About Ronnie Nathan
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Headline from the NYT, 3/15/2019:
Two New Zealand Mosques, a Hate-Filled Massacre Designed for Its Time
“I went to Friday afternoon prayers at my local mosque today. When one wakes up to overwhelming incomprehensible tragedy, you feel helpless and want to do something. The only thing I could think of was to go to the mosque and pray with my Muslim brothers and sisters, to share their pain, pray to the same G-d we also share and in a very small way reach out to them as best as I can. As they prayed to Allah and recited verses from the Quran, I silently recited the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. The imam’s sermon was all about love, about reaching out across religious and ethnic differences to Jews and Christians, to listen to each other with peace and understanding, to confront hate and evil with love and understanding. My goal was to be as inconspicuous as possible. My yarmulke is not that much different from the head coverings most of the men were wearing. Most wore street clothes much like mine. I took off my shoes and sat on the floor just like everyone else. Still, as the service ended, the imam recognized me from the podium as I had been there during happier times about 2 years ago with my friend Jamshed, and thanked me for coming. He recognized me as an observant Jew. And literally 1 day after rockets had flown between Israel and Gaza and 49 of their brothers and sisters had been massacred in a mosque just like this one, during Friday afternoon prayers half way around the world, over 100 Muslim men came up to me and individually embraced me, a Jew, thanking me for my small gesture. It was all I could do to hold back my tears.”
My question of “Why?” is NOT why horrors like this occur. We know why! My question is why do White Power Supremacists, from David Duke after Charlottesville to the shooter in New Zealand, see in Donald J. Trump – our president – a kindred spirit? Donald Trump is not responsible for Charlottesville or the massacre in New Zealand. I want to be very clear about that still.
On March 11, just four days prior to the massacre, Trump gave an interview to Breibart, the online right-wing propaganda site masquerading as news, where he said the following:
“I can tell you I have the support of the police, have the support of the military, have the support of the bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
What are we to make of this comment? Is he threatening violence in the streets if he doesn’t get his way with the wall or if he loses in 2020? Is this an appropriate threat for an American president to make to the American people?
During his campaign, he advocated for a Muslim ban. After Charlottesville, he declared there were good people on both sides. Less than 24 hours after the massacre in New Zealand, in response to a reporter’s question in the Oval Office during the Veto Signing Ceremony, he declared that White Power Supremacists and the violence they advocate and perpetrate are not serious problems in the United States.
My Trump-supporting friends can legitimately claim that the president’s words in all these cases are being grossly misinterpreted, that his intent and meaning carry no racist or poisonous purpose. That may be so; however, the David Dukes of the world and other White Power Supremacists all take comfort from these words. Why? The president of the United States, whether he likes it or not, is the spokesperson for the moral/ethical soul of all of us.
At times like these, he should never speak in a way where his words must be parsed to determine what he really means. They must be clear to everyone! It’s hard to interpret the words “Muslim Ban” as anything but racist! After the torchlight parade of Nazis screaming “Jews will not replace us” into the Charlottesville night, Charlottesville was no longer about Confederate monuments, at least for those Americans like me, who are the targets of Nazi hatred. It was only about Nazis marching in American streets. After the Charleston church, Pittsburgh synagogue and Christchurch, New Zealand massacres, White Power Supremacist hatred and violence are serious problems for everyone in America who isn’t white and Christian; and I pray even for the vast majority of American white Christians.
In Judaism, we hold leaders to a higher moral/ethical standard than the general population. Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land by HaShem because he struck a rock in anger in front of the Israelites! I honestly don’t know if Trump consciously carries favor with Nazis and White Pride Supremacists with his consistent equivocations. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that he consistently fails America when it matters most with his words. He should be ashamed of himself and every American who takes America’s ideals of tolerance and brotherhood seriously. Those of you who voted for him should loudly and proudly shame Donald J. Trump for this failure. It is inexcusable!
