Monstrous Messages

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The Casa de Vampiros in Managua, Nicaragua stood in the heart of the second poorest country in Latin America during the reign of the brutal dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Blood was drawn there — the blood of poor Nicaraguans. Then the plasma was separated out and sent to the United States. Not for nothing, of course. The recipient paid for the donor’s plasma. Fifteen dollars was the going fee. Somoza got $10. The donor received $5.

That gave a professor of engineering an idea. The professor asked his students to design a pipeline to transport human blood from Nicaragua to the United States. The students began by discussing the optimal diameter for the pipe and methods for keeping the blood from coagulating. But the professor did not allow the discussion to continue for long before he asked why not one of them had objected to the question.

“This is a class in engineering not ethics,” one student replied.

José Ortega y Gasset would not have been surprised. In 1930 as the Nazis began their rise to power in Germany the Spanish philosopher published The Revolt of the Masses in which he wrote “your modern day specialist …is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter” because “in politics, in art, in social usages” and in other areas outside his field of expertise “he will adopt the attitude of primitive, ignorant man” and be capable of serving barbaric causes. Hence learned ignoramuses supported Adolph Hitler and Hideki Tojo and learned ignoramuses today serve the interests of populist autocrats the world over.

And today learned ignoramuses such as Harvard educated Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Duke University educated senior advisor Steven Miller are supporting the racist, xenophobic and nationalist policies of President Trump. So this Halloween while we watch our children confront fictional monsters of all kinds we should motivate them to prepare to contend with the real monsters they are likely to encounter later in life.  And that is precisely the goal of the human rights essay contests for high school students sponsored by the  Kemper Human Rights Education Foundation (

Seventy-five years ago Richard Kemper along with eleven million other allied soldiers was killed in World War II.  He and they were not just fighting to defend their countries.  They were also fighting to defeat fascism and create a just world order.  And thankfully as a result of their sacrifices fascism was defeated, the United Nations was created, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights documents specifying those things everyone should be entitled to were drafted, signed, and ratified. Those things are human rights and after World War II under the leadership of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt the effort to ensure their realization in our country and the world took off.

But from the time he took office on the promise to “bring back waterboarding and a helluva a lot worse than waterboarding” and build walls to prevent non-white immigrants from entering our country President Trump has been bent on turning the clock back to a time when blacks were segregated from whites, gays weren’t allowed to marry, most girls were not expected to grow up to be more than homemakers and secretaries and fascism was on the rise.   That is what Make America Great Again means to his most devout supporters in the U.S.  For them MAGA is a dog whistle for Make America White Again or MAWA.  Furthermore, for human rights activists and the demagogic autocrats around the world that oppose them, Trump’s message is more direct.  As he put it in his speech to the  74thsession of the UN General Assembly, it is:  “the future does not belong to globalists.”

Both messages, of course, are simply monstrous.