Dangers to Come

What would happen now, if a terrorist event or confrontation draws the United States into conflict, and Americans naturally seek to rally around the flag, or react fearfully to what has taken place?

The course has been drawn — dissenters will be blamed, the “so-called judges” and courts, “illegals,” anyone who has spoken against the president of the United States are to blame.

Either by design — it would not be the president’s; it might be the last lips close to his ear — or by accident, this republic will face a challenge it has never seen.

The prospects are raised in Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times. He writes what is obvious–this president will use any calamity as an excuse to grab unprecedented imperial power:

“What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?”

Who then will stop him? Congress, Republicans who worry only about their power, who?

The answer is a challenge to complacency and to patriots of any stripe. After 9/11, twisted minds used public fear and manipulated a falsehood: that Iraq was the threat. A trillion dollars or more later, a million lives later, here we are, says Krugman. It depends….

“..on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand. We can’t handle another post-9/11-style suspension of doubt about the man in charge; if that happens, America as we know it will soon be gone.”

The danger is with us.

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Immigration: how we got here

By Peter Eisner

Seems like a fine day to point out how I, along with millions, am an American by the choice and search of my ancestors for freedom. My paternal grandfather, Louis Eisner, came to this country one hundred eleven years ago, fleeing Jewish persecution in Russian-controlled Poland. He did not undergo extreme vetting — which might have determined that he had at one point attended a few Bolshevik organizational meetings.

Ten years later, in 1916, he became an American citizen and pledged loyalty to the United States, and renounced allegiance to the Russian leader of the moment, Czar Nicholas II. It was a year before the Russian revolution.

Here’s to American freedom and democracy!

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Trumpism –“You cannot petition the Lord”

By Peter Eisner

 

I have seen people of goodwill writing petitions and appealing to the good sense of the president of the United States. “Look at my case,” they implore, “look at the suffering, look at …” (And Trump has answered that no one has a bigger heart than he has — huge)

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an emotional column entitled — Mr. Trump, Meet My Family — that included pictures of his immigrant family and their story. At the end of his piece, he writes:

“Mr. President, please remember: This is a country built by refugees and immigrants, your ancestors and mine. When we bar them and vilify them, we shame our own roots.”

Many decent people — Americans are a decent people — have beseeched and petitioned this president to listen to reason and emotion. Such petitions, I do believe, fall on deaf ears.

I was left thinking of the introduction of Jim Morrison’s song written, impossibly, 48 years ago, Soft Parade, with The Doors. (Coincidentally, the song opens with a person begging for refuge)

When I was back in seminary school, there was a notion there that you can petition the lord with prayer, petition the lord with prayer, petition the lord with prayer….YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER.

Donald Trump will feed on dissonance and anger, and will not be swayed by entreaty and prayer. A petition is a document of conscience, of good faith. Understand, this man is self-referential and cares not for your petitions and prayers.

Elsewhere on the same New York Times opinion page, Maureen Dowd interviews Michael D’Antonio, my friend and colleague, who is among those who has confronted Trump in lengthy interviews and has come closest to shrinking him.

Some of Michael’s comments:

“Donald’s manic without being depressive,” he muses. “The only thing you can do is keep him distracted for a day and then one more day so that he doesn’t do anything disastrous.”

Just like Obama and May, D’Antonio says, “a lot of people over the years have tried to mollify him and accommodate him day by day. And eventually you get a year behind you. Everybody else wants stability, but he thrives in turmoil.”

This president has received his first judicial rebuke. There will be more. The Roberts Supreme Court looms. How will Chief Justice John Roberts operate? — he has shown signs of concern for his legacy.

It will not long before this president questions once more the legitimacy of judges, anyone who stands in his way.

“You cannot petition the lord.”

 

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Save the Refugees — A matter of Decency and Defiance (1940 and now)

By Peter Eisner

In June 1940, after the fall of Paris, an American vice consul in Marseille, Hiram Bingham IV, received an order from the State Department to slow down and effectively block issuing visas for  refugees attempting to flee the Third Reich. The refugees were mostly Jews.

A xenophobic and possibly anti-Semitic official at the State Department, Breckenridge Long, had issued a declaration to delay and stop Jews from entering the United States. He and others claimed — without evidence — that Hitler could sneak Nazi agents into the United States among the Jewish refugees. He wrote:

“We can delay and effectively stop, for a temporary period of indefinite length, the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.”

 

Bingham, however, acted on conscience and out of decency in the highest traditions of the country he believed in. As I wrote, Bingham:

…challenged indifference and anti-Semitism among his State Department superiors. In speeding up visa and travel documents at the Marseille consulate, he disobeyed orders from Washington. In all, an estimated 2,500 refugees were able to flee to safety because of Bingham’s help.

I wrote about Bingham’s story in Smithsonian Magazine: Saving the Jews of Nazi France.harry-bingham-marseille-631-jpg__800x600_q85_crop

Today, the United States faces a disgusting wave of xenophobia and prejudice. Think about the example of Hiram Bingham, whose promising career was destroyed — because he took a moral stance. More than half a century after his actions, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell honored Bingham posthumously for his actions.

