Saturday, February 25, 2017

Blessings of the Growing Light


This is the view from my bedroom window just now.



It's 4:58 PM on a Saturday afternoon. We've had some severe thunderstorms, and now the air is colder and so fresh.  And it is still light out!

Here's an Imbolc blessing that I love.  I think it applies to today:


Blessings of the growing light
Blessings of the quickening earth
Blessings of the morning chorus
Blessings of the first shy flowers
Blessings of Nature waking
Blessings of Maiden singing
Briganti’s fire light your path
Briganti’s blessings on your hearth

 

 

Imbolc is an old Celtic/pagan feast. This year it's celebrated Feb.1.  It also connects with the Christian feast of Candlemas. "Briganti" is Brigid, our Saint Brigid.  She was the daughter of a Druid priest before she and her mother became Christians.  So the pagans still honor her, too.

 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Controversial Article

This photo was taken in 2011!  Caption: "Opponents of Senate Bill 5 celebrate in Columbus, Ohio, after the bill, restricting the collective-bargaining abilities of public-employee unions, was defeated on Tuesday, November 8, 2011." (AP Photo / Tony Dejak)



I read this article and it gave me much to think about in regard to our country and the election of Donald Trump.  I realize that I cannot exempt the "corporate  Democrats " from blame for our present situation. It's a situation that has been brewing for a long time, and it's the fault of both parties.


The following are excerpts from a much longer article in The Nation  by Kirk Noder  entitled "Why Do White Working-Class  People Vote Against Their Interests? They Don't"

( I think this article shouldn't be limited to whites.  All American Working-Class People, especially those who live and work away from the coasts, are suffering) 

"...The first step was the collapse of the industrial heartland. This hit white working-class people incredibly hard—and it remains a phenomenon that is not understood on the East and West Coasts. It is painted as a natural evolution of our economy and as if the onus is on people to adapt to it. This fails to capture how many families and communities were dependent on the industrial economy. Many Ohioans are now staring at a future where they themselves and their kids have less opportunity than their parents. In a place like Youngstown, that means not only an inability to get a well-paying job at the steel mill; it also means owning a house that has failed to appreciate in value for 20 to 30 years, in a city that continues to lose double-digit percentages of its population every 10 years. It is not just a stripping out of economic opportunity but a stripping away of identity for these communities. It is the sense of abandonment and perpetual decline that people feel mired in. Resources, jobs, decent housing, quality neighborhoods and schools are all in decline. It creates a “scarcity mentality” for white working-class people and others who live in the heartland.

Two narratives emerged about the collapse of the industrial heartland in America. The one from the far right has three parts: First, that industry left this country because unions destroyed productivity and made labor costs too high, thereby making us uncompetitive. Second, corporations were the victims of over-regulation and a bloated government that overtaxed them to pay for socialist welfare systems. Third, illegal immigration has resulted in the stealing of American jobs, increased competition for white workers, and depressed wages. Together these three factors led to the collapse of manufacturing in America. This, sadly, is a story that many Americans believe. The second narrative, promoted by corporate Democrats, is that the global economy shifted and the country is now in transition from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy. This story tacitly accepts the economic restructuring of the heartland as inevitable once China and other markets opened up.

The most accurate narrative is one we never hear—and that I think is illustrated well in the collapse of Youngstown’s steel mills. When the corporations who operated the mills shut them down, the community organized en masse. Key religious and community leaders stood up against “the severe consequences when corporations decide not to modernize older facilities, view relocation of industry as a logical result of corporate opportunities for profit, or shift capital altogether to other investment opportunities.”

A coalition organized to reopen the mills as cooperatives owned by the workers, community members, and private investors. After a feasibility study showed that reopening the mills was economically viable, the coalition appealed to the federal government for loans to purchase and modernize the plant. Despite an initial commitment, the Carter administration backed off. Apparently, Jimmy Carter worried that supporting the project would jeopardize his reelection bid and bowed to lobbying by steel corporations who saw it as a threat, which was countered by only tepid support from the national Steelworkers Union leadership, who worried worker ownership might undermine the union.           

