for a series of bank robberies in western Texas. They are stopped on the highway by old-style cowboys herding their cattle across the blacktop in flight from a prairie grass fire. This is the new West – of oil rigs (and wind energy towers, the latter not seen in the movie because the film was shot in New Mexico). The cowboy tells Jeff Bridges that this is a hell of a way to make a living. “It’s the 21st century. No wonder my kid doesn’t wanna do this shit!”

The movie title harks back to a time when the expression was not “in”, “come” or even the more modern, “through” hell or high water, but just hell or high water. It was a period at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century when ranch hands drove their longhorns to rail heads through the high water of river crossings rather than travel long distances across a parched landscape to find shallows where they could ford the stream with ease. All obstacles, however high, are surmountable. Attacking them head on is a better choice than the hell of taking a circuitous route. This was the ethos of the cowboy. But it is also the grand metaphor of the film. For these Texan white males, there seems to be only two options – they are either struggling to surmount incredible obstacles or they live in a hell of their own and their society’s making.

Texas may still be gun country, but it is no longer cowboy country. Instead of the broad immense rich blue sky of Texas, black clouds from the grass fire blot out much of the sky. The atmosphere is one of gloom, despair and hopelessness. What we are watching is the death of a whole way of life with its deteriorating small towns and crotchety elders. The Texas of the old West is decaying in full view as we watch the strange beauty of this hard-crusted landscape and the human flotsam left over who spend their time shooting at each other in a state where even old men doing banking carry a gun and are ready to use it. “When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take along Samuel Colt.” (Dust of the Chase)

In another insightful vignette, the two rangers stop to eat at an old-fashioned restaurant called the T-Bone, evidently the only eatery in town. The crotchety old waitress (Margaret Bowman), who has been waiting tables for eons (the actress is 84 years old and deserves an Oscar for her brilliant brief performance), asks the two what they don’t want. The two rangers look first puzzled and then downright totally bewildered. She says that the only thing they serve is T-bone steak. It comes with green beans and a baked potato. Which of the two choices, if any, does each of the rangers want to leave out? As an aside, the old crone tells them that she once had a customer from New York who asked for trout.

I cannot recall her words disparaging the New Yorker, but I immediately thought of how rural America and the rust belt elected Donald Trump and thumbed their noses at the sophisticates of urban America.

Hell or High Water is a study in contemporary rural cultural geography and in character revealed as much through all the silences as the witty dialogue of Taylor Sheridan’s script. There is almost no plot. Of the two brothers who are the bank robbers, Toby (Chris Pine) is a divorced father with two sons with a sense of his own personal failure. As the movie unfolds, it becomes evident that he is driven by a determination that his own sons will not face the same bleak existence that he and his brother, Tanner, did. The latter (Ben Foster) is an ex-con who served ten years in prison. He “double crossed the State of Texas and they gave (him) a little time.” (Dust of the Chase) He is the wild card of the pair. A sociopath whose only moral compass seems to be loyalty to his younger brother, Tanner is the foil to the deeply pained and suffering persona of Toby, so steeped in guilt and a sense of failing to fulfill his responsibilities. The two rob a series of branches of the West Midland Bank. Two rangers chase them down. The end of Tanner is foreshadowed in the lyrics of Dust of the Chase.

“When the times at hand and I kill a man, I say a little prayer.
I come down from Oklahoma with a pistol in my boot
A pair of dice, a deck of cards and a bible in my suit
How small a part of time we share ’till we hear the sound of wings
I’m lost in the dust of the chase that my life brings.”

That’s it. That is the plot. However, all four characters are united by one theme – they are all lonesome would-be cowboys, except perhaps for the Comanche ranger, who evidently has an extensive and close family off screen, but has to spend his professional life being teased in a politically incorrect manner by Jeff Bridges about his half-breed nature as an Indian and a Mexican. This film pays ironic veneration to stubborn individualism writ large, individualism as atomic as it gets. In the lyrics of From My Cold Dead Hands:

“Do what I wanna do
Say what I wanna say
They wanna take it away
From my cold dead hands
The price of being free
And what it means to me
They wanna take it away.”

It is clear throughout the movie that the ranger, Marcus, really loves his partner, Alberto. That is verified near the end of the movie. But instead of intimacy between the two, there is only mutual razzing and the entertainment of dissing. The two brothers also love one another. In one scene, they even engage in some physical play and shoving. But that is the closest one views any caring between two humans. In another scene, Toby sits in the scrabbly backyard of his ex-wife’s home and talks to his son, from whom he is clearly estranged. Toby asks after his son’s brother (he’s at a friend’s house), but cannot express his deep love for his boys except through his efforts to rob banks to ensure his mother’s ranch, which has oil under its ground, is inherited by the boys, debt free. For it is the bank that is viewed as responsible for his troubles, for its efforts,

“to hold us,
Held by our necks.” (From My Cold Dead Hands)

There is no sense of love between a man and a woman in the whole movie. Near the beginning of the film, the lyrics to Mama’s Love portray the situation of a character who cannot sleep at night when the pain comes out, who has sex only to use a woman. The song begins:

“Something’s got my fear,
And then won’t get through my head,
But there’s something missing,
There’s something missing here.
Here I go again,
React without a plan, oh,
But there’s something missing,
There’s something missing here.”

And it is conveyed in the lyrics of You Asked Me To.

“Feel simple love is simple true
There’s no end to what I’d do
Just because you asked me.”

No male-female love, of either son to mother or between a man and his “gal.” Just chasing one’s tail and watching and waiting.

In another scene, the rangers view a tele-evangelist in their motel room. Jeff Bridges opines, “He wouldn’t know God if God crawled up his pant leg and bit his pecker.” In the land of evangelical rural America, there is really no depth of faith, only religion as entertainment. God has become a snake who does not entice men into sex, but bites off a man’s penis.

But there is deep love in the movie, even though it is repressed and deformed. The father, Toby, is devoted to his two boys even though he cannot connect with them. He is attached at the heel to his sociopathic brother. Toby and Tanner clearly love one another and are willing to sacrifice their lives for each other. The two rangers, Marcus and Alberto, even though they pretend to have only disdain for one another, also share a deep love as confirmed in the climatic last scene. When Marcus learns the reason for the robberies, in the post-climactic encounter between Marcus and Toby, Marcus seems to have learned to replace his desire for revenge with a respect and even concern for the bank robber who got away. Toby in turn invites Marcus to drop in to his place in town for a drink.

The devil, as in all the old Western movies, is still the bank, in this case, the Midland Western Bank and the four branches the two brothers rob to “earn” enough money to pay off the reverse mortgage and the back taxes owed by their recently deceased mother, the same Midland Western Bank that moved to foreclose on the mother’s ranch after oil was discovered on the property. The film seems both contemporary as well as lifted from the dirty thirties. The instinct for survival is the dominant motive for living, even when Tanner is engaged in futile self-defence. The brothers simply try to retrieve what they feel is owed them from the institutions that seem to have betrayed them so much. The politics of resentment is on full display.

I cannot recall a film where the movie with such sparse (and very witty) dialogue relied so fully on the soundtrack of songs (evidently available in a separate CD), most by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The songs drive home the full meaning of the movie. The titles are an indication:

1. Comancheria (the original film title, the locale in Texas and New Mexico)
2. Dollar Bill Blues (Tones Van Zandt)
3. Mama’s Room (Aaron Bruno, Jamin Wilcox, Drew James Stewart)
4. Dust of the Chase (Billy Jo Shaver and Ray Waylon Hubbard)
5. Texas Midlands
6. Robbery
7. You Ask Me To (Waylon Jennings)
8. Mountain Lion Mean
9. Sleeping on the Blacktop (Colter Wall)
10. From My Cold Dead Hands
11. Lord of the Plains
12. Blood, Sweat and Murder (Scott H. Biram)
13. Casino
14. Comancheria II
15. Outlaw State of Mind
16. Hate Me (Christopher Fronzak, Sean Heenan, Christopher Link, Nader Salameh and Kalen Biehm)
17. Bakerman (John Guldberg, Tim Stahl and Arthur Stander)
18. Playing the Part (Jamey Johnson and Shane Minor)
19. You Just Can’t Beat Jesus Christ (Billy Jo Shaver)
20. I’m Not Afraid to Die (Gillian Welch)

The twenty titles alone provide the whole plot and the settings for the various scenes. In the song, Commancheria, a simple chord progression with pauses, carries with it a sense of longing and a lost world. As Alberto, the Comanche ranger, tells Marcus, my people once owned all this land. You dispossessed us and now you are being dispossessed by the oil companies and the financiers.

