Austin at Large: Neither Slumber Nor Sleep

We will be othered, threatened, vilified, even fired upon. We must not let it stop us.

These are called Stolpersteine – "stumbling blocks" – little brass plaques in the street that serve as everyday memorials at addresses in Berlin and all over Europe where victims of Nazism lived. This one is for my great-grandfather. (Photo by Wikimedia User OTFW (CC BY-SA 3.0))

In the 1941 Berlin telephone directory, my grandfather, a doctor, is listed with a Star of David next to his name. (He was also required to list his middle name as "Israel"; for women, it was "Sarah.") His own father, also a doctor, is no longer listed, because he was already in Nazi custody; he would die later that year in Minsk. But his mother had been born a gentile – her maiden name was in fact Braun – and so under the Nuremberg Laws my grandfather was a "Mischling" – which is as insulting as it sounds ("mongrel") – and thus not yet cast out of the quickly deteriorating German state. His mother had converted, kept kosher, and aligned herself as much as possible with the Jewish community in Berlin, which was not very Orthodox at all and generally thought of itself as German first. But none of this mattered, as Hitler insisted Jews must be a race unto themselves.

My grandfather survived a different set of Nazi depredations – being arrested and sent to the Russian front, where doctors were badly needed – but survived until after the war, when the Russians abducted all the doctors in East Berlin, brought them to Sachsenhausen (the nearest concentration camp, which they'd repurposed into their own prison), and told them to stem a raging cholera epidemic. They failed, and he died, and after that my family was Jewish no longer. There are only three of us left; I will allude in passing to being of Jewish heritage but mostly leave this story unsaid, because while many find it interesting, others have found it threatening or offensive. Some of those may be reading it now; some of those people could be Nazis themselves, if they had a mind to.

Mass Death: Just Part of Life

I started writing this down for my column two weeks ago after the calamity in Buffalo, inspired by "replacement theory" bullshit that is just as cracked and as repulsive and yet as insidious as the Nuremberg Laws. Remember, Hitler genuinely believed this stuff; he was also convinced that all-powerful Jews controlled the United States and was shocked that America entered the war, even after Pearl Harbor. We know beyond a doubt that the Buffalo shooter's "doctrine" – and the corollary doctrine that all Americans, but really just themselves, should be armed and dangerous – is at the same time totally unacceptable to believe and act upon in a civilized society, and championed by a major U.S. political party and its reactionary media propaganda machine. All that varies is how far members of Fox News Nation, with what power they have, are willing to go to act upon what they believe. If they genuinely don't believe it, and are just riding the train to get to political power faster, then they are running out of time to jump off before it derails.

People think I'm too hopeful about the darkness that lies before us, that it's just not possible any more to see a way out back into the light. One reason for that is that I also try to act on my beliefs, which include the existence of a loving and providential God, which means hope is not optional. But on the secular level of the news of the week, rather than saying I have hope, I more want you to know that I see opportunity. That is because while the people lined up on the wrong side of history, of justice, and of truth may project fearsome power, they are in reality very weak, stupid, corrupt, decadent, and soft. That is why they want to rig the rules to keep themselves in power and to take power away from you.

It vexes me more every day when I hear the Democratic message machine – which is so much less effective than its fascist counterpart even though we control the White House and Congress – make noises about "authoritarianism" or even "protecting our democracy." This is not a political science class; our lives are at stake, quite literally. This is about the fascists trying to steal what is rightfully yours, take power they did not earn, control your bodies and punish your minds, all because they truly believe what they see on TV and read on their socials, which is the only engagement they have with life beyond themselves, and which is designed to anger and frighten them about your very existence. But they are still lame, stupid, and weak. There is a limit to the damage they can do unless we let them run riot unopposed.

We shouldn't do that.

Up Goes the Beto-Signal

For the most junior and thus weakest members of the fascist class – the 18- and 20-year-old perps of so many massacres – the only way to redeem their internet-­poisoned, racist, incel lives is with an AR-15. We don't know much about the Uvalde shooter, but we do know he creeped young women out on Instagram and made no secret of his gun lust. He may not have regurgitated a manifesto of 4chan memes and Tucker Carlson scripts before he turned an elementary school into a killing field worthy of Sachsenhausen. But we know he should have been watched more closely and not trusted with deadly force.

The headline for this column is from Psalm 121:4 & 6-7: "Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep ... / The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night/ The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life." In my faith, that loving and providential God is in all things and thus all of us, and so we have strength to neither slumber nor sleep ourselves to keep each other from all evil. Irish Catholic Beto O'Rourke believes similar things about God, though not his church, and his bearing witness in the faces of Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick in Uvalde on Wed­nesday is both the politically smart and the morally appropriate thing to do. Notice how the folks on the other side, who think they speak for all Christians and have a monopoly on God's love, screamed and shrieked like little Satan-spawned kittens when O'Rourke actually showed up and called them out on their shit. If he and we all keep doing that from now until Novem­ber, our future will be less bleak.

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