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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

Saturday, February 23, 2019

If you wonder how Nazis and the Holocaust happened, the American Reich is putting on a demonstration

Hitler had the Jews.  Trump has the Latinos.  Both men were supported by people who joined them in their racist manias to oppress and commit atrocities against a specific ethnic group.  Ultimately, their supporters and enablers are the ones to hold responsible.

The tendency for Americans who still value the principles that our democracy once professed is to regard Donald Trump as anomaly, an accident.  They assume that when he is no longer president, the daily news reports of malice, mendacity, stupidity, and incompetence will diminish and no longer dominate the country's attention.  They ignore the fact that the people who put Trump in power and have endorsed his fraudulent and iniquitous conduct will still be with us.  Trump is a symptom of a change and a deterioration of democratic values, not the cause.  The voters who put Trump in office and endorse him have gotten what they want and have reshaped the country.  The United States is experiencing the kind of moral and intellectual transformation that Germany did in the 1930s.  

I have written before about being a soldier in Germany shortly after the occupation.  We were coached in the attitude that the Nazis took over the country and the good people fell under their rule.  We were instructed to treat all the German people with respect and sympathy as survivors of an evil regime.  We were discouraged from asking questions about what the people thought of Hitler and what they did during the Nazi reign.   We had our doubts and our curiosity, but at the time our questions were unanswered.

A woman who read one of my blog posts on the subject responded.  She came from a military family, and her father had served in the Air Force in Germany.  She graduated from a military high school in Germany, and recalled that during exchange programs with students from German schools, the question of participation during the Nazi era came up.  She went to a U.S. college that required a thesis paper for the baccalaureate degree, and she did hers on how the German civilians reacted to the Nazi regime.  Her conclusion was that while many people were opposed to it, a majority of the people wanted the Nazi state and were in full agreement and participation with it.  This was demonstrated by their participation in the pogrom against the Jews.  The people who resisted and tried to help Jewish people were routinely betrayed by their friends and neighbors.  

Around the turn of the century, a number of books and films emerged which explored how the German people were the perpetrators of the Third Reich, not the hapless victims of it.  The younger generations of Germans have insisted on examining this aspect of their history and confronting the facts.  

The parallels of what the Germans did to the Jews and what Americans are doing to Latinos and other immigrants are striking.  A woman in Montana near the Canadian border ran into a friend in a convenience store.  She and her friend are Latina American citizens, but they were chatting to each other in Spanish and were overheard by a Custom and Border Protection agent, who detained them and asked for identification papers.  He said that speaking Spanish in that neck of the woods made them suspicious.  The women have received threatening and nasty messages, but also expressions of support.  The incident is illustrative of how some Americans have adopted the moral code of the Third Reich and how the political divisions in America are defined.

We now understand that Hitler had many collaborators in Germany and in the countries he invaded that desired the Holocaust and all the persecution of minorities that were part of it.

Trump's war against Latino immigrants parallels the early stages of the Nazi pogrom against the Jews.  Although the purported objective of the Trump wall and the suppression of immigrants is to keep the criminal and terrorist elements out of the United States, many of the people who come to the southern border are refugees looking to escape violence and oppression and to find some opportunity to make a life.  It is Trump's pretext for the persecution and confinement in concentration camps of immigrants.  His administration came up with a policy of separating migrant children from their parents.  Some 7,000 kids were shuttled into custody and provided some kind of foster care.  1,475 of the kids were lost.  

Trump has a lot of help and approval in the Nazification of America.  One of his most effective henchmen is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  McConnell has been the most perfidious but effective destroyer of democratic comity to operate in a long time.  During the presidency of Barack Obama, he famously announced, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

Then this master of obstruction refused to submit legislation to end the government shutdown until he got a signal of approval from Trump.  Then when Trump issued his phony crisis emergency declaration, McConnell said it was caused by Democrat obstruction: "President Trump’s decision to announce emergency action is the predictable and understandable consequence of Democrats’ decision to put partisan obstruction ahead of the national interest." 

McConnell flaunts hypocrisy as a badge of power.  He is a dedicated enabler of Trump's destructive presidency because he understands that the chaos created sustains his own power, which he never exercises for the national good, but only for the purpose of retaining power.  

Lurking deep in McConnell is the racial history of McConnell's home state.  Kentucky has a double history regarding racism.  In some regions, it has made strides toward equality, but in others it has a record of vicious racist acts.  McConnell aligns himself with those latter regions, as his treatment of President Obama indicates.  McConnell is in fact the antithesis of democratic equality. He is a perpetrator of the neo-Nazism that has taken hold in America.  He has sold the Senate out to Trump and protects those programs of discrimination and oppression that Trump is waging against Latinos and other minorities.

