Kristallnacht In Broad Daylight

Writing for First Draft is one of my passions. It’s often my therapy. This has been one of those times. The MAGA Bomber’s failed attempt at mass assassination shook me to the core. Then, the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh left many of us questioning what it means to be an American in the Trump era.

I am proud to be an American, but I am ashamed of our current leadership’s inability to respond with an ounce of human decency or a scintilla of empathy. As far as the president* is concerned, it’s an inconvenient interruption of rally mania. As far as I’m concerned, Trump and his allies have blood on their hands, if not literally, then symbolically.

I’m not the only one questioning what it means to be an American in 2018. Veteran political journalist Howard Fineman grew up in Pittsburgh as a member of the Tree of Life community. His op-ed in Sunday’s New York Time was deeply moving:

I was taught in Squirrel Hill that we were in the one country that was an exception to the history of the human race in general and the Jews in particular. Founded on Enlightenment principles of individuality, freedom, tolerance and justice, the United States was the only place besides Israel where Jews could live at one with their nation, unburdened by fear or confusion about identity.


Now I must wonder: If Pittsburgh isn’t safe for Jews, if Squirrel Hill isn’t safe, if the Tree of Life isn’t safe, what place is? Without diminishing anyone else’s suffering and death, it’s a sad fact that the Jews often are the canaries in the coal mine of social and political collapse. So, what does the bloodshed in the Tree of Life mean?


It is a sign that hatred of The Other is poisoning our public life. It’s always been a vivid strain in America, stimulated by the stress of immigrant waves, but one we have overcome time and again. Although we often honor it in the breach, our founding idea remains: that each person here is precious and born with unalienable rights. Now, political enemies in America deny each other’s humanity.


It is a sign that communications can foster something less than understanding. Social media allows us to be connected but also caricatured as propaganda in campaigns of dehumanizing division.


It is a sign that President Trump’s remorselessly cynical, jungle-style vision of how to conduct business and politics is ripping apart a society already under the stress of generational, demographic, technological, economic and social change.

Once again, Donald Trump read a prepared statement in a flat, emotionless voice to signal the more mindless members of his personality cult that he didn’t really mean it. Then it was back to throwing raw meat at crowds of ravenous MAGA Maggots. He had the chutzpah to lecture the grief-stricken people at the Tree of Life Synagogue that armed guards could have prevented the slaughter. Wrong: Three police officers were wounded by the anti-Semitic gun man whose name I refuse to say. This recitation of the NRA line in the wake of a massacre sickened me.

I felt even sicker when the list of victims was published on Sunday morning:

  • Daniel Stein, 71
  • Joyce Fienberg, 75
  • Richard Gottfried, 65
  • Rose Mallinger, 97
  • Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
  • Cecil Rosenthal, 59
  • David Rosenthal, 54
  • Bernice Simon, 84
  • Sylvan Simon, 86
  • Melvin Wax, 88
  • Irving Younger, 69

Who kills octogenarians and a 97 year-old woman? Only a monster. A monster whose worst impulses were exacerbated by a national dialogue in which George Soros is the stand-in for Jewish demons conjured up in the fever dreams of the far-right. Donald Trump uses their vile rhetoric laced with anti-Semitic code words and names: Soros, globalists. Rinse, repeat, and wash.

Defenses that Trump cannot be anti-Semitic are out there already. His son-in-law is a Jew, his daughter a convert, and his grandchildren are Jewish. All true but there’s a difference between personal and political bigotry. His kinfolks are the good ones, a credit to their faith. Soros is a bad hombre who is flooding the country with brown Central Americans. Ergo Trump cannot be anti-Semitic according to his defenders. This is, of course, nonsense. Demagogues do not need to believe in their rhetoric to inflict damage. Is it better that Hitler believed in his rhetoric as opposed to Trump’s cynical exploitation of ancient hatreds? I think not.

