Thursday, February 22, 2018

Gun control - the debate goes on

Friend Bill forwarded me an e-mail attributed to a man named Robert Göltl.  I don't know anything about the man, other than that he has one of the more unpronounceable names I've come across in a while. It's also the 562,492nd most common surname in the world (check it out).

And, of course, the fact that he would appear to be somebody my friends would call a right-wing gun nut.

Bill just left me with the posting (and the comment that maybe he should start worrying about bathtub deaths from now on).

My first response was to throw it in the trash and go listen to some Chopin or some Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

But I haven't had a good argument in a while, so I thought I'd see what I might come up with by way of talking back to this guy.

You can see it's been making the rounds for some time from the reference to Obama, but since things haven't changed on the gun control front, I think the arguments are still timely. Would love to hear if you agree or not and if you have anything to add.

Here goes. Mr. G's e-mail comments are in large font bold face. Mine are in this font.
On Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 10:09 AM, William M <> wrote:
This is now circulating. I guess it is supposed to make me feel that I can live with the school massacres and mass shootings as a normal part of American life.
Interesting logic. We should probably add bath tub drownings to the list as well.

There are 30,000 gun related deaths per year by firearms, and this number is not disputed. U.S. population 324,059,091 as of Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Do the math: 0.000000925% of the population dies from gun related actions each year. Statistically speaking, this is insignificant!

Some people focus on violence and death and wish there were less of it.
Others focus on statistics.
Statistically speaking, compared to the number of human beings that have inhabited the earth since the beginning of time, the number of deaths in Nazi concentration camps is insignificant. You can twist statistics into saying almost anything.

What is never told, however, is a breakdown of those 30,000 deaths, to put them in perspective as compared to other causes of death:

Again, "perspective" can be pressed into service to defend virtually any cause. From the perspective of the Romans in the Colosseum, feeding Christians to the lions is pretty good entertainment.

The U.S. has a lower rate of firearm deaths than ten other countries in the world. You can focus on that fact and see the glass as half full, or you can focus on the fact that there are 30,000 people who lost their lives in the U.S., or 10.54 deaths per 100,000 population in the U.S. compared to .06 per 100,000 in Japan. Numbers carry a different impact depending on where you point the light.

• 65% of those deaths are by suicide which would never be prevented by gun laws

Not so. When the Israeli army stopped allowing their soldiers to take their guns home in 2006, the suicide rate dropped by 40%. Removing guns means removing convenience, giving people time to reconsider. Many suicides are spur of the moment decisions. You can't say "never."

• 15% are by law enforcement in the line of duty and justified

Fine. But let's not forget the other 85%.

• 17% are through criminal activity, gang and drug related or mentally ill persons – gun violence


• 3% are accidental discharge deaths

Whose side are you on in this argument?

So technically, "gun violence" is not 30,000 annually, but drops to 5,100. Still too many? Well, first, how are those deaths spanned across the nation?
• 480 homicides (9.4%) were in Chicago
• 344 homicides (6.7%) were in Baltimore
• 333 homicides (6.5%) were in Detroit
• 119 homicides (2.3%) were in Washington D.C. (a 54% increase over prior years)

So basically, 25% of all gun crime happens in just 4 cities. All 4 of those cities have strict gun laws, so it is not the lack of law that is the root cause.

Laws are one thing. Effective laws are another. And don't forget the laws that would prevent taking guns from one state to another and from the countryside into urban areas are notoriously weak, and have been weakened further by the current pro-NRA administration.

This basically leaves 3,825 for the entire rest of the nation, or about 75 deaths per state. That is an average because some States have much higher rates than others. For example, California had 1,169 and Alabama had 1.

Turn this around. The reason we're urging gun control is so that people living in highly populated areas, and are most at risk, might rest easier.

Statistics are useful for establishing context. But so is the notion that the preventing the death of innocents - even one innocent - is worth all the effort you can put into it.  Could you in good faith stand before the parents of the twenty six- and seven-year-old children who lost their lives in Sandy Hook and tell them twenty is an "insignificant" number?

Now, who has the strictest gun laws by far? California, of course, but understand, so it is not guns causing this. It is a crime rate spawned by the number of criminal persons residing in those cities and states. So if all cities and states are not created equally, then there must be something other than the tool causing the gun deaths.

"Criminals" is the wrong category label. "Killers" is the better label. And many would-be killers can be prevented from becoming killers if their access to guns is curtailed. And in discussing criminals/killers, you have not mentioned the mentally ill that this country currently gives relatively easy access to guns, compared to places like Australia, Japan and all the other modern societies with better gun control.

