Know Who Likes Nazi-Punching? The Nazi.


There’s been a bit of talk the last few months about “Nazi-punching,” whether there are forms of politics so evil that the correct response is not debate but, rather, pre-emptive violence. I’ve not been comfortable with that line of thought — I think as liberals we should lean to the “talk” side of politics than the war, and as folks with Mennonite leanings and heritages, we should be more cautious yet.

But there’s one person, it turns out, who really likes Nazi-punching: Richard Spencer.

You know, the Nazi-punchee*.

He’s profiled in the latest Atlantic by a former high school classmate. Toward the end of the article, he reflects on the punching incident.

He sounded vulnerable, for the first time since he’d said the St. Mark’s campaign had wounded him. “I have a right as a citizen to walk the streets and not be attacked, and I have the right to be protected,” he complained.

Spencer was obviously right when he said he should not be assaulted. But we both could taste the irony in the situation. If he hadn’t caught himself, he might have started talking about his “human right” not to be brutalized with impunity. Instead he recovered, and used the irony to his advantage. “The fact that they are excusing violence against Richard Spencer inherently means that they believe that there’s a state of exception, where we can use violence,” he said. “I think they’re actually kind of right.”

“War is politics by other means and politics is war by other means,” he said. “We don’t all want the same thing. And that’s why I think there is a kind of state of war going on.”

Not to put too fine a point on it: The Nazi-puncher accepts Spencer’s idea that liberalism has failed, and our politics is now eat-or-be-eaten. He makes this idea clear elsewhere in the article:

The other German forerunner Spencer claims is Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), who was, for a time, the court political philosopher of the Third Reich. Schmitt’s work has enjoyed a renaissance recently, and even liberals have found it useful, in part as a worthy oppositional philosophy that has forced them to improve their own. Spencer is hardly Schmitt’s heir. But his reading of Schmitt is fair and reasonably nuanced.

“There’s this notion of parliament as an ‘endless debate,’ ” Spencer explained over lunch. Liberalism accepts that disagreement is part of the political process, and that people who disagree profoundly can live together. [Emphasis added: Joel] But eventually, Schmitt argued, the parliamentary debate does end, and someone gets his way while someone else does not. The state’s job is to provide not the coffeehouse for the debate, but the threat of a beating to compel the loser to accept the result. “Politics is inherently brutal,” Spencer told me. “It’s nonconsensual by its very nature. The state is crystallized violence.”

If he’s right, if the Nazi-punchers who have accepted that logic is right, then we’ve already lost a great deal of what we’re supposedly trying to preserve in this country.

And listen: He might be right. We seem to have lost our ability to disagree profoundly and live together. Maybe that ability was an illusion that served the power and control of the people in charge. Probably.

If so, I can’t help but think it was a slightly useful illusion. Not always, and not for everybody, but we’ve survived some cataclysmic politics over the centuries and have only one Civil War to show for it. Me? I’d rather keep testing ideas and debating them than see which side has the best set of punchers. The best ideas don’t win that fight, just the best punchers.

We can’t let the Spencers of the world take charge. The danger – the danger I keep railing against – is that in resisting that prospect, we become the thing we said we hate. In this case, it couldn’t be more true: When you punch Richard Spencer, you’re acting in accordance with his philosophy. Not the race part, certainly, but the rest of it.

That would give me pause.


* He doesn’t like to be called a Nazi, but as The Atlantic notes, his ideas are pretty Nazi-ish. And Jesus, that haircut.

DT: You’re supposed to stand WITH Israel, not ON it!


American political candidates don’t get very far if they don’t pay proper respect the “special relationship” between the US and Israel. The reasons are quite practical: we share common enemies in the Middle East (Iran, ISIS, Hezbollah), and a mutual relationship—we supply the tech support, Israel provides the eyes and ears—helps both countries achieve their priorities. (Note that I am not saying anything about the validity of those priorities or our total lack of moral imagination in resolving a land dispute about a piece of dusty land the size of New Jersey. That’s too big for this blog post.)

