Is a Nazi Quote always Anti-Semitic?

I am not sure I understand the fuss raised by a Massachusetts high school student using a quote often attributed to Joseph Goebbels about the Big Lie for his yearbook photo.  The quote is, though perhaps not verbatim, “Make the lie big, keep it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it.”

It seems that “quoting a racist dictator bent on genocide or his minister of propaganda” is the problem.  And even then I am not so sure.  What is the problem with the quote above beyond its origin?  Does its origin forever and perpetually apply?

The article in The New York Times points out that Goebbels used propaganda to build the Nazi empire and then goes on to discuss our ongoing — and growing — issues with anti-semitism.  The high school’s principal reassures readers, however, that the student was unfamiliar with the “hateful background” of the quote.  The point being made here is the student didn’t know any better and we should stop right there.  If the student didn’t know any better, he didn’t know any better about what?  How would Goebbels’s association change the student’s intent?  How would it matter especially if the student didn’t know about this?

I think the good people of Andover, Massachusetts, are projecting their associations with Goebbels in place of another person’s intentions here.  They are loading the quote with meaning that goes beyond the simple denotative meaning of the words.  (Presuming a fixed connotation, which strikes me as contradictory and absurd.)

If the student indeed did not understand the origins of the quote, that seems to make the case that a quote can be disassociated with its origin.  There is no inherent meaning or implication in it.  Couldn’t the quote be used as a reminder to beware?  Or as a reminder that great evil was committed under the cover of the Big Lie?  I think so.  I think that is legitimate.

Of course, if the student were offering the quote as a strategy to promote anti-semitism, that is another matter, right?  Otherwise, I think it is an appropriately perfect use of this quote.  It is appropriate because it is associated with great crimes.  We should want to learn from history, not run from it.  Repeating the quote exposes it and exposes the risks associated with it.  That is different from recreating its original intent.

Even worse, we don’t want to politicize history.  A troubling trend in politicizing and especially of co-opting history exists.  As we get more diverse and politically vocal about separate identities — itself a good thing — this co-opting sometimes has become weaponized.  At the very least it can exclude who is given political space to reflect on history and how they do so.  But more than excluding some groups from appropriate political discourse, one group claiming a special right to a historical event has sometimes turned that history into a tool for silencing others.

If Americans of European descent, for example, cannot talk about past war crimes committed by the United States Army against Native Americans that creates a barrier around those events, it defines a limited context for historical legitimacy.  One might say it creates a “politically correct” way of addressing tragedy based on who has the right to claim to be the oppressed or the victim and thereby who has the correct relationships with those experience.  We shouldn’t let events, slogans, and ideas of the past be claimed as the limited purview of one group, class, or race.

On the contrary, I would suggest that we should leave this open.  I would suggest further that the oppressor and victimizer should have as much a claim to this history and a voice in it as the oppressed and victims.  And the example from the Massachusetts high school is a strong example why.

A lesson can be learned by history here.  In an era of erroneous “fake news” and routine dishonesty used to promote a political agenda, one should be aware of the danger of lies; should be aware that lies have — and have had — serious consequences.  If we turn the facts of the past into politically dangerous territory we limit the where the lessons of history can apply.

So back again to the Goebbels quote.  Is there anything inherent in that quote that promotes anti-semitism?  If another leader in another place and another time, for example, tells big lies to promote jingoistic immigration policy is that not a lie for which we should want to be warned?  In this case, a lie is a tool, not necessarily a consequence, of a political action.  We need to be aware of the difference.


Trump Finally Did It!

Well, it took 14 months — which is about 13 1/2 months longer than I thought it would take — but Trump has finally gotten in the way and tripped up the economy.  And maybe much worse.
The markets are not everything, but they are a big something, and tonight the sell-offs continue in Asia — bigly, very bigly — and US futures are ugly, too. (Tomorrow isn’t likely to be a pretty day, but who knows…)
To paraphrase Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kaskhari, the markets overreact to everything. However, when you see 2% declines in succession that’s worrisome. Isn’t it?
It’s that tariff thing. And the looming trade wars. Oh, and maybe the hot wars that could flare up in economically significant geopolitical hotspots like Iran and environs. And don’t forget those unwise tax cuts. Oh dear. Not good. (NB: It is especially hard to realize an already unrealistic fantasy of growth to pay for unwise tax cuts when you’re in the depths of a recession.)
Gold is rallying though. So are firearms. And I suspect cheap gin is next.
So, take out a notepad and list all the reasons people voted for an inexperienced candidate with no aptitude for public service and little, if any, understanding of geopolitical and macroeconomic issues and kiss those reasons bye-bye…
It was all a come-on anyway.

