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.

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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.

Noah and the Flood

Parashat Noah

by

Howard Adelman

Serendipity – sometimes called revelation – is wonderful. Last night, a very old dear friend who nevertheless reads my blog – or at least receives it – emailed me an article by Daniel Burston called, “It Can’t Happen Here: Trump, Authoritarianism & American Politics,” presumably to reinforce my interpretations and critique of Donald Trump. If you read both, you will understand how the psychoanalytic interpretations of personality have influenced my thought. As you read through this commentary, it will become clear how appropriate that article was. In addition, last evening my wife chose a documentary to watch, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood. I had planned to write this morning about Noah and the flood, so the timing seemed perfect as will become apparent. As DiCaprio’s documentary makes clear, many people as in Noah’s time seem to adopt a mindblindness about global warming, the most dangerous threat faced by the world. Perhaps there was a purpose in my falling behind in writing my commentaries.

The Reform movement in Judaism sends out an email each week with a “drash” or commentary on the coming week’s portion of Torah. Most of the time I do not find that it speaks to me, my concerns or my reading of text. This past week I expected a comment on whether Noah was really “a just man” or on the flood and Noah’s or humanity’s responsibility for the catastrophe. Or on the rainbow or the raven and the dove, the very stuff of fables.

However, this past week, the commentary of Dr. Ellen Umansky, Professor of Judaic Studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut, was spot on. “In many ways, Parashat Noach is filled with as many theological problems as answers. Chief among them is why, after creating the world and all living things, God destroys ‘all that lives under the heavens’ (Genesis 6:17). The reason that God gives is the ‘violence’ or ‘lawlessness’ (chamas) of humankind. Yet what about such godly virtues as patience, love, and forgiveness? Does saving Noah, his family, and a male and female of all living species in order to ensure continued reproduction make up for God’s actions?”

The reflection went on. “Is saving them a sign of mercy or of pragmatism? The fact that after the flood, God promises to never again ‘destroy all living beings, as I have [just] done’ (8:21), suggests that, despite having saved the righteous Noah and his family and enabling future life on the earth, God shows signs of regret (for discussions on the degree to which Noah was righteous, see B’reishit Rabbah 30). God acknowledges that humans will continue to do bad things, presumably including engaging in acts of violence. Yet despite this, God blesses Noah and his sons (why God doesn’t bless Noah’s wife and daughters-in-law is another theological problem) and makes an eternal covenant with them, their descendants (that is, future generations), and the earth’s animals, promising to never again send a flood to destroy all living creatures (Genesis 9:11).”

That is exactly the most crucial question. However, violent or lawless humans were, why destroy mankind? Why indeed go much further and destroy all of nature? Was God having a hissy fit because his creation did not work out perfectly as planned? The punishment is so disproportionate to the crime that the action is unspeakable. Does God earn redemption by saying He regretted what he did? Does God earn brownie points by implying that, in retrospect and hindsight, His action might have been rash and even wrong? Especially since He acknowledges that the action achieved nothing! Humans would continue to do dirty deeds. They would lie and not revere the truth – as my rabbi said in her Friday night commentary, they would many times not be faithful to one another never mind to God because they failed to revere the truth – emet (אמת).

Emet is a word made up of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet followed by the middle letter of that alphabet and concluding with the final letter. This is generally interpreted to mean that truth is not simply based on a correspondence theory of truth, though that is a prerequisite, but on a coherence theory encompassing everything from the beginning to the end in one coherent development. The flood is totally incongruent with a God dedicated to mercy and love and is the second major clue that God is inadequate to the task. (God’s lack of understanding of sexuality was the first clue.)

Truth is a way. Truth is a path. (Genesis 24:27 & 48) One acts truly, not just by telling the truth. The truth lies within you not just in what you say. (Genesis 42:16) When Jacob was ready to die, he asked Joseph to put his hand under his thigh “and deal kindly and truly” with him by not burying him in Egypt. (Genesis 47:29) It is why Jews at funerals say, “Baruch dayan emet,” “Blessed is the True Judge.” For the truth of a judge will be seen in how he treats and buries the dead – hence the theme in the movie, Son of Saul.

The ultimate truth is how we treat our dead. A man of truth is not just a man that does not engage in lies, though at a minimum, he must not lie. Yesterday on the news, I listened to Donald Trump describe Barack Obama as screaming at a protestor at his rally that day and then watched a video of Barack Obama coolly telling the crowd they must not boo a man shouting out and holding aloft a “Vote for Trump” sign. They must respect the man’s freedom of speech, must respect him as a veteran, must respect him as an elder. It was the very opposite of screaming. Barack’s speech was a call for civility and decency and was an exemplification of the very characteristics Donald Trump does not demonstrate when he calls for the people at his rallies to “throw out” protesters, promising to pay their legal bills if they are charged with assault. Then Donald Trump tops it off by lying and projecting onto the president the very villainy he expresses.

In the final words of the story of creation Genesis 2.3 – the final letters of those three words also spell emet. Bara Elohim la’asot, God created the world for action, “to do” and not just to understand, not just for Adam to walk around in innocence providing an accurate and useful taxonomy of the things of the world. As I wrote in my commentary on the first portion of Genesis, the emphasis is on Becoming, not Being, on change and development, especially of critical self-consciousness, and not simply on whether what is said precisely conforms to what we find in the world, though it certainly includes the latter since lying is absolutely forbidden. God only created a framework. Man must live and act in truth.

The Noah story not only demonstrated that much more was required of creativity, but that God was not up to the task of completing the job. God was deeply flawed. There was just no excuse for such drastic action as the flood. God needed a partner in creation because God did not understand how the admixture of spirit and flesh, of earth and air, of light and water, actually interacted. Since Heraclitus, the symbol of constant change has been water. God might have blown air and the divine spirit into human nostrils, God may Himself be the spirit of truth, but God is not its material manifestation in this world. It is humans who must assume responsibility for change and for the management of water, the symbol of change. God was too caught up in the world He had created to understand how it had to and would undergo change. Thus, His excess. Thus, the deluge.

But does not the Torah also say that Elohim is rav chesed v’emet, that God is both abundant in loving kindness and in truth. God is a righteous judge. But that is after the fact. After humans assume their responsibility for creation, for doing. Then God can pronounce whether it is good or not. But God as an agent is not perfect. God makes mistakes. Not necessarily in the assessment, but in the meting out of punishment. Sure, humans were violent; sure, humans lied and cheated; sure, humans even killed. But the deluge!!!