The lyrics of Dollar Bill Blues start with the chorus:
“If I had a dollar bill
Yes, I believe I surely will
Go to town and drink my fill
Early in the morning.”

The song then refers to a darling as a “red-haired thing” who makes my legs sing and a golden girl mother, whose throat he slit. There’s only going down and no saving of one’s soul.

Hell or High Water is a bleak and melancholic western presented with a sense of humour and irony. Released in August, it is now available on Netflix or I-Tube, I cannot recall which. Much better than a tele-evangelist!

Pierre Trudeau, Fidel Castro and Donald Trump

Pierre Trudeau, Fidel Castro and Donald Trump


Howard Adelman

I planned this morning to return to writing about the economy and Trump’s possible or likely contribution to a new economic financial collapse. However, one of the many responses to my blog on Justin Trudeau and Fidel Castro asked the following question:

“What would be the basis of the ‘love affair’ between the liberal PE Trudeau and the Marxist Castro? Their Jesuit upbringing? And that, literally in the shadow of the U.S. (for both) and during the cold war? This still sounds to me like defiance vis-à-vis the U.S. (but perhaps out of filial loyalty, rather than current calculations). Can you explain?”

I will add some partial notes to an attempted preliminary answer and explanation, in part because I want to draw out some comparisons between Pierre Trudeau and Donald Trump as a kind of introduction to the economic analysis I will undertake in my next blog. The comparison might seem very odd since Donald Trump, though he admires Putin, has only disdain for Fidel Castro and his brother, even though, when it was forbidden to do so, The Donald, in 1998 illegally under American law at the time, sent a team of his to investigate building a hotel and gambling casino in Havana, and this was well before this possibility of foreign investment in Cuba first opened up. His company spent $68,000 in Cuba illegally without the requisite U.S. treasury license.

Further, this offers me a chance to fill in some blanks. I had been intrigued about why Fidel Castro, a close personal friend of Pierre Trudeau and an honorary pallbearer at the latter’s funeral, had not granted Justin Trudeau an audience when Justin visited just a week or so earlier and when, just the day before, Castro had granted a visit to the leader of Vietnam. There had to be some serious explanation given Fidel Castro’s personal history with the Trudeau family. The explanation: Fidel was even sicker than anyone knew, for it is virtually impossible to imagine that he would not have wanted to see Justin given his personal connection to Justin’s father. After all, Fidel’s brother, Raúl, went out of the way to welcome Justin personally. Instead of a boring and very formal state dinner, Raúl took Justin and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau out to the Restaurante Café del Oriente in old Havana. It helped that Sophie was fluent in Spanish.

To demonstrate the close family connection, Justin Trudeau also met with three of Fidel’s sons where, as a present from the Cuban people and from the Castro family, Justin received a photo album of his father’s historic 1976 visit to Cuba and the adulation of the Cuban people for him. Remember, on that trip, Pierre had come with his wife, Margaret and his youngest son, Michel who was just under four months of age at the time. It was Michel who would years later die in an avalanche in British Columbia. The Justin Cuban visit had all kinds of nostalgia for Justin as it had in subsequent visits for his father. It just happened that many Cubans mistakenly thought that Justin was the grown-up Michel.

Professor Wright of Trent University (author of Three Nights in Havana) claimed that, “I had an impression that Justin was borrowing from his family’s history with Cuba to shore up the bilateral relationship.” I myself believe that the effort to pay “homage” to Pierre’s relationship with Cuba was not in service to advancing business interests, but was the real goal of the visit. Reinforcing family and the family connection came first. As Mark Entwistle, a former Canadian ambassador to and an expert on Cuba, opined, the Trudeau family connection with the Castros is a matter of deep affection, but it will have no effect on advancing Canadian business interests which will have to succeed or fail on their own merits.

This strength in the family connection, within and between families, is the first comparison I want to make between Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Donald Trump. Despite all the business that each of Pierre’s and Donald’s business and public lives required, both were very devoted to their children. Donald Trump remains so. And their children adored their own fathers in return as Pierre had respected his own father and as Donald Trump had admired his own father. Parent to child links were and are very important in both families. Justin replied to Tom Mulcair’s criticisms of his father, “Let me say very clearly, I’m incredibly proud to be Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s son. “And I’m incredibly lucky to be raised with those Liberal values” According to Justin, Pierre taught his sons “to believe in ourselves, to stand up for ourselves, to know ourselves and to accept responsibility for ourselves.” Donald used very similar words in describing what his father, Fred, had taught him. All the children in the respective families were devastated at the death of their fathers. Pierre’s father died when he was only fifteen, and he was admittedly wracked by that death. In addition, both fathers bequeathed an inheritance on their sons, though Pierre’s was much less than Donald Trump’s and Justin’s was even smaller again (1.4 million). But the Trudeau boys were taught to be frugal while Donald Trump acquired a taste for ostentation.

Justin’s father’s Jesuit upbringing partially explains his lifelong attraction to dogmatic and absolutist rulers. Among those, Castro was his most important friend. Pierre was the first NATO leader after the Cuban revolution to visit Cuba. Pierre’s huge portrait hung at Havana airport when he arrived and a quarter million Cubans, who had been given the day off, packed the streets of Havana waving Canadian flags as the entourage made its way through the city. Unlike virtually all Central and South American countries, Canada along with Mexico were the only countries in North and South America not to break off relations with Cuba.

The largest source of tourists to Cuba comes from Canada, and that has always been the case through thick and thin. Currently Canada sends 100,000 tourists per year to Cuba but American tourism will soon overwhelm the Canadian contingent. But the big difference came when Pierre Elliot Trudeau was elected Prime Minister of Canada. He and Castro formed a lasting bond. Pierre often took his family for holidays in Cuba. Pierre used to travel privately to Cuba and see Castro when there was no government business to do there. At home, Justin was passed this adoration of the Cuban leader by his father. After Pierre retired from politics, he continued to visit Cuba as a private citizen. Castro was not the only dictator Pierre felt he could do business with. His last international initiative was a visit to Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania, the same dictator who was executed by his own people upon the overthrow of communism. Pierre in one of his flakiest efforts wanted to try to persuade Nicolae to partner with him in a joint effort to eliminate nuclear armaments totally.

Pierre first was elected Prime Minister of Canada on a wave of Trudeaumania. Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States, almost fifty years later, on a wave of Trumpomania, this time coming from the right reinforced by the so-called Reagan democrats. In the Canadian case, personality and not just populism – Diefenbaker had also been a quasi-populist – dominated the political scene in Canada. This is what just took place in America. In the case of Trudeau, an intellectual who was deeply devoted to ideas and abstract theory, reason presumably trumped passion. But not in the public arena. There, like Trump today, Trudeau made an instinctual connection with Canadians. They either loved or hated him. And Trudeau thrived in that public applause while, always at the same time demonstrating he was his own man and could flout convention. Does that not seem similar to Donald Trump?

John English, Pierre Trudeau’s biographer, also his admirer, credited Trudeau with holding Canada together against the forces of provincialism, separatism and disintegration. He made bilingualism official and it is impossible today to imagine that we would ever again have a leader who was not fluent in both official languages. But Trudeau overreached as was his want. The vision of most Canadians being bilingual or even being able to receive goods and services in French in British Columbia was a pipedream foisted on Canadians. Trudeau did repatriate the constitution, but only by alienating Quebec and without Quebec’s formal assent. Further, Canada in transforming itself into a country with a written constitution as its base also lost the flexibility of its informal foundations though, admittedly at a gain in clarity. As we move into the future, we will have to see whether the British historical foundations or the American legal foundations are more adaptable to the changing demands on a polity.

