Antidote to Civil War? Or Precursor?

New York attorney Gregory Locke boarded the subway last Friday night and was appalled by what he saw. Every window in the car, every advertisement and map, had been defaced with a swastika. And there were slogans, such as “Jews belong in the oven.”

“The train was silent,” he said in his Facebook post about it, “as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do. One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work. I’ve never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purel. Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone.

 “Nazi symbolism. On a public train. In New York City. In 2017.

 “I guess this is Trump’s America,” said one passenger. No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it.”

Two Americas. Using the same subway car in close succession on a Friday night in February, each leaving their mark. Each with something very important to say to us.

First, consider the swastika drawers, who were not very good at it — they inadvertently drew the sacred Hindu character for “good fortune” (it has to be tilted 45 degrees to the right to become the Nazi icon). But that’s an important thing to understand about haters and bigots: they’re not very good at anything.

One of the first courses I took in Sociology 101 taught me an invaluable lesson I have never forgot. It was a study of inter-racial relations among the (primarily Vietnamese) shrimp fishermen and the people of South Florida. The study found a strong, direct and inverse relationship between the state of the local economy and the quality of the interactions among ethnic groups. When times were good people were tolerant and welcomed diversity. The worse the economy became, the more bigotry appeared, and if it got bad enough there were outbreaks of violence.

Everything I have seen in the ensuing decades has confirmed for me the simple fact that people choose racism primarily when they are experiencing financial hardship, and want — no, need — someone to blame. Some “other” kind of person. easily identifiable as an enemy. The worse the hardship, the more violent, widespread and prolonged the expressions of blame/hate.

Is this Trump’s America? Yes and no. It is remarkable that hate crimes, including attacks on synagogues and mosques, and the defacing of public spaces with swastikas, have increased dramatically since his election. But it would be a serious mistake to attribute this only to him and the people who voted for him.

Despite what they say, political leaders do not run the economy, they cannot “create jobs” or “bring back industries.” They cannot make better the severe conditions that bring out in us our impulses to blame and punish. What they can do is summon us to our best efforts, to our better natures, to the rational tolerance and good will that tamp down our more hateful urges.

Or they can do what tyrants and would-be tyrants do. By encouraging the notion that we are experiencing hard times because of the Jews/Mexicans/Muslims/terrorists, the WBT (Would Be Tyrant) can more easily make the case that he, and he alone, can save us. All we have to do is give him the power. Unrestrained, absolute power. Beyond energizing his supporters to bristle at the “others,” the WBT also enables — by hinting, repeating, winking, implying, berating and just saying — many others to allow barely-restrained frustration to blow sky high.

In my own neighborhood last week a young mother described on Facebook how her (colored) child was suddenly berated in a public place by another (white) child, a total stranger, and told to go back where he came from because nobody wants him here. The white child’s grandmother corrected the white child, not for being rude or expressing racism, but because “we don’t say those things outside the house.”

Don’t worry, little precious, soon you may be able to say all those things everywhere, while decorating everything with swastikas, when it truly is Trump’s America.

But maybe not. Consider the second group of people on the subway car, with their tissues and hand sanitizers. They live in the America that I have always lived in and loved, and they have signaled their determination to keep it. I wonder if we can.


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14 Responses to Antidote to Civil War? Or Precursor?

  1. Craig Moodie says:

    “They live in the America that I have always lived in and loved”. As a true liberal do you feel no shame for the genocide your nation carried on the indigenous population of your adopted country? How can you possibly love a country that is guilty of the murder of millions of native Americans.
    My country South Africa has been demonised for the sins of apartheid, where maybe only thousands of victims perished due to this abomination.(by the way I was an activist in my youth trying to end the oppression).
    How can you possibly, either as a citizen or a country take the moral high ground position until you have redeemed your past?Or is it just the recent past that matters.
    The entire issue smacks of unadulterated hypocrisy.

    Someone said somewhere that that there was individual and national karma, I somehow think the USA is about to get some of theirs.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      When I was young I was taught to hate the sin, but love the sinner. Is it your position that only perfect countries (and, I presume, people) are worthy of affection?

  2. Craig Moodie says:

    Sorry, but I am a bit confused. What you are implying as an example, is that I should hate the holocaust(sin) but love Hitler(sinner)?

  3. Mike Kay says:

    The swastika is an ancient Aryan symbol. Recent archaeological findings place it back 20,000 years.
    The unfortunate historical ignorance of modern, especially American people places a short term interpretation upon this symbol that stymies any more nuanced view.
    The endless repetition of the so called holocaust narrative silences, shuts down and criminalizes scrutiny, to the point that it is actually impossible to conduct reasoned research on this alleged historic event. Instead, we’re all to take mainstream supposition as our God, and unsurprisingly, this invariably occurs.
    Since it’s taboo to attempt to examine entire chapters of history, that same history, or more accurately, what passes for it, has become a running justification for the unjustifiable genocidal actions of a certain artificial middle eastern “country”.
    Thus, the politics of hate are neither simple or straightforward.
    Most will probably disagree, but 21st century America has many parallels with Weimar Germany. Economic chaos, bankster deification, pervasive corruption, moral degeneracy, and politically centered hysteria to name a few. Then there’s the uncomfortable placement betwixt two world wars. Certainly, this doesn’t assure entry into WW3, but it bears watching.

  4. Steven Martin says:

    Just about 100% of the hate symbolism, ex defacing a church, has been fake. It has been conducted by angry Dems unwilling to adapt and attempting to smear their opposition. Their unwillingness to adapt and cooperate is psychotic. Saw a good post yesterday: “Love trumps hate involves a lot more assault and arson that I ever imagined.” Trumpers are not doing the damage and defacing.

