The Decline of the Republican Party

The Decline of the Republican Party

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday evening I attended a wedding. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing young people, handsome young men and beautiful young women, marry and set off to turn a cohort into a new generation. However, these days one cannot go out into the public without encountering the effects of the shock waves that have been sent through the body politic, not only in America but around the world. It is as if Italy’s massive new earthquake had encircled the globe. Whether in the hospital attending my wife and listening to the visitors talking with the patient in the next bed, or engaging in conversation last evening with two well-off businessmen – one had traveled all the way from Oregon to attend the wedding – the spectre of Donald Trump filled the air.

Preoccupation with Donald Trump pours out into the conversation unbidden. What does it mean? What does it portend for America and for the world, even if Donald Trump loses after his last spurt to close the gap? It seems that few expect Donald Trump to fade from the scene quietly even if he loses. The only consolation – I am not the only one obsessed.

Donald Trump has often been portrayed as an outlier to the Republican Party, at odds with its essential nature, principles and many, if not most, of its policies. Donald Trump from Queens has painted a self-portrait of the self-made billionaire taking on the billionaire governing class from Wall Street, the ordinary self-made man from the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens coming forth as a cast off from the ruling hierarchy to lead his dispossessed followers like Moses towards the promised land. In fact, Donald Trump is the logical extension of the way those principles have evolved and have been expressed in most of the recent policies proposed by the GOP as the essence of what used to be its nature has been hollowed out to contribute to a darker, meaner, stressed out and grumpier America.

Begin with immigration, the initial headline issue with which Donald Trump launched his pursuit of the presidency – build a wall, deport all the illegals, Mexicans are rapists, refugees are security threats, the intake of Muslim refugees should be stopped “until we know what we are doing.” No queue jumping. No amnesties. Immigration law has to be enforced to ensure that anyone who wants to come to America waits in line until he or she is adequately vetted and selected. Fear of the invader – Mexicans and Central Americans, terrorists from the Middle East (even though the vast majority have been home-grown radicalized youth) – is married to the sense that neither the legal system nor borders have been up to the task of securing Americans (or Hungarians or Poles or Frenchmen or Brits). Ignore the reality that 25% of America’s core rite of baseball now has 25% of its players with Hispanic backgrounds. Instead, attend to the important shift in the body politic as the proportion of whites in the population is steadily reduced.

But have the Republican Party principles and policies been any different, at least in the basics? The first principle of the Republican Party platform has been that the RP “believes in immigration laws.” The fundamental criterion for any policy is not American economic self-interest but national security, though the immigration program should fundamentally be a skills-based program for selection and a temporary visa program for the unskilled. The RP advocated putting more resources into keeping people out who have not been granted legal admission to the U.S. Otherwise, they contended, the law is a farce. Amnesties only encourage a future wave of new illegals. And large numbers of illegals on American soil (estimated at 11,000,000), they insisted, place unfair demands on the American social security system. All this is stated as a given truth in spite of the data showing that illegals contribute far more to the system than they extract from it. Nevertheless, the focus is on the need to expand enforcement, the use of a Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement (SAVE) program and the creation of a biometric data tracking system akin to the one already in place at airports.

Recall that House Leader John Boehner lost his position largely because, in his immigration reforms, he was considered too soft, including even those of his proposals that emphasized border security as the prime criterion. His plan denied any path to citizenship for anyone who had arrived on American soil illegally.

Donald Trump differed in only details – the wall should be higher and stronger. The Mexicans will pay for it. At heart, it was the same hardline Republican Party doctrine on immigration, but blasted out at many decibels higher as a boast rather than an obvious backhanded trick. Further, while the Boehner platform offered no path to citizenship for illegals, he threw them a bone – which drove his more puritanical Republicans in the House crazy, let alone The Donald himself. No legal path to citizenship, except if “they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).” On the other hand, Boehner’s plan was even more radical in some ways than ones proposed by other more radical Republican members of the House. For he would repeal the opportunity allowed for an immigrant to sponsor his wife and children.

The evidential irrationality, the huge barriers to implementation, the enormous costs undercutting any self-interest and the inhumanity of the policy proposals that would send the parents of American citizens back to their country of origin, suggests a far deeper motive that had nothing to do with the importance of upholding the rule of law. This was nativism writ large, the flip side of the undercurrent of racism and of birtherism that has haunted the Republican Party and made every day seem like Halloween.

In economic policy, the Republicans have been the clearest and most puritanical supporters of lower taxes, reduced guarantees for social security (citizens should be incentivized to provide for their own social security, social and medical benefits), minimal government, and offering the most unregulated environment for the expression of capitalism, including increased regulation for and restrictions on labour unions. Who better to choose to represent the party than a billionaire who has evidently paid no personal income taxes for eighteen years? Republicans support fewer taxes on even the rich who are esteemed as the engines of economic growth. Republicans oppose the Democratic Party proposals to institute a $15 minimum wage. Republicans certainly oppose the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Many in the past opposed Medicaid and Social Security. On all these economic policies, Donald agrees with the economic policies of his party.

There is one exception. The Republican Party has consistently promoted free trade agreements. The Donald has pointed to free trade as the cause of the decimation in the rust belt and characterized NAFTA as “a disaster.” “It’s the worst agreement ever signed” – though that is also how he described the Iranian nuclear deal, but, of course, for Donald Trump, there is no contradiction in declaring a large variety of arrangements as “the worst” Speaking of NAFTA, Trump promised, “We will either renegotiate it, or we will break it. Because, you know, every agreement has an end. … Every agreement has to be fair. Every agreement has a defraud clause. We’re being defrauded by all these countries.” With one stroke, Trump upended a Republican long-standing trade policy and wedded his proposal to conspiracy theorists.

More importantly, Trump had followed a long historical precedent going back to Napoleon III of appealing to those tossed aside or whose security has been reduced by the latest revolution in capitalism, what Karl Marx called the lumpen proletariat. Instead of the Hispanics, Blacks, women and gays that National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus had proposed to appeal to in his March 2013 reform recommendations for the Republican Party that recommended immigration reform and policies directed at the inclusion of minorities, Trump went in the opposite direction and appealed to white males who felt their roles had been undermined by a combination of benefits offered to minorities and opportunities transferred to foreign workers. The hollowing out of America’s industrial core, the thinning out of the middle class and the huge increase in the fat cats versus the working poor, the emergence of the new dot com economy and the financializing of corporate America, the resulting dislocation and insecurities reinforced by a weak social security system, produced an earthquake in which the optimism of the American creed came tumbling down in the face of the new Joshua and his populist trumpet blasts.

In doing so, Trump had collected a base that could offer the Republicans a majority foundation just as they had discovered fifty years earlier in the turn to take the old South away from the Democrats. Count the numbers of social conservatives concerned, for example, with abortion and embryonic stem cell research (12%), but who are disproportionately politically engaged (19%), almost offsetting an equal-sized committed liberal population (15% who would never support the Republican Party and are even more politically engaged (21%). Add to that core economic conservatives (10%), also disproportionately very engaged politically (17%). Add the two groups together and this is where you find Trump’s core support of 36% with some disaffection from economic conservatives upset by Trump’s crass populism and his rejection of free trade.

These losses, however, were more than offset by an appeal to the previously politically disaffected financially stressed members of the population who had been left behind by the economic changes underway. If this 13% of the population could be motivated to participate in politics at much higher rates than their traditional reluctance, Trump will have provided the GOP with a third strong leg and built a new and powerful foundation for its future. To retain the religious right, he opportunistically stressed conservative social values, though he was unable to sweep up large numbers of young voters sceptical of big government but liberal on social issues – Sanders supporters. Nevertheless, he had identified a potentially winning combination. For the latter group of Democratic dissenters forced Hillary initially to equivocate and subsequently support the TPP and TIP treaties only if specific modifications are made. These compromises and blandishments are unlikely to mollify the critics on her left while reinforcing the stature of Donald Trump’s unequivocal renunciation of free trade.

The Democrats, in contrast to Trump, relied on a mixture of die-hard liberals (the 21% mentioned above), minorities (12% of voting activists even though they were 14% of the population), and the new millennial left (11% of activists even though 12% of the population) giving the Democrats a 44% base of support, but one which was vulnerable if enthusiasm to vote for “crooked Hillary” were to be suppressed. This became a major goal of the Trump political campaign. Sweep the lumpen proletariat into the party and reduce the turnout for the Democrats by undermining the enthusiasm of the body politic for his opponent. If Trump has a ceiling above which he cannot rise, then lower Hillary’s floor. Get a higher percentage of the population who actually vote to support the Republican candidate. As Nathan Silver has warned, polls that fail to take this enthusiasm factor into account could well be incorrect. The “crooked Hillary” campaign targets the turnout factor for the Democrats while raising the enthusiasm of his own base which does not need any further convincing. His supporters recite the mantra like automatons while Trump runs a do-not-vote campaign targeting voters leaning towards voting for Hillary. You may hate and distrust me, but Hillary is worse.

Then there are the undecided or those who rarely vote. It becomes clear that the goal of each side is threefold: 1) peal away some supporters from the other side; 2) suppress the enthusiasm factor in the opposing camp to decrease the turnout rate of those inclined to support that side’s candidate, and 3) prevent too much slippage to minor party candidates. (For a breakdown in the factions of the American population supporting different candidates with the enthusiasm factor taken into account, but not the slippage element, see “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology, 26 June 2014 published by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press – http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/the-political-typology-beyond-red-vs-blue/)

The anti- or pro-immigration bias and the scepticism for or stress on minority rights had already been built-in on each side. “Extremism” on any of these positions might suppress enthusiasm on one side or the other, but the offset would be a boost in one’s own side’s enthusiasm factor. Clearly, we were dealing with a high-risk candidate on one side and a cautious, calculating candidate on the other side. The objective factors mattered far less than how they were perceived. Is it any wonder that substantive issues played such a small part in the debates and the election? Is it any surprise that not one question in the debates addressed the most important issue of our time – human induced climate change?

