The outbreak of the war put an end once and for all to the large but undistinguished body of anti-Nazi…
The outbreak of the war put an end once and for all to the large but undistinguished body of anti-Nazi literature that flourished in the 30’s. This literature was in its greater part directly influenced by the anti-Nazi bluster of Stalinism and the Stalinist popular front, and relied on the solidarity of the proletariat, both German and international, to bring about the downfall of Hitler. But the deployment of vast armies made it plain at last that the issue was to be settled otherwise.
Despite the fact that writers of considerable talent at one time or another contributed to it, this literature was a failure in every respect. And not the least of all its shortcomings was its curious inability to reckon seriously with its antagonist.
In André Malraux’s Days of Wrath, in Ernst Toller’s Pastor Hall, in The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers, as well as in a host of lesser works, there is evident a strange unwillingness to permit the Nazi to enter the foreground of the story’s consideration. (In Watch on the Rhine, by Lillian Hellman—which takes place on the Potomac, not the Rhine-there is not a single Nazi in the cast of the characters.) Usually the Nazi is only a slightly more precise detail in a generally vague and hostile background. The locus of the action is in the heroic agony of the protagonist—his suffering and his martyrdom, seen almost as predestined. A strange veil of indifference hangs between him and the world of the enemy’s personality. His purpose is to suffer and endure in a kind of deliberate isolation, at least insofar as the Nazis are concerned, fortified by his faith in ultimate proletarian redemption.
The Nazi is ignored. Or if he is not entirely ignored, the most commonplace and venal motives are attributed to him. Occasionally—but not often—an obsessive, violent, and distraught inner world is hinted at, a world new and forbidding, but this rarely goes beyond having the Nazi character repeat by rote—but with the fervid accents of personal belief—the official ideological nonsense of Nazism.
This disdain of the Nazi, this lack of interest in him, wears the appearance of lofty moral superiority. Actually, it is not so. It is fear and ignorance, and a deliberate turning away from the incomprehensible and fearful.
The effect of such disdain, paradoxically, was not to detract from the conception of the strength of Nazism that prevails in these books. The world of Nazi power is their context, and although the Nazi man is ignored, Nazism, omnipresent and omnipotent, dominates the scene with a massive fatality.
The comparatively recent publication of two anti-Nazi works in German is the immediate occasion for this analysis. Bertolt Brecht’s Furcht und Elend des III. Reiches (New York, Aurora Verlag, 1945), staged in this country as The Private Life of the Master Race, was written in 1938 and is an archetype of the literature of anti-Nazism. It is a dramatic spectacle in twenty-four scenes, and the whole is intended to provide a panorama of the “fear and misery” of life in every section of the Third Reich. Friedrich Torberg’s Mein Ist Die Rache (Los Angeles, Pazifische Presse, 1943), not properly a part of this genre, but belonging to a later period, is a novelette about Jews in a German concentration camp, their gradual realization that the Nazi commandant intends their extermination as a group, and the—rather unreal—question as to whether vengeance is in their hands or in those of God.
Both Brecht and Torberg have experienced Nazism at first hand, and yet, as is invariably the case in the literary treatment of this subject, they fail to understand it imaginatively. There almost seems to be a law at work here. The more direct a writer’s experience of Nazism, the less his imagination is able to comprehend it. Odets in Till the Day I Die, or Hollywood in a number of movies, although far removed in space from Nazi Germany, seemed better able to cope aesthetically with the Nazis, perhaps because, protected by an ocean, they were in a position to be more curious about the Nazis and less disdainful of them—that is, less afraid of them—as human beings.
This lack of imaginative understanding is, of course, a reflection of our general bafflement in the face of the phenomenon of Nazism. Nevertheless, one always hopes that playwrights and novelists will be able to by-pass the historical problem by a direct and intuitive grasp of the living reality. Brecht’s play and Torberg’s novelette, like the works of the others before them, disappoint such a hope. Nazism looms up monolithic and impenetrable in their pages, an impersonal, unassailable, and absolute force. There is no hint of its inner desperation and uncertainty; there is no hint of its violent contradictions, its frustrations, and its ambiguities.
