Janeway doesn't know about any turn of the calendar page.
May we all bring to the new year the same hopeful curiosity as a young cat.
Janeway doesn't know about any turn of the calendar page.
May we all bring to the new year the same hopeful curiosity as a young cat.
The wonder of this time is that you can write "Democrats will always be in the position of persuading and compromising with people more conservative than we are." You are accurately (I think) annexing and identifying "Democrats" -- a broad "we" -- with a progressive agenda.
For most of my life, that would have been a fantasy. Apparently some combination of demographic change, encroaching fascism, imperial decline, and climate crisis have got us here. Do we still have the time and talent to do anything with that democratic (small "d") development?
We should not sell the democratic impulse short. Americans really do tend to believe that "governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." With organizing help, and luck, we act on that. ...Pretty much all of Dem Congresscritters, 48 Dem Senators, and Joe Biden have drifted, under pressure, into espousing an agenda that is miles to the left of anything on offer since Ronald Reagan.
[A] progressive Democratic member who spoke with me on condition of anonymity agreed. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve got a 50–50 majority, so to speak…. But we’ve got 98 percent or 99 percent consensus.”As the future of majoritarian democracy itself comes into question under our broken Constitutional framework, that's amazing and heartening. And provides a platform from which a democratic left can build.
I had hoped I wouldn't ever feel I should assemble another post like this. But fear and a sort of ghoulish obsession have me continuing to collect pandemic oddments. It's grim out there.
COVID has killed more than 5 million people around the world, according to the WHO. The real number is probably substantially higher.
That number is still rising—more than 46,000 people died of COVID in the last seven days alone.
The U.S. is driving a huge portion of those statistics. We have about 4.25 percent of the world’s population but account for more than 18 percent of total cases and almost 15 percent of total deaths. The Bulwark
• • •
The U.S. record for daily coronavirus cases is broken as the Omicron and Delta variants disrupt the end of 2021. As a third year of the pandemic loomed, the seven-day average of U.S. cases topped 267,000 on Tuesday. ... The previous U.S. daily cases record was set on Jan. 11, 2021, when the seven-day average was 251,232. New York Times, 12-28-2021
• • •
Most remarkable stat is our asymptomatic test positivity rate (ATPR) @UCSFHospitals – now ~7%, or ~1-in-14. You'll recall that ATPR is fraction of patients getting care (hospitalization, procedure) @UCSFHospitals who we test for Covid routinely, even tho they have no symptoms. I use this as a rough approximation of the prevalence of Covid in Bay Area people who have no Covid symptoms.
The ATPR was as low as 1/500 (0.2%) a few months ago. Today, our 7 day ATPR is 6.9%, and last 3 days it's ~8% (going up fast). If its 8%, it means 1-in-12 people in SF who feel fine would test positive for Covid. (Not all would be in their infectious period, but most would be.)
So even in highly vaxxed, still mask-y SF, we're beginning to see a tsunami of cases, mostly breakthroughs (expected, since >80% of people vaxxed). Twitter thread from Dr. Bob Wachter, Chair of Medicine
• • •
Old people have it bad.
Click to enlarge
Since the pandemic began, 32 states have seen 1 percent of their population age 65 and over die of covid. These are estimates, overlaying data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated through the week of Dec. 11, on The Washington Post’s state-level data and then compared with Census Bureau figures on population by age. But in many states it’s not really very close. In Mississippi, for example, about 15 out of every 1,000 residents age 65 and older has died of the coronavirus — just under 1.5 percent. Phillip Bump, Washington Post
• • •
Kidney patients have it far worse.
In the three decades before the pandemic, the number of Americans with end-stage renal disease had more than quadrupled, from about 180,000 in 1990 to about 810,000 in 2019, according to the United States Renal Data System, a national data registry. About 70% of these patients relied on dialysis in 2019; the other 30% received kidney transplants.
Then COVID-19 struck. Nearly 18,000 more dialysis patients died in 2020 than would have been expected based on previous years. That staggering toll represents an increase of nearly 20% from 2019, when more than 96,000 patients on dialysis died, according to federal data released this month.
The loss led to an unprecedented outcome: The nation’s dialysis population shrank, the first decline since the U.S. began keeping detailed numbers nearly a half century ago.
They were COVID-19’s perfect victims. ProPublica
• • •
And Republican pols do their best to kill off their supporters
At least five Republican-led states have extended unemployment benefits to people who’ve lost jobs over vaccine mandates — and a smattering of others may soon follow.
Workers who quit or are fired for cause — including for defying company policy — are generally ineligible for jobless benefits. But Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have carved out exceptions for those who won’t submit to the multi-shot coronavirus vaccine regimens that many companies now require. Similar ideas have been floated in Wyoming, Wisconsin and Missouri. Washington Post, 12-21-2021
• • •
In case you are still reading, What A ‘Mild-To-Moderate’ Omicron Case Feels Like. Happy New Year!
I'll pass the explanation to VNP Executive Director Nancy Wang:
Five years ago, a grassroots group of concerned citizens set out on a journey to end gerrymandering in Michigan. Today, their vision was made a reality when Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission adopted the first maps in our state’s history drawn using the fair, impartial, and transparent redistricting process that more than 2.5 million voters approved in 2018.
The beginning: This journey started with 33 town halls in 33 days where our all-volunteer team traveled the state to educate people on gerrymandering and explore what a fair process could look like. From there, our policy team crafted a constitutional amendment that took feedback gathered at these town halls and research from other states. What resulted was an amendment, tailored to Michigan, that put redistricting in the hands of voters - not politicians.
