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Monday, December 5, 2016

Trying to Talk to Trump Supporters

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. I read a post from a friend. I felt like I was reading someone else's vomit. I walked away from the computer and tried to forget. I knew if I responded I would not be heard. I knew if I responded I risked hurting someone. I knew that someone had already hurt me, and nothing would erase that post from my memory. Even as I tried to forget the post, a reply kept formulating itself in my head. The post, and its hate, were a puzzle. I was compelled to piece its disparate parts into a pattern in order to make better sense of the world I suddenly found myself inhabiting. The post was a diabolical labyrinth constructed of words; I need to craft my escape, marshalling my own words.

A woman for whom I feel genuine affection and respect re-posted a thousand-word rant by "Mark."

Mark was excoriating anyone who criticized Donald J. Trump. Trump's critics, Mark insisted, were intolerant, convulsive, tyrannical, dictatorial, reactionary, insidious, pablum-feeding lapdogs of left-wing academics and little snowflake students who are crippled by anxiety when viewing the American flag and therefore outlaw its display. These teachers and students want to force America into a homogenized, contrived, politically correct image. These inflammatory words are all Mark's, taken directly from his rant. The rant took special exception to any comparison of Trump to Hitler.

Mark identified the populations to blame for turning America into a dystopian nightmare: teachers, students and the press. He named no other individual or group as guilty. Not Bernie Madoff. Not Wall Street and the 2008 crash. Not drug dealers and the heroin epidemic. Not mass shootings like Newtown or absentee fathers or misguided wars or lead-polluted water or income inequality or Kim Kardashian. No. Just teachers. Just students.

One response to Mark's screed made mention of how Trump would protect America from "dangerous immigrants."

Nowhere in the screed did Mark mention by name any real critic of Donald Trump. Mark never cited a single article critiquing Donald Trump. Mark never quoted a single real teacher or a single real student or one real immigrant.

Mark said that leftists say that Trump is exactly like Hitler. Mark seemed to find it important to insist that Trump would never murder tens of millions of civilians.

I haven't seen any serious commentary by a significant journalist or other public figure saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler, and no serious critique suggests that Trump will murder tens of millions of civilians.

Clearly, Mark was not talking about real opponents.

Clearly, Mark was condemning the monsters plotting under his bed, the gremlins slithering through his nightmares, the worst possible imaginings of alt-right conspiracy theorists. He located all of America's enemies in classrooms and in media.

Mark's hatred of teachers and students reminded me of some great dialogue from Ship of Fools.

Siegfried Rieber: You know it is a historical fact that the Jews are the basis of all our misfortunes.
Julius Lowenthal: Of course it is. The Jews and the bicycle riders.
Siegfried Rieber: Why the bicycle riders?
Julius Lowenthal: Why the Jews?

Why the teachers? The students? The immigrants?

Mark was shadow-boxing a caricature of a fantasy of a right-wing man who hates students and teachers and people who didn't vote for Donald Trump.

This ritual erection and defeat of straw men, constant in Team Trump rhetoric, matters.

Straw men, imaginary enemies, stereotypes rather than flesh-and-blood persons: these are what you encounter in the Malleus Maleficarum, The Witches' Hammer, the go-to manual for witch hunters. You encounter straw men in the transcripts of Stalinist show trials, in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: in propaganda that panders to and reflects the fears of the paranoid or merely misanthropic. Lies crafted to stir up hatred and make any reconciliation or even mere respect impossible litter propaganda.

Ethics require that we encounter real persons. Civics require that we encounter real persons. Truth requires this encounter. Solving problems requires it. Friendship is impossible without this encounter, as is compassion. You must encounter the person in front of you, not your imaginings about that person. Ecce homo. Behold the man. Not the man your imagination dreamt up – the man God created.

I wondered if Mark had ever entered a university classroom, or met a teacher or a student. I wanted Mark and my Facebook friend who shared Mark's screed to come to my classroom, to meet me as a teacher, as a child of immigrants, to meet my students. Flesh and blood. Real people.

Would they call me a "dangerous immigrant" to my face? Would they mock my students as "special snowflakes" to their young faces?

Would Mark look me right in my big blue eyes and call me a convulsing, tyrannical, dictatorial, concentration-camp-capo wannabe?

Why would Mark, a successful person, a published author, lie like this? Fantasize like this?  Catastrophize like this? And, at a moment of national tension, work to stir up hatred against his fellow citizens?


More on this question, below. Because I think I've found the answer, and it's probably not what you think. And you can tell me if I have it wrong.

Look, I said. No serious person is saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler.

But responsible people have pointed out that Trump is a demagogue, that he plays some of the same devious games that all demagogues, including Hitler, play.  

Patriots need to address this:  

The ADL report on the unprecedented flow of hate during the Trump campaign. See here:

Teachers report an increase in bullying at schools, bullying overtly inspired by Trump, e.g., "Trump is going to throw you over the wall." "Trump that bitch" is now a phrase. Students shout "Hail Trump" or merely "Trump, Trump" when harassing others. See here

Frank Navarro, a 1997 Mandel Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and a teacher with forty years' experience, pointed out some parallels between Trump and Hitler. And was promptly told he had to stop teaching.

