AIPAC and the U.S. Presidential Candidates – Donald Trump

AIPAC and the U.S. Presidential Candidates – Donald Trump


Howard Adelman

Because of snow and fog, I am a day behind in sending out my blogs.

I know that as a Canadian I should be writing about the new Canadian budget, lauding the government for its generous and badly needed funding for projects for aboriginal peoples, but once again, as is the habit of Canadian governments, balancing or reducing budgets for jets and ships on the back of the Department of Defence by once again taking a billion dollars or so out of the defence procurement budget. I know that the government will insist that, given the way the procurement of the replacements for the CF-18s and the ships have been so delayed, the money cannot be spent anyway, but I find that an excuse rather than an explanation.

The contrast was very telling, for the budget came down to reducing the deficit by one billion dollars in a thirty billion deficit on the same day that Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee that the United States military has not, and will not, compromise equipping troops going into harm’s way. “They have everything they need to ensure success.” Further, it was the same day that the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced a further allocation of £472 million for the Royal Navy’s Type 26 Global Combat Ship program. Canada does not adequately equip its troops and does not carry its fair contribution for burden sharing in the military for the Western military alliance.

But I am in America and more America-obsessed than usual. Yesterday, we began our day with a visit to the Akta Lakota Museum in Chamberlain, South Dakota, appreciating the fine handicrafts of the Lakota Sioux nation, but also seeing once again evidence of a terrible series of battles and wars against the plains Indians in America and a record of false promises and betrayals in the nineteenth century when signed treaties stood in the way of 15,000 prospectors pouring into the gold fields in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is always such a somber and melancholy experience to relive both the intentional and inadvertent genocidal efforts to destroy a people. The displays were meant to be uplifting as well since they were dedicated to portraying everything from survival skills to the way the children were raised with positive reinforcement when children display the specific skills and talents with which they are endowed as they reveal their best attributes in imitating their elders. It is a superb museum.

But what most moved me was a video replay of a story told by a Lakota story-teller to their children, the story of Ikto’mi, the trickster. According to legend, Ikto’mi had the round body of a spider, an insect that spins webs to trap its prey, which looks and dresses like a human. Further, he performs in clownish ways to entertain and misdirect the attention of the people from his real intentions. In the specific story told on the tape in the museum, the women of the village were alone minding their children and doing their cooking and other domestic chores while their men were out hunting. They longed for the taste of choke cherries, but they were too far off to get them since they had to stay in the village to guard the children.

Along came Ikto’mi who charmed, amused and delighted the women and then offered to babysit the children while they went off to gather the choke cherries. They would not have to pay him; he was well off and could afford to give his time to a worthy cause. At first they insisted that they could not leave their children in the care of a stranger, but Ikto’mi assured them over and over again and in different ways that he was strong and dedicated to their protection and that of their children. No stranger or animal will touch them while they are under my care. “Believe me,” he insisted, “you can absolutely trust me. The children will be obedient and well-behaved if you leave them in my care,” he reassured them. He explained with a smile that he was the epitome of the strong leader who would guard their children from any external harm. Finally, beguiled by his charm, his clownish behaviour, his convincing rhetoric and the insistent and repeated promises, and also tempted by the delight of recovering the joys of the past when choke cherries were bountiful and of easy access for picking, the women gave in, went off to the hills to pick choke cherries and left Ikto’mi in charge of the protection and care of their children.

When they returned from a hard day of collection, they were tired and anxious to see their children, but Ikto’mi persuaded them that their children were fine and engaged in a game just over the hill and he would go fetch them while they ate of a soup that he had arduously prepared for them and that would help them recuperate from their hard day’s work. The soup would make them more relaxed when uniting once again with rambunctious children that had been all worked up and over-heated after the day’s activities. So when Ikto’mi went off ostensibly to collect the children, the women sat in a circle sharing stories and eating the wonderful soup with its tender meat and unusual flavour, marveling at what a terrific cook Ikto’mi was. You can imagine their shock and dismay, their distress and anxiety, when they waited and waited and Ikto’mi did not return with their children. They went out to look for Ikto’mi, but he was not to be found. Neither were their children. They went into shock and unparalleled grief as it gradually dawned on them what had been in the soup they had eaten.

In all the gothic children’s tales in Western literature, I know of none that compares with this horrid tale of misplaced trust over a sacred duty and the dire consequences of misplaced trust.

We finally reached the motel after a long day of driving, made longer because we began with the visit to the museum, and because we had driven the last few hours through a rain storm that gradually became a spring snowstorm as the temperature dropped. We were too tired to even go out to eat, put our feet up and watched the returns in the Arizona, Utah and Idaho primaries. In Arizona, both Trump and Clinton were declared early and overwhelming victors. Hillary won over Bernie by a 58:40 ratio in the competition for 85 delegates. Trump took 47% of the primary votes to his closest rival, Ted Cruz at 25%.

In the Arizona Republican primary, because it was a winner-take-all state, Trump won all 58 of the delegates. Further, and even more ominous, the results in Arizona looked to many observers like a harbinger of what could be expected in the California primary. However, in Utah, the results were overwhelmingly the reverse with Cruz taking 69% of the vote to Kasich in second place with 17% and Trump trailing at a mere 14%. Later this week, when the Republican Idaho caucus is held, Ted Cruz is expected to repeat his performance to prove he is the only one who can deter Trump in the preliminary race for the 1,237 delegates needed. But even if Trump maintains his current trend in the states that are not likely to be pro-Cruz, he is well on his way to coming the closest to the needed minimum number of delegates required, but will almost certainly not be able to make it. However, he may come close.

Since the total of Kasich delegates (143), Rubio delegates (166), Cruz delegates (463) comes to 772 to Trump’s 738, the prospect of a brokered convention is still in play. Much depends on California and whether it refuses to follow the pattern of Arizona given Cruz’s support among evangelicals and the support of Republican moderates for Kasich. Certainly, here in Idaho where the Republican vote will take place later this week, every third radio station seems to be Christian programming, every other third station broadcasts country music. However, there is always American public radio. But if discussions with a few random people in one town in Idaho are any indication, Cruz will emerge as the big winner. The people I have met in Idaho, Montana and South Dakota are so super-friendly, so helpful, so clearly honest and trusting, so smiley and positive thinking, so optimistic on the surface, that it is hard to match their despair with the Obama administration with their optimistic faith. The people seem so wonderful, I almost pray I could identify with the dominant political attitude I encountered.

As divisive as the Republican race has been, it will prove tame in comparison to the Republican/Democratic contest. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, as the saying goes. Yesterday, on talk radio, one female radio commentator averred that, given the open Democratic support for the murder of children, she would even vote for Trump if he was the Republican candidate, ignoring his support for Planned Parenthood. Other Republicans indicated they would sit out the election if Trump was chosen.

Bernie’s campaign against Hillary also received a new bolt of energy when he took the Utah caucus by 80% to Hillary’s 20% (18:5 delegates) and in Idaho won 78% to 21% (17:5 delegates). He also won the overseas primary and emerged from the evening with more delegates than Hillary. The race, which earlier in the evening appeared to be over with the Arizona results, was not over, especially when it is noted that if it had not been for Hispanic support, Hillary would have done even worse in Utah. But Clinton still enjoys a 1681:927 lead in delegates over Sanders. The latter remains a very long shot in spite of his tremendous victories in Utah and Idaho and his substantial win of overseas delegates..

However, I want to focus on the speeches of the candidates, especially the leading candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, delivered to AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Monday meeting. I pay little attention to Cruz and Kasich, not only because the other two are leading, not only because it would take too many blogs or each blog would become too long, not only because I found nothing new in either the Cruz or the Kasich speeches from what I expected, but because the Trump and Clinton talks were both so revealing.

Donald Trump broke stride and read his speech from a teleprompter, probably to avoid the many trip wires when it came to Israel. As we shall see, he probably avoided those he was warned about, but nevertheless managed to trip over his own words and contradict himself several times. However, in spite of the frequent applause by parts of the audience, as well as cheers (Jane Eisner, the Editor-in-chief of Jewish news sources, expressed shame that “any of my fellow Jews could applaud Trump” and listen to “the pandering lies”), Trump managed to achieve the unprecedented – get the leaders of AIPAC to apologize for his speech. AIPAC President, Lillian Pinkus, and four other leaders were contrite because Trump had so blatantly broken the requirement that speeches to AIPAC were supposed to be non-partisan; disputes with other politicians were to be left at the door as the candidates simply addressed their take on policy issues with respect to Israel.

Three times, Trump went after Barack Obama, twice by offering ad hoc additions to his written text. “Obama in his final year – Yay.” In his usual extravagant and over-the-top clearly false claims, whatever one thinks of Obama’s policies, he called Obama the most dangerous for Israel. Obama is “the worst thing that ever happened to Israel.” “Believe me,” he said. Not Khomeini! Not Nasrallah. But Obama! And Trump repeated his usual claim that Obama had negotiated the worst deal with Iran, the leading centre of global terrorism according to Trump in this speech as if ISIS did not exist.

But he then contradicted himself. Instead of threatening to tear up the deal the next day after he took office, as Ted Cruz promised, he said his number one number priority was to roll back the disastrous deal with Iran. At the same time, he would make sure Iran kept to the deal, virtually identical to the pledge Hillary Clinton was making. He would enforce the deal – the worst deal ever made, “enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before, believe me!” BELIEVE ME. BELIEVE ME. BELIEVE ME. Why believe Trump? Trump should know, according to Donald Trump, for, after all, had he not written, in his own words as part of his speech, one of the most widely sold books of all time, The Art of the Deal. Later I learned, or had misheard, that he was citing his book as “the No. 1 selling business (my italics) book of all time, “at least I think, but I’m pretty sure it is.”

Though it is an aside, it is relevant to undertake a fact check, both to give an indication of the huge discrepancy between Trump’s boasting and reality on something that is relatively unpolitical and the data is readily available to him. (See Linda Qiu The Art of the Deal is more of a personal memoir than a business book, though, like many self-improvement books, it offers 11 steps for business success. It is not regarded highly and is not used in business schools. In the tallies of print copies sold by major booksellers (85% of the market), according to Nielsen data, The Art of the Deal sold about 177,000 copies with all its expensive publicity and celebrity promotion though claimed sales are one million.

Published Binding type Publisher Sales since 2001
Nov. 1, 1987 Hardcover Random House 17,000
Jan. 1, 1989 Mass market paperback Random House 90,000
Dec. 1, 2004 Mass market paperback Hachette Book Group 70,000

The book is an easy read and offered Trump’s usual claimed candidness in an enthusiastically self-promotional boastful style spiced up by dissing others and settling scores.  But in spite of its afternoon TV popularity, sales in millions using Nielsen data in regular brackets and gross possible estimates in square brackets, do not compare to any of the following:

  • Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman (1982) In Search of Excellence(.054) [3]
  • Stephen Covey (1989) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2.18) [10-25]

Biographies like those of

  • Steve Jobs (1.74) [3]

Best-selling self-help books

  • Dale Carnegie (1936) How to Win Friends and Influence People (2.27) [15]

Personal Financial Guides

  • Robert Kiyosaki (2000) Rich Dad, Poor Dad (4) [6.99]

Donald Trump has had a number of chances to correct this boast, but as is his habit, he ignores any facts that might contradict his beliefs and boasts and covers up by qualifiers – “I may be wrong.” So he is factually challenged. In his speech to AIPAC, he claimed that Iran painted on its missiles in Farsi and Hebrew, “Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth.”  Iran has enough horrific attributes without repeating sources such as Zerohedge that has, since offering this claimed fact, been delisted from the internet. Donald Trump not only repeats falsities over and over again and seems immune to any principle of falsification, but has also no respect for the principle of non-contradiction.

Donald Trump is also logically challenged since he repeatedly contradicts himself. There was another example in his speech to AIPAC. Trump reiterated that his number one priority was to tear up the “disastrous” and “catastrophic” deal made with Iran. He castigated the current administration for the $150 billion that the U.S. “stupidly and foolishly gave them (Iran)” when it was not American money. Further, the amount of Iranian monies released was $100 billion. Trump omitted to state that most of that money had been committed to pay bills. Then he made his usual absolutely preposterous remark. “I’ve studied this issue in great detail, I would say greater by far than anybody else.” Quite aside from his being in no position to make such a comparative claim, quite aside from every indication that he seems never to have even actually read the deal let alone knowing the deal in great detail, quite aside from absolutely making no effort to correct what he says when presented with actual details, Trump simply tries to pander to his Jewish audience.

After describing the UN as the worst organization, as utterly incompetent and weak, as “a total and complete disaster,” he insisted that the UN Security Council should properly monitor the agreement and then insisted that the UN was not enforcing a non-existent UNSC resolution that forbad Iran from testing missiles. Yet Trump vowed to veto “any attempt to impose UN will on Israel,” as if the incompetent UN was capable, let alone willing, to do any such thing. In the porridge of non-facts, outright lies, contradictions, ad hominem attacks, distractions, irrelevant asides and dodges, criticizing Donald Trump is akin to applying rational principles to Jello. Further, he always claims to have the power to correct situations nowhere within the power of any U.S. President, though the President can possibly have an influence if the situation is handled with diplomatic skill.

Palestinians glorify terrorists. “That will end and it’ll end soon, believe me,” claimed Donald Trump. He began his address by asserting that he was new to politics, but had been a lifelong friend of Israel. He then shifted to 9/11 and cited the fact that Rudy Giuliani after the attacks on the Trade Center in New York visited Israel to show solidarity with the terror victims. Presumably the reference to Giuliani was made because a panel of eight experts concluded for Haaretz in 2008 that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani had been the best presidential candidate as far as Israel was concerned in the 2008 election. Trump also boasted that he had sent his plane????? “Because I backed the mission for Israel 100 percent.” Once again, he repeated what he had said in numerous interviews that, at the height of the second Intifada, he had been the grand marshal of the 40th Salute to Israel Parade in New York at great risk since Israel was not in the favour of the public. He was always a lifelong supporter of Israel.

The regular American catechism was cited:

  • The U.S. and Israel enjoy an unbreakable friendship
  • Israel is America’s cultural brother
  • Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

However, Donald Trump avoided Wolf Blitzer’s question of his views on the settlements through his usual obfuscations and confusions. He addressed the issue of moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, but quietly added that the timing had to be determined by circumstances, a position identical to the current and that of previous American administrations. What about his claims to be neutral versus his current ultra-hawk position? What about his insistence that Israel repay all the monies given to Israel in military aid? Yet Trump insisted that, “When I say something I mean it.”

As Jair Rosenberg wrote in the aftermath of the AIPAC address, “whatever the reception to Trump’s speech says about Jews and AIPAC—little of it good—it pales in comparison to what the speech tells us about Trump as a viable politician and presidential candidate. And what it does tell us should frighten every American,” not simply because Trump could read a normal AIPAC speech from a teleprompter, but because he could be absolutely politically correct and avoid his usual misogyny and bigotry. As we shall see, whatever one thinks of Hillary Clinton, her talks reveal an expert both familiar with the details and capable of communicating facts and principles.

Listening to Trump is akin to being charmed by Ikto’mi.

With the help of Alex Zisman




The Mid-West Presidential Primaries

The Mid-West Presidential Primaries


Howard Adelman

We are now in South Dakota in a little town called Chamberlain known for its trout fishing. We will do no fishing, but that seemed to be the main attraction for all the men in Charlys Restaurant & Lounge last evening where N’s chardonnay was terrible and her filet minion even worse. I remind myself that we should follow my personal guideline – never order a steak in cattle country because the best meat gets shipped to the high class restaurants in New York. (This conclusion is, of course, based on extensive empirical research.)   However, we very much look forward to visiting the Akta Lakota Museum this morning before we set off further west.

Yesterday morning in Des Moines, Iowa, we had an auspicious start. Instead of writing my blog, I got up early to move the top tarp on the packed trailer we are hauling to deliver a load of personal belongings to our son Daniel who has become a farmer in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. The tarp was luffing and one of the straps on top seemed to have gotten loose. eyes, problematic enough, but because of how I process visual information. I have difficulty recognizing faces, though nowhere as difficult as Oliver Sacks. I had enormous difficulties in medical school in recognizing what I was looking at through a microscope. A neighbour who had helped me finish covering the trailer and fastening the ratchet straps sent me a video with clear and simple instructions on how ratchets worked.

