Is Donald Trump our Henry Ford?

Trump isn’t Hitler; he isn’t Father Coughlin; he isn’t even Henry Ford (whose racism was theoretical rather than opportunistic like Trump’s). History can’t shed much light on Trump, because it’s written by winners. We read it as a parable of progress, in which, thanks to the checks and balances that the Federalists carefully wrote into the Constitution and our own better nature, the worst impulses of the democratic mob have consistently been foiled. Slavery met its Lincoln; the Know Nothings were swept into history’s dustbin; and once Pearl Harbor was attacked, even Ford and Lindbergh joined the fight against fascism (literally–Ford hired Lindbergh as a consultant at Willow Run, which was making bombers).

As ugly as Trump’s historical analogs were, they didn’t do well in national elections. The Know Nothings did elect a bunch of congressmen and eight governors in the 1850s, but they didn’t survive the Civil War. Father Coughlin endorsed the Union party’s William Lemke for president in 1936; despite his millions of dedicated listeners, Lemke got less than 2% of the vote. As dangerous as Coughlin and Lindbergh were, as pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic as many of the America Firsters were, they couldn’t stop either FDR or America’s entrance into the war. What’s scary about Trump isn’t his racist demagoguery per se–we’ve seen his like before, they show up every 30 years or so, usually at times of economic stress and social change. What’s scary is how deep his support may run during this particular cycle. That’s an open question and one that history can’t provide an answer to.

Crossing the Rubicon

Yesterday, citing a poll from Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy that purported to show that 51% of US Muslims would prefer to live under Shariah law rather than the Constitution and that 20% believe that violence is justified to make Shariah the law of the land, Donald J. Trump, the front runner for the Republican nomination for president of the United States, called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until our “representatives can figure out what is going on.”


Frank Gaffney was a deputy secretary of defense under Reagan; he’s also the guy, lest you forget, who says that Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist is a sleeper agent for the Muslim Brotherhood (you can hear him telling Glenn Beck the whole story above). I’ve written a lot about him, here and in The New Hate. 


In the introduction of The New Hate, I noted that Gaffney had endorsed a “semiotic interpretation of the US Missile Defense Agency’s newly-minted logo as a conscious morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo–stunning evidence, as Gaffney put it, of ‘various, ominous and far more clear-cut acts of submission to Shariah by President Obama and his team'” (when it came out that the redesign was executed and approved during George W. Bush’s administration, Gaffney retracted his claims).

But if you’ll bear with me, I want to quote a much longer Gaffney-inspired passage from The New Hate, because I could have written it yesterday:

There are a host of “aspects  of Shariah that are now beginning to be adopted or accommodated in our country,” Frank Gaffney had told Fox News as far back as 2008. “We think far from being frivolous or innocuous or innocent, these represent a form of, what I think [is] best described as stealth Jihad.” In the fall of 2010, Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy issued a massive report titled Shariah: The Threat to America. “The results of months of analysis, discussion and drafting by a group of top security policy experts,” the report was intended to provide “a comprehensive and articulate ‘second opinion'” on “the preeminent totalitarian threat of our time: the legal-political-military doctrine known within Islam as ‘shariah.'” For the report’s purposes, Shariah was defined not simply as the body of Islamic law but as an all-out effort to create a worldwide caliphate by any means possible.

“If shariah is thus viewed as an alien legal system hostile to and in      contravention of the U.S. Constitution, and as one which dictates both violent and non-violent means to a capable audience ready to act imminently, then logically, those who seek to establish shariah in America–whether by violent means or by stealth–can be said to be engaged in criminal sedition, not the protected practice of a religion.”

So long as Muslims see the West as “an obstacle to be overcome, not a culture and civilization to be embraced or at least tolerated,” they should be treated as either enemy soldiers or subversive spies. Back in the 1920s, Henry Ford was as horrified by the presence of rabbinical courts in New York State as the anti-Shariah forces are today by the prospect of Muslim law worming its way into state, local, and federal statutes. “There is a Jewish court sitting in a public building in the city of New York every week, and other courts, for the sole advantage and use of this people whose spokesmen deny that they are a ‘separate people,’ are in formation everywhere,” he wrote. “Wherever Jewish tendencies are permitted to work unhindered, the result is not ‘Americanization,’ or ‘Anglicization’ nor any other distinctive nationalism, but a strong and ruling reversion back to essential Judaization.'”

The authors of the Shariah report acknowledge that some of the world’s Muslims–maybe even most of them–are not overt extremists. But they don’t vest much credit in them either. Just as the Devil quotes Scripture when it suits his purposes, stealth jihadists will pay lip service to liberal values while secretly working to undermine them. If Catholics are defined as soldiers in the service of the pope who are determined to destroy representative government in whatever country they live in, then there can be no innocent Catholics; if Communists are understood to be slaves of Moscow, then they can only be subversive. So it is with Islam. Moderate-seeming Muslims may be the most suspect of all, since they would be the most ideally positioned to become sleepers.

