This week two men died, two very different men whose worldviews were inimical. Depending on your attention to current events and pop culture, you probably recognize one or the other. Some of you will undoubtedly know both of them. It is only on the obituary pages that their souls would ever share space.
The more famous of the two was Alex Trebek, who hosted “Jeopardy!” for a record-setting 37 years. I remember watching the first iteration of the show with emcee, Art Fleming, when I was 10 years old. I loved that game show. It was a place where being smart was considered a virtue. For an unathletic, “husky” boy, that possibility appealed to me from the beginning.
Alex Trebek was my adult guide to the shrine of knowledge. I admired him so much. He spoke so clearly, never fumbling with difficult words or names. Alex did his homework, and it showed. But more than that, he was the captain of the ship. He kept things going and did not do standup in the middle of a game. He would sympathetically wince when someone missed a Daily Double. He would grimace with slight disdain when someone gave a ridiculously wrong answer.
Jeopardy! was about facts – undisputable facts. And Alex had to hear the facts delivered in just the right way. If it wasn’t in the form of a question, you were wrong. If you botched a name, you were out. If you wagered all your money in Final Jeopardy, and lost, you went home with nothing besides a Jeopardy! boardgame.
The other man who died this week was Tom Metzger, the notorious former Ku Klux Klan leader who rose to prominence in the 1980s while promoting white separatism and stoking racial violence. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt told The Associated Press, “Throughout his life, Metzger engaged in a wide range of hateful activities from spreading anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric to launching vigilante border patrols as a California Klansman to recruiting skinheads to the white supremacist cause.”
Metzger’s mission, his raison d’etre, was to cultivate fear and hostility. He wanted a race war and longed to create a white Aryan nation. He took old antisemitic images and tropes and combined them with 20th century ignorance and prejudice.
Tom Metzger used false accusations, showed contempt for the truth, and dismissed the simple facts of a multi-ethnic nation. His philosophy resembled the statement, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. It thus becomes vitally important to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie…” Of course, those words were written by Josef Goebbels.
It is uncanny how Tom Metzger and his determination to cultivate racism in America seems to be prophetic, in a twisted and disturbing way. Attorney Elden Rosenthal said. “What we have unfortunately learned over the last several years is that there’s a whole lot of people who share his views. … Once it seemed fringy, now it seems a bit frightening.”
Alex Trebek and Tom Metzger died this past week. One man represented knowledge and wit, the other disorder and ignorance. One man ennobled others with a sense of fairness and insight. The other delighted in destroying truth and discarding facts for fear.
I will miss Alex Trebek and the way he embodied the pursuit of knowledge. It was always so reassuring to see him standing there so calmly in control. He made us sit up and pay attention. We wanted to get it right for Alex.
As for Tom Metzger, there is an old Jewish tradition. Whenever the name of a despicable human being is mentioned, one is to say, “Yimach shemo” the translation of which is, “May his name be blotted out.” It’s a fact: the world is a better place without Tom Metzger in it. Yimach shemo.