The End of Continuity

Out here in Hollywood the script supervisor is really the continuity supervisor, the member of the film crew who oversees the continuity of wardrobe and props and set dressing, and hair and makeup too. It can take several days to film a particular scene. The evil businessman has to wear the same necktie the whole time. The same stuff has to be on the table in the same place. Someone has to make sure nothing ruins the illusion that all of this is its own solid reality. No cowboy fires seven shots from his six-shooter. Continuity is everything. Continuity is reality, and in real life continuity assures sanity.

That’s understandable. That mountain out back is still out back, and the ocean is always where it’s supposed to be, as are London and Paris. There’s no conspiracy of cartographers. London and Paris are there. And so are Big Ben and Notre Dame. When they disappear madness follows, but they won’t disappear.

This was the day for madness:

Notre-Dame cathedral, the symbol of the beauty and history of Paris, was scarred by an extensive fire on Monday evening that caused its delicate spire to collapse, bruised the Parisian skies with smoke and further disheartened a city already back on its heels after weeks of violent protests.

The spectacle of flames leaping from the cathedral’s wooden roof – its spire glowing red then turning into a virtual cinder – stunned thousands of onlookers who gathered along the banks of the Seine and packed into the plaza of the nearby Hôtel de Ville, gasping and covering their mouths in horror and wiping away tears.

In the fog, at the airport in Casablanca – actually a soundstage in Burbank – Rick assures Ilsa that they’ll always have Paris. Hemingway said that if you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you. But it won’t be the same:

Around 500 firefighters battled the blaze for nearly five hours. By 11 p.m. Paris time, the structure had been “saved and preserved as a whole,” the fire chief, Jean-Claude Gallet, said. The two magnificent towers soaring above the skyline had been spared, he said, but two-thirds of the roof was destroyed.

“The worst has been avoided even though the battle is not completely won,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a brief and solemn speech at Notre-Dame on Monday night, vowing that the cathedral would be rebuilt.

“This is the place where we have lived all of our great moments, the epicenter of our lives,” he said. “It is the cathedral of all the French.”

But it won’t be the same:

A jewel of medieval Gothic architecture built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre-Dame is a landmark not only for Paris, where it squats firmly yet gracefully at its very center, but for all the world. The cathedral is visited by about 30,000 people a day and around 13 million people a year.

For centuries France’s kings and queens were married and buried there. Napoleon was crowned emperor in Notre-Dame in 1804, and the joyous thanksgiving ceremony after the Liberation of Paris in 1944 took place there, led by Charles de Gaulle.

But it needed work:

The cathedral had been undergoing extensive renovation work. Last week, 16 copper statues representing the Twelve Apostles and four evangelists were lifted with a crane so that the spire could be renovated.

The cathedral had been in dire need of a thorough and expensive restoration, André Finot, the cathedral spokesman, told The New York Times in 2017.

Broken gargoyles and fallen balustrades had been replaced by plastic pipes and wooden planks. Flying buttresses had been darkened by pollution and eroded by rainwater. Pinnacles had been propped up by beams and held together with straps. In some places, limestone crumbled at a finger’s touch.

And it seems some workman got careless with a torch or something. No terrorist group of any kind is claiming responsibility for this. These things happen, but Martin Longman argues the real tragedy here is the end to a kind of continuity:

 Consider the dedication and persistence that was required to carry out a major urban project across the administration of four kings, two of whom reined for over forty years. Our longest-serving leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, served for twelve years. Try to imagine us celebrating the completion of a building that had been started in 1800 and you’ll begin to get an idea of the scope of the thing.

It takes a sustained period of relative cultural and societal stability and security to achieve something like that, and then there is the additional six hundred years after completion that the French have managed to sustain and periodically update the structure.

It takes cultural and institutional continuity to achieve that. And now it’s gone – it’s just a shell. And it’s not just Catholics or the French who suddenly feel unmoored. Notre-Dame was always going to be there. Paris was always going to be there, and not some rebuilt replica. Like that mountain out back, some things are just supposed to be there. And then they’re not there anymore.

For some, this fire was the final straw, and that had nothing to do with Paris. This fire was oddly symbolic. Everything that is solid and real – or seemed to be solid and real – is burning down. Paris won’t be Paris any longer, and of course America can never be America again, not after Donald Trump. He burned down the presidency. He made it into something else:

President Trump escalated his attacks on a Muslim member of Congress and “Radical Left Democrats” on Monday ahead of a reelection campaign that is quickly taking shape around divisive messages centered on immigration and patriotism.

Speaking Monday at an event billed as a tax and economy roundtable, Trump told a suburban Minneapolis audience “how unfairly you’ve been treated as a state” when it comes to immigration, and he rattled off a litany of grudges against the current system: The loopholes are “horrible and foolish,” the visa lottery is “insane,” and the concept of asylum is “ridiculous.”

