Friday, December 2, 2016

A citizen of nowhere

The British prime minister, Theresa May, not a Brexiteer before the referendum, called members of international-minded elites ''citizens of nowhere.''...Trump deliberately tapped into the same animus against citizens who are not ''real people.'' He made offensive remarks about Muslims, immigrants, refugees and Mexicans. But the deepest hostility was directed against those elitist traitors within America who supposedly coddle minorities and despise the ''real people.'' The last ad of the Trump campaign attacked what Joseph Stalin used to call ''rootless cosmopolitans'' in a particularly insidious manner. Incendiary references to a ''global power structure'' that was robbing honest working people of their wealth were illustrated by pictures of George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein. Perhaps not every Trump supporter realized that all three are Jewish. But those who did cannot have missed the implications.

This is from a long, very-much-worth-your-time essay by Ian Buruma, a Dutch writer and historian who lives and works in the USA. He has been the Paul W. Williams Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College since 2003. The essay is in The New York Times, which I now subscribe to - online only, but it's the first newspaper I've subscribed to since the 1990s.

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said today that the spring election in France will pit nationalists and patriots such as herself against supporters of globalization, the European Union and immigration. "You know, I don't believe in this left-right fracture. On the one side are nationalists, patriots. On the other, globalizationists, Europeanists and so, by definition, immigrationists," she told reporters, as quoted in an article also in The New York Times.

And I'm afraid.

When George Bush was sorta kinda elected President in 2000, I took heart in one thing: that he probably couldn't do damage in eight years that our country couldn't survive. I knew - most sane people knew - that the USA would re-invade Iraq soon after he was elected, and that would destabilize Iraq, kill at least several thousand Iraqis, and kill at least a few thousand American soldiers, and I mourned all that long before it happened, before even election day. Still, I had hope, telling myself: survive this, campaign all you can for a Democrat, put pressure on the Democrats not to move even farther to the right, and my country, and the world, will be okay ultimately. Plus, I lived in Europe and Afghanistan for all but two weeks of Bush's term, and it was wonderful to be a part of the world community in that time, rather than isolated in fear in the USA.

But I have no such hope for the time we'll have Donald Trump as President, be it four or eight years. And this piece explains why, better than anything I can say. Please take time and read it - all of it.

I pulled out that quote and put it at the start of this blog because I have no doubt that I am seen by many Trump supporters as an "international-minded elite," "citizen of nowhere", an "elitist traitor" who "coddles" minorities, including Muslims, and who despises "real people." An intellectual. Part of the intelligentsia. A multi-culturalist.

And I'm afraid.

I was raised in a household where public school teachers, college professors and scholars were derided, where feminists were regularly described as beyond contempt, where atheists were described as dangerous and even worse than feminists, and black Americans were called THAT word. Not all the time. Not every day. The rhetoric wasn't at all constant. But it was said, more than once.

My parents said teachers were "lazy" and only worked "a few hours a day and not at all in the summer," and I bristled every time, because my public school teachers were my sanctuary in the storm of a dysfunctional and, at times, dangerous family. Those teachers fed my oh-so-hungry brain and hopeless soul with books and thought and questions. I also read voraciously (I still do), often reading more books on the English teacher's recommended reading list than I had to for a class. When I scratched together the funds to go to a public university, I often forgot to take notes in classes, as I sat mesmerized by most of my professors, lapping up all they had to say - even when I disagreed with it. I LOVED getting stoned at parties and debating history, literature, current events, philosophy, ethics... now, I aspire to be a university professor myself, I consider my Master's Degree as one of the greatest achievements of my life, and I delight in how many of my friends became public school teachers. I've also delighted in people that are different than me, and seek out experiences that can shed some light on food, music, dance, and other cultural practices that are far, far, different than anything that could be found in my neighborhood in Kentucky.

I am so much of what my family found contemptible - loving old-time country music and Hee Haw and fried food hasn't been enough to redeem me.

But all these years, I've felt safe - just really uncomfortable at a lot of family get-togethers.

Add on to all this thatI've been to more than 35 countries, I'm studying Spanish, I speak about 10 words of Arabic, I've read the Koran, I've dined with Muslims and Sikhs and Jews and Buddhists and on and on, and I've worked for United Nations agencies. And I'm an atheist. And a feminist. So, not only am I let down for my family, I am everything all the other voters of Donald Trump hate.

And now, I'm afraid.

In the 1970s in Cambodia, under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, people were killed for being academics or even for merely wearing eyeglasses (because reading glasses suggests there's reading, and therefore, thinking, going on, and that was a no-no). During the Spanish Civil War and the following Fascist dictatorship, General Francisco Franco's forces killed an estimated 200,000 civilians, their own countrymen, heavily targeting writers, artists, teachers and professors. Vladimir Lenin derided the non-communist intelligentsia with the expression (roughly translated): 'We have completed no academies,' and the Russians/Soviets killed or deported writers, philosophers, scientists, and engineers who were branded "counter revolutionary." In the early stages of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, more than 2000 Armenian intellectuals were deported from Constantinople (now Istanbul) and most were subsequently murdered by the Ottoman government.

And, of course, there is the German Nazi history with intellectuals, the frequent butts of Hitler's jokes. Nazis denounced rationalists and promoted "non-intellectual" virtues such as loyalty, patriotism, duty, emotion and cultural and ethnic purity and allegiance. Nazi propaganda said it was best to favor "sincere feeling" over thought, because "sincere" feelings, stemming from nature, are simple and direct - natural, unlike rational thought. In Mein Kampf, Hitler complained of biased over-education, brainwashing and a lack of instinct and will. Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls were overtly instructed to aim for character-building rather than education.

None of these movements, none of these human rights abuses, were done by one man, or a small group; populists movements of at least a few million in each country supported the deportations, imprisonments and murders. Many regular citizens not a part of the military were happy, even gleeful, to participate.

Yes, I'm afraid. Why shouldn't I be?

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