Some of the anti-Shariah hysteria can be attributed to Christian chauvinism; some to an instinctive, defensive nativism, inflamed by an uncertain economy and the lingering shock of 9/11. Some of it has been fomented by Christian cultural conservatives, some of it by right-wing Jews who regard Israel’s traditional enemies with the same indiscriminate loathing that Hitler’s Nazis did their ancestors (when Osama bin Laden’s killing was announced on May 1, 2011, Debbie Schlussel blogged, “One down, 1.8 billion to go…many of ’em inside U.S. borders, with the U.S. government at all levels kissing their asses”). Anders Behring Breivik’s 1500 page manifesto, “2008: A European Declaration of Independence,” which explains why the forces for Politically Correct Multiculturalism, Marxism, and Shariah compelled him to murder 77 of his fellow Norwegians, contains a generous selection of their writings, much to some of its unwitting contributors’ embarrassment…

Much of what has been playing out in the political scene over the past few years is displaced Obama hatred, and many of his political rivals have been leveraging it for all it’s worth. Obama is a Marxist revolutionary whose middle name is the same as the ex-dictator of Iraq’s. He’s not white, he’s probably not American, and he might not even be a Christian. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in August 2010 found that nearly one in five Americans and more than one in three self-described conservative Republicans believed that Obama is a Muslim.

As the Reverend Gerald Burton Winrod wrote of Franklin Delano Roosevelt three-quarters of a century ago, he is “not one of us.”



Time for a Divorce?

I posted the below on my Facebook page the other day; I’m transferring it here because if this blog is less read than Facebook, it’s also less ephemeral.

On December 5, 2015, the Texas GOP voted down a proposal to put a referendum question on the state primary ballot asking voters whether they thought Texas should secede from the Union. It got me thinking….Why not?

Last week on the Charlie Rose show, I heard Karl Rove recount a moving story about how a crowd of 30,000 mourners spontaneously burst into “God Bless America” as the train bearing McKinley’s body pulled into the depot in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania–a full 17 years before Irving Berlin wrote the song.


This solicitation for the God, Guns, and Gold video (from the Bible-based survivalist outfit Solutions from Science) tells how colonial ministers used to lay their six shooters on their pulpits before they preached–even though the six shooter wasn’t invented until 1833, 57 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

These are silly examples of ahistoricism, but they come from impassioned self-described conservatives, who claim that they draw their inspiration from history. Both have views that are as incompatible with life in the modern world as they are with the factual versions of the Golden Ages that they are so nostalgic for. They aren’t even compatible with each other–it’s more than likely that the pragmatic Rove and the Christianist Joe McDurmon hate each other almost as much as they both hate me. And my point is?

If America came to me for marital therapy, I would urge it to sever its union as quickly as possible–peacefully, mindfully, and equitably, of course, but definitively, because when two people can’t agree on even a baseline for reality, then they shouldn’t be living under the same roof. Do it for the children, I’d say: it’s more harmful than helpful for them to be living in such a toxic environment.

To Bigotry No Sanction



My parents didn’t believe in God but it was important to them that my sister and I understand that we are Jewish. They wouldn’t have put it this way themselves–they were proud to be members of an extended family that included so many great leftists and thinkers–but I think they regarded Jewishness as more or less a mirror version of Downs Syndrome, as a congenital condition that made you smarter and more morally developed, but that also debarred you from the mainstream community and potentially shortened your life. They sent us to religious school, not so that we would learn how to live, but so that we would understand why we might die.

It wasn’t altogether crazy. I was born in 1957, a mere dozen years after the biggest blood letting that history had ever seen. The six million Jewish dead were a small minority of the total fatalities–between Hitler and Stalin, some 14 million civilians were deliberately liquidated between 1933 and 1945, and the body count from the war amounted to another 60-70 million soldiers and civilians–but the Jews had been exterminated by plan and in the case of Europe’s emancipated middle class Jews, people like the ones in the picture on top of this post, by industrial means. They were registered, labeled, and rounded up for slaughter, men, women, and children alike, just like so many cattle.

Whether we American survivors of the tribe were a “saving remnant” or just a remnant, we had eluded the fate of so many of our aunts and uncles and cousins abroad because our grandparents had found their ways here. The US Constitution accords its religious minorities the same status as it does its religious majority, which is to say none, except the right to meet and pray unmolested (and un-taxed). George Washington put it best, in his letter to the Touro Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…..May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

So what did we learn in religious school? That George Washington was naive. America was good, our teachers said, but who knew for how long?  Lindbergh and John E. Rankin were a beloved celebrity and a powerful politician within their memories; George Lincoln Rockwell was making headway today. Israel, our teachers told us, was a place where the Jews owned all the fig trees and controlled the army to boot–that was where real safety lay.

