News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Voting with feet, billfolds, and guns

A question raised about the Holocaust is why the Jews did not fight back against the Nazi pogrom against them.  Actually, many did.  But many others thought that violent resistance would only escalate the violence rather than counter the persecution against the Jewish people.  They thought a reasonable, civil approach had more opportunity to save lives and reduce the acts of hate.  As the Holocaust progressed in Germany, Jews did try to leave the country.  But they faced the same issues that Muslim refugees face today. Countries to which they could flee worried about the number of refugees they could accept and denied entrance into their countries.  There was also anti-semitic opposition to accepting them throughout the world, including the U.S.

After the end of World War II,  it took fifty years before the discussion about the Holocaust confronted the fact that many people in the Nazi-occuped countries willingly and aggressively collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of the Jews.  The popular notion was that the Nazis took over and intimidated and coerced good people to ignore their prosecution of the Holocaust.  The fact was that "good people" zealously supported the Nazis and participated in the atrocities.  

The election of Donald Trump as president has exposed the real political divide in America.  Many "good Americans"  wish ill on many others.  The resentment over having a black president powered a resurgence of racism in the country.  Then Donald Trump put on an exhibition during the election campaign of lying, malicious defamations, and hate of Muslims and others that was once the epitome of what America is against.  After his election, the early days of his administration have revealed that those odious malignancies of character are exactly what many Americans are for--a constituency large enough to affect the electoral college.  Other Americans are loathe to admit that so many of their countrymen and women do not, in fact, support the foundations of American democracy--freedom, equality, and justice--except for themselves.  The country is falling away from those characteristics that defined the greatest generation.  

Trump has defined the people  who support him.  He is the culmination of America's slide into an anti-intellectualism and ignorance that scholars and journalists have noted, but which sentient Americans have chose to ignore.  That America which once led the world in scientific, technological, and social advancement has fallen behind, and leadership has been taken over by countries  it once inspired.  

The national attention also ignores the fact that the deterioration of the political climate in the U.S. has caused significant numbers of people to abandon American democracy as having possibilities for them.  While the Trump-inspired rage about immigrants from Mexico consumes our attention,  we ignore the fact that a million Americans have expatriated to Mexico.  And while we joke about moving to Canada to avoid life under Trump,  another million or more Americans have, in fact, moved there.  People are voting with their feet.

Those that find relocating is not a possibility are making the way they spend their money a political issue.  In some cases there are boycott lists.  A number of lists of sponsors of Rush Limbaugh are in circulation.  However, politics operates at the grass roots level.  I know quite a significant number of people who avoid patronizing local merchants because of their political affiliations.  Online buying has created optional sources for purchasing goods. In South Dakota, declining sales tax revenues are a result of people buying online.  People often make their purchases online to avoid patronizing local merchants for political reasons.  This attitude reaches into the church.  People cannot reconcile political beliefs and practices of some worshippers with the teachings of their religion.  They no longer regard church as a source of spiritual strength, but see it as just another ploy to justify bigotry and discrimination.  So, they don't go to church or participate in any religious activity or otherwise support churches.  Whether as customers or patrons, they don't spend time or money on entities that counter their values.

A problem for the Jewish resistance to the Holocaust was to determine at what point force was justified.  If violence is resorted to by people who are the targets of extermination, the government is provided a reason to intensify its efforts against the target group.  Blacks in America are facing just such a circumstance.  The shooting of blacks, many unarmed, by the police resulted in the Black Lives Matter movement, which enraged many white Americans.  Whites responded with the retort that all lives matter,  totally dismissing the many instances of black people being gunned down and otherwise exterminated by law enforcement officers.  There were some cases of targeting police officers in retaliation, but no acknowledgment that black communities have good reason to believe that they are under assault by law enforcement.  Rather the the response is to decry that the guardians of our public safety might be under attack.  

In a number of cases where police officers have been brought to trial for the gratuitous shootings of blacks,  the juries have acquitted them.  These acquittals carry an ominous message to the black communities that in the minds of white America,  black lives are negligible.  And that message is a loud declaration of war.  

Many of the episodes of black men being shot down have been captured on video.  Videos entered the picture with the beating of Rodney King in the early 1990s, which led to the Los Angeles riots when his police assailants were acquitted.  There is a recent set of videos in circulation which has produced some protests,  but is building a strong justification for violent resistance.  

Philando Castile in his seat belt after bring hit by seven police bullets.

The first video is from the phone of Philando Castile's girlfriend, taken immediately after a policeman pumped seven shots into his body while his friend sat next to him with her daughter in the back seat of his car.  The second is from the dash cam on the policeman's squad car, which was played at the policeman's trial at which he was acquitted. Together, the videos signify a state of war in which the rules of engagement are that black men can be killed under any pretext and the justice system will endorse those rules.  It does not take much imagination to perceive what is like to be a member of a group that is declared an enemy and is targeted for extermination.  The consistent message in the shootings is that black people are exempted from the protections of liberty, equality, and justice, and people can fire at them at will, as in the Trayvon Martin case.  Black people in America are facing the question that Jews in Germany did in the 1930s:  at what point are you justified in taking pre-emptive action against the genocide against your people?  

It is not only African Americans who are facing that question.  People on the left have been under a decades-long assault of defamations and accusations that underlies what has become the intransigent political divide in America that has brought it to a state of paralysis.  While political disagreement has always been a source of friction,  the malicious defamations against the left led by Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts have agitated the right into a state of fuming hatred of the kind that Goebbels inspired in Germans against the Jews. The right's enmity toward the left is an extension of the racial hatred that some of its adherents once reserved for the blacks.    It has escalated into an incivil war.  The decades of constant insult, abuse, and false accusations has turned contenders of differing political views into bitter, dangerous enemies.  So, to some we've reached that point where violent resistance seems like the only option for survival.

The case of James Hodgkinson,  who opened fire on Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game, illustrates the point.   As with many people who engage in mass shootings,  he had anger issues which seem to have got the better of him.  But as the media reported on his political activity,  it turned up his anti-Trump positions,  but none of them were of an unreasoned radical, nature.  They were, in fact, rather ordinary fact-based complaints on Trump and Republican policies.  And that is the point where information about Hodgkinson stopped being released.  The case dropped out of the news,  as some journalist colleagues pointed out, when there was no evidence that Hodgkinson had been radicalized.  In the atmosphere of enmity and persecution and hopelessness of our political climate, there is the strong possibility that he made an assessment with evidence to support it that the time for violent resistance had come.  If a rather ordinary man reached that conclusion, how many others might also?  The political climate is volatile.

Some Republican congressmen have spoken out in support of discriminating against people, such as one suggesting that diabetics should not deserve health insurance benefits because the disease is their own fault.  Administration officials have instituted policies to refute proven facts and hard science.  Such  political atmosphere puts rational people on alert.  And then the NRA unleashes a recruiting ad which identifies "the left" as an enemy against which people need to take up arms.  
The ad may motivate people to arm against the left,   but it may convince the left to arm against the right.

People in America of differing politics, creeds, and ethnic groups don't like each other very much.  Their dislike is sparked by defamations in the social media and confirmed by reports of behavior of fellow humans in the traditional press.  Violence by mass shooters,  shootings of unarmed people by the police, shootings of the police by ambush,  and menacing insults spewed out by the president all contribute to a sense that people have to make a decision.  And that decision is whether it is time to walk away from America,  make economic decisions on the basis of politics,  or stand their ground and resist with violence.   Or choose all three, so that history will not need to ask why they didn't resist.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States