Just as Hitler put Jews into concentration camps and  separated them from their children, Trump is doing the same to Latino migrants and some, such as the two women in Montana, who are, in fact, citizens.  It's the same playbook administered with the help of Americans who want to deny the rights of democracy to groups that they hate.

If you want to understand how the Holocaust happened, just look around you and see what is happening right now in America.  

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Remembering a poseur who got away with it, I think

On an academic website, a professor whom I attended graduate school with mentioned the death of another graduate student we both knew.  His reference to her was somewhat guarded and ambiguous, and it raised some lingering questions I had about her.  The vast majority of people I've come across in the academic world are conscientious.  One can disagree with them on issues, but cannot accuse them of faking.  Only a very rare few elicit that suspicion, and that's because the pretenders usually get caught quickly and eliminated from the profession.

The woman attended a number of the same classes I did, which included some intense, difficult seminars.  One such seminar was at the house of a highly acclaimed scholar.  It began at suppertime and included a buffet prepared by the man's wife and ended when we finished with the agenda for that week's session, often around midnight.  I  gave my fellow student  rides home after the class.  I am not sure I could call her a friend, but we were very familiar classmates and knew each other well.  

One of the things that bothered me and others about her was that she constantly disparaged her professors.  She did not make note of their strengths and find flaws;  she totally disparaged them as scholars and human beings.  Her deprecation extended to the wife of the professor who provided the hospitality at the professor's  home.  Most of the woman's fellow students wondered why she attended graduate school if she found it so inferior.  

She had another ploy at which some of the women students were particularly miffed.  She was very good at  remembering certain phrases or statements that some of the more astute students would make in class.  She would repeat those statements as her own in other classes even if the comment was not relevant to the class discussion at the time.  She sounded intelligent and original.  Some of her classmates who shared classes with her recognized that some of her comments were, in fact, things they had said in other classes.  They had expressed their resentment to me a few times, and wondered if the professors saw through her.  I had noticed after a time that when she gave presentations in seminars, she seemed to string together what seemed like sharp insights, but with no coherent pattern.

I remember when she did that in a class I was in with her.  She said something that I could not connect with what was being covered in the class.   I was walking out of the class with the man on whose website I learned of the woman's death.  He said to me, "What was she talking about?"  I said that I couldn't figure it out either.  He said, "Can anybody?"  

Nevetheless, the woman graduated with her Ph.D. and landed a job at a Michigan school of some repute, where she worked for more than 20 years, and then moved to a Big Ten University, where she was until she died rather suddenly of cancer.   The mention of her death sent me looking for her obituary.  While she was a doctoral student, she lived with a partner with whom she had taught before they pursued their doctorate degrees together.  I got to know him rather well, and we were friends.  It was he who asked me if I would give his partner rides home from the evening seminar at the professor's house.  I looked for an obituary to see if he and she had formed a permanent relationship.

I could not find a formal obituary.  I found a laudatory tribute to the woman that was referenced on the web site where I learned of her death.  But it did not include the usual information about what family members or close associates survived or about any services in remembrance.  The obituary quoted the praise of graduate students, but contained no factual information or comments by colleagues.  As I searched, I found a rating sheet with comments by students that I would characterize as diffident.  She seemed to inspire the same dubious attitude during her working life that I witnessed during her time in graduate school.  She insinuated herself into good positions, but had a tenuous grasp on them.  

The absence of any acknowledgement by colleagues was striking.  She had been listed as the co-author of books and articles that had gained some recognition, but none of her collaborators or her departmental colleagues commented on her passing.  That fact emphasized the casualness of the reference to her death by my former classmate on his website which dealt with scholarly news.  And so, I conducted a brief look at the woman's scholarship, and found that she had allied herself with a peculiar speciality of literature within the post modern movement.  And all of her published work was done in collaboration with someone else.

The so-called post modern movement was a disaster for the field of literature.  In its name, some cogent and critical questions were raised, but many people were attracted to it because it seemed to offer the prestige and kind of complicated knowledge as quantum physics.  It produced some of the most abstruse, unintelligible academic writing ever to be published.  Many young English professors adopted the attitude that they were engaged in a theory of the universe that only a rare few had the intellectual capacity to understand.  This pretentious pose was offensive to other academic disciplines and create a backlash which contended that the movement was fraudulent.  The movement occurred at a time when universities were dealing with what should be a required curriculum and budgets were shrinking.  The study of English and other literatures lost out to science and technology as departments grappled for their share of required courses.  In many universities,  the study of English was largely reduced to the teaching of spelling, punctuation, and grammar--basic literacy--and many courses in literature were abandoned.  An ivy league university president remarked after a faculty presentation defending some English courses that no one had the vaguest idea of what the young English professors were talking about.  They put on a demonstration of their own irrelevance, he said.

