POWAY AND MINDSET

Disturbing acts of violence have occurred in the United States over the past several years. Some may not have been preventable. Others might not have happened had the nation a different mindset.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the far-right Anne Coulter’s 2007 remark that Jews were imperfect and should be Christians. I commented that Christians had the right to their beliefs about who gets into heaven—but none to condemn Jews, Muslims and others to hell. This guideline—a delicate balance to be sure—establishes a mindset that people don’t seek to impose their views on others no matter how seriously those views are held.

Many Americans cross that line. Sadly—dangerously—this has become more permissible since Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and victory. To the chagrin of many conservatives who supported him despite his repulsive comments, those comments haven’t ceased.

A week ago, Trump defended his 2017 remarks about “fine people” on both sides of the Unite the Right white-power, anti-Semitic demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I was talking about people who went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general.” 

Trump can’t understand—or refuses to acknowledge—that Confederate statues and symbols representing “the Southern way of life” aren’t about mint juleps and men removing their hats before ladies—or generalship. The Confederacy rebelled to maintain an economy dependent on slavery. Following the demise of Reconstruction, those symbols stood for denying African-Americans their civil rights.

Last weekend, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stated that Trump had condemned all forms of racism and anti-Semitism, and would use his bully pulpit (a term coined by Theodore Roosevelt) to continue doing so. But Trump uses his “pulpit” only to bully. His campaign made dog whistlinga well-known term for sending subtle signals that racism is okay. Other signals were overt, denigrating Muslims, Mexicans and people from “shithole” countries.

The Supreme Court soon will render a decision on whether LGBTQ people can be discriminated against. Many conservatives cite the book of Leviticus forbidding men to have sex with men (it says nothing about women having sex together), and men not wearing women’s clothes and vice-versa. I revere the Torah. But I reject those verses in our 21st-century world. I have a trans son and a gay son in addition to a straight son. They’re all wonderful. It’s just plain wrong to deny two of my kids equal rights. Witness the Trump administration denying trans men and women the opportunity to serve in our military. Yet unlike Trump, many have.

A week ago, a Christian anti-Semite used a military-style weapon to kill one and injure three Passover worshippers at Chabad of Poway, northeast of San Diego. This, six months after eleven Jews were murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Recently, a young white man burned down three black churches in Louisiana. Note: Last Saturday, white nationalists—First Amendment supporters, I’m sure—disturbed a talk at a Washington, D.C. book store.   

Terrible events aren’t foreordained. The White House, however, encourages hateful individuals and groups by continuing to dog-whistle racist and anti-Muslim sentiments for political purposes. Mindset matters. It’s time Trump stretched his mind to understand the license he gives to haters and be held accountable if he doesn’t.

The post will take off next weekend and return on May 17.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll autograph. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

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9 Comments


  1. Bruce Abramson
    May 03, 2019

    David,

    You’ve fallen prey to some vicious and ill-intentioned lies. I urge you to set aside what you’ve been told Trump has said, and review the transcripts of the speeches in which he is alleged to have made comments you find offensive–or “dog whistles.” I suspect that you will find their contents surprising.


    • David
      May 03, 2019

      Bruce: I’ve heard Trump speak many times. I heard his “birther” pronouncements, accusing Barack Obama over and over of not being an American citizen—until, cornered by the truth, he backed down. Quite reluctantly. I heard Trump say that he didn’t consider John McCain a hero—his heroes don’t get taken prisoner. What does that say about all of the other prisoners held in Vietnam? Korea? Germany? Our POW-MIAs in Vietnam? Those killed during combat—including my friend 1LT Howie Schnabolk in Vietnam? Were they all at fault? Non-heroic? As someone who served three years in the Army and graduated from Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, I will say flat out—Trump, who avoided the draft with fake bone spurs, disgusts me. The payoffs to a porn star and a Playboy centerfold? The remark about “shithole” countries? Dissing the parents of a Muslim army officer killed in Afghanistan? Throwing his security/intelligence chiefs under the bus by denying the facts that Russia interfered with the 2016 election? Leading rabid crowds in chanting “Lock her up!”? It went—and goes—on and on. We can disagree on all the issues, but please don’t call me a dupe of ill-intentioned lies.


  2. CH Long
    May 03, 2019

    Bruce, if you’re a single issue voter (i.e. Support Netenyahu= get my vote) okay. Just say it. But if you’re a blind Trumpist (really? you can’t hear racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim words and disgust for anyone but rich, straight white males and submissive females in Republican rhetoric?) you betray your own intellect and the people of this country. Read the transcripts, sure, and then listen to the speeches. I can say, “Oh, yeah, I really love your comments, Bruce,” and you’ll smile. You wouldn’t if you heard the tone of my voice.


    • David
      May 03, 2019

      Claudia, there’s no doubt that this country is divided. I welcome Bruce’s comments. But if you see below, you’ll know that we’re not in agreement.


    • David
      May 04, 2019

      Claudia, one last reply. I may have unintentionally offended you. I apologize. I always want to hear—and value—what you have to say.


