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Amor Mundi: Anti-Semitism in the Age of Trump

Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. What is most difficult, Arendt writes, is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.

Every Sunday, The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter will offer our favorite essays and blog posts from around the web. These essays will help you comprehend the world. And learn to love it.

Anti-Semitism in the Age of Trump

Donald Trump is not an anti-Semite. But the attack on norms and unleashing of hateful rhetoric has emboldened racists of all stripes, including anti-Semites. Incidents of Anti-Semitism have been increasing in recent years. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Anti-Semitic incidents surged 60% in 2017, following the election of Donald Trump. Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the ADL, ties the rise of incidents to a number of elements, including an increase in incivility and the emboldening of hate groups amongst widening divisions in society. Both of which were present in the news this past week.

The lack of civility plaguing contemporary politics in the United States seems readily apparent in the Republican nominee for Illinois’ 3rd district, which is near Chicago. Arthur Jones is a former member of the American Nazi Party and a prominent Holocaust denier. According to The JC:

Mr Jones nabbed the nomination by default because Illinois Republicans could not find a candidate to run against the Democratic incumbent — although one wonders why they had so much trouble finding someone to make at least a perfunctory bid, if only to thwart a Holocaust denier.”

When asked in an interview last week whether or not he denies the Holocaust, Jones responded:

“I deny the existence of the Holocaust as depicted in the news media, in TV series and movies. I don’t deny that Jews were put in camps and that people died. It wasn’t the Holiday Inn. I deny that six million Jews were gassed.”

Simon Schama, while reviewing Jonathan Weisman’s new book, takes stock of the rise of white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and Jones’s candidacy:

“Come November’s midterm elections, the Republican candidate for the Third Congressional District of Illinois will be a Nazi. There is nothing neo about Arthur Jones. Not just a white supremacist, not merely a foot soldier of the alt-right, Jones is the sort of full-on, unreconstructed, Holocaust-denying (“the blackest lie in history”), Hitler-worshiping, blood-and-soil warrior for whom the Jews are the root of all evil. Don’t panic. He will lose the election in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, but it is precisely that assumed outcome which seemed to have persuaded local Republicans not to bother opposing him in the March 20 primary. Waking up to the result of their indifference they belatedly repudiated Jones. But it might have occurred to them that the mere fact of his appearance on the ballot as the Republican candidate is itself a shocking affront not just to Jews but to all the norms of American political decency. Then again, those norms right now are shifting sand.

The sick joke of Jones’s candidacy doesn’t feature in Jonathan Weisman’s “(((Semitism))),” but every other kind of monstrously reawakened zombie-Nazi madness does, especially those swarming and multiplying in the digital dung heap. His book is largely a report from consternation nation, and its longest chapter chronicles the rise of white supremacist aggression, on and off the web. He has been on the sharp end of trolling storms and knows what it feels like (as do I) to have yourself photoshopped with concentration camp stripes or with your head in an oven. But in the end Weisman is unsure how much of an actual and immediate danger this online abuse represents. For all of the website bile and the tiki-torch marches, “the threat of violence against Jews,” he writes, “has not materialized into actual violence,” especially in comparison with hate crimes committed against African-Americans and Muslims. He quotes the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt saying that “the number of Americans that hold anti-Semitic beliefs has decreased dramatically.”

But of course it is the advent of Trumpian politics — its nonstop carnival of paranoia; its scapegoating of Hispanics and African-Americans; its anti-immigrant phobia — that has rung Weisman’s alarm bells, which accounts for his subtitle: “Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.”

And Bari Weiss writing for the New York Times, looks at the brutal murder of Mirielle Knoll, while thinking about Benjamin Netanyahu’s call last year for Jewish people to leave France.

“It’s no rare thing for the Israeli prime minister to enrage the Jews of the diaspora. But three years ago, Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech that won him near-universal condemnation.

In the aftermath of several deadly attacks in European cities like Paris and Copenhagen, Mr. Netanyahu called on Jews to leave Europe. “Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country. But we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home,” he said, echoing comments he had made more subtly the month before at Paris’s Grand Synagogue.

Mr. Netanyahu’s suggestion of “mass immigration” was “unacceptable,” said Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the head of the European Jewish Association. Abraham Foxman, then head of the Anti-Defamation League, suggested such a policy would “grant Hitler a posthumous victory.” Denmark’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, said he was “disappointed.” Smadar Bar-Akiva, the executive director of JCC Global, said “the calls for French Jews to pack their bags” and move were “disturbing and self-defeating.”

François Hollande, then president, echoing a chorus of European leaders, pushed back hard, appealing to his country’s Jews: “Your place is here, in your home. France is your country.”

