An American Reichstag Fire?

From The American Prospect:  http://prospect.org/article/american-reichstag-fire

February 27 is the anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Reichstag and gave Hitler a pretext to seize total power. How strong are America’s firebreaks?

Peter Schrag
February 24, 2017

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and the court system. 

                                  —Donald Trump, tweet, February 5

On the night of February 27, 1933, less than a month after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, fire gutted the central chamber of the Reichstag in Berlin, the nation’s parliament building. To this day, historians are still debating whether it was the work of a lone arsonist, the Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, who was caught at the scene and soon confessed, or as journalist William L. Shirer later asserted in his classic Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, that there was “enough evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the Nazis who planned the arson and carried it out for their own political ends.”

But of one thing there was no doubt.

Within hours of the fire, hundreds of people were arrested and put in “protective custody” or sent to concentration camps, and the next morning (in the words of the Cambridge University historian Richard Evans), “the cabinet, which still had a non-Nazi majority, met to draw up an emergency decree that abrogated civil liberties across Germany. Signed by President Hindenburg the same day, it abolished freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of the press, suspended the autonomy of federated states, such as Baden and Bavaria, and legalized phone-tapping, the interception of correspondence, and other intrusions.”

The decree was the first of two major measures that eliminated all institutional checks and gave Hitler absolute dictatorial powers. The second, passed a month later by the Reichstag, gave Hitler plenary power—the power to enact laws without any action by the parliament whatever. Quoting Evans again,

The Nazis used them to bludgeon their opponents into submission and their allies into compliance. By the summer of 1933 all opposition had been crushed, more than a hundred thousand Communists, Social Democrats, and other opponents of the Nazis had been sent to concentration camps, all independent political parties had been forced to dissolve themselves, and the Nazi dictatorship had been firmly established.

Could it happen here, as the historian Robert S. McElvaine of Millsaps College recently warned in the Huffington Post?  

The odds are that it could not—not in the same way and certainly not to the same extent, despite Donald Trump’s megalomaniacal rhetoric and the radicals in his entourage. Trump has no global agenda, clings fanatically to no ideology, has no Weltanschauung, as Hitler had; his highest priority appears to be himself.

Nor is America in 2017 like Germany in 1933. The two cultures are vastly different and the technology that enabled Trump to gain political power is just as accessible to his opposition. It’s also likely, judging by his appellate court opinions, that Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court, will, despite his conservative leanings on issues like abortion, be faithful to the Constitution’s protections of the press and free speech; he will not eviscerate them. Moreover, in the view of CUNY historian Benjamin Hett, whose 2014 book Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation Into The Third Reich’s Enduring Mystery makes a strong case that the fire was a Nazi plot,

The media environment of today [he wrote me in an email]—with 24-hour cable news, the internet, Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc.—is so much more intrusive than in 1933 (and the federal government is so full of people who would be happy to leak incriminating information, not least in the intelligence services) that the Trump administration would have no chance of getting away with a deliberate terrorist attack as a pretext for a coup d’état. … The other important difference is that Trump is dramatically less popular than Hitler was in 1933 and there is significantly more pushback from the population to the things he is trying to do. Not that I wouldn’t put it past Trump and [Stephen] Bannon to be thinking about this kind of thing.

But as a refugee from Hitler (Class of ’41), I’m too much aware of the extent to which the Nazis were underestimated as low-class clowns and thugs until it was too late. Similarly, in the past election, the media, the pollsters, the Democrats and millions of other Americans, and not just the left, also underestimated Trump. In that context, I’m reminded of Hannah Arendt’s post-war observation that “in 1933, indifference was no longer possible. It was no longer possible even before that.”

Continue reading at:  http://prospect.org/article/american-reichstag-fire

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Jon Stewart To The Media: It’s Time To Get Your Groove Back

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The Resistance Is the Majority of Americans — Not a New Tea Party

From Time Magazine:  http://time.com/4676825/democratic-resistance-tea-party/

Jesse Ferguson
Feb 21, 2017

On August 25, 2009, Democratic Congressman Bart Gordon held a town hall meeting in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A local news report called it “a discussion about the nation’s health care” that “led to loud boos and heckling” from the crowd. On February 9, 2017, Republican Congresswoman Diane Black — elected to Gordon’s seat in the fall of 2010 — held a town hall meeting in the same city. A local news report headline proclaimed, “Diane Black, GOP lawmakers faced defenders of Obamacare at lively town hall.” Sounds similar, right?

