Blow, Cohen and Collins

In “Politics:  All in My Family” Mr. Blow tells how a father tries to better understand the political awakening and sensibilities of his children.  Mr. Cohen, in “Syria’s White Rose,” moans that the West has capitulated, and Syria is a land of the dead and the dying, in need of heroes to redeem humanity.  In the comments “Burroughs” from the Western Lands had this to say:  “Cohen is a sentimental man and his argument here is little more than a clutter of literary citations (Brecht, Milosz), humanistic platitudes (all of mankind is involved), wishful fantasies (we need a hero!), an evocation of heroic resistance to the Nazis (White Rose), German etymology, and an attempt to generate guilt (all while we “slumber”). All this inspiring stuff comes down to this: Cohen wants to send Americans to kill people and be killed–and for what? At best, another bartered peace with a cobbled government ready to fall apart again. It’s not worth a single American life.”  Ms. Collins gives us “Republicans See How Long They Can Hold Their Breath” and says if the president makes a Supreme Court nomination, they’ll cover their eyes and become invisible.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the more interesting features of the Democratic primary process is the generational divide among support for candidates — older Democratic voters generally prefer Hillary Clinton, and younger ones overwhelmingly prefer Bernie Sanders.

Being, um, older myself, I have some historical and experiential basis for understanding and analyzing that portion of the electorate. But as with most older folks, understanding what motivates younger people can be a mystery. This seems like some sort of evolutionary artifact of aging: obtuseness to youth.

Therefore, writing as an older person about what younger people are doing and feeling is rife with the possibility of “back in my day,” “those crazy kids,” “get off my lawn” tone deafness. So much so that wise writers often steer clear of the topic.

But this, I hope, is not that. This is a father trying to better understand the political awakening and sensibilities of his own children, and trying to understand what informs their leanings.

I have a 22-year-old son who voted in the 2012 presidential election and 18-year-old girl/boy twins for whom this will be their first chance to vote. (I don’t ask them whom they voted for or will vote for. We talk broadly about issues and candidates.)

First, they are unimpressed by the Republican candidates for president, and are even afraid of some. That means that our discussions can be narrowly focused on the Democratic race.

They like Bernie Sanders and don’t fully trust Hillary Clinton, though they don’t believe Sanders is electable and would therefore “settle for” Clinton in that case, as my youngest son put it.

They view Sanders as the more “authentic” (that word kept coming up) and consistent of the two, and the one with whom they have the most ideological agreement, even though they generally believed that his positions would most likely be impossible to implement.

My children went to high school in the city that gave birth to Occupy Wall Street, and as such we had many an evening discussion about income inequality at the dinner table. In a way, Bernie Sanders is the first Occupy Wall Street presidential candidate. There is little daylight between their positions.

All of my children, including my sons, describe themselves as feminists. Indeed, I once wrote about my oldest son’s firm belief that “it’s very important for everyone to be a feminist.”

And yet, none of them, including my daughter, was moved by the fact that, if elected, Clinton would be this country’s first female president.

The particular phenomenon of young women expressing no fealty for Clinton on the basis of gender is a head scratcher for many older Americans, particularly pioneering feminists, who have been part of the struggle to bring women’s rights as far as they’ve come.

Kate Cronin-Furman and Mira Rapp-Hooper point out in an article on Vox that this is understandable for young women who exist in educational environments where they regularly equal or even outperform young men.

But they caution that these young women, upon entering the work force, are likely to encounter what they call “late-breaking sexism,” defined as “the sudden realization that you don’t have the same opportunities as a man, that you will struggle to have both a family and a career, that your participation in the public sphere will always be caveated by your gender.”

My children were 7 and 4 on 9/11. That day, after working late into the night trying to make sense of the trauma and the tragedy, I finally made it home. They were asleep, but I woke them. I told them what they already knew, that some bad men had done a bad thing, but I reassured them that they were safe and would remain so.

From that year to this one, America has been at war. Indeed, if you are under 30, this country has been at war for half or more of your life. Therefore, the most noninterventionist, least hawkish candidates probably hold more appeal than the others, even with the current threat of the Islamic State.

My children can’t remember a time when terrorism wasn’t a threat. They have lived most of their lives with the ambient possibility of calamity. In the same way that I grew up with — and am numb to — the possibility of global thermonuclear war, so they are with the threat of terror.

The one area where they struggled with both candidates was on the issue of racial and social justice.

The 1990s, when they were born, saw the incredible rise of multiculturalism and political correctness as a concept. But those concepts didn’t strike at the root of systemic racism and the white supremacy that begot it, but rather provided more palatable ways to address difference. Nowhere was this more evident than in pop culture. For instance, hip-hop crossed over, and most of the Disney princesses introduced that decade were not white: Jasmine was Middle Eastern, Pocahontas was Native American and Mulan was Chinese. (As a dad with a daughter, I got my fill of Disney princesses.)

