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 »
According to Donald Trump, in a statement made to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” April 11, 2011, about the fake “birther controversy” of President Barack Obama—the opening salvo in Trump’s campaign of political disinformation—Obama’s “grandmother in Kenya said, ‘Oh, no, he was born in Kenya and I was there and I witnessed the birth.’ She’s on tape,” Trump went on. “I think that tape’s going to be produced fairly soon. Somebody is coming out with a book in two weeks, it will be very interesting.”
And, according to Vox News, President Trump, two weeks after losing the 2020 November 3rd election, tweeted, “I won the election!” He had warned many times prior to the vote that the only way he would lose the election would be if it was rigged, and the only way he would win was if the election was fair, a remarkably trenchant conjuration of the Three Witches’ spell on Macbeth, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”
And, according to Chanel Dion of One America News and Trump legal team lawyer, Sydney Powell, software engineers in Michigan and Georgia (and in parts of 26 other states) contracted with Dominion Voting Systems, which has financial ties to Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, and the seven-years-dead Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, to make ballot-counting machines switch votes from Republican to Democrat presidential candidates or to leave out a prescribed number of votes for President Trump in Joe Biden’s favor. Read more »
Just months after the new president was sworn into office, a would-be assassin’s bullet whizzed through the air and sliced into his chest. It cracked his rib, punctured his left lung, and barely missed his heart. It was March 30th, 1981 and Ronald Reagan was rushed to the George Washington University Hospital, in Washington, DC. His wife arrived as Reagan was being whisked to surgery and the injured president managed to croak, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” Reagan recovered fully after surgery, becoming the first U.S. president to survive an assassination attempt after a gunshot. Three years later and aged 73, he would clinch a resounding reelection to become, until now, the oldest person to win a presidential bid. But soon questions of a potential mental decline began to mount concerning the septuagenarian, such as when during a 1984 general election debate he told an anecdote that meandered aimlessly and fizzled to nowhere. A decade later, Reagan would announce that he had Alzheimer’s disease.
Age, it is often said, is just a number. But when it comes to the presidency of the United States, is it really? Should it simply be? This question is compounded by the lack of guidance in the U.S. constitution: While it places a minimal age requirement of 35 to run for office, it imposes no upper age limit.
And now, the country has elected Joe Biden to assume the presidency at age 78 – one year older than when Reagan, after a second term, left the post. That is among the many presidential histories that Biden’s election has made — the oldest person to date to be rewarded with America’s highest office. Yet, an advanced age puts a person at increased risk for diseases and health complications, including heart attack, stroke, various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and of course, death. After all, as George Burns once quipped, “At my age, flowers scare me.” Read more »
It is a desperate and naive sentiment, often advanced by those who can’t bear the truth. I say this as a historian who has studied genocide, ethnic cleansing, slavery, vast, violent, exploitative colonial systems, and more mundane expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. But if you’ve neither the time nor the inclination to brush up on 10,000 years of human history as a background for this discussion, then allow me to point you towards the present.
More than 70,000,000 people just voted for Donald Trump. Again.
After four years of observing, on a near daily basis, his presidential grotesquerie. The racism, the sexism, the vindictiveness, the endless vitriol, the knee-jerk authoritarianism and ceaseless attacks on and erosion of American constitutional mechanisms and democratic norms.
The number plagues us like a cancerous tumor unfazed by chemotherapy or radiation, and too large for a scalpel to carve away without disfiguring the corpus: 70,000,000. Read more »
During the 1990s, the impossibility of a black president was so ingrained in American culture that some people, including many African Americans, jokingly referred to President Bill Clinton as the first “black president.” The threshold Clinton had passed to achieve this honorary moniker? He seemed comfortable around black people. That’s all it took.
Because an actual black president was so inconceivable that a white president finally treating African Americans as regular people seemed as close as America would get any time soon.
In 1998, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison brought Clinton’s unofficial title to national attention with a New Yorkeressay aimed at discrediting the impeachment proceedings against him. One of Morrison’s rhetorical devices was to check off all the boxes in which Clinton displayed “almost every trope of blackness,” including being raised in a working class, single-parent household, and loving fast food.
By 2003, the idea of a black president was still outlandish enough that it served as common comedic fodder. Chris Rock starred in the film Head of State, a fantasy comedy in which Chicago Alderman Mays Gilliam becomes a fluke president. And Dave Chappelle portrayed an unabashedly African American version of President George Bush in a Chapelle Show sketch. The skit’s running joke was how outrageous and “unpresidential” it would be to have a black chief executive. Read more »
That Fifties-looking gent to your right is John J. Sparkman (D-Alabama) who was Adlai Stevenson’s running mate in 1952. Sparkman served in Congress for more than 40 years, the last 32 of them in the Senate. While not a star, he was associated with several pieces of important legislation and became Chair of the Senate Banking Committee and, late in his career, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was also a committed segregationist and, in 1956, signed the Southern Manifesto, in emphatic opposition to Brown vs. Board of Education.
Not the best look in what was then an evolving Democratic Party, and the party bosses who made the decisions in those days knew it. When it became time for Ike to crush Stevenson again, Sparkman was replaced by Tennessee’s more liberal Estes Kefauver, who did not sign the Southern Manifesto. Sparkman remained in the Senate, where he served for 23 more years.
This scary-looking guy to your left is John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who, during a truly extraordinary career that included being a Congressman, Senator, Secretary of State, and Secretary of War, also managed to sneak in two terms as Vice President under two very different Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. You are going to hear a lot over the next few weeks about “chemistry” between Joe Biden and his running mate. Suffice it to say that John C. Calhoun never had chemistry with anyone, except perhaps of the combustible kind. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Calhoun disagreed constantly, particularly on the enforcement of federal laws that South Carolina found not to its liking (including the juicily named “Tariff of Abominations”), which led Mr. Calhoun to resign the Vice Presidency during the Nullification Crisis in 1832.
I bring you these little worm-eaten chestnuts as an appetizer before today’s entrée, the coming vetting of either the next Vice President of the United States, or the next footnote to history. Sparkman’s and Calhoun’s experiences came to mind when it was announced that this is the week when Joe Biden’s team starts seriously thumbing through his binders of women. Since I have written kindly about Joe in the past, I thought he’d appreciate the input. Mr. Vice President, give me a call. Read more »
I’ve been thinking a lot about Joe Biden recently. Joe Biden and nostalgia, Joe Biden and memory. Joe Biden and Mad Men.
There is a wonderful scene to close the first season as Don Draper pitches an ad campaign to two exceptionally nerdy guys from Kodak. The boys from the lab want to talk technology, but a plastic and metal “wheel” is decidedly unsexy. Stumped at first, Don puts in a few of his own 35mm slides and an idea emerges. The lights dim, and images of happy moments with wife and kids, some posed, more not, each appear on the screen, with Don providing narration:
Well, technology is a glittering lure. But, there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new. Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. … Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.
I’ve never had an itch to see Joe Biden as President. I do like him. A lot of Americans of a certain age like him, friendly and familiar and a bit worn, like a favorite old jacket you take out every fall when it gets a little chilly. The country could do a lot worse than elect Joe Biden. He has the temperament and the policy chops: former Chairman of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees, former Vice-President, former glad-hander, back-slapper, and deal maker. Republicans who mocked him during the Obama Administration were often secretly relieved when the occasionally aloof President would send Joe to work the back-rooms and rope-lines. Joe got it done. Read more »