There is a flaw in your reasoning here.  You're saying it's not guns that are the problem, but the criminals. But that doesn't mean that making it harder for criminals to have access to guns won't help bring down the number of gun deaths. When Australia got rid of their guns, killing by guns dropped by over 59% between 1995 and 2006. And don't miss the fact that the suicide rate went down by even more – 65% – as well  That's only 200 fewer homicides, in the end, so "statistically" you might call that number insignificant. But tell that to the families of Australians who still have their loved ones with them.

Are 5,100 deaths per year horrific? How about in comparison to other deaths? All death is sad and especially so when it is in the commission of a crime but that is the nature of crime. Robbery, death, rape, assault all is done by criminals and thinking that criminals will obey laws is ludicrous. That's why they are criminals.

They are not criminals until they have committed a crime. The aim is to make access to guns more constrictive. It's like putting locks on doors. They don't really keep people from breaking in to your house. But they make it a lot harder.

And you're forgetting how successful most modern countries have been in bringing down the number of deaths by firearms,

But what about other deaths each year?
• 40,000+ die from a drug overdose–THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR THAT!
• 36,000 people die per year from the flu, far exceeding the criminal gun deaths
• 34,000 people die per year in traffic fatalities(exceeding gun deaths even if you include suicide)

Do you really think that because more people die from causes other than guns, that one should abandon the effort to get the number of gun deaths down? Do we give up the fight against cancer because there are so many deaths each year from heart disease?

Now it gets good:
• 200,000+ people die each year (and growing) from preventable medical errors. You are safer in Chicago than when you are in a hospital!

Statistics again.
It's not either/or; it's both and. We should work to lower the number of deaths from preventable medical errors and we should work to lower the number of deaths from firearms. Not use the tragedy of one problem to cause us to despair about addressing another.

• 710,000 people die per year from heart disease. It’s time to stop the double cheeseburgers! So what is the point?

What is the point?  Saving lives is the point.

If Obama and the anti-gun movement focused their attention on heart disease, even a 10% decrease in cardiac deaths would save twice the number of lives annually of all gun-related deaths (including suicide, law enforcement, etc.).

Great idea. Let's increase our efforts in fighting heart disease.  Both/and.  Both/and.

A 10% reduction in medical errors would be 66% of the total gun deaths or 4 times the number of criminal homicides......Simple, easily preventable 10% reductions!


So you have to ask yourself, in the grand scheme of things, why the focus on guns?

Because they are a problem which we, as a society, have the right to try and address. And because America leads the world in mass shootings. We focus on the guns in those shootings because the deaths are heart-breaking.

It's pretty simple.:
Taking away guns gives control to governments.

So you want to limit the power of governments?  I assume you want the police to come when somebody is breaking into your house, the fire department to come when it's on fire. The schools to give all children universal access to education. The military to be ready to jump in if needed for defense.  Governments are necessary to keep us safe. The notion that we all live in the woods, hunt our own food, and fight off marauding Indians belongs not in 2018 but in 1718. You're three hundred years behind the times.

The founders of this nation knew that regardless of the form of government, those in power may become corrupt and seek to rule as the British did by trying to disarm the populace of the colonies. It is not difficult to understand that a disarmed populace is a controlled populace.

You've lined everybody up on two sides - the government consisting of bad people and the general populace consisting of good people. Your model of who is government and who is populace is seriously skewed.

Thus, the second amendment was proudly and boldly included in the U.S. Constitution. It must be preserved at all costs.

No, not at all costs.  We need to be careful about changing the Constitution, to be sure. But we have laws to guide us in whether and how changes might be made. The Second Amendment was put in the Constitution (I don't know how "proudly") to assure that people below the federal level would be able to keep a militia. It's a law parallel to the notion of keeping a state police force. It was not written to assure any individual in the country would have the right to own an automatic assault weapon. That misinterpretation of the Constitution needs to be rectified.

 Gun deaths per one million people in 2010. Homicide figures are at the right, shaded darker.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that gun control is about saving lives, look at these facts and remember these words from Noah Webster: "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword, because the whole body of the people are armed and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force at the command of Congress can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power." 

Do you really think Noah Webster had modern-day Sweden and Germany and Iceland and Denmark and Norway and Holland and Belgium and Finland and Italy and Japan in mind as examples of kingdoms we should fear becoming by copying their policies of better gun control?

