I feel only deepening despair about the fate of our democracy, human civilization, and our planet. For example, with everything we have learned about “91” (my appellation, based on the number of criminal counts in his four indictments), including his promising to be a dictator for “only” the first day of his next term, how is it possible that his poll numbers have gone up, gathering new support from the young, and from minorities? He has already told us who he would like to execute, namely, honorable people who opposed him for thoroughly honorable reasons in his first term. Why do so many Americans really want a murderous, and likely racist, dictator?
The recent business with the college presidents seems obviously horrible to me, but for the opposite reasons most think. First of all, their chief persecutor, Stefanik, is a total, well, dishonest bum. She converted to Trumpism when she discovered it would be her route to power, and she, or so I have heard, once flirted with the outrageously anti-Semitic replacement theory lie. And there she is, standing up against anti-Semitism with words that any intelligent high school debater should see through. When a persecutor repeatedly interrupts her targets’ attempts at even a mildly nuanced response, mentioning “context,” with demands for a yes or no answer, that should be a red flag. All three of the college presidents were absolutely correct on the grounds of current Frist Amendment jurisprudence. Even though the First Amendment does not rule over private colleges, is it that unreasonable to think it should? We have perhaps the world’s most robust projections on free speech, even protecting general calls for murder if they do not have a specific target or a possibly immediate effect. One could argue that this has become too dangerous a protection in today’s world, but that should be argued, not taken as a given.
Stefanik’s charge of defending “genocide” is also despicable. The Hamas assault was horrible and unjustifiable. It was not “genocide.” Must we always degrade our language by redefining our strongest words downward? Look up who invented the word. It was someone whose relatives were victims of the Nazi genocide, a frighteningly “successful” attempt to murder all the Jews of Europe. The definition has since been broadened, but I see no evidence that either the Israelis or the Palestinians are trying at the moment to murder all of the other, or even a substantial portion of the other. On the fringe, some say they would like to see such a crime. But “intifada” is not the same as genocide. We lived through two of them, and they didn’t approach the meanings of the term, whose meaning has different shadings. Israel is actually far more able to commit genocide than are the Palestinians, and one high minister in the Israeli government had to resign when he called for nuking Gaza. Another high official still in place in the Israeli government is a great admirer of Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Arabs praying peacefully in a mosque in the West Bank. Another has referred to Palestinians as “human animals.” Read in depth accounts of the current lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, constantly being targeted by violence from settlers without protection from the Israeli government, thrown out of their homes, being humiliated for their basic humanity, to see some reasons why the Palestinians justifiably feel so without hope that many felt the need for October 7.
To be sure, that attack was irredeemably evil and utterly unjustified. But what about 15,000 and counting dead civilians in Gaza? Is this really necessary to prevent an assault that Israel could have easily stopped with not all that many troops but did not because even though they had documents with the plans for it they didn’t think that Hamas could be any threat? When you think your opponents are subhuman, it is no surprise that you also underestimate them. Netanyahu’s office, last I read, refused to say whether or not he knew of the detailed Hamas attack plans that circulated throughout the Israeli defense establishment. One of his more horrible ex-ministers, who wanted to break the peace to attack Hamas in 2018 because he knew correctly that they were a threat, also said that Netanyahu would do anything to stay in power. We have other evidence of that. Could be that he did know about the threat but did nothing because he thought a war with Hamas might keep him in power? I fully believe that he is morally capable of such behavior. He is desperate to avoid prison on his pending criminal charges, such as bribery.
Meanwhile Israel is insane if it thinks they can destroy Hamas without killing, or perhaps I should say murdering, oh, say, one and a half million of the inhabitants of Gaza. Will the world let them go that far? I hope not. And if they do, how will the world, and the Palestinians of the West Bank, regard Israel? Would killing on such a scale not be the “genocide” that the Palestinian killing of 1200 is now being called? Yet meanwhile the US Congress is spending its time attacking college presidents for enabling anti-Semitism. Again, to be sure, I reject the claims of pro-Palestinians that “from the river to the sea” doesn’t mean what it so obviously means – maybe not “genocide,” but we know that it is not realistic to expect that if all Palestinians are given the right to return, and do so, the Israeli Jews and they can live together in peace. Still, that doesn’t necessarily have to lead to genocide on either side. On the contrary, one could easily argue that Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians has been effecting a slow genocide against them for 75 years, since they the early Zionists first evicted them from their homes by military force and then the new state lied about it. Harry S. Truman, US president at Israel’s founding, even claimed that some Zionists wanted the land designated as Israel to be free of Arabs when the state came into existence. What does that tell us about the mindset of many of them? Sure, that kind of attitude might be understandable in survivors of the Shoah, but that doesn’t make it right. It also doesn’t justify an earlier prime minister of Isarel, Golda Meir, denying that the Palestinians were “a people.” It doesn’t justify the long history of Israeli extremists calling Arabs “dogs.”