During these town hall meetings, VNP also began recruiting what became a 6,500 person volunteer group of citizens who joined together with one goal in mind: to end gerrymandering in Michigan.
The petitions: On August 17, 2017, our people-powered movement launched one of the largest all-volunteer signature collection efforts in Michigan history. Thousands of volunteers joined the effort and collected signatures in every single one of Michigan’s 83 counties.
On December 18, 2017, VNP turned in more than 425,000 petition signatures to put our initiative on the 2018 ballot. After winning a series of legal challenges, the initiative was officially added to the ballot as Proposal 2.
“Yes on 2” Our massive volunteer group hit the ground running to campaign for Proposal 2. Thousands of volunteers knocked on doors all summer long asking their neighbors to vote “Yes on 2.” ... On November 6, 2018, 61% of Michigan voters passed the Proposal 2 amendment and made fair, impartial, and transparent redistricting part of Michigan’s constitution.
Shaping Michigan’s Future: The grassroots organization immediately reengaged volunteers across the state in a massive effort to educate voters about the new redistricting process. Through workshops, digital videos, and community outreach, VNP reached a broad audience of Michigan voters — especially those in historically underrepresented communities — with information on the Commission application process.
VNP held more than 300 events and identified more than 12,000 Michigan voters who were interested in applying to serve on the commission. When COVID-19 hit Michigan, VNP quickly moved and held 13 virtual workshops and provided 110 applicants with free, remote notary services.
Our organization did all of this while protecting the amendment in court from political operatives who wanted to change the amendment’s fundamental features.So are the resulting Congressional maps some kind of pro-Democractic Party gerrymander? Nope. But thousands of Michiganders have made the electoral process their own. That's a huge exercise of engaged citizenship that the country needs more of. The redistricting Commission, which included Dems, independents, and Republicans, managed to pass a new maps by a bi-partisan vote. The Michigan news site MLive reports on the Congressional map:
When the lines drawn following the 2010 census were first put into practice, Michigan’s Congressional delegation was a 9-5 split. In 2018, Democratic candidates flipped two of those seats, bringing the delegation to a 7-7 split.
Based on a partisan fairness analysis from experts contracted by the commission, the Congressional plan is projected to split with seven Democrats and six Republicans representing Michigan in Congress.Fair state legislature maps, which the Commission also drew, may prove more important than the Congressional map. The disproportion in the legislature was what got people stirred up in the first place.
Being thoroughly partisan and desperate to preserve a Democratic House delegation, I might have preferred a clean, Dem-favorable, gerrymander. But Michigan is a dangerously divided state where the right has too often turned to armed thuggery. If engaged citizens can win at democratizing a usually obscure process issue, they are building a force which our enfeebled civil society needs to endure.
Biden won only 509 counties, but they were home to 60 percent of America's population and generated 71 percent of national output. Trump was left with the rest. In the 2547 counties that voted for Trump, blue-collar jobs outnumbered white-collar. In Biden's counties, white-collar jobs clearly predominated. Of the hundred counties in the United States with the highest percentage of college degrees, Biden took 84 to Trump's 16. As recently as 2000, Bush had managed 49. Back in 1984, 80 percent of the most educated counties in America had gone for the Republicans.That's not what one might expect from a polity in which the logic of so-called "free market"capitalism is trumpeted, usually by both political parties. The pandemic has highlighted this contradiction between generation of wealth and who governs.
The general crisis of neoliberalism in 2020 thus had a specific and traumatic significance for America and for one part of the American political spectrum in particular. The vision of American government crafted by successive Democratic administrations starting with Woodrow Wilson and FDR gave American liberals tools with which to respond to the coronavirus challenge. Even the new generation of American radicals led by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez could find things to like about the New Deal.
By contrast, the Republican Party and its nationalist and conservative constituencies suffered in 2020 what can best be described as an existential crisis, with profoundly damaging consequences for the American government, for the American Constitution, and for America's relations with the wider world.
This culminated in the extraordinary period between November 3, 2020 and January 6, 2021, in which Trump refused to concede defeat, a large part of the Republican Party actively supported an effort to overturn the election, the social crisis and the pandemic were left unattended to, and finally on January 6, the president and other leading figures in his party encouraged a mob invasion of the Capitol.
As the constitutional storm clouds gathered in 2020, American business aligned massively and squarely against Trump. Nor, as we shall see, were the major voices of corporate America afraid to spell out the business cost for doing so, including shareholder value, the problems of running companies with politically divided workforces, the economic importance of the rule of law, and, astonishingly, the losses in sales to be expected in a civil war. This alignment of money with democracy in the United States in 2020 should be reassuring, up to a point. ..Tooze reminds us repeatedly that this alignment might not have survived if the choice had been between Trump or Bernie Sanders (he ignores the also-dangerous Elizabeth Warren). He goes on:
As far as corporate America was concerned, 2020 confirmed its unease with the political culture of the GOP, a tension that first became clear in 2008 with the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. America's corporate leaders were always of two minds about Trump. They like the 2017 tax cuts and his agenda of deregulation. Some maverick billionaires continued their support, but few senior business leaders wanted Trump's reactionary cultural politics. The owner of a small business might set the tone how he or she pleased. The vast majority of them were solidly pro-Trump. Conversely, it was well nigh unthinkable to run a large corporation in the United States in the summer of 2020 while simultaneously denying the seriousness of the pandemic and the cause of racial justice. What corporate America wanted was not civil war and a Darwinian push for herd immunity, but social peace and an effective containment of the epidemic.CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, Blackrock, and Goldman Sachs threw themselves into pressing a peaceful transition of power when Trump lost the election. The Chamber of Commerce was part of the chorus against Trump's Big Lie. Tooze credits these forces with enabling established institutions to hold against the Trump coup attempt.