As I reviewed some of the work with which the late woman professor's name was associated,  I read some sentences so clogged with academic jargon that they were impossible to paraphrase.  The former chair of a large university English department put it bluntly in regard to that kind of writing:  "No one can read that shit," he said.  I recalled what classmates had noted about the woman back in graduate school:  she used intelligent-sounding words, but no one knew what she actually said.

When the professor noted her death on his website post, he seemed to merely be expressing that she was gone.  She, and a few people like her that I've encountered (one was a journalist) are troubling.  They insinuate themselves into the work of other people and end up ruining it.  I cannot but wonder if that is reason my ex-classmate remarked upon her passing.  It occurred to me that the reason she inveighed so constantly against her graduate professors was because they were addressing her incoherence.  Her denigrations were an adverse experience for those of us who witnessed them. She's gone now.  May she rest in peace.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Don't put on a red hat, Mama.

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, writes a column for the Aberdeen American News.  He writes one in defense of the MAGA hat.  He correctly identifies the fury directed at the Covington High School boys who taunted Nathan Phillips as a reaction to their wearing of MAGA hats.  That is true.  Although many people focused on what appeared to be an insolent leer on the face of one of the boys, the real objection was to the fact that his schoolmates around him who taunted and derided the Native American drummer were nearly all clad in red or white Trump MAGA hats.

Lowry remarks that to many people, progressives mainly, the MAGA hats brand the wearers as racist bigots and goons.  He says, that is an "uncharitable view of their fellow citizens, who voted by the tens of millions for the guy who invented the red cap."

Lowry betrays  some inane adulation in his words.  Printing a the campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" on a hat is hardly an act of invention.  It is an inherent implication that America was somehow diminished because its previous president was black.  Trump has  accrued a long list of documented slights and insults against  people of color.  

One recent article says the wearing of a MAGA hat is a declaration of identity.  That is partially true, but it doesn't fully explain that the wearing of the hat is an endorsement of Donald Trump.  It declares that the wearer supports what Donald Trump says and does.  And what Trump does is deny the freedom, equality, and justice that are the goals of our
democracy.  But he also refutes the standards of decency that define an honest and just society.  He defrauds, defames, and lies incessantly.  His business resume reads like a criminal record.  He is possessed by malice.  Wearing one of his hats is a declaration of approval and support of all the insidious schemes that make up the Trump biography.  The hat is a declaration that its wearer is a disciple of Trump, and therefore an enemy of decency.

The Covington school boys ostensibly came to Washington, D.C., to participate in an anti-abortion march.  Why were so many wearing MAGA hats?  Why not clothing that identified their school?  Why this apparently coordinated effort display political support for Trump?  What exactly was the purpose of all those MAGA hats?  

When the Nazi flag is displayed, it tells us that the person who displayed it is for the things we fought against in the Second World War.  It is an endorsement of Hitler.  Therefore, it is an endorsement of the Holocaust, of genocide, white supremacy, dictatorship, and all the evil that attends those things.  It seems preposterous that they might have been individual choices.

Wearing a MAGA hat sends the same kind of message as the display of the Nazi flag.  That message is that the wearer is declaring that he/she believes in the words and deeds of Trump and will act accordingly.   A San Francisco chef has banned MAGA hat wearers from his restaurant for those reasons:  " if you come to my restaurant wearing a MAGA cap, you aren’t getting served, same as if you come in wearing a swastika, white hood, or any other symbol of intolerance and hate.  MAGA hats are like white hoods except stupider because you can see exactly who is wearing them.”

In America, we do not ban the display of the Nazi flag as a bit of political speech.  Some countries, such as France, do.  In the USA, banning it would conflict with the First Amendment.  There are those who think that freedom of speech lends an endorsement to anything they might believe or say.  They have difficulty in understanding that people also have the right to make intellectual and moral judgements on the basis of what others say and do.  And they have the right not to be bothered with speech that violates standards of truthfulness and intelligence.  That's why college students have the right to ban the deranged and corrupted from using their campus forums to spread malice.  They have the right to insist that participants in their forums meet standards of integrity and competence.

When those very young men from Covington donned hats that convey messages of malicious bigotry as part of their demonstration, people have every right to question why they were sending such a message.  Their appearance and behavior was disturbingly redolent of Nazi youth groups.  No one has as yet answered the question of why they were there demonstrating as they did.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States