History News Network - Front Page History News Network - Front Page articles brought to you by History News Network. Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://www.historynewsnetwork.org/site/feed Cynicism and Political Blunder: A Postscript to “The January 6th Assault on Congress and the Fate of the GOP’s Faustian Bargain"

 

 

On February 12, when 43 Republican Senators voted to acquit former President Trump of the charge of incitement to insurrection, they reaffirmed the Faustian bargain they had made with him in 2016. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell was the central figure in the GOP’s bargain: in exchange for tax cuts and conservative judicial nominations, he and the Republican senators enabled, supported, tolerated, and lent mainstream conservative legitimacy to Trump. For a month after the 2020 election which Trump had obviously lost, McConnell remained silent while Trump repeated the “stab in the back” lie about the “stolen election.”  So, it was not surprising that on February 12, 2021, faced with overwhelming evidence of Trump’s guilt, that McConnell voted with 42 other Republican Senators to acquit him. He was at the center of that nullification. We do not know if McConnell could have found an additional ten votes to convict Trump, but there have been no reports that he tried to do so or that he was willing to join a minority short of the needed 67 votes on the basis of the law, the constitution, the facts and the evidence.

For Senators Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Lindsay Graham, and no doubt others, the vote was also an expression of ideological agreement with Trump and Trumpism.  For them the bargain with Trump had moved beyond McConnell’s marriage of convenience to an alliance of shared ideological conviction or of a cynicism so deep that they repeated his lies in public. Their problem was that the House Managers were led by former law professor Jamie Raskin, with a remarkable team composed of Diana DeGette, David Cicilline, Joachim Castro, Eric Swalwell, Ted Lieu, Stacey Plaskett, Joe Neguse and Madeline Dean. That team offered a blend of argument and evidence, from their pretrial brief  to Raskin’s opening statement, and those of others that set a formidable standard of clarity and causal reasoning that historians would applaud in their own work. The vote to acquit by the 43 Republican Senators was a clear case of jury nullification, that is, of rendering a verdict that ignored the weight of fact, evidence, and argument.

If the Republicans did not want to admit that a team of Democrats made the case based on the Constitution, the law and the facts, they could have sought shelter in the warm embrace of Charles Cooper, the lawyer with close ties to the Republican legal establishment, who several days before the trial argued in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that impeaching a former President was indeed within the constitutional powers of the Senate. Or, they could point to the 144 constitutional experts, include leading conservatives, who issued a public statement that the First Amendment protection of free speech did not defend the right of the President of the United States to incite a mob to attack the Capitol. Or, being the lawyers many of them are, they could admit that Raskin, and the team of House Managers  shredded Trump’s lawyers efforts to use those arguments. Conservative legal scholars and practitioners, as well as the House Managers gave McConnell the arguments, he needed to attempt to rally his Republicans majority to convict Trump. He could have done so with paeans to constitutional originalism, and of the prerogatives of the Senate.  

In the course of the trial, Plaskett and Dean documented Trumps’ months long campaign repeating the lie of the stolen election and the need to come to Washington on January 6th.  Trumps’ lawyers offered no rebuttal to Raskin’s rejection of the “January exception” to Presidential misconduct in the last weeks in power, nor did they refute the factual record about Trump’s campaign of lies and its consequences. They did not refute the House Managers’ accounts of Trump’s tactical use and approval of political violence. The Senators themselves knew that Trump refused to order his mob to stop when the entire Congress, its staff, and others working in the Capitol were in imminent physical danger. They also knew that when House Manager and Congressman Joaquin Castro said Trump had “left everyone in this Capitol for dead,” he, Castro, was telling them a truth they knew as well as anyone.

Yet after all that, McConnell voted to acquit Trump, hoping that he could assuage the enraged Trump base. Yet McConnell, firmly planted in the reality of this world rather than that of Trump’s “alternate facts,” then unleashed the anger he had kept under wraps for the past four years. As McConnell’s denunciation of Trump may be lost in the mass of words about the trial, it bears quoting at length. Bear in mind, that these are the words spoken by McConnell, not Raskin.  

Let me put that to the side for one moment and reiterate something I said weeks ago: There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.

The issue is not only the President’s intemperate language on January 6th. It is not just his endorsement of remarks in which an associate urged ‘trial by combat.’ It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe; the increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was being stolen in some secret coup by our now-President.

I defended the President’s right to bring any complaints to our legal system. The legal system spoke. The Electoral College spoke. As I stood up and said clearly at the time, the election was settled. But that reality just opened a new chapter of even wilder and more unfounded claims. The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things. Sadly, many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors that unhinged listeners might take literally.

This was different. This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.

The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began. Whatever our ex-President claims he thought might happen that day… whatever reaction he says he meant to produce… by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world. A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him.

It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the Administration. But the President did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed, and order restored. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!

Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger… even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the President sent a further tweet attacking his Vice President. Predictably and foreseeably under the circumstances, members of the mob seemed to interpret this as further inspiration to lawlessness and violence. Later, even when the President did halfheartedly begin calling for peace, he did not call right away for the riot to end. He did not tell the mob to depart until even later. And even then, with police officers bleeding and broken glass covering Capitol floors, he kept repeating election lies and praising the criminals.

