Monthly Archives: December 2019

The Red Shoes (1947)

In 1947, the British people were tired. They had spent the years 1939 to 1945 getting bombed. There were shortages, food rationing, and a long list of casualties. 383,600 soldiers and 75,000 civilians were dead. During the course of the war, the United States Navy had surpassed the British Navy. Britannia no longer ruled the waves, and the British Empire was falling apart. Nevertheless, the British working class had a vision of a better world, throwing Churchill out of office in 1945 and electing a social democratic government under Clement Attlee. In 1948, they established the National Health Service. There was never a better time for a movie like The Red Shoes. A romance filmed in Monaco and the South of France in glorious technicolor, it had an international cast, an elite ballerina with flaming red hair, and a 15 minute dance sequence that not only brought high culture to the working class masses, but almost managed to create a new art form, cinematic ballet. The Red Shoes was an opportunity to get out of damp, rainy London. For the price of a movie ticket you could bask in the Mediterranean sun.

While the idea of a “social democratic cinema” might not have the same glamor as “communist cinema,” and while very few people speak of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in the same breath as Sergei Eisenstein, it’s interesting to contemplate The Red Shoes in the context of the ascension of the British Labor Party. Powell and Pressburger were by no means leftist filmmakers, but there is a political undercurrent to their seemingly apolitical romance that drives it to its shocking, and tragic end. The film opens with what seems like the threat of a riot. Two police officers are desperately trying to keep a door bolted against an angry mob. Only when another man says “let them in” do we realize that we are at Covent Garden, the Royal Opera House, and that the angry mob is made up of students with cheap tickets to the Lermontov Ballet, anxious to jockey for a space in the gallery. When the music starts, one of the students, a young man named Julian Craster, recognizes his own work. Craster’s professor, also one of the assistant conductors, had plagiarized one of his assignments.

While the French New Wave would not release its first movie for another decade, Michael Powell is far from a traditional, stodgy director. His camera is fluid and graceful, deftly panning from the cheap seats to the luxury boxes below. An obviously wealthy old woman looks through a pair of opera glasses, not at the performance, but at another box, trying to get a glimpse, not at the dancers, but of Boris Lermontov, the ballet’s director, a fictionalized representation of Sergei Diaghilev. Lady Neston, the old woman, wants to invite Lermontov to a party, not for herself but for Vicki Page, her beautiful young niece, a talented dancer played by real life ballerina Moira Shearer. While the renowned Lermontov, a famous ballet director who can make or break careers with a signature or the nod of a head goes more out of social obligation than out of any desire to attend yet another party, learns that Lady Nestor is planning to stage a performance of her niece, he indignantly leaves the party and ducks into the adjoining bar. There he is met by Vicki Page herself, who has decided to make her move and charms Lermontov into giving her an audition.

“Why do you want to dance?” he says.

“Why do you want to live?” she responds.

The next day in his office, Lermontov is confronted by Julian Caster, who angrily accuses the Lermontov Ballet of stealing his work. Boris Lermontov, who recognizes how star struck the young man really is, admits that one of his assistant directors plagiarized Caster’s work and as compensation offers him a job. Julian Caster offers no more resistance than a blogger at Jacobin who’s spent years denouncing capitalism and calling for a socialist revolution would to the offer of a position at the New York Times. “Go get some breakfast and then meet me on stage,” Lermontov says to the young man, so overjoyed at the offer the he trips over his feet on the way out. On the way to his first rehearsal, Caster meets, not only Vicki, his fellow new hire, but a crowd of dancers, writers, musicians, all hilariously eccentric bohemians I couldn’t imagine not wanting to hang out if I had the opportunity. When Lermontov shows up for the rehearsal, he’s distant and cold. At first, Caster and Vicki are dismayed. Soon they realize that Boris Lermontov is a dick to all of his performers, and that it’s a good sign. They’re in. They’re part of the gang.

Vicki and Caster, however, who Lermontov immediately recognized as potential geniuses, are more than just part of the Lermontov Ballet. They’re future stars, especially Vicki, who, in spite of her aristocratic background, is polite and gracious to everybody. She even handles catcalling with wit and aplomb, turning and smiling at a working class man who says “wow what a corker” as she walks by. Indeed, for Lermontov, who’s played by Anton Walbrook an incredible Anglo German actor I cannot believe I waited to the age of 54 to discover, sees Vicki as part of the working class, the artistic working class, but an outsider who will revitalize his work. One afternoon he follows her to a small, amateur community theater where she’s starting in a performance of Swan Lake. In spite of the clumsiness of the production, she dances with so much joy and youthful vitality that Lermontov, even though he’s probably gay, falls passionately in love with her. He’s found his next star ballerina, the new Anna Pavlova.

Lermontov also recognizes that Julian Caster is a genius, who can compose a new score in a matter of a few days. He shows Caster an old Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Anderson, a grim little story called The Red Shoes, about a peasant girl who puts on a magical pair of red shoes that represent the passionate, Dionysian side of artistic creation. The story ends tragically. The young girl, who can’t stop dancing as long as she’s wearing the red shoes, ends up dancing herself to her death, but Lermontov, a suave, middle-aged Apollo to Vicki’s young Dionysus, believes he can give the story a happy ending, sublimate Vicki’s youthful sexuality in a sublime work of art.

He succeeds. The dance number in the middle of The Red Shoes goes on for almost 20 minutes. In 1947, any London shop girl could have dragged her boyfriend into a movie theater for the price of two tickets attended an technically innovative performance of the ballet starring a Moira Shearer, a star dancer, and an elite cast from all over Russia and Western Europe. This is social democratic art at its finest, high culture brought to the masses. What’s more, it’s revolutionary cinema. While there had been major Hollywood films, like the Adventures of Robin Hood, filmed in technicolor Michael Powell was probably the first directory to master the use of color as a cinematic art form. Red, green, purple, bright blue, the stark, black and white years of being bombed by the Nazis are a thing of the past. Watching the dance sequence in The Red Shoes feels a bit like going back in time and watching Michelangelo or Titian mix the colors on his palette and brush them onto the canvas. It’s not only first rate ballet. It’s cinematic ballet, a gloriously bright, sun drenched painting coming alive right in front of her eyes.

Indeed, you could probably write a PHD thesis on The Red Shoes and Powell’s use of color. We are no longer in grey, post-industrial England, or even in the real south of France, but rather transported back to some medieval festival. After her performance, we see Vicki in a bright new cloak, her red hair, representing passion and sexuality, falling down onto the green velvet, which represents life. Sadly, neither of the film’s leading men are worthy of her. Caster, a rather ordinary looking red headed Englishman who we almost always see in a drab business suit wants marriage and a family. Lermontov, who at first dresses in bright colors, complex patterns, and who initially comes off almost as a Renaissance poet, Shakespeare or Marlow, now begins to dress in black. He puts on sunglasses and carries a cane. The more he becomes obsessed with Vicki, who he could probably have sexually if he had the courage to make a move, the more he seems to want to shut out those bright, Mediterranean colors he had conjured up to life. He can neither bear to look at his beautiful creation, nor let her go — she falls in love with the plane Caster and accepts his marriage proposal — and allow her to lead her own life. As the film proceeds he is transformed from a creative, liberating force into the oppressor, determined to destroy the careers of the two young people he discovered. He is now the Oedipal father figure who must be overcome if his children are to go on to life and happiness.

(Sadly, Julian, who’s supposed to be in his early 20s, is played by an actor pushing 40, a casting decision that tends to mute the generation conflict inherent in the script.)

Julian, however, who might be said to represent the British working class, is no revolutionary. A musical genius, he can create within the elite but he cannot destroy the elite. He cannot liberate Vicki from Lermontov’s control. Lermontov’s behavior, and the film’s tragic, over the top ending have both baffled critics, but it’s clear that Vicki cannot resolve the contradiction between her own revolutionary passion and the bourgeois high culture represented by Boris Lermontov, who cannot declare his love for the beautiful young woman he discovered, and for whom desire has turned into the desire for control. Vicki fate will be determined, not by any conscious decision on her part, or by the two men who both love her in their inadequate way, but by the uncontrollable revolutionary passion in the “red” — and we all know what that color stands for — shoes.