So God drowns everyone and everything but a saving remnant. But, unlike the story of Gilgamesh, God makes an eternal promise to humanity that He will not destroy the world again no matter how humans misbehave. The responsibility for the well-being of the world will now belong to humanity. Thus, the rainbow (Genesis 9.8-16). Thus the rainbow coalition and the conception of a world that is not a homogeneous unity but a singularity that must work with and through diversity. Thus, the conception that the righteous can arise from any nation. Thus, the covenant not just with humans, but with “all that live upon the earth.” Humans may assume the responsibility, but it is a responsibility not just for himself, not just for one’s people, not just for all humanity, but for all that live on this planet. Each of us, everyone of us, is responsible to every other human for the welfare of the world. That is the Noachide Covenant.

Why is it a universal covenant not to worship idols, not to worship anything man made as divine whether it be the internet or a champion baseball team? Why must one not blaspheme God? Is not calling God imperfect and suggesting that He has hissy fits offensive and sacrilegious? It certainly sounds impious. But such statements are not offensive acts. They are just descriptors. Only acts can be blasphemous. And whether any act is or is not blasphemous or contemptuous of the divine spirit must be determined by the rule of law, by courts of justice and not by rumour, innuendo and the court of public opinion. So whether any act expresses idolatry – taking a human product as divine – or blasphemous – making what is divine an expression of human propensity to lie and murder, must be determined by courts. And those courts of justice are restricted to three core actions – the prohibition of murder (taking another human life when not in self-defense), the prohibition of robbery (taking the property of another when not driven by absolute need), and the prohibition of adultery, the fundamental sign of faith between two intimate partners.

So the story boils down to the following propositions:
1. It is a tale of corruption, of human violence and lawlessness. The core of that corruption is most manifest in ignoring a catastrophe that is in process of unfolding. The core of that corruption is the denial of climate change – by Donald Trump, by Ted Cruz, by Marco Rubio – that the oceans will rise and that the coastal cities of the world will be flooded. The core of that corruption entails ignoring the truth on which 97% of environmental scientists agree and insisting that those who warn of climate change are liars, and insisting that these dogmatists of denial are the ones professing the truth. The corruption is that the very politicians who claim their opponent is beholden to the special interests of Wall Street, are beholden to the Koch brothers and all those powerful corporations with vested interests in a fossil fuel economy. The corruption is exemplified when people of power are wedded to spreading rampant misinformation and outright lies about the state of our planet. Human kind has fallen because humanity has failed to live and act in truth.
2. This second worldwide flood that threatens the planet because of the profusion of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel and eating the beef of cows that produce enormous amounts of methane, both of which are the main causes of the melting of the icecaps, is still denied as a human responsibility. There is no recognition that God, having witnessed what he wrought in response to human previous irresponsibility, has learned that the problem of corruption can only be addressed if humans take responsibility for what they do and act to correct the situation.
3. What follows from 1 and 2 is that the first responsibility of humans is to learn, know and recognize the truth, primarily the truth about the dynamics of change.
4. God, and Noah for that matter, prior to the flood evinced not a drop of compassion for all those and all of nature that would die as a result of the flood. There is no indication that Noah cared one whit that the graves of his parents would be beneath a league of water. So how we revere our dead will be the key clue to whether we revere life and our fellow humans.
5. God becomes merciful only as a result of atoning for what He wrought and, as a result of the flood and God’s regret, acquirers the attribute of rachamim, the capacity for empathy and tender love, the ability to show compassion and mercy – even eventually for those who deserve punishment. Elohim, the ruler of the universe, then becomes Adonai as well, a name first given to God in Genesis 15:2 by Abram after the flood and the story of the Tower of Babel when Abram begs God to allow him to have a son.

The story has another side not yet articulated. Prior to the flood, God had no sense of remorse. God is strictly a dominating and controlling persona prone to dramatic gestures and an absolute belief that if He says something, just because he says it, it will come into being. Law is not judicial law. Law is not a process. Laws are merely the commandments of a ruler. Further, simple disobedience to those commandments is worthy of death. God is dominating and controlling and insists that law means order. It is only after the flood that a core constitution for all humanity appears when God has experienced and expressed remorse. Prior to the flood, God was simply and unequivocally an authoritarian persona, a bully with no tolerance for dissenters and particularly prone to denigrate women – which explains why Noah and his sons only were blessed. Prior to the flood, God recognized only blind obedience to His orders as expressions of faith and otherwise had only derision and scorn for humans.

Noah, on the other hand, is typical of the passive obedient individual. Noah is praised for his obedience and never challenges God’s decision to destroy humanity and all of nature. He is typical of one who only focuses on self survival of himself and his family and never risks challenging God’s decision. Noah simply wants to escape God’s wrath. Noah is typical of the unquestioning individual who believes whatever he is told and never questions what God means when he says that the world has gone to hell and that He needs to sweep the slate clean and start all over to once again make the world great again. Noah is the exemplification of the silent individual who accepts whatever the prevailing norms are. So Noah can be said in this sense to have abetted God’s heinous crime by going along with the inversion of morality wherein evil is pronounced as good. Noah so idolized God that he fails to see and name the heinous act God commits.

But all is not lost. God experiences remorse. Out of the deluge emerges a new norm, namely to live truth and think trust, think loyalty, think faith. Further, humans will soon learn, though very gradually, that God cannot be an excuse for passivity and indifference in the face of the victimization of others. After the flood, and only after the flood will humans begin to develop a critical self-consciousness.

DiCaprio begins his film with his personal memory of a copy of a triptych painting by Hieronymus Bosch that hung at the foot of his bed and that he went to sleep watching each night. The painting is called, “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” I marvelled at the original myself when we visited the Museo del Prado in Madrid fifteen or so years ago. In the left panel, the viewer sees an idyllic portrait of humans in the Garden of Eden with God when God introduces Eve to Adam to be his help meet.

In the middle there is a large panel of nude humans and phantasmagoric flora and fauna. If I recall correctly, in the documentary DiCaprio saw this panel as representing an overcrowded world whereas I saw it as a different version of Eden in which humans are engaged in various amorous activities, as if the novelty of sex had just been discovered. There is no indication of disgust or shame. All the figures seem at one with nature and it is as if we are merely watching a different phase of the Garden of Eden if humans had not hidden in shame and lied to God, but instead displayed their delight in their nature. It was much more a picture of a delight in the erotic than a portrait of a world that had become corrupt.

The third panel to the right is dark and clearly portrays a bleak world of corruption, but I was never able to understand how Bosch understood how humanity moved from the second to the third panel. Except I did understand that this was not a painting of purgatory, but of contemporary life of corruption when modernity was first making itself presence in the cradle of the transformation of Europe, the Netherlands. Was Bosch prescient about the projection of that genesis into the contemporary world? DiCaprio clearly saw the painting as an allegory of what will happen to the world if we do not get rid of corruption. Although I totally agreed with him about the dangers of climate change, I suspect we differ radically on the metaphysical premises against which the failure to deal with climate change can be read.

