History News Network - Front Page History News Network - Front Page articles brought to you by History News Network. Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://hnn.us/site/feed Pardon Me?: The History of the Washington Territorial Government and the Self-Pardon

Isaac Stevens served as the Territorial Governor of Washington from 1853 to 1857

 

 

Our disgraced President, knowing that his days in office are numbered and that he has committed serious crimes, has floated the idea of pardoning himself. Reports in the media suggest that no president has ever done this, and no court has ruled on it. The first is accurate. The second is not.

 

The story begins March 11, 1856, in Washington Territory. Prior to statehood, Washington Territory was run like a personal fiefdom by Governor Isaac I. Stevens, a gruff man described by biographer Kent Richards as a “diminutive Napoleon,” whose uncompromising treaty terms had stirred up an Indian War. After their land was stolen by the Medicine Creek Treaty of Christmas day, 1854, combined Native forces under the leadership of Chief Leschi of the Nisquallies frequently clashed with soldiers of the Washington Territorial Volunteers, Stevens’ private and poorly-disciplined army. Leschi’s people proved themselves impossible to capture all through the winter of 1855-56, frustrating Governor Stevens and leading to popular discontent with the war.

 

What Stevens needed was a scapegoat. He found it in the so-called “Muck Creek traitors” – British and French former Hudson’s Bay Company employees who had settled on the outskirts of “civilized” (i.e., pacified) areas, often intermarried with Native women. Stevens declared without evidence that the only way Leschi’s people could have survived the winter was because these “half-breed traitors” had been passing food and arms to them – ignoring the fact that Leschi’s people had survived the Pacific Northwest winter in their upland villages since time immemorial. He ordered his Territorial Volunteers to arrest the traitors. Seven men – Sandy Smith, John McLeod, Charles Wren, Henry Smith, John McField, Henry Murray and Peter Wilson – were seized by his soldiers, as Richards described.

 

The problem for Stevens was that Washington Territory was subject to Federal law enforced by Federal judges. Frank Clark and William Wallace, two lawyers who knew a violation of civil liberty when they saw one, traveled to Whidbey’s Island to the home of Federal Judge Francis Chenoweth and obtained from him a writ of habeas corpus. This is one of the most ancient writs in British and American law, by which the Court commands that anyone holding a prisoner must “produce the body” in court to answer to the legality of the imprisonment.

 

Stevens knew that he didn’t have evidence of wrongdoing that would stand up in court.  He countered the Court’s writ on April 3, 1856, by declaring martial law in Pierce County under the pretext of an active state of war. This declaration suspended habeas corpus, foreshadowing Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War, which were found by the US Supreme Court to be unconstitutional. (Ex Parte Milligan, 71 US 2 (1866)).

 

On May 7, 1856, Chief Federal Judge Edward Lander convened court in Steilacoom, Washington Territory, to hear arguments on the writ of habeas corpus. Expecting trouble, the Pierce County Sheriff gathered a posse of armed citizens to protect the court. In historian Ezra Meeker’s accounting, Stevens told Major Benjamin F. Shaw, an officer in his Territorial Volunteers, that “martial law must be enforced.” Shaw’s men outnumbered and outgunned the posse, who were forced to back down in order to avoid bloodshed. Shaw announced that by the authority of the Governor he was shutting down the court, and arresting Judge Lander and the court clerk for disobedience to the Governor’s declaration of martial law.

 

At this point Stevens had a hot potato in hand – an actual Federal Judge, arrested by Governor’s executive order while attempting to do his duty to enforce the United States Constitution! Stevens cut a deal with the judge, extracting a promise that he would not open court in violation of martial law if Stevens let him go. The wily Judge Lander agreed. But on May 12, 1856, Judge Lander opened another session of court in Olympia, Washington Territory – which was located in Thurston County, not Pierce County, and was therefore not under martial law. After hearing arguments, on the next day he granted the writ of habeas corpus.

 

Governor Stevens responded by extending his declaration of martial law to Thurston County and directing his volunteers to refuse to comply with the writ. On May 14, Judge Lander issued an order summoning Governor Stevens himself into court to explain the defiance of the Court’s prior orders. This infuriated the Governor, who ordered Judge Lander’s arrest once again. The Territorial Volunteers literally smashed in the door to the courthouse, and Judge Lander was seized and held.

 

The question now for the lawyers opposing Stevens was, as Richards wrote, “simply whether a public servant shall be allowed to over-ride all law, even the highest; to usurp, at his sole and egotistical discretion, absolute power over life and liberty ….” Judge Chenoweth rushed down from Whidbey’s Island to Steilacoom where, on May 24, 1856, he opened one of the most dangerous court hearings in American history. Outside the building, an armed civilian posse defending the power of the court faced down armed Territorial Volunteers under the command of Lieutenant Samuel Curtis, who had orders from the Governor to enforce martial law. At the last minute, US Army Colonel Silas B. Casey intervened and persuaded Curtis to stand down.

 

Colonel Casey’s eleventh-hour heroics avoided a bloody confrontation that could even have resulted in the murder of a Federal Judge. Freshly inked writs of habeas corpus for release of the so-called traitors and for release of Judge Lander were then served on Major Shaw, who refused to comply. Judge Chenoweth told the volunteers that, while ordinarily they were right to obey their orders, obedience to unlawful orders was itself unlawful – thus presaging the Nuremburg Principle by ninety years.

 

Intense political pressure forced Stevens to back down. On May 25, he rescinded martial law and released Judge Lander. The case against the so-called “Muck Creek traitors” was heard by a military commission and dismissed for lack of evidence. Now the attention of the law turned to Governor Stevens himself.

 

Chief Judge Lander ordered Governor Stevens into court to answer charges of contempt of court, a series of events Meeker has described. Stevens refused to appear, and he was adjudged in contempt and fined $50.00. On July 10, 1856, Stevens responded as follows:

 

I, Isaac I. Stevens, Governor of the Territory of Washington, by the authority vested in me as Governor by the President of the United States, and in order that Isaac I. Stevens may continue in the uninterrupted discharge of his Constitutional duties as Chief Executive of the aforesaid Territory, do hereby PARDON the said Isaac I. Stevens, defendant, from any and all judgments and/or executions, and all proceedings for the enforcement and collection of fines and costs, in connection with a certain contempt proceeding in the United States Court for the Third District of Washington.

            By Order of the Governor, …

            /s/ Isaac I. Stevens,

            Governor, Washington Territory   

 

Judge Lander refused to be swayed by this so-called pardon. While we have no record of his exact reasoning, we know that after reviewing it Judge Lander ordered the immediate arrest of the Governor. At that point, friends of the Governor paid the fine, thus avoiding the arrest. But the principle was established: Executive self-pardon was not worth more than the paper on which it was written.

 

While the pardon language in the Constitution is not specific on the point, there is a fundamental rule in American law that a person cannot serve as a judge in their own case, one cited by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary C. Lawton in rejecting the idea that President Richard Nixon could pardon himself for crimes committed in the Watergate affair. Breach of this necessary and obvious rule would result in placing the Chief Executive above the rule of law. If the President could execute an enforceable self-pardon, then the President could do literally anything – shoot someone on Fifth Avenue as Trump once speculated, or incite an effort to overthrow the lawful government of the United States, as Trump apparently did on January 6, 2021 – and be immune from all prosecution. The wisdom of Judge Lander is that such a sham pardon cannot be allowed to subvert justice under the rule of law.

 

Sources

Mary C. Lawton, Acting Asst. Attorney General, Memorandum re: Presidential or Legislative Pardon of the President (August 5, 1974) (downloadable from www.justice.gov) (Lawton).

Kent D. Richards, Isaac I. Stevens: Young Man in a Hurry (1979 Brigham Young Univ. Press) (Richards).

Ezra Meeker, The Tragedy of Leschi (1980 Historical Society of Seattle and King County) (Meeker).

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178797 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178797 0
Biden Isn't the First President to Have to Change Tracks en Route to Inauguration

Lincoln arrives in Washington, 1861

 

 

News has emerged that President-elect Biden will no longer be taking Amtrak to the presidential inauguration due to security fears. This sad state of affairs is yet more evidence for Mark Twain’s axiom, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” In 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln was forced to change his itinerary as he took the train from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration.

 

The details of the plot to assassinate Lincoln on his journey emerged in the memoirs of one of the most famous spies of the Civil War, Allan Pinkerton. Pinkerton was the founder of the detective agency that still bears his name and gave detectives the popular name “private eye,” due to the company’s logo of a single eye with the slogan “We Never Sleep.” Coincidentally, Pinkerton and his detective agency came to prominence in the 1850s by solving train robberies.

 

The Illinois Central Railroad was one of railroad companies that employed Pinkerton. It was while working for the Illinois Central Railroad that Pinkerton cultivated his friendship with (future Union General) George B. McClellan, who worked for the company as an engineer before becoming its vice president. Furthermore, the Illinois Central Railroad also routinely retained the services of a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. It was perhaps preordained then that Pinkerton would be summoned to ensure the safety of President-elect Lincoln on his train ride to the inauguration.

 

In 1861, the railroad was the only reasonable means of conveyance to take the President-elect to Washington, D.C. The journey for Lincoln would be a perilous one. The presidential election of 1860 had torn the country apart. Lincoln would have to travel through territory harboring potentially violent secessionists. Pinkerton relates that Samuel Felton, the president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, urgently requested his presence in Philadelphia. Felton had heard rumors that secessionists planned to destroy the ferries that carried trains across the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace or to target other railroad bridges along the President-elect’s potential route.

 

Pinkerton writes, “At the city of Wilmington, in Delaware, I found evidence of great political excitement,” although no indication of a violent plot in the city. Incidentally, President-elect Biden had hoped to begin the journey to his inauguration from Wilmington before security concerns derailed his plan. Returning to Pinkerton, the detective noticed that hostility towards President-elect Lincoln grew the closer he got to Baltimore. It was there that Pinkerton believed he found evidence of a plot against Lincoln’s life.

 

To uncover the conspiracy and protect the President-elect, Pinkerton assembled a team of agents. Among the team were two women, Kate Warne and Carrie Lawton (aka Hattie Lawton or Lewis). Pinkerton praised their intelligence work, calling Warne “eminently fitted for this task.” Through his agents, including Warne, Pinkerton unraveled the plan. The secessionists had conspirators posted in all the cities along the President-elect’s route to report any changes to his itinerary. They communicated with a cipher to avoid detection. The plan was to kill Lincoln at the Calvert Street Station in Baltimore. A crowd would cause a disturbance during which the assassin would strike. According to Pinkerton, even “policemen were in active sympathy with the movement.” Pinkerton returned to Philadelphia and discussed the plot with Felton ahead of Lincoln’s arrival the next day. When Lincoln arrived, Pinkerton revealed everything to the President-elect, and, as Pinkerton writes, “a shade of sadness fell upon his face.”

 

In response to the plot, Lincoln’s inner circle decided to change his itinerary and cut the telegraph lines when Lincoln traveled to Harrisburg to prevent the conspirators from communicating. Special trains would take Lincoln first from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and then from Philadelphia through Baltimore and onto Washington, D.C. Kate Warne procured half of a sleeping car that would be curtained off from the rest, so no one would know Lincoln was on the Philadelphia train. Lincoln successfully reached Washington, D.C., and Pinkerton records that “a general sentiment of rage and disappointment pervaded the entire circle of conspirators.” Pinkerton concludes the account, exclaiming “I had informed Mr. Lincoln in Philadelphia that I would answer with my life for his safe arrival in Washington, and I had redeemed my pledge.”

 

The so-called Baltimore Plot is the subject of historical dispute. Pinkerton did not always provide the most reliable intelligence: he joined his friend General George McClellan in grossly overestimating the number of Confederate troops at Antietam. Moreover, Pinkerton’s intelligence work during the war took on a more dangerous, undemocratic character when he actually spied on Lincoln on behalf of McClellan. Pinkerton believed McClellan was the only general who could really defend the Union and that McClellan’s political enemies were pressing Lincoln to dismiss him. He wrote his memoir to help rehabilitate his and McClellan’s image following the war. The memoir also helped advertise the Pinkerton Detective Agency. It is entirely likely that the Baltimore Plot is an embellishment, if not an entire fabrication, of historical events.

 

The chaos and unrest of the past few weeks—indeed years—have created a new window for American historians to enter civic debate. The Civil War has become a popular, but ominous, historical analogy. Unfortunately, the decision to cancel President-elect Biden’s journey by rail from Wilmington to Washington, D.C. cuts a little too close to a moment from that tragic period of American history. Like Lincoln, President-elect Biden will assume the presidency of a bitterly divided nation. Hopefully, the historical analogies stop there. Americans everywhere wish President-elect Biden a safe journey to the capital.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178798 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178798 0
The Politics of an Inauguration Unlike Any Other

 

 

The people have spoken, and on January 20, the nation will swear in its 46th President. Despite repeated and unfounded allegations of election fraud. Despite a series of lawsuits thrown out of court. Despite the refusal of many Republicans in the House and Senate to verify the Electoral College votes. And despite the acrimonious second impeachment of Donald Trump for his role in inciting a mob to invade the Capitol building and delay the constitutionally required duty of Congress to certify the election results. In the takeover, a crowd of Trump supporters – many of them armed – stormed the Capitol, broke through barriers, scaled the walls, broke in, destroyed property, and marched around the Capitol shouting “Hang Mike Pence.” Five people died in the melee, one of whom was a police officer.  It is not clear how the nation can move ahead, but if it can, Joe Biden’s inauguration will be the first step in that process. Both security concerns and the threat of COVID will make this inauguration different from all others, but there will be continuities in the ritual of the transfer of power.

The first inauguration took place at the Federal Hall in New York City, then the temporary capital of the nation, on April 30, 1789. The following two inaugurations were held in Philadelphia in 1793 and 1797. From 1793 to 1933, all were held on March 4. Why March 4? Because that was the day the first United States government under the Constitution began operations. But the November to March gap between election and inauguration proved too long, and starting in 1937 the inauguration date was moved to January 20 as a result of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Perhaps surprisingly, inauguration day is not a national holiday. Just after the election, the victorious presidential candidate names a Presidential Inaugural Committee, a legal entity that is responsible for fundraising and planning the events of inauguration day.

Since 1937, the inauguration has been held at noon on January 20. The three exceptions were when January 20 fell on a Sunday. In those cases, the oath was taken privately on January 20, but the public inauguration ceremony was held on Monday. Oath taking is the only constitutionally mandated act (Article II, Section One, Clause 8). The rest of the ceremony – parades and balls - has evolved over time. Though not constitutionally required, the Chief Justice traditionally administers the oath to the president-elect.

Few of the inaugurations were memorable. We remember George Washington’s because it was the first; Andrew Jackson’s because of the raucous post-ceremonial party at the White House; and William Henry Harrison’s because he delivered his address in a driving rainstorm, caught pneumonia, and died a month later.

 

Not all transitions of power went smoothly. In the early Republic, with the stakes high and emotions even higher, civility gave way to anger when the early party system was forming around the Federalists and the Republicans. John Adams, a Federalist and our second president, lost in the election of 1800 to his former friend Thomas Jefferson. The election got quite personal, and Adams became the first president to refuse to attend his successor’s inauguration. Adams’s son, John Quincy Adams, was part of another fierce rivalry which began in 1824 when Adams “stole” the election from Andrew Jackson, the result of a “corrupt bargain” that secured the presidency through the House of Representatives. Four years later Jackson got his revenge, defeating Adams in the 1828 election, and JQA took a pass on Jackson’s inauguration. The third president to pass on an inauguration was Andrew Johnson, who refused to attend Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration. All three cases were a function of deep seated party rivalry and contentious politics that divided the parties and the people. No modern president has bailed on the inauguration of his successor. Until this year. In what might be the closest thing he will make to a concession, Donald Trump has acknowledged that Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20, but pledged to skip it.

Inaugural addresses are what rhetoricians call “epidictic speech”. As such, they are formal and ceremonial, evoking symbols of nationhood and appealing to patriotic or group solidarity. There were only a few memorable inaugural addresses. George Washington gave the shortest, only 135 words. FDR’s fourth address in 1945 towards the end of World War II lasted only six minutes. William Henry Harrison, of pneumonia fame, gave the longest address, lasting nearly two hours, composed of over 9000 words. Only a few speeches were of historical significance or known for their soaring rhetoric. Both of Lincoln’s addresses were memorable and important, none more so than his second address. FDR reminded a nation devastated by an economic depression that it had nothing to fear “but fear itself”. John Kennedy spoke of the dreams and aspirations of a nation at the peak of its powers, imagination, and optimism. And we remember Donald J. Trump’s inaugural address, dubbed “the carnage speech,” because it was so dark and menacing, though few would have guessed then at the carnage unleashed by Trump’s supporters on the very site four years later.

Some inaugurations were modest, others fit for a King. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 inauguration was, up to that time, the most expensive ceremony ever. The conspicuous display of consumption and financial exhibitionism contrasts nicely with Thomas Jefferson’s where, after the ceremony, he walked back to his boarding house where he had to wait in line for his supper. President Obama’s inauguration was notable in part because of the kerfuffle caused eight years later by Donald Trump who kept insisting that his inauguration was bigger than Obama’s. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony will take place before a closed and empty National Mall in response to the threat of further right-wing violence.

Since 1789, the oath of office has been taken at 58 scheduled public inaugurations. More than mere oath taking, inaugurations are celebrations of national hope and renewal, of opportunity and the promise of change. The oath itself is a mere 35 words: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” George Washington added the “so help me God,” and subsequent presidents have maintained that tradition. Franklin Pierce, in 1893, was, for religious reasons, the only President to “affirm” rather than swear to his oath. And Pierce’s vice president, Rufus King, stands alone as the only person to take the oath of office abroad. King was in Havana where he took ill and was unable to travel to Washington D. C. so he received special permission from Congress to take his oath in Cuba. He died six weeks later.

Every president except John Quincy Adams placed his hand on a bible when taking the oath (usually the bible is open to a page with a verse of special significance to the new President). Adams used a volume on constitutional law that Chief Justice John Marshall had given him. Marshall, by the way, swore in more presidents (nine) than any other Chief Justice. And while it is customary for the Chief Justice to administer the oath, there have been several exceptions. These usually occurred when a new president had to be sworn in quickly, as Lyndon Johnson was after the assassination of John Kennedy. After Warren G. Harding’s death, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by his father, a judge. Vice president Gerald Ford took the oath in the East Room of the White House shortly after Richard Nixon’s resignation over the Watergate scandal, preferring a quiet ceremony in the aftermath of the constitutional crisis. Likewise, Biden will swear his oath while his predecessor is awaiting a Senate impeachment trial, judged by the House as having failed in that faithful execution of the office.

Parades down Pennsylvania Avenue evolved slowly. The first full-fledged parade was held in 1829 in celebration of Andrew Jackson’s victory. This year, streets around the Capitol are closed and secured by the National Guard. Inaugural balls also evolved slowly. Today, there are six or seven different balls, with clear gradations from “people’s balls” to high roller events. Trust me, the food at the high roller balls is far superior. So is the entertainment. The President and First Lady try to briefly attend several of the balls, and the “first dance” is highly anticipated by all attendees. This year, the round of balls and parties will be replaced by a program of virtual entertainments, a pointed statement that this administration will take a different approach to the COVID-19 pandemic after a number of superspreader events hosted by and in the White House. Perhaps, too, the prospect of high roller events strikes the Biden transition team as unwelcome as Americans fight the economic devastation of COVID-19.

Presidential inaugurations can be a time of national pride and unity. After an often highly charged partisan campaign, it is useful to try to make the inauguration into a “bring us together” event. Thomas Jefferson used the occasion to try to bridge the highly volatile partisan divide from the election of 1800. By contrast, Donald J. Trump used the inauguration to pour salt into the wounds of his opponents and call for a wholesale purging of the old elite (most of which was seated right behind him as he delivered his incendiary address).

Until this year, pomp and pageantry have made inaugurations part celebration of new beginnings and part announcement of what is to come. Until this year, presidential inaugurations have also celebrated the transition of power in peace and tranquility, as a result of the people’s votes, not the force of arms. It is quite remarkable really. It is a tribute to the strength of our political democracy as well as the character of the American people, and it vividly answers the vexing question posed by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper Number 1: “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” This year, the National Guard will defend the Capitol and the new president against potential attack by right-wing terrorists, as Hamilton’s question is more vexed, and the answer less certain, than ever before.

President-elect Joe Biden would never have chosen, nor probably imagined, the circumstances of his inauguration. Nevertheless, he will have his best chance to begin the work he repeatedly pledged to do if elected: heal the wounds and bring our country together. In recent years, our house divided against itself has responded with the seeming worst we have to offer. In this young year, the forces of resentment and reaction have done worse yet. Perhaps it is time to offer our best, to our country and to each other, and perhaps bring to a close, this partisan as well as medical pandemic from which we suffer.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178795 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178795 0
The History of Skipping a Successor's Inauguration

Andrew Jackson is inaugurated in 1829. John Quincy Adams didn't see it.

 

 

Donald Trump’s decision to skip Joe Biden’s inauguration harkens back to the early nineteenth century when, on four occasions, presidential inaugurations went ahead without the sitting president. The circumstances seem eerily similar to 2021.

John Adams set a precedent in 1801. On the morning of Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration, he vacated the White House. To avoid bumping into the next president he fled the city at 4 a.m. in the dark of night. Historians agree that the election of 1800 prompted Adams to keep away. The election took American politics to a new low as Jefferson’s and Adams’s surrogates bitterly smeared the founders and their rival parties. Jefferson’s victory signaled the public dissatisfaction with Adams’s tenure and began the permanent decline of the Federalist Party. But Adams left a lasting impact with the appointment and confirmation of John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court less than a month before his departure. Marshall became one of the most consequential decisions Adams made and maintained a degree of balance in the early Republic.

The next president to boycott the inauguration of a successor was Adams’s son John Quincy. Twenty-eight years later after his father bailed on Jefferson’s inauguration, John Quincy stayed away from Andrew Jackson’s big day. He had lost re-election in a campaign that rivaled his father’s against Jefferson. John Quincy spent the duration of his lame duck transition sulking in the White House and refused to communicate with the incoming administration. Jackson was no better. When John Quincy offered to leave the White House early, Jackson ignored the letter. Like his father, John Quincy also tried to make a late appointment to the Supreme Court, but failed when the Senate refused to seat his nominee. On his last night John Quincy mounted a horse and rode out of the city.

The Adamses had created a tradition of sorts and the next president to lose re-election followed their lead. Martin Van Buren lost the 1840 election in a landslide and would dodge his successor William Henry Harrison’s inauguration. Indeed, Van Buren did not get an invitation, so it would seem the custom of losing presidents not attending was recognized by incoming and outgoing presidents alike. In an uncanny parallel, Van Buren also made a late appointment to the Supreme Court. In his last week in office, he managed to get Justice Peter V. Daniel a seat on the bench. Van Buren moved into temporary accommodation in Washington before returning to New York shortly thereafter.

The experience of the Adamses and Van Buren should sound familiar. Donald Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett shortly before the 2020 election and had attempted to thwart the smooth transition of power by refusing to communicate with Biden’s team. But perhaps the greatest historical analogy is the disgraced presidency of Andrew Johnson. Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Vice President Johnson assumed the presidency. The former slave-holder from Tennessee joined Lincoln’s ticket for geographical balance and to attract voters in border states, but Lincoln’s contemporaries viewed the southerner as a political liability. Their worries came to pass when President Johnson advocated leniency toward former Confederates and stifled Republican efforts to reconstruct the Union. In 1867, Congress impeached Johnson for breaching federal laws designed to restrict his power. Although the Senate narrowly acquitted Johnson of eleven counts, he became the first president to be impeached. The Democratic Party refused to nominate Johnson in the 1868 election and former Union General Ulysses S. Grant won the presidency. Humiliated by impeachment and without support from his own party, Johnson refused to attend the inauguration of Grant. 

The apocryphal maxim that “history does not repeat, but it rhymes” has never seemed so apt. It’s also sounds a worrying tocsin because the political strife of the early nineteenth century led directly to the nation’s bloody Civil War. At the outset of Donald Trump’s presidency, I told a public audience that the 45th president was not the most divisive president the United States had elected. One of its greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln held that repute because his inauguration sparked the exodus of southern states from the Union. Yet as the days of Trump’s administration wane, and the attack on the Capitol can be fully digested, the fear of further upheavals, coup attempts, convulsions, and violence jeopardize the peaceful transition of power. What’s worse, it sets the United States back some one-hundred years in its political development to a time when division was the norm and harmony unusual.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178794 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178794 0
The Free Press and Democracy in a "Murder the Media" Age

 

 

The ugly message “Murder the media,” etched into a door of the Capitol by an angry mob of violent Trump supporters January 6, reflects the deep lack of trust in American journalism stoked by a demagogic President and his enablers over the last five years.

 

Two new media efforts offer contrasting visions about how best to solve the problem. Should journalists place objectivity at the core of their work by only reciting facts about what happened and how things work? Or should journalism more purposely foster a healthy democracy?

 

Punchbowl, the political news start-up founded by three former Politico staff writers including Capitol Hill correspondent Jake Sherman, aims to cover Congress by garnering scoops and explaining how power operates.  It’s just-the-facts-please, no-taking-sides approach is betting that there’s an audience hungry for information that explains politics as a profession.

 

In the other camp, veteran journalists Charlie Sennott and Steven Waldman have dedicated their new enterprise – Report for America – to “saving journalism” by emphasizing local news and issues. Their take is that the collapse in local journalism, underscored by the 2,100 newspapers that have closed since 2004 and the 200 counties in America with no newspaper at all, is a real threat to democracy.

 

History tells us that enticing young journalists to rebuild journalism at the grass-roots level with the goal of strengthening democracy is the key to combatting the conspiracy driven falsehoods that have permeated American media in the Trump era and deeply harmed the country’s democratic institutions. The kind of journalism that helped spark the birth of the nation, abolish slavery, create investigative journalism, eradicate McCarthyism, publish the Pentagon Papers, uncover Watergate and emphasize the need for civil rights was based on facts and driven by a moral purpose to create a stronger, fairer and freer society.

 

It’s hard to imagine an American Revolution taking place without Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, which stood against monarchy in favor of creating a new social order based on the power of the people’s voice. “The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth,” Paine wrote. “Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be affected even to the end of time.”

 

The editors of Freedom’s Journal, the first black-owned newspaper in the U.S., knew that to counter racist and disparaging portrayals of black people in white owned and operated newspapers, they needed to fill their pages with stories about the intellectual and cultural achievements of their race. “We wish to plead our own cause,” wrote founding editors Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm in the first issue on March 16, 1827. “Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentations in things which concern us deeply.”

 

Between the Civil War and the turn of the 20th Century, muckrakers – some of the brightest literary minds at the time – took to the pages of magazines like The Atlantic, North American Review, The Nation and Harper’s – to investigate corruption and greed. Charles Francis Adams, son of President John Quincy Adams, and grandson of John Adams, revealed corrupt corporate tactics in the North American Review, the oldest literary magazine in the U.S., founded in 1815. “The system of corporate life, and corporate power, as applied to industrial development, is yet in its infancy,” Adams wrote in his July 1869 article “A Chapter of Erie.” “It tends always to development – always to consolidation, – it is ever grasping new powers, or insidiously exercising covert influence.”

 

When U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin started investigations to uncover alleged Communist infiltration in America during the 1950s, it was broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow’s March 1954 television editorial on the CBS program See It Now which helped stop the witch hunt. After accusing McCarthy of persecuting people without facts, Murrow said, “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”

 

Journalists who faced threats of violence as they covered the Civil Rights Movement helped expose the cruelties black people faced in the South. On assignment for a story about the attempted enrollment of a black student at the University of Mississippi in 1962, CBS correspondent Dan Rather reported seeing a motel sign that said, “No dogs, Niggers or reporters allowed.” When broadcast reporters turned on the camera lights to film the protests, bullets were fired to knock out the lights.

 

Publication of the Pentagon Papers revealed what really happened during the Vietnam War. Watergate demonstrated the abuse of power happening in the highest political office in the land. Would Watergate have ended with President Richard Nixon’s resignation if Republicans controlled the Senate at the time? It’s a good question, especially in light of  Republican Senate inaction during President Trump’s impeachment trial, and failure so far to hold Trump accountable for the attack on the Capitol. But that shouldn’t belittle the relentless pursuit of the truth by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein among others.

 

To be sure, journalists had their low moments. Working against a woman’s right to vote and failing to stand up to the vitriolic anti-Semitism of Father Charles Coughlin, the “Radio Priest,” come to mind. But we also know that journalism is at its best when it puts principle before profit. Acting like stenographers who only dictate the facts according to an objective standard will not be enough to help the country withstand the attacks on democratic institutions that Americans have witnessed over the last four years.

 

President Trump incited a mob of his supporters to violently storm the Capitol to stop Congressional certification of President-elect Joseph Biden’s victory. He used lies and propaganda to convince that mob not to trust what government officials, judges and respected journalists working for credible media outlets reported about the lack of evidence to support his claim of voter fraud. The disturbing images of the angry mob beating a Capitol Hill police officer to death, destroying government and media property alike, and threatening violence against legislators, their staff and journalists will not be easily forgotten.

Restoring trust in journalism is a necessary step to rebuilding our fractured democracy. It requires a deep understanding of the historical role the media has played in fostering life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in America. Demagogues will always exist. When they gain power, a free press is one of the first institutions to come under attack, as happened with Trump.

 

To build a more perfect union, journalists can’t solely be objective. They must take a side by standing for democracy and against authoritarianism.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178792 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178792 0
The Great Evasion

Soviet-era SS-18 ICBM Test

 

 

Two related events—the 75th anniversary of the January 24, 1946 UN General Assembly Resolution 1 (which established a commission to plan for the abolition of nuclear weapons) and the January 22, 2021 entry into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (designed to finally implement that goal)—should be a cause for worldwide celebration. 

In fact, however, they are a cause for shame.  The nine nuclear powers have refused to sign the treaty and, instead, today continue to engage in a nuclear arms race and to threaten nuclear war—a war capable of destroying virtually all life on earth.

A similarly reckless pattern characterized the nuclear arms race that emerged out of World War II.  But an upsurge of popular protest and wise diplomacy led to nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties, as well as unilateral actions, that dramatically reduced nuclear arsenals.  It also made nuclear war increasingly unthinkable.

Unfortunately, however, as the nuclear danger receded, the nuclear disarmament campaign ebbed.  As a result, government officials, no longer constrained by popular pressure, began to revert to their traditional ways, based on the assumption that nuclear weapons promoted national “strength.”  India and Pakistan became nuclear powers.  North Korea developed nuclear weapons.  In the United States, the administration of George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty and pressed hard to begin building “mini-nukes.” 

Ascending to the presidency, Barack Obama made a dramatic attempt to rally the planet behind the goal of building a nuclear-free world.  But neither Republican nor Russian leaders liked the idea, and the best he could deliver was the last of the major nuclear disarmament agreements, the New START Treaty.  And even that came at a heavy price—an agreement with Senate Republicans, whose support was necessary for treaty ratification, to back a major U.S. nuclear weapons “modernization” program.

After Donald Trump entered the White House, nuclear arms control and disarmament were no longer on the agenda—for the United States or for the world.  Trump not only failed to generate any new international constraints on nuclear weapons, but withdrew the United States from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Iran nuclear agreement, and the Open Skies Treaty and allowed the New START Treaty to lapse without renewal.  Nor did the other nuclear powers show much interest in retaining these agreements.  Indeed, the Russian government, after a brief, perfunctory protest at Trump’s destruction of the INF Treaty, which it had long privately deplored, immediately ordered the development of the once-prohibited missiles.  The Chinese government said that, although it favored maintaining the treaty for the United States and Russia, it would not accept treaty limits on its own weapons.

Meanwhile, all nine nuclear powers, instead of reducing the existential danger to the world from their possession of 13,400 nuclear weapons (91 percent of which are held by Russia and the United States), are busily “modernizing” their nuclear forces and planning to retain them into the indefinite future.  In December 2019, the Russian government announced the deployment of the world’s first hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles, which President Vladimir Putin boasted could bypass missile defense systems and hit almost any point on the planet.  Indeed, the Russian president touted several new Russian nuclear weapons systems as ahead of their time. “Our equipment must be better than the world’s best if we want to come out as the winners,” he explained

Trump, always determined to emerge a “winner,” had publicly stated in December 2016:  “Let it be an arms race.  We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”  Consequently, expanding the earlier U.S. nuclear “modernization” plan to a $2 trillion extravaganza, he set the course for the upgrading of older U.S. nuclear weapons and the development and deployment of a vast array of new ones.  These include the development of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (at a cost of $264 billion) and the production and deployment of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead that will make starting a nuclear war easier.