Trudeau also introduced the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but was the Prime Minister who most abused those rights and freedoms by imposing the War Measures Act in the face of two kidnappings and one murder by extremist Quebec separatists in the 1970 October Crisis. When Tom Mulcair in Parliament reminded Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister what his father had done, Justin became defensive and effusive in praise of his father just as he had launched his political career in 2000 with his emotional and very effective eulogy to his father at his father’s funeral. But in 1970, over five hundred Canadians were rounded up and imprisoned without charge or even the protection of Habeus Corpus. I could imagine Donald Trump doing the same. It is ironic, but perhaps not so ironic, that the terrorist killers were released from jail earlier provided that they accepted exile in Cuba.

In this regard, Pierre Trudeau is best known for his intellectual defence of federalism and the advantage of giving provinces semi-sovereign powers in areas that were closest to the desires and needs of the populace. But Pierre was a very strong defender of centralized power. Donald Trump is as well. He will not cede control of federal lands to states and believes that states cannot be trusted with administering federal lands. Their behaviour would be unpredictable. Pierre Trudeau alienated the West, and specifically Alberta by imposing federal control over the ownership and extraction of fossil fuels in his National Energy Policy (NEP). Donald Trump also sees energy policy as central to his administration and backs the continuation of drilling and fracking, including on federal lands, and rejects the efforts of some liberal states to promote renewable energy. Ironically, even in medical care, even with respect to Obamacare that he officially opposes, he would remove state barriers on insurance companies which, ironically, will allow a more centralized and unified medical care insurance system to emerge.

But isn’t Donald Trump an American firster – make America great again – and a hyper nationalist with isolationist propensities, while Pierre Trudeau was a cosmopolitan in support of free trade? I will go into that later when I deal with economic and foreign policy. But domestically, in terms of federalism, Donald Trump is a believer in a very strong central government. After security, the next two priorities for a Trump government will be education and health care, traditionally areas of state control. Even Pierre Trudeau never went that far in centralizing power in Ottawa. It will be ironic that the candidate most critical of the swamp in Washington will be the president that will most extend the reach of, and hence, bureaucracy in, the central government. On the issue of a federal state that shares sovereign powers with sub-states like provinces and American states, Trump will move even more power to Washington, perhaps more than any other president prior to his rule.

But Trudeau was a social democrat. Trump is a conservative Republican. But is he really? He is a populist primarily and will use the state to reinforce and strengthen his image in the eyes of the people. He may not pour his energies into a national energy policy – good for renewables – but he may very well throw money about on infrastructure, education and, ironically, even health. For though he denounced Obamacare as a bad system, he never denounced having a system that took care of the health of all Americans. A federal model of using money and spending to strengthen federal jurisdiction will make previous aims of former presidents seem totally modest in comparison.

Here again, Pierre was anti-nationalist and contended that nationalism evokes emotion and particularist obsessions, whereas cosmopolitanism builds its allegiances on a state serving and stressing the cohesion among all. For Trump, the all will be all Americans who follow and support him and thus a strong nationalism and a strong central government will be reinforcing. As with Pierre Trudeau, the rights of aboriginal nations will suffer under Donald Trump’s rule.

Pierre Trudeau undermined rather than advanced Canadian stability and its strength and presence in the world. While he ran as an intellectual federalist, he did more than any predecessor to undermine the federal nature of the Canadian polity. For Trudeau set a precedent for reducing the French role in the political life in Canada, not strengthening it. In terms of cultural presence, it was strengthened, but not in terms of political presence. Trump too will resist the tendency to advance multiculturalism through a political agenda and, especially resist the growth of the Hispanic community in the United States. After all, within two decades, America will have a larger percentage of Hispanics than Canada has of francophones. French may have been advanced under Trudeau but not the French political role. Culture is not politics. Trump too will more deliberately resist the growth of Hispanic culture as a political force. Of course, he will do the same for African Americans because he is a believer in the fact that an American is an American, full stop.

In foreign policy, Pierre Trudeau shuttled among many capitals to try to enhance Canada’s role and presence in the world continually shrank while he was Prime Minister even as he was cheered as a leader around the world in a way that Donald Trump will never be. I mentioned his flaky visit to Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania not long before his downfall to enlist his aid in dismantling the system of mutual deterrence using nuclear weapons. Pierre Trudeau was convinced that the Americans, and its president, were leading the world forward to nuclear destruction. But it was Ronald Reagan, openly despised by Trudeau, who made the treaty with the Soviets to get rid of 90% of the tools of massive nuclear destruction. Further, and more significantly in light of the current controversy over Justin’s eulogy to Fidel Castro. The latter was both the instigator for bringing nuclear arms into Cuba and believed that even if Cuba engaged in a nuclear war over Cuba, Cubans would gladly be incinerated to help destroy capitalism.

“First of all, Cuba would have burned in the fires of war. Without a doubt the Cuban people would have fought courageously but, also without a doubt, the Cuban people would have perished heroically. We struggle against imperialism, not in order to die, but to draw on all of our potential, to lose as little as possible, and later to win more, so as to be a victor and make communism triumph.” As Che Guevara put it, we are “a people prepared to suffer nuclear immolation so that its ashes may serve as a foundation for new societies. When an agreement was reached by which the atomic missiles were removed, without asking our people, we were not relieved or thankful for the truce; instead we denounced the move with our own voice.”

One major difference between Trudeau and Trump is that while the Soviet leaders ignored or at best patronized Pierre Trudeau, Donald Trump will be feted by the Russians. In the history of Canadian foreign relations, Pierre Trudeau was exemplary in undermining our commitments to our allies and we have never recovered from the political and defense devastation that he bequeathed to Canadians. NATO was weakened under Trudeau. So was the international Organization for Tariffs and Trade. Donald Trump will follow in Pierre’s footsteps in this regard and pay little attention to the consequences of his policies on traditional alliances, though, unlike Pierre Trudeau, Donald Trump is likely to go on a spending spree on the military, an area on which Trudeau was a skinflint. But as Pierre Trudeau demonstrated in the past, Donald Trump in the future will demonstrate an extraordinary indifference, not only to authoritarianism, but to totalitarianism and its spread in the rest of the world.
Pierre Trudeau avoided military service in WWII. Donald Trump managed to evade the draft and military service in the United States. While Donald Trump will spend lavishly on defence, he will not use that strength to really challenge Russia and China in their areas of prime interest. The Ukraine recognizes it is being abandoned further to the maws of the Russian bear. The Baltic states fear it. Signals have already been sent to Japan and Korea that they will be more on their own and cannot rely on Pax America.

Perhaps the closest resemblance between Donald Trump and Pierre Trudeau is their disdain for journalists and the media. Donald’s is so fresh in our memory, we need hardly be reminded of it. But we should recall that when Pierre Trudeau left office and rode off into the sunset in his antique convertible Mercedes, he turned Richard Nixon’s words on their head. Nixon, when he lost his campaign for the presidency in 1960, told the press that he would no longer be around to be picked on. Pierre when he left office chuckled and said that the media would no longer have him around to beat up on them. Asked if he had any regrets, Pierre replied, “Yes. I regret that I won’t have you to kick around anymore.”

But it is on the economy that Pierre Trudeau and Donald Trump really resemble one another most. Pierre was and Donald Trump is an economic ignoramus. Donald Trump will inherit an economy that is well on the path to recovery from the 2007-08 financial collapse, even though the recovery remains halting and far from setting the U.S. on a solid financial foundation. That was the case in Canada in the early sixties. Canada was then an economic powerhouse. But in Canada in 1979, a year when both the Tory and the Liberal governments provided extraordinary initiative in bringing refugees to Canada, the foundations for the 1979 recession were set in motion as well as for the disaster of 1989-1994 that was the worst economic period in Canada since the Great Depression. Pierre Trudeau bore the major responsibility. He increased the Canadian debt from 1968 to 1984 to $157.2 billion, a 738.7% increase. He would not introduce the requisite taxes to pay for the government’s expenditures, which tripled. Canada went through the worst period of inflation in its history. Interest rates became sky high. In fact, by 1993, Canada was even flirting with defaulting on our debt. As in the United States, the middle class was left with greater burdens as their effective salaries stagnated. Brian Mulroney, with all his faults, but mainly the Chretien government with Paul Martin as finance minister, brought Canada back from the brink.

