The British response to a threatened Nazi takeover:
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.” Winston Churchill to the House of Commons. June 4, 1940.
With the scent of Nazis in the air, I needed some inspiration. Here’s Churchill live from YouTube.
Yesterday Trump’s alternate universe ran into the fresh air of reality. At least for that moment, it was staggered. Trump’s ban directed against Muslims encountered the reality of ordinary people with passports and visas and green cards being seized and detained at the nations airports. And in a flash response only possible with the advent of smart phones, thousands of demonstrators rose in protest. Crowds poured out to JFK, Dulles , and Seatac, and other airports across the country to demand the release of these new hostages. And like a scene from a Greek tragedy, deus ex machina, a federal judge issued a stay of Trump’s orders.
These events exposed the cruelty and callousness of Trump, denying haven even to the paltry number of refugees previously accepted, and subjecting the world at large to his impulse of the moment. As written (some speculate by his Breitbart pal Steve Bannon), the ban did not withstand even limited scrutiny. Both federal statutes and Constitutional law prohibit targeting based on religion and national origin. That is particularly so when the selected targets appear to be random – Iraq, but not Saudi Arabia – Syria, but not Lebanon – Sudan, but not Egypt.
Trump’s ban was intellectually and morally bankrupt, and executed with notable incompetence. The ban pandered to the alt-right wing, paying off on a political promise, rather than rationally addressing the threat posed by radicalized terrorists. Trump appears not to have considered that the ban would apply in real time to thousands of ordinary people from modern cultures – doctors, and lawyers, and businessmen with cell phones – and that the world would react.
Thus, for example, with the ban, it was quickly revealed that Oscar nominated film director Asghar Farhadi, nominated for The Salesman, and winner in 2012 for A Separation, would be unable to attend the Academy Awards.
Or consider this news article from Philadelphia where Philadelphia Mayor Kenney responded to the deportation of two Syrian families as follows:
“I am sickened by reports that federal officials, without knowledge or cooperation of PHL Airport staff, detained and then turned away two Syrian families. By several accounts, these families waited months to obtain the proper documentation so they could come to our country legally. And still, they were sent back to a war-torn nation that has used chemical warfare against its own people. The Trump administration very well may have just given these families a death sentence.”
Totally innocent men and women, without probable cause of wrongdoing, at airports across the country, flying with valid passports and visas pursuant to long-made plans with long-purchased tickets, found themselves, de facto, ambushed by US authorities.
In response to the Trump ban, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took immediate action, welcoming any refugees affected by the ban, and tweeting: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.” We have to wonder whether, with Canada opening its arms to these refugee terrorists, it is now necessary to build a second wall, on the Canadian border.
But enough. The federal court stay is only temporary and at stake with Trump in power is the governance of our country, the protection of our democracy, and the preservation of civil liberties. The fight is only beginning. I will be protesting today at Bradley Airport in Hartford because the demonstrations are the one visible protest that our representatives and the media cannot fully ignore. Find the protests near you and join in with all the energy you can muster. Don’t give up. Don’t give in.
Today, in the depths of Winter in refugee camps strewn throughout Europe and the Middle East, young Muslim women huddle in tents with Muslim babies. They shiver under blankets like the soldiers at Valley Forge. Some of them, lacking heat, food, medicine, or adequate shelter, will die. Some have already died. We face a humanitarian crisis that would turn even the coldest heart; our brothers and sisters begging for help.
So yesterday, on National Holocaust Remembrance Day, our President, our Predator-in-Chief, declared a moratorium on the admission to the United States not only of those refugees but of all citizens of the Muslim countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. That he chose Holocaust Day, which remembers the death of millions of Jews in Hitler’s death camps, to sign the bill is terrible in its irony. It is also sadly appropriate given that the United States turned its back on the Jews in their time of need, denying the exit visas they begged for and the assistance that might have saved them. Now, Mr. Trump turns his back on the Muslims, many of whom were displaced by and are fleeing the destruction of their countries by sectarian violence unleashed by American foreign policy, their homes destroyed by weapons “made in the USA”.
These orders do not bear up under any standard of rational scrutiny. The greatest terrorist attack in US history, on 9/11, was largely carried out by Saudi Arabian nationals radicalized in fundamentalist Saudi Wahhabi schools supported by the Saudi government. The Saudis are exempt from Trump’s order. Terrorist attacks in France and Germany were carried out by terrorists already residing in those countries. Again, not covered. Then again, the order does cover Muslim citizens of Muslim countries who risked their lives and the enmity of their neighbors by supporting American interests, in helping American troops, and in informing on terrorists in their midst. Should they be forced to flee, it won’t be to our country.