But it is an excellent documentary to watch while studying Parashat Noah.

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

75 Trump Aphorisms

An explanation. The following aphorisms or statements are not ones Trump Two-Two would or could make. Nevertheless, they are intended to represent what he thinks even though he is incapable of articulating any one of them. As his surrogate,Kayleigh McEnamy, said after the first presidential debate that Trump Two-Two had with Hillary, his reactions are all visceral rather than reflective. I have tried to be empathetic and make his beliefs conceptually clear. Of course, if Donald ever talked that way, he would lose at least half of his supporters.

75 Trump Aphorisms

by

Howard Adelman

An aphorism is a terse summary of a maxim used as a guide to life and purportedly representing what is held to be generally true or acutely observed by those who repeat the sentiment. “Saying what is on your mind is easy, especially when you are mindless and cannot see what is in front of your nose,” is an example of an aphorism in the form of an insult. Short statements also represent positions taken. Since I do not consider Trump Two-Two capable of expressing a principle or a considered policy – he is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of guy who speaks in simple and too widely held beliefs, all too frequently uttered twice – I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt and act presumptuously as his speech writer. I have written a few beliefs, many in the form of aphorisms, that Trump Two-Two can be presumed to hold, in part to show that I do believe that I can get inside his head and demonstrate that I do not write from a bias. I do hope you get the irony of some of them.

On Facts, Truth, Reason and the Self

1. Some say there must be common sense if we are to have a sense of the commons. A common touch is better than common sense.
2. When reason, used to unravel the riddles of the universe, is also used to make the universe a riddle, unreason takes the stage to unravel common sense.
3. Hyperbole is a white lie designed to bring out a deeper truth than common sense.
4. If truth is not absolute, all thought is subjective; any idea is as good as any other.
5. An idea is only valid if it can be sold, not in the market place of ideas, but in the economic market.
6. Autonomous thoughts, loudly and repeatedly expressed, are as valid as any conclusions of the chattering class.
7. Disregarding logic and evidence is not nonsense but pretense.
8. When philosophers dance on the dais of doubt, anxiety spreads to provide an opening for the fabricator who promises deliverance.
9. Fabulism is the freedom to forge new realities; realism is obsessed with facts and enslaved to what is rather than what can be.
10. When there is no given truth, fabulism deserves equal time with realism in the name of fairness so that the possible can be as plentiful as the actual.
11. Reason not seasoned by common sense needs to be spiced-up by a dose of the blasphemous and the banal.
12. Physical blindness means we cannot see; mindblindness means we cannot know.
13. Do not overrate intellect and underrate imagination. It takes imagination not intellect to appreciate the pleasures of a $500 lunch.
14. Self-consciousness, like the penguin, is overrated.
15. Sturdy individuals are always to be preferred to the studious and the supersensible.

Politics

1. Politics should not be a program of implementing prevailing strategies, but an exercise in demonstrating how nimble you are.
2. The politics of grievance based in resentment energizes both the politics of illusion and the overthrow of the establishment.
3. America is a sea and air power; it need not be a land power. Our army is surplus to our needs. That means that we are free to use our armed forces to expand our wants lest we lend its use to the needs of others.
4. When an ordinary bloke like me can know more about dealing with our enemies than our generals, know more about dealing with our rivals than our diplomats, then we are better off entrusting defence and diplomacy to an artful dodger and a double-dealer. Would you rather have a leader who is tasteless and insipid or one who is openly unsavory?
5. Instead of gab-fests from experts who talk down to you while they ask you to donate blood, instead of an international meeting offering a smorgasbord of non-options, instead of meetings that suck the energy out of you leaving you impotent, attend one of my rallies.
6. Politics should be generous, not uptight. Politics should reach out rather than be hermetic. Politics should be self-regarding rather than being drowned in a concern for others. Politics should be fun and not a Methodist burden.
7. An international meeting is not a place for high mass or for Kol Nidre. It is a squash court rather than a restaurant mistaken for a church.
8. As the refugees in Kakuma Camp must be returned to Sudan, as the refugees in Dadaab must be returned to Mogadishu, as the refugees running rampant in Europe must be returned to the Middle East and Africa, so must the Hispanic illegals in America be returned to the other side of our southern border. The territory of a nation is a refuge for its citizens and not stressed-out strangers.
9. Drop cement reef balls in the sea to allow marine life to flourish instead of placing a moratorium on fishing and expanding the class of enforcers who are such a burden on the lives of ordinary citizens.
10. Instead of treating natural pride as if it were an allergy and acting akin to forbidding peanut butter in lunch boxes, allow all infants to be exposed to peanuts so they can develop their own immune systems and enlarge their national pride.
11. National pride is not a shameful expression but a shameless exercise in exuberance.
12. Tell Senator Elizabeth Warren or Pocahontas that the option is not denial of past crimes towards the indigenous people of America; the option is not exposition and atonement; the option is not redress. Offering members of indigenous people opportunities to participate in an economically expanding nation is the only option.
13. Unpredictability is as virtuous in playing at international politics as in playing poker or making a real estate deal.
14. Would you rather have a leader trained for thirty years to play in the women’s softball league or a man who has played hardball in the major league of international finance?
15. If you have been disenfranchised, I am uninterested in you; if you feel disenfranchised, vote for me.

On Society and America

1. A society’s strength is not founded on guilt and shame, but on guts and shining a light to illuminate success.
2. Lateral inclusion in the name of vertical inclusion sabotages the latter; lateral exclusion ensures vertical exclusion and the “best” will rise to the top.
3. Sound bites and snap shots are necessary to prick the balloons of the bloated pretentions of the high and mighty.
4. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour is a dictum for allowing a stranger to become your neighbour.
5. When the measure is neither man nor God and the belief grows that there is no measure, mischief-makers prosper.
6. I like Jews; they pretend to be waiting for the messiah while they get on with the business of life by treating life as a business.
7. Branding is a virtue as a self-regarding short hand signal to expand the self.
8. In this new age, a leader must be the origin of perception for a whole society to once again allow the spirit of a nation to live in our backyards and driveways.
9. America does not stand for equality; it stands for upward mobility – for the “best” of us. The best is defined by my example – climbing upward while giving anyone who wants to follow me a kick-start.
10. If we are to be immersed in who we are and who we can be, amelioration is insufficient.
11. We need a foundational faith in an America that was once great and can be great again based on being born again, but through self-transcendence rather than grace.
12. A country willing to send troops abroad to participate in a pretend peace instead of willing to fight to the death for victory is a country neither to be admired nor respected.
13. America is a country in crisis; I am the coach that can supply the steroids.
14. America is in freefall towards political obscurity; a superman is needed to swoop down and save it from crashing down to earth.
15. America is at a crossroads. Either it proceeds burdened by carrying a cross or it becomes cross and gets rid of the unfair burdens it carries.

