Book Review: HITLER: DOWNFALL 1939-45

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Tonight, I finished the second part of Volker Ullrich’s incredible biography of Hitler. I finished Volume I: ASCENT 1889-1939 last April, and had to wait until this past fall to get my hands on Volume II: DOWNFALL 1939-45. Both volumes are very different; the first focuses on the political rise of Hitler and the NSDAP (Nazi party) and the second covers Hitler’s day-to-day management of the “war of annihilation” that was WWII. As such, this book is a parade of delusional expectations that almost came true, and a never-ending carousel of military leadership changes, dumb decisions, lies, self-deceptions, and, most troubling, an arms-length distance to the absolute insanity of incalculable human loss.

The book wisely refuses to spend time psychoanalyzing Hitler (let me summarize: psychopath), and instead presents his actions within the social and historical framework in which they took place, with a strong understanding of the man’s duplicity and performative nature as being less symptomatic of some personality disorder and more a toolset deployed, consciously, to manipulate his allies and enemies. The book’s approach makes sense, because as a leader focused on the tactics and strategy of waging war, the tangible, physical reality of the regime’s previously unimaginable crimes were kept at a psychological remove in his life- and so they are in this book. He believed every action was justified, and while Ullrich details those justifications and gives them much needed context, it would be useless to read chapter after chapter with the author arguing with Hitler’s self-justifications. At the same time, it would also be immoral to present them without challenge, so the book does a great job of balancing these impulses and questions.

We stay with Hitler and his routines, travel, and the palace intrigues that he enabled. Huge catastrophes like the Battle of Stalingrad, D Day, and The Battle of The Bulge are covered, but this book is not a book about the individuals on the battlefields, executing the tactics on the ground, although we learn a LOT on a macro, tactical level about how the German Army (aka The Wehrmacht) won or lost battles. No, this is a book about a psychopathic, racist, fanatical anti-semite whose prejudices informed the disaster he made, always blaming others for failure and taking personal credit for success. In that way, it’s a bit of a hard read, because the man was an absolutely giant, self-satisfied asshole, and you get a heavy dose of that, alongside the groveling fealty of men like Joseph Goebbels, whose diaries frame much of the book(s).

There is a powerful section on the Holocaust, which is the scaffolding of the entire book for me, and which frames the massive crimes of not just the SS and the concentration camps, but the extrajudicial murder that, once normalized, was committed by all of the German forces in the Soviet Union, Poland, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and beyond. The unfathomable civilian and extrajudicial murder is discussed as being Hitler’s responsibility but also mentions there is no documented “direct order” from Hitler to enact the mechanics of the Holocaust because, as the book makes plain, his stance was de facto in favor of it, and his underlings knew it was what he wanted. In this way, despite innumerable mentions of “a solution to Jewish question,” the unconscionable act of genocide seems to have had little impact on Hitler’s psyche; his entire plan relied upon the death and removal of millions of people from Eastern Europe.

And so, faced with confronting the reality of the Holocaust, if there is one man about whom I wish the book had more to say, it is Heinrich Himmler, who, despite remaining somewhat elusive in the books, was an absolute piece of shit. I could have used more about the mechanics of his actions, but since he was involved in so many massive crimes, many of them undocumented by the official accounts of the regime, I’ll need to figure out how I can find out more and digest the idea of learning more about him.

I was interested in reading these books to give context to the past and to the present and I have to say, I cannot recommend them enough. Combined, not even counting the footnotes, it is a massive read, but I learned a ton I did not know and feel like I have a much better understanding of the era, of the scale of horrors in Europe leading up to and during WWII. What really resonated for me was learning more about The Red Army of the Soviet Union, who essentially saved the world through an absolutely unbelievable amount of sacrifice and loss.

Anyway, I wanted to document why reading these brilliantly written books about so much horror felt necessary, and why, during the pandemic and the second half of the Trumpist years, they gave me so much to consider. So, I’ll end this long post that likely no one is reading, with the final sentences of Volume II:
Hitler will remain a cautionary example for all time. If his life and career teach us anything, it is how quickly democracy can be prised from its hinges when political institutions fail and civilizing forces in society are too weak to combat the lure of authoritarianism; how thin the mantle separating civilization and barbarism actually is; and what human beings are capable of when the rule of law and ethical norms are suspended and some people are granted unlimited power over the lives of others.

Bravo to Volker Ullrich for an unforgettable reading experience.

Trauma

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As the United States moves into a new era of governance with a divided Congress and a new Presidential administration under Joe Biden, calls for unity and moving on from the era of Trumpism have reached a fever pitch. The desperation among many for the normalcy of moderate government in the aftermath of the unconscionable catastrophe of the Trump presidency is, in many ways, an understandable reaction to the collective trauma with which we now must grapple; Joe Biden has built his campaign and his self-managed transition on the idea of the nation “coming together as Americans.”  But while nostalgia for a principled, unified past as the basis for future progress is superficially comforting, the reality of the moment demands something else entirely: a reconciliation with the very hard truth that through deep systemic failure, our nation gave near-absolute power to an unqualified, narcissistic, criminal sociopath and, true to his brutal, self-interested nature, he set about the task of dismantling our society, fracturing it into a million pieces. Our ideals are now a broken mirror, shards that reflect deep, longstanding problems which demand redress.

When we think about trauma, we often resort to our understanding of the psychological impacts of violence, repression, and targeting on individuals, a subjective experience based on their personal relationship to the trauma inflicted, wherein the experiences of black men will be different from immigrant children will be different from transwomen and men, etc. Each individual action of repression has a profound impact on each individual person and in this way, our collective ability to deal with the consequences of Trumpism, an ongoing, emboldened cultural identity that only two weeks ago inspired a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, will require specific action that begins-and only begins- with accountability for those responsible.