Nor do the orders take account of the backlash that they invite against our interests. The United States turning its back on Muslims is not lost on Muslims. It verifies and legitimizes the very ISIS propaganda that is so dangerous to our interests in the Middle East. The refugees will not forget. And American citizens traveling abroad, particularly in Muslim countries, will now face the disdain, the stares, the sneers, and worse of their citizens. Should I mention that our Constitution prohibits tests based on or stemming from religious belief? Do I need to?
You know the famous Emma Lazarus poem, with the lines, “…give me your tired, your poor,/ your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/ the wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Lady Liberty weeps today. How dare we?
And that Republican Congress – the only power that can bring Trump to rein. Where are they? The silence is deafening. The great Italian poet Dante had a place for these people. I hear it gets warm down there. Trump’s reservation is on the ground floor. Hot. Very hot.
Henry David Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience in 1849. The United States had just aggressively provoked a war with Mexico and, after invading Mexico and defeating the Mexican army, had seized a large swath of Mexican territory which it annexed to make up the American Southwest. Many American states of that day also sanctioned the ownership of slaves and, as such, the moral standing of the federal government was badly tainted. In the decade that followed, the United States Supreme Court would rule, in effect, in the Dred Scott case, that a slave, even after escape to a free state, remained property of his owner and could be returned to slavery.
Thoreau, with many others including Emerson, Melville, Hawthorne, and Henry James, led a period of intellectual enlightenment that spread from Boston throughout New England. As an intellectual, he found it impossible to reconcile his conscience with blind obedience to this tainted sovereign. As Thoreau puts it:
“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.”
Thoreau’s tract on civil disobedience asserts that we are morally obliged to follow our conscience rather than submit to a government that has immorally gone astray. His argument is for non-violent resistance – he refuses to pay taxes to the offending government.
Civil Disobedience thereafter became a rallying point for numerous non-violent movements of resistance and was directly cited by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, JFK, and many others. The writing provided an underlying intellectual core to the movement against apartheid in South Africa, the resistance to McCarthyism in the 1950s, and the American Anti-War movement of the 1960s. Its relevance should be apparent today.
As a I write, a megalomaniac is ruling by tweet and executive order from the White House. His disregard of self-evident truths and his willingness to target the press, the vulnerable, and the weak with callous disregard of our Constitution creates a dilemma for all of us. How are we to respond? How are we to react to proposed federal restrictions targeted at Muslims – using, in fact, a religious test explicitly forbidden under our First Amendment? How do we react to his insistence on the truth of falsehoods and to his determination to regulate based on those falsehoods? How do we react to someone whose right to office is tainted by an election in which a foreign agent, Russia, meddled on his behalf and in which he embraced and promulgated self-evident lies?
Henry David Thoreau provides us a guide.
The history of man’s inhumanity to man is both long and distressing, but it has been taking on a new resonance in recent days. Our President and Congress are intent on stripping protections for the sick from Obamacare, reducing access to quality public education, privatizing social security, and strengthening access to guns. They wish to expend untold funds to protect the country against immigrants. They have instituted a gag order against federal scientists and removed access to information relevant to global warming and civil rights. And with their announcement of a policy of American First, they have made plain that the concerns of the rest of the world are not ours. In fact, if one is following their current dominance of the news cycle, they have quite amazingly made news of the miseries beyond our border seem to almost disappear.
But let’s review what is going on out there. According to the BBC, in 2015, more than one million refugees and migrants crossed into Europe. While the exact numbers are uncertain, Germany accepted over 476,000 refugees, but may have another 500,000 living illegally with its borders. In 2015, 3770 refugees were reported to have died crossing the Mediterranean to seek asylum. Worldwide, hundreds of thousand of displaced persons live in refugee camps.
Throughout the world, millions more displaced persons are struggling for the basics of survival. The UN estimates the total number at almost 60 million, the highest number of displaced persons ever recorded. The world has the largest humanitarian crisis since the second World War. The plight of these people is not significantly different from that of the Jews of Germany and Eastern Europe in the 1930s who, fleeing their homelands, looked for help both here and abroad. For the most part, the United States turned its back, a time when genocide might have been challenged and the Jews saved from death in Hitler’s gas chambers. Many of today’s current refugees will also die unnecessarily, from lack of food, shelter, and access to medicine, or from being innocently caught up in the numerous armed conflicts flaring across the globe. Those agencies that do provide assistance are swamped – they are to be appreciated and honored, but they are not up to a task that dwarfs their resources.
