27 March 2021
Here are what I consider key excerpts from my most recent conversation with Russell Hancock. The 14-minute recording on the right is the full conversation, which was via Zoom and transcribed by a computer transcription service.
I began the conversation by asking what he wanted from me. A point Russell makes later on about what universities do was when I decided I should take the fellowship. You should be aware that Russell occasionally uses a word loaded with religious meaning – “blessings” – which I attribute to his strong Mormon tradition.
RUSSELL: I want you to think of this as something that is not burdensome and doesn't have attached to it a set of deliverables or fixed requirements. So that's my first answer to the question. The second answer is why would I feel like that? Why would we be doing something like that? Well, one simple reason is because we're not offering you anything in return. So this is a non-salaried position, so it's not as if we could make any demands or requests of you. So that's the simple answer. But the more important answer to that question is that I'm trying to increase Joint Venture's standing and stature in the region. I'm trying to bring gravitas to this organization. I'm trying to make us more than we are. I want us to be thought leaders. I want us to be on the record. I want us to be outspoken. I want us to be known as a gathering place for deep thinkers and for people who command respect. … I want Joint Venture to be a blessing to people.
What the fellowhip can be.
RUSSELL: It can be a home. It can be a shelter. It can be an incubator, or it can be none of those things. It's whatever you want it to be. I'm happy to offer it to you because I want to Joint Venture to be that kind of a place. I want it to be an oasis. I want it to be a crossroads, a gathering place. I want it to be a place where people come and get a drink of water, stay, talk for a while and feel some some sense of fellowship and camaraderie in the context of our region, which I believe needs exactly that sort of thing. … I have to be scrappy because I don't have any resources to put against it. And so I'm doing it this way by reaching out to people who might be at a time of their life where this could be a blessing to them and then it becomes a blessing to both parties. So that's it. That's my story. It's nothing more than that.
ME: I hear what you say. I like what you say. It sounds like, to me, that a large part of what I should be doing is having conversations with other people that will be like me and that will be on your staff. This is a great gift to me. But I think a reasonable person would say, ‘OK, I feel obligated to give something back.’ What areas that you work in, in our region, do you see me contributing some expertise or name recognition or whatever it is that I offer?
RUSSELL: The answer to that question is, we don't we don't have anything in mind. Just like a university – universities don't have anything in mind – they just want good people to come and think. And that is what we're asking you to do, just come and think. And if that doesn't appeal to you, then come and react. React to what we're doing and be our audience and our coach and our guide and our mentor. … The second answer to that question is, well, our agenda is the region. And when I say the region, I really mean that seriously. I'm not being facetious. The organization exists for the region. So, whatever the whatever the region's problems are, those are our problems. And we exist to address them. To address them, first of all, intellectually, but then second of all, to organize so that there's something that we can throw against it. So, if you came and identified any regional problem, we consider that fair game. We don't draw boundaries. So that's my that's my second answer to your question, which is come and define your problem. And it should be defined by a mix of your own passion and interest and expertise. … If you really press and you want me to narrow it down, the things that we're actively working on are our active priorities that include our region’s sustainability issues, climate change, transportation, housing, sea level rise – those are all huge issues. But you should also understand that we're frustrated at all times because there are big issues out there that we want to be tackling and we're not, just because we don't have bandwidth or resources. So, one possibility is you come and you work on something that we're not working on at all. And suddenly we have now a footprint as big or small as it as you make it. But a second answer to that question is you latch on to stuff we're doing and you improve it. You improve it by your writing, by your thinking, by your mentorship, any of those things. But I think the region's issues – our most pressing issues – are income inequality, recovery from the pandemic, and recovering in a way that makes the region better, not just the way we were. but actually better. … I know another issue that has all of my passion, but none of our effort so far, is asking big philosophical questions about our region's governance. Is this the way that we should be organized? Isn't there a better way?
ME: I'm down with everything that you're talking about. I want to do this. So this is my saying "yes." I'm looking forward to all the opportunities that I've got to meet with other fellows and your people and just having regular interactions with them and developing for me what my path and role in all of this is, which it seems to me is what you want me to do.