What happened Saturday morning at Squirrel Hill was an American Kristallnacht in broad daylight. It inspired the students at a nearby high school-Howard Fineman’s alma mater-to hold a candlelight vigil at which the chant was for not for vengeance, but for people to vote.

These are terrible times for our country but it’s time to fight back in the way that Americans traditionally have: by voting the rascals out. There has never been a midterm election as important as this one. Vote like your life depends on it. The future of the Republic certainly does: 8 days until the midterms. Tick tock, motherfuckers.

The events of last week have not only broken the social contract, they have smashed it to smithereens. I never, ever thought I’d compare something that happened in the United States of America to Kristallnacht but it’s inescapable in 2018. Godwin’s law is dead, long live Godwin’s law.

These ugly times call for some beauty. That’s why the last word goes to Paul Simon. The final stanza of American Tune gets me every time:

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

9 thoughts on “Kristallnacht In Broad Daylight

  1. This is a really great line: “Demagogues do not need to believe in their rhetoric to inflict damage. Is it better that Hitler believed in his rhetoric as opposed to Trump’s cynical exploitation of ancient hatreds? I think not.”

    One of the ways that people justify to themselves that right wing radio or TV hosts are good people is to say, “He just says that for ratings.” I say we can’t know what is going on in their heart. But we can know what he says publicly, and we need to act on that.

    One of the ways that the violent rhetoric gets pushed is the use of “faux humor” when you watch the Trump rallies he says the horrible things in the rhythm of a joke. That is designed to give the violence cover when called on it.

    I’m going to talk to a scholar on Kristallnacht on the 11th of November and ask how the media covered the event after it happened. How did the leaders at the time talk about it.
    Did they have pundits coming on TV saying, “Both sides do it.” ?
    Did they compare the breaking of windows in Jewish businesses to someone asking Goebbels to leave a deli? Did someone approach Himmler at dinner and shout at him?

    Who was the Fox News of the day is one question, but the other is how did the Non-Fox News media talk about this? How did the people in Hitler’s own party talk about this? How did the opposition talk about it? Where there “Never-Hitler’s” who spoke up? Were they on the “morning shows””
    It will be interesting to know.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Have you ever read Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler? He has some great insights and is sharing them on twitter.

      One more thing: we have reason to believe that George Wallace only believed part of the shit he said. A very successful demagogue indeed.

    2. Indeed, that was one of Hannah Arendt’s key observations: Nazis didn’t lie because they expected you to believe them. They didn’t even lie because it was what THEY believed. They lied because what they said would have to be true to justify what they intended to do.

  2. I studied Nazi Culture and the Holocaust briefly in college (I was an English major, these were electives which had nothing to do with my major) & now want to go back and reread everything I read forty years ago. What I am most curious about is the common person in Germany & the rest of Europe at that time. Were they aware of the growing Nazi outrage or did they willfully ignore it, like so many Americans do now, focusing on the 1930’s version of the I-phones & the Worlds Series & Monday Night Football & the commercial holiday season? My son, who is 25 and definitely plans to vote, keeps telling me that it can’t be as bad as I imagine it could be. I tell him to get a passport & get ready to jump the border if need be.

    1. “[i] now want to go back and reread everything I read forty years ago [about Nazi Culture].”

      Ha! You don’t need to read about it, you can live it!

      Reading about it is better, but it’s not clear we get a choice in the matter.

  3. In times of national tragedy, we look for resolve and assurance from the President—such as Bush after 9/11, Reagan with the Challenger explosion, Clinton after Oklahoma City bombing, and Obama after Sandy Hook. Unfortunately, we are underserved by the current administration.

    The President lacks any ability to show empathy or deviate in a coherent matter from a teleprompter. This senseless tragedy is a perfect opportunity for a watershed moment from the current administration, but we already know how this is going to play out.

  4. And now 5200 members of the military are being sent to the border, apparently to slaughter 3000 or so refugees that are Other. It’s everywhere.

Comments are closed.