I watched it perhaps five times. It was short, direct and clear, but when I went to translate what I had seen into practice, I seemed to bugger it up every time. I did not tell N what an idiot I had been, but told her that everything was perfectly tied down. For, after two hours – most of the time admittedly not spent on the ratchets – I finally asked a truck driver in the parking lot for help. In less than a minute, he corrected my mistakes and had the straps properly tightened. I relearned what I have learned many times before. I have the visual intelligence of an idiot. I may be terrific with abstract thought and analysis, with absorbing reams of material, but my visual intelligence is sub-moronic. And to think that I was admitted to medical school! Can you imagine all the lives I saved by quitting medicine?

We then had to find and go to an auto shop, for our right brake and blinker light on the trailer were not working. The mechanic had to rewire the connection because the plug was in poor shape and one of the wires had been pinched. Then we stopped at an auto parts dealer to purchase and put on some universal reflector plates for the side of the rear lights on the trailer that had gone missing and that we had been advised to put in to prevent moisture getting into the rear trailer lights. Not to worry. In addition to all the driving, N did the job. Such are the joys of pulling a trailer.

Yesterday was the first day of spring. The temperature rose from 28 degrees Fahrenhei t in the morning – there was frost on the top of the tarp on the trailer – to 65 degrees F. It was a glorious day. However, we are lucky. If we had delayed our departure by two days, we would have run into rain later today and snow tomorrow in Sioux Falls and Sioux City. As it is, the temperature will drop today when we get to Billings, Montana to 42 F and we may get 1” of snow the next day on route to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, but no high winds or squalls, so we are almost in the clear weather-wise all the way to Oregon.

In the past two days we have travelled from Michigan through the north-west corner of Indiana through Illinois and stayed overnight in Des Moines, Iowa, actually a suburb called Urbandale. Yesterday we traversed the rest of Iowa, the north-east corner of Nebraska and ended up in South Dakota. So in two days we have traveled through six of the fifty American states, not a bad sample size, except het the states come from only a few geographical regions. I have already written about Michigan, but I will first reply to two of the responses for clarification. But first, one correction!

I think the number of electors in the electoral college for each state equals the number of that states number in congress: representatives plus senators.  For Michigan, I think it is 16.

Dead on! My apologies.

Response 1:

  1.  I would not norm around Michigan.  Ohio’s a better index for the Dems.  From here on in, Hillary should lock up most of the states and especially the big ones.  The question lingers: why she captures the votes but not the hearts.  It’s interesting to hear Jacob on this, because he captures an important, lingering sentiment.  It’s about trust.  People trust Sanders even though his policy program is unrealistic.  One is tempted to say this is the hangover from 2008 and Obama’s hope pitch.
  1.  Is Trump a winner or the GOP a loser?  I think it’s the latter; as the GOP coalition splinters, Trump benefits.  Their worst nightmare was Ohio.  Kasich will now stay in the race and continue to splinter the anti-Trump bloc.  His latest declaration that Merrick Garland should come up for a vote is part of his gambit to seem moderate.  This will only perpetuate the divide.  With Rubio gone, which really was the GOP establishment’s last, very flimsy, hope, the pathway to Trump is clearer than ever.  Neither Cruz nor Kasich can possibly win so long as the other stays in.  Once CA and NY vote, and it seems likely Trump will win both, there is no real alternative without shattering the party, which the brass may choose to do: smash it all in order to rescue it.  See below, nuclear options.

You have to love the irony of the anti-country clubbers voting for the man who builds country clubs.  Literally.  What has surprised many observers, though is that the breaks don’t go the anti-Trump way — that’s to say, when a rival drops out, his backers (or in the case of Carla F, her backers) they don’t go to the runner up to Trump; they break in his favor more than many expected.

Hillary could lose to Trump is the right conjugation.  But it is implausible.  The only demographic he has a chance at winning is white men.  That’s a small fraction of the US population now.  About 35%.  So, even if he takes 55% of that vote, he’ll get swamped by the tide going the other way.  This is the reason why the GOP brass are in a total panic; for the long term health of the party, it’s a disaster.  Have a look at this report:

Of course, I am mindful of the fact that we should presume the triumph of reason.  It’s happened before that demagoguery — of the hard and soft kinds — have prevailed.

Response 2:

If Trump runs for president as the GOP candidate and loses, will he then self-describe as a loser?  If Trump wins, it is guaranteed more Americans will leave for points south and north.  Will that not make him a loser of citizens?   If Trump wins as an expression of the ugly, stupid and AND angry American, what can he possibly do to make that contingent happy and calm?  Won’t they quickly become disaffected and, once again, he is a loser?  Bottom line: if Trump wins, isn’t that just a loss by another name?

My Reply:

  1. I did not offer Michigan as a norm but as an outlier given the results the following week, but there are lessons to be learned from outliers. You are correct that Ohio is a better indicator for the Democrats, but why did Sanders win Michigan, why were the polls so wrong, and is there any implication for the presidential election even as Hillary clinches the nomination?
  2. Re Jacob’s leaning towards Sanders, Gabriel too has for a long time been a strong Sander’s supporter’ So are his friends who think about politics, but he admits most are uninterested.
  3. In my examination, it is better to keep Kasich in the race since, if he dropped out, many of his supporters would not go to Cruz, who is at least as unrealistic as Trump and much further to the right. Some would go to Trump because he is relatively more appealing to Reagan democrats and working class Republican voters than Cruz. The only way to keep Trump from winning is to make sure he cannot win on the first ballot and then fight for the votes released, particularly from the winner take all states. Given the broader base of Trump supporters, Trump would be a riskier opponent for the Democrats than Cruz.
  4. Is Trump the winner and the GOP the loser?  Other than replying that everyone is a loser if Trump wins, including Trump, the real issue the Republicans face is whether they want a very different party or whether they are better off trying to put together the shattered pieces of what is left, especially since, for many Republicans, Trump is believed to be a disaster for America as well as the Republican Party. Though neither Cruz nor Kasich can possibly win as long as the other stays in, it is also true that neither can win if the other drops out. The only way Trump can lose is in a brokered convention, admittedly a nuclear disaster for the Republican Party. Who will blink? Definitely not Trump.

Back to the primaries.

Tonight we will have the results from Arizona which, in the Republican primary, has 75 delegates in a winner-take-all state where Trump is expected to win big. Cruz may win both Idaho (23 delegates) and Utah (33 delegates), but those states are divided proportionately, so Trump is once again expected to be the big winner. As of today, he has 680 delegated to 424 for Cruz and 123 for Kasich, more than the other two put together. Because of carryovers from other delegates in the race and his expected performance in the remaining primaries (South Dakota’s is not until 7 June), he is not likely to get the 1237 required, but is expected to come close and to easily beat both his rivals by considerable numbers. So the issue has now become whether the party will observe the will of the largest plurality of voters or behave in accordance with the rules and let the delegates decide on the second and possibly subsequent ballots. I suspect they will not give in to Trump’s bluff and bullying and will let the delegates choose, even though Trump is still expected to win even then.

Passing through Iowa the day before yesterday and yesterday, helps recall the state which was a turning point in the primary race. Last night on CNN in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Trump was boasting he was likely to win a majority of delegates in the primaries and, in any case, would come so close that, given the distribution of delegates among the 17 candidates who started in the race, he would deserve to be crowned as the winner. He also insisted that he had the momentum, winning 4 of 5 states last week and losing to Kasich in his home state of Ohio by only a very small margin. True to Trump’s pattern of constructing reality out of his imagination rather than actuality, the vote in Ohio was 956,762 (46.8%) for Kasich to 727,585 (35.6%) for Trump (Cruz received 267,592 votes – 13.1%). When Trump wins by 10%, for him his victory is “huge, really huge,” but when Kasich beat him by more than that margin, Trump contends he came “close, really close” and only lost by a small margin. Trump is almost impossible to fact check simply because the number of facts he gets wrong and distorts is so enormous. But mostly he obfuscates and evades.

Bernie soldiers on now, no longer as the surprise real contender but as the leader of a movement rather than a force seeking to be the Democratic candidate. Of course, Ohio was really the end of the road for Bernie, because he could not carry over his victory in Michigan to Ohio and received only 42.7% (513,549) to Hillary’s 679,266 votes (56.5%), so the real excitement remains the Republican race. And it ends in Ohio in the convention in Cleveland. One interesting observation in Ohio: Kaslich captured the eastern and southern third (geographically) of the state, while Trump won in the western third. In contrast, in the democratic race, Bernie won a smattering of counties in the south-east, the south-west, the north-west, the centre, but only one county in the north-east.

In contrast to the Ohio primary, where it was hoped that Bernie would come close to or even beat Hillary, Illinois was a virtual tie, with Hillary eking out a very slight psychological victory with only 50.46% of the vote, but only the same number of 78 pledged delegates as Bernie. But Hillary is expected to get 100% of the 22 unpledged or super-delegates. In Illinois where Trump won his “huge, really huge” victory, he received only 38.8% of the vote (exactly as the average of the poll projections) to Cruz’s 30.3% and Kasich’s 8.7%. Together, his two opponents beat him and both came in slightly higher than poll expectations. However, Trump must get a majority of the delegates. Even more interesting, Trump boasts that he brings out huge numbers of new voters, but his total vote in Illinois was only 556,916. In contrast, Hillary garnered over a million votes.

In Iowa, Ted Cruz was the big winner with 51,666 votes to Trump’s 45,427 in a clear two-way race in the Iowa caucus, even though in the polling prior to the vote, Cruz had been trailing by roughly 5%. As we listened to talk radio in Iowa yesterday, the radio host on the phone-in show was a clear Trump supporter. One of his callers was a woman who had just been in a verbal political argument at her chiropractor’s office. She had emerged totally frustrated. The media were all against Trump playing one video clip over and over again showing a supporter hitting a protester. (Last night, Trump insisted that they were not protesters but professional agitators.) For the female Trump supporter, Trump was for peace as he said and she ignored the statements (as did Trump) that Wolf Blitzer in his interview cited of his encouraging violence. After all, as Trump said, he opposed any violence at the Cleveland Convention, but if the establishment denied him a victory, the voters were very angry and, he was just saying, you can expect riots. The female call-in supporter said she just would not vote if the Republican Party denied her candidate the right to be on the ballot in accordance with the will of the people.

Nebraska, though it only has a small number of delegates, is interesting because, in a Republican state, in the Democratic primary, Bernie won 57.1% to Hilary’s 42.9%. In South Dakota, all the men up early with me in the motel breakfast room were far more interested in discussing fishing than watching or analyzing the replays of Clinton and Trump addressing the AIPAC meeting yesterday. (I did not see any replays of Cruz or Kaisich – perhaps they speak today, and Bernie rejected AIPAC’s invitation to address them.) The men at breakfast all seemed to be Republican voters, but rather than enthusiastic for one candidate or another, politics as conducted just seemed to turn them off. Perhaps not one of them would actually vote.


With the help of Alex Zisman

Nomination Time in the U.S.A. 1. Michigan

Nomination Time in the U.S.A.   1. Michigan


Howard Adelman

There is no magic or appropriate rationale for beginning this exploration of the current electoral mood in the United States except that Michigan is my first stop in my American tour. I begin writing, not in order to predict what will happen in the rest of the presidential nomination process in the U.S., but to understand the process and the factors that have pushed it one way or another and to anticipate possible rather than likely outcomes. The direction of the Southern States is now clear, but not the Northern tier or the Western cluster; Bernie Sanders stands virtually no chance of winning the nomination as the Democratic candidate. Yet without Bernie Sanders, if Michigan is an indication, in a faceoff between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Hilary could be the loser. That is a provocative assertion, but after I clear the underbrush, I will explain my thinking. But before you get all worked up with anxiety about the future of the leadership of the Western world, keep in mind that I wrote, “if Michigan is an indication.”

Given the data, there is an obvious puzzle over why Hillary Clinton, who was projected to win Michigan by a substantial margin according to virtually all polls, lost by a narrow margin. Since the polls for Republican voters were reasonably accurate, what happened? Further, the polls in the subsequent elections in Illinois and Ohio were reasonably accurate, so what happened on 8 March in Michigan, the 24th state to vote
in this year’s American primaries? And what is the relevance for the Presidential election in which Michigan holds 242 votes in the electoral college that will select the President?

I begin with the GOP. The Republican race in Michigan was a primary with a minimum threshold of 15% to even win any delegates, a key factor for Marco Rubio. At the half-way mark, with the contenders reduced to four, Michigan was supposed to offer a good indication of the eventual results. Note that although any candidate whose vote exceeds 50% wins all at-large delegates (as distinct from congressional district delegates) from the state, no candidate did.

Understanding the following basic data is important in Michigan where the total number of delegates at stake in the Republican primary was 59 to be distributed proportionally among the candidates receiving at least 15% of the vote.

Ave. Poll

Candidate          %      Projections      Votes        Delegates   Targets

Donald Trump   36.5     39                  483,751           25             345,000

Ted Cruz            24.9     24                 330,015           17             345,000

John Kasich        24.3    23                  321,655           17             ?

Marco Rubio        9.3    14                  121,672             0             ?

A key indicator was whether Ted Cruz could bring on board white voters without any college experience who, in large proportions did not normally vote. Could his formidable ground force of evangelical/Tea Party supporters, using old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning to bring out the vote, achieve their target of 345,000 votes? They came reasonably close. At the same time, could Donald Trump continue his streak of bringing on board large numbers of previous non-Republican voters and non-voters, especially again among white voters, again without college experience. He succeeded beyond his expectations. John Kasich hoped his track record of creating jobs in neighbouring Ohio could stand in good stead in Michigan where underemployment and unemployment were major issues. He did about as well as expected.

The big loser was, of course, Marco Rubio. As the election approached, Marco Rubio was panicking over polls in his home state of Florida and he shifted to concentrate his efforts there. But his decline in the number of expected delegates and failing to achieve the minimal 15% left him branded as a loser that multiplied his troubles in Florida. The shift in resources and surrender in Michigan proved to be a big mistake, compounded by his stooping into the gutter to engage in dissing with a master of the art, Donald Trump. Elections are not simply or even mostly about policies and programs, especially this year’s Republican primary. They are about stamina and the communication that the candidate in question is a winner. Rubio made a major mistake and lost the Florida primary to an even larger extent in Michigan.

Mitt Romney, a prince among Republicans, had called Donald Trump a phony and a fraud among a large number of epithets thrown at the candidate leading the Republican pack. Mitt Romney was a former governor of Michigan. Although the combination of unaffiliated PAC ads and candidate-affiliated super PAC ads as a percentage of all GOP ads that were anti-Trump grew from 9% in February to 47% in the first week of March, and given that the pro-Marco Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC accounted for five times as many anti-Trump ads as the next-highest group, the ads were, nevertheless, counter-productive and reinforced the anger against the country club establishment in the Republican Party. Donald Trump benefited more from the Rubio loss of votes than either Ted Cruz or John Kaslich.

Look at the results of the exit polls:

  • Trump won 44% of male Republicans, 28% from women.
  • Kasich posted a strong and early lead in the country club counties such as Oakland as expected.
  • Cruz did well considering that Republican congressional representatives tend to be moderate in a state ranked as very liberal generally; Cruz is at the extreme right in the Party, but so are Bill Huizenga and Justin Amash from Michigan.
  • The Trump vote increased by 3.5% over projections.

All of the above are critical to understanding the path of the Republican primary vote, but in the last half dozen presidential races, Michigan voters have supported the Democratic Party’s candidate. So the primary results may help choose the Republican candidate but probably not the winner in the presidential election where the Democrats are expected to take the 242 Michigan electoral college votes.

That is why the Democratic race with 130 Michigan delegates at stake (340 overall that day) is so crucial to determining the eventual results. Clinton entered the Michigan primary with 677 pledged delegates (59%) to Sanders’s 478 (41 %) making her, by far, the most likely candidate to win even if Bernie Sanders took Michigan. Bernie was a long shot, but emerged as a long shot winner, nowhere sufficient to ever catch up to Clinton, but an important psychological victory nevertheless. The primary vote indicated that the younger the voters, the lower the minority population as a percentage of the total and the greater the percentage of educated as well as working-class, the better Sander’s chances are.

According to the weighted (based on record of accuracy) average of a large number of polls, Hillary Clinton was projected to win 59.2% of the delegates (range of 52%-66%) to Bernie Sanders 38.3% (33%-47% range). Only one poll came close to the margin of error in predicting Bernie’s win, the Mitchell Research and Communications Poll, with52% for Hillary Clinton and 47% for Bernie Sanders. Given the surprise for both candidates at the actual results, it seems that internal campaign polls did not differ from the various external ones. On the other hand, the number of targeted delegates by each candidate indicated that the results were not totally surprising since the Clinton campaign’s target was 63 delegates while that of Sanders was 67 delegates. The targets and the actual results were congruent.