Take NAFTA. It may not have worked out nearly as well as its architects planned, creating fewer net new jobs than envisioned. But the techies and the skilled who saw their job options increase would not feel as emotional about the new economy as those distressed poorer less educated voters among the 350,000 and 750,000 directly impacted, along with the sales and service personnel that supported them. They fell by the wayside and lost jobs or moved to lower-paying ones. If the latter were combined with resentful whites and religious minorities (as long as one pandered to the social values of the latter), it can be seen that Trump had forged a potentially winning coalition, even though it would be one coming with a handicap. Thus, although the actual impact of the trade agreements and the openness to free trade had been relatively positive, though also considerably smaller than anticipated, the new targeted population became the victims of the relatively modest positive impacts of free trade. Thus, the real potential of an anti-free trade and anti-immigrant posture, whether in the U.S. or in the advanced democracies in Europe that have also experienced the rise of the alt-Right, was apparent to any opportunist.

The contradictions were not so apparent. Increase the number of high value jobs on one side and the number of low-valued jobs on the other side of a border, then not only does each side benefit from the rising tide, but the pressure on immigration is significantly reduced as increased job opportunities open up on the poorer side. Closing off the spigot through coercion rather than through foreign domestic incentives can only come about at enormous direct costs and a multitude of indirect ones so that you end up having a negative sum game for both sides.

To recognize this requires ignoring the lost political opportunity costs. And Donald Trump, with an attention span of twenty minutes, was certainly not interested in that. The same is true of the negative impacts of Donald Trump’s tax policies on the very people he is winning and getting to turn out to his large rallies. This is also true of a decrease in the social safety net for these very populations who will suffer much more than they are suffering now. But if the blame can be displaced and built into the equation from the start, that failure will only result because there is an effort by international bankers, crony capitalists, led by the get-rich-quick through government largesse of the Clinton clan and that of their corporate partners, then the possibility of political victory is enhanced by more economic suffering.

Donald Trump offered an additional new enhancing formula – an anti-imperial and anti-activist American leadership in foreign affairs, but now enhanced by the spectre of an opponent launching World War III. The irony was that Trump preached making America great again as a cover for becoming a mouth piece for the fears that the Putin mafia have been promulgating since 2014 – that of America as the initiators of a new world war. As Russia tests its new ambitions for expansion in the Ukraine and in the Middle East, make America great again became a formula for shrinking America from its global responsibilities. This switchback required extending Barack Obama’s lead in making America small again, retreating from an active interventionist role and paying far more attention to the well-being of one’s own population.

This was a tour de force for it undercut the appeal of the Hillary Democrats to their own left base. But it came at a cost, but one Donald Trump bet would work to his advantage. As Colin Powell, a former Republican Secretary of State, noted in reference to the birther movement, when nativism is combined with “a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party,” the party has to engage in some intense naval gazing. But conspiracy theories obviate the compulsion to do so.

Not one of Donald Trump’s competitors for the leadership of the Republican Party recognized this route to the White House. But they had already built into the party an attraction to demagoguery, an absolute insistence on no compromise, even if the cost was a burning political system crashing down upon their heads, a propensity for constructing conspiratorial groupings aimed to deprive Americans of their second amendment rights joined by a scientific conspiracy of leading intellectual figures to foster on a naïve domestic population a myth about climate change. When fostering ignorance at the expense of knowledge, when blaming others at the cost of assuming responsibility, when creating a narrative of a besieged American betrayed by the ruling establishment, the pathway to a potential victory had been forged by the previous leadership of the Republican Party. Trump had simply upped the ante, driving his rivals out of the game. The Tea Party’s fight with the traditional establishment in the party was not intended to but did serve to prepare the ground for Donald Trump by bringing into the party the power of negative thinking, the enhancement of suspicion, the huge increase in mindblindness and the anxiety and insecurity that now undergirds the party.

So when the enthusiasm factor is introduced into polling so that different voters get different weights depending on that enthusiasm, the result of outlying scientific polls show either a victory for Donald Trump or, on the other hand, a narrow victory for Hillary Clinton when she needs an overwhelming win with the consequent win in the Senate and even potentially in the House of Representatives to actually govern.

Racism, the general distrust of government, the insecurities of white males, particularly those who are less educated, as well as evangelicals primed to expect the immanent end of days, have been linked together to create a toxic brew of fear and insecurity, an emotional maelstrom that bubbles like a volcano about to explode and pour its hot lava through the cracks and fissures of the Republican Party. Hence the focus on the after-effects of the Trump earthquake and the shock waves that have reverberated around the world. Hence the sacrifice of reasoning and evidence-based policies for ones that reinforced passion and unbridled vehemence, that emphasize entertainment more than dialogue, that confers authority on celebrity itself. Hence atavistic nationalism rather than just patriotism, xenophobia married to racism and sexism. Hence a political campaign built on grievances and whining. Hence the politics of resentment. Hence the scare-mongering and the rise once again of the Know Nothings. Hence, the discontent with democracy and the faith in a rational voting population.

For those who believe in attachment, who either esteem or long for a strong community, but encounter one increasingly atomized by technology, Facebook and Twitter, the use of coarser language and a reduction in empathy are used to prove that “community” itself is weak and evanescent. The results of economic, social and technological forces have been devastating and prepared the ground for the takeover of the Republican Party, the rise of Trumpism and a divided and meaner polity with civility driven to the margins. Is it any wonder that this Halloween the main ghost is that of Donald Trump?

With the help of Alec Zisman

Donald Trump’s Misogyny

Donald Trump’s Misogyny

by

Howard Adelman

Why am I spending so much time writing about Donald Trump at this point in the campaign? After all, the presidential battle is virtually over. Hillary Clinton is not only going to win the presidency; she is going to wipe the floor with Donald. She is going to humiliate him. The reason: after the battle is over, I expect the real war to begin. Donald Trump is going to go after Hillary Clinton with revenge in his heart, turbo propelled because the winner was not George Bush Sr. who scorned Trump’s offer to be named as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, but Hillary, a woman. Donald Trump could casually put George Bush Sr. down because the latter failed to complete his war against Saddam Hussein – in total contradiction to his assertion that he always opposed the war in Iraq. And in his mind, he did. For when he finally did oppose the war, it was not really about Iraq – about which he knew very little – but about his revenge against President Bush Sr. and the elites of the Republican Party establishment that had scorned him.

If Donald Trump stewed in his anger and plotted revenge in his heart against the Republican establishment for a quarter of a century, when Hillary wins, he no longer has that much time to exact his revenge. He has already either very seriously injured or even destroyed the GOP. What will he set out to do to Hillary? The humiliation will have been so overwhelming, that he will not be able to control himself. He had been briefed over and over again by his “handlers” to keep on message. He has been told repeatedly not to go off topic instead of drilling down further against women who publicly accused him of forcing himself on them. He had to keep his attention on policy issues. But he simply could not.

Stephen K. Brannon had been named as his campaign’s chief executive defining the grand strategy. Kellyanne Conway was named to replace Paul Manafort in August to manage the campaign to handle the tactics. Ever since she was named, Kellyanne promised us that Donald Trump would “remain true to himself” and stay on message. Instead, he remained true to himself and continually went off message. In the third debate, when staying on message was so critical to stopping and reversing his freefall, his subconscious once again took over as the debate progressed, and he shot himself in both his feet. He would leave everyone in suspense to see if he would accept the results of the election. And he will not accept those results, even if he does formally concede. This response to a question about a fundamental principle in democracy could not be pivoted away from by his surrogates trying to compare such a situation with the Al Gore challenge to the George W. Bush claim of victory.

Unlike Manafort, Conway had not tried to mold Trump into a person he was not. Instead, she tried to channel his energy and ambition in more positive ways to keep him on message. But time after time he let her down. No man, and especially no woman, could determine not only who he was, but about how he appeared. Conway’s latest rationale was to judge Trump by his actions, not his words. But his words both betray and signal the pattern of his actions.

Donald Trump’s second major slip in the third debate was to interrupt Clinton’s reply to a question with the words, “Such a nasty woman,” when, of all things, she was discussing her proposed tax policies, perhaps reminding him of the humiliation to which he had been exposed for having to admit that he had not paid any federal income taxes for perhaps eighteen years. Something “nasty” is, at the very least, something very unpleasant to see or smell, taste or touch, though it also suggests someone morally deficient. If you look up the word in a thesaurus, “dirty,” “filthy,” “foul,” are offered as substitutes. The use of the term echoed his description of Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, as disgusting. Nasty is a word that evokes strong sensual reactions and the subjective response. The repulsiveness is at least as important as the alleged objective circumstances justifying such a description. Dirty and filthy, despicable and morally base, are all characteristics projected onto Hillary Clinton that have so recently been fully displayed by the language and talk uttered by Donald Trump himself. He truly and deeply hates himself as he projects his hatred onto others and further inflates his ego with the hot air inside.

The other face of this record of “slut-shaming” by Donald Trump is that women are put on a pedestal and, not only held to a higher standard of chastity, but certain select women are regarded as the epitome of skill and virtue – such as his daughter Ivanka and the many other women of talent he employs in his company and as surrogates in his campaign. He both advances and admires women, but he denigrates those who resist and oppose him, and demeans those he deems unworthy of his “high standards.” Women must be angels, physically and intellectually beautiful angels, or they are disgusting. His treatment of some of those women serves to verify that conviction.

