To Jared From Uncle Paul, the Anthropologist

Dear Jared,

So, it’s been some time since I last wrote you.  You’re a busy and important person, so maybe you don’t remember that we may be related.  I grew up with Kushners in and around Washington DC and my family would often gather at Kushner’s Restaurant for celebratory meals.   Who knew that you would grow up to work in your Father-in-Law’s (FiL) White House and I would become an anthropologist?

It would be nice to hear from you sometime.

The last time I wrote I was worried about you.  You had so much to do. My God, it can’t be easy to reform the entire Federal Government.  And how difficult it must be for a Jew—Orthodox no less—to bring peace to the Middle East.  Oy, it’s a burden that must keep you up at night!

In that letter, if you remember, I wrote about the perils of ethnocentrism, about how treacherous it is for you—or anybody—to use a business model to resolve the considerable and complex social and cultural problems that plague our contemporary world.  As you may have realized by now, business models don’t work very well in international politics. I also suggested in my previous letter that you would feel much better if you and your lovely family moved back to New York City.

Please forgive me, boychik, but your Uncle Paul digresses.  When I think back to all those tasty dinners at Kushner’s Restaurant I am compelled to talk too much.  Sorry.

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Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin Ireland  Photo by Paul Stoller

You see, I am very worried about you.  Given the grim realities of the Mueller investigation, things don’t look good. You might get indicted.  You might have to go to jail.  Given his history, your mumser FiL might just throw you under the bus.  In the world of family relations, as any good anthropologist knows, consanguineals (blood relatives) take precedence over affines (in-laws).

Kiddo, you should prepare for the worst, no?

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Hanukkah Candles, 8th Night 2018 Photo by Paul Stoller

As bad as your legal exposure might be, I am much more worried about the culture of hate.  How do you feel about your FiL’s ignorant comments about Jews in the Diaspora.  You must have been at the recent White House Hanukkah ceremony.  Yes, your FiL praised his Jewish American supporters, but then, when talking about Israel, he referred to the Jewish State as “your country.”  The robotic Vice-President, who also spoke to the same room of American Jewish presidential supporters, also referred to Israel as “your country.”

Were you not offended?

Were you not mortified?

This kind of discourse, of course, is part of the culture of hate that, thanks in large measure to the ignorant and hateful rhetoric that spews from the mouth of your FiL, is sweeping across America.  Hate crimes are increasing, including now, of course, antisemitic acts.  Acts of antisemitic hate have spiked during the past two years, including the massacre in Pittsburgh.

Coming back to the White House Hanukkah celebration, when someone says that American Jews owe their allegiance to “their” country (Israel) and not the United States, he or she also suggests that Jews have divided loyalties, that Jews can’t be trusted, that Jews will cheat you—all longstanding antisemitic canards.  I, for one, am offended that your FiL would suggest that Israel is “my country.”  My dad fought in the Pacific during World War II.  He was a proud member of the Jewish War Veterans.  Did he or the thousands of other American Jews who fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam have divided loyalties?  Just because a person happens to be Jewish, doesn’t mean that she or he blindly supports Israel.

In the culture of hate people who want to preserve their power attempt to divide an increasingly diverse population.  Those who want to divide a society say that difference is dangerous.  Those who look different, have divided loyalties, eat exotic foods, speak a different language, or practice a different religion are “others.” The social and cultural practices of these “others” threaten the purity of established norms—in America, the ethos of being white, male and Christian.  Others are “you people,” some of whom owe their allegiance to another country. These “others” must be denigrated and humiliated.  In cases like Charleston, Ferguson, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, they are killed.

What an ugly reality to confront!

One way to make this ugly reality more palatable is to spin false narratives and practice what Jean-Paul Sartre called “bad faith,” which is believing in the illusions you create. Your FiL does it all the time.  He lives in a dangerous fantasy world

Do you as well, Jared?

Do you really think that your personal relationship with the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, the murderous MbS, will bear fruit and bring about peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors?  Do you really think that you and MbS have a special relationship?  What do you think he says about you when he speaks Arabic to his family?  What do you know of the Saudis and their ways?

Do you speak Arabic?

Have you studied the history of the Middle East?

Do you have any idea what the Saudis think of Jewish people like you and me?

You may think you’re safe, but you’re not.  In your FiL’s dysfunctional America, Muslims, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, LGBTQ people, and Jews are non-white, which, as any anthropologist can tell you, is a social and not a biological category. Boychik, you may work in a West Wing office, but you are still “other,” Don’t think “they’ll” never come for you.

They will.

So, if you ever feel like you need a avuncular visit, just let me know.  I’d be happy to see you–even in prison–to chat, talk a little anthropology and suggest some books that will transform the quality of your life.

Happy Holidays from your Uncle Paul, the Anthropologist

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