Brecht consoles himself for this secret defeatism with a kind of grim, theoretical, surface cheerfulness: he assumes a catastrophic decline of the German standard of living under the Nazis, he assumes a sullen and intransigent proletariat, and he assumes certain laws of capitalist development, all of them together spelling the ultimate doom of the Third Reich.
Where Brecht draws his comfort from the commonplaces of the routine Marxian anti-fascism of the 30’s, Torberg draws a colder and more uncertain comfort from the God of Israel.
The depersonalization of the Nazi man is the literary consequence of the impersonalization of Nazism. One thinks of no literary work that successfully portrays a Nazi person. In almost every case he is reduced to some absolute of inhumanity and functions in the story as a mechanical and abstract figure of speech. Or if some human weaknesses are conceded him—to indicate somehow that he is human after all—they are conceived in the most banal and cliché fashion, and no serious understanding of the Nazi is accomplished.
There prevailed in the 30’s, to be sure, a general tendency to treat character impersonally as a consequence of the schematization of imaginative literature that the influence of Marxism had brought about. Literature was made to conform to the materialist interpretation of history; life was “reduced” to a bleak and arid class struggle, and humanity was “reduced” to a bleak—but sentimentalized—proletariat. The intelligentsia unburdened itself of its selfhatred by creating the proletarian hero-that rigid and lifeless figure whose every attribute implied a contemptuous dismissal of the “classless” and “disinterested” concerns of the intellectuals. It is amazing even to this day how negative and abstract was the literary conception of the worker, and how completely false. (Is this evidence of the restricted and doctrinal character of Marxism, and its inability to create a really universal attitude, heralding a new humanity and a new period in history? Does not socialism here have the suspicious appearance of a radical theory of the propertyless late middle class rather than of a tremendous social force destined to change the world?)
With the triumph of Hitler and the approach of the war, proletarian literature looked towards the international scene and transformed itself into “anti-fascist” literature. It was still the old morality literature, but one in which the Nazi conveniently played the role of the Devil, a role hitherto imperfectly fulfilled by “capitalist society.”
The conversion of the Nazi into an abstraction is more surprising in Brecht’s case. The Brecht who in the Dreigroschenoper was able to penetrate the essence of the big-city, industrial Common Man of capitalism with so exact an irony is here able to create only blank horrors, and this despite the fact that the Nazi Common Man was equally a child of the megalopolitan jungle Brecht knows so well.
One reason, perhaps, that Brecht’s old irony failed to work against the Nazis is that it was an irony aimed at urban and capitalist society—and the Nazis professed to be anti-capitalist, too, outdoing the Marxists, moreover, in condemning the perversions and degradations of modem urban life. The ideal human being in whose name they opposed the city was not the same ideal that the Marxists asserted—it was not the clear-eyed, square-hewn workingman of the city. It was the stolid, “wholesome,” old-fashioned, rural petty-bourgeois. And here, precisely, was where pro-socialist propaganda fell into one of its subtlest, yet most damaging, ambiguities. Marx established as one of socialism’s prime tasks the obliteration of the differences between town and country; yet socialism’s whole quality has remained urban. The very word “socialism” summons up a vision of enormous vistas of shining concrete pavement and smoking factory-chimneys, of huge and smiling throngs of people passing by parks and cinemas—the décor of the rationalized megalopolis. Socialism came to be the world of large suburbs and long vacations. It came to represent a world new, mechanical, ingenious, full of “improvements.” Socialism became Europe’s version of an America purged of its imperfections.