This Will Make Me Very Unpopular, But…

I just read Frank Bruni’s thoughts about the Democratic “bench” for the 2020 election and I kind of agree with him and I kind of don’t.  It is how I disagree that will rankle thoughtful people.  So here it is:  I really don’t think the Democrats can successfully run a minority or woman candidate in 2020.  To do so, I draw this conclusion reluctantly, is too risky.  There is a motivated — and agitated — base of conservative voters who might be motivated to vote against that candidate.  I know, I know…it is an awful position to hold, but what do you think?

Consider this:  An unqualified lout defeated an exceptionally experienced and qualified candidate in 2016…which is telling in the first place.  More importantly, however, that victory has given cover to a lot of long-sequestered sexism and racism that amazingly still exists in this country.  Racism, sexism?  No longer quite as shocking as it once was.  The decades have rolled back.  Indeed, for many people, making America “great” again is couched in the rhetoric of racism and sexism.  (Exhibit A:  Donald J. Trump…our president.)

That puts Democrats in a tough spot.  A lot of Democratic talent — probably the majority of it — is in the leadership of minorities and women.  The question is whether putting forward a minority or woman candidate can draw enough votes to outbalance those motivated to vote against such a candidate.  If it is Trump running, I’m not sure they can.  The GOP is Trump’s party now.  You would have to pull those so-called left behind angry white working-class voters away from Trump, the ones who once voted for Obama.  Hell, you’d have to pull votes from better-off, better-educated suburban conservative white voters whose latent racism appears to be stronger than we care to admit.  They don’t recognize Trump’s bigotry…or choose not to care.  (Trump is polling around 85% favorable among Republicans.)

Now, of course, I seem to be making the simple-minded case that Trump won because he was a man and Clinton was a woman and therefore if we tried the same dynamic again (run a woman or minority against a man) the result would be the same.  (And, yes, the GOP candidates for president will be men.)

However, I think my argument is more subtle than that.  I think a large part of the American electorate is seeking what it thinks is a middle ground, something that feels more like fifty years ago.  To them, progressives are a muddle.  Progressives get in the way with all their ideas for something better than what America once was when what America once was is what America should be.  And there is no better way to sustain that narrative than by putting it — literally — in black and white.

Watch Fox News.  Who are the villains?  Overwhelmingly blacks, women, and especially black women.  Do you see them attacking Andrew CuomoChris Murphy?  Even Joe Biden tends to get a pass.

So I am saying Democrats capitulate, right?  Well, kind of.  The stakes are pretty damn high.  A hard swallow of realpolitik pragmatism might need to prevail.  It is an offensive and a defensive play.  Keep the bigots at home while pulling in more progressives.

I really hope I am wrong.

Future Minnesota Democratic Senator Richard Painter — We Need Him

We need Richard Painter to run for the United States Senate as a Democrat from Minnesota.  Pure.  Simple.  That’s it.  He would win and he is the kind of Senator we need now.  Period.

Richard Painter

Richard Painter

Painter reminds me of the liberals who pulled away from the Democratic party in the late-60s and early-70s.  They reacted to what they saw as their party going too far to the left.  We call them neoconservatives.  Richard Painter seems to mirror that pattern…and for good reason.  We can’t call any movement Richard Painter might start neoliberal, but we might be on the mark to call them neo-principled.

Conservatives have lost their soul, or better, they have sold it.  No one today articulates this as well Richard Painter.  He also calls out Democrats for the same.  As a member of the Democrat caucus, he can take his conservative bona fides and work the political center.  Senate conservatives — and the money behind them — would too quickly marginalize him.  (Can you imagine a Republican Senator Painter on Hannity?  Nope.)

In Minnesota, interim Senator Tina Smith is beatable.  Democrats are taking this one too lightly.  The race would be reduced to a battle between Hennepin County and Ramsey County against the rest; an urban-rural divide and that doesn’t look good for her.  Yes, Smith worked on the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline or some such thing once upon a time, but that isn’t going to win the blue-collar or rural vote.  Even a paper tiger like Karin Housley, the only Minnesota GOPer formally in the race so far, poses a risk and you can count on more formidable opponents announcing soon.

Painter, on the other hand, would crush either Smith or Housley — or anyone else who comes up to challenge him.  He simply has the stuff that appeals to a broad base.  His common sense is…well, common sense that makes sense!  You can’t govern for the people when government is beholden to interests that don’t serve the people.  Painter explains this with lucid precision.  People will understand.

Scroll through my posts in this blog.  I am a left-of-Lenin cynic!  (Almost.)  Richard Painter is exactly the kind of candidate we need running for office again.  He’s principled to the point of being annoying!  Politicians today are not expected to have his sort of commitment and integrity (cf. Donald J. Trump), but Painter does.  You don’t have to agree with all of Richard Painter’s positions to support a smart and coherent step in a better direction.

The We-Knew-Who-We-Voted-For Defense Has to Go

We hear it all the time about Donald Trump:  Voters knew who they were voting for when they elected him.  Of course there are all kinds of problems with this, not least among them is the fact that — for most people, supporters or not — he is far worse than anticipated; however, more simply still, most voters did not vote for him in any case.