Steven Baron wrote a 900-word opinion piece in last week’s Gazette rebutting my column of the previous week. He attempted to rip my arguments apart piece by piece. For the record, I think Donald J. Trump is a despicable human being and his presidency is a national disaster. Baron is an ardent Trump supporter. Despite that, Steven Baron is one my best friends in California. I literally love the man, not like Trump “loves” Kim. I really love Steve. More than that, I deeply respect and trust him. I am confident he feels the same way about me.
Since we met in synagogue several years ago, we have been debating each other politically and have been fast friends. In the years we have known each other, despite our political differences, not a single angry word has passed between us and we see each other and break bread together at least two times a week in synagogue. That is what America is really like, or at least the America Steve and I live in.
Once upon a time, our politics were more like that and less of the take-no-prisoners blood sport it has become. In the ‘80s, political rivals Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neal were friends who enjoyed each other’s company. About 20 years earlier, LBJ introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but Everett Dirksen got it passed. Think about that for a minute. A Democratic president and the top Republican in Congress worked together to forever change America for the better! Where have we gone wrong?
LBJ’s Vietnam and Nixon’s Watergate made many Americans, if not most, into political cynics who distrust government. I’ve always thought that had Robert F. Kennedy lived to become president, everything since then would have been different. We would have left Vietnam before the worst domestic conflicts concerning the war had occurred. There would have been no Watergate. RFK was the last national politician who could give the same exact speech on the same day to black working class Roxbury and white ethnic working class South Boston crowds, getting enthusiastic ovations from both groups. Ronald Reagan restored some of that with his Morning in America politics, but with Talk Confrontation Radio, Newt No Compromise Gingrich and Slick Will, the dye was cast and it has only gotten worse, climaxing in the most divisive president since the Civil War in Donald Trump.
It didn’t have to be this way. Trump essentially won the election on his signature issues, immigration and unfair trade relationships – both of which bleed away secure American blue-collar high-wage jobs. He won the immigration debate with the American people. The reason the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 failed to become law is that no one trusted the Democrats to secure the border. Everyone trusts Trump to secure the border. After winning the election, he was in a perfect place to finally resolve the immigration issue by securing the border and using the Senate bill as a starting point for dealing with the issue in an equitable, fair and sensible way, and with the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants who have been living here for years. He could have chosen to unite the nation and resolve a simmering issue. If nothing else, Trump has proven how he can command the congressional GOP to fall in line and slavishly follow his lead. The Democrats would have jumped at the chance to give Trump his wall in return for something resembling that 2013 Senate bill. Instead, he chose to demagogue the issue because he calculated it works better for him politically as a highly charged wedge issue than would a solution. Don’t get me wrong; the Democrats have consistently made the same craven calculation. So, an issue that reasonable sensible people can solve remains an open wound in the nation. And the exact same dynamic drives several of the most contentious issues dividing Americans. Trust me, if Steve and I were locked in a room with a few technocrats who know the technical esotericism of the issue, we would solve the whole thing in a day or two. Why? Because we respect each other and have no ulterior motives other than doing what is right for America. We listen to each other and we are open to reasonable compromise.
Our current political process, especially the presidential contest, works in a way that exacerbates conflict and undermines solutions. Winning the primaries demands extreme uncompromising positions from the candidates. If the nominee moderates his/her positions during the general election campaign, he/she risks the hypocrite flip-flopper tag. What can be done to break this self-destructive cycle? In Donald Trump, we have a president that a third of the nation hates, a third loves and a third distrusts, but that middle third is also very suspicious of Democrats, mostly for very good reasons. The Democrats who vote in the primaries must vote for a moderate. They must center their main campaign themes on unifying America, character, honesty and a willingness to compromise to resolve issues. They also must nominate a candidate with the record and credibility that the middle third of America can believe. Right now, with Sherrod Brown out of the race, unless Biden announces, that looks like Klobuchar. Personally, I’m fantasizing a Democratic dream team ticket of Biden/Klobuchar. I once fantasized registering as a Republican to vote for Kasich in the GOP primary, but that’s not going to happen. The GOP is the party of Trump. As an extreme centrist, I’ll remain a registered Democrat and hope for the best.
