THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME

Posted in Rants on October 17th, 2016 by Ed

Most Americans who are reasonably well informed about history know that Henry Ford was at least as important and influential to the development and popularity of anti-Semitism in the United States as he was to the automobile. That's saying a lot, given that it is almost impossible to overstate Ford's contributions to the latter industry. He can be credited with very few actual innovations in automotive engineering, as the Germans and French can claim most of the world's automotive "firsts" (which explains, incidentally, why so many French terms like chassis, limousine, chauffeur, coupe, garage, and carburetor made it into English). But like his friend Thomas Edison, where he excelled was not as an inventor but as someone who could apply ideas on a grand scale successfully. He took ideas available to him – both automotively and with anti-Semitism – and really made them work on a scale other proponents could hardly have imagined let alone executed.

The Dearborn Independent, Ford's anti-Jewish rag, was a source of friction (obviously) between Ford and his Jewish friends and colleagues. Most abandoned him without hesitation. One, powerful Detroit rabbi Leo Franklin, had been a friend of Ford long enough to attempt to appeal to him on a personal level. Franklin believed, as was undeniably the case, that Ford was a fundamentally decent person who simply wasn't very bright and was easily led to support wacky ideas outside of his narrow range of mechanical and organizational talents. During a libel trial, for example, Ford received great ridicule for being unable to answer grade school level questions about the world, such as the significance of the year 1776 to American history.

Alas, Franklin eventually gave up. When Ford representatives sent the rabbi a new Ford in 1920, as they did annually, he returned the gift. Informed of this by his underlings, Ford asked incredulously and sincerely, "What's wrong Dr. Franklin? Has anything come between us?"

Ford believed, as many people do, that he could be virulently anti-Jewish without that fact interfering with his personal relationships with Jews. He argued in essence, I don't like Jews in general or as a whole but of course I like YOU in particular, Jewish Friend. It's the classic soft racist "I'm not against all ______, just the bad ones. You're one of the good ones" tactic.

A few weeks ago a generally very good sports journalism website ran this piece, "Donald Trump is Tearing the NFL Apart," to offer an interesting look at how personal friendships are being strained by the current political climate. Certainly the clickbait title is alarmist and the "data" of the voting preferences of 25 black and 25 white players is useless in any meaningful sense, but despite that the underlying issue here is real. It turns out that when one supports a political candidate who is so outspokenly derogatory toward anyone who isn't a white Christian male and whose election would represent real, tangible threats to women, Hispanics, African-Americans, and other demographics, people might re-evaluate their friendship with you. And it is not difficult at all to imagine many of the white Trump supporters in that article being genuinely surprised that black players might not feel particularly close with them anymore after learning that they like a guy who has employed literally every form of coded racism known to man in his campaign, along with some of the more explicit type.

Americans – white ones in particular – are in love with the idea that politics and religion can be segregated neatly into a separate reality that does not have to interfere with friends and family relationships. And in many cases, it works well enough. I find it very difficult but not impossible to imagine someone breaking off a friendship because Joe decided to vote for the lukewarm hole in the atmosphere that was Mitt Romney. Sure, there are people whose lives would be worse off had he been elected (and others whose lives would be better, namely the super rich) but he was hardly a polarizing figure. Most people probably struggle to remember his name right now.

The Trump campaign has so openly embraced the style and message of European far-right nationalist parties, the white power movement, and other groups whose popularity derives from racism, xenophobia, or other Neanderthal sentiments from the bottom of the political barrel that it's not hard to understand why someone not defined as a Real American by Trump would take it personally that friends and family support him. We're never supposed to take politics personally. We're supposed to "leave those differences aside" and carry on while avoiding the subject for the sake of maintaining good relations. That concept works alright if we support different candidates in the usual narrow window of political disagreement found in American politics. We're not going to come to blows because your guy supports repealing the Estate Tax, even though I find that idea both stupid and immoral.

This is a long way of saying to the people who support Trump (and therefore would never read this) that "Let's agree to disagree and keep being friends" is a poor strategy this year. However you've managed to rationalize it in your head, supporting someone so openly and enthusiastically racist, xenophobic, and flat-out mean says a lot about you. White America already asks quite a lot of people we define as Not One of Us: that they protest, dress, behave, talk, think, act, and generally live in a way that makes us feel comfortable. And it is a deep irony that the same people most likely to cry "White privilege isn't real!" are the ones who expect black and Hispanic people in their lives (not to mention women, LGBT people, and a host of others Trump Cretins define as the enemy) to laugh off their Trump support or ignore it so that a bunch of angry white guys don't have hurt feelings and don't have to spend any time reflecting on what their endorsement of a de facto white supremacist says about them. If that isn't privilege, then nothing is.