Donald TrumpThe “we knew who we were electing” defense is pathetic.  Those of us who did not vote for him and would never consider voting for him, the conflated “we” is offensive.  “We” is supposed to represent some idealized American (the hard-hat-wearing white midwestern worker who is justly outraged at being left behind in a country that is no longer his) and to argue otherwise is to be on the wrong side of patriotism.  But America is a lot more than that anger and many Americans have deeper complaints than “being left behind”, which really is nothing but another way of expressing angst with change.

I am becoming more interested in the subtle admissions this phony defense suggests.  There is a level of resignation in it, but it also betrays a level of comfort with what Trump stands for; it is a sort of mea culpa, a connection with the transgressor that is telling.  You have to keep in mind that pre-Trump Republicans took social impropriety and political malfeasance very seriously.  Ask a Clinton.  Or President Barack Obama.

Indeed, Republicans once took character so seriously — or claimed to, anyway — that if there wasn’t a scandal, they would create a scandal so they could attack an opponent on ethical or moral grounds.  Now we have a well-documented serial offender and…well, it gets brushed off with a laugh and a shrug:  “Americans knew who they were voting for when they elected Donald Trump.”

So, in the defense, the defense is gone.  No one is really saying Trump isn’t a liar, a philanderer, or a generally unqualified incompetent with no aptitude for the job, they’re saying we shouldn’t be surprised that he is all of this and worse.  We’re not defending the guy with some alternative narrative (or, how about this? facts!) that describes him as the personification of intellectual and moral authority.  No!  In essence, the apologists are identifying him with the people who support him and then conflating them with the Americans generally.  “America knew Donald Trump.”  Yes, and most American did not vote for him.  So there is no “America” voting for this lack of character and thus there is no defense.  It’s a rhetorical pivot.

Trump is a tool, perhaps even a bit of a stooge.  Republican leadership casts him in the light of populism to justify this.  They can overlook his transgressions because those things never really mattered anyway.  Nonetheless, in the past, in a party without ideas, attacking the character of the opposition was sometimes all that the GOP had to run on.  In the era of Trump, however, they have co-opted what were once disqualifying sins and made them the foundation of political legitimacy.

You have to ask, too, is this really it?  Is Donald Trump the GOP’s answer to what ails America?  If he is, then you have to look at what he stands for.  Think of both is personal and political missteps.  These are the qualities that the GOP defends when they suggest that we all knew what we were bargaining for in 2016.  In short, Trump reveals the soul of the GOP regardless of what Republicans claim.  How else could they stand for his lies, incompetence, and values — to say nothing of his ideas — as just quirks?  Those quirks are his presidency, his leadership.  Pretending that it is all ok just because he won an electoral college election doesn’t work for me.

Our Russian Stooge

Donald TrumpI don’t believe Trump has ever been much of a businessman.  He’s a scam artist.  After being bankrupt three times American banks would not finance his boondoggles so he had to go elsewhere to find his funding.  And do we have any reason to believe that the Russians or other foreign banks or governments would be any less worried about Trump’s failed business record?  Hardly.  What they saw in Trump was a showman who could front their schemes — apparently money laundering schemes — in exchange for the appearance of business success.  They’d prop up Trump if he played along.  In short, we have a Russian stooge in the White House, plain and simple.   (One might wonder, too, what those shrouded funds financed.)

The evidence we can see before us is enough to draw this conclusion:

  • Bankrupt three times.
  • Growing evidence of improper connections with foreign governments and banks.
  • Jared Kushner.
  • Donald Trump Jr.
  • Paranoia about FBI Russia investigation.
  • No tax returns.

Enough is enough.

Briefly: How Obama Ruined Trump’s Economic Miracle

This market correction is a wonderful gift for Trump and the GOP.   They now have an out when their hyperinflated economic promises don’t pan out.   You see, they will now be able to say it is all Obama’s fault.  You can count on it.

Paul Ryan, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnellHow?

Trump and his Republican fellow travelers will explain that they were right all along.  Obama overheated the economy and — except for 2017 when Trump was in office and because Trump can do no wrong even though he seemingly can do nothing — that 9-year stock market rally was pure fraud, bought and paid for by the United States government.  (Another reason, if you need one, to hate your government.)

Had Obama not overheated the economy, we really would have needed that GOP tax scam and it would have worked brilliantly.  Economic growth would be at 5% — who knows, probably much, much higher — and everyone would be getting great pay increases working jobs they loved.  Healthcare?  Income inequality?  The future?  Everyone would be too happy to care about that stuff.

But, darn it, Obama jumped the gun and unnecessarily used government to meddle in the economy, created a fake government-sponsored recovery, and boom!  Now we’re in the pits.  Unfair to Trump.  Unfair to you.

That’s pretty much it, the story you will hear later this year from your Republican flim-flam artists.  Don’t buy it.