RUSSELL: This can be a journey and it can be a process of discovery. And again, I want to do this – I want to stress – that we want this to be a blessing to your life at this at this golden point in your career. But you need to define that. And you need to define it the way that works with your family life and in your family priorities. It can be a little or it can be a lot or it can fluctuate as circumstances warrant.
ME: There are a lot of people who go to colleges and universities. In some sense, it's just how do I get better prepared to get some sort of better job than I would get with a high school diploma? And I understood the role of universities when I was a student and the role that they played in society. But I was mostly there in the smaller sense. This is like a second shot – a second bite – at that apple.
24 January 2021
From the New York Times
Capitol Riot Puts Spotlight on ‘Apocalyptically Minded’ Global Far Right
Leaderless but united by racist ideology that has been supercharged by social media, extremists have built a web of real and online connections that worry officials.
Jan. 24, 2021Updated 12:06 p.m. ET
BERLIN — When insurrectionists stormed the Capitol in Washington this month, far-right extremists across the Atlantic cheered. Jürgen Elsässer, the editor of Germany’s most prominent far-right magazine, was watching live from his couch.
“We were following it like a soccer match,” he said.
Four months earlier, Mr. Elsässer had attended a march in Berlin, where a breakaway mob of far-right protesters tried — and failed — to force their way into the building that houses Germany’s Parliament. The parallel was not lost on him.
“The fact that they actually made it inside raised hopes that there is a plan,” he said. “It was clear that this was something bigger.”
And it is. Adherents of racist far-right movements around the world share more than a common cause. German extremists have traveled to the United States for sniper competitions. American neo-Nazis have visited counterparts in Europe. Militants from different countries bond in training camps from Russia and Ukraine to South Africa.
For years far-right extremists traded ideology and inspiration on societies’ fringes and in the deepest realms of the internet. Now, the events of Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol have laid bare their violent potential.
In chatter on their online networks, many disavowed the storming of the Capitol as amateurish bungling. Some echoed falsehoods emanating from QAnon-affiliated channels in the United States claiming that the riot had been staged by the left to justify a clampdown on supporters of President Donald J. Trump. But many others saw it as a teaching moment — about how to move forward and pursue their goal of overturning democratic governments in more concerted and concrete ways.
It is a threat that intelligence officials, especially in Germany, take seriously. So much so that immediately after the violence in the United States, the German authorities tightened security around the Parliament building in Berlin, where far-right protesters — waving many of the same flags and symbols as the rioters in Washington — had tried to force their way in on Aug. 29.
President Biden has also ordered a comprehensive assessment of the threat from domestic violent extremism in the United States.
For now, no concrete plans for attacks have been detected in Germany, officials said. But some worry that the fallout from the events of Jan. 6 have the potential to further radicalize far-right extremists in Europe.
“Far-right extremists, corona skeptics and neo-Nazis are feeling restless,” said Stephan Kramer, the head of domestic intelligence for the eastern German state of Thuringia. There is a dangerous mix of elation that the rioters made it as far as they did and frustration that it didn’t lead to a civil war or coup, he said.
Meeting online and in person
It is difficult to say exactly how deep and durable the links are between the American far right and its European counterparts. But officials are increasingly concerned about a web of diffuse international links and worry that the networks, already emboldened in the Trump era, have become more determined since Jan. 6.
A recent report commissioned by the German foreign ministry describes “a new leaderless transnational apocalyptically minded, violent far-right extremist movement” that has emerged over the past decade.
Extremists are animated by the same conspiracy theories and narratives of “white genocide” and “the great replacement” of European populations by immigrants, the report concluded. They roam the same online spaces and also meet in person at far-right music festivals, mixed martial arts events and far-right rallies.
“The neo-Nazi scenes are well-connected,” said Mr. Kramer, the German intelligence official. “We’re not just talking about likes on Facebook. We’re talking about neo-Nazis traveling, meeting each other, celebrating together.”
The training camps have caused anxiety among intelligence and law enforcement officials, who worry that such activity could lay the groundwork for more organized and deliberate violence.
Two white nationalists, who attended a paramilitary camp run by the extremist Russian Imperial Movement outside of St. Petersburg, were later accused by Swedish prosecutors of plotting bombings aimed at asylum seekers. Last year, the United States State Department designated the Russian Imperial Movement a terrorist organization, the first white nationalist group to receive the label.