I suggest we can expect the same from Donald Trump and I will subsequently try to show why. But I want to add another note of comparison, this time applicable to both Pierre and Justin as well as Donald Trump. All gained power, in spite of being underrated as underdogs when they pursued the leadership of their own respective parties and then the leadership of the country. I end with one further remark. Pierre Elliot Trudeau at the rally in Cuba in 1976 that I referred to above, shouted out, “Viva Castro.” Justin in November 2016 was simply reiterating the sentiments of his father.

With the extraordinary help of Alex Zisman

Justin Trudeau and Fidel Castro

Justin Trudeau and Fidel Castro


Howard Adelman

I just cannot leave this alone. Perhaps it is partly a relief valve for my depression at the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. I am reluctant to write this because I generally like and approve of Justin’s efforts to date. But Justin Trudeau’s statement on Fidel Castro’s death has so appalled me that it keeps going over and over in my head.

Here is what Justin said:

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.
“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.
“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante’.
“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.
“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”

Why deep regret? Why did Justin say that Castro had served his people when he was such a disservice to them? He certainly gave extraordinarily long speeches, but his public effusions were manipulative and full of lies and deceit. To call Castro a controversial figure is a euphemism of the worst type. He was ruthless. Clearly all the people did not have a “deep and abiding affection” for “El Comandante”. His opponents did not recognize that Fidel Castro had a deep and abiding love for the Cuban people. Neither do I. So why did Justin subscribe to that propaganda? And why was Justin’s father proud to call Fidel a friend? Did he have such unworthy choices of friends? Pierre visited Cuba in the very same year that Fidel Castro went on a rampage of locking up civil rights leaders and instigating “disappearances”. In any case, if Justin wants not only to acknowledge but eulogize Fidel when he did, he has no right to do so on behalf of all Canadians. Justin did not speak for many and possibly most Canadians when he misspoke.

If Stalin was remarkable, if Hitler was remarkable, if Mussolini was remarkable, if Putin remains remarkable, so too is Castro. If remarkable means worthy of attention, astonishing and astounding, then certainly. But remarkable has the connotation of being worthy of notice, not only for the outlandish deeds done, but for very positive accomplishments on the scales of worthiness. Castro was conspicuous and larger than life and, thus, extraordinary in some sense. But not to spell out or qualify one’s praise about such a ruthless dictator after his death is to demonstrate great insensitivity to the people who have spent their lives critical of Castro’s oppression. While offering condolences to his supporters, what about his many victims?

When interviewed an hour ago to explain his tribute, Justin was asked whether he thought Castro was a dictator. Justin replied “Yes.” But he added, “Fidel Castro had a deep and lasting effect on the Cuban people but on the passing of his life I expressed my condolences…He was certainly a polarizing figure and I have always been concerned about his human rights abuses. However, a Prime Minster of Canada should show respect.” Respect, maybe. But a eulogy – certainly not. Justin had to know he was stepping on a landline and he certainly could have expressed respect for the Cuban nation without paying tribute and eulogizing a ruthless, manipulative and oppressive dictator.

Now some praise of Castro’s regime is in order, particularly his contribution to universal education and health care and his sending Cuban doctors all over Africa and South America. Canada, and Toronto in particular, has enormously benefited from the rich Cuban cultural tradition, particularly in music and jazz, that flourished under Fidel Castro. Finally, though he could be credited with bringing universal literacy and health care to all Cubans, that in itself has been at significant cost to quality. Further, I have always supported Canada retaining its diplomatic contacts and have applauded Barack Obama’s lifting of the sanctions regime which Fidel used as an excuse to be a brutal dictator; but look at the cost.

1) 1 in 5 Cubans forced into exile – massive class cleansing;
2) Though he opposed anti-Semitism and was protective of the rights of Jews within Cuba to remain Jews, he was homophobic and persecuted gays for many years;
3) As a dictator, he was a leading human rights abuser, not only incarcerating dissidents, but executing many under his draconian rule, not counting the harassment and intimidation that many Cubans experienced; for example, in 1976 Fidel cracked down on a flowering human rights movement and sent journalists, lawyers, trade unionists to jail and solitary confinement where they were beaten and tortured – I lost track of two friends who were arrested and never heard from them again – they were not among the destroyed souls who were released and went into exile in Spain ten years ago, thirty years after they were arrested.
4) The ICC, UN agencies and independent international human rights organizations were not permitted to monitor what happened;
5) Like Donald Trump, Fidel Castro was a populist, but of the left rather than the right. In his abuse of the rule of law and relegation of accountable institutions of governance to the sidelines, Castro left leftists and liberals with a bad brand by contagion; there was neither an independent judiciary nor an independent police force dedicated to serving and protecting civil society in Cuba.
6) The record of abuse, of surveillance, of citizen reporting on other citizens, of civilians organized on a block level to serve as the eyes of the state that would even surprise George Orwell, of arbitrary detentions, of suppression of individual initiative, of public shaming, though attenuated to a degree in recent years, still all remain an integral part of the Cuban polity.
7) Fidel ruled as a dictator, controlling the three most powerful positions of governance – president of the Council of State, president of the Council of Ministers, and first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party – and prevented any steps that might make political rulers accountable.
8) In his foreign policy, he helped export revolution and supported revolutionaries around the world in many countries where there may have been economic inequality, but there was no repression; look at what his support of revolutionaries in Colombia, and a populist repressive government in Venezuela has wrought, not to speak of Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
9) The only time fear of a worldwide apocalypse came near, before the current climate change danger, was in 1962 when Cuba arranged secretly with the U.S.S.R to bring nuclear-armed missiles into Cuba that instigated the Cuban missile crisis.
10) But the greatest damage to Cubans came from Fidel’s insistence on monopolizing and controlling ALL economic power.

I want to elaborate on the latter to show that his opposition was not just restricted to capitalists. When most of my friends, when my own brother, were strong Castro supporters, before Fidel revealed himself to be a Marxist-Leninist, when he had not yet been branded as an enemy of the U.S. and was still being courted by the State Department, Fidel made a speech to the annual meeting of the co-operative farmers of Cuba. Since I was then very active in the co-operative movement, I received a copy of that speech in translation. What he had told the meeting in a typical three-and-a-half hour speech was that Cuba had a shortage of seeds for farmers, and that since co-operative farms only represented the needs and concerns of their members while state collective farms represented all of Cuban society, he regretted that the state would only be able to distribute seeds to collective state farms. The co-operatives voted overwhelmingly to become state farms. Suddenly there were enough seeds for all the farms. But it was clear that Fidel Castro was a bully and would use any means to get total control.

I was not able to convince my brother who headed for Cuba immediately on completing medical school in 1961 before he was to start his internship. He became trapped by the embargo that was soon imposed and was only able to leave Cuba when a Canadian military aircraft flew him back to Canada. In the interim, he had served as part of the Cuban propaganda machine, working as a volunteer in the Cuban broadcasting organization. Of course, a few years later, he turned against the Fidel Castor regime, but not vocally or publicly. For him, it had been the exuberance of youth and a naïve faith.

Luckily, the apocalypse of the Cuban missile crisis was averted. But I could never forgive Castro especially, though also Kennedy and Khrushchev, with playing chicken with the lives of my children. I have never visited Cuba. It has been on my boycott list. One of my sons has been there a number of times. He described both the vibrant life of Cubans and their warmth and hospitality while appalled at the decaying buildings. I flirted with going but always decided not to while the Castros were in power.

I think I will wait until Raȗl leaves power before contemplating a visit, but that may not take place in my lifetime in spite of Raȗl’s advanced age. In the meanwhile, I will gripe loudly at the effusive expression of condolences that Justin Trudeau conveyed to the Castro family.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Don’t Marry a Shicksa

Don’t Marry a Shicksa – Parashat Chayei Sara פרשת חיי שרה
Genesis 23:1 – 25:18


Howard Adelman

The previous section, Vayeira, focused on the immigration experience. This section focuses on integration, more accurately, the refusal to integrate and the insistence on being a nation unto itself, a nation among other nations. This section links three stories: 1) the death of Sarah and the negotiations for her burial plot (chapter 23); 2) Abraham sending his servant back to the place of his birth to find a wife for his son Isaac, the identification of Rebekah and the return to Isaac with Rebekah; (chapter 24); and 3) the juxtaposition of Abraham taking a third woman as his wife, Keturah, her children, the death of Abraham and, most importantly, his leaving the bulk of his wealth to Isaac and not to Ishmael, the son of Hagar, or the sons of Keturah.

