CORRECTION: MUNICH REVISITED Thursday, Aug 4 2016 

My most recent post spoke of the similarity between Donald Trump and a 20th-century Munich beer hall Fuehrer. It now appears that a more appropriate Munich parallel would be a 19th-century model, Mad Ludwig of Bavaria.

Sound bite to remember

“I always voted at my party’s call
And never thought of thinking for myself at all.”

— Gilbert and Sullivan

TRUMP OF THE WILL: Is the Republican Nominee the Man in the Munich Beer Hall?  Friday, Jul 29 2016 

 

            “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

                        –George Santayana

I quote this hackneyed aphorism only to tear it down. The problem, I would tell Santayana if we were to hash things out over a Starbucks coffee, is that the past never repeats itself in recognizable form.

True, if a little man in a brown shirt were today denouncing Jews in a Munich beer hall and we didn’t do something about it, we’d get what we deserved. But history, though its underlying DNA may be the same, arrives in different forms. Not only that, it loves to confound the pundits.

Consider how literary pundits over the years, from Sinclair Lewis to Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey, foresaw the decline and fall of American democracy.

Lewis, in his novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” projected the rise of an American dictator, Berzelius Windrip, a rural populist patterned after Louisiana’s Huey Long. Knebel and Bailey, in “Seven Days in May,” foresaw the coming American dictator as a military hero, a strongman in uniform like General Douglas MacArthur.

But who, other than a Mel Brooks-style satirist, until six months ago would ever have sketched a scenario featuring as a would-be American dictator a Manhattan real estate-casino hustler — anything but a rural populist — whose military record consists of draft deferments equal to those of Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney?

Only in America. But not the 20th century America of Huey Long and Douglas MacArthur. No, the Twitter-brained, selfie-loving America of Donald Trump.

Yet, wait. Before we determine whether Vladimir Putin’s preferred presidential candidate is a bizarre reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, let’s check whether he passes the first test of Munich beer hall animadversion: Is Trump anti-Jewish? (I use the term anti-Jewish to be specific, since his anti-Semitism — Arabs being Semites — is well established.)

At first take the answer would seem to be, “Of course not. His son-in-law is Jewish and his daughter’s a convert.” But then we come to the puzzling business of his refusal to fully repudiate the backing of neo-Nazi supporters like David Duke and his furious defense of an anti-Clinton tweet featuring a Star of David backed by dollar bills.

So what’s the answer? For my part I call on a story once told by Louisiana Congressman Hale Boggs who, while running for governor, was “defended” by Governor Earl Long, after being accused of having been a Communist during his college days.

“Hale can’t be a Communist,” Long told a crowd in north Louisiana. “He’s not only a Catholic but a close friend of the archbishop.” Long said this, as Boggs pointed out, knowing that his audience of hard-shell Baptists would sooner vote for a Communist than “a close friend” of a Catholic archbishop.

“So I called Long the next morning,” as Boggs told the story, “and said I didn’t appreciate his injecting religion into the campaign. He said, ‘Hale, you know I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body.’ And I said, ‘I know you don’t, Governor, but you know that other people do, and you know how to use it.’”

Jewish son-in-law? Convert daughter? Donald Trump obviously doesn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body. But he knows that other people do, and ….

Sound bite to remember

“God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America.”

–Otto von Bismarck, proclaiming what was true in 1870 and, we may hope, in November 2016

 

An Open Letter To Barry Goldwater on Why I Am Leaving the Republican Party Tuesday, Mar 8 2016 

 

Dear Barry,

Since your running for president over half a century ago brought me into the Republican Party, I figure you’re the one to tell why I’m leaving it.

To get straight to the point, do you remember the bullshitting New York real estate hustler who made a reputation opening (and bankrupting) Atlantic City casinos when you were still around? The spoiled rich kid who inherited $200 million from his father, was born on third base and brags he hit a triple? Dumped his first wife to marry a young model, then dumped her to marry a younger model?

That’s right, Donald Trump. In your day we thought he was a Democrat because he gave so much money to Democratic candidates. But lo and behold he now claims he’s a conservative Republican and thinks he should be the party’s 2016 candidate for president.

No foreign policy experience. No domestic policy experience. But what the hell, since cursing Washington and looking down at the rest of the world is all the current party base now seems to want, he’s their man.

Oh, I forgot: No military experience either. Four Favorite Son deferments during the Vietnam War, enough draft-dodging to make Bill Clinton look like Sergeant York. Yet he had the rich kid’s temerity to call John McCain a “loser” for spending five years in a prisoner-of-war camp.

Not that he doesn’t have foreign and domestic policy ideas, e.g., he’d round up and deport 11 million Mexican immigrants because, as he tells his crowds, Mexicans are “rapists”; he’d build a wall across the Rio Grande and “make Mexico pay for it”; he’d bar all Muslims from entering the country, put full-scale surveillance on all mosques, authorize torture and waterboarding (“even if it doesn’t work”) and go after Middle Eastern terrorists by killing their families. (No, Barry, I am not making this up.)