The zeitgeist is quickly setting in: Republicans right now face a backlash akin to what Democrats faced from the Tea Party in 2009 and 2010. Some have gone so far as to call this resistance the Democratic Tea Party. It’s a convenient comparison: Democrats like it because the Republican Tea Party was successful in 2010, and the media appreciates it as a simple and straightforward story. I’ve been guilty of leaning on it myself.

But the Democratic resistance and the Tea Party actually differ in a number of important ways, each of which tells a different story about where our country is and where our politics may be headed.

For starters, the Tea Party was forged as an opposition to a societal reality in our country, while today’s resistance is opposed to a political reality. The Tea Party began before the election of President Obama, as a reaction to President Bush and the bank bailouts of 2008. Tea Partiers believed that society and the economy had all left them behind. The movement’s anger was stoked by the realization that the country had changed to the extent that it would elect someone like Barack Obama and support his “liberal” policies like the Economic Recovery Act (the so-called stimulus) and the Affordable Care Act (scornfully dubbed “Obamacare”). These members wanted the entire country to revert to a set of values that more closely resembled what they saw on Leave It to Beaver.

On the other hand, the current resistance isn’t based on a belief that our country has gone astray from some former golden age. It’s a political backlash, borne out of Donald Trump’s policies and his presidency. Its participants aren’t rejecting the social structures of American society. They are embracing and defending our evolving structures of diversity and inclusiveness. The people stepping forward to resist the Trump Administration are standing against an Administration that doesn’t respect the core values that this nation holds: that we are all equal and that we can all achieve our own dreams.

Second, these movements were forged in entirely different political situations. Members of the Tea Party believed they had been marginalized and had to fight back against this new oppression. They represented a minority, losing the 2008 elections by almost 200 electoral votes and 10 million people, while Democrats gained a more significant majority in the House and a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate. Headlines announced a permanent progressive majority. The Tea Party disapproved of their country going in this new direction, which bred their movement’s anger.

Continue reading at:  http://time.com/4676825/democratic-resistance-tea-party/

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Why We Must Beware Trump’s Willing Executioners

From The Forward:  http://forward.com/culture/363173/why-we-must-beware-trumps-willing-executioners/

It is a disgrace which gets worse with every day that passes,” one observer wrote of the deteriorating political scene we know all too well. “Politics everywhere and everywhere the terrorism of the Right…. It is astounding how easily everything collapses.” He added, “It is shocking how day after day naked acts of violence, breaches of law, barbaric opinions appear quite undisguised as official decree. Each new decree, he said, was “more shameful than the previous one….. The Liberals tremble.” And finally: “I for my part will never again have faith in Germany.” Thus wrote Victor Klemperer, a Jewish German scholar, in the first months of Hitler’s ascension. Historians have spent decades examining how Germany, an allegedly rational and highly cultured society, became unhinged. Future historians will no doubt be examining how America, the paragon of liberty, became unhinged. The simple answers are, respectively, Adolf Hitler and his acolytes, and Donald Trump and his parade of right-wing enablers, from the FBI to border patrol agents to white nationalists to plutocrats. But there are deeper answers, and they are far more frightening, with far-wider implications than the one-man theory.

They are answers that we Jews understand.

Of course, Jews don’t have to be told to be suspicious of analogies to Nazi Germany. We know they are usually facile, overwrought and wrong-headed, and that they can trivialize the greatest tragedy in the history of humankind. America is not Nazi Germany, Trump is not Hitler.

We are not headed for the genocide of refugees, only for their ban or deportation, to protect us, Trump says, from possible saboteurs, even if that echoes Hitler’s “indignant denial,” according to Klemperer, that he was accusing all Jews of threatening the state: “No harm will come to loyal Jews.” And however much the language of “round up” and “deportation” has a terrifyingly reminiscent ring for Jews, Trump has no real interest in political power or programs, only in personal adulation. He is our panderer-in-chief.

