Word of the Day / Nu Nu Nu

You can’t claim to understand Israeli culture without mastering the powerful and multifaceted word ‘nu.’

Nu, so how much ink can you spill already on the many nuances of the Yiddish word “nu”? Answer: Just a little more, en route to explaining the meanings of this versatile little gem.

Spoken once, one of the word’s primary functions is as a prompt. It serves as both a nudge (“Nu, are you coming?”) and as a query that relieves the speaker of the Jewish burden of actually responding. “Nu”requires little adornment, but it does demand precise inflection to get across the intended meaning. (If someone tells you, “I went on a date last night,” and you answer “Nu?” you’re probably digging for more information, as in “Do tell” or “And?” But if your tone of resignation is just right, you might be asking “So what?” or sarcastically, “So what’s new about that?”) For those familiar with this popular Yiddishism, which has become an integral part of spoken Hebrew, these nuances are nothing “nu.”

Trump’s Rhetoric and Conservative Denial

The president cannot be absolved of responsibility for inciting the hatreds that led to El Paso.

Connor Betts, the alleged Dayton shooter, had left-wing political views, believed in socialism, supported Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, and regularly inveighed on Twitter against various personages on the right (including, it turns out, me). This has some conservatives fuming that liberal media is conveniently ignoring the progressive ideology of one shooter while obsessing over the far-right ideology of another — Patrick Crusius, who posted an anti-immigrant manifesto shortly before police say he murdered 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso.

Sorry, but the comparison doesn’t wash. It’s idiotic.

The Dayton victims did not fit any political or ethnic profile: They were black and white, male and female, an immigrant from Eritrea and Betts’s own sister. Crusius’s victims, overwhelmingly Hispanic, did: They were the objects of his expressly stated political rage.

What happened in Ohio was a mass shooting in the mold of the Las Vegas massacre: victims at random, motives unknown. What happened in Texas was racist terrorism in the mold of Oslo, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Christchurch and Poway.

The former attack vaguely implicates the “dark psychic force” that Marianne Williamson spoke of in last week’s Democratic debates. The latter directly implicates the immigrant-bashing xenophobic right led by Donald Trump.

This needs to be said not because it isn’t obvious, but because too many conservatives have tried to deny the obvious

The president cannot be absolved of responsibility for inciting the hatreds that led to El Paso.

. It’s not about ideology, they say: It’s a mental-health issue. But that’s precisely the kind of evasive reasoning many of those conservatives mockedin 2016, when the mental state and sexual orientation of Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen was raised by some media voices to suggest that his attack had not really been an act of Islamist terrorism.

Alternatively, conservatives have cited the decline of civil society, the effects of the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, the paucity of prayer and the ubiquity of violent video games — in sum, the breakdown of “the culture” — as explanations for mass shootings. This is the right-wing equivalent of the left’s idea that poverty and climate change are at the root of terrorism: causes so general that they explain everything, hence nothing. Why not also blame Friedrich Nietzsche and the death of God?

Get real: The right’s attempt to downplay the specifically ideological context of the El Paso massacre is a transparently self-serving attempt to absolve the president of moral responsibility for his demagogic rhetoric. This, too, shouldn’t wash. The president is guilty, in a broad sense, of a form of incitement.

No, Trump did not specifically incite anyone to violence, as characters like Yasir Arafat once did. (“To Jerusalem we march, martyrs by the millions!”) He will not, as Palestinian leaders still do, offer financial rewards to the families of terrorists. His scripted condemnation on Monday of white supremacy was, at least, a condemnation.

But incitement takes many forms. In June 2018, Trump tweeted the following: “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!

The tweet (noted by my colleague Frank Bruni in a recent column) is significant precisely because it is almost forgotten. It does not even rank in a top 10 list of Trumpian outrages. And yet it’s all there:

  • The imputation of bad faith to his political opponents.
  • The conspiracy theory about “potential voters.”
  • The sneaking conflation of illegal immigrants with violent gang members.

And the language of infestation. In the early 1990s, Hutu propagandists in Rwanda spoke of the Tutsi as “cockroaches.” The word served as a preamble to the 1994 genocide in which over half a million people died. In today’s America, the dissemination of the idea, via the bully pulpit of the presidency, that we are not merely being strained or challenged by illegal immigrants, but invaded and infested, predicated the slaughter in El Paso.

It’s worth noting that the Walmart massacre is, as far as I know, the first large scale anti-Hispanic terrorist attack in the United States in living memory. On current trend, it will surely not be the last or the worst. The language of infestation inevitably suggests the “solution” of extermination. As for the cliché that sensible people are supposed to take Trump seriously but not literally, it looks like Patrick Crusius didn’t get that memo.

The main task for Democrats over the next 15 months won’t be to convince America that they need yet another health care re-invention, or that the economy is a mess, or that the system is rigged, or that the right response to Trump’s immigration demagoguery is an open border. It’s that the president is

  • a disgrace to his office,
  • an insult to our dignity,
  • a threat to our Union, and
  • a danger to our safety.

Marianne Williamson Knows How to Beat Trump

We need an uprising of decency.

If only …

If only Donald Trump were not president, we could have an interesting debate over whether private health insurance should be illegal. If only Trump were not president, we could have an interesting debate over who was softest on crime in the 1990s. If only Trump were not president, we could have a nice argument about the pros and cons of NAFTA.

But Trump is president, and this election is not about those things. This election is about who we are as a people, our national character. This election is about the moral atmosphere in which we raise our children.

Trump is a cultural revolutionary, not a policy revolutionary. He operates and is subtly changing America at a much deeper level. He’s operating at the level of dominance and submission, at the level of the person where fear stalks and contempt emerges.

He’s redefining what you can say and how a leader can act. He’s reasserting an old version of what sort of masculinity deserves to be followed and obeyed. In Freudian terms, he’s operating on the level of the id. In Thomistic terms, he is instigating a degradation of America’s soul.

Yet those who have for decades been given the biggest platforms to interpret culture are white men. This means that the spaces in media where national mythologies are articulated, debated and affirmed are still largely segregated. The conversation about our collective imagination has the same blind spots as our political discourse.

Conversations about our monuments, museums, screens and stages have the same blind spots as our political discourse.

Yet those who have for decades been given the biggest platforms to interpret culture are white men. This means that the spaces in media where national mythologies are articulated, debated and affirmed are still largely segregated. The conversation about our collective imagination has the same blind spots as our political discourse.

The six most influential art critics in the country, as selected by their peers, are all white, the writer Mary Louise Schumacher found in a recent survey of more than 300 working visual arts critics. Almost all of them are men who have written for legacy publications for at least 20 years. That’s true of other genres, like film reviews, where there are 27 white male film critics for each woman of color, a study from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found.

Yet the most dynamic art in America today is being made by artists of color and indigenous artists. Consider the work of two artists in the Biennial: Alexandra Bell, whose incisive newspaper layouts illustrate the media’s complicity in racist stereotypes. And the gorgeous mixed-media banners of Jeffrey Gibson, which demand a rethinking of laws like “Stand Your Ground” from an indigenous perspective.