Let me begin with the previous Parashat, Vayeira, or at least the theme of immigration in that section. I wrote about it last Friday morning, but was interrupted with busy-ness and did not finish. (Yesterday, my failure to write a blog and fulfill my promise was a result of a totally unexpected emergency, oral surgery in which two of my implants were removed and I received a bone graft and eleven stitches.) I will deal with the theme of immigration first, but not with the full previous parashat.

For a religion that supposedly so reveres its past, that centres its services around the Torah and the study of Talmud, Judaism has a peculiar founding father, Abraham. He was an archetypal immigrant who set out into the world to forge a different path for his family and his children. He obviously rejected ancestor worship and the belief that the greatest wisdom had already been revealed. He so clearly rejected the premise that the past was superior to the future. Instead, he set out on a journey to the West in which neither the path nor the destiny were known in advance.

What forces impelled him to move – famine, economic collapse, civil war, conquest? None of these appear to have been factors. What vision impelled him to leave his immediate family? It did not seem to be riches, though rich he would become. It did not seem to be the vision of the explorer intent on discovering “undiscovered” lands. There was no impulse to prove the earth was round or that the torrid parts of the planet supposedly at the ends of the earth were actually habitable. Nor did his travel seem to be impelled by new transportation technologies – railroads or automobiles – since he still went forth in the traditional way of the nomad shepherd with his camels, walking and following his herds. For such a conservative, he was a very radical individual, though not radical enough to claim that the text in which he would be inscribed was written as a result of the dictation of a divine being. But there is a hint that Abraham could read and write for he entered into contracts.

We in the twenty-first century (at least, but not only, in the Reform movement in Judaism) read our sacred text, which provides the geography of our imagination and the story of the founding fathers, as a literary and not a divine document. But the Torah remains sacred. The preservation of the stories of the past, not just as oral memory, but as an inscribed written body of literature, was revered. But not as a product of the printing press – though copies were available this way – but as hand written scrolls of old. What has this to do with immigration?

Abraham did not leave his extended family in Mesopotamia to make a life better for himself – though he would do that – but to be the founder of nations. He was destined to have children as numerous as the stars in the heaven and as the dust on the earth. And he could not do that unless he had children. But Sarah was barren. Did Abraham have a low sperm count? Did Sarai have a problem with ovulation? The latter is the likely possibility since Hagar had Ishmael and his third wife, Keturah, had many children. So why will the “chosen” bloodline run through Isaac? If you wanted to guarantee that the Israelites would become as numerous as the stars, would you not choose a woman who would show a capacity to bear many children? But Abraham was promised that he would be a father of many nations, not just one. It seems there was no guarantee or even likelihood that the dominant one in terms of numbers would be the Israelites.

People immigrate, not for themselves, but for their children. We just finished an election where immigrants and refugees were a central theme of the campaign. Donald Trump railed against Mexican illegal immigrants and refugees from the Middle East being suspect as terrorists. As well, Donald Trump put down women and people with disabilities. He displayed the fine art of an alpha male as a menace to women. Donald Trump was the first presidential candidate since WWII to run on a platform to restrict immigration.

Further, he outperformed among voters who were concerned with these themes, along with related considerations, such as fears of terrorism and opposition to free trade. In the primary, voters, concerned about immigration and related cultural concerns were the core of his support. In Florida, for example, voters who cared about immigration outscored others by 38 points. In the general election, The Donald outperformed among white voters with no college degree. A huge turnout of this section of the population turned out to vote and won him the presidency in the rural and working-class areas of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, unless a recount reveals that these victories were offset by other votes.

Let us look at Abraham as an immigrant in a foreign land as perceived through his experience. Did he miss home? Did he miss his family? Did he fit in?

A week ago, Thursday, in the evening, we watched an excellent French comedy, The African Doctor. It was based on a true story of a Congolese man from Kinshasa trained in French medicine who takes his family to become the doctor of a small French village somewhere north of Paris. It is a hilarious comedy in which the new arrivals are initially ostracized, but eventually become heroes in this small town. It is a story about “fitting in” and the difficulties in retaining an inherited identity in a strange land.

If you are a Platonist or a neo-Platonist (Chabadniks for example), death is the ultimate immigration experience, for the migration of the soul is so much more important, and more difficult than leaving the habits of feeding and caring for the body behind. But if the experience of life and death on this earth is the primary concern, then the major issue about the life of the soul will be narrated through the life and death of the body and how that is handled. Caring for the dead body is as important as caring for the living. In terms of the latter position, what better way to illustrate the split in adaptation than with a doctor responsible for caring for the living bodies of native French women and men. Even as he cares for bodies, in his experience, it is his soul and that of the French small town that are at stake, even if cast within the construct of a hilarious French farce.

One message of the movie was that earthly migration is not Platonic. There is no preservation of the soul separate from the body. However, one does NOT forget one’s inherited physical life – food, singing, soccer. It is the opposite message of Platonism – we should not forget who we are as bodies, including being black or white, including whether we eat pickled herring or scones and cream when we migrate. We should and cannot leave our bodies behind, but must take our bodies with us when we migrate. And the body politic into which we move must adapt as well as accommodate us as we as immigrants adapt. The ideal migration is not a Platonic migration that separates body and soul, but one that integrates body and soul on both sides of the earthly divide, the immigrant and the native.

So it is not true that you must abandon your past to move into the future. The “old country” comes with you when you enter the new. Hineini –“Here am I” and not “I am here” – has to be the mantra. For the ‘I’ is a becoming, not an essence who is present. The emphasis is on the here and now without forgetting what the I had become and what the I wants to be.

The parashat on Sara begins with her burial, more accurately, with the purchase of her grave. Sarah is buried among strangers in a plot purchased from the Hittites among whom Abraham lived. Their leaders offered a plot to Abraham as a gift. Abraham refused the gift. He insisted on paying and agreeing in a contract to buy the land in Kiryat Arba, now Hebron. When Abraham initially proposed to pay for the burial site, the Hittite leaders replied: “Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.” (23:6) This was an act of great generosity. But Abraham turned down the gift. “Let him (Ephron) sell me the cave of Machpelah that he owns, which is at the edge of his land. Let him sell it to me, at the full price, for a burial site in your midst.” (23:9)

Ephron offered the site a second time. Abraham reiterates a second time: “Let me pay the price of the land; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” (23:13) Ephron finally concedes: “A piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver—what is that between you and me? Go and bury your dead.” (23:15) Ephron must have been very exasperated and irritated by this point. What chutzpah of this stranger among us to refuse a gift when it is offered! Further, Abraham’s response was really an insult to the traditions of hospitality of the resident population among whom Abraham lived as a resident alien. Nevertheless, Ephron compromises and agrees to Abraham’s deal – 400 shekels, the market price for the land on which the burial cave is located.

So the story of Sarah’s death becomes, not a tale of weeping at the loss of the companion of his life, though there is a very brief mention of mourning, but about a contention between the peoples among whom Abraham had settled, their generosity of spirit and their act of gift-giving within a shame culture. Abraham insists on holding his own, on paying for the land and obtaining a deed of ownership. Abraham insists on contract law and the principle of guilt when one fails to uphold a contract rather than a reliance on shame characteristic of a culture of generosity.

Abraham adopts from the local population the principle of the spirit of generosity to strangers and incorporates that principle as a mainstay of his religion. At the same time, Abraham insisted on holding onto what would become a characteristic of one nation he was founding, the principle of the social contract and of guilt versus the practice of gift giving and of shame used to bind parties. It is a tale of accommodation and integration of strangers rather than of assimilation.

In that spirit, Abraham will not permit his son Isaac to marry “out”. He insists on sending his servant back to the “home” country to find a bride from his own tribe. And the servant locates a woman of high spirits and generosity, a risk taker willing to leave her family behind and join Isaac whom she had never met and knows virtually nothing about, to participate in this epic journey into the future and in a strange land.