The new nuclear weapons are designed to not only win the arms race, but to intimidate other nations and even “win” a nuclear war.  Early in his administration, Trump publicly threatened to obliterate both North Korea and Iran through a nuclear onslaught.  Similarly, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has repeatedly threatened a nuclear attack upon the United States.  Furthermore, the U.S. government has been engaging recently in a game of “nuclear chicken” with China and Russia, dispatching fleets of nuclear bombers and nuclear warships dangerously close to their borders.  Such provocative action is in line with the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which expanded possibilities for displays of nuclear “resolve” and the first use of nuclear weapons.  Subsequently, the Russian government also lowered its threshold for initiating a nuclear war.  

The incoming Biden administration has the opportunity and, apparently, the inclination to challenge this irresponsible behavior.  As a long-time supporter of nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements—as well as a sharp critic of the Trump administration’s nuclear policies during the 2020 presidential campaign—the new president will probably advance measures dealing with nuclear issues that differ significantly from those of his predecessor.  Although his ability to secure U.S. ratification of new treaties will be severely limited by Senate Republicans, he can (and probably will) use executive action to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement, re-sign the Open Skies Treaty, block the U.S. production and deployment of particularly destabilizing nuclear weapons, and reduce the budget for nuclear “modernization.”  He might even declare a no first use policy, unilaterally reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and show some respect for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Of course, this won’t be enough.  But it would provide a start toward terminating the nuclear powers’ disgraceful evasion of their responsibility to safeguard human survival.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178790 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178790 0
The Long Overdue End of the “Serious Conservative"

 

 

 

One of the challenges in trying to understand what has happened to a conservative movement that has clearly become detached from reality, is that for decades we’ve heard that some conservatives needed to be taken seriously as intellectuals. These chosen conservatives are often anointed as “serious” due their academic pedigree (usually Ivy Leaguers). But the equating of impressive degrees with intellectual seriousness has an especially bad track record for conservatives. Time and again when it comes to the integrity, honest analysis, and basic grasp of facts that are the basic standards of any “serious” scholar, they have failed.

 

Let’s make a list of today’s conservatives who currently get the “serious” designation by virtue of their elite education and for not being Louis Gohmert. In light of last week’s conspiracy-driven, right-wing attack on Congress, Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz stand out for their unrelenting intellectual dishonesty. Both Hawley (Yale, JD) and Cruz (Princeton BA, Harvard JD) took to the floor of the Senate just hours after right-wing collaborators had vandalized the Capitol and threatened their colleagues out of an unmoored conviction that the 2020 election had been stolen. Multiple recounts, election certifications, and dozens of court cases later, these two Ivy Leaguers shamelessly continued to raise “concerns” about the election’s basic fairness. Yet, when Hawley lost his book contract on the dangers of “big tech” with Simon & Schuster over the weekend, the Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt expressed a hesitant reservation at a publisher deciding it didn’t like the author instead of the manuscript.  

 

Up until that point, Simon & Schuster “obviously believed” that Hawley’s manuscript had “merit” and Hiatt assumes that it would have made “a useful contribution to public debate on a vital subject.” Especially after Hawley’s surreally dark turn last Wednesday night, why should we assume that a “useful contribution” was forthcoming from him on any debate? Hawley had led investigations into Google and Facebook, to be sure. But certainly part of the answer is that Hawley was seen a “serious” conservative. Ana Marie Cox’s recent Washington Post article on Ted Cruz meanwhile stands out for her refreshing willingness to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, Cruz, despite his reputation for smarts, is “devastatingly average.” Mimi Swartz has also started to peel the protective cover of seriousness back. Cruz used “his pseudo-intellectualism and his Ivy League pedigree as a cudgel.” And now, she adds, “Any decent soul might ask: If you are so smart, how come you are using that fancy education to subvert the Constitution you’ve purported to love? Shouldn’t you have known better?” Assuming that an Ivy League degree translates into conservatives knowing better has been the problem all along. Swartz adds correctly that Cruz “did know better; he just didn’t care.” And because he was tabbed as a “serious” conservative, he didn’t have to.

 

Senator Tom Cotton (Harvard BA, JD) stood out last Wednesday by not joining his fellow Ivy Leaguers in their objections on the Senate floor; but he’d already shown his flair for dangerous hyperbole and distortion last summer when the New York Times ran the Senator’s opinion piece calling for the troops to march on Black Lives Matter protestors. Cotton cherry-picked the most extreme examples of unrest to malign the overwhelmingly peaceful protests happening on the streets. As any scholar will tell you, cherry-picking the evidence is both lazy and untrustworthy. Not a good look for someone posing as a “serious” conservative.

 

And one could go on. What really connects these elite-educated Senators is precisely their lack of seriousness intellectually. It’s not new, however. Going back to the 1960s, alarmed that the conservative movement was falling into the grips of the delusional John Birch Society, William F. Buckley (Yale, BA) was anointed as that generation’s “serious” conservative. While Buckley was public intellectual rather than an office-holder, his political influence was considerable and timely for the conservative movement. In particular, Buckley disavowed the Birchers, whose view of the world was rife with conspiracy theories and seething anti-communism. Some Birchers were convinced that Dwight Eisenhower himself was a communist plant, so the bar was pretty low here for a “serious” conservative to clear. The soft bigotry of low expectations, I guess. But Buckley also wrote in 1957 that the white South was right to oppose the civil rights movement because, he wrote, “for the time being, it is the advanced race.” This was, he continued, “a fact . . . that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.” While over his long career Buckley did continue to reexamine the state of conservatism – indeed he had grave reservations about the war in Iraq – his entry into the ranks of “serious” conservatism was by virtue of his patrician background and elite education. Once in, like the “serious” conservatives of today, he had permission to be either wildly wrong or occasionally right.

 

In between Buckley’s heyday and the current crop of Ivy League-right wingers, we had the era of William Bennett and Newt Gingrich in the 1980s and 1990s. Bennett (Williams College BA, University of Texas PhD, Harvard JD) harrumphed his way to becoming the nation’s high school principal, or officially, the Secretary of Education, under Ronald Reagan. In the early 1990s he published The Book of Virtues: A Treasure of Great Moral Stories. It started with a quote from Plato’s Republic, and invoked Aristotle in the first paragraph, so you knew it was serious. The book included lessons on the importance of saying “please” and a Laura Richards poem, “In which we which learn to sit still.” That this was heralded as an “important” book can only be attributed to the fact that Bennett had earned his stripes as a “serious” conservative. Newsweek practically sighed with gratitude: “Maybe this is just what the country needs.” 

 

And then there was Newt Gingrich (PhD, Tulane). After having been denied tenure at West Georgia College, Gingrich eventually won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1978. He injected into the increasingly conservative Republican Party the slashing political style we all recognize now. Democrats were not simply the opponent, they were “radical” and “traitors.” Pundits and columnists of the 1990s raised their collective eyebrow over Gingrich’s style even as they soberly reminded their readers that Gingrich had a doctorate and had been a college professor. A 1995 New York Times profile noted that he compared himself to, “Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Churchill, and De Gaulle.” But it also noted that while Gingrich “came to congress in 1979 as a 35 year-old history professor,” he often used “hyperbole, absolutes and distortion to make his points, and he can be careless with facts and numbers.”   While perhaps these are just tools of the trade in politics, they make one unserious as a scholar. But Professor Gingrich has dined out for years now on his farcical reputation as a “serious” conservative.

 

Like Gingrich, today’s elite-educated conservative politicians continue to get a pass when it comes to the basic ethical standards of real scholars, especially the moral obligation to be true to the evidence and facts. Ironically, toward the end of that long day of sedition last week, this principle was articulated poignantly by another conservative, one known more for his religion and wealth than his academic credentials. Mitt Romney (Harvard, JD/MBA), looking exhausted and shaken, pleaded with his fellow Republican senators, “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.” Sadly, Hawley, Cruz, Cotton, et al., will likely continue to spread lies to keep their conservative base shored up. Their seriousness lies in the danger of their politics, but they themselves are not “serious” conservatives.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178749 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178749 0
Donald Trump’s Situational Fascism

 

 

Since the violent attack by rightwing extremists against the U. S. Capitol on January 6th, growing numbers of Americans have become convinced that Donald Trump is a fascist.  In so doing, they appear to have broken the stalemate in the long debate between alarmist critics and moderate commentators about whether Trump stands in the tradition of interwar fascism or American conservatism.

 

That said, it may be premature for the alarmists to declare victory.   With Trump still in office and concerns about future violence running high, we do not yet have the distance to assess Trump’s historical significance with the objectivity that historical study typically demands. In the meantime, however, a case can be made that Trump occupies a middle ground between the claims of both camps.  Rather than seeing Trump in binary fashion either as an exemplar of fascism or of conservatism, it is possible to view him as a hybrid figure shaped by both movements.  Trump can be seen as having largely stumbled into his fascist identity under conditions that reveal him to be a contingent, opportunistic, and ultimately situational fascist. 

 

At first glance, the concept of situational fascism may appear to be a contradiction in terms.   After all, the major leaders of interwar fascist parties – most notably Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini – viewed themselves as men of principle.  They believed they were uncompromising dogmatists, men who were fanatically committed to realizing their movements’ radical ideological goals.  

 

By contrast, Trump has often backtracked from his most extreme positions in the face of public outcry.  The most striking example of this pattern of behavior was his recent television video condemning the violent behavior of his supporters at the U. S. Capitol.  Interwar fascists never would have permitted themselves to display such weakness.  It is hard to imagine Adolf Hitler writing an op-ed apologizing for his actions and disavowing his followers the day after his failed Beer Hall Putsch of November 9, 1923.  If one understands fascism to entail the pursuit of principled action, Trump’s reluctance to fully own his own radicalism makes it difficult to apply the definition to him.

 

That said, Trump can nevertheless be viewed as a fascist – albeit one who, due to various contingencies very late in his presidency, stumbled into fascism without necessarily having originally intended to do so. Most alarmist commentators have thus far overlooked the contingent aspects of Trump’s fascism and preferred to see them as openly visible since the beginning of his administration.  In making this claim, however, they have fallen victim to several perils of historical interpretation: presentism, determinism, and hindsight bias.

 

The commentators who have called Trump a “fascist” since the beginning of his presidency mostly did so in the immediate wake of real-time, present-day events – most frequently, Trump’s announcement of policies that could be construed as evoking fascist precedents, such as his odious Muslim ban or family separation policy at the United States-Mexico border.  Many of these same critics then extended their concerns about contemporary events to make historically-informed, but deterministic predictions about the imminent arrival of a “Reichstag Fire” moment where Trump would follow in the path of interwar fascists and become an outright dictator.  Up until last week, none of these predictions had come to pass.  Today, however, many of same critics who, for five years, had lacked sufficient evidence to convince people about their claims now insist that they were “right all along.”  In so doing, they have effectively projected Trump’s fascism backwards in time to the beginning of his presidency and identified uninterrupted – and perhaps inevitable -- lines of continuity from his inauguration in 2016 to the assault of January 6th.   

This tendency to see the past in light of the present is understandable, but it effaces the contingent nature of Trump’s turn to fascism.  It fails to account for ways that his evolution might have easily been different.  Although historians have long frowned on posing counterfactual questions about the past, growing numbers of scholars have come to recognize their utility.  They have especially noted how “what ifs” underscore the contingency of events and reveal their original uncertainty. 

 

What, for example, would we be saying today about Trump’s fascism if he had won the 2020 election?  The premise is not so far-fetched.  While Joe Biden won around seven million more votes, his electoral vote total was the same as Trump’s narrow victory margin of 2016. Biden’s triumph ultimately hung on two hundred and fifty thousand votes in four key states.  Had those votes gone slightly differently, Trump would have been reelected.  He could have continued to use the traditional levers of government to get away with his corrupt activities.  He would not have needed to bemoan the “rigged” election.   He would not have mobilized his extremist supporters to “stop the steal.” And those extremists would not have stormed the Capitol.  In short, had all of this happened, few commentators would be warning about Trump being a fascist. (Whether or not subsequent events in his second term might have revived such warnings remains an open question).

 

The possibility that Trump might have won the 2020 election reveals the contingent character of his fascism.  For this reason, we should not view him as a fascist by conviction – as someone who subscribed to fascist beliefs from the moment of his arrival on the historical stage – but as a man molded by circumstances and opportunity to move in a fascist direction.  This move surely drew on latent authoritarian tendencies, but certain events had to intervene for Trump to realize their full potential.

 

Trump’s fascism should be seen as rooted in desperation not aspiration.  As will surely be confirmed by forthcoming media revelations, much of his erratic behavior – from his refusal to release his tax returns to his slavish obedience to Vladimir Putin -- was probably guided by the desire to avoid prosecution for a litany of corrupt, criminal deeds.  His manic desire to overturn the election results and stay in power – and his increasingly desperate methods of doing so – can only be explained by the dawning realization that his presidential immunity was swiftly fading.  This personal crisis can be seen as providing the inflection point where Trump’s authoritarian tendencies tipped over into fascist territory.  Moreover, because so many GOP politicians and ordinary Trump voters were so invested in his fate, they too swiftly followed him over the fascist precipice.

 

This view of fascism -- as radicalization fueled by desperation -- is nothing new.  It has marked fascism since its inception.  Historical Fascism arrived on the historical stage when the relatively obscure late 19th century idea of “National Socialism” was radicalized by the traumas unleashed by World War I. In the wake of mass death, communist revolution, and economic catastrophe, anxious European conservatives became so desperate to hold onto power that they became willing to employ radical means (fraud, deceit, and violence) to do so, partnering with the new fascist movements that had simultaneously appeared on the political scene.  Different countries succumbed to this fateful alliance between the old and new right at different times – Italy earlier, Germany later – but they were all shaped by the dynamic interplay between desperation and radicalization.

 

Keeping this point in mind will be important for fully understanding the nature of Trump’s presidency.  While there no longer much doubt that the January 6th attack on the Capitol brought the United States to point where genuine fascists are trying to topple the American government, we should resist the temptation to see this development as preordained from the beginning of Trump’s administration.  While a fascist turn was always a latent possibility, the fact that it arrived at the very end of his term in office, during a crisis entirely of his own making, is a notable fact that deserves deeper examination if we are to fully understand his administration’s historical significance.  As we move into the Biden era, scholars are beginning to examine how Trump’s presidency fits in the larger sweep of American history. They are debating a host of questions: whether he should be seen as an aberrational or representative figure; whether he is the result of continuities or ruptures; and whether historical events are deterministically guided by structural constants or contingently shaped by individual decisions. 

 

Viewing Trump as a situational fascist may contribute to this larger process of historical understanding.  By regarding his turn to fascism as the product of contingencies rather than conviction – of chance circumstances rather than original sin – we are reminded of the disturbing fact that fascism is latent within liberal democratic society and can easily surface in times of extreme crisis. We are reminded that Americans have had ample reason to fear Fascism long before Trump -- during the years of the Great Depression under FDR; during the late 1960s and early 1970s under Richard Nixon; and in the early years after 9/11 under George W. Bush.  Seen from this perspective, Trump does not represent a wholly novel development.  At the same time, there is little doubt that the events that have followed his effort to overturn the 2020 election are unprecedented: at no previous point in American history did surging rightwing beliefs produce a pivotal inflection point where fascism morphed from being a potential to an actual threat. 

 

For the time being, it appears that the threat has been repulsed.  But the Trump presidency is a vivid reminder that democracy cannot be taken for granted and requires vigilant protection. Understanding the contingent circumstances that make fascism possible is critical if America is to have any chance of recovering from the upheaval of the Trump era. 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178784 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178784 0
Were Trump's Pardons Even Legal?

Roger Stone strikes a defiant, Nixonian pose after indictment in 2019.

 

 

 

The Constitution endows the President with the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States.” Pardons have generally been granted after conviction and sentencing, but since Ford pardoned Nixon, there is precedent for pardoning someone who has not even been charged with a crime. Lawyers call this a “pre-emptive pardon.” But is any kind of pardon valid when riddled with corruption? The question would appear to answer itself.

 

A close analogy would be a contract with the government infected with a conflict of interest because the procurement officer’s daughter’s father-in-law owns a stake in the counter-party. Lawyers would say that such a contract is void ab initio, lawyerspeak for void and of no legal effect.

 

Trump recently pardoned 26 individuals. Among them were the four paid assassins of 17 Iraqi civilians, including two boys 8 and 11. The four assassins worked for an outfit called Blackwater. Blackwater’s guiding spirit is Erik Prince, a close Trump ally and the brother of his education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Michelle Goldberg, writing in the New York Times, called the Blackwater war crimes pardons the “most disgusting.” Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska called the pardons “rotten to the core.”

 

 Included in the spate of pardons is a convicted Trump family member (his daughter’s father-in law), and three convicted political cronies, who would be prime candidates to testify against him should the Russia probe get new legs after Trump leaves office.

 

More pardons are strongly rumored to be in the on-deck circle in the final days of the Trump administration. Trump may pardon Julien Assange, the guiding spirit of WikiLeaks,  who knows whether someone associated with Trump gave him a trove of emails, which the Russians hacked from the Democratic National Committee and the private servers of Hillary Clinton. Also on the pardon horizon are Trump’s older children, his lawyer and close associate Rudy Giuliani, as well as the big enchilada, Trump himself.

 

But are the pardons void from the start when corrupt, and intended to abuse public power for the private benefit of the President? I say private benefit, because the triumvirate of pardon recipients, Manafort, Flynn and Stone, are potential witnesses against Trump after he leaves office. And then there is the family member and the political cronies.

 

The Supreme Court held in 1878 in Throckmorton v. United States that “fraud vitiates everything.” By “fraud,” the Court did not mean the kind of phony fraud Trump and his lawyers are alleging is sufficient to overturn the election That’s a nice try. The Supreme Court meant fraud established by clear and convincing evidence solidly grounded in factual support. The principle that fraud vitiates all is a venerable one, and has been reaffirmed over centuries of English  and American law. Fraud would embrace within its bosom corruption and conflict of interest.

Suppose a President corruptly pardoned someone. Suppose a President accepted a bribe in exchange for a pardon. The Constitution says that bribery is a “high crime and misdemeanor” for which a President can be impeached and  removed from office. The President could be removed, but would the pardon be good? I would argue not, and so would many lawyers I know. Such a pardon would be a fraud on the Constitution he swore to “preserve, protect and defend.”

 

The Constitution also defines treason as another “high crime and misdemeanor” for which a President could be impeached and removed, so could a presidential pardon of the President’s confederates in a  treason conspiracy conceivably stand? I would argue not, and so would many lawyers I know.

 

Corruption is defined as betraying a public trust for personal benefit. Isn’t the pardoning of a potential witness against you, a corrupt act by a President? Or pardoning a close relative? Need a personal benefit be a cash payment, or can it also be something else of personal value? The act of pardoning a potentially cooperating witness may in itself be an obstruction of justice even if the pardon is valid. But isn’t the pardon null and void under the doctrine of “fraud vitiates everything?”

 

If the President pardons someone corruptly, he may in contemplation of law be really pardoning himself. Here, there is no clear authority because no President has ever tried it before. But limitations on self-pardon come from a number of legal sources.

 

First, there is the venerable English principle, which requires no discussion that “no man shall be the judge in his own cause.” And certainly not Donald Trump.

Then, the Constitution speaks of the President’s “power to grant reprieves and pardons.” Madison and Hamilton could have used the words “confer” or “give”, had they wanted to, but they chose the word “grant.” Under settled legal definitions, the term “grant” comprehends “everything that is granted or passed from one to another.” Napoleon may have crowned himself emperor, but the President of the United States cannot “grant” a pardon to himself.

 

In addition, the Constitution specifically bars the President from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal. It adds that any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution.

The provisions, read together, would make no sense if the president could pardon himself because if he did, he would not be subject to criminal prosecution after impeachment, the very remedy the Constitution explicitly preserves.

 

Are self-pardons OK? How about unlimited preemptive pardons? The two questions may seem unrelated, but they are not. Presidents who assume they can pardon any and all federal crimes they themselves may have committed while in office will know from the time of their inauguration that they are above the law, not the servant of the law. The Supreme Court has rejected this argument whenever it has been presented.

 

Curiously, almost all the pundits, constitutional lawyers, and members of the professoriate are laying down their arms, largely conceding that the President has broad powers to pardon anyone in the world, with the possible exception of himself. But are they giving too much away?

 

Of course, the issue of whether corrupt pardons stick, will only arise if Biden’s  Attorney General tries to indict a pardoned wrongdoer. But don’t rest so easy, Manafort, Stone and Flynn. And, don’t be so certain, Donald Trump, either. You may not be so safe as you think.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178789 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178789 0
Banana Republic or Nut Country? January 6 Put American Exceptionalism in Perspective

Detail of poster advocating Guatemalan land reform under President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, who would be overthrown in a US-backed coup in 1954 at the behest of the United Fruit Company

 

 

Horrorstruck by last week’s terrorist attack on our nation’s capital by Trump’s willing executioners, former president George W. Bush, Republican Wisconsin congressman Mike Gallagher, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demurred the idea that the United States resembled a Latin American “banana republic.”

 

Their reactions exhibited a white supremacist hubris in and of itself. For them, only the brown people of Latin America revolted in such a way.

 

Alzheimer’s may explain the three forgetting the extremism of this past May and October in Michigan where Trump loyalists stormed the state’s capital with assault rifles in the first instance and plotted to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the second. Nor did they recall other racists marching with tiki torches through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer of 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

 

Then there is our nation’s granddaddy of rebellions: the American Civil War that started in 1861 as secessionist forces attacked the US base that was Fort Sumter. Why did southern Confederates secede? Because President Abraham Lincoln would not allow the further expansion of slavery.

 

I will give non-students of history a pass for not considering Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. The former involved insurrectionists, many armed revolutionary war veterans, attacking Massachusetts courts and a federal arsenal to stop the foreclosures of farms in 1786. The latter entailed a federal excise tax on whiskey that prompted western Pennsylvania distillers to assault tax collectors in 1791.

 

In 1794, President George Washington led 13,000 federalized soldiers into Pennsylvania’s backcountry to quash the rebellion. Later that year in an address to Congress, he characterized the whiskey insurrection as “fomented by combinations of men who…have disseminated, from an ignorance or perversion of facts, suspicions, jealousies, and accusations of the whole Government.”

 

My point is that there is a notion that the US is above socio-political upheaval. This is grounded in the portrayal of brown “other” nations as culturally, if not racially, prone to political violence. Indeed, that is how media conditioned me in my youth.

 

As I came of age in the 1980s, I did not read much but viewed a lot of television. As a latchkey kid, I watched reruns after school: Hogan’s Heroes, MASH, and Baa Baa Black Sheep. Living in Greater Los Angeles, I also killed time with Channel 7’s KABC Eyewitness News, which featured debates between Bruce Herschensohn and John Tunney.

 

Herschensohn was a conservative commentator who served in the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Tunney was a one-term California U.S. Senator connected to the Kennedys who championed the liberal perspective.

 

In covering US foreign policy, the two regularly argued about the incessant wars and coups in the Caribbean and Central America, particularly the revolutions of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

 

Back then these governments were popularly labeled “banana republics.” The origin of the epithet stemmed from the region’s economic dependency on the export of this fruit and other commodities such as coffee and sugar as dictated by US financiers and corporations such as Chiquita (formerly United Fruit) and Dole dating back to the early twentieth century.

 

The cognomen is also drenched with racist assumptions of American exceptionalism. As the City Upon the Hill, the US held felt obligated to mentor such nations, while “protecting” them from European interference as declared in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Ostensibly, Latin Americans, as a race, were too unstable and corrupt to govern themselves without the tutelage of the United States.

 

As I watched Herschensohn and Tunney reprise a nightmare of death squads, strongmen, assassins, “freedom fighters,” and insurgencies, I ignorantly bought into this epistemology and thought to myself, “Why can’t these countries just get their act together like the USA?”

 

Then in college I was assigned Walter Lefeber’s Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (1983), which detailed a long history of US interventionism, both overt and covert, to install vicious rulers throughout the region by way of cunning regime change that entailed coups, military advisors, naval and marine invasion, and contrived elections.

 

If a nationalist government with ambitions of self-determination emerged, the US systematically attempted to destabilize it. Think Cuba historically and Venezuela in the present.

 

Further reading revealed the Central Intelligence Agency’s sponsorship of the murderous coups of the democratically elected presidencies of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. Their crime: the pursuit of their citizens having greater control of their lands’ resources at some expense of US conglomerates.

 

Hence, the respective installation of the merciless military dictatorships of Carlos Castillo Armas and Augusto Pinochet. To paraphrase President Franklin Roosevelt’s alleged description of the US supported Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, the two were sons of bitches, but they were our sons of bitches.

 

Although the ideological pretext for US interventionism was to combat the spread of communism in the Western Hemisphere, the material motive was to maintain commercial hegemony while smothering alternative autochthonous economic models that privileged the social needs of Latin Americans over US business interests.

 

In sum, the history of the US is anything but one of continuity and tranquility. So, while we may not be bananas, history and the pro-Trump sedition of last week reminds us that we have a fair share of nuts.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178785 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178785 0
Restoring Civil Society by Executive Order?: An Inaugural Reverie

Armed Militia members at Michigan Capitol building, April 2020.

 

 

So, come January 20th, what should the newly elected president of the U.S. do on his first day in office? Most of us have our wish list already made out, freighted with emphasis on executive orders to reverse some of the more damaging decrees handed down by Donald J. Trump during his four long years in the White House. There are reasons to take a bracing cup of coffee with this enchanting possibility. Many would seem to delight in the arrival of a benevolent autocrat to execute these long lists, although one gift of Trump and his following in Congress surely includes a golden opportunity to showcase the potential of a democratic leadership.

 

Damaging as the Trump presidency has been to so many progressive causes, however, a newly inaugurated President Biden is likely to think first about those four major areas of national crisis identified during the recent campaign. The COVID-19 pandemic spiraling out of control, the state of the economy—with millions of Americans facing unemployment and dire need of relief, the growing menace of climate change which threatens life as we know it on a planetary scale, and the impact of lawless racism on our politics, including especially the deterioration of the discourse that pervades all government. It seems that Biden has correctly identified the problems that affect most of us, but what if anything, can or should he do on day one through use of the executive order?

 

The question is enlivened by the not-so-subtle reality of the political struggle surrounding the conduct of his immediate predecessor. As president, Trump abused the powers of office so flagrantly and with such casual disregard for the public character of our institutions that we are almost inured in the current atmosphere of partisan extremism and embittered accusation. The degeneration of American conservativism due to Trump’s corrupting influence has been a major factor, threatening a national revival of politics in the paranoid style, with a whole new rhetoric of conspiracy, violent confrontation and bigotry to underscore the trend toward demagoguery and absolutism.

 

Biden can begin to defuse the explosive charge that seems wired into the discourse of our current politics, posing so grave a threat to the national existence, by attending immediately to this problem before all else. Avoiding the excessive use of presidential authority by refraining from the abuse of the executive order will send a healthy message—it will affirm the civil nature of the political process and demonstrate that as president, he does not share the megalomania that has driven Trump to all manner of excess.

 

But where the executive order can be used constructively and in a manner consistent with the separation of powers and respectful of the role of Congress as the legal fountain of all legislative reform, he should certainly do so. The restoration of civil discourse is crucial to the successful operation of government on every level and is therefore a vital precursor to anything else that Biden will attempt. To that end, Biden can act boldly and to great effect by issuing an immediate emergency executive order banning the public display of a firearm at any public demonstration or assembly anywhere in the U.S. or any of its territories, upon penalty of temporary detention, a monetary fine, and with forfeiture of the weapon, enforceable by federal law enforcement in cooperation with local officials and police.

 

Certainly such a measure would mark a clear departure from those that stem from existing administrative law or legislative enactments. I know I must be dreaming, but along with the aroma of coffee I find it agreeable. Such an order would have an immediate calming effect on our national life by removing a significant source of danger to the public safety, sending a clear signal to partisan zealots that they cannot inhibit demonstrations by law abiding citizens, or make insidious threats into a normal part of political culture.

 

For its constitutional basis, Biden could cite the first amendment, which guarantees to every American along with religious freedom and freedom of the press, the right to peaceable assembly for the redress of grievances. The president could assert that when persons are permitted to assemble with firearms on public display, brandishing the weapon or issuing threats, it is an abuse of the second amendment and cannot be tolerated as a legitimate expression of its force. Respecting the right to bear arms does not include permitting groups of armed men to assemble while menacing the public safety. The right of assembly which is so vital to our democracy cannot be guaranteed where some are permitted to assault the very foundation of public order and the rule of law. Gun rights advocates should be the first to applaud such a measure, since public demonstrations in support of the second amendment only become infamous where armed cadres of men in camouflage or other military attire excite fear and provoke outrage, adding a whiff of gunpowder to what already appears in the guise of the lawlessness vigilante.

 

Biden, one hopes, will be likely to understand and should make clear to the public that the real purpose of such an action, to which Congress might ultimately contribute through supplemental federal legislation, is first and above all to restore civil discourse and the humane treatment of persons at every public gathering in the country. But such a measure will only be a first step toward restoring civil discourse, and should therefore include an important second corollary that will point squarely toward one of those four areas of our current national crisis—the persistent phenomenon of racism and the criminal abuse of police powers in cities and localities.

 

Biden can take a giant stride in this direction by establishing under the Department of Justice a national human relations commission, diverse by race and by gender, empowered to hold public hearings, to investigate criminal abuses of police power, to make referrals to federal courts and U.S. Marshalls within appropriate jurisdictions, and to make meaningful recommendations to state and local officials for the enhancement of civil discourse to discourage racism. The national HRC can be empowered to visit any city in the U.S. to conduct hearings, and should work with federal and local law enforcement to promote the responsible public character of law enforcement and the system of justice. But such a commission should not become an inquisition, having a mandate to punish law enforcement, but rather to assist in its mission, while promoting an environment appropriate to progressive government and healthy communities.

 

You may say that it is wishful thinking, that such an innovation is too much at odds with the climate of opinion, or that it would infuriate the gun rights advocates. You may insist that the Supreme Court will strike it down, that it would reach beyond federal jurisdiction and infringe upon the rights of states or local officials. But all of this has been said before, and the long history of struggle in the U.S. against vigilante groups offers numerous precedents.

 

Let’s think what it could mean for the nation’s chief executive to act in a manner so expansive as to demonstrate that the preservation of liberty and the majesty of law rely not on the threat of force, but reside within the exercise of responsible citizenship. Yes, despite what may be the lingering influence of Trump and his supporters in Congress, we can anticipate the opportunities that await Biden, that a new president can so dramatically alter the tone of our national dialogue. Having always believed in justice, the political process, and the peaceable way of resolving conflicts, it seems to me at the moment like the saner way to be a dreamer.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178791 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178791 0
The Problem with a Self-Pardon

 

 

Imagine a hypothetical president. President X is in the Oval Office having an ever-more-heated argument with a cabinet secretary. In a fit of pique, the president grabs a ceremonial sword, recently given to him by the Sultan of Brunei, and runs the cabinet secretary through, killing him then and there. Assassinating a high government official is a federal crime, and the White House is federal property. The president then apologizes to the nation, and also pardons himself. No investigation, no prosecution, no conviction. The president has just gotten away with murder.

Patently outrageous? Of course. But this hypothetical illustrates the fatal problem with those who claim that the president’s pardon power extends to self-pardons.

Defenders of a self-pardon point to the sweeping language of the power as described in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution: “he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” Since the wording is absolute, aside from cases of impeachment, and does not exclude the president, it can include the chief executive, so the argument goes. Since self-pardoning is not barred, it must be allowable.

The initial problem with this argument is that broad, absolute, or unqualified language is found throughout the Constitution. That does not mean, however, that such language may extend to the violation of other principles. Take the First Amendment, which says that “Congress shall make no law. . .abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Except for the late Justice Hugo Black’s admonition that “no law means no law,” limitations to free speech are widely accepted in law, including for reasons of national security, obscenity, libel, slander, and commercial speech.

Defenders of the self-pardon also point to the British roots of the pardon power, from which the power was derived. This is relevant precedent, to be sure, but it fails to acknowledge the important differences between powers exercised by a hereditary monarch and an elected executive. The founders did indeed draw from British governance in creating the American system, but with important changes. For example, the presidential veto was modeled after the royal veto, but with a critical difference: the British monarchial veto was absolute, whereas the presidential veto was qualified, subject to override (excepting only the pocket veto, which was made absolute out of necessity and under narrow and limited circumstances). Similarly, the president’s power as commander-in-chief was derived from the British monarch, but in a “much inferior” form, as Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist Paper 69.