In recent weeks, our ex-President’s associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect him as a kind of human shield against criticism. Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That is an absurd deflection. 74 million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did. And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did.

 

The new Majority Leader, Senator Charles Schumer, gave an address of ten minutes which, had it not been for McConnell’s statement, would be regarded as one of the most remarkable delivered in the Senate in decades. It too is a very important historical document and should be part of the record on History News Network. Yet McConnell, despite knowing that the House Managers had made their case, joined the jury nullification of the ideologists and cynics in his caucus. He resorted to the constitutional argument about not impeaching a former President, an argument that defies common sense and was rejected by most constitutional scholars and voted to acquit the man he knew was guilty.

It was here that the master tactictian McConnell made a blunder of probable long-term significance. In so doing, he passed up a fleeting and superb opportunity to convict Trump, then disqualify him from running for federal office, and thus take the offensive in a political fight to retake the GOP from Trump’s inflamed base. Instead, McConnell’s denunciation of Trump enraged that Trump base, and confounded what is left of a diminishing number of moderate Republicans. Most importantly it left Trump able to brandish his acquittal and denounce the trial as part of “the witch hunt.” Wounded but not politically dead, Trump remained a danger to the remnants of the GOP that had any claim at all to respect the rule of law.

McConnell thus sustained the Faustian bargain made since 2016. In so doing he failed to learn the meaning of the mob’s chant "hang Mike Pence," the barbaric calls to find House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Trump’s mocking reference to “Mitch.”  Trump and his followers will turn on McConnell and the GOP establishment which voted to acquit but shared McConnell's hatred of Trump.  Trump and his base will turn on Republican politicians in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona who refused to submit to Trump’s threats to overturn the results of a free and fair election.  The split in the GOP was going to happen anyway, but now the cynics in touch with reality will enter that battle with the Trumpists unable to say they had used their considerable powers to inflict on him the defeat he deserved.

Such historical moments when forces are aligned as they were on February 12, 2021 do not come often. Though McConnell made all the arguments needed to convict Trump, he blinked at the crucial moment. In so doing, he seized defeat from the jaws of possible victory. Trump’s conviction would not have meant the end of Trumpism, but it would have been a severe blow against the past four years of lies and conspiracies. McConnell’s failure to act on what he knew was true and to rally what troops he had in the Senate emboldened Trumpists, and the right-wing extremist practitioners of violence with whom they are now in a relationship of mutual benefit. Before February 12, Republican mantras about law and order and respect for the Constitution had become threadbare. After the acquittal, there is no reason to believe anything McConnell and the 42 other Republican Senators for acquittal say about the rule of law now. Their pleas for bipartisanship are a bitter joke.

In Nazi Germany, the Faustian bargain launched by Franz von Papen and Otto von Hindenburg with Hitler ended in Germany’s destruction. The clever cynics who thought they could outsmart Hitler, if still alive in 1945, stumbled through the ruins of their country. In numerous works of historical scholarship, our profession has demonstrated that the German conservatives of the 1930s were nowhere near as clever as they thought they were. They too passed up moments when they could have brought the dictator down. After 1933, that tiny number of German conservatives who dared opposed Hitler paid with their lives.

Mitch McConnell and the Republican senators did not live in fear of the Gestapo. On January 6th, Trump endangered their lives but on February 12 their only fear was of possibly losing an election. Yet, on February 12, with really nothing of lasting significance to fear, McConnell refused to use the power of the Constitution and of the United States Senate to convict Trump. He and his fellow partisans combined cowardice and cynicism with what could turn out to be a major strategic blunder. The Faustian bargain had created habits of self-abasement, cynicism and raw self-interest that proved too difficult to shatter.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179253 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179253 0
Don't Defend Democracy With Half-Truths About the Past

Tending victims of the 1873 Colfax (La.) Massacre

 

 

 

We often learn most from people who don’t share our worldviews. German Carl Schmitt, a reactionary critic of democracy, provides uncanny insight into the uncivil war of opinion after the 2020 election. Constitutional democracies, Schmitt argues, seek a foundation in legality, that is rule by law, but belief in a state’s legitimacy depends on a sense of tradition embodied in myths and symbols.

On January 6 insurrectionists convinced by the lie of voter fraud legitimated breaking the law because they felt that they were, like the liberty-loving Minutemen of Concord and Lexington, protecting the country. The same invocation of the spirit of 1776 animated the Confederacy, which claimed to protect “liberty” while in fact legitimating slavery. After the Union victory, paramilitary white supremacists imagined themselves as Minutemen redeeming the South from a threat to its way of life.

The response of those rightly horrified by the events of January 6 is more complicated. Understanding the threat to democracy by a lawless attack on the symbolic citadel of “the people,” they mistakenly conflate rule by law with democracy and rely on myths about the nation’s founding after the Revolutionary War and its second founding after the Civil War. For instance, historian Jon Meacham, a frequent media commentator, claims that "the framers intended America's to be a popular, not a legislative, government. The voters acting through the electoral process, not lawmakers in a parliamentary setting, were to determine the occupancy of the presidency." In fact, nowhere does the Constitution mention a role for votes by the people. Art II, sec 1, 2 of the Constitution leaves it up to each state to decide how to determine electors. "Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature, thereof may direct, a Number of Electors."

