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The Plot Against America - And Me

It's just baseball, but I take these weekly communications fairly seriously. Over the course of seven seasons, regardless of whether I'm here in Chicago, California, in Seattle visiting grandkids, or in Northern Wisconsin enjoying the north woods, I have managed to string together enough information, facts, history and stories pertaining to our White Sox in order to entertain whoever chooses to read these words.

This week is different. The insidious, gnawing thoughts in the back of my mind as I write this, and as I tune into Sox games, stir an uneasiness which was foreign to me just seven days ago.

These feelings have little to do with baseball. Instead I've been asking myself, "Should I feel guilty if I become wrapped up watching a ballgame after a band of despicable people chant 'Jews will not replace us' half a continent away? How can I ignore what happened in Virginia in order to see if the White Sox can win a road game?"

The fact is I can't.

Being Jewish and having lived in parts of eight decades, I've encountered little anti-Semitism. There were a couple of incidents during college in Iowa, one over the phone and another face-to-face. Of course, I have no sense of what's been said behind my back, but I consider myself fortunate when it comes to others who hate me based on religion and ethnicity. Other people, especially people of color, can't make the same claim. Tell me I've lived a charmed life, and I wouldn't argue.

However, the video of what transpired in Charlottesville feels very personal. What could these people have against me, a 70-something guy who's basically never hurt anyone, pecking away at his computer, writing about baseball?

Up until now, whenever I heard news of vandals defacing a synagogue, or neo-Nazis spewing hate against Jews, I ground my teeth, more because of sadness than despair or fear. My family celebrates some holidays, but other than funerals and bar mitzvahs, I can't recall the last time I was in a synagogue.

Friends who are far more religious than I cite the rise of anti-Semitism and the threat we face from the deranged haters. To ignore these developments is folly, according to some of my friends who are Jewish. I have listened with more than a small dose of cynicism.

From my earliest memories and experiences as a child, a time separated 10 years from the Holocaust, I never thought I wasn't safe. It never occurred to me that anyone would hate me because of who I am. My parents shielded me from ideas that my Jewishness was a liability. Assimilation was their game, complete with a Christmas tree.

I also believed that our country's leaders were symbols of good and righteousness. Ike was a war hero who helped defeat the Nazis. In my young mind, he stood for justice, virtue and honor. I never considered that less fortunate people might look at everyday life from a very different vantage point. If anyone asked, I was sure that good would triumph over evil.

I stopped being that boy long ago, but the past week has pushed me to a place I can't recall ever having been. Unless you've been in a coma, you know that we were told that there were some "very fine people" in Charlottesville marching with the crowd that spewed so much hatred against Jews and other minorities. In my life experience, I always felt that the Leader of the Free World and lots of other people in power positions would stand up for me.

I've read Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, which I failed to take seriously. His admonition about hate and fascism was fiction. It couldn't happen to me or anyone I know. My beliefs haven't totally vanished, but they certainly have been shaken.

A few weeks ago a friend e-mailed me a link to a video of George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch for Game 3 of the 2001 World Series. The country was seven weeks removed from the horror of watching the Twin Towers collapse, killing almost 3,000 innocent people.

I may not be a W. fan, but I got chills hearing the thunderous welcome at Yankee Stadium for the president as he strode out of the home team dugout and walked confidently to the mound. After throwing a perfect strike, the baritone reverberations of legendary Yankee PA announcer Bob Sheppard, were clear. "Thank you, Mr. President," and the chants of "USA! USA!" poured down from every corner of the ballpark.

Of course, that particular saga which began almost 16 years ago appears never-ending, but the juxtaposition of that specific moment in New York and the aftermath of Charlottesville is unsettling. Regardless of what one might think of Bush's subsequent decisions, he was vocal about hate and violence directed against Muslims for the acts of a cadre of zealots.

Can you imagine if our current leader was in charge then?

Over lunch last week with my pal Tom, we talked about growing up Jewish and never having to be seriously concerned about prejudice and hate directed against us. And he said that Trump's time is limited.

I'm not so sure. Few people thought a black man would ever be president, let alone be elected for two terms. And who took the reality TV huckster seriously when he first announced his candidacy? I question the assumption that he won't finish four years in the White House. The fact that approximately 63 million people voted for him speaks volumes. The White Sox won't draw that many people in the next quarter-century.

CNN and MSNBC keep up their redundant drill of reporting the historically low approval figures for a man who daily degrades critics and foes along with those who should be his allies. Well, guess what? Thirty-something percent still represents millions of folks who vote, and they're not going away.

Furthermore, his ratings, while historically low, have been consistent. You might assume that a man who lies, boasts about abusing women, and hypes his successes where there are none would have approval ratings in the single digits. That isn't the case.

Do we have seven-and-a-half more years of this degenerative lunacy in store for us? Can a leader who receives the plaudits from the former head of the KKK - an avowed anti-Semite, white nationalist, Holocaust denier - remain in power until 2025? These are the piercing questions roiling in my brain. I'm not paralyzed, but I am compromised. If this is what terrorism looks like, then I'm affected.

At the same time, I understand that black and brown people have lived with these realities all their lives. Immigrants have far more to worry about than the old Jew you're reading. I have it lots better than most.

However, I care about what happens when I'm gone. Not just for my grandchildren but for all of us. And, by the way, watching a ballgame or going to the park used to be more enjoyable until very recently. I miss those days.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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