But in selling the American people on a project that requires working with a nation we know has spied on us, politicians have opportunistically connected our political interests in the region with a particular Biblical eschatology, a vision of how history works and what it is working toward. This vision, rooted in the dispensationalist theology of Thomas Darby, says that time is divided into epochs, during which God deals with humanity in a different way. The Biblical timeline focuses first on the Hebrews, God’s chosen people, who become Jews, the people who believe in the monotheistic God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, and who, under the guidance of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, took the land that would become the state of Israel. After just a few generations, that land was lost–first divided, then conquered–and the Jewish people dispersed. Most of what Christians call the Bible is set during some period when Israel was not yet (Genesis, Exodus) or was split (1 Kings), invaded (2 Kings, Daniel), occupied (1 Chronicles, 2 Kings), exiled (Nehemiah), or a colony of Rome (most of the New Testament).


Above, a dispensationalist timeline outlining the different epochs of Biblical history—and the future—as understood by premillennialist Christians.

So, for a nation selected by God for a special covenant, Israel doesn’t seem very beloved by God during most of this Biblical timeline.

In this dispensationalist view of time, which is at the center of the popular Scofield Reference Bible, Israel would emerge as a nation again—an event that, when it happened in 1948, gave conservative Protestants hope that God was moving us toward a new dispensation. The premillennialist view, which has taken hold in conservative American Protestantism, says we’re just on the brink of Jesus’ return. “The end is near” folks have been around for awhile now, but they really ramped it up in the 1970s with Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. (The first, in fact, was the bestselling nonfiction title of the decade in the US. Of all books—not just religious titles.) Since then, the theology has appeared in many other genres, including Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind books.


Above, a bumper sticker expresses the popular premillennialist view that Jesus will take all believers to heaven when he returns. It says, “Warning: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.”

The central point of this theology is: Jesus is coming and though we don’t know when, exactly, it’s going to be soon. We can tell it will be soon because the world is falling farther and farther into sin. (You can measure how fast we’re speeding toward The End in one of my favorite spots on the internet, Rapture Ready Index. Trust me—you want to visit it. Today it’s at 181, with downward pressure due to declining Satanism but upward pressure from Gog (Russia) and liberalism (anti-Trump fervor).) Jesus will “rapture” true believers from wherever they are, and those who are left will face hell on Earth.

And Israel plays a key role in this.

Obviously, this theology resonates only with select group of Christians. Unfortunately, they include most of the folks on Donald Trump’s evangelical sounding board, Ted Cruz, and perhaps about 20 million Americans who subscribed to Christian Zionism, the belief that Biblical prophecy foretells that Israel will occupy all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, that the Jews of all nations will return to Israel, that Jews will again worship on the Temple Mount (now the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims worship), and that Jews will convert to Christianity. And they tend to vote at a high rate.

All of this pushes such believers, who run several organizations that funnel money into Israel, to oppose any efforts at peace (even though most Israelis want peace with their neighbors) and to deny the very existence of a Palestinian—something our own politicians have echoed.


Above, a pin from Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a Christian Zionist organization that rallies Christians to support US and Israeli policies that align with a Christian Zionist vision of the Apocalypse. Check your Senator and Congressional Representative’s official photos to see if this pin appears on his or her lapel. 

The mixing of theology and politics makes it hard for some Americans to distinguish between what is foreign policy and what is prophecy, and Trump supporters have embraced that. Many Americans Christians have a nearly superstitious relationship to Israel, quoting a passage from Genesis 12:3: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curses thee.” They call of this passage isn’t just to share material gifts (also, spies and weapons) with Israel; it’s also a warning that if you don’t do these things, you’ll be punished—that we, the US, will be punished. (And, interestingly, some far right Jewish leaders hold a similar position: that a Trump administration will usher in the Messianic age when he makes it possible for Jews to rebuild their temple and begin animal sacrifices again (which have already been happening on a small scale), all as part of a plan to practice pre-diasporic Judaism. And these aren’t folks on the fringe; some of them are members of the Knesset.)

And so, fealty to Israel must be paid—and that has made it much easier to push through US policy toward Israel that may or may not always serve the interests of the people in those nations.