The Ethnic and Religious Chauvinism of Bret Stephens

Yesterday, Bret Stephens, a right-wing Zionist at the New York Times, wrote an editorial arguing that Jews are not only smarter than gentiles. They’re more creative. Predictably, the social justice left on Twitter is having a meltdown. Heidi N. Moore, for example, is so angry that she suggests that we not link Stephens’s article because that will only give the New York Times more traffic. Alas, one has to assume that Ms. Moore is a WASP instead of a Jew since her suggestion, that the mighty paper of record will suffer if random leftists on Twitter refuse to link their articles, is so pointless and so silly that it doesn’t speak well of her intelligence.

In any event, I read Stephens’s article, which I will certainly link here so as not to deny the New York Times my enormous reader base. Click. It’s a fairly short, fairly banal editorial about how Ashkenazi Jews not only have the highest IQ of any ethnic group in the United States — which I think is true but don’t quote me because I’m honestly not that interested in the debate over IQ — they also have a tradition of creativity and critical thinking which has allowed them to win a lot of Nobel Prizes and a produce a lot of famous intellectuals like Karl Marx. Stephens also asserts that the idea of a “tossed salad,” where every ethnic group retains its individual identity, is a better way of organizing society than that of a “melting pot.” It’s not really much more than a very familiar kind of American ethnic chauvinism, the ruling class version of the guy who puts a sign up next to his driveway that reads “Italian Parking Only” or a doormat that reads “On The 8th Day God Created The Irish .”

But the “Jews are smart” explanation obscures more than it illuminates. Aside from the perennial nature-or-nurture question of why so many Ashkenazi Jews have higher I.Q.s, there is the more difficult question of why that intelligence was so often matched by such bracing originality and high-minded purpose. One can apply a prodigious intellect in the service of prosaic things — formulating a war plan, for instance, or constructing a ship. One can also apply brilliance in the service of a mistake or a crime, like managing a planned economy or robbing a bank.

I suppose that while appropriate for bumper stickers and doormats, self-congratulating ethnic chauvinism has no place at the New York Times. But I personally think the idea of an intellectual and moral culture that spans generations is fascinating. Let’s apply Stephens’s argument to my own family. I grew up hearing my mother tell me that “in this family we don’t talk about politics or religion,” a fairly common opinion among lower-middle-class white families in New Jersey which I suspect has something to do with how the Italians gave up their anarchist traditions and the Germans their socialist traditions in exchange for upward mobility. “Real Americans keep quiet about politics so shut the fuck up.” Stephens, I suppose, is arguing that if my mother had been Jewish instead of Protestant she would have instead told me that “it’s OK to argue about religion and politics as long as you can back up your opinions with facts and reason.”

My mother came from a family that was deeply repressive and anti-intellectual. My maternal grandmother, for example, didn’t go to school beyond the 8th grade. Her father, my great-grandfather, told her that “girls didn’t need an education to be good wives and mothers.” To enforce his decision he refused to buy my grandmother glasses — she was badly nearsighted — until she was 16 and it was too late to start on a course of secondary education anyway. Then he told her that she should only wear the glasses when it was absolutely necessary until she found a husband because, you know, men didn’t go for the sexy librarian look.

My great grandfather also came from Denmark, a country renowned for its high standard of living, excellent health care system, and for its vast educational and economic opportunities for women. In the case of my own family, an examination of generational culture points to good reason to vote for Bernie Sanders, an intelligent Ashkenazi Jew who argues that the United States should become more likely Scandinavia. When my great grandfather emigrated to New Jersey from Denmark in the late 19th Century and promptly married a woman 15 years his junior — what an anti-feminist poster child that old pig really was — it was not yet a social democracy, but rather a repressive class society that, like so much of Scandinavia, sent a wave of poor immigrants to the United States in search of better opportunities. It was the Scandinavia of Jan Troell’s The Emigrants, not the Scandinavia of free healthcare and feminism for all. As the 20th Century progressed, Denmark moved to the left, and became progressively more secular and enlightened. Indeed, on my Polish/Lithuanian side I dodged a bullet when my great grandparents moved from somewhere around Gdansk to the coal fields of Northeastern Pennsylvania. On my Danish side, I missed out on the free healthcare.

In other words, the reason I come from a family of uneducated morons isn’t about ethnicity. It’s about the history of capitalism. Nevertheless, like ethnic and religious culture, the effects of a class society do indeed span generations. So I think Stephens has a point when he argues that intelligence and artistic creativity can be passed down from father and mother to son and daughter like the deed to a house. The idea is hardly scientific but does provide a critical perspective that allows me to understand why the things that interested me so much as a child have contributed to the reasons why I’m such a maladjusted adult. Whenever I remember my mother, who was a huge Hillary Clinton fan, wagging her finger at me and shutting me down whenever I tried to discuss politics, I can’t help but think that she had long nursed a resentment against men for my great grandfather’s cruel decision to deny my grandmother an education. Like a current day millennial feminist on social media who, in between rants about “bros,” vows to boycott books written by white men, my mother had decided that her son, as a future white man, should just shut the fuck up and listen.

(It didn’t work. I grew up into a sexist pig who talks too much about politics anyway.)

In addition to his banal ethnic pride and his speculation about IQ and generational intelligence, Bret Stephens also calls for the further repression of the Palestinian Solidarity and BDS movements.

At its best, the American university can still be a place of relentless intellectual challenge rather than ideological conformity and social groupthink. At its best, the United States can still be the country that respects, and sometimes rewards, all manner of heresies that outrage polite society and contradict established belief. At its best, the West can honor the principle of racial, religious and ethnic pluralism not as a grudging accommodation to strangers but as an affirmation of its own diverse identity. In that sense, what makes Jews special is that they aren’t. They are representational.

The West, however, is not at its best. It’s no surprise that Jew hatred has made a comeback, albeit under new guises. Anti-Zionism has taken the place of anti-Semitism as a political program directed against Jews. Globalists have taken the place of rootless cosmopolitans as the shadowy agents of economic iniquity. Jews have been murdered by white nationalists and black “Hebrews.” Hate crimes against Orthodox Jews have become an almost daily fact of life in New York City. 

As a leftist who supports the Palestinian Solidarity Movement and the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions), I suppose that I should resent Bret Stephens for calling me an anti-Semite. But honestly it doesn’t bother me. I’m 54 years old. I was a member of the Rutgers Palestine Solidarity Movement all the way back in the 1980s during the first Intifada. Getting called anti-Semitic by right-wing Zionists like Stephens is about as predictable as the coming smear campaign that will label Bernie Sanders as being a “self-hating Jew” for arguing that “Palestinians are human beings who deserve human rights.” I’m actually happy to see a right-wing Jewish American — of the decidedly non-Jewish, Anglo Saxon last name Stephens– lay his cards on the table and say “we Jews are better than you. Shut up and support Israel.”

For many of my fellow leftists, however, including leftist Jews who support the Palestinians over the Israelis, Bret Stephens’s ethnic chauvinism is a bit too hard to swallow. There is a belief on the American left that progressive Jews like Bernie Sanders not only have an obligation to speak up for the Palestinians, but that they have more of a right to debate American policy towards Israel than non-Jews. The pro-Palestinian left, both Jewish and non-Jewish, in the United States is deeply invested in liberal identity politics, in the idea that you cannot debate a political conflict that involves an ethnic group not your own. Only blacks can debate issue concerning blacks. Only Jews can debate issues concerning Jews. Only Hispanics can debate issues concerning Hispanics. Only Native Americans can debate issues concerning Native Americans. Generic white Americans of no particularly oppressed race, religion, or ethnicity should just “shut up and listen.” They have no right to be part of the discussion. But if you don’t have “white privilege” you can’t be asked to check your white privilege. By talking about Jews as a kind of Aryan super race, Stephens actually reduces their social power, at least their social capital on Twitter. Many leftists and liberals, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have confronted the issue. Many others are conflicted. They want the moral high ground of not being white and, thus, not the oppressor. They also want to send their kids to Harvard.