But with Trump’s intentional, disastrous failure at dealing with COVID-19 demanding a massive amount of time, money, and social will, there is a real fear that the need to finally confront the pandemic will supersede the necessary reckoning with trauma not only for individuals who have suffered, but for our nation. Already, Republican Trumpist collaborators are threatening that any attempt to bring consequences to bear on those responsible for this sustained attack on our democracy should be rejected in the name of “national healing“, an idea that stands more as a threat than a call for reconciliation. But American needs a bigger, better idea; Trumpism must be systematically dismantled and removed, without compromise, from every legitimate corner of American politics, because Trumpism has proven itself to be wholly incompatible with democracy.

The well-documented phenomenon of social amnesia is a real concern, the “result of ‘forcible repression’ of memories, ignorance, changing circumstances, or the forgetting that comes from changing interests.” The battle for how we remember, process, understand, and overcome the trauma of Trumpism will define how we triumph over it. The first and most crucial step in the formalization of post-traumatic collective memory is to invest in transparency and truth. Troublingly, the failure of the state to restrain Trumpism will require those responsible for this failure to expose their own shortcomings. We know how that will likely go.

Transparency begins with Joe Biden, and yet his calls for unity and the focus on his agenda has frustratingly ignored the lingering impact of the trauma of the Trumpist years. Biden has laughed off Trump and ignored every ridiculous indignity, instead focusing on building his own transition process with seriousness and determination. And though sustaining a transition while an unstable President completely unravels into a pile of self-pitying inaction may be a survival tactic to carry the nation to Inauguration Day, Biden’s refusal to take the need for consequences seriously, his laughing disdain for Trumpist theatrics, feels like one more dismissal of our shared trauma. I’m not sure he understands how deeply the nation has been injured. We need to be heard, to be understood, and to share in the validation and legitimization of our experience. After years of gaslighting and the demolition of belief in the ability of our institutions to stand up to their debasement at the hands of Trump, we need more than just the truth; we must demand that our shared experience is validated and, most importantly, we must see vindication for our belief that our system is still capable of delivering equal justice under the law.

Depending on how the next few months go, how much information is made public and how many crimes go unremarked upon, Biden’s failure to acknowledge the nation’s wounds could be a destructive, foundational mistake that seeks to appease a movement hell-bent on establishing authoritarian, antidemocratic power in the hands of Trumpist Republicans.  As Trump’s disingenuous claims of “election fraud” have ricocheted through public life, the climactic lie of a years-long assault on truth without a single meaningful consequence, the scope of the challenge facing the nation remains daunting; the very freedoms upon which we define our nation have been weaponized and turned against us by a movement that sees freedom solely as a lack of consequence and restraint for powerful Trumpists. And now that institutional power has somehow survived the assault and miraculously shifted, Trumpists are asking us to put the past aside, to forget and move on. Joe Biden seems to want the same.

This would, of course, be a catastrophic mistake. Our collective survival and healing depends on not forgetting. We must  remember everything,  we must not let to go. We must instead experience the catharsis of justice.

 

Reasons


“The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.”- Jean Renoir, THE RULES OF THE GAME

For years now, fealty to the narrative of American freedom has dismissed the concerns of those who have seen Trumpism for the emergent fascist, authoritarian movement that it is, with many scoffing at comparisons between Trumpist politics and historical authoritarian movements as an “overreaction.” In so doing, they have created a harbor for the normalization of Trumpism. Rather than confront the obvious, something within the hearts of millions– be it racism, economic greed, the thrall of disinformation, a pathetic appreciation of feigned “strength,” egotistical contrarianism, or any of a litany of other “reasons” that have been the subject of endless hand-wringing puff pieces in the national media– allowed them to re-frame Trumpism as a legitimate form of democratic governance; extreme, impolite, a test of norms, but legitimate nonetheless. That normalization has provided harbor to and made common cause with right-wing extremism, whose emboldened sense of entitlement as the sole subjects of our shared institutions of democracy saw thousands of Americans participate in a violent conspiracy to overthrow the legitimate will of the nation and stop Congress from validating the 2020 election.

The exclusivity of this entitlement is crucial, whatever its origin, be it race, religion, or class.  At its core is a belief that our collective identity as a nation, that freedom as a concept, exists only to allow the individual to impose her or his own values and needs over the top of everything and everyone else. Freedom is seen, essentially, as freedom from constraint. Holding this idea is how a group of people who literally hate the majority of their fellow citizens, who hate the diversity of ideas and experience that make up American society, have come to believe themselves to be “patriots.”  The idea that America exists to serve the interests of a single individual– as a “Christian” nation, as a “white” nation– is, in this case, a mirror image of Trump’s own psychopathic narcissism.

But Trumpism is a void; an endless need for narcissistic validation, an endless destruction of constraints in the name of self-interest. After years of shouting “where is the bottom?” into this void, many who dismissed the earliest, obvious signals of the horrors that awaited us have finally come to realize that there is no bottom at all. After years of breaking rules without consequence, emboldened by the self-validation of a relentless infrastructure of disinformation, the psychological connection forged between Trump’s self-interest and the exclusivity of entitlement among his supporters now imagines America itself as the constraint. Republican loyalists, realizing that the conservative vision of self-interest is insufficient to replace the psychological power of this fantasy of unconstrained exclusive individualism (and whose own history of economic and social policy has fomented this fiction), have decided to use the terrible outcome of this philosophy, a literal terror attack that sought to overthrow the government, and throw it into the void of Trumpism.

****

The novelist A.R. Moxon, who has been an essential critic of the rise of Trumpism, clearly paralleled the rationale that got us here when he wrote:

“Historians have a word for Germans who joined the Nazi party, not because they hated Jews, but out of a hope for restored patriotism, or a sense of economic anxiety, or a hope to preserve their religious values, or dislike of their opponents, or raw political opportunism, or convenience, or ignorance, or greed.

The word is ‘Nazi.’