Still, one shouldn’t deny that there are situations in which historical antecedents can be instructive, not because, in this case, Trump is analogous to Hitler, but because the underlying political dynamics of Trumpism to those of Hitlerism may be so. Unfortunately, we Jews know an awful lot, too much, about unhinged societies.

We understand cause and effect, which is why Klemperer’s diaries, published as “I Will Bear Witness,” and Harvard scholar Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s now-famous analysis of grassroots Nazism, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” ought to be required reading in America now. Because whether or not Trumpism is a latter-day incarnation of Hitlerism, both are predicated on something similar, something we would rather not face, but something that is important to discuss, especially as Jews, as Trumpism barrels forward: Hitler and Trump are not the causes of a national movement of hatred; they are its beneficiaries.

So how did Germany become unhinged? According to Goldhagen’s analysis, it wasn’t all that “hinged” to begin with. If you think, he says, of political life as a national conversation, then one of the primary subjects of that conversation in Germany, hundreds of years before Hitler rose to power, was anti-Semitism. And just about every German participated in the dialogue. As one woman in the oral history, “What We Knew,” put it, “There was never any particular sympathy for the Jews,” which, of course, is putting it lightly. This was the sentiment that Hitler exploited.

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Editorial: Bullying the transgender community

From The Concord Monitor:  http://www.concordmonitor.com/Transgender-debate-proves-we-have-not-learned-how-to-care-for-one-another-8278652

Thursday, February 23, 2017

We were reminded this week of an old George Carlin quote that was printed on the Monitor’s Forum page not long ago: “Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned how to care for one another.” It’s true, especially that last part, and if you need evidence just ask a transgender person.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump withdrew federal protections for transgender students who want only to use the school bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The move was driven by Trump’s evangelical base, which fallaciously argues that the Obama administration directive that granted those protections placed students in harm’s way. A spokesman for the conservative Family Research Council told the New York Times that “the federal government has absolutely no right to strip parents and local schools of their rights to provide a safe learning environment for children.” This is bigotry poorly disguised as states’ rights, and it’s disingenuous to claim otherwise. Even Trump’s handpicked education secretary, Betsy DeVos, seemed to recognize it as a civil rights, not states’ rights, issue – or at least she did until Trump gave her a choice between her own principles and his. Judging by the speed in which she returned to lockstep, it was an easy decision.

In New Hampshire, lawmakers are attempting to go in the opposite direction of Trump’s White House by proposing a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. As it stands, it is illegal in New Hampshire to discriminate based on age, sex, race, color, marital status, physical or mental disability, religious creed or national origin. “Gender identity” clearly belongs on the list, and passage of House Bill 478 should be a slam-dunk. But here is what those who want to protect the transgender community from bigotry are up against: One woman who testified against the bill said she would be “too frightened to use a public bathroom” if she “knew there could be a man in there.” That is a tired argument based on an irrational premise, yet somehow it is given legitimacy every time such a bill is debated. And then there was the therapist from Texas who testified that the bill attempts to “redefine what it means to be human.” We couldn’t disagree more. The bill represents the finest, most advanced traits of humanity: empathy, compassion, fairness and goodwill.

Day after day, Trump proves that as a society we haven’t learned to care for one another. State lawmakers have the opportunity to make that a little less true.

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Tennessee has declared war on same-sex families: Inside the legislation that would eradicate nearly all rights for LGBT couples

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2017/02/27/tennessee-has-declared-war-on-same-sex-families-inside-the-legislation-that-would-eradicate-nearly-all-rights-for-lgbt-couples/

A brace of bills in the Tennessee statehouse is aimed at rolling back gains made by during Obama administration


Monday, Feb 27, 2017

Heather MacKenzie bought her wedding ring at Wal-Mart. MacKenzie, now 38, proposed to her wife, Charitey, by driving to the top of Tiger Hill in Murfreesboro, a town located near the couple’s Tennessee home. The hill, a favorite spot for preteen sledders during the winter, looks over the entire town, as well as the vast expanse of the surrounding area. This was where the MacKenzies had their first date.

 The pair said “I do” in June 2015, just days after the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling legalized marriage between same-sex couples in their state. The MacKenzies were wed in Nashville in front of the courthouse under a magnolia tree.

