The Others

There is a 305 feet tall monument in New York Harbor that was built as a symbol to welcome all immigrants into the United States.

It is called the Statue of Liberty and was a gift from France to the U.S. in the late 1800s to honor American values and the end of slavery (Note: Ahem) after the Civil War.  

Hey gurl

The idea for this gift came from a conversation between Edouard Laboulaye, a politician, law professor and president of the French Anti-Slavery Society, and the sculptor Frederic Bartholdi. 

I’ve thought a lot about the Statue in recent weeks as the United States continues to have a centuries old debate about immigration. 

Among the questions raised in this debate are statements like:

How many do we have to take?

– What about US, or the U.S.?

– We feel bad for “those people” but right now we don’t have enough American jobs for real Americans.

And my favorite: 

Why must we dilute American culture, religion and skin color with THEM, to the point where our very own AMERICAN culture, religion and skin color, gets watered down and rendered unrecognizable?

Seriously?

There is no point getting into the details of any one of those questions, and many more, over immigration to a country whose very existence was built on a nation full of immigrants from an oppressive society traveling to a new country where everyone from anywhere would theoretically be free to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That the U.S. has not always lived up to its mission statement is not in debate.  But that this was always a fact of its intention is undeniable if you subscribe to historical facts, or any facts at all.

This week I watched the superb three-part PBS documentary The U.S. and The Holocaust by filmmakers Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein.

A must see

It’s a riveting six hours of overtly watchable, if maddening, history that sadly feels all too contemporary.

This is not only because it gives us a painstaking account of the rise and, not necessarily guaranteed at the time, fall of the Nazi Party.

Rather it is due to the fact that with the myriad of interviews with people who were there, combined with historical footage, governmental documents, and accounts from some of those serving the White House during those years, it explains the reluctance of the U.S. to open its doors fully to Jews desperate to escape (nee migrate) here, at the time. 

Too few

As the film puts it, this was principally due to:

a. A repressively strict immigration quota system and, more importantly,

b. A nationwide resistance to allowing our country to become overrun with others who would threaten the religious, economic and social balance in the U.S.

In simpler terms, this means Jews who would be needy, Jews who would take American jobs and, mostly, Jews that were branded as inferior and responsible for the economic troubles real Germans, nee Europeans, were forced to endure during the 1930s.

It wasn’t until several decades later when America had already won the war; six million Jews, not to mention many millions of others, had been killed; and the country had fully recovered from the Depression it was still reeling from in the 1930s, that US immigration quotas were lifted.

The sad truth

Yet all the while most of the top decision makers in the U.S. government knew of the grave danger and mass murders the Jews in Europe were enduring all through the 1930s. 

Also, as the filmmakers inform us, public sentiment AGAINST welcoming any more European Jewish immigrants was well over 70% during most of that time.

This included a large and very rabid Nativist, Anti-Semitic movement dominating a significant section of public and private institutions in the U.S. being spearheaded by people like much adored, wholly American aviation hero Charles Lindbergh.

Dr. Seuss on Nativism, 1941

Well, what do you do when so many in a country don’t want to open its doors for outsiders from another country and culture to come inside?

How about when those citizens, already hurting from their own economic woes, claim there is no room for THEM? 

These questions plague us to this day.  To wit:

What can you say when people whose lives are in danger, people who have no physical resemblance to the majority of US,  literally arrive here (Note: We are more connected these days and have better transportation) by the tens of thousands?

Do you tighten the borders, raise the quotas and build a theoretical and/or literal wall to keep them out?  (Note: Also known as buying them bus or plane tickets to simply get them out of your sight and away from your town).

It isn’t a game

Or do you take history into account, visit New York Harbor (note: physically or virtually) and consider who you are as a nation and how you can learn from your past mistakes?

Here is some information about our very own Lady Liberty that might shed some light on things, as she is wont to do anyway.

Mr. Laboulaye, who as mentioned had the idea for Her in the first place, was a staunch abolitionist and supporter of the Union Army during the Civil War.  In other words, he was rabidly against slavery, especially the kind that helped build the United States.

Hey Eddie!

So when that particular form of servitude was officially outlawed here  (Note: Ahem, again) he decided it could be significant to have a proper symbol of freedom greeting all newcomers on their arrival to these shores of freedom.

It would be the first visual they saw upon arrival, an encouraging beacon lighting the road to a new life in the offing.

That sculpture, Lady Liberty, actually depicts the Roman Liberty goddess, Libertas.  She holds a torch high above her head in her right hand and in her left is a tablet on which the Roman numerals for American Independence Day, July 4, 1776, is inscribed.