But there has been an abrupt racial awaking for my children and a historical reclamation of memory as they have begun to wrestle with the persistence and perniciousness of racism and have come to identify with the goals of Black Lives Matter.

They see the new proposals by both candidates as pandering to black votes, although they each mentioned that Sanders had been active in the civil rights movement. My eldest son said that he was disappointed about Clinton’s involvement with the 1994 crime bill and mass incarceration. He was born in 1994.

I must say that I have no memory of the bill’s passage. I was a young man with a young family who had just moved from the Deep South to Detroit.

It is possible that the bill’s passage isn’t marked by a memory for me because so many liberals were behind the bill: Joe Biden took credit for it, Bernie Sanders voted for it, Bill Clinton signed it and Hillary Clinton lobbied for it. Furthermore, many members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for it. Indeed, the bill got more Democratic votes than Republican ones.

I do, however, remember the Whitewater investigation from 1994, one of the first Clinton administration scandals, the one that also spawned Travelgate and Filegate. The Clintons were never prosecuted in any of those investigations, but they emerged scarred.

Hillary Clinton often brags about surviving unending political attacks, but others see too much smoke for there to be no fire. The continued investigations added to my children’s mistrust of her. Maybe that’s what Republicans want; maybe some of their leeriness is warranted; maybe there is some place between smear campaign and smoking gun where reasonable people can be reasonably apprehensive.

Whatever the case, she seems to me weakened by the decades of questions, which may have even more of a deleterious effect on young people’s willingness to trust her.

This is hardly a broad survey, and shouldn’t be taken as such. No sweeping conclusions can be drawn from this column, nor are they meant to be. This is simply a view into one family’s conversations about politics, and how one father came away with a deeper respect for the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of his children.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

At the end of Bertolt Brecht’s “Life of Galileo,” there is a sharp exchange. Andrea Sarti, a student of the astronomer, says, “Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.” To which Galileo shoots back: “No, Andrea. Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”

Michael Wolffsohn, a German historian, mentioned Galileo’s line the other evening with reference to Syria, an unhappy land of the dead and dying in need of heroes to redeem humanity. The hopelessness of resistance does not diminish its redemptive power in terrorized societies; in fact hopelessness may even be one of the defining characteristics of heroic resistance.

Abdalaziz Alhamza, the young man sitting beside Wolffsohn at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, prompted the historian’s reflections. “We don’t have the necessity today to resist in Germanybecause this is a free country,” Wolffsohn said. “Resistance is the readiness to incur lethal personal risk.”

That is what Alhamza has done. He is from Raqqa, the stronghold of the Islamic State, a town now synonymous with beheadings, immolation, enslavement of women and every form of barbarism. Alhamza, who is 24, left Syria two years ago and in April 2014 founded a resistance organization called “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” (RBSS). ISIS has killed four of its members.

I was in the southern Turkish town of Sanliurfa in November to write about one of those murders. On Oct. 30, 2015, ISIS beheaded Ibrahim Abdel Qader, age 22. Qader had been working to publicize and document ISIS atrocities in Raqqa through online video and other reportage.

“We won’t stop,” Alhmaza said. “We have too many friends and family dead. The only way we will stop is if ISIS kills us all or we go back home.”

RBSS will not stop its efforts to spread word of the crimes of ISIS. To record is to resist evil; to forget is to permit its spread. As Czeslaw Milosz wrote, “The poet remembers. You can kill one, but another is born.”

Wolffsohn drew a parallel between Alhamza’s resistance and that of the White Rose group to the Third Reich. Formed in 1942 by Munich University students and their professor, the White Rose members, in the face of certain death, distributed leaflets denouncing Nazism. The first read:

“Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes — crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure — reach the light of day.”

The “dimensions of shame” awaiting the perpetrators and bystanders to the crimes of the Syrian war are as yet unknown, but they will be ample. German has a better word than bystander for those — always the majority — who make their accommodations with evil. That word is “mitläufer” — roughly “fellow traveler.”

There has been a lot of discussion of the origins of ISIS, of the complexity of defeating it, of its digital slickness, but little of its pure evil — its desecration of human life and its exaltation of death (even delivered by children).

To dwell on the group’s iniquity — its contempt for humanity — would be to suggest the necessity of its immediate extirpation; and no Western government wants to deploy soldiers to do that. That is a moral capitulation, whatever else it may be.

Of course, ISIS is far from the Third Reich, as Wolffsohn conceded, even if its “absence of consideration for human life” is identical. But the parallels between the White Rose and RBSS are strong. As the historian told me: “The White Rose knew from the very beginning that they would lose but that their loss was necessary to show that humanity and human dignity cannot be wiped out completely. It’s the same with the Raqqa group.”