Donald Trump has flip-flopped on virtually every policy he has proposed. On immigration as recently as 2012, he called Mitt Romney’s immigration policies vis-à-vis illegals mean-spirited and maniacal, denigrations that stand totally opposite to the horrible epithets he himself has hurled against illegal immigrants. This suggests that his misogyny, which has been his most and possibly only consistent position, goes much deeper. In this respect, he can be insulted as a “half-witted harlequin” to match his own insults targeting those illegally on American soil. He can rationalize that dislike as a key part of his strategy to boost wages and job opportunities, when it is well-known that these illegals take the jobs Americans largely will not.

Trump wants to suspend the intake of refugees from areas where Islamic terrorism is rampant, even though it is well known that, given America’s long vetting process, given the fact that those admitted in numbers have been historically and comparatively very low, given that 80% of them are women and children, the risk of entry for terrorists is very low. The focus on refugees as terrorists comes from a verbal and strategic terrorist who depicts illegal immigrants as rapists when he himself was once accused by his first wife of tearing her hair out and raping her when she did not show enough empathy for the pain he had been experiencing as a result of his own hair implants. Perhaps the height of his hypocrisy emerges when he emphasizes vetting immigrants to demonstrate they share America’s values, presumably of those misogynist and anti-constitutional demagogic values of the new head of state that Trump so brashly wanted to become.

You can only imagine how deep that misogyny must go to make his stance on immigration appear as simply a passing fancy. Why make a remark about Megyn Kelly as bleeding from whatever”? Why refer to women’s faces and bodies in such nasty language as when he disparaged his competitor Carly Fiorina’s face. Like a Dr. Jekyll to Mr Hyde, Donald Trump can be very charming, flirtatious and offer women a taste of money and power while he himself is literally cocky, controlling and narcissistic and puts women down in public. He forces himself on women because he will not waste the effort of foreplay to ensure that they get pleasure. He is openly and proudly a cheat.

In Robert Louis Stephenson’s 1886 short novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Edward Hyde is truly evil. Dr. Jekyll, “something of a stylish cast,” is a large well-made, smooth-faced man who is gracious, amiable and considerate. Seeking the presidency was to be The Donald’s ultimate shot to disguise the horror he unconsciously knows exists below his own surface. The rallies and admiring masses inject the adrenaline he needs. But the result, unsurprisingly, is increasingly the emergence of a more emboldened, cruel and remorseless Edward Hyde. After the election, without the continuation of that potent source, Donald Trump will metaphorically die. He has become the addict he always feared. Once Satan has been cast out of heaven and has been rejected as the object of his own creation, the grand mal narcissist will refute the dictum that pride simply goeth before the fall, for though pride precedes the fall, it is also inflated by it as the victim tries even harder to puff himself up and rise once again to heaven.

Donald’s behaviour with women has not been furtive; Trump has not been determined to keep his liaisons hidden. Trump actually wants the public to know about his sex life – hence his boasts, not simply in the “locker room,” but on the media. Until, of course, such boasts undermined his quest for power. So Hillary was advanced from being a crook and promoted to “nasty.” As Michael D’Antanio depicted Donald Trump in the biography he wrote, Trump wants a queen at his side, but he wants to be king.
In the election on 8 November, he will have been usurped by the embodiment of what he despises. Sex is an opportunity to demonstrate power. Sex is an opportunity to demonstrate that you are a stud and an alpha male. At the same time, as D’Antonio emphasized in an interview with Anderson Cooper last night, Donald Trump is a great empty vessel in terrible need of adoration which provides the fuel for the enormous amount of energy that he uses. The implications: he is now addicted to a far larger stage than the one he had as a developer or as a reality TV star. He WILL respond to the movement to which he was crucial to its birth. The 8th of November will not end Donald’s role on the American stage.

Trump meant it when he promised to put Hillary in jail, for he unconsciously knew he faced an eternal cage of self-destructive behaviour if he lost. For this time, he will be unable to rise from the grave a second time. Winning, winning alone, must remain the goal. For to lose is not simply to die, but to suffer an agonizing death. Donald Trump, underneath a very thin skin, is a “bad hombre” who will not only continue, but expand his attacks on an allegedly rigged alliance of the political establishment and the media which he will continue to characterize as dishonest, corrupt, horrible and biased; for him, the combination is infused with poison. This is, of course, a description of himself.

The attempted rise once again of Donald Trump will be an even wilder ride, fuelled again by “process journalists” who regard the news as entertainment. They love reporting on the struggle, the horse race, rather than the issues at stake. They love technique and cleverness. For them. Donald Trump has been a godsend with his attacks on both civility and democracy, the two pillars of our public life. Donald Trump materially may never have attended the school of hard knocks, but he did so morally and physically. The military academy to which he was shipped off at the age of 13 used brutal tactics to tame its delinquent charges. And Trump absorbed the discipline and need to impose “perfection” on his subordinates. And to never be subordinate. There is only winning and domination. And braggadocio. This is his image of his own manhood and virility. It is the Janus face of his misogyny that characterizes women as dogs and slobs. He boasts that “you have to treat them (women) like shit” and will characterize the best line in Pulp Fiction as Sam’s, “Bitch be cool” when he has his pistol in his hand. As Bette Davis said, “When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman givers her opinion [if it does not echo his own], she’s a bitch.”

As the old comic line goes, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Donald Trump with a post-election gatling gun will be even much more destructive than when he walked the electoral stage carrying a gun and intimidating his Republican competitors.

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Decline of the West –
Part I Donald Trump: Racist

by

Howard Adelman

As Donald Trump goes down in flames in the American election, focusing on him seems more and more like a bore. But I believe a summary of him is needed in order to understand what has happened to the Republican Party and analyze how it became the site of a political civil war and what the path the war is likely to follow in the election aftermath. I want to write about Trump and the Republican Party, in turn, to understand what is happening in America, and, then in turn again, what has happening in the West. For the American rise of populism is far from unique, though it certainly has its unique characteristics. I have already tried to point out what a pathological liar Trump is; in this blog I will focus on Trump as a racist. I want to do this in enough detail so I can ask the even more important question of how the Republican Party could have nominated someone so unfit to be president of the United States and, in turn, to be the effective leader of the Free World.

I was asked over the Yom Kippur Holiday by one of my sons why I fasted so strictly since I was not an Orthodox Jew. Though I said that I always fasted even when I rebelled against Judaism as a kid, this was not an answer. And I am not sure that I have one. I have many. One is that Judaism is a religion which mocks itself and its God. On Yom Kippur, the holiest of the many Jewish holidays, the story of Jonah is read. Though many would interpret it otherwise, Jonah is a hilarious satire of both prophets and of God. The juxtaposition of that story and the most sacred day of the year is what makes Judaism a terrific religion and contrasts with the fanatics, currently mostly of Muslim origin, who not only deplore but punish satire. Sacredness and the freedom to mock are perhaps fundamental to our well-being.
In the West, truth is held to be sacred. At the same time, no one that I have experienced in my almost eighty years of life is so worthy of mockery as Donald Trump. When he utters such malapropisms on torture re waterboarding as: “I said I love it. I love it. I think it’s great,” and re nuclear power, “With nuclear, the power, the devastation is very important to me,” the material for laughter is abundant. He is a very easy target given his bountiful faults. If only he were not such a menace. So I want to address the question of why such a menace could go so far and what it means about America and the world. Clearly, that is not a question that can be adequately explored in a short essay or a series of short essays. But it can be probed. That is what I intend to do beginning with a synopsis on Donald Trump.

I mentioned in a recent blog that in the second debate, while Trump virtually identified and even equated Islam with extremism and fanaticism, Hillary Clinton refused to go there by ignoring the possible connection between mainstream moderate Islam and the small minority of extremist murderers among them. Thus, when a zealot can parade in front of a mosque in Walthamstow in Great Britain handing out handbills that insisted that “any Muslim should kill” anyone who insults the Prophet of Islam, why did members of the mosque not make a house arrest and turn the picketer over to the authorities for prosecution for perpetuating a hate crime in contrast to Islamic regimes which still have strict Islamic blasphemy laws on their books (often enforced)?

In the second debate, a woman stood up and in a quiet and unassuming way asked how each candidate would deal with how she felt and the general consequences of her and other Muslim citizens of the U.S. being labeled as security threats. The account I offer is the best I can do to provide a coherent summary of Trump’s mangled syntax. Trump replied by initially acknowledging the existence of Islamophobia. But he neither expressed empathy for her situation nor expanded on the nature of that Islamophobia. Instead, he inflated Islamophobia by pivoting and insisting there was a problem that could and should not be hidden by political correctness.

He then went on to justify that concern by a factoid on the slaughter at San Bernardino. Neighbours, he had claimed, had seen the ammunition being collected, had witnessed the bomb-making apparatus, but had reported nothing. This just happens to be totally false, supported by no evidence. In one statement Trump revealed both his anti-Muslim prejudices and his vicious and inconsiderate mendacity. Trump is a verbal terrorist not only collecting the explosive material and preparing bombs, but lighting the fuse.

Trump has been the prime individual in the United States stoking Islamophobia. He has said: “Look, we are at war with these people (my italics) and they don’t wear uniforms…vicious, violent people that we can have no idea of who they are, where they are from. We are allowing ‘tens of thousands’ into our country.” In another rant he said, “They’re here. And I’ve been saying. This is going to be like the Trojan horse. We’re letting tens of thousands of people flow into this country and they are bringing in, in many cases, this is cancer from within. This is something that’s going to be so tough and you know they stay together, so nobody really knows who it is, what’s happening. They are plotting. They keep plotting, and this has been going on for so long and everybody knows it.”