Fundraising efforts included visiting the torch for 50 cents as the platform was being built (1876, Philadelphia)

But the pedestal on which she stands, which would become part of the statue we know, took more than a decade plus to finance and build in the U.S. separately through donations spearheaded by a member of the media, a newspaper publisher (Note: Imagine that!) named Joseph Pulitzer. 

It accounts for half the height of what is now one of the most iconic monuments in the world and bears a plaque of the poem The New Colossus, written by 19th century poet Emma Lazarus.

Not coincidentally, Ms. Lazarus was a Sephardic Jew from an immigrant family of Portuguese descent, as well as an activist on behalf of Jewish immigrants. (Note: Imagine that, again!).

Both icons

And though her poem was not written specifically for the Statue her words have, over the years, become synonymous with its intent.

Among the most famous is this section:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

This is not to say that it takes someone Jewish inside the U.S. or a foreigner from outside the country (Note: In France, no less!) to show and tell us what democracy and American values are all about.

However, it has always been of interest to me that it took Czech born film director Milos Forman to make so many great films chronicling America, including the quintessential American counterculture musical, Hair; the fictional story of E.L. Doctorow’s America in Ragtime; an unlikely depiction and ultimate condemnation of American censorship in The People vs. Larry Flynt; and a celebration of oddball American creativity in the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man in the Moon.

Amen to that

It has also not escaped me that the very, very New York Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin, wrote one of most popular anthems the U.S. conservative movement has ever wrapped its arms around, God Bless America.

All this is to say that every once in a while, and perhaps more often than that, it’s nice to be reminded who we really are, or strive to be, by some of the OTHERS who, rightly or wrongly, admired US.

And to welcome them into the fold and learn from them the lessons we were all supposed to have known in the first place.

Aretha Franklin – “God Bless America”

We Alone Can’t Fix This

I spent the last several weeks reading all 500 plus pages of the #1 NY Times bestseller, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, by the extremely thorough Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Phillip Rucker.

The book is alternately fascinating, disturbing, infuriating, disorienting, dull, sick, perplexing, darkly humorous, scary and long. 

At times I wished it were a little less even-handed and journalistically proper.  But when you write something so exhaustive on a subject and subject matter such as this I suppose the true gangsta move is keeping your reportorial cool.

This is the energy I bring to writing about Trump

It brought back how I felt watching David Lynch’s very straightforward 1999 film, the very aptly titled A Straight Story. 

Why would the creator of cutting edge classics such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, and the director of such oddly entertaining works as Lost Highway and Wild at Heart, make a G-rated movie about the true story of an old man who drives his lawnmower from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his sick brother?

Well, as Lynch himself explained to us (Note:  Okay, me) at the time, it was for that very reason.  By just sticking to a straight narrative of facts, it actually was his most daring, his most experimental film.

Believe it!

In that same way, there was no other course for Leonnig and Rucker to take in chronicling Trump’s last 12 months in office and have it land in any more of a meaningful fashion.

After all, how do you even begin to get any more twisted and salacious than Trump himself? 

And what would be the point in trying? 

This brings to mind the response I received, in various forms, from EVERY ONE OF THE SEVERAL DOZEN PEOPLE I told I was reading this book over this period time.

WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?

This is an approximation of what they looked like

Of course, not everyone said it exactly that way.  Some just gave me a look, or silently nodded their heads, or explained they couldn’t because they lived it, or apologized they wouldn’t because it was too upsetting and their mental health was already precarious, or responded in person or on the phone with the kind of thick stony silence that tells you the person you’re speaking with has ZERO interest in pursuing this discussion or subject any further (you can hear editor Holly’s reaction on our newest podcast).

In other words, Chairy, BACK OFF!

And then this happened…

Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from sometimes throwing a few tidbits in.

As Stefon might say, this book and that year had everything –

a. A pandemic the Leader of the Free World ignored, downplayed and lied about.

b. A litany of dictatorial edicts spewed by the POTUS himself to send the military out into the streets to take over cities and ARREST (Note: Or worse) protestors that his own military leaders ignored and refused to carry out.

c. A ton of cursing, blame gaming of others and dangerous lies and/or conspiracy theories launched from the bully pulpit and via social media from the resolute desk in the Oval Office all in service of one single cause – his 2020 re-election.

AND

THERE’S MORE??

d. An actual planned mob of many THOUSANDS that #45 personally spurred on in a prepared, fiery speech on Jan. 6 that caused said group to violently attack and rampage though the U.S. Capitol Building, kill and maim a bunch of policemen, as well as hunt and threaten to hang the sitting vice-president before he could actually ratify the Electoral College results that would declare Joe Biden the new POTUS and thus brand Trump now and forever the official LOSER of the 2020 race.

