Posts Tagged ‘David Brooks’

DETROIT AND PROGRESSIVES

How do you lose a presidential election? By harnessing Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A recent hubbub in Detroit offers Democrats an important lesson.

Several weeks ago, the promoters of Detroit’s AfroFuture Fest announced they would charge people of color an early-bird price of $10, whites $20. Discrimination? The $10 fee, said promoters, would make the festival affordable to people of color. Whites have money.

Are people of color really less well off than whites? Overall, yes. But the people color I know don’t need a discount from AfroFuture Fest any more than I and my codger friends need senior discounts at movies theaters or restaurants. Being over 60 or 65 does not automatically place someone at or near the poverty line. I’m an individual, not a stereotype.

One of the festival’s featured performers, the rap artist Tiny Jag (Jillian Graham), threatened to withdraw. She’s bi-racial. Maybe she’d be allowed in for the lower fee, but why should some of her relatives pay more? The festival backed off. Everyone would pay $10.

As to the campaign, defining people—and voters—in ethnic terms is nothing new. Donald Trump again spewed white nationalist rhetoric when he said that four Democratic Congresswomen—Alexandria Octavio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib—could go back where they came from. They came, respectively, from New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan. Trump’s ugly comments aroused pushback from people not embedded in his base. That’s good.

Not good: Progressives using Trump’s horrific comments to push the Democratic party to the far left—just where Trump, on the far right, wants voters to see it. This will distance the Democratic party from many who will decide the election—white liberals, middle-of-the-roaders and moderate conservatives in swing states. Of course, it’s not that simple.

The Times’Jamelle Bouie points out (7/18) that “African-Americans are the most heavily Democratic group in the country, with a large presence in many of the most competitive states. Small increases in their participation would have an outsize effect on the electoral landscape.” Democrats could falter by catering only to whites expressing doubts about Trump. I agree—with a caveat.

Many black, brown, yellow, red and other liberals and centrists remain wary of the progressive stance on eliminating private healthcare insurance (rather than making it optional alongside government coverage), refusing to discuss limits on abortion (I’m pro-choice; some limits may be reasonable) and responding to Trump’s “we’re full” immigration policies by advocating for virtual open borders (I love immigrants—my father was one; bad idea).

Could progressive politics cost Democrats the 2020 election? New York Times columnist David Brooks (7/17) notes that “… many of today’s young leaders, and their older allies, don’t want to work within the liberal system. They want to blow it up.”

Detroit demonstrates that we can’t fight injustice with injustice. “I want it all and I want it right now” may represent a moral position, but it can become immoral by undermining Democrats’ White House chances.

I hope progressives will think hard about the realities of this campaign and, while maintaining the moral high ground, convert self-righteousness into humility. Then we can send Donald Trump back under one of the gold-plated rocks from which he crawled.

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DEFINING FAMILY

Two recent pieces in The New York Times speak to the new populism that threatens the United States. I find part of the solution within my family and my synagogue.

David Brooks’ June 28 column “Revolt of the Masses” quoted David Vance, author of the book Hillbilly Elegy. Vance writes about the Kentucky and Ohio coal regions in which he grew up and the value of intense family loyalty that’s not always healthy. Brooks quoted Vance: “We do not like outsiders, or people who are different from us, whether difference lies in how they look, how they act, or, most important, how they talk.” Such loyalty also forbids revealing wrongdoing, which lets some family members prey on others. And it generates a parochialism that can isolate families from their community, state, nation and the world.

On July 11, Robert P. Jones in “The Evangelicals and the Great Trump Hope” pointed out that white Christians—Protestants and Catholics—no longer make up a majority of Americans. They’re now 45 percent of the population, down from 54 percent in 2008. This drop is highly visible. When I was a kid in the 1950s, movies, TV shows and advertisements rarely portrayed other than white Christians—almost always Protestants—except as maids, shoeshine boys, train porters and humorous “ethnics,” including Irish, Italians and Jews.

