This Is a Test

History doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but close enough.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to an article from the LA Times that began

The year was 1915, and the strange new newspaper in Aurora, Mo., had grown so quickly in its first four years that rail officials had to build extra tracks for all the paper and printing materials suddenly rolling into town.

The Aurora post office, according to one account, more than tripled its staff to handle mail to and from the publication’s astonishing 1.5 million weekly subscribers — a circulation that dwarfed the largest daily newspapers in New York and Chicago.

Hatred had become big business in southwestern Missouri, and its name was the Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper whose headlines screamed to readers around the nation about predatory priests, women enslaved in convents and a dangerous Roman Catholic plot to take over America.

Eventually, that virulent anti-Catholicism (and the anti-Semitism that usually accompanied it) subsided.

Racism–America’s “original sin”–has proved harder to eradicate. When President Obama took office, racist sentiments that had largely been confined to family dinners, “humorous” emails and small town bars once again erupted into so-called “polite society.”

And that racism has now joined with seething anti-immigrant, and especially anti-Muslim, xenophobia.

Yesterday, at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall posted a thoughtful–and frightening–piece about Donald Trump and the pernicious influence of the Fox News “worldview.”

I know I’m preaching to the choir when it comes to noting the factual shortcomings of Fox News. But this is why this isn’t really about Trump. Trump’s genius — and I don’t use that word loosely — is that he is an intuitive. He can feel the public mood in ways that none of these others can. I don’t think Trump began his campaign with really any of this. “Mexicans” were his thing. But even that was I think largely shtick. Terrorism and Muslim-hating wasn’t his thing. But like a gifted jazz musician, he can pick up the rhythms of whatever group he’s sitting in with, adapt, improvise and take them further. Yes, he’s almost a Coltrane of hate and incitement. But it’s not about Trump. It’s about his supporters. A big chunk of the Republican base is awash in racism and xenophobic hysteria. And this is the food that they feed on every day. It’s a societal sickness and we can’t ignore it.

It’s one thing to discuss this emerging fascism in the abstract; it’s heartbreaking to confront it personally.

I have a young colleague who joined our faculty right after earning her doctorate about five years ago. She’s a sweet, delightful person–not only a good teacher and researcher, but an unfailingly collaborative and helpful co-worker. Since moving to Indiana, she and her husband have had two little girls.

She’s Muslim. And she’s terrified.

She’s gotten hate mail. In a masterpiece of understatement, she says she’s found the rhetoric “very hurtful.” She and her husband are increasingly afraid to go out. As she told me yesterday, people in her suburban neighborhood and at the University have been supportive and welcoming, but it only takes one –one (armed) unbalanced person to respond to the rhetoric and do the unthinkable.

She may stop wearing her headscarf. “I have small children.”

I came home and cried.

We are about to see whether Americans have learned anything from history–ours or others’. We are about to see whether we can isolate and contain this virus. We are about to see whether America is truly better than this.

Edmund Burke said it best: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

This is a test.


  1. Pete,

    “Perhaps a minor point Marv but viruses can’t die any more than salt can. Neither is living. They can fall on hard times by not finding a way to reproduce but they they just wait until an opportunity comes along.”

    Thanks. You’re right.

    And what you pointed out is more than minor. The following is a quote by Peter Wyden author of “The Hitler Virus: The Insidious Legacy of Adolf Hitler” (Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 2001):

    “I once believed that as the aging German population disappeared the Hitler virus would die with it. And yet, at the dawn of a new century, more than fifty-five years after the death of Adolf Hitler, there are alarming indications that the virus is still very much alive and that his “Political Testament,” dictated on April 30, 1945, the day before his death, predicting that “the consolidation of the Nazi state represents the work of centuries to come,” was frighteningly accurate.”

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