As stated above, the results were psychological more than political, boosting morale in the Sanders camp and initiating a recalibration in the Clinton camp, but with no deep concern that Clinton would not eventually win the nomination, though the prospect of a dark horse candidate had now become real even though implausible. Even more significant, according to exit polls, was Sanders increase in support among Black voters – up from 10 or so percent in the South to 30% in Michigan. He was projected to win 21% of Black voters in Michigan, but won 30%. The oddest result was that Sanders, a Jew and a self-declared socialist, did very well among Arab Americans, especially in Dearborn where Sanders won over Clinton by a huge 2:1 ratio (64:36).

  1. Was Sander’s increase in the Black vote in part due to his appeal to blue-collar workers because he was so opposed to the free-trade deals which did not provide a net for workers earning good wages and now requiring retraining?
  2. Since self-identified independents also seem to vote for Sanders, does this bode ill for Clinton indicating that these voters might switch to Trump rather than Clinton since Trump also has been very critical of those trade deals?
  3. Further, since Sanders has benefited from much higher turn out of voters, and this is the same phenomenon that has buoyed the Trump campaign, will Trump benefit from a good proportion of these voters?

Aside from the fact that I am in the most liberal part of the state, in Ann Arbor, my personal “extensive” polling last evening and this morning of people exiting, not the polling booth, but the motel, indicates that the largely unexpected results in the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Michigan may have been due to a number of factors:

  • The polls were inaccurate because younger voters get their news and information from the new social media and it is very difficult to access their opinions using traditional methods so that, when it comes to determining the preferences of younger voters, polls may not be reliable.
  • There seems to be some overlap between the voters to whom Trump appeals to those flocking to Bernie Sanders, not among the young educated voters, but among the disaffected working class in Michigan that have turned voters against any establishment, Republican or Democratic.
  • In the primary vote, it was safe to vote for Bernie because he was unlikely to be the presidential candidate and, even if he was, polls showed him beating Trump by an even larger margin than Hillary Clinton, evidently because Sanders was a more formidable competitor for the disaffected vote than Donald Trump.
  • Local conditions, especially considering the subsequent vote in Ohio, seem to have had a powerful influence on the disposition of the voters in the primary in Michigan.

Let me expand on those local conditions. Perhaps the most important factor has been the reams of stories about the lead poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, and, even more importantly, the apparent indifference and insensitivity of the previously well-esteemed Republican governor to the plight of the citizens of Flint, Michigan. First of all, it was learned that Michigan authorities adopted cost-saving changes in the city’s water supply that caused mass lead poisoning. The governor, Rick Snyder, as a Republican accounting technocrat determined to cut costs. He had set the tone for such policy decisions. In 2013, an official appointed by the Governor decided to save money by changing the water supply for Flint Michigan. Though the problem of lead poisoning quickly became evident in tests of the water supply, it was not until 2015 that the old source of water was reinstated. Contrary to the efforts of Republicans in Washington to blame the Obama administration, states are in charge of enforcing drinking-water standards, not Washington. In fact, the Republican- controlled Congress has hamstrung the federal government and even eliminated the power of the EPA to intervene.

Donald Trump has promised to eliminate the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, as have other Republicans. For voters influenced by issues rather than by assertions of a faith in the strength of the leader, by voters who have come to understand that government, rather than being the source of the problem, is, in reality, the sine qua non of adequate services and the foundation, economic as well as social, for the well-being of a society, “socialism” in the U.S. has subsequently been retired among many as an epithet of abuse, Bernie became the preferred option in the fight over the good versus claimed evil of governance and government.

Another powerful and continuing scandal resulted from the enormous $18 billion municipal bankruptcy of Detroit. In the bankruptcy resolution, just as in the bailout of the automobile industry, the big institutions were protected, but not the salaries or pensions, even of the 12,000 existing retirees.. Not only did pension cheques shrink by 6.7%, but large numbers of pensioners were required to pay back “overpayments” of tens of thousands of dollars, not even spread out over time, but in a lump sum. If the pensioner opted to pay over time, the account was subject to a 6.75% interest charge. To make matters worse, the settlement was initiated in the beginning of March for the repayment for what former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr said was excess interest paid out in special payments on top of the regular pensions.

In Ann Arbor this past weekend, there is a large swim meet with high school students participating from all over the state. The meet has been plagued evidently by poor air quality and consequent skin irritation and rashes for the students caused by the chlorine in the pool mixing with the oil on the skin of the swimmers, exacerbated by large numbers and the desire of the swimmers to compete with dry bathing suits and, therefore, avoiding washing off before they plunge into the pool. However, the problem is evidently easily relieved by a good up-to-date ventilation system, but the school infrastructure is old and has long been in need correction, just one relatively minor item in a very long list of capital improvement deficits that plague states and municipalities given the last three decades of assaults on taxation and governments.

It was not clear to me than any of those whom I questioned who came from the nether reaches of the State of Michigan made any connection between political ideology and current practices and the capital deficits, unemployment and condition of rust-belt America. They tended to blame  the problem on the kids for not showering, though they acknowledged that, given the importance of small advantages in competitive swimming, it was understandable why students did not shower properly.

In the process of the discussion, I believe I acquired a greater understanding of why, even if Bernie Sander’s campaign to become the Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party may be hopeless, the movement and its long term effects on American society and attitudes is probably more important than even Bernie winning. That is why I believe he is staying in the race.

I write this as more reports on altercations at Trump rallies are being broadcast on CNN this morning. Will these unaffiliated voters be drawn towards a posture of strength in a leader or towards someone campaigning against the critics, not of bad government or of corrupt government, but at government in general? Given Clinton’s shifts in her rhetoric recently, perhaps she can win most of those voters to the Democratic camp.


Sacrifice and Charity

Sacrifice and Charitable Giving: Vayikra Leviticus 1:1 – 5:36
Howard Adelman

When I was a youngster, I dreaded when we started reading Leviticus, the third book of the Torah. I found it such a bore. This year, it perked some interest. I thought I would write about the depiction of when leaders sin, whereas with everyone else the issue is if they sin. It is as if, qua leader, you were expected to sin and the only issue was when.

But as interesting as that issue is theologically and politically, I will not write about it this year. Instead I will write about the difference between sacrifice and charitable offerings or donations. Because I am going away and will not be back until after the due date for filing my taxes, I had my tax return completed early and began reviewing my return this morning. I noticed there was no entry for deductions for donations and gifts. I had given my accountant a pile of charitable tax receipts, but there was no entry for the total that I could find. Had he slipped up or was the entry where I could not find it? I will email him, but it did get me to think about the relationship of charitable killing to charitable giving.

Both sacrifice and charitable giving must be done of one’s free will. A compulsory assessment is not a charitable donation unless there is a free will component. We may give, but we do not just have to. If we give, the holy ordinances laid down apply. Often the sermons at this time of year in synagogues will make references to one’s charitable giving, especially to the synagogue, as the historical successor to the burnt offerings and sacrifices in the ancient temple. It is said that congregants contribute to a synagogue in a system similar to the ancient Israeli practice of korbanot. I question the connection, except for the common elements of a free will and the concept that you give in accordance with your means.

Look at even some of the obvious differences:

  1. A Temple offering, whether a bull or a sheep, a goat or a pigeon, a turtle dove or a  meal offerings, must be unblemished and be the best of your animals or, if a meal offering, made by the finest oils and flour; it is not a sacrifice if you are giving what you do not want anyway. Who checks whether money offered for charity is legitimate or not?
  2. There seems to be a superficial resemblance between bringing a sacrifice to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting where a judgement will be made whether what is offered qualifies. After all, the contemporary Tent of Meeting, Parliament, decides which donations meet specific requirements. Except, not quite. Parliament decides which charities qualify and that determines whether a charitable donation qualifies. There is no scrutinizing of the motives of the donor or the purity of the gift, just of the services performed by the organization claiming to be a charity.
  3. The determination of whether an organization is a charity is made by Parliament on behalf of the people; a sacrifice made before the Tent of Meeting is determined as qualified by the priest, but it is on behalf of the Lord, not the people.
  4. A sin or guilt offering is given to expiate sin; a charitable donation may be given to expiate sin – as viewed in all those scenes in movies when a priest orders a confessor to say ten Hail Marys and drop ten dollars in the charitable box to expiate his or her sin. However, normally, a donation is considered worthy if the organization to which it is given is judged worthy, that is, whether it serves good and charitable purposes in health, education or welfare. Charity is given to make up for sin and shortcomings not to balance accounts in the soul of the giver.
  5. When you offer a sacrifice, one presumes the person offering the sacrifice feels deep guilt. In charitable giving, the presumption, though not the actuality probably, is that an individual gives out of “purity of heart” and is meant to feel good in the giving.
  6. When offering a sacrifice at the entry to the Tent of Meeting, given the way the carcass of the dead animal was banged around and the blood scattered, the place had to stink like a slaughter house, even if the odour was “pleasing to the Lord.” {That in itself is worthy of a separate blog – why the Lord our God finds the smells of a slaughterhouse and a smokehouse so pleasing and why the priest as a ritual slaughterer is remote rather than social or pastoral, a severe rather than a comforting and instructional individual.) A charity as a place to donate, by contrast, should be squeaky clean compared to the altar in front of the Tent of Meeting.
  7. Vayikra does not, literally, mean sacrifice; it means “drawing closer to the Lord.” The point of offering a sacrifice is to be near God, to experience God’s presence. In our contemporary culture, do we experience God’s presence through charitable giving? Perhaps sometimes. But I suspect charity is mostly offered by those who are already close to or actually in the presence of God.
  8. The major difference between the two forms of giving is that, in our modern world, we try to take the sacrifice out of charitable giving and most of us give only when it really costs us very little, when there is little pain in the process. Sacrifice always entails pain, pain of a poor shepherd in giving up the best of his herd for a sacrifice and pain experienced by the animal or bird sacrificed. Modern modes of appealing for a charitable offering are usually designed to make the giving as painless as possible.
  9. In a sacrifice, other than what the priest gets to eat, everything goes up in smoke; a charitable offering is intended to serve a functional purpose over and above the services provided by a welfare state. In the evaluation of charities, a key measure of success is the degree to which the charity contributes to the community with the fewest proportion of expenses spent on administration. In charity, you are supposed to get a “bang for your buck.” Sacrifice, in contrast, is a negative sum game according to measurable standards.
  10. You may give a sacrifice in celebration of and, hopefully, the continuous prospect of good fortune. In the contemporary world, charitable giving is often a display of good fortune.

Last evening we watched an Indian film, Amal. Amal is a rickshaw driver, those three wheel open crosses between a motorcycle and a taxi that replaced the two-wheeled pulled tilted version; the auto baya eased the burden on these traditionally illiterate workers. In the film, rickshaw drivers are generally portrayed as shifty and dishonest, but Amal has a heart of pure gold. In the film, his act of charity is truly a sacrifice and there is no indication that he can get a tax deduction for his contribution.

I am not Amal. I will call my accountant to ensure that I receive the appropriate credit from my taxes for my charitable contributions.


With the help of Alex Zisman

Corporeality XX – Canadian Defence Policy Part I

Corporeality XX – Canadian Defence Policy Part I


Howard Adelman

Defence policy is largely thought of in terms of military defence. If there is one thing that the Justin Trudeau Liberals have accomplished is the shift to thinking about defence policy within a much larger context than simply preparing the armed forces for service in defence of our country and its people, both immediate threats and threats stirring abroad where we had participated by sending expeditionary forces. (See National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. (2008) Canada First Defence Strategy.) The Liberal Party platform cast defence policy within a larger context of political diplomacy, humanitarian aid abroad and providing relief to other countries from the pressure of refugees by resettling some in Canada.

Though the numbers of discussion papers on policy are relatively few, there exist a number of valuable references, such as Canada’s International Security and Defence Policy (2015), the Working Group Report for the Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS). Nevertheless, they do not compare to the long term in-depth studies of other states. Further, linking defence and international affairs is not the same as subsuming military defence policy within a much larger context of defence conceived much more broadly. However, before we look at that larger context, let’s examine Canadian military defence policy. As we shall see, it is more of a budget than a military policy. [See Douglas L. Bland and Brian MacDonald (2012), “Canada’s Defence and Security Policies after 2011: Mission, Means and Money,” in David S. McDonough (ed.) ,Canada’s National Security in the Post-911 World: Strategy, Interests and Threats.]

If you examine the Liberal Party platform on military defence policy, you will not learn much because it was boiled down to only three items, of which the first, as I will try to show, is the most important:

  • Maintaining current National Defence spending, including planned increases, at current levels
  • Ensure that actual expenditures match planned expenditures and that defence is not used as a contingency fund for other needs, thereby ensuring an erratic defence policy
  • Ensure that Canadian Forces are adequately funded and equipped both for the personnel  needed and the procurement of proper equipment
  • The Liberals promised to “reinvest in building a leaner, more agile, better-equipped military, including adequate support systems for military personnel and their families.”

This is not a military defence policy; it is a budgetary policy applied to the military. It is about procurement of equipment and maintaining force levels without attending to the fact that personnel relative to equipment costs have changed from 51% to 47% since 1995 as equipment costs increase far faster given the enhanced sophistication. Stephen Harper, when he was Prime Minister, rhetorically committed his government to recapitalizing and rearming the Canadian armed forces and promised to introduce an effective procurement policy to do so. Since he was elected in 2006, he moved towards that goal, but in 2012, in order to achieve another goal of his government, a balanced budget, he reversed gears and once again began a trend of reducing defence expenditures.

So why should the Liberal Party of Canada, now that it has formed the government, be believed when it uses identical promises? Further, if we know that a planned inadequacy is now built into the budget that will affect both our procurement policies as well as the number of armed troops in the armed forces, the results of this built-in deficiency will only get worse if all the government does is maintain expenditures at existing levels, including planned increases. Simply put, if we simply maintain current National Defence spending, including planned increases, at current levels, we will fall further behind in our defence deficiency.

Matching actual expenditures to planned expenditures is inadequate when facing both an accumulated and accumulating deficiencies. Except, of course, if the force structure is reduced in the name of a “leaner and more agile” force structure, a euphemism for a smaller military defence program. Further, given the signal sent by the shift in the military contributions Canada is making in Iraq from a partial attack jet program to one which is based on training the ground troops of others, the re-orientation towards ground troops at the expense of both the air force and the navy, could, theoretically witness a decline in the gap between needs and actual expenditures, but only at the cost of both a reduced capacity in terms of numbers and a reduced capacity in certain areas.

The problem is compounded when it is recognized that the air force and the navy account for an increasing percentage of the overall military defence budget as the costs of contemporary ships and aircraft, given their significantly enhanced sophistication, increase at a higher rate than the rate of inflation or even than the projected growth of the GDP. The reality: we cannot even manage the existing defence deficit. It will inevitably get worse until funds are supplied to counter the increasing gap between needs and expenditures.

Look at the Parliamentary review of the budget for the “Fiscal Sustainability of Canada’s National Defence Program.” (26 March 2015)  ( That 18-page document is not a basis for a defence policy. In other countries – Australia for example – the country first determines in detail its defence policy and priorities, and then not only provides a budget to sustain that policy, but has institutionalized an accountability mechanism to assess the congruency or incongruency between the monies allocated and the ability of the Defence Department to meet its goals. Canada, in contrast, determines how much money it will spend, then asks the defence department to shoehorn its services to fit that budget without much recourse to a reference to any long term policy.

This is a gross exaggeration, a defender of the current Canadian system might protest. After all, Canada has a policy: a) the defence of Canada at home and abroad; b) the defence of North America in partnership with the U.S., and c) the contribution to expeditionary forces for security and peacekeeping abroad.

But that is not a policy; it is a taxonomy. When and how and why should expeditionary forces be used? What is our responsibility in the face of Canada protecting the Northwest Passage, the North Atlantic and the North Pacific? Frankly, when you read the Australian defence policy document, Canadian planning looks like so much empty blather – “defend Canadian sovereignty and interests” and ensure the security and safety of Canadians.

