Speaking German

Everyone knows that Yoda, in those Star Wars movies, is German. He always puts the verb at the end of the sentence. “Defeat the Dark Side we will.” In agglutinated languages, like German, word order doesn’t matter – the form of the words, those long compound words and declensions and so on, carries the meaning. Slap on the verb at the end of things – it doesn’t matter – its location doesn’t change the meaning. In synthetic languages, like English, meaning is carried in word-order. Dog bites man – man bites dog – the same words, completely different meanings. So Yoda is obviously German – he speaks English but he doesn’t “get” English. This is supposed to make him seem wise and a bit mysterious. German is like that. It provides English speakers with a bit of schadenfreude – smug satisfaction that they know more than others – smug satisfaction that they were right all along.

Schadenfreude is a word we’ve borrowed from German, used by the highly-educated smug, but everyone’s speaking a bit of German now. In late October it was this:

An anti-media smear favored by the Nazis and the alt-right wormed its way into headlines after a Trump rally on Saturday: “Lügenpresse.”

The slur, shouted at BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray by two unidentified men at Trump’s rally in Cleveland, pre-dates the Nazis and was used at first by the German government during World War I to designate foreign writing as propaganda, according to the Washington Post.

Hitler used the term to describe the “apparatus” of his political critics, the East German government used it to decry capitalist influence, and as recently as 2015, anti-migrant organizers in Germany have used it to notify each other that members of the media were in attendance at their meetings, according to the newspaper.

That last usage won the recognition of a panel of German linguists, who called “lügenpresse” – literally, “lying press” – the “non-word of the year” for its increasingly sinister and xenophobic usage in the country…

Everyone wants to be the wise and mysterious Yoda now, sounding a bit Germanic, or in this case speaking actual German – but it is an old Nazi favorite and that’s a bit disturbing. Still, it may be Donald Trump’s favorite new word:

President-elect Donald Trump on Monday told a group of about 25 television executives and anchors that he wants a “cordial” and “productive” relationship with the media, according to one source in the room, but he still aired some grievances during the off-the-record gathering in Trump Tower.

The source said the meeting started with a typical Trump complaint about the “dishonest media,” and that he specifically singled out CNN and NBC News for example as “the worst.”

He also complained about photos of himself that NBC used that he found unflattering, the source said.

Trump turned to NBC News President Deborah Turness at one point, the source said, and told her the network won’t run a nice picture of him, instead choosing “this picture of me,” as he made a face with a double chin. Turness replied that they had a “very nice” picture of him on their website at the moment.

He was really pissed off that they caught him at an angle that showed his double chin? It seems so. At least he didn’t shout “Lügenpresse!”

Actually he did, more or less, as the New York Post reports here:

“It was like a fucking firing squad,” one source said of the encounter.

“Trump started with [CNN chief] Jeff Zucker and said ‘I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed,’ ” the source said.

“The meeting was a total disaster. The TV execs and anchors went in there thinking they would be discussing the access they would get to the Trump administration, but instead they got a Trump-style dressing down,” the source added.

A second source confirmed the fireworks.

Trump was doing his Nazi thing:

“Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong.’ He addressed everyone in the room calling the media dishonest, deceitful liars. He called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars,” the source said.

“Trump didn’t say [NBC reporter] Katy Tur by name, but talked about an NBC female correspondent who got it wrong, then he referred to a horrible network correspondent who cried when Hillary lost who hosted a debate – which was Martha Raddatz who was also in the room.”

Lügenpresse! They didn’t expect this:

The stunned reporters tried to get a word in edgewise to discuss access to a Trump Administration.

“[CBS Good Morning co-host Gayle] King did not stand up, but asked some question, ‘How do you propose we the media work with you?’ Chuck Todd asked some pretty pointed questions. David Muir asked ‘How are you going to cope with living in DC while your family is in NYC? It was a horrible meeting.”

It was for them, but only for them:

Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway told reporters the gathering went well.

“Excellent meetings with the top executives of the major networks,” she said during a gaggle in the lobby of Trump Tower. “Pretty unprecedented meeting we put together in two days.”

This unprecedented meeting also put the press in its place. President Trump will always call them all liars. They’d better get used to it, because there’s nothing they can do about it. His chief of staff Reince Priebus, his former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, were all there to reinforce that message. The lügenpresse is the enemy.

That was said a lot a long time ago in a country far away, by some rather unsavory people, but that cannot be repeating itself here again, right? That doesn’t seem to be the case:

To celebrate Donald Trump’s presidential victory, dozens of white nationalists descended on the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington, D.C. on Saturday to share glasses of wine and make Nazi salutes for the cameras.