Nobody cares about their motives anymore. They joined what they joined. They lent their support and moral approval. And, in so doing, they bound themselves to everything that came after.”

Tens of millions of Americans have made common cause with Trumpism, and now?  We cannot afford to pretend to care why anymore. Today, as the House of Representatives convened to consider a second set of Articles Of Impeachment of the President, one Trumpist after the next took to the microphone to declare the effort to hold the President to account for leading an insurrectionist coup as “divisive,” to continue to ally themselves with the myth of exclusive entitlement, to repeat the lie that the election was illegitimate, threatening the rest of us with division if we don’t let them get away with it all. But isn’t this the Republican way, to make equivalence between reason and unreason in order to provide cover for their hypocrisy and collaboration? Underneath it all, a legitimization of grievance and violence, of an insurrection. These were threats that consequences for the crimes committed will only lead to more violence and that it will be our fault.

These are the same fools who refused to wear a mask as they shelter in place during an insurrection and infected their fellow Congresspeople with COVID-19, who took to the floor of the House in the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol and maintained their support for the lie of a fraudulent election. They arrived at the Capitol yesterday to find new security screening procedures and balked, confronting and dismissing the same US Capitol Police officers they claimed to support, putting their fellow Congresspeople in further danger. And now, with the Biden Administration on the way in, they use in bi-partisanship as a carrot to avoid accountability for an autogolpe until they can withdraw it for the stick of their continued obstruction of the will of the people.

They cannot get away with this. The nation will not unify with seditionists and their apologists. American will only move on when there is justice. The stakes could not be higher, the action more grievous, and yet, here they stand, once again, terrorized by their own leader, cowering behind indefensible rhetoric, seeking to hold us down in the void they have made. They know their cause is lost in the House and that they can use their vote as cover, and they lecture us on unity and healing. They have their reasons, like all Trumpists. What they do not have is America. Yet.

On Conspiracy


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Wednesday’s failed white nationalist coup at the U.S. Capitol was enacted by a mob who were called to action through a coordinated campaign of disinformation and lies; a planned, consistent narrative that explicitly sought to create the outcome of an assault on Congress to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote.

From the outset of his 2016 Presidential campaign, The President of the United States sought to discredit even the possibility of his own loss as a conspiracy against him, and after losing in 2020, took this fantasy to his supporters, amplified these falsehoods and tethered them to dangerous, unhinged illusions gaining power among low-information communities seeking to re-enforce their straw man hatred of the left. We  then saw loyalist politicians in the GOP amplify his lies, lending them the political legitimacy of his party. Then, after months of escalating these lies, the President planned and staged a rally at the White House on January 6, the day Congress would certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory,  to gather his most radicalized believers and send them to attack the Congress.

As the President launched his coordinated attack on our democracy through an humiliating, laughable attempt to overturn state elections, his supporters heeded his call to descend on Washington, DC. The individuals involved in the attack made plans with one another on social media platforms, from Facebook to Twitter to Reddit to Parler to Rumble, using these tools to radicalize others, escalate rhetoric, and most importantly, organize and plan the occupation of the US Capitol, which was the explicit goal they repeatedly articulated. We know what happened next.

In the aftermath of the attack, proof of on-site coordination at the Capitol are now coming into view. Using the chaos of a mass surge through multiple points of entry, a subset of the white nationalist mob were clearly collaborating to search for Congressional representatives. There are images of individual white nationalist terrorists in the Congressional chambers with zip tie handcuffs, seemingly prepared to restrain government leaders, seemingly collaborating on the floor of Congress. A gallows was erected on the Capitol grounds. Social media messages from and on-air interviews with participants in the riot have made clear the plan to capture and murder national leaders, including Vice President and Trumpist coward Mike Pence. When their efforts failed, the Capitol Police allowed them to walk away. Federal law enforcement are now working to identify and arrest them as they have scattered across the nation.

Trumpists remain unmoved. During the evening of this coordinated attack on our democracy, 147 Republicans walked through the desecrated halls of Congress in order to continue to foster and extend the President’s seditious plot by voting against the certification of Pennsylvania’s electoral vote, aligning the power of their elected offices with the insurgent, white nationalist terrorist movement of Trumpism. How better to maintain the opportunity to continue to seek the delegitimization of the incoming Biden administration and prepare the nation for a relentless effort to obstruct American progress?

****

This is what an ACTUAL conspiracy look like. This continues to be a coordinated alliance between white nationalist hate groups, QAnon, and domestic terrorists which has been incubated within the mainstream credibility of the Republican Party, fueled by the lies of a deranged President and his political allies, for the purpose of coordinating a violent attack on the Congress on behalf of the Executive branch in order to legitimize a fantasy about electoral fraud and discard the election to maintain Donald Trump’s power as President.

As always with Trumpism, the unhinged theories and fantasies of right wing nationalist movements are a form of nauseatingly obvious projection, providing transparent cover for the real-life actions of Trump and his community. Trumpism is, and always has been, entirely predicated on projection, from the tacky mirage of wealth and success as a façade to hide financial crime, to screams of political malfeasance about “her emails” providing cover for a Russian intelligence operation against the Democratic Party. This is a movement that sees a self-confessed sexual abuser, who was literally caught on camera ogling young women with an accused sex trafficker, as a champion in the fight against the sexual abuse of children. Of course, they are also aligned with traditional white supremacist terrorists, literal neo-Nazis who have found shelter and comfort in the racist enabling of Trumpism, with police forces across the nation making common cause with armed, violent nationalists, and the President cheering them on and ordering the continual brutalization of the left and people of color.

Trump’s willful lies about “Democrat(ic) cities” (aka communities of color) “dumping votes” in the dark of night are also a projection about Trump’s own efforts to dismantle free and fair elections through voter disenfranchisement, whether that be his collusion with his criminal Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in dismantling the United States Postal Service in order to not deliver mail-in votes in critical cities in swing states to his phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger seeking to coerce him into “finding” enough votes to overturn the results of Georgia’s already suppressed election.