So, millions of people are in need. In 2016, the United States, under President Obama, dare I say reluctantly, accepted 10,000 refugees. Today, President Trump moved to seal our borders, signing two executive orders designed to increase border enforcement. He is also reported to be about to limit access for both refugees and other persons from “suspect” areas, those areas which, naturally, are the countries being fled. Let me say it again. Mr. Obama struggles to get support to rescue 10,000. Mr. Trump, Mr. America First, signals us that even that is overgenerous. I hope you get my point.
In 1729, Jonathan Swift, the great English/Irish poet, writer, and satirist, was living in Dublin, Ireland. Ireland was then under the thumb of Great Britain whose policies were less than enlightened. After three consecutive years of harvest failures, the country was reeling. With the Irish impoverished and children starving in the streets, Swift decided to underscore the inhuman conditions with a brilliant satire entitled “A Modest Proposal.” There is, suggested Swift (anonymously), an obvious solution. He writes: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well Nursed is at a year Old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food, whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie or Ragoust.” Swift carries on with the multiple benefits of his scheme, more food, reduction of excess population, more freedom and less burden for the parents. But unfortunately, there may be some limits – older children, his American friend assures him “from frequent Experience,…[are] generally Tough and Lean…and their Taste disagreeable…. Then as to the Females, it would, I think with humble Submission, be a loss to the Publick, because they would soon become Breeders themselves…” I have to wonder. Perhaps Mr. Swift’s Modest Proposal remains apt, given the unwillingness of the United States, that self-proclaimed “richest country”, to reasonably address the refugee crisis.
I admit it. I find the discussions surrounding Donald Trump’s penchant for the big lie and the pathological need of both Trump and his allies to spin every fact beyond recognition to be exceedingly frustrating. There’s really nothing to be discussed. There are only truths – let me say it again, Truths, like in the Declaration: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident…”
Our system of government, to run properly, relies, at each respective level on truths. The public cannot reasonably judge candidates for election unless it has access to the relevant information concerning those candidates. The premise of the electoral process is that the public has sufficient information to make that judgement. Our system of laws, regulations, and judicial process rests on the ability of judges and juries to ascertain, fairly, what is true. Witnesses are sworn, under penalty of perjury, to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” We allow for subpoenas, and depositions, and search warrants, because proper government demands access to, and respect for truth. In defense of those truths, we impose penalties for perjury and award damages for libel and slander. To ensure access to those truths, we guarantee a free press. We protect the right of free speech so that where truth is uncertain, the matter can be freely debated.
Do you follow? An elected official, be he Alderman, or Senator, or President, is bound by his duties, by his loyalty to this system of government, to pay honor to reality as best he can determine it. While there are obvious exceptions that have been made in time of war, or for other national security matters, an official who otherwise deliberately misrepresents or conceals important truths is subverting our system. I’m not trying to be a Puritan about this, or naive. I recognize that your average politician is factually challenged on a good day. Most of us carry around disturbing pockets of ignorance. We tolerate white lies and puffery and succumb to urges to make ourselves look better. I think our system should and does look past a good deal of that.
But the big lies – the one’s crafted for a purpose, that play on the public’s ignorance, those lies subvert our democracy. For example, claiming without evidence that a sitting President was born in Kenya, crafting that lie and then repeating it and repeating it because it took hold, that variety of malicious lie is, in my view, disqualifying, in and of itself. We don’t need more to judge that person. The lies are made explicitly to subvert. Alleging without evidence that large scale voter fraud occurred, claiming that there was proof of that fraud when there is none, and doing so for the purpose of making it more difficult for minorities to vote – those lies subvert our democracy. When an official lies as a matter of routine, insists those lies are true, and then makes policy based on those lies, it is time for the official to be called out and held responsible. It is not sufficient for that official to claim as justification “that I won.” As I said above, Mr. Trump, there’s really nothing to discuss.