In 2019, the F.B.I director, Christopher Wray, warned that American white supremacists were traveling overseas for training with foreign nationalist groups. A report that year by the Soufan Center, a nonpartisan think tank, found that as many as 17,000 foreigners, many of them white nationalists, had traveled to Ukraine to fight on both sides of the separatist conflict there. Most were Russians, but among them were several dozen Americans.
Sometimes they inspire one another to kill.
The hate-filled manifestos of Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, and Dylann Roof, an American white supremacist who killed nine Black parishioners in South Carolina four years later, influenced Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who in 2019 live-streamed his murder of over 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Mr. Tarrant’s manifesto, titled “The Great Replacement,” in turn inspired Patrick Crusius, who killed 22 people in El Paso, as well as a Norwegian gunman who was overpowered as he tried to shoot people at a mosque in Oslo.
Many far-right extremists immediately interpreted Jan. 6 as both a symbolic victory and a strategic defeat that they need to learn from.
Mr. Elsässer, the editor of Compact magazine, which Germany’s domestic intelligence agency classifies as extremist, described the storming of the Capitol as “an honorable attempt” that failed because of inadequate planning.
Mr. Elsässer, the editor of Compact magazine, which Germany’s domestic intelligence agency classifies as extremist, described the storming of the Capitol as “an honorable attempt” that failed because of inadequate planning.
Mr. Robinson met virtually with the American leader of the far-right Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, for an hour-and-a-half-long conversation on Nov. 19 that was billed as a unity summit to discuss the outcome of the American election.
The men spoke of their common struggle, against liberals, antifa (a loosely affiliated group of far-left anti-fascism activists) and the big tech companies that had barred both men from their platforms. They also spoke of the U.S. presidential election outcome in existential terms, warning that if the right failed to preserve the presidency for Mr. Trump, it risked annihilation.
The Democrats, Mr. Robinson said at one point, are going to “replace you like we’ve been replaced.”
“The borders will open, and they’ll replace you with foreign people,” he said.
Gaining traction in Germany
Several members of the Proud Boys, whom Mr. Trump famously told to “stand back and stand by,” were among those who stormed the Capitol.
On Oct. 19, the Proud Boys shared on one of their Telegram groups that they had seen “a huge uptick in support from Germany over the last few months.”
“A high percentage of our videos are being shared across Germany,” read a message in the Telegram group that was also translated into German. “We appreciate the support and we are praying for your country. We stand with the German nationalists who do not want migrants destroying their country.”
Over the past three months, the Proud Boys posted several videos of German police officers confronting left-wing protesters in Berlin. In two of the videos, which feature the police violently beating a protester, the Proud Boys cheered the violence.
Although they mocked Mr. Trump as “a total failure” after he disavowed the Capitol rampage and left the White House, they have voiced support for far-right groups in other countries including France, Poland and Turkey.
And as America has exported QAnon conspiracy theories across the Atlantic, European conspiracy theories and disinformation are also making their way to the United States.
Within days of the U.S. election, German QAnon followers were spreading disinformation that they said proved that the vote had been manipulated from a C.I.A.-operated server farm in Frankfurt, though millions of votes were cast by paper mail-in ballots.
The disinformation, which the German researcher Josef Holnburger traced back to a German-language account, was amplified by at least one local chapter of Alternative for Germany, the far-right political party known by its German initials, AfD. It also ended up being highlighted by U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert and Rudy Giuliani, the Trump ally and former mayor of New York City.
From there, it went viral — a first for a German QAnon conspiracy in the United States, Mr. Holnburger said.
The transnational links are inspirational rather than organizational, said Miro Dittrich, an expert on far-right extremist networks. “It’s not so much forging a concrete plan as creating a violent potential,” he said.
Yet experts remain skeptical of the potential to forge more durable trans-Atlantic relations among far-right groups. Almost all such attempts since World War II have failed, said Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert on the European far right at the University of Vienna.
Most recently, Stephen K. Bannon, the architect of Mr. Trump’s successful 2016 presidential bid, toured Europe several years ago trying to knit together populist nationalist parties like Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and Alternative for Germany.
“It was a fiasco,” Mr. Shekhovtsov said.
There’s even division among far-right followers about whether such alliances are valuable or viable. For many, the idea of an international nationalist movement is an oxymoron.