Two-hundred fifty Jewish scholars, on November 15, 2016, released an agonized statement. They wrote

"As scholars of Jewish history, we are acutely attuned to the fragility of democracies and the consequences for minorities when democracies fail to live up to their highest principles … in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory, it is time to re-evaluate where the country stands. The election campaign was marked by unprecedented expressions of racial, ethnic, gender-based, and religious hatred."

I mentioned celebrated Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt's stating that Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon was "a game-changer" in how decent people address bigotry.  

Facebook friend Otto Gross also felt compelled to speak up. Otto's essay "Ripples of Sin" describes growing up with parents who had been Nazis. His perspective is wise, unique, and worthy of respect. (Otto's essay here:

In response to our posts, Otto and I were called "presumptuous" "rotting," "corrupt," "anti-intellectual," "profoundly ignorant," and "violently anti-Semitic" "leftists." We "denigrated" the actual suffering of Jews in order to express "annoyance" at a "politician." We were told we had contributed to the "devolution" of the conversation, like drunks at a bar. We were "separate" from real "working class Americans" who would reject us like the deviants that we are.

We were told that we had just "called your fellow Americans Nazis" and that we had just said that "Trump is Hitler."

We had never called anyone a Nazi. We had not said that Trump was Hitler. Otto laughed at being called a "leftist." He's never voted for a Democrat in his life.

Working class? My father was a coal miner. My mother cleaned houses. Otto's father was a metal worker. His mother did farm labor. I have worked as a nurse's aide, carpenter, and live-in domestic servant. Otto has pumped gas and mopped up hospital waste.

The Facebook posters shouting at us that we are not "working class" live lives of wealth, power, and influence.

These objective facts made no difference to Team Trump. Team Trump was doing what Team Trump does: obstinately erecting and strenuously demonizing a completely imaginary straw man.

They could work up fuming outrage to condemn Otto and me, people who posed no threat to them, but could not even acknowledge the hundreds of hate crimes that spiked directly after Trump's election. (See here:

I threw in the towel and retreated. My friend was choosing a fact-free world in which I, a teacher and a child of immigrants, was the ogre.

Then something odd happened.

A couple of the participants communicated to me, in public and in private, virtual resumes.

In one follow-up, thousand-word post, the poster used the word "I," "me," and "my" fifty times: "I've done this, this, and this. I have this and this accomplishment. I have done all these important things! I have been well-assessed! I am a good person!"

I was confused. All of this "I" stuff struck me as complete non-sequiturs. Weren't we talking about the Big Picture? About our nation, the United States of America?

And then it hit me.

People who voted for Trump feel shamed. It's a stigma, a taint.

Those who feel shamed are doing two things:

First, they discredit those who note Trump's flaws as beyond the pale – as drunks, as extreme leftists, insidious, special snowflakes, anti-American, elitist. We are so bad our perceptions are worthless.

And they must distort any criticism of Trump into a parody – "You are saying that Trump is just like Hitler! That's ridiculous! Trump will never murder millions!"

When you distort critiques of Trump that badly, he comes out looking relatively good. "Hey! He'll never murder millions so he must be an okay guy!"

As a teacher, I struggle to play my part in keeping the American dream alive. That's why I keep trying to talk to Trump voters. So far, though, I have gotten nowhere. The Team Trump trademark post-truth approach pulverizes language and drives us all lightyears apart.

Mostly what I encounter are logical fallacies.

Ad hominem: "You are an insidious leftist."

Change the subject: "Hillary Clinton is Satan."

Outright lies. "Trump won in a landslide. The votes for Hillary Clinton were illegal. Hillary Clinton murdered JFK Jr!"

Now that Trump has won, it appears to be important to Team Trump to reduce all of us who didn't vote for Trump to a marginally inhuman status, and to dismiss any criticism of him as extremist violations of Godwin's Law.

I'm worried for my country. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Dog Named Mercury: Missing and Mourning

Hey there, my Little Frenchman.

Of course I received the news this past summer that you had gone on a very long trip, perhaps to a farm, a farm with other doggies and bunnies, where it's always sunny and warm until it snows and you can chase the flakes and tunnel and play and never get tired or cold ... and that we'd never see you again.

I haven't spent time at your house since I got that word.

It's now December, four months later, and here I am.

As I packed up the car, I thought, I have to get there at such and such a time, because Mercury will be waiting for me.

I had to remind myself. No, no he won't be waiting for me. And I thought that that was it.

As I drove, I felt warmed, anticipating spending time with you. I slapped myself, as it were, reminded myself. And I really thought that that was it. But no.

I got to the house. I immediately opened the fridge to see what food Robin had left – some baby carrots. And I had this split second thought, "I can't eat those baby carrots. I must save them to give them to Merc for treats." And then ... realizing ... no. And thinking that that moment of realization will be it.

I then stood at the kitchen sink, where I used to prepare the insulin shots you needed in your senior years. When you were first diagnosed with diabetes, I had thought I wouldn't be able to babysit for you anymore because of my lifelong horror of hypodermic needles, a fear so bad I was once bitten by a stray dog and I did not get rabies shots.