The Internet is on fire today, as it should be, with outraged rejoinders to Donald Trump’s call for a database of Muslims; I pulled the photograph above from a petition that I signed and that every other American Jew should sign as well. But what’s terrifying to me is that Trump wouldn’t be saying those things if he didn’t think they’d win him support. He’s not the only one: Ben Carson implicitly compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs”; Cruz and Bush both called for a religious test for refugees–and Cruz, echoing a classic anti-Semitic canard about the Talmud, noted that “there is a religious philosophy in Islamism that encourages them to lie to carry out jihad.” How can so many Americans know so little about our own history and laws when it comes to religious pluralism?

And yet as I think about the lessons I learned in that suburban Reform synagogue almost fifty years ago, I find myself wondering how it could be otherwise, when so many Zionist Jews–the greatest beneficiaries of those laws and those traditions–appreciate them so little themselves. People are tribal. Product of the Enlightenment that it is, the American experiment runs against the grain of human nature in many ways. Demagogues know that and exploit it, and they always will. Some day one of them might be elected president.


Paris, 11/13: An Act of War

“If you close your eyes/Then you will see/That it’s easier without complexity.” –Eagles of Death Metal

There’s no complexity in the ISIS statement: Paris is “the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe.” The suicide bombers and gunmen were believers and martyrs; their victims Crusaders and pagans and disbelievers who reaped what they had sown. The equation balances perfectly.

There’s no complexity in President Obama’s first statement: the attack is not just on the people of France but “on all of humanity and the universal values that we share”; which are “the timeless values of human progress.” There’s no complexity in President Hollande’s statement: the attacks are a “horror….There is dread, but in the face of this dread, there is a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilise its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists.”

And of course there’s no complexity on the US right: obviously the perpetrators were the refugees who are fleeing from ISIS. “How’s that Syrian refugee resettlement look now?” Representative Jeff Duncan (R), of South Carolina Tweeted. “There are those out there,” Ben Carson declared, “who have a thirst for innocent blood.” The answer, he said, is for America to “eliminate them…destroy them completely.” Paris was targeted, Newt Gingrich opined, because of its tight gun control laws. “Imagine a theater,” he Tweeted, “With 10 or 15 citizens with concealed carry permits. We live in an age when evil men have to be killed by good people.”

Kevin Barrett, the conspiracist editor of Veterans Today, knows exactly what happened Friday: it’s another false flag, its perpetrators all of the usual suspects: “Authoritarian insiders. Zionists. Militarists. Islamophobes. New World Order-Out-Of-Chaos freaks.” The date alone gives it away, he says: “It happened on Friday the 13th (commemorating the massacre of the proto-illuminati Templars) in the 11th month, in Paris’s 11th district. It’s going to be remembered as ‘11/13’ or ‘Friday the 13th.’ Illuminati numerology or coincidence?” Barrett knows why it happened too—it’s all about him and his false flag theories: “If I were a truly paranoid conspiracy theorist, or conspiracy intellectual, or whatever,” he wrote, “I would think somebody staged these new attacks just as I was leaving Paris and planning to return one month later because…well, because they’re afraid that my book We Are NOT Charlie Hebdo is picking up steam and threatening to expose the state-sponsored crimes of last January.”

France was a colonial power in the Middle East and Africa for a century; it has boots on the ground in West Africa and its war planes have been bombing ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. As shocking and terrible as yesterday’s attacks were, there really is no mystery as to why they happened; they did not come out of the blue. Just as Israeli realpolitik helped lay the groundwork for Hamas, ISIS, as we now know, is a monster that the West had a hand in creating.

Everyone and no one is innocent in wartime, and once the shooting starts, there is no such thing as moral clarity. It would be so much easier if that were not the case.

PS This is up on Salon now, under a different headline.

Safe Spaces, Civility, etc

One member of the audience asked Jonathan Holloway, a civil-rights historian and the dean of Yale College, who has been at the center of the recent events, if he would remove Calhoun’s name from the college…..To understand the real complexities of these students’ situation, free-speech purists would have to grapple with what it means to live in a building named for a man who dedicated himself to the principle of white supremacy and to the ownership of your ancestors.

This is Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker, a generally smart and fair-minded writer, on what he calls the “free speech diversion” in the backlash to the recent events at Yale and Missouri. The real faultline, he says in defense of the Yale student who was videotaped shouting at the husband of the woman who wrote an email about Halloween costumes (you can read it here), is “between those who find intolerance objectionable and those who oppose intolerance of the intolerant.”

