Michael KreponThe Trump Effect

Quote of the week:

Lonely sits the city
Once great with people!
She that was great among nations
Is becoming like a widow;
The princess among states
Is become a thrall.
—The Book of Lamentations

Muslim extremists aren’t the only ones using moving vehicles as instruments of death and injury. A neo-Nazi has done the same at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, home of Thomas Jefferson’s peaceful “academical” village.

The University of Virginia and its environs draw all sorts of people who choose quality of life over big city hassles. Now our area (my wife and I live eleven miles away) is drawing the hate crowd, emboldened by our Divider-in-Chief who sees moral equivalency between outsiders looking for a fight and locals protecting their turf.

It was an unfair contest. The locals weren’t wearing helmets and carrying staves and shields. Plus, the haters knew how to get under everybody’s skin. First came a torchlight procession with the visitors chanting Nazi, racist and anti-Semitic slogans. Pitched battles then followed in broad daylight. Local law enforcement wasn’t up to the task of keeping the locals apart from those inciting violence.

The horrible tableau that followed is unlikely to separate the Polarizer-in-Chief from one of his core constituencies. In the 48 hours after these appalling scenes, a familiar pattern re-emerged: Trump initially spread the blame around and then, when faced with a predictable backlash, came assurances that, of course, the President of the United States didn’t approve of White Supremacy and neo-Nazis.

Are my fellow citizens fed up yet? When Richard Nixon was faced with impeachment proceedings, his approval rating was around 24%. Trump is heading there as the potential for dangerous confrontation with North Korea looms.


  1. Nathan Smith (History)

    You write as though this all happened in a vacuum. I would have thought it was a bit hard to fight if there’s only one side on the streets. That doesn’t sound like a fight. Occam would suggest two sides, at minimum, are needed for an event to be called a fight. And, hey presto, If you look closely, you will indeed see a second and perhaps a third side. Or at least, anyone observing from 30,000ft can see multiple sides. What’s the soil smell like down where you stand?

    That’s the thing about warfare. Morality is what people apply to a battle once it’s finished. The point of fighting is not to prove who holds the objective moral truth, but to secure power. Which means, if morality is being discussed as the sticks and stones fly, then power has already been secured by one of the sides. The question you need to ask is which side holds that power? Is it the side you write about, or the side that is suspiciously invisible in your article? How you answer this will be very revealing.

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      Seriously? A man rams his car into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring several others. You can’t figure out who is right and who is wrong? Racist thugs have no place in a civilized community.

    • Dan Gilchrist (History)

      So if I walk up to someone and punch them, you’d say there are two sides? I mean, I guess, strictly speaking, you are correct. But what on earth is your point?

  2. Michael Krepon (History)

    from the ever alert Bradley Laing, a story of compassion and reconciliation:

    Associated Press | 15 Aug 2017 | by Mari Yamaguchi
    HIGASHISHIRAKAWA, Japan — Tatsuya Yasue buried his face into the flag and smelled it. Then he held the 93-year-old hands that brought this treasure home, and kissed them.

    Marvin Strombo, who had taken the calligraphy-covered Japanese flag from a dead soldier at World War II island battlefield 73 years ago, returned it Tuesday to the family of Sadao Yasue. They had never gotten his body or — until that moment — anything else of his.

    Yasue and Tatsuya’s sister Sayoko Furuta, 93, sitting in her wheelchair, covered her face with both hands and wept silently as Tatsuya placed the flag on her lap. Strombo reached out and gently rubbed her shoulder.

    “I was so happy that I returned the flag,” Strombo said. “I can see how much the flag meant to her. That almost made me cry … It meant everything in the world to her.”

    The flag’s white background is filled with signatures of 180 friends and neighbors in this tea-growing mountain village of Higashishirakawa, wishing Yasue’s safe return. The signatures helped Strombo find its rightful owners.

    “Good luck forever at the battlefield,” a message on it reads. Looking at the names and their handwriting, Tatsuya Yasue clearly recalls their faces and friendship with his brother.


