It can happen here.

“A favorite theory of mine [is] that no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often”

Mark Twain

Certainly, the MAGA bomber, the massacre in the synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the increase in the total number of hate crimes were not Kristallnacht.   But I fear that the writing is on the wall. The echoes are still very weak and still quite distant, but if you listen carefully, the sound that is coming ever closer is so familiar that there is no doubt about it. Kristallnacht is coming.

Impossible here? Maybe in 2020 Trump is going to win a huge victory but then, of course, he’s going to be free from the constraints of the law, in which case I’m sure he’s going to change American society in the same way that Putin has turned Russia into an authoritarian regime. The money, the power, the lack of prosecution for his crimes will be a huge temptation for Trump. If he wins, he will be unrestrained.  So even if he wins, we lose.

What if he loses?  My belief is that he will make a coup d’état. We’re probably going to have a double whammy; massive pogroms and the end of our republican form of government.  Trump and the Republicans will cry that the election was stolen. And this will whip the base of the deplorable party in a violent frenzy.  There will be violent pogroms. And the authorities in Republican-controlled places will be told to allow the MAGA thugs to carry out these pogroms without interference, just as was the case with Kristallnacht. And he and his party will use these pogroms to pressure everyone else to buy peace by allowing him to stay in power.

As Yogi Berra once said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” The question is whether the violence we’ve seen is the work of a scattering of isolated nutters or a harbinger of things to come. My guess is more the latter and less of the former. And when it comes, it will be more than the Jews, it will be everyone else. They will spill as much blood as it takes to keep their power; rivers of blood if that’s what it takes. I assure you that Trump and the Republicans will not be going gently into that good night.

It can happen here.  It’s starting here in a way very similar to the fall of the Weimer Republic. It will be different this time, of course. It’s different every time and yet always the same. An American version instead of a German version. Thugs with a red “MAGA” hat instead of thugs with brown shirts. But they are really the same people. They are always the same people. Maybe the Trump victims will be Mexicans and Jews, or maybe Asians or Arabs as well. But it will be bad, and what we’ve seen in recent months certainly bodes ill. It can always get worse and it probably will.

Of course, there are critical differences – mainly, that the various bombers, killers and MAGA criminals of recent months did not benefit from the impunity of those who executed the pogrom of Kristallnacht.  So that is something to watch for as an important indicator of what is to come. We must not ignore this important, but perhaps transitory, difference between today’s America and the end of Weimer, but nevertheless, the similarity is chilling.  The guardians of civil society resemble the little boy who has his finger in the dike and who holds back the sea. But for how much longer? My fear is that to wait and see what Trump and the Republicans are going to do and whether they’re going to give a semi-official green light to their “Bully Boys” is leaving it too late.  Remember, things deteriorated very quickly after the Kristallnacht. The result is will be the same if Trump and the Republican decide to end the republic after the 2020 election.

Trump will do everything to keep power. And stay out of jail too; remember that he was not simply involved in money laundering and various frauds like Trump University; he almost certainly committed serious crimes in during the 2016 presidential election.  As I suggested above, it’s a good bet that Trump will not be willing to leave office after the 2020 election if the incoming president is a Democrat. And so, the metaphor that might apply is that Republicans are like Caesar’s armies, camped along the banks of the Rubicon, waiting to choose between him and Rome.

For Caesar, a normal and not particularly evil man, crossing the Rubicon was perhaps a difficult choice. One could argue that there were larger issues involved, that it wasn’t purely self over country, since the Populares had legitimate and serious differences with the oligarchs who ruled the Roman Republic. But for a diabolical narcissist like Trump, the time is always right to put his personal interests over those of his country.  For Trump, patriotism is for losers. I think Trump and the Republican party will never accept a defeat in the 2020 election.  They would see the country burn first.  If you think I’m histrionic, I strongly recommend this analysis by Professor Tom Pepinsky, a recognized expert on authoritarian regimes.

Perhaps at the end of Weimar or the fall of the Roman Republic? Maybe politics as usual?  Who knows?  What I do know is that there is still something in the air. A tension, a hint that this can happen here. I am more concerned about the future of my country than ever before.

I think the Republicans are already camped alongside the river and ready to cross the Rubicon–I don’t know if they’re going to cross the Rubicon if they lose, maybe they won’t, but I’m wondering if there were people sitting around the breakfast table in 1933 having this conversation. And then, too, I wonder if Mark Twain is right that history repeats itself and we are doomed to share their fate.