  ... The collapse of the industrial heartland resulted from a choice about whether we would reshape our economic models to serve workers and communities over profits—or continue to serve corporate interests that painted the global movement of capital as inevitable. The right blamed unions and regulation. The Democrats tried to explain the collapse as a weather phenomenon that we all needed to adjust to. Efforts to reshape the economy were marginalized and defeated by both parties; business and organized labor each supported the collapse of the city of Youngstown.

...The issue of race is intertwined with the phenomenon of
decreased opportunity for white people, scarcity of resources, and the clash of two Americas—weak market and strong market. Immigrants, by and large, are not moving to places like Ohio. In fact, a study a few years ago showed that out of the four US metro areas with the lowest immigration levels, two were in Ohio: Youngstown and Dayton. Immigrants are moving to places that have opportunity, strong local economies. White working-class people in Ohio don’t understand how those economies work, and see immigrants having more opportunity than they do. There is truth to this, in that weak-market cities offer far less opportunity than strong-market cities.

This is toxic mix for white people—little to no engagement with immigrants and people of color (Youngstown is also highly segregated), increased pressures on their family, and no one offering a clear vision forward. It is easy to see why the right-wing narrative is so compelling—it offers formidable enemies (government and unions) and an economic vision that corporations will create new jobs if those enemies are defeated. In that narrative, white working-class people will have opportunity again. The left offers no such clear enemy—and we’ve been immersed in identity politics that have further alienated white working-class people.               Imagine how different the world could be now if Democrats and unions hadn’t sold out steel workers in Youngstown.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Stumbled Upon: Desmond Egan

Desmond Egan, Irish Poet
 
 
 
The prompt word on Wordpress's  Daily Post today is "Hideout." Since I didn't have any poems using that word, I looked on Google, and the first one that showed up was a YouTube video of Desmond Egan reading his poem by that name.   I just loved it:
 
 
Hideout

Oaks down the road
fall into their own shadows
making the quiet
quieter.
And not for double decker Dublin
would I swap my little stream,
its imaginary whisper,
its stone bridge for sitting on,
its bank sloping with saplings
and greeny light,
its flicker of midges.
Down there
the sound of a car empties
like an ambulance passing
or the
crinkle of a trout
and everything is othered
by this puzzle of water
barely moving its cloud.
Once I ran away there
and never came back.



 How is it that I have lived this long and have never heard of this poet?  Now I find that there are many sites online that feature him.  I look forward to reading more of his work!



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Books Gleam



I have pressed the "Life" button on many Facebook sites, most of them related somehow to reading and writing.  I want to point to BOOKS GLEAM  today, because the variety of quotes they choose, and the haunting images they choose to pair with the quotes, are remarkable and often haunting.

Today, this one got to me, probably because I am worried about the preservation of our National Parks:  





"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity" — John Muir, Our National Parks

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Look for the Silver Lining


And someone has.   One of my high school classmates, a fairly vocal Democrat, posted this today:

Is there a silver lining? I can't believe I'm saying this, but it looks like Trump is actually making America great again. Just look at the progress made since the election:


 

1. Unprecedented levels of ongoing civic engagement.

 

2. Millions of Americans now know who their state and federal representatives are without having to google.

 

3. Millions of Americans are exercising more. They're holding signs and marching every week.

 

4. Alec Baldwin is great again. Everyone's forgotten he's kind of a jerk.

 


5. The Postal Service is enjoying the influx cash due to stamps purchased by millions of people for letter and postcard campaigns.

 

6. Likewise, the pharmaceutical industry is enjoying record growth in sales of anti-depressants.

 

7. Millions of Americans now know how to call their elected officials and know exactly what to say to be effective.

 

8. Footage of town hall meetings is now entertaining.

 

9. Tens of millions of people are now correctly spelling words like narcissist, fascist, misogynist, holocaust and cognitive dissonance.

