Monday, September 19, 2016

The Symbol of Trump: The Great White Wail

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


  1. Mad Dog,
    Thanks for the heads up-the Burns film is on tonight and I will definitely be watching. It's an important and fascinating subject-perhaps the most important subject there is- why do some people, under the most devastating and dangerous circumstances choose to do the right thing, when so many others choose the alternative. You've spoken before about the need for students to study scientists, doctors etc who were in many ways as important and heroic as the politicians filling our history books. People like the Sharps should also be added to the curriculum.

    When I was in Amsterdam, I toured the Anne Frank museum-but truth be told I hadn't been looking forward to it. I went primarily because I thought not doing so would be disrespectful. I believed it would be unbearably sad, frightening and in the end overwhelmingly depressing. In reality it was breathtakingly sad, but by the end of the tour you were not left depressed and dejected at the state of mankind, primarily because much of the focus of the museum was on the four employees of Otto Frank who, like the Sharps, risked everything to protect their fellow human beings. You left more in awe of their courage and kindness then feeling overwhelmed by the unthinkable cruelty of the Nazis and their neighbors who looked the other way.

    Ken Burns despises Trump and what he represents, as he made brilliantly clear in his commencement speech at Stanford. He said at the time he felt it was his duty to speak out and hopefully his film will prompt more Americans to connect the dots and realize it is their responsibility to do everything in their power to ensure bigotry, hatred, cruelty and intolerance do not win the day in November...