The masses, however, have never been entirely urbanized. (The only entirely urbanized group in modern society is the Jews, whose metropolitan competence has always aroused the resentment of the Gentiles.) The memory of the countryside—from which they came originally—persists in the masses, together with a sentimental nostalgia for what now seems the stable, organic, and reasonably secure—if highly limited and somewhat boring—life they led there. This insipid nostalgia, this sentimentalization of rural life, has become one of the myths of urbanism. It is the plebeian version of the aristocratic Arcadia. The Nazis took advantage of this nostalgia in their attacks on modem industrial life, counterposing to the urban tradition of capitalism and socialism their rural ideal.
However, the human type the Nazis actually realized puzzled the anti-Nazis in a way that the merely reactionary Nazi rural ideal did not. Nazism succeeded in intimidating the world by more means than those of power politics and militarism. It reshaped the image of the masses into something inscrutable, threatening, and profoundly alien to traditional Western intelligence, so that it defied even the efforts of the artistic intelligence to assimilate it imaginatively.
It is the ordinary Nazi man, the mass man of the Nazi organizations, that constitutes the core of horror in the enigma of Nazism. The modem world expected the masses either to continue to suffer in traditional fashion, that is, to continue to exist at the sub-human level of life that generations of poverty impose, without ideas, without spirit, and without independence; or to become socialist, that is, to revolt against themselves, to revolt against the conditions of their existence and the limited type of humanity that such an existence thrusts upon them, in the interests of a superior and universal conception of humanity. Nazism, however, linked the spiritual poverty of the one role with the revolutionary dynamism of the other.
Hitler armed the German masses with a theory. Whereas socialism—and, indeed, all genuinely revolutionary mass movements—gave the masses a theory with which to transcend themselves, Nazism gave them a theory—racism—to confirm them in their mass nature. Their present spiritual status was given the primordial sanction of blood, and elevated to an eternal ideal. Within Germany, the racial class struggle replaced the economic class struggle, and the German masses, rather than striving to overcome their purely mass nature, strove to be purely German, i.e., they strove to realize more absolutely their present, mass self. In propagating the racial class struggle, Nazism made use of the revolutionary rhetoric of socialism so that it could masquerade as a revolution of the masses, and it further developed the masquerade by thrusting the economic class struggle outside the borders of the Reich into the realm of international power politics (“proletarian” vs. “capitalist” nations).
Once the power of the Nazi party was firmly established, it turned outside the borders of its country in classic German fashion to solve in an imperfect and debased fashion the problems that it could not solve at home. The national unification that Germany was never able to achieve by itself, it achieved belatedly in 1870 in a war against the French. It needed the First World War to accomplish—imperfectly—the democratic revolution it was unable to accomplish in 1848. And, finally, Germany needed the Nazi party and the Second World War to realize a corrupt and barbarous version of the socialist revolution that it had failed to achieve after 1918.
Nazism, from this point of view, is “kitsch” politics, and fully in the German political tradition. It wanted the emotional effect of a mass revolution without being able to summon up the inner historical strength that a mass revolution demands. The Nazis wanted the sensation of history without the risk and inner effort demanded by history.
For surely it is the case that Germany, the home of that Faustian spirit which worships most ardently at the altar of History, felt most grievously the lack of a history of its own. Germany never experienced an authentic Bastille Day, and the absence of such a historical experience condemned it to psychological and political immaturity, and to a political role in Europe incommensurate with its real strength. Nazism represents Germany’s last desperate effort to dominate Europe without itself first submitting to the necessity of a democratic revolution.
In this last effort, Germany placed its fortunes in the hands of the plebs. The plebs, in the person of the Nazi party, was given political power in the hope that the masses might accomplish the conquest of Europe that the German ruling class was never able to accomplish on its own initiative.
Nazism is therefore political plebeianism—the attempt of the mob, armed with political power and a philosophy, to play a significant role in history. Incapable of accomplishing that other revolution which remains its country’s only means of creating a real history, the German plebs poured all the frustrated passion of Germany’s historical disappointment into an ersatz revolution against the Jews and the outside world. Who better than Hitler represents the passionate nothingness that is the political plebeian? Vulgar, ignorant, shrewd, brutal, and empty—that is the nature of the mass man, and he brings all these qualities with him into history on the rare occasion when his envious fanaticism is permitted to discover a purpose for itself, to patch together a theory out of its void, and to organize in its own image and its own right.