The U.S. military refused to have anything to do with the Trumpists... For all the furor over the transition, in the weeks prior to January 6, America's political class had already reached a basic compromise to stave off the actual threat of the moment -- the looming collapse of the country's fragile welfare system. [In December, for each party's own reasons, Congress had approved new stimulus checks.] ... A polity that could agree on practically nothing else did in the end agree on people's need for money. ... It was this that accounted for the jarring juxtaposition on January 6. Even as the mob cavorted in the congressional chambers on live TV, the S&P 500 surged. ... What boosted the markets on January 6 was the knowledge that even if Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues were sheltering for safety under armed guard, one thing was now clear: the fiscal taps were staying open.I like to think there was more to this moment than Tooze reports, that there were pro-democracy actors outside the capitalist class. Many of the forces in the dangerous transition period were part of a large, democratic (small "d") rabble that had organized itself over the anxious months before the election. I think particularly of Barton Gellman's September 2020 article The Election That Could Break America which raised the alarm among the high-attention reading public, as did Rosa Brook's Transition Integrity Project among journalists and pundits.
But there was also preparatory work among the more activist segments of the Democratic base. I was astonished in the run-up to November 3 to attend mass Zoom meetings of union staff and activists preparing for an attempt by Trump to steal the election. The usually sclerotic AFL-CIO leadership shared a visual description of the steps involved in moving from Election Day to Inauguration -- TV networks "calling" the states based on tallies, state certifications of the results, Electoral College acceptance of state certified results, and confirmation by Congress of the Electoral College outcome on January 6. People don't come born knowing this stuff--it is (was) pretty arcane. Union leaders meant to create a disciplined mass of leaders and members who could understand what was happening and be roused to turn out to defend the process.
A less centralized and coherent, but no less significant, collection of community-based civil society organizations that had worked to replace Trump with Biden also prepared to oppose a coup attempt. In late January 2021, Alexander Burns reported on their careful preparations:
At each juncture, the activist wing of the Democratic coalition deployed its resources deliberately, channeling its energy toward countering Mr. Trump’s attempts at sabotage. Joseph R. Biden Jr., an avowed centrist who has often boasted of beating his more liberal primary opponents, was a beneficiary of their work.
... Worried that Mr. Trump might use any unruly demonstrations as pretext for a federal crackdown of the kind seen last summer in Portland, Ore., progressives organized mass gatherings only sparingly and in highly choreographed ways after Nov. 3. In a year of surging political energy across the left and of record-breaking voter turnout, one side has stifled itself to an extraordinary degree during the precarious postelection period...
Interviews with nearly two dozen leaders involved in the effort, and a review of several hundred pages of planning documents, polling presentations and legal memorandums, revealed an uncommon — and previously unreported — degree of collaboration among progressive groups that often struggle to work so closely together because of competition over political turf, funding and conflicting ideological priorities.For once, the nonprofit activist sector resolved not to hang separately. If you want to feel better about the ungainly mess that is the broad progressive coalition, read Mr. Burns' article.
Adam Tooze ended his snapshot of the pandemic's effects in April 2021. He sees trouble ahead for the Biden presidency and for the country. Our contradictions have not weathered the pandemic well.
... as 2008 demonstrated and 2020 confirmed, the GOP is no longer a party with a vision of government either in the long or even the short term. It has revealed itself as a vehicle for the undisciplined pursuit of particular interests and the expression of affect rather than considered national policy.
There are, of course, massive modernizing forces at work in the United States. For better and for worse, they are aligning increasingly unambiguously with the Democratic Party. As they have demonstrated in successive presidential elections, the Democrats are majoritarian ... [but thanks to constitutional systemic distortions] the grip on power of this modernizing coalition is frustratingly weak.... The Biden presidency's first order of business is to attempt to restore coherence ... For all the enthusiasm surrounding the early months of the Biden administration, the haunting question remains: is the United States as a nation-state capable of responding in a coherent and long term fashion to the challenge ...?
... If our first reaction to 2020 was disbelief, our watchword in facing the future should be: "We ain't seen nothing yet."
At Christmas in 1978, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, soon to be felled as a class traitor, preached the meaning of Christmas as he understood it to the very class which had him killed.
No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God — for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.
It's easy to imagine why some of Romero's hearers wanted him dead.
This morning in Zoom church, a friend told of taking food on Christmas Day to another friend who is living by the underside of a bridge. Food was nice, but it wasn't what the recipient most needed. That would have been a new tent, as the previous night's rain storm had destroyed the one he had been living in.
We may have the poor always with us; Christmas signifies we also have God-with-us. Kinda scary; totally wonderful.
He's lately done a series of posts, commenting on and amplifying historian Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Snyder's format invites such an exercise in political thought. I did some of this myself when trying to think through the neo-Nazi eruption in Charlottesville in 2017.
Two of Scot's points seemed particularly intriguing to me.
On the subject of Snyder's admonition to Be Kind to Our Language:
For political activists, having a common language, including key words and concepts, on which to found a shared practice, with shared tools and evaluative methodologies, is extremely important. But when it comes to how we speak and act in the world, just repeating words, phrases, slogans, and memes without reflection can be a default to social separation, which is exactly what authoritarians want from us.