Remember, when it comes to "gun control," the important word is “control," not “gun."

Yes. Firearms are lethal. And they should be controlled.
Just as Trump wants to do when it comes to bump stock devices.
Just as the NRA did when they banned guns when Trump addressed them in April 2017.
There are times and places for guns to be controlled.  We can argue over when and where and to what degree. But not over the principle that gun control is necessary (in my view) and a very good idea in the view of 66% of the American people.

photo credit
Chart of gun deaths per million people

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Churchmen - a film review

Center: Clément Manuel as Guillaume, surrounded by (from
bottom left) Julien Bouanich, as Yann; David Baiot as
Emmanuel; Thierry Gimenez as Fr. Bosco; Jean-Luc Bideau
as Fr. Fromenger, Clément Roussier as Raphaël; Samuel Jouy
as José
One of the challenges I have in my life is a variation on the Catholic maxim, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Only in my case, it’s “hate the Catholic Church, love the Catholic.”  And right away, I see the need to ask myself why it is I need to type the word “hate” in connection with that church, instead of immediately backing up and typing a euphemism. “Be suspicious of,” maybe. “Be aware of.” “Limit the damage of.” The answer is, if I’m honest, I have to admit that I’m dealing with a profound loathing for the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, and will likely be doing so for the rest of my life.

I was not raised a Catholic, but I was raised in a culture where authoritarian forms of religion held sway, the two chief forms being the clerical form of Roman Catholicism and the fundamentalist literalist version of Evangelicalism among the Protestants of the world. So early on I had to learn to separate out blind followers from sincere seekers, those who use the church to satisfy their need to bully from those simply trying to make sense of life. In time I adjusted to the split and recognized that it’s not “the church” that evokes such feelings, but the authoritarianism that bothers me.  And right away, that divides organized religion into two camps – those lacking in humility who insist they know the mind of god, and those using their cultural traditions to create meaning out of the chaos and uncertainty of existence, and to center that meaning around a notion of what we all recognize as virtues: truth, love, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, kindness and I’m tempted to add a good sense of humor.

I mention this only in passing as a way of making plain the lens I’m looking through in writing a review of a religious film in which the heroes are practicing Catholics, and the villains are the clericalists who reflect the authoritarian side of the official church. Even though I cannot share the values and the goals of the heroes, I can live with them, even love some of them, all the same. 

I just finished binge-watching a very long made-for-TV series produced by Zadiq Productions and Arte France called Ainsi soient-ils in French (So be it), and The Churchmen in English – three seasons of eight hour-long episodes each. It is about a freshman group of seminarians at the Capuchin Seminary in Paris, with particular emphasis on five young men, several of their teachers, and a young nun. The series has been around for a while, having run between October 2012 and October 2015 in France, and simultaneously in Quebec and Belgium, as well. Also in Italy, under the title Uomini di Fede (Men of Faith). Upon receiving critical acclaim, a third season began in October of 2015. This review comes as a result of all three seasons being made available through Netflix in the United States.

The story revolves around the moral dilemmas the seminarians and their mentors find themselves in, the struggle between their vows and their consciences. Leading figure is Father Étienne Fromenger, whose heart, despite his role as seminary head, is with the poor and others on the perifery of life. Fromenger fiddles with the books and takes money from rich realtors to keep the seminary afloat and is discovered by the righteous Father Dominique Bosco. Bosco subsequently comes down with cancer and then has an encounter with a woman whose spirituality lies outside the church and whose healing hands shake his faith both physically and emotionally. Counterpoints to these saintly men are the ambitious Monseigneur Joseph Roman, president of France’s Bishops’ Conference in Season 1 and his successor, Monseigneur Poileaux, a more “papabile” official, who moves to the center of subsequent Vatican infighting and intrigue in Seasons 2 and 3.

But it’s the five novice seminarians, Yann, Emmanuel, Guillaume, Raphaël, and José, whose character development is what makes the series, in my view. It’s not often, in an ensemble piece, that virtually all of the main characters draw you in as surely as these guys do and make you care so much what happens to them. Their challenges become your challenges. Other, by no means minor, characters, Sister Antonietta, Father Fromenger’s assistant and Father Honoré Cheminade, play extremely sympathetic roles, as well.

