by Mark Harvey
Where I live in Colorado there are unstable elements of the landscape that sometimes fail. In severe cases, millions of tons of rock, silt, sand, and mud can shift, leading to massive landslides. The signs aren’t always evident because the breakdown in the structural geology often happens quietly underground. The invisible changes can take hundreds or thousands of years, but when a landslide takes place, it is fast and violent. And the new landscape that comes after is unrecognizable.
Democracies, like landscapes, take time to erode and the erosion isn’t always obvious to those living within its structure. Seemingly small things like villainizing the press, vicious attacks on political candidates, gerrymandering districts, voter suppression, and allowing vast amounts of money to enter the campaign process are all erosive forces that, taken individually, don’t seem like much. But taken together, over time, they break down democracies and invite darker forms of government.
When you start to speak about democracy in this country, it can get wispy and abstract in a hurry. Most of us were taught about democracy as school children in breathless, fabled terms. It’s hard to get past the myths of our founders and our founding to consider both how young and how clunky our democracy really is. For perspective, the oldest tree in the country is a bristlecone pine named Methuselah that sits in eastern California and had its beginning as a seed over 4,000 years before the convention in Philadelphia that hot summer of 1787. We think of our democracy as about 230 years old from the time when the Constitution was signed and George Washington first took office. But it’s only been 156 years since African Americans were freed and only about 100 years since women were guaranteed the right to vote by the Nineteenth Amendment. So our true democracy, at least on paper, is really only about 100 years old, closer to the lifespan of a cottonwood tree. And yet just 100 years into it, since the day when everyone was theoretically given the right to vote, things in the United States are wobbling and teetering. Read more »
by Akim Reinhardt
My Jewish maternal grandparents came to America just ahead of WWII. Nearly all of my grandmother’s extended family were wiped out in the Holocaust. Much of my grandfather’s extended family had previously emigrated to Palestine.
My maternal family history illustrates why many modern American Jews continue to view Israel as their ultimate safety net. After two millennia of vicious anti-Judaism, many Jews believe they can eventually be run out of any country, even Untied States. American Jews’ sometimes uncritical support for Israel is underpinned by a wistful glance and a knowing nod; if it does happen here, we can escape to there.
Even though I am only half-Jewish, my familial immigration history is more recent than most American Jews. Their ancestors typically arrived here a full generation or two earlier than mine, and most of them did not lose a slew of close family members in the Holocaust like my grandmother did.
But unlike most American Jews, I can counter the fear of “It can happen here” with a sense of American belonging that stems from deeply rooted Southern WASP family history. Depending on which of my paternal branches you follow, we’ve been here upwards of about three centuries.
Or so they tell me.
Exactly how long ago the Reinhardts, Lowrances, Younts, Dunkles, and Hollers I’m descended from first arrived here is besides the point. In fact, not having an exact date actually helps; it was long enough ago that no one really knows. And that feeds into the one common thread binding deeply-rooted white Protestant Americans, despite their many differences in class, education, geographic region, and religious denomination. It’s the unassailable sense that you belong here because you’re from here. That you’re not really the sons and daughters of immigrants. Rather, you’re descended from the people who took this land from Native Americans, and who fought to gain independence from the British. That you’re part of the group who really “earned” it. America’s your inheritance. You own it.
This is also the core of Trumpism: believing you have a better claim to being here than other people do. Read more »
by Claire Chambers
In her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt argues that there is nothing in evil that is radical or lucid. Instead, she claims, even the most extreme evil is senseless and banal. Amos Elon summarized Arendt's argument in terms that cannot but resonate with the current political circumstances in the United States: 'Evil […] need not be committed only by demonic monsters, but—with disastrous effect—by morons and imbeciles as well'. As Arendt writes about Adolf Eichmann, one of the Holocaust's prime orchestrators: '[he] was not Iago and not Macbeth […]. Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all'.