... Reading books and other sources of knowledge available in the commons - places like libraries, public journalism, etc. - and especially those that frame knowledge just outside of your most closely held assumptions, is not just a means of sharpening your critical faculties, but of broadening your view such that you can see others, and potential danger, more clearly.
Take the time to put ideas in your own words. Doing so requires critical evaluation of the meaning of the memes that catch our attention. Everyone has biases and filters that shape the way we see the world. Knowing what biases and filters shape your worldview turns them from limitations to opportunities.
Or, in blunt language of this electoral organizer, you have to talk with people you hope to influence or convert in language they can understand. And if you listen, you may find they can offer you their own language that meshes with your concepts. You don't get anywhere demanding that people learn your language in order to converse with you.
On the subject of Snyder's admonition to Be a Patriot:
There’s patriotism and there’s chauvinistic ultranationalism. Know the difference and make “America” mean constantly striving for greater inclusion, pluralism, fuller representation, and greater equity for all. We are the land of the brave who embrace diversity and are not afraid of it, nor of dynamism and change in our politics as long as all can participate equitably in decision making.
More specifically, be aware nationality is the overarching identity on which nation-states are founded and without which they cannot survive. When we grow cynical of the possibility of inclusive, people-centered nationality, we grow cynical toward the state and the very idea of unity under a single government. When this happens, openings are made for reactionary forms of ethnic and racial nationalism and the end of the democracy looms over us. This is as true or perhaps even more true for the U.S. because American nationalism is rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy.
Every state achieves national unity through some forms of coercion. The balance of voluntary versus coercive unity is greater in democratic states and, importantly, democratic states protect the freedom of citizens to act against coercion and for the achievement of a more perfect union. Autocratic states do not.
Too often, some groups are partially or fully excluded from nationality in order to hold them in a state of easy exploitation or, in the case of Native Americans, Chamorros, Native Hawaiians and other indigenous people, to dispossess them of their land and sovereignty. For this reason, American nationality must not attempt to achieve unity through colorblindness. Unity needs to be founded on anti-racism.
Patriotism is so hard to stomach for any of us who came up trying to end the U.S. empire's wars -- in Vietnam, Central America, the misbegotten "War on Terror." Or for those of us who never could trust that they would not be ejected from the nation by other citizens.
But defending democracy from an authoritarian Republican Party has to include appeals to unity within the nation's unrealized possibilities. We have to embrace a vision of national aspiration. We can't just reject. People still risk their lives to live here rather than in so many other, more awful, places. Sure, this is a wealthy place to fetch up. But also, there is here a wisp of a vision of an equitable multiracial, multi-gendered land. That national vision is our inheritance and we have to affirm it, carefully even if uncomfortably.
As Dorothy Day once told me, "you can't change it, if you don't love it first."
Starting today, the daylight will begin to lengthen here in the Northern Hemisphere. Climatologist Brian Brettschneider offers a wonderful collection of maps of the light as it strikes us. Follow the link to explore. Here's a sample. I love maps.
|Click to enlarge.|
In this moment when we're forced to watch the laughably undemocratic (small "d") U.S. Senate thwart the will of a sizable majority of us, it's worth recalling that the democratic impulse is astonishingly resilient -- and on the move in unlikely places.
Honduras: In 2009, the U.S.-backed a military coup ousted the more or less legitimate government of President Manuel Zelaya. That unfortunate country has been governed (and misgoverned) by a series of unpopular violent kleptocrats ever since. At times, narco traffickers seemed to own the state. The 2017 election was a violent mess; 23 people died and protesters filled the streets, protesting electoral manipulation which kept the ruling party in power. Even the Organization of American States called that "election" a fraud.
SANTIAGO, Chile — Gabriel Boric, a tattooed 35-year-old former student leader from the far south of Patagonia, has secured a crushing victory to become Chile’s president-elect.Chile was Latin America's most stable democracy until the U.S.-backed a coup in 973 overthrew its elected socialist government. U.S. rightwing economists used the unfortunate country as a playground for trying out their exploitative theories. Chile then suffered under a vicious fascist military dictatorship until 1990. It seemed to have established a viable constitutional system including peaceful transitions of power, but popular fury over remnants of the dictatorship and economic inequity has been rising.
This is the hardest part. Sebastian Haffner recounts how life under the victorious Nazis overwhelmed his moral instincts and hopes -- and those of everyone around him. (Part one of my series on Defying Hitler: a memoir; there's a part two here: "how could the Nazis seize power".)
For all the upheaval in German society subsequent to the Great War, the arrival of a barbaric governing force that respected no civilized norms found Haffner and his peers utterly unprepared. Everything they had ever known couldn't be collapsing, could it?
I had already lived through a fair number of “historical events.” All Europeans of the present generation can make that claim, and none more so than the Germans. Those events have naturally left their mark on me, as on all my compatriots. If one fails to appreciate this, one will not be able to understand what happened later.
There is, however, an important difference between what happened before 1933 and what came afterward. We watched the earlier events unfold. They occupied and excited us, sometimes they even killed one or another of us or ruined him; but they did not confront us with ultimate decisions of conscience. Our innermost being remained untouched. We gained experience, acquired convictions, but remained basically the same people. However, no one who has, willingly or reluctantly, been caught up in the machine of the Third Reich can honestly say that of himself.This unpreparedness was as much personal as societal.