The brash Jewish chauvinism of Bret Stephens is a bit too honest for many leftists and liberals. He openly declares that right-wing, ruling-class Jewish Americans like himself are a class and should act like a class. That the New York Times can publish the 1619 Project, which argues that white Americans have racism in their DNA, and the right wing ethnic chauvinism of Bret Stephens strongly points to a ruling class agenda designed to get us to think about ourselves, not in terms of class, but in terms of ethnicity and religion. The paper of record has space on the same editorial page for both black nationalism and Jewish nationalism. I suppose it will eventually have space for Asian and Hispanic nationalism. It’s even and very recently made space for upper-class, white Protestant nationalism. But it will not allow us to discuss what we have in common. It will not frame any debate in terms of the rich vs. the poor, the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. The choice is getting more and more clear. It’s either class war or race war. When it comes to class, politics, and ethnicity, the New York Times tends to speak in convoluted obscurity. They never quite come out and say “us rich people benefit when you poor people are talking about your race or religion instead of your common political and economic interests.” But Bret Stephens has quite unintentionally ratted them out.

Day of Wrath (1943)

If looks could kill
You’d be lying on the floor
You’d be begging me, please, please
Baby don’t hurt me no more

In his Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote that without the capability to love, a believer, even one martyred for the faith, cannot be a real Christian. “If I give away all I have,” he wrote, “and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” In his 1943 film Day of Wrath, which was made during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, Carl Theodore Dreyer dramatizes Paul’s arguments, demonstrates what happens to Christians who have given up on the idea of love for the idea of control.

Set in the early 17th Century, Day of Wrath is divided into two parts. In the first half, an old woman named Herlof’s Marte is accused of witchcraft, tortured into a confession, and found guilty by a tribunal led by an elderly Pastor named Absalon Pederssøn. In a last ditch effort to save her life, Marte threatens to denounce Pederssøn’s much younger wife Anna, a woman in her 20s played by Lisbeth Movin. Several years before, Pederssøn had intervened in the trial of Anna’s mother, who had also been accused of witchcraft, because he wanted to possess her beautiful young daughter.

Pederssøn, who lives with Anna and Merete, his domineering mother, is probably in his 40s or his 50s, but he appears much older. Indeed, Thorkild Roose, who plays Pederssøn, and Sigrid Neiiendam, who plays Merete, are both in their 70s. His marriage to Anna, which was founded on coercion, not love, has always been barren. They have no children. Anna is timid, glum, takes no joy in her young life. Pederssøn, a well-respected senior clergyman, lacks self-awareness, seems to enjoy nothing more than the power he has, not only over his wife, but their fanatically religious small town. Herlof’s Marte knows he could save her if he wants. He chooses not to.

On the day Herlof’s Marte is burned alive, Pederssøn’s son from an earlier marriage, a handsome young man in his 20s named Martin, returns home to his estranged father. For Anna, who has apparently been immune to all of the other young men in the village, it’s love at first sight. Martin, in a sense, completes his father, rolls back the clock to the days when the old Pastor had the kind of youth and vitality that could have given Anna a happy marriage. In a long monologue Anna speculates about what could have been, a dream of a happy ending that conjures up the image of her as Mary, Martin as Joseph, and the child her elderly husband has been unable to give her.

Dreyer has always denied that Day of Wrath is a political allegory about the persecution of the Jews, but it’s impossible not to see Anna as the kind of person who’s dangerous to a totalitarian government. Anna loves Martin so completely and so passionately that she would have probably become the center of attention at Woodstock, or in San Francisco during The Summer of Love, let alone in the stark, black and white world of Protestant Scandinavia in the 1620s. Yet Dreyer, who was not a religious man himself, takes religion seriously. Anna is not so much a heroine as she a heretic, a young woman who reduces the idea of “love” to the idea of “sex.”

Before she died, Herlof’s Marte had remarked that Anna’s mother had the ability to call up Satan at will and kill a man by wishing him dead. Denying any consolation of religion — she lost her faith and any belief in the afterlife years ago — she reminds Pederssøn that, since Anna has inherited the same ability, he will die a painful death, not at the hands, but at the thoughts of his young wife. She will wish him dead, and he will die, painfully. On the night of a violent storm, while Pederssøn is out administering the last rights to a dying man, Anna begs Martin to swear that if she’s ever accused of witchcraft, he will stand by her side and deny it. Marete, well aware that the two young people have fallen madly in love, hovers over them like the Gestapo, hoping to catch them in an unguarded moment. While Day of Wrath may not be a political oligarchy, it is certainly a powerful dramatization of what it’s like to live in a police state, a social order that transforms youthful sexuality into a death sentence.

Authoritarian governments rarely fall when they’re young and vital, able to stomp out any sign of dissent quickly and efficiently. Like Polish communism in 1980, or Portuguese clerical fascism in the 1970s, they tend to give up the ghost when they grow old and soft, whey they allow the people space to protest and express themselves, when they admit mistakes. When Absolon Pederssøn returns home to his young wife, he is still shaken, not only from having administered the last rights to a dying man before walking home in a violent storm, but because he senses his wife’s hatred, feels his imminent demise. So he apologizes, confesses that he’s never loved her and that he took her youth, not out of any dirty old man’s lust, but out of a desire to repress and control.

For anyone who’s ever felt the kind of uncontrollable rage you feel when your oppressor finally apologizes far too late to make any difference in your life, Anna’s violent reaction will seem all too familiar. The beautiful young Lisbeth Tovin turns into Satan himself, if in fact you could imagine Satan before he rebelled, when he was Lucifer, the bringer of light, the most beautiful angel in heaven. Her answer to her elderly husband, who asks her if she had ever wished him dead, becomes a blasphemous prayer, a rhetorically perfect incantation of hatred pulled out of a dark, Satanic hymnal. Yes, she says, I’ve wished you dead, hundreds of times. I’ve wished you dead when you were away. I’ve wished you dead because you couldn’t even give me a child to hold in my arms. I’ve wished you dead when you were at my side. But never have I wished you dead more than when I realized you denied me the life I could have had with your son. I wish you dead now.

Absalon Pederssøn, who had expected the confession of a guilty woman, not a passionate call to rebellion by an avenging angel, promptly does exactly what she wants, takes one step upstairs to go to bed and tumbles back down, dead of shock. Anna, who knows perfectly well that Merete will denounce her as a witch and that she is going to be burned at the stake, doesn’t care. As long as Martin stands by her side, she will go to a martyr’s death, perishing in the flames as happily as the early Christians, who sang as the Roman lions tore them limb from limb. Alas poor Anna. While she understands bitter, sexless old men, she does not understand young, vital, handsome, but mentally and spiritually weak young men. Martin, not surprisingly, denounces her at her trial. For Anna, her execution will be no different from Herlof’s Marte. She will go to her death only after she’s lost her faith in God, the Love so eloquently evoked by St. Paul in his epistles, but which in her narrow minded point of view, she had heretically reduced to the promise of a good fuck.

I’m not exactly sure how Scandinavians, the most secular people on earth, manage to explore the religious impulse so well in their art, but Day of Wrath is a masterpiece on the level of The Seventh Seal.

Black Legion (1937)

The United States is a country of 315 million people, people composed of every race, religion, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation in the world. Yet these days all Americans seem to be afraid of a foreign other. Every time Democrats lose an election, or a debate on social media, liberals blame Russia. Conservatives want a militarized border with Mexico. The reason is pretty easy to figure out. Upward mobility in the United States is largely a thing of the past. We’re all competing for a few crumbs the one percent leaves on the plate after they’ve eaten most of the pie.

In the 1930s Hollywood actually was liberal. During Franklin Roosevelt’s second Term, major studios like Warner Brothers released a steady stream of movies that for lack of a better term might be called “propaganda for the New Deal.” Sometimes, like John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath, they rose to the level of high art. More often, they were competent, workmanlike productions designed to educate the public about the important social issues of the day. Black Legion, which was inspired by the 1935 murder of a 22-year-old WPA (Works Progress Administration) organizer named Charles Poole, is both.