The U.S. is NOT admitting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. Yesterday, my son introduced me to a new site created by one of the close friends of my younger boys who went on to Silicon Valley to make a fortune. As a Canadian, he wanted to give something back to America and reinsert a measure of Canadian civility into American politics. He created a site that allows a Trump supporter to have a conversation with a Clinton supporter. I tried it out. I put in my phone number and within thirty seconds the phone rang with a Trump supporter at the other end. I have never met or talked with a Trump supporter. As I inquired, I learned that he was an economics major in a small university in Philadelphia.

This Trump supporter insisted that America was allowing tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into the country and no one knows who they are or what they stand for. There needs to be at least a two-year moratorium on such admissions. He knew the Trump party line on this issue very well. I pointed out that the Obama administration had only admitted 13,000 Syrian refugees last year, far fewer per capita than most countries in the West and far fewer than Canada, its northern neighbour with one-tenth of the population. Further, because of security clearances and vetting those refugees, waiting times for refugees waiting to get to the United States were interminable. Further, if one is a terrorist, there are far easier ways to get into the United States – as a student, as a visitor, on business.

If any refugees are terrorists, they would be very few. In any case, the real danger comes largely from home-grown extremism, and not only Islamicists. Further, the fault is not from other Muslims ignoring terrorist preparations. Nor neighbours who are non-Muslims failing to report out of political correctness and fear of being branded anti-Muslim. There is absolutely no evidence that neighbours, Muslims or non-Muslims, witnessed the San Bernardino terrorist collecting arms and preparing bombs. This is another of Donald’s fantasies put out as if it was an established fact and echoes a total lie from 2015 that, “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11. “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.” This would-be president has absolutely no boundaries to his capacity for fabrication and lying.

But he not only recognizes Islamophobia and stokes the anti-Muslim backlash. He is also a racist pure and simple. This does not mean that he does not treat some Blacks well and fairly. It means he has a deep prejudice against those who are Black and against other minorities. The birtherism issue for which he was the main propagandist over the years is perhaps the best-known indicator. When he finally admitted recently that Barack Obama was born in the United States, he did not apologize. He certainly did not ask for forgiveness. Instead he lied again and blamed Hillary for starting the whole birtherism fraud. But by then he had upped the ante. “ISIS is honouring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS. He is the founder of ISIS, OK? He is the founder. He founded ISIS. And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.” In addition to being a racist, Trump should perhaps be called Trump Four-Four instead of Trump Two-Two.

But there is also Trump’s behaviour in specific incidents. On The Apprentice, there was a Black sound engineer whom he repeatedly referred to as “monkey” and whose hand he refused to shake when they first met. Instead, he turned to one of his assistants and asked, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, who’s this [effing] monkey?” He followed that with a more offensive remark. “I’m not gonna let this [effing] monkey touch me unless he washes his hand.” He required one of his assistants to accompany the sound engineer to the washroom to observe him wash his hands before allowing him to put a mike on him. But his racism was on full display when we unbelievably heard Donald Trump refer to a single Black American at one of his rallies as “my African American,” as an expression of his tokenism.

But what about Lynn Patton, his Black female Vice-President of his foundation and VP to his three children working in the corporation? She has an excellent background with a degree in law, extensive experience in relief work with recognition as a Mass Disaster Shelter Supervisor and with legal experience in litigation with respect to product placement. Though paid by the foundation, she also provides personal assistance to Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, including personal appointments, media appearances, travel as well as home and business responsibilities. In a video she released and in a number of TV interviews, one specifically with Greta Van Susteren on MSCBC during the Cleveland Convention, she explained why she came out in support of Donald’s campaign for the presidency.

He was not a racist at all, she insisted. As a woman and Black, she has always been treated fairly. “As a black female executive at the Trump organization, I can no longer remain silent about the repeated and reprehensible attempts to align my boss and his family with racist hate mongering groups, campaigns, and messaging.” “As a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, who rose against all odds to become one of the most established and respected doctors at Yale University, there was no amount of money in the world that could buy my loyalty to a family that subscribed to such intolerant and bigoted ideologies.”

But the evidence of Black hiring within the corporation and talk of Blacks elsewhere tells a different story. Not about the treatment of her as a Black and as a woman, which I am convinced was totally fair. In the first debate, Hillary dated Trump’s racism back to the days when he was managing his father’s real estate holdings in Brooklyn and Queens. The information is on the legal record. In 1973, the United States Department of Justice, after interviewing his employees and launching a sting operation, went to court with a discrimination complaint based on 1960’s anti-discrimination civil right legislation designed to counteract racism. They had witnesses, employed by Trump, who swore that Trump had given instructions to direct Blacks away from some of his buildings towards buildings that already had a large proportion of Blacks. Trump’s defence: everyone was doing it. In any case, he claimed, he was never found guilty.

What he never adds is that most landlords learned to comply with the legislation. Donald Trump, as was his practice, went to court, using the pit bull terrier Roy Cohn, to sue the government and their agents whom he labeled “storm troopers” and “Gestapo” for reverse discrimination and defamation and asked for a penalty of $410 million. The judge summarily threw his case out of court and called it a waste of paper. Donald Trump then agreed to settle out of court, paying a very large fine and agreeing to a protocol that required Trump to advertise vacancies in minority papers and weekly supply the Urban League with a list of vacancies from whom applications would come and be given preference in buildings where fewer than 10 percent of the tenants were Black or Hispanic.

There are numerous other stories told by Michael D’Antonio author of, The Truth About Trump and an article in Fortune Magazine called, “Is Donald Trump Racist? Here’s What the Record Shows.” Donald Trump does not share Ronald Reagan’s condescending racism that would refer to Black males as “strapping young bucks” and Blacks generally as “welfare queens,” even though far more whites in absolute numbers were on welfare. Donald’s racism is of the more visceral and resentful variety. He openly claimed on radio, contrary to all the factual evidence, that, “a well-educated Black has a tremendous advantage.” But the real venom emerged in Trump’s leadership of the lynch mob when five Black and Latino teens were arrested in the infamous “Central Park jogger” attack. Trump paid $85,000 for full-page newspapers ads advocating the return of the death penalty. After years in prison based on coerced confessions, DNA evidence established that they were innocent. They were compensated for their imprisonment. Trump denounced the payments since, “These young men do not exactly have the past of angels.”

The resentment and visceral distaste for Blacks evidently emerged in his own casinos where he insisted that, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it.” He told John O’Donnell when he was president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City that Blacks were lazy. Referring to one Black employee, he said, “it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks.” He insisted on Jewish Chasids counting his money. This philo-Semitism was merely an inverted form of racism.
But, in the end, it is Donald Trump’s perceived racism that counts. Brandon Finnigan, a Republican stalwart with an African-American wife, has concentrated on objectively analyzing the voters in Pennsylvania and their swings with a view to winning Pennsylvania, a key swing state, for the Republican Party. Instead, with Trump as the Republican candidate, Pennsylvania is being lost. “College-educated voters, wealthy voters and suburban voters are drifting away from the Republican Party; non-college whites and residents of rural and exurban areas are moving toward it.” The key is the suburb now characterized by diversity with an explosion of Black residents. The support for Trump among Blacks is under 1%. Pennsylvania, once a promising gain for the Republicans, is now an assured loss.

In Brandon’s own words, “Diversity has hit the suburbs themselves: Once overwhelmingly white, the inner suburbs of Philadelphia, in Delaware and Montgomery and Bucks, have seen an explosion in nonwhite residents, just like they have in Virginia, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, heck, nearly everywhere. Trump’s campaign strategy mirrors a parody of conservatism: angry, afraid, racially motivated, terrified of inevitable change. This is clearly turning off moderates and even conservative suburbanites, and not just in Pennsylvania. Unchecked, it will reverse the impressive gains Republicans had enjoyed recently in many purple and blue states like Wisconsin and Maryland.”

Trump’s racism extends to aboriginal or native Indians who were establishing casinos on their reservations. He claimed that they were tied to organized crime. The problems would explode. They never did. But this “Least racist person on earth,” according to his own personal assessment, was also clearly anti-Mexican. Trump repeatedly and publicly attacked the judge who presides over Trump University class-action lawsuits. He called the American-born Gonzalo Curiel a “Mexican.” He insisted that as a Mexican, he could not be impartial in trying his case.

But can Trump be accused of being an anti-Mexican racist when he insists that Mexicans are smarter than Americans? “Our leaders are stupid. “Our politicians are stupid. And the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning, and they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them, they don’t want to take care of them. Why should they, when the stupid leaders of the United States will do it for them? And that’s what’s happening, whether you like it or not.” “They’re forcing people into our country … And they are drug dealers and they are criminals of all kinds. We are taking Mexico’s problems.”

Is he even unequivocally anti-Immigration? He argues for better control over immigration, but is unclear whether this is a guise for his anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican immigrant rhetoric. One test of racism is whether he is anti-Semitic. Such a charge seems hardly credible since his daughter converted to Judaism and her husband, Jared Kushner, plays a leading role in the Trump Corporation and serves as Trump’s consigliere or mechutan (Yiddish) in both his business affairs and campaign, though Kushner broke his Sabbath to attend an emergency meeting after Trump’s 2005 misogynist tapes were released. Further, if he only trusts Orthodox Jews to count his casino money, that would suggest he is not anti-Semitic.