Weiss questions Hollande’s reply to Netanyahu, arguing that we must take the question of whether not Jewish people can consider France their homeland if they are not safe.

“Ms. Knoll narrowly escaped this largest French deportation of Jews during the Holocaust and fled to Portugal with her mother.

After the war, she married a man who had survived Auschwitz. She returned to her native land where she built a home and raised a family. French to her core, she stayed in Paris even as her grandchildren moved to Israel.

She remained in her apartment in the 11th arrondissement when, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, she was stabbed 11 times. Her apartment was then set on fire. Firefighters found the burned body on Friday night.”

Cold War Déjà Vu?

Is the world veering back to the Cold War? Following the expulsion of Russian Diplomats from the United States and some European countries after the poisoning of Sergei V. Skripal, a former spy, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, Andrew Higgins analyzes Russia’s latest attempt to disrupt global, political power. Russia’s latest string of denials–the poisoning of a former spy in Great Britain, the seizure of Ukrainian government buildings in Crimea, shooting down a Malaysian passenger plane–cannot be directly compared to the Cold War era. Instead, Higgins argues that Putin seems to follow no clear political ideology, and the assassination of nationals abroad is more reminiscent of Russia’s first revolutionary regime.

Ian Bond, a former British diplomat in Moscow who is now director of foreign policy at the Center for European Reform in London, said Russia’s often implausible denials had made it ‘like the boy who cried wolf.’…

“Each time Russia has been accused of having a hand in acts like the seizure of Ukrainian government buildings in Crimea or the 2014 shooting down of a Malaysian passenger plane over eastern Ukraine, in which nearly 300 people were killed, Moscow has responded with a mix of self-pity, fierce denials and florid conspiracy theories that put the blame elsewhere. In the case of the poisoning in Salisbury, Russia’s denials became so baroque that even the state-run news media had a hard time keeping up.

After officials denied any Russian role and insisted that neither Russia nor the Soviet Union had ever developed Novichok, the nerve agent identified by Britain as the substance used against the Skripals, a state-controlled news agency published an interview with a Russian scientist who said he had helped develop a system of chemical weapons called Novichok-5. The agency later amended the article, replacing the scientist’s mention of Novichok with an assertion that the “chemical weapons development program of the U.S.S.R. was not called ‘Novichok.’”

The attempted murder of Mr. Skripal on British soil, however, “was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Vladislav Inozemtsev, a Russian scholar at the Polish Institute of Advanced Studies in Warsaw. “Western leaders finally decided that enough is enough” because Moscow has played the denial game so many times and showed no real interest in establishing the truth, he said. Unlike Soviet leaders during the Cold War, he added, Mr. Putin follows no fixed ideology or rules but is ready to pursue any “predatory policies,” no matter how taboo, that might help “undermine the existing order in Europe,” while insisting that Russia is the victim, not the aggressor.”

Constitutional Rot


Sanford Levinson looks into what he, following Jack Balkin, calls our “constitutional rot.” His prime example is the Republican refusal to even hold hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland. The Republicans were within their legal right to refuse to hold hearings, but their refusal manifested a “willingness to shatter long-established norms… in order to achieve what James Madison would have denounced as the narrow and selfish goals of one’s own “faction.” The GOP treatment of Judge Merrick Garland—independent of whether they had a duty to vote for his confirmation after holding traditional hearings and listening to his supporters—exemplifies such rot, even if was not illegal or “unconstitutional.”” In the end, Levinson offers that the United States may simply have outgrown its Constitution, an idea with clear Arendtian overtones.

“Is it possible, for example, that one reason for the rise of Trumpismo is the justified belief by millions of Americans that the national Constitution designed in 1787 creates so many veto points—which we admiringly and often unthinkingly label as “checks and balances”—that it regularly generates legislative gridlock with regard to addressing any of what one might believe to be our most challenging problems? Wherever one is located on the political spectrum—left, right, or center—one cannot possibly believe that Congress will adequately meet the challenges we face today. There is a good reason, for example, that the overwhelming majority of Americans have little regard for Congress and believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. And a Democratic victory in 2018 will guarantee only the ability to block the worst GOP programs; in no way will it portend the ability of even a Democratic House and Senate to pass their own legislation and surmount a Trump (or Pence) veto.