Oh right

No amount of arm twisting, phone yelling, or even frantic yet calm talks from first daughter Ivanka (Note: Referred to by one advisor as a stable pony, as in when the racehorse gets too agitated, you bring in the stable pony to calm him down) would ever get Trump to tell his supporters they were doing ANYTHING wrong. Even as they threatened lives and destroyed objects that had stood the test of time over SEVERAL CENTURIES in the Capitol and through dozens of other presidencies.

In fact, the most he would ever do was tell them to go home while simultaneously reminding them we love you.

Oh, and the other thing he NEVER DID, as the book details, was to call a single Senator, Congressperson, Aide or even Vice President to inquire if they were okay.  Not on that day and, as far as we know, not to this day.

Is this insulting to Thelma and Louise? #sorryCallieKhouri

Of course, none of this is shocking at this point, even as it remains scary and disheartening.  Worse is that, according to the book, Trump not only knew about the virulency of COVID-19 back in Jan. 2020 but totally bungled a phone call at the time to China President Xi Jinping when he attempted to get representatives of the US medical community into China in order to examine, study or in some way help or contain or accrue information to contain and/or treat Covid-19.

Afraid to jeopardize a trade agreement between the two countries that he thought would win him economic points from his supporters, Trump soft-balled his ask to the point where the head of Communist China simply avoided and/or refused to allow anyone from the US medical establishment into his country.  Then he very calmly ended the call.

Missing a comma, but still true

And when the virus raged on for months and months in the first half of 2020, infecting and killing tens of thousands, the book chronicles how not only Trump but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as well as Larry Kudlow, his National Economic Council advisor, refused to the very bitter end to take the obvious steps to close the economy that everyone else in the Trump administration was demanding.

Still, none of this is even quite as surprising as who Loennig and Rucker position as one of the unlikeliest of heroes of the administration – Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Previously we all knew Milley as that military guy in fatigues who followed POTUS through the street to that Church where Trump held the Bible upside down in some sort of victory over citizen protestors.

Cue world’s longest eyeroll

That was because right before, under Trump’s orders, the National Guard had marched onto the DC streets and used tear gas and pepper spray to clear a path for him and wipe away any traces of the Black Lives Matter protestors that had peacefully demonstrated for several days so he could have a photo op. 

Old history, right?  Except what we didn’t know is that Milley, who felt “used” and publicly apologized some days later in a video for that appearance, then began a full out, shadow campaign to make sure #45 would never again use the military to further his personal political agenda… or worse.

According to the book, from that day forward Milley regularly shot down Trump’s requests for firepower in the streets; at one point told Trump’s ultra right wing chief speechwriter Stephen Miller to shut the f—k up; and enlisted as many present and former cabinet officers and military men as he could to keep the country from imploding.  Or exploding.

Everything was fine

When the events of Jan. 6 happened, it was Milley who had to strong arm the slow-moving acting Defense Secretary and finally order troops to save the Capitol building.  And when his orders weren’t immediately carried out, it took Vice President Pence’s demands for reinforcements to finally cause the powers-that-be to act.

But the one person who never requested any troops, military or otherwise, to defend the Capitol building was Trump.  In a blistering recounting of Insurrection Day, the book chronicles POTUS’ primary post-speech activity to be watching it all unspool live on TV in sheer awe.

What particularly irked a military guy like Milley, who has advanced degrees from both Columbia and Princeton, was seeing right wing fascist groups like The Proud Boys, as well as other Trump MAGA supporters, many of whom shouted racial epithets and were armed with military style weapons, so swiftly and threateningly move into the sacred halls of government without seemingly missing a beat.

Never Forget… really

Several weeks later, after it was all through and it was his responsibility to plan and maintain an ironclad safe and secure inauguration site for Joe Biden, he thus didn’t hesitate to make the same analogy myself and many of my more mouthy, Trump-loathing friends dared to speak back in 2016 the moment it became apparent that Trump et al would actually rule the presidency, the White House and the rest of us along with it for an entire four years.

HITLER.

Yeah, I said it.  It’s been our POV from the beginning and it still is.  It doesn’t have to be yours or those close to you.  But just know that leading up to Inauguration Day 2021, it also began to be the POV of the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. 

And it still is.

Speaking to dozens of military and law enforcement leaders at a large gymnasium as they planned for the ceremony to swear in #46, Milley noted that thousands of Trump supporters were already organizing via social media a return to D.C. for a week of siege that would culminate in the disruption of Biden’s inauguration.  And, he wanted them to be ready.

Here’s the deal, guys.  These guys are Nazis, they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys.  These are the same people we fought in World War II.  Everyone in this room, whether you’re a cop or whether you’re a soldier, we’re going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power.  We’re going to put a ring of steal around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in.

Yikes

And they didn’t.

And Milley still chairs the Joint Chiefs.

And Trump’s out of office.

For now.

The Who – “Won’t Get Fooled Again”