... I can only smile ruefully when I consider how prepared I was for the adventure that awaited me. I was not prepared at all. I had no skills in boxing or jujitsu, not to mention smuggling, crossing borders illegally, using secret codes, and so on; skills that would have stood me in good stead in the coming years.
My spiritual preparation for what was ahead was almost equally inadequate. Is it not said that in peacetime the chiefs of staff always prepare their armies as well as possible — for the previous war? I cannot judge the truth of that, but it is certainly true that conscientious parents always educate their sons for the era that is just over. I had all the intellectual endowments to play a decent part in the bourgeois world of the period before 1914. I had an uneasy feeling, based on what I had experienced, that it would not be much help to me. That was all. At best I smelled a warning whiff of what was about to confront me, but I did not have an intellectual system that would help me deal with it.Like most people everywhere, politics was just background noise to Haffner, more unpleasant static than a vital interest. He didn't have to define himself in relation to this country's political currents -- and he didn't.
At that time I had no strong political views. I even found it difficult to decide whether I was “right” or “left,” ...
At about five o’clock the evening papers arrived: “Cabinet of National Unity Formed — Hitler Reichschancellor.” I do not know what the general reaction was. For about a minute, mine was completely correct: icy horror. Certainly this had been a possibility for a long time. You had to reckon with it. Nevertheless it was so bizarre, so incredible, to read it now in black on white. Hitler Reichschancellor ... for a moment I physically sensed the man’s odor of blood and filth, the nauseating approach of a man-eating animal — its foul, sharp claws in my face. Then I shook the sensation off, tried to smile, started to consider, and found many reasons for reassurance.It was just too much of a break from the world that he had known to take in. But very quickly, he began to hear dire stories. This was a world before the internet, so rumors of the worst atrocities passed from mouth to mouth. Massacres in working class neighborhoods; Jewish professionals beaten and dragged into the streets. But the Nazi-controlled media -- that was all mainstream media -- also frequently trumpeted horror stories of terror, naming them victories for the purity of the fatherland.
In 1933 the terror was practiced by a real bloodthirsty mass (namely the SA — the SS did not play a part until later), but this mass acted as “auxiliary police,” without any emotion or spontaneity, and without any risk to themselves. Rather, they acted from a position of complete security, under orders and with strict discipline. The external picture was one of revolutionary terror: a wild, unkempt mob breaking into homes at night and dragging defenseless victims to the torture chambers. The internal process was repressive terror: cold, calculated, official orders, directed by the state and carried out under the full protection of the police and the armed forces.Yet he had to keep on living. People do.
Daily life also made it difficult to see the situation clearly. Life went on as before, though it had now definitely become ghostly and unreal, and was daily mocked by the events that served as its background.
Strangely enough, it was just this automatic continuation of ordinary life that hindered any lively, forceful reaction against the horror. I have described how the treachery and cowardice of the leaders of the opposition prevented their organizations from being used against the Nazis or offering any resistance. That still leaves the question why no individuals ever spontaneously opposed some particular injustice or iniquity they experienced, even if they did not act against the whole. (I am not blind to the fact that this charge applies to me as much as to anyone else.) It was hindered by the mechanical continuation of normal daily life.Haffner was a law student, cramming for an approaching exam which would entitle him to a career in the courts -- and justify all the money his father had paid for his education. He spent his days reading alongside a roomful of students much like him -- a room from which all the Jewish students quickly disappeared. One day, S.A. thugs came in to inspect who was left ...
... a brown shirt approached me and took up position in front of my worktable. “Are you Aryan?” Before I had a chance to think, I said, “Yes.” He took a close look at my nose — and retired. The blood shot to my face. A moment too late I felt the shame, the defeat. I had said “Yes”! Well, in God’s name, I was indeed an “Aryan.” I had not lied, I had allowed something much worse to happen. What a humiliation, to have answered the unjustified question as to whether I was “Aryan” so easily, even if the fact was of no importance to me! What a disgrace to buy, with a reply, the right to stay with my documents in peace! I had been caught unawares, even now. I had failed my very first test. I could have slapped myself.Shamed as he felt, the temptation was always to go along and keep his head down.
The plight of non-Nazi Germans in the summer of 1933 was certainly one of the most difficult a person can find himself in: a condition in which one is hopelessly, utterly overwhelmed, accompanied by the shock of having been caught completely off balance. We were in the Nazis’ hands for good or ill. All lines of defense had fallen, any collective resistance had become impossible. Individual resistance was only a form of suicide. We were pursued into the farthest corners of our private lives; in all areas of life there was rout, panic, and flight. No one could tell where it would end.
At the same time we were called upon, not to surrender, but to renege. Just a little pact with the devil — and you were no longer one of the captured quarry. Instead you were one of the victorious hunters. That was the simplest and crudest temptation. Many succumbed to it. Later they often found that the price to be paid was higher than they had thought and that they were no match for the real Nazis.Under the pressure of circumstances, the instinct is to deform your own being in an illusory escape.
You do not want to let yourself be morally corrupted by hate and suffering, you want to remain good-natured, peaceful, amiable, and “nice.” But how to avoid hate and suffering if you are daily bombarded with things that cause them? You must ignore everything, look away, block your ears, seal yourself off. ...
... So it is no wonder that the opposition has never developed any goals, methods, plans, or expectations. Most of its members spend their time bemoaning the atrocities. The dreadful things that are happening have become essential to their spiritual well-being. Their only remaining dark pleasure is to luxuriate in the description of gruesome deeds, and it is impossible to have a conversation with them on any other topic. ...
