Redemption

Redemption

by

Howard Adelman

In the days leading up to the High Holy Days in Judaism, Rabbi Splansky last evening ran a seminar to discuss the Um’taneh Tokef, the central poem in the High Holy Days liturgy that begins, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: who will live and who will die, who by fire, who by water…” By way of introduction, Yael began with a short story called, “The Tale of Rabbi Amnon” taken from the 1966 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Shai Agnon, from his Days of Awe.

Agnon in “The Tale of Rabbi Amnon” claims to have found a manuscript by Rabbi Ephraim ben Jacob of Mainz who in turn claimed to have discovered how Rabbi Amnon of Mainz composed this liturgical poem, a claim as fictional as Agnon’s tale for its core is found in the much earlier Cairo Geniza. Rabbi Amnon is introduced in superlatives — great, rich, of good family, handsome, and, to top it off, “well-formed.” Thus, the loss of his extremities will be even a greater loss. Though the story reads like a horror tale, anyone familiar with the efforts of forced conversion of Jews by Christians in the Middle Ages will find that, in its details, Shai Agnon’s story resonates with actual historical truth.

The Archbishop of Regensburg, along with the lords of the realm, demanded that Rabbi Amnon convert to Christianity. Under constant pressure, Rabbi Amnon finally conceded that he needed three days to reflect on the matter and take the proposal under advisement. Why did he say this? To buy time. And that was his sin, which he quickly recognized. The issue was not his fear of what might happen to him if he failed to take the demand of the Archbishop seriously. His sin, according to the story, was conceding that he had to think about it when, according to his Jewish faith, there was nothing to think about.

For Jews lived in awe of a “living God.” Christians worshipped at the feet of a god who had died and been resurrected as a sacrifice for human sins. Having asked for time to think about the choice was to admit there was possibly a real choice and that, in itself, was not a matter of making room for reason for his faith, but an act undermining his faith altogether.

He stopped eating and drinking. He became dreadfully sick. Like Job, he refused consolation. “‘I shall go down to the grave mourning, because of what I have said.’ And he wept and was sad of heart.” When the archbishop summoned him on the third day, Rabbi Amnon refused to go. The archbishop sent a force that compelled Amnon to appear before him. In answer to the question about an explanation for his non-appearance, Amnon did not begin with the discussion of his failure, but with his punishment. “Let the tongue that spoke and lied to you be cut out.”

However, the archbishop imposed his own punishment, for the sin was not in what Amnon had agreed to, but in Amnon failing to come before him. So instead of lopping off his tongue, Amnon’s feet were severed. And then each finger in turn. Before having each chopped off, Amnon was given a chance to repent. At each point that he refused, another finger was severed. Amnon’s dismembered but still living body was sent home on a shield with his severed members at his side.

As the Days of Awe approached, Rabbi Amnon asked his relatives to carry him exactly in the state that he had been returned to his family and laid beside the reader reciting the High Holy Day prayers. The climax came when the reader came to the Kedushah, the prayer sanctifying God. Amnon sanctified God’s name then and there, sanctified the Day of Awe then and there, by dying and, in dying that way, offering testimony for the truth of God’s sovereignty, for the sake of God’s unity – in contrast to the Christian theology of the Trinity – to honour God as Judge, to honour history as the ultimate arbiter.

And what rose up from the dying rabbi? Not the resurrection of the rabbi’s body, but the ascent of Rabbi’s severed feet and fingers. Why feet and hands? To justify the verdict. To demonstrate that “the seal of every man’s hand” is on the verdict of history. It is in this sense, that his fate was decreed — not foretold — on Rosh Hashanah. That is how Rabbi Amnon expressed “the powerful sanctity of the day.”

How and why does this tale express the meaning of the Um’taneh Tokef, the powerful poem at the centre of the High Holy Days liturgy?

First, it is irrelevant whether this story was historically true and whether a Rabbi Amnon had ever lived and been martyred in this way, or, alternatively, whether the story is apocryphal and a Rabbi Amnon of Mainz never existed. In the latter version, Amnon is an anagram, a rearrangement of the letters of the Hebrew, “Ne’eMaN” meaning faithful. Amnon does not ask on his deathbed why God has forsaken him, but expresses, to the fullest extent possible, his faith in a “living God,” a god that lived in him when he was alive. Why hands? Why feet? Because they had been severed from his body yet he was still alive. He still lived to give testimony to his faith. Even laying on the shield on the bima beside the reader on Rosh Hashanah, he could give testimony to his faith. That faith determined what it meant to lead a Jewish life, what it meant to express the sanctity of the day, what it meant to pass on the memory of an incident, whether historically true or apocryphal. Further, Rabbi Amnon was not alone with that responsibility, for everyone’s hands contributed to seal Rabbi Amnon’s fate. In turn, it was Rabbi Amnon who was atoning, not only for his own error, but for everyone’s, including the hands of the legal and religious authorities who had severed his limbs.

Did Rabbi Amnon live ever after in heaven after he vanished from the earth?  There is no such suggestion in the story. Rather it is the story itself that, re-told, testifies to God’s goodness. Rabbi Amnon lives on in the story. Rabbi Amnon lives on in the tongue the Archbishop decided not to sever.

The fuller meaning of the tale comes forth when it is juxtaposed with the Um’taneh Tokef part of the High Holy Day liturgy chanted when the Torah ark is open in words allegedly composed by Rabbi Amnon himself which I have appended. Note the essence of the tale. Amnon was a handsome and rich “well-formed” man. He enjoyed a tremendous reputation for his good works and his inspiring words. But, in his own light, he sinned. He said he would think about the proposal of the archbishop asking him to consider conversion. The sin was a sin of speech and not deeds. Like Job’s, the punishment seemed totally disproportionate to the presumed sin.

But the story is not about punishment. It is about redemption, that even the life of a good, of a rich, of an honourable and handsome man can culminate in error, however slight, and that error must be corrected even at the cost of one’s own life. The awe and frightening quality of the High Holy Days is not contained in the ghoulish severing of the rabbi’s extremities, but in the slip of even considering the renunciation of the living God in favour of the worship of a god who died and was resurrected. No, not even actually considering. Merely making a statement to buy time signaling that such a consideration might be possible.

How is the redemption manifest? By exalting God as the one true sovereign and, by logical implication, insisting that neither the lords of the realm nor the highest spiritual authority of Christianity in that realm could dint that divine sovereignty even by making one accede even possibly to reconsidering one’s faith in a living God. How is the kindness of God’s sovereign authority exalted? By being firmed up with “kindness,” with deeds that testify to History, of the living God of revelation, not men, as the embodiment of Truth and Goodness. Time will tell. History will judge, attest and give witness. History will set the seal about one’s fate. History will remember what has been forgotten.

In our remembrance of Rabbi Amnon’s story, in our retelling that story, even if apocryphal, we give witness to that which exemplifies Truth and Goodness. Most importantly, each person’s signature, however faint, will, in the end, sign off on the Book of Remembrance so that the thin and still voice of one who went before will still be heard. God is not heard in the mighty winds of nature of Hurricane Irma that split mountains and shattered bricks, nor in the water that both rained down and rose up in the surge that followed that wind, nor in the Mexican earthquake that shattered the lives of so many, and not even in the devastating fires raging in Alberta and British Columbia.  Rather, the angels stand in awe of the “soft thin murmuring voice” amidst all that calamity.

This interpretation turns the polarization and dichotomy between those who are righteous and those who are not into a spectrum. The righteous may be immediately inscribed in the Book of Life, the very wicked relegated to the ashbin of the revelation of the living God, but we all die in the end. Everyone, no matter how unworthy, contributes his or her signature, no matter how faint, to that book.