Time changes us, though. Since your diagnosis I myself have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, and I myself have had to have so many needles stuck in me I feel like a porcupine. And I stuck so many needles in you it became routine. Always standing in that same spot, like a sentry. Right next to the sink.

Mark was very helpful. He said, "It's just like pinching someone's cheek. You grab a wad of the scruff of his neck, and jab the needle in that pocket of flesh."

After that, every time I stuck you, I imagined myself as a babushka grabbing a grandchild's cheek.

I still feel, when I go for a walk, that I can't tarry outside too long – Merc is waiting for me. Before I cook my own dinner, I feel I have to prepare yours.

The strangest thing. I keep hearing that metal jingle of the D ring on your dog collar hitting your dog tags. That little metallic tinkle a dog makes when he moves. I guess it's just an auditory hallucination.

So, though I learned of your long voyage last summer, and I thought I had stopped mourning and missing, I guess this is how mourning and missing work.

I am in the house we shared, the house I visited to babysit you, and every square foot of the house and the yard is embroidered with a memory, and they are all coming back now.

Someone said to me once – I think it was Bruno – it was the kind of thing he'd say – that the great tragedy of life is that love does not last.

Though he was older and smarter, I felt him to be so naive and so young.

Oh, no, I thought, but did not say. The great tragedy of life is that it *does.*

Love lasts at least until this moment, a December evening, four months after your passing. Love blasts into my brain every morsel of every memory I have of you. I go out at night to look at the moon and I see your oh-so proper little French form, all white, bouncing along the wooded path, as if you were strolling along in Montmartre, seeking out your favorite cafe, with me stalking behind you, making sure no bears or coyotes were afoot.

Why? Why, Mr Darwin, Mr Atheist, why does love last so long past its sell-by date, in a way that weakens us?

In the ways that this house is so reminding me of you, to the point where I hear you, I am realizing how tough it would be to walk into my sister's house right now. Her husband sold it right after she died. I am spared that experience. But I experience Antoinette at Skylands.

Ah, Mercury, my Little Frenchman. Je souhaite that you are living la vie en rose maintenant, and that we shall reunite someday.

One of my favorite quotes is from Ludwig Wittgenstein. "If lions could talk, we wouldn't understand them."

As much as I love dogs, and that is as much love as I've got, I do not understand them. and I want it to be that way. I love you, Mercury, for being beyond my ken.

When we meet in Heaven, I hope you are not anthropomorphized by the transition. I want you to take a long time to sniff at fire hydrants when I walk you, and annoy me by eating garbage off the floor when company comes, and occasionally pooping in the wrong place. That's all part of the package. I also want you to sit on the mat next to the door and wait for me when I go for a walk. I want your tail wagging me welcome to be the first thing I see when I get home.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Trump and Hate. Let's Not Normalize Hate.

I don't know if Trump is personally a racist and I don't care.

Trump's behavior includes the following red flags:

Trump denied housing to African Americans.  

See here:

Trump set up a front group whose sole purpose was to defame Native Americans as drug abusing criminals.

For almost twenty years, Trump refused to pay Polish workers he treated abominably.

Trump prefers to hire Romanians and other foreigners rather than black people born in the US. See here:

Black employees were hidden from his view

And of course he called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five *after* they were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Trump repeatedly lied about having evidence proving that Barack Obama was not born in America.

Trump refused three times, on camera, to denounce David Duke and the KKK.

When Trump encountered backlash, Trump lied about his words. He blamed a "bad earpiece," saying that he could not hear Jake Tapper. In fact he repeated Jake Tapper's words.

Trump denounced a heroic judge as unworthy to adjudicate a case for no other reason than that that judge was the son of immigrants.

Trump disseminated an anti-Semitic meme defaming Hillary Clinton.

Trump's final two-minute campaign advertisement dog-whistled anti-Semites by depicting three prominent Jews, Janet Yellen, George Soros and Lloyd Blankfein, as being part of a conspiracy against decent Americans.

Trump's followers now insist that any bad press Trump receives is part of a conspiracy by an evil Jew who controls the world, George Soros.

For an example of this, see this comment under the "Sieg Heil" video, here Comment: "Reminder that all of this is staged by George Soros to discredit Trump and his supporters as racists and neo-Nazis."

And then there is this GIF of Trump, dressed as a Nazi, gassing Hillary Clinton:

And then there is this ADL report:

White supremacists celebrated Trump's election and his initial appointments of Jeff Sessions, who joked about the KKK and was deemed unfit for a federal judgeship on that basis, and Steve Bannon, who identified his website as a platform for the alt right. See here:

During the campaign, Team Trump released lie after lie. Fake news flooded my Facebook page, all posted by Trump supporters.