On Doctrine, Values and Lifestyle

1. Sidhartha Mitter characterized my doctrine as “a prosperity gospel for white grievance.” Lauren Collins characterized my doctrine as “the prosperity gospel for male grievances.” White grievances and male grievances are genuine, justifiable and mutually reinforcing.
2. We are at the end of our modern Axial Age. The vision of Yahweh when He proclaimed that, “My house will be a house of prayer for all the peoples,” is dead. Universalism based on care and compassion for all will finally be buried. On the mound of its ashes, I will erect a very tall flagpole recognizing me, my followers and the renewed greatness of America.
3. Meat eater or grass cutter, that is the choice.
4. Ezra cast out foreign wives and children. Follow his guidance, otherwise the assimilation of strangers, who include enemies among us, will threaten our survival.
5. The claim that individuals have responsibilities as well as rights justifies denying the latter in order to impose the former.
6. In the age of sound bites rather than sound arguments, victory goes to he who speaks most and says the least rather than to the one who speaks best.
7. Don’t sabotage yourself in search of perfection; serve yourself to avoid abjection and dejection.
8. Have a good time rather than a good conscience.
9. Aspiration is not hope; aspiration is a promise followed by performance.
10. Be in the moment rather than in bondage to bureaucracy. spontaneity trumps preparation every time.
11. Nostalgia is only valuable when it helps pay the bills.
12. Gut instinct is superior to gut wrenching; the latter leads to torturing yourself while the former allows you to torture others.
13. It is better to trust a crook who you know is a crook than one who is a crook but denies it.
14. Mendacity is a virtue in the hands of a spinner of tales.
15. A man beholden to none is responsible to no one.

On My Persona

1. I am not the messiah. He will be anointed by God. I have anointed myself and ask voters to join me in the ritual.
2. Being boastful and bombastic is a cover for really being pontifical and portentous.
3. Would you prefer the vernacular or the effete?
4. I know what it is to seduce naïve wannabees and the nouveau riche with crispy tongues of sea urchins under yuzu sorbet instead of an excellent hamburger.
5. At Mar-a-Logo, we do not offer detailed descriptions of every dish, thus interfering with conversation; we do not offer fact checks to interrupt your pleasure; we do offer intermissions to enhance your joy.
6. I am affable. I am gracious. I am not an ass-licker; I prefer my pleasures to come from the other side.
7. There may be a difference between pomposity and pretension, but I see none.
8. I would rather offer ostentation than pretension.
9. I attract ambition. I attract talent. I expand my palette to offer everyone a chance to move up – as long as I am at the top.
10. I want my broads to be delicious. I want my food to be delicious. I want my politics to be delicious. Life is not a monastery for monks forced to take part in a public world.
11. I inspire rather than trying to make an impression.
12. I refuse to cater to technique at the expense of terrain; technique must be tamed to secure and expand terrain.
13. Hillary and Barack still live in an analog world; I belong to the digital age.
14. Testosterone may make you a bull in a china shop, but that is infinitely better than estrogen used in selling that china.
15. My ambition in life has always been riches and bitches; since politics is a bitch, seduction is required, especially if the latter enhances the pursuit of the former.

Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders: The Final Four Reasons – Virtue and Truth

Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders

Part IV: The Final Four Reasons – Virtue and Truth

by

Howard Adelman

  1. Independence, Virtue, Authenticity and Commitment

When Bernie Sanders first ran for mayor in Burlington, Vermont, he campaigned on the effective slogan: return power to the people. “The goal must be to take political power away from the handful of millionaires who currently control it through Mayor [Gordon] Paquette and place that power in the hands of the working people of the city who are the vast majority of the Burlington population.” He has not changed a whit in over thirty years just as his stump speech in this campaign has remained the same almost word for word.; only the enemies are richer and more powerful. And Bernie Sanders has boasted with great pride that he has preserved his independence from these special interests.

Donald Trump has run on a similar platform, arguing that he is independent because his campaign is self-financed rather than funded by millions of $27 donations. Trump has also argued that politicians are in the pay of special interests; he should know, he claims, because he paid politicians to do his bidding. The accusations are similar, but Trump wants to take power away from those vested interests and give it to himself as the leader of a populist campaign. Bernie wants to give it to the people. Further, Bernie stands on a platform of virtue; Donald stands on a self-confessed platform of vice.

In addition to a platform of independence, in addition to a platform of virtue, Bernie has communicated to the youth of America an authenticity heretofore lacking in most politicians who come across as opportunists and power hungry. Bernie, in contrast, operates on a solid foundation of personal sincerity. Further, at 75 years, Bernie is probably the most vigorous and unstoppable campaigner in the electoral arena. So he has been running on the basis of character as well as policy and he exudes both conviction and commitment. No bespoke suits for this frumpy, indeed grumpy, politician. No speech coaches to try to hide his heavy Brooklyn accent. He is a politician who listens to and provides a megaphone for a host of grievances. He not only hyperventilates the concerns of others, but he also stretches his points to the absolute breaking point. There is no subtlety. There is no nuance. Israel practices disproportionate warfare. Wall Street practices economic warfare against the ordinary people of America. Period!

At the same time, Bernie does not practice personality politics. He shunted aside charges against Hillary Clinton’s problems with her emails. He focuses almost entirely on policy issues. He also remains immune to personal attacks and, more importantly, to disparaging comments that “he cannot win.” And he does so by winning time after time by repeatedly recognizing and appealing to the disaffected. When you combine character with commitment, faith in oneself and one’s beliefs with faith in the fundamental decency of ordinary Americans, and you do so in a social, economic and political context of gross injustice, of increasing class differences, of increased accumulation of profits by the rich and super-rich, and a political system deliberately manipulated to disenfranchise those most in need through voter suppression, the appeal goes beyond the call to the undocumented, the unemployed and the underpaid to rise up. Bernie talks to the conscience in us all, but particularly the conscience and idealism of young people. He also speaks to the insecure and stresses the source of greatest insecurity of all, particularly for young people, the drastic threats they face in the future as a result of climate change.