In no age have the “masses” made history. The mass, as mass, in an historical sense is literally nothing—the historical empty space in which events occur. In pre-history they did not exist—there were only families and tribes. In ancient civilizations they were almost completely ignored; the masses were simply a part of nature. When Roman society began to disintegrate, the threat that lay in the dead weight of the Roman masses finally won them a particular consideration—bread and circuses, the appropriate symbol of their spiritual and historical insufficiency. Under Christianity they were admitted into the human community, but their special nature was dissolved in the grandiose category of Christian humanity.
The various peasant revolts that have taken place in the history of Europe illustrate best of all the historical impotence of the masses. Many of these revolts achieved considerable initial success and conquered large reaches of territory but, unable to maintain themselves, were eventually put down, and events resumed their interrupted course almost as if nothing had happened. The peasants were unable to create or acquire an idea with which to challenge the idea of feudalism. They were unable, that is, to make history.
The West discovered the masses out of the same impulse that discovered America, and was amazed and repelled by their strangeness. Shakespeare’s rude plebeians and ignorant mechanics are above all curiosities in their author’s eyes. Shakespeare observes them with some of the same wonder with which Columbus observed the West Indian savages.
In our own day, the masses were observed minutely, and the horror of their lives was understood. They were understood, however, in their passive and suffering aspect, and they acquired real humanity and influenced history only insofar as they transcended the limitations of their mass nature in the revolutionary struggles for justice carried on by the egalitarian movements.
Under Nazism, the German masses abandoned this struggle for justice—and thus their humanity—without abandoning their resentful aggressiveness. In the place of the ideal of Socialist Man they substituted the Fanatic Plebeian. The plebeian with an idea—this is the creature that Brecht, Torberg, and the rest cannot understand. This is that “rough beast,” that “shape with lion body and the head of a man” who, conceived in a time when “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity . . . slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.”
In Brecht, Malraux, Seghers, Toller, and Odets, the proletarian masses are counted on to destroy the power of the Nazis. When the course of events proved this expectation vain, this type of literature ceased to be written. In Watch on the Rhine (1941) already, there is no longer any talk of proletarian action. The hero is unpolitical—neither a Communist, Socialist, nor radical intellectual; he is simply an “anti-fascist” who was once an engineer. He returns to Germany at the end of the play to carry on the fight, but the fight is no longer the fight to rally the dispossessed (the Nazis had already done that), it is the guerilla foray of an isolated individual. (Miss Hellman’s sentimentalities are more hard-headed than her predecessors’—one has the right to expect that her hero later made contact with the O.S.S., served it well, and is now at least a technical adviser to the Allied Military Government.) In the case of Torberg, God replaces the proletariat. The genre of anti-Nazi literature is pretty well used up. The literature of “anti-fascism” had never been a literature of real struggle; now more than ever it becomes merely a literature of passivity.
Even while abandoning their faith in the masses, few of these writers suspected to what extent the envious and illiterate Lumpenintellektuellen had succeeded in creating a new type of mass man. The popular masses that had provided the great revolutions of the West with their social force had at last been halted in their progress towards universal democracy and a classless society. Whereas in France, England, and to a certain extent in America, where democratic revolutions had successfully taken place, this represented the exhaustion of a historical role, at least for a certain period, in Germany it represented the frustration of that role. The German masses, desperate in their necessity to act, and yet inwardly crippled by the long history of German political failure, squandered their energies on the gutter socialism of Hitler.
The sentimental plebeianism of the anti-Nazi writers blinded them to the aggressive plebeianism of the Nazis. Only the idea of socialism had united them with the masses, from whom they were otherwise entirely alienated. The failure of this idea severed the connection, and these writers have since then relapsed into an unenlightened disenchantment.