And then came Trump, who, as much as any politician, promised loyalty to Israel at all costs. American Jews voted for him in about the same proportion as they are registered Republican—about 1/3. They were either unconvinced or unbothered by his anti-Semitism or felt that he was still a candidate preferable to Clinton.

This week might be changing that.

Within a few hours of Trump’s sharing highly sensitive intelligence with Russia, a nation that has aligned with Iran and Syria, two nations that have threatened Israel, it became obvious that the source of that information was Israel. We don’t yet know the outcome for the asset, but it’s very possible that Donald Trump endangered the life of an Israeli intelligence officer. At minimum, he made it impossible for Israel to trust him with information. Indeed, Israel had, in a bizarre conversation, already been warned by US intelligence not to share information with our president or his administration because it was not clear he could be trusted.

Then, today, Trump reneged on plans to speak at an ancient fortress is Israel, Masada. It is an UNESCO heritage site, and Trump was not permitted to land his helicopter there because the dust damages the site. Trump was informed that his helicopter would need to land at the base of the site, not on top of the monument, and then he would take a cable car. It appears that, in a fit of pique, he just canceled the visit instead.


Above, Masada, an ancient fortress where Jewish rebels faced Roman soldiers and, according to Jewish history, committed suicide rather than surrender. It was later a monastery and is now a tourist site and museum. No, you can’t land your helicopter on it, you world-class ass.  

Trump will have other opportunities to insult our closest ally in the most volatile part of the world during his visit there.

These mistakes are potentially deadly. For American Christians who believe that we can’t survive unless we support Israel, they should be evidence that they may have voted for the anti-Christ.



Would Booting Donald Trump Be a Coup? No. Would It Contradict the Will of the People? Kind of. But Who Cares?

L’état, C’est Moi


Hearing a lot of this kind of stuff right now:

But the unceasing attempts to delegitimize and undermine him are as childish and petty as Trump himself. What is lost in the hyperventilation of journalists, pundits and politicians is the will of the people who elected him president.

Trump is a disrupter. That is his purpose and the reason he was elected. American elites stopped serving their constituencies long ago. For pundits and politicians to disregard the will of voters and float ideas for Trump’s removal flies in the face of the democratic society they are supposedly trying to save.

In this telling, removing Donald Trump from office before the end of his term would amount to a coup.


Why I don’t buy this line of thinking.

It defines the “will of the people” in odd fashion. Remember — Trump does — that he lost the popular vote. “The people” had something other than a Trump presidency in mind. (Unless you decide California doesn’t count, I guess.)

Live by the countermajoritarianism, die by the countermajoritarianism. We’re told it’s ok Trump won the Electoral College anyway, because the Constitution has countermajoritarian features. What almost never gets talked about is why it has such features.

Here’s what the Federalist Papers have to say about that:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,” yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.

You know what? I’m going to say Electoral College was designed to keep people like Donald Trump out of office. It failed.

It’s not a coup if it’s lawful. Almost nobody’s suggesting Trump be deposed by force. Instead, the two avenues to removal — the 25th Amendment and impeachment — are both described in the Constitution.

In the case of the 25th Amendment, it would be Trump’s own vice president and cabinet that ruled him unfit to serve. These people, having been chosen for their positions by the president, are unlikely to take that route unless extraordinary circumstances required it. Impeachment would take the support of Republicans, who control both houses of Congress. If removal happens, it’ll because Trump’s closest political allies judged it should be so, and done through legal means.

Trump won the election through legal means. (As far as we currently know.) That deserves a fair amount of deference, even if we find it distasteful. But that deference is not to be unlimited, and the law pretty explicitly recognizes that the “will of the peoople” can sometimes be wrong.

In this case, it probably was.

— Joel

Politicians Who’ve Had it Worse


Poor Donald Trump! As he whined during a commencement speech to the Coast Guard Academy, he, no politician has ever been treated worse.

Since Donald Trump is no historian, let’s help him out by making a list of politicians who have, indeed, been treated worse.

I’ll get started with US presidents:

  • James Garfield
  • William McKinley
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • John F. Kennedy

President Abraham Lincoln's hearse, Springfield, Illinois.

Above, Lincoln’s hearse. Below, the White House decorated to honor the death of James Garfield. 