The economy is “rigged to make a fortunate few very well off while leaving most Americans struggling to keep up.” However, internationally, his sense of injustice is somewhat askew. While he opposes free trade deals with countries like China, which pays its workers relatively little, he also opposes the NAFTA trade deal with Canada, a trade deal under which job shifts have moved in both directions. Further, Canada is a country with a trade union movement relatively much stronger than the movement in the U.S. But the positions of unskilled workers in both countries have been weakened, not by free trade as much as by a manufacturing economy transitioning into a communications economy.

However, an analysis in terms of appeal is itself suspect. It does not matter whether the appeal comes as a result of populist “fascism” or populist “socialism.” It does not matter whether the appeal comes from the honesty, sincerity and compassion of a simple peanut farmer or the smiling sophisticated charisma of a charmer, whether JFK or Bill Clinton, or from the optimistic smiling Reagan selling the politics of positivism as a cover for negatively affecting the lives of most Americans.

The politics of personality is only a slight improvement on the politics of fear. One reason NOT to vote for Bernie is because the element of appeal ranks so significantly in his campaign.

  1. Associates

A man, or a woman, so the cliché goes, is known by the company he keeps. Just as people in ordinary life need friends and companions, politicians need associates. A politician is measured, in part, by the associates he hires and by how he disassociates from them when they prove to be disappointing. Just as friends, influence our character and conduct, so do associates of politicians. My tenth grandchild in Duncan, BC may only be 14 months old, but you can watch daily how much le learns by imitation. In that sense, if we really do remain as learners, we continue to learn by imitation all our lives. And the ones we learn from most are our friends and associates.

Like also attracts like. Affinity is but one version of magnetic attraction. To quote another cliché, birds of the same feather flock together. Anyone who has read Jerzy Kosińsky’s 1965 novel, The Painted Bird, also knows that if one of the birds of that flock is painted with a brush, he or she stands out and is quickly either killed but certainly driven out of the flock. Simone Zimmerman was hired last week by the Bernie campaign as an agent of outreach to the Jewish community, more accurately, as we shall see, as an agent of outreach to the disaffected from the Jewish community, particularly those disaffected and even enraged by the conduct of Israel.

26-year-old Simone was an ideal candidate for that position. She wrote, “No public relations trick can save Israel’s image. The problem isn’t with the hasbara [public relations]. The problem is nearly 50 years of occupation. The problem is rampant racism in Israeli society. The problem is attacks on human rights defenders by extremists and by the state. The problem is a Jewish establishment that ignores or justifies all of this.” And Simone was not just an unaffiliated Jew, but is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, had attended Jewish day school and been raised in a Conservative practicing Jewish family. She had been active in United Synagogue Youth and had visited Israel numerous times. However, in college, though she began as a committed Zionist college student who, in Berkeley, protested against BDS and attended AIPAC-sponsored meetings for Jewish youth, she became radicalized by observing the way Israel treated both its own Palestinian citizens and Palestinians under occupation.

Initially, in her transition phase to a more radical posture, she joined J-Street, the pro-Israel but critical of Israel camp. As a very bright but now disaffected young Jew, she went to Israel and studied colloquial Arabic at Hebrew University.  Though she never became a supporter of BDS, she gradually shifted to defend the right of BDS to advocate its position. In sum, she seemed to be a perfect fit for Bernie’s efforts to attract Jewish disaffected youth – and there are plenty of them. For Simone Zimmerman now belonged to a community of young Jews who saw it as their mission to bring “American Jews to do civil resistance work in solidarity with West Bank Palestinians.”

But two days after she was hired, she was “suspended.” The bird that had just joined the flock had suddenly been painted, not with the radically critical of Israel brush, but of using very colourful negative language in describing the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. She, like Bernie himself, saw American politicians, including Hillary Clinton, not only just cow towing to the Israeli leader, but as defending everything he did as right. This accusation is a blatant falsehood. But she was not suspended for her strong critique of Netanyahu, but because she had used swear words in her depiction of him. She was dismissed because of how she had painted her own feathers and not because of the substance of what she believed.

I have no objections to the Bernie camp for hiring Simone. She clearly belonged to his flock and helped us understand the flock of geese he was leading. I do object to his firing her for the trivial reason that she used much more colourful language in depicting Bibi that Bernie chose to use. But in today’s world, what is a swear word or two between friends – or associates? The reasons for hiring Simone Zimmerman were valid given Bernie’s beliefs. The reasons for dismissing or, more accurately, suspending her, are far more suspect, not simply in the injustice in the treatment of Simone, but in the totally “disproportionate” – Bernie’s word – and indeed cowardly treatment of this young, ardent and outspoken Jew for vocalizing what Bernie himself said in much more polite language.

  1. Truth and Judgement

Louis René Beres, a retired political science professor from Princeton University, in an op-ed on Bernie Sanders, quoted Karl Jaspers’ aphorism that, “Our enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing, and wants to know nothing, of truth.”  This generalization, this acute but terse observation, was applied to Bernie. And I believe correctly applied. Bernie is into hyperbole, not truth. Bernie prefers the sweeping generalization to sharp distinctions. Bernie opts for expansionist rather than succinct language. He is not a man of few words. While he claims to speak truth to power, he actually addresses power with slogans. Instead of a measured approach to whether and to what degree Israel used disproportionate force in Operation Protective Edge, his language was unmeasured. As it is when he attacks the Big Banks, Wall Street and international trade agreements. As it was when he suspended Simone Zimmerman for the lack of measure in terms of manners rather than the content in her language.

Bernie would do well to sit at the feet of Beres to appreciate the subtleties of strategic choices, the nuances of international jurisprudence and the underlying forces propelling conflict on the world stage. And whatever they are, and however much we appreciate and admire treating the Other with dignity and respect, this has only a marginal role in international affairs. Though Bernie is far better than Donald Trump, he suffers from a similar condition of ignorance of international affairs, surprising for a Senator of the United States and shocking for any candidate seeking the most powerful office in the world. I fear he would be an even worse president than Jimmy Carter in this respect.

  1. Citizenship

Donald Trump campaigned long and hard against Barack Obama for being ineligible to be president since Donald doubted that Barack Obama could prove he was born in the United States, even after he produced what every authority said was an authentic birth certificate proving that he was born in Hawaii. Then Diane Rehm of National Public Radio accused Bernie of being a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Israel.

Rehm: “Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.”

Sanders: “No, I do not have dual citizenship with Israel, I’m an American. Don’t know where that question came from. I’m an American citizen. I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I’m an American citizen, period.”

Rehm: “I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list. Forgive me if that …”

Sanders: “No, that’s some of the nonsense that goes on in the Internet. But that is absolutely not true.”