... However far one retreated, everywhere one was confronted with the very thing one had been fleeing from. I discovered that the Nazi revolution had abolished the old distinction between politics and private life, and that it was quite impossible to treat it merely as a “political event.” It took place not only in the sphere of politics, but also in each individual private life; it seeped through the walls like a poison gas. If you wanted to evade the gas there was only one option: to remove yourself physically — emigration. Emigration: that meant saying goodbye to the country of one’s birth, language, and education and severing all patriotic ties.Emigration was the personal solution that Haffner was fortunate to be able to accomplish in 1938. Shortly after, he began writing the manuscript that became this book. He abandoned the project when the shooting war began in August 1939. During the war, he made a living in journalism, first writing in German and then in English while living in Britain. In the 1950s, he left Britain to return to Germany where he became an esteemed political commentator over several decades. His son found the manuscript of Defying Hitler after his father's death.
• • •
Coda: on The Bulwark Podcast, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, a leader in the Congressional effort to impeach Donald Trump -- twice -- was asked what it was like to see Republican colleagues he had long known absorbed by an authoritarian cult: ".. what I learned all too painfully was, it happens one day at a time, one small concession at a time in the beginning, one small lie, followed by a demand for a bigger lie and a bigger concession, a bigger moral lapse, followed by another until you know, these folks that I admired and respected, because I believe that they believe what they were saying, had given themselves up so completely to Donald Trump and his immorality."
• • •
Postlude: G. Elliot Morris is a young and upcoming data nerd for The Economist. He has looked at what he's finding and concluded:
"Democratic decline starts when one party refuses to play by the agreed-upon rules. Accelerating downturn ends either when forces for good reform institutions and cut off illiberalism at its roots, or when authoritarians succeed in overthrowing the government without the consent of all the nation’s people. America has begun its decline. The people must now choose the ending...."
We've been warned.
There are legions of historians, sociologists, and economists who have devoted lives to that question. Sebastian Haffner lived it and provides the observations of a sensitive eyewitness in Defying Hitler: a Memoir, written in 1939 from exile from Germany when he could not know where all this might lead. (Part one of my series on this book is here.)
From 1914 to 1918 a generation of German schoolboys daily experienced war as a great, thrilling, enthralling game between nations, which provided far more excitement and emotional satisfaction than anything peace could offer; and that has now become the underlying vision of Nazism.He has nothing much to say in favor of the political upheavals in the German state after that war and the deposition of the German Kaiser, the last Hohenzollern monarch. The chaotic birth of the Weimar Republic did not inspire.
As middle-class boys, who moreover had only just been roughly jolted out of a four-year-long patriotic intoxication with war, we were naturally against the Red revolutionaries; against Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and their Spartacus League. Although we only vaguely knew that they would “rob us of everything,” probably liquidate those of our parents who were well-off, and altogether make life frightful and “Russian,” we had thus to be in favor of Ebert and Noske and their Free Corps. But, alas, it was impossible to work up any enthusiasm for these figures. The spectacle they offered was too obviously repellent, the stench of treachery that clung to them was too pervasive; it was plain even to the nose of an eleven-year-old boy.Things didn't get much better over the decade of the 1920s, though the young Haffner wasn't personally discomfited by the ongoing instability of the German state. The highpoint of Weimar democracy according to historians came under the leadership of the Jewish industrialist and politician Walter Rathenau who was assassinated by gangsters of the extreme right.
What the short-lived Rathenau epoch left behind was the confirmation of the lesson already learned in the years 1918 and 1919: nothing the left did ever came off.By 1932, the unstable Weimar Republic was being torn apart by worker discontent on the left and right-wing demagoguery that blamed democracy itself for the state's failures. The Nazis deftly navigated this fractious stew, placing their leader Hitler in power. The old political class of the center -- Haffner's class of educated professionals -- did not hold.
It was strange to observe how the behavior of each side reinforced that of the other: the savage impudence that gradually made it possible for the unpleasant little apostle of hate to assume the proportions of a demon; the bafflement of his tamers, who always realized just too late exactly what it was he was up to — namely, when he capped it with something even more outrageous and monstrous; then, also, the hypnotic trance into which his public fell, succumbing with less and less resistance to the glamour of depravity and the ecstasy of evil.
... The mind-set of “appeasement” was also apparent. Powerful groups were in favor of rendering Hitler “harmless” by giving him “responsibility.” There were constant political arguments, fruitless and bitter, in cafés and bars, in shops, schools, and in family homes. ... The Nazis constantly gained ground. What was no longer to be found was pleasure in life, amiability, fun, understanding, goodwill, generosity, and a sense of humor. There were few good books being published anymore, and certainly no readers. The air in Germany had rapidly become suffocating.With terrible foreboding, Haffner watched the the Nazis march to power in the national elections of 1933.
It started with a huge victory celebration before the elections on March 4 — ”Tag der nationalen Erhebung” (Day of National Rising). There were mass parades, fireworks, drums, bands, and flags all over Germany, Hitler’s voice over thousands of loudspeakers, oaths and vows — and all before it was even certain that the elections might not be a setback for the Nazis, which indeed they were.
These elections, the last that were ever held in prewar Germany, brought the Nazis only 44 percent of the votes (in the previous elections they had achieved 37 percent). The majority was still against the Nazis. If you consider that terror was in full swing, that the parties of the left had been prohibited from all public activity in the decisive final week before the elections, you have to admit that the German people as a whole had behaved quite decently.