And yet cries of “un-American” arise when the Arizona state legislature undemocratically proposes a law allowing it to ignore people’s votes and appoint electors in a manner perfectly consistent with the Constitution. Similarly, pundits equate unlawful acts of the insurrectionists on January 6 with ones by Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, although their challenges to state certifications followed procedures created by an 1887 law still in force. Rather than chauvinistic piety about rule by law, we need to address undemocratic actions enabled by our Constitution and our legal system.

133 years ago constitutional scholar John Burgess criticized the 1887 law for making our flawed system of electing a president worse and therefore producing “a congestion of the body politic until nothing but blood-letting can relieve it.” [See more here.]  Burgess was prophetic. But he also points to the nation’s contradictory past.  Like many in the North, as well as the South, he denounced African American suffrage. Nonetheless, he did not have to worry about the Fifteenth Amendment, because it proved ineffectual in protecting Black voters. It is prohibitive, not affirmative. In forbidding states from denying suffrage on the basis of race, it allows other means for suppressing African American and immigrant voters. [See more here.] Unfortunately, partial accounts about the revolutionary change brought about by the constitutional amendments during the nation’s second founding distract from the country’s need to have an amendment that eliminates legal forms of suppression by affirmatively conferring the right to vote on all citizens eighteen years and older.

The major beneficiary of those partial accounts has been Ulysses S. Grant. Like President Biden, Grant faced the almost insurmountable task of reuniting the country while guaranteeing racial justice. Indeed, commentators, politicians, and media historians, urge Biden to combat domestic terrorists as “Ulysses the Silent” attacked the Ku Klux Klan. Introducing Merrick Garland as his nominee for attorney general, Biden himself praised the Grant administration for creating the Justice Department in 1870 in order to destroy the Klan. What actually happened is a warning, not a model.

Grant did invoke the April 20, 1871, KKK Act to break the back of the Klan temporarily in South Carolina, where his attorney general tried those arrested in federal courts. But success was limited. White supremacists thrived in other states. In South Carolina, most of the Klan’s leaders escaped before trial. Furthermore, in the middle of the trials Grant fired his attorney general, most likely pressured by railroad tycoons upset with actions against monopolies. The new attorney general eventually stopped the trials. When ringleaders of the bloody racist massacre in Colfax, Louisiana, on Easter Sunday 1873 appealed to the Supreme Court, they were acquitted in a ruling that paved the way for undermining federal legislation against domestic terrorism. That decision was written by a Chief Justice appointed by Grant and joined by his other appointees. Even worse, in a gesture of national unity, Grant pardoned all Klansmen still in federal prison. [See more here.]

Presidential pardons are part of the Constitution, which also does not forbid a president from pressuring his attorney general.  Grant replaced his last of numerous attorney generals the final year of his term during a shuffle in the cabinet when Secretary of War William Belknap was caught selling lucrative positions at Indian trading posts for a profit. Warned of his impending impeachment, Belknap ran to the White House where his friend Grant, without questions, accepted his resignation. The Senate tried Belknap anyway, but he was acquitted because 23 senators, who deemed him guilty, claimed the Senate had no jurisdiction over a private citizen. When, as a citizen, Belknap was indicted in the District of Columbia, Grant intervened and instructed his new attorney general to drop charges, which he did.

Myths about the founders and President Grant cannot restore legitimacy to a democracy in the wake of a second presidential impeachment and acquittal and facing competing demands to unify the country, rebuild the economy, address racial injustice, restore confidence in the presidency and Justice Department, deal with a conservative Supreme Court, and manage a pandemic.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179258 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179258 0
Who Deserves Credit for Inventing Vaccination? And Why Does it Matter Today?

 

 

An English country doctor?

Many are familiar with the unassuming English Country doctor whose insights and daring human experiment inscribed the first sentence in the story of vaccination we recognize today.   Edward Jenner’s discovery of cow-pox vaccination in 1798 became the source for an ever-widening stream of endeavor which came to encircle the globe, culminating 180 years later in the complete eradication of the most feared contagion of all--smallpox.  

Jenner did not enjoy a golden career in medicine.  His qualifications weren’t recognized by Oxford and Cambridge, and the Royal College of Physicians in London would never admit him because he wasn’t qualified in Latin.  ‘In my youth,’ he protested, ‘I went through the ordinary course of classical education, but the greater part of it has long since transmigrated into heads better suited for its cultivation.’ He eventually earned his MD, at the age of 43, from the Scottish University of St Andrews.  Jenner preferred natural history and was the first to discover the parasitic behaviour of the cuckoo.  In 1806 he at last achieved greater recognition.  On receiving a Chinese pamphlet describing Jennerian vaccination he wrote to a confidant, ‘Little did I think, my friend, that Heaven had in store for me such abundant happiness.’  But Jenner was not the originator of immunization.  And the true beginnings of inoculation, which lead directly to the vaccines of today, have nothing to do with the Age of Enlightenment or the birth of Western science.  So where did this uniquely powerful weapon come from?

A princess and a lady?

The year 2021 – the year of the vaccine - is a significant anniversary.  It marks three hundred years since the first well-documented study of immunization to prevent disease in the Western World.  On August 9, 1721, as the sun rose over London’s Newgate Prison, the Royal Experiment got underway.  The sample size was small: just six subjects were assembled to receive the inoculation. But the team of observers was large and illustrious. At least 25 members of the College of Physicians and fellows of the Royal Society were privileged to witness the moment.  Six prisoners, condemned to die on the gallows, received injections of partially dried material from the skin of a patient with smallpox.  The trial was a great success: all six recovered quickly after a localised rash. The trial participants were pardoned, released, and protected forever from the dread disease.

