Past, present, future

On August 30th Bill Keating came to the UMASS Law School for a meet and greet he didn’t want to call a Town Hall. In a previous post I suggested that Democrats like Keating are either the future of the Democratic Party or relics of its past. So on the 30th I was especially interested in how the audience responded to him.

The Democratic Representative from the Massachusetts 9th Congressional district answered a few questions, choosing instead to run out the clock on potentially tough ones and he ended by telling the crowd that he had to run: he had a dinner reservation with his mother-in law. Several people remarked that the entire performance was a waste of time and Keating was condescending and disrespectful — an opinion I shared.

But others were more generous to the congressman, a war hawk who has sided with extreme GOP positions on immigration, voted to neuter provisions in the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and who supports almost none of the progressive legislation now before Congress — legislation aligned with the new Massachusetts Democratic Party platform but legislation Democrats nevertheless seem conflicted about actually passing.

After the meet and greet I contacted several people chosen to put questions to the congressman and asked them how well he had done. I received four replies:

  • “Although I wasn’t impressed with all Rep. Keating’s answers the other night, I was satisfied with what he said to mine. He even thanked me for it as I passed him by.”
  • “My question was whether the congressman supported legislation to counter religious profiling, religious litmus tests and religious profiling of immigrants. I appreciate Representative Keating’s empathy and his referral to his own family’s encounter with discrimination as immigrant Irish Catholics. He noted that an attack on the civil rights of any minority is an attack on the civil rights of all of us.”
  • “I asked Bill Keating whether he thought, given the partisan politics in Washington today, the Republicans would join Democrats in seeking articles of impeachment if the evidence was strong enough. I think he ran with the question and spoke at length about his thoughts. I was happy with his answer. I think he answered my question, and expanded on it quite a bit. What I came away with was that, at the moment, he doesn’t think that we are quite there for a bipartisan effort.”
  • “As a general comment, I felt he didn’t directly address the question. He talked for 6 or 7 minutes about how he supports bills pushing for transparency in political donations, i.e. from whom donations are received. This, I feel, is a tepid and timid position which does not address the real problem…unregulated and unlimited amounts of money being funneled into the election process. Transparency will help, but will not do the job. I was quite disappointed in his response and it explains why he isn’t a co-sponsor.”

It’s still a bit early to definitively answer the question of what kind of Democrat represents the future of the party, but we should know by the time the Democratic primaries come around. If Reagan Democrats like Keating remain unchallenged, and a slew of Baby Keatings appear on ballots, then we’ll know the party’s true character — regardless of whatever lofty language is written into the platform.

Ultimately, though, it is voters who must push candidates to better positions, expect more, demand more, probe more. Keating’s meet and greet left me feeling discouraged that, for many Democrats, the bar is all too low. And that the party’s recent past is likely to be its near future.

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Expulsions

Tuesday was a dark day for everyone except the white supremacist regime that currently runs this country. Almost a million young Dreamers — Americans in every sense except for documentation — will be expelled with the stroke of a presidential pen unless Congress throws them a lifeline. While 2017 is certainly not 1933, it probably feels like it if you’re a Dreamer.

Maybe we should be looking at German history to see how quickly a country can run off the rails. The same history tells us how deeply expulsion hurt Jewish refugees, how painfully friendships, love, and social bonds between Jews and non-Jews were destroyed when an entire group was legislated out of existence. German history also reminds us of the enduring national trauma that white supremacist policies caused — now going on a century later.

We should remember.

In 1933 Hitler’s National Socialists passed a law for the restoration of German jobs. The whole purpose of the Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums was to make Germany great again for white protestant civil servants.

The gesetz protected German jobs from “foreigners” — non-Aryans. How easily economically-insecure lower and middle class Germans turned on Jews who had lived among them — centuries before Germany was even a nation. German Jews were Germans in every sense — but how easily and arbitrarily they were re-defined as aliens, separated from friends and family and German society with the stroke of a pen.

The president of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg, a military man with the gravitas of John McCain, was offended that Jews who had served at the front during WWI were included in the bans, and he wrung a concession from the Nazis. But Hindenburg died the following year and with him so did the concession. Dismissals from the civil service were swift and severe, and expulsions began. People like Albert Einstein, for example, saw the writing on the wall and fled.

In total, 340,000 Jews of lesser fame and resources than Einstein were forced to flee as refugees, often with little time to uproot an entire lifetime in Germany. And after all they were Germans with few connections to any of the foreign lands to which they had to escape. These were among the first victims of Nazi policies and almost a third of them perished in the Holocaust.

Then in 1938 the night known as Kristallnacht occurred. It was a nightmare of shattered glass and shattered lives. It was the beginning of the end for German Jews. The gloves were off. Germany would be a nation for Germans. Germans didn’t know it at the time, but it was also the beginning of the end for Germany.

The nightmare had started only five years earlier with the expulsions.