However, it made no difference at all. The defeat was celebrated like a victory, the terror intensified, the celebrations multiplied. Flags never left the windows for a whole fortnight.And then he watched the collapse of nominal opposition to Nazism.
Hundreds of thousands, who had up until then been opponents, joined the Nazi Party in March 1933. ... In each individual case the process of becoming a Nazi showed the unmistakable symptoms of nervous collapse. The simplest and, if you looked deeper, nearly always the most basic reason, was fear. Join the thugs to avoid being beaten up. Less clear was a kind of exhilaration, the intoxication of unity, the magnetism of the masses.
Many also felt a need for revenge against those who had abandoned them. Then there was a peculiarly German line of thought: “All the predictions of the opponents of the Nazis have not come true. They said the Nazis could not win. Now they have won. Therefore the opponents were wrong. So the Nazis must be right.”He watched the Nazis begin to manipulate public understanding to mount their campaign against Jewish Germans.
Apart from the terror, the unsettling and depressing aspect of this first murderous declaration of intent was that it triggered a flood of arguments and discussions all over Germany, not about anti-Semitism but about the “Jewish question.” This is a trick the Nazis have since successfully repeated many times on other “questions” and in international affairs. By publicly threatening a person, an ethnic group, a nation, or a region with death and destruction, they provoke a general discussion not about their own existence, but about the right of their victims to exist. In this way that right is put in question.Though most everyone Haffner knew understood that something poisonous had taken over their country, there was little resistance once Hitler controlled the power of the state and the allegiance of a populist, murderous gang.
One temptation, often favored by older people, was withdrawal into an illusion: preferably the illusion of superiority. Those that surrendered to this clung to the amateurish, dilettantish aspects that Nazi politics undoubtedly exhibited at first. Every day they tried to convince themselves and others that this could not continue for long, and maintained an attitude of amused criticism. They spared themselves the perception of the fiendishness of Nazism by concentrating on its childishness, and misrepresented their position of complete, powerless subjugation as that of superior, unconcerned onlookers.Wistfully, writing in 1939, he concluded that
Germany did not remain Germany. The German nationalists themselves destroyed it. ... The real conflict beneath the surface, hidden by the common clichés and platitudes, was between nationalism and keeping faith with one’s country.By that he meant that the militaristic, aggressive, racist nationalism of the Nazis had supplanted any love of county which could countenance peace or harmony among peoples and nations.
• • •
Postlude. Let's go with the modern English lyrics sung to the tune of Jean Sibelius' Finlandia:
This is my song, O God of all the nations
A song of peace, for lands afar and mine
This is my home, the country where my heart is
Hear are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine
My country's skies are bluer than the ocean
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine
Oh hear my song, thou God of all the nations
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
... the book offers direct answers to two questions that Germans of my generation had been asking their parents since the war: “How were the Nazis possible?” and “Why didn’t you stop them?” The usual replies had been evasive. Frequently those questioned declared that they had known nothing until it was too late. My father’s vivid account makes the rise of the Nazis psychologically comprehensible, and it shows how difficult resistance was, but it also demonstrates that it was plain from the outset what they stood for.This compelling memoir of Haffner's life under the Nazis was never finished. He emigrated (illegally) to Britain in 1938 and through various twists and turns learned to write English so well that he edited major English newspapers, returning to Germany only in the 1950s. He then became a well-known political commentator. This memoir only came to light after his death. On publication in 2001, it became a bestseller in Germany.
My father, Sebastian Haffner, might not have been pleased to see this book published. He died in 1999 at the age of ninety-one, a celebrated German author and historical journalist with a reputation for books containing highly original, coolly and lucidly argued insights into the history of Germany in the twentieth century. This book, the first political book he wrote, was started in exile in England early in 1939. Abandoned in the autumn of that year, it may be original and lucid, but it is not cool. It is the passionate outburst of a young man whose career has been cut off and whose life has been turned inside out by his own countrymen, following a leader and an ideology he views only with contempt and disgust.
... With the outbreak of the war, understanding why the Germans had become Nazis became a somewhat academic question.But what it is like to have the political system and aspirations of one's country overturned by empowered thugs cannot today, in the United States, be an academic concern.
Political activist Brian Beutler: The only nice thing about staring doom in the face is it focuses the mind.
I wouldn't be paying any attention to this except that a good friend with whom I worked for months to elect Joe Biden found herself stuck in The Villages this year. She was attending to the affairs of a diseased relative.
She reports that you can't go anywhere in the famously conservative Florida retirement community without having to listen to "outside music" -- oldies interspersed with rightwing news. (The only place I've run across this was the hotel complex adjacent to Disneyland's Magic Kingdom in Anaheim. The apparent sprinkler heads spoke.)
Guess what? The Villages has proved to be a hotbed of (alleged) voter fraud -- Republican voter fraud.
SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. – Three residents of The Villages have recently been arrested as part of an ongoing investigation into voter fraud, court records show.
Jay Ketcik, Joan Halstead and John Rider are each charged with casting more than one ballot in an election, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. . . .
Ketcik, 63, is accused of voting by mail in Florida in October 2020 while also casting an absentee ballot in his original home state of Michigan, court records show.
Halstead, 71, voted in-person in Florida but also cast an absentee ballot in New York, prosecutors allege. . . .
Rider, 61, was arrested by Brevard County deputies at the Royal Caribbean cruise ship terminal at Port Canaveral on Dec. 3, according to court records. Details of the accusations against him were not immediately available, but prosecutors indicated he also cast ballots both out-of-state and in Florida. . . .