A self-pardon violates two fundamental, bedrock principles. First, as James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper 10, “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” The British monarch in centuries gone by was not bound by this principle; the monarch’s actions and decisions were beyond the review or limitation of any other individual or entity. The American president is bounded by all manner of law and political accountability.

Second, a self-pardon allows the president to place him or herself above the law, which is utterly incompatible with any notion of law in a democratic society. Certain legal principles do provide presidents with a degree of protection not afforded other Americans, but these are narrowly tailored to the president while in office and in service to that office’s effective operation, such as executive privilege. A pardon for crimes is both personal and everlasting.

One need not reach far to find the holes and hypocrisies in the shibboleth that “no one is above the law,” whether Capitol Hill rioters who escape prosecution or police officers who kill unarmed Black people under suspect circumstances. But to criticize the principle because we fail to live up to it is profoundly different from asserting that the office of president carries with it the ability of the occupants to shield themselves from any and all federal crimes. Presidents cannot have a self-pardon power because it cannot be contemplated in a system built on the very idea of the rule of law. The rule of law will never be perfect, but it cannot be abandoned or excepted for the nation’s top official.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178759 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178759 0
The Cult of the Lost Cause and the Invention of General Pickett George Pickett – Major General George E. Pickett – was our family’s marquee Confederate relation, distant cousin though he was.  Every schoolchild in America has heard of him, thanks to the ill-fated infantry charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.  For a long time what I knew about him was pretty much what everyone learned in 8th grade: Pickett’s failed charge, on July 3rd, 1863, was the turning point, the moment when the Confederates started to lose.    

The War, that is.  In the peacetime that followed, victory went to the South.   Defeated in battle, the Confederates and their descendants proved themselves unequaled in myth-making, casting their catastrophe at Gettysburg as an exhibition of individual gallantry and high glory, undertaken in a great but lost cause.  

These propagandists maintained (and still maintain) that the Civil War was never about upholding slavery. Instead, in this counter-narrative, the Confederate rebels were waging an honorable fight to protect and preserve the Southern way of life against Northern aggression.  In the national imagination, Pickett’s Charge became the touchstone for all that was brave and noble and unflinching about the Confederate spirit.

How did this happen?  Aren’t the victors supposed to write the history books?  Yes, but after the Rebel army surrendered at Appomattox, another more formidable force took the field.  It was composed largely of women. The Ladies Memorial Associations of the immediate postwar period morphed into the United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894. 

The  objective of the “Daughters” was to promote a whitewashed – and white supremacist – interpretation of “the late unpleasantness.” Their weapons were reunions, speeches, monuments, medal-awarding, proclamations, quasi-religious rituals such as wreath-laying ceremonies and, especially, promoting textbooks whose purpose was to teach the “true history” of the antebellum South to future generations. 

 

The United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters, in Richmond, Virginia, was set on fire and covered in graffiti during the protests in late May, 2020.

 

The playbook for these activities originated with the honorary president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy – none other than General Pickett’s third wife, the indefatigable LaSalle “Sallie” Corbell Pickett.  Like Pickett himself, Sallie was a child of Virginia aristocracy, and after his death, she devoted her lengthy widowhood to glorifying her late husband’s reputation, and to propagating the myth of the Lost Cause. She insisted on his heroism, patriotism and historical importance – once describing Pickett’s Charge as “one of those deeds of arms that are immortal with its imperishable glory, overshadowing all other events in martial history . . .”

 

George & LaSalle Pickett

 

After her husband died, Sallie succeeded in reinventing herself as a professional Confederate widow, a popular writer, speaker and champion of the Old South. She attended veteran reunions, parades and monument dedications, signing autographs and becoming so popular that she was known as Mother Pickett. 

In lectures to Northern audiences, Sallie told many a story of happy and contented slaves.  As she once insisted:  “There was no word held in more reverential love and fear by the faithful Southern slave than the one word ‘Master.’ (Kunno Sperits and Others, 1900)   On stage she famously performed what she insisted was “phonetically  genuine” slave dialect, carefully recorded by herself. 

The stories she told about her husband were no more credible than the slave dialect.  As one writer observed, Sallie Pickett’s postbellum career as a writer and Lost Cause icon “was marked by a curious admixture of charlatanry and self-delusion.”  She faked an entire set of wartime correspondence from her husband, and published it in The Heart of a Soldier, as Revealed in the Intimate Letters of General George E. Pickett, CSA.  She even forged a letter from Abraham Lincoln singing the General’s praises. 

Sallie Pickett was also hiding another secret. Her husband had lived with a Native American woman and had a son by him. With her counterfeit archives and her tireless proselytizing, she built a framework on which later popularizers of the Civil War could drape their sanitized portrayals.  

 

Historian Gary W. Gallagher established that Sallie Pickett invented these letters from her husband.

And so they have.  Sallie Pickett’s tall tales of the Lost Cause live on in some of the most popular modern accounts of the Civil War.  Her fabricated letters from her husband are still in print and are still widely cited.  Shockingly, they have served as a primary source for mainstream presentations of the Civil War – everything from Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Killer Angels, to the book’s movie adaptation Gettysburg, to Ken Burns’ epic public television documentary, The Civil War. (The Public Television website accompanying the Civil War documentary asserts, without attribution, that Pickett accepted a commission in the Confederate Army “despite his personal dislike of slavery.”)

 

 

Just as Sallie Pickett would have wished, Michael Shaara depicts General Pickett as the archetypal Southern cavalier.  (It came as no surprise to learn that the Pickett Society has erected a bench in Shaara’s  honor at Gettysburg.)  The novel lays it on thick.  I remember listening to the audio version and feeling beguiled by Shaara’s descriptions of Pickett’s “lusty exuberance.”

The general is “gaudy and lovable, longhaired, perfumed,” as he rides “bronze curled and lovely, regal and gorgeous on a stately mount.”  From a distance he looks “like a French king, all curls and feathers.”  Hopping out of the saddle sets his “ringlets aflutter.”  Oh those curls!   William Faulkner fell for them even before Shaara took notice.  In a famous passage of Intruder in the Dust, Faulkner describes Pickett with his “long oiled curls” in the moments just before the charge.

 

 

Shortly after this moment, following orders from Robert E. Lee, the flamboyant general sent his men across an open field straight into a hellish cannonade and volleys of rifle fire from the waiting Union forces.  Half of Pickett’s men were killed, wounded or captured on the spot.  Following the battle, Pickett wrote a bitter, finger-pointing after-action report that Lee then suppressed on the grounds of maintaining morale. 

A little more than six months later, the despondent Pickett, now in command of troops in North Carolina, ordered the hanging of 22 captured Union soldiers, POWs who were accused of having deserted from the Confederate Army.  After the war, he narrowly escaped a war crimes trial when Ulysses S. Grant wrote an equivocal but ultimately effective letter in his support.

Pickett was no longer the “permanent boy,” (as Michael Shaara describes him). He retreated to Norfolk, Virginia, where he tried to support his family selling insurance.  He died at age 50 of a liver abscess, a defeated man.  Sallie Pickett, who was only 32 at the time of his death, set out to rehabilitate her late husband’s reputation, casting him as the embodiment of all that was moral and superior about the Old South. 

She had more than 50 years in which to do it – and that turned out to be plenty of time.  We are still living with the bitter consequences of her revisionist narrative today.  

As for the Daughters of the Confederacy, they are still much in the news. Starting in the 1890s, their campaign to glorify the mystique of the Lost Cause has involved erecting some 700 Confederate memorials, including the statue of Robert E. Lee on horseback that occasioned the deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, 2017.   

At that time, the Daughters of the Confederacy released a statement expressing their dismay that hate groups have taken the Confederate flag and other symbols as their own:  “We are descendants of Confederate soldiers, sailors and patriots.  Our members are the ones who have spent 123 years honoring their memory with various activities in the fields of education, history and charity, promoting patriotism and good citizenship.  Our members are the ones who, like our statues, have stayed quietly in the background, never engaging in public controversy.”

Contrary to the Daughters’ press release, the Confederate statues do speak, loudly enough to send a message of white supremacy to all who pass by.  As Mayor Mitch Landrieu observed in his powerful speech on the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans, “there is a difference. . . between remembrance of history and the reverence of it.”  The Cult of the Lost Cause, he said, “had one goal and one goal only: through monuments and through other means to rewrite history, to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

 

Read more about Ann's Confederates In My Closet on her website. 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154458 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154458 0
The Roundup Top Twenty for January 15, 2021

Trump Is the Republican Party’s Past and Its Future

by Lisa McGirr

It's not a question of whether Trump voters are driven by racism, nativism or conspiracy theories, or by "economic anxiety." Republican economic policies have created inequality and instability that the party can only paper over by encouraging resentment, suspicion and hostility. It won't end with Trump's departure.

 

Josh Hawley Is Not the First Missouri Senator with Blood on His Hands

by Steven Lubet

Senator Josh Hawley arguably helped incite a mob to invade the Capitol to thwart the certification of Biden's victory. Missouri's antebellum senator David Rice Atchison helped incite a civil war in Kansas in 1854. 

 

 

Historians in Historic Times

by Karin Wulf

A lineup of historians share their thoughts on how they saw the Capitol rioting and attack on Congress through the lens of their work. Featuring Vanessa M. Holden, Claudio Saunt, Serena Zabin, Marcus Nevius, Michael Hattem, Ana Lucia Araujo, William G. Thomas III, Daniel Mandell, Sophie White and Daryle Williams.

 

 

The Silence of the Ellipses: Why History Can’t be about Telling Our Children Lies

by Sam Wineburg

The fairly recent elevation of Crispus Attucks as a hero of the American Revolution obscures the complexity of his role in the Boston Massacre and illustrates the pressure for textbooks to conform to a triumphal American narrative rather than engaging with the complexity of the past. 

 

 

How Can America Heal from the Trump Era? Lessons from Germany after Nazi Rule

by Sylvia Taschka

The Federal Republic of Germany disappointed many who sought a complete reckoning with Nazi crimes. But it successfully balanced the exclusion of top Nazi leaders with winning the allegiance of party supporters to democratic government through a commitment to supporting lives of dignity and sufficiency for all Germans.

 

 

A U.S. History Teacher Scrambles to Explain Unprecedented Desecration of Democracy

by Jim Cullen

"Our job as educators is to make and model good, conscious choices about what we believe, and to make that necessarily fallible belief system as transparent as we can for students without insisting that they share it."

 

 

Vikings, Crusaders, Confederates

by Matthew Gabriele

The far-right has combined a selective and outdated version of medieval history from popular culture to express values of racial superiority, aggressive masculinity and violence in defense of threatened values.

 

 

The Capitol Riot Revealed the Darkest Nightmares of White Evangelical America

by Matthew Avery Sutton

Many observers have speculated that American evangelicals have had a transactional relationship with Donald Trump. But his messages of "American carnage" and warnings of dire consequences if he is defeated mesh perfectly with their end-times outlook and have helped tie evangelicals to the far right coalition. 

 

 

Reviving Sedition Prosecutions Would Be a Tragic Mistake

by David Beito

A libertarian historian argues that the use of sedition law to charge participants in the Capitol riots would revive a dangerous pattern of prosecuting ideology instead of action, one which those on the left should also treat with suspicion. 

 

 

Disenfranchisement: An American Tradition

by Julilly Kohler-Hausmann

Invoking the specter of voter fraud to undermine democratic participation is a tactic as old as the United States itself.

 

 

The Inaction of Capitol Police Was by Design

by Kellie Carter Jackson

"Police brutality against Black Americans and police inaction toward white Americans is not some surprising anomaly; it is the status quo."

 

 

Impeachment May Not Work. Here’s the Next Best Way to Dump Trump

by Eric Foner

The 14th Amendment empowers Congress to bar persons involved in insurrection against the United States from holding office. This can't remove Trump, but it can stop him (and anyone found to have plotted the Capitol rioting) from returning to office. 

 

 

Letters From an American, January 8, 2021

by Heather Cox Richardson

Last Wednesday's events are still coming into perspective through developing news reporting, but a disturbing picture is emerging of possible cooperation between rioters and law enforcement at high levels.

 

 

How to Ensure This Never Happens Again

by Beverly Gage and Emily Bazelon

A menu of democratic reform initiatives ranging from strictly defining the electoral vote process to abolishing the electoral college: reforms needed to stop the temptation to undemocratic rule and authoritarianism.

 

 

The Striking Parallels Between the Assaults on Charlottesville and the Capitol

by Nicole Hemmer

The right's defense of their violent "Unite the Right" attack on Charlottesville was a precursor to their strategy in the wake of the Capitol riot: blame the left to convert riots into patriotic Americans. 

 

 

What Trump Shares With the ‘Lost Cause’ of the Confederacy

by Karen L. Cox

The Lost Cause mythology built around Donald Trump's claims to have won the 2020 election will outlive him and potentially fuel a dangerous reactionary political movement for years to come. 

 

 

Josh Hawley's Cancelled Book Contract Is Not "Orwellian"

by Claire Potter

The author has broadly defended free speech as a value. Josh Hawley's complaints about his cancelled book contract don't fit the bill.

 

 

A Scholar of American Anti-Semitism Explains the Hate Symbols Present at the US Capitol Riot

by Jonathan D. Sarna

The presence of conspiracy theorists and overt and coded anti-Semitic messages at the Capitol riot shows that far right ideology continues to target Jews in a conspiratorial, eliminationist worldview.

 

 

The Gun-Rights Movement Fed America’s Insurrectionist Fever Dreams

by Firmin DeBrabander

"The gun-rights movement cleared the path for insurrection. It blew a hole in the rule of law—and Donald Trump’s would-be soldiers clamored through it. And then scaled the walls of Congress." 

 

 

1871 Provides a Road Map for Addressing the Pro-Trump Attempted Insurrection

by Megan Kate Nelson

"The actions that the federal government took in 1871 signaled its willingness to defend the constitutional rights of the nation’s citizens, Black and White, and to protect them against violence."

 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178787 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178787 0
Teddy Roosevelt and Josh Hawley's History Lessons

 

 

 

 

Senator Josh Hawley knew he would be entering history when he catapulted himself into national prominence by declaring he would challenge the January 6 certification of Biden electors, transforming a pro forma event into an attempted coup. He is, after all, a historian, having written a serious biography of our 26th President: Teddy Roosevelt, Preacher of Righteousness.

 

Perhaps he even had TR in mind, imagining himself emulating the strategic insight and bold action that had propelled the 26th president onto the national stage in 1898. Then, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt had encouraged war with Spain, and when war commenced, resigned, formed the Rough Riders, then led the charge up San Juan Hill that made him a national hero and prospective President.

 

Whatever Hawley had gleaned from that episode, it was clear on January 6 that he was no TR.  As Congress began the debate Hawley had demanded, President Trump dispatched his rally crowd to storm the Capitol. That afternoon, a Kansas City Star editorial headline offered an early glimpse of history’s verdict on the state’s junior Senator: “Assault on Democracy: Sen. Josh Hawley has blood on his hands in Capitol coup attempt.” In the Washington Post that same day, George Will proposed that from that day forward, Hawley, along with Trump and Cruz, “will each wear the scarlet ‘S’ of a seditionist.”

 

That yawning gap between TR’s and Hawley’s bold leaps into fame raises a question: Had Hawley learned nothing from his extended contemplation of the 26th President?  How could someone drawn to study a President who loved our democracy decide to attack it? And how—having written about TR’s crusades against corruption and hatred of liars—did Hawley become a slavish devotee of Donald Trump?  The book’s epilogue (available on the book’s Amazon webpage) is a detailed appraisal of TR’s beliefs and legacy, and it reveals an almost schizophrenic gap between the professed values of the author and the treacherous actions of the Senator.  It is worth considering the light it sheds on Hawley’s entry into American history.

 

It turns out that Hawley’s words of praise for Roosevelt, published in 2008, today read like calls to action against Trump, and that Hawley’s sharp criticisms of TR now sound like damning attacks on the current President. Here are a few examples of that confusing picture, which prompt a further effort to unlock the Senator’s current motives.

 

Hawley begins with lavish praise for TR, as a man who stirred his countrymen “with his calls to focus anew on the meaning and practice of democratic liberty.” He credits Roosevelt with pondering “afresh the moral and intellectual requirements of democratic citizenship; to ask after the best institutional arrangements to sustain free life…”  In those words, one can almost hear TR calling out from the grave to condemn our current President’s attack on those very institutional arrangements.  As for Hawley’s leadership of the January 6th assault on “the meaning and practice of democratic liberty,” the author’s words all but amount to a confession of the Senator’s own guilt.

 

The book’s epilogue then turns to sharp criticism of TR.  Here, Hawley goes beyond a predictable conservative critique of Roosevelt’s progressive economic policies, and aims at two aspects of TR’s character: his racism and his obsession with power. It is reassuring to read author Hawley’s forceful denunciation of Roosevelt’s white nationalism, until one remembers that Senator Hawley condones Trump’s resurrection of racist presidential rhetoric—six decades after the civil rights movement had made denunciation of such views a minimal standard of decency. But it is Hawley’s critique of TR’s alleged obsession with power that best illuminates the schizophrenic gap between the author and the Senator.

 

A relatively minor example is the disconnect between author Hawley’s condemnation of Roosevelt’s tendency “to treat the most powerful as the most virtuous,” and Senator Hawley’s silence on Trump’s attraction to murderous despots like Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, and Kim Jung Un. But it is Hawley’s attack on TR’s own love of power that is most striking in this regard: “By locating the source of human purpose in human volition or will, Roosevelt ominously suggested that there is no ethical structure or moral law imbedded in the universe, discernible through well-formed reason and reflection. His life philosophy thus provided no internal restraint on the exercise of the will, and no guide for the proper use of power.”  How can Senator Hawley fail to detect that same dangerous defect in Trump? That blindness appears even more striking when one notes Hawley’s important caveat to his charge against TR’s elevation of power over ethics, as he praises TR’s insistence that “one should fight honorably, and slow fairness and even compassion in life’s battle.” If the author somehow regained control over the mind of the Senator, Hawley would be raging against a President whose will to power knows no such limits.

 

Since Hawley appears to have renounced all of the values underlying both his praise and his condemnations of TR, one is left to wonder what drives him now. From portions of the epilogue, along with a more recent article, one might detect signs of an internal struggle, in which loyalty to the actual American democracy, whose secular and progressive tendencies appall him, succumbed to his vision of a more righteous democracy marked by Hawley’s brand of cultural conservatism, in which any Democratic presidential candidate would be doomed to defeat.  

 

In that vein, Hawley maintains that TR’s progressive nationalism, once shorn of that President’s insistence on Christian virtues, set the stage for America’s descent into a “banal project of economic management.” In a 2019 publication (in Christianity Today) that similarly reflects that dark view, Hawley condemns a wealthy elite that has deprived “the great middle of America” of their “God-given ability to govern themselves.” There is a Steve Bannon-like quality to this aspect of author Hawley: a confused effort to fuse working class aspirations, Christian conservatism, and a need, as Bannon depicts it, to “deconstruct the administrative state.” But it is hard to decipher what drove Hawley to cross the line from hoping that a majority would embrace his view, to a willingness to disenfranchise the actual majority that rejects it. Readers can judge Hawley’s personal ideology for themselves, but it remains the case that the author’s clear judgments of TR read like ringing rejections of the Senator’s effort to overturn a presidential election.

 

What is there left to find, as one seeks to understand a despicable act by a man who knew better?  What, in the end, made Teddy Roosevelt the man Hawley most wanted to learn about?  Here, and despite the chasm between organizing a cavalry to charge up San Juan Hill and instigating a mob to charge up the Capitol steps, it isn’t hard to imagine Hawley believing that he somehow embodies the spirit of that brilliant, heroic man of destiny. 

 

In that inflated self-conception, Hawley would have regarded himself as armed by a sense of profound, unique insight into an unfolding national crisis, with January 6, 2021 looming as the put up or shut up day for a Senator to take a truly bold stance, and acutely aware of TR’s conviction that “nine-tenths of wisdom is being is being wise in time.” Following this line of speculation, one can even picture Hawley reciting to himself TR’s most famous speech:

 

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…  and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

 

Of course, in the wrong hands, those sentiments are nothing but a rationale for sheer opportunism, and Hawley—like his current favorite President—has well demonstrated how dangerous an opportunist can be. In Hawley’s confused mind, perhaps, he boldly and brilliantly beat his pro-Trump Senatorial colleagues to the punch, endeared himself to Trump and his base, and paved the way for a presidential run in 2024. Thanks to his Rough Rider instincts, courage, and will, he may have told himself, someone, someday, might be writing President Hawley: Preacher of Righteousness.

 

Sorry, Senator Hawley, if that was your reasoning, it contained a fatal flaw.  You forgot that TR fused the self-righteousness of his will to power with a commitment to be a guardian of American democracy, and to lead with an unwavering commitment to honesty.  Here are a few pertinent TR quotes, not found in author Hawley’s epilogue, that the Senator would do well to revisit:

 

“We cannot afford, as citizens of this republic, to tolerate the successful scoundrel any more than the unsuccessful scoundrel.”

 

“A man should no more be excused for lying on the stump than for lying off the stump.”

 

“This country has nothing to fear from the crooked man who fails. We put him in jail. It is the crooked man who succeeds who is a threat to this country.”

 

“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country… it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”  

Whatever his motives, Hawley has left his serious assessment of Teddy Roosevelt far behind, from his praise of Roosevelt’s commitment to democratic institutions, to his complaint that TR felt “no internal restraint on the exercise of the will, and no guide for the proper use of power.” Instead, he embraced his January 6 rendezvous with destiny, greeting the arriving mob with a clenched fist of support. Nor did he waver as the mayhem unfolded:  the smashed doors and windows, his colleagues fleeing in fear, the insurrectionists racing through the halls waving Confederate and Trump flags, the police beaten with metal clubs, the woman shot dead. His own face, unmarred by the dust and blood on the Capitol’s floors, was ready to reappear on tv.

 

When the building was cleared and the alphabetical reading of state names commenced, Hawley stood his ground and challenged the electoral college vote of Pennsylvania, forcing the separation of Senate and House into a post-midnight debate. He would now repeat charges scathingly rejected by judges, verdicts which the Supreme Court declined to reconsider. The point was to amplify doubts about Trump’s defeat, to delegitimize America’s elections, and to threaten its 240-year-old democracy, all to advance his own ambitions.  As TR would have said, and his now comatose biographer would have agreed—Senator Hawley had become an unpatriotic scoundrel.

 

If Josh Hawley, as a student of TR, has received a failing grade, is there anything that genuine defenders of the American experiment might learn from that pivotal, flawed historic figure, who took on big business to stabilize American democracy, and who unapologetically pursued the expansion of American power?  How might Roosevelt have appraised the behavior of the Democrats over the past four years?

 

Here, one can imagine TR asking: How did you arrive at a moment when a demagogue could send a mob into the halls of Congress in a bid to reverse his defeat, when the salvation of the Republic had hinged on decisions by a handful of judges, state legislators, and election administrators?  At the start, why didn’t President Obama forcefully confront Russia’s 2016 subversion of the election, when defenders of the Republic still held the high ground of the White House, and before the patriots investigating Putin’s attack became presidential prey? Throughout, why did you engage traitors with respectful dialogue, as if the arena remained a marketplace of ideas rather than of raw combat against relentless liars?  If one looks to TR’s own words for an example of that sentiment, the following might have offered a useful corrective to the Democrats’ propensity to bring debating points to a knife fight: “A milk-and-water righteousness unbacked by force is to the full as wicked as and even more mischievous than force divorced from righteousness.”

 

Democracy has survived, but it was too close a call. On January 20, a decent President will again occupy the presidential high ground surrendered in 2016, backed by narrow majorities in Congress.  To avoid squandering this fortunate second chance, liberal yearnings for national healing must be balanced a stronger dose of a Rooseveltian will to power. The rule of law must be forcefully applied wherever Trump’s pardons allow, white nationalist militias must be crushed, and free speech advocates must confront the now undeniable lethality of the big lie technique.

 

Teddy Roosevelt, like his distant presidential relative Franklin, was often accused, thanks to supporting a better deal for ordinary workers, of being a traitor to his class. He never earned judgment, as Senator Josh Hawley now has, as traitor to his country. Along with the other instigators of the January 6 act of sedition, he must wear that scarlet “S” until he leaves the political arena in defeat, as he will, inescapably, wear it into history.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178703 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178703 0
Editor's Note on Coverage of the Capitol Riot and Related Events Readers, as I imagine that you are, I am stunned, if not entirely surprised, by the events of this past Wednesday when a mob incited by the President stormed the Capitol building to obstruct the verification of the electoral votes. 

I have been deeply impressed by the initiative historians have shown in writing to help the public understand this eruption of political violence in the context of the nation's history. HNN will continue to repost, as quickly as we can, news stories informed by historical analysis and opinion writing by historians published around the web in our Breaking News, Historians in the News, and Roundup sections. Readers are also encouraged to check out historian Megan Kate Nelson's roundup of writing by historians. 

We will also be publishing opinion essays original to HNN on our site. Althugh HNN generally publishes a whole slate of articles on Sundays, the fast-moving nature of events this week demands a different approach. I will be publishing a small slate of essays today, and continue to update the site with new content as it is ready. If you're a contributor waiting to see your article online, I ask for your patience, and thank you for voicing your views. 

HNN will likely return to a normal publication schedule after next week, with the obvious caveat that events may dictate otherwise. 

 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178707 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178707 0
A Modern Day Lynch Mob Invaded the Capitol on January 6

 

 

The terrorists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, were nothing less than an old-fashioned lynch mob. The fact that they did not succeed in lynching anyone is rather immaterial—they were prepared to do so, even down to the gallows they erected on the National Mall. And every other facet of their actions harkens back to the spectacle lynchings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

First, just consider the impunity with which they operated. These terrorists besieged the capitol building and then roamed its halls undisguised. Likewise, on December 31, 1904, a mob of about 700 people broke into the jail at Newport, Arkansas, and took Louis Allwhite, whom they marched to a railroad trestle outside of town, where they hanged him. This occurred in the full light of day, and despite the fact that members of the mob were described as “generally known” by the press, the coroner’s jury nonetheless concluded that Allwhite “came to his death at the hands of an unknown mob.” The next day, the Arkansas Gazette editorialized: “Why should there be talk about the decline of humor? It Isn’t on decline at Newport.” Of course, the greatest manifestation of the mob’s impunity was taking pictures of themselves with the lynching victim, knowing full well that documenting their crimes would not affect their lives at all. And so did we see the terrorists of January 6 extensively document their attacks upon police and their acts of property damage, all on social media.

Next, both groups, those older lynch mobs and these more modern terrorists, collected souvenirs of their deeds. The examples of lynch mobs taking souvenirs is extensive. After the lynched body of Henry James was finally taken down after his May 14, 1892, hanging, residents of Little Rock, Arkansas, rushed to grab pieces of the rope that had been used to string him up. On June 19, 1913, the mob that lynched Will Norman in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, at the site of the current Hot Springs Confederate Monument, burned his body to ashes and then sifted through the remains to gather up bits of bone that could be kept or sold to tourists. Our more modern American terrorist groups are likewise obsessed with souvenirs of their deeds. One of the thugs who raided Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, an Arkansan named Richard “Bigo” Barnett, made a public show of having stolen a letter from her desk. Other members of the mob grabbed furniture, with one terrorist in a Trump hat even making off with a podium.

Finally, we must consider the relationship between the mob and law enforcement. Lynch mobs actually had a very good relationship with the police. Consider the May 4, 1927 lynching of John Carter in Little Rock. One picture of the event shows a policemen at the place where Carter was initially hanged by the mob, and although we cannot determine too much from this single image, he does not seem to be exerting himself against the murderers who surround him. According to some accounts of the lynching, when the mob decided to take Carter’s body to the heart of the black business district of Little Rock, there to burn it, Sheriff Mike Haynie was watching them and made no move to stop them. And when the mob reached their destination and began rioting downtown, the police played cards in their basement and made no move to restore order, forcing the governor to call out the National Guard. Even when law enforcement was not so accommodating to the mob as they were in Little Rock in 1927, we can see certain patterns emerge. Sheriffs post maybe one lone jailer at the county lock-up so that it is easy for the mob to overcome him and take his prisoner. Sheriffs refuse to call the governor for reinforcements even as they are intimately aware of the potential for mob violence. On January 6, 2021, we saw federal law enforcement follow many of these same patterns for the Trump-supporting terrorists in Washington DC. We saw a diminished mobilization of Capitol Police in the face of well-planned mob violence. We saw those police essentially open the gates to the terrorists, take selfies with them, help them down the stairs, and only make a handful of arrests. Just as with the case of John Carter, the National Guard was deployed only when the mob in Washington DC had achieved their goal.

The governor of my state, Republican Asa Hutchinson, made a name for himself in the 1980s as a U.S. attorney prosecuting a home-grown white supremacist terrorist group called the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord (CSA). Among other things, this group wanted to overthrow the government and “purify” the nation of Jewish and non-white influence, especially in the media. However, the rhetoric of the CSA is now the mainstream rhetoric of the Republican Party, a party whose most prominent leaders have been promoting distrust of the mainstream media and urging the violent overthrow of our democratically elected government. About a century ago, it was the Republican Party that was pushing for anti-lynching legislation. Now Republican legislators, such as Missouri senator Josh Hawley and Texas senator Ted Cruz, cheer on those who construct a gallows on the National Mall.

Democracy in America will not come to its death “at the hands of an unknown mob.” We know who the mob leaders are. They are “generally known.” They have been broadcasting their intentions for a long time now.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178706 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178706 0
Black Women Have Been Important Party and Electoral Organizers for a Century

Portrait of Mary Church Terrell by Betsy Graves Reynau, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

 

 

Today, Black women’s influence in political campaigns is visible and dramatic. In recent presidential and midterm elections, over 90% of Black women’s votes went to the Democratic candidates. Preliminary figures for the 2020 presidential election indicate that the Biden/Harris ticket received approximately 55% of women’s votes, but over 90% of Black women’s votes. Not only did Black women vote in 2020, they registered others, organized get-out-the-vote drives, and fought widespread and varied voter suppression measures. Despite the recent concerted efforts of white domestic terrorist insurrectionists, they have put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House.

 

The vote had different meanings for Black and white women after the Civil War. Black women joined white suffragists in demanding the vote for women, but white suffragists refused to recognize that racism and sexism were intimately tied together. For Black women, the vote was not only about an individualistic aspiration to be counted as a full citizen, but a means to achieving broader goals of racial justice and the advancement of their community. While Black women almost never opposed woman suffrage, many white women did; it was still a highly contested demand and Black women were at the forefront in their unwavering support of it.

 

Even without the right to vote, Black women engaged in political organizing and partisan debates. During Reconstruction, they were fully engaged in political discussions, speaking out at conventions and with men in their families. Congressional Republicans supported the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which ended slavery, recognized Black Americans as citizens, and Black men as voters. Thus, for a few generations, the great majority of African American men and women backed the Republican Party as more likely to aid and advance their communities, end voter suppression, and protect them from violence than the Democratic Party, which openly endorsed white supremacy.

 

After the end of Reconstruction in 1876 and with the spread of Jim Crow and white supremacy in the 1890s, white Republicans moved farther away from their commitments to Black men’s voting rights and civil rights. Black women pressed the Republican Party to stay true to its identity as the “Party of Lincoln.” Civil rights and suffrage activists like Mary Church Terrell implored the GOP to reverse the disfranchisement of Southern Black men. Securing their own right to vote was inseparable from their challenges to Black men’s disenfranchisement. Terrell called for Republican lawmakers to pass a women’s suffrage amendment, a federal anti-lynching law, and laws enforcing Black men’s voting rights.

 

Women first gained the right to vote in several states, including Illinois in 1913. Black women in Chicago organized to bring their civil rights agenda—and Black politicians—into the city council. Antilynching activist and Republican Ida B. Wells-Barnett formed the Alpha Suffrage Club, which rallied behind Oscar Stanton DePriest in the 1915 city council election. Black women voters gave DePriest a clear victory as the first Black alderman. By registering thousands of Black Chicagoans to vote and by casting their own votes, Black women had wielded political influence in local government.[i] Alderman DePriest, in the NAACP’s The Crisis, endorsed women’s voting rights: “the experience in Chicago has been that the women cast as intelligent a vote as the men….Personally, I am more than thankful for their work and as electors believe they have every necessary qualification that the men possess.”

 

Celebrating the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, Black women then got back to work as partisans in electoral politics. As loyal Republicans they demanded paid campaign positions and decried the continued disenfranchisement of Southern Black men and women. The Republican National Committee (RNC) hired white and Black women in key organizing positions for the 1920 presidential election.