Hillary Clinton murdered an FBI agent. See here:

Hillary Clinton admires Sharia Law

Hillary Clinton told the Des Moines Register she will shut down the NRA and/or confiscate guns:

Tim Kaine is in an open marriage:

Fake news writers make up to $30,000 monthly. The man who wrote the fake Hillary-murders-an-FBI agent story said he tried to write fake news for liberals but they wouldn't buy it. Trump supporters bought his swill, no matter how absurd. See here:


Under pressure from journalists, Trump has issued tepid words against hate. But only when prompted, and only tepid. Compare his denunciations of race hatred with his attacks on beauty pageant contestants and Broadway musical actors.


White supremacists and Neo-Nazis play at "passing," at speaking under the radar to see how much they can get away with.

Richard Spencer, the man in the Hail Trump video released earlier this week, said, "Hail victory." In German, "hail victory" is "sieg heil."

Spencer could have said "sieg heil." That is clearly what he meant. He's playing at passing. Playing at how much you will swallow.

Another "passing" game. Spencer used the word "lugenpresse," or lying press.

Remember Joseph Goebbels February 10, 1933 speech at the Sportspalast. Hitler had just won a victory and the first thing Goebbles did was attack the press. Beware, my friends, of those who attack the press, artists, universities, and Jews. See here:

"Lugenpresse" is a Nazi term. Spencer used a Nazi term, that few Americans would be familiar with.

And guess what Breitbart, which is virtually an arm of team Trump, is now doing. Breitbart is now covering for Spencer and for the term lugenpresse.…/20…/11/23/kassam-bbc-lugenpresse/

When haters play passing, they are seeing how much you will put up with before they move on to the next level.

You put up with calling Mexicans rapists? Okay. Let's move on to the next level.

You put up with demeaning a heroic judge? Okay, next level.

You put up with an anti-Semitic meme? Okay, next level.

You *voted* for *all this* for president? Okay, next level ...


Otto's dad served in Hitler's army. Otto is working on a book about WW II.

Otto understands how all this works.


First he's already mobilized the dogs of war on the racist front, so if he didn't believe in the hate group mentality he should have said that before the election. But it appears he had plenty of time to consider his words, support for hate, and his political appointments and it was only when he felt it didn't suit his aspirations did he change his stance. Political game of tag and not moral awakening.

Kristallnacht at the hands of the Fuhrer followed up by speech suggesting all he wants is safety for the German people in the Sudetenland … I'm expecting the Reichstag will burn down mysteriously.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, fool me the thousandth time vote for Trump.

We see how loose and free he is with the truth. Does 1984 newspeak proud. Today's speech is old by the end of the day and we've seen he'll flip his beliefs on a dime. Given how many times he's reacted to things on video that he's said that are ugly and claimed he never said I'm just putting it down as an another random thought de jour on today's menu board that gets wiped clean as the menu offered changes day to day.


Finally, neither Otto nor I is saying that Trump is Hitler or that Trump is even like Hitler. I don't think he is.

Rather, hate is a game. It is played in a predictable way. Exploiting hate to gain power is a game. It has predictable moves. Trump is playing the game of exploiting hate to gain power. That much is clear. What he does with the power he gains is yet to be seen.

That his supporters are turning on patriotic Americans who reject hate is also part of the game.

Ben Shapiro faces ongoing attacks and threats from Trump supporters. See here:

And Trump supporters, rather than confront and condemn the hate crimes that have followed his election, have labeled all such crimes fabrications. At least one pro Trump website falsely blamed Jews for faking hate crimes. See here:

From the above linked article: 

"Mike Huckabee apologized for posting a false news report blaming “liberal, Jewish” students for an alleged hate crime that involved a mention of President-elect Donald Trump.

The story, appearing on the Conservative Tribune website, blamed an attack in March at Northwestern University on “liberal, Jewish Northwestern students” seeking to smear Trump and his supporters....

Huckabee proceeded to apologize for posting an out of date story as if it was news, and for misidentifying the students as Jewish — although he appeared to persist in the belief that the claim that they were Jewish had been in some way credible. He stuck to the unproven claim that the vandalism was an attempt to smear Trump.

Huckabee, who has millions of followers on Facebook, frequently posts poorly sourced stories from conservative websites....

“They’re two liberal, Jewish Northeastern students who were trying to smear Trump and his supporters,” Huckabee’s post said.

The Conservative Tribune story made it appear as if the vandalism was recent, although it took place in March...

The Chicago Tribune did not identify the accused, Anthony Morales, 19, and Matthew Kafker, 18, with any political allegiance or otherwise suggest that the attack was a false flag bid to smear Trump, nor did it say they were Jewish...

The Jewish identification remained on the Gateway Pundit’s posting Wednesday night. It’s not clear why the Gateway Pundit made the assumption; it linked to a New York Jewish Week account of the vandalism, which did not identify the students as Jewish.

Normalizing Donald Trump

to normalize: verb.

"Look, he hasn't hit you in a week now. The bruises have already faded. Why not just brush on some blush, cook him a nice dinner, spread your legs at night, and try not to set him off."

normalization: noun

"Okay, so you just found out that that substance your company dumped in a landfill in Jersey contains dioxins. And you just found out that that landfill is located over an aquifer. But you're up for a promotion. Wouldn't you be able to do so much more good in a few years when you are a member of the inner circle? Let this one slide."