How, in detail, are our military forces supposed to perform to meet those objectives? How do any plans match such criteria for a military force being agile while having the ability to project power based on sufficient capacity? Within a much larger context of a troubled and confusing world, how should Canada respond to meet both the complexity and uncertainty of disorder emerging across the globe? Readiness! You have to be kidding. If the Canadian Defence Forces do not have the funds to acquire proper equipment, to train and retain proper professional staff, then Canadian forces may earn a reputation as highly skilled and dedicated, but there is no system in place to ensure or even measure whether the forces supposedly in readiness are adequate to meet anticipated needs and demands.

The military budget includes capital expenditures (including facilities) for both our armed forces and Canadian peacekeeping, both regular and paramilitary, though Canadians have been engaged in very little peacekeeping lately. Personnel expenditures include both the military and civilians in service to the military, support for retirees (but not veterans whose support is budgeted separately), as well as social services for those personnel and their families. Procurement expenditures budgeted on an accrual basis for so-called “tooth to tail” and equipment acquisition costs, fall into three categories: a) research and development; b) acquisition of new equipment – jets, helicopters, patrol ships, submarines, armoured personnel carriers, etc. and c) contributions of military equipment to other countries.

Simple enough, but the most superficial examination indicated decades of disaster as pointed out in the Report and independent examination by the Parliamentary budget officer which uses a parametric estimating technique to develop cost estimates based on previously observed and validated cost estimating relationships. Basically there is an enormous chasm between sustaining a status quo military and amounts actually budgeted, quite aside from any goal of matching the military to projected needs. So why did the Liberal Party run on a platform of simply maintaining the budgetary expenditures for the military at current levels, including planned increases?

Basically, at current funding levels, the current force structure is unsustainable. So you have two choices: increase funding OR create a leaner (and, perhaps, meaner) military force. Start with expenditures. The Liberal Party is committed to maintaining expenditures at current levels, that is, at 1.1% of GDP rather than the recommended 2% for members in NATO, a target to which Canada committed itself starting in 2011-2012 with plans for $490 billion over twenty years to allow the military to engage in long-term planning. The budget in 2015 was only $21.5 billion. Of that amount, half was spent on personnel, two-thirds on procurement and one-third on operations and infrastructure.

But matters are even much worse. For increases are budgeted to keep pace with inflation estimated to average 1.5% per year. But because of technological improvements and the rate of increase of other costs, especially with respect to sophisticated equipment costs, the military, just to maintain itself at current levels, requires an annual increase at a rate of 2.5%. So we maintain when we should be increasing budgets. Further, we do so at levels totally inadequate to any model of defence burden-sharing among Western democracies.

This is most evident in the scandals and fiascos that envelop the military over areas of procurement, whether subs, acquiring resupply ships and even one destroyer to replace our last no-longer seaworthy rust bucket, helicopters to replace the Sea Kings, jets to replace our aging CF-18s, our ship building programs – the list goes on and on. Even in what should have been the least complicated, the acquisition of 1,500 army trucks and related gear, the contract was let out three different times. And when one phones around and learns that there is evidently only one true sophisticated expert in military procurement in the whole Canadian defence establishment, and that the procurement staff, just when procurement requires much greater sophistication, has been reduced by 40% to only 1,800 since 1989, and, calculated in terms of a ratio to expenditures, much greater than that again, one has to be appalled. But, given the past record, this may be because such expertise was not needed since real procurement rarely took place anyway.

One has to wonder how the Canadian military has managed to retain such a high reputation when it has been so poorly served by its political bosses, whether Liberal or Conservative. Look at Canada’s force structure, that is, the combat-readiness in terms of the skills of its personnel and the capabilities of its equipment as well as the non-combat dimensions in terms of research and infrastructure. If you are at all reasonably objective, and even if you are a pacifist, the support provided for the military, if you are going to have an adequate an effective military, is an embarrassment.

Our historical record shows, in part, why. When the most severe recession since the Great Depression hit Canada in 1989, we used the military budget as a contingency fund and drew defence spending down to below 1984 levels. Though Canada came out of that recession in 1994, it took another decade for any significant increases to be put in place. Though began by the Liberals, it was the Conservatives who increased the budget significantly every year – that is, until 2014, when, in accordance with 2012 planning, budgets were again cut to meet the government’s promise of a balanced budget before the 2015 election. Though we had largely escaped the worldwide Great Recession that began in 2008 and so badly afflicted our neighbour to the south, nevertheless, in 2014, the military budget was reduced to approximately 2009 levels.

Lesson 1: You cannot have a solid National Defence policy if military budgets are subject to being raided to bail out fiscal problems elsewhere. Is that the correct lesson? After all, were the reductions that began in 1989 not only a reaction to a need for a bailout of demands on the national budget to be extracted from the defence department, but a response to a belief in a new world order to follow the collapse of the Soviet Union. True, in part. But there were voices already that adumbrated increased instability with the end of a bipolar world. Further, if we did not understand that in 1989 when defence expenditures accounted for 1.7% of our budget, we certainly know that now when we face increased insecurity around the world when expenditures amount to 1.1% of our GDP.

So we have to start with the following:

  1. We need a defence policy paper to determine our priorities and extent of military defence expenditures to carry out that policy.
  2. We should not begin with the assumption of a status-quo military force when all indicators point to this as inadequate.
  3. Assuming a status-quo program allows the period of 2004-2014 to be represented as an “overinvestment period” when, in terms of the need to make up for both past neglect and increasing future needs, such a model is totally inadequate as a foundation for assessing future expenditures.
  4. The issuance of capital expenditures, which include associated costs of spares, of repairs, of replacements and a program of actively developing next generation equipment, must be accompanied by an educational program about accrual budgeting, otherwise the costs of procurement become a public relations disaster.
  5. It should be recalled that we have a population about 50% larger than in 1989 now at 36 million, but the size of our military has shrunk by about 20%.
  6. The public has developed capacity fatigue, that is, the endless and repeated tales of unaffordability with respect to military equipment related to procurement mismanagement.
  7. Instead of budgeting for defence expenditures to meet projected needs, instead of budgeting even to match historical rates of growth at 1.9%, instead of maintaining spending at the rate of growth in the GDP (i.e. at 1.1%), we budget for 0% growth by projecting increased expenditures only at the rate of increased inflation. In sum, instead of using the best model for allocating military expenditures, we use the worst one. [See David Perry (2014), “The Growing Gap Between Defence Ends and Means: The Disconnect between the Canada First Defence Strategy and the Defence Budget,” Conference of Defence Associations Institute.)

The 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS) promised an annual increase of 2% in defence budget increases, already insufficient to make up for twenty-five years of capital reinvestment shortfalls, increasing personnel numbers for a country with a 50% population increase, and a need for major air and naval replacements given both their much higher unit costs and a record of procurement overruns. The result: instead of 3, we will only have 2 Queenston class auxiliary ships, and even these two will have reduced capabilities. The Conservatives in their 2012 Strategic Review Deficit Reduction Action did not protect the military budget but fell back on an older policy of disproportionately raiding it, freezing the defence budget and “deferring” $5 billion in capital funding. In effect the defence budget was reduced by 10% projected over the next two decades.


With the help of Alex Zisman

The Revenant – Stamina

The Revenant – Stamina


Howard Adelman

“Revenir” in French means return, to come back, and, in this film, to come back from the dead, to be really and materially resurrected. This is a film about resurrection and revenge. The medium of resurrection was the holy spirit of the dead wife of Hugh Glass’ (Leonardo DiCaprio). As I wrote in my blog on Friday, the lesson was to keep breathing no matter what, because the Holy Spirit was in “ruah,” the breath of life.

The motive for Hugh Glass’ pursuit of revenge was the killing of his half-breed son by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), even if, according to legend, the revenge was because Glass had been left for dead contrary to the code of trappers and fur traders and the military forces that provided a degree of protection. In Western legend, Hugh Glass, a frontier trapper and fur trader, was attacked by a bear and left for dead by two other trappers, but he was not buried alive and the events took place in late summer rather than in late winter.

Why the infusion of a different theme of survival than the one handed down in history? And why was a non-existent son included, but given such a flimsy almost ethereal presence to complement that of his invented mother? The answer may be found in Alejandro González Iñarritu’s comments as the director; he envisioned Hugh Glass as an amalgam of “a man, a beast, a saint, a martyr, a spirit.” The question is how does this syncretic view compare and contrast with inherited legend, and how does it rewrite the mythology of the American frontier?

Why did the native American hung from a tree, presumably by French trappers, have a sign hung around his neck, “On est tous des sauvages” (we are all savages)? Was it an assertion about Native Americans or a universal assertion that in the Wild West, in a Hobbesian world of each man for himself in competition with every other, all humans are savages? If universal, is this thesis put out there as a contrast with a competing ethic of human survival through the help and care of others, through the mediation of women, through a God of mercy and not just justice? Is the film really about “mercy” competing with “justice” for pre-eminence? If so, why in the end does vengeful justice emerge supreme instead, as legend has it, Hugh Glass eventually forgave the two trappers who abandoned him?

But, of course, it is breathing we hear at the end. So ruah is still associated with mercy, with survival, even if Glass, in the film, lost his soul to justice. Redemption was still possible through the feminine aspect of the divine spirit, through the shechinah. In the legend of Hugh Glass, there is both masculine individualism and the power of justice to motivate, but, in the end, mercy wins out as the feminine aspect in the male soul is the real power behind survival. In the movie, that feminine aspect is almost totally externalized in a female ghost and lives on only after the God of cruel justice has his revenge.

In a blog a few days ago, I quoted from Abraham Lincoln’s first public speech at the Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, called, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” I repeat the first part of that quote here:

We [the American People] find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

In The Revenant, the far West was on the verge of being conquered and wrestled away from the French just fifteen years before Abraham Lincoln made his speech. In the first half of the nineteenth century, these were “the new territories.” The West (ironically, as we shall see, the Canadian West and, in the end, Argentina, were used in the film) is not portrayed as verdant and bucolic, fertile and graced with a salubrious climate. It is starkly and much more beautiful, but also far more inhospitable with its cold and its cliffs, its ice and wild rivers and even wilder “savages.” [Excuse my politically incorrect language, but it is true to the film.] However, although the scenes do not correspond to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills where the Crazy Horse Memorial is located and that I described last year in my blogs as we drove through South Dakota and to which we will be returning next week, for thematic purposes, the Alberta landscape was probably more suitable.

I am writing this review in expectation that by now everyone has seen the movie in the theatre where it absolutely must be seen. It is such a magnificent visual product. But I will not focus on the difference in landscape between Alberta and the Black Hills, with the ending even shot in Argentina because Canada’s winter had been too mild, with the fact that in the short days in winter with so few daylight hours and the desire to shoot only in natural light to enhance “the realism” in accordance with the aesthetic decisions of the academy award winners Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director, and cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, to shoot only with natural light for maximum realism, meant that they were only able to shoot a few hours a day. I will not allude to the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio, a vegetarian, ate real raw liver allegedly from a bison to give a real feel to his hunger.

However, as the readers will see, it is important that Iñárritu was a tyrant on set and that Tom Hardy, who, in my contention, was the best actor in the film, came to fisticuffs with his tyrannical director. Further, some comparison to reality is necessary to clarify what the film is really about. There are a number of iconic characters in the narrative of America “taming” the West, some, like Davie Crockett, very well known and others that you encounter in the wonderful museums in virtually every town throughout the West when you travel through the U.S. Those are icons that I had previously known nothing about. Hugh Glass was not a virtual unknown. There may not be songs written about him to make him a household name, but his story is reasonably widespread to those who read about the West and love westerns.

So why change the facts of history? Why, in the film, let his companions in the wilderness set his leg snapped by the bear, when, according to the “real” historical narrative, he set his own leg? Why give him a half-breed son when there is no record of his having had a son, part native or otherwise? If realism was the goal, why evade essential elements of realism? Though setting one’s own broken leg might be harder to believe, exploding gunpowder on a wound to cauterize it was perhaps more sensational, and I did not know that he had actually done that until I saw the film and double checked afterwards. And why not include the grossest scene of all, Glass rolling around in rot to allow maggots to eat away the gangrene that had infused his wounds?

Glass, in the film, is made into a loving father and a romantic male haunted by the love of his life, his native wife. But he never had a wife, native or otherwise. He was truly a wilderness survivor who relied on his inherited individual resources. Native aboriginal peoples helped him, but not nearly as much as the film suggested, for the narratives handed down in history again make him an exemplar of the rugged individualist who could conquer the challenges of nature on his own. He, according to legend, actually crawled several hundred miles with his broken leg, though we only get a hint of that in the film. The film clearly suggests that his survival skills – sucking bone marrow from the skeleton of a dead bison – are what count. The film, however, suggests that these were survival techniques learned from Native Americans, which could possibly be truer than the stories of the Robinson Crusoe who virtually survives on his own.

And what about Jim Bridger, the young boy who is persuaded by John Fitzgerald to leave Glass behind in spite of the agreement made with the fort’s captain? I looked up the “real” story and, as it turns out, both of the trappers who abandoned him were eventually found and forgiven, Bridger, as suggested in the film because he was duped by Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald himself, not because of any act of mercy towards him, but because Glass knew he would be hung for murdering an active military man.

Further, Hugh Glass went on to live another ten years and did not die in a vengeful battle. I write all of this, not to insist that a film conform with inherited historical reality, but to ask why history is being so totally rewritten when visual realism, when the feeling of the real, has been such an aesthetic dictatorial principle in making the film, but historical realism has been simply cast into the dustbin of history? I contend that the reason is that the director is involved in the construction of a new mythology about the West intended to displace the old one.

What is that old mythology?

Frederick Jackson Turner, an American historian, at the end of the nineteenth century, advanced the thesis that the American character had been formed and forged by the process of westward movement of pioneers and settlers, a character reinforced at each stage of western movement and reified by legend and history. On Sunday, we will be driving by Chicago to reach and pass through the latest stages where that character was forged and it is in Chicago where Turner first presented his famous paper introducing us to his thesis about the American character.

I think it is no coincidence that it was in Chicago that Donald Trump had to cancel his rally with the lie that it was because peaceful protesters were threats when the real threats came for his own supporters and his instigations to prove that “might is right,” that force works, and that what counts in a leader is strength and not wisdom, will and certainly not judgment. Almost fifty years earlier, at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, riots broke out in the International Amphitheater in late August in response to the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated and in the way that Mayor Richard Daley had responded to Black rage.

This time, white rage, not so much at economic injustice as it has widely been portrayed (though undoubtedly a factor), but white rage as white resentment and latent racism that still permeates America and is redirected by Trump at Muslims and Mexicans.  But Black rage is still evident in the way the campaign to nominate Hillary Clinton has been hurt by Rahm Emanuel, currently mayor of Chicago and former White House Chief of Staff under Barack Obama, and rage that is now directed at how he has handled, or mishandled, the information on the police treatment of Blacks that has leaked out. Chicago remains a testing ground for American values. In the nineteenth century, Chicago served as the bridge between the opening frontier and settled America.

When presidential candidates, from Ted Cruz to Hillary Clinton, cite liberty and egalitarianism, though different versions of each, as the core of the American character, when Republicans and Democrats take such opposite views of the use of coercive force both domestically and internationally, in the case of Donald Trump stressing non-conformity and the refusal to accept any inherited norms of correct political conduct as supervening while his opponents rail at his torching the conventions that have governed politics in the U.S., we watch current emanations of the conflict over the role of the frontier and settled America.

The irony, of course, is that politicians of all stripes talk about the eternal and unchanging character of American equality of opportunity, of liberty and of justice, but Frederick Jackson Turner had an evolutionary model of the functioning of the frontier in the tension between civilization versus the wilderness. “Establishment,” whichever establishment it is, became a term of abuse which Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders all rhetorically rail against because American history is so imbued with a narrative that insists that America was forged in opposition to any standing class, to any aristocracy, to any established church, and, currently, to any establishment in Washington.

The issue for all has become insensitivity to the rising expression of the will of the people and Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sander’s monopoly over the economic version of this thesis has been removed. Of course, all this depends on ignoring the fact that “the checks and balances” system of democracy is but an inheritance from Great Britain reconstructed as a democratic monarchy. The king is now elected, but must be opposed as soon as he or she is in office. And Trotsky wrote about “continuous or permanent revolution!”

As Turner wrote, as Americans moved further and further into taming the wilderness and the Rockies, they became more and more prone to resist intrusive government, more “democratic,” more intolerant of any hierarchy. It does not matter if Donald Trump is a billionaire, what matters is that he sells himself like a snake oil salesman as anti-establishment and does it so much better than any other competitor. Of course, in Turner’s thesis, the more Americans moved West, the more they moved further away from inherited institutions, the more violence and individuals taking security into their own hands became the ruling norm. Not science, not a refined sense of fine art, but literally a society forged out of tooth and claw.