All three are registered as Republicans in Florida, voter registration records show.
Maybe they thought they were playing a game. Just tweaking the libs. Or raising their ratings by inflaming the suckers who trust them. And then things got all too real.
If you’re going to cast doubt on our elections as an organizing and galvanizing tool, you probably shouldn’t be surprised when people decide they must act on those lies.
... But to these Fox hosts, graphic depictions of that true intent — embodied in the rioters’ feral hunt for lawmakers to violently disrupt the election’s official conclusion — are just a bit too revelatory.
... Lying about our elections isn’t tantamount to endorsing violence in response. But telling people they’re being tyrannized by an all-powerful, multi-tentacled leftist enemy that wields our democratic processes as illegitimate instruments of subjugation can lead quickly to the thought that the only recourse is to take matters into one’s own hands, outside those processes.
The Washington Post's Aaron Blake shares some of their pleas.
Fox host Laura Ingraham to [White House Chief of Staff Mark] Meadows: “Hey Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
I wish the Wapo had had the decency not to call the texts "juicy." That headline is soul curdling if you think elections matter. The investigation isn't a thrilling game of gotcha. We are living amid a life and death struggle over the continuation of a mostly honest, almost majority-rule, democratic polity.
• • •
While releasing some of the insurrection commission's findings yesterday, Liz Cheney described Donald Trump's actions that terrible day as "dereliction of duty," a crime in the military, though not perhaps in civilian life. After sifting through the growing evidence that Trump delighted in the mob violence he'd incited to overthrow the election, the Post's Phillip Bump concludes:
... The Jan. 6 committee is unmasking the effort. But then what?
• • •
Anne Applebaum's book about how previously conventional rightwing opportunists became active fascists is illuminating here. The enablers have made choice after choice to morph into the malevolent anti-democratic force they have become.
Reading this article -- As U.S. Nears 800,000 Virus Deaths, 1 of Every 100 Older Americans Has Perished-- I found myself wishing, as I do frequently, that Ronni Bennett was still among us to talk about it. But I'll try my own inadequate observations.
Yes -- the headline is just weird. I wish headline writers would work harder to be clear about statistics. Old people die from all causes in large numbers. We know that. What I am doing below is pulling out numerical excerpts which draw the picture of how COVID has struck among U.S. old people -- that means age 65 and up, I assume, although this long article does not explicitly define its age parameters.
Seventy-five percent of people who have died of the virus in the United States — or about 600,000 of the nearly 800,000 who have perished so far — have been 65 or older. One in 100 older Americans has died from the virus. For people younger than 65, that ratio is closer to 1 in 1,400.
... By now, Covid-19 has become the third leading cause of death among Americans 65 and older, after heart disease and cancer. It is responsible for about 13 percent of all deaths in that age group since the beginning of 2020, more than diabetes, accidents, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
... The virus deaths of older people have sometimes been dismissed as losses that might have occurred anyway, from other causes, but analyses of “excess deaths” challenge that suggestion. Eighteen percent more older people died of all causes in 2020 than would have died in an ordinary year, according to data from the C.D.C.Perhaps this presentation of the statistical evidence seems so disjointed because it wasn't really the authors' main interest. Interspersed with the stats they offer anecdotes about how old people are weathering the pandemic. Guess what? We elders come in all kinds and our experiences have been very individual. Some have hunkered down and ended up feeling unhappily isolated --while others rather enjoyed the quiet. Some have greatly restricted their activities; others refused to cut back on their lives despite public health warnings. Elders come in all sorts.
• • •
It never hurts to learn more about how other elders are managing (or not). For the heck of it, I'll tell a bit about the evolution of my personal responses to the pandemic in my age-70s -- please add your story in the comments if interested.
When COVID first came among us in March 2020, I was badly scared. It was described as a respiratory virus and I have learned painfully that my body is not good at clearing viral infections in the sinuses and lungs. Big trouble. We had one of the earliest and more restrictive lockdowns here in San Francisco. I found I didn't mind such adaptations as staying home, ordering groceries, and seeing only a very few other people. I found I could make myself useful by doing no-contact food deliveries to shut-ins through a Mission community organization. And I never stopped Walking San Francisco, a fascinating exercise in uniquely car-free streets.
In the fall of 2020, I was frustrated by not being able to join Democratic election work in Nevada as planned, but taught myself to contribute via national union phone banks. And I had always hated phoning! Hey, we even kept on going to help elect the two Democratic Senators from Georgia on January 5, 2021.
When the vaccines arrived, I was fortunate to figure out how to be close to first-in-line for shots among the healthy old people cohort.
And once vaccinated, this city's life and most of my activities have resumed. Our church finally resumed in-person worship. By fall 2021, I felt I could get on buses again. Despite the transit system still being under a continued mask mandate, this nevertheless makes me nervous. In September we flew to a delayed memorial service on the other side of the country. Nobody got sick. Though I've been resistant to online meetings and classes, I now participate in two regular ones.
Folks I know got boosted promptly. Some much older (age mid-90s) friends are still staying more strictly away from group contact. But mostly people I know are acting as if the pandemic was under control. This area is extremely well vaccinated. Omicron may prove our hopes wrong. Or not. We're somewhat inured to chances and changes.
• • •
Again, any elders wanting to describe how the pandemic has struck them, do add your story in comments. We're all different.
Some of the many images I've collected in the city of St. Francis: