Marty McFly, the fictional character portrayed by Michael J. Fox in the Back to the Future trilogy, whose first installment pretty much defined 1980s pop cinema, needed Doc Brown’s retrofitted DeLorean to travel back to the mid-1950s.
Apparently, all I needed to do was go on vacation for two weeks.
How else can I explain the world I see today from my fourth-floor office downtown versus the one that existed prior to my spending the first half of August in Florida and the North Carolina coast?
I tried my hardest while I was gone to ignore the headlines, of course, and there’s nothing like spending hours on the beach with your kids to distract you from current events. But with each ping on my phone, I could feel myself drawn inexorably into the past as the undertow of the approaching wave of the future threatened to pull me under.
First came each episode of this nation’s new drama with North Korea, a now-nuclear power we first did battle with under Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. Back in 1953, an armistice set the stalemate along the 38th parallel, where it has officially remained up until today.
But new saber-rattling by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — who directly threatened the U.S. island territory of Guam — and our own President Donald Trump, whose tweets have threatened “fire and fury” to be unleashed by a U.S. military that is “locked and loaded,” has brought us perhaps closer to war on the Korean peninsula than at any point in the last 64 years.
Were it not for ongoing congressional and law enforcement investigations into Russian interference — and possible collusion with Trump campaign officials — during last year’s presidential election, the United States’ foreign policy posture was starting to look like one from a bygone age. No sooner had we packed for my family’s return to Philadelphia, though, and the nation’s domestic strife was starting to look rather Technicolor as well.
The year 1953 didn’t just mark the end of the Korean War.
It was also the year that a man by the name of Eldon Edwards decided to reinvigorate the Ku Klux Klan and bring it into the “modern” era. In just a few years, the organization, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, had tens of thousands of members; and like the conflict in Korea, the group and others like it — all sharing a twisted racist ideology implicating blacks, Jews and unnamed foreigners for all of America’s ills — never really went away.
The fact is the violence that took place last weekend in Charlottesville, Va. — sparked by a “white unity rally” — and left a young woman dead and a suspected white supremacist in jail is as abhorrent as its animating hatred is common. On Aug. 15, for instance, Boston’s glass Holocaust memorial was discovered shattered. These instances are not historical relics and contrary to the assertions of politicians, they are not “un-American.”
Let us be clear: The worldview infecting those who marched with flags bearing swastikas and white power symbols, who chanted epithets targeted against the African-American and Jewish communities, is no more a partisan issue than it is a historical one.
The hatred on display in Charlottesville is of a kind that is spewed by such figures as Roger Waters, whose own presence just days before in Philadelphia sparked so much antipathy by members of the local Jewish community. Jew-hatred seems to be equally at home on the far-right as on the far-left, which makes sense considering that our people throughout history have been the scapegoat of choice.
That is why it is so galling to see some of the same people — on Facebook, on Twitter, and yes, even at synagogue — so willing to condemn Waters for his anti-Semitic and anti-Israel vitriol and yet so willing to either blame the counter-protesters in Virginia for aggravating the racists, to defend the racists as doing little more than engaging in constitutionally protected free speech, or to chalk up reasonable disgust as little more than the ravings of a deluded left. It is just as galling to see anyone inveighing against the white supremacists while at the same time giving Waters a pass.
Hatred must be called out from wherever it occurs and whomever spreads it, whether that person be a Roger Waters, a Linda Sarsour or a Jason Kessler. And the delay to condemn it by name, whether the name be white supremacism, racism, anti-Semitism or Islamofascism, must be denounced.
These are not difficult concepts. They’re as black and white as a 1950s television show.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]