They, together with the entire anti-Nazi world, made the mistake of considering the Nazis merely reactionary. They failed to perceive—and did not wish to perceive—the significance of the fact that the Nazis had become the first to challenge traditional socialism’s hold upon the masses. In the end the Nazi armies were defeated, not however by the embattled working class fighting in the name of humanity, not by the enemies of the Nazis, but by the mechanical and unenthusiastic mass armies of their opponents.
In the disintegration of Europe, in the utter collapse of all historical purpose, the void rose up in a frustrated and perverted effort to realize itself. The vision of doom that had secretly haunted the 19th century at last became reality. This reality the anti-Nazi writers persisted in ignoring. It is not so much their wrong politics that one finds most offensive—we can all be convicted of the same thing—it is not even their bad writing and false heroics. What is most appalling is their betrayal of the private vision of the artist. We do not demand of the artist that he be wiser than we are; we demand a simple kind of honesty that keeps him close and loyal to his intuitions. What is amazing in this literature is the complete absence of any intuitive sense of the quality of our age. One line of the poetry of Yeats, whom most of the anti-Nazi writers would consider “unenlightened”—although a good “private” poet—is weighted down with more reality than the whole body of anti-Nazi literature. An ultimate kind of corruption took place, and more talent than one generation can afford to waste was wasted.
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The Common Man of the Nazis
Must-Reads from Magazine
With the demise of the filibuster for judicial nominations, the Senate has become a more partisan body. Members of the opposition party no longer have to take difficult votes to confirm presidential nominees, and so they no longer have to moderate their rhetoric to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. Many expected, therefore, that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings would tempt Democrats to engage in theatrics and hyperbole. Few, however, foresaw just how recklessly the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members would behave.
The sordid performance to which Americans were privy was not the harmless kind that can be chalked up to presidential ambitions. Right from the start, Democratic committee members took a sledgehammer to the foundations of the institution in which they are privileged to serve.
Sen. Cory Booker made national headlines by declaring himself “Spartacus,” but the actions he undertook deserved closer attention than did the scenery he chewed. Booker insisted that it was his deliberate intention to violate longstanding Senate confidentiality rules supposedly in service to transparency. It turns out, however, that the documents Booker tried to release to the public had already been exempted from confidentiality. Booker was adamant, however, that he had undermined the Senate’s integrity. You see, that, not transparency, was his true objective. It was what he believed his constituents wanted from him.
Booker wasn’t alone. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appeared to share his colleague’s political instincts. “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not accept the process,” he said of the committee’s vetting of Kavanaugh’s documents. “Because I do not accept its legitimacy or validity,” Whitehouse added, he did not have to abide by the rules and conventions that governed Senate conduct.
When the committee’s Democratic members were not trying to subvert the Senate’s credibility, they were attempting to impugn Judge Kavanaugh’s character via innuendo or outright fabrications.
Sen. Kamala Harris managed to secure a rare rebuke from the fact-checking institution PolitiFact, which is charitably inclined toward Democratic claims. “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control,” read her comments on Twitter accompanying an 11-second clip in which Kavanaugh characterized certain forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” “Make no mistake,” Harris wrote, “this is about punishing women.” But the senator had failed to include mitigating context in that clip, which would have made it clear that Kavanaugh was simply restating the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case in question.
Later, Harris probed Kavanaugh as to whether he believed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which has never been explicitly ruled unconstitutional, was wrongly upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite calling the decisions of this period “discriminatory,” Kavanaugh declined to elaborate on a case that could theoretically come before the Supreme Court. This, the judge’s detractors insisted, was “alarming” and perhaps evidence of latent racial hostility. In fact, it was an unremarkable example of how Supreme Court nominees tend to avoid offering “forecasts” of how they will decide cases without having heard the arguments—a routine deemed “the Ginsburg Rule” after Ruth Bader, who perfected the practice.