Breckenridge Long’s order, obeyed by others, contributed to blocking tens of thousands of refugees from entry into the United States. Many who could have been saved died under the Nazi boot.

The times are changing, and yet the principles of decency remain unchanged.

 

 

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“How Dare you, Sir…. (Come on, people)

“How dare you, Sir,  impugn the character of…… (John Lewis, Meryl Streep, a Gold Star mother, a journalist with disabilities, or the target du jour)

Come on, people, it won’t work. Laughter, mockery and good cheer are a more effective antidote. Make a plan and do not presume to issue answers.

The problem we face is wrongly characterized. We need a strategy. A newspaper wrongly described the entity’s response to John Lewis as “a feud.” This was not a feud. It was a judgement by a great American statesman, followed by a predictable response from the entity. John Lewis need not respond.

The entity you are addressing feeds on your anger and outrage. The entity is happy that you are offended and does not care.

In Star Trek (original, Captain Kirk, third season, episode seven), just such an entity was discovered in the realm of a human colony on Beta XII-A. “A glowing entity of pure energy” had destroyed the settlement on Beta XII-A and proceeded to take over the Enterprise.

It took some time before Captain Kirk realized that the entity was provoking anger and outrage among the crew. It had already destroyed the planet below.

The captain convinced his crew to begin to joke and laugh loudly, fight off angry emotions.

The entity lost power, skulked away and the ship was saved. Too late, though, for the planet.

When will we learn?

In the meantime, don’t bother to respond to the entity’s tweets or to treat it as you would treat other Earthlings.

And laugh along with Alec Baldwin and others who have gotten the idea.

 

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What did the Trump campaign know and when did it know it? Is the Russian hacking investigation ongoing?

An intriguing exchange on Meet the Press between Chuck Todd and Senator Lindsey Graham left the impression that federal investigators are still looking at whether someone in the presidential campaign knew BEFORE the election about Russian hacking and discussed the matter with the Russian government.

Graham appeared to answer yes — that an investigation is underway. “I believe that it is happening.”

According to the transcript of the program, Todd asked this:

But what about– should there be an investigation about whether any of the campaigns had any interactions with Moscow….

Senator John McCain was also on the program and spoke next, but didn’t answer that question, saying:

I would like to see a select committee. Apparently that is not in agreement by our leadership. So we will move forward with the Armed Services Committee and I’m sure Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committee will as well. But it is possible if enough information comes out, that that decision could be reversed. I still think it’s the best way to attack the issue.

Todd returned to the question:

Are there still active investigations going on to try to figure out if there was coordination between campaigns and Moscow?

Graham answered this time, but didn’t exactly answer:

You asked me what should we do. We should get to bottom of all things Russia when it came to the 2016–

CHUCK TODD:

Period.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

–election. Period.

But Todd didn’t leave the question at hand. Here’s the rest of the exchange:

CHUCK TODD:

Wherever it leads.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yeah, wherever it leads in whatever form. Because–

CHUCK TODD:

Is that currently happening now in other investigative agencies? F.B.I., a joint task force, anything like that?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

You–

CHUCK TODD:

Is that currently happening?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I believe–

CHUCK TODD:

And just we don’t know about it?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I believe that it’s happening. But you need to talk to them because I don’t want to speak for them. Here’s what I think we should do as a nation. We should all, Republicans, Democrats, condemn Russia for what they did. To my Republican friends who are gleeful, you’re making a huge mistake.

So far, Donald Trump has only condemned NBC News.

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A Man in a High Castle

Season two of the alternate history series, The Man in The High Castle, has hit Amazon, and I will be watching.

The show, which debuted in 2016, posits a divided United States which lost World War II — following such events, it appears, as a nuclear attack on the homeland and invasions from East and West. America is then divided and shared uneasily by Imperial Japan — capital in a grey, subservient version of San Francisco — and The Reich, with its headquarters in New York, patrolled by the SS and spiffy American brownshirts. The two sides have established a buffer zone between them, a Wild West territory filled with conspirators, rebels and spies somewhere in the vicinity of Denver and the Rocky Mountains.

Nazi flags fly on Broadway and are festooned over the Statue of Liberty. In this version of reality, the High Castle is not a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue. Jews are in hiding if they are alive, people judged substandard, along with the Jews, are rounded up and killed.

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Alexa Davalos in “The Man in the High Castle” (Credit: Liane Hentscher/Amazon Prime Video)

 

A review in the New York Times draws some unavoidable parallels with life these days:

“…it would be hyperbole to treat the series like a documentary, it would be denial to say it plays no differently now than it did before. …

The series producers say they did not intended to make a political statement.

“But you can’t wish the reminders away. A new “High Castle” story line involves a Japanese-American woman who survived the wartime internment camp at Manzanar, in California — one constant, it turns out, between its fictional timeline and ours. On Fox News shortly after the election, a supporter of Mr. Trump defended a proposal to register immigrants from Muslim countries by citing the actual camps as precedent.”

You get the idea. Last year, I asked myself, how easy is it for a country to fall passively into fascism?

This year, I look for clues in Season Two. Will the people of this nightmarish version of America fight for democracy and seek to oust the insanity?

Yep, I’ll be watching.

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