Stefanik and her cronies don’t care about the Jews, or about human rights. They are just looking for talking points that will allow them to attack “the left,” and get them votes. The college presidents, however, are also hypocrites who don’t care about free speech. If they did, they wouldn’t have let their schools do things such as revoking the invitation to a science professor to lecture on his field when they learned he had criticized some diversity initiatives – and, as I hope everyone knows, that is far from their only censorship of even mildly “conservative” speech, speech not at all comparable to the obvious violence of calls for “intifada,” on campus.
What we are seeing, as I have said before and will say again, is a failure to think. People are becoming locked in emotion-driven positions that are incoherent, logically indefensible, and often nonsensical, “each sequestered in [their] hate.”
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate…
—W.H Auden, writing less than a year before the outbreak of WWII
We must love one another or die.
—W.H Auden, writing about a month after the outbreak of WWII.
How many was it, seventy million or more, who did die in the ensuing six years?
Both of these lines of poetry apply to the US today. The principal driver of much of our discourse, including especially Trumpism, is hatred. That ideology began its takeover of our nation with his hate speech about Mexican “rapists” when he began his hate campaign for the presidency in 2015. This also helped spread a linguistic vagueness that clouds meaning. Is he saying that more Mexicans are rapists than in other groups? Is he saying that Mexico is especially sending us “their” rapists? Both would be nonsensical, in my view. Hatred of course blinds us to thinking, and especially to thinking about the other. One professor (“professor!”) at a school I teach at make a post after October 7 beginning, “All Israelis are pigs,” and her post didn’t get any better after that. Does she know all Israelis? Does she know that twenty per cent of Israeli citizens are Palestinian? Does she know that thousands of Israeli Jews have spent their whole lives working for Palestinian rights? Talking about not thinking, there was no “I” in her post, such as “In my opinion,” or, “In my anger at the Israeli bombings, I think…” She later issued a boilerplate apology retracting her previous post that read as if it were constructed by a lawyer, but gave no explanation for why she wrote it.
On the other hand, I made multiple posts to one of the many pro-Israeli FB pages that would never even mention the existence of Palestinians. I kept asking the page owner to write a sentence with the word “Palestinian” in it. She never would, and more than once called my requests “hurtful.” I wonder then what she would say of Israel’s massive bombing of Gaza; is that “hurtful” too? To the best of my knowledge, she did not mention it. And why would it be “hurtful” to her to acknowledge the humanity of Palestinians? The only answer that makes sense to me is so awful that I don’t want to believe it, especially since I once knew her and was on I thought friendly terms with her. I would have been so much happier to read, “Of course I think the Palestinians are human beings worthy of equal rights, and now I’m blocking you, you f****** a******.”
The statement signed by Harvard student leaders declaring that Israel is entirely responsible for the Hamas attack was an absurd failure of logic, frightening almost beyond belief, but also representing a trend becoming increasingly common today. We live in a world where many do not want to take responsibility for what any of us does, or attribute responsibility to others for what they do. The horrible Hamas attack is totally indefensible, but I would have been less upset with the students if they had at least admitted it was Hamas’s responsibility, but then cited Israeli violations of international law in the West Bank as, in their opinions, a justification. I strongly disagree, but that would have been thinking, even if flawed thinking. That, one could have argued with. How do you argue with an ex-president who posts one day that we should “terminate” parts of the Constitution so that he can be returned to the presidency, and a week later posts that he never called for that, and blames the “fake news”? That this duo of posts didn’t cause outrage is a sign that our ability to read, or think, or both, is now seriously impaired. With that happening, how can we hope to come to sensible policies about our imperiled future?
Meanwhile, we fill up the whole planet with at least two possible killers, fragments of microplastics and greenhouse gases. Even as a few are fighting to reverse such things, we are, as a species, collectively doing absolutely nothing, even adding more death to our planet.
We instead spend our energies building more nukes in North Korea, invading Ukraine in Russia, supporting wars in Iran, threatening Taiwan from China, and loving “91” in almost half of the US, with angry and dishonest members of Congress attacking college presidents who, though perhaps deeply flawed, are, I would guess and despite their own hypocrisies, by basic humane standards far more honest and far better people then they are.
Decmeber 10, 2023