The Spirit of Revenge

“Take all the prophets of Baal, and let not one of them escape you;

Bring them down to Kishon’s brook, and there let them be slain”.

Elijah, by Mendelssohn


This example, drawn from a Jewish book written several centuries before the current era, calls also to mind the events of the French Revolution, in which an increasingly violent leadership dispatched priests, aristocrats, and eventually many of their own, plus a large number of ordinary folk who fell afoul of various laws. One could also cite the purges of Armenians by the Ottomans, of Jews and handicapped in Nazi Germany, or of counter-revolutionaries in the Soviet Union.

The Terror of Robespierre was instituted to frighten the enemies of the French Revolution; it was motivated by the fear that the progress made in abolishing royalty and aristocratic privileges would be lost. Perhaps a similar fear motivated Elijah, to capitalize his victory over the prophets of Baal and prevent their ever recovering. The Ottomans were motivated by scorn or hatred for, and perhaps feelings of revenge against the Armenians who had been petitioning for better treatment for decades and were accused of helping the Russians against the Ottomans. The Nazis were motivated by hatred of the Jews and racism, including their twisted ideology of the Master Race and a desire to eliminate impure elements from the population. The Soviets were motivated by a fear of counter-revolution but also, later on, Stalin’s desire for power.

The frequently recurring theme in all this is the fear of losing power and control, often in an extremely fluid political environment.

The United States is not exempt from this kind of thinking. In Trumpism we have a racist movement, motivated by fear of foreigners, especially Mexicans and Muslims, and a spirit of revenge against liberal elites, a resentment of being considered flyover country. An ugly spirit is abroad, under the seductive banner of “Make America Great Again.” The real aim of this movement is to prevent control of the country by a coalition of minorities and progressives. Already orders are being drawn up to remove the most vulnerable Mexicans who are here illegally and have come to the attention of authorities. We have seen the attempt, momentarily thwarted, to discriminate against immigrants from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Trump himself has shown a contempt for facts and has castigated the press as “the enemy of the people”. This is not merely unattractive or illiberal. It is dangerous to the foundation of our government. If the government takes your newspaper to be an enemy, then you, as a subscriber, are the enemy too.


Time to Get the Ball Rolling

This is the text of a letter I sent to my Republican congressman, John Faso:

“You are old enough to remember the Watergate affair. After six long years Nixon’s criminality was catching up to him in 1974. In the famous words of Howard Baker, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” By August Nixon had resigned under the certainty of impeachment and conviction for a cover-up of the role of his Administration in the burglary of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.

We are getting the answer for Trump after only a few weeks! He knew about Flynn’s inappropriate and possibly criminal conversations with the Russian ambassador and kept it to himself and a few aides. He did not relieve Flynn of duty as he should have done immediately. He did not mention the matter to his Vice President. He chose to go ahead with this appointee, probably for political reasons. He knew probably that it would be embarrassing. When the information got out, he was forced to act. True to form he just ignored the culpability of his own behavior.

For sure! But the parallels with Nixon are startling, complete down to the illicit attempt to expose the secrets of the opposition party.

Life would be better for all of us with Pence as President. It is already time to get the ball rolling.”

Woman in Gold

My wife and I watched Woman in Gold on Netflix yesterday. How we missed this in the regular theater I cannot say. It is an excellent film, that depicts the efforts of Maria Altmann, a refugee from 1938 Austria, to recover the portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted by Klimt in the early 20th century. This famous picture was stolen by the Nazis and was displayed as “Woman in Gold” for many years in a Vienna museum.

Klimt’s picture is world famous, and when Maria Altmann recovered it, she sold it for 135 million dollars to a New York gallery where it is on display today. But the story told in the film is much deeper that that, with haunting flashbacks of what it was like in Vienna as the Nazis came in. A truly chilling example of what can happen to decent, even wealthy people in an authoritarian state.

Here is a link to a Wikipedia article on this.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf – a Letter to the president (sic)

Did your parents tell you the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf? It is one of Aesop’s fables. Wikipedia sums it up:

“The tale concerns a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks nearby villagers into thinking wolves are attacking his flock. When one actually does appear and the boy again calls for help, the villagers believe that it is another false alarm and the sheep are eaten by the wolf. In later English-language poetic versions of the fable, the wolf also eats the boy. ”

The moral of the story of course is that there is a danger in getting to be known for telling lies. That is in not being believed when telling the truth.

Yesterday’s (February 7, 2017) falsehood about murder rates in the United States being the highest in 47 years is just the latest in a long string of lies you have told. The statistics at the FBI show that as of 2016 the murder rate was the lowest it has been in 51 years – 4.5 per 100,000.

We have already gotten to the point where nobody with an ounce of critical judgment would accept anything you say without checking the facts. Shame.

On the Nazi Track

Dear President Trump:

I was taught at home to treat everyone equally. So even as a child I had friends who were of all colors, religions, and economic backgrounds. My parents taught me to treat everybody the same as far as that goes. But they also taught me to avoid doing bad things, such as bullying other children. I suspect most people all over the world got the same instruction from their parents.

So when I learned about history, I naturally thought that the Nazis were way off base with their treatment of Jews and handicapped people, people of other nationalities and races than their own. They attacked Jews as criminals, and invited citizens to send in stories of bad things done by Jews. Later on of course they actually murdered millions of Jews, foreigners, and handicapped people.

Therefore, when you announced your campaign for President, and denounced Mexicans as murderers and rapists, I figured you were working from the Nazi playbook. I still think this, since in one of your executive orders you have called on citizens to send in examples of bad behavior by groups that are targeted by these executive orders.

Words matter, but actions matter too. You are heading down the Nazi track, only with slightly different target groups. Shame.

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