 

10. Everyone knows more about the rise of Hitler than they did last year.

 

11. Everyone knows more about legislation, branches of power and how checks and balances work.

 

12. Marginalized groups are experiencing a surge in white allies.

 

13. White people in record numbers have just learned that racism is not dead. (See #6)

 

14. White people in record numbers also finally understand that Obamacare IS the Affordable Care Act.

 

15. Stephen Colbert's "Late Night" finally gained the elusive #1 spot in late night talk shows, and Seth Meyers is finding his footing as today's Jon Stewart.

 


 

 

16. Melissa FREAKING McCarthy.
 

 

17. Travel ban protesters put $24 million into ACLU coffers in just 48 hours, enabling them to hire 200 more attorneys. Lawyers are now heroes.

 

18. As people seek veracity in their news sources, respected news outlets are happily reporting a substantial increase in subscriptions, a boon to a struggling industry vital to our democracy.

 

19. Live streaming court cases and congressional sessions are now as popular as the Kardashians.

 

20. Massive cleanup of facebook friend lists.

 

21. People are reading classic literature again. Sales of George Orwell's "1984" increased by 10,000% after the inauguration. (Yes, that is true. 10,000%. 9th grade Lit teachers all over the country are now rock stars.)

 

22. More than ever before, Americans are aware that education is important. Like, super important.

 

23. Now, more than anytime in history, everyone believes that anyone can be President. Seriously, anyone.

8. Footage of town hall meetings is now entertaining.

9. Tens of millions of people are now correctly spelling words like narcissist, fascist, misogynist, holocaust and cognitive dissonance. (sorry for the big blank space... I can't figure out how to get rid of it!)

10. Everyone knows more about the rise of Hitler than they did last11. Everyone knows more about legislation, branches of power and how checks and balances work. 12. Marginalized groups are experiencing a surge in white allies. 13. White people in record numbers have just learned that racism is not dead. (See #6)14. White people in record numbers also finally understand that Obamacare IS the Affordable Care Act.
15. Stephen Colbert's "Late Night" finally gained the elusive #1 spot in late night talk shows, and Seth Meyers is finding his footing as today's Jon 16. "Mike Pence" has donated millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood since Nov. 9th.
17. Melissa FREAKING McCarthy. 18. Travel ban protesters put $24 million into ACLU coffers in just 48 hours, enabling them to hire 200 more attorneys. Lawyers are now heroes.
19. As people seek veracity in their news sources, respected news outlets are happily reporting a substantial increase in subscriptions, a boon to a struggling industry vital to our democracy.

20. Live streaming court cases and congressional sessions are now as popular as the Kardashians. 21. Massive cleanup of facebook friend lists. 22. People are reading classic literature again. Sales of George Orwell's "1984" increased by 10,000% after the inauguration. (Yes, that is true. 10,000%. 9th grade Lit teachers all over the country are now rock stars.)
23. More than ever before, Americans are aware that education is important. Like, super important.

24. Now, more than anytime in history, everyone believes that anyone can be President. Seriously, anyone.

8. Footage of town hall meetings is n9. Tens of millions of people are now correctly spelling words like narcissist, fascist, misogynist, holocaust and10. Everyone knows more about the rise of Hitler than they did last year. 11. Everyone knows more about legislation, branches of power and how checks and balances work. 12. Marginalized groups are experiencing a surge in white alli
13. White people in record numbers have just learned that racism is not dead. (See #6)

14. White people in record numbers also finally understand that Obamacare IS the Affordable Care Act.

15. Stephen Colbert's "Late Night" finally gained the elusive #1 spot in late night talk shows, and Seth Meyers is finding his footing as today's Jon Stewart.

16. "Mike Pence" has donated millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood since Nov. 9th.

17. Melissa FREAKING McCarthy.

18. Travel ban protesters put $24 million into ACLU coffers in just 48 hours, enabling them to hire 200 more attorneys. Lawyers are now heroes.

19. As people seek veracity in their news sources, respected news outlets are happily reporting a substantial increase in subscriptions, a boon to a struggling industry vital to our democracy.

20. Live streaming court cases and congressional sessions are now as popular as the Kardashians.

21. Massive cleanup of facebook friend lists.

22. People are reading classic literature again. Sales of George Orwell's "1984" increased by 10,000% after the inauguration. (Yes, that is true. 10,000%. 9th grade Lit teachers all over the country are now rock stars.)