Trumpism continues to conceal real conspiracy through lies and fiction, broadcasting fascist intention and plotting direct action out in the open while sowing fantasies that reenforce the narcissism of a growing community of self-certain believers. The Republican Party continues to not only align itself with these obvious lies, but to use them as cover to conspire with Trump to undermine the government. We cannot move on, we must fight back immediately with a coordinated action by the Department of Justice and use every tool available across jurisdictions around America to hold these conspirators to account.

Otherwise? Well, despite disingenuous politicians like Matt Gaetz floating another lie that seeks to provide cover for his support for a Beer Hall Putsch by transforming it into a Reichstag Fire (by blaming “leftist” agitators for leading the attack on the Capitol), an emergent fascist movement does not end after finding relative success using a violent attack to hold the nation in the thrall of its imagined grievances. The right will continue to conspire and coordinate, to unify its message, to send signals to its true believers and build its unconscionable coalition to meet its ultimate goal of consolidating America under GOP power and control.

Double System

On August 25, 2020, people took to the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by local police officers. That evening, an Illinois teenager named Kyle Rittenhouse who, he claims, had come to Kenosha armed with an AR-15 assault rifle to help defend private property, was confronted at a car dealership and ended up shooting and killing a local man named Joseph Rosenbaum. Others, seeing the shooting, tried to confront Rittenhouse, and he shot and killed Anthony Huber, shot and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, and fired more shots at those seeking to intervene in the violence. Rittenhouse, seeing police cars ahead, raised his hands in surrender and walked toward them as the police drove right past him without incident. He then got in his car and drove home, before peacefully turning himself in to police in Illinois the next day.

The right-wing in America, particularly 2nd amendment absolutists and racists who denounce the movement against systemic racism in policing, immediately lept to Rittenhouse’s defense, declaring him a hero who acted in self-defense and raising money to pay for his legal costs. Rittenhouse and his family created merchandise celebrating him, selling it online to his supporters. The President of The United States, asked about the shootings, said

“He was trying to get away from them, I guess … and he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. He was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed, but it’s under investigation.”

Three days after Rittenhouse surrendered, on August 29, a Trumpist coalition of right-wing extremists undertook what became one of the symbols of the summer of 2020 in America, a “Trump Cruise Rally”, creating a critical mass of cars and trucks on the streets of downtown Portland, Oregon. In the aftermath of the “cruise,” Aaron Danielson, a member of the extreme right-wing group Patriots Prayer, engaged in a confrontation with Michael Reinoehl, an anti-fascist activist. During the confrontation, Reinoehl shot and killed Danielson and escaped on foot. Reinoehl was interviewed about the confrontation, where he also claimed self-defense.

The President of The United States took to Twitter to say:

“Why aren’t the Portland Police ARRESTING the cold blooded killer of Aaron ‘Jay’ Danielson. Do your job, and do it fast. Everybody knows who this thug is. No wonder Portland is going to hell! @TheJustice Dept @FBI”

While evading arrest, Reinoehl told Vice Magazine:

“They’re out hunting me. There’s nightly posts of the hunt and where they’re going to be hunting. They made a post saying the deer are going to feel lucky this year because it’s open season on Michael right now.”  He had not turned himself in, he said, because he believed right-wing protesters were collaborating with police, who will not protect him or his family.

On September 3, US Marshals and the FBI confronted Reinoehl, and he was shot and killed. Speaking about Reinoehl’s death, The President of The United States implied that law enforcement had engaged in the extrajudicial murder of Reinoehl, saying at a political rally in North Carolina:

“We sent in the US Marshals. It took 15 minutes (and) it was over. They knew who he was; they didn’t want to arrest him, and in 15 minutes that ended…The US Marshals went in to get him, and in a short period of time — they ended in a gunfight. This guy was a violent criminal, and I will tell you something: That’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”

On April 17, 2020, The President of The United States, reportedly unhappy with the criticism he faced from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Governors of other states for not coordinating a federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic (which left states to manage the crisis in a patchwork of local regulations, shortages of equipment, and no Federal plan) wrote on Twitter:

“LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

On April 30, heavily armed activists entered the state Capitol in Lansing, to confront state Capitol police and intimidate lawmakers from enacting COVID-19 public health requirements. On May 1, The President of the United States wrote:

“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

On the night of October 7, a group of men were arrested by the FBI for participating in an alleged plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer at her vacation home. Newsweek reported 

“The FBI charging document said “[s]everal members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor” and they discussed overthrowing state governments “that they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution.”

In response to this terrorist plot against the Governor, The President of The United States wrote on Twitter:

“Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job. She has locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities. The Federal Government provided tremendous help to the Great People of Michigan. My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement announced…today that they foiled a dangerous plot against the Governor of Michigan. Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist– while Biden and Democrats refuse to condemn Antifa, Anarchists, Looters and Mobs that burn down Democrat run cities…”

I’ll leave it there.

Yesterday, at a political rally that sought to protest the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden, The President of The United States spent two hours wallowing in the slop of his imagined grievances, using unambiguous language to tell his supporters to march on the United States Capitol, and promising to join them there to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. He then retreated to the comfort of the White House to watch them invade and ransack the Capitol.

Capitol police then ceded the building without much resistance, with right-wing extremist seditionists given the run of the building. Questions are being asked about how this was allowed to happen– how the police, who have used overwhelming force against peaceful protests in support of black lives did not use equivalent force to defend the Congress of The United States.

At the same time, the right-wing Trumpist disinformation machine kicked into gear, with Representative Matt Gaetz taking to the floor of the House of Representatives in the aftermath of this historic, tragic day to parrot Fox News commentators, blaming the storming of the building on “left-wing agitators” and “antifa” who they claimed, in a piece of propaganda so embarrassingly, transparently, odiously false that Joesph Goebbels would likely blush, had infiltrated the protest.