 

From RNC headquarters in New York City, Mary Church Terrell led the get-out-the-vote drive on the East Coast. Terrell traveled widely, speaking about the vote as Black women’s “weapon of defense.”[ii] Organizing northern Black women voters to elect politicians who supported anti-discrimination laws and a federal antilynching bill, she also alerted them to bills they should back or oppose via letter-writing, petition campaigns, and their votes. Similar to organizers today, Terrell stressed the importance of local elections and legislation at the local and state-levels, where racist politicians and policies might win if Black voters just paid attention to and participated in national elections.

 

To advance their long-delayed priority, a federal anti-lynching bill, Black women decided to organize separately from the RNC in 1924. The National League of Republican Colored Women only supported candidates who pledged to back the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. In spite of their partisan loyalties, however, Black Republican women were repeatedly betrayed by the Republican-dominated Senate’s failure to pass the bill.

 

By the Great Depression, Black women were ready to consider whether the Democratic Party might be able to transcend its self-identification as the party of white supremacy and segregation.

The Democratic candidate for president in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, did not get significant support from African American voters. During his first term, a Democratic majority in Congress passed New Deal programs that benefitted (however unevenly) most Americans in a time of great need. Black voters began to shift their votes to the Democratic Party. Mary McLeod Bethune, a former member of the National League of Republican Colored Women and a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, for instance, switched to the Democratic Party. She became the highest-ranked Black woman in a government position when she was appointed to head the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.

 

For the first time, in the 1948 presidential election, a majority of Black voters registered as Democrats and voted for Harry Truman, who had stood against segregation in the military and backed a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. In that same election, white supremacists left the Democratic Party under the leadership of South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond. Since then, the great majority of African Americans have been Democrats, fighting for the Black freedom struggle from inside the party and from without. Facing white vigilante violence on the ground, as well as a lack of political will from both political parties during the Civil Rights Movement, Black women activists, including Fannie Lou Hamer, pushed the Democratic Party for real legislative change. Congress finally passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Black women and men throughout the South registered to vote, putting many Black politicians into office. But the Democratic Party has not been responsive to demands for real change and justice.

 

The Democratic Party should no longer take for granted the Black voters who secured them previous elections and, now, the 2020 presidential election. Black women like LaTosha Brown and Stacey Abrams have done the hard work of organizing key 2020 elections, including the one in Georgia that has given Kamala Harris, the first Black and Indian woman Vice President, the deciding vote in the Senate.

 

[i] Hendricks, “’Vote for the Advantage of Ourselves and Our Race,’” 184; and Wanda Hendricks, “Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago,” in One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, ed. Marjorie Spruill Wheeler (Troutdale, OR: New Sage Press, 1995), 272-274.

[ii] Parker, Unceasing Militant, 150.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178711 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178711 0
Historians, Insurrectionists and Fragile White Folks  

 

 

 

We well-intentioned white folks find ourselves called on as never before to demand that Black Lives Matter. Conscience tells us that we must do all we can to put down those who shred the fabric of our (presumably) multiracial democracy. We must insist on bringing the killers of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to account, on facing down Congress-trashing insurrectionists, on disarming white supremacist political opportunists and on visiting justice on our criminal outgoing President.

 

But as any serious student of American history will be quick to caution, all of the above, as important is it is, will not, by itself, cut it. The same deep-seated racial bigotry that has so profoundly shaped our past, such a historian will observe, is precisely what is driving the news cycle today and will continue doing so until we fundamentally disrupt it. Our deepest challenge is not defeating Josh Hawley, the Proud Boys, and our terrorism-enabling outgoing President, imperative as those actions are. It is the painful, slow, sustained unwinding of structural white supremacy and the political culture that nurtures it. History in short, indicates that we white folks need to step up this very moment to insure that Black Lives Do Indeed Matter, and to persist in sustaining this fundamental struggle over the very long haul.  

 

But at this agonizing juncture, most unfortunately, we white folks have been told in no uncertain terms that we lack the basic emotional strength to do precisely this. And still more unfortunately, a disturbingly large number of us have come to believe it after having absorbed the basic message of Robin D’Angelo’s wildly popular White Fragility: Why White People Find it So Hard to Talk About Racism, which easily outsold Hunger Games throughout this past summer’s burgeoning protests over the murder of George Floyd.  

 

D’Angelo counsels that when we white folks face racially charged situations we find ourselves held hostage by guilt, fear and defensiveness arising from our “unconscious biases.” Thus immobilized, our first priority should be to look deeply inward, take scrupulous inventory of our embedded bigotry, name it, confess it, share it and finally atone for it. And all over the country that’s what many of us have been doing when participating White Fragility discussion groups sponsored by communities of faith and college administrators as well as in corporation mandated “diversity training” sessions.

 

I’m one of those historians (a specialist in the history of abolitionism and of white supremacy) who insist that white folks must sign up for the long haul, not simply protest in the present moment. So as I see it Robin D’Angelo’s analysis is dangerously counterproductive because it invites us white folks to ignore what history can teach us and to suppress our gut-level imperatives to step up and truly “make a difference.” Rather than looking inward as D’Angelo recommends we white people can best prepare ourselves to grapple with racial conflicts by looking to the past for answers—and then perhaps connecting to our personal experiences and social responsibilities. 

 

With these convictions in mind and as a personal response to the murder of George Floyd I’ve recently released a series of YouTube videos titled “Jim Stewart’s Historical Tonic for Fragile White Folks that strongly contests D’Anglo’s diagnosis. Since then, tragically, the failed insurrection against democracy has added greatly to their timeliness. A press release gives the gist of the series’ approach.

 

Just up on YouTube: “Jim Stewart’s Historical Tonic for Fragile White Folks.”  These 16 mini-lectures (6-10 minutes) give an unflinching account of the brutal history of white supremacy in the United States after 1865.  They speak to the general public and are designed to support antiracism initiatives being undertaken by communities of faith, labor unions, civic groups, businesses and student organizations.  Their presentation is informal and accessible. They appeal not to white guilt but instead to history-supported empowerment and are documented with vivid images and film clips. Several college campuses, businesses and congregations are currently using them as they develop antiracism projects. For further information, click https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoIUI7MoZfo8CM3-fHdFylQ/videos  

 

So how, exactly, does this project push back against “white fragility” in our present moment?  The succinct answer is that it places the power of historical knowledge and insight at the center of the struggle for racial justice, black and white bound together. It demonstrates that our work as scholars and teachers, when effectively presented to people from every walk of life, is a powerful antidote to “white fragility” and high-energy stimulant of sustained antiracist activism.

 

The plain fact is, however, that we antiracist historians have never succeeded in substantially influencing the general public. The videos offer an example of how this problem might be overcome. We are fortunate if our books get read by anyone besides our fellow specialists. The PBS documentaries in which some of us show up have demonstrated no self-sustaining audience appeal. Our op-eds, blog posts, interviews and video conferences have the most fleeting of half lives. These videos, by contrast, are designed so that their impact expands and endures.

 

Solving this “perishability problem” takes on particular urgency for activist-inclined historians at this intensely uncertain moment. Across these various media we are witnessing an extraordinary supernova of historian-driven antiracist illumination in the press and on the internet. One’s list might begin with David Blight, Eric Foner, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Nancy McLean, Donald Yacovone, Nicole Hannah-Jones, Michael Landis, Jill Lepore, Jelani Cobb, Manisha Sinha, Robert E. Wright, Eddie S. Glaude, Heather Cox Richardson, Leslie Harris, Karen L. Cox, and Ibram X. Kendi, and go on from there.

 

But this list also poses a critically important question particularly in the aftermath of the terrorists’ siege of the Congress:  Can our historian-ignited “supernova” be made to expand antiracist commitment deep into our political universe? Is there a way to empower people in general as they develop their own engaged understanding of the past and day-to-day activism in the present?   Can we historians preach our way past our predictably “progressive” choir with a message that sustains a much broader desire and demand for racial justice apart from any current political positions?

 

Because the challenge of dismantling structural white supremacy and encouraging true democratic principles is so enormous providing answers to these questions as we enter the ‘post-Trump” era is absolutely urgent. African American journalist and author Pamela Newkirk bluntly sets forth the reasons why:

 

 "Racial diversity will only be achieved once White America is weaned off a prevailing narrative of racial preeminence — a belief system as intoxicating and addictive, and ultimately destructive, as any opiate…. “Change will require resources and resolve, but no amount of money, no degree of effort, will succeed alongside a willful negation of our shared humanity.”

 

In short, it’s no longer simply (!!) a matter of passing and enforcing enlightened laws, implementing equitable administrative procedures and developing democratizing public policies. Neither is it a matter of arraigning MAGA terrorists and abusive politicians   Instead Newkirk’s challenging vision flawlessly reprises the bedrock insight of Frederick Douglass who spent his life demanding that first and foremost American society undergo a soul-purging “moral revolution.”

 

Does Douglass’ “moral revolution” anticipate D’Anglo’s “fragility” solution? Is this also what Newkirk is advocating? The simple answer in Douglass’ case is a resounding “no” (Best to ask Newkirk directly). Biographer David Blight has demonstrated that for Douglass moving toward “moral revolution” required ceaseless engagement, not self-regarding contemplation.  That’s a far remove from introspective psychological theory.

 

But when stepping forward to address the general public even in our current highly fraught circumstances, we antiracist historians harbor no revolutionary expectations. Our modest goals make perfect sense but also pitch us into a torturous dilemma.  Thanks to what we study and to what we read into today’s headlines, we know just as well as Douglass did the intractable nature of white bigotry. Arraying our historical knowledge against it to move the public is an existential imperative, a fundamental moral obligation, an exercise in trench warfare, an expression of personal anguish. But we know that an authentic “moral revolution,” if ever possible, requires so very much more.

 

But at the same time, as noted, the grim fact is that our attempts to influence the public as historian/ journalists are ephemeral one-offs in the public’s rapidly shifting consciousness. They quickly become “yesterday’s news.” Ours, clearly, is anything but a position of strength. Yet in the present moment the imperative that our knowledge be widely heard has never been more pressing and obvious.

This sobering diagnosis even affects Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s “Reconstruction: America after the Civil War,” by my estimate, the most powerful documentary we have that addresses the struggle for racial justice in America. It runs four hours and features incisive contributions from a wealth of distinguished commentators. Its script is wondrously accessible and it is enriched by eye-catching images and production features. This list of major underwriters of that film suggests the enormity of its bottom line:

 Johnson & Johnson, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Ford Foundation; The Gilder   Foundation; Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky, CBE; Lloyd Carney  Foundation; and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.

In my perfect world all white Americans will have viewed it, learned from it, discussed it with their children, and infused it into the public school curriculum. Its impact would reverberate deeply across the decades ahead. Here in our “real world,” Gates himself has done everything possible to make something like this happen. Search Google, see for yourself, and come away staggered by his investments of time, intellect and energy. Add to that his teaching text that supplements the documentary, Stony Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy and the Rise of Jim Crow (2019) and the incorporation of both book and documentary in the pre-collegiate curriculum of the Howard Zinn Project.

 

The odds against Gates’ effort succeeding alone, however, are overwhelming unless we provide serious reinforcement. As we sort through the consequences of our failed coup d’etat attention spans will continue shrinking and challenges will multiply for this four hour documentary. Once we reach, say, 2023, Reconstruction’s cachet as the ‘next big thing” will have faded. Teachers will have begun revising their pedagogy as current trends, fair or foul, dictate. In the end, this most luminous fire in our history-powered “supernova” will, like the others, go dim---- unless we work to sustain it, push out its boundaries and embed its wisdom in our nation’s political culture. That’s the basic goal of “Jim Stewart’s Historical Tonic for Fragile White Folks.”   

 

Each segment of the “Tonic” delivers a straight-up account of a pivotal event or trend in the brutal history of post-1865 America.  There are no pulled punches, no concessions to presumably “fragile” viewers. Each is laced with attention reinforcing graphics and images, follows the established historical chronology, addresses the era’s dramatic themes and consequences and represents the scholarship of our finest post-emancipation historians. The Tonic’s advantage is that it offers these lessons in small (though bitter tasting), self-paced, rapid-acting doses.  And once ingested, its historical impact stimulates white folks to reconsider their roles in the struggle for justice—and to begin acting. This is how the ‘Tonic” makes its way into day-to day political culture— viewing by viewing, conversation by conversation, personal action by personal action.

 

Here in Minnesota, where I live, the videos have been adopted for antiracism education by three large Protestant churches and a major Synagogue. The Ramsey County Library System is circulating them to its thousands of users and planning follow up programming that involves community activists.  Macalester College, the University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas are working to integrate them into their teaching and programming. In February, the Minnesota Council of Churches will consider the “Tonic” as it develops statewide antiracism initiatives. Outside Minnesota similar trends are developing on at least six college campuses, among churches and synagogues and in other community organizations. Additionally, a consulting firm has appointed me its adviser and is adapting the videos for their corporate clients’ diversity training programs. All this activity in the twelve weeks since the “Tonic” became available on YouTube.

 

How can videos that so dig deeply into such a shameful history evidently gain such rapid acceptance by so many “unconsciously racist” white folks? To answer that question, view the videos yourself. It is worth observing however that the “Tonic’s” production costs totaled a mere $6000.00, preparation required less than a month and recording took only six hours.  Producing it was no great challenge. Activist-inclined historians of the Native American, Asian and Latinx experience might want to think on this.*

 

What we all should be thinking about are skyrocketing hate crime statistics, Proud Boys mobilizing, “dog whistles” becoming bugle blasts, armed Q-Anon Representatives infiltrating the Congress, former President Trump’s approval rating among Republicans hovering at 90% and the list of those murdered at the hands of the police growing ever longer. Projects like Jim Stewart’s Historical Tonic for Fragile White Folks” alone won’t bring the “moral revolution” that Douglass envisioned. They will, however, keep our essential work as historians from becoming “yesterday’s news” and un-fragile white folks engaged in the struggle for racial justice.

 

 

 * To explore this possibility I highly recommend contacting The “Tonic’s” abundantly gifted videographer Dan Rippl,  http://www.ripplcreative.com/ .    

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178783 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178783 0
Trump's Nero Decree

 

Editor's note: This essay was submitted and accepted for publication prior to the events of January 6. The author has added a brief note indicating reflecting the magnitude of the day. It is the editor's opinion that the essay nevertheless addresses a longer-term question about the security of Americans and the nation that remains significant. 

 

As the Soviet Red Army closed in on Adolf Hitler’s bunker in Berlin in the waning days of the Second World War, Germany’s Chancellor for a Thousand Year Reich became ever more delusional and desperate. Almost to the end of his life he continued to believe that some technological or military miracle would turn the course of war and save him and his regime.

At some point, however, hope irrevocably faded in his twisted mind, and bitterness and a desire for revenge replaced it. He became convinced that it was not his role to shoulder the blame for Germany’s defeat, but that of a nation whose will to persevere was lacking, thereby betraying him and his mission. He came to believe that such cowards did not deserve to survive.

The result was what has come to be labeled by historians as the infamous “scorched earth” or Nero decree, after the brutal Roman emperor. Promulgated on March 19, 1945, a mere two months before the end of the war in Europe, its rather anodyne formal designation, “Destructive Measures on Reich Territory,” belied its demand for the massive destruction of Germany’s remaining infrastructure vital to its population’s survival after defeat.

For Donald Trump his loss to Joe Biden in the recent Presidential election has been the psychological equivalent of a lost war that he believes he should have won. While he has not issued a formal American version of the Nero decree, his actions, motivated by disbelief and resentment, are filled with a desire for retribution against a nation that has supposedly abandoned him.

Nothing symbolizes his present nihilistic attitude more clearly than his approach to our country’s infrastructure, the very same object of Hitler’s ire some seventy-five years before. Having swept into office in 2016 on the slogan of Making America Great Again, he promised to rebuild the material backbone of the nation on which its future health and prosperity depended. He chastised his predecessors for not having reconstructed and expanded our roads, railways, dams, electrical networks and much more. In Atlanta in July of this year, at a news conference announcing the “overhaul” of the infrastructure approval process, he proclaimed himself to be a master builder who understood “construction and building, and other things beyond building.”

Yet after four years in office Trump has overseen a continued deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure that probably would now give it a grade even lower than the D+ announced by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card.  Despite a campaign promise to invest $1 trillion in the rebuilding of America, he has never seemed interested in initiating any meaningful public works project except for one, his “big, beautiful” wall separating the United States from Mexico.

Ever since the election, construction on the wall has accelerated. Like a zombie that refuses to die, it trudges across the southwestern landscape without purpose or function. According to one recent NPR report, Trump’s contractors are leveling everything in their path, “dynamiting mountainsides and bulldozing pristine desert.” In scenes reminiscent of some American version of a Wagnerian Twilight of the Gods, 13 different contractors on 29 construction projects from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, are working “all night long under light towers to meet Trump's goal of 450 miles of new barriers before his term is over."

Trump and his allies are weaving a similar path of destruction with respect to state and local governments, our providers of essential services and front-line fighters against the depredations of the Covid-19 virus. In the face of repeated Democratic efforts to include financial aid for these beleaguered jurisdictions in any new pandemic-relief bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has steadfastly refused even to consider such a measure. According to Moody Analytics, state and local governments that entered 2020 with $119 billion in so-called “rainy day funds” to offset unforeseen revenue shortfalls now face a projected shortfall of $450 billion over the next three years, even with an economic recovery.

The Senator leading the charge in this “scorched earth” approach to state and local finances, is Rick Scott of Florida. Writing in an op-ed piece for National Review, he castigated Democrats who wanted Congress “to just send money to liberal politicians who have already shown they can’t be trusted with it.” He concluded that such profligate elected officials have these budget shortfalls because “they did not prioritize their struggling constituents in the first place, and instead wasted money on other things.

What Scott conveniently neglected to mention in his op-ed was that his own home state of Florida, which surely must be a model of fiscal virtue since it is governed and represented by conservatives such as himself, was among the most profligate jurisdictions in the country. It is now confronting a $5 billion deficit in general revenues that fund such things as schools, health care and public safety. This shortfall has led Republican State Senate President Wilton Simpson to opine in what must be an epitome of understatement, “we have less revenue, therefore we will have less government.”

The problem is that less state and local government inevitably means less ability to fight on the ground the Covid virus raging through our communities and greater dependence on a White House that simply no longer seems to care. For Trump the virus has always represented a war that he might lose and there is nothing more he fears than being considered a “loser.” His mantra at one election rally after another has always been “COVID, COVID, COVID,” an almost magical incantation followed by the promise that the disease would soon end either of its own accord or because he won re-election.

Trump, like Hitler before him, has always placed his hope in the development of a miracle solution to his problems, in this case the discovery of a vaccine. He has consistently failed to express any sympathy for the more than 300,000 Americans, who have lost their struggle against the disease, as well as the distraught families they have left behind. While we will never know for certain what his actual thoughts are, it is not inconceivable, given his statements and actions, that he sees his dying fellow Americans as some form of “losers,” especially since they disproportionately come from weak and discriminated communities in nursing homes and black and brown neighborhoods. When asked in September to comment on the fact that at that time a thousand or more of his countrymen/women were losing their lives each day, he responded with aplomb, “they are dying. That's true. And you -- it is what it is.” For him it is obviously but a small step from weakness to expendability.

Indeed, his willingness to consider expendable those who have neither the will nor the strength to share his belief that he ought to remain our nation’s commander-in-chief for a second term has seen [until the events of January 6—FD] no more dangerous incarnation for our safety than in his attitude toward the recent revelations of a massive intrusion into America’s cyber security systems, both in the public and private sectors. In modern society, computers, their operating systems and the networks that connect them are the backbone of civilized life. To threaten their functioning is to threaten our national security, economic prosperity and material well-being. In the words of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, “this [cyber] threat poses a grave risk to the Federal Government and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as critical infrastructure entities and other private sector organizations."

What has been the reaction of Donald Trump, the President of the United States, to this existential challenge to the core of our existence? Almost absolute silence. In the face of the grievances that he continues to harbor over a “stolen” election, in his mind this country’s potentially worst case of foreign spying on its soil pales in comparison.

It is sad to say, but there is probably nothing to be done to extract Donald Trump from his self-imposed, psychological bunker of hatred and revenge. The election of Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice-President will in the short-run ameliorate some of the most pressing effects of Trump’s Nero Decree. Yet Trump, his enablers and supporters continue to reject the legitimacy of any democratically elected government that they cannot control and rule, which means that their actions and beliefs leave open the most troubling question of all.  How do we convince millions upon millions of our fellow citizens that they do not need to destroy America in order to make America Great Again?

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178758 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178758 0
A New "Trump Precedent" Under the 25th Amendment?  

 

 

The storming of the Capitol Building on January 6th by a pro-Trump mob forced a lockdown of the Congress as Capitol police and other authorities cleared the area. Almost immediately, legislators, including House Speaker Pelosi, demanded Vice President Pence invoke the 25th Amendment and seize control from President Trump. The Amendment was passed, after all, to give power to the Vice President if the President was unable to carry out his or her duties. But how does this current situation compare historically to other incidents that provided the impetus for passing the 25th Amendment?

Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution reads, “In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President ....” A measure of ambiguity exists in this initial drafting by the Founding Fathers as to what constitutes inability, and how it might be determined. Additionally, the Founders were vague whether the vice president becomes the acting president or solely assumed the powers and duties of the presidency. These very ambiguities were eventually addressed by the passing of the 25th Amendment, but not before creating several difficulties throughout our history.

William Henry Harrison was the first president of the United States to die while in office. As a result, Vice President John Tyler succeeded him, initially receiving the title of “Vice President Acting President.” Vice President Tyler proved more ambitious though, as he moved into the White House and assumed full presidential power after having himself sworn in, which included giving an Inaugural Address on April 9, 1841 in which he outlined his policies as president. Those who opposed Tyler’s methods of assuming the presidency referred to him as “His Accidency,” a slight against Tyler showing he only gained that position given the death of his predecessor. Despite the cabinet asserting they should review Tyler’s decisions and that other members saw him only as an acting president, he stuck to his position, setting what some have called the “Tyler Precedent” until the amending of the Constitution in 1967.

Numerous other close calls occurred before 1967, including President Woodrow Wilson’s series of strokes. After suffering a more serious stroke in 1919, Wilson would never recover. However, his wife Edith and his doctor Cary Grayson kept his condition secret from Congress and the public. Though the Cabinet suggested a takeover by the vice president, by the time his condition became public knowledge only a few months remained in his presidency. As a result, the United States operated without a “competent” leader during this time.

Similarly, Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack during his presidency. He also required emergency surgery in July of 1956. Before these events though, Eisenhower attempted to clarify procedures in the event he became incapacitated. Though it had no legal authority, he had Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. draft an agreement which Vice President Richard Nixon then signed. Each of the times Eisenhower was unable to perform his duties, Nixon presided over Cabinet meetings with the aides of Eisenhower. As such, the executive branch continued its function, giving the public the sense that the situation was under control. In these scenarios though, Nixon never claimed to be president or acting president. His time would come later.

The need for more direct clarification became apparent with the assassination of President Kennedy as the general health of Vice President Johnson was subject to question. That same year, Senator Kenneth Keating of New York proposed an amendment based upon an earlier recommendation from the American Bar Association in 1960. This amendment became known as the Keating-Kefauver proposal, named after Keating and Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver. Some concerns arose as Senators pointed out that Congress might neglect to enact the necessary legislation or abuse the authority given in the proposed amendment. The text read in part, “The commencement and termination of any inability shall be determined by such method as Congress shall by law provide.” Congress would not pass this amendment given their fears. Two years later though under the Bayh-Celler proposal, named in part for Senator Birch Bayh of Title IX fame and Emanuel Celler, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a new amendment appeared. It differed from the Keating-Kefauver proposal by providing for filling the vacancy of the vice-presidential office prior to the next election, and defining a process by which presidential disability would be determined. The American Bar association as well as President Johnson endorsed the amendment. After ironing out some differences between the two versions signed in the House and Senate, the final version was submitted to the states for ratification on July 6, 1965.

The 25th Amendment served as a safeguard to fill vacancies in various scenarios, some not so kind. Spiro Agnew was replaced by Gerald Ford as Vice President after Agnew resigned over scandal and charges of political corruption. Nixon faced the same fate as he resigned in the wake of the Watergate Scandal, which forced his appointed Vice President Gerald Ford to fill the vacancy of the Presidency and nominate Nelson Rockefeller as vice president. Health issues still compelled some presidents to invoke sections as well. Ronald Reagan used the amendment while he underwent surgery for colon cancer to transfer power to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Similarly, President George W. Bush underwent anesthesia for two separate colonoscopies on June 29, 2002 and in 2007. He invoked Section 3 to make Vice President Dick Cheney the acting president.

Section 4 of the Amendment allows the vice president and a majority body of Congress to declare a president unable to perform his duties, thus making the vice president the acting president. The Reagan administration almost used Section 4, going as far as to draft the necessary paperwork when Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981. The papers were never signed though. Later in 1987, perhaps with signs of Alzheimer’s setting in, members of his staff again considered removing him from office. His Chief of Staff Howard Baker disagreed and took no action though.

Even at an earlier point in Donald Trump’s presidency, some discussed the possibility of using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. However, the events of January 6th have heightened these calls in the last days of his presidency. History shows that Trump’s current position varies from prior cases in which legislators invoked the 25th Amendment. It is Section 4 of the Amendment which reads in part that the Vice President along with a majority of either “principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide” in a written declaration “that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” His health, at least physically, appears to be of no concern. Yet, his instigation of mob violence resulting in death at the Capitol Building raises concerns about his ability, if not worthiness, to serve. Members of Congress as well as everyday constituents have taken to labeling his behavior as seditious, treasonous, and as calling for insurrection; a drastic difference from the first peaceful transfer of power between political parties in 1800. This does not account for members of the House and Senate that have supported his baseless claims. Though able to discharge his powers and duties, the quality of his actions and unreliable attention to his duties may serve as grounds for removal. Invoking the 25th Amendment now may set a new “Trump Precedent.”

 

 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178747 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178747 0
Public Speech and Democracy  

 

 

We have reached a critical juncture in our democracy. The violence yesterday on Capitol Hill and throughout the summer is evidence of something gone terribly amiss. It is time we collectively accept responsibility for our gross failures of leadership. 

Certainly, there is plenty of blame to go around for this failure. Those who have advocated for or sanctioned violence, yesterday and throughout the summer, failed to lead. Those who followed without opposing calls for violence also failed to lead.  

As the Dean of University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies — the world’s first institution of its kind, where multidisciplinary faculty are dedicated to the pursuit of new insights into the complexities and challenges of leadership — yesterday’s events have escalated my worst fears. 

Our leaders have used—or sanctioned the use of—speech as a weapon.

I am reminded of the words of John Stuart Mill, a 19th-century philosopher who was a great advocate for speech. But he did not advocate speech without rules. He denounced in the harshest terms ad hominem attacks on character that masquerade as arguments. He allowed that speech that incites physical harm can be restricted, providing a famous example of inciting violence against the corn dealers of his time. He wrote that public claims stating that corn dealers were “starvers of the poor” reasonably could be expected to cause harm and, therefore, were subject to “active interference” and punishment.

 

Public speech that incites riot is not to be sanctioned as free speech. 

 

For Mill, the importance of speech derived from its use as a learning device, a way for people to make better, more tolerant, and more informed choices, especially in the case of political choices. Unlike thoughts and beliefs that are not expressed in public, Mill argued that speech is primarily a social act. Through speech, we learn to understand, and hopefully, tolerate each other.

 

And as a social act, speech influences others, and its ability to influence comes with a level of accountability. Those in authority, such as politicians, or professors like myself, have a responsibility to speak truthfully and listen to counterarguments. Such limitations and restrictions attempt to balance the potential harms of speech against the potential benefits.

 

This is particularly important in a democracy.

 

Speech is an important indication of whether people are ready for democracy. Despite his radical support for widening the suffrage, Mill held that not all people were ready for self-governance.

Yesterday’s events demonstrate the salience of his worries. Mill wrote that people must be willing to make democracy work, “to do what is necessary to keep it standing,” and exercise the “self-restraint” to prevent factionalized violence between opposing groups in the polity. Absent this, Mill held that people are unready for self-governance.

 

In his time, he worried about “backward states” where people were divided into violent factions unwilling to listen to or speak with one another. Especially in light of his connection to the East India Company, Mill opened himself up to considerable criticism for this position. But he provided a partial answer to the question of when a group is ready for freedom: when people who are able to discuss and discriminate amongst ideas without descending into factional violence are sufficiently “advanced” for democracy.

 

After yesterday, I can’t help but wonder if we have become like the “backward states” that concerned Mill.

 

One thing is certain. All levels of the polity urgently require leadership that publicly and unequivocally advocates for nonviolent listening and respect across our differences and denounces calls for violence.

 

Our leaders must understand the responsibility associated with the public act of speech and the need for opposing groups to be sufficiently respectful and to listen without violence. This will provide us with a path forward.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178720 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178720 0
Will the Republicans Take the Fascist Option?  

 

 

 

Writing in the Washington Post four years ago, journalist Michael Kinsley gave this blunt assessment of the man about to become president:

 

“Donald Trump,” Kinsley wrote, “is a fascist.”

 

Four years later, it’s fair to ask: Is the Republican Party fascist?

 

It’s an incendiary question.  It’s also a serious one.  Even after the assault on the U.S. Capitol, eight Senate Republicans and 138 Republican members of the House of Representatives still voted to overturn a free and fair presidential election.  It is just the latest example of a party that is well to the right of most conservative parties in the democratic world. 

 

That alone wouldn’t make the Grand Old Party fascist.  The word itself is hard to characterize.  As one of Adolf Hitler’s biographers has put it, “trying to define ‘fascism’ is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.”

 

But it’s also real, as I learned working for an English-language newspaper in Rome in the mid-1980s.  There, I attended a neo-fascist rally in the Piazza del Popolo complete with searchlights and elderly men, all wearing the same berets, a sign, my interpreter told me, that they once belonged to Benito Mussolini’s infamous Blackshirts. 

 

While no two fascist movements are entirely alike, during fascism’s heyday in the 1920s and 30s, they shared several common themes.  All of those themes are present in today’s Republican Party. 

 

Fascists are anti-democratic 

 

All inter-war fascist movements took part in elections with one goal in mind: to destroy democracy and create a one-party state. 

 

That’s happening today in Poland, in Hungary, in Turkey. 

 

Here, it is the idea that only Republicans can legitimately win at the ballot box.  While this goes to the heart of the attempt to overturn November’s presidential election, the claim isn’t new.   

 

The same was said of Barack Obama’s elections (he wasn’t really born in this country) and Bill Clinton’s victories (he only won because of Ross Perot’s third-party candidacies).  If the elections aren’t legitimate, neither are the presidencies.  The same strategy will be used to undermine Joe Biden.

 

More than that, Republicans believe only they deserve to win.  As far back as 1984, Ronald Reagan declared the GOP is “America's party.''

 

Such thinking leads in one direction.  If Republicans are “America’s party” then Democrats are the “anti-America party.”  From there it’s a small step to believing that only Republicans can legitimately win at the ballot box, that Democrats only win by cheating.  If saving the country from such a party means resorting to strategies like voter suppression — or violence — so be it.

 

Never mind that this turns the American experiment in self-government on its head.  If democracy means anything, it means your side sometimes loses. 

 

That simple fact ought to be clear to every American.  Yet it, and Wednesday’s attempted insurrection, did not stop Congressional Republican diehards from voting to reject the electoral votes of several states for no reason other than the fact that they didn’t like the outcome of the presidential race.

 

Fascists attract followers with the “big lie”

 

For Mussolini the big lie was the “mutilated victory” after World War I, a stain that would be wiped out by establishing an Italian empire in the Mediterranean. 

 

For Adolf Hitler the big lie was the “stab-in-the-back,” that the “November criminals” caused Germany’s defeat in the same war, a stain that would be wiped out by getting rid of the Weimar Republic.

 

For Trump one big lie isn’t enough.  He has two of them. 

 

Trump’s first big lie was what he called “American carnage,” a fantasy America overrun by crime, drugs and illegal immigrants.

 

Whether the crisis is real or not is beside the point.  The national rebirth, the liberation will be achieved by one man: the party’s leader.  He, and he alone will restore the nation to greatness.  Or, as Trump declared: “I alone can fix it.”

 

Trump’s second big lie is that he won a landslide in the 2020 election — a victory that a new batch of “November criminals” has conspired to deny him and his followers.  That was the message of his “Save America” rally on Wednesday, which immediately preceded the attack on Congress.

 

However, this comparison involves more than individuals.  Neither Mussolini nor Hitler could have come to power without the help of established conservative politicians.  Both men were tolerated because they brought with them large numbers of voters for whom these older parties had lost any appeal.  Once in office, these politicians reasoned, the fascist leader wouldn’t know what to do.  He would be their prisoner.  Meantime, they could draw from his well of new voters to hold onto power.  As one right-wing leader said of Hitler: “We are hiring him.”