The event, organized by the white nationalist National Policy Institute, was part of the movement’s ongoing effort to normalize their brand of “pro-white,” anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant nationalism.

Here we go again, and the New York Times has the details:

By the time Richard B. Spencer, the leading ideologue of the alt-right movement and the final speaker of the night, rose to address a gathering of his followers on Saturday, the crowd was restless…

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room – it was not clear who – shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back.

They’re back:

These are exultant times for the alt-right movement, which was little known until this year, when it embraced Mr. Trump’s campaign and he appeared to embrace it back. He chose as his campaign chairman Stephen K. Bannon, the media executive who ran the alt-right’s most prominent platform, Breitbart News, and then named him as a senior adviser and chief strategist.

Now the movement’s leaders hope to have, if not a seat at the table, at least the ear of the Trump White House.

But maybe they’re not Nazis:

While many of its racist views are well known – that President Obama is, or may as well be, of foreign birth; that the Black Lives Matter movement is another name for black race rioters; that even the American-born children of undocumented Hispanic immigrants should be deported – the alt-right has been difficult to define. Is it a name for right-wing political provocateurs in the internet era? Or is it a political movement defined by xenophobia and a dislike for political correctness?

At the conference on Saturday, Mr. Spencer, who said he had coined the term, defined the alt-right as a movement with white identity as its core idea.

“We’ve crossed the Rubicon in terms of recognition,” Mr. Spencer said at the conference, which was sponsored by his organization, the National Policy Institute.

Okay, they’re into white identity. Perhaps that’s only ethnic pride, but it is a bit German:

Mr. Spencer’s after-dinner speech began with a polemic against the “mainstream media,” before he briefly paused. “Perhaps we should refer to them in the original German?” he said.

The audience immediately screamed back, “Lügenpresse,” reviving a Nazi-era word that means “lying press.”

Mr. Spencer suggested that the news media had been critical of Mr. Trump throughout the campaign in order to protect Jewish interests. He mused about the political commentators who gave Mr. Trump little chance of winning.

“One wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem,” he said, referring to a Jewish fable about the golem, a clay giant that a rabbi brings to life to protect the Jews.

Okay, this is getting serious, and there’s more:

Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Spencer said, was “the victory of will,” a phrase that echoed the title of the most famous Nazi-era propaganda film. But Mr. Spencer then mentioned, with a smile, Theodor Herzl, the Zionist leader who advocated a Jewish homeland in Israel, quoting his famous pronouncement, “If we will it, it is no dream.”

That was a bit odd, but then he returned to his main theme:

“America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Mr. Spencer thundered. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

But the white race, he added, is “a race that travels forever on an upward path.”

“To be white is to be a creator, an explorer, a conqueror,” he said.

More members of the audience were on their feet as Mr. Spencer described the choice facing white people as to “conquer or die.”

Is anyone worried yet? What has Trump unleashed with Bannon as his Karl Rove and Jeff Sessions as his pick for attorney general? A Mother Jones item has more detail:

Spencer also spoke approvingly of Sessions, who made a name for himself as the top foe of immigration in Congress. Sessions is also known for allegations that he made racist comments when he was an attorney in Alabama – charges that derailed his 1986 nomination for a federal judgeship and will come up again in his confirmation hearings to become attorney general. When Mother Jones asked at the press conference whether Spencer agreed with the neo-Nazi writer Andrew Anglin, who on Friday said the appointments of Sessions and Bannon meant that he was getting everything he wanted from Trump, the crowd at the conference began to cheer at the mention of Sessions. “It’s getting what is realistically possible,” said Spencer. “Jeff Sessions, again, is someone who is not alt-right but who seems to see eye to eye with us on the immigration question. I think Jeff Sessions might very well resonate with something like a long-term dramatic slowdown of immigration.”

Spencer said Sessions would roll back the Obama administration’s enforcement of civil rights laws as the head of the Justice Department. “The fact that he is going to be at such a high level, I think, is a wonderful thing,” he said. “What he is not going to do in terms of federally prosecuting diversity and fair housing and so on I think is just as powerful as what he might do. So it’s about Jeff Sessions setting a new tone in Washington. I think that’s a good thing.”

