The fourth winter storm of March started this afternoon. My daughter Roisin Gael sent a photo of her sister’s backyard in Texas to remind me what I’m missing. Sun!
She’s at Bibi’s to help after Bibi’s second knee replacement.
My health club sent an email tonight to announce they’ll be closed tomorrow because of the storm. No Wednesday taiji class. I usually don’t get involved in locker room political arguments, but yesterday I couldn’t restrain myself. Two guys were arguing with a Trumpster. They weren’t getting anywhere, even when they called him out for changing the subject to avoid something he couldn’t answer. Somehow or other he got them talking about the costs of higher education and the huge debt it was imposing on their children. At that I thought I’d get them back on track and asked about the $17 trillion in debt we were leaving for our grandchildren because of the new tax law. He just blew that off with the comment that there was already $17 trillion in national debt before the tax law. And they went back to commiserating with each other about higher education debt. It’s interesting to observe how Fox & Friends twist minds so that real problems can be minimized and swept aside as debating points.
I’m almost finished with the Romanian novel For Two Thousand Years, which I’ve mentioned before. In the last chapter the narrator gets into an argument with a colleague, Mircea Vieru, who turns out to be deeply anti-semitic. The parallels with today’s political discourse are uncanny, beginning with facts and statistics.
The narrator had been arguing that Vieru’s vituperation is just a contemporary manifestation of an “eternal phenomenon,” the essence of which remains the same—ill-will towards Jews. Vieru dismisses the narrator as a “mystic,” but he actually summarizes the narrator’s position rather well. “You’re not an anti-Semite because you believe in certain Jewish threats, you believe in certain Jewish threats because you’re an anti-Semite.” Instead of such metaphysics, Vieru says look at the numbers. There are too many Jews in Romania. When the narrator takes apart Vieru’s statistics, Vieru retorts: “It’s wrong of you to abuse argument in this way. I don’t of course have the means to determine how many Jews there are..” Then he throws out an arbitrary number. Lower, but still a threat, he argues. He’s made the narrator’s point.
It’s not about how many of them there are, but how many of them you think there are. Why do you—so critical in architecture and so rigorous in every fact and affirmation, so severe in your own thinking and conscience when it comes to artistic matters—why do you become suddenly negligent and hasty when you start to speak about Jews, casually accepting a ninety percent approximation, when in any other domain you’d balk at an approximation of 0.01? Why does your intellectual probity, which I have so often judged to be too exacting when you foolhardily stake everything you have for the tiniest truth—why does this probity no longer apply here, in our conversation about Jews?
Substitute “immigrants” for “Jews” and we’re in 2017 United States instead of 1931 Romania. And, tragically, in some circles no substitution is needed.