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.

 

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