Moby Dick was not simply a whale. He was a symbol.
I am now coming to understand the hold Donald Trump has on the 40% or possibly the 51% of the country he holds under his spell. It was all so obvious, hiding in plain site. His call for a wall coupled with his battle cry, "Make America Great Again," is simply a call to return to what things were, when white guys who stopped going to organized school after the 12th grade, at age 17 or 18 could walk down the street or take a bus across town to the plant and get a job for the next 30 years working in the plant and save enough to buy a house, could support a family and take paid vacations and retire on the company pension, as people did in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Gary, Indiana.
If you were "working class" all that slipped away forty or fifty years ago and now your kids are looking at their lives and realizing although they left high school at age 17, as their parents had, their lives will not be nearly so successful. They will live in trailers on the scruffy side of town and when they go to see the doctor she will be Indian or Pakistani or maybe even Black and when they drive their F 150 pickup along the highway, they see dark skinned coloreds driving BMW's and Mercedes, headed to the gated communities.
These white people have lost power but Mr. Trump, who is a puffy white guy promises to give it back to them, to make America White again. The reality of the moment is not important: It's the fantasy of turning back the clock, of reversing this thing called globalization, of bringing back those lunch pail days of good factory jobs, of throwing out all those dark skinned people we see among us, of going white again which animates Mr. Trump and his followers.
He looks at the reality of an America which is changing which will no longer be majority white, and the most potent symbol of that change, that shift of power, Barack Obama, and he roars: That is not America! That man is not American!
Mr. Trump, like the fabled ancient king, walks down to the shore and commands the incoming tide to stop.
Ken Burns has, in one of his most canny executions of timing, focused a new film on the story of Mr. and Mrs. Sharp, who rescued Jewish refugees, children mostly, from the devouring maw of the Third Reich. He raised the image of people who saw desperate children, terrified parents and these people hid the hunted, took risks with their own lives and their own families on behalf of the "other."
Of course, Mr. Burns knows how to tie the past to the present.
Of all the stories of the holocaust, the one which most disturbed the generation of Germans who lived in Germany and Austria during those years was the story of the people who sheltered the Jews rather than turning their backs on them, as 99% of Germans did. The stories of those sympathetic, heroic (there is no other word for it) people is memorialized at every Holocaust museum, the Christians who were not in the cross hairs but who chose to place themselves in danger.
And Burns is asking: Which type of person are you, in today's edition of this story?
|Ken Burns: Sharps' War|