I’ve spent the last week saying that the smartest thing that an over-50 white man can do at the present juncture is to hold his peace (as I suspect the author of that Halloween email–which it seemed to me bent over backwards to be tolerant and respectful–now wishes she’d done), but as a free speech absolutist I can’t resist taking his bait. For me, there’s actually nothing to grapple with: I would remove Calhoun’s name in a heartbeat, and I wouldn’t worry that I was infringing on anyone’s freedom of speech. No one has a right to have a building or a college named after them. I would haul down the Confederate flag from public buildings too, and I would make it illegal to daub swastikas on the walls of mens rooms with shit (though I suspect there are already regulations on the books).

Would I remove every book that Calhoun authored from Yale’s library, or forbid anyone who likes Calhoun or dislikes black people from speaking at Yale?  Those are fundamentally different questions.

Here’s a thought experiment (and mind you, when I say this is a thought experiment, that’s exactly what I mean–I’m not claiming any equivalencies between the Jewish experience and the black experience, and I don’t for a minute believe that campus anti-Zionism and campus anti-Semitism are in any wise the same things). But suppose, just suppose, that you are a member of a religious/ethnic community that the Christian Bible accuses of betraying and murdering God, and whose laws, that same Bible says, are sterile and devoid of love. Suppose, furthermore, that news shouters and even presidential candidates are screaming that businesses that don’t formally acknowledge the Christian-ness of Christmas should be shamed and boycotted, that any attempt, no matter how muted, to include rather than exclude Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Janes, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, and Christians who are offended by the commercialization of Christmas from the holiday spirit constitutes an act of war against the country’s majority. It would be a little alienating wouldn’t it?

Imagine the cultural dissonances you would experience just going to a concert hall to hear a masterwork like Bach’s St John’s Passion, with its full-throated choral denunciations of “the Jews,” or to a music appreciation class, where you’d learn that Wagner, the author of Jewishness and Music, is the greatest operatic composer who ever lived. Or maybe you’re assigned poems by Pound (“And the big Jew has rotted every nation he has wormed into” and Eliot (“the rats are underneath the piles/the jew is underneath the lot”) in English 1-2.

My point isn’t that Jews deserve special consideration or that students of color don’t–and it’s certainly not that minority students shouldn’t take offense or protest when they feel marginalized and disrespected. It’s more in the way of a mournful acknowledgement that there can be no safe spaces, at least where hate is concerned.  Which is why I tend to think that more public hate speech is preferable to less if less comes at the cost of someone being forcibly silenced. I’d rather have it out in the open so that everyone remains focused on hatred rather than diverted to an argument about free speech.

A couple of years ago, I covered a white nationalist event at Towson University for the SPLC. I kind of thought the university handled it well—let the racists come and talk if the sponsors ponied up the money for additional security, and let the protesters come and protest, as long as they didn’t interrupt the speakers. That way the issue that everyone was forced to argue about were the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, not the First. Obviously it’s a lot more complicated when the exercise of free speech might get someone killed, like the Mohamed cartoons, or if the speech is explicitly designed to get someone killed, like that fake Mohamed movie trailer. But if nobody gets silenced, then nobody gets to disingenuously stake out the higher ground. Of course that also means that the notion of “safe zones” (at least for speech) falls by the wayside, though you could always not attend the speech.

Hate, hate, hate

The funny thing is that I argue all the time that eliminationist anti-Semitism has become extremely rare in this country, not least because the First Amendment makes it so difficult to suppress religions. I’m not a Zionist at all; in fact I also publish stuff that’s extremely critical of the so-called Holocaust industry.

I write about anti-Semitism as much as I do for two reasons: 1) Because it does exist elsewhere, and it’s salutary to remember how close to the mainstream it once was here (and could be again–something that I blame Israel for as much as I do Israel’s enemies); and 2) Because I want people to understand how it is that the US is such fertile ground for the Islamophobia that DOES exist–and whose promoters are no less on the wrong side of history than Henry Ford and David Duke. When I write about paleo-conservatives and people like Ann Coulter I’m not trying to say that the “the boxcars are coming,” as one of the Salon commenters put it–at least not for me. For Hispanics and Islamic people, the story is a little different. For young black men, God knows, it’s very different. They don’t ship ’em off in box cars, but they do have big prison camps that are run for profit.

But you know what? When you publish stuff about anti-Semitism, you have it brought very forcefully to your attention now and then that it does still exist. Like this e-mail I just got. Pretty chilling: “Jew: You’re a real scumbag and the curse is on you f–kstick..  within a year you will be in a car crash and they will have to cut off your left leg and right arm…  that way your poison can flow quicker out of your infested body… A–hole.”