23. More than ever before, Americans are aware that education is important. Like, super important.

24. Now, more than anytime in history, everyone believes that anyone can be President. Seriously, anyone.

8. Footage of town hall meetings is now entertaining.

9. Tens of millions of people are now correctly spelling words like narcissist, fascist, misogynist, holocaust and cognitive dissonance.

10. Everyone knows more about the rise of Hitler than they did last year.

11. Everyone knows more about legislation, branches of power and how checks and balances work.

12. Marginalized groups are experiencing a surge in white allies.

13. White people in record numbers have just learned that racism is not dead. (See #6)

14. White people in record numbers also finally understand that Obamacare IS the Affordable Care Act.

15. Stephen Colbert's "Late Night" finally gained the elusive #1 spot in late night talk shows, and Seth Meyers is finding his footing as today's Jon Stewart.

16. "Mike Pence" has donated millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood since Nov. 9th. 17. Melissa 18. Travel ban protesters put $24 million into ACLU coffers in just 48 hours, enabling them to hire 200 more attorneys. Lawyers are now heroes.19. As people seek veracity in their news sources, respected news outlets are happily reporting a substantial increase in subscriptions, a boon to a struggling industry vital to our democracy.20. Live streaming court cases and congressional sessions are now as popular as the Kardashians. 21. Massive cleanup of facebook friend lists. 22. People are reading classic literature again. Sales of George Orwell's "1984" increased by 10,000% after the inauguration. (Yes, that is true. 10,000%. 9th grade Lit teachers all over the country are now rock stars.) 23. More than ever before, Americans are aware that education is important. Like,24. Now, more than anytime in history, everyone believes that anyone can be President. Seriously, anyone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On Valentine's Day






Here is a wonderful poem by Jane Kenyon:





Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks

 

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper....

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .

I am food on the prisoner's plate. . . .

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .

I am the heart contracted by joy. . . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .

Monday, February 13, 2017

Spring Poem





It's about six weeks until Spring, but we have a sunny day and brutal winds.

As promised, here is a poem by Dave Smith:



The Spring Poem


 Everyone should write a spring poem—Louise Glück

 

Yes, but we must be sure of verities

 such as proper heat and adequate form.

 That’s what poets are for, is my theory.

 This then is a spring poem. A car warms

 its rusting hulk in a meadow; weeds slog

 up its flanks in martial weather. April

 or late March is our month. There is a fog

 of spunky mildew and sweaty tufts spill

 from the damp rump of a backseat. A spring

 thrusts one gleaming tip out, a brilliant tooth

 uncoiling from winter’s tension, a ring

 of insects along, working out the Truth.

 Each year this car, melting around that spring,

 hears nails trench from boards and every squeak sing.
 
-Dave Smith

Sunday, February 12, 2017

"The Institutions have not thus far restrained him"




I had a fine time at the AWP Conference; went to some thought-provoking panels  and readings, and met many of my poet friends there.

One panel was a tribute to the poet Dave Smith. I didn't know his work at all; my friend Kate Daniels was on the panel, which is why I went, but learning about this poet and his work was a great gift to me. Tomorrow I plan to post a poem of his,  but today

 I am cutting and pasting an interview I read on the page of one of my Facebook friends:

