Posts Tagged ‘evil’

Trump: no more Mr. Nice Guy

October 11, 2016

unknownNow he says the shackles are off him.

I’ve watched political debates for 56 years. But Sunday’s featured the most shocking and frightening thing I ever heard in one: Trump’s threat to jail his opponent.

We take for granted our free and open political competition. But if government can interfere with that, voting is meaningless. That happens in too many countries, like Russia, Cuba, Iran, China, Egypt, and now Turkey, where politically challenging those in power means jail. Dictators everywhere pervert laws and courts to lock up critics. Even in some ostensible democracies like Singapore and Malaysia, governments abuse judicial processes to persecute and neutralize political opponents. unknown-1We’ve just learned of South Africa’s well-respected finance minister being hit with corruption charges, an obvious political set-up (while President Zuma gets away with huge transgressions).

America was established to avoid just that kind of pernicious abuse, with a strong system of checks and balances, including an independent judiciary, and the First Amendment guaranteeing free expression. Our record is not spotless. The 1790s Alien and Sedition laws put a congressman behind bars for his anti-administration views; during the Civil War, some pro-slavery Northern politicians too were jailed; and Nixon tried to use the IRS to harass opponents. Yet those were exceptions that prove the rule. Throughout our history, the rule has been that you don’t use control over the levers of government power to beat on and intimidate political foes.

That, once more, has been a key underpinning of our democracy, because it gives opponents a fair chance of winning elections. And this is not even so much a consequence of our system and rules as it is a part of our culture. It’s our civic and political ethos; the way we’ve grown up to behave.

images-1The matters for which Trump threatens to jail Hillary Clinton have been fully investigated by the relevant federal authorities, and as explained by the (Republican) FBI Director, they determined that no criminal charges are appropriate. But even if that were not so, a candidate talking about jailing his opponent is a visceral, terrifying threat to the kind of country we are. Hearing it froze my blood.

This is not how America does politics.

November 9 – 25 Years Later – Save The Wall

November 9, 2014


I was a kid when I went by myself one time to the 1964 New York World’s Fair – I lived nearby – and wandered into the West German pavilion. There was a film about the Berlin Wall (erected in 1961). I was stunned. Until then I hadn’t truly grasped the evil. It made me a cold warrior.

Twenty Five years later. Remodeling at my office had resulted in a stupid partition blocking my window view. In chatting with my wife about my efforts to get it removed, I called it “The Berlin Wall.”

Then one day when she walked in, I greeted her by saying, “The Berlin Wall came down today.”

“The one at your office?”

“No,” I said. “The real one. In Germany.”

imagesShortly before, I had switched on the evening TV news, and saw people dancing atop the wall. I will never forget that moment, and the pictures of people flooding through those gates, whooping with exhilaration at the freedom they’d gained. It was November 9, 1989 – the world became a new and better place. It was an unambiguous triumph of my dearest beliefs. Life doesn’t give us too many like that. There are tears in my eyes now, writing this.

A lot has happened in the ensuing 25 years, and some pessimists believe the world is now worse. Well, it sure ain’t perfect. But the great sweep of history is the titanic efforts of human beings to make things better. November 9, 1989 was a milestone in that eternal struggle.

images-2My wife later gave me, as a gift, a little box containing a souvenir – a chunk from the Berlin Wall. Then we visited Germany, and I could actually stand, upon a patch of rubble where once the wall had been, and raise my arms in triumph.

At first the Germans left a little of the wall intact, for remembrance. But now even that bit is under threat of demolition. Some people are saying, “Save the Wall!” and I agree. This should be kept as a monument to the evil it represented – and a monument to the human beings who overcame it.

In 1964 I could not foresee the day when that wall would come down. And I certainly could not have imagined the day, 50 years later, when I’d write a blog post saying, “Save the Wall.”Unknown

Hateful Jews

July 6, 2014

               The best lack all conviction, while the worst

               Are full of passionate intensity

                        — W. B. Yeats

images-1I almost titled this, “I Hate Those Jews.” That’s what I first thought – shocking myself – my own ancestry being Jewish – when I heard about the Palestinian boy apparently burned alive in “revenge” for three murdered Jewish teens.

Of course I don’t hate all Jews. Only those Jews so twisted by religious fanaticism that they could do such a thing. And unfortunately Israel has too many like that.

What kind of Bible do they believe in, that sanctions such horror? images(Oh, right; the Bible is full of such atrocities, commanded by their God.)