Over a year later, the couple are expecting a child: Charitey is 12 weeks pregnant with a son. A trio of recently proposed laws, however, could jeopardize the future of their growing clan. This legislation seeks to erase any hint of legal recognition for LGBT couples in Tennessee, all but declaring war on the families of same-sex parents living in the state.

Filed by State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, House Bill 1406 would prevent a couple from listing on the birth certificate the second parent (the spouse not giving birth) after a woman becomes pregnant through artificial insemination. The legislation would nullify a provision of the Tennessee Code Annotated 68-3-306, which was issued as part of the Vital Records Act of 1977. The law states, “A child born to a married woman as a result of artificial insemination, with consent of the married woman’s husband, is deemed to be the legitimate child of the husband and wife.”

If Weaver’s bill passes, Heather would not be considered the legal guardian of the child on the way. In order to gain that status, she would have to file for a second-parent adoption, a process that’s both costly and time intensive. The couple is raising a daughter the two adopted four years ago and it cost $6,500 for Heather and Chariety to gain her custody.

“It’s a lot of money, especially after you’re preparing for a newborn,” said Heather, who works as a supervisor for an automotive distribution center in Smyrna. “And now you have to go adopt your own child. We know a lot of couples who have waited until their kids are in elementary school because they waited to save up to do the adoption. If something happens in between that time, it could be really harmful to your family.”

If Charitey were to be in a car wreck, for instance, Heather could make legal decisions for her but not for their expected child. The  newborn would have no rights to Heather’s inheritance or her insurance — an added complication for the couple. If HB 1406 were to be passed, it would go into effect on July 1, three months before Charitey is expected to give birth. Heather receives health care benefits through her workplace, but if the new baby would not be longer eligible for that coverage, who would pay for the hospital costs?

The legislation leaves a terrifying number of unanswered questions, few of which have been answered by HB 1406’s authors. Although Weaver claimed in a Facebook post that the legislation is not intended to target same-sex families, she didn’t address the fact that her bill does exactly that.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2017/02/27/tennessee-has-declared-war-on-same-sex-families-inside-the-legislation-that-would-eradicate-nearly-all-rights-for-lgbt-couples/

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Trump Intensifies His Attacks on Journalists and Condemns F.B.I. ‘Leakers’

From The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/us/politics/white-house-sean-spicer-briefing.html

By and

WASHINGTON — President Trump turned the power of the White House against the news media on Friday, escalating his attacks on journalists as “the enemy of the people” and berating members of his own F.B.I. as “leakers” who he said were putting the nation at risk.

In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Mr. Trump criticized as “fake news” organizations that publish anonymously sourced reports that reflect poorly on him. And in a series of Twitter posts, he assailed the F.B.I. as a dangerously porous agency, condemning unauthorized revelations of classified information from within its ranks and calling for an immediate hunt for leakers.

Hours after the speech, as if to demonstrate Mr. Trump’s determination to punish reporters whose coverage he dislikes, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, barred journalists from The New York Times and several other news organizations from attending his daily briefing, a highly unusual breach of relations between the White House and its press corps.

The moves underscored the degree to which Mr. Trump and members of his inner circle are eager to use the prerogatives of the presidency to undercut those who scrutinize him, dismissing negative stories as lies and confining press access at the White House to a few chosen news organizations considered friendly. The Trump White House has also vowed new efforts to punish leakers.

Mr. Trump’s attacks on the press came as the White House pushed back on a report by CNN on Thursday night that a White House official had asked the F.B.I. to rebut a New York Times article last week detailing contacts between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russian intelligence officials. The report asserted that a senior White House official had called top leaders at the F.B.I. to request that they contact reporters to dispute the Times’s account.

“The fake news doesn’t tell the truth,” Mr. Trump said to the delight of the conservatives packed into the main ballroom at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just south of Washington. “It doesn’t represent the people, it doesn’t and never will represent the people, and we’re going to do something about it.”

In the West Wing less than three hours later, the consequences were becoming clear. Mr. Spicer told a handpicked group of reporters in a briefing in his spacious office that the White House would relentlessly counter coverage it considered inaccurate.

Continue reading at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/us/politics/white-house-sean-spicer-briefing.html

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