To list the plot devices around the moral dilemmas would make this series sound like a soap opera. It deserves better. A couple of serious ones are the relationship between Guillaume and Emmanuel, who fall in love with each other, and the discovery, by Yann, once he has left the seminary in Season 3 and gone out into the world, that his superior is a child molester. I’ll stop there. One should not spoil a great binge-watch. You could take it slow, of course, but if you’re like me, you won’t be able to resist the cliffhangers.

The Churchmen has plenty of flaws. Things often happen too fast, and there isn’t sufficient thought sometimes behind the resolution of a particular challenge. The music is lovely, but the context to the singing is unrealistic. Particularly absurd is the way in which a group of tone-deaf kids are transformed into a choir that would rival the Vienna Choir Boys. But one forgives these foibles for the love of art and the charity which shines through so many scenes.

A particular fascination for me was the way in which the series remained watchable despite a very heavy dose of religious affirmation. Belief testimonials have a way of making my eyes glaze over. I mentioned earlier that I see the Roman Catholic Church as two separate churches, one focused on spirituality and pastoral care, the other on the trappings of power and wealth. The Churchmen comes directly out of the former, what progressive Catholics would like to call the authentic church. Sins are readily forgiven, the church is viewed as a big tent organization, and doing the right thing involves bending the rules for the sake of compassion.

There is, of course, the other side. The series came in for some hefty criticism from the clericalists. This criticism by Jean-Marie Guénois, religious commentator for Le Figarowill serve to present the view from a traditionalist's perspective: 
Non seulement cette série travestit une réalité mais elle est une antithèse du christianisme puisque son ressort n'est pas l'amour pour le Christ mais la volonté humaine. Ces jeunes hommes ne sont pas des apprentis chrétiens mais des apprentis stoïciens qui, par leur propre volonté, vont tenter d'atteindre un idéal. Pas étonnant donc que la plupart échouent face aux tentations de la vie....  (L)e moteur de la série reste le « scandale » et la « caricature à l’extrême », qu’il reconnaît comme « l’ingrédient de toute fiction, causée selon lui par « une imposture : mettre à la place du christianisme ce qui n’est pas le christianisme. 
Not only does this series disguise a reality, but it is an antithesis of Christianity since its source is not the love of Christ but the human will. These young men are not Christian apprentices but Stoic apprentices who, by their own will, are reaching for an ideal. No wonder then that most fail when encountering the temptations of life…. The engine of the series remains "scandals" and "caricatures in the extreme", which he sees as "the ingredient of any fiction.” This, says Guénois, is "a fraud put in the place of a Christianity which is not Christianity. (translation mine)
Jean-Marie Guénois, « Ainsi soient-ils : une imposture [archive] », in Le Figaro, jeudi 11 octobre 2012, page 41. (Footnote 43, cited here) 

No critique of the spirituality-centered branch of the church could say it better: “You’re not the real church," say the keepers of the keys.  "We (the clergy-centered) are the real church. You want to make it into something modern, something that will let you have your cake and eat it too. But we know that can’t be done. We are here to tell you that the truths of the magisterium are unchanging. The church cannot err. What was, is now, and always will be."

Translated: Give up your expectation that women will have standing in the church, that homosexuality will ever be “normalized,” that birth control and abortion will ever be accepted, that celibacy for religious will be abandoned.

Many years ago now, I went to see a psychotherapist and in the course of our conversations, I mentioned that I had once held religious views but had given them up. The therapist responded, “You’ve only given up the idol. The mold it was made in will probably remain in you forever.”

To my husband, religion is a silly thing to get involved with. A thing of the past, a human foible, something that belongs on the ash heap of history. If you share this view, The Churchmen will not be your cup of tea.

On the other hand, if you see what's left of the world of priests in training with affection, or if you see religiosity as just one of those things that sometimes makes people interesting, there are far worse ways to spend twenty-four hours.

photo credit

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Not a heart attack - just gum disease

Marlene Dietrich, from The Blue Angel
I blogged the other day about Babylon Berlin, the sixteen-hour made-for-TV series about Berlin in the latter days of the Weimar Republic, that noble attempt at democracy Germany made between the end of WWI and the Hitler takeover in 1933.  I mentioned that I was so taken with the parallels between the failure of the Weimar democracy and what’s going on around me that I kind of took it for granted that I understood something about the filmmakers’ motivation in making the film – the fact that the failure of democracy during the Weimar period would speak to the fears of people today that democracy is on the run. It has failed in Victor Orban’s Hungary, is going down in Poland, and people are panicking that it’s going down in Trump’s America. 

Just take a look at some of what is on the best seller list these days. I don’t mean just:

1. Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the White House.