Donald Trump and his right-wing coup are attacking so many areas of our social network that major aspects of that attack are going essentially unrecognized. The media covers their threat, for example, against many bread and butter protections: rights to health care and medicare and social security. Threats to the environment and against public education. And we hear about Trump’s latest tweet, or building his wall, or his threat to register Muslims. The media is filled with disputes about “fake-news” and whether the Russians hacked. And now quite rightly, we hear stories in recognition of the Women’s March.
But rightly or wrongly, all of this news, and noise, has diverted attention from the intent of the Reactionary Right to dismantle the protections to individuals emanating from the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and more specifically from decisions made by the United States Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Earl Warren was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1953 by President Eisenhower – in part because of impeccable conservative credentials that he had gained as Attorney General and then Governor of California. But Warren was a man of considerable intellect and found himself on the Court just as a series of civil rights actions were forcing their way into the public eye. The short of it is that Blacks, having fought for our country in World War II, were unwilling to submit any longer to the segregation and humiliations of the Jim Crow South. Warren sympathized and found himself increasingly allied with the Court’s liberal-wing. Over the course of his term until 1969, his Court turned out numerous land-mark decisions, the general gist of which was to apply our federal Constitutional Bill of Rights on behalf of all individuals. Thus, Brown v. Board of Education struck down the practice of separate but equal schools for Blacks and Whites. Miranda and similar cases gave criminal defendants notice of their rights, protections against coerced confessions, right to counsel, and rights to privacy and against unreasonable searches and seizures. Loving v. Virginia gave individuals the Constitutional right to marry across racial lines. The Court required a standard of one man – one vote for state reapportionments. And Roe v. Wade, protecting reproductive rights, although post-dating Warren’s tenure, was a natural extension of the Warren doctrines finding privacy rights and protections to be implicit in the Bill of Rights.
I’m not writing a legal treatise here, but you get the idea. These decisions provided a new era of rights and protections to individuals against the authority of the State. To me, their fairness has always been self-evident. In a free country, surely all its citizens are entitled to a basic panoply of civil protections, including the right to a fair hearing in the courts (due process). Indeed, as a side-note, the Warren Court decisions contain some of the most forceful writing ever produced.
Nonetheless, the success of this progressive civil rights movement has stuck in the craw of America’s reactionary core. The racists of the South and states’ rights activists – often the same people – did not and do not like being told that their citizens, at least their minority citizens, have rights. From the beginning, reactionaries have viewed the Warren Court decisions as both condescending and violations of the state sovereignties to which they feel entitled. The red neck cops – sometimes even on the cop shows – sneer at Miranda and revel in ignoring requirements for warrants. As a practical matter, Constitutional rights to counsel are undercut by lack of legislative funding. Reproductive rights have been systematically under attack for years, effectively foreclosing access to abortions in some “Bible belt” states. The Constitutional right to Habeas Corpus has been systematically eroded in state and federal laws. The Reactionary Right has been nibbling, nibbling, and eroding. And now, suddenly, with the Trump victory, control of both legislative houses in Congress, and prospective control of the Supreme Court, they are in the driver’s seat.
You see what I’m saying? A wall of civil rights protections for individuals, long under attack, is poised to collapse. I don’t know the details for how it will happen. But this will be yet one more tragedy for women and minorities, and indeed for any individual who finds himself under the suspicions of state authority. The term Fascism comes to mind. Thought you might like to know.
The Eighteenth Century wits and poets took great delight in skewering each other, and their leaders, for their vanities, pretenses, dullness, and ignorance. Much of the enjoyment of reading Dryden, or Pope, or (later) Lord Byron, is in seeing a worthy barb fly true to the mark. How sad that they are not among us today. With unfeigned joy, they would string their bows.
Dryden: “Out with it Dunciad! Let the secret pass,/ That Secret to each Fool, that he’s an ass:”
Byron: “Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.”
Dryden: “For every inch that is not fool is rogue.”
Dryden: “Much malice mingled with a little wit.”
Pope: “of all the causes which conspire to blind/ Man’s erring judgment, and misguide the mind,/ What the weak head with straight bias rules,/ Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.”
Pope: “A little learning is a dangerous thing…”
Voltaire: “He who thinks himself wise, O heavens! Is a great fool.”
You should check these guys out. Your English teacher in high school never told you how much fun they were having.
Oh yeah, then there’s that modern sage, the new President: “The point is that you can’t be too greedy.” From The Art of the Deal, chapter 2 (written with Tony Schwartz.)
He’s so Vain, he’d probably think this blog is about him.