Fascists are not monsters. They’re not even irrelevant “deplorables” who will simply fade away as America, which is “already great,” becomes inevitably more diverse and socially progressive. They’re people just like you and me. In Black Legion, Frank Taylor, played to perfection by Humphrey Bogart in his first starring role, is not only a sympathetic every man. He’s actually likeable. A hard working, machinist in his 30s who has finally landed a steady job after years of unemployment, he’s mature, responsible, and devoted to his beautiful wife and his 10-year-old son. He’s well-liked at the factory. When a position as foreman opens up, all of his coworkers assume that the position is his for the asking, but he’s passed over for a younger man, a bookish twentysomething named Joe Dombrowski, the son of a Polish immigrant.

In spite what the film’s leftist screenwriters want us to believe, it’s not immediately obvious that Dombrowski, who’s a bit of an asskisser with no real connection to his fellow machinists, is the better choice for a management position than Joe Taylor. In fact, by choosing the young, Polish American bookworm over the older, WASP everyman, the upper-level management at the factory makes a socially destructive choice. Does a factory foreman really have to be a college graduate and a future mechanical engineer rather than just a a veteran worker with relevant on the job experience? Indeed, if the factory where Taylor and Dombrowski worked had been unionized, Taylor would have had more seniority, more respect, and would have probably not even wanted the position as foreman. What’s more, while the screenplay tells us that we have to like Dombrowski, who’s played by the 6 foot five inch, ridiculously handsome German American actor Henry Brandon, later to be cast as Scar in John Ford’s classic The Searchers, it’s not entirely clear that he has any natural leadership ability. Taylor has a legitimate grievance. Our sympathies are with the plain, ordinary looking Humphrey Bogart, who was not yet even a leading man, let alone “Bogie,” not the tall, dark, handsome Greek god who reads engineering manuals on his lunch hour.

Soon, however, Frank Taylor snaps, not right away, but slowly, steadily, inevitably. It’s a testament to Bogart’s acting ability that Taylor’s transformation from all American dad to fascist murderer is nothing like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Rather, we just start to notice a dark, angry quality we had always been aware of but didn’t think especially important. When Taylor begins to listen to right-wing radio shows — Father Coughlin was one of many Rush Limbaughs of his time — he doesn’t immediately go from nice guy to maniacal, racist monster. He doesn’t jump up and shout “that’s it. The Jews and immigrants are the enemy. Long live 100% Anglo Saxon American patriotism.” Rather, and Bogart expresses this so well it makes it obvious what a huge star he would eventually become, we see a man, frustrated by life, who’s been forced to confront why he’s stuck in a dead end job with little or no chance at promotion, suddenly find an excuse. I won’t say that he suddenly “finds a reason” because Bogart is such an intelligent actor he’s able to express how Taylor really doesn’t hate foreigners. Xenophobia, like a shot of whiskey or a few tablets of Oxycontin, is just the nearest thing available to dull the pain. So Taylor just nods as he sinks further into himself.

After he’s recruited into the Black Legion, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan that was highly active in the Midwest of the 1930s, but which has been largely forgotten by history, Taylor’s inevitable decline from likeable everyman to fascist murderer becomes far more precipitous. We see him at home, playing around with the 38 caliber revolver, which he was required to buy along with the full set of sheets, a man with a new purpose in life, to protect his family from dirty immigrants, the deep connection between anti-immigrant, white supremacist organizations like the KKK and the gun cult obvious in a way that’s since been obscured by NRA propaganda. That night, Taylor, Cliff Moore, the coworker who recruited him into the Black Legion, and a band of black and white-sheeted fascist goons show up at the small farm owned by Dombrowski’s father, burn down their house, kill their chickens, burn their crops, and run the two Polish American immigrants out of town.

Bogart is such a sympathetic actor that in the next scene, when we notice that Taylor has gone on a shopping spree, buying a new car and a vacuum cleaner for his wife, we’re still on his side. Even when we find out that Dombrowski’s death — it’s strongly hinted that he was later murdered — has allowed Taylor to jump into the foreman’s job and get a pay raise, we mainly just breath a sigh of relief that he can now afford the car. Then the film pulls its master stroke. We cut to a group of upper-class man discussing The Black Legion over a few drinks. More specifically, they’re discussing how much money the Black Legion is making. The founders oft the Black Legion, it turns out, aren’t even racists. They’re just grifters. What’s more, the Black Legion, like Amway, is also a pyramid scheme. In order to keep making money, they need to recruit more and more members. So they proclaim a new rule requiring every current Black Legion member to recruit two more. One Hundred Percent Anglo Saxon Americans, it turns out, are not only xenophobic racist assholes. They’re dupes. Soon, Taylor starts to spend so much time at work recruiting new members for the Black Legion that he neglects his job, damages machinery, and gets demoted back down to simple machinist before he’s finally let go.

Joe Taylor’s best friend at the machine shop is a tall, strapping Irish American named Ed Jackson, a newly engaged man who, under the influence of his fiancee, has managed to kick his alcoholism and his taste for loose, slutty woman. Jackson’s life is on an upward trajectory, even was Taylor’s is falling apart. One of the things Black Legion gets right is the relationship of Irish Americans to later immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe as well as older, Anglo Saxon Americans. By the 1930s, Irish Americans had largely been accepted by the WASP majority, and, thus, Jackson and Taylor can still be friends. But Jackson has an innate sense of decency. After his roommate, a first generation Irish American who was given Taylor’s job as foreman after Taylor got fired, is kidnapped and taken out into the woods by the Black Legion for a thinly veiled lynching, Jackson begins to put two and two together, eventually figuring out that his friend had been out all night on the day of Dombrowski’s.

Jackson’s confrontation with the Black Legion is both exhilarating and terrifying. Jackson has little or no fear of the racist thugs, even though they outnumber him ten to one. It’s not that he’s stupid. It’s just that he’s played by Dick Foran, a popular leading man of the day who probably had it in his contract that he’d only play a fearless badass. “What’s the matter,” he says, “afraid to take off your sheets. I guess you’re not the Black Legion but the Yellow Legion.” When he looks at one of the black-sheeted Klansman and says “too bad you can’t put a sheet on your voice Cliff,” we want to stand up and cheer. But Jackson, of course, is doomed, kidnapped and taken into the woods for another thinly veiled lynching. He fights back, runs away, but is gunned down by Taylor, who panics and squeezes off four shots from the 38-caliber revolver we had seen him playing with earlier in the movie. The Chekhov gun, in other words, is fired. Joe Taylor has killed his best friend.

The most astonishing thing about the ending of Black Legion is not that it seems improbable — Taylor takes responsibility for his crimes and brings down the entire organization — but that it’s not fiction. Charles Poole’s murderers eventually did “name names” and bring down the leadership of the Black Legion. Taylor’s decision to defy legal advice, as well as the threats the Black Legion has made against his wife and child, is stagy and over the top — the aesthetics of the film finally can’t keep pace with its message — but it did actually happen in real life. Bogart also manages to redeem whatever credibility to the final scenes lack by his screen presence, delivering his lines with so much passion and authority that in that moment he’s transformed from a miserable racist murderer into an avenging angel of truth. What a great actor he was. Indeed, while Black Legion lacks the romanticism of Casablanca, and while it may have flopped at the box office, sending Bogart back down to supporting roles, it’s by far the better anti-fascist movie. It deserves to be remembered.

JFK and Bernie: Jew and Catholic

There’s a new account on Twitter called “Democrats Against Anti-Semitism” targeting Bernie Sanders. As of this date, December 22, it only has 234 followers, but since its first Tweet was a few days after the British elections, a retweet of a Guardian columnist talking about an antisemitic incident on a London bus, there’s little question that it’s a trial balloon by someone auditioning for a job doing opposition research for the Buttigieg, Warren or Biden campaign. Let me do to Bernie Sanders what the British media did to Jeremy Corbyn. The screenshot above is part of a thread detailing Sanders’s occasional lukewarm criticism of Israel as well as his past association with various figures on the American left, some of whom you will have heard of (Jesse Jackson) and some of whom you won’t (Michael Parenti).