    • Gary Benson says:

      Steven Martin, I would love to see a credible citation that supports your assertion.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      As I said in the piece, Steven, “…it would be a serious mistake to attribute this only to him [Trump] and the people who voted for him.” This is about what he is enabling, where he is leading.

  5. Tom says:

    Hatred is part of human experience. We are, as any honest person discovers, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in our actions and reactions to our changing environment.

    Many of us are products of dysfunctional families, abuse, neglect, cultural bias, diametrically opposed personal worldviews and many other factors that contribute to our make-up.

    All of our actions can be examined in wider terms: from ‘modern’ times to overpopulation to technology to extreme wealth inequality to environmental collapse (and much more). To mistakenly attribute anything to one factor or “choice” indicates misunderstanding. That most people have no idea what’s actually going on
    is a given, since it takes a lot of time to discover and corroborate any aspect of our being, and most of us are far too busy being distracted and trying to survive to bother.

    To keep this short, let me end with a McPherson quote that rings true: Don’t worry, nothing is under control.

    Carry on doing whatever you’re doing until you can’t. It all ends badly.

  6. Mike H says:

    Tom, I agree with your assessment re hate, bigotry and racism and it is not confined to caucasians, similar behaviour in different countries, only the target of the bigotry changes.

    I have been perplexed as to how in a seemingly diverse society as the United States and other similar nations whose very existence and development was powered by immigrants as to how we have reached this point. I accept the issue as causative of declining living standards, opportunity and wealth distribution, these things always will produce friction, intolerance and scapegoats, even amongst ethnically homogenous groups but I think if we dig deeper we will find something more insidious has been brewing almost unconsciously and that is neoconservatism and its dominance of western societies as a form of political thought and expression, neoliberalism as a form of economic management is but its handmaiden. The point is this, neoconservatism is actually inherently racist and religiously bigoted skewed to a view of the supremacy of Israel’s existence and existentially viewing any form of alternative political thought or expression as dangerous, perverted and to be combated as forcefully as possible. It is a damaged ideology derived from the perversion of radical leftist idealogues who morphed into radical conservative idealogues around the issue of marxist and socialist thought. Having converted a great many politicians to its views, fed by the hubris of American exceptionalism it has driven American foreign and domestic policy further and further to the right to the point where the outcomes were indistinguishable at times from facism but this political view point also believed in unfettered corporate capitalism both are inherently antagonistic to communal and socialist democratic perspectives and activities. So I now understand the Trump phenomena, it is no different to the petty WBT’s all over the globe. America and its allies have supported despotic authoritarian regimes and brutally murderous ones at that across the globe while launching violent reprisal and war upon a catalogue of states who did not accept the authoritarian globalist anti Judeo Christian views that it was constructed from. America started with Cuba and went on from there, bombing and destroying, people of varying colour across the globe eagerly assisted by white caucasians from the antipodes and Europe.

    That this has metasticised into retrieving the hate and symbols of National Socialism is no longer a mystery because it feeds that very ignorance and exclusion. Swastikas on the subways does not surprise me at all now, it was inevitable. True liberal democrats of whatever persuasion are now in for a very hard ride indeed. Can it be overcome? Well who is the champion? What nation any longer contains thinkers and leaders who truly practice and believe in secular, liberal humanity?

    • Mike Kay says:

      You have asked questions, MH, that point to surfaces. These surfaces are narratives that support an illusory mythic explanation of recent events. They are mythic because they are framed by the operating myths of the modern world; the duality of the right vs left, democracy as a prevailing system, the interplay of ideas as central to a national ethic. They are illusory because almost nothing from this mythic description operates on any but a feels good level. Misapplication is the operant conditioning.
      Marxism is the mother of both neoconservativism and zionism, both of which are major tenets of globalism. Globalism cannot exist without global organized crime, thus the question is less one of defining and labeling bygone systems than understanding the true nature of the system within which we live.
      The notion that America is governed by the will of an informed citizenry, with a responsive and accountable government went out the window with the disappearance of the original 13th amendment.
      In a very real sense, America loves duplicitous sociopath leaders, and their rainbow coloured versions of totalitarianism. Quite clearly, every manner of deplorable behavior goes, as long as the forced identity politics meet the grade.
      The signs of decay and degeneracy are unmistakable, and the hope that 21st century America bears any resemblance to its mythic narrative is just that…hope, no change given.

  7. Tom says:

    It may all be over soon.

    Humans could be extinct in 9 years – scientists

    [3.5 min. video report]

  8. Kate says:

    We’re acting as if humans are rational beings. Yes, to some degree, but reason is most often put into the service of emotional gratification.

    What’s missing in our discussions is the acknowledgement that we are animals — basically jumped-up chimps — and that much of what social animals have to cope with is also ours to deal with.

    I refer to tribal behavior. Tribes of chimps and humans seem to hate the nearest neighbor with special intensity. I quote from Jared Diamond, who observed this behavior in humans: they hated their “unspeakably vile” neighbors. We’ve also observed that there’s a numerical limit to the number of “others” that can be absorbed into a social unit without either flight or loss of social cohesion. I think the number’s around 30%. That was the percentage that triggered white flight back in the 70s.

    I think we have gone so far past our ability to deal with complex technology and large masses of other people that the situation is pretty much irredeemable. We special chimps are operating way beyond our design limits.

    Maybe if evolution has slowed down brain development or speeded up emotional development we would have stood a chance.

  9. Stacy Canterbury says:

    Hello again, Mr. Lewis. I am so happy you are posting again. Everyone of us has our demons, but I’m happy yours are letting you write for the moment. Thank you.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Thank you, Stacy, your concern is very much appreciated. The demons are, in fact, being quite civil these days.