Rehm had mistakenly and irresponsibly taken as fact a charge made on a notorious anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist site which shows the Star of David displacing the Stars and Stripes. She later apologized for that. Bernie is not and never has been a citizen of Israel even though he went there to work as a volunteer on a kibbutz as an inspired idealist when he was young.

My tenth reason for not voting for Bernie concerns citizenship, but it is definitely not because I suspect the authenticity of Bernie Sanders’ citizenship. The reason is far simpler. I am the one who is not a citizen of the U.S. Thus, I am not eligible to vote. But I am a Canadian who believes deeply in our entitlement to participate fully and vicariously in the American electoral process. So though I will not, and, more importantly, cannot vote for Bernie, I will not stop commenting.

Besides, my six children, three of whom are Americans, still need my guidance even when they do not recognize their own needs.

Trust and Betrayal: Five Foreign Films

Trust and Betrayal: Five Foreign Films

by

Howard Adelman

Butterfly (La Lengua de Las Mariposas) (1999) by José Luis Cuerda set in Spain in 1936

Ida (2014) by Pawel Pawlikowski set in Poland in 1962

Entre Nos (2009) by Paola Mendoza set in New York City about 1980

Two Lives (Zwei Leben) (2012) by George Maas set in 1990 in Bergen, Norway and Germany

1000 Times Good Night (2013) by Erik Poppe set in this century in Afghanistan, Ireland and northern Kenya

Preamble

I have been AWOL for over a week. I have to finish writing about niqabs and oaths in Canadian domestic policy and I am desperate to write about my reflections on Netanyahu’s stupendous victory in the Israeli elections. I cannot say that I have been very terribly busy with my new grandson. Leo is so tiny, sleeps almost all the time, and his mother is so tired from feeding him every two hours that visiting makes you feel like you are taking precious minutes away from her needed sleep. Leo is on schedule of gaining two ounces per day. I offer to help but recognize that I am virtually useless and in the way. Nancy, of course, is more helpful because she can prepare them a good meal. So I spend my time catching up on six months of neglected business details and, what else, watching movies. I am like an alcoholic who has been attending AA for four months and suddenly gets to take a drink. One cuppa barely satiates. So of the twenty or so movies I saw, I have selected only five – all superb films and all incidentally with the common theme of betrayal.

Betrayal

Why is betrayal such a common theme in novels, plays and movies, but especially movies? Arthur Miller in The Crucible described betrayal as “the only truth that hurts.” That is correct for four very different reasons. First, betrayal is usually a shocking revelation that runs counter to what you previously believed. Second, the revelation is not only a reversal, but it causes enormous emotional and physical pain; betrayal is often depicted as the cause of the worst pain anyone could ever feel. Third, the penetration goes very deep. Finally, betrayal leaves visible scars. This is true whether the betrayer is someone close to you – a mentor, a family member or a lover – or even worse, when you betray yourself. Of course, the two may go together, betraying oneself when you betray another or you may betray yourself for another or another to preserve yourself. This may take place even when betrayed by a lover, friend or relative. For when the other betrays you, you feel that you have also betrayed yourself by having allowed yourself to trust another.

In romantic literature, betrayal is the most heinous crime. Rather than betray another or yourself, heroism prefers that you die. The adage, “To thine own self be true,” demands death rather than self-betrayal or betrayal of a comrade. In the real world, those who profess loyalty as the highest virtue are often the first to betray their friends and themselves. As Albert Camus’ character who professes loyalty as the highest virtue in The Fall says, “I don’t believe there is a single person I loved that I didn’t eventually betray.” Further, it is fiction writers and creators who have offered the greatest insights into the notion of “betrayal,” not philosophers. As Judith Sklar and Robert Johnson wrote (The Ambiguities of Betrayal and Frames of Deceit), betrayal is more effectively understood through literature and, I would add, even more so, through the dramatic arts.

Not that philosophers have not tried – Sklar and Johnson are cases in point. And they are far from the only ones. Nachman Ben-Yehuda’s 2001 work Betrayals and Treason Violations of Trust and Loyalty framed all forms of betrayals as breaches of trust with moral norms setting the standards for trust. But there is a dilemma and I put it forth in the depiction of trust that I try to establish with my readers when I review a movie. The general principle is that one does not give the plot away, or when one must, as a reviewer you forewarn the reader by putting in a text a “spoiler warning”. But that is akin to a seducer telling a seducee that he will eventually betray her, thus posing an extra challenge to and enticement for the one being seduced. Spoiler warnings are of little help unless applied to the whole review.

The problem is particularly acute in movies where the major theme is about betrayal. How can you describe the movie without mentioning the type of disloyalty and betrayal at work, who is betraying and who is betrayed? But the plot most often turns on such revelations. My answer is to write about betrayal movies in a cluster and talk generally about the theme with insights on that theme that the movie provides. In other words, the movie is used to inform myself and the reader about the topic rather than my informing the reader about the specifics of the film.

The Five Foreign Films

All films discussed are foreign films – Spanish, Polish, two Norwegian/German movies. Even the American movie, Entre Nos set in Queens in New York, is like a foreign film since almost all of it is in Spanish with English subtitles. All the movies are intensely political and social films, but not one of them is so directly. Indirection unites all five movies as each one focuses intently and intensely on the lives of individuals and their relationships with one another. They are all movies about families and the way the external world of violence and force impinges on the intimate moments of life. All, surprisingly, are coming of age films even though they deal with different ages (Butterfly – age 8: Ida – age 18; Entre Nos – ages 6 & 10; Two Lives about late teens and a 1001 Good Nights, though primarily about the mother is also about her older daughter of about 16 and their relationship. I review them not in the order in which I saw them, but in terms of the time in history in which they are set and primarily about the lessons each film teaches us about betrayal and loyalty rather than about the specifics of the film.

Butterfly (La Lengua de Las Mariposas) (1999) by José Luis Cuerda

The tongue of a butterfly, as the gentle teacher verging on retirement, Don Gregorio (Fernando Fernán Gómez), tells his fascinated and eager young pupils, is rolled up in a butterfly’s mouth like a spiral which you cannot even see with the naked eye but require a microscope to view. When a butterfly lands on a flower, the tongue unfurls in a fraction of a second to suck up the sweet nectar of the plant in its straw proboscis before it flies off. The butterfly’s tongue could be the unseen, invisible to the human eye without a microscope, tightly spiraled tension lurking below and beyond the life of this beautiful and beatific small town in Galicia, Spain in 1936, between tradition (the priest with a rod) and progress (the teacher with a book), between violent force and the tranquility of nature, between Monarchists and Republicans, between fascists and democrats. This tensed-up tongue only springs forth near the end of the movie, at the same time as the microscope supplied by the school board in Madrid arrives just as the army that has staged a coup to overthrow the Republic does.