And he is not. However, Trump is certainly willing to play footsies with those who are. (I will explain why when I address the issue of the inherent fault lines in the Republican Party.) He uses the tweets of anti-Semites and of Assange who, with his accusations of tribalism directed at Jews, is himself probably an anti-Semite. Trump certainly joins Assange in the conviction that there is an elitist global wide conspiracy by a “global power structure” with Hillary Clinton centrally involved, a trope quintessentially anti-Semitic by most conspiracy theorists.
Next: Trump’s misogyny may be deeper than his racism

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Accountant – a movie review

The Accountant – a movie review
by

Howard Adelman

Last evening, we went to see a movie, The Accountant, with a large group of friends. It had been one of the few films that all of us had not seen. It would certainly not have been my first choice since the movie was billed as an action-thriller, and I am probably your typical middle class old age movie snob. In fact, after the movie was over and we did a survey of who liked the film, about half said it was just ok and a few did not care for the movie. Without my and my wife’s votes, the film would have been given a 5 or 6 out of 10 average. However, both of us would have given the movie an 8. We were the outliers.

Why the discrepancy?

From the discussions we had afterwards, I attribute the explanation to three factors:
• The difficulty of following three different plots as they were interwoven at very different rates with sudden subtle and frequent shifts
• The large quantity of those twists and turns in that plot
• Missing the underlying symbolic and moral thrust of the movie.
Though most were not put off by the general mayhem and the large number of comic book murders of a thriller of this type, and most agreed that Ben Affleck, whom I do not ordinarily care for as an actor, did an excellent job in this movie. Nevertheless, we evaluated the movie in general terms very differently.

All of us had been entertained, but to very different degrees. We agreed that Ben Affleck had been subtle and suitably subdued, nuanced and even empathetic, playing a very odd comic book superhero, Christian (Chris) Wolff. (This core alias is not just a disguise but a source of revelation.) We also agreed the film was an excellent advertisement for autism, for Chris was autistic, a fact established at the very beginning of the film with the flashback to his childhood, but reasonably disguised in a very stoic performance when he had become an adult and, by and large, strictly controls expressing any inappropriate emotions – except his unusual degree of control.

Chris, however, exhibits all the symptoms of the more serious cases of autism of the 1 in 68 children mentioned in the film, mostly boys. The film, in one of its early flashbacks – and there are many of them – with the peculiar habits of children and the way they line up toys and other objects. As an adult, Chris is very precise in how he places his three pancakes, his two perfectly-made sunny-side-up eggs and broken bacon strips on his plate. He clearly lives alone and the very few pieces of cutlery are placed meticulously in his cutlery drawer.

As a child, Chris has a terrible time relating to other children, except to his younger and very loyal brother, Braxton (badger, a kind of mole) who watches him with overwhelming frustration at his own impotence while expressing deep concern. Chris, however, does seem to make a connection with the daughter of the head of the Harbor Neuroscience Institute in New Hampshire where his parents take him for an evaluation. She too is an autistic youngster, the daughter of the director of the institute. Chris is very sensitive to sound, especially loud noises, but in adult life seems to have developed a ritual of subjecting himself to very large and loud noises for a period of time as a form of exercise that enables him to keep the presentation of his idiosyncratic behaviour under reasonable control when he is an adult.

There is a paradox, however. Chris as both a child and an adult clearly loves routine and unvaried patterns of behaviour to the point that he returns to his house in his pickup truck at the precise high speed as the garage door manages to just completely open and he stops on a dime at exactly the same spot. But why does he drive a truck?

More significantly, we know that autistic children easily, and worryingly, put themselves in harm’s way, but Chris as an adult unusually seems to have made a vocation of courting danger. It turns out that he is a superhero, but without a cape. Instead, he normally wears an accountant’s suit. But he is far superior to both Batman, who is now barely younger than I am, but he stays ageless and I do not and his civilian disguise as the very wealthy Bruce Wayne with his butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Further, he is plausible for he wears no outlandish disguise and instead wears the costume of an average clerk. Further, Chris seems to be a complete loner.

Chris has other traits of an autistic child – difficulty with speech, which in adulthood is expressed by very precise and very controlled articulation of English. Chris is no Rain Man, and, in fact, the performance seems deliberately opposite to the role played by Dustin Hoffman in that now 1988 classic. Though Chris was hyperactive as a child, especially when sounds and changes set him off, and retains that trait as a super-disciplined adult, not only when he becomes engaged in murderous activities, but when, as a forensic accountant, he is stopped from completing his work in his first job examining the books of a legitimate economic enterprise, a huge business enterprise that makes robotics and prosthetics. Chris goes into a frenzy.

Chris attaches himself to specific objects, such as a dented thermos, the origins of which we only learn when we are well into the film. But mostly he is a loner and aloof, and, most of all, he is a savant like the Rain Man with a superhuman ability to manage numbers and calculations, but also a superior, and very human, ability to engage in all the close-up well choreographed violence. The character of Chris is equally differentiated from either the hapless Khan in a recent Dutch film, when the hero’s idiosyncrasies lead him to being arrested as a terrorist, and the role played by Sean Penn as Sam in an old 1998 film, I Am Sam. For what character on the various gradations of autistic character disorder (not Asperger’s Syndrome) can perform such advanced judo and brilliant sharpshooting from a mile distant?

Though one reason for the different reaction among us could have been my love for comics as distinct from the others, but my wife has no interest in comic heroes and she loved the movie. Nor can it have been the subtle associations with the eighteenth century philosopher, Christian Wolff, who, though an associate of the inventor of calculus, Leibniz, was more of a common sense ethicist than a brilliant mathematician like all the other aliases Chris used to hide who he was. Wolff certainly used the Cartesian model of mathematical deduction for doing philosophy, but he was not a mathematical genius like Descartes or Leibniz. That alone might have indicated that this alias was different.

If I were not a philosopher, especially one who once specialized in German philosophy, it would be very unlikely that I would know that Christian Wolff was the most important German philosopher on the German stage between Leibniz and Kant, who was so preeminent after him and, unlike Wolff, has never been forgotten. Though Wolff should not be, for he was a founder of both applied economics and public administration. He was a proto-accountant. So it is no surprise, rather than phony, that as the proprietor of ZZZ Accounting Services in an indistinguishable strip mall somewhere in Illinois, Chris in the movie offers a series of very mundane lessons to a farm couple about how to save money on their taxes and, thereby, save their farm. The point there is not his mathematical wizardry but his ethics.

In contrast to Kant, who tried to articulate the necessary conditions for scientific thinking, for ethics and for judgement in practical affairs, Wolff was the philosopher of the possible. Though he followed Leibniz in viewing the world as constituted by monads that never interacted, an ideal vision for one with autism, his real and most important contribution was to applied ethics with pre-established harmony viewed, not as a metaphysical presumption, but as an aspirational prerequisite for leading an ethical life. So when Chris near the beginning of the film asks the American Federal Treasury agent Ray King (played with deep conviction by J.K. Simmons) at gunpoint, after Chris had murdered eight important mafia figures in cold blood within minutes, whether he was married and had been a good father to his two boys, this is a poignant as well as suspenseful moment.

King answers yes and you will quickly learn whether he is allowed to live or die. If you were one of the rarities in the auditorium who knew who Wolff was, you would know the answer from the ethics promulgated by Christian Wolff, the philosopher. So the rarity of this glimpse into the underlying play with ethics, the history of ideas and other subtleties in the film, cannot be the critical factor in enjoying the richness of the film as my wife certainly did. For the main themes can be grasped without knowing any of these clues.

However, this does suggest that the symbolism was very important. Most viewers watching the film get the joy of grasping the clues to this film somewhere along the way as the film progresses. I personally believe the experience is actually enhanced the sooner you clue in as you wait in suspense to find out whether you are correct rather than in suspense to find out what is going to happen. But watch at the beginning as the autistic boy puts together a 500-1,000-piece puzzle in no time and then loses his composure totally when the final piece at the centre of the puzzle is missing. Watch how low that piece has fallen and see if you can identify the missing piece in the movie plot.

The film is full of rich allusions. Chris Wolff, the accountant not the philosopher, had received two very famous paintings as payment for undertaking forensic work for international criminal gangsters. Look at the painter and what has been painted. In the Jackson Pollock painting that is mounted on the ceiling of his Airstream recreational vehicle stored with his guns and cash in a storage container (why the truck?), the most important abstract painting star in America, whom Ed Harris portrayed in a biopic in 2001 playing an artist who wants to shut the world out as if he were autistic but needs contact with it in order to express his artistic passion. Why was the painting chosen not a Van Gogh? Why was the biopic not chosen of Alec Guinness playing Gulley Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth? A needed strand of comic relief could have been added. And look at the mounted piece. The Pollock is a black and white painting from the painter’s drip period, one I did not recognize, but which is reflective of both the way Chris Wolff’s character and the plot are revealed.

Without saying any more, look at the other painter and the painting which hangs on the wall. It is figurative and expressionist rather than abstract. Think about the figurative character akin to the painter rather than the one torn apart like Jackson Pollok. What is the background to the painter and who do the figures in the painting represent? Why is it an impressionist still life painting without the dynamic explosiveness of the Pollock? Think of the figurative painter’s relationship with his mother.

Though disguised as an action-thriller in a movie about white collar crime, look under the surface for the multitude of clues and pieces to the puzzle. Why does the film mirror John Nash’s mathematical equations written on blackboards and walls in A Perfect Mind, where John Nash, a Nobel laureate in economics, but a paranoid schizophrenic rather than autistic personality? The clues are everywhere and there are many, but do not expect to get more than a view on first viewing. But the more you get, the richer the cinematic experience and the deeper the understanding. For example, why is the love unrequited?

But if the film appreciation depended on putting all the pieces of the puzzle together as if all the viewers were savants, the film would not work at all. I think the problem was in the complexity of the plot rather than the bountiful symbolic clues. For it is easy to get lost otherwise without the help of the clues.