Granted, many consider that a hatchet job, poorly documented, exaggerated and slanted in places.

I went looking for David Frum’s latest book, Trumpocracy, so I typed it into Amazon’s search. Look what popped up:

Not just

2. David Frum’s Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic.

But also:

3. David Cay Johnston’s It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America

4. Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die

5. Paul McGuire and Troy Anderson’s Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon

6. Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

7. Luke Harding’s Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win

8. James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

9. Charles J. Sykes’ How the Right Lost Its Mind

10. Bob Riemen’s To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism

11. Brian Klaas and David Talbot’s The Despot’s Apprentice: Donald Trump’s Attack on Democracy

12. Donna Brazile’s Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House

I could stop with an even dozen, but there are more:

13. David Martin’s Donny’s First Year – granted, Martin is a satirist rather than a serious critic, but like all the evening satire shows,  Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, Bill Maher and others, his humor has an unusual sharpness to it that goes beyond normal chiding satire. Martin says, for example, “with such daily craziness, it’s often difficult to stay ahead of the satirical curve.”

Then there is:

14. Michael Mathiesen, who seems to have gotten to the term before Frum:

Trumpocracy: A Demonstration Democracy

That’s enough to suggest maybe the burden of proof is on the Trump camp to demonstrate that he is not actually subverting democracy.

Still looking for more on the topic, I came across an interesting panel discussion at the Brookings Institute.

First on the panel is David Frum, who got this ball rolling for me, the Republican conservative and onetime speechwriter for George W. Bush, often credited for the origin of the term “axis of evil”. Like many who supported the Iraq war at the beginning and became disillusioned, he admitted that he was unduly persuaded by the conservatives he hung around with who turned out to be wrong. Frum is clearly a thinking man, an honest intellectual who has been unafraid to drift into new territory and today is one of the more ardent of Trump’s opponents.  The kind that saw it all coming: he voted for Hillary.

Also on the panel is Elaine Kamarck, an expert in American electoral politics and senior fellow at Brookings, lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and member of the DNC. Has a PhD from Berkeley in political science and worked in the Clinton White House.

The third panel member is Benjamin Wittes, also at Brookings. He is a journalist with a background in law; he is co-director of the Harvard Law School project on Law and Security.  He has described the Trump’s policy on refugees and visas as "malevolence tempered by incompetence."

Moderator is Jonathan Rauch, also of Brookings and, like Frum, an editor of The Atlantic.

The discussion is worth listening to. In a nutshell, the two men, Frum and Wittes, worry there is a serious threat to democracy, while Kamarck insists that American institutions are strong enough to resist what’s coming down. And when we say institutions, it’s the media and the judiciary most at risk. Both, Kamarck insists will not only survive, but the challenge is actually doing them good.

While Frum makes some of the most cogent arguments, it is the contrast between Kamarck and Wittes that most interested me. It’s the old story – what doesn’t destroy you only makes you stronger. It’s just a question of whether the test is too severe. Wittes worries about what will happen in post-Trump America, when the rules of gentlemanly behavior once associated with the White House have been shattered.  Will the memory of how easy it was to break things down encourage another Trump down the road? In fact, Kamarck is working on a research project to search out potential future Trumps and head them off.

Will it only be easier from now on to take advantage of America’s weaknesses? I hope Wittes is wrong, but I also believe he’s got a point – once the toothpaste is out of the tube, Americans will not know how to put it back, I fear.

There is also this thing called the law of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, which I have always understood as “Everything eventually turns to shit.”  OK, so physics is not my strong suit. But I have observed that it’s harder, for example, for decency to survive against indecency since the former plays by rules which the latter feels free to break. The guy who plays dirty has the upper hand. And in the current battle for control of government, it’s the liars who seem to be getting away with murder. Short of wholesale outrage at deception, there is no way to fight the deceivers. And whether the enlarged Ego at the center of things is manipulating those who want to help the rich get richer – or whether they are manipulating him is a less interesting question to me than whether we can survive in the devastated America he leaves behind once he’s either kicked out of office or goes quietly at the end of his term.

To return to the Weimar comparison, my understanding of why the Weimar democracy failed is chiefly that the Germans had no experience with democracy. They were experimenting, making it up as they went along. Internally, the country was sharply divided between communists and nationalists. The former, remembering what it felt like to be at the bottom of society during the imperial years under the kaisers, wanted to bring the Russian Bolshevik revolution to Germany. The nationalists, on the other hand, wanted to bring the monarchy back.  To a great degree, it was a battle between the haves and the have-nots.

