Donald Trump and his administration are on an execution spree, rushing to expedite as many state-sponsored murders of federal prisoners as they can before his term ends on January 20. Between last December 10 and the end of his term, Trump has scheduled five executions, bringing his total since last July to 13. Since Trump and Attorney General William Barr effectively re-instituted federal executions, which had basically been suspended for the past 17 years, Trump has acted fast and furiously with this license to kill. In the words of Joanna Walters, writing in The Guardian, he has solidified his legacy as “as the most prolific execution president in over 130 years.”
As the coronavirus sweeps through the White House, infecting Donald Trump, advisor Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, three Republican senators, and more, the bombshell report on Trump’s tax returns The New York Times dropped in late September already seems to be receding from the news cycle.
As many have pointed out, making Black lives matter is a precursor to making all lives matter. To make all lives matter, we have to address the ways certain lives, particularly those of people of color in the United States, have been devalued. Put another way, we can’t create a culture and society that values all lives unless we identify and root out the mechanisms and value systems that have been enabling the devaluation, the differential valuing, of particular groups’ lives.
An epidemiologist didn’t hold back in his assessment of the U.S. response to Coronavirus on Wednesday. Yale’s Gregg Gonsalves said the approach came close to genocide.
“How many people will die this summer, before Election Day?” Gonsalves asked.
“What proportion of the deaths will be among African-Americans, Latinos, other people of color? This is getting awfully close to genocide by default. What else do you call mass death by public policy?”
How many people will die this summer, before Election Day? What proportion of the deaths will be among African-Americans, Latinos, other people of color? This is getting awfully close to genocide by default. What else do you call mass death by public policy? #COVID19 #coronavirus
Who would think of making a comedic drama about the Holocaust, one the most tragic and horrific events in world history, resulting in the genocide of six million Jewish people, as well as other groups, such as gay people and Gypsies?
Well, you may recall that Roberto Benigni’s 1997 film Life is Beautiful takes on such a challenge, portraying a father who turns his harrowingly oppressive and ultimately fatal experience in a Nazi concentration camp into a game of survival for his son. When he and his son are apprehended and imprisoned, Benigni’s character Guido Orefice never lets on to his son Giosue the reality of what the concentration camp means and what is happening, instead convincing him that they are involved in an elaborate game that at times entails playing hide and seek, being as quiet and still as one can be, or marching in line and following orders.
Turning this experience into a game, Orefice rescues both the body and spirit of his son, protecting him from the overwhelming and debilitating terror of Nazi hate and oppression and also finally enabling his survival. As anyone who has experienced terror knows, it is disarming, paralyzing us to the point that it makes taking any action difficult, makes thinking clearly virtually impossible, and defeats the spirit, robbing us of hope and miring us in a sense of hopelessness.
By contrast, when we are involved in a game, the spirit of play energizes and inspires us to think, strategize, and creatively problem-solve. And we have fun doing it; we enjoy it and are spiritually uplifted and galvanized. Think about it. Remember playing Battleship (or pick the game you enjoyed playing as a kid), with your mind fully engaged as you sought to identify the location of your opponent’s ships and sink them. Even as you engaged in destruction and were threatened with your own, you were thinking analytically; your life juices were flowing; you were having fun playing a game.
Giosue is insulated from the horror of history and remains creatively and spiritually empowered because, with the guidance and wit of his father, he approaches this historical situation playfully, in the spirit of a game, as a puzzle to be solved. The play inherent in the comedic spirit counteracts the paralysis and fatality of tragedy.
Moreover, in making a survival a game, Orefice also forestalls the trauma of the Holocaust from being passed down generationally to his son. Typically with Holocaust survivors, the trauma of this tragedy is passed down, affecting and debilitating succeeding generations, impairing the healthiest and fullest life.
The story, critiqued in its day for making light of the Holocaust with its comedic approach, is an important one for the way it teaches us to approach difficult and deadly historical moments of horror, for the way it cultivates a creative, life-affirming, and empowering orientation toward such moments, encouraging active agency rather than spiritual surrender.
When I saw Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle a couple of years ago, Benigni’s movie and his playful approach to history came to mind. And it did so again recently when I saw the sequel Jumanji: The Next Level.