"We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

"Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of numerous books of European history, including „Bloodlands“ and „Black Earth“.  His most recent book, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century“, will be published at the end of the month. This is the English version of an interview published in Süddeutsche Zeitung on February 7, with some additional information due to current developments. "
By Matthias Kolb
SZ: Donald Trump has been president for three weeks. How would you describe his start?
Timothy Snyder: The first thing that we have to notice is that the institutions have not thus far restrained him. He never took them seriously, acts as if they don’t exist, and clearly wishes they didn’t.  The story that Americans have told themselves from the moment he declared his candidacy for president, was that one institution or another would defeat him or at least change his behavior – he won’t get the nomination; if he gets the nomination, he will be a normal Republican; he will get defeated in the general election; if he wins the presidency will mature him (that was what Obama said). I never thought any of that was true. He doesn’t seem to care about the institutions and the laws except insofar as they appear as barriers to the goal of permanent kleptocratic authoritarianism and immediate personal gratification.  It is all about him all of time, it is not about the citizens and our political traditions.
You wrote an article for Slate in November, comparing the rise of Donald Trump with the rise of Adolf Hitler. Why did you feel the need to publish such a piece?
It’s very important that we use history to our advantage now, rather than finding in history taboos and ways to silence one another. The history of the 1930s is terribly important to Americans (and Europeans) right now, just as it is slipping from our memories.  I was not trying to provoke one more fruitless series of conversations about comparability.  I was trying to help Americans who were generally either shocked (people who voted against Trump) or surprised (people who voted for him, who generally thought he would lose) find their bearings in a new situation.  The temptation in a new situation is to imagine that nothing has changed.  That is a choice that has political consequences: self-delusion leads to half-conscious anticipatory obedience and then to regime change.  Anyway, I didn’t actually compare Trump to Hitler, I didn’t use these two names. What I did was to write a very short history of the rise of Adolf Hitler to power without using his name, which might allow Americans to recognize certain similarities to the moment they themselves were living through. I know that these comparisons are a national taboo in Germany, but at the moment its rather important that Germans be generous with their history and help others to learn how republics collapse. Most  Americans are exceptionalists, we think we live outside of history. Americans tend to think: “We have freedom because we love freedom, we love freedom because we are free.”  It is a bit circular and doesn’t acknowledge the historical structures that can favor or weaken democratic republics.  We don’t realize how similar our predicaments are to those of other people.
You use the Weimar Republic as a warning example.
I wanted to remind my fellow Americans that intelligent people, not so different from ourselves, have experienced the collapse of a republic before. It is one example among many.  Republics, like other forms of government, exist in history and can rise and fall. The American Founding Fathers knew this, which is why there were obsessed with the history of classical republics and their decline into oligarchy and empire.  We seem to have lost that tradition of learning from others, and we need it back.  A quarter century ago, after the collapse of communism, we declared that history was over – and in an amazing way we forgot everything we once knew about communism, fascism and National Socialism. In this little article for Slate, I was trying to remind us about things that we once knew.
How similar is the situation between Germany of the 1930s and today’s United States?
Of course, not everything is similar. Some things are better now than they were in the 1930s but some things are worse. The media is worse, I would say. It is very polarized and it is very concentrated. In Germany before the state shut down German newspapers, there was authentic variety that we don’t have now. People in the 1930s generally had longer attention spans than we do. On the other side, the United States is a larger country, with pockets of wealth distributed widely, and it is more connected to the world.  The main advantage that we have is that we can learn from the 1930s.  Again, it’s very important to stress that history does not repeat.  But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance.
When did you realize this lack of knowledge about 20th century history here in the US?
I got an early hint of that when I was touring the United States for my book “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin”. This was in 2011 and I realized that Americans had really forgotten about the crimes of Stalin – which is strange because we were educated, during the Cold War about Stalinist terror.  I thought that Americans would be surprised because I was saying that number of Soviet citizens killed (although still horrifyingly large) was much smaller than we had been taught.  Instead I realized that Americans had simply forgotten that there was Stalinism and terror. That struck me: What else could we forget? The idea of the Holocaust is certainly present, but it is almost totally lacking in context. And without context it is hard to see resemblance. A Holocaust that is reduced to a few images or facts cannot teach about larger patterns.  And Americans risk of stressing its uniqueness is that it allows people to dismiss any learning from history.  People will ask: Is he wearing a Hakenkreuz, did he kill six million Jews? if the answer is in the negative, then they will reply: then history has nothing to do with the present. Over the last 25 years, we have not only forgotten much of what we once knew but we have raised a whole generation which doesn’t have these reference points.
You would argue that this knowledge had existed before but it was forgotten.
Scholars knew much more know about the 1930s – whether we are speaking of National Socialism, fascism, or Stalinism.  But publics are much less interested.  And we lack, for whatever reason, the concepts that we used to have that allowed us to connect ideas and political processes.  When an American president says “America First” or proposes a political system without the two parties or attacks journalists or denies the existence of facts, that should set of a series of associations with other political systems. We need people who can help translate ideological utterances into political warnings.  Thinkers of the middle of twentieth century are now being read again, and for good reason. The American canon included native and refugee ex-communists who came to this country of the 1930s, refugees from fascism and National Socialism in the 40s, and the Cold War liberals of the 1950s. There was this time where we engaged in political theory and history, where people thought about what fascism and communism meant for democracy. Now, one reason why we cannot forget the 1930s is that the presidential administration is clearly thinking about them – but in a positive sense. They seem to be after a kind of redo of the 1930s with Roosevelt where the Americans take a different course. where we don’t build a welfare state and don’t intervene in Europe to stop fascism. Lindbergh instead of FDR.  That is their notion. Something went wrong with Roosevelt and now they want to go back and reverse it.
President Trump’s political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that he wants to „make life as exciting as it was in the 1930s“. The first two weeks have shown how big his influence is, it seems much bigger than Reince Priebus’s or Jared Kushner’s.
I can’t speak to intra-White House conflicts. I can only say that Mr. Trump’s inaugural address was extremely ideological. During the campaign he used the slogan “America First” and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that.  But in the inaugural address he made “America First” his central theme, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s.