Why then will angels be seized with fear and trembling? Not because they witness calamities, not because they witness atrocities, not because they watch extremities being cut off, but because these messengers of the unfolding of time remain in awe of humans made of flesh and blood who in their lives can and do contribute or detract from the cumulative truth and goodness that is the expression of the living God of revelation. Even such a great one as Rabbi Amnon will not be guiltless in the eyes of judgement.

That History is rewritten each and every year, not just for the year that passed, but for all of history, for the awe-inspiring profundity of creation itself comes up again before a tribunal of judgement and everyone’s fate, NOT his or her final determination in life, but the value of everyone’s contribution to revelation will be weighed and re-assessed and re-inscribed or inscribed for the first time in the Book of Chronicles. The greatest fear is that one’s name will be blotted out for all eternity, some immediately for their loathsome and foul sins will be so heinous. Though we are all born of dust and to dust we must return, we are obliged to drink from the well of goodness.

What is written on Rosh Hashanah is sealed on Yom Kippur for another year, who shall rest and who shall still wander, and who shall be redeemed through repentance, prayer and charity, through rescuing the sheep lost and scattered by calamities either natural or human on days of cloud and gloom. For all, whether the wicked or the righteous, die. That is why each human is “a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust and a fleeting dream.” Job’s life was but wind, his days a breath.

לשׁנה טוֹבה תּכּתב (Leshana tovah tikatev); “May you be inscribed for a good year.”

Appendix

Um’taneh Tokef

“Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves, knows, and bears witness; Who writes and seals, Who counts and Who calculates. You will remember all that was forgotten. You will open the Book of Remembrances — it will read itself — and each person’s signature is there. And the great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin voice will be heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them — and they will say, ‘Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the heavenly host for judgment!’ — for even they are not guiltless in Your eyes in judgment.”

“All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep.[24]Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the destinies of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed — how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval [25] and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severity of the Decree.”

“For Your Name signifies Your praise: hard to anger and easy to appease, for You do not wish the death of one deserving death, but that he repent from his way and live. Until the day of his death You await him; if he repents You will accept him immediately. It is true that You are their Creator and You know their inclination, for they are flesh and blood. A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust, at risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream.”

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The Irrepressible and Irresponsible Donald Trump – Part II

The Irrepressible and Irresponsible Donald Trump – Part II

 

by

Howard Adelman

There is truth and there are lies. The first represents reality. The second deforms it. There are many kinds of lies. There are visual lies created by the selection and juxtaposition of images; the visual lie is also provided by the omission of other images. There are rhetorical lies, lies that result by the choice of words, by the way words are brought together, by the words omitted and by the way an argument is made. There are behavioural lies, lies conveyed by body movements and by actions, by policies and by plans. Finally, unlike these previously ambiguous lies that require dissection to reveal the distortions, there are simply outright lies, lies that are bare-faced and bald-faced, that are simply naked and carry no ambiguity whatsoever. The latter are usually brazen, bold, brash and blatant. They lack a trace of concealment. They are undisguised and unabashed.

In his response to the story of the Charlottesville torch march by the alt-right and in its aftermath, Trump told all four types of lies.

I begin with the visual that was so important in grasping the truth about Charlottesville. If you go to youtube, you can see multiple versions of the visuals of what happened at Charlottesville. Thanks to the prevalence of camera phones, if one goes through many of the postings, one can obtain a clear sense of what went on during the torch parade on Friday evening and on the Saturday following. Or one can look at a composite film made up of those images. A greater truth can even be obtained when the composite, when the scissors-and-paste effort to reveal the truth, juxtaposes those images with images from the past – from what Trump has said in the past and from films of fascists in the thirties, both real and fictional. I commend the following one to you. It is powerful and frightening.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1_wfS1LGig

But films misrepresent because they are clearly an artifice. They are a selection of images. Even when they reveal a greater truth, as I believe the one that I have pointed out does, they select, they juxtapose and they omit. This is what makes them so powerful; they are pointed. The video above omits any images of violence by the alt-left. It also omits the video images of the candlelight vigil and the over one thousand students and faculty at the University of Virginia singing those memorable songs of the protest movement in the sixties. For those images, one has to scroll through many of the videos posted on youtube. Thus, in the most powerful way of revealing the truth, through what one sees and hears, and if you were actually there, what you smelled and the fear you felt in your belly, these films, and even the compilations based on them, cannot offer a comprehensive and coherent view of the truth, but only a perspective on and the closest correspondence with that truth.

In the effort to get to a more comprehensive truth, a shift to rhetoric is required. This does not exclude the visual. It does require juxtaposition on a different level to a visually edited compilation, the extraction from what was said by Donald Trump on Tuesday that obliterated his conciliatory and wooden performance before the teleprompter on Monday. On Tuesday, DT doubled down and went back to the rhetoric of insisting on violence on both sides (a correct observation in itself if one goes carefully through the images), but implies proportionality, implies equivalence when there was none either in intent, quantity, quality or consequence, let alone in the justification accorded that violence by the proponents and users of that violence.

Let me begin with the easiest rhetorical device – repetition – one used so frequently by Donald Trump. On Tuesday, he repeated fifteen times – fifteen times – that he knew the facts and we listeners and viewers, and the media reporting about him, did not.

“Before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”

“You don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts.”

“It takes a little while to get the facts.”

“You still don’t know the facts.”

“And it’s a very, very important process to me and it’s an important statement. So I don’t want to go quickly, and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.”

“I like to be correct. I want the facts.”

“Before I make a statement, I need the facts.”

“But unlike you, and unlike the media – before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”

“I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters, unlike a lot of reporters.”

“I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts, and the facts, as they started coming out, were very well stated.”

“I couldn’t have made it sooner because I didn’t know all of the facts.”

“Frankly, people still don’t know all of the facts. It was very important –“

“Excuse me, excuse me. It was very important to me to get the facts out, and correctly.”

“I want to make a statement with knowledge, I wanted to know the facts. Okay.”

“What about the fact they [the alt-left] came charging, that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs?”

What we have learned from Donald Trump is Trump’s Law. The more he repeats himself, the greater the lie. DT is and has proven himself to be a serial liar. The more he insists that he, and virtually only he, knows the real truth, the more you can bet that this lie will be a whopper.

One merely has to go through the assertions he made in these series of repeated claims to be Moses and that he and he alone has an exclusive access to revelation and an exclusive ability to reveal facts and the truth to reveal the misrepresentation. One repeated theme: “Before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.” Are you kidding! DT is notorious for pronouncing the truth long before he has or could have access to the facts. The instances are so many that what he says has to be ranked as indeed a bald-faced lie. He does not check the facts. His beliefs and ideas determine the facts, not what he sees or hears.

Is this an expression of delusion or a lie? Is he simply saying what he believes to be true or is there some degree of deliberation to misrepresent behind the statement? That is the ambiguity. For there is virtually a unanimous consensus, even among many supporters, that Trump maintains this idiosyncratic belief that he is a man who is not only committed to getting at the truth by getting the facts first, a claim totally contradicted by his record of lying. But is he delusional? Is he mentally ill? Or is there a possibility that he both believes that about himself and is conscious that he misrepresents what is generally accepted as real, namely that DT is a deliberate liar. I have concluded that his own self-admissions, his own exercises in advertisements for himself, indicate the latter to be the case. He states what he knows is not true because he believes he is the creator of reality.

It was DT on Saturday, who without any analysis, without the time to engage in inquiry, claimed that there were good and bad people on both sides, totally contradicting his claim that he does not make judgments until he has the facts. In explaining why he was doubling down on his initial claim that both sides were equally violent, he insisted that getting at the facts takes time. But he did not take any time to make the initial claim on Saturday that he then insisted was the real truth on Tuesday.