"to get along to go along": verb. colloquial

"I know your child was mistreated by this priest. I know the parish told you he'd never work with children again. I know you just saw a photo of him working with kids in another state. But, listen, this is the Church you're talking about. It moves like an ocean liner. Slowly. And remember. There are wiser heads than yours at work on this."

"to lay low": verb. "to cover your ass": verb

"So you let your boss get away with a little hanky panky and now you realize he is full bore in violation of major federal guidelines. And you want to blow the whistle on him. Why not someone else? Do you realize how much paperwork you'd have to fill out? And you'd never get that letter of rec you'd need to stay afloat once your ship goes down. And you were with him in the beginning so you'd be in trouble, too."

Respect the institution. Respect the more important people. Respect the masses. Who are you to speak out?

The "normalization" of Donald Trump is in full swing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Teacher Is Sad

Jacob Taanman When the Teacher's Back Is Turned 
Professor Jane Doe prides herself on not discussing current events with her students during class time.

She is not one of those self-indulgent poseurs who prepare no lessons and merely wing it, convinced that access to her font of wisdom enriches the students' lives.

She carries a backpack. In it are enough materials for two full lesson plans. One to present, one as backup in case the designated lesson plan goes south for any reason.

But on Tuesday, November 22, 2016, she wants her students to see something. A video that is visible on youtube.

Funny that this should occur on November 22, the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Doe is not a Kennedy acolyte. He served only a thousand days. But. Kennedy had dignity. Kennedy inspired. Kennedy changed the country through his classy style. People around the world looked at Kennedy and believed that anything is possible and the world can be a better place. Leadership matters.

On November 22, 2016, Doe will allow an incursion of current events into her precious and protected classroom time because the video is pertinent to her class' topic. The class addresses cultural diversity, social inequities and education.

Cultural diversity? Like this. Doe once had a Muslim student whose family threatened to murder her because she had been seen alone in a car with a Christian American boy. Doe had to drive this Muslim student to a woman's shelter. Like this. At a local high school, teachers are used to their female Muslim students disappearing at around age 14 or 15. They are sent to their ancestral homelands and married off.

Social inequities? Recently candidate Hillary Clinton mentioned that "schools are more segregated today than they were in the 1960s." Politifact broke this statement down and rated it "mostly true." See here

Doe regularly visits a public high school with almost two thousand students that, she is told, has not one white student. Three miles away, in a wealthier town in a densely populated state, another high school has almost all white students, with a few Asians.

Doe teaches her students these words: "de facto" and "de jure."

"We no longer have de jure segregation. We now have de facto segregation."

Doe also, as part of her job, visits an elementary school. To get to this school she travels past empty factories, encampments of homeless men, high fences and broken glass. In brightest day, she, an adult, is terrified of this neighborhood. She thinks of what it must be like to be seven, eight years old and to face this trip to school every day.

The school has no library. No art. No music. There is sometimes corporal punishment.

Doe attempts to speak to the students. A noticeable percent can't bring themselves to make eye contact.

So. Cultural diversity and social inequity are not just buzzwords. They are empty stomachs, treacherous commutes, hands that have never held a book that is read cover to cover. Ears that never experience any escape from the constant noise of traffic, sirens, loud rap, boom boxes, street fights. Contrasted, of course, with wide grassy lawns and strapping football stars, surrounded by rolling green hills, hundreds of dollars paid to SAT tutors and parents buying son or daughter a car. All three miles apart.

Yes, yes, yes. There is a lot of history and politics behind the words "diversity" and "inequity." A human being responds to hunger in a child's stomach and fear in a child's eyes and recognizes that that child did nothing to create the history or the politics. And recognizes that that child is the future, a future that will impinge on the green rolling hills in a good way, or in a nightmarish way. We choose.

On November 22, a video has just been released. It features Richard B. Spencer, a white nationalist, leading his followers in stiff-armed salutes and chanting "Hail Trump," in an overt imitation of "Heil Hitler." Spencer praises white people and whiteness. Whites are the doers. Everyone else is a parasite. You can read Spencer's speech here. You can view the video here.

Doe is confident that her students can handle watching this video. Doe is proud of her students.

The class itself is diverse. The class itself is unequal. There are white students, black students, rich students, poor students, differently abled students.

Doe has hit them with difficult material. For example the 1916 book by Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, a book that Hitler called his "bible." Grant was a great man. He helped save the redwoods, the buffalo, and he cofounded the Bronx Zoo. Grant championed Darwin at a time when Darwin was controversial. Grant attempted to prove Darwin correct by placing Ota Benga, a human being, a man from Africa, in the Bronx Zoo. See? See this black man, very low down on the evolutionary scale? He's little better than a monkey. Benga committed suicide.

Grant was key in Congress passing the 1924 quota act, that all but barred immigration of Poles and Slovaks to the US, on the basis of their racial inferiority. Doe's parents were among those inferior immigrants. She knows how racism feels.

Doe's class discusses the achievement gap, the persistent underachievement of African American students on standardized tests. She feels for her black students when this material is studied. It must hurt to be in a class with white students and to be reminded that black students persistently score lower than whites.