“Death to the Jews”?

La-mort-aux-juifs, France
La-mort-aux-juifs, France

Arun Kapil has commented on the controversy about the tiny place in France that is named “La-mort-aux-juifs”. I think he’s right to call this a tempest in a teacup. But, controversy aside, it is an undeniably bizarre name and I am curious about its origin and meaning. Arun links to an excellent article about the controversy in Marianne that is worth reading but does little to illuminate how this place came to be called “La-mort-aux-juifs”.

It is a grave understatement to say that a person such as myself who struggles even to order dinner in French is obviously not the right person to make an authoritative translation. Nevertheless, I am happy to offer my opinion anyway. I think the name means “the place where the jews died”.  In other words, the name probably marks the occurrence of an historical event but provides no clue as to whether the name was bestowed in sorrow or joy.

I am honestly not sure what it means in French and so I am doubly baffled about how it should be translated in English. Hopefully, an immortal will take a break from the strenuous task of not reforming and harmonizing the French language to offer his or her thoughts. Failing that, perhaps an editor of Le Monde will make a definitive pronouncement.

However, this is a good opportunity to introduce my readers to one of my favorite blogs about life in France. It is called “Frogsmoke“. In addition to offering a keen and sometimes cynical view of French life, the blog occasionally highlights unusual or disgusting place names of French places. It is almost entirely written in English and I highly recommend it.

Update (Sunday, October 26, 2014)

A person who actually knows something has weighed in on the controversy. It turns out the the name “La-mort-aux-juifs” may actually be neither a call for the killing of Jews nor a commemoration of an historical event. Pierre-Henri Billy, author of the “Dictionary of Place Names in France” has an article in Le Monde in which he concludes that the name has nothing to do with Pétain or the Nazis. In fact, it very probably didn’t refer to Jews at all but rather evolved more or less accidentally as French spelling and pronunciation changed and evolved over many centuries.

J’accuse! Benjamin Netanyahu defames the Jews of France.

President Francois Hollande (L) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sarah Netanyahu (C) leave the classroom during a visit to the Jewish school Ozar Hatorah in Toulouse, France, November 1, 2012. © GUILLAUME Horcajuelo / epa / Corbis
President Francois Hollande (L) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sarah Netanyahu (C) leave the classroom during a visit to the Jewish school Ozar Hatorah in Toulouse, France, November 1, 2012. © GUILLAUME Horcajuelo / epa / Corbis

Yesterday, during a tribute to the victims of Mohamed Merah at the Secondary School Ohr Torah in Toulouse , Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defamed the Jews of France. He says that a Jew should not live in France, but only in Israel because the Jews are allowed to live in France only at the sufferance of the French who consider Jews as disloyal squatters whose existence is therefore as precarious as that of the famous “fiddler on the roof.” Consequently, then, no Jew can never be truly French, no matter where he was born and no matter which country he professes loyalty. The Jew is always the stranger, always different, never to be trusted. This is the unavoidable subtext of his statement.

It is the old slander of Jewish divided loyalty which was at the center of the Dreyfus affair and has played such an important role in anti-Semitism in France and, in fact, around the world. The Jews, it is said, by nature, cannot be loyal to the country to where they are born and to which they profess loyalty, but only work for Zionism or foreign countries like Israel. Netanyahu falls into the trap of those who hate the Jews as this has been the usual accusation of anti-Semitism forever. He gives credence to those who question the loyalty of Jews.

If the Jews of France had been defamed in this way by Marine Le Pen or David Duke, there would have been a great outpouring of criticism for the revival of the old lie of conflicted Jewish loyalties. Yet this insult against the Jewish people seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the Jewish community. This is unfortunate. I say this slander must be fought, no matter who spreads poison. Yes, it is ironic that he who defames the Jews of France is the Prime Minister of Israel, but that cannot change the obligation to refute the lie that all Jews have divided loyalties.

Speaking only for myself, I totally repudiate and condemn Netanyahu and his gang of fascists and religious lunatics. I do not forget his role in the assassination of Rabin. Netanyahu is not the King of the Jews. He does not speak for the Jewish Diaspora. He is a bad smell in the nose of honest people everywhere.

To his credit, the President of France spoke up for the Jews. For this, he deserves the thanks of all Jews worldwide.