However, I suspect the curled up spiral tongue of the butterfly has the very opposite symbolic meaning. The process of education, loving and appreciating, admiring the miracle of what we see and what we hear, is the invisible tongue that will spring forth and draw on the sweetness of life and, in return, deliver hope, peace and trust and not fear, violence and betrayal. So though betrayal takes place, the movie is primarily a paean to trust.

The central character is an eight-year-old boy, Moncho (Manuel Lozano), the son of a mildly republican tailor, a religious Catholic mother and brother of a saxophone-playing 15-year-old teenager, Andrés (Alexis de los Santos). In one of the three short stories of Manuel Rivas from which the film was adapted (“A lingua das bolboretas,” “Un saxo na néboa,” and “Carmiña” in his book Que me queres, amor?), Moncho learns that butterflies have their own language. (Moncho aprendió que las mariposas tienen su propria lengua.) Moncho, an asthmatic youngster who missed his first few years of school, is terrorized by the prospect of facing teachers who, he has been told, beat students with a stick. Initially, humiliated on the opening day, through the beneficence of Don Gregorio, he learns to love school, finds a close friend and becomes confident enough of his own self to tackle the rich man’s spoiled son when he rides his bike into the side of his best friend. The film is a voyage of his discovering how to trust the outside world and himself.

As a composite of vignettes, the film is, however, a drama building towards betrayal, to how one’s loyalty to one person forces upon us a choice and one where moral principles may be sacrificed to the need for survival. In real life, for the women who compose the Colombian Butterflies (Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro) and who earned the Nansen Refugee Award last year for their willingness to put their lives on the line to assist forcibly displaced women who have been subject to sexual or physical violence, the butterfly in the end is not a symbol of political and personal betrayal, but the symbol of an insect that flaps its wings with a motion that reverberates around the world. Though the film ends with betrayal, both political by the fascists and interpersonal, the movie itself brims with beauty and hope. Like Julia Alavarez’ In the Time of the Butterflies, also, like the Colombian butterflies, is about the courage of women in the face of Trujillo’s fascist regime of fear and intimidation, in the movie, Butterfly, warmth and vitality are left as promises that will eventually overcome violence, fear and mistrust.

Ida (2014) set in Poland in 1962

If Butterfly or The Tongue of a Butterfly is a somewhat nostalgic film set in 1936 in Spain on the crest of that country’s descent into fascism constructed into a film narrative through a series of vignettes, Ida, directed by the Polish-English director Pawel Pawlikowaski, is set in 1962 Poland under communism. Poland, no stranger to betrayal by allies and enemies alike, in the previous decade had witnessed the betrayal of its own resistance movement against Hitler’s regime by the communists, who took control as many if not most of the heroes of that resistance faced show trials and were murdered by the new red regime. One of the two main characters, Wanda Gruz or Red Wanda (Agata Kulesza), is based loosely on the historical figure of Helena Wolińska-Brus who was also a hero of the resistance but a communist one and a Jew who became a state prosecutor possibly in some of those show trials as the communists consolidated their power. If she did not personally betray her fellow resistance fighters, she was an enthusiastic participant in a regime that did.

But the political betrayals are only alluded to and constitute the background of the movie that evolves as a road movie, a continuous narrative rather than a series of vignettes, but told through film shots that have a canny resemblance to black and white photographs with the emphasis on light and shadow. The beauty of the film as photos rather than a moving picture is unmatched. Lucasz Żal, originally Ryszard Lenczewski’s assistant as the cinematographer, eventually took over when the latter became ill and both are credited with the absolutely marvelous cinematography. That evocation of the period is also helped by a film shot not in the customary wide-angled ratio, but the now unusual 1:33 frame or 4:3 horizontal to vertical ratio.

Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a novitiate in a nunnery who meets Wanda when her Mother Superior (Ida has spent all of her conscious life in that nunnery) insists, that before she takes her final vows, she go out into the wider world and meet her family, more particularly her aunt, Red Wanda, from whom she learns that she had Jewish parents (her mother was Wanda’s sister, Rose, whose married name was Lebenstein) and had been hidden in a nunnery to save her from the Nazis. The two travel together to locate and rebury the bodies of Ida’s parents.

Before the end of the film, even as the two learn to trust one another and prove that blood is deeper than belief (communist or Christian) or radical differences in lifestyle, Wanda will come face to face with her betrayal and Ida will herself betray her “calling” before she decides on her future identity. And both will come face to face with the many sides of betrayal that are part of Polish history but which are very understated in this very constrained, compact, concise, careful and caring minimalist movie. There is an interesting parallel between Butterfly and Ida in the complementary role of jazz and, in particular, the saxophone, an instrument in dream theory that usually represents both closeness with another and expression of the deepest notes in your own soul. Ida, however, is a leben stein, a living stone, a symbol not of self-expression, but of that which has been left unsaid, of impassivity and inscrutability, of austerity and serving as a mute witness to horror and disintegration, characteristics very foreign to today’s 18-year-old girls. The actions take place through the eyes as windows into the soul with notations via slight movements of Ida’s mouth. This is an ambiguous movie, not only as it unfolds, but in its very ending.

This movie needs no additional praise from me. David Denby in The New Yorker called it the year’s best film. At 2013 TIFF, it won the special presentations award, one of many accolades received including Best European Film Academy Award, the People’s Choice Award, the Best Film Award by the British Film Academy of a movie not in the English language, and the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film Award.  It is a movie that has to be seen and can be enjoyed in full on a television screen at home watching Netflix.

Entre Nos (2009) by Paola Mendoza

This film is painful to watch and you will never observe people collecting bottles and cans from your or your neighbours’ trash cans without wincing and recalling it. Though at first viewing it might seem to be foremost about society’s betrayal of those at the bottom of the rung, especially immigrants and more particularly women abandoned by their husbands, the film is primarily about loyalty and trust, between the mother (Mariana) and her children (Andrea 6 and Gabriel 10) and between the siblings themselves. Paola Mendoza, who plays the mother in the film and directed the movie as well as co-wrote the script, is in reality the young girl in the movie. The film is a tribute to her own mother. Further, if it were not for the help of some strangers – a Latino woman who owns a food truck, an ostensibly hard-headed south Asian landlady, a competing Black can collector – it is hard to see how an abandoned mother with two young children could have made it on the streets of Queens. So although the movie is about betrayal, in the end it is a movie about trust and hope and dreams. The film is itself a testament to the belief that dreams can and do come true. It is a movie not to be missed.