Over a week later, Harris had still not explained what she was getting at. But she doesn’t have to. The vagueness of her claim was designed to allow Kavanaugh’s opponents’ imaginations to run wild, leading them to draw the worst possible conclusions about this likely Supreme Court justice and to conclude that the process by which he was confirmed was a sham.
Harris may not have been alone in appealing to this shameful tactic. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein shocked observers when she released a cryptic statement revealing that she had “referred” to “federal investigative authorities” a letter involving Kavanaugh’s conduct. It’s human nature to arrive at the worst imaginable conclusion as to what these unstated claims might be, and that’s precisely what Kavanaugh’s opponents did. It turned out that the 35-year-old accusations involve an anonymous woman who was allegedly cornered in a bedroom by Kavanaugh and a friend during a high-school party. Kavanaugh, the letter alleged, put a hand over her mouth, but the woman removed herself from the situation before anything else occurred. All were minors at the time of this alleged episode, and Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
Some thought it was odd for Feinstein to refer these potentially serious allegations to the FBI this week and in such a public fashion when the allegations contained in a letter were known to Democrats for months. The letter was, after all, obtained by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo in July. But it doesn’t seem confusing when considering the facts that the FBI all but dismissed the referral off-hand and reporting on the episode lacks any corroboration to substantiate the claims made by the alleged victim here. It is hard not to conclude that this is an attempt to affix an asterisk to Brett Kavanaugh’s name. Democrats will not only claim that this confirmation process was tainted but may now contend that Kavanaugh cannot be an impartial arbitrator—not with unresolved clouds of suspicion involving sexual assault hanging over his head.
Ultimately, as public polling suggests, the Democratic Party’s effort to tarnish Kavanaugh’s reputation through insinuation and theatrics has had the intended effect. Support for this nominee now falls squarely along party lines. But the collateral damage Senate Democrats have done to America’s governing institutions amid this scorched-earth campaign could have lasting and terrible consequences for the country.
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While the nation’s attention is focused on the Carolina coast, something very odd is happening across the country in Sunspot, New Mexico.
Sunspot is hardly a town at all–the nearest stores are 18 miles away. It’s actually a solar observatory 9,200 feet up in the Sacramento Mountains. It is open to the public and has a visitor’s center, but don’t visit it right now. On September 6th, the FBI moved in and evacuated all personnel using Black Hawk helicopters. Local police were told to stay away. The only explanation being given by the FBI is that an unresolved “security issue” is the cause of the evacuation.
The sun is the only astronomical body capable of doing major damage to planet earth without actually hitting us. A coronal mass ejection aimed at the earth could have a devastating impact on satellites, radio transmission, and the electrical grid, possibly causing massive power outages that could last for weeks, even months. (It would also produce spectacular auroras. During the Carrington Event of 1859, the northern lights were seen as far south as the Caribbean and people in New England could read newspapers by the light.)
So, there are very practical, not just intellectual reasons, to know what the sun is up to. But the National Solar Observatory right now is a ghost town, and no one will say why. Such a story should be catnip for journalists.
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It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.
Americans awoke Thursday morning to a familiar noise: The president of the United States waxing conspiratorial and declaring himself the victim of a nefarious plot.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Donald Trump declared on Twitter. He insisted that the loss of life in the immediate aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria topped out in the low double-digits and ballooned into the thousands well after the fact because of faulty accounting. The president did not claim that this misleading figure was attributable to flaws in the studies conducted in the aftermath of last year’s disaster by institutions like George Washington University or the New England Journal of Medicine but to a deliberate misinformation campaign orchestrated by his political opponents. “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible,” Trump insisted.
If, for some mysterious reason, Trump wanted to attack the validity of these studies, he might have questioned the assumptions and biases that even their authors admit had an unavoidable effect on their confidence intervals. But Trump’s interest is not in accuracy. His desire is to shield himself from blame and to project his administration’s failings—even those as debatable as the disaster that afflicted Puerto Rico for the better part of a year—onto others. The president’s self-consciousness is so transparent at this point that even his defenders in Congress have begun directly confronting the insecurities that fuel these tweets.