Populism, which spawned Donald Trump’s presidential nomination, is not new. Populism has an economic agenda: spread the wealth, which tends to get sucked out of working-class regions. But it traditionally has constituted a movement to keep white Protestants in power. Now, pushed into a corner, many populists accept white Catholics as allies. Where populists once sought to keep white Americans on top of the pecking order, they now want to return white Americans to dominance. Ironically, the majority of the nation’s business and political leaders are white Christians. Still, “ordinary” people remain distanced from them while feeling threatened by a perceived lack of standing in a nation increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-religious and increasingly secular.

As to my family and synagogue, we open ourselves to others. We understand that while there’s nothing wrong with the Jewish, heterosexual home or congregation, these can be—going back to David Brooks—parochial. When Carolyn—a white, lapsed Catholic—and I decided to marry in 1967, we called my parents. Sight unseen, my father Morris welcomed Carolyn into the family. My mother Blanche flew down to San Antonio. She brought Carolyn a potato grater and a jar of schmaltz (chicken fat). It was love at first sight. Carolyn became a major non-Jewish Jewish mother.

When our youngest, Aaron, married Jeremy, Jeremy became our fourth son. Our fourth because our middle son Yosi was once Rachel. Yosi is transgender. Our love for Yosi remains unchanged. So, too, Congregation Sherith Israel boasts Jews of all genetic backgrounds and sexual identities. Maybe we don’t always “look” Jewish. We just do Jewish.

In the book of Numbers, Moses sends twelve spies to scout the Promised Land. He asks them to report whether Canaanite cities are fortified. A midrash offers commentary: A city surrounded by walls is weak. An open city is strong because its inhabitants aren’t fearful. We might look to Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!”

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INSULT TO HUMANITY

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, offers fascinating insights into the workings of the human mind in his book, The Social Animal. Brooks points to how we often judge people in milliseconds based on stimuli recognized only the subconscious. I had that experienced with a recent photo in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I immediately responded to the face of a man distorted by emotion—not so much anger as hatred. I knew who he was, where he was and what he was feeling. What I read confirmed what a glance told me. The man was an Iranian at a rally in Tehran protesting the existence of Israel.

We know the background. Iran has opposed Israel ever since the revolution of 1979 created a religious-dominated government. It has bankrolled and trained terrorists. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and most of the world believe that Iran seeks nuclear weapons—a charge Iran denies. Israel has declared its right to a conduct a preemptive attack to deter an existential threat. President Obama has stated that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons; American military action remains an option. Mitt Romney offers no disagreement. Tehran responds that it will target American military bases and ships in the Persian Gulf—and Israel, of course—should Israel and the West attack its nuclear facilities.

Geopolitics? And then some! But the face of the man in the photo did not reflect the age-old competition for land and resources. It displayed much more. Here’s why…

Last Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bellowed, “The existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity.” Opposing Israel’s existence is justified to “protect the dignity of all human beings.” Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust—which tells you something—called Israel “a corrupt, anti-human organized minority group standing up to all divine values.” Iran’s Grand Ayatollah and Supreme Leader—the latter term also tells you something—Ali Khamenei has called Israel a “cancerous tumor” that must be eliminated. Also last week, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah boasted from Lebanon that precision-guided rockets could kill tens of thousands of Israelis. Military targets? No concern. Human beings? Let the slaughter begin.

So what’s the point? The very existence of a Jewish state on land Muslims once conquered offends God and brooks no toleration, no compromise.

Yes, Jews can hate, too. A few days ago, Jewish teens in Jerusalem engaged in several attacks on Arabs. One involved a severe beating. But here’s the difference: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately stated, “We are not prepared to tolerate racism in Israel.” President Shimon Peres declared, “I am full of shame and outrage… This is an intolerable incident of violence that we must uproot from our midst.” The vast majority of Israelis and Jews worldwide echoed their sentiments.

When Jews practice such hatred, they defame Judaism. Israel and the world Jewish community marginalizes them and justly so. Yet governmental and institutional hatred as expressed by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and others draws wide acceptance—or at best apathy—in the Muslim world. It often attains smug agreement in much of the rest of the world, too.

And it makes quite clear just who is insulting humanity.

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