Here’s why I put the word “revenge” in quotes. It’s associated with “retribution” which has nasty atavistic connotations; though as I’ve explained, the concept of retribution is actually morally justifiable. It means punishing someone for a wrong he’s done. But that Palestinian boy wronged no one. To torture and murder him for crimes committed by others is sick barbarism.

But, actually, it’s worse than that; even worse than the mere sadistic murder of an innocent child. Because this was not just a crime of indiscriminate vengeance. UnknownIt was a totally cynical act, calculated to stoke communal hatred. The same was probably true of the preceding murder of the three Jews. It’s been going on for decades: fanatics using violence to make their own side hateful to the other, to make peace and reconciliation impossible.

There’s a larger lesson, also seen playing out in Iraq. Pacifism is very nice, but violence is very efficacious. In the Israeli-Palestinian situation, again and again, the worst people, willing to use the greatest violence, get their way; so too in Iraq; and of course in Syria, and Egypt, and other places. This reality of the human situation will persist so as long as people have bones that break and flesh that tears (or burns).

What is the answer for it? Obviously not pacifism, which merely hands the world over to the worst, the most violent. Instead, such evil must be opposed, and opposed with all necessary force. And we must be willing to make the judgment of evil.

Yes, such judgments are fallible. Yes, that’s black-and-white talk, and reality is often grey. But our human responsibility requires us to make, and act upon, such judgments, to the best of our ability, to prove Yeats wrong.

Unknown-1That’s what we did on D-Day; and in 1776; whose anniversaries were recently marked. I too long for a world where such sacrifices aren’t necessary. But wishing won’t make it so. Some things are worth fighting for.

The Slime of Zimbabwe

August 9, 2013

This is supposed to be an optimist blog. And I recently wrote a very positive piece about Africa. But Zimbabwe continues to veer between tragedy and farce.

images-1I started loathing its President Robert Mugabe around 25 years ago when he started talking “one party state” like it was some utopia to be achieved. Fortunately he never quite achieved it, despite immense violence expended in the effort. What he did achieve was turning Zimbabwe from Africa’s bread-basket to its basket-case, with GDP collapsed by half, a 95% unemployment rate, and hyperinflation so extreme that I made nice profits selling genuine but worthless Zimbabwean $100 Trillion bills to collectors as novelty items.Unknown

All of which thoroughly impoverished the black inhabitants Mugabe so loudly professes to exalt. This racism of his regime, added to the incompetence, rapacious klepto-“socialism,” and blood-soaked brutality, makes it all the more detestable, with Mugabe relentlessly braying blame on white people for the economic catastrophe he himself wrought. This was exemplified by his campaign to drive out Zimbabwe’s white farmers, confiscating their lands for supposed redistribution to needy blacks (including phony “war veterans”) while of course actually giving them to rich regime cronies whose feckless mismanagement made a wasteland of them. (See again my review of The Dictator’s Handbook.)

Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (“Changirai”) must get high marks for courage in battling, over long years, against this monstrous regime. It’s a miracle he’s even still alive. In the 2008 election, despite pervasive intimidation and vote rigging, Tsvangirai decisively outpolled Mugabe; but the regime cooked the electoral books enough to trigger a run-off. Tsvangirai then bowed out, on the ground that just too many of his supporters were being killed by Mugabe’s thugs. An understandable decision – but perhaps the opposition should have seen it through, to dispatch Mugabe once and for all.

Afterwards, Mugabe was forced by other African leaders into a power-sharing deal – whose terms he grossly violated. (However, the opposition did get control of the finance ministry and managed to put to rights many aspects of Zimbabwe’s shattered economy.)

Recently BBC News aired part of a nauseating so-called documentary parading Mugabe’s supposed “human” side – amiably chatting with wife and kids at dinner, and blandly burbling that if his people still need him, even at 89, he can’t say no. I wanted to get a washcloth to clean the slime off my TV.

Actually, the old monster was reported ready to slink away in ’08 – but his pals said, “Oh no you don’t,” too afraid of retribution without their front man.

Another presidential election was held July 31 – a rushed election, to foil any efforts to make it clean. Mugabe and his gang of murderers are cockily crowing their 61% landslide. If you believe their count. And ignore all the stuffed ballots. And the legions of people  stopped from voting. And beaten, tortured, or killed. Tsvangirai called the election a “farce.”

African Union Observers

African Union Observers

But the African Union’s observers saw nothing amiss; a free and fair vote they said. And South Africa’s President Zuma not only congratulated Mugabe but “profoundly” congratulated him.

I am profoundly sickened. Is there a washcloth big enough to wipe up this slime?