  3. Michael Krepon (History)

    Dear ACW readers:

    A message from the President of the Charlottesville synagogue:

    And this is what it is to be Jewish in the United States in 2017:

    At Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA, we are deeply
    grateful for the support and prayers of the broader Reform Jewish
    community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Heather
    Heyer and the two Virginia State Police officers, H. Jay Cullen and
    Berke Bates, who lost their lives on Saturday, and with the many people
    injured in the attack who are still recovering.

    The loss of life far outweighs any fear or concern felt by me or the
    Jewish community during the past several weeks as we braced for this
    Nazi rally – but the effects of both will each linger.

    On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed
    security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide
    us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police
    department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not
    kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our
    people as they worshipped).

    Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.

    For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with
    semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they
    tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I
    couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our
    armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a
    coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

    Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s
    the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic
    language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

    A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times,
    arousing suspicion. Was he casing the building, or trying to build up
    courage to commit a crime? We didn’t know. Later, I noticed that the man
    accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the
    man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it’s the uniform of a
    white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.

    When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it
    would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than
    through the front, and to please go in groups.

    This is 2017 in the United States of America.

    Later that day, I arrived on the scene shortly after the car plowed into
    peaceful protesters. It was a horrific and bloody scene.

    Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our
    synagogue. I sat with one of our rabbis and wondered whether we should
    go back to the temple to protect the building. What could I do if I were
    there? Fortunately, it was just talk – but we had already deemed such an
    attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step
    of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises.

    Again: This is in America in 2017.

    At the end of the day, we felt we had no choice but to cancel a Havdalah
    service at a congregant’s home. It had been announced on a public
    Facebook page, and we were fearful that Nazi elements might be aware of
    the event. Again, we sought police protection – not a battalion of
    police, just a single officer – but we were told simply to cancel the

    Local police faced an unprecedented problem that day, but make no
    mistake, Jews are a specific target of these groups, and despite nods of
    understanding from officials about our concerns – and despite the fact
    that the mayor himself is Jewish – we were left to our own devices. The
    fact that a calamity did not befall the Jewish community of
    Charlottesville on Saturday was not thanks to our politicians, our
    police, or even our own efforts, but to the grace of God.

    And yet, in the midst of all that, other moments stand out for me, as

    John Aguilar, a 30-year Navy veteran, took it upon himself to stand
    watch over the synagogue through services Fridayevening and Saturday,
    along with our armed guard. He just felt he should.

    We experienced wonderful turnout for services both Friday night and
    Saturdaymorning to observe Shabbat, including several non-Jews who said
    they came to show solidarity (though a number of congregants,
    particularly elderly ones, told me they were afraid to come to

    A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the
    steps in front of our sanctuary, crying, to tell me that while she was
    Roman Catholic, she wanted to stay and watch over the synagogue with us.
    At one point, she asked, “Why do they hate you?” I had no answer to the
    question we’ve been asking ourselves for thousands of years.

    At least a dozen complete strangers stopped by as we stood in front the
    synagogue Saturday to ask if we wanted them to stand with us.

    And our wonderful rabbis stood on the front lines with other
    Charlottesville clergy, opposing hate.

    Most attention now is, and for the foreseeable future will be, focused
    on the deaths and injuries that occurred, and that is as it should be.
    But for most people, before the week is out, Saturday’s events will
    degenerate into the all-to-familiar bickering that is part of the
    larger, ongoing political narrative. The media will move on — and all it
    will take is some new outrageous Trump tweet to change the subject.

    We will get back to normal, also. We have two b’nai mitzvah coming up,
    and soon, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur will be upon us, too.

    After the nation moves on, we will be left to pick up the pieces.
    Fortunately, this is a very strong and capable Jewish community, blessed
    to be led by incredible rabbis. We have committed lay leadership, and a
    congregation committed to Jewish values and our synagogue. In some ways,
    we will come out of it stronger – just as tempering metals make them
    tougher and harder.

    Alan Zimmerman is the president of Congregation Beth Israel in
    Charlottesville, VA.

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