  3. David Newman
    May 03, 2019

    Trump manages to avoid — for the most part — saying overtly racist and anti-Semitic things. But he has a disturbing tendency to refuse to distance himself from people who do say those things and who count him as “their” president. So when David Duke and other avowed white supremacists praised Trump and claimed him for their own, he could have said explicitly, “I don’t want David Duke’s support and I disavow everything he stands for.” He could have, but he didn’t. Instead, he acted like he didn’t know who David Duke was.

    Again, given the simple opportunity to condemn a group of people who marched under Nazi and Confederate flags and chanted blatantly anti-Semitic slogans, he instead said that there were very fine people on both sides. No, Mr. President, there were not.

    There are sadly far too many examples of his saying things that embolden the white supremacist fringe and refusing to distance himself from them for it to be an accident or a slip of the tongue. While I prefer not to use the word “racist” as a label — (“Trump is a racist.”) — I prefer to use it as an adjective to describe conduct and speech — and Trump repeatedly engages in speech that is racist, both by omission and by commission.

    His after-the-fact condemnation of the violence at Poway and Pittsburgh rings hollow, when the acts were committed by people who have heard what he said and believe that he has given his sanction to the beliefs that underlie their violent conduct. And his refusal to see white nationalism as a rising threat — and instead blame the violence on a few people with mental health issues — is willfully ignorant, if it isn’t calculated, and an insult to the overwhelmingly harmless community of people with mental health issues. The violence at Poway or Pittsburgh or Christchurch is not about mental health. It is the result of the unchecked spread of a virulently toxic ideology that believes it has sanction from the president, combined with the insanely easy access to weapons of war.


    • David
      May 03, 2019

      David: You’ll have to start drafting some of my posts.


  4. RON EATON
    May 16, 2019

    David,

    I agree with you that exclusivist theology or bigoted beliefs may lead to violent or intolerant action. You’re correct that Christian hatred and mistreatment of Jews has arisen from the belief that Jews are Christ-killers. Ideas do indeed have consequences.

    Where I very much disagree with you is in your apparent belief that certain ideas are in themselves incompatible with good citizenship in a liberal democratic polity. I think that you conflate thought with action. And you seem to advocate the impossible.

    You say that while Christians have a right to their belief about who gets into Heaven, they have no right to “condemn Jews, Muslims and others to hell.” If some Christians believe that only Christians go to Heaven, then a fortiori they believe that non-Christians do not. It is impossible to make the first assertion without making the second. Who says A says B. Are you then claiming that some Christians—or others, some Muslims, for instance— who hold such exclusivist beliefs are defective Americans?

    And you seem to say that holding such exclusivist views means that one wants to “impose [his] views on others.” I’m not sure what this means. If by “impose” you mean use the power of the State or the larger culture to impair others’ lives or citizenship, then I agree with you that this is incompatible with ideal American practice. But you seem to mean that simply by believing an exclusivist theology one impairs the non-Believers life or citizenship or somehow “imposes” on him. If Ann Coulter, huddled in a darkened corner of her own bedroom and not even whispering it into the pillow, believes that the Atheist down the street is going to go to Hell, how has she somehow imposed on or harmed him? And in our system, is she not free to publicly assert her belief? Isn’t that the very meaning of the First Amendment, that we have no established religious doctrine, even a liberal tolerant one? Practice, yes; but not belief.

    The American polity is based on a kind of domestic Peace Of Augsburg, in which every man is Sovereign over his own thoughts and religious beliefs. We agree to a common citizenship, a common loyalty, and to treat each other fairly. But we may believe whatever we want and still be non-defective Americans: we have norms of behavior, not belief. To paraphrase Jefferson, that my neighbor believes that I shall fry on God’s griddle past the end of Eternity neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg; and so long as he neither tries to pick my pocket nor break my leg, let him believe what he will about my eternal soul.

    RWE


    • David
      May 16, 2019

      Ron, I love the fact that we can disagree. But here, let me clarify my statements. Christians have every right to believe what they believe. I will go further: Christians may publicly state their beliefs. An Ann Coulter may publicly declare that Jews are “incomplete Christians.” That’s not illegal.

      But that kind of statement is offensive and needlessly so. Words have consequences. We’d all (at least Jews and Muslims in America) be better off if Christians expounded, “I believe that only Christians will go to heaven” rather than “You Jews will be barred from heaven.” There’s a fiction to my position, yes. I know what Christian belief is. Like Jefferson, I’m not the least bit disturbed by any Christian’s pronouncement that I’m not going to Heaven—and will go to Hell. I don’t believe in either of those concepts. If I did, I’d believe I’m going to a Heaven peopled by all good human beings.

      But violent anti-Semitism has its roots in expressions of Jewish guilt for not believing in, let alone killing, Jesus. So while I’m not about to deprive anyone of his/her First Amendment rights, I repeat: The way commonly understood beliefs are expressed makes a difference and can motivate those inclined to hatred to perform violent and despicable acts.

      See you Saturday.

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