If it all seems familiar, it should. It’s almost a carbon copy of the smear campaign Hillary Clinton ran against Barack Obama in 2008. While almost everybody remembers the “birther” campaign alleging that Obama was born, not in Hawaii, but in Kenya, few people also remember that it did not originate with John McCain or the Republicans but with Sidney Blumenthal and the Clintons. While Obama quickly disavowed former supporter Jeremiah Wright for Wright’s inflammatory but essentially accurate sermon that God would “damn” American for its treatment of the Palestinians and people in the global south, he continued to be attacked on the racist far right as a crypto-Muslim who had no right to be President.

My guess is that if Barack Obama had to do it all over again, he would still condemn former supporters like Wright and promise the Israel Lobby that he would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I do not think that Obama ever hoped to win over the hardcore racists that would eventually make up the Tea Party. By disassociating himself from Jeremiah Wright, and eventually releasing his birth certificate, Obama was not pandering to the Koch Brothers or the Republican Party, but rather to Wall Street and the Democratic Party establishment, the people who would eventually come to dominate his administration.

Obama’s loyalty to Wall Street and the ruling class, even as he continued to alienate conservative white America in the South and the Midwest, is a debate far too complex to do full justice to in a blog post. But it does bear upon the Presidential election of 2020. Barack Obama, a master of identity politics, skillfully guided the American ruling class through a period where it became substantially more diverse. In 2019, four of the five top defense firms, for example, have women CEOs. The American ruling class, its managerial elites, and the American upper-middle-class, is no longer exclusively Protestant. Rather, it’s “woke.” Similar to the way the WASP elite used to learn a code of etiquette that involved knowing which fork to use on your salad and how to dress at the yacht club, today’s professional managerial elite knows which cultures not to “appropriate,” which kinds of “whiteness” are good (Ivy League universities), and which kinds of “whiteness” are bad (brash, flag waiving patriotism). Being a White Anglo Saxon Protestant is much less important than having a degree from an elite law school. Knowing which is more racist, to like Indian food too much, or not to like Indian food enough, is as culturally important in 2020 as knowing not to wear white after Labor Day was in 1920.

(Note: There are currently no WASPs on the Supreme Court, a political institution most liberals consider more important than the Presidency.)

Throughout his two runs for the Democratic nomination for the President, Bernie Sanders has both suffered and benefited from his inability to master the “woke” code of the liberal elites. Sanders is a blunt, Polish American Jew from Brooklyn who graduated from the elite University of Chicago in 1964, but only after a year at Brooklyn College. Repeatedly dogged by smears that he’s sexist and racist, Sanders has also quite skillfully managed to appeal to white Christian voters in rural America, not only in Vermont, a rather oddball state with a history of cultural individualism, but elsewhere. In my own state of New Jersey, for example, Sanders took the Republican leaning Warren and Sussex counties, but lost in the heavily Democratic Bergen and Hudson Counties. In Massachusetts, he took the working-class but rapidly gentrifying Berkshires, but lost in the traditional liberal stronghold of Boston. Sanders, in spite of the stereotypical “Jewish” mannerisms and speech patterns that have put him on the bad side of so many Ivy League feminists, has, like John F. Kennedy, become an iconic “American.” He actually took the popular vote in culturally conservative West Virginia, even though the DNC awarded Hillary Clinton the majority of the delegates.

By 1960, American anti-Catholicism was already on the wane. My Polish Catholic father and German Protestant mother encountered absolutely no opposition to their marriage on either side of the family. The Presidential election of 1928,where the Ku Klux Klan would hold rallies opposing the Irish Catholic Al Smith, was a thing of the very distant past. The main problem for the Irish Catholic Kennedy was not the WASP establishment — who would have been horrified if Kennedy had pulled American military bases out of the Catholic fascist Franco Spain — but the “Solid South. It’s easy to forget these days that before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most of the country below the Mason Dixon Line voted Democratic. They were still pissed at Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman. So while mainline Protestants in New Jersey or Massachusetts split mainly along party, not religious lines, the evangelical, Baptist, and Pentecostal South had to be assured that Kennedy wasn’t planning to set the Pope up with a nice apartment in the West Wing of the White House. Since Kennedy was an almost completely secular man who graduated from Harvard, not Notre Dame or Holy Cross, he was eventually able to overcome any objections to the religion of his birth.

“Jack Kennedy was as disinterested in Catholicism as his father was,” Tye says. “During his years at Harvard, people would kid him… that he was not especially Irish, and not especially Catholic — which is why they called him a Fifth Avenue Catholic or a Harvard Irishman,” Tye explains. “But he also saw himself as more than just Irish or Catholic. He saw himself as very much a new American — a guy who had come back from World War II, and that generation was reinventing what America was and what it was; and he wasn’t going to be constrained by his parentage, by his ethnicity or by his religion.”

If that sounds familiar, it should. It could be a description of Bernie Sanders, a man “Democrats against Anti-Semitism” describe as “ethnically Jewish” but too close to Muslims, people of color, and left-wing, pro-Palestinian radicals. The major difference is that while in 1960, John F. Kennedy’s secularism and universalism made him appealing to the WASP majority, Bernie Sanders’s secularism and universalism has put him out of touch with the “woke” ruling class elites so skillfully cultivated by Barack Obama. Indeed, while the concern in 1960 was that John F. Kennedy would be too Catholic, the concern in 2020 is that Bernie Sanders isn’t Jewish enough, that he may take an even handed stance on the Israeli Palestinian issue, one that would benefit all Americans, instead of favoring the Israelis. In the post Obama era, where culture is also capital, not only radically pro-Israel, Evangelical Christians, but “woke” secular liberals are baffled by Sanders’s tendency in the past to identify as a “Polish American” or just an “American” instead of as “Jewish.” But since being Jewish gets you “woke” social capital in a way simply being American doesn’t, neoliberals, Zionists and Clinton loyalists are just as determined to deny his Jewish identity.

John F. Kennedy won the 1960 election partly because he maintained that “I am not the Catholic President of the United States.” Barack Obama famously said that there is “no liberal America, no conservative America, no black America, no white America, no Latino America, no Asian America, only the United States of America.” For Bernie Sanders the cultural waters are much more treacherous. If he follows Kennedy’s example and declares that he “doesn’t intend to be the Jewish President of the United States,” it would probably be a career ending move, proof of his latent antisemitism. Sanders has to prove not only that he’s Jewish but that he’s not Jewish, that he’s “woke” but also that he’s ready to fight for all Americans, including Christian conservatives,regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Let’s hope that if he gets the Democratic nomination for President next Summer and beats Donald Trump next Fall he won’t take the easy way out the way Obama did, and become just another liberal Democratic sellout.

(Final Note: Michael Parenti is a great writer and you should read him.)

Race War Class War

The ongoing debate on social media and in academia about whether race or class is politically more important ignores one important thing about race and class. For most ordinary people, they’re inseparable. Americans talk about class in terms of race, and race in terms of class. In upper-middle-class suburbia it’s done in whispers. When it reaches the public debate it’s carefully hidden in layer after layer of code that everybody understands, but nobody wants to admit they understand. “Good schools” means “mostly white schools.” People in Union County, New Jersey who speak in hushed tones about “over development” aren’t afraid the local real estate industry is going to move a lot of Scots Irish hillbillies from West Virginia into the dreaded “low incoming housing” complexes they’re always trying to keep from getting built, although those Scots Irish hillbillies would probably have even less money than most black people from Newark or Hispanics from Elizabeth. They’re worried that their towns might become less white. In other words, mainstream, Democratic Party liberals are absolutely right when they argue that class and race are “intersectional.” Ethnic and racial oppression, though originally based on economic oppression, take on a life of their own and, in turn, reinforce the same economic oppression that created them.