Two Lives (Zwei Leben) (2012) by George Maas

Two Lives could more accurately have been translated as A Double Life, for it is a movie about spies, inherently betrayers by definition, but set largely in a context of the family members with whom the protagonist relates – her mother (Ase (Liv Ulmann), her husband, Bjarte (Sven Nordin), a Norwegian naval officer, and her daughter (Julia Bache-Wiig) and young baby. Katrine (Juliane Köhler) is a happily-married mother living in Norway whose past role as a Stasi spy catches up with her as a result of circumstances beyond her control. The paradox of this film of betrayal at all levels is that the very profession of spying depends on and demands absolute loyalty and allows no deviation. And we know of this betrayal very early in the film as the mother sneaks off to Germany disguised as “Vera” to attempt to destroy the record of a second life whose identity she stole. Those are the two lives of the film’s title, the one cut short and the other who lived to have a very fulfilled and loving life until it all came crashing down with the revelations of betrayal.

Like the first two films reviewed above, the film depends on real historical events set in pre- and post-WWII. The Nazis with their Aryan racist theories promoted its SS officers to seduce blond blue-eyed Scandinavians. In occupied Norway, the children born out of wedlock were sent back to Germany and raised in orphanages. After the war, the mothers were doubly betrayed, first by the Nazi fathers of their bastard children and then by their own nation which persecuted them as traitors. But it was the children who suffered most of all.

The film is set in Norway just after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of communism. The search for truth that followed, a search that itself will serve eventually to betray everyone, the mother, the “daughter”, the husband and the two children. As Arthur Miller in his reflections on the McCarthy era in his play, The Crucible, noted, “Betrayal is the only truth that sticks,” or, as I would now word it, in such a context, the search for “truth” can be the ultimate betrayer and betrayal is at the heart of the search for truth.  In this movie, betrayal wrecks love and trust and leaves behind only a horrible mess. The irony of the film is that the central betrayer is also viewed as the one most betrayed both by history, by the state and by her own family.

This is not a movie that will leave the viewer with a deep belief in trust, hope and love, for the outcome of betrayal is to learn to distrust trust and regard trust as the primary mistake, not betrayal. In the end, the contest is really not between evil, disloyalty and mistrust versus goodness loyalty and trust, but between competing loyalties and the way evil manipulates those tensions to seduce individuals to betray both themselves and those closest to them.

1000 Times Good Night (2013) by Erik Poppe

This Irish-Norwegian co-production is also an award winning film having won the Special Grand Prix of the jury at the 2013 Montreal World Film Festival. Of the five films reviewed, this movie is set in the most recent history and is the only movie of the five in English. It is located in both Ireland and the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya sometime in the last 10 years, but opens with one of the most horrendous openings set in Afghanistan as a female suicide bomber is filmed going through the preparation rituals and the actual self-detonation with its many casualties.

Juliette Binoche plays Rebecca, herself a prize-winning photojournalist determined to expose the truth with pictures, first of the horrors of Afghanistan and then the evil of civil war in now independent South Sudan and the relative failure of intervention by bystanders, including the hapless and helpless idealistic humanitarian Norwegians working in the Kakuma refugee camp that has been a refuge for those fleeing the Sudan civil war or, possibly, the civil war currently underway in newly independent South Sudan. Having been in Kakuma, the setting is as accurate as the violent action and the film does not betray the actual refugees in the camp.

Of the five movies, this is the one that is most gripping and deeply visceral both in terms of action and in terms of emotional conflict within and between the main protagonists as well as in the violent action scenes set in the camp. It is also the film that is about betrayal both as a backdrop and about the tension between personal loyalty to one’s mission in life and one’s creativity versus loyalty to family, both husband. Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and children, the young emotionally-troubled teenager, Steph (Lauryn Canny) and her younger bubbly six-year-old sister (Adrianna Cramer Curtis). Which will Rebecca choose – her family or her life’s mission to expose human betrayal of other humans? Since the viewer is also watching the photographer vicariously, then the movie-goer is both the passive bystander and an individual caught up in the family emotions as well as the conflicts of our age. Sometimes we see what Rebecca sees. At other times we watch Rebecca as she sees and reacts to what she experiences.

But the ironies abound. When Rebecca chooses her family and surrenders her career in the face of family fears, this inadvertently thrusts he back into the centre of violence. As viewers, we all know it is coming and this anticipation adds to the edginess of the film. In Butterfly, survival trumps mission. In 1,000 Times Good Night, the personal mission appears to trump personal survival and she is as dedicated to her mission as the female suicide bomber is to hers, both willing to sacrifice themselves and the ties with their family members. If betrayal is to be measured by the willingness to sacrifice oneself for another, then Rebecca is the greatest betrayer, for she is willing to sacrifice herself in being a witness to the truth even if it causes great pain to her family

Post Reflections

The problem with philosophers dealing with betrayal as a concept – or, for that matter, most academics – is that they are wedded to clear and distinct ideas whereas the best movies are married to subtlety and ambiguity. Avoiding the simplistic dichotomy, the real issues are whom to betray and for what, to tell the truth even if it causes enormous pain to those closest to you or to try to perpetuate a lie to protect loved ones from that pain and conform to their hopes and expectations of you. For true and deep betrayal requires a prior trust. Thus, the Nazis did not betray us or the German people. They delivered what they promised, except for the ultimate victory of evil over good. The real conflict underlying betrayal is whether one should be loyal to one’s personal mission in life or sacrifice that quest for personal fulfillment for the obligations one owes those closest to us. To thine own self be true or be true to another.

It is the simple romantic version of betrayal to which scholars and philosophers are wedded. Nachman Ben-Yehuda, a renowned professor at Hebrew University, is a case in point. He is not only an expert on the concept of betrayal, but almost single-handedly in the pursuit of truth (Sacrificing Truth) destroyed the Zionist myth of Masada and the belief in self-sacrifice for a nation in the name of slavery rather than death. For his scholarship proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the Sicarii who committed suicide on Masada were not much different than today’s ideologically-driven suicide bombers. They were just as willing, even more willing, to sacrifice the lives of their fellow Hebrews as their Roman enemies. They were not heroic resistance fighters but cowards who took their own lives rather than fight the Romans to the last one standing. In his scholarly pursuit of the truth, Ben-Yehuda, in service to that truth, betrayed a fundamental myth of his own country and one of its founding heroes, Yigal Yadin, a former chief of staff of the IDF and an archeologist who distorted evidence to fortify a founding myth of the state.

In this way, movie reviews and politics connect.