Doe assigns to her students various authors' explanations for this gap. She assigns the liberal Jonathan Kozol, who blames greed and white racism, and wants to create a federally funded "utopia" for children.

Doe also assigns Abigail Thernstrom, a conservative, who blames the achievement gap on "black culture." African Americans must pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

White students and black students, rich students and poor students, read all of this material, from the left and from the right, examine it for truth value, and surprise Doe with their assessments. Many black students are among the most conservative in the class. Yes, we have to change our own fate. No, white liberals can't rescue us.

So, yes, Doe is confident in these students. They can handle the video.

The video is only three minutes long.

It ends and … pain. An explosion of pain.

This is what white people think. They all hate us. How dare he say that America belongs to white people? What about the Native Americans that white people killed off? What about black slaves? White people hate us.

At first, the white students condemn Spencer. But then, in the face of so much pain, they go quiet.

Many of the students most likely to talk say nothing.

Finally Doe says, "I'm white."

Well, you're one of the nice ones.

Doe is overwhelmed. She's been with these students for weeks. The class has discussed very difficult material. This is the first time she's seen exactly this: the class divided on color lines.

This is the first time she's heard this: a sense of doom and paranoia from the black students. It's as if the video has opened a hidden vein of defeat. Students who had been positive and determined and ready for a better, brighter tomorrow, a tomorrow they would help create, suddenly sound a hundred years old: No matter what we do, people hate us.

Doe tries to rescue.

Listen, she says. We've been studying people like this all semester, in the material we've been reading. Remember Madison Grant?

Yes, the students say.

He said the same stuff, Doe reminded them. We learned how to refute him. We know about the IQ tests devised by Carl Brigham. Remember he "proved" that Polish people are at the bottom of the barrel intellectually, and yet here I am a Polish American with a PhD. We know enough to prove racists wrong.

Doe's introduction of facts does nothing to heal the wounds.

What the students know is that a new president has been elected, and white supremacists holding their meeting "hailed" him with stiff armed salute. They know that their new president has used twitter to savage a beauty pageant contestant and a Broadway musical that has vivified the Founding Fathers for millions of fans. They know that their new president, without prompting, has not unleashed the same level of invective against white supremacy. The playing field has changed.

Leadership matters. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Talk in Florida

A while back an author I love and respect emailed me to invite me to a conference he'd be hosting in at a luxurious resort in Florida.

If you know me you know exactly what my very first thought was: BIRDS!

I've never been to Florida. I could see birds I'd never see in New Jersey!

My second thought was, of course, I have done nothing to deserve such a fairy tale invitation.

My third thought was, how can I ever repay him?

My fourth thought, that superseded all others, was, BIRDS!

"Yes! I'd love to attend your conference in Florida!"

I had a fifth thought, too.

I am not a Trump supporter.  

I hoped that Hillary Clinton would win the election, and that I would attend the conference as a member of a winning team.

I had been told that I'd be part of a panel, and that I'd speak for seven minutes.

I had prepared my talk before the election results were in. I just sat down and imagined that a Republican Trump supporter were seated in front of me, and I spoke to that person from my heart.

Election night I was haunted by a fear of the Bradley Effect, James Comey's violation of the Hatch Act, that may have thrown the election, and the closeness of the polls. I woke up early and turned on the radio. All I heard was the BBC announcer saying "He will…" The masculine nominative pronoun. I knew that Trump had won and was now steering the car in which I was a passenger. I would be leaving for the conference in two days. I would be surrounded by Trump supporters, including a man I love and respect and to whom I owe a great deal. I was so torn.

On arriving at Palm Beach airport Friday morning, I was struck by the heat and humidity. An African American man in his sixties from Connecticut drove me to the hotel. He said to me, "I looked at her, and I thought to myself, she can't be going to this hotel."

"Why?" I asked. I wondered what I was doing wrong that already marked me as different.

"Well, for one thing, you are carrying a backpack."

Expensive sports cars with gleaming paint traveled the trash-free and eggshell-smooth roads. Buildings looked like toys in a miniature train set village: without any of the dings and pockmarks accrued surviving the insults of daily life. Even the palm trees appeared to meet with a groomer once a week – each one was lustrous and symmetrical. I'd simply never in my life been around this kind of money.  

My plane had been delayed on the runway for ninety minutes. I was cramped and really wanted to get to my room and decompress before my talk. The desk clerks, all of whom were very young, excruciatingly polite and model-perfect, apologized: they had no room for me just yet.

I stood there, carrying my stigmatizing backpack, and glanced off to my left. I saw Donna Brazile. My head went, "Oh, there's Donna Brazile," as if she were someone I had gone to high school with. Then I realized who I was looking at – the Democratic National Committee Chairwoman – and her connection to my tension. I immediately walked over to her.

"He is like one of my own children," Brazile was saying to a handsome man in a suit. Evidently they were close friends.

I didn't care. I barged right in. I grabbed her hands. I made no attempt to introduce myself.

"I am so sorry that she lost."

"I am too," she said.

I told her that when one of my acquaintances became a Trump supporter, though he had previously been respectful to me, he suddenly called me an "immigrant." We talked for a few minutes. We hugged twice. I let her go.

