Brooks and Cohen

In “The Year of Unearthed Memories” Bobo gurgles that healing from traumatic memories is an intensely difficult and complex process, but it is possible, for nations as well as individuals.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “The time to talk about healing old wounds is not while fresh ones are being created. We can’t discuss past racism and oppression while we watch black men being gunned down on the nightly news. Old ugly truths about slavery will have to wait until we process the more immediate ugliness of choke holds, or death meted out at traffic stops.  We can’t heal the wounds of Sandy Hook when the response has been to double down on of gun rights. If a cortege of twenty tiny coffins couldn’t slow the mindless juggernaut of gun worship, then nothing will.  Neither can we slice up the Middle East and then lament that the wounds won’t close.”  Mr. Cohen considers “Trump’s Weimar America” and says it would be foolish not to take Trump seriously. The unthinkable has happened in Europe. It’s not impossible in America.  Here’s Bobo:

Childhood fears and adult traumas are stored differently in the brain than happy memories. They are buried like porous capsules deep in the primitive regions, below awareness and beyond easy reach of conscious thinking and talking. They are buried so deep that they are separated from the normal flow of life, and so time cannot work its natural healing powers.

There is a vast psychological literature on the diverse ways people are held back by these hidden capsules. Often, they don’t feel fully grounded or empowered. Some people experience a longstanding but vague sense of unease about the crucial matters of life, a tangled, inchoate sense of depression in the heart that is hard to pinpoint and articulate.

The symptoms differ according to the nature of the hidden memories. Some people dissociate from their experiences, detaching themselves emotionally from their surroundings. Some feel compartmentalized, as though they are actors trapped in many roles at once. Some fear making commitments because of the ways past bonds have been simultaneously loving and frightening. Some suffer from nightmares, or numb themselves through substance abuse, or have their emotions powerfully undone by certain triggers.

There are hundreds of psychological methods that try to unearth the memory capsules and restore a sense of empowerment. The process is hard. As Judith Herman writes in “Trauma and Recovery,” “The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.”

But people with patience and resolve can look forward to a life in the sunshine. They face their fears, integrate the good and bad memories — recognizing that many different truths lie side by side. After years, many build a sturdy sense of self and make lasting commitments that bring joy, strength and peace.

The parallel is inexact, but peoples and cultures also have to deal with the power of hard memories. Painful traumas and experiences can be passed down generation to generation, whether it is exile, defeat or oppression. These memories affect both the victims’ and the victimizers’ cultures.

Many of the issues we have been dealing with in 2015 revolve around unhealed cultural memories: how to acknowledge past wrongs and move forward into the light.

The most obvious case involves American race relations. So much of the national conversation this year has concerned how to think about past racism and oppression, and the power of that past to shape present realities: the Confederate flag, Woodrow Wilson, the unmarked sights of the lynching grounds. Fortunately, many people have found the courage to tell the ugly truths about slavery, Jim Crow and current racism that were repressed by the wider culture.

Many of the protests on campus and other places have been about unearthing memory or asserting a narrative, or, at their worst, coercing other narratives into silence. There have been pleasant and unpleasant episodes during all this, but over all, you’d have to say this has been a good and necessary stage in the nation’s journey.

Unhealed cultural memories have shaped other policy areas. In the Middle East, Sunnis and Shiites are battling bloodily over competing pasts. In its sick way, ISIS is driven by historical humiliation.

Thus, we find ourselves involved at all levels in the therapy of memory. I’d only mention three concepts that might be useful going forward. The first is Miroslav Volf’s notion of soft difference. The person who feels that diversity is filled with hard differences sees the world divided between his group and the alien. A demagogue like Donald Trump offers the following bigoted choice: Submit or be rejected. The person who sees diversity as characterized by soft differences allows others the space to be themselves and sees her mission as one of witness and constant invitation.

The second is the distinction between blame and responsibility. Where there is blame, there must be atonement and change. If you emigrated from Norway to the United States last year, you’re not to blame for the history of racism, but as a new American, you probably have a responsibility to address it. An ethos of responsibility is less defensive than an ethos of blame and provides a better context for cooperation, common action and radical acceptance.

The third is the danger of asymmetric rhetoric. If one person in a conversation takes the rhetorical level up to 10 every time, the other person has to rebut at Level 10 and turn monstrous, or retreat into resentful silence. Rhetorical passion, which feels so good, can destroy conversation and mar truth and reconciliation.