When I talk to people about the wonder of the Jumanji films, I find they tend to think about the films as little more than light, even silly, entertainment, albeit perhaps enjoyable.
These films, however, provide important narratives for surviving, resisting, and hopefully restoring humanity in the harrowing and inhumane times in which we’re living. If not exactly the Holocaust, think about what we’ve been experiencing under Trump’s rule. Earlier this year, Trump withdrew U.S. troops from Syria, clearing the way for Turkish dictator Tayyip Erdogan to undertake a genocidal invasion of territory inhabited by Kurdish people. Trump’s rhetoric has arguably inspired racist mass shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and El Paso, among others; and children are being separated from their families and locked up in cages at the southern border. And do we need to bring up the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville when everyday white supremacists carried torches chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” And let’s not get started on Trump’s assault on people’s healthcare or his administration’s refusal to address and instead abet climate change.
Trump’s genocidal policies and overall assault on human well-being are easily documented. In short, life is simply not beautiful in the age of Trump. It is hard not to feel spiritually defeated and hopeless in this political moment.
The Jumanji films provide narratives and ways of being to affirm life and challenge these forces of death—to make life beautiful in the age of Trump.
The characters in these films (starring such stalwarts as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Danny Devito, and Danny Glover, among others) literally find themselves in a video game and, like Giosue in his game, facing the reality of death. Facing many fatal dangers, they are tasked with restoring peace and order to the land against hostile rulers.
As the characters in the film suddenly find themselves inhabiting characters in a game, they must learn and honestly assess their own and each other’s strengths and weaknesses to meet the challenges they face cooperatively. Each character has three lives; and if they don’t work together and rely on each other, they will not complete the mission and make it out of the game alive.
Divisions and competitions among each other will only ensure their failure. They each have to help each other realize their fullest selves and strengths. And characters realize parts of themselves, talents and strengths they possess, which they had never accessed before. They do this through playing the game—a game in which the stakes are real.
In the world of Jumanji, winning means not competing with one another but helping others be as powerful and creative as they can be, recognizing that helping others develop to their fullest, helps everybody.
If you’re like me, every day with Trump brings some new trauma and threatening development—to democracy, to peace, to human life.
We need stories that help us persist and respond creatively and cooperatively. The Jumanji fulfill this mission.
The national security threats the behavior of President Donald Trump and his administration have posed to the United States have justifiably been the focus and concern of those members of congress leading the impeachment inquiry. After all, the Mueller report compellingly concluded that the Russian Government
“interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” and discovered numerous points of contacts between Russia and the Trump associates leading up to, and even after, the 2016 Presidential election. Trump’s recently discovered shenanigans in soliciting the Ukraine government to dig up dirt on his opponent Joe Biden and effectively interfere in the 2020 election.
While the Turkish continue to deny this history to this day, in 1915 the nation of Turkey engaged in a genocide of the Armenian people. The mass killing reduced the Armenian population from two million to 400,000.
Last week, with the knowledge and approval of U.S. President Donald Trump, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered Turkish troops into northern Syria to commit, effectively, another genocide, this time of the Kurdish people. Some international reporters have, indeed, declared the act an “ethnic cleansing.”
How did Trump respond? Well, he did more than simply respond, apparently. He was, in fact, an active, even pro-active, co-conspirator in this genocidal invasion. All it took was simply a telephone call with Erdogan, and Trump was gung-ho, with no consultation with his military or foreign policy advisors, to pave the way for Turkish forces by pulling out the U.S. forces from the area in northern Syria where they had been stationed precisely to protect and ensure the survival of the Kurdish people, who had fought alongside U.S. forces to defeat ISIS.
The act of handing the Kurdish people up for slaughter, of effectively authorizing and inviting Erdogan’s genocide, was announced by Trump’s press secretary in these words:
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its planned operation into northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and the United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
Of course, removing forces and denying support and defense previously in place are acts that do most certainly constitute “support” and involvement.
As a reminder, in 1948 the United Nations, in an historic and important moment, drafted its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.
A review of the convention’s salient articles makes clear that not only is Trump complicit in this current act of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds, but also his administration has repeatedly in its policies engaged in genocidal behavior, most blatantly in his immigration enforcement policies, his denial of asylum seekers, and his caging of children and separation of them from their parents.