Of course, carrying out policies like that is bound to attract criticism, but Trump has ideas on how to handle that, too. He’d tighten the libel laws to muzzle the press, and for those critics who heckle his speeches he’d encourage their being “roughed up” – the roughing possibly carried out by followers of the neo-Nazi Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, whose support Trump can’t find the full-throated voice to repudiate.

I can imagine what you’re thinking about now: A megalomaniacal nut case like that is going nowhere in a party that claims to be conservative. Sorry to break the news and I hope whatever cloud bank you’re on you’re sitting down, but barring a political miracle before the convention, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president in 2016.

There’ll be some sideshow skirmishes, of course, since a sizeable number of party leaders will try to block his nomination. They see it as an aberration. Trump’s outrageous posturing, says one such leader, Paul Ryan, doesn’t reflect “who we are.” But the evidence, to my eyes, is otherwise; which is to say that Trumpism isn’t so much the problem as a symptom of the problem.

Remember how, back when you were Mr. Conservative, you’d get together with liberal Democrats in the Senate to work out compromise legislation? Your slogan was, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.” Well for the past decade, Republicans in Congress have considered compromise a dirty word, and those who think otherwise get removed from office by political Luddites who call themselves the Tea Party. You wanted to limit the size of government. The Luddites want to do away with it altogether. They talk about fighting “the Establishment,” but as this year’s primaries show, they now are the Republican Establishment.

Proof of that? The runner-up to Trump in the race for the nomination is Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose claim to fame is a penchant for shutting down the government not only by refusing to expand the debt limit but, if necessary, to defund Planned Parenthood. (That’s right, the same Planned Parenthood your wife, Peggy, belonged to.)

Again, sorry to ruin your day, but leaving the party you brought me into is no easy matter; though I have a feeling if you were still around it’d be easier because you’d be leading the exit.

–As ever, Vic

 

Sound bite to remember

“Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.”

–John F. Kennedy, on refusing to appoint someone to a judgeship he considered unqualified

Divided We Stand Saturday, Feb 13 2016 

Of all the charges leveled at Barack Obama by his Republican critics – that he was born in Kenya, that he foisted an unconstitutional health care program on an unsuspecting Congress – one stands up: He promised to unite the country and failed to do so.

It was a foolish promise, but Obama wasn’t the first presidential candidate to make it. That would be Richard Nixon, who in the tumultuous election year of 1968, promised – in addition to having a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War – that he would “bring us together.”

Needless to say, that didn’t happen. As a presidential pledge it was BS then, it’s BS now, and as long as this country remains a working democracy, it will always be BS. We have never, not even in the founding days of the republic, been a “united” country in the sense that political factionalism and societal disharmony didn’t exist.

George Washington was accused of having kingly ambitions, and though I wasn’t around at that time, I was when, during the heaviest fighting of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt’s Republican opponents denounced him as an incompetent commander-in-chief. (The slogan for the Republican ticket of Thomas Dewey and John Bricker in 1944 was WIN THE WAR QUICKER WITH DEWEY AND BRICKER.)

I also remember being at Vice President Agnew’s side during the presidential campaign of 1972 when a reporter asked him to respond to the charge that his speeches were “divisive.” Agnew’s answer: “Divisive means ‘to divide.’ I thought that’s what elections were all about.”

Unity? It’s a rhetorical fancy advanced by those who really mean, “Why don’t we settle our differences by your agreeing with my position?”

Which is to say I hope I don’t live to see the day when we have a “unified” country; the sort, that is, that Donald Trump and his cerebrally challenged followers would bring about.

 

Sound bite to remember

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

–Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Get Me to Which Church on Time Friday, Feb 5 2016 

“Rubio himself goes to two churches. Sometimes the family attends a Baptist-affiliated service on Saturday night and a Catholic Mass on Sunday.” Gail Collins, The New York Times, Feb. 4.

In his 1969 biography of Huey Long, historian T. Harry Williams writes about the first time Huey, a north Louisiana Baptist, campaigned for governor in Catholic south Louisiana.

“When I was a boy,” he told his south Louisiana Catholic audience, “I would get up at six o’clock in the morning on Sunday and I would hitch our old horse up to the buggy and take my Catholic grandparents to Mass. I would bring them home and at ten o’clock I would hitch the old horse up again and I would take my Baptist grandparents to church.”

The Cajun Catholic crowd ate it up; after which Huey’s local campaign manager said admiringly, “Huey, you’ve been holding out on me. I didn’t know you had any Catholic grandparents”; to which Huey replied, “Don’t be a damn fool. We didn’t even have a horse.”

Question: On those Saturday night and Sunday morning churchgoing excursions, does Marco hitch up the family horse?