DT claimed that “you” – the reporters, the viewers of that unscripted press conference – do not know the facts. How could he possibly make such a claim – not simply that some may not have access to all the facts – but that universally everyone there, and, presumably everyone watching and listening, do not know the facts. He would have to analyze what each of us knows and does not know and parse that with analysis. Later he modified the claim to refer to “most reporters,” a claim that in itself contradicted his earlier universal claim and proved that he knew that universal claim was false, as well as a later claim that the facts were well known. However, consistency is not Donald’s forte. DT notoriously does not examine, does not analyze. The claim is both self-contradictory about patience and pattern, that on its surface it had to be a false claim to knowledge which he did not and could not have had.

DT claimed that he did not know that David Duke was at the torch-light parade. One could only recall that during the presidential race he claimed not to have known David Duke, that he had never met him and knew nothing about him when there are extant videotapes from years earlier when he was explaining why he would not accept the nomination of the Reform Party – because he did not want to be a member of a party to which David Duke, the former Grand Vizier of the Ku Klux Klan, belonged.  He did know who David Duke was when he claimed to know nothing about him. And if he was now claiming not to know that David Duke was at the rally, and was one of the chief organizers, then this man who claimed to want to know the facts before he made a pronouncement was displaying his ignorance for all to see. The chief policy maker, who had an obligation to know those facts, a fact easily ascertained by going to the website of the “Unite the Right” movement, supposedly did not know this.

Further, if the facts as they came out, presumably with respect to David Duke, “were very well stated,” how could DT claim that most reporters did not know the facts?

What about DT’s claim that the alt-left, swinging clubs, charged the parade of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Klu Klus Klanners – or, as he preferred to depict it, the majority of peaceful paraders who were there simply to protest against the dismantling of the Robert E. Lee statue in what was formerly called Lee Park? DT was correct. Members of the alt-left were present, did wield clubs, did attack racist demonstraters. They even attacked one white bearded older man carrying a confederate flag, surrounded him and beat him.

Representatives of Antifa – short for anti-fascist – and some of the members of Black Lives Matter, did use force as can be seen if you scan the videos. Further, they used more than clubs. They used mace; in the now famous VICE video, Christopher Cantwell, can be seen pouring water over his face while claiming he was attacked with mace twice. Some members of the alt-left threw bottles of urine and other despicable material at the representatives of the extreme right. They engaged in fisticuffs.

All true. But also true and omitted by DT was that the protest against the “Unite the Right” demonstration was organized by clergy and others who opposed violence, but were in no position to keep out violent extremists from the so-called left. The racist paraders included men armed with automatic weapons who brandished them; one showed his automatic rifle, his reserve rifle in a case, his Glock automatic pistol in a front holster, his other pistol stuck in his back belt, his gun strapped to his ankle and, to top it off, his knife. The protesters against them did not have any guns as far as anyone could tell.

There was no equivalence in numbers. There was no equivalence in organization. There was no equivalence in arms. There was certainly no equivalence in proportions. And there was no equivalence in intentions. The alt-right had organized their torch-lit parade to call for a white ethnic state without Blacks, Jews or minorities. Anyone who marched alongside claiming to be simply protesting against the plan to remove the Robert E. Lee statue had to be naïve or contaminated, for what “good” person, as DT depicted the majority of those in the parade, would march alongside neo-Nazis chanting, “The Jews will not replace us,” and “Blood and Soil,” the basic slogan of the Nazi movement in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. If there were any non-racists in that parade, they could neither be good nor simply or primarily focused on the Lee statue. The Robert E. Lee status was a symbol. The alt-right offered a clear expression of why this statue should be dismantled. or moved.

Irresponsible Trump – Part I

Irresponsible Trump – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

Donald Trump praised the extreme right-wing blogger, Mike Cernovich, who labeled DT’s own security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, as a puppet of George Soros who in turn allegedly owed his allegiance to the Rothschilds. No wonder that the violent demonstrators in Charlottesville Virginia in turn openly insisted that they were there in support of Donald Trump and what he stood for. So why did Donald Trump take two days to read from a teleprompter the following?

“Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law, and we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.

We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.”

However, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood, fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro, there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”

No wonder that many remained dissatisfied with DT’s clarification, and correctly so as we saw with extreme clarity yesterday. First, the statement was greeted as too little and much too late. Second, it appeared only to be the result of DT feeling cornered, given the widespread criticism from his own party. Third, though he had promised to hold one of the rarest events in his presidency, a press conference – a promise which he eventually kept yesterday – he did not keep his promise the previous day. Fourth his statement was read and, to many, came across as disingenuous because it lacked the personal voice and conviction he conveyed when he condemned Mexican illegals as rapists and Muslims as terrorists and that was part of yesterday’s rant which took back everything he read the previous day and went back to equating the thugs who, DT claimed, were mixed in with the good people protesting the taking down of the statue, with violent protesters on the other side.

Fifth, he did not include the “alt-right” in the groups he explicitly mentioned; yesterday he pointedly demanded that a reporter define the alt-right – a phrase he deliberately refused to use, but, as I indicated in my previous blog, the white supremacist, Richard Spencer coined and defined in terms of racism. Sixth, instead of highlighting the neo-fascist and racial issue, in his five-minute speech, he made his anti-racist comments as a footnote to the success of his economic policies (without, of course, noting that the success was the continuation of the upward curve of the Obama administration or acknowledging that the news was not all positive, and without DT noting that he was using the same evidential sources that he once condemned as phony.)

But, sixth, Trump only presented a very partial truth as he does on just about everything. The Dow Jones industrial average passed the 22,000 mark for the first time, possibly partly related to Trump’s initiatives in deregulation. Unemployment fell from 4.8% when Obama left office, to 4.3%, and is threatening to close in on Bill Clinton’s record of 3.9% unemployment. But wages and GDP growth both remain flat, though DT, against common practice, rounded up the GDP rate upwards. Disparities continue to grow and the labour force participation rate has actually fallen. If DT is not lying about the economy, he still repeats his habit of ignoring evidence that fails to support a claim he is making.

Seventh, DT did the typical blaming, condemning the media for fake news in its coverage of the Charlottesville violence: “Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied … truly bad people!” Eighth, when Ken Frazier, an African-American and CEO of Merck Pharma, dissociated from Trump’s failure to condemn the racists by resigning from the President’s Manufacturing Council (“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”) Trump, instead of trying to empathize and understand and holding an open hand for Frazier to return, instead of being penitent and seek to heal the wounds he had opened, instead of being contrite, he was hostile and turned on Frazier and bitterly tweeted, “he will have more time to LOWER DRUG PRICES.” (In a second tweet, he said, “Merck Pharma is a leader in higher & higher drug prices while at the same time taking jobs out of the U.S.”) So why had he appointed him the Manufacturing Council? Why did he not rebuke the two, and, subsequently, five white members who resigned following these rebukes and following rather than preceding his effort to correct the record?

Ninth, Trump never apologized (but he never does) for his initial failure to condemn the neo-Nazis; Trump does not do atonement. Instead of bending on his knees for forgiveness, Trump boasts. Tenth, he announced no new actions to gather intelligence on the alt-right and to prepare for government intervention and prevention. Finally, he did not announce that he would fire policy adviser, Stephen Miller, and especially chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who once headed Breitbart News which allowed the alt-right a voice.

The Trump failure to vocalize his condemnation of white supremacists, the small vocal and demented faction of a larger though minority part of racist America, stood out more boldly because of what other members of his team stated. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the alt-right attack on counter-protesters fit the Justice Department’s definition of “domestic terrorism,” even though he had instructed his department to investigate, not the alt-right, but American universities for discriminating against white applicants. Sessions is now investigating the Charlottesville violence. If the violence entailed the use of weapons, including the car, to deliberately hurt the counter-protesters, then a charge of domestic terrorism might be appropriate.