At a minimum, Trump’s policies and behaviors merit scrutiny in an International Court of Justice.
Here is how Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide defines genocide:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
Killing members of the group;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Certainly, when it comes to the situation of the Kurds in northern Syria, the active and intentional withdrawal of military support and defense at least warrants consideration as an act of “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
When it comes to Trump’s immigration policies, his administration’s order denying immigrants from Central America the right to seek and apply for asylum in the U.S. is also quite arguably an act of deliberately inflicting on these migrants conditions likely to result in their deaths. By many accounts, those people fleeing, in particular, Guatemala and El Salvador, and seeking asylum are escaping conditions of brutal and deadly violence or starvation conditions. Many asylum-seekers deported to these nations have in fact been brutally murdered upon return.
And how about the separation of families? In international law, as we can see in the convention’s language, “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” constitutes genocide. One might argue that the children aren’t necessarily being transferred to another group, though in some cases the separated children have been placed with other families. At a minimum, though, they have been transferred to the care of U.S. governmental agencies. By some counts, over
2,500 children were separated from their parents, and hundreds remain in that condition
Roy Arpaio openly bragged about his concentration camps for immigrants. When Donald Trump pardoned him, it made a mockery not only of the pardon power, but also legal norms within and beyond the United States.
By Trump’s logic, torture is okay even when the offending state is North Korea and the victim is an American citizen. He’s cool with plundering and genocide when the offending governments are those of Vladimir Putin and other global outcasts.
With that rhetoric, it was a matter of time before Trump would take the normalization of war crimes to the next level with a reported intent to pardon several convicted war criminals. The added bonus is the reported intent to time these pardons for Memorial Day.
This step has nothing to do with draining swamps, or giving the so called “deep state” a rude finger gesture.
If anything, it’s something a deep state would do. Corrupt political leader handing a huge political favor to his favor gun for hire, Erik Prince. For it was while under Prince’s employ that Nicholas A. Slatten shot dozens of unarmed civilians in Iraq.
I’ll admit to having more than a passing interest in this betrayal of basic human values. After World War II, America took international criminal law to the next step – assuring that those prosecuted would be convicted and the sentences would reflect the horrific nature of their crimes. Before that, war crimes and crimes against humanity were left for countries to handle by themselves, with predictable results.
Reading about those proceedings led to my interest in international criminal law, and a hope that the world was moving toward an international rule of law.
It’s a mind warp to see Donald Trump destroy American advances in international criminal law by pardoning the worst of our worst in the name of doing a favor for Erik Prince.
When it comes to the worst of the worst, the only people worse than the “ordinary” war criminals Trump intends to pardon are those responsible for the crime of genocide – people like Jean-Paul Akeyesu.
I fear for the possibility that the increasing number of children killed in the Trump Administration’s custody will continue to increase by leaps and bounds as a direct consequence of Trump’s endeavor to destroy international criminal law.
I also fear that a policy that comes as close to the line of genocide as possible may have already crossed that line while we’re distracted by the latest Trump blunder, tweet or effort to smash our legal and political norms to dust.
Throughout the major developments in international criminal law, the United States defended, in theory, the right side of morality and law – until Trump. It was the United States that developed Nuremberg law, that established the UN Tribunals to prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. It was also the United States that advanced the international rule of law by pushing to establish the International Criminal Court and with it an international penal code.
Admittedly, we backed away from the ICC because a Republican Senate refused to approve the Rome Statute, with this the US joined China, India, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Qatar and Israel – along with Russia and Syria.
Even if one holds the view that the American military should have an unfettered ability to use rape as a weapon of war, poison wells, or bomb schools and hospitals with impunity then what does this say to our allies who Trump would like to support our military endeavors?
Jason Easley rightly explained the political motivation behind this move.
“Trump thinks that pardoning war criminals over Memorial Day weekend will make him look good, which is why he is so eager to put US lives in danger all around the world.”
The problem is, again, that those constituents you and I might call people, the GOP, federally and at the state level, have decided are “not even people.”
Even before Trump leaves on his first trip abroad as President, that trip is tainted because Trump will attend a Summit with an indicted war criminal.
For the second time in less than two years, a billboard has gone up near Birmingham, Alabama, carrying a pro-white, anti-diversity message delivered by a loose-knit group calling itself the White Genocide Project.