                       

The bargain made by Italian and then German, conservatives was clear: They chose the fascist option.  They knew what they were doing, and they did it anyway.

 

That same reasoning led Republicans like Mitch McConnell to back Trump’s bid for the White House.  The “adults in the room” would keep him in line.  They didn’t, and they couldn’t.  

 

Even with Trump headed out the door, the same cynicism explains why congressional Republicans jumped on board the effort to reject Biden’s legitimate victory — and why some stayed on board even as a pro-Trump mob forced them to shelter in place and then flee the House and Senate chambers. Since more than a few of them have their own presidential ambitions, they don’t really want to keep Trump in the White House. They do want to keep his voters, so they can replace him. That is why Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley chose to stick with their protest of the Electoral College vote.

 

To be fair, some Republicans have stood up to Trump’s subversion of democracy. Unsurprisingly, however, their numbers grow the further away they are from the center of national power.  While local elections officials bravely carried out their responsibilities, while state officials refused to “find” votes that would tip the results in Trump’s favor, some Congressional Republicans also refused to go along with this blatant power grab.  Most striking was the decision of former Republican defense secretaries who joined their Democratic counterparts to warn against use of the U.S. military to thwart the will of the American people.

 

Yet, these examples at the federal level have been few and some are “profiles in courage” only for the most opportunistic of reasons in the Republican civil war that is sure to come.

 

 

Fascists celebrate violence

 

Mussolini was handed power in Italy thanks to the violence and general chaos brought on by his paramilitary Blackshirts.  Hitler’s stormtroopers used the same tactics in Germany.

 

The Proud Boys, along with other right-wing groups pledged to back Trump, have not yet become the equivalent of the Squadristi or the Sturmabteilung. And Trump boasting that he would like to “punch” protestors at his rallies may have once seemed like little more than preening. 

 

But these appeals to violence are dangerous.  Republicans have done nothing, practically speaking, to stand up to them, even as the level of violence around Trump rallies escalated.

 

There is an equally disturbing parallel development.  As violence spiraled out of control in early 1920s Italy, the police and army moved toward collusion with the Blackshirts in their battles with opponents. 

 

Here, most local and state police officers faithfully carry out their duties every day, not knowing if they will come home that night.  Some don’t.  Capitol Hill Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, died at the hands of Trump supporters while he defended this nation’s elected leaders.

 

Yet around the country, others in law enforcement have shown an affinity for right-wing groups, particularly a shared antipathy toward equal justice protestors.  More troubling are reports of growing infiltration of police agencies by the far right.

 

Whether because of this embrace or because they misperceive the threat, local and state law enforcement authorities seldom have taken action against right-wing paramilitaries, even in the notorious invasion of Michigan’s statehouse last year.  Escalating provocations went unchecked.  The contrast between that and the treatment meted out to often peaceful demonstrators is too obvious to ignore, and was crystallized by the ineffectual preparation for and response to Wednesday’s assault — which, it bears repeating, was a violent attempt to stop Congress from carrying out its constitutional duty. 

 

 

Fascists reject established values and objective facts

 

Fascists dismiss notions like rationalism, egalitarianism, and scientific enquiry — in short, a fact-based world.

 

The examples of Trump breaking norms and rejecting reality when it suits him are so numerous that there’s no point rehearsing them.  What’s surprising is that anyone has been surprised at how the rest of the GOP was so quick to parrot what Trump aide Kellyanne Conway infamously called “alternative facts.” 

 

The rot was evident in the earlier George W. Bush administration, when an aide told writer Ron Suskind that Republicans no longer inhabit the “reality-based community.”

 

“That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” this aide told Suskind in 2002, “and when we act, we create our own reality.”

 

The problem with this thinking, of course, is that reality — whether it’s global warming, or a pandemic, or the results of an election — cannot be wished away.

           

 

Fascists have no time for women’s rights

 

Women are crucial to the fascist ideal as wives of virile fascist men and as the bearers of the next generation of fascist boys and girls.  But as for equality between the sexes?  Forget it.

 

Fascist states in the 1920s and 1930s classified single women as second-class citizens.  Married couples were pressured to have large families; married couples without children had to pay a tax penalty. Mussolini’s Italy outlawed contraception, and both his regime and Hitler’s banned abortion. Nazis called the operation “racial treason.” 

 

Of course, not all abortion opponents are fascists.  But all fascists oppose abortion.

 

The point, again, is that, with the exception of Poland’s Law and Justice party, today’s GOP is an extremist outlier when it comes to the issue of women’s rights among western conservative parties.  The same is true of both Law & Justice and the Republicans when it comes to LGBTQ rights. 

 

Fascists abandon their mass of followers once in power 

 

Although fascists build their movements on the backs of middle- and working-class voters, they’re quick to abandon them in favor of alliances with the nation’s elites: business leaders, bankers, etc.  They will still pay lip service to their base; the demands of their new friends, though, come first.

 

Mussolini attracted support from industrialists such as the auto giant Fiat, and the tire manufacturer Pirelli.  The chemical giant I.G. Farben and other German industrialists quickly fell in line shortly after Hitler came to power.  In return, both men guaranteed a workforce unprotected by labor unions and one that could be harshly disciplined.

 

Republicans are long practiced at claiming to champion “Main Street” while their policies overwhelmingly benefit Wall Street, often to the detriment of the “real Americans” they claim to represent. 

 

The 2017 tax cut, the only substantive legislative achievement of Trump’s presidency, is a case in point.  Just a year earlier, he had promised to cut the taxes of working Americans at the expense of the wealthy.  What Americans got was the biggest corporate tax cut in their history at the price of an additional $1.5 trillion of debt over 10 years.

 

 

Fascists thrive in a power vacuum

 

No fascist movement achieves power without help from its opponents.  During the inter-war years, men and women were drawn to the fascists once they decided that politicians were more interested in their own petty squabbles.  They were either unable or, worse, unwilling to solve the threats plaguing their lives of ordinary people, climaxing with the Great Depression.

 

The pull of the far right is evident, today, and so are many of the same problems: joblessness; a widening gap between rich and poor; crime; racial and ethnic tensions; poor health care and educational opportunities; threats from across the globe (then, the march to another world war; now, a pandemic).

 

Republicans could work with the incoming Biden administration to deal with these crises and restore faith in American democracy.  Instead, they seem bent on further undermining that faith, thinking it will set them up to grab power later on. 

 

Before this past week, too many in the GOP seemed too willing to choose the fascist option.  Now they have seen what it looks like and where it leads.  The question Republicans must answer is simple: Will they choose fascism anyway? 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178702 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178702 0
Introducing Ann Banks' New HNN Blog "Confederates In My Closet" This week HNN introduces a new blog, authored by Ann Banks, titled "Confederates In My Closet." Beginning with a personal examination of her family history with the Confederacy, Banks explores the intersections of race, memory, and heritage. Read her first post here, and check here for future updates. 

For decades I harbored in the back of my office closet an archive I inherited from my father’s Alabama kin.  Wills bequeathing family oil portraits; yellowed newspaper clippings about antebellum homes-turned-museums; hand-drawn genealogical charts, held together with rusty paper clips, tracing my connection to high-profile Confederates from Gen. George Pickett to L.P. Walker, the first Secretary of War of the Confederacy. I nicknamed this trove “The Pile” and for years I kept it in quarantine.  If these bits and pieces told a story, I wasn’t ready to hear it. 

The idea that facing history is a path to justice has been advanced by Black thinkers from James Baldwin to Ta-Nehisi Coates to Bryan Stevenson. For a long while I resisted it, at least when it came to my own family.  For a long while I believed that the Civil War was over.  I knew it had a huge fan base – from the hobbyists who reenact favorite battles to history buffs who debate the fine points of military strategy. When I encountered members of these fervent and possessed subcultures on the Internet, I always felt like I was walking along the edge of a tar pit.   I didn’t want to get too close.

Then, after the 2016 election, the Civil War came for me, and there was nothing quaint about it.  As a reinvigorated white supremacy began sweeping the country, I knew it was time to take the Confederates out of the closet.

Ann Banks is author of the website "Confederates in My Closet," where she writes about race, history and her family. Her work has been published in the Smithsonian, the New York Times Magazine and Book Review, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and The Nation. First Person America, her anthology of oral histories from the Federal Writers Project was published by Knopf and Norton and she co-produced a National Public Radio series on the subject. She can be reached at confederatesinmycloset@gmail.com.

 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178748 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178748 0
How I got into This For decades I harbored in the back of my office closet an archive I inherited from my father’s Alabama kin.  Wills bequeathing family oil portraits; yellowed newspaper clippings about antebellum homes-turned-museums; hand-drawn genealogical charts, held together with rusty paper clips, tracing my connection to high-profile Confederates from Gen. George Pickett to L.P. Walker, the first Secretary of War of the Confederacy. I nicknamed this trove “The Pile” and for years I kept it in quarantine.  If these bits and pieces told a story, I wasn’t ready to hear it. 

The idea that facing history is a path to justice has been advanced by Black thinkers from James Baldwin to Ta-Nehisi Coates to Bryan Stevenson. For a long while I resisted it, at least when it came to my own family.  For a long while I believed that the Civil War was over.  I knew it had a huge fan base – from the hobbyists who reenact favorite battles to history buffs who debate the fine points of military strategy. When I encountered members of these fervent and possessed subcultures on the Internet, I always felt like I was walking along the edge of a tar pit.   I didn’t want to get too close.

Then, after the 2016 election, the Civil War came for me, and there was nothing quaint about it.  As a reinvigorated white supremacy began sweeping the country, I knew it was time to take the Confederates out of the closet.

For many white Americans the murder of George Floyd was the moment when they could no longer look away from the pervasive racism all around them.  It stirred widespread protests and has led to everything from the toppling of bronze Confederate generals to the stripping of Confederate names from American military bases.  These blows against the continuing veneration of the Confederacy inspired me to hope that such actions were only the beginning.

That optimism was severely jolted on January 6th, when rioters brandished the Confederate battle flag -- that most potent of racist symbols -- in the halls of the United States Capitol they had just trashed.  Defeated and delusional, these marauders summoned thoughts of their predecessors, the true believers after the Civil War, for whom it was an article of faith that the South would rise again.

The pro-Confederate Lost Cause narrative was a wildly successful propaganda campaign to portray the South as the War’s moral victors.  This white supremacist myth has flourished for more than 150 years, one family story at a time. In Confederates in My Closet, I challenge those stories in my own family – and in myself.   These are stories of a past that is not past. The contested history they evoke underlies the political battles we are living through right now. Facing this history is one path to a more just society. That is what I hope.

 

Read more about Ann's Confederates In My Closet on her website. 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154453 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154453 0
Images of the Capitol Riot Reflect a National Crisis

Donald Trump's "Save America" Rally preceded a mob assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Photo Voice of America (public domain)

 

 

 

The ideology of Trumpism is a more vicious beast than the dogs that Trump promised to unleash. The reality we must now come to terms with is that this beast will ravage American society long after January 20, 2021 and even after Trump leaves the surface of the earth. The incoming Biden administration will have to confront millions of enraged Trumpists among the 70 million plus who voted for Trump. Their dark cloud of conspiracy and their refusal of a legitimately elected President will threaten to suffocate the new administration.

 

We must come to terms with the inconvenient truth that Trump is a product of American society and not an odd genetic mutant. The Trump family hails from the liberal metropolis of New York City, and he was educated at one of the country’s most elite institutions. His children and closest advisors embody American royalty, partly defined by the super-rich, powerful and those with similar elite education. Conservatives attempting to disentangle themselves from Trump gaslight us with their eleventh-hour epiphany.

 

Trumpism is a convergence of elemental forces of a society deeply rooted in racial animus and a President with a pathological lust for power and control, an absolute lack of a moral compass and a fundamental lack of competency to understand basic mechanisms of governance. Trumpism and other forms of white supremacy are part and parcel of the American odyssey; they undergird a beast nurtured and fed by American society for more than four centuries.

 

Trump has not invoked rhetorical pretense to disguise the raw underbelly of racial prejudice, while formulating policies that destroy Black and Brown families. He has stripped away the mask of pretension. Trump has removed the chains and unleashed the beast. He has applauded white supremacists as patriotic, instructed the Proud Boys to stand by, and professed love for Wednesday’s violent insurrectionists.

 

The January 6th insurrection and the soft touch of the police against a violent mob speaks to widespread acquiescence to this virulent ideology. The claim that the U.S. Capitol Police and the National Guard were not fully prepared for the insurrection is an excuse. On the contrary, the evidence shows that some police officers ushered insurrectionists into the Capitol and brought the beast to roost in the seat of the US government. National police officers readily deployed tear-gas to clear citizens engaged in peaceful protest at Lafayette Square to provide a photo-op for Trump but allowed insurrectionists to take selfies in the office of the Speaker of the House and to mount the lectern of our lawmakers. This dynamic reinforces Trump’s boasts about unwavering support from law enforcement unions.

 

Visual imagery from the insurrection will not be erased with the flipping of a switch on January 20th. Its savagery will reverberate for decades. America’s standing in the world will not recover within a few generations. The January 6th insurrection and four years of Trumpism portend an uncharted path. The ship has changed course and is in the eye of the storm. It is to be determined if we will safely reach a shore, or if we are on course for the end of Pax Americana.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178704 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178704 0
Jefferson's Other Legacy: Religious Liberty

Photo by author

 

 

 

January 16th marks National Religious Freedom Day in the United States, commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. These are trying times for Jefferson’s reputation and it’s understandable that Americans frustrated with ongoing racism focus on his slaveholding legacy. Some of his descendants want his memorial in Washington removed, state Democratic parties have renamed their annual Jefferson-Jackson dinners, and his hometown of Charlottesville voted to discontinue celebrating his birthday, its mayor suggesting that Jefferson could celebrate in Hell. At the college he founded in retirement, the University of Virginia (UVA), protesters on the left and right reduce Jefferson to a white supremacist. At a 2020 Charlottesville anti-Confederate statue rally in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, one protester gestured toward Moses Ezekiel’s Jefferson monument at UVA’s Rotunda and said, “Speaking of statues we have to tear down, how about that one right there?” In 2016, 469 faculty and students petitioned UVA’s president not to quote Jefferson because his legacy undermined the school’s mission. The next year, UVA alum Jason Kessler “united the [alt] right” around Ezekiel’s statue, unwittingly underscoring progressive criticisms by laying claim to Jefferson. Among anti-racist protesters who shrouded the statue in black a month later, one shouted, “There’s only one side to this.”  But Ezekiel’s Rotunda statue also represents Jefferson’s commitment to religious freedom, and religious bigotry is only less pressing today than racial bigotry because of progress Jefferson helped bring about. On January 16th, Americans should remember his hard-fought crusade against the bigotry that fueled the Crusades, Religious Wars, Holocaust, and 9/11, just to name a few lowlights. Even now, Americans are witnessing attacks on churches, synagogues, and mosques, along with discrimination justified in the name of religious liberty. Religious intolerance and violent sectarianism draw from the same tribalistic wellspring as racism and the strands overlapped in the antisemitism that animated Kessler’s torch-lit march across UVA’s campus.  

Ezekiel highlighted the 1786 Virginia law’s pioneering guarantee of full-blown freedom to people of all faiths. His detail includes four angels at the base. Brotherhood, facing west toward UVA’s non-denominational chapel, holds a scroll titled “Religious Freedom, 1786,” listing God-Jehovah, Brahma, Atma[n], Ra, Allah, and Zeus. The Jewish sculptor explained that “[all are] God -- and have no other meaning and have each an equal right and the protection of our just laws as Americans.” Granted, there weren’t many Muslims or Hindus in Revolutionary Virginia, but the law’s generous boundaries staked out safe ground when many mainline Protestant-led states were discriminating against Catholics, evangelicals, Deists, and non-believers. Jefferson’s bill also prohibited compulsory religious taxes. We slip into thinking that the Bill of Rights ended religious discrimination, but the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment weren’t incorporated against states until the 1940s.

 

In the meantime, UVA was a working model of how Jefferson and James Madison envisioned religious freedom. UVA embodied the Virginia Statute, forerunner to Madison’s First Amendment. Jefferson bucked prevailing trends to create an Enlightenment beacon in an era of evangelical revivals. Most colleges had started as seminaries and those that experimented with ecumenical administrations (Penn, Columbia, North Carolina, Transylvania) gave way to denominational control, as would’ve been the case in Virginia had Jefferson not managed to circumvent the will of the people -- ironically, given his republican commitment. The only other school that put the premium on science he sought was West Point, which Jefferson started as president in 1802. The university should stress how innovative his curriculum was when they contextualize Jefferson’s statue, as they plan to soon

 

Non-denominational UVA had no divinity professors or compulsory worship. The Rotunda library, inspired by the Roman Pantheon, symbolically displaced a traditional gothic chapel at the heart of campus, with a spare room in its basement set aside for ecumenical worship and a proposed planetarium with the dome as its easel. Science and ethics courses supplanted orthodox indoctrination and they taught about religion so that students could think for themselves. Madison compiled a reading list of diverse theologians dating to antiquity. Said one Presbyterian: “[w]hen Satan promised all the kingdoms of the world to Christ he laid his thumb on Charlottesville and whispered, ‘Except this place, which I reserve for my own especial use.’” Whereas modern progressives protest Jefferson for owning enslaved workers, early UVA students opposed erecting their founder’s statue because he wasn’t Christian. Yet, within Protestantism at least, religion thrived at UVA precisely because it lacked sectarian control, similar to how Jefferson and Madison accurately predicted it would nationally under the First Amendment. Jefferson invited denominations to build seminaries around the campus periphery with complimentary UVA tuition for seminarians, but none accepted because, as he predicted, each wanted total control. Later, to placate criticism that UVA’s infidelity caused an 1829 typhoid outbreak, its board rotated an inter-Protestant chaplaincy. The school also set itself apart by hiring Jewish and Catholic professors, which was unheard of at the time in the Ivy League.

 

To see why Jefferson’s vision was win-win, compare UVA to Yale. In God and Man at Yale (1951), William Buckley, Jr. echoed UVA’s earlier critics, bemoaning that his school had strayed from orthodox indoctrination into voluntary chapel and merely teaching about religions. But Yale was originally Congregational. Had it maintained tradition, it wouldn’t have built the Catholic chapel where Buckley worshiped.  

 

America wrongly puts stock in its Pilgrims to honor religious freedom, even though they had no more interest in others’ freedom than did the Anglicans from whom they fled. But pluralistic colonial America had true pioneers of religious liberty, like Baptist Roger Williams and Quaker William Penn, who envisioned people of different faiths co-existing without slitting each other’s throats. Jefferson and Madison overcame stiff resistance to cement that idea -- first in the Virginia Statute, then the First Amendment, with UVA as a microcosm.

 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178705 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178705 0
Historical Rhetoric Resurfaced in Georgia's Runoff Election

Rev. Henry McNeal Turner, who represented the Macon area in the Georgia House of Representatives as a Republican after the Civil War

 

 

For anyone living in Georgia, the tensions of the current political season have been enduring and intense, especially in the past six months.  Stuffed mailboxes have spewed a deluge of vibrant political flyers, and for anyone with a newspaper, radio, television, or internet account living within twenty-miles of the state’s line, the barrage of political ads have seemed endless.  Many Black Americans have experienced additional tensions in this current political season through the communication driving the campaigns of incumbent Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue against challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.  Historic stereotypes that were first standardized during Reconstruction have resurfaced.  After the Civil War, Black men throughout the nation embraced freedoms embodied by Emancipation and voted, but specific stereotypes became common in the communication of whites and effectively cast them as lawless, violent individuals, and Black political leaders as “radicals.”

While political ads sponsored by the Perdue and Loeffler campaigns and conservative PACS against Jon Ossoff have emphasized his support for “criminal illegals” and described him as a “leftist liberal,” many ads against Raphael Warnock have cast him as a “radical.”  Warnock is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist which is an emblem of the modern Civil Rights struggle and remembered as the home Church of Martin Luther King, Jr.  His activism follows in the longstanding tradition of Black Protestant leaders like Richard Allen, Soujourner Truth, and Martin Delany, but for many white conservatives, Warnock challenges their well-worn stereotype of the “obedient, faithful negro” that was codified and romanticized by Lost Cause enthusiasts.  In a December 6th debate, Kelly Loeffler replayed a historic stereotype harbored by many conservative whites by calling Warnock a “radical liberal” no less than thirteen times.  Other ads employed in her campaign cast him as “anti-police” and were often interspersed with images of a bleary-eyed Warnock surrounded by scenes of chaos in America.  These images and the terminology behind them revived long standing tropes that were carefully curated to convince white conservatives that a Warnock victory would usher in the lawlessness and violence that was stereotypical of Black leadership in many of their minds.

During Reconstruction, the term “radical” truly came into its own.  For many in the South during this period, the Republicans were the Party of Lincoln and formerly enslaved Blacks, and “Radical Republican” was an epithet synonymous with corrupt  Jacobins and extremists.  “Radicals” were white Republicans who wanted to extend rights and protections to newly-freed Blacks, and historian Allan G. Bogue explores the development and usage of this term.  Virtually any Black politicians vying for office was also labeled a “Radical” because of the mere fact of their involvement in political activity, and consequently, only one Black individual served briefly in the House of Representatives while only a few dozen were elected to state legislatures during the period. 

Reverend Warnock embodies history in that many Black leaders in Georgia who ran for political office were ministers and were often cast by their opponents as “radicals”.  Many became targets of violence and threats.  During Reconstruction, Henry McNeal Turner, who was an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Tunis Campbell, an African Methodist Episcopal, Zion, elder, emerged as two of the most well-known Black politicians in Georgia.  As Stacey Abrams, who is an active member of the United Methodist church, did in 2020, both men made the most of grassroots efforts and local organizing in 1868, and their efforts were distinctly tied to their church involvement and community leadership. 

Turner and Campbell were continually described as “radicals”, and both men consequently faced strong challenges to their leadership, most notably from individuals tied to the Ku Klux Klan which emerged in Georgia just as Blacks were gaining access to the vote.  Established in Pulaski, Tennessee, the KKK maintained a foothold in Georgia as voters decided on the state’s new state constitution, legislative offices, and representation in Congress in the spring of 1868.  Confederate General J.B. Gordon, who was reportedly the leader of the Georgia branch of the Klan, was one of the candidates for state office that year, and while he lost the gubernatorial election, fellow Confederate Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was the first Grand Wizard of the Klan, campaigned on his behalf.  Gordon eventually served as a Senator and Governor of Georgia, and the state eventually was recognized as the birthplace of the second Ku Klux Klan, which was reborn in 1915 in partial response to the rising immigrant population of the early 20th century.  Following the release of Birth of a Nation and the mob lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager who was falsely accused of murdering a thirteen-year-old employee named Mary Phagan, the Klan was reborn less than 30 miles northeast of Atlanta in Stone Mountain, Georgia. 

Days before the January 5th runoff election, Jon Ossoff accused Kelly Loeffler of campaigning with a Klansman, which Loeffler flatly denied.  Yet, Ossoff,  as reported in Politico, continued his claim that Loeffler had campaigned “with a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.”  The idea of a high-profile white politician being connected to the Klan most likely was a clarion call for many Black Georgians as to the need for high African American turnout, and in some counties, voter turnout was higher in the January run-off election than in the presidential election in November. 

Ossoff’s accusation creates a connection to the dark period of Georgia’s Reconstruction, and the dark but historic tropes employed by Loeffler and Perdue to undermine Warnock’s leadership further intensify this connection.  These connections also intensify the historic nature of Warnock’s victory as the first Black U.S. Senator from Georgia and only the sixth African American to win a statewide election in the state’s history.  Moreover, the significance of Ossoff’s win should not be overlooked.  Ossoff, who is the son of a Jewish immigrant, becomes the first Jewish Senator from Georgia.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178710 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178710 0
Humphrey and Biden: One Presidential Scholar's Two Political Heroes Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

 

This scholar has been fascinated by the presidency for more than sixty years, and has taught at the college and university level for nearly fifty years.  In that half-century and more of being dedicated to the analysis of American politics and political history, this scholar has embraced two political “heroes” who epitomize his basic values and personality.

This is an appropriate time to explain this fascination, and why this author sees these two individuals as sharing common traits that drew his interest and caused him to feel emotionally committed to them.

These two “heroes,” both long term US Senators and presidential nominees, were Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968 and Joe Biden in 2020.

This author first became fascinated with presidential campaigns and history of the presidency as a teenager in 1960, when Humphrey competed against Senator John F. Kennedy in the presidential primaries, most notably in Wisconsin and West Virginia.  He followed the 1960 campaign closely, and while he certainly saw John F. Kennedy as impressive, immediately he gravitated to Humphrey as someone who caused strong emotions of support, and from that point on, Humphrey was his favorite political leader, and he was thrilled when Humphrey was chosen by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to become his vice president.

Humphrey had a fascinating 16-year career in the US Senate from Minnesota from 1949-1965, after serving as Minneapolis Mayor from 1945-1948.  He had been a gadfly in the Senate, someone who often challenged the status quo by embracing of New Deal Liberalism, and had promoted many significant ideas and programs, and been famous for his debating talents and endless ability to argue on many major policies and ideas.  Humphrey was the chief promoter of future legislation on civil rights, Medicare, Federal aid for education, the Peace Corps, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  Clearly, he was a star of the Senate.

Humphrey gained the title of “The Happy Warrior,” and had a constant upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic demeanor and manner. While he often spoke excessively and was long winded at times, it was easy to feel great admiration for him.    He came across as genuine, sincere, decent, compassionate and empathetic, and that drew this author to “love” him, and prefer him in 1968, even though he had been loyal to Lyndon B. Johnson on the controversy over the war in Vietnam, which this author opposed.  But this scholar still thought he was far superior to Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy in his political credentials and personality, and was dismayed by the division in the Democratic Party, which sadly contributed to Humphrey’s defeat for the presidency by Richard Nixon, an event that this author found extremely disconcerting.

But when Humphrey returned to the Senate from 1971-1978, this author was content, while believing that he would not gain a second chance for the presidency, although he tried for the nomination again in 1972. When Humphrey was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1977, and died in January 1978 at the age of 66, it affected this author very badly, as if Humphrey was family. With Humphrey gone, the question that arose was whom in the later generation of leadership, someone close to the age of this author, in the late 1970s, would replace Humphrey in the same emotional manner in the mind of this scholar.

This author had noticed a young US Senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, who had suffered from a personal tragedy just as he was elected to the Senate two weeks before his 30th birthday in 1972, losing his first wife and daughter in a traffic accident, in which his two sons were seriously injured.  This was a man who displayed then, and ever since, similar qualities of Hubert Humphrey, including being genuine, sincere, decent, compassionate, and empathetic. 

Joe Biden had served one term in the Senate at the time of Humphrey’s passing, and had been influenced by Humphrey, who had been one of a number of Senators who assisted Biden through the adjustment to his family tragedy. It was clear that Biden had the characteristics of being upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic in his demeanor and manner, and immediately, it was clear to this scholar, that Biden was his new “hero”.  Biden also had the similar “shortcoming” of being overly verbose and long winded at times, but it came across as a human trait that seemed “lovable”.  Joe Biden cared about people and causes, in a way very similar to Humphrey, and ever since 1978, he has replaced Humphrey, in the author’s mind, as his favorite political leader.

The fact that both Humphrey and Biden had shortcomings, and were “imperfect” and not always “correct” in their utterances, actions, or votes, did not take away the feeling that there was something special about both.  The career of Joe Biden led to his being Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman from 1987-1995, including being in charge of controversial Supreme Court hearings for nominees Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991.  Biden also was Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman from 2001-2003 and 2007-2009, and he had to deal with many controversial foreign policy matters, which led to strong criticism and opposition from many, but he became noted for his courage and principles on such issues.

Biden also became acknowledged as someone who could “cross the aisle” and “get things done”, and many Republicans found him to be likeable, having the ability to be bipartisan and able to work with others cooperatively, and respect and pursue compromises that advanced many causes.  Biden would go on to serve for six terms in the US Senate, the 18th longest service in that body in American history at this writing. He had been the sixth youngest Senator in American history, and the second youngest since the 17th Amendment established popular vote for the US Senate in 1913.

Biden’s pursuit of the presidency fell flat in 1988 and 2008, and he suffered two brain aneurysms that nearly killed him in 1988, and lost his son Beau in 2015 to cancer. But he always displayed dignity and courage, and his reputation for expertise and legislative skills led Barack Obama to ask him to be his vice president in 2008.  Biden became the most active and engaged vice president since Walter Mondale in the late 1970s, and a true “bromance” developed between Obama and Biden.  However, when Biden passed on the opportunity to run for president again in 2016, due to his son’s death, it seemed unlikely that he had a future political career after 44 years of public service, more than any president, except John Quincy Adams..

But surprisingly, Biden entered the 2020 presidential race, and even after doing poorly in the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary in the winter of 2020, he recovered in South Carolina, and overcame his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.  He went on, in the most tumultuous political year since 1968, to overcome the most controversial and despised president since Richard Nixon, in the person of Donald Trump.

And now at age 78 and 2 months, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the oldest president in American history on January 20, 2021, with major challenges unmatched since Abraham Lincoln in 1861 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, and in some fashion, more imposing than even those two presidents faced.

This author and scholar is excited, thrilled, and optimistic that Joe Biden will become a national leader of massive significance and historic importance.  For many Americans who have underestimated him, one can hope that they will see him as a president who made a difference. This would satisfy, in the mind of this presidential scholar, the sense of loss felt when his first political hero, Hubert Humphrey, failed to defeat Richard Nixon a half century ago!

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154455 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154455 0
Leaders Have Shirked Responsibility When Pandemics Affected Presidents

 

 

President Donald Trump appeared emotionally volatile throughout his presidency, but his behavior turned more erratic after he came down with COVID-19 and received emergency treatment at Walter Reed hospital. Could neurological disorders explain Trump’s controversial actions following his sickness in October?

New medical research shows COVID-19 can affect the brain. If coronavirus influenced Trump’s behavior, this is not the first time a pandemic may have affected presidential decision-making. Woodrow Wilson contracted the “Spanish Flu” in 1919, and sickness complicated his work at the post-World War I peace conference. The behavior of Wilson and Trump suggest leaders in Washington ought to be more responsive when questions arise about a president’s capacity to lead.

There is growing evidence that the coronavirus can alter thought and behavior. “The neurological symptoms are only becoming more and more scary,” reported Alysson Muotri, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego. A team of researchers at New York University conjectured that the virus leads to neurological injuries in one out of every seven infected people. Trump’s thought and actions may have been further influenced by treatments he received at the hospital. Doctors gave the President a steroid, dexamethasone, which can produce mood changes such as aggression, agitation, anxiety, irritability, mental depression, and difficulty thinking and speaking.

Pandemic-related complications appear to have affected an earlier president’s decision-making. Woodrow Wilson fell seriously ill during the great influenza of 1918-1919. A dramatic change in mood and behavior occurred at the time, as John Barry recounted in his 2005 book The Great Influenza. Herbert Hoover, who attended the meetings in Paris, noted that Wilson had been “incisive and quick to grab essentials” prior to his illness and was “willing to take advice.” Then, said Hoover, “I found we had to push against an unwilling mind.” The Chief Usher, Irwin Hoover, observed “something queer was happening in [Wilson’s] mind. Once thing was certain: he was never the same after this little spell of sickness.”

Before President Wilson’s experience with the flu, he advocated a fair and just peace settlement with Germany and the Central Powers. At the time of the illness, however, Wilson suddenly capitulated. He yielded to the French, British and others that demanded the Germans pay huge reparations, surrender control of land and industries, and sign a war guilt clause. John Maynard Keynes, who attended the conference, noticed that European negotiators took advantage of Wilson’s weakness. Keynes worried the harsh terms could excite resistance in Germany and lead to another war. Influenza may have made a much greater impact on global events than previously recognized.

Did a pandemic affect President Trump’s behavior? Trump acted strangely after his troubles with COVID-19 and medical treatment, but it is difficult to identify cause and effect. Trump’s mental state has been a subject of speculation throughout his presidency. His post-hospital behavior can be interpreted as a continuation of erratic conduct.

Nevertheless, considerable evidence suggests Trump’s sickness from COVID-19 and medical treatment may have led to a shift in behavior. The President’s actions after his episode with the coronavirus were extraordinary. Following release from the hospital, Trump demanded the Justice Department lock up Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. He lambasted loyal allies, including Mitch McConnell, Mark Meadows, and William Barr. Trump refused to accept defeat and made unsubstantiated claims about fraudulent ballots. He alarmed aides by considering recommendations to declare martial law, seize voting machines, and appoint a conspiracy theorist as special prosecutor. And, on January 6, the President incited a mob to attack the US Capitol as a joint session of Congress worked to ratify the Electoral College vote and formalize his defeat.