Donald Trump has rarely encountered a conspiracy theory he declined to legitimize, and this tendency did not abate when he won the presidency. From his repeated assertions that Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 election was a “hoax,” to the idea that the FBI shielded Hillary Clinton from due scrutiny, to the baseless notion that “millions and millions” of illegal-immigrant voters deprived him of a popular vote victory, all of this alleged sedition has a common theme: Trump is the injured party.
The oddest thing about all this is that these are the golden days. Trump-era Republicans will look back on this as the halcyon period in which all of Washington’s doors were open to them. The president’s ostensible allies control every chamber of government. The power his adversaries command is of the soft sort—cultural and moral authority—but not the kind of legal power that could prevent Trump and Republicans from realizing their agenda. That could be about to change.
The signs that a backlash to unified Republican rule in Washington was brewing have been obvious almost since the moment Trump took the oath of office. Democrats have consistently overperformed in special and off-year elections, their candidates have outraised the GOP, and a near-record number of Republicans opted to retire rather than face reelection in 2018. The Democratic Party’s performance in the generic ballot test has outpaced the GOP for well over a year, sometimes by double-digits, leading many to speculate that Democrats are well positioned to retake control of the House of Representatives. Now, despite the opposition party’s structural disadvantages, some are even beginning to entertain the prospect of a Democratic takeover in the Senate.
Until this point, the Trump administration has faced no real adversity. Sure, the administration’s executive overreach has been rejected in the courts and occasionally public outcry has forced the White House to abandon ill-considered initiatives, but it’s always been able to rely on the GOP majorities in Congress to shield it from the worst consequences of its actions. That phase of the Trump presidency could be over by January. For the first time, this president could have to contend with at least one truly adversarial chamber of the legislature, and opposition will manifest first in the form of investigations.
How will the White House respond when House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is tasked with investigating the president’s response to a natural disaster or when he subpoenas the president’s personal records? How will Trump respond when Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler is overseeing the investigation into the FBI’s response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, not Bob Goodlatte? Will the Department of Homeland Security’s border policies withstand public scrutiny when it’s Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, not Texas’s Michael McCaul, doing the scrutinizing? How will Wall Street react to a Washington where financial-services oversight is no longer led by Jeb Hensarling but Maxine Waters? If the Democrats take the House, the legislative phase of the Trump era be over, but the investigative phase will have only just begun.
In many ways, this presidency behaved as though it were operating in a bunker from day one, and not without reason. Trump had every reason to fear that the culture of Washington and even many of the members of his own party were secretly aligned against him, but the key word there is “secret.” The secret is about to be out. The Trump White House hasn’t yet faced a truly adversarial Washington institution with teeth, but it is about to. If you think you’ve seen a bunker mentality in this White House, you haven’t seen anything yet.
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Podcast: Google and Kavanaugh.
Will Google survive the revelations of its political bias, or are those revelations nothing new? We delve into the complexities of the world in which important tech companies think they are above politics until they decide they’re not. Also some stuff on the Supreme Court and on polls. Give a listen.
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Smeared for doing the job.
When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump famously declared his intention to be a “neutral” arbiter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories and put the onus for resolving the conflict on Jerusalem, few observers could have predicted that Trump would run one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history.
This year, the Trump administration began relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to the nation’s capital city, fulfilling a promise that began in 1995 with the passage of a law mandating this precise course of action. The administration also declined to blame Israel for defending its Gaza border against a Hamas-led attack. Last week, the administration shuttered the PLO’s offices in Washington.
The Trump administration’s commitment to shedding the contradictions and moral equivalencies that have plagued past administrations has exposed anti-Zionism for what its critics so often alleged it to be.
This week, Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus announced his intention to vacate an Obama-era decision that dismissed an alleged act of anti-Semitism at Rutgers University. Marcus’s decision to reopen that particularly deserving case has led the New York Times to publish an article by Erica L. Green full of misconceptions, myths, and dissimulations about the nature of the anti-Israel groups in question and the essential characteristics of anti-Semitism itself.