When Bannon calls himself a „Leninist“, do Americans know what is he talking about?
No, they usually have no idea. It is a good question. Americans have this idea that comes from Jefferson and the American Revolution that you have to rebel every so often. And they sometimes don’t make the distinction between a rebellion against injustice and the extinction of the whole political system, which is what Bannon says that he is after. The American Revolution actually preserved ideas from Britain: the rule of law being the most important.  The whole justification of the American Revolution was that the British were not living up to their own principles, were not including Americans in their own system.  In a broad way that that was also the argument of the civil rights movement: the system fails itself when it does not extend equal rghts to all citizens.  So there can be resistance and even revoution which is about meeting standards rather than about simple destruction. What Bannon says correctly about the Bolsheviks was that they aimed to completely destroy an old regime.  We can slip from one to the other very easily, from rebelliousness to a complete negation of the system.  Most Americans had a rule of law state for most of their lives, African Americans are an exception, and so most Americans think this will be there forever.  They don’t get that a “disruption” can actually destroy much of what they take for granted.  They have no notion what it means to destroy the state and how their lives would look like if the rule of law would no longer exist. I find it frightening that people who talk about the destruction of the American state are now in charge of the American state.
Trump put a portrait of Andrew Jackson on the wall of the Oval Office, another president that was a populist. But people around him seem to have a wider agenda.
In the same interview with the Hollywood Reporter in which Bannon talks about the “exciting 1930s”, he talks about how he is operating in the darkness. He compares himself with Satan and Darth Vader and says in essence that he misleads the public and the media deliberately.
The White House statement for the Holocaust Day on January 27 didn’t mention Jews. At first it looked like a mistake but now it is official that it was intentional.
The Holocaust reference is very important on our side of the Atlantic. If Americans have a reference point in world history, it is precisely the Holocaust, the Holocaust and let’s say Normandy, the Second World War, are the one aperture into a broader history, one where republics fall and extremes triumph.  So if Steve Bannon turns the Holocaust into talk about “A lot of people have suffered” what is happening is that he is closing that aperture.  The next step is to say that mainly Americans are the victims.  History then dies completely and we are trapped in myth.
Which are the differences in how Germans and Americans remember the Holocaust?
Let me answer this in a different way. Normally when I speak to German journalists, I try to emphasize parts of the history of the Holocaust that Germans overlook or minimize, and how those can allow Germans to overlook certain kinds of historical responsibility or draw lessons that are too narrow. In the United States it is obviously very different. It is not a matter of taking a debate about national responsibility and try to make it broader by making it more inclusive of what we know about the historical Holocaust.  It is rather a matter of how a distant non-German nation can try to see patterns, analogies, political lessons. And right now the comparison we need to ponder is between the treatment of Muslims and the treatment of Jews. It is obviously the case that the point of the Muslim ban is to instruct Americans that Muslims are an enemy: a small, well-assimilated minority that we are supposed to see not as our neighbors or as fellow citizens but as elements of an international threat.  More than that, Trump’s policy is a provocation, which is probably meant to provoke an event like the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst Eduard vom Rath on November 7 1938. 
When Bannon calls the press the main „opposition party“ that should make everyone concerned. This is not only intended to cheer up Trump supporters.
When you say that the press is the opposition, than you are advocating a regime change in the United States. When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.
Last week Trump called those who take part in demonstrations “thugs” and “paid protestors”. This doesn’t show respect for First Amendment right, it sounds more like Putin.
That is exactly what the Russian leadership does. The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the Republic. The point is to bring down the Republic. You can disagree with them. but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: „We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.“  When the president says that it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the Republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent internet lying and way from their own experiences with other people. Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: “yes, they are thugs” instead of “it is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.” He is trying to teach people a new behavior: You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head. That is the psychology of regime change.
Today’s media environment is very different from the 1930s, everything happens so fast.
This is part of what contemporary authoritarians do: They overwhelm you with bad news and try to make you depressed and say with resignation: “Well, what can i do?”. I think it is better to limit yourself. Read the news for half an hour a day, but don’t spend the whole day obsessing about it. Americans have to pick one thing to be confident about, and then act on it. If you care about and know about refugees, the press, global warming – choose one and talk with people around you about it. Nobody can do everything but everyone can do a little bit.  And people doing their little bit will meet others doing the same, and the depression lifts.
You posted „20 lessons from the 20th century“ on your Facebook page in November. Did your students here at Yale ask for advice?  
