GELFAND’S WORLD--In a recent edition of CityWatch, there was a piece suggesting that the protesters in Portland were no better than Palestinian terrorists.
The author, David Rubin, is described as the former mayor of Shiloh, which is a town on the West Bank.
Here is an excerpt from the beginning of that article:
“Why shouldn't Americans capitulate to terrorists and why do I believe there is virtually no difference between the Portland Protestors and Palestinian Terrorists? Answer: Same tactics, different country. The Palestinian schools teach geography where Israel does not even appear on the map. Expect the same thing from the protestors who brought you CHAZ. First, the national anthem, then the flag, then the map.
“Yes, but the newly declared ‘country’ in Seattle was only a few city blocks. Answer: Today a few city blocks, tomorrow a mile, then from sea to shining sea.”
My first reaction upon reading this article was that the author hasn’t been over the road from Chicago to Laramie, or anywhere in the Midwest, or much of anywhere in the far west. Maybe he’s been to the U.S. from time to time, but he doesn’t have a feel for the American people, or our system of town and county governments, or – to be blunt here – of American culture in general.
Let me put it this way. I’ve been across this country (from sea to shining sea) on at least 4 of the transcontinental highway systems (I lost count at 17 cross-country crossings) and I’ve lived on both coasts and in the Midwest. In all those years, and over all of those miles, I haven’t seen a lot of leftist signs on the side of the road, and I haven’t known a lot of people who qualified as true revolutionary troublemakers. I have seen lots of right wing signs and billboards and bumper stickers. Anybody remember the signs that said Impeach Earl Warren? Or the present day signs along interstate 5 or highway 99 that no longer have the Chief Justice to impeach, but take issue with everything to the left of Niccolo Machiavelli? (Note to the reader: I’m really tired of the old cliché about anyone to the left of Attila the Hun, so I picked another famous name.)
It’s true that in the wild and wooly days of the 1910s and the late 1960s, there were a few such leftist activists. Interestingly, a few of them still exist as political activists. Another few of them flipped over and became hard-right wingers and made a living writing angry books. Most, I suspect, evolved in different directions, not because America had solved racism, poverty, and imperialism, but because they had to make a living.
For sure, their numbers have dwindled.
I don’t think David Rubin has a good idea of how many miles there actually are between those shining seas or who happens to live there. If he did, he wouldn’t make such misguided statements. This is a country where people can settle down in places where there aren’t a lot of people anywhere near. They can indulge their desire for living as independently as possible because there is lots of room. Size does matter.
And another thing about Americans. We don’t tend to remember our history all that well, and we aren’t real good at holding grudges for centuries at a time. I notice that we don’t seem to worry about being taken back by the French, the English, or the Spanish. What concerns we have with Russia don’t involve a feared loss of Alaska, and we don’t seem to have a problem with Japan or Germany, either.
It's not who we are, and it’s not what we do. And for the most part, this includes the views and politics of 98 percent of American citizens. We range from fairly conservative to moderately liberal, with a small but growing bunch who are trying to emulate the European idea of social democracy.
After reading through the whole article, I began to feel that this author is a guy who has a comic book idea of America. The only question is which comic book he got his weirdo ideas out of. For example, he believes that a few radicals in a northwestern city can somehow spread their ideas to the whole population, as if they were as catching as measles.
What’s missing here is any concept on his part of what the radicals’ ideas actually are. Anybody who spent the 1960s in the U.S. and protested against the Viet Nam War understands that there is no unified left wing in the U.S. – at least not in any way analogous with European movements of the 1800s or with Russian movements in the early 1900s. We just don’t have that kind of process – for one thing, we aren’t as hungry or as cold, and we aren’t getting beaten up by Cossacks. And for another thing, we have been taught the history of Europe and we are watchful.
And then Rubin gets really weird:
“The protests - turned riots and looting - that scorched the major cities of America in recent months, have left many Americans reeling and confused. After all, didn’t this start as a noble struggle against racism?
“Answer: Yes. U.S. domestic terrorists play the race card and do it well. Next, they might play the American Indian card. Demands for land will then be made, and if Joe Biden is elected, watch the negotiations begin, but without a peace pipe—because terrorists are not peaceful. They are never satisfied until they have acquired everything.”
See, this is a bit confusing, because the verbiage implies – ever so subtly – that our protesters have been wrong to protest racism. And that description that the protests “scorched the major cities of America” is way, way off – it’s true that television news showed us quite a few buildings and even city blocks that burned, but in a nation of more than three million square miles those burned blocks don’t count for a huge amount.
And here’s another page out of that comic book: President Joe Biden will negotiate American lands away, back to their original Native American holders.
Now that’s a wild idea if there ever was one. This assertion is made in spite of the fact that Joe Biden was selected by the middle-of-the-road candidates as the non-Bernie survivor. He was picked because he is the likeliest Democrat to beat Donald Trump in November. Yeah, Joe Biden is going to bargain away Cheyenne or Blue Earth, Minnesota. Sure. I wonder if David Rubin can identify which state Cheyenne is in.
What we were reading in Rubin’s article is some recooked version of the right wing propaganda that gets spewed out on talk radio and by some of the Fox hosts. It’s a malicious, nasty attempt at portraying Joe Biden (i.e.: the guy who has a chance to bring down their ruler) as a naïve, stupid wimp. In other words, we are getting a near-perfect projection of what Trump himself is, deep down.
We do have activists these days, but everything about our history suggests that they are not the lifetime radicals that Rubin imagines. At this time, or at least within the past couple of months, we have had protest marchers by the hundreds of thousands who are asking merely for racial peace and justice. I don’t think that’s a bad idea – how about we admit that it’s a few hundred years overdue, and agree that we ought to be righting some very old wrongs? That is not the same thing as a few dozen looters and rioters being able to impose their will on more than three hundred million people.
And the fact that organized bands of looters got their way for a few nights (and then were shut down or just stopped) is not evidence that the American republic is going to fall to some righty version of a non-existent hard left, projected from their deeper righty fantasies.
So where did this comic book view of American and the American people come from? I asked a long-time colleague (we’ll refer to him as Steve) who knows a lot more about Israeli politics than I do. Steve considered the David Rubin article and found it as silly and illogical as I did. He surmised that Rubin and other Israelis of his political strain were getting their information from sources like Tucker Carlson and Fox News. It makes sense, considering the implied accusations that Democrats and radicals are one and the same, cut from the same Marxist tree. Why else the talk about destroying the American version of the free market system, or abolishing state lines and state governments, which is what would be implied were the land to be given back to the descendants of its earlier inhabitants. Maybe it’s not precisely that person or that faux news network, but it’s all out of the same pot.
In trying to summarize, I search for a term that is stronger than balderdash but is printable in a family forum, but that will have to do for the moment.
The take home lesson from reading and considering David Rubin’s piece is that there is a right wing propaganda machine that not only spins amazing whoppers of true malice, it somehow convinces a considerable number of people of their veracity. And what’s unfortunate for our continued relationship with Israel is that a substantial fraction of their ruling coalition and of their population have tied their yoke to Donald Trump and other right wing Republicans. I suspect that a newly elected President Joe Biden would simply allow relationships to simmer for a few months and later try to pick up the pieces.
What’s also missing from Rubin’s piece is that the people of the United States are protected by an aggressively secular Constitution. For the most part, our people understand and accept the principle, although we have to admit that there are still a few million theocrats who want to return Protestant worship to the public schools. But we have Jews and Arabs living in the same cities and counties from sea to shining sea, and for the most part, they are doing so without killing each other. It’s a very different system than the author lives under, and it affects our views of how we would like to see this country evolve.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)