He’s the president who sneers and rants at whatever seems to rile up anyone listening. He opposes the whole concept of asylum, in spite of laws and treaties and obligations, or because of laws and treaties and obligations, or just out of spite:

“People come in, they read a line from a lawyer that a lawyer hands them out online,” Trump said at the event as he mimicked an asylum seeker reading from a piece of paper. “It’s a big con job. That’s what it is.”

Those sneaky (brown) people have to be kept out, but this change is American thinking goes back to August 2017:

White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller brushed aside a reference to the famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty at Wednesday’s White House press briefing, noting that it was added after the monument was erected in the US.

As part of a question about President Donald Trump’s support for a new skills-based immigration proposal, CNN’s Jim Acosta invoked Emma Lazarus’s poetic words.

“The Statue of Liberty says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.’ It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being a computer programmer,” Acosta said. “Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them that you have to speak English?”

Yes:

“I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later (and) is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

That’s technically true, but so what? Miller writes all of Trump’s speeches now, and he sets all specific immigration policy for Trump, who is more of a “big ideas” guy, and meanwhile, in suburban Minneapolis:

The afternoon remarks came hours after he took a direct shot at one of the state’s members of Congress, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) – whom Trump called “out of control” – as Omar continued to come under criticism for comments that critics view as dismissive of the tragedy of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He was having fun, but maybe too much fun:

While the broader GOP apparatus is attempting to focus on the economy, the campaigner in chief is seizing on more confrontational messages that may appeal to the base but potentially turn off swing voters.

“If they’re focused on expanding his popularity and the party’s popularity, they should be talking about the economy, and they should be talking about tax cuts,” said Tony Fratto, a former White House and Treasury Department spokesman during the George W. Bush administration. “Every time they choose to double down and talk about immigration, they lose an opportunity.”

But the man is who he is:

“American Workers Are Thriving Thanks To President Donald J. Trump’s Middle Class Tax Cuts,” the White House said in a news release Monday morning. That statement came about 30 minutes after another release titled “Secretary Mnuchin: ‘The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Is Working,’ which linked to a CNN opinion piece by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Meanwhile, officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a colorful video set to peppy music that touted the benefits of the GOP tax law, while the group’s chairman, Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), co-wrote an op-ed that celebrated “higher wages, record economic optimism, record low unemployment” thanks to Republican policies.

Trump, on the other hand, fired off several morning tweets that veered far off topic.

He began his day with a 6:29 a.m. tweet advising Boeing to “REBRAND” its troubled 737 Max planes, then followed that with a stream of tweets that included attacks on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a demand for Congress to return to Washington to “FIX THE IMMIGRATION LAWS!” and a call to “INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS!” behind special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report.

In one tweet, Trump accused Omar of making “anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful U.S. HATE statements.” In another, he complained: “The Radical Left Democrats will never be satisfied with anything we give them. They will always Resist and Obstruct!”

Republicans need a continuity supervisor, but they will follow their leader:

Republicans rationalized Trump’s use of 9/11 imagery by saying that Omar’s remarks from a March speech  in which she emphasized the discrimination that Muslims in the United States faced after the 2001 attacks, when “some people did something” – were deeply offensive. On Friday, Trump had tweeted a video that included footage of the burning twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, mixed with clips from Omar’s speech before the Council on American-Islamic Relations – which triggered an outcry from Democrats that he was politicizing the terrorist attacks.

But she’s a Muslim! She brought down those towers! She beheads journalists! She beheaded Daniel Pearl!

Yeah, well, whatever:

Trump’s inability to focus on a single message – last year during a tax event, he threw his prepared remarks in the air, calling them “boring” – is a key reason some of his accomplishments haven’t gained traction with the public, said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff.

“He can’t even focus on the few things that he’s accomplished,” Whipple said. “He goes for the jugular. He throws raw meat to the base. That’s his comfort zone. It’s not talking about accomplishments.”

He has burned down the presidency, and earlier, Greg Sargent got specific:

On Monday, President Trump is set to travel to Minnesota for an economic roundtable that will take place just outside the congressional district of Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar. This comes after Trump tweeted out a video that wrenches some recent Omar remarks out of context to portray her as trivializing 9/11.

The New York Times reports that the decision to hold the event near Omar’s district is a “calculated choice,” one that’s part of a broader effort to elevate Omar into the “most prominent voice of the Democratic Party.” The Times adds that Trump and his team see “limited downside” to this strategy.

Limited downside? Omar just released a statement claiming: “Since the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life – many directly referencing or replying to the president’s video.”

And that’s the problem here:

One cannot conclusively establish one way or the other whether Trump actively wants to see physical harm befall Omar. But here’s what we can say right now: Trump’s attacks absolutely are designed to incite hatred of Muslims, and the fact that this could have horrifying consequences does not weigh on him in the slightest.