The world's new Orange Overlord, 45th President of the United States Donald J. Trump has gifted us too many irrational, muddled, and downright idiotic statements and actions over the last year for enumeration in this short blog post. To take just one example, on the first day of Black History Month, Trump seemed to believe that Frederick Douglass, the nineteenth-century author of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, was still alive. According to Trump, Douglass was 'an example of somebody who is doing an amazing job, who is being recognized more and more, I notice'.
Arendt was right to observe that the slide from thoughtlessness to evil is easy and smooth. A week before his Douglass gaffe, on Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 Trump issued his executive order banning refugees from the United States for 120 days and from Syria permanently. Additionally, citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia) were blocked from entering for 90 days. What a way to commemorate the premeditated and industrial killing of six million Jews and 200,000 Roma by singling out refugees and a religious group for exclusion. Thankfully, Trump soon found himself struggling with implacable opposition from the US legal system and at the time of writing has been unable to execute his order.
Moreover, there was no mention of the Jews or anti-Semitism on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trump's inept Press Secretary Sean Spicer later clarified that this omission was not regretted because the White House's intention was to 'acknowledg[e] all of the people' who died. Prince Charles responded by saying the lessons of the Holocaust are being forgotten. Yet these lessons are in fact being wilfully erased by Trump and his team.
Read more »
by Omar Ali
Pakistan’s existing political and administrative system is based almost entirely on Western models. but the official national ideology is ambivalent or even hostile to Western civilization and its innovations. In the past this was less of a problem since “national ideology” was not very well developed (Jinnah himself was famously confused about what he wanted and while the Muslim League used Islamist slogans freely during the Pakistan movement, a number of its leaders and ideologues were happy to go along with vaguely left wing justifications for the state once they were comfortably in power after partition), but ever since the time of General Zia, there has been a steady push to establish a particular Islamist version of Pakistani nationalism as the default setting. The process has not gone entirely smoothly and significant sections of the super-elite intelligentsia remain wedded to Western left-liberal(and more rarely, frankly capitalist/”neo-liberal”)) ideologies while the deeper thinking Islamists tend towards Salafism, but it has gone further in the emerging middle class and within the armed forces. There, a superficially Islamist, hypernationalist vision has taken root and can be seen in its purest form on various “Paknationalist” websites.
This “paknationalism” is an extremely shallow and rather unstable construct. It is not classically Islamist but it regards Islam as the main unifying principle and ideological foundation of the state. In practice, it is more about hating India (and our own Indian-ness) that it is about any recognizable orthodox form of Islam. It is also very close to 1930s fascism in its worship of uniforms, authority and cleansing violence. People outside Pakistan rarely take it too seriously and prefer to get their versions of Pakistani nationalism from more liberal interpreters, but the “Paknationalists” are serious and one of these days, they are going to have a go at Pakistan if present suicidal trends persist in the civilian elite. Their interlude may not last very long, but it is likely to be exceptionally violent and may end in catastrophe.
Some idea of the ambitions and self-image of the Paknationalists can be gauged from a few recent examples; Pakistan's former ambassador to the United Nations, senior diplomat Munir Akram, penned a piece in “DAWN” on 27th May in which he repeated the usual “Paknationalist” themes but went a little further than usual by explicitly suggesting that if the US picks a fight with Pakistan, it may face an “asymmetrical nuclear war”. This, unfortunately, is not an isolated example of an Ambassador Sahib wandering off the reservation. Former director general of the ISI, Lieut. Gen. Assad Durrani, wrote a bellicose piece a few days earlier in which he suggested (among other things) that we could exchange Dr Afridi for Aafia Siddiqui and then give Aafia Siddiqui the Nishan e Haider (I am not kidding, check it out for yourself). Certified Paknationalist Ahmed Quraishi suggested that the CIA has been at war with Pakistan since 2002, though interestingly he also said that the CIA is doing this to “poison Pakistani-American ties”, (perhaps in a rogue operation not supported by the “good” or soft-touch faction of the US regime?).
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