Above, the. body of William McKinley lies in state. Below, First Lady Jackie Kennedy weeps over the casket holding the body of her husband, John F. Kennedy. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Daughter Caroline at John F. Kennedy's Coffin

I think it’s also fair to add

  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Ronald Reagan

Andrew Jackson, Trump’s presidential model, was also the target of an assassination attempt. Our first president to face one, Jackson successfully defended himself against his attacker after the man’s guns—two of them–misfired.

And though we don’t have any news stories of bullets flying at Mr. Obama, the secret service somehow let a potential assassin sneak into the actual White House and get close to the president. Plus, Obama had to deal with years of racist hecklers showing up to his events. Unlike Donald Trump, he somehow coped with this without hijacking the graduation of the Coast Guard in an effort to garner pity.

We might even argue that the slobbering of Republicans during the unnecessary, expensive impeachment of Bill Clinton was a form of harassment to him. It was surely embarrassing to the rest of us, even if Newt Gingerich didn’t have the decency to sense his own hypocrisy.

To this list, we might add some international figures, including

  • Nelson Mandela
  • Vaclav Havel
  • Indira Gandhi
  • Benazir Bhutto

Of course, we should not expect a man who won’t read a briefing that doesn’t mention him a lot to read history. And we shouldn’t expect a known narcissist to be able to put his own experiences into a larger context.

Who would you add?


Can Donald Trump Survive the Loretta Lynch Standard?



Remember last year? Before the election? Remember the time then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton had a friendly chat on an airport tarmac? Do you remember what happened then?

This happened:

Lynch said she and Clinton talked only of grandchildren, golf, and their respective travels, but the fact that the two spoke privately at all was enough to rekindle concerns about a possible conflict of interest. Republicans have long called into question the ability of a Democratic-led Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, based inside her Chappaqua, New York, home, during her tenure as secretary of state.

David Axelrod, a former top aide to President Barack Obama, tweeted that he took Lynch and the former president “at their word” that the Justice Department’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server did not come up, “but foolish to create such optics.”

And then this happened:

The government watchdog group Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking all records its has on the June 27, 2016 meeting between President Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in her airplane, a meeting that occurred while the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, a potential national security crime.

“The infamous tarmac meeting between President Clinton and AG Lynch is a vivid example of why many Americans believe the Obama administration’s criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton was rigged,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement released today. “Now it will be up to Attorney General Sessions at the Trump Justice Department to finally shed some light on this subversion of justice.”

And then this happened:

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, conceding that her airport meeting with former President Bill Clinton this week had cast a shadow over the federal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s personal email account, said Friday that she would accept whatever recommendations career prosecutors and the F.B.I. director made about whether to bring charges in the case.

It fell to Comey, then, to make the final decision about prosecuting Hillary Clinton. And his decision to explain the decision not to prosecute set off a chain of events that reverberates to this very day.

Now: Republicans are saying that if President Trump asked Jim Comey to take it easy on Donald Trump, that it was a joke.

But: If the mere act of two people meeting was enough to raise doubts about the fairness of justice being applied in a case, why would you as president ever raise the topic of a criminal case with the FBI director, let alone make a “joke” that would be so easily understood as maybe-not-a-joke?*

*(I have an 8-year-old boy. He tries telling me he was “joking” when he makes an out-of-line comment, too. We don’t buy it coming from him, either.)

Bill Clinton’s crossing of the line probably helped cost his wife the presidency. Republicans demanded that standards be applied. OK. Fine. Good. The question is, can Republicans live with same standards of conduct being applied to Donald Trump?

Probably not. But they’re going to have to.


Worse than Impeachable


Look at this: You, David Brooks, Rod Dreher (who we both struggle with),and I agree: Trump’s effort at witness intimidation, tweeted at James Comey, is a line that Congress cannot ignore, paling only in comparison to his reckless neediness on display when he gave away security secrets to Russia.

