May 10, 2021

As I See It: by Center Advisory Board Members

Victoria Sanford, Barriozona
“Central America Needs a Regional Commission to Prosecute Corruption”

“Following a virtual bilateral meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a $310 million humanitarian aid package to Central America and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo announced an agreement with the U.S. to establish a new joint border protection task force that would include 16 Department of Homeland Security officials. ”

Elissa Bemporad, Alon Confino, and Derek Penslar, Forward
“A New Declaration Aims to Fight Antisemitism Without Curtailing Free Speech”

Antisemitism is on the rise, with powerful instigators behind it, but the struggle against it is at risk of being derailed by acrimonious divisions among Jews and others over its very meaning. The drive for adoption of a single, fixed definition of antisemitism has devolved into a polemical political debate on Israel and Palestine with crucial free-speech implications.

Today we introduce the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, which was crafted by a group of scholars from the United States, Israel, Europe and the U.K, after more than a year of intense discussion and study. The declaration has been endorsed by 200 eminent scholars with a wide spectrum of political views. All of us agree on the need for a guide to effectively combat antisemitism that protects space for an open debate around all possibilities around the future for Israelis and Palestinians.

Ben Carter Hett, Los Angeles Times
Op-Ed: The Trump insurrection was America’s Beer Hall Putsch

Very soon after the nation watched in horror as a mob ransacked the U.S. Capitol, journalists and politicians began speaking of a coup.

The fallout from these events has been dramatic and will continue. But we need to understand a crucial point. The guy in the Viking hat and his friends could break windows. A member of the mob could kill a police officer. Rioters could plot to assault members of Congress. All of this is terrifying. But these people and their criminal actions are not the most dangerous threat to our democracy. The real threat comes from people in business suits or police uniforms who are inside the system — and that threat remains.

A historical example illustrates the point.

Ben Carter Hett, Los Angeles Times
“Op-Ed: What the bunker mentality really means”

In the last week, a mash-up of a scene from “Downfall,” the movie about Hitler’s last days, has been circulating on social media. The scene is the one where Hitler bursts into an operatic rage when his officers tell him of a failed attempt to drive the Russians from Berlin. In the mash-up, Hitler is getting a different kind of bad news: All the votes are going to be counted and he will lose the election.

Donald Trump isn’t a dictator. He won office in a free and fair election and will leave it through the same democratic process. But there is a serious point underneath the mash-up comedy. Refusal to accept unpleasant reality is the hallmark of dictators, especially if disaster or defeat is looming. From his bunker, Hitler ordered imaginary armies to fight fantastical battles. Somehow, he thought, victory could be snatched from certain defeat.

Ben Carter Hett, Mother Jones
“What Do We Do With Trump’s Lackeys and Enablers Now?”

In 1954, Eugen Kogon worried that the “the silent gradual, creeping, unstoppable return” of the ex-Nazis seemed to be the “fate” of Germany’s new democracy. Kogon, a Christian socialist intellectual who had been imprisoned in concentration camps, was not alone in his concern. For years after the 1949 founding of West Germany, liberal-minded Germans worried the transition to democracy would end with a rebound to authoritarianism. No one would ever think it’s easy, making the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Especially when the dictatorship has been a particularly brutal and murderous one. But for Kogon, and others yearning for democracy, a basic problem presented itself. What do you do with the people who ran the old regime? And what do you do with the masses of the old regime’s followers? Aren’t they all waiting for restoration—and maybe not just waiting, but actively working toward it?

At the end of the Trump era, we face a similar question. Trump’s post-election attempt to subvert democracy was no surprise. And the raiding of the Capitol was the sort of uncomfortable shock we knew might occur. It was, as I’ve written, our Beer Hall Putsch. This makes aggressive punishments for those involved an obvious need. If we do not do this, our democracy could spiral into dictatorship. Especially insidious has been the Republican Party’s reluctance to stop Trump, even after this attempted coup. Hundreds of Congress members still voted to overturn the election and against impeaching the insurrectionist-in-chief. The lesson is clear: One political party is committed to authoritarianism. We need a harsh reckoning now with those who directly supported the coup attempt.

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