Congressmen Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan of the so-called Freedom Coalition, famously or infamously (depending on your POV) filed a criminal referral with the DOJ against Michael Cohen, accusing him of perjury before the House Oversight Committee.
Strangely, it had nothing to do with Cohen’s describing the president as a racist, liar or conman. Perhaps it was Cohen’s suggestion that Trump was guilty of a criminal conspiracy while president to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels? Or, that he was guilty of bank fraud by knowingly inflating his net worth to Deutche Bank to obtain a 1 billion dollar loan? Or lying about actively pursuing a deal to build a Moscow Trump Tower during the campaign? Or stiffing small businessmen 500 times out of money he owed them? Nope! It was none of those things. They accused Cohen of lying about his own ambition, or lack of same, for a job in the Trump White House. Uhhh… Compared to this other stuff, who cares?
What’s notable about this is that their criminal referral exactly reflects the strategy employed by every GOP member of the committee. Not a single GOP questioner either defended the charges against the president, or attempted to debunk any of Cohen’s substantive accusations against Trump. Their lone attack against Cohen’s testimony was that Cohen is a liar. Well, that’s not news. The obvious weakness of that strategy is that Trump is the Liar-in-Chief! If Cohen can’t be trusted because he is an admitted liar in the service of Donald J. Trump, how does that help the president who makes Cohen look like the most honest man in the Trump organization? Moreover, whom do they expect to get testimony from? Finding a close associate of Donald Trump who hasn’t pled guilty to a felony, isn’t under indictment or an immunity deal or isn’t the subject of a criminal investigation is like finding a virgin in a house of ill repute.
The irony of all this is that 24 hours hadn’t elapsed before Trump himself and the latest Trump White House scandal completely sabotaged the GOP congressional narrative. Jordan, Meadows, and others all hung their hats on the argument that if you lie once, nothing you say can be trusted. Cohen is a convicted liar, so nothing he alleges should be taken seriously. Trump himself undermined that argument from the summit podium in Vietnam as he declared Cohen’s honesty regarding collusion with Russia. Cohen, according to Trump, testified that there was no collusion and that part of his testimony can be trusted. Of course, that isn’t what Cohen actually said. Then, less than a day transpired before it was absolutely and irrefutably documented that Trump, Ivanka and Jared Kushner’s attorney all lied on TV about how Jared received his Top Secret security clearance over the objections of the FBI, CIA, Chief of Staff Kelly and White House Counsel McGhan. Compared to Trump and his family, Cohen’s credibility and trustworthiness in the committee appears stellar, which I admit isn’t saying much.
The common wisdom is that we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know as a result of Cohen’s public testimony, but I disagree. One thing we learned is that the Mueller investigation is almost certainly the sideshow. Cohen produced enough documents and names of potential witnesses to keep several congressional committees and federal and state prosecutors very busy for years. I literally can’t wait to hear from Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s long-time CFO who appears to have had a hand in every dollar coming in or going out in Trump World. We heard first-hand from the most inside man in the organization (whose name isn’t Trump) just how amoral and corrupt the everyday business culture of the Trump organization is and always has been.
But we also learned something else. We learned how the corrosion of public morality, ethics and trust works. For two years, the congressional GOP has turned a blind eye to Donald Trump’s daily lies, bullying tweet-storms and destruction of the norms and guardrails that have governed presidential behavior until now. They have silently watched our president wage rhetorical war against our/his own intelligence community, DOJ, the press, his former employees and even members of his own party who have the temerity and integrity to criticize him. They hitched their own political ambitions to the Trump train, knowing exactly what this president is all about.
Jordan, Meadows and their GOP colleagues who once stood for fiscal responsibility, and literally screamed bloody murder about Obama-era executive overreach, are now silent in the face of the biggest deficits in the history of the republic – all accrued during a period of economic growth, and defend what they know is a fictitious national emergency. They have sacrificed even the appearance of values and political integrity in a Faustian bargain with Donald J. Trump. And the real tragedy is that they seem totally unaware of the bargain they have made or the cost of that bargain, and it’s not a pretty sight! If the clock isn’t ticking on the Trump presidency, the road back to normalcy will be very long, indeed.