Go see the movie and see what you think. At the very least, it will be a delight to watch an accountant of all types turn into a very realistic action hero. And I believe that I have not given away any more than one bead in each of the three strings of the plot. I can assure you that, although it is a comic book action film that begins with a very bloody shootout of a bunch of mobsters within their home turf, where the identity of the shooter is not initially revealed, and although the movie is full of lot more murdered corpses in very well choreographed scenes before the movie is over, and although it is an excellent crime thriller, at its heart and core it a family film. You soon learn that Chris Wolff is not really a badass. Gavin O’Connor as the director and Bill Dubuque as the scriptwriter have done an excellent job in the pacing, the interweaving and in the series of climatic scenes.

This is not a normal review – most of mine are not anyway. But in this one, I never discussed Robert C. Treveiler as the father who misleadingly comes across initially as a villain, Anna Kendrick as the naïve and eventually love-struck Dana in the accounting department of the robotics firm, but in her own way, also a savant, Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Marybeth Medina, assistant treasury agent to Kay, Jon Bernthal as the assassin or John Lithgow as the head of the robotics company who are all individually excellent. The robotics voice on the cell phone is a particularly nice ironic touch. This is a movie about a puzzle solver that requires all members of the audience to become puzzle solvers, but at a much simpler level.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Denial – A Movie Review Part III

Denial – A Movie Review Part III

by

Howard Adelman

Instead of the earnest and dedicated Deborah Lipstadt in Denial, who would like to sting like a bee (the meaning of Dvora in Hebrew), but was not permitted to do so by her legal team in the trial, and who certainly does not float like a butterfly, the script has been well adapted from her book. David Hare recognized that seriousness is best wrapped in wit so, that humour can allow the bitterness of medicine to go down. When individuals forget that, as Donald Trump did at the Catholic charity dinner last night, the result is disastrous.

Al Smith IV, great grandson of the first Catholic governor of New York State and candidate for president, introduced the two candidates in this dinner to raise funds for Catholic charities while allowing candidates to set aside their boxing gloves, engage in some humorous self-deprecation while pummeling their opponent with light-hearted jabs. Smith set the tone. “They have just returned from their third debate and I think they are both grateful for a format in which nobody can interrupt anybody else.” Sometimes he was more biting. “Donald, even though there’s a man sitting next to you in a robe, you’re not in a locker room.” But they never came close to crossing the line of unacceptability in this white tie and tails affair in which Donald Trump last night crossed the line even with Cardinal Timothy Dolan sat between the two belligerents for the evening.

Donald told a very funny joke, at the expense of his wife, Melania, when he asked how come Michelle Obama can make a speech and receive plaudits, but when his own wife makes the same speech, she is widely criticized. However, he definitely crossed the line – and, in an unprecedented event for an Al Smith dinner, was booed – when he said, “Hillary believes it’s vital to deceive the people by having one public policy. And a totally different policy in private.” This echoed the previous night’s bitterness in the debate. He then went onto say, to even more boos and noticeable discomfort, “I don’t know who they’re angry at, Hillary, you or I? For example, here she is tonight in public, pretending not to hate Catholics.”

Hillary, on the other hand, both had much better lines and had a better sense of timing in telling jokes and never crossed the redline from self-deprecation and ribbing to offensive and aggressive remarks. Though Trump had cracked a very good joke at Hillary’s expense when he said that earlier in the evening she had bumped into him and said, “Pardon me,” (referencing that when he was president he would lock her up), Hillary’s managed to consistently sting like a bee while never venturing even close to the imaginary red line.

“Donald really is as healthy as a horse. You know, the one Vladimir Putin rides around on,” she quipped.

I have “now stood next to Trump longer than any of his campaign managers.”

Though some jokes fell flat, Hillary Clinton proved she had a much better joke-writing team and could deliver her zingers with a broad smile.

But why write about Trump and Clinton when I am reviewing a film about David Irving’s suit against Deborah Lipstadt for calling him a Holocaust denier? Because as one lie after another of Irving’s came out in the trial, I could not help hearing Donald Trump from the debate the evening before tell one lie after another.

“In the ninth month you can take the baby and rip the baby right out of the womb, just prior to the birth of the baby.” As Hillary countered, the decision to abort, especially late in a pregnancy, is the most horrible ordeal for a woman to go through. She could have said outright that, abortions in the ninth month are virtually non-existent. Almost 90% of abortions take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Only about 1% take place in the last trimester and these are almost always either because the health of the mother is severely threatened or because something seriously wrong was learned about the foetus.

Trump accusing Hillary, said, “Just like when you ran the State Department, $6 billion was missing. How do you miss $6 billion? You ran the State Department, $6 billion was either stolen. They don’t know. It’s gone, $6 billion.” First, the six billion cited by the State Department Inspector General in 2014 was not stolen. Nothing, in fact, was stolen. The expenditures were just inadequately documented. Further, most of these expenditures included in the criticism did not even take place during Hillary’s turn as Secretary of State.

“I started with a $1 million loan … but I built a phenomenal company.” But the initial stake was $14 million documented when he applied for his casino license in 1985, ignoring the $3.5 million in chips his father purchased in contravention of the gaming commission rules. Further, his father co-signed a $70 million loan with the Hyatt chain.

Hillary “destroyed 33,000 email criminally.” Lock her up became his rally refrain. The staff had requested that the emails unrelated to her government work be deleted long before the subpoena was issued and the FBI said there was no evidence of intention or criminality.

“If you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote … that shouldn’t be registered to vote.” People move. People die. Voter lists quickly become obsolete and full of errors. There is virtually no evidence of voter fraud.

Trump said he did not initially support the invasion of Iraq referring to an Esquire article. He did one year before that article appeared.

On Obamacare, “the premiums are going up 60, 70, 80 percent.” They are expected to go up 71% in Oklahoma, the highest in the nation. But average increases are expected to be 9% and, in any case, 80% of enrollees receive government subsidies.

“We take care of illegal immigrants — people who come into our country illegally — better than we take care of our vets.” Absolutely false! In fact, immigrants pay far more into the Social Security system ($12 billion) but are not eligible to receive benefits. The three incidents cited by the Trump organization of vets being treated worse than Obamacare enrollees have been investigated and disproven.

My economic plan does not “add a penny to the national debt.” Not according to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. His plan would add $5.3 trillion to the national debt.

“Hillary Clinton wanted the wall. Hillary Clinton fought for the wall in 2006 or thereabouts. Now, she never gets anything done, so naturally the wall wasn’t built. But Hillary Clinton wanted the wall.” She never did. She consistently criticized Donald’s proposal for a 30-60’ concrete wall. She had supported and voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006. There is a difference between a normal border security fence and a wall.

“She’s taking in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, who probably in many cases — not probably, who are definitely (my italics) in many cases, ISIS-aligned, and we now have them in our country.” There are no such cases. The American vetting system is interminable, often taking two years. Almost 80% admitted are women and children. And all Clinton has proposed is to increase Obama’s miserly figure of 13,000 somewhat, but nowhere near the 550% that Donald proclaimed.

“Those stories [of women saying Trump assaulted them] have been largely debunked. Those people — I don’t know those people. I have a feeling how they came. I believe it was her campaign that did it.” They have never been debunked. In fact, a number of the stories have been corroborated by well respected people who were told the story at the time of the occurrence. There is no evidence that the Clinton campaign was behind the women making the charges and they only spoke out after the 2005 tape was revealed and immediately afterwards on CNN in an interview with Anderson when Trump was cornered into stating that he had never acted on his boastful claims about grabbing women’s pussies and kissing them against their will. Only then did they come forth in this last week.

And these lies are merely some of the more prominent ones he told in the third debate.

Trump, like David Irving, is a pathological liar and sociopath. Why and how would the Republican Party select him as their candidate for president? Trump fabricates even when the only result is that he shoots himself in the foot. He lies and the press reports what he says, though they increasingly fact check his remarks – fact checks I relied upon to write this summary. He clearly gets the attention he so cravenly seeks. The lying is frequent and repeated. “The election is rigged.” It is as if Donald Trump is impervious to the fact that he is now consistently caught out in his lies. Further, it seems to be tied into his spontaneity and why, as the length of time of the debate increased, he increasingly resorted to lies and petulant behaviour. The lying seems integral to his extreme form of narcissism. Complementing the narcissism and lying are patterns of abusive behaviour and impulsive aggressiveness. Most of all, he never admits that he lied. David Irving did what Donald does – when the judge’s verdict blasted him for his deliberate lies, Irving pronounced victory and insisted that the judgement had praised him.

There is no indication that Trump has any real self-understanding of his serial and compulsive lying. There is no indication that he ever feels guilty about what he says. He doesn’t need to be provoked to tell a lie and when challenged about the lie, he digs deeper and reinforces the lie instead of backing off. And, as demonstrated in the David Irving trial, these types of pathological liars knowingly, willingly and intentionally lie.

His lying and abusive behaviour are also connected with his absence of empathy for the people taken in by those lies. In contrast, when Clinton ended her speech at the Catholic dinner yesterday evening, she recalled her history of empathy for and work with women and children. To have cooperation, we need empathy. Empathy breeds civility. To have civility, we need respect. To have respect, all parties have to be committed to the truth.

Denial – A Movie Review Part II

Denial – A Movie Review Part II

by

Howard Adelman

When Clinton ended her speech at the Catholic dinner yesterday evening, she recalled her history of empathy for and work with women and children. There is no indication that Trump has any real self-understanding of his serial and compulsive lying. His lying and abusive behaviour are also connected with his absence of empathy for the people taken in by those lies. There is no indication that he ever feels guilty about what he says. He doesn’t need to be provoked to tell a lie and when challenged about the lie, he digs deeper and reinforces the lie instead of backing off. And, as demonstrated in the David Irving trail, he knowingly, willingly and intentionally lies.

