Reigns Of Terror In America — Jill Lepore in The New Yorker on the legacy of fatal hatred in our nation.
On Friday, May 9, 1958, Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, in Atlanta, delivered a sermon called “Can This Be America?” Crosses had been burned and men had been lynched, but Rothschild was mainly talking about the bombs: bundled sticks of dynamite tied with coiled fuses. In the late nineteen-fifties, terrorists had set off, or tried to, dozens of bombs—at black churches, at white schools that had begun to admit black children, at a concert hall where Louis Armstrong was playing, at the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. One out of every ten attacks had been directed at Jews, at synagogues and community centers in Charlotte, in Nashville, in Jacksonville, in Birmingham. In March, 1958, about twenty sticks of dynamite, wrapped in paper yarmulkes, had exploded in an Orthodox synagogue in Miami. The blast sounded like a plane crash.
“Our first duty is not to allow ourselves to be intimidated,” Rothschild told his congregation. Five months later, some fifty sticks of dynamite exploded at his temple, Atlanta’s oldest, blowing a twenty-foot hole in a brick wall, toppling columns, shattering stained-glass windows. “We bombed a temple in Atlanta,” a man claiming to be from the “Confederate Underground” said, when he telephoned the press that night. “Negroes and Jews are hereby declared aliens.”
Rothschild grew up in Pittsburgh, in Squirrel Hill. His family went to Temple Rodef Shalom, just blocks away from the Tree of Life Synagogue, where eleven people were recently shot and killed during services. Robert Bowers, the man charged in the case, had repeatedly posted on social media about a Jewish aid organization he thought was helping refugees cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The shooting followed a series of mail bombs sent to prominent critics of the President, allegedly by Cesar Sayoc, Jr., a Florida man whose white van was plastered with Trump stickers. In the days after these atrocities, Donald Trump announced his intention to end birthright citizenship—to declare, by executive order, that millions of U.S.-born children are aliens. Can this be America?
Rothschild, the liberal from Pittsburgh, moved to Atlanta to take up his pulpit in 1946, the year that a white-supremacist organization was founded in the city. The Columbians asked potential members three questions: “Do you hate Negroes? Do you hate Jews? Do you have three dollars?” On Yom Kippur in 1948, Rothschild sought to stir his congregation out of its silence. “There is only one real issue,” he said. “Civil rights.” The reign of terror Rothschild decried in 1958 had begun four years earlier, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, when White Citizens Councils began forming across the South to oppose desegregation. And then the bombings started, targeting the institutions that hold societies, and nations, together: schools, houses of worship, newspaper offices.
Standing at the site of the Atlanta temple blast, Mayor William B. Hartsfield declared, “Every political rabble-rouser is the godfather of every sneaking cross-burner and dynamiter at work in the South today.” In the Atlanta Constitution, the syndicated columnist Ralph McGill wrote, “To be sure, none said go bomb a Jewish temple or a school. But let it be understood that when leadership in high places in any degree fails to support constituted authority, it opens the gates to all those who wish to take law into their hands.” The F.B.I. investigated, as Melissa Fay Greene recounts in a book about the bombing, and five men were arrested. The American Nationalist, a California newspaper, ran a story that announced, “SYNAGOGUE BOMBING A FRAUD: Jewish Groups Use Bomb Incident to Confuse Gentiles.” Only one man, George Bright, was ever tried; he was acquitted. McGill won a Pulitzer Prize. “If you call that a prize,” Bright scoffed. “Pulitzer was just a Jew.”
America’s latest reign of terror began not with Trump’s election but with Obama’s, the Brown v. Board of the Presidency. “Impeach Obama,” yard signs read. “He’s Unconstitutional.” In 2011, Trump began demanding that Obama prove his citizenship. “I feel I’ve accomplished something really, really important,” Trump told the press, when, that spring, the White House offered up the President’s birth certificate. This fall, Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, fell into the same trap. For the five years of Trump’s campaign for political attention, leading up to the 2016 election, and for the first two years of his Administration, attempts to fight Trump on his debased terms have only strengthened him.