“Critical race theory,” which maintains that black people can be prejudiced, but not “racist” because “racism” means “prejudice reinforced by power” are also correct. Living with a name like “Rogouski” can be illuminating. I’ve had people, even “woke” liberals, tell Polish jokes to my face, and yet it’s pretty much meaningless. I have as much “white privilege” as a Mayflower descendant. I’m not going to get stopped and frisked by the NYPD or tailed through through Macy’s by the store detective just for browsing. While a Polish joke in the United Kingdom is backed by the power of Brexit, and thus might qualify as “racism,” a Polish joke in the USA is merely bigotry. On the other hand, if a black family moves into the wrong all white suburb in New Jersey, and their neighbors start whispering about “overcrowding in our good schools,” they would do well to give their teenage boys “the talk” about dealing with the local police.

In other words, I largely agree with the argument that black people can be prejudiced but not racist. On the other hand, there’s no real consensus on the American left about whether or not black people can be antisemitic, or even about whether or not Jews, except of course for Bernie Sanders, are really white. Back in the 1980s, when Jesse Jackson, the Bernie Sanders of his generation, tried to keep the Democratic Party from moving in the direction of Clintonite neoliberalism — and our lives would be so much better today if he had succeeded — he was regularly accused of being “antisemitic” by the liberal establishment. He wasn’t, yet regularly associated with extremist black nationalists, like Louis Farrakhan, who very much were. Indeed, I was astounded at how much positive coverage Farrakhan’s Million Man March got in the 1990s. He was the same antisemite he was in 1995 as he was in 1985. But he was no longer any threat to the ruling class. Between 1985 and 1995, the Democratic Party elite swept the problem under the rug, buying off Jesse Jackson and most of the radical, leftist black leadership that came out of the Civil Rights Movements. In 1985, Jesse Jackson just might have dragged the Democratic Party back to its New Deal ideals. By 1995, Clintonite neoliberalism had consolidated itself. Right wing, Wall Street Democrats were firmly in control. They would not see another serious challenge for 20 years. As long as black people voted for the Democrats and supported Israel, rich liberals, and even rich Jewish liberals, were willing to put up with Farrakhan’s antisemitic conspiracy theories, toxic misogyny, and far right-wing, reactionary politics.

On December 10, in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Jersey City, David Nathaniel Anderson and his girlfriend Francine Graham jumped out of a rented van, walked across the street, and opened fire in a local Kosher deli, killing two store employees, one customer, and a Jersey City Police detective. There’s little doubt that it was a targeted, antisemitic mass shooting, and reasonable suspicion that Anderson and Graham, who were members of a black nationalist organization even more extremist than Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, had also planned to target a local Yeshiva, and turn an already bloody day into Sandy Hook Part II. For white conservatives, since it happened in a state with strict gun control laws, it was a confirmation of their worst fears. The “libs” had disarmed the people of Jersey City and left them helpless in the face of black nationalist terror. Rural, West Milford quickly declared itself a “Second Amendment Sanctuary City. Democratic Party liberals, even leftists, on the other hand, finding themselves unable to interpret the story in terms of “intersectional” anti-racism, simply retreated into fantasy land, Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tliab declaring that the shooting proved that “white supremacy kills.”

Rashida Tlaib was engaging in wisfull thinking. I have to admit that during the Bush years and Obama years, I used to breath a sigh of relief whenever I found out that a mass murderer was white. These days I don’t really care. White, black, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, gentile, the only thing mass shooters really have in common is that they tend to be misogynists with a long record of domestic abuse, nihilists poisoned by toxic masculinity. Violence is a failure of the imagination. Guns are the icon of the American right-wing death cult. Yet the Jersey City shootings defy even this interpretation. Both shooters were black. One was a middle-aged woman.

There are times when I believe that Donald Trump became inevitable the day after the Sandy Hook Massacre. The young man who murdered dozens of grade school children wasn’t a right wing extremist or a white supremacist. He was a severely disturbed 21 year old with little or no connection to reality. Yet the NRA and the white supremacist, far-right took up debate on gun control as a call to arms. Whether like Alex Jones they denied the massacre outright, speculating that it might have been a “false flag” operation by Barack Obama to take their guns or they simply went out and bought another AR-15 while they could still get them, conservatives decided that their “liberty” to own guns was more important than dozens of dead children or their grieving families. What’s more, after they realized that Barack Obama had no intention of taking their guns, they decided that the Sandy Hook Massacre was a perfect opportunity to gaslight the “libs.” Indeed, by announcing to the world that they considered the Second Amendment more important than a pile of deal 6 year olds, conservatives were declaring war, making it clear that they were prepared to do anything and everything up to and including gunning down grade school kids to get one of their own in the White House.

Sandy Hook denial was a declaration of war, but not of class war. Conservatives and white supremacists, like Trump, have no intention of challenging the ruling class for economic power. As long as the Starbucks barrista says “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” and as long as they can continue to stockpile military grade weapons, they’re quite content to let the status quo alone. For Joan Terrell-Paige, a member of the Jersey City School Board, on the other hand, the Jersey City massacre was not only a declaration of cultural or race war. It was a declaration of class war.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, both left-leaning Democrats,immediately called for Terrell’s resignation. Shortly thereafter, right-wing, Zionist billionaire Ronald Lauder, declared that he was ready to spend whatever it took to remove Terrell from office. Indeed, it’s hard to disagree with Murphy or Fulop, or even Lauder. Terrell’s long rant in the aftermath of a mass murder was not only viciously antisemitic. It’s guaranteed to pour gasoline on the fire, to make the already bad relations between blacks and Orthodox Jews in Jersey City even worse. But it’s more.

Terrell’s long antisemitic rant is not also not only a warning, a sign that the tensions between Jewish and black Democrats never really went away, but a crude, “intersectional” analysis of class in Jersey City. Liberal and leftist academics need to get out more. Terrell is only an extremist version of the way most real Americans talk about race and class.

No leftist academic sees gentrification in Jersey City through the lens of Jew vs. gentile. But in the real world, people don’t see the larger picture. They see their local oppressor, not the “one percent.” Poor blacks in Jersey City notice that Hasidic Jews have capital and they don’t. Where did they get it? They notice that Hasidic Jews can buy property and they can’t. Why? They notice that the murder of two Hasidic Jews gets the attention of the political and economic elites in a way the murder of dozens of black people doesn’t. Once again, why? Left-wing academics and socialists can’t ignore these questions. In an Ivy League faculty lounge, an “intersectional” class analysis is often spun out into long, highly “rational” debate that some how ends up with the declaration that we have to vote for Kamala Harris over Bernie Sanders. In the real world, mixing class and race can be as dangerous as working with nitroglycerin. One wrong move and boom.

In the United States, the choice between “socialism or barbarism” just might come down to the choice between “class war or race war.”

Roman History is an Actual Monty Python Skit

Finding itself on Julian’s death not only without an Emperor but also — still more important at such a critical moment — without a leader, the Roman army assembled en masse early the following morning to nominate his successor. Their first choice was Sallustius Secundus, the Praetorian Prefect of the East, but he declined absolutely, pleading age and infirmity. Then what seems to have been a relatively small group of soldiers started shouting the name of Jovian, the commander of the imperial guard. Jovian was thirty-two, a bluff genial soldier, popular with his men; he was also, perhaps significantly, a Christian — a persuasion which in no way diminished his well-known penchant for wine and woman. But he was in no sense distinguished, and certainly not of imperial calibre. Why therefore he should have been proposed remains a mystery; and more surprising still is the fact that the cry then should have been taken up by the entire Roman Army — so surprising, indeed, that Ammianus Marcellinus (who was, once again, almost certainly an eye-witness) maintains that the whole thing was a mistake and that most of those present understood the cry to be not ‘Jovianus!’ but ‘Julianus!’ and concluded their former Emperor had unexpectedly recovered and resumed his rank and title. It was only when the tall, prematurely stooping figure of Jovian was paraded before them that they realized what had happened, and gave themselves up to tears and lamentation.”