The Royal Experiment had been commissioned by King George the 1st’s daughter-in-law, Princess Caroline, following the death of her son from smallpox.  Caroline, an intellectual with a lively interest in science, was aware of the Turkish practice of inoculation through Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, explorer, writer and pioneer feminist.  Mary introduced the practice to the London aristocracy after observing it in Constantinople.

But this historic, well-documented trial does not reveal the original source of immunisation, and we must look still deeper into the past. 

An Emperor and a Slave?

In the same year as the London experiment, Boston in New England suffered a serious outbreak of smallpox, and the influential preacher Cotton Mather initiated a trial of the practice. The immunizations were undertaken by Dr Zabdiel Boylston, who successfully protected 242 subjects.  But where did Mather learn about inoculation?

The information had come to him years earlier, and the source of this singular wisdom was a North African man transported as a slave.  Soon after Mather acquired him, the enslaved African told Mather of the operation he’d undergone, which had given him “something of the smallpox and would forever preserve him from it,” as was customary among his people.  Mather named his slave Onesimus.  Onesimus eventually succeeded in purchasing his freedom, but the real name of the African who carried the wisdom of inoculation to the New World in 1706 will always remain a mystery.  

Yet smallpox inoculation was not exclusively an African tradition.  When Chinese Emperor Fulin died of smallpox in 1661, his third son, K’ang-hsi, succeeded him, chosen because he’d survived smallpox.  K’ang-hsi was a passionate advocate of inoculation and in the late 1600s, he wrote a letter to his children: “The method of inoculation having been brought to light during my reign, I had it used upon you, my sons and daughters . . . and you all passed through the smallpox in the happiest possible manner. . .  The courage which I summoned up to insist on its practice has saved the lives and health of millions of men. This is an extremely important thing, of which I am very proud.” 

But Emperor K’ang-hsi was not the first to champion inoculation.

Centuries of wisdom in African and Eastern Civilizations?

Although inoculation was widespread in African and Eastern cultures by the early Eighteenth century, scholars remain uncertain about when the practice first began.  Most point to two specific accounts, one in a Chinese text, the other an Indian, written around 1550.  Traditional beliefs in the Ottoman Empire held that inoculation was originated by Arabs sometime before 1550, and spread along trade routes through Africa and the Middle East to India.  Inoculation may be more ancient than this, but we can never know for sure.

Today, communities of color are hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic but are much less likely to receive protective vaccination.  As ethnic minorities are targeted by falsehoods about the contents of vaccines and the motivation behind vaccination policy, it’s good to know the truth about the origins of immunisation, the most successful medical measure to save lives and prevent disease.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179260 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179260 0
Trump Was Almost Re-Elected. What Does That Say About Us?

Plainfield Charter Township, MI, 2019. Photo Kches16414CC0

 

 

If President Trump had handled the coronavirus pandemic with even moderate competence, he probably would have been reelected. Fact: In the 2020 election half of our 50 states favored Trump, and if he had won just four more (Nevada, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona), each of which he lost by less than 1 percent of the vote, he would have been reelected. Fact: 74 million of our fellow citizens, 47 percent of those who voted, wanted Trump to continue in office for another four years.  He received nearly ten million more votes in 2020 than in 2016.

 

Consider this: If just men had voted, the winner would have been Trump. The same goes for all these other groups: whites, Christians, married people or those over age 45, those living in small towns and rural areas or in the South and Midwest, people making over $100,000 per year or those who thought they were better off financially than in 2016, and those for whom the economy was their most important issue (see various exit polls, e.g., here and here).

 

What if Trump had won? How could so many people have supported a man who made tens of thousands of false statements during his presidency, who had been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women? Under whom our physical climate and respect for democracy eroded. What did such a high level of Trumpian support say about our country? Has the moment of greatest danger passed?

 

Sweeping generalizations are always dangerous, and historians are trained to avoid them. For example, among the groups mentioned above that gave majority support to Trump, such as men, a significant portion (even though a minority) did not. So we cannot say all men, or all whites, or all Christians supported Trump.

So what can we say? What generalizations can we make about Trump voters in 2020? What follows are some that we feel a high percentage of confidence in making, realizing that when we say “Trump voters” we do not mean all of his supporters, just a significant number of them.

1) Trump voters are uncomfortable with America’s changing demographics.  Overwhelmingly white, male and Christian, they look like the old America.  This may be as good a clue as any as to why they voted the way they did.  Time and again Trump played on his voters’ tribal identity as an aggrieved group who had come to see themselves as strangers in their own land.  While his slogan — “make America great again” — can be read in multiple ways, it’s clear that it mainly played on his voters’ anger as a seemingly eclipsed group whose social status is in decline.  In reality, white male Christians retain privileges minorities can only dream about.  But as the social scientist Thomas Gilovich has shown human beings under-appreciate the tailwinds at their back. What is salient are the headwinds.