He’s happy, because these folks have their priorities:

Spencer’s top priority for the Trump administration is to change the country’s immigration laws to stop not just undocumented immigration but also legal immigration, with the goal of making sure the United States remains a majority-white country. “I think a goal would be net-neutral immigration with a primary emphasis on Europeans who want to immigrate to the country,” he said. Peter Brimelow of the anti-immigrant website VDare.com later explained that the policy would mean removing immigrants currently in the country and allowing Europeans to take their place. Spencer said he believed passing such a policy through Congress would be easier than the press might think.

When a reporter asked what the movement’s top priority for Trump was, the room began to chant “build the wall.” Spencer agreed that immigration should be Trump’s “primary objective.”

“This is why he was elected,” Spencer said, “because he was the identity president.”

Things have changed in America, even if some folks get caught in the middle:

A restaurant in Northwest Washington issued an apology Monday after hosting an alt-right, white nationalist event whose participants offered praise of Adolf Hitler.

The dinner, held Friday at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Friendship Heights, was sponsored by the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist organization that supported President-elect Donald Trump in the election and held a conference in the District to celebrate his victory. Protesters tried to confront those attending the dinner Friday, but were forced out by police.

On Monday, Maggiano’s apologized, saying that it was “the inadvertent site” of the protest and that it closed the restaurant for the safety of its staff and guests.

“This was a last minute booking made Friday afternoon, and the reservation was made under a different name, therefore we were not aware that NPI was dining with us or what the group represents,” Steve Provost, the president of the 51-restaurant chain, said in a statement posted to Facebook…

The statement said Maggiano’s would donate $10,000, the profit from its Friday restaurant sales, to the D.C. office of the Anti-Defamation League, “which for decades has been working to bring people together in peace and understanding.”

It may be too late for that:

Civil rights groups called on President-elect Donald J. Trump on Monday to publicly condemn extremist movements that are espousing racism in his name after hundreds of white nationalist sympathizers spent the weekend in Washington debating ways to preserve white culture.

Mr. Trump has been accused of fanning the flames of hate groups with his hardline positions on immigration, his hesitance to denounce the former Klansman David Duke and his occasional promotion of white nationalist accounts on Twitter. While Mr. Trump has called for an end to hate crimes and said he wants to bring the country together, he has not been full throated on expressing disapproval of the alt-right, a rebranded white nationalist movement.

“We would like him to stand up and denounce these folks,” Heidi Beirich, who tracks hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said of Mr. Trump. “It’s inexplicable. The longer it goes on, the more you have to wonder if it’s not intentional.”

That has occurred to others:

Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that Mr. Trump should not be blamed for every hate group that invoked his name, but that he should be doing more to discredit people using his election to make prejudice mainstream.

“To have a group like this convening steps away from the White House proclaiming that what happened two weeks ago was a great victory for them and their ideas, there is value for the president-elect stating clearly that these are not American values, that their ideology is in conflict with American ideals,” Mr. Greenblatt said.

After Hillary Clinton gave a major address attacking the alt-right over the summer, Mr. Trump said that he had never heard of the movement and that “nobody even knows what it is.”

And then Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, said that he disapproved of all hate groups – there was nothing more to say – this was just another one of those.

Brendan O’Connor argues that may not do, as there’s something special here:

This weekend, members of the so-called “alt-right” movement gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Donald Trump’s electoral victory and their ascendance as the “intellectual vanguard” of the Trumpist movement. Media coverage of the event has largely focused on their appearance and struggled to find the vocabulary to accurately describe, at least in shorthand, who these people are and what they believe.

Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute and coiner of the term “alt-right,” is described in a recent Mother Jones profile as “an articulate and well-dressed former football player with prom-king good looks and a ‘fashy’ (as in fascism) haircut.” His aim, the piece describes, is to “make racism cool again.”

And these were the cool people:

Attendees at this weekend’s NPI-hosted conference, the Los Angeles Times reported, “more resembled Washington lobbyists than the robed Ku Klux Klansmen or skinhead toughs that often represent white supremacists, though they share many familiar views.”

They seem quite normal, and that’s the problem:

“This is how you sneak these ideas into the mainstream,” the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Heidi Beirich told the Los Angeles Times after this weekend’s conference. “The guys in the suits are the ones we have to worry about.”

That’s what we said back in the sixties. That’s still true, but these folks really aren’t bent on genocide:

Members of the movement have described to me their support for white separatism, as well – basically, a reinstatement of the doctrine that the races should be “separate but equal.” This idea, articulated in the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy vs. Ferguson, was overturned by the Court in 1954, with Brown vs. the Board of Education.