For Turner, with the conquest and taming of the New Territories by the end of the nineteenth century, the forge out of which the America was built, would no longer be in play. What Turner did not envision is that this construct became even more powerful as it was divorced from actual history and became an integral element in American mythology. If the frontier closed on the ground, it had a vastly wider purview when it operated on the mythological rather than the earthly plane.

It may help to contrast the American mythology with the Canadian tale of the frontier developed by Harold Innis that became so pervasive when I was at university, especially in its revamped form of communications theory of Marshal McLuhan. For the fur trade was not so much about the interaction of humans in conflict with nature in a lawless universe, but about establishing communication routes and contacts between and among peoples. Sometimes that would entail violent conflict, but most times it was negotiations and treaties, about trade and exchange of goods, of ideas, of services. In America, the frontier was a region of natural and inherent contestation. In Canada, opening the West was a matter of utilizing different technologies of communication that altered both the so-called wilderness and the ordered system of government coming into contact with a different political and social order. The issue was not so much violent conflict as inter-cultural exchange.

Harold Innis was an economic historian. His “staples thesis” about the fur trade was a tale of export-led growth. In Canada, the issue was natural resources – fur, fish, lumber, mineral commodities – and how these could be brought to markets where they were wanted and needed for a developing consumer economy. Cod and its modes of collection, transformation and transportation produced one kind of culture while furs produced a different one. Canada was inherently multicultural dependent on which natural resource was being exploited. The American frontier thesis was about a constant and universal quality inherent and characteristic of all Americans, reinforced, not because it happened to be fur that was being fought over among Americans, the French and the native peoples, but because the fight was a constant whatever the commodity and whatever the place.

I recall that my eldest son’s first publication – or one of his first major ones – was on the contrast between the way Argentina was settled and the way Canada was settled in the freezing climate of the West at the end of the nineteenth century. In Canada, only when a new strain of wheat was invented that could survive in that harsh climate could the West be settled. Civilization was a precondition for settling the West and not antithetical to it.

The combination of the type of commodity (then wheat) versus cattle, the communication routes for labour and capital, the technology of a new strain of wheat and of a new form of transportation, railways, all were woven together to produce different characters in different regions dependent on the interaction of a variety of factors rather than a thesis of a constant battle between wilderness and civilization, between individuals and inherited social establishments.

In The Reverant, there is no mention that the fur trade was controlled by large multinational companies, in Canada, the Northwest Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, where the emphasis was on the need for large companies to facilitate the trade instead of on the wild individual, whether a trapper or a prospector of minerals. Large companies, centres of finance capital and the creation of technologically-founded communication routes were all crucial to find and forge the materials. So Canada is much more attuned to the importance of international trade and large multinational firms, to trade and transportation more than acquisition, to cultural mosaics rather than forging a unified national character, to cooperation more than competitiveness, to the volatility of resource economies in general and to the disruptions and radical changes required by broad technological evolutions.

Which takes us back to the film. For in the movie, the Mexican director is using the lament over the demise of the old individualistic American mythology of the frontier to forge a new one. Cooperation and competition are in contention. Law and order versus the wild West are in contention. The feminine spirit is at the heart of survival in nature, shechinah rather than Elohim, the merciful Adonai more than the God of justice. The villain kills he who is Other. The villain denies and disrupts family values. The hero insists on revenge, but survives, not only to take revenge, but because of the spirit world which is the world of the feminine.

In the days of modern communication when electronic and digital media are at war with old-fashioned television in the political marketplace of ideas in the American election, The Revenant is really an old fashioned frontier movie, but with a new vision of the frontier embedded with mercy as a value, embedded with a feminine spirit, in an effort to transvalue and resurrect, not just Hugh Glass, but an old American ethic for a new age.

Elohim, the God of justice, and Adonai, the God of mercy infused and evocative of the shechinah as would eventually be expressed in the post-biblical period, are in contention. As the Mexican Director has interpreted it and as American politicians and voters experience every day, the issue is stamina, who can survive best the legions of arrows shot at both candidates and voters in barrages every day. It is we, crippled with a broken leg and suffering wounds that would kill most mortals, who crawl hundreds of miles to the finish line.

The issue is over stamina, not individualism, and a different expression of stamina than demonstrated by Terry Fox in his run across Canada against cancer. For Terry Fox became a hero even though he lost his life to cancer. Donald Trump denigrated the American war hero, John McCain, even though he survived five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. After all, he was a loser and not a winner. In the revised mythology and the inherited one, only winners count. Losers must be cast aside, except when opposing Trump and the God of mercy is then invoked. We need a liberal rather than two different and competing tyrannical versions of the frontier tale.

Donald Trump and Hitler: Part II

Donald Trump and Hitler: Part II


Howard Adelman

I had already written a reply to an email from a reader of my blog in Miami asking for my take on the comparison of Donald Trump to Hitler before I wrote Part I. My reader cited Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s piece on the Hitler-Trump comparison and he personally thought that the Rabbi was dead-on in his criticism of various Hitler-Trump comparisons in a 7 March op-ed in The Jerusalem Post. Shmuley Boteach, a Lubavitcher orthodox rabbi with an amazing proficiency for self-advertisement and self-promotion that makes Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself look like the product of an amateur, is the author of such best sellers as Kosher Sex, Kosher Jesus and Kosher Lust.  Just this past week in the Canadian Jewish News (10 March 2016, p. 50), he enjoyed a full page Q&A session, but nothing to do with his criticisms of comparing Trump to Hitler.

In criticizing those who compare Trump to Hitler, who is Shmuley taking on? There are a plethora of candidates, but he specifically cited Louis C.K. and Darrell Hammond on Saturday Night Live, Colin Jost, Weekend Update’s co-host, and Bill Maher on his late show. C.K. wrote, “the guy is Hitler… Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all… [Trump’s] an insane bigot. He is dangerous.” The Daily News wrote a story on “SNL takes on Donald Trump’s racist supporters and endorsements; comparing front-runner’s campaign to Nazi Germany.” President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico compared Trump’s pursuit of office to Mussolini and Hitler: that’s “how Mussolini got in, that’s how Hitler got in.” I could not find where The Daily News had on its front cover, “Trump is Hitler” as Shmuley claimed. Further, Shmuley insisted, correctly, that the others “made comparisons between Trump and Hitler, but after running through the episodes, I could not find anywhere where they simply equated Trump with Hitler.

C.K. came closest, but it is clear from the context that he was claiming that Trump was Hitler with respect to his disregard of the truth. In the op-ed piece, Shmuley argued that the comparisons of Donald Trump and Hitler were “disgusting” and “vile.” They were “an affront to decency, the Jewish community, the victims of the Holocaust and to Trump himself.” Describing something said about and not by Trump as “an affront to decency” alone has to wake any reader from his somnolent state since Donald Trump is currently hailed generally as the greatest assault on decency by a public political figure in the United States. Does comparing Trump to Hitler trivialize the genocide of the Jews as Shmuley claims? Recall that Shmuley himself was forced to apologize when he claimed that, “Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide.” He criticized Susan as “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the U.S. and Israel.

In none of the pieces cited could I find any hint of a suggestion of any trivialization of the Holocaust. Of course, Trump is not Hitler. Of course, there is no comparison between Trump and Hitler’s anti-Semitic quest to exterminate the Jews. No one suggested any such comparison. Absolutely no one I read had even hinted that Donald Trump is “a Republican presidential candidate… running for office to perpetrate genocide.” Shmuley seems to have the same propensity as Donald Trump to play fast and loose with facts and citations. When comparing Trump to Hitler, there never, as much as I have read or seen, been any comparison between Hitler exterminating the Jews and Trump’s desire to exterminate anyone. And what has the whole problem of comparing Trump with Hitler have to do with falsely charging Israel with “genocide” when it counters the missiles Hamas aims at Israel with rockets of its own?

It is also irrelevant that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an orthodox Jew and that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism or that Donald Trump has orthodox Jewish grandchildren.  Whether or not the comparison between Donald Trump and Hitler is either valid or valuable, these assertions disqualify Shmuley as a reasonable critic of such comparisons. There is a fundamental rule in comparison, and in analogical argument more generally. Analogy may be the weakest form of argument, but when it is well done, it can be both funny and enlightening. But it must obey one simple rule. Comparisons should not be general.

Shmuley claimed that, “Comparing Trump to Hitler trivializes world war, genocide, the one-and-a-half million children gassed by the monster, and is a vulgar attack on the good citizens of the United States who are being accused of getting behind a murderer. Try telling someone who lived through the concentration camps and lost their entire family to the Nazis that Trump is Hitler.” But no one that I read or heard ever said, “Trump is Hitler.” Instead, as is appropriate in analogical argument, they compared specific traits or sets of traits. And this is precisely what valid comparisons are about.

Shmuley not only does not understand the nature of analogical argument, not only denies both the veracity, utility and value of those specific comparisons, but attributes qualities to Trump, like a great many others, that Donald Trump does not seem to possess. For example, Shmuley credits Trump with “straight talk”. Trump’s speeches are direct. They are plainly spoken. But they lack the one essential character of straight talk – honesty.

Examine Donald Trump’s speech when he announced his candidacy. Are any of these accurate about the most powerful and richest state in the world today? “Our country is in serious trouble.” What is the source of that trouble? Is it that there is a growing gap between stagnating middle class incomes and the dramatic increase in the incomes of the rich? Is it because America has not been quick enough off the mark in reversing the trend to despoiling this planet? Is it because there are still far too many Americans, even with Obamacare, who do not have adequate health insurance? None of these. “We don’t have victories any more.” That does sound like something Hitler might have said.

However, the closest comparison between Hitler and Trump is the reverence for a strong leader and the assertion that he was the only candidate for that strong leadership. Trump when he announced he was running to be the Republican candidate for the American presidency said, “Now, our country needs – our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal.”

And who are the military leaders he admires. The ones who flouted civilian authority over the military. “[W]ithin our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that’s going to take that military and make it really work. Nobody, nobody will be pushing us around.” The Donald does not appeal based on his detailed knowledge of the issues, but on an appeal to the guts and the fears of Americans. “Trust me. I’ll get the job done. I’ll take care of you. I’ll negotiate the great deals that will protect Americans unlike the vacuous existing leaders in the Republican party and the dead end that they have led the membership into.”

After he cancelled his Chicago rally on Friday, he told Don Lemon of CNN, echoing Senator Marco Rubio, that, “No one understands immigration better than I do.” Trump said, “No one understands protests better than I do. I have had protesters at my construction sites. I have had protesters at my… Believe me, no one, and I mean no one, understands protesters better than I do.” Is that why he corralled and kicked out of his rallies any protester who dared to raise a sign? Is that why he cancelled the Chicago rally because 400 or so protesters turned up at is rally, too many to manhandle without causing a riot?


Trump in his hyperbolic mode of speech called America a loser in everything it did over the last seven years. There were no victories. Trump would ensure that the U.S. would have a record of victories when he became President. If Trump was referring to an absence of diplomatic victories, the Iran nuclear deal was a victory. On the military front, the war against ISIS in Iraq will be over in another year. In economic terms, Trump declares that, “China kills us, beats us all the time.” But China via the trade deal became the third biggest market for American exports. Further, America has exported high-priced services to China, services that have grown by about a third each year over the previous one. The excess trade in services dwarfs the China’s surplus trade in material goods. American investors have reaped enormous profits from their investments in China. America has exported high-value added items while it imports disproportionately low-valued merchandise. Yet Donald Trump declares that China “is our enemy” while he declares he loves China, but insists their leaders have outsmarted Americans in “how to make a deal.” The reality is that the American Congress and the U.S. President, given their deep divisions, have not been able to protect those negatively affected by the new globalized trade system.

Trump is so clearly totally ignorant of international political and economic affairs as when he declares that China is solidifying its economic and political influence in Iraq from which the U.S. has withdrawn. Quite aside from the fact that the U.S. is still very much politically and militarily active in Iraq, what Chinese scholar of contemporary Chinese foreign affairs would declare China to be active in Iraq? China does have important investments in Iraq, particularly in the oil sector. Beijing has a very watchful eye to ensure its oil wells largely in the south remain outside ISIS areas of control. China, after all, was the largest importer of Iraqi crude oil, 22% of all Iraqi exports (India was next at 19%.) Virtually all of this production where Chinese oil companies conduct business is still distant from the conflict zones, but China has been very wary. However, wariness does not entail China becoming active in Iraq.

China’s only significant presence in Iraq’s eruption of terrorism has been the discovery that one Chinese citizen joined ISIS. Ironically, China generally agrees with Trump that the U.S. became bogged down in a terrible quagmire in Iraq and China has stayed away to allow the U.S. to be eaten away by the seeds of destruction that it sowed. The only relevant point of all this, insofar as Donald Trump is concerned, is that he has absolutely no compass to discriminate between the truth and outright falsity. In that respect, he is directly comparable to Hitler. For Trump, “If I say it, it is true,” except if I say the very opposite the next day

Trump is the champion of the attacks on lies, obfuscation and cover-ups. Though I strongly disagree with his proposed policies, particularly the same attacks he makes against free trade as Bernie Sanders, the difference is that Trump insists he is a free trader. “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid. We have people that aren’t smart. And we have people that are controlled by special interests.” I applaud the fact that just as Trump has set the standard for dishonesty, Bernie Sanders has set a standard for honesty and challenging mendacity even though I disagree with his attacks on free trade while I agree with his criticisms that those details did not protect or retrain the workers affected.

Trump is a nativist protectionist and harks back to a mercantilist international economic order. He has politicized economic and trade issues in his advocacy of protectionism and making a better deal. Instead of arguing for enhanced trade in goods, capital transfers, technology and services, Trump shouts slogans – “get a better deal!” At least Bernie Sanders as an unqualified anti- free trader is consistent. The reality is that neither Trump nor Sanders really believes in a multilateral trading system. Trump believes in walls and containment, confrontation rather than cooperation, rivalries rather than partnerships.

Trump declares that China’s currency manipulation and other trade practices have crippled the ability of the U.S. and other countries to compete worldwide. He calls China a “big abuser” for keeping its currency artificially low and making it impossible for America to compete.  But the yuan has increased significantly in value in relation to the American dollar over the last decade, though, more recently, the yuan has fallen in value relative to the American dollar as the Chinese market slowed and the Chinese government has not adequately intervened to stimulate the economy. “They’re devaluing their currency to a level that you wouldn’t believe. It makes it impossible for our companies to compete, impossible. They’re killing us.” “Our leaders are not smart. Our leaders are being laughed at in China.”

Donald Trump is also a hypocrite. One of his Trump Towers was heavily financed by Chinese investors in a cash for visas scheme. Hitler may have demonized Jews, but Trump demonizes Mexicans, Muslims (immigrants in general and even women), and, as in the above example, the Chinese. The target for demonization may be different, but the practice of demonization and blaming others and the weakness of one’s own leaders in response for all problems is both a Trump and a Hitler trait. It is not as if the disrespect for truth has not become an integral element to American political life, but since McCarthy I know of no other political leader who has brought political discourse deeper into the gutter.

Derrick Peavy from Atlanta believes that Trump may very well become president, and may also have done the best job of pinning the tail on the donkey. We have not been watching debates in the Republican race, with the possible exception of this past Thursday, that have been anything else than examples of competitive sports and entertainment.

The audience and the entire country all know that you’re not in a debate. They all know that you are standing behind one podium and there is a monkey behind the other podium.  You are the only one who doesn’t know it. And so you start talking, and the moderator asks Trump (the monkey) for his reply. And the monkey looks around, makes a few noises, then reaches back behind his back, shits in his hand and throws it in your face. The audience is roaring and eating this schtick up. And you stand there shocked. You’re simply stunned and thinking of a comeback, but the audience is eating it up. You see, they didn’t show up for a debate.  You are the only one who showed up for a debate.  And any time you reply or say anything, the monkey just shits in his hand and throws it in your face again.  And the joke is on YOU!

That’s what Hitler did. He threw shit around and degraded both public discourse and respect for the truth though he generally avoided vulgar language. He just celebrated vulgar violent behaviour. The one thing Trump has been correct on is that the plutocrats in the Republican Party have sold Americans a bill of goods. Trump himself has bought into some of it – climate change is a hoax, the Second Amendment must be absolute so everyone can buy a gun – but he has thrown a spanner in the works by exposing the power of special interests, by disagreeing with the Republican dogma of damning Planned Parenthood as the epitome of evil, and insisting that Obamacare must be universalized instead of selling out to the insurance and drug companies – shades of Bernie Sanders.