In contrast to DT, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado repudiated the white supremacists: “We don’t want them in our base, they shouldn’t be in a base, we shouldn’t call them part of a base.” Gardner urged DT to call this white supremacism “evil” with the same kind of conviction that DT used in “naming terrorism around the globe as evil.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), with a moral clarity that Trump clearly had not displayed, said, “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee condemned the torch-bearing and gun-toting and the 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio driving a Dodge Challenger, in imitation of radical Islamicism, into civilians. “The person who drove the car is a murderer when he ran over and killed 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer and injured 19 others. “That is simple murder. There is nothing you can do besides condemn that action. That is not politics, that is not America. That is evil, sinful, disgusting, behavior.” And DT.’s own daughter, Ivanka Trump, after the violence immediately and clearly stated, “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis.” As a convert to Judaism, she possibly was particularly incensed at the Jew-filled hate speech directed at Charlottesville’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer and on display at the torch-lit neo-fascist march on this past Friday evening in Charlottesville.

What would she have thought if she had tuned into the news coverage by the VICE reporter embedded within the alt-right? What would she have said or even thought if she watched the torch bearers repeatedly chant, “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi phrase, “Blood and Soil” with absolutely no evidence of “good people amongst them simply there to protest taking down the Lee statue. What would she have thoughts if she had been with the Jewish congregants who fretted through the shabat service in Charlottesville as “Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Sieg Heil’ and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols… Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue… but we had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises.”

America in 2017!

Inconceivable only two years ago, and even in the 1930s, white supremacists without hoods and sheets foment race conflict and congregate in a small American college town in Virginia to spew their hatred. Did DT with his personal hate speech, with his anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican rhetoric, with his reluctance to condemn white supremacists except when forced into a corner, create the atmosphere that emboldened these white supremacists? Is DT reverting to his insistence of executing the five innocent young Blacks falsely accused of raping a white woman. He had served as the voice of the birther movement, insisting that Barack Obama was not born in America. All of this helped prepare the ground for the emergence of white supremacism into the light of day?

Perhaps what disturbs me most was not how Donald Trump responded, but how some anti-liberal Jews dealt with the issue. One of the men I have esteemed for years, a Holocaust survivor, emailed me just after I left for Israel and which I read on my return: “Trump certainly is a better friend to Israel than Obama who while President visited every country in The Middle East except Israel. Thank god for TRUMP.” Would he say the same after Charlottesville?

On the other hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that “once again, hate has killed.” He issued a statement: “The vile presence and rhetoric of the neo-Nazis who marched this weekend in Charlottesville is a reminder of the ever-present need for people of good will to stand strong, to speak loudly against hate, and act both to delegitimize those who spread such messages and to mitigate the harm done to the commonweal of our nation and to those that are the targets of hate messages.” While commending the opening of DT’s 12th of August statement, he said that we (speaking for the Reform movement) are deeply troubled by the moral equivalence evident in President Trump’s statement. If our leaders cannot name the culprits, then America will fail to stop it.” However, hate may motivate but an action is only criminal when the intention was to harm a specific group as defined in law.

Monuments and Media Matter

Monuments and Media Matter

by

Howard Adelman

On Saturday evening, I was returning from the Arts and Crafts Fair in the Sultan’s Pool opposite the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem and flipping channels on the TV set. I was startled to come across Donald Trump on an Israeli news show. He was calling for unity and condemning hate and violence in America. I had no idea about the context since I had not followed North American news since I left Canada just over a week ago. My response was: was that really Trump? Has he changed? DT condemned hate and violence! Even though the condemnation seemed to be simply a rote display, this seemed to be a new Trump for me, ignorant as I was of the frame for the remark. Nevertheless, it was hard for me to believe Trump had changed his spots.

When I arrived back in Canada just over 36 hours ago, I got onto my computer after I unpacked and tried to catch up on the hundreds of unread emails. Then I learned of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and White Supremacist in the “Unite the Right” rally that had instigated violence in in the small quiet college town of Charlottesville, Virginia. The following tweet of Donald Trump, usually so promiscuous in his condemnation of others by name, followed the earlier statement that I had heard. In the second statement, he condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” And, as his wont, he repeated the phrase: “on many sides.” Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, claimed falsely that people on both sides showed up in Charlottesville “looking for trouble” and that he wouldn’t assign blame for the death of a counter-protester on either group. As very many commented, why had DT not named the perpetrators of the violence, the loose coalition of extreme conservatives and fringe groups that gave energy to his campaign – the alt-right?

The white supremacist, Richard Spencer, a key organizer of the torch parade in Charlottesville, Virginia, invented the term. Alt-right is “identity politics for white Americans and for Europeans around the world.” The alt-right includes white supremacism, white nationalism and the neo-Nazis, all opposed to diversity, multiculturalism as well as democracy and universalism.

Daily Stormer on his alt-right page wrote: “He [DT] didn’t attack us. Refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.” Yet Stormer’s web site disingenuously insists that, “We here at the Daily Stormer are opposed to violence. We seek revolution through the education of the masses.”

These neo-fascists praised DT for not surrendering to the liberal intelligentsia. More specifically, why had DT not named and condemned the Trump-heiler and chief rabble-rouser, 39-year-old Richard Spencer and his “torch-wielding bullies out for notoriety and intimidation of “nigger lovers.” Spencer was determined to “humiliate all those people who oppose us.” Why had DT made the protesters and anti-right protesters equivalent? Abraham Foxman head of the Anti-Defamation League insisted that, “It is time to condemn racist-white supremacist neo-Nazi hatred and violence by name!”

Before I try to explore that question, let me go back and put the rally and the anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville in context. The rally against the planned removal of a statue of General Robert Edward Lee from Forsythe Park in Charlottesville and a statue of Jackson from another park became the symbol of the political-right resistance to the changes that have been underway in America. It was a bronze statue of Lee on his horse, Traveller, put up, not after the Civil War, but over fifty years later during the institutionalization of the Jim Crow laws.

In the movement to remove symbols of hatred, racism and anti-black ideology, including the confederate flag and various statues of those who led the battle to retain slavery, this effort in historical correction recently received an impetus with the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House and the statue of Jefferson Davis, the ostensible president of the Confederacy, from New Orleans. Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans’ mayor, explained: “The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.”

The city council of Charlottesville had voted to move its statue of Lee to another location and rename Lee and Jackson Parks as Emancipation and Justice Parks, but the implementation has been delayed by court action. Charlottesville’s Circuit Court Judge, Richard Moore, issued a six-month restraining order lest the moving of the statue result in “irreparable damage to a war memorial.” As the mayor explained, “we have these two [statues] that have drawn a lot of controversy, and what we’ve heard from many people in the community, and what I believe, is that we’d be better off adding more history, creating a dynamic present that shows both the offense and the response to the offense. That creates a conversation and does not fall into what I think is the concern that, if we don’t remember the past, we’ll be condemned to repeat it.” After all, monumentalizing a person is intended to set one version of history or anti-history physically and literally in stone or bronze. No wonder statutes come alive during historiographical wars.

Individuals who are unequivocally not racists have opposed the removal of these symbols. One of those happens to be the very progressive mayor of Charlottesville, Michael Signer who happens to be a Jew and who has been the target of a slew of personal anti-Semitic attacks by the alt-right. On the rational level, I have read the following arguments of others:

“I do agree on the intrinsic value of historical monuments. All histories and civilizations are built on injustices, their symbols (while serving as a tribute) are an important reminder of those times. The basic difference should be past and present. A confederate statue built in the past surely must be viewed differently than a confederate flag raised today. By pulling down a statue we don’t erase a history. The second argument in favor of leaving historical monuments alone is that it is precisely pulling them down, or wanting to, that draws attention to them in the first place and ignites white supremacist ideology and the explosion of polarities we’re witnessing with such frequency today.”