Given the state of affairs in the United States where an outright pathological liar can win the primaries and become the Republican candidate, a Sadat stance of hope replacing cynicism is just not on. Further, The barrister and solicitors in Denial both demonstrated that when dealing with pathological liars the best response is to ignore them and not even shake their hand when it is proffered. There is no obligation to be civil to a pathological liar, and when Tom Wilkinson said his strategy was to ignore Irving altogether and engage with him only to get under his skin so he can inflict more and more wounds on himself. Most of all, the movie, Denial, demonstrated the interdependence of justice and truth pursued, not because of principle, but o win, and to do so decisively in a pragmatic way. Since the liar is pathological, it is useless to engage him but it is perfectly legitimate to bait him and trick him into even more damaging utterances.

In 18 days, the election will be over. Hillary Clinton will win by a significant margin. It has been a very long and stressful period so we can look forward to a sigh of relief. But we should want more. We should want to celebrate. By Tuesday evening, we Jews will end the seemingly interminable series of holidays tumbling one after another that began with Rosh Hashana.to inaugurate the new year. Ten days later, we own up to our shortcomings on Yom Kippur and apologize to God and to our fellow humans whom we have hurt deliberately or unintentionally. Now we are in the middle of Succoth, a harvest feast that began five days after the Yom Kippur fast day. On Sunday night, we have another holiday, Shemini Atzeret, a time to tarry just before the finale, the period we are in before the lection in the U.S. either upholds the constitution or sets the stage for its dismemberment on 8th November. On Monday evening, Jews begin to celebrate Simchat Torah honouring the “constitution of the Jews, their bible.

In the American civic religion, it is why the peaceful transition of power and acceptance of the election results are integral to America and any democracy. All must pledge adherence to the rule of law and the transfer of power in accord with the votes of the people. But what happens if the individual who is elected. These are important moments in the lifecycle of a nation and when Donald Trump insists he will hold us all in suspense at whether he accepts the results, unless, of course, he wins.

This shabat we will read chapter 33 of the Torah where God promises to reveal what goodness is and “be gracious – not to anyone – but only “to whom I will be gracious” and to be compassionate to whom I will be compassionate. (verse 19) Donald Trump has indicated no sign that one ought to be gracious or empathetic whit him, since there is little evidence he has empathy and even less that civility and grace are inherent. This is a fundamental lesson also conveyed in the movie.

In the final analysis, both in the American election and in the movie, Denial, truth is fundamental to history as it unfolds and to history as it is recorded. But truth is never delivered as a matter of principle but as a pragmatic prerequisite for sustaining the life of a nation. If someone insists the elction is rigged, if someone insists that the Holocaust is a myth perpetuated by Jews to extract money from the German government, then they attack the foundations of a civil society and not just a political order. Lipstadt was right not to debate facts. And the movie first begins with David Irving propagating his lies and then the scene where Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt takes the position of a Holocaust denier as a teaching device for her students and outlines the four telltale signs of a Holocaust denier, questioning the systematic murder of Jews and the existence of a crematorium, questioning the number of Jews killed, depicting the Holocaust as a myth and explaining the myth as motivated by Jewish greed. Then the two sides clash when David Irving crashes a public lecture by Deborah Lipstadt, challenges her to debate him and waves a thousand dollars in the air offering it as a reward to anyone who can provide even a sliver of evidence connecting Hitler to the Holocaust as we recall Lipstadt’s lesson than there is no direct record of the Holocaust itself.

We live in an age of conspiracy theories and challenges to solid science. Climate change is a myth. The Jews planted the bombs in 2011 in the Trade centre and warned all Jews to no show up for work that day, Muslims danced in the streets of New Jersey when the planes crashed into the Trade Centre, vaccines cause autism. This situation is not helped by false equivalences, when CNN puts up two apologists for lies as surrogates of Donald Trump against two reputable Democrats who try to tell the truth and be analytical. We live in an increasingly postmodern world where truth as the foundation of society has been converted into absolute relativism where every thought is but a subjective opinion, an internet world where crazies and nut cases find each other, especially when led by a billionaire nutbar. When the birther issue conspiracy played itself out, the seeds are already being planted to delegitimize his successor.

As Deborah Lipstadt has written, there are truth, opinions and lies. The deliberate purveyors of lies, like Donald Trump and David Irving, the best way to proceed is NOT to debate him but to bait him and appeal to his ego so he blows himself up. Civility and courtesy demand respect. But there are limits. Pathological liars who have power deserve only disdain. They deserve the contempt Richard Rampton expressed when he refused to shake David Irving’s proferred hand at the end of the trial. But ina addition to outright lies which I have cited, falshoos are spreac by quoting out of context. On Kristallnacht, Hitler evidently did issue an order to stop the madness of burning Jewish synagogues, shops and homes, not, however, because he though such actions were wrong, but because he had been informed that the fires were getting out of control and burning down city blocks.

There is an interesting scene that drifts off into left field in the film when two of the subordinates on the legal team get into a discussion as the male says, to the effect, “Isn’t it enough? Why do we have to keep talking about the Holocaust? Why can’t we get on with just living? This is a belief even more pernicious than the outright liar. Because it undermines like a leaking water pipe from below. His girlfriend rebukes him, too politely, by insisting that if you want to preserve truth, you must fight lies. And you must remember. But the total focus on outright liars and not on the perniciousness

That is the central truth of the Torah which tells the story of many flawed Jews, including Moses. Thank goodness for Deborah Lipstadt who, in spite of her individualism, kept her bonds with that unassailable conviction at the same time as she went along, initially very reluctantly, with the legal team’s pragmatism. Denial is a great film where it was even harder to watch Tom Wilkinson walk around Auschwitz as a memorial site than to see a concentration camp recreated on film as an active killing machine. There is enormous truth in silence and reverence. Denial is also subtle and nuanced and avoids sinking into stereotypes or efforts at reinforcement by showing pictures and videos of the Holocaust. This is a trail picture and Andrew Scott who plays the famous British solicitor, Anthony Julius who was Diana’s divorce lawyer who has a reputation as having a self-serving ego but proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is totally devoted to destroying the credibility of David Irving who is left as the figure standing alone on a branch that he has almost sawn through and Listadt has been saved from disaster by the excellent teamwork of a of a large number of experts and lawyers, researchers and supporters.

There is another scene in the film that bothered me other than the felt need to include the scene of the pernicious young lawyer who wants everyone to get beyond the Holocaust and leave it behind. It is a scene of Deborah Libstadt with the elite of British wealth as she tries to raise money for her defence to spread the economic support widely instead of relying on one or a few large donors. The spokesperson of the group has the effrontery to suggest that the British Jews can live with David Irving so why does she not just settle the case and go back to America. Anthony Julius is just an egocentric self-serving solicitor who is only interested in fame. British Jewish elites are portrayed as sellouts of truth whreas British gentiles emerge as the great defenders.

I wrote most of this and then read a number of reviews. I was surprised to learn that everyone was not blown away by the movie. A few critics were even critical. I want to examine that review to try to explicate the characteristics of a review that is bad, not because the target is bad but because the reviewer is bad. One wrote that patches of the film are so ludicrously hammy, it (the movie) plays like one of those unbearably corny fake films teased at the beginning of Tropic Thunder.” But the scenes are not cited to allow you to falsify the judgment and you feel that the writer is driven more by an effort to be clever and a struggle to comprehend the film and even expose some of its weaknesses.
But the stupidest sentences support the notion that Hare agrees with the Jewish elite that Julius was only defending Lipstadt for his own glory and that, “Hare makes the parallels to the media treatment of Donald Trump during the lection ring loud and clear.” But only to a viewer who is totally deaf. There is a connection clearly between Donald Trump and David Irving, but other than seeing the claque of journalists at the entrance of the trial, no attention is paid at all to how the media covered the trial.

The review I found most appalling was written by Owen Gleiberman, chief film critic for Variety. (11.09.16) He claimed that this courtroom drama was “too muddled to bring its issues to life” and was, “about nothing so much as the perverse, confounding eccentricities of the British legal system” Balderdash! It was not an intellectual riveting thriller. But how could it be when any reasonable well-read viewer already knew the outcome. The challenge was to develop the dramatic line that did not depend on leading up to the conclusion. And it does not.

Rather than being a clockwork system where the verdict can be deduced from the process, this drama builds by concentrating on how the team members interact and the tensions between and among them. The film is NOT a puzzle so the reviewer missed the whole point. It is a film about how people with different interests, different points of view, and different priorities learn to work together to accomplish a valiant task beyond the rach of any one of them. David Irving is the foil in the background, the then celebrated and rich British writer who made his money on Holocaust denial. He is there as a menace standing alone unless addressing his adoring followers and the press. The story is about empathy and human interaction and the need for compromise, including breaking a promise to a survivor to ensure her voice was heard. There is a huge difference between a group of people who bond together to ensure that truth beats a lie and those who bond together on to worship and idolize a lie. It is not that the film is awkward and slipshod is awkward but the review because the reviewer never “got” the film.

The reviewer writes, “He(Julius) refuses to put any Holocaust survivors on the stand, because he says that they’ll be “humiliated” — and the first sign that the movie is heading off the tracks is that Hare’s script barely clarifies what that means. Is Julius worried about the well-being of the witnesses? (He needn’t be.) Or is he worried that their testimony won’t play? (Why wouldn’t it?) But the script clearly articulates why and how they will be humiliated by Irving as a master grandstander who can provoke and prod and build on miniscule failures of memory. He needed to be worried about the well-being of the witnesses, and rightly so. He was worried that their testimony would not play if Irving got “under their skin.” Testimony will not play unless it is both solid and unanswerable. But Irving is very capable of offering supposed answers and discomfiting witnesses.