We know these things, because Trump’s monumentally dishonest treatment of Omar’s quote as well as his own long history leave no doubt about them. Trump has used 9/11 to stir up hatred of Muslims before – relying on massively deceptive agitprop to do so – and he has repeatedly continued trafficking in various tropes even after they have been confirmed to potentially play some kind of role in inciting hate and even murder.

And this was nonsense anyway:

The offending quote from Omar, as represented in the video that Trump tweeted, reads: “CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something.” The video then segues to footage of the attacks, interspersed with repetition of the phrase, “some people did something.”

The full context shows Omar to be talking at length about the discrimination and loss of civil liberties suffered by U.S. Muslims in the wake of 9/11. The phrase “some people did something” is an aside. The obvious intent is to isolate the act of 9/11, its perpetrators and their ideology, and separate them from the enormous majority of U.S. Muslims.

Thus, even if you think the isolated phrase was not commensurate in tone with the gravity of 9/11, the overall thrust of the construction is inarguable. The point was that U.S. Muslims should adamantly not accept efforts to tar them by association with 9/’11 – which itself is inherent condemnation of the attacks – and that they should be vocal in asserting their right not to suffer that association.

Omar is urging American Muslims to be citizens, that is, to be politically active in resisting discrimination and in defense of their rights as Americans.

And that, Sargent argues, is what really bothers Trump:

One of Trump’s foundational agenda items was the vow to ban Muslims from entering the United States until we “can figure out what is going on.” We forget about the other part of his statement that day: He also claimed Muslims harbor “great hatred towards Americans.” Perhaps the highest-profile way he illustrated this supposed hatred was with a lie: the claim that “thousands and thousands” of U.S. Muslims celebrated 9/11.

Thus, we know Trump uses lies about 9/11 to incite hate against Muslims, because he has done it before.

We also know Trump continues using language even after it is shown to incite hate and violence. The man who allegedly gunned down 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue did so after ranting that Jews “bring in invaders” – refugees – who “kill our people.” After that happened, Trump publicly lent support to the conspiracy theory that George Soros was funding the migrant caravans. He has described them as invaders many times since.

And there’s this:

After we learned that the man who allegedly murdered dozens of people in New Zealand mosques used that same word – “invaders” – Trump insisted that “illegal aliens” constitute an “invasion.” And that’s not all: There are zero grounds for believing that Trump was troubled by the alleged shooter’s declaration that he sees Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” When acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was asked what Trump thinks of this, Mulvaney brushed off the question, as if it wasn’t worth answering.

It’s worth answering:

We don’t know whether Trump actively wants to see harm befall Omar – he probably does not. But we do know that the possibility that his attacks on her, and their hateful and dishonest content, might make that more likely does not trouble him sufficiently to dissuade him from them.

He has burned down the presidency, although Michael Gerson puts that this way:

So another norm of public decency falls, like a historical building demolished to make way for one of Donald Trump’s tasteless towers.

When the president of the United States goes after an American Muslim – in this case Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came to the United States as a Somali refugee – using images of the 9/11 attacks, it is cruel, frightening and dangerous in new ways.

It is cruel because Trump essentially delivered his political rant while standing on desecrated graves. The images he employed not only included burning buildings but burning human beings, drafted into a sad and sordid political ploy. Is nothing sacred to Trump? When said aloud, the question sounds like an absurdity. Trump has never given the slightest indication of propriety, respect or reverence. His narcissism leaves no room to honor other people or to honor other gods. Both the living and the dead matter only as servants to the cause of Trump….

But it’s worse than that:

By all the evidence, Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot. At one campaign event in 2015, a member of the audience stated, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims.” And he went on to ask, “When can we get rid of them?” Trump responded: “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”

Imagine a normal politician on the left or right being asked about the possibility of getting rid of all the Christians, or getting rid of all the Jews. They would likely use such a moment to clarify that they aren’t, in fact, insanely prejudiced monsters. Trump used such a moment to affirm the instinct of mass deportation and to promise a range of other anti-Muslim actions.

None of this requires us to believe that Omar is a wise or thoughtful public figure. She isn’t. She traffics in the worst anti-Semitic tropes. But Trump’s perception of religious liberty as freedom only for the faiths he prefers is a potential threat to every religious group.

What if some future leader views Mormonism as incompatible with American democracy, or evangelical Protestantism? By what principle would Trump supporters be able to criticize discrimination against such groups?

So this is quite simple:

Religious freedom is either rigorously equal, or it becomes an instrument of those in power to favor or disfavor religions of their choice. And those believers who are currently in favor may someday discover what disfavor is like.

They also will have discovered that the American presidency is now just an empty shell of the amazing edifice it used to be – kind of like Notre-Dame. Both can be rebuilt, but they’ll never be the same. There will be no continuity now, just madness.

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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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