This is a story of all immigrants. Immigration entails leaving one’s homeland behind and coming to a new land. It may even mean carrying into this new land a new spirit and a different set of values, such as that of legal contracts and a guilt culture rather than one of generosity, of gift giving in a shame culture. Abraham and the Israelites will accept the tradition of their hosts of generosity and welcoming the stranger as a central imperative. But they will also insist on founding a nation on the principle of a social contract in which legal contacts are the backbone of the economy.

All immigrants wrestle with the same dilemma – how to maintain one’s family ties and one’s traditions and how to live in the new world, how to adapt but not simply assimilate, and how to teach by example standards which the local population may choose to adopt as well. On the one hand, kith and kin, a kindred spirit and preserving one’s identity as an Iranian or Chinese, as an Indian or a Jamaican, are important to all immigrant groups to different degrees. But so too is adaptation. What values are crucial that you should not surrender to the dominant values of the host population? What values of the host should you integrate into your own culture? The dialectic of accommodation is never easy. But to be successful, a spirit of negotiation, of give and take, is crucial.

What about the third section of the parashat which tells about all of Abraham’s other children, to whom he was very generous in getting them established. However, in his will, he made Isaac his sole heir, Isaac whom he insisted marry from within his clan? And that becomes a crux of passing on one’s heritage. For if the males – and this is changing as females more frequently do so as well – go forth out into the world and marry “out” of the clan, not only does this weaken the family as the core of the body politic of a society for preserving a collective memory and a tradition of values and the means to practice them. It also leaves behind a surfeit of women of one’s own clan, women who will more likely remain barren through no bodily incapacity, though artificial insemination and surrogate fathers may help. A result: the numbers in the clan with ties and commitments to preserving those traditions both weaken and the numbers decline at one and the same time.

This is the dilemma not only of Jews but of all ethnic groups. One way of responding is turning inward, insisting on only marrying in and creating and preserving practices that clearly set one’s group apart. Segments of Jews, Hutterites and Mennonites, all adopt such a strategy. Other Jews turn their backs on all of that. They no longer wish to see the back of God and retain the collective memory of the past. They leave the tribe to become global citizens. Still others try to stand astride both worlds, the world of the new while respecting and preserving the old. They can meet the challenge by avoiding the Scylla of insisting only on inwardness or the Charybdis of opting for marching outward. Or they can try to integrate the outer into the inner by welcoming the stranger into the covenant of Israel while adapting into the dominant nation in which they find themselves.

After all, one of the greatest heroines of Jewish history, if not the greatest exemplar, was not a Jew-by-birth but a convert. Each one has a choice. Each family has to decide how and to what extent it will preserve its heritage. And the practices of burial of the dead, of marriage and of having children will be at the core in making such decisions.

A Historical Economic Overview

An Overall Sketch of the Economy: Part I A Historical Overview


Howard Adelman

This is my most ambitious blog series ever. I plan to do four things. First, I will offer a potted history of the global economy during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. That alone might seem totally daunting, but, in fact, it will be a summary of an already potted history published by my eldest son, Jeremy, in an essay in Foreign Policy in this past Sunday’s issue (20 November 2016). His article is entitled, “Donald Trump Is Declaring Bankruptcy On The Post-War World Order,” and subtitled “The global system of peace and prosperity was already on life support before the U.S. president-elect decided to pull the plug.”

The article is well worth reading in its entirety and can be found online at Jeremy is a professor of history at Princeton University where he chaired the department for about a decade and now directs the Global History Lab there. He is an economic historian who holds the Charles Lee Chair as well as the Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professorship of Spanish Civilization and Culture. You might also want to read his essay in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs entitled, “What Caused Capitalism.” If you are much more ambitious, you might also want to read his book, Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman which I reviewed over a number of blogs last year and which can be found under my name online at wordpress (

The second goal I have is to offer a distillation of the current state of the global and the American-led economy, largely drawing on my reading on this issue over the past months and my attendance at two seminars on the current state of the economy. Third, drawing from those two sources, from Donald Trump’s economic pronouncements, promises and performance thus far, and from the general economic behaviour of most populists, I will try to adumbrate the effects of the latter on the current economy. Fourth, I will offer my personal plan for dealing with these expectations.
Jeremy’s essay starts off with a reference to Robert Graves (Good-Bye To All That) and the efforts after WWI to make Britain great again by restoring a bygone economic era of imperialism and British economic leadership through “throwing up trade barriers, turning currency into weapons, plunging the world into depression, and then deporting, or later exterminating, foreigners as well as their own citizens.” If it seems reminiscent of the situation we are now in, that is no accident. Donald Trump is on the verge of turning the post-WWII economic order in which the U.S. was the great stabilizer (generally) on its head; the U.S. is about to become the great destabilizer. Of course, the ground had been well prepared for Donald Trump as America’s role as the chief economic hegemon has faded.

That role began after WWII when the U.S. economy at the end of WWII was larger than the economies of Britain, and the rest of Europe, of Japan and the USSR combined. America was the postwar Leviathan, but a very liberal one that operated not primarily through coercion but through its intellectual and material influence. But Donald Trump has given voice to those nostalgic for this old role of leadership in a context where it is no longer possible. Nostalgia is perhaps the worst foundation upon which to construct an economic policy.

After WWII, America laid the foundations for the economic order that would rule the world over the following seventy years based on global cooperation versus the protectionism that led to the Great Depression combined. This international economic leadership combined with national policies that created safety nets for those negatively affected by the enormous economic dislocations of a co-operative international economic order. The latter half was intended to manage risks and shelter castaways though educational and welfare nets that caught the human byproducts of the enormous institutional, commercial and technological changes underway. The first half of that order depended on agreed upon norms, principles and rules for free trade. As Jeremy wrote, “The result was a boom. From 1950 to 1973, world per capita incomes grew by 3 percent per year — powered by a trade explosion of 8 percent per year. Cooperation triumphed; interdependence brought prosperity.” Borders were not only opened for goods and services, but for the movement of people as well.

According to Jeremy, both pillars of the new economic order gradually started to crumble and eventually collapse altogether. Trumpism is merely the wake following that collapse with all the dislocations and sorrow that such a tsunami will bring. The most significant victims are an era of tolerance and relative stability. The catalyst has been the decline in America’s leverage to allocate resources, co-ordinate the management of currencies, dismantling traded barriers and setting the standards for the post-WWII economic order. But success undermined that leadership role as competitors rose and America’s percentage of world activity fell. China today is responsible for 10% of world trade and has replaced America as the leading trade country. One of the consequences has been a trade imbalance in which the U.S. imports far more than it exports.

The 1979 recession was the first major blow to the system. But the deregulation of the banks with the consequent enormous increase in credit based on very inventive mechanisms for providing credit, offered a new lifeline. When combined with relatively cheap fossil fuels, the global economy received an enormous shot in the arm. But not in the feet. The upper torso would become too enormous for the spindly legs to support it. The most serious effects were the repercussions on this planet; the environment could not sustain the enormous growth. Further, no global system was in place to manage and offer a new foundation for badly needed leadership. The U.S. was not only no longer an economic hegemon, but was the repository of the largest number of climate change deniers in the world. What is worse, many of them occupied positions of power and the Trump election meant that they have reached the zenith of that power.

Why and How? The problem was not only the incapacity of the planet nor the system in place to manage a fossil fuel monetized economic order, but the welfare state had disintegrated alongside this development. As one protection after another fell for those negatively affected, as a whole class of citizens had their expectations and hopes crushed at the same time as the rug of security was snatched from under their feet, a large populist pool of discontent and barely simmering rage had been developed, one that could and would focus on the greatest symbol of the new immigration, the rising tide of minorities and the decline in the hegemony of white working class males.

The effort to continue to free up markets, the ability to coordinate various aspects of this economic system by the Reagan and Thatcher administrations came at great cost to the working class, which subsequently experienced 35 years of economic stagnation and, even more, a seeming indifference to this state of affairs by the political leadership of this new era of “greed is good.” The deregulators and privatizers had given a second boost to the new economic order, but it came with an enormous sacrifice by the working class. The social contract had been shredded. As Jeremy put it, “Public services and protections softened market risks before 1973; in the decades afterward they were replaced by the private comforts of combustion and monthly credit card bills.”