Why did Trump not immediately separate himself from David Duke and the racist neo-Nazis in the U.S.? Why did he initially plead ignorance, blame his ear piece and finally offer such an avuncular statement disavowing that racist support? The answer is not that he is a racist, but that he lacks any sensitivity to racism. Further, he may even know that many of his supporters have been deeply upset and resentful that a Black man captured the presidency. And serious discourse is suborned to populist celebrity culture. Bernie Sanders has the same populist appeal, but for opposite reasons. He insists that the top 1% not be forgiven for the devastation they have wrought on the American economy, that Bill Clinton introduced by cancelling the controls and regulations of the banking sector.

The absolute prerequisites for good governance are honesty and integrity, accepting real responsibility and not blaming others, and accountability and verifiability. Donald Trump is severely challenged on all these grounds – as was Hitler. Without the gyroscope of truth, the Big Lie becomes the standard, the bigger the better. And so begins the moral degradation of a great republic. When it is fueled by ultra-nationalism – make America great again – and by xenophobia, we have the beginnings of a great tragedy. The irony is that history has turned on itself and the middle class worker has become the bastion of the neo-fascism in both Europe and America while ideological anti-Semites in the guise of anti-Zionism have become the foundation of the radical left. Who would have thought that fascism and eventually socialism when they were driven into their graves, the latter, even in its various non-communist guises, would be resurrected in such monstrous and perverse emanations. The new black beast for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is both globalization and mobility, because the direction of the latter is viewed only as downward and the expansion of the former is viewed as exclusively at the cost of the native-born.

Accompanying the whole process, we have witnessed the vulgarization of public space. Angela Merkel is called a “whore”. Donald Trump boasts of the size of his penis. The authenticity of citizenship of Barack Obama has long been questioned by Trump; he was at the centre of the “birther” movement. He is the political leader closest to Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary, promoting nativism at the cost of multiculturalism. It is no surprise that Donald Trump claims he can get along with Putin.

Last Wednesday evening in the Florida debate between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, both were asked by the co-moderator, Karen Tumulty, whether Donald Trump was a racist. Clinton said she had called Trump out. “Basta!” (In Spanish, “Stop”, that’s enough.”) “You don’t make America great, by getting rid of everything that made America great,” she continued, leaving it up to the American public to decide. Bernie Sanders came closer to an explicit answer when he cited Trump’s leadership in the birther movement and the demand that Barack Obama produce his birth certificate (which Obama actually already had). Sanders added, “Nobody has ever asked me for my birth certificate; maybe it has something to do with the colour of my skin.” But Bernie could have gone beyond Trump’s insults of Mexicans, Muslims and Black Americans by citing Trump’s own answers, though perhaps he did not because it is difficult to find confirmation from more than one source for many of them:

  • when a New Mexico mob attacked a family of illegal immigrants, Trump assured Americans that when the wall went up (and Mexico paid for it) there would no longer be a reason to attack
  • though some Mexicans he assumed are good people, Mexicans migrating to America have lots of problems; they bring drugs; they are rapists
  • make the real [my italics] America really great again
  • when mosques were burned across America, he insisted tempers would cool when a temporary freeze went into effect banning Muslim entry into the U.S or travel between states without a special permit
  • the sporadic violence in Alabama between white supremacists and African Americans was just “a legit argument”
  • he called reporters liars when they brought to his attention anti-Jewish signs being held aloft at his rallies beside anti-Muslim signs.
  • he had nothing to say when ultra-orthodox Hasidim were insulted and driven out of one of his rallies near Albany
  • to a meeting of Jewish businessmen, he began with a vulgar joke and stereotype – ‘I am in the right neighbourhood because I know how to make a deal’
  • Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim anti-Semite – Jews belong to the Synagogue of Satan – and leader of the Nation of Islam, praised Trump for telling Jews that, “I don’t want your money’.”
  • After days, “OK, I disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan; are you satisfied?” .

There was no need for equivocation. Donald Trump is a racist even if he has grandchildren who are Jewish. He practices the politics of resentment and appeals to emotional despair rather than any real vision. In that respect, he is directly akin to Hitler. This is not the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy (Godwin’s law) and Trump is not a pussycat compared to the neo-fascists in Europe. He is just an American version of an Erdoğan or a Putin. So while it is quite correct to compare Trump to Hitler is specific respects, it might be wise to heed the advice of the German historian and authority on Hitler, Thomas Weber: “First and foremost, it (the comparison) is a distraction. The problem is that the moment someone brings up Hitler in a political discussion, in a way it’s the end of the political discussion, because then it turns into a discussion over the comparison rather than substance. That said, to answer your question, on a tactical level there are great similarities between the early rise of Hitler and Trump. But we should not forget that beyond the tactical level there are huge differences and that ultimately the danger that Trump poses is rather different from the threat posed by Hitler.”

Weber went on to write:

Both (Hitler and Trump) present themselves as anti-politicians with a great degree of tactical flexibility, whose rhetoric is to fix America and to fix Germany. Both basically say that if we go on the way we are, America or Germany will not survive in the form that we know it. So there is a similarity in the rhetoric, also in the early anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and I am not talking here about the 1930s and 1940s, but the kind of anti-Jewish rhetoric of post-World War I Munich where there were demands to drive Eastern European Jews out of Germany. Here, there are great similarities. Another similarity would be that precisely because of their tactical flexibility, both Trump and Hitler are difficult to make sense of, as a result of which they become a kind of canvas on which people can draw their own image of Trump and Hitler, both positively and negatively.

And what are the differences?

The modes of politics of Hitler and Trump are fundamentally different. For Hitler, every compromise that was not a tactical compromise was a rotten compromise. So in that sense he defied the rules of politics. For Trump, ultimately a compromise is what you do… So I think in that sense the similarity lies more in the rhetoric than in the substance.

It is also important to bear in mind that the Trump we know very much represents everything Hitler hated about America –  this kind of billionaire who had made his money, not from something productive, but from either finance or gambling. What we often forget is that, for the early Hitler, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism were as important as anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism. So in that sense there is also a major difference between the two.

The biggest difference – which takes me back to my point why the Hitler comparison may distract from the real danger that Trump poses – is that Trump is ultimately a demagogue and a populist. He will say whatever it takes to get elected and then to stay in power. In the most positive scenario, this would mean that once in power he may not be the type of President we like, but he would ultimately turn into something moderate. The reason why I don’t think this is going to happen is that Trump, by being a populist and a demagogue, is destroying the very fabric upon which American politics operates. And that is an extremely dangerous game…

My point is, Trump isn’t Hitler, but things won’t be fine. In Hitler, you have someone who is destroying the rules of the game in order to replace them with either no rules at all or right-wing/fascist rules of survival of the fittest. In the case of Trump, it is more of a reckless, tactical game, where Trump is outwardly using the rules of reality TV shows in order to destroy the existing rules of American politics. The real danger is that Trump would apply the rules of reality TV to international affairs once he was President and by so doing destroy the international system and make an already volatile world far more dangerous.

May God bless America.



With the help of Alex Zisman

Donald Trump and Hitler: Part I

Donald Trump and Hitler: Part I


Howard Adelman

I was on the bus yesterday and sat down beside an older woman.  There was a much younger woman standing, holding onto the bar and talking with her. I wondered why the younger woman had not taken the empty seat beside the older woman. As I listened to their conversation, I guessed that the younger woman was the older woman’s social worker and they were talking about the older woman having to move from her apartment and find a new one.  The older woman said she was anxious about moving. The younger woman assured her that there were economical one-bedroom apartments that she could find, such as in the low rise building we were passing near Tichester Road in Toronto. “Don’t be afraid,” assured the younger woman. “I’m not really afraid of moving. Just a bit worried,” the older woman answered. Then, out of the blue, she said, “What really frightens me is that man, Donald Trump. He sounds like Hitler.”

The “social worker” went on to assure the older woman that Donald Trump was not likely to get elected. The older woman did not seem to have any expertise on American politics, yet, as a Canadian, she was frightened of Donald Trump and thought he was like Hitler. I sat there dumbfounded until I got to my stop a few blocks after. Was this serendipity? That is what I planned to write about this morning, confirmed after watching Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton last night in a town hall discussion in Columbus, Ohio, hearing Donald Trump threaten to send his supporters to break up Bernie Sander’s rallies in retaliation for Sanders allegedly sending his supporters to disrupt his own rallies. Bernie Sanders, when asked about it, simply said that he did not send his supporters for any such thing, would not encourage anyone to disrupt a campaign meeting, but strongly defended the right of peaceful protest. He then curtly stated that Donald Trump was a pathological liar.

I then turned stations to a CBC special (it might have been a replay) hosted by Bob McKeown on Donald Trump on “The Fifth Estate” called, “The Fire Breather: The Rise and Rage of Donald Trump,” which pictured Donald Trump launching “vitriolic attacks on minorities, Muslims, women and pretty much anyone else” while his popularity kept climbing and Trump now seemed likely to win the Republican nomination. McKeown said that this American election was perhaps the most divisive in American history and the cause was Donald Trump. Last evening, Trump was portrayed as a proto-Nazi on Canadian Sunday evening national television. Only three weeks earlier, CBC’s Passionate Eye aired a special called, “The Mad World of Donald Trump” that introduced Canadian audiences to the leading contender for the Republican Party presidential nominee as a serial divorcee and multiple bankrupt, a vulgar and insulting man who targeted women and minorities as well as Scots who stood in the way of his plans for a golf course. No wonder Donald Trump hated the media.

Yesterday in The Tablet I read a piece that presented the daily low-lights of Donald Trump’s attempts to use the dark forces of bigotry to become President of the United States. Over and over again I saw on one news program after another a video clip of an older Donald Trump supporter, 78-year old John McGraw of Linden, North Carolina, sucker punching a protester (Rakeem Jones) as he was being escorted out of the stadium and then the security guards wrestling, not the guy who delivered the sucker punch, but the protester to the ground, cuffing him and carrying him off under arrest. Then Donald Trump rationalized that violence and offered to pay his supporter’s legal bills while claiming he, Donald Trump, was a man of peace who deplored violence, but who also portrayed peaceful protesters as disrupters and in frequent excerpts from his speeches threatened protesters with violence. As the writer in The Tablet opined, “We are a country that actually does have pseudo-Fascists and violent racists, black shirts and brown shirts, on the very far fringes of right-wing American politics. We do have persistent skinheads and neo-Nazis and Klansmen. That persistent fringe variety of American monster, though, has never before been attached to and attracted to a front-running major party presidential campaign the way they are to Donald Trump.”

Look at the following portrait of Donald Trump.

I watch the head of this Las Vegas croupier, this kitschy carnival performer, coiffed and botoxed, drifting from one television camera to another with his fleshy mouth perpetually half-open: you never know whether those exposed teeth are signs of having drunk or eaten too much, or whether they might indicate that he means to eat you next. I listen to his swearing, his vulgar rhetoric, his pathetic hatred of women, whom he describes, depending on his mood, as bitches, pigs, or disgusting animals. I hear his smutty jokes in which the careful language of politics has been pushed aside in favor of supposedly authentic popular speech at its most elemental – the language, apparently, of the genitals. ISIS? We’re not going to make war against it, we’re going to “kick its ass.” Marco Rubio’s remark about Trump’s small hands? The rest is not so small, “I guarantee you.” Then there is the worship of money and the contempt for others that accompanies it. In the mouth of this serially bankrupt billionaire and con artist with possible mafia ties, they have become the bottom line of the American creed – so much mental junk food full of fatty thoughts, overwhelming the lighter cosmopolitan flavors of the myriad traditions that have formed the great American pastoral. In the sequence about small hands, even an ear untuned to the subtleties of that pastoral might have caught (though in a version perverted by the abjectly low level of the exchange) the famous line from e.e. cummings, the American Apollinaire: “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”

Last week Sarah Silverman, that marvellous American comedienne, joined the chorus with a Trump-Hitler comparison on TBS “Conan.” Dressed as the German Fűhrer and criticizing those who compared the vulgar Trump to himself, Silverman-as-Hitler said, “Don’t get me wrong, Conan, I agree with a lot he says. A lot, like 90% of what he says, I’m like, ‘This guy gets it,’ but I just don’t like the way he says it. It’s crass, you know?”

Is America inheriting a type of leadership that scarred the Italian political landscape with the presidency of Silvio Berlusconi, that supports the very popular Vladimir Putin in Russia, a leader so admired for his strength by Trump? That shift in the international political landscape has seen one anti-immigration party after another increase in the polls and recently get elected in two Länder in Germany. I could not forget this as I watched a video clip that had gone viral of Trump supporters telling journalists to “go to Auschwitz,” of the Trump campaign manager physically shoving a journalist to the ground presumably for asking Trump a question he did not like.

But I also listened to two voters from Florida who seemed to be Jewish expressing disbelief at all the calumnies aimed at Donald Trump. This past weekend, I read Rabbi Dov Fischer’s refutation of the portrayal of Trump as a Hitler as he accused Israel of having a totally corrupt Supreme Court run put in place by an unelected elite as he reminded Israeli readers that David Ben Gurion had called Ze’ev Japotinsky “Vladimir Hitler.” In his op-ed for Arutz Sheva, he wrote, and I quote at length:

Trump is hard to decipher, and he likes it that way.  His book, “The Art of the Deal,” is his guide to life. His successes in building gambling casinos and hotels have been offset by an occasional business bankruptcy.  His opponents point to those corporate bankruptcies as a bad sign, but I like it.  Seriously, a guy who can walk away from his debts, again and again, can walk away from Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and from Obama’s other delirious “executive actions” that have damaged America in a variety of ways ranging from health care to border control to energy independence to America’s role in the world.  Trump is impossible to gauge because, as the consummate dealer, he never shows his hand, and neither friend nor foe can guess his bottom line on anything — what is bluff and what is real.

The leftist media portray Trump as a perilous tyrant. They portray him as Hitler and Mussolini.  It all is nonsense and ridiculous.  It is like the way they portrayed Jabo as Mussolini and as Vladimir Hitler, and Begin as Hitler attempting a putsch.  It is even more ridiculous than that.  As one example among many, Trump was concerned that, although his political rallies sometimes attract 20,000 people, not all of his supporters translate their enthusiasm by actually going to vote.  So, as a joke at one rally, with his crowd in a laughing mood, he kiddingly asked everyone to raise their right hand and to “solemnly promise” to go and actually vote on election day.  In America, when someone “solemnly promises,” he does so while raising his right hand.  That is how they do it in court, in the movies, on TV, even on an old television commercial for “Promise Margarine” (a butter substitute).  So everyone, giggling, raised their right hands and made a “solemn promise” to actually vote on election day.  The very next morning, the leftist media showed the 20,000 people with raised hands and compared them to Hitler salutes at mass Nazi rallies.  Just the most dishonest, idiotic media lie imaginable.

In another situation, Trump was asked whether he would disavow the support of David Duke, a racist hater who is associated with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a now-small but once-powerful viciously racist group that used to lynch and hang Black people and that wanted to expel Jews from America.  Trump disavowed him on a Friday.  Trump then was asked again two days later, and he misunderstood what he was being asked, so he hesitated at the interview to disavow. Later that day, he disavowed the hater again.  But meantime, the leftist media was packed with reports that Trump had hesitated, in between, to disavow Duke. So the suggestion was that Trump is a racist who hates Blacks and Jews like the KKK. Again — utter leftist-media nonsense.

Indeed, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, plays an enormous and even central role in his life, running many of his businesses, speaking for him — and she is a Giyoret Tzedek, a shomeret Shabbat convert to Judaism.  He adores Ivanka. She and her husband are “Modern Orthodox” of the kind associated with our kind of Religious Zionism. So, again — a bald media lie.

Trump nevertheless does pose a concern for avid supporters of Israel.  Despite his lifelong record of supporting Israel with enormous charitable gifts and investments, real friendship with Bibi, and great connections in the pro-Israel community, Trump repeatedly declares that he is intensely pro-Israel but will be “neutral” in any Mideast deal-making.  We just do not know what he means, what he is up to.  Again, Trump is a deal-maker.  His philosophy is that, if he comes out publicly as too pro-Israel, in the way that Cruz and Rubio do, then the Arabs never will sit with him as an honest broker (just as sensible Israelis never would trust Obama to be a negotiating intermediary with Abbas).  So Trump wants to keep his door open to the Arabs.  But how “neutral” would he be? No one can know because he is impossible to gauge.