Simultaneously, longtime right-wing extremists proved this to be a lie, using social media to crow about their actions, posting photos and videos, and threatening police on camera that they will be back, they will be armed, and that “traitors get the rope.” They proved their seriousness by erecting a gallows on Federal property.

Perhaps not surprisingly, not only were these traitors allowed to terrorize Congress and debase the security of our nation while police were unable to contain them (even taking selfies with the criminals who were in the act of terrorizing our elected officials), they were allowed— like Kyle Rittenhouse before them, like the heavily armed Michigan extremists who stormed the state Capitol in April– they were allowed to walk away.

52 arrests yesterday despite thousands of Trumpists overwhelming Congressional security at the behest of the President of The United States. Congressmen like Matt Gaetz using this criminal action to dunk on legitimate concerns of police violence (to a round of applause from his collaborators) and spread disinformation, people like Senator Josh Hawley so smitten with themselves and their own, smug misunderstanding of the law, they refuse to stand down when their baseless objections (and raised fist of support) have inspired violent insurrection. Over 100 Congressmen returned to the chamber after it had been sacked, and doubled down on the President’s lies. And The President of The United States, in the relentless, bottomless service of his psychopathic ego, writing on Twitter

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever.”

It is impossible not to look across the past few months– at the disproportionate violence elevated against the left, against peaceful protestors denouncing police violence, at evidence of police collaboration with right-wing extremists, at the President leveraging the power of Federal law enforcement to extrajudicially kill a wanted man and calling it “retribution”, to his inspiration of an armed insurrection at the Michigan State Capitol and the plot to kidnap and potentially murder a sitting Democratic Governor, to his constant defense of white supremacist terrorists (from Charlottesville to his debate comment to the Proud Boys to “stand by and stand back”) to his direct instructions, after weeks of planning and promotion, that his supporters attack the Capitol– and not see the philosophical consistency behind these injustices.

Yesterday, lawmakers, the leaders of our nation, were forced to huddle under their desks, call their loved ones to tell them goodbye, and were terrorized by the President’s supporters. Guns were drawn by security forces, doors were barricaded. Confederate flags were waved in the nation’s Capitol. Offices were raided by men and women who, their smiles underscoring their absolute awareness of the impunity they had been given after months of direct support from the most powerful man in the world, taunted the Speaker of The House, pillaged the symbols of our Democracy, and they were allowed to walk away.

Much has been made about the judgements that have been passed on Trumpists, with hand-wringing and self-reflection an absolute one-way street by those who have tried to understand it. But now, are there really any questions? We’ve known it all along. Those that embrace the disinformation of the right, be it an avowed right-wing extremist or your parents or the neighbors next door, have embraced and made common cause with fascism. Reasons do not matter; you don’t get to stand alongside fascists, apologize for fascism and terror, argue the finer points of fascist disinformation or vandalize the seat of our Democracy arm in arm with a dude wearing a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt and still get to pretend you’re a decent, freedom loving, mom and pop yokel who just wants lower taxes and the brown people to quiet down.

Our collective democratic power and institutions– from local law enforcement and extremist police unions to the Department of Justice to the office of the President– has been bent to the service of a radical, white nationalist mob. Yesterday, acting on and making common cause with the psychopathic delusions of a failed President, they were allowed to vandalize that democracy, mock us, and they walked away from the scene of the crime because law enforcement refused to enforce the law.

There is a double system in America now, one for you and me, and one for white nationalists. One for people of color and their allies, and one for Roger Stone and Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn. Trumpists are cleared for criminal service of the fascist President’s will, and the rest of us get to eat shit as justice is leveraged as a political weapon.

Yesterday, members of Congress were forced to live in the reality that we have all been living in for four years while they enabled this enduring nightmare. They got to experience their own police force allowing them to be terrorized, they got to see their property destroyed, their workplaces torn apart by insanity.  The flags of Trumpism waving in their faces, the shit eating grins of those who want only to see their humiliation. And yet, despite a few reversals, many of them chose, in the aftermath of the worst day at the Capitol in centuries, to continue to make common cause with the man who unleashed this humiliation. To object to the obviously free and fair election of Joe Biden, to continue to divide the nation through disinformation about a non-existent conspiracy.

Congress and the incoming Department of Justice must stand up for the nation, remove the President, and see that every last one of the people who set foot in the Capitol yesterday is held to account. We aren’t facing down the beginning of a years long battle against white supremacist terror– we’re in the middle of one. And we must prevail.

 

Unimaginable

No.

As insurrectionists acted on an incitement from the President of The United States to storm the United States Capitol, terrorize Congress, and delay the certification of the Electoral College vote that would finally confirm Joe Biden’s election, the nation looked on in horror. White nationalists, waving Confederate flags, Trump campaign flags, with phones held aloft to document their crimes, easily and almost without incident overwhelmed and humiliated the Capitol police force, sending lawmakers scrambling for safety. The insurrectionists ransacked the Capitol, entered Congressional offices, and delayed the electoral process. With the Capitol still under occupation, the President of the United States wrote:

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever.”

I, like everyone, have been glued to this entire disgusting debacle from the moment it began, and I’ve been watching and listening carefully to the coverage of this historic, literal failure of the security of our institutions. The same words keep coming up; astonishing, unbelievable, unimaginable.

No. 

It is not just completely foreseeable, but it was inevitable, from this traitor’s first rally, physically threatening the press, to his desperate, escalating calls for violence against his political opponents to the weeks of publicly calling for today’s events to take place. 

The failure of America’s collective imagination has been profound, and this day has been incubated by each mollifying word from every single American who has downplayed the fascist, authoritarian movement that is Trumpism. Every bright red line that was crossed without consequence, every norm shattered that was met with a shrug, has brought us here. Every time someone decided it was important to tell us not to worry, that our institutions will hold, that we are overreacting, that it’s not that bad; each dismissal of legitimate concern has brought us here.  

