Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sunday Reading

Trump’s Anti-Americanism — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker.

Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, the couple who did so much to bear witness to the terrible truths of the Second World War, came to town last week to introduce their new memoir to an American audience. In it, there is a photograph that can only be called heartbreaking in its happiness, unbearable in its ordinariness. It shows an eight-year-old Serge with his sister and their Romanian-Jewish parents walking along a promenade in Nice, in 1943, still smiling, still feeling confident, even at that late date, that they are safe in their new French home. Within a few months, the children and their mother were hiding in a false closet, as Gestapo agents took their father to Auschwitz, and his death.

What the photograph teaches is not that every tear in the fabric of civility opens a path to Auschwitz but that civilization is immeasurably fragile, and is easily turned to brutality and barbarism. The human capacity for hatred is terrifying in its volatility. (The same promenade in Nice was the site of the terrorist truck attack last year.) Americans have a hard time internalizing that truth, but the first days of the Trump Administration have helped bring it home.

Within two weeks of the Inauguration, the hysterical hyperventilators have come to seem more prescient in their fear of incipient autocratic fanaticism than the reassuring pooh-poohers. There’s a simple reason for this: the hyperventilators often read history. Regimes with an authoritarian ideology and a boss man on top always bend toward the extreme edge, because their only organizational principle is loyalty to the capo. Since the capo can be placated only by uncritical praise, the most fanatic of his lieutenants end up calling the shots. Loyalty to the boss is demonstrated by hatred directed against his enemies.

Yet what perhaps no one could have entirely predicted was the special cocktail of oafish incompetence and radical anti-Americanism that President Trump’s Administration has brought. This combination has produced a new note in our public life: chaotic cruelty. The immigration crisis may abate, but it has already shown the power of government to act arbitrarily overnight—sundering families, upending long-set expectations, until all those born as outsiders must imagine themselves here only on sufferance of a senior White House counsellor.

Some choose to find comfort in the belief that the incompetence will undermine the anti-Americanism. Don’t bet on it. Autocratic regimes with a demagogic bent are nearly always inefficient, because they cannot create and extend the network of delegated trust that is essential to making any organization work smoothly. The chaos is characteristic. Whether by instinct or by intention, it benefits the regime, whose goal is to create an overwhelming feeling of shared helplessness in the population at large: we will detain you and take away your green card—or, no, now we won’t take away your green card, but we will hold you here, and we may let you go, or we may not.

This is radical anti-Americanism—not simply illiberalism or anti-cosmopolitanism—because America is not only a nation but also an idea, cleanly if not tightly defined. Pluralism is not a secondary or a decorative aspect of that idea. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, the guarantee of religious liberty lies in having many kinds of faiths, and the guarantee of civil liberty lies in having many kinds of people—in establishing a “multiplicity of interests” to go along with a “multiplicity of sects.” The idea doesn’t reflect a “weak” desire for niceness. It is, instead, intended to counter the brutal logic of the playground. When there are many kinds of bullied kids, they can unite against the bully: “Even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves.”

There is an alternative view, one long available and articulated, that America is not an idea but an ethnicity, that of the white Christian men who have dominated it, granting a grudging or probationary acceptance to women, or blacks, or immigrants. This was the view of Huck Finn’s pap, as he drank himself to death; of General Custer, as he approached Little Big Horn; of Major General Pickett, as he led the charge at Gettysburg. Until now, it has been the vision of those whom Trump would call the losers.

As the official ideology of the most powerful people in the White House, can that vision of America win? With the near-complete abdication of even minimal moral courage in the Republican Party, and the strategic confusion of the Democrats, all that Americans can turn to is the instinct for shared defiance, and a coalition of conscience, the broader the better, to counter the chaotic cruelty. (If the Koch brothers have some residual libertarianism left in them, let them help pay for it.) Few events in recent years have been more inspiring than the vast women’s marches that followed the Inauguration, few events more cheering than the spontaneous reactions to the executive order on immigration, such as the cabbies’ strike staged after Kennedy Airport seemed to have been turned into a trap for refugees.

Such actions are called, a little too romantically, “resistance,” but there is no need, yet, for so militant a term. Resistance rises from the street, but also from within the system, as it should, with judicial stays and State Department dissenters. Opposing bad governments with loud speech, unashamed argument, and public demonstration is not the part that’s off the normal grid: it’s the pro-American part, exactly what the Constitution foresees and protects. Dissent is not courageous or exceptional. It is normal—it’s Madisonian, it’s Hamiltonian. It’s what we’re supposed to do.

Democratic civilization has turned out to be even more fragile than we imagined; the resources of civil society have turned out to be even deeper than we knew. The battle between these two shaping forces—between the axman assaulting the old growth and the still firm soil and deep roots that support the tree of liberty—will now shape the future of us all.

Where’s The Opposition? — Charles P. Pierce on two weeks in.

Most of it happened before dawn. The getaway cars were idling in the plaza in front of the Capitol, a chain of red taillights in the darkness before the dawn. The United States Senate was at work before daybreak, and United States senators wanted to get out of town. Their essential workday was over before eight. They took two votes. One was to kill the SEC’s Resource Extraction Rule. The other was to invoke cloture on Betsy DeVos, the ridiculous nominee for Secretary of Education. The rule went down and DeVos went through and the sun had just begun to rise over the capital city and the weekend already had begun.

It has not been a very encouraging week for democracy here, but there are a couple of lessons to be drawn from all the activity, and all the non-activity, that’s taken place. First, and this has been obvious for a while, but it became vivid and clear over the past five days, there is absolutely no legitimate political opposition within the Republican party to anything the president* says or does.

His Cabinet selection is a ludicrous collection of the unqualified, the incompetent, and the destructive. Yet only DeVos, who is all three of these things, seemed to be in any danger of not being confirmed, and that danger likely passed on Thursday when Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who was said to be one of the last fence-sitters, said she had his vote. The situation is so preposterous that the Senate has had to delay the confirmation vote of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to be Attorney General, which is another kettle of botulism entirely, so that Sessions can stay a senator long enough to vote for DeVos. And still they might need Vice President Mike Pence to come down and break a tie.

#NeverTrump has been a joke for several months now, but now that the administration is up and bungling, we see its real purpose. The Republican congressional majorities will put up with any excess and eccentricity down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue as long as they are allowed to put in place their plans to shove even more of the country’s wealth upwards.

(If you get a chance, and you have no life, go to CSPAN and watch the press conference given on Thursday by Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin. He barely remembers the president*’s name. He has his own fish to fry.)

Remember Ben Sasse, the young senator from Nebraska who went to Iowa a year ago to campaign for any candidate who wasn’t Donald Trump? I do, and so does Tiger Beat on the Potomac.

“We have a President who does not believe in executive restraint; we do not need another,” Sasse continued in his statement on Tuesday. “I am not endorsing any candidate—I am urging conservatives to hold every candidate accountable to keeping their word so that we uphold the Constitution’s system of checks and balances. I’m pro-Constitution and if that makes me anti-Trump, that’s Mr. Trump’s problem.”

There has been no more reliable vote for everything this administration wants to do than Ben Sasse’s, and he has been central to a strategy by which the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court has been used to camouflage the gross deficiencies of most of the remaining Cabinet nominees. But Gorsuch’s resume doesn’t make Sessions any less of a bigot, DeVos any less of an incompetent, or prospective Labor Secretary Andrew Puzder any less of a fast-food sweatshop proprietor.

But all of them are going to go through, and Ben Sasse is going to vote for every damn one of them just the way he voted in the dark on Friday to advance DeVos’ nomination and for passage of what Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, rightly called the Kleptocrat Protection Act of 2017.

Second, it really is time to let up on the Democrats a little. I know it’s frustrating, and it was generally awful to listen to Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp take the floor on Thursday to vote to kill the Stream Protection regulation of the EPA, especially when the two of them decided to take the salt-of-the-earth rhetorical dodge to defend the coal industry. Small towns, you know. Real Americans.

(In fact, that whole debate was surreal when you consider that it concerned an industry that likely will die before the planet it’s helping to kill, but one that, somehow, has become the avatar for straight-shootin’ smalltown Americans of all professions, obsolete or not. I think there’s more concern for coal in Washington these days than there has been since 1902.)

But, in general, even these two did all they could to throw sand in the gears of what the majority party was trying to get done. (Manchin and Heitkamp both voted with the party on the two pre-dawn votes Friday.) The Democrats fought as hard as they could in committee against these nominees, and with every tool available to them. (Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, emerged as a ferocious opponent of the Sessions nomination, and Oregon’s Jeff Merkley may end up being the last man standing against Gorsuch.) They even forced the Republicans twice to change committee rules in order to approve nominees with Republican votes only.

There simply is only so much they can do, given their status in both houses of Congress, and the remarkable ability of the Republican majority to hold its votes together. They have pulled every delaying tactic available to a minority in the Senate and they’ve done so full in the knowledge that Mitch McConnell is perfectly willing to blow up whatever political norms—Hi there, Merrick Garland!—and change whatever political norms are in the way of getting what he and his president want. Right now, the administration has fewer Cabinet officers confirmed than any other administration at this point in the calendar. That’s something, anyway.

The wires and pulleys by which Trumpism is hijacking democracy have been exposed. The rest is up to the country.

“Look, I’m headed home to Oregon,” said Senator Ron Wyden. “I’ve had five town meetings when there was more snow in Oregon than any day since 1937. We had very big crowds with people really speaking out. Political change doesn’t start in Washington, D.C. and trickle down. It starts from the bottom up, as people become aware of the facts.

“What’s understood now, and it will increase, is they were told certain things in the campaign. Like with Obamacare. They were told there was going to be a repeal of Obamacare and a replacement. What we’ve really seen is repeal-and-run. They just wanted to repeal this program, get an ideological trophy, but they knew that just doing that would cause an enormous number of problems going forward. Looking for ideological trophies was not what the public was told during the campaign.”

Wyden is correct on the facts, of course, but he may be minimizing the primary “ideological trophy” that people wanted in the campaign and that the election of Donald Trump gave them—a defeat of That Woman, who was standing in for all of The Others who have made the world an insecure place for people who believed that their world should never be insecure at all. (That’s for The Others.) That was all ideological trophy enough for them, and they got it in November. Now, we’re all living with the consequences.

Both of the pre-dawn votes were bad ones. The DeVos nomination is ghastly on its face, but the vote on the Resource Extraction regulation is a vote for serious national security problems down the road. I know I’m harping on this a little but, if you allow American corporations to get back in the business of subletting despots all over the world, you’re buying an awful lot of trouble down the line. You’re going to have corruption and instability in the places under which resources we need are buried. You’re lining up with people who loot their countries and then flee with their ill-gotten gains.

When this happens, you get more instability and more civil wars in which the only things on which both sides agree is that the Americans—or, more generally, the West—are to blame. Of course, this is also how you breed terrorists.

“There’s no question that people’s public health can suffer,” Wyden said. “There is no question that you can have economic dislocation, and real economic pain, for families in a number of parts of the world where every day is an economic struggle just to survive.”

They did all of this before the sun came up on Friday and then, for the most part, they were gone, off into a country that doesn’t know what’s happening to it, and seems to be happier that way, a land of constant surprises now, most of them bad ones.

This Ad’s For You — Brian Alberts in The Atlantic on how Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad brings the immigration issue to the masses.

On Sunday, Budweiser will air its highly anticipated Super Bowl ad, “Born the Hard Way.” The short film depicts a young Adolphus Busch emigrating from Germany to St. Louis in 1857. Faced with a difficult Atlantic voyage and hostile American attitudes toward immigrants, Busch relies on his dream of brewing beer to propel himself forward, and ultimately finds a kindred spirit in one Eberhard Anheuser.

This ad appears at a tenuous moment. President Trump’s recent executive order barring travel from seven Muslim-majority countries has brought immigration policy to the forefront of national politics. Though the Budweiser ad plays loose with a few historical facts, it captures how beer served as both a cultural handhold and form of economic engagement for German immigrants in the 19th century United States.

Beer also holds another legacy that the advertisement overlooks—how modern American beer, the kind that millions of Americans will consume on Sunday, is a product of immigrant activism and entrepreneurship. In the 1850s, beer became a cultural battleground for German immigrants to defend not only their right to participate in American political and economic life, but also their very presence in the U.S.

Budweiser, in dramatizing the humble start and entrepreneurial spirit of its founders, took a few liberties. Adolphus Busch did not brew beer professionally, with Anheuser or otherwise, until years after arriving in the United States. And Budweiser was not invented until 1876 after Busch, in cooperation with St. Louis liquor dealer Carl Conrad, drew inspiration from the Czech pilsner style for which it is named.

Busch was one of 950,000 German immigrants who came to the U.S. during the 1850s, many of whom became brewers. Though others stayed in eastern brewing powerhouses like New York and Philadelphia, many continued their journey to Midwestern cities like Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, at times accounting for 25-40% of the local population.

Busch’s muddy, unceremonious arrival in St. Louis, as portrayed in the Budweiser ad, speaks to the rugged frontier lifestyle of these cities’ early years. Chicago’s downtown streets, for example, bore no semblance of pavement before 1855, and were impassible following any measurable rain.

Nor were the locals always welcoming. In the ad, a native-born American channels Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York by shoving Busch and yelling “You’re not wanted here!” and “Go back home!” This hostility overwhelmingly came from the large and politically successful anti-immigrant factions of the 1850s.

Organized into the American Party, also known as Know-Nothings, some Americans objected to the rising tide of immigrants, German and otherwise, as lower class undesirables, competition for labor, and undeserving recipients of American citizenship. German beer did not escape their ire. Know-Nothings often joined temperance reformers in decrying beer-swilling Germans, like the whiskey-tippling Irish, as a source of degeneration in American society.

But, for German-American brewers and imbibers alike, beer made up a significant part of their dual cultural identity—one they were determined to defend in Germany and in their new American homes. Lager beer was not only a German style of beer, it was at times a centerpiece of ethnic expression. Back in Munich or Frankfurt, modest increases in the price of beer led to riots, and in America the freedom to consume fizzy lager in family-friendly outdoor beer gardens (especially on Sundays after church services) served as both a demonstration of economic freedom and a cultural anchor in a new home.

German immigrants also adapted their beer for American lifestyles, serving lager in traditional saloons defined by brass rails and overwhelmingly male clienteles. The brewers themselves were likewise viewed by fellow Germans as hardworking entrepreneurs, using an albeit controversial product to forge a livelihood on American terms and navigating an increasingly capitalist and economically liberal nation.

When nativist and temperance activists sought to suppress German beer and, by extension, their rights, immigrants fought back. In 1855, a Know-Nothing city government in Chicago targeted immigrants with anti-alcohol liquor license regulations and a selectively enforced ban on Sunday alcohol sales. In response, the German population rioted. Police and immigrants clashed, shots were fired, and cannons were eventually deployed by what is now Chicago’s Daley Plaza, where a German-style Christmas market is hosted annually (without any need for artillery).

Germans continued to defend lager beer as a desirable alternative to hard liquors, persisted in their Sunday revelries, organized to promote their industry, and of course brewed more beer than the U.S. had ever seen before.

Though Prohibition and significant anti-immigrant sentiment lay ahead, Germans carried the day. Know-Nothing candidates lost political power and temperance efforts to enact prohibition at the state level failed. Lager beer spread like wildfire, replacing the English-style ales and porters that preceded it and multiplying the number of American breweries tenfold between 1850 and 1873. It was lighter in alcohol, easier to drink, tastier, less prone to spoilage and infection than previous American beers, and came to be preferred by native-born Americans as well as German immigrants. Adolphus Busch participated in a wave of immigrant activism that negotiated American economic and cultural life and in turn transformed both German-American citizenship and the brewing industry.

Contemporary questions about the rights and status of immigrants are no more foreign today than 160 years ago, and the unforeseeable social and moral implications of an increasingly globalized world carry significant weight. Immigrants in the 1850s, German and otherwise, forced Americans to reflect on the practical definitions of notions like rights and citizenship. These notions revealed themselves to be multifaceted negotiations rather than static monoliths.

Budweiser, if anything, now represents the old guard, analogous to the English-style ales that Busch and other German brewers once challenged. By reconciling American beer’s present with its contentious immigrant past, the largest brewer in America has shown once again how beer is culture brewed.

Doonesbury — Licensed establishment.