 

2) Trump voters are attracted to hateful appeals rooted in sexism, xenophobia, and racism, among others. Most significantly, they are delighted that in Trump’s America it was perfectly acceptable to publicly confess that you don’t like women who are powerful, immigrants who look different than you do, and black and brown people who take pride in their race.

 

3) Trump voters are angry.  While the news media reflexively describe them as fearful, social scientists have found that anger is the predominant emotion.  Trump voters are angry a woman ran for the presidency in 2016 and the vice presidency in 2020.  They are angry the country is filling up with immigrants with brown skin.  They are angry manufacturing jobs moved to Mexico and China.  And, of course, they are angry the world seems to have left them behind.  The significance of this is that anger amplifies voters’ outrage and stymies them from reconsidering their views in the face of evidence contrary to their assumptions. Angry voters generally are disinclined to compromise and are intolerant of those who do. Their anger is not incidental to their politics.  Rather, it sometimes seems to be the main point.  This often makes them seem paranoid, which puts them in the same camp as earlier generations of right-wingers studied by historians like Richard Hofstadter.

 

When anger is married to tribalism, as it is in Trump voters, it is unsurprising that they often behave like members of a cult impervious to facts. Like those in the infamous 1950s UFO cult who refused to admit they were wrong when their prophesy of the end of the world failed to materialize, Trump voters adamantly refuse to acknowledge that their belief in numerous conspiracies involving the “deep state,” elections officials, and Democrats might be unfounded.  

 

To the consternation of liberals, Trump voters often go to great and ridiculous lengths to justify themselves.  But it may be that their crazy conspiracy theories are less a reflection of their actual beliefs than a measure of their partisan commitments.  As social scientists have noted, groups often ask members to demonstrate their fealty by requiring them to adhere to strange beliefs, a practice known as costly signaling. This, rather than obtuseness, may explain why some 70 percent of Republicans claim to believe that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election.  A side benefit is that the insistence that Trump won is yet another way to “own the libs.”

 

4) What draws voters to Trump is both his populist appeal and its simple-minded dichotomies.  His voters revel in Trump’s us-versus-themism, loudly cheering when the president singles out the media as the enemy of the people.  Trump loyalists relish the belief that he stands with them, the little guy, against a corrupt elite.  The feeling underlying this simplistic populism supercharges their belief in their own virtue.

 

5) Finally, Trump voters exhibit a profound indifference to the problems facing the country as a whole.  What energizes them is their list of grievances. The Republican Party’s decision not to even draft a party platform in 2020 speaks volumes. Issues like climate change did not even make it into the top ten of Trump voters’ concerns. The evidence that their criteria for selecting a president was much narrower than any consideration of our country’s overall good is overwhelming.

 

Given the above traits characteristic of Trump voters it is not difficult to understand why the country is as polarized at it is.  But distinctions are in order.  The 74 million people who voted for Trump do not constitute an undifferentiated mass.  Most importantly, millions of them voted for Trump solely because he had an R next to his name.  The pool of deadenders is undoubtedly much smaller than his astonishing vote tally would suggest at first glance.  They probably number less than a quarter of the whole group.  Our evidence:  during Trump’s first impeachment trial only 24 percent of Republicans said that nothing could get them to change their minds. 

 

Looking at the present state of our country, at the continuing polarization, it is natural to ask whether now, with Trump’s defeat, we are over the worst of it. To begin with, however, we should acknowledge that the seeds of Trumpism were not some foreign import but sprouted from American soil. 

One of us has written books indicating how ill informed American voters were in 2008 and how in 2016 truth was less important to voters than their own biases. The other author of this essay has written on how the anti-intellectualismselfish individualismracismcrass materialism, and machoism that characterizes Trump was nourished by elements present in U. S. culture for centuries.

But Trump accentuated these traits and many Republicans are now still gorging on blatantly biased media like Fox News and hyper-polarization has become the norm.  Add in social media like Twitter and Facebook, whose algorithms reward extremist posts, and you get the warped, dysfunctional politics characteristic of our age.  But as Ezra Klein has recently argued, it’s not polarization per se that gave us Donald Trump.  It’s the system itself.  Absent the Electoral College we most likely would be entering the second term of President Hillary Clinton.  Were voter suppression not rampant Democrats would no doubt have increased substantially their hold on the House of Representatives.  The Senate is the bloody mess it is because of the filibuster.  

President Biden has attempted to reduce polarization, but Trumpian thinking (and non-thinking) remains dominant among those still considering themselves Republicans, and we should not forget how perilously close we came in November 2020 to almost inflicting irreparable harm on our American democracy (a shift of under 50,000 votes in three states would have forced the election into the House of Representatives where Trump likely would have prevailed).  Whether Biden can succeed in reducing the tempests of the Trump presidential years or whether they will continue to rage on remains an open question.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179256 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179256 0
Advice to POTUS 46 from POTUS 1

 

 

TO:  Joseph R. Biden

FROM:  G. Washington

RE:  Hard-won Lessons

In more than two centuries since I left the presidency, I have struggled many times to hold my tongue concerning the course of my successors.  It remains a sore trial merely to hear the names of James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. 

Cognizant as I am that advice is rarely welcomed, even when delivered from beyond the grave, I cannot remain silent at this pivotal moment for our republic, the success of which was the pre-eminent object of my life.  You have just taken office as president and face domestic and natural crises as threatening as any armed conflict.  I offer these modest precepts as evidence of my warm hopes for the restoration of our experiment in self-government.