I slipped into a lady's room and changed from traveling clothes into the clothes I had brought for the talk. I wore a white, pink, and black floral scarf one of my best students had given me. He told me that I was like his mother. He was a Muslim, from Pakistan. I brushed my hair.

I carried my pack into the room where I was told I'd be speaking and rested it against the wall. An unsmiling man speaking in harsh manner told me that I would not be speaking. I swallowed my heartache. Another man, much nicer, and more in the know, told me that I would be speaking. I brightened.

Public speaking is one of the most common fears. When I speak publicly, I feel my gears whir smoothly. It's a good feeling to me, like what I get from exercise or cooking. One reason I love teaching so much, and look forward to going to work. So, though I was nervous about being the lone Hillary Clinton voter two days after her loss to Trump, I was very happy to climb up to the podium and take my seat behind microphone.

Here's the text of my talk:


"Love is stronger than death."

Song of Songs chapter 8, verse 6.

The New American Bible translation:

"Set me as a seal on your heart,

stern as death is love,

relentless as the nether world is devotion"

I am a teacher, and I love my students.

I am a Catholic and I love my church.

I am an American and I love my country.

I am a Jersey Girl and I love my city, Paterson, America's first planned industrial city, once Silk City, now North Jersey's heroin hub. Since 2011, three men have been murdered directly in front of my building.

My students don't know who the Founding Fathers are. They have no idea of the uniqueness of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution or the scientific method or Western emphasis on the individual. They are tabula rasa on the Greek Miracle. They take cultural relativism as dogma it would be anathema to question. If they have heard of the Crusades or Jihad, they believe that they are identical, except that the Crusades were worse. They believe that Christianity is responsible for misogyny; they invent Bible verses to support this assumption. After the Boston Marathon bombing, one of my students spoke to me with a smug smile on her face. "Oh, all these silly Islamophobic white Americans thought that Muslims bombed the marathon! In fact it turns out that they were Russians!"

I am an adjunct. I have no job security. No one has my back. Most college hours in the US right now are taught by adjuncts.

At one college where I taught, I used to stand outside a classroom waiting to make use of it. The professor who used the class before me delivered his lectures as I waited outside.

He was teaching a basic grammar class. Our students need basic grammar classes.

He would sit on his desk, never circulate among the students and harangue for hours about how stupid Americans are because they don't have socialized medicine and how superior Europe is because it does. I never saw him teach basic grammar. His students were captives.

I go home and turn on the radio and listen to right wing radio talk.

This right wing radio talk show host lives in this solar system here.

My students live in this solar system over here.

The two solar systems are separated by tens of millions of miles of cold, silent and empty space.

I introduced one of my students to black conservative author Shelby Steele, who says that African Americans must forgo welfare and get ahead through self-reliance. This student emphatically insisted that Steele was correct.

One of my students, totally spontaneously, with no prompting from me, said, "I wish it were cool to be patriotic. I wish our professors encouraged us to feel part of something bigger than ourselves."

One of my students insisted to me that immigrants should leave aside their native cultures and assimilate to American culture.

The student who loved Shelby Steele was a young black man, who considers himself a radical. He wears dreadlocks and he has been in prison.

The student who voiced a yearning for patriotism is a Muslim. Decades ago, her family entered this country as refugees from Syria.

The student who insisted on immigrants' assimilating to American culture is herself an Hispanic immigrant.

These students recognize that their professors are selling them, and reward them for, Political Correctness. They suspect that PC is somehow fake.

But they are also convinced that Republicans hate them. And in recent days that conviction has become stronger.

This gap of cold and empty space does not need to exist.

I love the truth. And I love my students. And I love America's future that will be after I am gone.

And I need allies whose work is based not on hate but on love.


As soon as the panel wrapped up, several audience members approached my seat on the podium and spoke to me with great urgency. They wanted to know what they could do to help Paterson.

Throughout the weekend, participants at this very conservative conference approached me on their own initiative. They often approached me with real passion on their faces, focus, and intensity. They often took my hands as they spoke. They said variations of these words:

I heard your talk. You said something important. We need to do something about this. What can we do?

I have to tell you – these people are very different from me. Obviously they have more money than I do; I live in Paterson, and they can afford to attend a conference at a luxurious hotel. Most are more conservative, though some, not all, confessed to me (and I will not reveal their names) that they, too, had misgivings about Trump.

But what was abundantly clear was that these people want to make the world a better place, and are willing to dream outside the box and do hard work to put earth beneath their airborne castles.

I have not been in a room so full of idealistic, activist people since I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I loved the heart, the compassion, the willingness to risk, and the activism in these people.

Those gaps that force us as humans apart from one another: yes, we need to be brave and acknowledge that they exist. But there's more to be done after that acknowledgement.

If we take the steps to traverse those gaps, we discover that we are all people, that we all are made in the image and likeness of God, and we can find common ground, no matter how different we are. And if we are willing to be a little bit more brave, we find out that we can work with each other to make the world a better place.