“There are many existing forms of art that represent or stem from political movements, but they are first and foremost works of art and should be perceived as such – not as propaganda (e.g. cultural revolution in China).”

Fortunately, the fallacies in these so-called counter-arguments against removal of these symbols is easy enough to point out. Historical monuments do not have “intrinsic” value. The statues of Hitler, say the one in the Austrian village of Braunau Am Inn where he was born, the many statues of Lenin and Stalin, the statues of Saddam Hussein, all lacked any intrinsic value. The role those statues play in processing memory is far more important than the sculptural product.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who supported the removal of the statue of Davis, did so with the following argument: “These monuments have stood not as historic or educational markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in celebration of it. I believe we must remember all of our history, but we need not revere it. To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in some of our most prominent public places is not only an inaccurate reflection of our past, it is an affront to our present, and a bad prescription for our future.”

  1. The statue of Lee is not primarily a marker of history, but a celebration of certain values from that history and was erected to help reinstate those values in new forms.
  2. There is a difference between remembering all history versus revering some parts and putting them on a pedestal.
  3. Remembering belongs in museums, with the context provided to educate viewers, not in public places which are intended to celebrate values; this was the option the mayor of Charlottesville favoured, but to do so in place by providing supplementary monuments and a contextual frame.
  4. In terms of an educational role, without the context to provide that education, we only receive a deformed view of history.
  5. The radical separation of past versus present made by the non-racist opponents to removal of the statue is a false dichotomy, for the past is very much part of the present and is used to forge the future.
  6. Last, and least important, the statue is not very good piece of art, though the original sculptor was the artist, Henry Shrady, who happened to be Jewish and was the artist who sculpted the statue of George Washington at Valley Forge and created the Ulysses S. Grant memorial on the United States Capitol, both recognized generally as excellent works. However, the sculptor who finished the work on Lee in Charlottesville when Shrady died at a relatively young age in 1922 was the Italian-American, Leo Lentelli, whose work, though demonstrating great craftsmanship, is stilted and never comes alive even as it displays Lee in a proud moment of courage.

However, the key proof of the fallacy of the arguments opposing the removal of the statue were the actions on display of the racists. They came from all parts of America, some dressed in combat fatigues and openly carrying semi-automatic weapons, others with shields and batons, and still others with bottles of water that actually contained mace and pepper spray. They physically attacked the local peaceful demonstrators who supported removal of the statue and opposed the neo-Nazi demonstration.

These purveyors of violence proved demonstrably and clearly that neo-fascism is alive and well in America. Though no longer stalking the halls of academia as it did eighty years ago when the president of the American Political Science Association in his 1934 presidential address dismissed the “dogma of universal suffrage,” criticized democracy for allowing “the ignorant, the uninformed and the anti-social elements” to vote, and urged Americans to appropriate elements of fascist doctrine and practice, unfortunately the ideology is now parked in the White House.

As Ernst Nolte wrote over fifty years ago in his phenomenological analysis of the political movement, Fascism in its Epoch (in English in 1965, The Three Faces of Fascism), fascism, whether in its French, Italian (the theoretical version that I had focused upon in my recent writings) or German Social nationalist “synthesis,” were all anti-modernist, anti-progressive and anti-liberal in the name of national self-assertion, but rooted deeply in stoking fear. Although America is not going through a recession but an economic boom, though radical Islamicism is nowhere equivalent to the danger of communism, and though American fascists no longer have the model of Germany as an economic and military powerhouse – it is now an economic and ethical powerhouse – yet a resurgence of fascism in America has been clearly shown to be possible given growing disparities in income, given the hollowing out of many small towns in America and given the fears of globalization, not only in America but in Europe as well.

The time has proven to be ripe for a resurgence of fascism. It must be fought. But first it must be identified in all its expressions.

Donald Trump the Fascist – Part II

Donald Trump the Fascist – Part II

by

Howard Adelman

Conrad Black in his biography Richard M. Nixon (2007) informed us that, in the 1950 California Senate race, Helen Gahagan Douglas accused her opponent, Richard Nixon, of advocating “nice, unadulterated fascism.” In this morning’s blog, I implied that few of Donald Trump’s American critics had suggested an identification of Donald Trump with fascism. A reader commented that a Google search in 38 seconds revealed 559,000 results connecting Donald Trump with fascism. However, very few Americans claim that DT is a fascist. They generally equivocate in the endless stream of commentary and analysis of Donald Trump. The analogy hangs in the air, but generally does not land on his head.

Trump has been called a proto-fascist and his post-truth is labeled as pre-fascism. Few Americans label him outright as a fascist.  For some, such as Sheri Berman, a political science professor at Barnard College and an expert on the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, this is because he is a populist, but not one that conforms to four basic characteristics of fascism. (See her article, “Donald Trump isn’t a fascist,” (www.vox.com/…/1/3/14154300/fascist-populist-trump-democracy.) For her, Trump was not an ardent pro-nationalist, wherein the individual is in service to the nation; he does not view the nation as an “organic entity”. Trump does not possess a suspicion of capitalism. He may to some degree be overtly anti-liberal, but he is not anti-democratic rooted in the belief that the people must be led by a strong leader since American democracy as inefficient, unresponsive and weak. Finally, although Trump fails to reject violence unequivocally and will even urge police officers not to protect the heads of those arrested when throwing them in the back seat of a squad car, he does not advocate the use of violence as both a means and an end. In any case, fascism comes to power through revolutionary conquest not the ballot. In the rise of populism, there is a gradual erosion of democratic norms and institutions rather than undermining them through radical revolution.

But this is to confuse the rhetoric of fascism at a particular time with its core tenets. Such a definition gives pre-eminence to the tumultuous environment of hopelessness that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Berman argues that, although Trump bears a similarity to fascism in promising to protect Americans from the pernicious effects of foreigners and the disruptions of globalization and free trade that have, in his eyes, decimated America as a manufacturing centre, these are populist appeals common to both fascism and populism. But a populist does not a fascist make. Nor are the conditions – such as military defeat and economic depression – ripe for the rise of fascism.

A Toronto Star (2 April 2016) article by Olivia Ward asked, “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” and opined that “Donald Trump’s strong-armed call to keep Mexicans and Muslims out of America echoes last century’s fascist governments.” Ward cited young historian, Fedja Buric, from Bellarmine University in Kentucky, a specialist on the rise of fascism as the successor to Tito’s communism in Yugoslavia. Buric insisted that Trump was merely the face of fascism in America. He even compared DT with Benito Mussolini. New Republic editor Jamil Smith declared unequivocally that, “yes, Donald Trump is a fascist.” But Buric and Smith were foils for Ward who insisted that, “the jaw-jutting reality star doesn’t quite squeeze into the classic 20th-century mold.”

Even earlier than 2016, on 3 December 2015, Ross Douthat in The New York Times had asked, “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” based on his illiberal musings about Muslims and his blatant lying? Douthat even cited Jamelle Bouie in Slate who, referring to Umberto Eco in turn, “argued that Trumpism, however ideologically inchoate, manifests at least seven of the hallmarks of fascism…a cult of action, a celebration of aggressive masculinity, an intolerance of criticism, a fear of difference and outsiders, a pitch to the frustrations of the lower middle class, an intense nationalism and resentment at national humiliation, and a ‘popular elitism’ that promises every citizen that they’re part of ‘the best people of the world’.” Bouie was born in Virginia and I should have qualified my words about most Americans being reluctant to label Trump as a fascist, for Boule is a Black Virginian and Black Americans seem to disproportionately recognize fascism when they see it.