They’d like that overturned once again, and Amanda Taub provides some background on that:

Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at Birkbeck University in London, has spent years studying the ways that ethnicity intersects with politics. While most researchers in that field focus on ethnic minorities, Professor Kaufmann does the opposite: He studies the behavior of ethnic majorities, particularly whites in the United States and Britain.

White nationalism, he said, is the belief that national identity should be built around white ethnicity, and that white people should therefore maintain both a demographic majority and dominance of the nation’s culture and public life.

So, like white supremacy, white nationalism places the interests of white people over those of other racial groups. White supremacists and white nationalists both believe that racial discrimination should be incorporated into law and policy.

But they’re not the same:

Some will see the distinction between white nationalism and white supremacy as a semantic sleight of hand. But although many white supremacists are also white nationalists, and vice versa, Professor Kaufmann says the terms are not synonyms: White supremacy is based on a racist belief that white people are innately superior to people of other races; white nationalism is about maintaining political and economic dominance, not just a numerical majority or cultural hegemony.

It’s just that it’s easy to get the two mixed up:

For a long time, he said, white nationalism was less an ideology than the default presumption of American life. Until quite recently, white Americans could easily see the nation as essentially an extension of their own ethnic group.

But the country’s changing demographics, the civil rights movement and a push for multiculturalism in many quarters mean that white Americans are now confronting the prospect of a nation that is no longer built solely around their own identity.

For many white people, of course, the growing diversity is something to celebrate. But for others it is a source of stress. The white nationalist movement has drawn support from that latter group. Its supporters argue that the United States should protect its white majority by sharply limiting immigration, and perhaps even by compelling nonwhite citizens to leave.

That would mean VERY separate, but actually equal:

Several studies of other countries have found that a desire to protect traditional values and culture is the strongest predictor of support for the sort of populism that propelled Mr. Trump to power in the United States.

Many of those voters would not think of themselves as white nationalists, and the cultural values and traditions they seek to protect are not necessarily explicitly racial. However, those traditions formed when national identity and culture were essentially synonymous with whiteness. So the impulse to protect them from social and demographic change is essentially an attempt to turn back the clock to a less-diverse time.

All of this is, then, quite understandable, but time doesn’t flow backwards, so in the end this becomes a matter of geography, and Garrison Keillor addresses that:

So let’s talk about dividing the country. Why spend four years glaring at each other? A house divided against itself cannot stand, so let’s make a duplex. The experiment lasted for 150 years after Appomattox and in the end it failed. So let’s bind up our wounds and have an amicable divorce.

Democrats get the Northeast and the West Coast, plus a few miscellaneous states, and the Democratic cities – the District, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina, Cleveland, and so forth. Call it the “Union.” Our capital will, of course, be New York City.

Trump takes the former Confederacy and the Corn Belt, and his capital is the bunker deep under the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where the federal government planned to go in the event of a catastrophe, which is basically what we have now. Call that country “Trump Country.”

Divvy up the military. Equal access to holy sites – they can come to Arlington Cemetery, the Reagan Library and Trump Tower. We get to go to wildlife refuges, Gettysburg and the birthplaces of authors. We’ll sell the White House for a hotel and make the Capitol a museum, and rent out the office buildings. You take your Supreme Court justices, we’ll take ours.

You can have the flag since you invested so much in flag pins and decals. We’ll make a new flag, blue, with the planet Earth on it.

That might work, and then we’ll see what happens:

Our country believes in competition and free enterprise and now it’s time to create a competition between the Union and Trump Country to see which offers the better life to its people. My money is on the young people flocking to the cities, the centers of economic hustle and bustle such as Seattle, Boston, Washington and Austin, where people seem to thrive on ferment, divergence, multiplicity and a culture of mutual respect and toleration.

But I could be wrong about that. Hitler led Germany out of the confusion of democracy, created good jobs, built up the military and united the country as never before. Germany had lost a war and Hitler made it great again. When he staged Kristallnacht in November 1938 and went after the Jews, it was a huge success, on time and under budget. When he wanted to take over Czechoslovakia, he just went and did it. No problem… The United Nations could meet in a breakfast alcove. No journalists present, just three men making deals. Very simple. Tremendous efficiency. Just tremendous. Totally. You better believe it.

But they have to speak German, with those long compound words and declensions and all the rest. Like Yoda, they’ll have to put the verb at the end of the sentence – but they’re halfway there already. Maybe, finally speaking German, they’ll seem wise and mysterious. On the other hand, maybe they’ll just seem short, green, and grumpy. There’s that too.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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