“There is a common mood and an exchange of ideas, memes and logos,” said Mr. Sellner, the Austrian far-right campaigner. “But the political camps in Europe and America are very different.”
Rinaldo Nazzaro, the founder of the international white-nationalist group The Base, now lives in self-imposed exile in St. Petersburg, Russia, but says he has no interest in forging ties with Russian nationalist groups.
“Nationalists in America must do the heavy lifting themselves,” he said. “Outside support could only be supplemental, at best.”
Others, like Matthew Heimbach, an organizer of the 2017 violent far-right protest in Charlottesville, Va., disagree.
“American members of the far right and white nationalist groups have been trying to get Europe to return their calls for a decade now,” he said in an interview.
With some success, he spent years working to forge alliances with like-minded groups in the Czech Republic, Germany and Greece.
He even hosted a delegation from the Russian Imperial Movement in 2017, several years before the United States declared it a terrorist organization. Members of the group, which runs paramilitary-style camps to train Russian and foreign nationalists in military tactics, spent two weeks in the United States and traveled extensively.
Photographs of the trip show Mr. Heimbach and one of the group’s leaders, Stanislav Shevchuk, posing with a Russian imperial flag in front of the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
Mr. Heimbach, who denounced the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and claims to have renounced white nationalism, said he had also taken his Russian guests to Dollywood and the Country Music Hall of Fame in Tennessee.
The trip, Mr. Shevchuk later wrote, “opened my eyes to a different alt-right America and I was convinced that we Russians had a lot in common with them.”
7 January 2021
New York Times story discussing whether the public invasion of the U.S. capitol building was an attempted coup d'etat
It Wasn’t Strictly a Coup Attempt. But It’s Not Over, Either.
Experts say recent actions by President Trump and his loyalists are harder to stop than a coup — citing anti-democratic slides in Turkey and Venezuela as closer examples.
By Amanda Taub
Jan. 7, 2021Updated 2:54 p.m. ET
Do the actions of President Trump and some of his supporters — including Mr. Trump’s effort on Saturday to bully Georgia’s secretary of state into overturning the results of the state’s vote in the presidential election, and then yesterday openly inciting a mob that then attacked the United States Capitol — constitute a coup attempt?
If the question is whether those actions are as gravely serious as a coup, the answer is yes, said Erica de Bruin, a political scientist at Hamilton College who has researched coups for more than a decade.
But the violent, anti-democratic attack on the Capitol doesn’t fit the technical definition of a coup even though the president incited and encouraged it. That matters, experts say, because different actions are required to prevent this type of attack from harming democracy.
A coup is an illegal attempt to take power through force or the threat of force, usually involving at least a faction of the military or formal security forces, though sometimes they are backed by paramilitaries or other armed groups.
That’s not what happened in Washington yesterday.
Although some of the people that stormed the Capitol were armed, they do not appear to be part of any organized military or rebel organization. And while Mr. Trump encouraged his loyalists in his capacity as a leader of their movement, he did not try to call the military to their aid, or otherwise use the formal powers of the presidency to help them, said Naunihal Singh, a professor at the Naval War College whose research focuses on coups.
But that is not the end of the story.
These days, democracies tend to collapse from piecemeal backsliding that falls short of the technical definition of a coup, but is often ultimately more damaging. A clear pattern has played out in countries around the world, including Turkey, Russia, Hungary, and Venezuela, in which leaders come to office through elections but then undermine norms, gut institutions and change laws to dismantle any restraints on their power. Eventually, their countries become dictatorships in all but name.
Yesterday’s attack, and Mr. Trump’s encouragement of it, fit well within that category. And to combat that kind of anti-democratic backsliding requires different tactics than would be used against a coup.
“We know how to prevent coups,” said Dr. de Bruin, who literally wrote the book on how to do so. “We have a whole set of actions that international organizations, military officers, individuals can use. But we know far less about how to prevent anti-democratic actions.”
A coup either succeeds or fails, usually within a few hours. Stopping anti-democratic actions like Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol requires political engagement over time. Legal remedies like arrests and impeachment can help. So can political remedies, like political parties cutting off money to those who participate in anti-democratic actions, and party elites speaking out against it.
Subtler responses are also important.