White Rose distributed leaflets, six before its members were executed. The work of RBSS, some of whose members are still in Raqqa, is the digital leaflet. On the existence of that work our humanity hinges.

Alhamza, like most RBSS members in exile, now lives in Germany, having moved on from Turkey where the ISIS threat was too great. His younger brother drowned trying to escape Syria. Countless family and friends are dead. One friend, a doctor, joined ISIS; he needed money. Terror bends most people’s will — but not all.

“It’s been more than two years,” Alhamza told me. “Western powers have held a lot of meetings, made speeches and done nothing, although the Syrian regime crossed every red line. The regime created ISIS. We do not believe the West will help.”

The second White Rose leaflet spoke of how hundreds of thousands of Jews had been killed by the Nazis in Poland while “the German people slumber on in dull, stupid sleep and encourage the Fascist criminals.”

The United States and its allies slumber on. The loss and the risk are all of humanity’s.

Then send your son to go fight…  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Maybe we’d better refrain from having any new opinions until after the election.

Follow the leader. Mitch McConnell says the Senate shouldn’t do anything about the Supreme Court’s vacancy as long as Barack Obama is president. Not even go through the motions of pretending to think about it. We’ve hit a whole new level in the politics of obstruction.

Why stop there? For the next 11 months it’s probably better if we let everything go except for the purchase of food staples.

Don’t even bother to fake it. Virtually every Republican with a job more elevated than zoning commissioner thinks the best thing to do with any Supreme Court nomination is to act as if it isn’t there, like a wad of gum on the sidewalk.

“Delay, delay, delay!” cried Donald Trump at the last debate. Some listeners might have presumed he was calling for the return of the former House majority leader who resigned during a campaign finance scandal and later rehabilitated himself by doing the cha-cha on “Dancing With the Stars.” Exactly the kind of guy Donald Trump would like. But in this case he was talking about stonewalling any Supreme Court nomination.

“If I were president … I guess I’d put in a name,” Trump admitted in a phone call to Stephen Colbert. This is extremely mild language for the leading Republican presidential candidate. Normally you’d expect Trump to say something like: “If I were president I’d nominate somebody who would scare the hell out of them. Putin! I’d nominate Putin. And then they’d be so nervous that they’d let me have anybody I wanted, which of course would be Sarah Palin.”

People, do you remember what Mitch McConnell used to say when he was the powerless Senate minority leader? Of course you don’t. There’s just so much stuff that fits into a human brain and no reason whatsoever that McConnell should be taking up space.

He used to say that when Republicans got control, democracy and venerable tradition would rule. No more of those sneaky tricks that his predecessor Harry Reid used to keep the other side’s ideas from coming up for a vote: “The answer is to let folks debate, to let the Senate work its will.” He had a vision of a deliberative body that argued so long and hard that eventually all the Democrats would collapse from exhaustion and he, Majority Leader Mitch, would walk over their prostrate bodies to principled victory.

That was the good old days. We remember them with nostalgia, like the golden era when members of both parties drank in the same bars. Now apparently the Senate can’t even be trusted to hold a committee hearing.

“We’re not moving forward on it, period,” said Senator Marco Rubio. He used to be regarded as the most rational person in the Republican presidential field. That was just because we hadn’t had time to get acquainted yet.

If you want to understand why the Republicans are broadcasting their commitment to obstructionism, it’s useful to take a look at Rubio’s campaign. Given the tenor of our times, it’s natural that all the candidates would depict Barack Obama as the worst thing that’s happened to America since … oh, I don’t know. Pearl Harbor? The Panic of 1837? But Rubio also insists that the president has been ruining the country on purpose: “All this damage that he’s done to America is deliberate.”

This is a theory, much loved on talk radio, that involves an insidious presidential plot to make America just a run-of-the-mill country — smaller and weaker and burdened with universal health care. When things go wrong it isn’t because of ineptitude. It’s a careful Obama scenario aimed at bringing the country down. A man that sinister can’t be allowed to even put a nomination into play. God knows what would happen. Close your eyes and pretend he isn’t there.

Ben Carson made the same point in his traditional way — that is, in language that made no sense whatsoever: “It is imperative that the Senate not allow President Obama to diminish his legacy by trying to nominate an individual who would carry on his wishes to subvert the will of the people.”

Ted Cruz vowed to filibuster any attempt by the Senate to vote on a nominee. Because filibuster is, you know, what Ted Cruz does. Just put your hands over your ears and hum very loudly until you get your way.

And Jeb Bush … O.K., we don’t need to talk about Jeb Bush. This is the man who recently tweeted a picture of a handgun with his name engraved on it, over the title “America.” The only good thing you can say for his campaign is that he did not send out a video called “It’s Morning Again in America” that opens with footage of Vancouver. That was Marco Rubio.



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