In both Donald Trump’s and Woodrow Wilson’s cases party officials responded inadequately. Following Wilson’s troubles with influenza and a major stroke, Republicans warned that the president was unable to discharge his duties effectively. They were correct, but Democrats failed to act. For a year and a half, the United States operated under a shadow government. Two unelected individuals, Dr. Cary Grayson and Wilson’s wife, Edith, spoke for Wilson, claiming to identify his wishes. The nation lacked a capable president during those seventeen months. Since his episode with the coronavirus, President Donald Trump appeared unhinged, yet Republican officials refused to discuss the matter openly.

Political leaders can serve the public better if they recognize that sometimes deference to authority is risky. Presidents are human. When challenged by severe physical or mental problems, they may be in poor condition to make vital decisions about domestic and international affairs. In such extraordinary circumstances, it is patriotic to consider a transfer of authority briefly or permanently.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178709 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178709 0
Life during Wartime 529

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154452 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154452 0
Lessons for Today from FDR and the Progressives?

 

 

Amid the present lame-duck time when Joe Biden is preparing to assume the presidency, there is much that we can learn from Franklin Roosevelt’s similar president-elect phase of late 1932 and early 1933.

Although this op-ed will focus on what FDR’s relations with progressives can teach us today, we should first briefly mention some major similarities and differences between the two periods, separated by almost ninety years.

First a few similarities. Both new leaders, FDR and Biden, were elected amid a national and global crisis--then the Great Depression and now the coronavirus and its effects. And both new presidents followed ones that historians have ranked low. Jonathan Alter’s line about FDR’s predecessor, Republican Herbert Hoover--“Since the aftermath of the stock market crash [1929], he had been sullen and defensive as disease [figuratively] spread through the American economy”--reminds us of Donald Trump’s reaction to a more literal disease, Covid-19, in 2020. Another similarity was the general public contempt for Congress, which, as historian William Leuchtenburg has noted, was widespread in late 1932. A Gallup poll attested to this in early November of 2020, showing Congress’s approval rating at only 23 percent. A final similarity is that the Supreme Court tilted conservative as both new presidents prepared to take office.

A major difference is that FDR began his presidency with the overwhelming support of his nation and Congress. He carried all the states except six and won solid Congressional support, facing only 36 Senate Republicans and 113 House Republicans (out of a total of 435 House seats). Moreover, as Leuchtenburg has pointed out, “By Election Day, Roosevelt had won the support of an impressive number of G.O.P. senators—Robert La Follette, Jr., of Wisconsin, Hiram Johnson of California, George Norris of Nebraska, Smith Wildman Brookhart of Iowa, and Bronson Gutting of New Mexico.” Contrast that overwhelming support and rejection of Hoover and Republicans with Biden’s very slim edge in both the Senate and House and Trump’s carrying of 25 states, despite still losing the electoral college vote by a 306-232 margin. The violent occupation of the U. S. Capitol building by radical Trump supporters on January 6, two weeks before Biden’s inauguration, was especially disruptive, and will probably affect the level of continuing Trumpism in the weeks that follow. But exactly how is not yet clear.

Another significant difference is the problems the new president faces. Whereas FDR had to focus mainly on economic recovery from the Depression, Biden’s challenges are more widespread--not only economic recovery, but slowing the spread of coronavirus, lessening national polarization, and addressing climate change and national security issues like the threats of nuclear weapons, cybersecurity, and terrorism. As of 11 January, dealing with a second Trump impeachment also seemed like a major possibility.  

Before dealing with the relations of FDR and Biden with progressives, we should first clarify who and what the U. S. progressives were and are. In that my “What Is Progressivism?” (2013) earlier dealt with this issue, let’s just now briefly examine some of its main points and update them.

A good place to start is historian Daniel Rodgers’ definition of the progressive movement of the 1890-1914 period: a diverse movement “to limit the socially destructive effects of morally unhindered capitalism, to extract from those [capitalist] markets the tasks they had demonstrably bungled, to counterbalance the markets’ atomizing social effects with a countercalculus of the public weal [well-being].” Note especially that it did not aim to overthrow capitalism, but constrain and supplement it so it served the public good, and it was diverse enough to include Democrats, Republicans, and even some socialists. For example, Jane Addams, a radical reformer and pacifist, seconded the nomination of the bellicose former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt at the 1912 Progressive Party convention.

In his recent book, Upswing, Robert Putnam writes that the progressives rejected individualism and that “communitarian sentiment . . . was at the heart of the Progressive mood.” In pursuing social justice and more equality, the progressives of the pre-WWI era helped pass pure food and drug laws and create the National Park Service. They also reduced corruption in city governments, limited trusts and monopolies, expanded public services, and passed laws improving sanitation, education, housing, and workers’ rights and conditions, especially for women and children. They also helped produce a progressive or graduated federal income tax (16th Amendment, ratified in 1913).

During the 1920s the influence of progressivism declined as three Republican presidents succeeded one another. Perhaps the most outstanding progressive of the first half of the decade was Republican Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. In 1909, he founded La Follette’s Weekly, which in 1929 changed its name to The Progressive, a name it retains up to the present. The magazine’s web site indicates that its “founding mission of peace, social justice, and the common good continues to serve us well today,” and it, along with others like the LA Progressive (LAP), remains firmly within today’s progressive meaning. But definitions change over time--think of the transition of “liberalism” from the nineteenth century to the present. And being a progressive today means something somewhat different than it did a century ago. In the political sphere such congresspeople as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represent today’s progressive wing of the Democratic Party.  

My 2013 essay on progressivism indicated that progressivism then, like that of a century ago, was a diverse and tolerant movement, and the essay also spelled out various “progressive values”--at least as I understood them. Many of them, like compassion and empathy, will be accepted by almost all progressives. But four others--humility, tolerance, compromise, and humor--require clarification, which I will provide near the end of this present op-ed. 

Regarding FDR himself, it is important to note that he was more a pragmatist than a progressive. About this, historians Leuchtenburg, Richard Hofstadter Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., James MacGregor Burns, and Robert Dallek agree, as does Jonathan Alter (author of The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope). In his The Age of Reform, Hofstadter stressed that in discussing Progressivism he “emphasized its traffic in moral absolutes, its exalted moral tone,” but FDR’s New Deal “was a chaos of experimentation.” Just recently Dallek wrote, “Because no one had surefire remedies for the Depression, he [FDR] signed on to a program of experimentation or trial and error.” The historian also refers to FDR as “ever the pragmatist.” Alter says that he was the “most pragmatic of modern American presidents.”

 

Although Senators Sanders and Warren often evoke FDR, many progressives also recognize that FDR was more a pragmatist than a progressive. In a 2013 article in The Progressive, comparing FDR unfavorably to Robert La Follette Sr., Jeff Taylor wrote, “Ever the poser and pragmatist, Roosevelt seemed to have few core political principles.”

 

Yet, despite FDR’s essential pragmatism, he delivered more progressive legislation and programs to the American people than any other U.S. president of the past century and beyond. What are we to make of this? More specifically, what should today’s progressives conclude and do?

 

The general progressive consensus seems to be that progressives need to keep pressuring Biden so as to influence his cabinet picks and policies. A recent op-ed in The Progressive stated that progressives “should make specific demands of President-elect Joe Biden.” Another recent piece, this time in the LA Progressive, declared, “It’s foreseeable that Biden—and the people in line for the most powerful roles in his administration—will not do the right thing unless movements can organize effectively enough to make them do it.”

These statements contain some truth. Politicians, including presidents, do respond to pressure, and if progressives wish to see Biden advance progressive causes they should continue to push for them. However--and it’s a big however--there are other factors to consider, and here we get back to my contention (mentioned above) that progressive values should include humility, tolerance, compromise, and humor.

Regarding humility, the Trappist monk and critic of war and capitalism Thomas Merton once stated, “We never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy. In our refusal to accept the partially good intentions of others and work with them . . . we are unconsciously proclaiming our own malice, our own intolerance, our own lack of realism, our own ethical and political quackery.”

My 2013 essay on progressivism adds these words, “Given our common ignorance, a proper humility should lead us to avoid dogmatism like a plague. Believing is not the same as knowing. Just because we are passionate about a belief or a cause does not mean we are right. We can readily spot dogmatism on the Right but sometimes fail to realize our own susceptibility to it.” (See also here on leftist dogmatism.)

Linked to humility is humor. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, an Obama favorite, once wrote: “People with a sense of humor do not take themselves too seriously. They are able to ‘stand off’ from themselves, see themselves in perspective, and recognize the ludicrous and absurd aspects of their pretensions. All of us ought to be ready to laugh at ourselves.”

Niebuhr especially stressed that a “sense of humor is indispensable to men of affairs who have the duty of organizing their fellowmen in common endeavors. It reduces the frictions of life and makes the foibles of men tolerable. There is, in the laughter with which we observe and greet the foibles of others, a nice mixture of mercy and judgment, of censure and forbearance.”

Although some progressives distrust compromise, it, as well as the tolerance that should precede it, is essential in politics. My "A Tough Progressive Balancing Act: Passion, Tolerance, and Compromise" (2019) mentioned how the late Senator Ted Kennedy seemed to strike the right balance between progressive passion and the political realism that enabled him to tolerate, compromise, and work effectively with more conservatives senators.  

In summary, what progressives and others can learn from FDR’s early presidency is that a pragmatic non-dogmatic president can greatly advance progressive measures. Sen. Sanders recognized this after his supporters and those of Biden worked together on a Democratic Party platform task force, and Sanders said, “The compromise they came up with, if implemented, will make Biden the most progressive president since FDR.” And, recognizing the nature of politics, he added, “It did not have, needless to say, everything that I wanted, everything that Biden wanted.”

Such a spirit of compromise between the pragmatic moderate and more progressive wings of the Democratic Party is important and necessary in the days ahead, especially given Trump’s continuing attempts to subvert our nation’s democracy, with his now infamous Georgia phone call and his encouragement of capitol-building occupiers being only the latest, but perhaps most egregious, examples. 

Trumpism, or some variant of it, is far from dead in this country. Before Hitler took over power in Germany in 1933, he had many setbacks, including some prison time. That he eventually prevailed was due to many factors, but one of them was the failure of his leftist opponents to unite against him. Against Trump, leftists did generally unite to deny him a second term, but to advance progressive goals and prevent a resurgence of the Trumpian spirit, they must remain united.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178750 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178750 0
Will VMI Move Further Toward Change and Away from Stonewall Jackson?  

 

 

Last week, in another victory for anti-racist activists, the Stonewall Jackson statue was removed from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).  Since Stonewall taught at the Institute, he’s practically the school mascot, and removing him makes a difference. The school’s action was part of a larger effort that included alumni, to deal with racism on campus. Amidst the controversy over VMI and race, the superintendent, retired General J. H. Binford Peay III, an alumnus who graduated in 1962, resigned in October. VMI is a public institution serving all Virginians, but abundant evidence of racism on campus, including threats of lynching, have damaged the reputation of the school. VMI must do better, but removal of the statue is a good first step.

Even the movement for reform features abundant irony.  Gov. Ralph Northam helped pushed for a probe.  But after being elected, Northam was himself been called out over wearing blackface while a medical student.  He apologized, and claimed that as a young man he did not understand the significance of blackface, so central to American racism.  But he went to college in the 1960s.  Was such ignorance still possible for a man who went to college in the Civil Rights era?  Apparently it is possible, if the college in question is VMI, from which Northam graduated in 1970. 

There’s another irony:  Jackson’s widow, Anna, was no big fan of a monument to her late husband on campus.  Anna disliked and distrusted VMI’s superintendent, Francis H. Smith, and for good reason:  Smith nearly fired Jackson for his poor teaching. Jackson taught optics, a cross between physics and math, but didn’t understand the material well.  Therefore, according to his wife, he gave practice lectures at home, memorizing his work, while staring at the wall of his living room.  If students had questions, he rewound his lecture like a cassette tape, and then repeated the same material. Alumni sought to have him dismissed, and they nearly succeeded.

We have no account of any meetings with Smith to discuss Jackson’s teaching.  However, the Institute was a small school and Smith ultimately had a remarkable fifty-year stint there.  It’s hard to imagine that the two men would not have discussed the matter. Since Jackson never suffered fools gladly, and neither did Smith, their relationship would not have been friendly. 

Anna Jackson despised those who even gently mocked her husband as an eccentric.  Jackson had died in the war, and she suffered too.  When Jackson died, she held $22,000 in Confederate bonds, the product of a lucky investment and probably also the sale of slaves. Following her husband’s advice, Anna decided not to reinvest any of it in gold because he did not want her to exit the war with more money than when it had started.  The bonds became worthless, but she felt she had done the right thing.

After the war, she moved in with her father, the president of Davidson College, and later inherited the home. In 1895, she published her own biography of Jackson, which included some of his letters.  She made money on the book, but really she cared more about defending her husband.  She resented the charge that he was an incompetent teacher or a brutal general.  Those portraits did not mesh with the man she knew. 

She wanted a gravestone for her husband.  Initially that was impossible, since the Confederates feared desecration of his body by invading soldiers.  Before her finances collapsed, she planned a headstone shaped like a “pillow, square at the base, and rounded at the upper edges.” The stone “would bear the inscription—‘he sleeps in Jesus, in raised letters, of the finest workmanship.” It would be of perfectly white marble, + as simple as possible.” Anna believed that such a stone, “if properly made,” would be tribute to both Jackson and Jesus. The remarkably unmilitary headstone was never built.

A movement to build a monument to Jackson, presumably at VMI, gained support began in the 1870s. However, in a letter to Smith, Anna suggested that a monument at Jackson’s grave should come before anything at VMI.  Her feelings mattered as her support would be essential for fundraising. It took almost a full decade to raise $9,000 dollars for a monument in 1891. 

Finally, in 1912, VMI got its Jackson statue.  It was sculpted and donated by Moses Ezekiel, class of 1866. His philanthropy prevented any meddling by Anna, who lived until 1915. According to VMI’s website, Ezekiel was the first Jewish person to attend the school.  That VMI would know his status as the first Jew is impossible, as it would require knowledge of the religion and ethnicity of all previous students.   Since VMI wants to squelch campus racism, that reference should be removed.  

Even today, VMI does not quite seem to understand Jackson. For example, during the war, the theologian and family friend Robert Lewis Dabney wrote a biography of the hero.  In it, he called attention to Jackson’s commonplace book, which contained the memorable words “you may be whatever you resolve to be.” Dabney called this Jackson’s “most characteristic maxim,” an incongruous tribute to middle-class equality of opportunity rather than the slave-based hierarchical society Jackson fought to defend.  After all, the maxim book was composed entirely of excerpts from two books. One is The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and the other is the best-selling Young Man’s Guide by William Andrus Alcott, an abolitionist and the uncle of Louisa May Alcott.  Ironically, his words are carved into the “Jackson Arch” on the campus, and erroneously attributed to the general. Coffee mugs and T-shirts available in the museum also attribute the saying to Jackson. The mugs and t-shirts are both historically wrong and a vestige of the Lost Cause.  They too should be removed from campus.

There is more that needs to change. The hide of Jackson’s horse, Little Sorrel, remains in the campus Museum, and his cremated bones lie next to the parade grounds with a suitable plaque.  The artillery used by Stonewall’s Brigade remains on the campus. 

VMI still has work to do.  First, it should put the statue out of circulation.  Currently, it appears that the statue will be moved to a Virginia Museum of the Civil War at the New Market Battlefield. At New Market, in May of 1864, VMI cadets as young as fifteen years old fought for the Confederacy.  The battlefield and the museum are tangled in VMI’s role in the Lost Cause.  To move a statue of Jackson there would just move, and not remove, the Lost Cause.

Far from erasing history, the statue’s removal offers historians to study change over time in the real world. It may offer a lesson about politics, too.  At Charlottesville in 2017, a fascist demonstration took place, ostensibly to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee. After Charlottesville, far-right operative Steve Bannon claimed that removing monuments would wreck the Democratic Party. However, Joe Biden not only has been elected nationally, he easily won Virginia.  VMI should move forward with squelching racism on campus.  The school has another opportunity to change.  It even has the opportunity to make progress faster than its neighbor and sometimes rival, Washington and Lee University.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178708 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178708 0
Roundup Top Ten for January 8, 2021

A Confederate Flag at the Capitol Summons America's Demons

by Rhae Lynn Barnes and Keri Leigh Merritt

The presence of Confederate iconography in the Capitol building riots is no coincidence; Trumpers are following the playbook of the slaveocracy in crafting a Lost Cause narrative of grievance and betrayal. 

 

Will the Democrats Win in Georgia?

by Jason Sokol

Eugene Talmadge served three terms as Georgia's governor through a combination of racism, attacks on government, and a state electoral system that grossly overrepresented rural whites. The January 5 runoff will test whether at least one of those dynamics has changed in Georgia politics. 

 

 

The Deep Origins of Latino Support for Trump

by Geraldo Cadava

"In the White House, Joe Biden will have the opportunity to show Latinos that they’re important to the Democratic coalition. First, though, Democrats will have to acknowledge that a shift did, in fact, take place."

 

 

Trump’s Supporters Think They’re Being Patriotic. And That’s The Problem

by Christine Adams

The September Massacres of 1792 finished the overthrow of the French monarchy and paved the way to the Reign of Terror; the significance of conspiracy theory, rumor, and identification of enemies of the people were echoed in Wednesday's Capitol riots (though with, as yet, less bloodshed). 

 

 

Ted Cruz’s Proposed Election Commission Can Only Hurt the Country

by Stuart MacKay

The 1878 Potter Committee, set up by supporters of Samuel Tilden to prove corruption by the 1877 commission that awarded Rutherford Hayes the presidency, ultimately devolved into a farce. Trump supporters might wish to rethink the idea of such a commission, even if they continue to complain of "fraud" in the 2020 vote. 

 

 

How U.S. Pandemic Restrictions Became a Constitutional Battlefield

by John Fabian Witt and Kiki Manzur

Conservative attacks on COVID-related restrictions on social gatherings are rooted in a selective and false interpretation of the history of the application of the police power to support public health. 

 

 

Stop Worrying About Upper-Class Suburbanites

by Lily Geismer and Matthew Lassiter

Two suburban historians argue that the changing demographics and political composition of American suburbs mean the Democrats' strategy of courting white moderates will foreclose building the ethnically and economically diverse coalition they need to win. 

 

 

We Can’t Let Our Elections Be This Vulnerable Again

by Richard L. Hasen

2020 is a warning: America needs to remove opportunities for political pressure, discretionary action, and deception in the counting and recording of votes. 

 

 

Who was Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Why Does He Matter Now?

by Julia Gaffield

The anniversary of Haitian independence is occasion to rethink the legacy of the nation's first head of state, the uncompromising opponent of slavery and colonialism Jean-Jacques Dessalines. 

 

 

‘Cancel Culture’ is Not the Preserve of the Left. Just Ask Our Historians

by David Olusoga

British media has enthusiastically demonized historians whose work challenges myths of national glory by focusing on slavery and colonialism. 

 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178696 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178696 0
Georgia Election Official Joins Long Line of Voices to Call for ‘Living in Truth'  

 

 

 

Sometimes, all it takes is one voice.

 

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s official charged with managing the state’s voting system, has become the one person truly willing to burst Donald Trump’s bubble.  Not only has he proclaimed the election in his state free and fair, he has called on Trump and his enablers to stop trying to undo the election in the strongest and most direct language yet.

 

“This is elections.  This is the backbone of democracy, and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.  It’s too much.”

 

With such forceful words, Sterling joins a long line of lone -- and at first lonely -- voices who took a risk to step out and speak up against the powerful.  If enough people listen and are emboldened to follow, then he, like many resisters over the decades, may help to create a turning point in history.

 

Czech dissident Vaclav Havel was another such voice.  In his famous 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless,” it was precisely the willingness to speak the plain facts -- part of what Havel called “living in truth” -- that could challenge the Soviet-made authoritarian world built on fantasies and lies that emerged in Eastern Europe after World War II.

 

Havel talked about a greengrocer who refused to participate in meaningless rituals created by leaders who manipulated information to maintain their hold on power.  That refusal to go along could have tremendous consequences.  For Havel, this ordinary man exposed the communist system as a game that demanded citizens act in ways that defied reality.  “He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system,” Havel wrote of the rebellious greengrocer, “He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. … He has said that the emperor is naked.”  One man revealing the truth, Havel concludes, can open everyone else’s eyes.  “He has,” Havel writes using a Wizard of Oz-like metaphor, “enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain.”  Behind that curtain was not a magician, but a corrupt system.

 

Pointing out the reality that everyone already knows deep down but no one is willing to admit, for Havel, was the first step to moving from lies to the truth.  And it helped Havel lead a revolution.  In 1989, millions of Czechs, under Havel’s guidance and with his stirring words ringing in their ears, freed themselves from the communist grip in a peaceful “velvet revolution” as self-deluded leaders were the only ones left believing their own lies.  Havel went on to be chosen president in the first free election in his country in decades.

 

History is full of famous examples of dissidents such as Havel, but there are many others we are only beginning to discover.  Another pair of lonely voices willing to cry into the wilderness were Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe.  They were two French artists (better known today by their artistic names Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore) who fought the German occupation of their adopted home of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands that were the only bits of British soil conquered during World War II. 

 

As I describe in my book Paper Bullets, for four years Schwob and Malherbe scattered German-language notes around Jersey challenging how the soldiers understood the world.  The messages told a different story about the war than the Nazi army’s official line, bursting the warped information environment that Hitler used to convince his soldiers about their supposed invincibility. 

 

By pretending to be a German and writing under the pseudonym “The Soldier With No Name,” Schwob and Malherbe got inside the heads of the occupation forces through songs, poems, bawdy jokes, and fictional dialogues that made the occupiers think twice about why they were on Jersey.  Putting their artistic skills to work, with each note they rewrote the inner script inside the Germans’ minds.  When they circulated translations of BBC news summaries, the women fed facts instead of propaganda to soldiers who otherwise would never have known of their own army’s losses as the war went on.  And the German soldiers listened.  When Schwob and Malherbe went to prison, they met some of the men who had read the notes and laid down their weapons.  The Secret Field Police, frightened by the damage they believed these messages could do, hunted the women for four years.

 

One or two people speaking out can inspire and embolden others to break their silence.  In recent months, we have seen growing calls for “living in truth” voiced by people all across the world following the lead after the silence was broken.  Black Lives Matter protesters are denouncing the structures of systemic racism, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have taken to the streets repeatedly, and students are calling attention to climate change in the Fridays For the Future strikes led by Greta Thunberg.  So many ordinary people -- often in direct opposition to political leaders -- have become what the human rights activist and former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called “upstanders.”  “Living in truth” by speaking the facts out loud is a crucial form of dissent, especially in a distorted information environment.

 

History shows us that people -- sometimes one at a time -- can defend the truth by pointing out what everyone knows but which the powerful sometimes refuse to believe.  Sometimes, all it takes is one or two voices to galvanize an idea that others will follow and, in the process, change the world.  That truly is “the power of the powerless.”

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178547 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178547 0
Worst Pardon Ever? You'll Be Surprised

Caspar Weinberger (at left, photo 1982) served as Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration and was pardoned in 1992 by George H.W. Bush prior to trial for crimes he allegedly committed during the Iran-Contra affair.

 

 

 

Political Pundits and television talking heads have been speculating widely and wildly about who Donald Trump will pardon before he leaves office on January 20, 2021. Will he pardon Rudy Giuliani? Paul Manafort? Steve Bannon? His children? Himself?

It is customary for an outgoing President to grant 11th hour pardons, sometimes to surprising recipients. But Donald Trump is anything but customary, and thus that pardon-guessing game offers a goldmine of interesting and in some cases alarming speculation regarding who and why.

This Christmastime gift giveaway shows us just how valuable a presidential get-out-of-jail card can be. Plus it gives a president opportunities to accomplish multiple personal and political goals.

Of course, not all presidential pardons are created equal. To be sure, justice and mercy are worthy and occasional goals. But the end-of-term pardons often reveal other, less savory objectives. Some pardons seem to be given in exchange for money (directly or as tax-free donations to a presidential library fund or other cause of interest for the outgoing president), some to settle scores, some to reward partisan loyalists.

The president’s pardon power is broad and derives from the U.S. Constitution. The only two areas where the pardon power is forbidden are a) in cases of impeachment; and b) for state, rather than federal, offenses. The question of a pardon prior to an indictment or finding of guilt was decided in the case of the Nixon pardon in 1974, when Gerald Ford granted his predecessor a “full, free, and absolute pardon” even before Nixon was charged formally with a crime (he was, however, named an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a criminal case that landed several people in his administration in jail).

The intentions of the Framers of the Constitution gave the newly invented president the pardon power to ensure justice and, as Alexander Hamilton noted a few years after the adoption of the Constitution, “restore domestic tranquility of the commonwealth.” But not every Founder was in support of giving the president this absolute power. George Mason, a convention delegate from Virginia, warned that a president might “make dangerous use of it” by pardoning crimes in which he might be a co-conspirator.

The early pardons were indeed used to ensure mercy and to quell hostility towards the new government, which was in the early stages of gaining legitimacy. But it wasn’t long before the pardon power met with controversy.

James Buchanan, the president who presided over the pre-civil war breakup of the union, pardoned Brigham Young and other Mormons who had been involved in revolutionary acts against the government in the Utah territory. Buchanan was justly concerned that Young and the Mormons intended to break away from the U.S. and form their own “theocratic nation.” As part of a compromise, Buchanan delivered pardons and Young and his followers ceased their revolutionary activities.

Just after the Civil War, Andrew Johnson issued a Christmas Day 1868 pardon to most Southerners.  Johnson wanted to go easy on the Confederates, while members of Congress called for punishment against the rebels.  To make matters worse, Johnson pardoned Dr. Samuel Mudd, who helped John Wilkes Booth escape. It all became too much, a great backlash occurred, and Johnson lost virtually all support from Congress en route to being the first impeached President.

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding pardoned Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. Debs had run for president several times, even getting nearly a million votes in 1920, but called on Americans to resist the draft in World War I. Debs was imprisoned and even ran for president from prison, his fifth and final run at the White House. Harding granted Debs a full pardon, which ran against popular opinion.

On Christmas Eve 1971, Richard Nixon pardoned labor boss Jimmy Hoffa, who had been convicted of fraud and bribery. Nixon was trying to woo labor voters to the Republican Party, and openly courted Teamsters prior to his 1972 bid for reelection. Hoffa disappeared four years later following a meeting with known members of the mob. In 1982 he was legally declared dead.

 To many, Gerald Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon ranks as the worst ever. Ford was suspected of agreeing to a deal with Nixon that called for Nixon to resign in exchange for a pardon. Over time, the consensus view is that there was actually no deal, and Ford granted Nixon a pardon to both “get Watergate behind us,” and out of concern for the health of the former president.

Other modern questionable pardons include Jimmy Carter’s pardon for all those who evaded the draft during Vietnam War, Bill Clinton’s pardon for his half-brother Roger, who was convicted on drug charges,  Clinton’s controversial pardon of donor Marc Rich, who had been convicted of tax fraud (Rich’s ex-wife was a mega-donor to the Democratic Party), George W. Bush’s pardon of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief-of-staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who had been convicted of perjury and obstruction for lying about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame,  Barack Obama’s pardoning of Private Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of releasing classified documents, and Donald Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was an anti-immigrant Arizona official who supervised harsh treatment of immigrant detainees under inhumane conditions. Other notable Trump pardons include one for Mike Flynn, his National Security Advisor, who lied under oath, and former Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, who was convicted of committing war crimes.

The only person NOT to accept a presidential pardon was George Wilson, who in 1829 was found guilty of robbery of the mail. Without giving an explanation, Wilson refused the pardon. The Supreme Court finally rendered a judgment on this and ruled that it was Mr. Wilson’s right to reject a pardon. He was executed by hanging not long afterward.

By the numbers, modern presidents have varied widely in the number of pardons they granted. FDR (who was elected four times) granted the most (2,819). His successor Harry Truman was also pardon-happy, issuing 1,913. Ike granted 1,110. From then on, presidents greatly reduced the number of pardons granted. In descending order, Kennedy issued 472, Clinton 396, Reagan 393, Ford 382, Obama 212, GW Bush 189, and GHW Bush 74.

Perhaps the most intriguing pardon was by Harry Truman, who in 1952 commuted the sentence of Oscar Collazo, who tried to assassinate Truman over the issue of Puerto Rican independence.

Is Donald Trump contemplating, and could he issue, a self-pardon? On June 14, 2018 he announced “I have the absolute right to pardon myself.”  But can he do so legally?  It is unclear, as no president has ever issued a self-pardon (none felt the great need to), so it has never been tested in court. The two central problems of a self-pardon are 1) that it allows someone to be the judge in his own case; and 2) that it puts a president above the law. A self-pardon violates both of these essential elements of our jurisprudence. The closest thing we have to a judicial precedent stems from 1974, when the Department of Justice issued a memorandum on this question. The acting Deputy Attorney General Mary C. Lawton asserted that a president could not issue a self-pardon. Such memoranda are considered in the Department of Justice to have the force of law. Thus, under current ruling, President Trump could not issue himself a pardon. Thus one can answer the question by saying that the President absolutely, unequivocally, probably can’t issue a self-pardon.

A pardon for family members is another matter altogether. There seems no legal reason why he couldn’t (but many legal and moral reasons why he shouldn’t) give “the best Christmas present ever” to his family: a full, free, and absolute pardon!

Would a Trump self-pardon be the worst pardon ever? Probably, but until and if Trump does give himself a pardon, we would argue that the all-time worst presidential pardon ever was granted by George H.W. Bush to former secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger was about to face trial in the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan administration, where Bush had served as Reagan’s vice president. Part of the case against Weinberger involved the use of entries from his diary relating to the making of decisions that led to illegal activity in both Iran (selling arms to terrorists) and with the Contras (illegally funding a rebellion against the government of Nicaragua). Vice President Bush had already testified under oath that he had no knowledge of these activities, but Weinberger’s diaries said otherwise.  They contained material that deeply implicated Bush in the decisions, and could have been used to put the former VP on trial for perjury. On Christmas Eve 1992 (Christmas eve is a very popular time for Presidents to issue pardons – for obvious reasons), Bush granted Weinberger a pardon. Thus, in pardoning Weinberger, Bush was able to keep is activities secret, and in effect give himself a pardon.  Was this the first presidential self-pardon?  In a way, yes.

The way to end the abuse of presidential pardons is to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding self-pardons and pardons for a president’s family members. One might also pass an amendment allowing the Congress 30 days to vote approving a presidential pardon with a majority of both Houses having the ability to prevent a pardon that seems to them inappropriate. Pardons do have a positive role to play. But their checkered history calls upon us to make a few minor adjustments to move closer to the ideal. 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178588 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178588 0
Peace is Good. But are More Peace Deals Necessarily Better?

A fortification in Western Sahara, likely built by the Sahrawi in the 1980s.

 

 

 

The road to peace in the Middle East no longer runs through Palestine, but through Tehran and Beijing. This was made abundantly clear earlier this month, when Morocco became the latest Arab country to warm relations with Israel. The agreement comes just months after similar thaws between Israel and Sudan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. All four countries have recognized Israel and established, or will soon establish, bilateral relations. These deals are the culmination of efforts by the Trump administration to shore up a regional alliance against Iran, which recently entered a strategic partnership with China.

 

Israel and Morocco agreed to normalize diplomatic relations and begin direct flights between the two countries. Morocco and Israel have secretly and not-so-secretly collaborated for decades, but previous steps towards official recognition prompted too much Moroccan and Arab resistance. That resistance has ebbed in the face of a growing solidarity against the shared threat coming from Tehran. Chinese influence and Iranian threats were enough to upend old rivalries and bring secret relationship with Israel into the open.

 

To further entice Morocco to the table, the United States offered Morocco a boon: recognizing its claims to sovereignty over Western Sahara, a disputed territory that borders southern Morocco and Western Algeria. A former Spanish colony, Spain ceded Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, violating the self-determination of the Sahrawi people who live there. With Algerian support, the Sahrawi resisted Moroccan and Mauritanian rule. Mauritania eventually withdrew its claim. And though no Western democracy had formally recognized its claim until yesterday (the United Nations classifies Western Sahara as a “non-self-governing territory”), Morocco has persisted.

 

For decades, Morocco has violated the rights of the Sahrawi. Many Sahrawis who supported independence—or their family members—were “disappeared” to secret prisons where they were subject to torture and ill treatment, often being held for months or years. The Polisario Front, which also claims the territory and represents the Sahrawi at the United Nations, faces allegations of human rights violations itself. But Morocco’s record of systematic repression signals what lies ahead for the Sahrawi if their right to self-determination is bartered away without their participation.

