Beware of Fat Old Men Making Lists

Phil Anderson

“When politicians start talking about large groups of their fellow Americans as ‘enemies,’ it’s time for a quiet stir of alertness. Polarizing people is a good way to win an election, and also a good way to wreck a country.”
Molly Ivins (1944-2007), journalist and humorist

With Christmas just over, we are done with the the jolly fat old guy and his lists. Whether you were naughty or nice, you probably got socks and underwear instead of the cool stuff you really wanted. Come January 20th another fat old guy and his not jolly minions are coming to town with their lists. Naughty or nice will not be the criteria. And the results will be uglier than that striped tie from Aunt Olga. Beware of fat old men making lists.  

There are rumors in the press of an “enemies” list (officially denied of course) of the Republicans who were not supportive during the election campaign. The fat old guy’s transition team asked the Department of Energy to get a list of employees working on climate change. The State Department was asked for information on activities that “promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship...”  Deporting all the illegal “Mexicans” will require lists. And then there are the campaign statements about making a registry of Muslims in the country.    

All this list making is generating fears of “witch hunts” and “purges.” Given the fat old guy’s inconsistent and vitriolic campaign statements, these fears may be well founded. He has called climate change a “hoax”. He has made many crude, insulting and sexist remarks about women. He has called for denying Muslims entry to the country, make them subject to “extreme vetting,” making those in the country register.

The fact that three lists were created under G.W. Bush to track Muslims seems to have been lost on the old guy and his supporters. The TSA no fly list and the FBI terrorist watch list are still active. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was shut down in in 2011. It required non-resident visa holders from 24 Muslim countries to register with immigration. Trump’s campaign rhetoric is just the recycling of old, mostly failed, ideas.

Witch hunts and enemies lists are nothing new in America. Politics has been dirty, personal, and often unconstitutional from the very beginning. The Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 created the power to deport immigrants. Freedom of speech and the press were limited resulting in the arrest and imprisonment of opposition party newspaper editors. In the 1950’s Joe McCarthy with his list of communists destroyed many people’s lives. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was notorious for abuse of power. He ignored the civil liberties of citizens, civil rights leaders, and other social issue protesters. Nixon had an “enemies” list for punishing opponents with tax audits and denial of government grants and contracts. So fears of retaliation, discrimination, and punishing of opponents by the new administration are not unreasonable.     

Lists are not all bad. They help organize our lives and prioritize our tasks. What is really needed are lists of the tax deadbeats like Trump and his billionaire appointees. Or a list of the off-shore corporations who are avoiding taxes while sending jobs to China. Then we will know who the real terrorists are that need to be monitored and controlled.

We must reject Trump’s scapegoating of Muslims and immigrants. We should remember the words of Rev. Martin Niemöller who spoke against Adolf Hitler and spent seven years in concentration camps,

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

An example of applying this message comes from Jonathan Greenblatt of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. He has said, “If one day Muslim Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.”

All this reminds me of Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant” about draft resisting during the  Vietnam War. At the end of the over 20 minute ballad Arlo suggests a protest of singing to the draft board,   

“You know, if one person, just one person, does it, they may think he’s really sick and they won’t take him.

And if two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.

And if three people do it! Can you imagine three people walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walkin’ out? They may think it’s an organization!

And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day . . . walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walkin’ out? Friends, they may think it’s a MOVEMENT, and that’s what it is: THE ALICE’S RESTAURANT ANTI-MASSACREE MOVEMENT! . . . and all you gotta do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.”

Humor can be another good tool. We need the laughter of Saturday Night Live, John Oliver, Micheal Moore and others. As Molly Ivins has said, “You got to have fun while you’re fightin’ for freedom, ‘cause you don’t always win.”