[Some comic relief here, if you're finding this all a bit dry: Have a listen to a march I first learned at Carnival (Fasching) in Munich back in 1960. “We want our old Kaiser Wilhelm back! – The guy with the beard – the long long beard.”    Back in the days “when grandma was able to drink the water directly out of the Elbe River – it was so clean.”]

There were parties in the middle – the socialists on the left and the liberals (what in America we call conservatives) on the right, as well as a (catholic) Center Party – but without a full commitment to democracy, a deep-seated understanding of the need to work together with others who held opposing views, there was a tendency for everybody to be pulled to the extremes. With loyalty going to the party one belonged to and not to the nation, the nation, in the end, could not stand.

Adding to this problem of polarization was the cultural element. In the big cities – Berlin, in particular, in addition to a large number of working class folks on the left, you had the artists and entertainers – the Hollywood types of the era. The glamour set of the “Roaring Twenties,” who exposed attitudes that offended the good country folk – too little clothing, too much vulgarity, homosexuality and gutsy (many would say “loose”) women. Babylon Berlin opens on a scene of the vice squad breaking into a porno ring. Law and order meets decadence.

Comparisons between Weimar and America become impossible to resist. We’ve got the ascendance of the evangelicals into the Trump administration and the demonization of “Hollywood types” by the Republican Party. We’ve got the extreme polarization and the quite evident proof that Republicans, who once were deficit hawks, for example, are now willing to go trillions more into debt to serve party interests: read: the furtherance of the financial interests of the 1%. We’ve got the direct attack on the judiciary and the press – examples galore on a daily basis. People who listen to Fox don’t listen to MSNBC and vice versa. Except, of course, to gather material to fan their outrage.

The Weimar period ended in 1933 with the legal election of Adolf Hitler. Many point out that the handover to Trump took place legally, as well. Never mind the gerrymandering and the abomination that is the electoral college. The election took place according to the rules in place at the time. It was perfectly legal. Never mind the arguments that he didn’t win the election so much as Hillary lost it.  Weimar rightists made much of the “blood and soil” meme, blood meaning “the people” not the outsider Jew/Mexican/immigrant, soil being the land, not the cities. Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann used to talk about the people in the middle as, “the real Americans.”

Trump is not Hitler. He doesn’t advocate the creation of a Gestapo to pull his enemies out of bed at night. Elaine Kamarck is right – our institutions are holding – and are a long way from collapsing as they did under National Socialism. But just as Germans in the Weimar period read Mein Kampf, where Hitler put into words his plan to exterminate the Jews, and elected him anyway, Americans listen on a daily basis to Trump demean women, urge violence – “I’ll pay your legal bills…”, and let it be known that he expects lawyers and judges, the FBI and anybody else in government to do his bidding, show personal loyalty to him as opposed to the traditional ethical standards of their profession, and his supporters let it all pass. In fact, such Trumpist actions only seem to increase their support for him.  The “Lock her up” chants he cheer led shows he’d really like to not just to defeat his political opponents, but imprison them. Like Hitler, who admired Mussolini and Stalin, Trump has repeatedly expressed an admiration for tyrants – Putin, Erdogan, Orban, Duterte, to name the ones that come immediately to mind. And now he wants a military band to march down the boulevard and salute him. The parallels with dictatorships continue to grow in number.

Trump is no Hitler, and this is not Weimar Germany. But the elements are in place. It’s not whether it can happen, but whether we can keep ourselves from becoming like the frog in the kettle, unaware that the water is heating up until it’s too late to jump out.

David Frum argues that the decay of democracy is not something that happens overnight. People have it all wrong, he says. It’s not like a heart attack. It’s more like gum disease.

One reads history not just to understand how we got where we are. There are historical lessons out there we’d do well to take a closer look at, to see where we really don’t want to go.

 photo credit - the iconic image of Marlene Dietrich

trivia note: In the movie The Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich plays Lola Lola a woman who ultimately seduces Immanuel Rath, played by Emil Jannings, a would-be embodiment of the essence of bourgeois propriety. Perhaps it's pure coincidence, but Volker Kutscher used the name Rath for the protagonist in his series of novels, the first of which the movie Babylon Berlin was based on. Pure coincidence, maybe, and Gereon Rath is not destroyed by a shady lady in the end, so the resemblence ends with the name. But when you're retired and have some extra time on your hands, you've got time to notice little things like this.