But it has not been an incremental path to this moment; it has all been the same bleak, relentless road. Trumpism is an alliance; as we watched one of the grand symbols of our democracy ransacked by a group of seditionists, just days after one of the men with whom they made common cause exploded a car bomb in downtown Nashville, a straight line can be drawn backward in time, to Charlottesville, and beyond. It’s been said, but it never hurts to say it again, plainly: The Trump White House is an institution of white nationalist terror.

The dozens of Republican cowards who co-signed the President’s insane electoral conspiracy theories– who gave those ideas the amplification required to grow and spread, who decided to use today to object to American democracy and a free and fair election– not only represent the conjointment between Republicans and Trumpism, but are fully complicit in the violence and terror that took place today. 

The psychopath in the White House was been a psychopath long before a minority of American voters gave him an Electoral College victory in 2016 and handed him the keys to our democracy. He will continue to be a psychopath after he is driven from office, which is hopefully immediately. We have endured him, his collaborators, and the insurrectionist white nationalists who defaced our democracy for far too long. We’ve quieted one another, downplayed concern, laughed and shaken our heads, accepted the unacceptable, and moved along as transgression after transgression, crime after crime, has gone unpunished. We have made crime a form of acceptable political action. 

White nationalist domestic terror has long found a harbor in the psychopathy of Trumpism; it is one of its essential aspects. Today, the President of the United States deployed it against Congress, and then told us they had it coming. He must be brought to justice. Immediately. 

After The End

I’ve been thinking a lot, a lot, about what life in a post-Trump administration world should look like for Donald Trump, and the words that keep springing to mind are justice, catharsis, and accountability. The president’s administration and their blatant violation of the law– from Hatch Act violations to emolument violations, including using the White House for the Republican National Convention and the flood of money from foreign governments pouring into Trump properties to curry favor with the president, from their unprecedented refusal to hold Russian intelligence operations in the United States to account to using foreign aid to Ukraine as leverage to demand election interference, from obviously colluding with the United States Postmaster General to dismantle postal delivery of valid ballots in key urban areas to directly seeking to overturn a comprehensive defeat in the 2020 election by pressuring elected officials in key states to manufacture votes in the president’s favor and, perhaps most grievously of all, refusing to implement a national strategy to contain and defeat the COVID-19 pandemic (and in fact worsening it by politicizing the response)– must be exposed in full, it must be laid out before the American people plainly, in the sunlight, and those responsible must be held accountable, in court, for their crimes.

This is the question facing the country, right now: Is the dismantling of America’s system of governance at the hands of a narcissistic, criminal enterprise going to be passed off as a form of “politics,” or will it be properly understood as crime?  Is there a difference between the conservative politics of small government and the pillaging of America’s public institutions for personal profit? Is the office of the president an elected position accountable to the rule of law or is it an all-powerful office, a unilateral cudgel and shield that is immune from the consequences of its actions? Is the only check on Presidential power an election, held every four years, allowing shameless political leaders to grift and lie until “the people decide?” And once the people vote, do we find justice in narrow majorities in divided states, which are allowed to overturn huge popular vote margins because, hey, that’s “the system”, and so voter suppression tactics are deployed strategically at the state level by party apparatchiks to shave popular vote margins and override the will of the majority of Americans?

Elections are not a remedy for injustice. Losing an elected office is not a form of accountability for crimes committed in office. Being a politician doesn’t mean breaking the law is a “political” act. Someone in the Justice Department writing a memo on Department “policy” is not “the law.” Yet, too often, this is how justice functions and is understood for political elites.  And of course, we know how this works; instead of equal justice under the law, we depend on prosecutorial will to seek justice.

So, who is willing to challenge the crimes of powerful people? We saw Congressional Democrats try, as the House of Representatives used the impeachment process to expose the criminal behavior of the president before Mitch McConnell’s Senate majority once again defaulted to his “elections should decide” hypocrisy. We should expect it from and it is crucial to the mission of the Justice Department, but we watched the president remove multiple Attorneys General until he could bend the Department to his personal service, with Bill Barr turning the Department into a shield for the president, debasing the office in thrall to executive power. We should expect challenges to power from state and local officials, but they have been blocked by the Justice Department’s “guidance” against prosecuting a sitting president. And so, we waited and looked on as our system of justice was dismantled to protect the president’s criminality.

Simultaneously, perhaps amplified by frustration that the president’s overt criminality was not being constrained, the systemic asymmetry of accountability, one that continues to willfully and overtly criminalize poverty and communities of color while shielding elite criminality, found its fun house mirror image in the streets, where police violence and the murder of George Floyd (then the latest in a string of unaccountable police killings of black Americans) escalated longstanding demands for accountability in local communities around the country. Then, of course, these cries for justice were held up as criminal in and of themselves, mocked by the right as “riots”, before these very same communities of color were targeted for voter disenfranchisement tactics. When that disenfranchisement didn’t work and cities across America voted overwhelmingly to end the disgrace of the Trump administration, the president and his team of lawyers launched an Orwellian crusade to deny the very existence of those votes and, in parallel, tried to convince state election officials about how justice should really work; that is, it should be criminally bent to the will of the president.

This is not about a single (albeit sociopathic) individual and it is not about “politics.” Accountability for Donald Trump’s crimes is about proving to 350 million Americans and to the world that our country- a community of citizens, of people, individuals, who live under common governance- can demonstrate that our conception of the law is not just the continued lip service to an “ideal”, but is dependent upon a functional set of agreed upon rules applied equally to all citizens, and that we have the will to deliver justice.

