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About that “Make America Great Again” thing…

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My main argument with the Trump-Bannon-tea party brand of white nationalism, beyond its racism, homophobia and other unsavory features, is its phony contention that America somehow has lost its “greatness” and must restore it, by any means necessary.

This notion is implicit in Trump’s MAGA slogan. It lies behind the Charlottesville marchers’ denunciation of those whom they perceive as the enemy: Jews, non-whites, Muslims, homosexuals, liberals. The romantic concept of “greatness” which has been lost, or stolen, is very Prusso-Germanic. Historians associate it most closely, of course, with Germany’s post-Versailles experience, which gave us Hitler’s pan-Germanism and World War II. “All Germans, including Hitler,” explains A.J.P. Taylor, in “The Origins of the Second World War” (1961), “assumed that Germany would become…dominant…once she had undone her defeat.” German nationalists in the years after World War I harped incessantly on this topic; Germany had been “stabbed in the back” by her enemies—who were remarkably similar to the enemies of the Charlottesville white nationalists. Germany had to regain her history, her honor and power: she had to un-do her defeat and become “great” again.

That nations achieve, and then lose, greatness is an historical fact, if “greatness” is defined in economic, cultural and military terms. Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, Persia, Spain, Italy, even to some extent Great Britain stand as examples of once-upon-a-time empires whose day in the sun became eclipsed. Since the 1800s America has been the dominant empire in the world. Our victory in World War I, and mounting power as World War II approached, prompted Henry Luce, in 1941, to refer to “the American Century,” marked by the most exciting flag of all the world and of all history [in] the triumphal purpose of freedom.” These are the kinds of glowing terms the right now uses to support their white nationalism.

One thing nations that have lost their greatness have in common is that they feel it wasn’t their fault. This explains their aggrieved sense of betrayal. It was always due to somebody else’s treachery, whether internal or external or both. We saw this in Germany’s radical right in the late 1920s and 1930s, and we see it again in America’s radical right. Both cliques believed their nation had been endowed with predestined greatness, whether from God or superior racial stock. Either way, history, honor and dignity demanded that greatness be restored.

In America’s case, the radical right makes the fundamental mistake of believing that what once was, can be again—a misunderstanding of how history works. Lots of ethnicities, religions and races believe, consciously or otherwise, that they are superior to all others—that seems to be an inimitable part of human nature—but Germans, or Anglo-Saxons, or Aryans, or Indo-Europeans—call them what you will–have perhaps been excessive in this regard. We shouldn’t forget how “German” America really is. Americans of German extraction made up a large part of the population at the time of the Revolution. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, they accounted for nearly 50% of residents. Even in 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that German Americans are the largest of the ancestry groups” in the country. Judging from the physical appearance of the Charlottesville nationalists, many if not most were Aryan/Anglo-Saxon/Indo-European in ancestry.

Perhaps there’s something in the DNA of these people that makes them feel intellectually, morally and physically superior. Certainly, history has proven that Germans who feel entitled to dominance have never hesitated to turn to the sword to prove their point, especially when they believe they’ve been cheated of their birthright. The dangers of such a militarist approach are evident: not only does Aryan nationalism run the risk of plunging the world into war (Sen. Corker’s warning yesterday of World War III is apt), it isn’t even feasible anymore. America is now a rainbow flag of races, religions, ethnicities, and that is not going to change, regardless of how strongly some people want to establish an Aryan nation on this continent. There can be only one way for everyone to get along, and that is for everyone to get along. Difficult as that may be, it is possible, and necessary. White nationalists stubbornly, or stupidly, ignore this point. And Trump, their current leader—whose father was an anti-semite and a member of the KKK–chooses to egg them on. If they have their way—and it’s up to the rest of us to stop them–there can be only one outcome, and it is not pleasant.

The Napa-Sonoma Fires

Those of us who have worked in these areas for years, and made many friends among the owners, winemakers, restaurateurs, winery employees and other locals, are having a hard time wrapping our heads around this catastrophe. From Mendocino in the far north, from Calistoga to Atlas Peak, across Napa Valley and Carneros to Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa: the scope is just too improbable for the mind to accept. As I write this on Monday night, the full extent of the destruction isn’t yet known; many of the fires are still zero percent contained, and evacuated areas remain beyond communication. Tuesday morning, we should have more understanding. I fear the situation will be worse than we thought: one of the worst wildfires in California’s or America’s history. My personal wishes mean little in the face of the massive, historic losses that wine country people have experienced; but they are all I have. I wish you recovery and peace.

  1. Nancy Weil Brown says:

    I don’t live there nor do I work or have ever worked in the wine industry. I love the wine country and have many, many memories filled with pleasure about the wine tasting I have enjoyed – sometimes of wine beyond my ability to buy by the bottle. I am reminded of the beauty of the land and the grapes that have taken my breath away. My sister lives in Santa Rosa and good friends (introduced to me by Steve via FB) who live in the Sonoma wine country. It’s hard for me to comprehend the devastation for homeowners, wineries, and the grapes themselves. I told a friend that I’d read that the entire town of Calistoga was evacuated. She immediately began talking about how many mud baths and massages she had gotten there. On a less person note, I wonder about the economic toll. How many people will not have a place to live or work? How many vines are destroyed? How many bottles and/or barrels have been ruined? What will this do to the industry, the economy of the entire regions and even the state? All the places the fire has laid waste are familiar to me. I may not work or live there, but I feel deeply connected and ache for the people, the land and the industry.

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