Integrity Matters – Corruption, self-dealing, and greed have always been with us.  My Deputy Secretary of the Treasury was caught fiddling with public securities.  He was promptly dismissed.  My second Secretary of State entered into compromising conversations with the French ambassador.  He, too, was soon gone.  The president and senior officials must never serve their own interests at the expense of the people.

Presidential Norms Matter – We did not have this term, but well knew its substance.  A president without dignity wounds the dignity of the presidency.  You must accord to Congress, judges, and state officials the respect that their offices warrant, even if their behavior disappoints you.  The president must never use the powers of office to persecute adversaries or protect friends.  Foreign powers must be held at arm’s length; they will ever pursue their own interests, never those of the United States.  

Do Not Lose Your Temper in Public – Known for having a high temper, I well understand the urge to unburden one’s mind to those who misapprehend the public good.  Doing so, however, forfeits the stature of your office.  Also, you now have something called “tweets”?  Forbear from tweeting.

Do Not Dwell on Who Gets the Credit – Your responsibility is to preserve and strengthen this much-blessed nation.  If you succeed, it will be noticed.  If you fail, that too will be noticed.  Chasing after praise will change neither outcome.  In my first term, we struck a bargain to heal the country’s finances while placing our seat of government on the banks of the Potomac. Historians credit the deal to Hamilton and Madison and Jefferson.  I have oft been tempted to point out who was then president, and that the president alone was gratified by both halves of that bargain.  It remains a great temptation. (see Robert P. Watson redeeming Washington's role in siting the capital city here—ed.)

You Cannot Fix Everything – Address what is most important.  Perfection is not possible.  In my years as president, we made a viable constitutional republic and avoided foreign wars.  The nation enjoyed prosperity after a crushing economic depression.  Those were my highest goals.  When I went home, much remained to do:  the French terrorized our shipping; white settlers stole Indian lands; slavery prevailed widely; we had neither a national university nor a serious military establishment.  And yet I finish very well in those presidential rankings your historians persist in creating. 

Draw the Nation Together – Factionalism and internal strife were great dangers in my time, and are again.  As a Virginian, I was mistrusted by the commercial and laboring people of New England.  In my first journey as president, I traveled through the northeast to meet its people and demonstrate my good will.  You would be wise to tread a similar path.

Consider What History Will Think – You confront daunting decisions.  Concerns of the moment should not control your choices.  Consider, rather, what will seem right in years and decades to come.  You will not go wrong.

There Are Worse Things Than a One-Term President – I am remembered for setting the precedent of serving only two terms in office.  What is forgotten is how I longed to leave office after one term, but my friends insisted I must serve another.  A second term affords greater opportunity to annoy the people as errors accumulate and achievements become more elusive.  Four years are sufficient.  That Lincoln fellow, you know, served only one term.  He is remembered rather well.

Good luck, and Godspeed.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179255 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179255 0
Must the Capitol Riots be Included in the Legacy of American Dissent?

Photo Tyler Merbler, January 6, 2021. CC BY 2.0

 

 

 

 

Dissent is central to American democracy. The United States was born out of dissent. It is in our DNA and it has shaped American society. Over the years dissent has proved to be the fuel for the engine of progress. But there are profound differences between dissent and protest, rioting and insurrection, terrorism and revolution. When is dissent a positive influence? When is it a negative force? Where do we draw the lines between legitimate and illegitimate dissent? How should we think about what dissent means?

 

At the Constitutional Convention the framers were concerned with two tendencies they feared would be unleashed in the new republic: the tyranny of  an autocratic dictator, and the tyranny of the mob—the “mobocracy.” So, they invented the Electoral College and wrote the right to dissent into the First Amendment in hope of insulating the United States from both the rise of a despot and mob rule. If citizens have the right to assemble peacefully to express their grievances, they have an avenue to protest against injustice and for their constitutionally-guaranteed rights. In a way this was a safety valve that would enable Americans to let off steam and refrain from rioting, insurrection, and rebellion. Reform was good. Rebellion was not. (President Theodore Roosevelt once observed that it was necessary for the government to initiate reforms when peoples’ rights were being abused for this was the best way to thwart a violent revolution.)

 

There have been hundreds of legitimate grievances that Americans have expressed by marching, rallying, petitioning, and committing acts of civil disobedience. Women protesting for the right to vote. World War I veterans marching on the Capitol in 1932 and occupying the grounds demanding the bonus Congress had promised them in 1920. Isolationists protesting against FDR’s policies that they believed would lead the United States into war. African Americans protesting against Jim Crow laws and systemic racism. Gays and lesbians protesting for marriage equality. People from all political persuasions denouncing economic inequality by participating in the Occupy Movement in 2011. And in 2016 millions of Americans dissented against the business-as-usual focus of the two major political parties by abandoning the establishment politicians and embracing Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  

 

Dissenters throughout our history, have also engaged in increasingly militant tactics when the government has been indifferent to their demands. Civil disobedience, boycotts, disruption, and marches on Washington have all been ways that people have voiced their dissent. Sometimes, when protestors realize their peaceful tactics are being ignored, frustration rises to the point that they resort to violence and property destruction—as we’ve seen in some of the anti-racism protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing.