“Authoritarian leaders are desperately afraid of ridicule because so much of their power comes from social connectedness,” Dr. Singh said, and treating them as if they are respectable reinforces that power.
But, he said, treating Wednesday’s attack, and Mr. Trump’s support of it, with the “ridicule and umbrage it deserves” is a way to undermine any suggestion of legitimacy or authority.
Some senior Republican officials did that yesterday. For weeks after the election, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky who is majority leader, had remained silent about Mr. Trump’s spurious claims of electoral fraud. On Wednesday, he said on the Senate floor that overruling the voters would “damage our republic forever.”
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah and a former presidential candidate, was even more outspoken.
“We gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride,” he said when the chamber reconvened after the attack, “and the outrage of supporters who he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States.”
But the response was far from uniform. In Congress, 147 Republican lawmakers, including eight senators, still voted against certifying the results of the election. One was Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who had been photographed earlier that day giving a closed-fisted salute to the crowd of Mr. Trump’s supporters, many of whom later participated in the attack on the Capitol.
Dr. de Bruin cautioned that coups and democratic backsliding are not mutually exclusive, and in fact could reinforce each other.
“Of course, coup attempts happen in the context of violent protest,” she said. “That makes them more likely.”
16 November 2020
The two audio players on the right are a Zoom call I sat in on today with Larry Diamond, the director of the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. His topic was "Repairing America's Fractured Democracy."
The second of the two recordings is the question-and-answer portion. My question about his statement during his presentation that the United States is a center-right nation and we must accept that is at 13:35 of the Q&A recording. I don't accept that we must remain so, but I didn't get a follow-up.
10 October 2020
Thanks for this. I have watched the first episode all the way through. Even though I can’t understand the Norwegian, in which Seltzer narrates the story, there’s enough English so that I know what he’s Seltzer is asking for in his questions. I understand the answers, which I have heard from so many people myself.
Before I left the San Jose Mercury News in 2000, I was sent to Duluth, Minnesota, which is separated from Superior, Wisconsin, by a river which is the state line. Except for the border the river represents, they are one city. I was there for a week helping train reporters at the Duluth News Tribune, a part of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, which owned the Mercury News as well as the Charlotte Observer, where I worked before moving to San Jose. Duluth and Superior are in a region where iron ore is mined – like the area around Kiruna, Sweden – and are ports on the western tip of Lake Superior.
The iron ore loaded onto ships in Duluth and Superior was shipped through the Great Lakes to cities like Cleveland where there were large steel mills. Those mills burned coal mined in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky and the steel they produced was used in the automobile factories around Detroit to make cars.
The Detroit Free Press was also a Knight-Ridder paper, and I had friends who worked there. I visited them when I was sent to Detroit to cover National Hockey League games between the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings. I went to Detroit to cover the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1994, which determined the American skating team that would compete a month later in Hamar, where I lived during the Lillehammer Winter Olympics.
Big changes in society disrupt people’s lives
Detroit was a failing city even back then. The person Seltzer interviews in Detroit talks about how that city became the first city of a million or more people in the United States to shrink. In 1950, the year before I was born, Detroit had a population of 1.8 million, 84 percent of whom were white. The census estimate in 2019 for Detroit was 670,000, ranking it 24th largest in the nation. As of the most recent census in 2010, 83 percent of Detroit residents were black.
Charlotte had 886,000 population last year. In 2000, shortly before you came to Hamlet, there were only 540,000.
The city that replaced Detroit as the 10th-largest in the U.S. is San Jose. In 1950, San Jose had 95,000 people, 95 percent of whom were white. Last year the estimate was 1 million. Our population mix in 2010 was 43 percent white, 33 percent Hispanic, 32 percent Asian and 20 percent other or mixed ethnicities. These numbers do not add to 100 percent because Hispanics may be of any race. What defines Hispanics as a group is the language, not the origin, of their ancestors. They may be from Spain, Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America.
Knight-Ridder was bought by a smaller newspaper chain, McClatchy Newspapers, a few years after I left. The Mercury News, which had a newsroom of about 1,200 reporters and editors when I started there in 1985, has fewer than 400 today. McClatchy declared bankruptcy earlier this year. Although I don’t expect it to happen, I get a pension payment of about $1,200 a month that could disappear as a result.