In my last post, I thought about how Republicanism and Trumpism have become a unified, authoritarian force in American life and so it begs the question; can the party that has collaborated with unilateral malfeasance, refusing to hold the president to account and emboldening an ever-worsening series of anti-democratic actions be allowed to suddenly, as if from thin air, scold the nation into a demand for “bi-partisanship” that further drags us down the collective drain? Will the media continue to equate “both sides” of a political dynamic where one side slides further and further into authoritarianism and dismantling our government? Can they wag their fingers and cry “politics” when accountability is required, allowing the authoritarian trial balloons they continue to release to foment into a deepening crisis of democracy? Will the lies of a wounded sociopath, unable to fathom his own humiliating defeat after four years of abject failure of leadership and the degradation of of our nation’s institutions and reputation, be used as a pretext for enacting further restrictions on voting rights, to deepen inequity at the voting booth?

No. Justice is required, and justice requires will. We must demonstrate that will immediately.

 

 

Debaser

The debasement of the Republican Party at the feet of Donald Trump’s attempts to establish a dictatorship in America– a new, unique idea of governing that seeks to mirror the unaccountable mechanics of Trump’s operation of his own private business– has, surprisingly, been met with effective resistance by some conservatives outside of the government itself. This uncomfortable truth is best reflected in the results of the 2020 Presidential election, which saw a record number of voters turn out to repudiate Trumpism, many of them Republicans crossing party lines to vote against Trump while voting down ballot for Republicans who, one can assume they believed, in many cases represented more traditional “conservative” values without the unpalatable aspects of Trumpism itself. But post-election analysis is always risky; cynics can find a mandate in a one vote victory. What is unexpected is the ability of Republicans to warp the national conversation to find a mandate in a 7,000,000 vote loss.

Confronting a political party that features hundreds of elected officials that refuse to honor the will of people, one that sees governance by the Democratic Party as de facto illegitimate, we have arrived at a moment that forces us to ask hard questions about the nature of our elections, representation, and the structure of our government itself. While collective fealty to the “founding” structures of the Constitution have shielded unjust, unaccountable laws over the centuries (slavery, the disenfranchisement of women and people of color, etc), change has always been a part of our relationship to governance; our society has evolved over time to right historic wrongs, often far too late, often inadequately. Now, as our system of elections continues to produce minority rule, the emboldened minority that has been highly effective in bending the shape of the government in its own image is no longer satisfied; it is remaking itself in order to legitimize the manufactured delusion that Trump won the election.

This is the double threat we face as a country now; not only are Republicans emboldened by our system’s asymmetrical allocation of power to their minority to take more and more of it for themselves (and to delegitimize the right of Democrats to govern), they are effective in convincing the nation that this is how it should be. And no one will stop them. The party has convinced itself of the truth of this reality, and so they work harder to make it reality. They face no repercussions; the polite mandates of the press and the national conversation maintain their platform, their propaganda networks repeat their lies with tremendous discipline, and Democrats respond by cleaving to antiquated norms and the idea of actual governance, neither of which suffice as a challenge in this unprecedented moment.

Trumpism has taken this situation and, seeing no value in governance, no effective resistance, no structural constraints, no disciplined counter narrative, no systemic barriers, no consequences, has done what every dictatorship has sought to do once unfettered; it has created a separate universe of truth that is bent exclusively to the will and needs of its leader. Republicanism, which sees only itself as legitimate, is the perfect vehicle for Trumpism, which has now embedded itself within the party like a brain-eating parasite, taking control of its host and turning it into a zombie that serves only the needs of the leader. And now that the leader seeks to recreate reality itself, huge swaths of the party simply fall in line, including dozens of elected officials who would rather appease the fictions of their leader (fictions created by the devastation of narcissistic injury) than confront their own complicity in continuing to debase the system from which, against all reason, somehow, they continue to benefit. And of course, it just wouldn’t be Trumpist Republicanism without a healthy dose of doublespeak hypocrisy where, on the one hand, the Electoral College results should be thrown out because they have been “corrupted” by overwhelming urban and suburban majorities, but also, the Electoral College itself must be maintained to continue to facilitate minority rule.

There has been some confusion about Trump’s admiration for totalitarian leaders abroad, but it has always been crystal clear how much he envies them. In thinking about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, I am always chastened by Hannah Arendt’s enduring ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM, which properly frames the differences between a dictatorship (which, I would argue, is Trump’s ideal framework) and totalitarianism, which Arendt defines as relying on comprehensive state terror against its own populations to maintain control (see Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines, North Korea, Belarus, etc.) For all of his bluster and his singularly pathetic gesture of turning Federal forces against peaceful protesters so that he could hold a Bible*, Trump has not effectively unleashed state violence against his political opponents or the masses. This is one constraint on his power that has somehow held despite his calls for the arrest of opposition leaders, and while the white nationalist militias and conspiracy-minded activists have been emboldened by Trump’s overt support (and have unconscionably been accommodated in the public sphere despite their escalating levels of violence), they have not been granted impunity by the state to wreak terror on our society. Instead, they have enacted criminal terror as “lone wolves” separated from the violent pack (see Charlottesville, Portland, Wisconsin, and likely, Nashville). Similarly, because of the localization of police forces in America, radically conservative police unions have been somewhat constrained by local control which, given the overwhelming militarization of the police and the aggressive tactics they have used, is a systemic constraint that has held.

Despite all of the verbal posturing, Trumpism has failed to construct a systemic apparatus to govern the nation through terror and organized state violence. Instead, it has sought to realign the nation and its governance as a form of dictatorship that reflects Trump’s business experience, relying on personal loyalty, non-disclosure agreements, unilateral financial and managerial control, lying, criminality, secrecy, and the tacky, gold-plated façade of an exclusive brand that only serves those who buy into the con. Still, the totalitarian idea is there, floated every now and then, hovering just beyond the reach of those who would gladly deploy it to maintain their control. Republican politicians understand Trumpism as the vehicle for that control, and they are right; it is a great mobilizing machine filled with true believers who will not only adopt the Trumpist line of thinking, but will become radicalized to act in its service.