 

There are historical examples of dissent escalating into rebellion. During his first term in office President George Washington was faced with the Whiskey Rebellion. But the rebels in western Pennsylvania who rose up in protest had legitimate grievances: a new excise tax that was a significant financial hardship for them. The dissenters were too passionate; the protests got out of hand, forcing Washington to send in the military. But they had a real cause: the excise tax was affecting the common good and they wanted the government to know about it.

 

Dissenters have legitimate grievances against the dominant power structure. But what happened on January 6, 2021 was not legitimate at all. The actions of the mob were based on falsehoods. This has nothing to do with dissent. These are ordinary conservative Americans, along with a number of right-wing partisan extremists, who stormed the Capitol because they believed Trump’s relentless lies that the election was stolen. Though many of the people who briefly occupied the Capitol building do have authentic reasons for their anger, they cannot see the root of their discontent. They are pawns of a charismatic firebrand who have been short-circuited by conspiracy theories and misinformation, who have a distorted, mythic view of American history. They are susceptible to Trump’s lies because he reinforces their bigoted insular world view. They are protesting a chimera.

 

The distorted mythic view that so many Americans have our history is the foremost challenge for those of us who are educators. It is incumbent on us to teach the accurate unvarnished and, yes, often uncomfortable, truths about the origins and complicated evolution of American democracy so that “we the people” understand that democracy is a fragile aspiration and will always be a work in progress. That is America’s existential challenge in the twenty-first century.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179261 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179261 0
John Brown’s Body Who taught me “John Brown’s Body?”  I don’t remember but I loved to sing it.  I had no idea who John Brown was or what the song was about but I was drawn to it partly for it macabre ghoulishness – a body moldering in the grave! – and partly because it was forbidden around my house.  When my Aunt May was coming to visit – and it seemed she was always coming to visit – I was not to sing that song.  Or even to hum it.   This wasn’t the only thing I was supposed to remember when Aunt May came over.

May was my father’s much older half-sister – the picture of a Southern dowager.  She had powdery pink cheeks and swirl of white hair piled on top of her head, every strand sprayed firmly in place.  With her strong gardenia perfume and her swooping Tidewater accent, she filled every room she entered.  She had strict notions of decorum that I did not care to have applied to me. I always hoped to escape her notice and mostly I succeeded.  But my father was constantly on the lookout lest my behavior offend her.  

It’s not surprising that May would likely have been affronted to hear a member of her family singing “John Brown’s Body.”  The song was written to commemorate Brown’s famous raid  at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, on a mission to take over the U.S. Arsenal and initiate a slave revolt.

 

 

The raid failed, as it was bound to.  Brown was captured by the U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Lee, and hanged by the state of Virginia in 1859.  On the day of his hanging, he wrote, “I . . . am, now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with Blood.”* Three years later the country was at war and the Union Army was marching through the streets of Boston singing “John Brown’s Body” – by then something of an abolitionist anthem.   

What to think about John Brown?  There’s no question that his audacious invasion of Harpers Ferry and his subsequent execution helped ignite the Civil War.  Yet his raid was underprepared and beyond foolhardy and numbers of his followers of both races lost their lives.  One of the dead was his own son.  Reading Midnight Rising, Tony Horwitz’s book about John Brown, I started taking down the adjectives Horwitz uses to describe his subject:  domineering, grandiose, zealous, obstinate, righteous, fanatical, blustering, unflinching, brazen, unbending, outrageous, outlandish.

 

John Brown’s raid was the focus of Tony Horwitz’s 2011 book, Midnight Rising.

 

All those qualities and more are given their due in The Good Lord Bird, James McBride’s brilliant comic novel about John Brown, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2013.  Narrated by a child follower of Brown’s, a cross-dressing 12-year-old boy named Onion, The Good Lord Bird takes a dire episode in American history, one that’s generally treated with extreme solemnity, and milks it for its droll aspects, based on the off-center perceptions of a minor player.  

I love Onion:  he’s an anti-heroic character who sees all that is nuts about John Brown and his messianic crusade, and who skewers his self-appointed sainthood.  But in the end  McBride and Onion give John Brown his due as someone who did influence the national story in the right direction.  (A mini-series based on The Good Lord Bird, starring Ethan Hawke as John Brown was broadcast on Showtime in the fall.)

Would I have supported John Brown’s plans had I been in one of the abolitionist audiences during his pre-Harpers Ferry fund-raising swing through the North? Probably I would have agreed with Frederic Douglass, who, as McBride describes it, admired Brown but thought his plans to launch raids to free slaves would do the cause more harm than good.

 

James McBride’s comic novel about John Brown won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014.

 

In addition to writing novels, James McBride is also a jazz musician, and on his book tour he was accompanied by The Good Lord Bird Band, a quintet that performed spirituals and classic gospel songs. At the close of McBride’s reading at the New York Public Library, the quintet broke into a dirge-like rendition of “John Brown’s Body.”  As the audience slowly filed out of the Celeste Bartos Forum, I and many around me, were in tears.  As I was again, listening to actor David Strathairn perform John Brown’s last speech.