The authors state that the real protection of American democracy, such as it is, lies not in “Americans’ firm commitment to democracy, but, rather, the gatekeepers—our political parties.” It is the “normalization” of political conflict between two large-tent parties that has allowed our history—with the obvious and all-important exception of 1861—to feature the peaceful transfers of power among those who would govern us. But, as already suggested, something is now rotten in the state of our party system, particularly within the Republican Party. I write this review on the first day of the first government shutdown in American history to occur when the same political party notionally controls both Houses of Congress and the presidency. Perhaps one wishes to blame the Democrats for the failure to compromise, but that failure gains purchase only because the Senate operates under the rule that the votes of 60 senators are, with few exceptions, necessary to move a bill forward to a vote. Levitsky and Ziblatt discuss this and take note of the fact that recourse to filibusters has now become a standard part of the way the Senate operates, but what they don’t do is offer a systematic discussion of whether we are overall well or ill served by this particular aspect of “American exceptionalism” that disallows majorities in the Senate from actually governing. Of course, one has to recognize that there may often be no correlation between majorities in the Senate and majorities in the national population, given the fact that Wyoming counts the same as California and Vermont is the equal of Texas.

Moreover, one would like considerably more discussion of the limits of “toleration and forbearance.” The authors admirably recognize that the victims of such “forbearance” in the past have often been vulnerable minorities, most notably African Americans, who were asked to do a lot of forebearing for a very long time. One reason for contemporary “polarization,” in contrast with the 1950s and even ’60s, is the fact that the electorate is now remarkably more inclusive than was the case then, prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But we are also living with the consequences of the 1965 repeal of the 1924 immigration legislation. That earlier legislation was designed to preserve America along what we might today describe as “Trumpian” lines; northern Europeans received far more favorable treatment than other potential immigrants. Thankfully, that is no longer the case, but it is foolhardy to deny that one reason for our increasing polarization is the consequences of having become far more heterogeneous along lines of race, ethnicity, religion, and language.

We have always operated under a regime of “identity politics,” but in the past there was thought to be a single hegemonic identity, summarized in the language of my youth under the acronym WASP. As we have become more truly pluralistic and diverse, the nature of American identity is a subject of increasing contention, revealed most dramatically, perhaps, in the sometimes violent disputes about public monuments and what they represent. To their credit, Levitsky and Ziblatt caution against a critique, like that identified with Mark Lilla, that would reject “identity politics” in the name of bread-and-butter economics inasmuch as this would often have the practical consequence of averting one’s gaze from continuing discrimination, injustice, and indignity. But the recognition that “forbearance” might have its limits is fleeting. One awful possibility, left undiscussed, is that the United States, which now reaches from Maine to Hawaii and contains 320 million people, is just too large and multi-faceted to be effectively governed by any reasonably democratic political system.”

Fraud on The Voters

This week Crystal Mason was sentenced to five years in prison for voting while on probation. According to Meagan Flynn at The Washington Post:

The case is yet another illustration of Texas’s zealous crackdown on voter fraud, a problem that state GOP leaders have described as “rampant” in the past but for which they have yet to provide hard proof, save for isolated cases such as Mason’s.

In a 2016 ruling rejecting Texas’s stringent voter ID law, which state lawmakers had pitched as a way to stop voter fraud, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit found only two convictions for in-person voter fraud out of 20 million ballots cast in the years before the 2011 passage of the law.

Mason, who had just finished serving a sentence for tax fraud, says that she would have never voted if she had known that it was illegal. Her mother urged her to go to the polls on election day, and an election official helped her fill out her ballot. Leaving the courtroom and her children behind, Mason remarked: “I don’t think I’ll ever vote again,” she told the news outlet after her indictment. “That’s being honest. I’ll never vote again.”


Samantha Hill, Assistant Director of the Arendt Center, takes up the question of love in Public Seminar, conversing with Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt on the nature of love in Western political philosophy.

Love by its very nature cannot be made public. Love is not only apolitical, but it is the most anti-political of all human forces. When we fall in love we are forced to retreat from the world, into the bosom of another. This form of love is of no concern to us political thinkers. No. The question we ought to be thinking about instead is: Why is it so difficult to love the world? This is the question we face today. How might we find a way to be among one another in our humanness? We who do such horrible things. We who abandon our friends, turning our backs on the world when the world turns it back on us.

When the chips are down, we can only ever try to understand love. We cannot make sense of the irrational. We must be committed to, as Benjamin says, returning in a round-a-about way to love as an object of contemplation. Love, much like thinking, belongs in the private realm of human affairs. At best, I hope that at the end of the day, when I go home I might find some joy in my solitude. I might find a way to be with the world that has followed me inside and engage in the 2-in-1 dialogue. There in the private realm is where we come face-to-face with the question of love.”

Posted on 1 April 2018 | 8:00 am

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