The carbon and credit economy got a further boost with the disintegration of its collectivist rival, the U.S.S.R., in 1989. America was once again the global hegemon. Instead of doubling down, deregulation under Clinton was accelerated. Then, under the Bush regime, America’s economic and moral leadership were sacrificed in the endless warfare in the Middle East. These events paved the way for a bankrupt casino operator coming into power. Barack Obama was merely a hapless intervener trying to hold back the tides of change and disintegration while assaulted within by a Republican-controlled Congress and challenged externally by the diminution of America’s role in the world.

The ground had been prepared for America to shift from a role as the great stabilizer to that of the great destabilizer. “The long cycle of integration and relative tolerance forged by U.S. leadership since World War II is now headed in reverse.”

With the help of Alex Zisman

Coherent Strategies in Combating Trump

Scattershot versus Coherent Strategies in Combating Trump


Howard Adelman

My seventh foil against which I want to put forth my own position is the advice that those opposed to Trumpism rely on the multiplicity of strategies that will emerge from the grass roots. Thomas Friedman responded to Trump’s victory by advocating and promoting “multiple strategies.” I disagree. Not because I believe this will not happen. It will. Many individuals and small groups will respond to their angst, their terror, their despondency at a Trump presidency, not by praying and hoping that the leopard will change his spots, not by hoping that he will self-destruct, for he surely will do that eventually (but at what cost to the rest, to America and to the world?), and some will escape into their inner selves, even if simply by stopping watching news and public affairs shows, and others by choosing exile. There are many who are considering leaving America, mainly but not just immigrants from Muslim countries. Some will even move.

However, none of these personal choices will deal with and confront the problem. They are illusory escapes, perhaps necessary to get some sleep at night. But some detached and unemotional analyses are equally escapist. Last night I broke my vow to stop watching news and public affairs shows. After all, they only churned my stomach, stoked my rage and enhanced my despondency. When a commentator moralizes and advises Trump what he should do, I feel like barfing. As Kant wrote, a belief in morality per se is a precondition of having a moral universe in the first place.

I watched Don Lemon on CNN. Without being present, Trump monopolized the show – his failure to denounce the alt-right, his tweet about the short speech the actors in Hamilton addressed to VP-elect Pence, who respected and defended the right of the actors to say what they did and did not take any personal offence. This was contrary to the president-elect’s denunciation of the speech, declaring it offensive, that it made the theatre an unsafe place and demanding an apology. I could just hear Pence’s brain cells working overtime and salivating at his personal prospects when Donald Trump finally explodes his narcissistic blimp of a body because he has such as thin skin. I believe Pence may be envisioning his succession as he foresees Donald being impeached. The discussion of Trump’s appointees on the Lemon show and of his conflict of interest because of his refusal to place his assets in a blind trust, offered grist to the mill of my indignation, but the moralizing or outrage of the commentators did little to enlighten me in contrast to the one panelist who spent his time to detail some of Trump’s legal and political vulnerabilities.

But I took a lesson from my masochistic self-indulgence. We must be disciplined and not allow ourselves to become obsessed with Donald Trump’s personality and his failings, which only have the effect of increasing his support and his popularity. It was the biggest mistake of the campaign. Donald Trump is not qualified to be president. Donald Trump does not have the temperament to be president. But he is. He won. His personality, however, must be taken as an unchangeable given rather than offer opportunities for moralizing and advising how Trump should behave. He won’t change so forget it. We must simply use whatever is at hand in strategic ways to undermine his hold on the office.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We must focus on alternative policies and programs that have broader and sounder appeal. Donald Trump gained the presidency legitimately according to the existing rules of the game. That must be respected. But not his personality. Not his policies. Not his practices. Focus on the issues and allow his character to be mocked by others.

My preoccupation with climate change and the challenge of Trump in promoting the destruction of the world stirred up in me both despair and desperation, apathy and self-pity. The despair was justified as I thought about how much more of our planet will be destroyed because of Donald Trump, how many fewer refugees would be helped because of Donald Trump, how many more millions would suffer from his policies, and, whereas in the short term his policies of lower taxes and huge infrastructure investments may spur a growth in the economy, the long term increased debt problem will be left to the next president.

But that is exactly what Trump’s pronouncements and policies were intended to do – induce despair. Analysis showed me there were other options. Trump is akin to a Machiavellian tyrant, indifferent to criticism and even hatred, as long as the tyrant or would-be tyrant sows seeds of fear and distrust, thereby preventing or inhibiting coalitions forming to oppose him. If problems are intractable, if we come to believe there is nothing we can do, we are defeated before the horses are out of the gate. Cynicism breeds passivity.

Though I initially reacted emotionally, I eventually recovered and retained my cool. I must think strategically. I must think in positive ways, though I cannot think positively of Donald Trump given both his record, his willfulness and his determination to do what he does and hang the consequences. After all his followers would have elected him, as he claimed, even if he had shot and killed someone on Fifth Avenue in New York.

However, ideological condemnations without concerted action are a non-starter, even when the depiction of The Donald is correct. But so are wait-and-see approaches. One panelist adopted precisely that stance and was forcefully criticized by another panelist. After all, The Donald has not exactly hidden his identity. In fact, it is on constant display in his appointees, in his inclusion of his daughter who is charged with running his business in a meeting with the Prime Minster of Japan. An anarchic approach or a laissez-faire approach to resistance will also fail, with the opposition to Trump in more disarray after two years than now.

Thomas Friedman (TF) has offered another strategy. Let the many flowers of opposition bloom and the myriad of strategies emerge. TF argues that Trump will be more aware of the value of the optics if there’s a groundswell of outcry and opposition. However, and again, one of the data points we have on The Donald, and it’s a big one, is that his ego is the size of a blimp. He may be very thin skinned. But a fight, often ones he instigates, only energizes him. He is not a wilting flower who will leave the field at the outrages he perceives against his presidency. Rather than his not liking the bad press he generates, as long as the press covers him continually and constantly, he will feed off that.

TF advises Americans to continue to make bad press so The Donald will want to create a countervailing response. But look what happened when he responded to a very civilized short speech to Tom Pence with pretended outrage and how that shifted the conversation drastically away from the news that he had paid $25 million to settle the suits against Trump University. Did anyone comment on how cheap he got off, what a sweet deal he had negotiated? The participants in the class action suit will average $4,000 in recompense, a pittance compared to what they shelled out and the suffering they went through. It is no more than the legal fees Donald would have paid out and the expenditure is tax deductible. The amount not only would not come near to covering the plaintiff’s losses but would not even compensate them for the time spent on the suit and opportunity costs they suffered by enrolling in the fraud that was Trump University.

I agree that we need multiple strategies at the same time. But they must be given some coherence. They will need leadership and coordination. They will require a subdivision of labour and talent. They will require prioritization. We will have to decide what is most necessary, what is possible to change, and where our capacities can best be deployed. Most of all, unlike the election in 2016, we must always keep in mind what is at stake – our values and our world.

TF is correct in asking. “Where the leadership is going to come for all this is totally unclear. The Dems are in complete disarray and are going to be so for a while. And the lesson from Occupy is that bottom up won’t sustain itself.” The latter is true, but the former need not be. The Democrats have demonstrated in the past that they can pick themselves off the floor, dust themselves off and organize a comeback. There is no other potential for leadership. The myriad points of opposition will be too disaggregated and too contentious to offer direction.

Further, as the Berlusconi nine-year dynasty in Italy showed, the Italian President survived in office largely because of the incompetence and disarray in the opposition. As Luigi Zingales warned. “If you think presidential term limits and Mr. Trump’s age could save the country from that fate, think again. His tenure could easily turn into a Trump dynasty.”

“When the state entrusts itself with a cause – whether based around religion or ethnic identity [in this case, male white nationalism] – citizens are no longer individuals pursuing their own conception of the good life; they are part of a larger brotherhood, entrusted with a mission to reshape society.”

TF is correct on other grounds. “Liberals have a real problem with this, which is why they have trouble with the politics of meaning, especially the kind that served up neoliberalism techno-solutions that no one understands to large scale problems (and why Obamacare, despite the hopes when it passed, has proven so unpopular). No one actually feels the horror of climate change because Hillary dressed it as ‘belief in science.’ Actually, you could rescript it as belief in the planet, belief in your kids, belief in the beaches you like to walk on or belief that someone else’s village in Africa should not have to empty out just because we can’t think of another way of stopping the emptying out of West Virginia.”