 

U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara is a significant concession and a major win for Morocco. In this trade, the Trump administration has increased Arab cooperation with Israel at Iran’s expense, and Morocco has gained stronger claims to Israeli military and intelligence assistance. Israel benefits from overt relationships with more of its neighbors, gaining legitimacy so long denied. Israel clearly anticipates a strong military alliance as well, evidenced by the remarkable fact that the state of Israel is lobbying the U.S. Congress to approve a large arms deal with the U.A.E.

 

Benefits will extend to many Moroccan and Israeli citizens as well. Morocco had a sizable Jewish population in the early 20th century who mostly left for Israel, France, or Canada. The few thousand remaining Jewish Moroccans and more than one million Israelis of Moroccan descent will enjoy easier relations—after the pandemic, at least—and cultural and educational exchanges should benefit both countries. Geopolitical shortcomings should not entirely eclipse the deal’s profound cultural and religious significance for these peoples.

 

The most surprising beneficiary of the deal, however, is the Trump administration, which is strengthening its anti-Iran coalition. Trump tweeted that the agreement with Morocco is “a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East,” though it’s not clear what peace he is referring to. Morocco has never been a threat to its covert ally Israel; nor, for that matter, were Bahrain or the UAE. Sudan is the only one of the four countries to have actively waged war against Israel.

 

Peace in the Middle East used to imply a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Palestinians were conspicuously absent from this Middle East ‘peace deal.’ If peace now means a detente between Israel and Iran, then the future of Palestinians looks increasingly bleak and irrelevant to this regional cold war. Given this latest development, it appears that the Sahrawis will join the tragic ranks of those whose sovereignty remains denied, like the Palestinians, for the sake of geopolitical bargains. Whether this bargain proves to be a lasting restructuring of power in the region remains to be seen. But regardless, it seems clear that this deal is a pyrrhic victory at best.

 

A true peace deal would not only bring a just and satisfactory resolution for Israel and Palestine as well as Morocco and Western Sahara, but also bring Iran into less antagonistic relations with its Arab neighbors. The open alliance between Israel and Arab countries further isolates Iran and will only heighten its ties with China, making it more difficult for a Biden administration to pursue diplomatic solutions.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178550 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178550 0
A Personal Message from the Editor UPDATE: After the first week of our fund drive, our readers have stepped up to contribute more than $5,100 toward our goal of $25,000. This is great news. We're waiting for the numbers from the week that has just passed to show more progress. If HNN's efforts to provide historical perspective on the tumultuous news of 2020 has been valuable to you, please make your contribution this week!

 

Dear Readers,

As the year 2020 winds down, I'm sure many of us are taking (or hope to take) some time to reflect on the year that's passed and look ahead to the future. 

I joined HNN as editor in late February, excited to carry forward the site's missions of amplifying the voices of historians on current events, making historical knowledge accessible to the public, and presenting historical perspective on the news. 

Then the news happened. 

A novel coronavirus became a threat, then a pandemic, then a health, economic and political crisis. 

Police killings of Black Americans sparked protests, counterprotests, federal occupation of city streets, and calls for responses ranging from police abolition to martial law. 

Cities raced to take down Confederate memorials before protesters could, and a national and global conversation on monuments and teaching the past broke out.

And Americans elected a new president amid fears for the security of our democracy. 

By themselves, any of these story lines would have kept me busy and to be honest, following all of them has sometimes been exhausting. 

But despite the 2020 fatigue that I'm sure many of you share, it has been incredibly rewarding to be part of this community of historians and readers. 2020 showed how important history is for understanding the present, for practicing citizenship, and for thinking and talking about the big questions we face. We disagree about many things, but I'm sure we all agree about that. 

Which is why I'm here to ask you to support HNN with a financial contribution to carry out our work for the coming year. 

HNN has a target of $25,000 in reader contributions to our annual fund drive. 

To put those numbers in perspective, HNN readers visit the site about 300,000 times per month. If we got a dime for every time a reader clicked a link to HNN, we'd hit that target by year's end. If all of our readers decided each opinion essay or news article they read on HNN was worth just ten cents, HNN could be financially supported to cover whatever 2021 may bring. 

I know this time of year brings appeals for support from many worthy organizations and causes. I hope HNN will be in your giving plans. 

You may make a secure contribution by credit card via internet or telephone, or by mailing a check. Detailed instructions for all methods are located on HNN's Donations page (remember, HNN is now a project of the History Department at the George Washington University, so contributions to HNN go through GWU's donation system). 

 

Best wishes,

Michan Connor

HNN Editor

 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178402 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178402 0
Defending the 1619 Project in the Context of History Education Today

Illustration of Jamestown, 1619. Howard Pyle, 1901, Library of Congress Print and Photograph Division.

 

 

 

The 1619 Project has been under attack from across the political spectrum since it was released in August 2019. President Trump denounced it as anti-American propaganda in his call for “patriotic history.” Some historians have picked at the details, claiming they “applaud all efforts to address the foundational centrality of slavery and racism to our history,” but heatedly dispute it on “matters of verifiable fact.” Their applause often seems more of an all-out war against the project than support.

 

As a historian, social studies teacher educator, and former New York City high school teacher, I strongly endorse the 1619 Project’s claim that the roles slavery, race and racism have played in shaping the United States, past and present, are fundamental to understanding the history of this country and need to be highlighted in secondary school curricula. I have minor disagreements with some of the details, but also confidence that those can and will be resolved over time through dialogue.

 

The 1619 Project and the companion curriculum, developed in conjunction with the Pulitzer Center, are vitally important because there is no national history curriculum in the United States. Each state has its own and the curriculum outline is often suggested, not required. With its focus on slavery and race, the 1619 Project challenges gaps, minimizations, and distortions in what gets taught in American schools.

 

I am most familiar with New York State, where recommendations for the social studies curriculum are embedded in its Grades 9-12 Social Studies Framework, a framework that minimizes the role of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the sale of people, and the sale of slave-produced commodities in global and United States history.

 

When I was a high school teacher, the break point for semesters in Global History was European New World exploration, which meant the Columbian Exchange and the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade were featured at the start of a new semester or a new school year. New York now starts tenth grade with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, which means the Columbian Exchange and the trans-Atlantic slave trade are squeezed together into the last month of 9th grade – if there is time.

 

Slavery does not appear in guidelines for teaching about ancient Greece or Rome, societies often credited with being the origin point for Western Civilization, or in Egypt, or Asia. Slavery is first mentioned in a unit on  “An Age of Expanding Connections, ca. 500 – ca. 1500.” In this unit, students are expected to “identify trade networks involved in the exchange of enslaved people and explore the nature of slavery during this time period.” The focus here is on trade networks, not enslaved people.

 

In the tenth and final 9th grade unit, students learn about the encounter between the people of Western Europe, Africa, and the Americas, an encounter that “led to a devastating impact on populations in the Americas, the rise of the transatlantic slave trade, and the reorientation of trade networks.” In this unit, students “examine how the demand for labor, primarily for sugar cultivation and silver mining, influenced the growth of the trade of enslaved African peoples.” They also “investigate European and African roles in the development of the slave trade” and the “conditions and treatment of enslaved Africans during the Middle Passage and in the Americas.” They learn about the impact of slavery on western African societies, but not on Europe, where slave trade profits fed infrastructure development and the growth of capitalist institutions like banks and insurance companies, financed the Industrial Revolution, and supported the emergence of European nations and empires. Slavery does not appear at all the in 10th grade framework, which mentions Toussaint L’Overture but not Haiti and the war to end slavery.

 

When I started teaching in the 1970s, the halfway point in the United States history curriculum was the American Civil War; it is now the end of World War I. That means the three hundred plus years from the first British settlement in Jamestown in 1607 to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 are covered in fewer than 90 lessons. Slavery is one of the topics students explore in a ten-day unit on Colonial Foundations, a unit that includes the arrival of Dutch, English, French and Spanish 
settlers and their interaction with the indigenous population, the geography of colonial North America, colonial social structures and labor systems, political institutions that draw on British legal traditions like the Magna Carta, and new colonial democratic principles like the Mayflower Compact. Slavery is mentioned again as one of the compromises at the Constitutional Convention, and is supposed to be a focus in the unit “Expansion, Nationalism and Sectionalism (1800-1865), but that is virtually impossible in a ten-day unit that includes everything that happened between the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

 

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was a French sociologist and political theorist. In 1835, after traveling in the country, he published his observations about the United States. In his discussion of Democracy in America, de Tocqueville wrote: “I do not imagine that the white and black races will ever live in any country upon an equal footing. But I believe the difficulty to be still greater in the United States than elsewhere . . . A despot who should subject the Americans and their former slaves to the same yoke, might perhaps succeed in commingling their races; but as long as the American democracy remains at the head of affairs, no one will undertake so difficult a task; and it may be foreseen that the freer the white population of the United States becomes, the more isolated will it remain.”

 

Students need to discuss why de Tocqueville did not think “the white and black races will ever live in any country upon an equal footing,” why he believed this was especially true for the United States, and whether the situation continues in the United States 185 years later.

 

In 1903, W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) wrote: “Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”

 

Students need to discuss whether and why this was the case and whether and why the “color-line” still plays such a prominent role in the United States over 100 years later.

 

Teachers and historians should applaud the 1619 Project for putting slavery and racism at the center of United States history and insisting that they be a major part of the school curriculum. Resolving disagreements about emphasis and corrections are part of the historical process and curriculum creation. Unless Americans understand the role slavery and racism played in the past and in the present, this country will never be able to create a more just and equitable future.

 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178586 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178586 0
The Psychology of Election Denial

 

 

Surveys taken several days after the presidential election show that most Republicans believe Trump really won the election. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll reported on November 18, fifteen days after the presidential election, that 52% of Republicans thought Trump won. Later surveys indicated that between 70% and 80% of Republicans do not buy reports of Biden’s victory. They think the election was rigged and claim enough fraud occurred to tip the balance.

Why do so many Republicans refuse to acknowledge overwhelming evidence that confirms Joe Biden’s victory? Millions of Republicans continue to accept myths about a stolen election. Facts do not influence their judgment. Evidence does not shake beliefs.

Obviously, the President and the national media influenced the thinking of many Republicans. Donald Trump frequently asserted that he won. Trump insisted that a mysterious disappearance of ballots and manipulation of tallies indicate fraud. Commentators on Fox News, Newsmax, and other media back the president’s specious claims. But there may be an explanation from the field of psychology that explains defiance of the facts as well.

University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson cited the idea when pointing to a rumor that spread across the Internet in 2011. The message claimed the world would end at 6 PM on May 21, 2011. After the projected date passed without a calamity, several people refused to recognize they’d been duped. “How many folks acknowledge that they were mistaken when the ensuing facts stare them in the face?” Peterson asked. Some do but many do not, he stated. “People will go to great lengths to maintain consistency among their beliefs, even when they prove to be blatantly wrong.”

Christopher Peterson based this interpretation on research by a famous psychologist who conducted groundbreaking investigations in the 1950s. Leon Festinger developed the concept of Cognitive Dissonance, which suggested why some people hold firmly to beliefs when confronted with contradictory evidence. An investigation that helped launch his theory related to a group of people that believed a Chicago woman’s prophesy that a great flood would destroy the world on December 21st. When the disaster did not occur, many followers did not acknowledge they had been misled. They accepted the cult leader’s explanation that God spared them because of their devotion, commitment, and action. Rather than change their minds, those true believers became more intensely faithful. They attempted to persuade others, trying to broaden membership in the cult.

Leon Festinger followed up this study (published in a book, When Prophesy Fails) with several experiments that demonstrated the significance of Cognitive Dissonance. When confronted with contradictory information, Festinger observed, individuals often feel uncomfortable. Their personal beliefs or hopes are contradicted by hard facts. People reduce that dissonance (inconsistency) by avoiding situations or information that intensifies their discomfort. Especially when individuals have deep convictions and take significant actions in support of them, they are reluctant to question cherished ideas. If they are associated with a large group of people committed to the belief, their fidelity often becomes more severe. They find comfort in numbers.

Cognitive Dissonance appears to be a factor in the persistence of belief and loyalty displayed by many Republicans despite hard facts that indicate Joe Biden’s substantial victories in the Electoral College and the popular vote. Over a period of four years, members of Trump’s base enthusiastically accepted untruths disseminated by the admired leader. They were not inclined to challenge Trump’s controversial statements and misrepresentations.

Now, after Trump’s stunning defeat at the polls, they are hearing the president and his enablers on television, radio, and the Internet claiming information reported in the national media is false. To accept facts reported outside the partisan bubble can, indeed, produce the kind of emotional discomfort Festinger described. Many Republicans are acting in ways Festinger would predict. When dealing with the clash between internal beliefs and external realities, they adhere to beliefs.

Furthermore, as Festinger showed, Trump’s hard-core supporters discover comfort in numbers. They proselytize, hoping to expand the size of their group and build an impression that favored ideas enjoy widespread acceptance. During the weeks of extensive media attention to Trump’s fruitless legal and rhetorical efforts to deny Biden’s victory, true believers among the president’s followers tried to shore up their cause. They shared favorite reports on websites about supposed mischief in the tabulation of ballots, trying to legitimize claims that Trump and his enablers had been making in the national media.

Psychology cannot provide all the answers to the intriguing question of why so many Republicans refuse to change their minds in the face of abundant factual evidence that contradicts their ideas about the presidential election. But insights developed long ago by Leon Festinger and other social scientists may explain, to some degree, why this puzzling behavior occurs. 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178552 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178552 0
Actually, It's Doctor....

Dr. Jill Biden speaks in Iowa, 2020. Photo Phil Roeder CC BY 2.0

 

 

 

“Forget the small thrill of being Dr. Jill, and settle for the larger thrill of living for the next four years in the best public housing in the world as First Lady Jill Biden.” 

 

By now, most have either read or read about Joseph Epstein’s Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” Mr. Epstein asserts that the meaning of a doctoral degree has been lost over time because it has become so much easier to get one. The author, though, never earned one himself. He laments throughout his article about how he was regularly called “Dr.” but rejects the title. As he says to Dr. Biden directly, “A wise man once said that no one should call himself ‘Dr.’ unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.” He mocked Dr. Biden’s dissertation as “unpromising,” by not only including the title, “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs,” but pointing out the fact that she earned it from a state school, the University of Delaware. For a field he is eviscerating as elitist, he sure seems to be one himself. Mr. Epstein, your snobbery (and hypocrisy) is showing. 

 

The Wall Street Journal editorial page editor, Paul Gigot, defended Mr. Epstein’s article saying “There’s nothing like playing the race or gender card to stifle criticism.” Mr. Gigot accused the Democratic Party generally, and the Biden-Harris team specifically, of orchestrating outrage, asking, “Why go to such lengths to highlight a single op-ed on a relatively minor issue?” Claiming misogyny is a minor issue is not new, and I suppose this one case of this one article’s overtly misogynistic content might not get so much attention. However, this is not simply a case of a privileged, elitist, condescending op-ed in a major newspaper. It is endemic of the systemic and institutional sexism in both our country and academia. This one person’s hot take on Dr. Jill Biden is not what really drove Michelle Obama to post on social media about this, it did not create the wave of women posting about their doctorates. 

 

It is not about doctorates. It is not about accomplishments, really. It is about how women are seen (and not). It is about how women are defined by others, as opposed to being able to define themselves. Women’s stories are written before they can even hold a pen. For example, when Mr. Epstein begins his article referring to Dr. Biden as “Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo,” he gives away the game. He reveals how society sees women: as someone who needs to be told who she is and how to present herself. For her own good, she is infantilized to make her way through the big, bad world. This form of sexism, benevolent sexism, is not necessarily overt. It is not hostile. Yet, it reflects the reality of society’s ingrained beliefs and latent suggestions that women are inferior to men. The condescension of the word” kiddo” here is particularly telling. It’s the proverbial pat on the head, telling her to shut up and sit down and know her place. According to Mr. Epstein, her place in the White House is what should define her - nothing else. Her role as the dutiful wife is her “thrill,” and in the end, her only identity. Mr. Epstein, your misogyny is showing. 

 

Research on the roles of the First Lady, and public evaluations of first ladies stress their lack of autonomy. Specifically, the constraints they face are the boundaries created by socially constructed gender roles. In the end, how successful a first lady is perceived to be is based on how well she upholds the expected gender roles at the time she occupies the office. Of the eleven roles of the First Lady, the primary one is wife and mother, and no matter how successful of a party booster, social hostess, or presidential proxy she is, she will first and foremost be judged by how well she can be the symbol of American womanhood. She needs to be always all things to all people at all times. Michelle Obama notes in the preface of her memoir Becoming, “When you are First Lady, America shows itself to you in its extremes.” 

 

As gender roles have progressed, we might expect so have the expectations for first ladies. Let us look at it this way: While women were about 29% of the labor force in 1945 and are about 47% as of November 2020, survey data find that people still think it is best for both mothers and children for mothers not to work full time. Here again lies the benevolent sexism: it is best for mothers not to work because it will be too difficult for them to handle. Just stay home, kiddo; we know what is best. With no children to rear, Dr. Biden does not need to be the “mom-in-chief” like Michelle Obama dubbed herself. She only needs to be the wife. Mr. Epstein’s article reminds us how grateful Dr. Biden should be for that and how she will be judged like every other first lady before her. 

 

I would be lying if I said I did not take issue with Mr. Epstein’s article as a person, a woman, who earned a doctoral degree. When he says these degrees have less value because they are not as hard to earn as in previous decades, I think of the five years I spent learning, writing, teaching, and growing as a person and a scientist. I spent countless nights shredding my own arguments to contribute something unique enough to my field that would earn me those three letters after my name. Those letters that grant me the title before it: Dr. 

 

Mr. Epstein believes that antiquated canons of education equal rigor, equal deserving of a doctoral degree. The scenarios he describes took place during a time when white men were the only ones earning doctorates. That is how he sees those who are worthy of a doctorate: white men like him. Again, he gives it away saying, “Dr. Jill, I note you acquired your Ed.D. as recently as 15 years ago at age 55, or long after the terror had departed.” The intentional wording “Dr. Jill” as opposed to “Dr. Biden” further shows his contempt for the success she deigned to achieve. Mr. Epstein, your insecurity is showing. 

 

When Dr. Jill Biden becomes the First Lady on January 20, 2021, the title she earned from that state school 15 years ago becomes secondary to her public identity. She will be first and foremost the president’s wife. Though, I have no doubt she will employ both her expertise in education and her decades of experience in public life to, as she wrote on Twitter in her response to Mr. Epstein, “build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished."

 

 

 

 

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178587 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178587 0
The Plague in Ancient Athens: A Cautionary Tale for America

The Plague of Athens depicted in Plague in an Ancient City, Michiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654

 

 

Twenty-four hundred fifty years ago the ancient Greek city-state of Athens—Western civilization’s first democracy and one of the political systems our founding fathers studied—came under great stress. In 430 BCE, in the second year of a war, it was hit by a plague. As Athens was challenged, so the U.S.—under stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, from a fraught, polarized political class and citizenry, and from a sitting president who will probably never concede the election—faces great challenges. While our health experts and political leaders draw lessons from the current pandemic and plan for future ones, Athens’ experience should serve as a cautionary tale for our democracy. 

  In his book, The History of the Peloponnesian War, the ancient Greek historian Thucydides provides the setting. Athens and Sparta had been the two principal leaders of the united Greeks who vanquished the mighty Persian Empire fifty years earlier. Athens, a democracy, headed a large maritime empire which came to threaten Sparta. Sparta, headed by two kings and with a mixed political system, had a very militarized society and an invincible land force. Thucydides sums up the fundamental cause of the war: “I believe that the truest reason for the quarrel, …, was the growth of Athenian power, which put fear into the [Spartans] and so compelled them into war ….” [Book I, 23]   The advent of the plague was certainly related to the overall strategy which Pericles, the preeminent Athenian leader, had proposed and the Athenians had adopted: a defensive strategy on land with limited naval offensives. This meant that once the war started in the spring 431 BCE and the Spartan land force invaded, most Athenians in the surrounding countryside came within the walls of the city. Thucydides states: “An aggravation of the existing calamity was the influx from the country into the city, and this was especially felt by the new arrivals. As there were no houses to receive them, they had to be lodged at the hot season of the year in stifling cabins, where the mortality raged without restraint.” [Book II, 52]   Thucydides indicates that this plague was extraordinary in that “a pestilence of such extent and mortality was nowhere remembered.” [Book II, 47]   With brutal candor, Thucydides—who contracted the disease and recovered—describes the sickness. “People in good health were all of a sudden attacked by violent heats in the head, and redness and inflammation in the eyes, the inner parts, such as the throat or tongue, becoming bloody and the breath unnatural and fetid.” Then followed sneezing, hoarseness, hard cough, discharges of “bile,” and violent spasms. Internally the body burned and could not withstand the touch of clothing. The sick “plunged into the rain tanks in their agonies of unquenchable thirst ….” [Book II, 49]    After seven or eight days, if the person remained alive, the disease “settled in the private parts, fingers, and toes, and many escaped with the loss of these, some too with that of their eyes.” [Book II, 49]   All remedies proved ineffective. “No remedy was found that could be used as a specific; what did good in one case, did harm in another. Strong and weak constitutions proved equally incapable of resistance, all alike being carried off, in spite of the most careful diet.” [Book II, 51]   “…[N[or did any human art succeed any better. Prayers in the temples, divinations, and so forth were found equally futile, till the overwhelming nature of the disaster at last put a stop to them altogether.” [Book II 47]   Thucydides highlights the psychological impact. “By far the most terrible feature in the malady was the dejection which came on when anyone felt himself sickening, for the despair into which they instantly fell took away their power of resistance … there was the awful spectacle of men dying like sheep, through having caught the infection in nursing each other.” [Book II, 51] Thucydides also attempts to portray the impact that the sickness had on social norms and practices. “…for as the disaster passed all bounds, men, not knowing what was to become of them, became utterly careless of everything, whether sacred or profane. All burial rites before in use were entirely disregarded….” [Book II, 52]   Athenians looked at what was happening—the rich suddenly dying and the poorer classes seizing their property—and became unhinged. “They reflected that life and wealth alike were transitory, and resolved to live for pleasure and enjoy themselves quickly. No one was eager to persevere in the ideals of honor … present enjoyment, and all that contributed to it, was accepted as both honorable and useful. Fear of the gods or law of man were no restraint.” [Book II, 53]   In his book, The Peloponnesian War, Donald Kagan indicates that the plague took about four years to run its course and that it killed 4,400 Athenian soldiers (hoplites), 300 cavalrymen, and about one-third of the city’s population. In his book, The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece,Josiah Ober, estimates that it took one-quarter of the city’s population, about 75,000 people and identifies the disease as typhoid on the basis of DNA tests reported in 2006.   Among the dead was Pericles, Athens’ political and military leader, its “first citizen,” who died in 429 BCE. Nonetheless, Athens persevered in its war effort for many more years until 404 BCE when it succumbed to Sparta and its allies.    As of this writing, Coronavirus cases and deaths have spiked for the past seven weeks. Based on data from the Johns Hopkins University, the Wall Street Journal reports that the two-week trend shows a 34% increase in cases, with close over 16.5 million total cases and over 300, 000 total deaths.    A comparison of the two diseases shows that the plague in ancient Athens was clearly as least as contagious as COVID-19, but much more virulent.    Ancient Greek medicine and therapies were totally ineffective against the plague in the 5th century BCE, and vaccines did not exist. We have discovered the benefits to be gained by wearing masks, social distancing, smaller gatherings, and proper hand-washing.   Regarding vaccines, the World Health Organization reports that globally there are approximately 200 vaccines in development today. The West’s robust extended medical community has produced three front-runners: vaccines from Pfizer & BioNTech, Moderna, and finally the University of Oxford & AstraZeneca. On December 14, the first of Pfizer’s vaccines were given, with Moderna’s vaccine likely soon to follow. Western science appears to have begun the end of the virus’ stranglehold on us.    Athens lost its nominal political and military leader to the plague, while President Donald Trump caught and recovered from COVID-19, returning to the campaign trail and the election with gusto.   Though under stress from the plague and the loss of its leader, Athens was able to maintain its prosecution of the war against Sparta and its allies. The U.S., enduring the pandemic for eight months, has to date been able not only to hold together, but also to have a national election with a record turnout of the electorate. Our political system remains under stress as our sitting president refuses to concede the election results, confirmed by the formal voting of the Electoral College on December 14, with the support of far too many Republican loyalists.    If our political system holds, we will have shown greater resilience than in the tumultuous period 1972-74, when the Vietnam War continued and Watergate wrenched us. However, even if it does, the American body politic has much work to be done to return to health politically and civically after returning to health medically.   (Note: An abridged version of this essay was published in the Newport Daily News on December 7, 2020.)   ]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178551 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178551 0
Create Collaborative Videos to Build Historical Engagement

Professor Andrew Pegoda's Students and their Collaborative Performance 

 

 

 

Historical literacy is a deeply valuable skill. History is a difficult subject to teach because people don’t always recognize (or have assistance recognizing) both the contrasting and the reciprocal relationships between different times and places or recognize how they themselves are historical actors. Teaching such historical reasoning is made especially difficult because students generally have had less than ideal prior classroom experiences. Institutions such as Texas’s State Board of Education only exacerbate this problem with its excessive restrictions on what K-12 educators can say and teach, restrictions that often leave little room for discussing discrimination and the experiences of minorities in America.

 

I have previously written about adapting Show and Tell for the college classroom as a way to positively get students engaged with and practicing historical thinking. I have also found another different, exciting way of getting students motivated about the past and its primary sources: We create collaborative videos that help make the past come alive. And students have reported back that they really enjoy these activities. Specifically, performances of primary sources are a pedagogical practice that can be adopted in any education setting concerned with advancing historical literacy.

 

My students and I did our first such project in February 2019. In my Queer Studies classes, we read and talked about Zoe Leonard’s 1992 poem, “I Want A Dyke For President,” which was written in the context of growing queer visibility and queer demands for acceptance. Students seemed to enjoy the poem and have basic understandings of what it addresses, namely the disconnect between everyday people and former presidents of the United States. This manifesto includes:

 

I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance….I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to AIDS.…I want a president with no air-conditioning…and has been unemployed and laid off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported….And I want to know why this isn’t possible.

 

But, I wasn’t fully satisfied. I wanted them to really “get” it – the poem, the historical perspectives, the inspiration.

 

I asked the classes if they would be interested in making a video where volunteers would read different lines from the poem in exchange for some extra credit. They said, YES. I broke the poem up into small lines and made a Google Document signup sheet. Students recorded their videos and then uploaded them to a Google Share Folder. Once everything was in three days later, I taught myself how to use Final Cut Pro, and then with everyone’s approval, uploaded the video to YouTube for anyone to see.

 

Our first result was powerful! Students really got fired up.

 

 

 

By their expression and tones alone, these students clearly gained new appreciations for what the poem says. Most of my students are minorities in at least one category so through the process of performance and further discussion they quickly came to really recognize the connections between the all-too-familiar oppression they personally face and the words articulated in “I Want A Dyke For President” about oppression three decades ago. They internalized ideas about the radicalism that was inspired by and necessitated by the AIDS crisis and that, in some ways, made Queer Studies even possible. They related to the demands for visibility, for all minorities. They also came to recognize both that Donald Trump’s presidency is not necessarily a huge aberration and that Barack Obama’s presidency represented some positive changes over time.

 

Due to the success of our “I Want A Dyke For President” video, we’ve been doing these class performances ever since.

 

More recently, my gender studies and religious studies classes created collaborative videos/readings with Langston Hughes’s “Kids Who Die” and with Audre Lorde’s “There Is No Hierarchy Of Oppression.”

 

 

 

Through all of these performances, students realize how issues of classism, racism, and other forms of systemic oppression are historically common. These poems and documents help them own or even understand ideas they’ve had but for which they lacked language or experience. Reading them is one thing, but performing them is another altogether, a process that ensures students won’t forget the text in question and that has them take the perspective of another person, building empathy. These exercises go far beyond memorization, the lowest skill of Bloom’s Taxonomy to the highest level, creation.

 

In addition to those above, we’ve also done videos of Elizabeth Velasquez’s “Elephant” and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” – while newer, still important primary sources about systemic sexism that inspire students to be invested in society and evaluate their roles in it. As I’ve gotten more comfortable with our projects, we’ve often taken more creative liberties in our performances – sometimes for dramatic effect, other times as a way to include more participants. I always tell students we can find ways to include you.

 

 

 

 

I also find students are more receptive to these primary texts and to the process of making videos because I don’t frame it as a historical project, per se. Students are often more receptive and more willing to engage historically if they don’t specifically know they are building historical literacy. “History” can be a turnoff.

 

Equally important, my classes have also written original content for some of our videos. This has given students concrete opportunities to document and to speak about their personal life. These poems also allow students to express their hopes and fears going forward. Instead of building empathy for people they don’t know and sometimes abstract ideas, this exercise helps them see the world, personal histories, from the eyes of people they know. And in the process, we make a unique primary source!

 

The first such videos we created completely on our own were “You Need Feminism Because” and “Forced Negotiations.”

 

 

 

 

This Fall 2020 semester we wrote “Growing Up It Was Always Expected” and “A Letter To My 10 Year-old Self.” (You’ll notice that my video editing abilities have grown since the first ones!)

 

 

 

To close, students enjoy contributing to these videos and gain valuable historical skills. They acknowledge, albeit indirectly, learning about the past and the perspective of others, as demonstrated by four different students:

 

The videos made me feel like I was a valued member of my class. I loved how we all came together as a class, and it created a sense of unity and community within our college classroom. It really isn’t something I felt in any of my other classes, so I appreciated the efforts you made to include everyone in our class.

 

I think everyone enjoys being able to pick a line, usually one they identify with personally, and voice themselves on a platform like this, even if it’s just for a few seconds.

 

I also liked that we were able to choose a line of a poem/story to say because we were able to choose lines that we felt represented us or were more personal to us.

 

I think it’s special that you use these videos to facilitate interactions between your students of different backgrounds. The videos themselves foster inclusiveness and community between your past and present students: I have never had another professor of mine do that. I’ve noticed timid students in class who especially enjoy participating.

 

Student reflections of these collaborative multimedia performances show increased historical awareness as they recognize the similarities with a group people that started as groups of strangers, and they recognize how manifestos, poems, and other texts can have relevance and speak to their personal experiences. They are, simply and with enjoyment, learning about and celebrating the past.

 

While not skills that will tangibly build their historical literacy, students also tend to really enjoy seeing themselves on camera. They’ve noted that participating in videos is a lower-stakes way of getting comfortable with public speaking and with appearing on camera. As with basically all of the most effective learning tools, these collaborative videos build across-the-curriculum or interdisciplinary skills.

 

In sum, my students and I find value and excitement with these collaborative activities that result in permanent artifacts. Our videos don’t just give the past meaning, they connect all of us to that past in tangible ways. And as my students emphasize, these videos make them feel connected with times and other places. These videos projects also help students feel valued, and when they have this kind of investment, the learning comes more naturally. So rather than just assigning primary sources from a reader or quickly discussing them before moving to another topic, have students perform important non-traditional primary sources.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178584 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178584 0
Can Biden Broaden Our American Dream?

Civilian Conservation Corps Tree Planting Project, Angeles National Forest, California, 1939. 

National Forest Service photo F.E. Dunham

 

 

On December 11, President-elect Joe Biden introduced Susan Rice, who has agreed to become his director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. She had formerly been Barack Obama's ambassador to the United Nations and then his national security adviser. The remarks she made after being introduced are important for they suggest the absolute necessity of broadening the American Dream. And this dream must broaden if we are going to flourish in the future.

But what is the dream and how must it be broadened? In a Time essay on it in 2012 , Jon Meacham defined it as “the perennial conviction that those who work hard and play by the rules will be rewarded with a more comfortable present and a stronger future for their children.” In a 1995 book on the dream, Jennifer Hochschild wrote that “the American dream consists of tenets about achieving success,” but she indicated that people measure this success in various ways. In amplifying on this point, she quoted Bruce Springsteen, “I don’t think the American dream was that everybody was going to make . . . a billion dollars, but it was that every body was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and some dignity and a chance for some self-respect.” Thus, the American Dream means having the opportunity to succeed, however we may define success. And it must be broadened by widening the opportunities for more people to do so and in more ways than just becoming better off financially.  

Germane to these considerations, in her remarks on 11 December, Rice said: “My paternal great grandfather was born a slave in South Carolina and joined the Union Army. My maternal grandparents came to this country from Jamaica with no education. But, working for decades as a janitor and a maid, they saved and scraped to send all five of their children to college—and on to professional success.” But in a 2020 memoir, Tough Love, Rice makes clear that for her ancestors “success” meant more than just becoming wealthier.