Both events this week indicate not merely a thuggish approach to the office of the presidency but also prove the impossibility of ever conducting politics in good faith with Donald Trump. Trump, always a projector, accused Obama of surveilling him, but Trump’s tweet seems to suggest that he think it’s perfectly acceptable to surreptitiously record others, and former associates have said that this is, in fact, business as usual for Trump. His carelessness with sensitive information reveals that that he has no respect for vulnerable allies. That Trump doesn’t think this is a problem isn’t a surprise: he’s never loved freedom, civil liberties, the Constitution, the law, or even just the norms of political life. He has never demonstrated true respect for others or care for them. He lacks enough knowledge of history to understand how this abuse of power echoes Watergate or how it endangers lives. That Congressional Republicans are not acting swiftly is what is more telling (and repulsive). Never believe Republicans when they tell you that the party believes in the rule of law.

What I found most interesting about your posts questioning Trump’s fitness for office, though, was that you said that you were now open to impeachment talk. I appreciate your caution, though I’ve not shared it. (I think Trump’s violations of the emoluments clause were already clear enough to warrant action.) It reminded me of a recent post by historian John Fea, who writes the blog The Way of Improvement Leads Home. A member of the faculty at Messiah College, Fea warns us against claiming that every president in our era is the worst president in history. History is long, of course, and how we rank people depends on our own position. Andrew Jackson was terrible for Native Americans, Andrew Johnson for African Americans, George W. Bush for the people of Iraq. Any president in the nuclear age is potentially more dangerous than any who had power before the invention of such weapons, so an even-tempered Barack Obama has more potential for harm than the feisty Teddy Roosevelt or the lazy Warren G. Harding.  In short, how we rank a president depends on a lot of criteria, including some that change frequently. (Obama looks pretty good right now to a lot of people, but if history shows that his commitment to neoliberal economic policies led to the despair that pushed voters toward Trump, how we he be ranked then?)

Years ago, I purchased a set of  presidential playing cards at the Smithsonian. I wondered at the conversations that the designers must have had as they picked who to assign which card to. Kennedy was the king of hearts and Nixon the ace of spades, which were pretty easy, I imagine, to assign, but how to rank those whose legacies are both impressive and awful–Jefferson’s radical belief in democracy as measured against the fact that he bought and sold human beings? FDR’s leadership during World War II and his invention of the welfare state (making him a savior or a devil, depending on your view) during a time when he was also interning American citizens in prison camps? LBJ’s effort to eradicate American poverty and insure that older Americans could live in dignity while also bombing Viet Nam?

If no US president (sorry Carter fans!) has a record free of the deliberate killing of innocents, does this mean that the job itself cannot be carried out without unnecessary violence. (The answer for many of my Mennonite friends is yes, which is why they can’t in good conscience vote.) And if that is the case, should we ever honor any president? Can you imagine, on a personal level, excusing the violent actions that our presidents have undertaken because of a person’s good behavior? (“Sure, Tom enslaved his own children, but he was a product of his times. We can’t really expect anything else.” “Maybe William took us into a war that killed 200,000 Filipino civilians, but he did it because he wanted to build a naval superpower and there was just no other way to get that done.” “Okay, I’ll admit that Bill accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Serbia, but his heart was in the right place!”)


Above, talk show host Ellen Degeneres shares a sideways hug with former president George W. Bush, who has been able to rehabilitate his legacy, despite foreign policies that have killed more than a million people. He’s just like your grandpa, if your grandpa killed 5% of the Iraqi population. 

Any praise we give any president is tainted by survivor’s bias. Those of us who live because a past president did not enslave, annihilate, or degrade our ancestors have a duty to remember those who were killed: the more than 300,000 enslaved Africans brought to America as part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the more than 70,000 Japanese killed in a single day when Truman dropped the atomic bomb, the 20% of the civilian population decimated (No, that word is wrong–it means 1/10 of the population. Truman’s leadership killed twice as many. We have no word for that kind of horror.) in North Korea when he waged war there, the more than 100 civilians killed by drone strikes under Obama.  It’s easy to claim that Trump is the worst if we ignore the 1 million Iraqis dead under George W. Bush.

Is Trump a thug? For sure, but we knew that when we elected him. Is he guilty of crimes against humanity? Maybe not yet, but if he’s anything like most of our presidents, he will be.