But this tact fails because it repeats the tendencies to place the blame primarily on Hillary’s shortcomings when those shortcomings compared to her strengths were the least of the problems in opposing Trump. Further, if we shift the blame and the responsibility, in the end, the result will be more frazzled nerves, an inadequate and incomplete analysis and an inchoate and very vague counter-strategy stressing crying out and protests, the very methods that my first correspondent several blogs ago regarded as futile.

We must recognize the strength of Donald Trump. He may not read at all, he may have a concentration span of no more than fifteen minutes, he may be a fabulist far more prone to spreading myths than enunciating the truth, but his gut instincts are very strong. And Trump is magnetic, not only to his supporters, but to the chattering classes. After all, look at how few recognized his power while being sucked into being entranced by it, even its ugliness. Liberalism may be flabby, but it’s all we have. But Liberalism will be like a phoenix rising from the ashes, as it always has been, when confronted with that which threatens its very existence, our values and our political culture.

So where do we start? Not with Hillary. Not with the shortcomings of the Democratic Party. We have to start with recognising what we did wrong. We have to acknowledge that among the large cohort of committed people, most of us were complacent. I could offer the excuse that I am a Canadian and was only watching the election from a distance. But that is a cop out. If I thought the future of the world was at stake, why did I not volunteer and go work in the election. I went south in the sixties to help in the civil rights movement. And I had much less time then. After all, I am now retired. I have the time. I went to an Obama meeting in Princeton back in 2007. In this election, I contented myself with commenting and criticizing from the sidelines.

So I have to start by analyzing why I allowed myself to be fooled by the polls, why I slipped into squelching my fears and expanding my hope. The Obama doctrine had, as such ideas are wont to do, turned in on itself. And all of Obama’s and Hillary’s pleas about the urgency of turning out to vote, insisting that the outcome was now in our court, counted for too little. Hillary perhaps could not arouse our enthusiasm. But Trump did, but for the wrong goals and policies. Was that not sufficient reason to motivate ourselves? Why blame the leader?

Further, we must not substitute hope for a fear that we can bring that change about. We must believe in a better future and not simply hope for one. We must detour around despair and work out the solutions we must bring to bear on the myriad of problems.

After we faced up to and acknowledge our own failings – and the above just hints at my own – we have to create small communities of opposition and dissent where critiques, tactics, strategies and priorities can be considered. We have to share our thoughts. For politics in the end is always a communal and not an individual enterprise. Shared beliefs, convictions and practices are the foundation of politics and provide the glue to fight for change and the achievement of new goals.

Most important, though these initial suggestions are preconditions, we have to reach out and get to know those who voted for Trump. For many who supported him were correct in being angry at our indifference to and our sense of superiority over them. We have to go to the suburbs, go to the small towns and engage the other in conversation, learn who they are and the source of their discontent at the direction and speed of globalization and the threats they experience to the way of life they have and that they feel is under threat. We have to learn why one Trump supporter voted for the Donald because he spoke like him and shot from the hip in expressing his gut feelings rather than conclusions resulting from considered analysis of actual facts. We have to learn to listen and hear and to translate what we hear into workable policies.

In parallel, we must prepare for non-violent guerilla warfare. We know that Donald Trump will move to eviscerate policies and programs dedicated to combating climate change. Most targets have already been identified. We must look at the myriad of legal and political ways those attacks can be disrupted and slowed down. At the same time, we must recognize that some policies of Donald Trump may unintentionally favour the battle against human induced climate change, such as some approaches to deregulation. We must not assume that government regulation is an idol, the be-all and end-all of how to deal with climate change. And if private sector initiatives can help in the battle, then that help should be solicited. If the biggest oil and gas field in the U.S. has just been identified in Texas that is of excellent quality, then we cannot simply denounce fossil fuels. We must recognize their attraction, recognize the power of the interests behind their development, recognize that those who drive long distances to and from work want cheap fuel, and, most of all, we must identify the competitive advantage of recyclable sources of energy when operating on a level playing field and even identify to what degree and where existing fossil fuel stocks can complement the development of wind and solar energy.

This analysis must take place across the board. We know that Donald Trump will try, at the very least, to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal. We must identify legitimate areas that need attention, try to determine what may be negotiable, clearly spell out a bottom line even if it means siding with the Iranians, and, most of all, recognize the threat of the Iranian deep regime, not only because of nuclear arms, not only through the use of conventional weapons and support of “terrorists” and insurrectionists, but the threat to Iran’s own citizens. When the militants in the regime can organize and arrest most of the participants in negotiating the deal as “traitors” while the government in power signed the deal, then you know you have a formidable foe.

The same applies to every other field, mainly free trade and immigration. Trump can certainly be expected to act against both. Further, there are some areas on which Trump initiatives may have the packaging of left initiatives – such as Trump’s plans to go on an infrastructure building program. Investments in public transportation, roads, bridges, sewers, clean water and sewage plants, will generate economic activity, increase productivity and provide an additional source for taxes.

But the infrastructure program is one in name only, and not even one necessarily designed to produce jobs. After all, Ronald Klain, who oversaw the implementation of Obama’s infrastructure initiative in 2009, dubs Donald Trump’s infrastructure program a sham and a trap. The infrastructure program is “not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors” by providing tax breaks for private-sector investors, even on projects already approved, even on ones already underway. Some of the most needed infrastructure will not be repaired under the program – obsolete sewer systems and water works with lead piping. Since taxes will be definitely cut to help the very rich, deficits will increase sending interest rates higher thus endangering home ownership for young recent buyers.

In undertaking such a task, we must forgive our compatriots their failings, and even forgive ourselves. We are all fallible. To some extent, we are propelled by self-interest making a communal effort very difficult. We will also make many mistakes. But we must learn from the firms and learn to understand that in politics, leadership should go to those with vision who can tolerate risk and participants in the enterprise must be nourished in a culture that respects and even encourages risk. Commitment is a visionary enterprise. And it is the best way to defeat despair even when the hurdles are many and the prospect of many failures must be faced.

At the same time, there must be a focus on underlying political structures. The American system with its democratic monarch in the form of a very powerful president that traditional checks and balances most often controlled, will be imperilled by Donald Trump “doing his own thing.” The opposition must become conservatives who uphold traditions that protect democracy and human rights and do not pave the way for a rise of tyrants. On this and other themes, dissension among Republicans can be fostered.

Trump’s narcissism can play into the opposition’s hands. Throw a spotlight on the fact that, whether it is his VP or his nominees for various offices, Donald Trump does not take the time to introduce them to the public in an expansive way, but does so casually and informally lest the sun shine on another. Use such opportunities to stage alternative introductory sessions with expert guests to comment on the qualities of the appointees. Senator Jeff Sessions was named with a four-sentence quote delivered by email and without any statement of vision for the Department of Justice. Trump attends rallies that will reinvigorate him, not formal sessions of introduction that will inform the public further about his direction and ideas. Trump can be supported in some areas that put him at odds with economic conservatives, such as the reinstatement of the Glass-Seagall Act separating commercial and investment banking.

There are other very tough areas, like Israel/Palestine, where the division of the opposition is at risk. In such areas, careful consideration of all possibilities, realist appraisals of each of them and the search for a solution that is both principled and practical in light of the changing circumstances must be sought. Develop global partnerships with like-minded Europeans, Asians and South Americans.
Fight on the ground and in the trenches – such as over the extensive areas of conflict of interest – where there are reams of opportunities for legal and political challenges, from the use of Trump hotels for meetings and hosting overseas guests in them to the risk to foreign policy decisions because of Trump’s interests in that state. Use technology and, particularly, social and free media, much more wisely. Democrats outspent Trump 2:1 in media advertising while Trump used free media and had much more television exposure than Hillary.

Finally, pick a leader earlier, much earlier before the next round of congressional elections two years hence. Pick the transition team early as well so that the election is a vote for a group and not just an individual. Learn the role of a shadow cabinet from parliamentary democracies.

And be encouraged that this is but one of many pieces of advice on offer.