Two elements run consistently through my family tree: education and service. For my family, education is of utmost importance, worthy of every sacrifice, because it is the key to upward mobility and to securing the American Dream. . . . The corollary to education—service—was embedded in my genes and seared into my soul. My forebears on both sides heeded the call to serve, to pay back far more than they were grateful to receive. . . . I was expected to give back, especially to those less fortunate than myself. Service could take many forms. It needn’t be in the military or government. It could be in the nonprofit world, journalism, law, academia, medicine, business, or elsewhere.

 

In her 11 December remarks, however, she indicated that too many had not been as fortunate as her: “Today, for far too many, the American Dream has become an empty promise—a cruel mockery of lives held back by barriers, new and old. That’s not good enough, for any American.” She ended her remarks, by adding that she believes “that we all rise or fall together” and that she will do all she can “to bring the American Dream far closer to reality for all.”

“A cruel mockery.” How so? Take just a few examples of the many that could be cited. The disproportionate number of Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans who have suffered, either from contracting the coronavirus and/or from losing their jobs because of it. The disproportionate number of Black people who have been imprisoned, many still incarcerated and others having a tough time on the “outside” because of their criminal record. The scorn and mistreatment many immigrants and their children have received from Trump and some of his followers.

In response to the “cruel mockery” that the American Dream has become for so many people of color, how do many Whites react? A prominent view, as historian Christopher Lasch once pointed out, is that “failure to advance . . . argues moral incapacity on the part of . . . disadvantaged ethnic and racial minorities” (Trump’s simplistic view of society’s “winners” and “losers” has been strongly affected by such thinking). A 2017 Pew Research Center poll indicated that Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to believe that rich people are rich because they work harder, and almost three times as likely as Democrats to believe that the poor are poor because they are lazier.

But it is not just people of color who often see little chance of obtaining the American Dream. Many Trump supporters have also been frustrated by what they consider declining American opportunities, and by threats to the American Dream. And, of course, Trump has encouraged them to perceive such threats. For example, during the 2020 presidential campaign, he tweeted, “Suburban voters are pouring into the Republican Party because of the violence in Democrat run cities and states. If Biden gets in, this violence is coming to the suburbs, and FAST. You could say goodbye to your American Dream!”

Four years earlier, author George Saunders identified some of the early fears of Trump supporters in his essay “Who Are All These Trump Supporters?” He referred to many of them as suffering from “usurpation anxiety syndrome,” which he defined as “the feeling that one is, or is about to be, scooped, overrun, or taken advantage of by some Other with questionable intentions.” The “some Other” could be such groupings as Blacks, feminists, illegal immigrants, or university professors.

In a 2017 article “Who Are We?” conservative columnist Ross Douthat indicated that Trumpites’ one-sided view of American history was part of the problem. They preferred “the older narrative” of U.S. history, the one that glorified Columbus, the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, Lewis and Clark, and Davy Crockett, the one that emphasized the melting pot (not multiculturalism), and the U.S. Christian tradition (not separation of church and state, and certainly not any secularist thinking).

This view was akin to that of right-wing columnist Jarrett Stepman in his The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America's Past (2019). Like him, many Trump supporters believed that “an informed patriotism is what we want.” But our history includes not only George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Edison; not only the Declaration of Independence and Emancipation Proclamation; not only  defeating Nazi Germany and outlasting the communist Soviet Union; but also decimating Native Americans and enslaving millions of Africans--and decades after emancipating them, segregating many of them for more than a half century.

Further insight into the fears of Trump supporters regarding their fading American Dream is supplied by New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall in his recent “The Resentment That Never Sleeps.” He writes: “Roughly speaking, Trump and the Republican Party have fought to enhance the status of white Christians and white people without college degrees . . . . Biden and the Democrats have fought to elevate the standing of previously marginalized groups: women, minorities, the L.G.B.T.Q. community and others. The ferocity of this politicized status competition can be seen in the anger of white non-college voters over their disparagement by liberal elites, the attempt to flip traditional hierarchies and the emergence of identity politics on both sides of the chasm.”

Edsall quotes Cecilia L. Ridgeway, who wrote: “Status has always been part of American politics, but right now a variety of social changes have threatened the status of working class and rural whites who used to feel they had a secure, middle status position in American society. . . .The reduction of working-class wages and job security, growing demographic diversity, and increasing urbanization of the population have greatly undercut that sense and fueled political reaction.”

At present, confidence in the achievability of the American Dream is low. Many Trump supporters fear the worst from a Biden presidency. And many Biden supporters fear the U. S. public is going to going to continue its polarized ways. In that confidence in realizing the dream increases as the economy and economic equality improves, the chances of increased confidence will depend in part on whether a Biden administration can, as our present pandemic gradually recedes, “Build Back Better,” as his slogan has it. 

People of color, immigrants and children of immigrants (like Vice-President- elect Kamala Harris), and poor people generally will probably become more hopeful of achieving the American Dream once Biden replaces Trump. Rice’s remark that she will do all she can “to bring the American Dream far closer to reality for all” seems sincere and an aspiration shared by Biden.

Yet, despite Rice’s talk of restoring the dream for “all” and Biden’s desire “to give everybody a fair shot, to improve the lives of our people. . . . to work as hard for those who voted against” him as for those who voted for him, more than an improving economy and greater equality will be needed. A more gripping and tangible dream that can be imagined and sought for by young and old, poor and rich, Black and White, and rural and urban dwellers needs to emerge.

In our present age of polarization, cynicism, and individualism, presided over by perhaps the most narcissistic president in our history, we once again need to broaden our dreams, our collective American Dream. For inspiration we can look to our past.

To Frederick Douglass, who in 1869 advocated a “composite nation,” a “citizenry made better, and stronger, not in spite of its many elements, but because of them.” 

To William James, who more than a century ago decried our "moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS,” interpreted as making more money. And who thought “we now need to discover in the social realm . . . the moral equivalent of war: something heroic that will speak to men as universally as war does, and yet will be as compatible with their spiritual selves as war has proved itself to be incompatible." 

To Franklin Roosevelt (FDR), who was first elected president in 1932, in the darkest days of the Great Depression and amid “a steadily degenerating confidence in the future which had reached the height of general alarm”; amid a “deep cultural divide between urban and rural Americans, or modernists and fundamentalists”; and when “rural folks who aggressively supported ideas and traditions largely in harmony with their established way of life” felt threatened by the growing dominance of the big cities and more recent immigrants. But despite this gloom, FDR created many New Deal programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which not only created jobs, but appealed to people’s idealism.

To the progressive Frances Perkins, who became the first woman appointed to a Cabinet position when FDR made her Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, and who is sometimes referred to as the architect of the CCC.

To John Kennedy, who inspired the nation when he created the Peace Corps and even earlier (in his 1961 Inaugural Address) when he said, “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”  

To Martin Luther King, whose American Dream was reflected in his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream Speech” and his July 4, 1965 sermon, “The American Dream.” In the latter, he stated that he still had a dream “that one day all of God’s children will have food and clothing and material well-being for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, and freedom for their spirits.”

To Barack Obama, who in his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (when he was still an Illinois state senator) depicted his own story--son of an African father and a Kansas white woman--as a reflection of the American Dream. And who later, as a U. S. senator wrote The Audacity of Hope, with the subtitle Thoughts of Reclaiming the American Dream. And who was still concerned with that dream after eight years as president.  

Although Biden’s path to reigniting the American Dream will depend mainly on the creativity and imagination of his administration--as well as the willingness of Republicans to put the common good before narrower crass considerations--one major suggestion might be made here: Follow the example of FDR and JFK and advice of some of the contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination and expand opportunities for national service.

Pete Buttigieg , President-elect Biden's nominee to head the Department of Transportation, suggested creating “new national service programs, including a Climate Corps, and a chief service officer in the White House.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren advocated a 21st-century version of the CCC.

As a recent piece on The Hill website declared: “If Biden’s goal of healing the nation is to have real meaning, then a good place to start with liberals, conservatives and centrists is national and international service. . . . [which] requires working together and sharing experiences among a diverse group of American high school graduates drawn from a broad political spectrum. The lessons learned— cooperation, understanding varied points of view and achieving a common goal—will build a stronger American body politic and society. Its time has come in this deeply fractured nation.”

Such national service, especially directed at improving our environment, would also expand our American Dream to include getting ahead in the best possible way--by helping others who share our Planet Earth.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178583 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178583 0
Trump's Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan: Part 2 – Is There Even a "Trump Doctrine"?

 

 

Editor's note: Part 1 of this essay can be read here

 

Even as Donald Trump discussed pulling America out of NATO, tried withdrawing US troops from South Korea, moved to pull 12,000 troops out of Germany, withdrew America’s effective 1,000 man fighting force from Kurdish areas in Syria, and ordered a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by January 20, 2021 as part of his policy of ending “senseless wars,” he manifested a militaristic foreign policy that almost led America into two major and potentially high casualty wars in Asia.

 

The Inconsistencies of Trump’s Military Retreatism.

While Trump as a candidate had previously attacked Obama for “cutting and running” from Iraq, he pivoted to attacking America’s overseas military engagements during the 2016 Republican presidential runoffs. During and after the debates, Trump took a sledgehammer to the sacred cows of Republican Orthodoxy and attacked George W. Bush’s costly war in Iraq as a cudgel to mock and belittle the Republican Party’s anointed heir Jeb Bush. In so doing, Trump broke a taboo in the Republican Party which stated that no one could criticize Bush’s highly unpopular war in Iraq, which Democrats and the undecided largely believed had been premised on false weapons of mass destruction claims (majorities of Republicans up until this point still believed the US had found WMDs in Iraq). Among other criticisms of the WMD-based war, Trump said “It's one of the worst decisions in the history of the country. We have totally destabilized the Middle East."

 

As Trump went on to highjack the presidential nomination from the establishment, millions of Republicans, as if coming out of a trance, came to see overseas wars of the sort they had strongly supported in Iraq and Afghanistan as (in Trump’s terms) “senseless,” “endless,” and “pointless” interventions in lands of “sand and blood.” Taking their cue from the isolationist president, Trump’s followers even began to describe once-exalted Pentagon generals as warmongers working for the military industrial complex. Under Trump, a party that had unquestionably stood by Bush during the era of the muscular Bush Doctrine (which posited that America had the right to invade any country that harbored terrorists) defined by such jingoist slogans as “shock and awe,” “freedom fries,” the “axis of evil,” and a full-scale invasion of Iraq to find non-existent WMDs, came to have a cynical “we-don’t-give-a-shitism” view of the Pentagon’s overseas military operations.

 

When Trump impulsively decided to withdraw a small contingent of 1,000 highly effective US Special Forces from the fragile pro-American, pro-Christian, pro-women’s rights, secular, democratic autonomy in northern Syria that was protected by the Pentagon, many of Trump’s Christian followers living in the world’s greatest democracy dutifully applauded. As Trump green-lit an October 2019 Turkish jihadist invasion of the Kurds’ pro-American democracy, Trump’s followers seemed unconcerned about the fate of America’s stalwart Kurdish allies who sacrificed 11,000 of their fighters’ lives defeating ISIS as loyal Pentagon proxies. As thousands of terrified Armenian Christians, Syriac Christians, and their Kurdish allies fled Turkey’s brutal conquest of their fragile democracy, the delighted Iranian, Russian, and Syrian government alliance moved in to invade it from the southwest. As Iran celebrated America’s unforced retreat from Syria, Trump and his followers washed their hands of the chaos he created in a land where America had stalwart allies.

 

One of the greatest beneficiaries of Trump’s unilateral, chaotic retreat from Syria was Iran, but this seemed not to bother the president’s supporters who had ironically once supported Bush’s aggressive “Axis of Evil” rhetoric towards Iran. When Trump proclaimed “Iran can do what they want there [in Syria]” his base agreed to the unforced surrender of US influence in this strategic land and the rise of the ayatollahs’ influence in post-US troop drawdown Syria.

 

And this brings up the inconsistencies of Trump’s wildly praised (among his newly isolationist base followers) policy of what can best be described as “global retreatism.” For all his followers’ unquestioning approval of Trump’s shocking betrayal of the Syrian Kurds, recent November 2020 calls for troops drawdown from Afghanistan and Iraq, and his recent dismantling of the Defeat-ISIS Task Force (whose mission of defeating a regrouping ISIS, I argue,  is far from completed), it is Trump who brought America close to two potentially catastrophic major wars in Asia.

 

Under the influence of Republican hawks like former national security advisor John Bolton, Trump commenced a series of aggressive actions against the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2018 that led America to the brink of war. To ostensibly punish Iran for its militancy in, ironically, Syria, the Trump administration unilaterally shredded the multilateral, successful nuclear agreement signed by Obama with Iran. While Iran had shipped its nuclear material to Russia in compliance with the agreement and was seen by the other multilateral signatories including Britain, France, and Russia as faithfully complying with the nuclear treaty, Trump declared a unilateral and devastating economic war on Iran. To weaken the Islamic Republic of Iran’s involvement in places like Syria (which Trump of course later abandoned to Iranian Revolutionary Guard militias and the Iranian-backed Syrian government in 2019), the Trump administration imposed draconian sanctions on Iran in 2018. As part of his dangerous brinksmanship with Tehran, Trump also ordered the killing of its highest-ranking military official, General Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike in January 2020.

 

An increasingly infuriated Iran finally responded to the crippling sanctions and the assassination of its most respected general with fury. It rained missiles down on US bases in Iraq and came perilously close to killing US personnel serving in them (a sizeable number of troops suffered brain injuries in the attack). Had Americans died in this barrage of missiles, the Pentagon was under orders to bomb Iran itself, certainly a slippery slope to a major Middle Eastern armed conflict. It should be stressed that a conflict with Iran, which has a far stronger army, navy, and air-force than the smaller, sanctions-crippled Iraq did in 2003, would have been a far bloodier affair than the “senseless” war in Afghanistan which has cost America just 1,865 killed in action.

As Trump brought America to the brink of war with Iran’s army of over half a million, his theoretically isolationist followers, who had come to mock the Pentagon generals as “warmongers,” nonetheless dutifully lined up behind him to bang the drums of war. Without any awareness of the hypocrisy, inconsistency and cognitive dissonance they were engaged in, they full-throatedly supported Trump in abandoning America’s democratic Kurdish allies in Syria to the Iranians in the name of “ending endless wars”…even as they supported a potential full-scale war with Iran designed to curtail its influence in places like Syria.

 

But it was not only in Iran where Trump—the “ender of endless wars”—took America to the brink of a full-scale war with a unified and well-armed nuclear enemy. In the first year and half of his administration Trump engaged in dangerous brinkmanship with North Korea. Threatening to rain “fire and fury” down on North Korea, Trump drew the country so close to war that his generals said they slept with their uniforms on in case a nuclear strike was launched at night. Again Trump’s anti-“senseless” wars base loyally supported his dangerous saber-rattling as sensible.

 

And, while it was not widely reported, in November of 2020 Trump again brought America to the edge of war with Iran. In what was undoubtedly a “wag the dog” attempt to launch a public relations bonanza war with Iran, Trump ordered his Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo to “go wild” on Iran and considered bombing its nuclear facilities. As in the case with North Korea, it was the civilian military leadership and Pentagon generals, who ironically enough have come to be described as “warmongers” by Trump’s followers, who backed Trump away from the edge and convinced him not to launch a war against Iran.

 

There is no consistent, overarching strategic vision to Trump’s attempts to remove US troops from South Korea, Germany, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, while at the same time leading America perilously close to sending troops to wage new wars against two nuclear states. And far from working to enhance American security, it is Trump, the real “Master of Chaos,” who is attempting to dismantle America’s longstanding policy of supporting allied democracies in order to make the world a safer place for America.

 

The Rationale for Not Engaging in Retreatism in Afghanistan

 

All of the above brings us to Trump, the selective “ender of endless “wars’,” and his latest act of American retrenchment, the November troop drawdown order in Afghanistan (he has also ordered troops withdrawn from Iraq where many fear Iranian-backed militias will fill the void). From the historical perspective, this is a dangerous decision that is bound to not only weaken a key American democratic ally, but destabilize the strategic heart of Eurasia. It will also be yet another example of Trump upending decades of American foreign policy designed over the last 75 years to support democratic allies like the Kurds of Syria. A glance at history will show that when America invested in building and protecting democracies in post-World War II Germany and Japan, it created loyal bastions of pro-American democracy in the Pacific and in Western Europe. In just one generation, these two nations that had engaged in the Holocaust in Europe and war crimes like the Rape of Nanking in China became dependable American allies and exemplars of democratic stability.

 

While many Republicans at the time fought against the farsighted Marshall Plan, which pumped billions of dollars into rebuilding post-World War II Germany and Japan, this investment in America’s future paid tremendous dividends. Germany went on to become NATO’s strongest force in Cold War Europe and I myself met German NATO troops serving in Kunduz, Afghanistan to support the US after we were attacked on 9/11.  While post-Taliban Afghanistan is not a modern nation state like post-World War II Japan or Germany, it is a US ally whose allied government serves to spread American values and support the Pentagon’s counter-terrorism efforts in a strategic part of the world. America for example used it as a base for flying drones over Iran to monitor its nuclear program, which of course was ostensibly Trump’s main focus in the region.

 

By supporting Japan and other democracies, including those that gave the Pentagon basing rights, the US established the ideal, and to a lesser extent the reality, of a global Pax Americana. This objective should extend to Afghanistan today. Ever since the end of World War II, America has been a beacon of hope for democratic aspirations everywhere, a force of global stabilization, and “the indispensable nation.” While it has made catastrophic mistakes, such as the wars in Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Pax Americana model has had its successes too. America can be a benign hegemon that works for global stability, not Trumpian “America First” chaos. While the US certainly engaged in un-democratic overreach as part of its global anti-Communist policies during the Cold War (for example, it supported the overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected socialist leader Salvador Allende and armed murderous anti-Communist, right wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua) for the most part, the US has worked to promote democracy. Supporting human rights and democracy is a stated goal of US foreign policy. The US has also worked around the globe to protect human life.

 

When Orthodox Christians Serbs in the Balkans launched a war of ethnic cleansing against Bosnian and Albanian Muslims in 1990s, the US led NATO in preventing genocide. When a tsunami devastated Indonesia and Thailand in 2004, it was American aircraft carrying supplies and relief ships that arrived first to treat survivors and dispense medical supplies. When Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010, it was US George H.W. Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton who together called upon Americans to assist in the rebuilding of that impoverished country. When China’s Communist government created a vast gulag of prison camps to “reeducate” Turkic-Mongol Uighur Muslims in 2015, America led the way in condemning this gross violation of human rights (although Trump ended this policy of sanctions). And it was America’s scientists that developed vaccines for smallpox and COVID 19 that were, and will be, shipped around the world.    

 

I myself have seen the tremendous impact that the “indispensable nation” has had as force of good in the world in places like Bosnia and Kosovo where I found widespread gratitude for America for saving them from genocide and emulation of our democratic way of life. And certainly I have seen the positive impact America has had in Afghanistan by toppling the tyrannical Taliban’s fundamentalist regime and providing tens of millions with the hope of living in a freer world. Afghanistan, whose cruel Taliban masters once hung TV sets from telephone poles as “Satan boxes,” now has five TV channels that expose this once isolated people to the world. Even the smallest villages now have internet service and I have many friends in Afghanistan who are my friends on Facebook.

 

In government controlled parts of Afghanistan today, women who were once stoned in Kabul on Fridays by the Taliban’s religious police for moral crimes now make up one-third of the Afghan parliament. Women and girls can be seen walking in confidence wearing headscarves in Kabul instead of Taliban-enforced burkas. Boys can fly kites or play soccer, which were banned by the Taliban’s dreaded moral police, and most importantly, over the last twenty years a new generation of millions of children have been raised getting secular education instead of (only boys) being brainwashed in fundamentalist madrassas. Far from serving as an incubator for jihadi fanaticism as it was under the Taliban, Afghanistan now has a democratically elected government that supports women’s and minorities’ rights, fights terrorism, and is a trusted American ally. While progress in Afghanistan, an undeveloped land that has seen warfare ever since 1978, has been slow, a vast societal change is underway in much of the country, and this benefits America, just as the transformation of post World War II Japan and Germany benefited America.

 

While the fate of millions of Afghans, who are grateful to America for stability, modernity, democracy and freedom, is as irrelevant to Trump as the fate of the stalwart pro-American democratic Syrian Kurds was, this strategic country’s fate should matter to Americans on both a compassionate, humanitarian level and on domestic security grounds. While many Americas are myopic in global sense and often proudly disconnected from the troubles of the world, it has been a hallmark of far sighted American domestic security policy since the start of the Cold War to make America safe by supporting democratic allies abroad. This has the aim of preventing exactly the sort of state implosion and creation of an anti-American terrorist sanctuary that was seen in Afghanistan when the CIA shortsightedly abandoned the country in 1989 after pumping millions to arm the anti USSR mujahideen freedom fighters.

 

The Pentagon does not wage war for the sake of waging war and the generals clearly see it in America’s interest to prevent the fall of Afghanistan’s democracy to an extremist fundamentalist regime that supports terrorism against the American “Great Satan.” Bolstering the Afghan Army with a dedicated “light footprint” mission and keeping the tribes on the government’s side is a far better strategy for maintaining the security benefits from the Pax Americana than Trump’s chaos-inducing, anti-democratic, and impulse-driven retreatism.

 

I have seen the dedication of America’s fighting men and women to the mission in Afghanistan while working for the US Army under the legendary General McCrystal, who has been attacked by Trump along with other generals like David Petraeus and William McRaven (Trump has proclaimed he knows “more than the generals” and berated top Pentagon generals as “dopes and babies” who were too loyal to “worthless” allies). Unlike Trump, who has a cold, transactional, Manhattan real estate developer view towards allies, the members of my US Army Information Operations team in Afghanistan shared a remarkably idealistic view of or our mission and deep sense of loyalty to our Afghan National Army “terps” (interpreters), base perimeter guards, and partners on joint missions.  

 

I was impressed by dedication of the fighting men and women around me to their mission. They believed in tracking down and killing terrorists who plotted the 9/11 attacks, as well as attacks in Madrid, London, and Turkey, and around the world. They also believed in protecting the Afghan people from these very terrorists who threw disfiguring acid in the face of brave school girls, who risked their lives for an education, and decapitated school teachers as “messengers of sinful Western education.” Unlike the Soviets, who invaded Afghanistan with a “collective punishment” mentality that led to genocidal killing of 1.5 million Afghans in the 1980s, the American troops I served with genuinely believed in reaching the “hearts and minds” of Afghans. No one epitomized this sense of idealism and dedication to the mission in Afghanistan more than a friend of mine, a former Green Beret captain named Mark Nutsch (portrayed as the leader of a horse mounted team that fought alongside Dostum by Thor actor Chris Hemsworth in the movie 12 Strong) who returned to Afghanistan on several occasions with his retired teammates to bring books for impoverished Afghan school children.

 

I saw tremendous respect and admiration for idealism-driven US soldiers like Nutsch and American efforts to rebuild Afghanistan during my journeys across this land. My experiences of Afghan admiration for America ranged from Afghan friends who cried the first time they acquired a previously-banned TV and DVD player and saw the movie Titanic, to going to a memorial service in Kabul for a brave Afghan journalist who was beheaded by the insurgents for his honest reporting on Taliban war crimes. My experiences included meeting a little school girl named Zara who poised for a picture with me outside of her newly built school and proudly showed a prized notepad and pen provided by an American charity. The image of Zara stayed with me long after I left Afghanistan. It was the hope in her eyes for brighter future that stuck with me the most and made me proud of America’s accomplishment in this long suffering land that yearned for freedom.

 

While it is difficult for many Americans who, like Trump, see the Pentagon’s wars in places like Afghanistan as “senseless” to believe in America’s “light footprint mission” there, I believe that sacrificing millions of Zaras to the butchery of the bloody Taliban tormentors of this nation for Fox News optics is as unconscionable as Trump abandoning Syrian Kurds to Turkish Islamist jihadi invaders, Iran, Russia and the genocidal Syrian government was in 2019. For all the fact that Trump has poisoned the well of many Republicans’ belief in the security goals of the Pentagon’s overseas missions, the very generals who walked Trump from back brink of launching a full-scale war with nuclear North Korea and Iran should be trusted to hold the line in Afghanistan with a remarkably small “aid and assist” force of just 4,500. This should be done not just for the sake of our country, but for Afghanistan, Eurasia and the world. It is only by continuing to be the “indispensable nation” in defending allies around the increasingly inter-connected globe in furtherance of the democratic values it espouses that the Pax Americana that has brought freedom and democracy to lands ranging from the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan to Tokyo, Seoul, Sarajevo, and Berlin can be maintained to the benefit of the American people.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178585 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178585 0
"A Christmas Carol" Makes the Same Demand Today: Feed the Hungry

 

 

A Christmas Carol to Feed the Hungry Imagine if the ghosts from the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol were to visit us today. Those spirits would surely remind us to do the right thing this holiday: feed the hungry.  This takes on even more urgency as we face the biggest global hunger crisis since World War II.  When Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 he wanted to raise awareness about hunger and poverty. Dickens had seen hungry and suffering children in England, and had personally experienced the hardship of being poor while growing up.  His story about the selfish Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation, after being visited by the ghosts of Christmas, shared a message of charity.  Dickens wanted to make Christmas a heartfelt time of helping the poor and extend it year round.  He would surely delight in seeing the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future in action again today.  The Ghost of Christmas Past would remind us how American food aid has brightened many a holiday in faraway lands. When Europe was struggling in hunger after World War II, it was Americans buying CARE packages which became a favorite Christmas gift. These packages of food were sent overseas to feed the hungry. The Ghost of Christmas Past would show a family in Europe opening this precious package of food.  The Ghost of Christmas Present would show how desperate the hunger crisis is both at home and abroad. Families are struggling to put food on the table and long lines have been forming at America’s foodbanks.  The Ghost would also show scenes in other countries of families impacted by war and drought. They are struggling to find any food to survive.  A report from the UN World Food Program (WFP) says “25 countries are set to face devastating levels of hunger.” Famine is threatening Yemen, Burkina Faso, Northeast Nigeria and South Sudan.  Charities are short on funding to feed the hungry. Needs keep rising but food aid budgets are not. The Ghost of Christmas Present would show families depending entirely on food from the WFP and other relief agencies. You would also see scenes of reduced rations for families because funding has been low. WFP and other charities are appealing for more funds to feed the hungry, otherwise more victims will be without food. The WFP director David Beasley warns that 270 million people may be facing starvation worldwide unless we take action.  The Ghost of Christmas Future would show us the horrible scenes of famine and people starving to death in 2021. By next Christmas we will have witnessed “famines of biblical proportions” unless we take action now.  In A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge gets a second chance after his visit with the ghosts. Scrooge changes his ways and becomes filled with the Christmas Spirit. His new giving ways help save Tiny Tim, the sick child of his employee Bob Cratchit.

We all have a chance this Christmas to open up our hearts and rescue the hungry. You can make a donation to a local foodbank and charities like WFP, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, CARE or UNICEF. Even playing the online trivia game FreeRice raises donations for WFP. Writing a letter to Congress about supporting aid can bring gifts of food to the hungry year round.  At the end of A Christmas Carol Tiny Tim says “God Bless us, Everyone.” Truly, everyone deserves that basic right of food and to live free from the fear of starvation.   

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178553 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178553 0
To Be Or Not to Be... a Republican

 

 

Has Donald Trump, like Hamlet, put “antic disposition on,” pretending to be  crazy because it serves his political purposes? Or is he really bonkers, insisting that he has won an election that is completely out of reach?

The reality should have set in long ago. All of the swing states that would have been necessary for Trump to prevail in the Electoral College have certified Biden’s victory. The transition to the administration of  President Elect Biden has begun.

Trump has brought at least 32 lawsuits in the six states that matter, attacking the election that he claims was riddled with “massive fraud,” and has won none of them. The Trump legal team has been called “the gang that can’t sue straight.” His lead attorney Rudy Giuliani recently went to the hospital with COVID-19. When the conservative dominated Supreme Court of Wisconsin threw him out of court the other day for doing something so elementary as not bringing his case first in the court of original jurisdiction, his litigation goose appeared to be cooked to a turn.

Yet, Trump in a video that no one but Facebook would publish, claims he won the election. Imagine! The President of the United States makes a video at the White House, and no one will publish it because it is drowned in so many lies and misstatements that is unworthy of serious attention.

Trump’s claims of election victory, if he really believes them, might appear to be the musings of a harmless psychopath. If I had a friend who consistently lost at the races, and yet claimed he had consistently won, I might tell his wife to have him psychiatrically evaluated. But our Supreme Court reminded us in United States v. Nixon that the President is entitled to a “high degree of respect,” and that we may not “proceed against the president as against an ordinary individual.” And, as Polonius observed about Hamlet, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.” So what is Trump’s game?

Seventy-four million Americans voted for Donald Trump. Of these, 80 percent don’t accept the outcome. Indeed, they refuse to agree that Joe Biden won fair and square. They say the election was rigged and tainted by “massive fraud.” Trump’s congressional enablers, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, don’t accept the outcome. Nor does House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

In a nationally televised debate on December 7, Kelly Loeffler, running for a Georgia senate seat in a special election, refused to say that Trump had lost the election or even lost the state of Georgia. Trump had appeared in Valdosta, Georgia to endorse her candidacy. “Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia,” Trump tweeted to his followers. Both of Georgia’s Republican senators running for re-election called for the resignation of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for standing by the count in his state. They trashed Georgia Governor Brad Kemp for certifying Raffensperger’s conclusion. Trumpists threatened both their lives and careers. Both state officials are Republicans, who voted for Trump. But Trump’s tweets put the word Republican in quotation marks beside their names to question both their loyalty and standing in the Party.

Gabriel Sterling, also a Republican, one of Raffensperger’s senior election staffers, called on Trump to condemn threats against election workers. On the steps of the Georgia State Capitol, he exhorted: “It has to stop, Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or the language.” There was a deafening silence from the White House.

Trump fired Chris Krebs, his head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, for a statement his agency released, saying that: “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” For this factual statement, a Trump campaign lawyer said on  national television that Krebs should be “taken out and shot.”

Attorney General Bill Barr, certainly Trump’s leading legal loyalist, probed whether there was fraud. He announced that the Department of Justice found no evidence of fraud in the election that would affect the outcome. Et tu Bill Barre? In response, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin challenged Barr to “show everybody” the evidence that there was no evidence. Nine Texas Republicans in Congress signed a letter chastising Barr for a "shocking lack of action" in response to unproven allegations that fraud occurred. It was all surreal. Trump summoned Barr to the White House for a tense and contentious dressing down. He later said he was “disappointed” that Barr, had not looked hard enough at purported evidence of voter fraud brought forth by his campaign. Barr refused to buy into the “massive fraud” narrative. Trump shredded him, and Barr announced on December 14 that he would resign before Christmas. No one takes well to being bullied or belittled.

Senator Ted Cruz urged the Supreme Court to hear a Trump challenge to the results in Pennsylvania even though Trump was thrown out of court on procedural grounds for failing to make a particular allegation of  fraud in the election. Rudy Giuliani told the Pennsylvania court that he was not claiming fraud. If not fraud, what is he claiming?

This is not insanity; it is authoritarianism. It is not democracy either. America has always prided ourselves on the peaceful transfer of power. It is not to be in 2020 where Trump has seriously undermined the democratic process in a way that Richard Nixon and Al Gore, who also lost close elections, refused to do.  

But Trump, at least for the time being is the leader of the Republican party and will remain so after January 20. Asa Hutchinson, the Republican Governor of Arkansas is a relative moderate in Trump’s party. Yet, he said that Trump would be the leader. He attracts the crowds, Hutchinson said. At the moment, polling tells us that, quite astonishingly, Trump is the favored candidate for 2024, leading by double digits a field of other GOP notables including  Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz.

Trump has the money, and he has the muscle. If any “Republican” in office gets out of line there will be reprisals: a primary fight, a demotion in party ranks or a tweet disparaging their character. It was Lear, not Hamlet, who said that “a dog’s obeyed in office.”

Pundit Max Boot argued in the Washington Post in November that Trump’s real legacy may be an increasingly authoritarian Republican party. Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections. But that won’t likely bring reform. The Electoral College and the Senate give undue weight to red states and rural areas, and that’s where Trump’s power lies. If the Republicans don’t break with the truth decay that is Trump, we are facing the kind of authoritarian world we have witnessed with  political parties in Turkey, India Poland, and Hungary. Then, we will see that something is truly rotten in the state of America.

]]>
Sat, 23 Jan 2021 02:49:21 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178548 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178548 0