Byzantium the Early Centuries, John Julius Norwich

Is Filming the Police a Crime?

The French government seems to think so.

Amelie H. has been talking about her many times over the last few weeks and this is again the case. The 21-year-old woman from the Cher, stuck S (state security) and close to far-left circles, is suspected of following the police to take a picture, taking their address and the license plate of their vehicle in particular.

So does Breitbart.

Police have arrested a 21-year-old far-left extremist at the first anniversary of the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement on Saturday. The extremist has been accused of spying on police officers.

Police sources claim the young woman had gathered with other protesters at the Place d’Italie in Paris where violence erupted Saturday, La Point reports. She is said to be behind a Facebook account called “Marie ACAB-Land”, a reference to the far-left Antifa slogan “All Cops Are Bastards” (ACAB).

The arrest is not the first this year for the extremist activist, who was previously detained in Toulouse on November the 2nd and is well-known for filming and documenting individual police offers at protests.

(I wonder what the far-right extremists at Breitbart would say if someone were arrested for filming the police in Hong Kong or Iran.)

If you disagree with Breitbart and the neoliberal French government, you can sign an online petition to have Marie Acab-land release. Yeah, I know these positions are useless and you’re only putting your name on a watch list of people who support the far left, but hey I did it. If Emmanuel Macron wants to extradite me to France, he has that option.

The larger issue here is the right to do surveillance on the police, even as they do surveillance on you, and of course they do, both in France and the United States. The main reason the police film protests is to intimidate, to discourage people from getting out in the streets. So the French police are revealing their hand. They have badges, guns, clubs and the power to lock people up in cages. If they feel threatened by the surveillance, how should ordinary citizens feel? Clearly, by locking up Marie Acab-land they’re admitting that what they do on a daily basis is intimidation, the suppression of political speech.

Bonus Question: Does anybody remember why the original Black Panthers were founded?

Some Thoughts on the Cancellation of Cenk Uygur

Cenk Uygur is a left wing, Turkish American journalist and political activist. Over the past two decades, he’s worked for Al Gore’s Air America, which failed, Current TV, which also failed, and organized the Young Turks Network, which succeeded. He’s a familiar, if controversial figure on the American left. As a radio and TV host who broke into the business in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he began in the “shock jock” style made familiar by figures like Howard Stern and Joe Rogan, and, as such, has a long electronic trail of “problematic” comments on sex and race. As a Turkish American, he was, until fairly recently, “skeptical” of the Armenian genocide.

All of this was bound to cause him difficulties when he attempted to make the transition from journalism to politics. A co-founder along with Kyle Kulinski of the pro-Bernie-Sanders “Justice Democrats” he was forced to resign in 2017 after blog posts from the early 2000s, when he was both a Republican and a miserable 20-something who was frustrated because he couldn’t get laid, surfaced. In 2019, after he declared his intention to run for the Congressional seat in Southern California vacated by Katie Hill, who was forced out of office after an ex-boyfriend published photos of her participating in group sex with campaign staffers. When a California Assemblywoman named Christy Smith declared for the same seat, Clinton loyalists on Twitter, not wanting to see another “Bernie Bro” get any political traction, reignited the debate on Cenk Uygur, ex-Republican, miserable 20-something who made sexist remarks because he couldn’t get laid, and Turkish American with “problematic” views on the Armenian Genocide.

Then the New York Times got into the game.

David Duke is an elderly Nazi who’s had more plastic surgery than Michael Jackson. While he did pioneer the idea that white supremacists should take off the brown shirts and white sheets, put on suits and ties and cultivate a relationship with the mainstream corporate media and the Republican Party, he hasn’t been politically relevant since the 1990s. The only time you’ll ever hear about him these days is when some Zionist wants to brand the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement as “antisemitic.” Hey David Duke supports the Palestinians. So everybody else who does must be a Nazi, right? The only time Duke gets into the media is when some mainstream, or progressive journalist wants to score good guy points by yelling at him on the air. When Cenk Uygur interviewed him in 2015 it all went pretty much as expected. Uygur mocked the creepy old racist for an hour, and scored his good guy points. Duke sat there for an hour, and seemed grateful for all the attention.

Considering how badly Turkish guest workers get treated in Germany and how viciously Islamophobic conservative Americans tend to be, the idea of a Turkish American Muslim, secular Muslim in Uygur’s case, being sympathetic to David Duke is about as far fetched as the idea that Bernie Sanders, a descendant of Polish Jews who died in the Holocaust, could be antisemitic. Yet that’s exactly the impression Jennifer Medina of the New York Times tried to create, taking a clearly sarcastic comment out of context to make it appear that Uygur agreed with Duke when Duke tried to argue he wasn’t “racist.”

Mr. Uygur, a longtime supporter of Mr. Sanders, has also disparaged former President Barack Obama on his show, argued that bestiality should be legal and hosted white supremacist figures, including David Duke. In one clip that circulated on Twitter, Mr. Duke ends an interview by saying, “I am not, what you call a racist,” to which Mr. Uygur replies “No, of course not.”

(Note: The online edition of the New York times edited to passage to read “sarcastically replies.” I put in the original quote, which only reads “replies.”)

In other words, instead of attacking Cenk Uygur for what he is, a “problematic” Bernie Bro with a history of sexist remarks, they tried to paint him as something he isn’t, a supporter of David Duke. The only question is “why?” They had to know that Uygur, a popular figure on YouTube and social media with hundreds of thousands of subscribers and a well-developed network of supporters, would be able to hit back, to eventually make them issue a retraction, which they eventually did on December 16.

I suppose the first explanation would be that Jennifer Medina never tried to paint Uygur as a supporter of David Duke, that Uygur’s supporters took one badly written passage from Medina’s article and played it up in order to discredit the more legitimate criticisms Democrats have of Uygur’s campaign. I think that’s part of it. Cenk Uyghur’s supporters are probably better at the game of cancel culture than a neophyte reporter like Jennifer Medina, the sucker given the unpleasant task of writing the hit piece her more experienced colleagues would have probably rejected. But I also think we’re going to see Jennifer Medina again, and my guess is that she’s going to be assigned to cover Bernie Sanders. In other words, Cenk Uygur, who probably doesn’t have much of a chance of winning a Congressional election in a far-right-wing district in the Simi Valley anyway, wasn’t the real target. The real target was Bernie Sanders, who has since retracted his endorsement of Uygur’s campaign. And I think the New York Times found their range.

Ever since 2016, Bernie Sanders, who was an early supporter of the Civil Rights movement, feminism, and gay liberation, has been attacked by mainstream Democrats for being “problematic” on the issues of feminism and anti-racism. It’s not that anybody outside of the most rabid, pro-Clinton trolls on social media has out and said that Bernie himself is a racist or a sexist, but there has been a long running narrative in the mainstream, corporate media that his supporters are predominantly white frat boys in their 20s. There have also been suggestions that Sanders, who has a rough, working-class manner of carrying himself, is disrespectful, pointing or talking over his female colleagues in a way that a slick Ivy Leaguer like Barack Obama or Pete Buttigieg wouldn’t. In other words, Uighur, the ex-Republican frat boy with a history of “problematic” remarks is proof that the long running Clinton Democrat story of Bernie Sanders as the leader of a gang of sexists and racists who derailed Hillary Clinton’s Presidential run has been vindicated.

Bernie Sanders has a fatal weakness, a weakness he partly shares with Barack Obama. Whenever a smear campaign is framed in terms of social liberalism, fronted by people who claim to be feminists or anti-racists, he always backs down. In the Summer of 2015, when he was scheduled to speak at an event organized by Seattle socialist politician Kshama Sawant, he was pushed off the stage by a pair of far-right-wing provocateurs later, revealed to be supporters of Sarah Palin. All Sanders saw were two younger black women he dare not confront. Later that year, when he was attacked by Clinton supporter and long-time Democratic Party activist Dolores Huerta attacked Sanders as being anti-immigrant and anti-Latino, he was unable to mount an effective response. It seems that to completely paralyze the Sanders campaign, all you need is an iconic sellout from the Baby Boomer generation like Huerta or John Lewis.