For those who eschew applying the fascist label to Donald Trump, America historically provided poor soil for fascism given the American conservative tradition of “a libertarian skepticism of state power, a stress on localism and states’ rights, a religious and particularly Protestant emphasis on the conscience of an individual over the power of the collective — that inoculated our politics against fascism’s appeal.” However, DT lacked the inoculation against that contagion because he was not an ideological conservative. In spite of the similarities of DT to Eco’s seven identification markers, and in spite of the fact that DT resisted any vaccination against the pox, neither religion, which for him is purely instrumental, nor Perot’s economic nationalist libertarianism and love of small government, nor, finally, Wallace’s deep racism and local and regional chauvinism, were available to save him from infection, for like a fascist, l’état c’est moi, Trump clearly is not averse to centralization as long as he is at that centre. Nevertheless, Douthat concluded that DT was at best a proto-fascist at one end of the conservative spectrum. “Trump may indeed be a little fascistic, but that sinister resemblance is just one part of his reality-television meets WWE-heel-turn campaign style. He isn’t actually building a fascist mass movement.”

Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post (28 March 2017) wrote that, “nobody invoking the ‘analogy’ seriously believes the hideous slaughters of another era are imminent.” Not much comfort. Tharoor went on to identify DT’s “reactionary platform in sync with xenophobic rhetoric and the extremist far right politics of Europe. But this just meant that, “The shadow of an earlier moment of demagoguery seems to unavoidably loom over the national conversation.”

The issue is not that there are no American commentators that called DT a fascist, but that the vast majority avoid, for very different reasons, labeling him with the fascist designation and draw back even at the last minute from knighting him as such. Douthat thought that, although DT had not been inoculated against fascism, conservatives in the Republican Party were and would refuse to embrace him if he overtly takes on those traits.

How wrong he was. Further, as my blog tomorrow will indicate, I want to insist that DT’s fascism goes much deeper than the above merely superficial resemblances to fascist performers.  Trump is philosophically a fascist and it is as a philosophical fascist that he is able to wrap conservatives around his little fat pinky.

I am aware that scholars of Italian fascism, such as historian Enzo Traverso, the Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University, argue that identifying Trump “through the old category of fascism” is not only misleading but useless (World Policy Journal “Trump’s Savage Capitalism: The Nightmare is Real,” 34:1, Spring 2017, 13-17). This scholar insisted that, despite Trump defining himself as the charismatic leader and despite his speeches and meetings having “an incontestably fascist taste,” the fascist analogy remains superficial involving only Trump’s personality. “Fascism is reducible neither to the temperament of a political leader nor to the psychological predispositions of his followers. The fact is that Trump does not lead a mass movement; he is a TV star.”

Isabel Hull, the John Stambaugh Professor of History and colleague of Traverso at Cornell, pointed out that some of the things that paved the way for fascism in Germany are repeated now, such as a weak government that was intentionally undermined by its elites, and “a highly stove-piped national press, such that people only heard and saw what they already thought, and that should sound familiar though it now comes in a different mode.” Another similarity, Isabel Hull pointed to at the Cornell symposium on “Trump and Fascism,” was that Hitler, like Trump, “had no regard for bureaucracy or law or regularity or policies. Under National Socialism, that system of government made it flexible, adaptable, but also self-radicalizing and ultimately completely self-destructive.”

However, for these thinkers, although there are significant analogies, the identification is just not there. Trump is not an imperialist. Rather than arguing for military expansionism, DT is an isolationist. What drives him is his personal business interests and his family. Xenophobic and reactionary, yes; fascist, no. Populism, not fascism, explains DT.

Without denigrating the role of populism and without insisting that DT exhibits all the expressions of fascism in the 1930s. I suggest that DT is at his core a philosophical fascist and not simply a behavioural one or even that some of his behavioural traits share a kinship with fascism.

I make this assertion, not as a scholar of philosophical fascism, but because of knowledge by acquaintance. When I co-taught the graduate course on Hegel at York University, my colleague was the late Professor Henry Silton Harris, H.S. Harris or simply Harris as he was called by his colleagues and friends. He was and remains the foremost Hegelian scholar in the world. What few seem to know was that his PhD thesis was on Giovanni Gentile, subsequently published as, The Social Philosophy of Giovanni Gentile: with a bibliography (1962).

Gentile, already a widely recognized philosopher in Palermo and then Pisa, Italy, before Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922, became Minister of Education in the first Mussolini government of 1923 and ghost wrote Mussolini’s A Doctrine of Fascism (1930). His own philosophic identification with fascism and the characterization of its essential precepts were inscribed in his volume, The Origins of the Doctrine of Fascism. The fascist themes were also indicated in his break with Croce, the intellectual founder of positivism, the doctrine that science provides the model for all thought and explanation, more fundamentally, that all thought is rooted in sense experience.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Donald Trump the Fascist – Part I

Donald Trump the Fascist – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

On Friday night at dinner, my friend complained that a crossword puzzle with the clue “mission” required the answer, “errand.” He thought that was unfair. I defended the answer to the clue because an errand – sending someone to fetch something – was one kind of mission, an activity directed intensely towards a single goal. My companion conceded the point and then asked what about the word “stupid”? The answer in the puzzle was “crass”. In this case, I tended to agree with my friend who was incensed at the injustice of the query.

However, my concurrence bothered me. For I knew I was often ignorant of some of the meanings of terms. Though I thought “stupid” conveyed primarily “lacking intelligence,” and “crass” conveyed “boorishness,” perhaps the two terms did, in some of the uses of each, enjoy a family resemblance. I looked “stupid” up in the thesaurus and found this additional equivalence:

crass

Crass behaviour is stupid and does not show consideration for other people.

They have behaved with crass insensitivity.

In this meaning, “crass” is not so much defined by the words and deeds of the character said to be crass, but by the crass individual’s ignorance about the effects of his (or her) behaviour. A crass individual is stupid in his or her insensitivity to others.

I begin with this very small anecdote because of puzzlement about Donald Trump who seems both crass and stupid. But how can someone so stupid, so ignorant about so much, know such a great deal about those who follow him? More significantly, how can he keep not only his own populist followers, but also so many conservatives and Republicans (the latter two are not identical) in line if he is both stupid as well as crass? Simply put, my answer comes in explaining Donald Trump as a fascist.

However, before we explore that response, it is well to understand another very different reason why we may be avoiding pinning the tail of fascism on the ass of Donald Trump. We use him and need him as either an object of ridicule or as a measure of madness. I focus on the latter.

Instead of calling DT a fascist, we say that he is mad, daft, crazy, an insane narcissist. Senator Jack Reed (D- R.I.) said, “I think — I think he’s crazy. I mean, I don’t say that lightly and [mean that] as a kind of a goofy guy.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who voted against the Republican efforts at “repeal and replace” of Obamacare, seemed to express her concurrence. This was on top of his ignorance. “I don’t think he knows there is a [Budget Control Act] or anything,” added Collins.

Mark Cuban, the billionaire, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and celebrity on “The Shark Tank,” dubbed DT “bats” and David Brooks of The New York Times described DT as suffering from “multiple personality disorder.” However, if DT is mad, he has certainly developed a mastery of celebrity politics, more than sufficient to wipe the floor with his 16 opponents on the campaign trail for the nomination and then to go on to defeat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College.

One problem is that if Trump is mad-as-a-hatter, we should not normally ridicule him. Blaming a madman for his erratic behaviour simply undercuts the judicial principles developed over the last century whereby the mentally disturbed are not laughed at, but rather treated for their illness. If DT is mentally ill, some might criticize him but not laugh at him. For most cases of mental illness, we extend sympathy and empathy to the troubled individual. However, some diagnoses empirically do not generally elicit sympathy. Offering sympathy or empathy in some cases takes place only at considerable risk to the one who proffers it to a severe narcissist/sociopath/psychopath. For the latter will only use that empathy to disadvantage the person who is attempting to offer it, always in order to get the upper hand. DT is a master at doing just that. Further, if he claims personal experience trumps reality supported by evidence, we can end up only treating the individual as a deliberate liar rather than delusional.