Just because Lipstadt doesn’t testify does not mean that she is a “passive agent in her own story” because she is not telling her own story, for the core story is about the interplay of a team and how a team works, about the compromises that must be made to ensure that justice and the pursuit of truth work together. But some film viewers are blind as well as deaf. For a film about self-denial to attack denial is not just a clever trick of a playwright but central to the working of politics as Abe Lincoln argued.

Denial – A Movie Review Part I

Denial – A Movie Review Part I

by

Howard Adelman

Last evening, I did not attend the community memorial to Shimon Peres. I intended to do so. But I went to an afternoon movie to see the film, Denial. Directed by Mick Jackson, using a script by the British playwright David Hare, the film was based, in turn, on a 2005 book called History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah E. Lipstadt. That volume recounted Lipstadt’s legal defence against three charges of libel allegedly contained in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust. The Growing Assault on History and Memory.

The suit was brought against her by David Irving, the so-called English military historian and Nazi sympathizer whom Lipstadt had described in her 1993 book as one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial. In his statement of claim against Lipstadt (as well as the publisher, Penguin Books), Irving cited Lipstadt’s descriptions of Holocaust deniers as those who, “misstate, misquote, falsify statistics, and falsely attribute conclusions to reliable sources. They rely on books that directly contradict their arguments, quoting in a manner that completely distorts the authors’ objectives. Deniers count on the fact that the vast majority of readers will not have access to the documentation or make the effort to determine how they have falsified or misconstrued information” (p. 111)

On p. 161, Lipstadt cited other scholarly descriptions of David Irving, specifically. “Scholars have described Irving as a ‘Hitler partisan wearing blinkers’ and have accused him of distorting evidence and manipulating documents to serve his own purposes. He is best known for his thesis that Hitler did not know about the Final Solution, an idea that scholars have dismissed. The prominent British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper depicted Irving as a man who ‘seizes on a small and dubious part particle of’ evidence using it to dismiss far-more-substantial evidence that may not support his thesis. His work has n described as ‘closer to theology or mythology than to history,’ and he has been accused of skewing documents and misrepresenting data in order to reach historically untenable conclusions, particularly those that exonerate Hitler. (Sunday Times, 12 July 1977)”

“An ardent admirer of the Nazi leader, Irving placed a self-portrait of Hitler over his desk, described his visit to Hitler’s mountaintop retreat as a spiritual experience, (Harris, 1986) and declared that Hitler repeatedly reached out to help the Jews. (Canadian Jewish News, 16 March 1989) In 1981 Irving, a self-described “moderate fascist,” established his own right-wing political party, founded on his belief that he was meant to be a future leader of Britain. (London Jewish Chronicle, 27 May 1983) He is an ultra-nationalist who believes that Britain has been on a steady path of decline accelerated by its misguided decision to launch a war against Nazi Germany. He has advocated that Rudolf Hess should have received the Nobel Prize for his efforts to try to stop war between Britain and Germany.10 On some level Irving seems to conceive himself as carrying on Hitler’s legacy.”

Canada played a role in the trial. I am not referring to the fact that Lipstadt, like Donald Trump, was born in Queens, but her father was Canadian, a possibly important element in the conflict between truth and lies. Lipstadt in her 1993 volume locates David Irving’s conversion into an outright Holocaust denier to his attendance at the trial of Ernst Zundel for hate speech where he testified for Zundel and, most importantly, was introduced to the Boston engineer of execution machines, Fred A. Leuchter, who had claimed that the chemicals used in the so-called gas chambers were intended to kill the lice on the corpses of Jews who had died from typhoid.

“In his foreward to his publication of the Leuchter Report, Irving wrote that there was no doubt as to Leuchter’s ‘integrity’ and ‘scrupulous methods.’ He made no mention of Leuchter’s lack of technical expertise or of the many holes that had been poked in his findings. Most important, Irving wrote, ‘Nobody likes to be swindled, still less where considerable sums of money are involved.’ Irving identified Israel as the swindler, claiming that West Germany had given it more than ninety billion deutsche marks in voluntary reparations, ‘essentially in atonement for the ‘gas chambers of Auschwitz.’ According to Irving the problem was that the latter was a myth that would ‘not die easily.’”

None of these quotes are cited in the movie that I can recall. However, the Leuchter argument introduced at the trial of Ernest Zundel in Toronto plays a crucial role in the movie, it is simplified and summarized when Lipstadt argues that the amount of cyanide needed to kill humans would be 20X the amount needed to kill lice. Further, as Tom Wilkinson in the role of Richard Rampton pointed out in court, why would one want to sanitize bodies that were to be burnt in a crematorium? And why would you build a shelter for Nazis 2.5 miles from their barracks?

After watching the movie, I lost my motivation to attend the homage to the late Shimon Peres, a man I admired greatly. I was in attendance at the Jerusalem auditorium when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on 20 November 1977 paid his historic visit to Israel and turned politics in the Middle East upside down forever. The visit, his talk and the subsequent negotiations led to the Camp David Accords and the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. In 1978, Sadat would justly win a Nobel peace prize for what he had set in motion. As he had said in his speech the previous day in the Knesset, “Let us put an end to wars, let us reshape life on the solid basis of equity and truth. And it is this call, which reflected the will of the Egyptian people, of the great majority of the Arab and Israeli peoples, and indeed of millions of men, women, and children around the world that you are today honoring. And these hundreds of millions will judge to what extent every responsible leader in the Middle East has responded to the hopes of mankind.”

On the stage of the Jerusalem Theatre the next day in addition to Anwar Sadat were Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Labour Party Chair, Shimon Peres. I was in Jerusalem that year as a Lady Davis Visiting Scholar at Hebrew University. The Jerusalem Theatre occasion was an opportunity to address the world press and I managed to get accredited as a journalist to get into the theatre. If you listened to the three speeches, they echoed much of what had been said the day before in the Knesset. I have not been able to locate their speeches given at the Jerusalem Theatre that day. But my recollection is very vivid – the day was so extraordinary for me.

Sadat’s speech was dramatic and very moving. The words I remember best came near the end: “Love justice and do right.” [I hope I remembered correctly and I cannot recall whether he went on to the echo the psalm and ask that right and justice be allowed to kiss.] In order for that to happen, you had to be straightforward and honest. Truth was not an end in itself, but a prerequisite to a just and peaceful world. I recall how Sadat’s speech exemplified those values.

Sadat did not try to hide the truth about the bitter enmity between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. It was not a manipulative speech, but one addressed to all Arabs and Jews as well as the rest of the people in the world to come together and win together, to win a peace instead of a war. It was also poetic as he addressed the sorrowing mothers, widows, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters for whom the ghosts of their loved ones fill the air like the raindrops in a London downpour. Use that memory, he urged, to fill your hearts with the aspiration for peace where hope transforms the world to create a new reality in which lives can blossom. For Sadat, an international agreement was not the prelude to peace, but the culmination of a radical change in attitude which requires a struggle against both the whim of indifference and egocentric personal ambition.

Sadat had chosen not to dwell on the past, not to rehearse the struggle for Arab independence from colonial rule and the perception that the Balfour Declaration and subsequent events were understood by Arabs as a continuation of colonialism that led to a history of warfare between the Arabs and Jews, between Israel and Egypt, But, while recognizing the need for Israel to be guaranteed the right to live in safety and security, he did challenge Israel to recognize the injustice to the Palestinians, to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, to withdraw from East Jerusalem and to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination. He called on Israelis and Arabs together to make Jerusalem a free and open city for people of all faiths.

How did Begin and Peres respond to this prophet of peace? Like Sadat, Begin stressed a belief in right rather than might. However, in contrast, to Sadat’s speech, Begin focused on the past. He began with the Arab rejection of Israel’s offers to live in peace with her Arab neighbours from the very beginning of the founding of the state, only to receive the response of a military attack from three sides of the many against the few. He did not carry the history forward but went back to the history of Jews expelled from their land and sent into exile. Jews never forgot their land, even for a single day, but instead longed for and prayed for return. And they never forgot Jerusalem. But also never forgot the obligation of all religions to maintain and visit their holy sites, something that had not been allowed during the nineteen years of Arab control of the city. Then he dwelled on the Holocaust. For before Sadat addressed the Knesset the previous day, Begin had accompanied him to Yad Vashem. Never again! Israel had been built on the pledge, “Never again.”

Peres took a different course than either Sadat or Begin. Though he too believed in hope rather than cynicism, though he too knew that the past had to be recalled lest it be repeated, though he, like Begin, reiterated the commitment of all Israelis to peace, he stressed that a common past bound Arabs and Jews together and so would the aspirations for a great future, but Peres, ever the pragmatist, focused on the present. He began by recognizing Sadat’s courage in an Arab world hostile to Israel to travel to Israel and, specifically, to Jerusalem. He insisted that, in seeking peace and entering into negotiations, Israelis would accept this as a new beginning, a new start, where it would be necessary for Israelis to free themselves from pre-conceived notions.

On the other hand, Peres was brutally frank. He said that he disagreed, not with the aspirations for peace, but with much of the substance of Sadat’s opening position. But negotiations start with differences and only proceed if each party listens to the other and tries to forge a compromise. Sadat’s courage in coming to Jerusalem was proof that negotiations could now proceed on a new foundation so that with patience, a peace agreement might be forged. He then went on as a total realist, without circumlocution or deceit, to outline Israel’s opening position and then to list the actual steps that would have to be taken to achieve peace.

In the movie, Denial, the theme is not about how enemies can come together to forge peace, but how allies have to come together and make compromises in a peaceful way in order to expand the realm of peace and justice. That is where the dramatic tension is, not between the liar and falsifier versus those concerned with truth. In that case, there is no room for compromise, but one side must win.

With the help of Alex Zisman