The rest of the conference? Surreal. I'm simply not used to such luxurious surroundings. Of the gourmet food, the ornate architecture, and the many hands eager to serve, the one thing I wish I could carry in my backpack as I travel back to Jersey is the sheets. I honestly had no idea that sheets that feel this way even exist.

Every time I turned around I saw a celebrity. My best celebrity experience: sitting next to an author I admire during dinner one night. I asked him what I thought was a very simple yes / no question. He plunged into a lengthy and elaborate reply, one he appeared to hope I would retort. As I watched him, I flashed on being a kid in a high school cafeteria, and finding the one boy there who would have a serious conversation with me about current events. Eventually I'd develop a crush on this boy. I really didn't want to develop a crush on this famous author so I weaseled my way out of the conversation. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Less happily, I found myself standing next to an author who is even more astoundingly thin in person than she is on TV. I mentioned this to someone else who promptly reported that this very author had just mocked "fat girls" in a twitter post. I am a fat girl. I know that verbal bullying of, and social contempt for fat girls causes much damage.

I'll be honest; I thought of just putting down my champagne flute, turning to her, and smacking her. Another part of me insists that smacking people is wrong. Perhaps I could have "said something." But thousands are "saying something" in responses to this tweet. I wonder if any of what is said will be heard. She identifies as a Christian. Perhaps if someone were to mention to her that the combination of her fame and her cruelty causes people to conclude negative and false things about Jesus, she might change. One can pray.

I left to walk along the Atlantic beach behind the hotel.

I gazed at the ocean and thought about a poem I wanted to share with everyone at the conference, Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach."

"The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits…
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in…
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

In a small patch of ocean, the hotel shone high beam lights. The lights penetrated one patch of water, while all around was darkness. Only the frothing caps of waves caught the moonlight and glimmered white over vast blackness. Only distant fishing boats and Orion competed with the moon.

The square patch of illuminated ocean water was turquoise and clear. It truly was an idyllic scene.  

I studied the water, as I always do, looking for sharks. If not sharks, U-boats. Pirates. Aquatic Kossaks!!!

I chided myself for being such an Eastern European, always seeking the dark side, even in an idyllic setting.

Well, guess what I saw, just at the line where the waves were breaking, just at the point where my knees would be had I not been wearing slacks and had I gone wading???

Yes! A shark!

Sleek, menacing, gliding, not needful of any John Williams' Jaws theme to enhance the terror it aroused in me, even though I was firmly earthbound, and not even moistened by the ocean spray.

It moved in front of me, I chased in its direction, it turned and moved back in front of me, and I was able to watch it for a couple of minutes. At one point its dorsal fin did break the surface.

I birdwatched every chance I got. I saw wood storks, American egrets, great blue herons, yellow crowned night herons, kingfishers, solitary sandpipers, palm warblers, turkey vultures, red-shoulder hawk, red-bellied woodpecker, boat-tailed grackles, fish crow, white ibis, brown pelicans, Egyptian geese, cormorants, terns (couldn't identify), and feral parrots: Amazona viridigenalis.

This morning, Sunday, as I was watching the parrots, a little electric vehicle with the word "Security" written on its side pulled up alongside me. An intense looking Hispanic man got out. "Are you a guest at this hotel?" he demanded.


"There's been a phone call. Someone reported someone walking in and out of the bushes."

That's me. Walking in and out of bushes looking at birds. For this they had to phone security? Why not just ask me?  I could have turned the person on to birdwatching!

This morning a conference goer said to me, "You are an enigma. You look like a leftwing hippie, but you have conservative ideas."

After the conference wrapped up, I just had time to make it to mass. As I was walking toward Saint Edward Roman Catholic Church, I reflected on the weekend conference I had been so nervous about, and had now completed. I had had to navigate my own anxiety about being around people different from myself, and I had found those people lovable and admirable. I had been worried about being out-of-place in a wealthy environment. I was repeatedly reminded that I was out-of-place, but I survived. I had been worried about my talk, and it went better than I could have dreamed.

In reflecting as I walked to church, I remembered a line I learned in Saint Francis grammar school: "Deus meus et omnia." It was Saint Francis' motto. It is Latin for "My God and my all." I had liked that line very much as a child. It informed me that if you keep God first, everything else, no matter how scary or chaotic, falls into place.

I took my place in a pew upfront and gazed up at the ceiling. It had an Italian-renaissance style coffered ceiling comparable to the ceiling at the luxury hotel. I had gazed at the hotel's ceiling as I was gazing at this ceiling; appreciating its beauty, and tsk tsking over how expensive it must be.

My eyes moved to words written on the beam: "Deus Meus et Omnia." I was astounded. I had just been thinking those words, those words I learned in Saint Francis grammar school, the school named after the saint who served "Lady Poverty." I don't think I've seen those words written anywhere since I learned them in what, fourth, fifth grade? And here I think them as my North Star for this weekend even as I walk to mass, mass in a church with a – to me – decadently ornate ceiling, a ceiling that reminds me, through its decadent art, that in no matter the setting, no matter the company, God is the north star, who guides our navigation. 

I'm going to be relying on that motto a lot during the next four years, I suspect.