No, that wasn’t it.  It was unprompted, I was in Scandinavia during the election. I thought Trump would lose, that it would be close but he would lose. On the plane on the way back I started thinking about what we could learn from history.  When I had written about Trump earlier in 2016, it was about his connections to Russia. The twenty lessons was the first attempt to bring something I understand about European history to my fellow Americans in a way that is politically salient. I don’t usually write directly about American politics; I am an American but insofar as I have something to offer it is rather because I know something about contemporary and historical Eastern and Central Europe. Nobody asked me, but this was a way for me to start acting. We have to do something. This is what I can do.
Do not obey in advance“ is the first recommendation in this Facebook post. You also reference the „Reichstagsbrand“ as a warning sign. How should the American public react?
Americans love to use the word “playbook” which is a metaphor from sports. There is a playbook from the 1930s that some people in the presidential administration are following. This includes picking a minority in your country, associate it with a global threat and use the notion of a global struggle as a way to create national solidarity while neglecting the nation’s actual problems.  The Reichstag Fire is the crucial moment when Hitler’s government becomes a Nazi regime. An event of that type, whether unexpected, provoked, or planned by the government, can be a turning point in the United States today.  This goes back to the beginning of our conversation: if we think about the 1930s, then we can be aware of events, and of certain forks in the road.  If a terror attack happens in the United States, that is simply the Trump administration failing to keep its most basic promise.  It is not a reason to suspend the rights of Americans or declare have a state of emergency. History teaches us the tricks of authoritarians.  We can’t allow ourselves to fall for them.
There were a lot of demonstrations in hundreds of cities, but the opinion of Trump supporters haven’t changed. They are not moved by the huge crowds. Would this be too early to expect?
These are two different things. With something like the Muslim ban, it is important a lot of people react very quickly because if the government can slice off one group, it can do the same to others. This is a political logic that requires quick action rather than waiting for public opinion polls.  Americans were actually better than Germans, they got out right away. Some Americans do seem understand the logic, they move quickly. So the airport protests are not in the first instance about communicating with the Trump supporters; they about making clear to the administration that we recognize what you are doing and that we oppose this logic. Indirectly, the protests communicate to the majority that there are two siides t the issue, and that they should think for themselves.  Communicating with Trump supporters is different. You have to have people out, waving flags and describing themselves as patriots, even as they decry and resist particular policies.  It is important for people to consider that authoritarianism, though it claims all the national symbols, is not patriotism. Over time, protests that are for a better America are important to change minds and swing over Republicans – and I should say that I have already seen a number of Republicans whom I know personally in the protests. It needs time, this is more about six months or one year. They just elected him three months ago, for now there is still the frame in place that that he will change everything and improve their lives, other things can seem like details so long as this basic hope remains.  It might take a while for people to realize that making America into a Trump family welfare state is not in the interest of Americans whose name is not Trump.  One of the main problems is the internet and the polarization and simple unreality that it generates.  it is important to talk about these issues in person, I have a little book called “On tyranny” and I will do my best to talk about it with people who think in various ways about politics.
We are here in New Haven, a liberal bubble. Do you encourage your students to do that?
They are doing it. An undergraduate who is from New York took the train all they way to the southwest, just to talk to passengers. Young people have to do that. The risk is that they shift from taking freedom for granted to taking unfreedom for granted, without realizing that it is precisely their choice and their voice that can make the difference.  And keep in mind that these conversations can create common ground. Some of the reasons some people voted for Trump make sense. You simply dismiss all of them according to your own stereotypes.  It is not always as simple as the East Coast people will tell you. Trump has unleashed public racism of a kind we have not seen for decades.  That is true.  This racism in turn releases energies that can change the whole system.  Also true.  But at the same time, he would not be president without white people in crucial states who voted for Obama twice. So you can’t simply dismiss all of these people as racists, because in some cases their votes also brought us our first black president. A lot of Trump voters would have voted for Bernie Sanders, who is a Jewish socialist.  There are problems and that have to do with globalization and inequality that can’t be wished away. Maybe not every citizen can articulate these problems in the best way, but many voters have good reasons to be worried about globalization. Hillary Clinton did have actual policies that would have helped – that’s the tragedy.  But she wasn’t able to communicate that she understood the problem.
On Facebook there are a lot of countdowns: 3 years, 11 months, 1 week until President Trump’s first term is over. How is your mood, do you see hope?  
The marches were very encouraging. These were quite possibly the largest demonstrations in the history of the US, just in sheer numbers on one single day. That sort of initiative has to continue.  The constitution is worth saving, the rule of law is worth saving, democracy is worth saving, but these things can and will be lost if everyone waits around for someone else. If we want encouragement out of the Oval Office, we will not get it. We are not getting encouragement thus far from Republicans. They have good reasons to defend the republic but thus far they are not doing so, with a few exceptions.  You want to end on a positive note, I know; but I think things have tightened up very fast, we have at most a year to defend the Republic, perhaps less.  What happens in the next few weeks is very important.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Off to AWP