These are large changes in size and in demographics. In a relative sense – all occurred within my lifetime – they represent very rapid societal change. As individual humans, the amount of change that we comfortably tolerate varies quite a bit from person to person. But regardless of the level of tolerance, change that exceeds a person’s tolerance can be discomfiting at the least to fearful in the extreme.
I believe much of Trump’s base of support consists of people whose tolerance for change is low. But I believe this is only a partial explanation for why they feel the way they do, and that racism, in the form of white supremacy, is the major contributing factor.
The American dream
Neither of my parents had a college degree. My father’s employer over the entire period our lives overlapped was the U.S. Postal Service. He climbed the ladder all the way from mail carrier to clerk to a temporary stint as interim postmaster at the Hamlet post office. My mother was a bookkeeper who worked for several employers – a local furniture store, a car dealership, a bank and a plant just outside town that made paper bags.
I and both my siblings, however, got college degrees. We grew up in a house my parents bought from the builder as you and Eirik did yours. When my parents died, we three inherited the house, sold it and divided the proceeds. The three of us live in houses that we own and have raised families in them. We live the comfortable, middle-class lives – “the American dream” – that many of the people in the Seltzer’s documentary aspire to but have never achieved.
Why haven’t they achieved it?
I believe it’s a combination of racism and a failure of Americans – both those who achieved the dream and those who didn’t – to understand the reality of how that dream is achieved.
The myth of how that dream is achieved is through individualism, particularly “rugged individualism,” hard work, perseverance – what is frequently condensed into one American phrase: “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.” The “self-made man” is the American ideal. Luck, help from others, government assistance, favoritism, privilege, racism are not part of this myth.
There are, I’m sure, people who have achieve the dream through these mythical means. I’m also convinced these people are very rare. They are at the good end of the bell curve.
My parents – and consequently their children and their grandchildren – have benefitted from the way the dream really works. For us it began by being born white in a white supremacist society where white supremacy was enforced by law, not just custom. It helped to be Protestant Christians, to be lifetime residents of the small town they married and raised a family in, to be near the top of the social order in that town. My grandfathers both worked for a railroad in well-paying jobs with union negotiated benefits. My father was one of hundreds of thousands of Americans who went off to war in the 1940s and survived to come home.
He could have used his money to get a college degree, but he lasted less than a year in college and instead took a government job with the post office, which gave a hiring preference to returning war veterans. It was a union job with a pension. He used part of his veterans’ benefits as the down payment for the house I grew up in.
But black war veterans weren’t eligible for the GI Bill. Federal law specifically excluded them. They had gone to war as poor people and helped defeat fascist enemies whose societies were based on racism. They returned home still poor and were denied the post-war financial head start that white members of the “baby boom” generation enjoyed. Banks could, and did, refuse to lend them money to buy homes or start businesses because of their race. Or they penalized black borrowers with higher interest rates. Legally. All across the United States, including the neighborhood in San Jose where Emily and I bought our house, there were legal restrictions that blocked people who weren’t white or belonged to the wrong religion from buying houses or living there. Those laws are no longer enforceable, but they set black people back while they were and nothing has ever been done to repay those who were harmed.
When the Harvard writer Seltzer interviews is describing how some Americans have prospered and others have not, this is what he’s talking about and one of the reasons it happened.
Myth and self-deception
My parents and my siblings and I have worked hard. We’ve all had our struggles, yet we have achieved some success and live happy lives. But not all of us appreciate that we started with advantages available only to certain people and that we had plenty of government help.
But most middle-class white Americans believe that because we have had struggles – who doesn’t? – that we succeeded by ourselves. We discount how much help we’ve received from government, either through discriminatory laws or in outright hand-outs, by saying we deserve the help or that we’ve earned it. We are ignorant of the many ways that the privileges we enjoy have blocked the success of minorities in our society. We believe they are in their disadvantaged situations because they simply haven’t worked as hard as we have. They, too, deserve their fate.
These mistaken beliefs are reinforced by powerful forces in American culture: myth-building by movies, commercials, news media and politicians. Big business has taken advantage of this. We among the privileged love to hear that we are responsible for our success, that we have played the game fairly and have been justly rewarded for doing so. It is intoxicating.