It would seem surprising if Trump ever would contemplate imposing a deal on Israel the way that a Bush or Carter or Bill Clinton did.  More probably, a Bibi would explain what’s-what, and Trump would understand what’s-what, and he would propose some kind of reasonable idea that the Arabs never would accept.  And then Trump would walk away from it.  The main concern and danger with Trump is that, if Israel eventually elects an idiot from the Labor Left as Prime Minister, then Trump understandably would feel he should not be more pro-Israel than an Israeli Prime Minister offering to concede the farm.

Trump’s “gut” is that he does not trust radical Islam and recoils from the inexplicable hatred that many Islamists feel towards America.  He associates with and is endorsed by the kinds of evangelical Christians who are Israel’s best friends in America, and he is overwhelmed by Islamist hostility against Christianity and America.  By contrast, he has had wonderful relations with Jews all his life.  He trusts Jews in his highest places — and not the kinds of self-haters who leech onto Democrats — and, again, there is his daughter.

In summary:  Cruz would be an amazing President for America at home and abroad, and Israel would finally get a breather with such a profound friend in the White House.  But if Cruz falls to Trump in the GOP primaries, as seems more likely than not, odds are that Trump nevertheless would be the best American President for Israel since Nixon re-supplied the IDF in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War.  For those of us who remember Ronald Reagan warmly, we also remember that he was a mixed bag for Israel, condemning Israel’s conduct of Milchemet Shalom HaGalil in 1982, condemning Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, and even proposing a peace agreement that Menachem Begin publicly tore up in the Knesset. All the others have been worse.

American Presidents are elected to serve and protect America’s interests, not Israel’s.  It is not our way to put our faith in princes but in G-d, the True Guardian of Israel.  If Rubio gets knocked out by failing to win his home state in the March 15 GOP Florida primary on Tuesday, and if Cruz cannot overcome Trump’s current commanding lead as more than half of the fifty American states already have selected their GOP party-convention delegates, then Trump will leave much to be desired.  Nevertheless, sad to say, he still probably would be the best American President for Israel in nearly half a century.  Not saying much, but it is what it is.

And the alternative would be Clinton, whether she would be serving from the White House or serving time in the Big House.  That alternate choice makes Trump even more desirable.

I had also read Rabbi Elli Fischer. (He lives in Modiin, Israel, while Dov Fischer lives in Orange County, but they could be related.) In Elli his apologetics for Trump, Elli Fischer also recalled the epithet “Hitler’ being thrust by David Ben Gurion at his opponent, Ze’ev Japotinsky, back in 1932. For The Times of Israel, he wrote the following:

On October 3, 1932, Jabotinsky published an article in his Russian-language Revisionist organ Rassvet, in which he called the Histadrut a “malignant growth” and accused it of using totalitarian tactics to maintain its monopoly over the Jewish labor market and impoverish political opponents of socialist Zionism. Leaving little to the imagination, Jabotinsky titled his article “The Red Swastika.” A month later (“Yes, Break It!,” Haynt, November 4), Jabotinsky continued his polemic by calling on workers to cross picket lines and thereby break up the Histadrut. Against the claim that class solidarity is fundamental to democracy, he argued that Jewish national solidarity must trump class solidarity in Mandatory Palestine. To illustrate the limits of democracy, he invoked Hitler: “Must we Jews, democratic, liberal, progressive Jews, support the principle of university autonomy? Or, in accordance with the principles of democratic law, if Hitler wins a plurality in the upcoming German elections, must he be invited to assemble a government? If yes, must we Jews then demand that he be made ruler? Not to be outdone, Ben-Gurion… called Jabotinsky “Il Duce” repeatedly. Ben-Gurion also compared Revisionism to Hitler’s movement in no uncertain terms… The ideological and political debates did not slow down, and the following year Ben-Gurion famously called Jabotinsky “Vladimir Hitler.” This may be one of the first instances of a public debate that devolved into each side comparing the other to Hitler and/or Nazis. These two great Zionist leaders were comparing each other to Hitler even before his rise to power in 1933. Presciently, he had become a byword among the Jews long before the rest of the world understood what he was.


Tomorrow: Part II – Is Donald Trump Akin to Hitler?



With the help of Alex Zisman – to be continued

Akram Kahn and Toro


Howard Adelman

At then end of yesterday morning’s Torah study session, the rabbi passed around a copy of chapter 9 of Rabbi Joshua Heschel’s 1951 book, Man Is Not Alone. I can remember how much I was affected by reading that book almost sixty years ago in early 1958.  I could not recall the contents, but I certainly recall the powerful impression that the then fifty- year-old rabbi made on a twenty-year-old in second year medical school and living in Mount Sinai Hospital in the interns’ quarters. I was not an intern, just getting free accommodation in return for working in radiology a few hours every evening. I certainly felt alone as I wrestled with my desire to leave medical school and just read and write.

The chapter distributed yesterday is called, “In the Presence of God.” As I wrote above, there was not a chance in hell that I could tell you what was in that chapter. I have only picked up Heschel sporadically since that time, and then only to read bits and pieces. But I remember reading that book and I definitely remember reading that chapter. I thought at the time that he should have written a chapter called, “In the Absence of God.”

The chapter begins, “The sense of the ineffable introduces the soul to the divine aspect of the universe, to a reality higher than the universe.” Why should the inability of language to depict God introduce a soul to the sense of the divine in the universe. Adam in the Garden of Eden had the power of speech. It was his duty and responsibility to be a scientist, to walk around that garden and do the closest thing to imitating the creation of the universe by naming things – cats and dogs, tulips and daffodils. He was a nascent biologist.

But when it came to God, the same God who told Adam, the archetypal nerd who was totally oblivious to the fact, that he was alone in the universe and that he needed a helpmeet, when it came to God, Adam could not pigeon-hole Him, could not properly categorize Him or Her. I do not remember much of what I learned in Talmud Torah, even though I spent four afternoons a week after school as well as Sunday mornings there. But I do remember, though probably not from my years of non-study of the Torah, my years of feeling like I had been sentenced to a few hours of prison every day. I do remember that Moses had asked God what his name was. No, that is not what he asked. He asked, “Who are you?” Not to solicit God’s name, but his character. Moses was saying, I have learned from Adam to categorize different kinds of dogs and different kinds of tomatoes. How do I categorize you?

How does God answer Moses? With words that Adam cannot possibly experience. I am eternal. Since you left the Garden of Eden, you only know your mortality, especially as you grow older. But I, God, am immortal. I lack the experience of being mortal. I lack the experience of living within a limited time. I am unable to experience how time is sacred because I permeate all of space. But as such, God has experienced human affliction, in particular, the affliction of Moses and his ancestors, the affliction of my people and my ancestors. God is a witness to suffering while not being able to suffer Himself – a very different sense of the divine that is taught in Christianity. God does not suffer. God observes, not what category we belong to, not whether we are doctors or lawyers or labourers. But God witnesses our pain and our affliction, all inherent to what it is to be human.

But God is not just a witness. He is a redeemer. Actually, He promises redemption. There is no evidence of delivery. He offers a promise, a future prospect of redemption, of relief from that affliction, a relief from being mortal. But unlike God who is not mortal, that redemption could not come by our being made immortal as many believed. I knew better. It meant that God was Death, for the promise was just a tautology. We were mortal. Ergo we would die. Ergo we would be redeemed from our affliction. And the older you get the more aware and sensitive you become to a world full of pain and suffering.

If God is death, why “Kiddush Hashem?” Why sanctify His name? Why is profaning God’s name prohibited? Why must we avoid bringing shame onto God, avoid “chillul Hashem?” Not by uttering blasphemies, but by our behaviour, bringing God into disrespect because of what we do. If God’s name is YHWH, Yud., Heh, Vav, Heh, the four letter acronym for God that expresses His or Her ineffability,  that says that, unlike a flower or an ant, God cannot be characterized by His or Her name, but only by a name that says we cannot capture God by a taxonomy of language.

Hence Abraham Joshua Heschel, Joshua, the card God held up his sleeve when both Moses and Aaron fell so far short of who they could have become! For Yeshuah means, the Lord is my salvation. For God is Elijah. God is the Lord. God is Elohim, the ruler of the universe. Humans live in bondage. God, and really only God, can be a Lord on High. God has enormous power. God has unbounded authority, not that we really can understand either. But the depictions teach us that humans can only have bounded or limited power and authority. And the great sickness of man is to aspire to have unbounded authority, to become a dictator, to become an authoritarian ruler and revel in one’s power and one’s might.

It is so easy for people who are feeling insecure to long to worship at the feet of a golden calf, especially if it is a golden cow with a crown of gold for hair. But, for Heschel, it is precisely because God is ineffable that we are introduced to two things at one and the same time. First were are introduced to our own souls because our minds, our brains, are pre-programmed to reject an inability to categorize, to reject that anything is ineffable, for the intellect is totally convinced, has it built into its very DNA, that everything in experience can be classified and categorized, assigned attributes that allow one thing to be grouped with another. By definition, according to Heschel’s challenge to the Lithuanian and enlightenment tradition of Judaism, the mind inherently cannot grasp God. And only when humans recognize that, only then will they come to recognize that they have a soul which, though it may not be able to grasp God in order to categorize and characterize Him or Her, can experience God’s presence.

But can the soul feel God’s absence? That is the question I wanted to ask Heschel sixty years ago. If the soul can be attuned to God’s presence, the soul must be able to experience God’s absence. Even if that absence is only depicted as not experiencing that presence. If God, for Heschel, was a category within which the universe was to be placed rather than placing God as simply one additional item within the universe, God would then still be experienced as a category. And so Heschel began that chapter with a fundamental contradiction. If God was ineffable, then God could not even be categorized as something within Whom the entire universe and the entire universe of categories could rest. For that would still mean grasping God as a category for the mind and not simply experiencing his presence.

That is how I experienced that chapter – not as a chapter about the anteroom of experiencing God, but as an introduction to a paradox that even depicting God as ineffable did not work, even suggesting that by grasping the ineffability of God, the soul is introduced to the divine aspect of the universe. For if the universe could only be grasped intellectually as within God, then how could Heschel say that the soul experiences an aspect of the world as divine, for then the universe could not entirely be within God, but God, the divine, must simply be one part of the universe?

But Heschel does not get caught up in intellectual paradoxes. For in describing, in trying to experience God through first grasping that God is ineffable, an experience which the intellect by definition cannot grasp, we fall into the Black Hole of the intellect from which we cannot escape. For the issue is not really knowing God. By saying that God is ineffable, we are saying that God cannot be known. So what are we talking about? We are not really discussing God, but as Heschel writes, we are discussing that which can know God, our souls. We need to be introduced to our own souls. And if we are mortal and God is immortal and eternal, then the issue is not what we think of God, but what God thinks of our existence, of our mortality, of the fact that we exist at all. The issue is and always has been, not do we have faith in God, and not even whether God has faith in you, but who you are to be worthy of God’s faith in you.

In other words, we must look not at our experience of the universe, but at the universe as an object of divine thought, not us as simply independent agents, for, by definition, from God’s perspective, independence and individual agency are ruled out in advance,. Even if the Torah is all about teaching us to be responsible human beings and to take responsibility for the universe in which we live, from God’s perspective, we and the universe are objects of divine thought. Even if we do not yet – or ever – experience God’s presence, we are taken out of our minds, we are, in fact, driven out of our minds to open ourselves to the experience of God by first recognizing that God’s experience of the world is not ours. We cannot grasp the universe from the perspective of a being who is ineffable. That is just the nature of what it means to have a mind. And that is why such an experience must, and is the only way to grasp that we have a soul that can have such an experience.

That is an awful lot of verbiage to spend explicating the first couple of sentences of a chapter in Heschel’s book. For his book is just a reiteration of an Enlightenment precept articulated by Kant, that the mind, the brain, has its limits and can really only operate within those limits. If you try to grasp God from the perspective of a brain that works by giving finitude to the world of objects, then we cannot know we have a soul and, it follows, we cannot experience God’s presence, or, as I would add, even God’s absence. The only way to begin to know our own soul and begin the long road to experience God’s presence is not through the intellect but through intuition. This is Heschel’s central message.

Presence precedes essence. And intuition is the precondition for experiencing a divine presence. The intellect has to be bracketed.

I write this not to begin a theological discussion, but as an introduction to my experience of  the dance and sound performance of Akram Khan and his musical partners that I experienced at the Bluma Appel Theatre last evening. The performance cannot possibly be grasped or depicted in words. It has to be experienced. I have never seen a performance like it before. And thus the paradox – using words to depict what is not about words at all and that cannot be grasped by words that, in effect, reduce language, not to words, but to a wide variety of sounds and movements, to body and auditory language without words. And it is not only the sound of drums or the various voices on stage, but the sounds of silence, the sounds of the body language, not only with its foot-stomping flamenco rhythms, but with the sounds of silence as hands whoosh through the air, as shoulders jerk, as heads move as in a Thai dance.

Unlike simply a musical performance of a band or singing group, dance is movement without a text, without a vocabulary. Reading all the books on my shelves will tell me nothing about the experience of watching a dance company. This is even truer when the purpose of that dance company is to express the ineffability of both dance and voice. God is the witness to the experience of our ancestors. The construction of the mishkan, of the Tabernacle, can be described in exquisite detail. But what about the dancing of the Hebrews when they whirled with joy around the golden calf?

The faster the dance, the more exotic the rhythms, the more complex the movements, the less dance is able to be grasped and depicted through the language of the intellect. If flamenco is defined as the cry of the soul of the Spanish people, more particularly, the gypsies or Romani and the Jews, the Moors and the Andalusians, we have on offer one entry into how the ineffable God experiences the world, one entry point to our souls, one entry point from which to experience the ineffability of the divine presence.

There was evidently a back story to last night’s performance. I really did not know about it until I read the theatre notes. Evidently, the original show scheduled was a performance focused primarily on two dancers, the very famous flamenco dancer, Israel Galván and the equally famous British choreographer, Akram Khan of Bangladeshi descent and interpreter of Indian traditional music and dance, kathak, from which flamenco is believed to have been derived. What unites both forms of art is they are more direct aesthetic expressions of what is written in Torah, the experiences of pain and oppression, the lamentations and suffering of a people over time, and the moments of exquisite glory that like a flaming torch leads the people on its onward journey through history.

The back story is important. Israel Galván did not perform last night. The production, which was originally scheduled, was a duet–duel, like two rappers. It is a dialogue between these two traditions coming once again face-to-face, both having traveled via different routes through the Diaspora. But without Israel Galván, who had been ordered to rest for weeks, even months, to allow an injured knee to mend, the performance of TOROBAKA could not be presented.

Akram Kahn had written that Israel Galván is a sublime storyteller of rhythms, not rhythms of the past, but rhythms of the future,” “He [Galván] has opened my eyes into how and what is possible with flamenco, how one can deconstruct it, transform it and recreate it, in order to form new stories. After all, stories are what help us make sense of the world.” I would suggest one modification to what Khan wrote of Galván. “Not rhythms of the past,” I suggest he really meant, “not just rhythms of the past.” For, if the performance originally scheduled was even loosely akin to the performance of toro that we witnessed last evening, then the profundity of the music and dance comes not merely from its novelty, but from how the new and innovative can be enriched while raising up and preserving the past, the past even before there was a recorded past, the past prior to the mind going to work categorizing the world and writing down those stories.

I mention this back story because, after the performance I heard two different people say that, although they really liked the performance, it was too bad that they had missed seeing TOROBAKA. I wondered. Was my experience of God’s absence preventing me from fully, or even partially, experiencing God’s presence? For what we saw last night was so extraordinary, so outstanding, I could grasp how focusing to even a small degree on what is missing can interfere with experiencing what is present before us.

