Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

October 30, 2018

The Demons Within

By David K. Shipler

                On a December evening twenty-some years ago, Fern Amper, a Jewish resident of Teaneck, NJ, made a startling statement to a small group of Jews and African-Americans who gathered at her home periodically to discuss the issues of race, privilege, and bigotry. When the Jews spoke of anti-Semitism, the blacks mostly minimized it, preferring to see themselves as the country’s primary victims of prejudice and picturing Jews—who were white, after all—as comfortably powerful.
So, to make her point about Jews’ vulnerability, Amper claimed that they were always poised to flee. “I would venture to say that there’s no Jew sitting in here—and I’ve never spoken to you about this—who does not have an up-to-date passport for yourself and your kids in your desk drawer,” she declared. “Tell me if that’s true.”
“It’s true,” one said. “Absolutely,” said another. “Absolutely,” said all the Jews in the room.
The blacks were flabbergasted. “Why? Why?” asked Ray Kelly, an African-American. “Are you really serious with this paranoia?” A moment of silence followed, then a couple of voices said, “Yes.”
If the scent of perpetual danger seemed exaggerated in the 1990s, it seems more warranted in the era of Donald Trump’s winks and nods to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists among us. It is no coincidence that since his election, anti-Semitic attacks, both physical and verbal, have soared, culminating in the mass murder of 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday.
 As president, Trump has created an environment favorable to the undercurrent of anti-Semitism that American society has long harbored. It has surfaced dramatically since his election in 2016. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, counted a rise in the number of neo-Nazi organizations from 99 to 121 between 2016 and 2017. Murders by white supremacists have doubled, and the Anti-Defamation League reports “a 258% increase in the number of white supremacist propaganda incidents on college campuses.”
In addition, the ADL found that a 57% jump during 2017 in anti-Semitic incidents, defined as harassment, vandalism, and assault, was the largest one-year increase since the organization started keeping tallies in 1979. “Schools, from kindergarten through to high school, were the most common locations of anti-Semitic incidents,” the ADL reported. Jewish journalists and critics of Trump have been flooded with online threats, anti-Semitic portrayals, and disinformation, according to a voluminous study by the ADL.

October 20, 2018

Human Rights Hypocrisy

By David K. Shipler

                Hypocrisy is a cardinal feature of foreign policy, and it wasn’t invented by Donald Trump. Saying one thing and doing another, or doing different things simultaneously, or saying contradictory things about the same situation are venerable traditions in diplomacy, and no more dramatically than in the area of human rights.
                Most countries skate along easily in this slippery practice, but the United States sometimes bumps up against its inconvenient national myth: that America is the beacon of democracy, the shining city on a hill, the bastion of freedom, the model of liberty—and promotes the same the world around.  When the collision between idealism and realism occurs, American policy toward whatever country is committing egregious violations either hits a wall and retreats, or it finds a pragmatic detour around the obstacle to continue on its way, rationalized by national security and commercial interests.
                The second route, returning soon to business as usual, seems likely to be taken by Washington in the case of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for the Washington Post who had exiled himself in the US to write critically of Saudi Arabia’s anti-democracy. As Trump has pointed out in various contorted statements, the US has a strong stake in close relations with the kingdom. He appears willing to stand up against the clamor of bipartisan outrage over the gruesome spectacle, as portrayed by Turkish authorities, of Khashoggi’s torture and dismemberment inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and the widespread skepticism about the official Saudi claim that he was killed during a fistfight.
Perhaps if the Saudis had used Israel’s technique against terrorists—a precisely placed bomb or a drive-by shooting—the reaction would have been muted. It has certainly been muted over broader transgressions by Saudi Arabia, such as its lack of a free press, its intolerance of dissenting political speech, and its ongoing carnage of civilians during the war in Yemen. No administration, whether Democratic or Republican, has seen fit to sever the ties of accommodation. America’s supposed passion for human rights has been overcome by several considerations.

October 10, 2018

The Names of Lobster Boats

By David K. Shipler

       The men and women who go out on the water in Maine before dawn to haul lobster traps come up with some inspired names for their boats. Many call them after their children or spouses. Others have painted on their hulls the fragments of life that speak to them: the anxious hope for a good catch, the sassy wit that brushes off danger, the reverence for divine force, the flinty swagger of independence, the poetry of the sea. In sailing the coast of Maine the past few months, I collected names, and put them here into something of the rhythm of the winds and tides. (There really was an up arrow beside the final name, seen near Jordan Island in Blue Hill Bay.)

                                                Kyle Thomas, Buggin’ Out,
                                                Seanior Moment, Get It Done,
                                                Wildest Dreams, Final Round,
                                                Karma, Twilight, Sea Chimes

                                                Autumn Dawn Faith,
                                                Family Tradition,
                                                Illusion, The Gambler,
Never Enough, Learning Curve

October 3, 2018

The Politics of Hate

By David K. Shipler
Making America Cruel Again, Part 4 of an Occasional Series

                Donald Trump might not drink alcohol, but he is fueled by another addiction, probably more dangerous: the roar of the crowd. After every brief period of detox in Washington, surrounded by sober aides and Congressional Republicans who try to contain his craving, he needs his fix. So he breaks loose and explodes into a rally of avid worshippers in a carefully picked niche of the country where his cult of personality thrives on loathing the rest of America. They adore him feverishly, wrote the columnist Richard Cohen, because “he hates the right people.”
                Legitimizing political hatred predated Trump, fostered by such propagandists as Rush Limbaugh, who for years has been vilifying liberals, Democrats, blacks, immigrants, the “drive-by” media, and “feminazis” who advocate for women’s rights. Limbaugh’s name-calling has caught on with enough conservatives to make its way into the White House and now prospectively to the Supreme Court if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed. Accused of sexual assault as a teenager, Kavanaugh showed more judicial temper than temperament by attacking Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and raging against an imagined conspiracy of “the left” on behalf of the Clintons. Trump loved it.  
    Whatever it is that Trumpist conservatives want to conserve, it’s obviously not the civil discourse that has lubricated the machinery of American democracy.