Note: In ten years when I run for political office, this “problematic” blog post where I refer to John Lewis as a “sellout” will almost certainly force me to withdraw.

In 2020, when YouTube personality Matt Oraflea made an incredibly effective video demonstrating mainstream media bias against the Sanders campaign, Sanders hired and then almost just as quickly fired him after the “problematic” videos from the past predictably surfaced. So there’s no sign that any of this is going to end anytime soon. In fact, the effective smear campaign in the United Kingdom against Jeremy Corbyn for his alleged “antisemitism” has emboldened the center right in the United States and will almost certainly be imported to the United States in time to smear Bernie Sanders. It’s doubtful that outside of the most rabid, right-wing Zionist circles (all of whom are already in the tank for Donald Trump) will accuse Sanders directly of being antisemitic or “self-hating.” Rather, more mainstream and liberal politicians and media figures will accuse him of being “soft on antisemitism,” of tolerating supporters like Linda Sarsour .

So the question is why is Sanders so vulnerable to attacks from the cultural left? The first and probably the least important reason is Sanders’s age.

As an early Generation Xer, born in 1965, I can still remember when there was almost no left in the United States. To be a leftist in your teens or twenties the 1980s was to be a freak so outlandish that people rarely even bothered to attack you. Back in the 1980s, a Central American Solidarity or Anti-Apartheid rally in New York City was more of a curiosity than a threat. There was no massive police presence or interlocking metal barricades. All the NYPD did was send a few patrolmen to keep an eye on the protest and these patrolmen were, more often than not, more amused than anything else.

“Hey kids Woodstock’s over,” I remember one cop saying. “You missed the 60s. Deal with it.”

All through those dark years, Bernie Sanders worked to build a broad based, multi-racial working-class movement, facing attacks by racist white supporters after he campaigned for Jesse Jackson in Northern New England. I think sometimes that people forget just how openly sexist, racist and homophobic the Reagan Administration was. His spokesmen and reporters would actually tell AIDS jokes at press conferences. Isolated and beleaguered on all sides, therefore, the cultural and economic left were unified. Bernie, a gifted politician, came to each and every person who spoke in the name of feminism or anti-racism as a natural ally. For the left, the 1990s were almost as dark as the 1980s, but in the 2000s, after George W. Bush stole the election from Al Gore and exploited our grief over 9/11 to push us into invading Iraq, the American left went mainstream. During the Bush years, the communist far left, groups like Answer and United For Peace and Justice, staged ant-war rallies that sometimes topped 100,000 people, and the more moderate left, Democratic activists, feminists, and mainstream gay activists, followed their lead. George W. Bush was indeed a “uniter not a divider.” Everybody left of center hated him.

The split came in 2006, after the Democrats took both the House and the Senate from the Republicans and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid quickly moved to distance themselves from the antiwar movement and protect George W. Bush from impeachment. You could actually see it in real time. I still remember watching John Stewart on the Daily Show mocking Cindy Sheehan for giving a speech in support of Hugo Chavez, his face twisted in a smug, sarcastic expression of dismay as he declared “you’re not helping.”

The sea change came in the Fall of 2008, after Barack Obama won the Presidency under a false pretense, running as a progressive by appealing to the broad, unified left that had grown in opposition to George W. Bush, and taking the nomination away from Hillary Clinton, largely because she had voted for the invasion of Iraq. Her pleas that she was fooled by the intelligence that was presented by the Bush administration have of course been revealed as a fraud by Nancy Pelosi’s recent admission that everybody always knew that Bush had been lying about weapons of mass destruction, but it’s still bitterly ironic that to this day Clinton has been the only major political or media figure that has ever paid any price for supporting the war. Of course the price she paid wasn’t particularly high. Indeed, as soon as he beat John McCain, Obama dismantled the grass roots political organization that Sanders has subsequently rebuilt, stacked his cabinet with Wall Streeters, appointed Clinton Secretary of State, and allowed Nancy Pelosi to oversee the destruction of the grassroots political organization ACORN in collusion with the far right.

Barack Obama’s hard right turn in 2008 in fact was so sharp and so abrupt, it was difficult to understand everything that was going on.

But it’s clear now that Obama quickly and successfully moved to consolidate corporate control over the Democratic Party and to suppress the huge antiwar movement that had grown so dangerous to the establishment over the years. Key to Obama’s strategy was his own skin color. Obama raised identity politics to an art. Obama was a master at political Jiu Jitsu. He basked in liberal and leftist sympathy generated by the white supremacist Tea Party and Birther attacks against the first African American President even while he largely adopted the Tea Party’s radical, right-wing economic platform. It all culminated in an attempt to cut Social Security as part of a “grand bargain” with the Republican controlled House in 2012, the event that initially pushed Bernie Sanders in the Presidential arena when he threatened to run against Obama in the Democratic primaries.

The Obama years were the best of times and the worst of times. They were the best of times for upper-middle-class people of all races and every one of however many genders there are these days. The Obama years were glory years for rich, cultural liberals. Gay marriage was legalized in almost every state. Feminism became so mainstream that edgy young radicals quickly began to see feminists as the enemy, as “Terfs” or “rich white women.” Federal legalization of marijuana began to look like a reality. But the Obama years were the worst of times for the working class, not only the black and Hispanic working class, who lost a record amount of wealth after the Wall Street bailouts, but also for the “white working class,” which actually experienced a decline in life expectancy. Tuition prices and student debt exploded, even as more women and people of color were moving into the technocratic elite.

In other words, a gigantic crevasse suddenly appeared between economic and social liberals, the same people who had once been so united against the Christian fundamentalist George W. Bush, a divide so deep that social and economic leftists began to hate each other more than they hated the right. Indeed, these days, for liberal, upper-class feminists, a miserable 20-year-old virgin who makes sexist remarks is the devil incarnate. George W. Bush, a bloodstained war criminal with the deaths of millions of Iraqis on his hands, is just a nice old man who paints dogs. For the economic left, Hillary Clinton is as hated as Donald Trump. What’s more, because the far right in the form of Ron Paul moved into the antiwar vacuum created in 2007 by the Democratic Party’s withdrawal, there’s no guarantee these days that a leftist will be any more anti-imperialist and anti-war than a conservative. That anarchist who masks up during protests and fights Nazis in Berkeley and Charlottesville might also support US military intervention in Syria. That Nazi who thinks the Jews control Washington might also be against “American wars for Israel.” The political world has turned upside down and has shaken itself out in all directions. Nobody knows anymore who believe, or who to trust. We are in what former CIA James Jesus Angleton called the wilderness of mirrors. Nobody seems to have political compass. Americans have no idea where we’re going.

The appeal of Bernie Sander, therefore, his relentless focus on economic issues and his willingness to compromise with anybody on the cultural left who catches his ear, is also his weakness, a weakness the corporate media and the Democratic Party establishment well knows how to exploit. For all I know, Bernie is perfectly sincere, but he seems to be playing the same role in 2020 that Barack Obama did in 2008, “sheepdogging” the left into the Democratic Party where they can be neutered and then demobilized. The cancellation of Cenk Uygur is the canary in the coal mine. I see more of it in the future. And the master himself, Barack Obama, hasn’t even gotten into the game yet.

Anna Karina: 1940-2019

Anna Karina (real name Hanne Karin Bayer), Jean-Luc Godard’s muse and ex-wife, has died at the age of 79. Her iconic dance number from the movie Bande à part was filmed the year before I was born. I sometimes get the feeling that in a past life I lived in a better world than the one I live in now. But in a way I did. I was a small child in the middle and late 1960s, when American and European culture was cool and innovative. In her later life, Karina became a novelist (like so many French actresses seem to do). Quentin Tarantino was so impressed by the dance scene in Bande à part he not only named his film company “Band of Outsiders” he tried to recreate the dance in his film Pulp Fiction. But somehow Uma Thurman and John Travolta don’t quite match up to Anna Karina and two obscure French guys.