Monday, October 17, 2016

Musical Monday - Tiller Girls featuring Joel Grey

Technically, Cabaret is not about the death of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany. The musical is about the lives of a handful of quirky individuals as they try to navigate the rocky terrain of relationships. It is about the somewhat tempestuous relationship between cabaret signer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and writer Brian Roberts (Michael York), and their mutual dalliance with Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem), and their friendship with Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper) and Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson). Throughout the movie, the musical numbers performed at the Kit Kat Klub provide commentary on the events of the lives of these character, and also commentary on the events of the wider world.

Although Cabaret isn't about the rise of Nazism in Germany, it uses this looming threat as a backdrop for the story in the foreground. As much as the characters try to ignore or downplay the dangers that are growing on their doorstep, they cannot escape the political realities that surround them. This plays out most strongly in the love story of Fritz Wendel, a German protestant, and Natalia Landauer, a wealthy Jewish heiress. Wendel is infatuated with Landauer, but she is disinterested until Bowles offers him some times for winning her love. But once they are infatuated with one another, the religious issue raises its head, and Wendel reveals that he is actually Jewish, but has been hiding his ethic identity because being a protestant was easier in Germany of the 1920s and 30s. But in the scene from the clip above set against the Tiller Girl routine of the Kit-Kat Dancers, the dangers of that revelation are made clear, as anti-Semitic hooligans vandalize Landauer's house and kill her dog. The message of this story is clear - anti-Semitism wasn't something the Nazi's created, it is something that already existed that the Nazi's exploited. Whether they choose to pay attention to the politics around them or not, the characters in the movie are affected by them all the same.

Trump did not create racism, misogyny, and xenophobia in the United States - he just exploited what was already there to gain enough momentum to win the Republican primaries. We have already seen the effects of Trump's violent rhetoric in the multiple mosques that have been vandalized, and the incidents of violence aimed at people who "look" Muslim. The Council on Islamic-American Relations reports that 2016 has thus far been the second worst year on record with respect to vilence against Islamic places of worship. Within the last week, three men were arrested by the FBI in Kansas for plotting to bomb an apartment complex that was home to a large number of Somali immigrants. When one considers the environment Trump and his supporters have engendered, is the United States so far away from painting "Juden" on a woman's doorstep and killing her pet? A blunt assessment says that we are not even at a distance from such behavior, but rather it is happening right now. There is a saying that "eternal vigilance is the price of freedom", and that vigilance must look towards political movements inside a nation consisting of those that would turn upon their fellow citizens. Trump's political movement is exactly that sort of movement.

In a certain sense, Trump is worse than the Nazis, since their ire was contained mostly to pursuing anti-Semitism, although they also persecuted homosexuals, Slavs, and the Romani. Trump's public persona has issued numerous anti-Semitic dog-whistle statements, such as his railing against "international bankers" and "the corrupt media", but he has cast a much wider net of hatred. Trump's primary focus has been on Muslim and Hispanic immigrants, famously calling for a border wall and "instant" deportation of all undocumented immigrants. He has also called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States, a proposal that is both frightening and almost certainly unConstitutional. One has to wonder exactly how far this proposal is intended to go - would a Muslim born in Norway be barred from entering the U.S.? For that matter, would a Muslim U.S. citizen who travels to Europe to visit Paris be barred from returning to the U.S.? How would customs officials determine that someone who wants to enter the U.S. is a Muslim other than demanding their religious affiliation, and how would they determine someone was lying? Would Muslims be required to carry identification that marked them as Muslims? Would non-Muslims have to carry such religious identification to prove they are not Muslim? Do we truly want to become a nation in which large numbers of residents must fear being stopped on the street and asked to produce their papers?

Even though Trump might be defeated in November, the problem of a nation that contains a noticeable number of citizens who are willing to vote for someone who espouses racism, sexism, and xenophobia is still there. I don't think that many Trump supporters actually fear the police state that his vision of the United States would produce, because they firmly believe that its terrors will never be pointed in their direction. Instead, they believe that the police state will be aimed at those they dislike: Muslims, Hispanics, Homosexuals, African-Americans, and Jews. They believe that their political enemies will be jailed, and that those who report news they don't like will be punished. But a police state is not something that can be contained in that way - to ferret out its enemies, all citizens must be placed under suspicion lest those enemies hide among the populace. A crusade to root out illegal immigrants will become a crusade that places all those who might possibly be identified as an immigrant under suspicion - even those who have been citizens for generations but "look" like immigrants. A crusade to perform "extreme vetting" on all Muslims entering the country will turn into a crusade to perform "extreme vetting" of all who enter, because that is the only way to ensure that one catches all of those Muslims one is after. In the name of security, Trump would transform the United States from the mostly free land that it has been through its history into a nightmare where people would fear the knock on the door followed by "papers please". And Trump is not alone in wanting to push this vision. Defeating Trump in the upcoming Presidential election is not the final step in defending the United States as a free nation, it is the first step.

Previous Musical Monday: If You Could See Her Through My Eyes by Joel Grey
Subsequent Musical Monday: Cabaret by Liza Minnelli

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