As I sit here writing, we are awaiting the impending release of the Mueller Report. I will fully accept those findings, whatever they are. Unfortunately for America, I am probably in the minority.
If the 2016 election taught me anything, it is to be very circumspect before making any predictions. If I had to predict, however, it would be that almost no one will be really satisfied with its findings. The reason? The true believers from both sides, and in these troubled times far too many Americans have become true believers, simply won’t believe the report unless it fully corroborates exactly what they already believe.
I have several friends who absolutely hate the Clintons. They think both of them deserve very long prison terms. When the names Comey and McCabe come up, they almost foam at the mouth. But Donald Trump can do no wrong. Let’s face it. There simply has never been such a prolific liar in the White House in the history of the Republic. Even Tricky Dick is a piker in the sheer shamelessness of Trump’s monumental mendacity. The man is a life-long serial liar! Every informed objective observer should agree to that. My Trump enthusiast friends, very bright and very well-informed people, when confronted with a well-documented Trumpian whopper, with complete sincerity and righteous indignation fully rationalize and explain away the lie. While their mastery of selective amnesia and denial of objective reality is truly impressive, however, it is highly corrosive to the foundations of representative democracy. We certainly don’t have to agree with each other about anything requiring an opinion, but if we live in alternative political universes, where for them up is down and down is up, elections don’t resolve anything. They only make things worse.
On the other hand, and there is almost always an “on the other hand” for an Extreme Centrist, I seriously doubt Mueller will find an indictable or what should be an impeachable offence against the president. Ultimately, the Southern District of New York may, but I doubt Mueller will. For my Trum- hating true believer friends, simply nothing short of that will do. It is not against the law to lie in public, even to the American people, or particularly unusual for a successful politician to be morally corrupt. In fact, it is almost a job requirement. For some reason that eludes me, however, they almost universally give the Clintons a pass while waxing eloquent over the moral turpitude of Donald Trump.
So, what is so special about the Trump presidency? Why is his presidency a disaster for America no matter what Mueller has found?
Other presidents have had illicit sexual affairs. Other presidents have lied, although not with the frequency and consistency of Trump. Other presidents as candidates engaged in questionable, perhaps even illegal campaign tactics. Other presidents may have determined foreign policy based on selfish personal interests. I’m not aware of any other president as a candidate paying hush money to mistresses. However, what no other president has ever done is normalize all these behaviors; to flaunt them in plain sight, express no shame and convince his political party and core base that even if he did all these things, it just doesn’t matter.
The bizarre “Alice Through the Looking Glass” aspect of all of this is:
- His party was once the party of family values.
- He and his supporters claim the mantle of conservatives, returning America to its traditional core values.
- His strongest most consistent voting bloc is Evangelical Christians!
I once lamented, soon after the Inauguration, that Trump was undermining the moral authority of the presidency. The reality is much worse. By normalizing these behaviors, by succeeding in convincing his constituency that none of this matters, he has destroyed the moral compass of America. When other presidents did these things and were caught, they experienced shame and disgrace. Indeed, the very folks who are Trump’s most committed supporters shamed his predecessors the most, even for much less egregious lies and behaviors. They still do, even while accepting the very worst in Donald Trump and with absolute conviction deny their gross hypocrisy. They believe their own horsehockey! They accept that American foreign policy doesn’t need to stand for any values other than crass self-interest, that America stands for nothing other than what Donald Trump tells them it stands for. They know he lies, believe his lies and, when his lies are revealed as lies, simply shrug their shoulders and implicitly say, “So what?”
This is what Post-Modernism looks like. A Trump world is a world without truth or objective reality. It is a world without morals or values. The very Americans, self-described conservatives and Evangelical Christians, who once resisted Post-Modernism the most, are now its prime enablers. Will America survive Donald Trump? Will we rediscover our moral compass as a society and political culture? The 2020 election may be our last best chance and it will likely depend on the character, charisma and competency of our next president. I pray to G-d for America’s sake he/she is the anti-Trump.