Most important, we fail to get at the source of his erratic behaviour that runs so counter to his own interests. Just last week, these irrational patterns included:

  • Continuing the efforts at humiliating his only critical ally in the legislature when he was campaigning and who was so important in linking him up with the conservative core of the Republican Party, his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions;
  • Embarrassing an organization such as the Boy Scouts by treating youth as a staging ground for his rallies with his railing against the Washington swamp, and getting those boys to cheer for him rather than his applauding them for upholding the universal virtues that the movement tries to instill in its youthful members;
  • Doing far better than central casting, appointing Scarry Moochy, Anthony Scaramucci, as his Communications Director [for only trn days] who even upped DT himself in his profanity and use of humiliation to drive his rival, White House Chief of Staff and a pillar of the Republican establishment, Reince Priebus, from office by accusing him of being a criminal and crazy at one and the same time; the Mooch called Priebus a leaker (a felony) and a paranoid schizophrenic;
  • Contrary to his campaign pledge to guard their back, DT announced that he was not only denying transgender military personnel access to state-supported funds for medical procedures to which they were entitled as members of the armed forces, a denial policy pushed by many conservatives, he went further and tweeted that he was kicking them out of the armed forces altogether, claiming the decision followed consultation with “his” generals when, in short order, it became apparent that they had been blindsided and were unwilling to implement an order contained in a tweet.

The list could go on. These were only the most outstanding expressions of what is easily dubbed as madness. These were not simply breeches of democratic norms and standards of decorum expected of a president, but symptoms of a very deep illness.

There is another view. His nuttiness is merely his unique brand of cutthroat cleverness. As the campaign was heating up, Konrad Yakabuski in The Globe and Mail eighteen months ago wrote that, “While the historians debate whether Mr. Trump is a bona fide fascist or just an opportunistic rabble-rouser, the pundits have already decided that he is crazy – like a fox. His endless disregard for the boundaries of acceptable political discourse only serves to ensure that he dominates the news cycle – to the detriment of rivals struggling to gain basic name recognition – and to consolidate his support among a slice of the electorate that is hopping mad and sick of slick career politicians.”

Craziness had been converted into political craftiness based on absolute amorality. The main object is to continually hijack the debate, to hijack debate altogether, in favour of one outlandish claim after another, each more extreme than his previous record. Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post, six months after Yakabuski penned his op-ed, opined that he had once thought that DT was just “being crazy like a fox. Now I am increasingly convinced that he’s just plain crazy.”

Crazy or crazily calculating? However, if DT is that sick, should we laugh at him or ridicule his behaviour? Rather, should we not try to analyze the source of his dysfunction and urge treatment? Instead, DT has served as a boondoggle to liberal satirists. And he is such an easy target given his inability to complete a sentence unless he has his eyes literally tied to a monitor. With his compulsion to repeat phrases, his open-hands used to wave away criticism like a set of bothersome flies while he communicates that he is totally open to the audience as his limbs move in unison to draw in identification with himself as the abiding authority.

Like primates, wolves and dogs, Trump snarls.  Dogs snarl as a defensive, protective gesture and to provide a warning signal. DT does it to communicate threatening disdain as he shrugs to deflect criticism. His distinctive eye roll relays his contempt while his smirk discounts the other as a fool and his finger pointing identifies his enemies. He purses his lips to scowl at his opponents as childish miscreants and turns his torso towards them as an expression of domination. Finally, his swept blonde hairdo signals that he is not afraid to convey any of these characteristics, but wallows in the attention these gestures bring.  He is not only a celebrity who is energized by the spotlight, but a black star that uses all its energy to absorb the light from everything around.

Many in America are reluctant to use the term “fascist” and apply it to Donald Trump lest they be regarded as “off the wall” and exaggerating. They would, thereby, undercut the opposition to Donald Trump. However, non-Americans need not be so timid. My friend, Michael Marrus, wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail on 7 July entitled, “The new face of fascism, American-style.” (https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/a-whiff-of-fascism-drifts-across-america/article35556412/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&) Michael is a European historian and for years was the Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto.

Other than prudence, Michael offered many other reasons why the term fascist had been avoided. The following elements seemed to be missing:

  • a cult of militarization and war
  • a celebration of youth
  • an idealization of sacrifice and death
  • an incubator of economic depression
  • seething ethnic quarrels.

My inclination is to suggest that all of these are lurking in the shadows. However, Michael suggested another reason for avoiding the use of the term fascist. Citing George Mosse, he wrote that, fascism is a “scavenger ideology,” “less a coherent body of thought and policy than a mood articulated by talented demagogues who patched together, from the popular culture, strident calls to action in the service of ill-defined myths of a nation’s greatness.” Michael urged us to resist the temptation and the many reasons on offer for avoiding the link between Trump’s overt behaviour and the label “fascist”. Rhetorically, he asked whether Trump’s contempt for a free press and his cruel insinuations and use of stigmas indicated a fascist personality. DT’s behaviour was not merely crass and stupid. Nor could his remarks simply be dismissed as just “inappropriate” and “disappointing”.

Michael cited Robert Kagan of the Brooking Institute, one of the few Americans unafraid to link DT with fascism in print. For fascism has come to America, “not with jackboots and salutes … but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac ‘tapping into’ popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party – out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear – falling into line behind him.”

The result has been:

  • an emphasis on fealty rather than loyalty
  • a professed disdain for elites as Trump surrounds himself with obeisant generals and billionaires as well as sycophants
  • embracing rather than rejecting the principle of contradiction
  • contempt for convention, comity and civility.

In People Magazine in 1981, Trump described humans (actually “men”) as “the most vicious of all animals.” He went further than Thomas Hobbes in insisting that this military viciousness was not even controlled or controllable by political institutions, but meant that life was just “a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.” You were either a killer or a sucker. He was not a believer in the doctrine that the end justifies the means, but an idolater who believed that the only end worthy of effort was victory űber alles, including especially army generals whom he relished being made into his subordinates. The world is divided into alpha males and the “rest.”

As Trump boasted, “I was elected president.” Neither his supine nor his clever and intelligent opponents were able to defeat him. And in a memorable effort to confine Donald Trump within the constitution and some scraps of morality, Khizr Khan, father of a decorated deceased Muslim war hero whom Roger Stone, one of DT’s mentors, had labeled a “Muslim Brotherhood agent,” this “agent” waved the pamphlet containing the constitution, offering it to DT as reading material for DT seemed so ignorant of its contents, Trump was easily able to brush an attack launched from a pinnacle of virtue into the swamp created by the dam he has so assiduously built in the valley below.

As David Givens, Director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington, noted during the primary campaign referring to Donald Trump, “Nobody has done it this well since John F. Kennedy. Or Mussolini.” It is to Mussolini and his philosophical partner, Giovanni Gentile, that I want to move. However, I will first elaborate on the debate over whether DT is a fascist. My position is clear. Whether a clown or crazy, Donald Trump’s behaviour does not simply bear a superficial resemblance to that of fascists. Donald Trump deeply identifies with the philosophical tenets of fascism.

With the help of Alex Zisman – and others.

The Promise – a movie review

The Promise – a movie review

by

Howard Adelman

I am not breaking my summer silence, merely taking a recess. The cause is a movie I saw on television last night called The Promise. It is about the Armenian genocide. If I was a true film aficionado, I would know about the film, whether I had seen it or not. But I not only did not see it when it was released, but I had not heard of it. I initially thought I had an excuse because the release date that I read was 27 May 2017. However, the actual release date in Canada was 21 April 2017. Further, it was at TIFF in 2016. In any case, my lame excuse had been that I went north to my island for the rainy and cold month of June and did not return fully until July.