 
That acronym stands for "Association of Writers and Writing Programs" and its national conference is in Washington DC this year. So I am going!
 
This will only be the third time I have gone to this enormous conference; I only go if it's in driving distance. I went to New York in 2008; to DC in 2011, and this year.  Probably I will never go again, because the next few are in far distant cities, and I am getting too old as well.
 
About 12,000 writers have registered to come to the one this year!
 
Here is a photo from a recent conference.  This is the enormous Bookfair:
 
I'm going because it's an opportunity to hear some wonderful readings and panels. Even more, it's an opportunity to visit with writer friends I see rarely.   Thanks to Facebook, there are also "Facebook Friends" I have never met, but with whom I correspond, who are coming.
 
Some of them, both old friends and Facebook friends:
Diane Lockward
Emilia Phillips
Kate Daniels
Laura Shovan
Gerry Cambridge
Gerry La Femina
April Lindner
Grace Cavalieri
Robert Lee Brewer
Rosemary Winslow
Susan Elbe
Kim Becker
Luke Stromberg
Marie-Elizabeth Mali
Maryann Corbett
Jon Tribble
Jane Satterfield
Allison Joseph
Ned Balbo
Mike Maggio
Sid Gold
Sam Gwynn
Valerie Fox
Joseph Ross
Kim Bridgford
 
to name a few!