Sound bite to remember

“Huey bought legislators. I only rent ’em.”

Earl Long, on how his style of governance differed from that of his brother.

“Mississippi Flag Defenders Dig In” Friday, Aug 21 2015 

“Mississippi Flag Defenders Dig In” — headline, Washington Post, Aug. 18, 2015

Though writing about an already over-written topic goes against my grain, I can’t resist weighing in with a personal story involving undue exuberance for the Old Confederacy.

The time, autumn of 1951: The Korean War – or as the Truman White House euphemistically called it, “police action” – was underway and as a member of the 31st Infantry (“Dixie”) Division, I was temporarily stationed at Fort Slocum, just outside New York City.

Oh, about the Dixie Division. It was primarily composed of troops from Alabama and Mississippi, our uniforms bearing pin-on Confederate flags on both shoulders, and instead of Reveille every dawn we woke up to the sound of “Dixie” blared over a campwide sound system.

It was nothing out of the ordinary for someone who grew up in the South. Just out of the University of Alabama, I was accustomed to hearing the Confederate anthem played during football games and watching, whenever Ole Miss came to play, its student body waving the Stars and Bars.

All that would change, of course, when coaches in the Southeastern Conference found that, much as these symbols of the Lost Cause were revered, they drove away five-star African-American players who could help win football games.

But back to the autumn of ’51, a prime time to be stationed near New York, with young Tony Bennett breaking in at the Paramount, Rocky Marciano coming into his own at Madison Square Garden, and best of all for a jazz lover, Dizzy Gillespie playing at Birdland.

So there I was this particular night at Birdland, with a crowd of fellow jazz lovers, waiting for the King of Bop to show up; which he did, one hour late, explaining his tardiness with a story about playing a benefit on Long Island co-sponsored by the NAACP, the Knights of Columbus, B’nai Brith and — (pause) the Ku Klux Klan — (another pause) — with the punchline, “So you see, we’re lucky to be here at all.”

That brought on a big, forgiving laugh, but the best was yet to come. About to introduce members of his combo, Dizzy made mention of once having played a session down South, in Jackson, Mississippi. This brought on a whoop of appreciation from a table — fortunately not near mine — which led Gillespie to say, “Oh, someone’s here from Mississippi? You’ve come to the right place. It so happens we have the last Confederate flag ever flown. Pee Wee, show it to ‘em.”

At which point, Birdland’s diminutive emcee, Pee Wee Marquette, appeared onstage, took a flourishing white handkerchief out of his breast pocket, and waved it at the crowd.

According to the Post, today’s defenders of the Stars and Bars say the reason they stand by it is because it’s part of their past. One hundred fifty years after Appomattox they need to be reminded that the “flag” Pee Wee waved is, too.

Sound bite to remember

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

–Retired Confederate General George Pickett’s response (circa 1870) on being asked whether the battle of Gettysburg was lost because of Johnson’s failure to advance, Lee’s inertia, or Stuart’s negligence.

Biden to Jews: Stay Packed Tuesday, Mar 24 2015 

“Folks, there is no place else to go, and you understand that in your bones. You understand in your bones that no matter how hospitable, no matter how consequential, no matter how engaged, no matter how deeply you are involved in the United States . . . there is no guarantee. There is really only one absolute guarantee, and that’s the state of Israel.”

–Vice President Joe Biden to a Jewish American group, as reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic.

I had always thought of Joe Biden, whether as a U.S. senator or Vice President, as a feckless, if influential crackpot. But on reading this statement made to Jewish American leaders last fall, I now see him as a mindless demagogue.

As a Jewish American who came of age in the 1940s, I am well aware of the argument that what happened to Jews in Nazi Germany and other countries over the centuries could happen in the United States. It is usually made by ardent Zionists, however, not by American Vice Presidents who, if nothing else, should have a deeper appreciation of what makes this country different from others – the fact that the United States is the only country in the world based on an idea, not ethnic bloodlines.

Or is it that this Vice President doesn’t, in his bones, believe in America’s singularity as a national haven for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free?

On this point, as a Jewish American, I have also visited Israel and found it, the enduring spirit of the Exodus aside, a foreign country. Other than sharing a Bronze Age faith, I have as little in common with its inhabitants (many of whom, based on my American dietary habits alone, would consider me an infidel) as I do with those of Romania, the country my father left over a century ago to become an American.

Not that I’m blind to the existence of anti-Semitism and discrimination against other minority groups in this country – or in the case of African Americans, of persecution. But as Frederick Douglass pointedly reminded Abraham Lincoln when Lincoln suggested that once the slaves were freed they might return to Africa, there is no turning back. However they arrive here, those who come to America become Americans, here to stay.

And so it is with me. Unless, of course, by some odd quirk of history, a patronizing dumbass like Joe Biden were to become president.

 Sound bite to remember

 “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

       –President George Washington in a letter to the Sephardic Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, August 1790

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