At the end of the movie, Revenant (which I promise to write about), when the picture fades, we still here Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio) breathing. A very old friend from my activist days in the New Left in the sixties, whom I have not seen for decades, but whom I frequently read since he became a rabbi, Arthur Waskow, wrote an essay called, “The Breath of Life and Prayer.” It begins as follows:

For millennia, the Jewish convention has been to non-pronounce “YHWH” by saying instead, Adonai, “Lord.”  This fits with naming God as Melekh ha’olam, King or Ruler of the universe. Sometimes people (usually from other religious communities or influenced by academic teaching) try to pronounce the four-letter Name by adding vowels, so it becomes “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” But what if we broke the rule and “pronounced” that Name with no vowels?  I have invited hundreds of people to experiment this way, and for almost everyone, what happens is a breath, or the sound of wind. Spiritus in Latin is “breath” and “wind.”  In Hebrew, Ruach=breath=wind=spirit. “Spirituality” is what celebrates the interbreathing that connects all life. (What we breathe in is what the trees breathe out; what the trees breathe in is what we breathe out.) So we might begin our blessings, “Baruch attah [or Brucha ahtYahhhhh elohenu ruach ha’olam”—“Blessed are You, our God, the Breathing Spirit of the world.”

For me, YHWH as Breath of Life is not just a neat understanding of the four-letter Name, but a profound metaphor and theology of God. God as the Breath of Life, in-and-out- breath, that which unites all life, that which is beyond us and within us. Words are physical breathing shaped by our intellectual consciousness into emotional communication. Using words is one of the crucial aspects of being human (not absolutely unique to us, but by far best-developed among us). So for me, what we do when we pray or study Torah or share words of compassion is breathe our selves into the Breath of Life. We shape one major aspect of what makes us human, and part of the Breath of Life, into a conscious weaving of our breaths into the breath of life.

But there is breathing even before there are words. In the movie, Hugh Glass insists that, “As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.” And his dead native wife appears to him as a floating ghostly figure and articulates at greater length the sense of the divine as ruah, as breath, as spirit. “As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe. Keep breathing. When there is a storm and you stand in front of a tree, if you look at its branches, you swear it will fall. But if you watch the trunk, you will see its stability.”

Experiencing the breath of life inherently makes us feel insecure, on edge. And that is exactly what toro did last evening. Once, my wife walked away from an accident in which she flipped an ATV onto herself. It has left its memory written into her bones. But she walked away breathing. Toro is not just a bull, but is precisely to walk away standing, breathing and alive after wiping out. And that is what toro was about last evening. You could not help, if you attended, continually catching your breath, infusing ruach into your very being. It allowed us to get in touch with sound before there was language, with motion and gesture before there was ballet or the fox trot. Toro took us back to a time before intellectualization took place, before we were placed in the Garden of Eden, before we were instructed to categorize and give meaning to what we experienced, to a time when experience was direct and immediate before we constructed a correspondence theory of truth and organized language mediated between what we experience and how we articulate what we experienced.

Thus, the movement of animals – the bear in Revenant, the representation of animal movements the dances of Akram Khan. As the program notes expressed it, “The hunter, lost in the countryside, imitates the gait of the animal he has come to hunt. Words are yet to be defined; they are guttural sounds which are understood almost as if they were orders, acts of command. Every part of the body is expressive, movements are read, they have a function. “TOROBAKA!” But what happens when we have the bull without the cow, toro without baka. (Baca, as in Hebrew, is also vaca, “cow”.) We have even a more refined version, I suspect, of Adam living in the Garden of Eden before Eve came along. We have the expression of loneliness and inter-subjectivity without the experience of human intercourse. For, as in jazz, the dancers and singers play off one another.

Thus we have futuristic dance, dance and sound as fusion and reflection and resonance, but always with a reaching back to before we learned to play intellectual games, the choreography of kathak and flamenco with flamenco remaining as a residue where we experience its absence through its presence. As background to Akram Khan’s stamping and jingling ankle bells, to Khan wearing and dancing with flamenco shoes on his hands, Khan silences each of his singers in turn – except for the exceptional percussionist, B.C. Manjunath, without whose rhythms there could be no performance.

We have dialogue and tension, but not a duel between two very different paths of history, Sometimes, the sounds are purely guttural. At other times they mimic a Latin boys choir in a mediaeval church in something that sounds like Latin but is not. Thus, we have the great soloist, the speed, precision and virtuosity of Azram Khan accompanied by, no, really matched against, the Don Quixote of the troupe, David Azura, a countertenor, whose singular voice carries the sound of a full boy’s choir.

As a vocal contrast of David’s, we hear the voice of Christine Leboutte with a maternal and sometimes unusually gutteral contralto sound. What comes out of the mouths of the musicians just does not match their body types. David Azura could pass for a tall, bald and gaunt monk in a mediaeval church. Leboutte is a matronly earth mother with a voice that both startles and comforts. When Manjunath offers his vocal contributions, we are listening to the deep roots of scat in the jazz tradition, but the vocalizations resonate with something even deeper than the blues in the rapid-fire vocalizations that compete with the stamping. Then there is the portly bald and bearded rabbi of the troupe, Bobote, who just startles you when he performs flamenco numbers. And when he sings…! But he also performs with his arms as if he were Krishna standing in the shadow of Khan. And then his clapping, the intricacy along with its independent voice, sometimes performed with just fingers against a palm and sometimes with the sound of one hand clapping.

Arms weave and gesture, express awe and wonderment, while at other times commanding silence, telling us clearly in the voices and the sounds that what we are experiencing, that we are in the presence of the ineffable. So why long for an absence? What does it teach me about getting beyond the experience of an absence to intuit a presence?


With the help of Alex Zisman

The Divine is in the Details

Parashat Pekudei (Exodus 38:21 – 40:38) 


Howard Adelman

Yesterday evening at our synagogue, we were treated to a dialogical discussion about specific biblical texts and commentaries – eight were offered and four were actually discussed – between Rabbi Mark Fishman from Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Montreal, an orthodox rabbi, and Rabbi Yael Splansky, our Reform rabbi. They have been having these dialogues once a month in the Canadian Jewish News and Yoni Goldstein, the editor of the paper, chaired yesterday evening’s session. Fishman is a very personable rabbi and feels quite relaxed addressing any Jewish audience. He does not seem to have any trouble or qualms about addressing a Reform congregation. He even went further in an angular response to a congregant who wanted the differences between Orthodox and Reform brought into sharp focus and discussion. As Fishman responded, he was interpreting text as a rabbi, not as a representative of orthodoxy. He presumed that and respected Rabbi Splansky for doing precisely the same thing. I hope I can offer due respect for what they said since I did not take notes and have had to rely on my memory.

One of the texts discussed last night was Genesis 43:29-33 and, more specifically, verse 32 that reads, “They served him separately and the Egyptian who usually ate with him separately.” The verse occurs in the context of the return of his brothers to Egypt for the second time, this time with Benjamin in tow as commanded. The brothers still do not recognize Joseph, the top government official in Egypt.

26 When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground.27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”

28 They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him.

29 As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

31 After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.”

32 They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. 33 The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. 34 When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.

What did it mean that Joseph ate alone? Rabbi Splansky suggested that it meant that, although Joseph had reached the heights of success in the Diaspora, without being amongst his own people as well, he was utterly alone. Without explicitly referring to E.M. Forster’s Passage to India, she cited a dominant expression from that text – “only connect.”

Rabbi Fishman, if I remember correctly, focused more on the fact that the passage described how Joseph, who usually ate together with the Egyptians, then chose to eat alone. And we are told that, for the Egyptians, eating with the Hebrews was an abomination. The implication was that he was caught betwixt and between, for he could not eat with his brothers or the Egyptians would have been appalled. But if he ate with them, he would have effectively joined the group that Egyptians found it vile to eat with, the Hebrews, and then what would happen to the esteem in which they held him? In that sense, loneliness, just when you are supposed to break bread together, was his only option. One interpretation focused on Joseph’s emotional state while the other focused on the politics of the situation.

I myself had a third interpretation, more in line with Fishman’s, but with a twist. Joseph chose to eat alone because he wanted to send a clue to his brothers that he was not an Egyptian. It was not simply that he was being forced between two unacceptable choices and choosing a third as the least bad of the three options. The choice he made was a positive one consistent with his playing with his brothers prior to revealing himself, as he clearly longed to do as indicated when he went off alone to weep profusely at the sight of his younger brother, Benjamin. The issue was not primarily about incompatible political and moral choices nor about an existential crisis of loneliness, but about playful politics.

Now none of these three positions are incompatible with one another. Unlike the possibilities of Joseph eating with his brothers, eating with the Egyptians or eating alone, which are mutually exclusive choices, the above three interpretations are all possibly true at one and the same time, but the emphasis shifts from existential angst, to moral politics to manipulative politics.

A second passage for discussion was offered by Rabbi Fishman, the famous passage in which Adam and Eve had just eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and God goes looking for Adam who has gone into hiding. When God come across him, Adam explains that he hid because he was naked and afraid. The passage given to us followed: “And He [God] said, ‘Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?’ And the man said: ‘The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat.’”

In Fishman’s interpretation, God was testing Adam and Adam failed the test. Instead of accepting responsibility for what he had done, he blamed what he had done on Eve and, indirectly on God Himself for it was God’s idea to give Eve to him as a helpmeet. I tried to remember whether Rabbi Splansky had a different take on this, but I could not recall. I do recall one person in the audience raising the question of the counterfactual – what if Adam had passed the test and owned up to what he had done? Fishman offered an interesting answer. There were two possibilities. In one, Adam and Eve in the company of God could have returned to enjoy the pleasures of paradise. But he suggested that this was unlikely, because God wanted them to leave the garden.

I confess that I found the discussion disappointing. For this is one of the most iconic and important portions of Torah text and is about something even more fundamental than the message about accepting responsibility and not projecting blame onto another, though it is surely about that. What was the original command? Do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil for if you do you will surely die. Note the following:

  • Neither Adam nor Eve dies, though they certainly now know they are mortal; just because he was made in the image of God, Adam has now come to recognize that he cannot be God whose essential character was that He was disembodied and could not die
  • The command was not a categorical moral commandment but a conditional one – If you do x, y will follow.
  • As Fishman said, the other tree was the Tree of Life; why was there a fear that Adam and Eve could have eaten of it and achieved immortality? Why did they not eat of that tree?
  • Eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil meant Adam and Eve had sex and sex introduced both to a radically different kind of knowledge than knowing and naming objects; it was about coming to know another person and, in the process, thereby coming to know oneself, seeing oneself in a mirror as it were and seeing oneself as embodied.

The issue was not that Adam felt ashamed because he had no clothes on, but that he now clearly and unequivocally saw himself as embodied and thereby knew that eating of the Tree of Life was a fantasy. In effect, psychologically and intellectually, he was no longer in the garden of innocence and now had to go on the voyage of discovery of learning what it meant to be an embodied creature, what it meant to make moral choices, what it meant to now really experience the knowledge of what was good and evil. If the first lesson of that voyage of discovery was accepting one’s embodied and non-divine form, the second lesson had to entail assuming responsibility for your actions and not displacing them onto another.

My dissatisfaction was not with the lesson Fishman took out of the passage, but how the form of the discussion had impoverished the potential metaphysical richness beyond it. The divine and the devil are both in the details.

Fishman had offered another passage, Genesis 37:21. “And Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand; and said: ‘Let us not take his [Joseph’s] life.’” According to Fishman, this is the only time that the Torah tells a clear lie. For the brothers had thrown Joseph into a pit to be left to die. Travelers came by, heard his cries, rescued him and took him off to Egypt. Reuben, having felt guilty, went back to save Joseph’s life and sell him into slavery. But Joseph was no longer in the pit. So he retroactively made up a story and rewrote history in terms of his intentions and not in terms of what actually took place.

What unites all three passages is that they are each about accepting responsibility – the first being about Joseph accepting responsibility, not only for the well-being of his brothers, but for himself as a Hebrew with responsibilities for and to his people.

Before I turn to this week’s parsha. I want to discuss the fourth passage of commentary discussed last evening from Genesis Rabbah about a man traveling from place to place who saw a palace aglow/in flames (birah doleket). Did the passage mean that the travelers were appalled that the palace was on fire and the world that is God’s glory was on the verge of extinction, or is it a vision of fireworks, of a celebration of the palace that is God’s world in all its glory? These are two very opposed meanings, but again, they are both possible.

Perhaps trivializing the passage too much, it is seeing the glass half full  –  the fireworks from the palace of God celebrating the glories of this world – or, on the other hand, the glass half empty as we contemplate radical climate change because of human hands and the potential destruction of the world as we know it.

What has all this to do with this week’s parsha? First of all, it is about my own dissatisfaction with the discussion that skipped from one item to another without probing anyone of them in much greater depth. That is probably just my problem. But it is definitely related to this week’s text which is about details and depth.

We all know the expression that the devil is in the details. It has a mirror expression. In Gustave Flaubert’s words, “Le bon Dieu est dans le detail.” (The good God is in the detail.) Is it God or the devil in the detail – or is it details? Surely, it cannot be both. But why not? Don’t the two versions express the same thing, just as the term “detail” can both be a singular and a plural? The divine is in the detail because attention to particulars is critical to the success of any project. If one is to do something right, it has to be done thoroughly with meticulous attention to every detail. For if not, the devil is in the details. Miss out on one crucial item and, instead of the construction of a building of exquisite beauty and engineering, we get a balagan.

Do the divine and the devil both being in the detail point out two sides of the same homily? – if you want something exquisite, pay attention to the detail. If you do not, one detail left out can cause devilish destruction. Aspiration and caution are two sides of the same message. Attending to every small item is critical in accomplishing an important task. Of course, the same expression is cited when offered as an excuse for a delay. ‘It took longer than I thought because I had to pay so much attention to each step of the way.’

But the uses of the expression and the expression itself may be varied, but the meaning is constant. Attention to detail matters. So in this week’s portion we now have the accountant’s summary to add to the architectural and design detail of the mikshan. For accountability means not only taking responsibility for one’s action, but entails transparency and auditing of what took place. The world needs accountants as well as architects, engineers, and set designers. Further, after the architects, after the accountants, then the political leaders have to follow the exact details of their divine instructions. Only then, the Book of Exodus ends with the following:

When Moses had finished the work, 34 the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 36 When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as it did lift. 38 For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys.

We return to the depiction of the divine as a cloud where the divine presence so fills the mishkan that there is no room for Moses. But when the cloud lifted, once again the Israelites could continue their journey, a journey that must have continued at night led by a torch for “a cloud of the Lord rested (on the mishkan) by day.” If there is anything where it is virtually impossible to grasp details, it is in a cloud or in fire. So we are faced with a paradox – a section of the Torah that has been all about details of architectural detail and the refined design of the artefacts, about construction details and detailed rules about usage, we are back to an old theme, God as a cloud by day and a fire by night, of resting by day and moving by night.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described the details of Jewish ritual, particularly on shabat when we are commanded to rest, to be near the Tabernacle – not in it – when it is filled with the cloud of divine presence. Each of us, as Heschel said, is called to accept responsibility for being the architect of sacred time while the divine fills up sacred space. So when the detailed work was done, when the accounting was all completed, when the instructions on use were followed in all their detail, God as a cloud gets to occupy the space and there is not even room for Moses, the leader of the people. How can that be? How is it that the community is brought together as one nation, not in a space shared with God, with God’s presence being felt and experienced, but when the divine cloud takes up all of sacred space and the Israelites are left to cope with sacred time?

Often we are told that Judaism encourages communal more than individual worship, such as when we recite the kaddish. But I would attend to the other aspect of this depiction of the divine in the midst of His people, a depiction of the people outside the Tabernacle when it is filled with the cloud of the divine presence – the message of exclusion rather than inclusion, the vision of Joseph sitting and eating by himself while his brothers eat at another table, and his Egyptian friends and companions eat at a third.

God in the Torah is a God of frozen ice and fiery lightning that reigns down on the Egyptians. (Exodus 9:23-24). When the Israelites had escaped from Egypt, they were accompanied by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21-22) Once the mishkan is constructed, the pillar of cloud no longer leads the Israelites, but fills the Tabernacle so that the Israelites cannot move forward. In my interpretation, they must probe through the haze and confusion and figure out their next step and who they want to become. They must decide who should be the next president of the United States. That, only they can do, not God.

Of the items included in the mishkan, including rare gems and fine linens, the most important may be the mirrors of copper, at once artefacts of vanity and narcissism of self-obsession, of self-confidence and self-consciousness – among birds, only magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror. As Rabbi Fishman told us last night, when we read the Torah, we are holding a mirror up to our own souls. For the Torah is not just a text about history but a sacred text about who we are now and where we should be going, about our taking responsibility for oneself, but doing so in communion with others, about seeking and following a pillar of fire. As palace of sparkling fireworks with the glorious future beckoning and a palace on fire in which we face an apocalypse, about reconciling our best of intentions with our actual behaviour as we go forth from our land in search of a better world.


With the help of Alex Zisman