Your country used some of our founding documents in creating the nation you live in today. But modern Norway has developed differently from us – in part – because the society in your country was different from ours in important ways, among them less racial and cultural diversity. The external influences of other countries from which you could draw inspiration and learn from mistakes were days, not months, of travel away.
Today’s world is much more connected than the world of 1905 when Norway became truly independent. Immigrants come to Scandinavia and Norway in much greater numbers than a century ago. I watch your TV shows and have seen in person black people and Muslims speaking Norwegian and living in your cities. It can be jarring to someone like me, who sees you and Eli as fitting the Norwegian mold.
With rare exceptions like Anders Brevik, Norwegians have not reacted to these changes the way we have in the United States. I believe the much greater equality that you have built into your society is a big reason why. The different relationship Norwegians have with their government is a big reason why. And, I believe, a fact that you first emphasized to me – that Norway is a small country – also contributes to why. Being one of 350 million makes it easier to feel powerless than being one of 5 million. Norwegians probably are more likely to feel their government actually listens to and represents them.
Still, I wonder if what is happening in my country will be a negative influence on what happens in yours. I wonder if the pace of immigration to Norway could eventually upset native Norwegians. Will the eventual exhaustion of oil revenue, either because of dwindling reserves or the world shifting toward more environmentally sound energy resources, make Norwegians feel uncertain about their economic security? Will the people in charge of dealing with this last issue be as wise as those who dealt with the discovery of oil in “Lykkeland?”
These are the kinds of changes that could upset the equilibrium in your society. Every society, I believe, is vulnerable.
Ultimately, I think, the outcome depends on what Norwegians come to see themselves and their country to be. All countries continually redefine themselves as they deal with change, and change often means immigration.
The United States of poet Emma Lazarus – who words "Give me your tired, your poor,your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …” are engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty – is a country that welcomed immigrants. We perceived these newcomers as a benefit to us, helping refine and achieve the ideals – not ethnicity – that she would say define what America is. We perceived our country as beneficial to immigrants because under the freedom we offered, they had a better chance of becoming their best selves.
Thus, the United States was a nation constantly in evolution, with more yet to learn and more to teach. It was a work in progress.
Obviously, that’s being challenged today. For Trumpists, the United States is the promised land, the pinnacle of civilization to which others can only aspire to be a part. To become an American as an immigrant under Trump is to abandon what you were and join the perfection that we are. The immigrant’s contribution to our society is to submit to it, not to contribute to its development.
The arrogance of that view, to me, is utterly stupid.
Political articles I found interesting
The Guardian, 8 October
Republicans have quietly been pushing the idea that a democracy and a republic, which is how Benjamin Franklin described the U.S. government, are mutually exclusive concepts. I disagree.
Washington Post, 8 October
I see this as opposition to gun control and Republican libertarianism being combined as two ingredients in a recipe for anarchy.
18 September 2020
Earlier this week I think I emailed you that I had been invited to sit in on an off-the-record discussion on Zoom with two political scientists, Terry Moe (I think there may be some Norwegian heritage there) of Stanford University and William Howell of the University of Chicago. They are authors of the just-published book Presidents, Populism and the Crisis of Democracy.
I was honored that the host organization, Joint Venture Silicon Valley, selected me as the only journalist invited even though I can't quote anything from the hour-long meeting for publication.
However, I recorded the presentation and the Q&A that followed because I wanted to share it with you. In light of our discussions about the U.S. presidential election campaign, I think you'll find it interesting. It could also be useful in a few weeks when you are teaching your class about the election.
Because of the file size, I divided into two recordings, the first on the two professors' presentations and the second on the Q&A portion in which I was not allowed to ask questions.
Here's a tidbit from the Q&A. Howell answered a question to compare Trump's makeover of our government to Hitler's turning pre-war Germany into an authoritarian regime by saying "our democracy is more robust than the Weimar Republic was."
Moe strongly disagreed:
"I think that there's a lot of romanticizing [about] the American public, the American voter. It's entirely undeserved. Political scientists have been studying the American voter since the 1940s, 1950s, and what they found out right away was that Americans' understanding of democracy and support for real democratic principles is about an inch deep. Right. It turns out that Americans are very typically uninformed. And there are many Americans who are quite willing to put restrictions on freedom of speech and all kinds of other freedoms in the interest of getting what they want."