In reporting on Marcus’s move, Green declared the education activist and opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement a “longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes,” a designation the paper’s editor felt fine printing without any substantiating evidence. You could be forgiven for thinking that BDS itself constituted a cause of “Palestinian rights” and not an international effort to stigmatize and harm both Israel and its supporters. If you kept reading beyond that second paragraph, your suspicions were confirmed.
Green contended that Marcus’s decision has paved the way for the Education Department to adopt a “hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism” that includes: denying Jews “the right to self-determination,” claiming that the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and applying a double standard to Israel not “expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” As Jerusalem Post reporter and COMMENTARY contributor Lahav Harkov observed, this allegedly “hotly contested definition” is precisely the same definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2010, the IHRA’s working definition was adopted almost in total by Barack Obama’s State Department.
Green went so far as to say that this not-so-new definition for anti-Semitism has, according to Arab-American activists, declared “the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” So that is the Palestinian cause? Denying Jews the right to self-determination, calling the state of Israel itself a racist enterprise, and holding it to nakedly biased double standards? So much for the two-state solution.
Perhaps the biggest tell in the Times piece was its reporters’ inability to distinguish between pro-Palestinian activism and anti-Israeli agitation. The complaint the Education Department is preparing to reinvestigate involves a 2011 incident in which an event hosted by the group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA) allegedly imposed an admissions fee on Jewish and pro-Israel activists after unexpected numbers arrived to protest the event. An internal email confirmed that the group only charged this fee because “150 Zionists” “just showed up,” but the Obama administration dismissed the claim, saying that the organization’s excuse—that it expected heftier university fees following greater-than-expected attendance—was innocuous enough.
Green did not dwell on the group, which allegedly discriminated against Jews and pro-Israeli activists. If she had, she’d have reported that, just a few weeks before this incident, BAKA staged another event on Rutgers’s campus—a fundraiser for the organization USTOGAZA, which provided aid to the campaign of “flotillas” challenging an Israeli blockade of Gaza. USTOGAZA’s links to the Turkey-based organization Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has long been associated with support for Hamas-led terrorist activities, rendered the money raised in this event legally suspect. Eventually, as Brooke Goldstein wrote for COMMENTARY, even BAKA conceded the point:
After community members demanded that Rutgers, a state-funded university, hold an investigation before handing over any money to USTOGAZA, the school responded by offering to keep the money raised in an escrow account until a suitable recipient could be found. In June 2011, BAKA sent out an e-mail admitting the University had, after “much deliberation” and despite their initial approval, “decided that they are not willing to release the funds to the US to Gaza effort” due to concerns of being found liable for violating the material-support statutes.
Rutgers prudently limited BAKA’s ability to participate in on-campus events after these incidents, but the organization that took their place—Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)—is no better. The Times quoted officials with the Center for Law and Justice who praised Marcus’s move and cited SJP as a source of particular consternation, but the reporters did not delve into the group’s activities. If they had, they’d find that the organization’s activities—among them declaring that “Zionists are racists,” supporting anti-Zionist individuals despite credible accusations of child abuse, and endorsing Hamas’s governing platform, which labels the entire state of Israel “occupied territory”—fits any cogent definition of anti-Semitism. This is to say nothing of the abuse and harassment that American Jews experience on college campuses that play host to SJP’s regular “Israel apartheid weeks.”
Some might attribute the Times’ neutral portrayal of groups that tacitly support violence and people like Omar Barghouti—an activist who “will never accept a Jewish state in Palestine” and has explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” against Jews, who he insists are “not a people”—to ignorance, as though that would neutralize the harm this dispatch might cause. But the Times piece has emboldened those who see Israel’s Jewish character as a threat both to its political culture and our own. That worrying sentiment was succinctly expressed by New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz: “You don’t have to be a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause to question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
The benefit of the doubt only extends so far. Even the charitably inclined should have discovered its limits by now.