Before I begin the review, a few, and perhaps too many, words about the Armenian genocide. As is well known, successive and very different Turkish regimes have denied the existence of any intentional slaughter of the up to 1.5 million Armenians killed in that slaughter. The Armenians were killed, the Turks claim, because they allegedly started a civil war. Civilians were killed in the crossfire. They were casualties of war, not deliberately murdered. In any case, the Turks insist, the numbers that died is grossly exaggerated.

They are not. The genocide took place as depicted.

I became a secondary scholar of the Armenian genocide when I was asked by the Toronto School Board to sit with two other academics, experts on the Holocaust, to adjudicate whether the story of the genocide should be included on the curriculum for high school students in Toronto. Deliberately, not one of asked to serve on this voluntary judicial advisory committee because we had published on the Armenian genocide. The Board of Education wanted expertise without offering grounds for the formal Turkish government complaint to subsequently declare a prior bias.

This was, of course, not entirely possible. All three of us were familiar with Holocaust deniers. I certainly knew of Rwandan genocide deniers, or those who try to mitigate that tragedy, though the latter position was virtually impossible to sustain. Instead, in the case of Rwanda, deflection is used – a practice with which every reader is likely to be extremely familiar since the election of President Donald Trump. The claim is that President Kagame of Rwanda has been systematically slaughtering Hutu since the Tutsi-led rebels invaded Rwanda and initiated the civil war in 1990. The numbers killed on each side, these genocide distractors imply, are about equal. This past month, I was asked to review a research paper that edged in this way towards apologetics. However ruthless President Kagame may be as an elected dictator in Rwanda, any fair examination of his record, positive and negative, would not declare him to be a genocidaire.

However, the Turks, and their successive governments of very different stripes, have been united perhaps on only one topic for over one hundred years  – the persistent and insistent denial of the Armenian genocide.  A Turkish graduate student of mine – not an Armenian – wanted to write a thesis on the Armenian refugees in WWI. Somehow the Turkish government heard of it. A representative of the Turkish embassy in Ottawa paid me a visit when I was the founding director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University. He asked generally whther any student was writing about refugees, particularly from Turkey, during I disclosed nothing but informed my student. That student, fearing punishment on any return to Turkey, switched topics.

On the committee, I read much of the scholarly literature on the Armenian genocide as well as the Turkish propaganda denying its occurrence. What was distinctive from the Jewish and the Armenian genocides is that, in this case, there were two reputable scholars who denied that a systematic government-led effort to slaughter and forcefully relocate the Armenians had taken place. The vast majority of scholarly conclusions – as the committee claimed in its report to the Board of Education – supported the claims of genocide. Though the committee did not find that the evidence for the Armenian genocide taking place was incontrovertible or unassailable – there are very few historical events in which this is the case – the committee concluded that the overwhelming preponderance of evidence, and the logical flaws of the deniers, made it unquestionable that the Armenian genocide should be taught as a segment of actual history on a high school curriculum and without providing any necessity to make room for the literature of deniers. The evidence was as indisputable and indubitable as one can find in historiography. Yet two films appeared relatively recently that bordered on genocide denial – The Ottoman Lieutenant and Russell Crowe’s Water Diviner.

All this is to say that when I watched the film, I had no distraction or concern that the genocide had taken place. However, I was bothered somewhat by the implication that Turkey during the dying days of the Ottoman empire and even the beginnings of the Young Turk takeover in the aftermath of the disastrous Turko-Russian War largely waged in the Balkans in 1912, was simply a prosperous multicultural society. It certainly had that appearance. But just as there had been early warnings of a genocide in Rwanda with some trial efforts at mass slaughter, the warnings in Turkey were far clearer with the slaughter of 100,000 to 300,000 Armenians in the massacres of 1894-95 by the paramilitary Hamidye (the Interahamwe militias were used in Rwanda) and the 10,000–30,000 murdered by units of the armed forces in the Adana massacre of March-April 1909. However, as most scholars point out, a pogrom does not constitute a genocide. But pogroms can be precursors.

Thus, the film is correct in dating the formal start of the genocide to 24 April 1915 when several hundred Armenian professionals and intellectuals were rounded up and interned, with the vast majority eventually being killed. Second, the film depicts the second stage of the genocide when young Armenian (as well as Assyrian and Greek Christian) males from their teens to their forties were arrested, subjected to forced labour and murdered en masse in the process. The third phase of the slaughter portrays whole Armenian villages and towns put to the torch and Armenian older men, women and children set out on a forced march to Syria, where, on route, the vast majority perished in the desert which they attempted to cross with inadequate supplies of food and water. In the finale, the film portrays the brave and victorious Armenian 53-day self-defence by the Armenians from the villages of Kabusia (Kaboussieh), Yoghunoluk, Bitias, Vakef, Kheter Bey (Khodr Bey) and Haji Habibli  at the mountain, Musa Daği (ironically, Moses’ Mountain) recorded in Franz Werfel’s  novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, until over 4,000 Armenians were rescued by the French navy.

The genocidal scenes are handled with mastery by the director, Terry George, and constitute a complement to the beauty and variety and richness of Constantinople before the war. Terry George entered this project with a stellar reputation from directing Hotel Rwanda and, before that, Some Mother’s Son (1991) about the 1981 IRA prisoner hunger strike, In the Name of the Father (1993) and The Boxer (1997), the latter two both starring Daniel Day Lewis. Unlike these depictions of the troubles in Northern Ireland, The Promise is directed on an epic scale with wonderful crowd scenes varying from the throngs in the markets of Istanbul to the forced labourers to the mass deportations in cattle cars and the forced march of the Armenian inhabitants of towns and villages. The leads portrayed by Oscar Isaac as Mikael Poghosian, an apothecary with a determination to become a doctor, Charlotte Le Bon as the vivacious and vibrant Ana, and Christian Bale as the famous American journalist, Chris Meyers.

So what is wrong with the film? Why is it not the Armenian equivalent to Schindler’s List? It is certainly not the cinematography which is gorgeous – perhaps all-too-gorgeous, even in the scenes about the flight. Unlike Atom Egoyan’s 2003 imperfect movie Ararat, also on the Armenian genocide, the flaw in The Promise is in the script co-written by Terry George and Robin Swicord. The weakness is not because they used a romantic triangle among the three to anchor the film in the personal, but because the triangle remains too central when the belated portrayal of the genocide begins. Further, it turns into a contrived and cloying series of segments through the latter half of the movie. Finally, and I could not figure why, there is almost no sexual chemistry between Ana and Mikael.

Some reviewers that I read this morning found this simply to be a distraction. For other reviewers, it spoiled the film. While I agree with the consensus on the sentimental and manipulated personal narrative at the core of the film, the power of the portrayal of the genocide, the brilliant directing and cinematography, and the wonderful acting, even though the character of Mikael Poghosian is too much of a goody-two-shoes for me, the events and their portrayal more than make up for this lapse so that I was mesmerized by the film and would have rated it much higher than the negative and barely positive reviews that I read.

However, do not read the reviews before you watch the movie. I did not, and very rarely do, for, in this case, review after review egregiously offer an account of the plot in great detail. A script which allowed reviewers to be distracted from the main and very important subject matter can be blamed on the screenwriters, but reviewers are as much to blame for allowing their narrative sensibilities to detract from the power of the movie.

It is a must see. And it does not cost nearly as much to watch on TV as in a movie theatre, though I desperately wish I had viewed the panoramic scenes on a large movie screen.

 

with the help of Alex Zisman