Even after a tough year, we are born into a story that has a happy ending. Wrongs can be recognized, memories unearthed, old hurts recognized and put into context. What’s the point of doing this unless you’re fueled by hope and comforted by grace?

Bobo has the cojones to say a new immigrant from Norway has a responsibility to address racism?  Dear, sweet baby Jesus on a tricycle…  Bobo, when’s the last time YOU addressed racism?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Welcome to Weimar America: It’s getting restive in the beer halls. People are sick of politics as usual. They want blunt talk. They want answers.

Welcome to an angry nation stung by two lost wars, its politics veering to the extremes, its mood vengeful, beset by decades of stagnant real wages for most people, tempted by a strongman who would keep all Muslims out and vows to restore American greatness.

“We’re going to be so tough and so mean and so nasty,” Donald Trump says in response to the San Bernardino massacre. People roar. He calls for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” People roar. “People want strength,” he says. People roar. His poll numbers go up. Pundits, even the longtime guru of Republican political branding, Karl Rove, shake their heads.

Trump is a clown. No, he is not. He is in earnest. And he’s onto something. It is foolish not to take him seriously.

A near perfect storm for his rabble-rousing is upon the United States. China is rising. American power is ebbing. The tectonic plates of global security are shifting. Afghanistan and Iraq have been the graveyards of glory. There is fear, after the killing in California inspired by the Islamic State, of an enemy within.

Over more than a decade, American blood and treasure have been expended, to little avail. President Obama claims his strategy against Islamist jihadist terrorism, which he often sugarcoats as “violent extremism,” is working. There is little or no evidence of that.

A lot of Americans struggle to get by, their pay no match for prices.

Along comes Trump, the high-energy guy. He promises an American revival, a reinvention, even a renaissance. He insults Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, women. His words are hateful and scurrilous. They play on fears. They are subjected to horrified analysis. Yet they do not hurt him. He gets people’s blood up. He says what others whisper. He cuts through touchy-feely all-enveloping political correctness. This guy will give Putin a run for his money! His poll numbers rise.

It would be foolish and dangerous not to take him seriously. His bombast is attuned to Weimar America. The United States is not paying reparations, as Weimar Germany was after World War I. Hyperinflation does not loom. But the Europeanization of American politics is unmistakable.

America, like Europe, is rattled by Islamic State terrorism and unsure how to respond to the black-flagged death merchants. Its polarized politics seem broken. The right of Donald Trump and the right of France’s Marine Le Pen overlap on terrorism and immigration. On the American left, Bernie Sanders sounds like nothing so much as a European social democrat. But that’s another story.

Le Pen is now a serious candidate for the French presidency in 2017. Her strong first-round performance in regional elections was not matched in the second round. She faded. But as with Trump, she answers the popular call for an end to business as usual after two Paris massacres this year in which the Islamic State had a role. The three jihadists who killed 90 Friday-night revelers in the Bataclan club were French citizens believed to have been trained in Syria.

“Islamist fundamentalism must be annihilated,” Le Pen says. People roar. “France must ban Islamist organizations,” she says. People roar. It must “expel foreigners who preach hatred in our country as well as illegal migrants who have nothing to do here.” People roar.

There is no question Le Pen is being taken seriously in France. Europe’s watchword is vigilance. Its entire postwar reconstruction has been premised on the conviction that peace, integration, economic union and the welfare state were the best insurance against the return to power of the fascist right.

That conviction is shaken. The rise of the Islamic State, and the Western inability to contain it, leads straight to the Islamophobia in which Trump and Le Pen traffic with success. It would be hard to imagine an atmosphere better suited to the politics of fear. Americans say they are more fearful of terrorism than at any time since 9/11.

“Every time things get worse, I do better,” Trump says. He does. They may get still worse.

The Europeanization of American politics is also the Europeanization of American political risk. The unthinkable has happened in Europe. It is not impossible in America.

It would be wrong not to take Trump very seriously. It would be irresponsible. It would be to forget European history, from whose fascist example he borrows. In Weimar America politics are not what they were. The establishment looks tired. The establishment has not understood the fact-lite theater of the contemporary world.

The Weimar Republic ended with a clown’s ascent to power, a high-energy buffoon who shouted loudest, a bully from the beer halls, a racist and a bigot. He was an outsider given to theatrics and pageantry. He seduced the nation of Beethoven. He took the world down with him.

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One Response to “Brooks and Cohen”

  1. edtracey Says:

    “Gemli from Boston” seems to have a way-with-words, huh?

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