You cannot put these impulses back in the box through a moderate agenda of legislation that makes modest, incremental change in the lives of everyday people. It is past time for the system, which remains under grave threat, to be utilized in the service of its own preservation. That can only happen through a dedication to accountability and structural change that realigns the national interest with the collective interests of its citizens, not a single political party intent on maintaining its own power by making common cause with a would-be tyrant.



*Gassing and beating protesters to hold a Bible for the media is a gesture that, like dry humping the American flag with a shit eating grin on your face, can only be truthfully seen as ironic, but as patriotism and religion cannot accommodate irony, these pathetic, inauthentic attempts at aping the tropes of “belief” by a narcissist incapable of belief were somehow not derided by the faithful.

The Path Ahead From 2020


2021 has arrived, and America is on the verge of rounding the corner of both the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged us this past year, and the Trump administration, which has ravaged us for the past four. Trump and COVID will be eternally twinned now; the respective failure of Trump and the success of the virus in killing over 300,000 people in the country form an almost perfect collaboration of incompetent narcissism and virulence, forever entwined in a collective dance of madness, propelled by absolute fealty to a delusional idea of individualism. To have lived through this time, to have personally made massive sacrifices of time, social interaction, artistic connection, concentration, and yet, to know that these sacrifices are small, that over 300,000 people have lost their lives without a single gesture of condolence or acknowledgement– it remains unconscionable. To stare into the heart of my country as each of those sacrifices– personal, collective– is undermined, day by day, month after interminable month, by an unwavering, delusional minority, has been absolutely enraging.

There is no point in denying it; my belief in other people, in the value of empathy (which has completely framed my adult life and been the guiding motivation of my work), has been forever altered by the experience of watching self-interested, cynical, criminal buffoons hammer a wedge between us, and by the willingness of so many to not only welcome it, but to help drive it as deep as possible. This has illuminated new, unforeseen limits in my own capacity for concern for and the understanding of others. I have never felt at home in a culture that celebrates patriotic kitsch, performative religious practice, and anti-intellectualism, but as these longstanding strains of American identity have found common cause in the cynicism of Trumpism, turning the obvious hypocrisy of their supposed purpose into their full reason for being, I see that my attempts at understanding are simply unilateral exercises in self-preservation. There is no return of these gestures, only the construction of unbearably ridiculous straw-man versions of my values, spit back into my face with a sneer. I want to understand because I want to preserve the version of myself that seeks a compassionate understanding of others, but that version of me has no place here now.

So, how best to get through these times? I have been reading more, which is good, but the pandemic has taken away my ability to focus for too long without succumbing to an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. I spent most of 2020 reading Volker Ullrich’s HITLER: ASCENT 1889-1939 and HITLER: DOWNFALL 1939-42, and they have been very useful to me in understanding the power of propaganda in forging a false “unifying” national purpose in service of a lying, cynical abuse of political power for criminal ends. These books are also a stern warning about the way in which the lack of accountability only escalates and emboldens criminality, allowing unfathomable crimes to be committed in secrecy. It’s not that the crimes are comparable between our time and 1930’s-40’s Nazi Germany, but the playbook being deployed is shockingly similar; lies, misinformation, loyalty purges, institutions bent to the service of corrupt interests, the deformation of language to disguise purpose, and with every incremental step enabling a deeper descent into the madness of antidemocratic power, the burning need for accountability grows more and more urgent.

Yesterday, home from my morning walk on the beach with our dog, with Ullrich’s DOWNFALL on my mind (I am still in the middle of reading it), I took a detour to revisit Alain Resnais’ NIGHT AND FOG. I wanted to be reminded of the incomprehensible horror, of Resnais’ visual evidence of the Nazi’s crimes, but much like the book I am reading, it was the text of NIGHT AND FOG that struck me on this viewing. I can’t draw contemporary parallels to the Holocaust in America; as an example, the criminal negligence and cruelty of our immigration prisons are unconscionable, but they are not nearly the same in scope or brutality or outcome. Unforgivable, but nowhere near. Still, I was taken by the film’s concluding narration, spoken over the shattered concrete and twisted iron of what then remained of Auschwitz. The point was not just the unfathomable horror of the Holocaust, but how we live with the collective responsibility that lingers in its wake, and how civilization itself can come to terms with the aftermath, when we know that the society that produced it was never properly held to account.

Who among us keeps watch from this strange watchtower to warn of the arrival of new executioners? Are their faces really so different from ours? Somewhere among us, there are still lucky Kapos, reinstated officers, and anonymous informers. There are those who refused to believe, or only now and then. We survey these ruins with a heartfelt gaze, certain the old monster lies crushed beneath the rubble. We pretend to regain hope as the image recedes, as though we’ve been cured of that plague. We tell ourselves it was all confined to one country, one point in time. We turn a blind eye to what surrounds us and a deaf ear to the never-ending cries.” –  Jean Cayrol, NIGHT AND FOG

 

 

 

My Favorite Fiction Films, 2010-19

ARRIVAL directed by Denis Villeneuve (2016)
HOLY MOTORS directed by Leos Carax (2012)
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen (2013)
LEVIATHAN directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (2014)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD directed by George Miller (2015)
MARGARET directed by Kenneth Lonergan (2011)
THE MASTER directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (2012)
MOONLIGHT directed by Barry Jenkins (2016)
OSLO, AUGUST 31 directed by Joachim Trier (2011)
PHOENIX directed by Christian Petzold (2014)
POST MORTEM directed by Pablo Larrain (2010)
THE SOCIAL NETWORK directed by David Fincher (2010)
THE TURIN HORSE directed by Béla Tarr (2011)
UNDER THE SKIN directed by Jonathan Glazer (2013)
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE directed by Lynne Ramsay (2017)
ZAMA directed by Lucrecia Martel (2017)