28 September 2017

Connections: From the Shtetl to Trump and Intentional Divisiveness

Last Sunday's NY Times Travel section featured a story about the writer's journey to eastern Europe to visit the shtetl of her forbears. The article inspired to me to click on an embedded website that contained records of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. As I already knew, the name "London" was not an Ellis Island anglicization, and I punched it in. There were hundreds of "Londons" listed as "murdered" in the camps, a majority of whom came from the general area of Poland/Russia where my grandparents lived.  A chilling reminder of how lucky I am they came here when they did.

Is that a contributing reason for my emotional patriotism? Maybe.  Perhaps my military service adds passion to my convictions, though I was never in combat. But the fact is, I actually get a bit teary when I hear God Bless America, and am offended when I go ballgames and see men fail to take off their hats during the National Anthem.

So, when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner, I was troubled.  I am wholly sympathetic to the plight of people of color who bear the brunt of racism in this country, but I wished Kaepernick would have found another way to voice his disapproval. The National Anthem and the US flag are important emotional symbols to me and I did not want have to deal with a personal conflict between my strong views about racial equality and freedom of speech on the one hand, and my sentimental attachment to national symbols that are personally important icons. The conflict for me is not new: I was vigorously opposed to the Vietnam war and participated in anti-war rallies, but was upset when activists chose to express their anti-war views by burning the flag.

I am not surprised that a fair number of normally anti-Trump progressives, some outspoken, some not, are troubled by current developments.

Bottom line, flag waving is powerful stuff. I suggest Mr. Trump is underestimated by his critics. His attack on those who kneel at NFL games is neither buffoonery nor the product of a disordered mind. Further, it is naive to believe his statements are simply a serving of raw meat to his base. Trump's divisive statements are a mean-spirited, calculated, and, I fear, effective political appeal to many outside the group that constitutes his core supporters.