Rothschild delivered a sermon to his congregation the Friday after the bombing, its title taken from the Book of Ezekiel: “And None Shall Make Them Afraid.” Eight hundred people crowded into the blasted synagogue. “Never did a band of violent men so misjudge the temper of the objects of their act of intimidation,” Rothschild said. “Out of the gaping hole that laid bare the havoc wrought within, out of the majestic columns that now lay crumbled and broken, out of the tiny bits of brilliantly colored glass that had once graced with beauty the sanctuary itself—indeed, out of the twisted and evil hearts of bestial men has come a new courage and a new hope.”
Courage and hope are not the language of Trump’s most vociferous political opponents. Blame and grievance are their language, the language of the times, the grammar of Twitter, the idiom of Trump, the taste of bile. Trump’s critics have often answered his viciousness with their own viciousness, his abandonment of norms with their abandonment, his fear-mongering with their fear-mongering, his unwillingness to speak to the whole of the country with their own parochialism.
But the bloody-mindedness of deranged and broken men can be countered only by principle and fortitude. Rothschild once introduced Dr. King at a banquet in Chicago. King, he said, had been met with “wild thunder.” Never did he speak with more thunder than during his Christmas Eve sermon in 1967, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, not far from Rothschild’s temple. “If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves,” King said. “There have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important,” he said. “But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.” Another tree has been cut down. May a new seed be sown.
Only Going To Get More Extreme — Jonathan Chait in New York on what will happen if the GOP retains control of Congress.
Politics since Donald Trump’s election has felt like a static state of misery, as the president’s approval ratings have been surprisingly stable and the only apparent variable has been each party’s chances of gaining or consolidating power in the midterms. But that reading ignores something tectonic: the rapid decay of the institutional Republican Party. Everything that was terrible about the party that nominated Trump is significantly, terrifyingly worse today. Even more distressing: It is likely to lurch further rightward regardless of the outcome of the elections. This will happen right away.
It was not so long ago that most Republican professionals firmly believed the party was still theirs and Trump had merely borrowed it. The GOP Establishment, one congressional staffer told the reporter David Drucker earlier this fall, had “forced Trump to govern as a ‘conventional conservative.’ ” Ten months ago, when the Senate voted to pass a huge tax cut, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work.”
They couldn’t. They tried convincing the public their tax cuts for the rich will mostly go to the middle class, but the middle class doesn’t believe them. “I would have bet you a lot of money going into this year that if you cut people’s taxes by thousands of dollars per year, that would be politically popular,” Republican consultant Ryan Ellis told Politico. “But it has not worked out that way.” As private Republican polling has confirmed, the party “lost the messaging battle” on taxes.
Rather than finding another line of work, however, McConnell’s colleagues have grasped a disturbing reality: They don’t need to sell their policies to the American people. They’re better off following Trump’s political formula of constructing an alternate reality in which their party is cast as one of economic populists. Recently, Trump has been insisting he has another plan to give the middle class a tax cut. A big one! A whopping 10 percent cut, just for the average taxpayer. “We’re doing it now for middle-income people,” Trump told reporters about a bill he claimed would pass before Election Day.
Reporters quickly noted this was impossible. Congress was out of session until after the election; it would need 60 votes to pass another tax cut, anyway. Trump then insisted he had a secret plan, which he would reveal soon, that would allow a huge middle-class tax cut without adding to the deficit. “We’re doing other things, which I don’t have to explain now, but it will be pretty much a net neutral,” he told reporters. No such tax proposal exists, and nobody actually believes anything like it will ever materialize. Yet Republican leaders are pretending to take Trump’s instructions seriously. “We will continue to work with the White House and Treasury over the coming weeks to develop an additional 10 percent tax cut focused specifically on middle-class families and workers,” promised House Committee on Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady. Why shouldn’t they go along? What cost is there to sustaining the lie?
Republicans are attempting a similar trick to resolve their political liability on health care, where Trump has ramped up their strategy dating back to the beginning of the Obamacare debate: promise to do all the good stuff Obamacare delivered but without making anybody pay for it. The administration, joined by several Republican states, is suing to overturn Obamacare’s regulations preventing insurance companies from charging higher rates to people with preexisting conditions and, in the meantime, undermining those protections by allowing insurers to sell cheaper plans to healthy people. Yet the Republicans’ health-care message has betrayed not the slightest hint of their anti-regulatory fervor. Arizona’s Martha McSally, who as a member of Congress gave a pep talk to wavering Republicans urging them to vote to repeal Obamacare and not replace it, is running ads for her Senate campaign claiming she “led the fight” to “force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.” Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott, whose state is currently supporting the Trump lawsuit, is declaring in an advertisement, “I support forcing insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.” Trump himself has advanced this lie to its Orwellian conclusion. Not only does he promise to defend the regulations he is actively seeking to eliminate, he has accused Democrats of trying to destroy them: “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.”
The defensive effort to steal the economic-populist mantle from Democrats, without making any substantive concessions toward that end, has been largely overshadowed by the louder cultural messaging that accompanies it.
Republicans have stoked white racial paranoia against a shifting array of targets. Kneeling football players and transgender bathrooms have momentarily given way to a convoy of Central American migrants that allegedly contains “unknown Middle Easterners.”
And Trump’s allies have gone from justifying his reality-show authoritarian persona as a necessary expedient to embracing it as a positive good. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 percent accurate,” a senior Trump-administration official told the Daily Beast, defending the president’s fearmongering attacks on a caravan of potential refugees. “This is the play,” Scott Reed, a strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the Washington Post. “It’s a standard tactic to use fear as a motivating choice at the end of a campaign, and the fact is the fork in the road is pretty stark.” In Texas, when a fan at a Ted Cruz speech exclaimed about Beto O’Rourke, “Lock him up!,” Cruz answered, “Well, you know, there’s a double-occupancy cell with Hillary Clinton.”
The degree to which Trump’s party has molded itself in his image is worth bearing in mind when contemplating what the next two years might bring.
If Democrats win the House but not the Senate, they will be working with an even more hardened foe: The Republicans who will have lost, or who are retiring, are those most vulnerable to outside pressure; the surviving core, from the reddest districts, will be the most Trumpian. They will be much less likely to abandon their president in the face of incriminating evidence than were Richard Nixon’s Republicans in 1974, and much more likely to escalate his attacks on the rule of law into a full-scale culture war.
In the event Republicans retain full control of Congress — improbable, but about the chances FiveThirtyEight gave Trump toward the end of October two years ago — the transformation would be even more dramatic. The American people would be led not by a party learning to accommodate its unhinged leader but one trained by him, and the con job they have been enacting on the American people would swiftly come to completion.
Imagine Republicans waking up after Election Day and discovering their aging coalition has been given a new lease on life. They will instantly grasp the possibilities available by campaigning in opposition to reality: telling voters they are protecting popular social programs that Democrats are trying to cut and reinforcing this message through media channels their party effectively controls. What would stop them from launching the full-scale assault on the welfare state that Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan never mustered the courage to fully enact? Why wouldn’t they go through with abolishing Obamacare and slashing funding to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?
Though they control all branches of the federal government, Republicans have been held back for two years by the expectation of a backlash and a setback in the midterms. After not one but two expert-defying victories, the Trumpian cult of personality would grow exponentially. For all the unprecedented and brazen acts the past two years have brought, what we have not yet seen is a Trumpian party that feels invincible.
If The Trumpistas Win: Get the hell out.
We caught up with Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, who told us why each of these places made the coveted list. If want to find more cheap places to live abroad, check out “Quit Your Job: 5 Countries Where You Can Live For Under $1,500 A Month.”
Doonesbury: He’s back!