Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Jay Z's American Fascism"


Ich kann gar nicht so viel fressen, wie ich kotzen moechte: I can’t eat enough to puke as much as I want to. The words of the  great German-Jewish painter Max Liebermann as he watched the Nazis march through the Brandenburg Gate came to mind as I saw Ron Howard’s Showtime documentary about Jay Z’s 2012 “Made in America” festival. We’ve seen this all before: the emotive orator with a twisted face evoking surge of rage from a mass audience that responds with rhythmic arm gestures. I’m late to this discussion, to be sure: 
This is the face of American fascism. Compared to the confessed crack dealer and knifer Jay Z, to be sure, Adolf Hitler was a man of high intellect and deep culture. Jay Z, our most successful and wealthiest performing artist, honored White House guest and proprietor of a pop-culture empire, is no Hitler: he lacks the talent to field a political movement, and, fortunately, does not appear to hate Jews. Fascism, though, is not ipso facto directed against Jews. Mussolini began as an anti-clerical socialist with support from a great deal of Italy’s small Jewish community, and did not persecute Jews until Hitler told him to. 
Who would have believed that a performing genre (it is a stretch to call it “music”) dominated by convicted and confessed criminals, brutally misogynistic, preaching and practicing violence, would come to dominate American popular culture? Jay Z, who brags of dealing drugs and shooting an older brother in his youth, and plead guilty to stabbing a record producer, could “help shape attitudes in a real (sic) positive way,” according to President Obama. Jay Z texts regularly with the president and is a regular White House visitor after opening Obama campaign rallies.

Goldman goes on to quote some of Jay Z's lyrics which openly call for violence. However, Goldman explains that Jay Z has struck a cord with a generation of young people that no longer can grasp the American dream. He notes the record (25%+ unemployment) among young adults, skyrocketing student debt paired with jobs that can't come close to paying for those loans, and the decline in real median income. Goldman observes:

It would be dangerous to interpret the surge of Jay Z’s political influence as an economic phenomenon. He is making a spiritual appeal–albeit a wicked and perverse one–in a growing spiritual vacuum. 
The answer is that we have failed–with some remarkable exceptions–to hold onto our young people. Harvard political scientist Harvey Mansfield likes to say that the big question in American politics is whether the red states can produce children faster than professors from the blue states can corrupt them.  The roots of conservative strength are deteriorating. ...

Goldman goes on to recite statistics concerning the decline of social conservationism among young people, even those that consider themselves to be religious...with one strong exception: Orthodox Jews.

... But the high retention rate of young observant Jews bears a broader lesson: the conservative movement is rooted in a set of values that cannot be separated from religion, just as de Tocqueville wrote in 1835. Without our own institutions and our own alternative to the prevailing culture, we will decline. 
We need to stick to our principles and strengthen our institutions. Again, from my Torah Musings essay: 
As the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore told the Wall Street Journal, Christians are becoming a minority. And what they best can learn from the Jews is how to be a minority, as I argued in a comment on a recent symposium on the future of First Things. There are some concessions that traditional religion cannot make without sacrificing its authority, and the character of the human family is one of these. Orthodox Judaism survived decades of cultural isolation when conventional wisdom predicted that it shrink to the status of an irrelevant sect. Orthodoxy has thrived, on the contrary, precisely because it refused to abandon Torah values, while progressive Jewish denominations are shrinking. Christians should take encouragement from the Orthodox example and remain true to their principles. 
This is a war in which there are no knockout punches, no decisive battles: It is an extended war of attrition to recreate a conservative majority from the grass roots up, in the face of a truly evil effort to exploit the rage and frustration of young Americans. It will last the rest of our lifetimes and more.
Goldman is correct, of course. Religious conservatism is slipping into a minority, and we need to be able to survive as a minority. Not only a minority, but a vilified minority.

I'm reminded of a statement from a recent article at PJ Media concerning a talk given at BYU by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The substance of the article was that interfaith dialogue does not require that one side concede that it agrees with the religious beliefs of the other in order to work together to protect shared values. Dr. Mohler's noted his disagreement with LDS theology, but stated his common ground as to protecting the traditional family. He stated:
 I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together. I do not mean to exaggerate, but we are living in the shadow of a great moral revolution that we commonly believe will have grave and devastating human consequences.
 (Emphasis mine). Similarly, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a senior religious leader within the LDS Church recently warned:
... Similarly, laws legalizing so-called “same-sex marriage” do not change God’s law of marriage or His commandments and our standards concerning it. We remain under covenant to love God and keep His commandments and to refrain from serving other gods and priorities—even those becoming popular in our particular time and place. 
In this determination we may be misunderstood, and we may incur accusations of bigotry, suffer discrimination, or have to withstand invasions of our free exercise of religion. If so, I think we should remember our first priority—to serve God—and, like our pioneer predecessors, push our personal handcarts forward with the same fortitude they exhibited.
(Emphasis mine). Elder Oaks was an attorney and a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court. He does not use the term "free exercise" lightly, but very specifically in reference to the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment.

What Goldman, Mohler and Oaks are warning of is that the popular culture has reached its tipping point. Perhaps something will happen to catch it at the last minute, but it seems, given the momentum it has, that we will in fact tip over the precipice where traditional religious values will by wholly rejected by the majority of the population. We potentially face the threat of discrimination, pogroms, and government restrictions on our practice of our religion. I wrote in January 2012 how laws on public health and morals could be turned against practicing our faith. We may very well become a persecuted minority. It may be well worth looking at the history of the Jews, as well as LDS history, to learn lessons on how to survive as a persecuted minority while retaining our beliefs.

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