 

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154471 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154471 0
Neal Gabler's "Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour"

 

 

 

During the past 12 years, the U.S. Senate under Mitch McConnell has served as a black hole for progressive legislation, so it is hard to imagine that the upper house was once an engine of major social reform. But in the “liberal hour” of 1964-68, the Senate passed a historic series of bills that continue to impact us 50 year later, including Medicare,  the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act, the Water Quality Act, the legislation creating the National Endowment of the Arts, and major immigration reform.

Neal Gabler, in his new biography of Ted Kennedy, contends that the Massachusetts senator was a key player in getting these historic pieces of legislation passed.  He claims that Kennedy had “the most significant legislative career in American history,” sponsoring 2,552 pieces of legislation, some 700 of which became law.

Although his two older brothers, slain in their youth, are today held as liberal icons, with schools and scholarships named in honor, in Gabler’s view, it is Ted who racked up the most accomplishments. He notes that a posthumous Time magazine story labeled Ted as “the brother who mattered the most.”

Catching the Wind is the first of a two-volume biography and it covers the years 1932 – 1975. Ted Kennedy’s challenges started out at birth, since he was the youngest of eight children and an “unexpected afterthought.” His mother Rose, fatigued by decades of child-raising, paid little attention to him as she shuttled between houses in Massachusetts and Florida and made shopping trips to Europe.

Young Ted attended a dozen schools before graduating from prep school and entering Harvard University in 1950. Here he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his two brothers by playing on the football team, however, he was caught cheating. Ted had asked a friend to take a difficult Spanish exam for him, but a teacher spotted the fraud and both young men were expelled from the university.   

Ted eventually redeemed himself by serving in the Army (but not in combat) and being allowed to re-enroll in Harvard, graduating in 1956. He went on to graduate from the University of Virginia Law School and in 1958 served as a manager of his brother Jack’s 1958 Senate re-election campaign.

The Harvard cheating episode was an early indication of a troubled young man and in later years, Senator Kennedy would be the subject of many salacious tabloid stories for his adulterous affairs and embarrassing drunken antics at Washington D.C. restaurants.

While other biographies, notably Burton Hersh’s Edward Kennedy, An Intimate Biography have explored these dark chapters in Kennedy’s life in detail, weighing their causes and impacts, Gabler treads a careful path around this material. The many infidelities that humiliated his first wife, Joan Bennet, are barely mentioned.

Gabler does suggest that Ted acted recklessly because “the only times that (he) was in control of his life, the only times that he could escape the prison of his family, were those times when he was out of control…Ted Kennedy felt so unworthy that he had to demonstrate his unworthiness.”

Having offered this explanation, Gabler avoids any further exploration of the youngest brother’s self-destructive behavior. Instead, he offers an in-depth, bill-by-bill explanation of Ted’s legislative career.

When Ted arrived in the Senate in 1962 to serve in JFK’s old Senate seat, the institution was nearing the end of a thirty-year partnership between the Democratic “old bulls” of the segregationist South and northern, pro-labor liberals. This partnership, facilitated by Franklin Roosevelt, passed most of the New Deal legislation in the 1930s.

When Ted was named to the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly after his arrival, he ingratiated himself with the chairman, James Eastland (D-Mississippi), a white supremacist and old bull leader. He solicited Eastland’s advice, playing on the elderly man’s vanity, and was soon admitted to the “private drinking club” held in Eastland’s office every afternoon.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson was elected to the presidency in a Democratic landslide. The 89th Congress contained lopsided Democratic majorities: 295-140 in the House and 68-32 in the Senate.  Although LBJ’s name was on the ballot and not JFK’s, Gabler attributes the sweep to Jack Kennedy, because “nothing may have so liberalized the country as the shock of his death.”

The election of Johnson and the new, larger Democratic majorities marked the demise of the Senate old bulls. Not only were their votes no longer essential to passing legislation, President Lyndon Johnson, a former Senate majority leader, knew how to undercut their power by going around them, or, if necessary, harassing and intimidating them.

While Johnson had maintained a guarded loyalty to John F. Kennedy, he had long hated his younger brother, Robert (a feud that has been documented in several books).

LBJ, however, liked “young Teddy” (as he called him), believing he was a “good” person. Johnson told his close aides that Ted “had the potential to be the best politician in the whole family.” Johnson often called Ted after a major speech to compliment him.

Supported by large majorities, the Johnson Administration was able to pass 84 major pieces of legislation in the next four years, “the largest program of social engineering since the New Deal,” according to Gabler.

It is this brief period of Democratic Party dominance that Gabler calls the “liberal hour.”  It certainly was liberal and, in historic terms, it lasted just about an hour, since the country took a turn to the right with Richard Nixon’s election in 1968.

During the four years of Democratic executive and legislative dominance, Kennedy was able to “catch the wind,” riding the burst of liberal enthusiasm to establish himself as an important leader in the Senate.  

Although Ted, as a first-term senator, lacked seniority, he wielded great influence because he was JFK’s younger brother.  Although Ted lent his support to a number of key bills including Medicare and the Voting Rights Act, it was on immigration reform that he really made an impact.

Ted represented Massachusetts, a state “shaped by immigration,” and he soon identified the issue as one he wanted to champion. Although the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was labeled The Hart-Cellar Act, Ted Kennedy was the senator most responsible for its passage. The bill replaced immigration quotas first adopted in the 1920s that discriminated against Southern Europeans and Asians. The new law promoted “family unification” with a provision exempting immediate relatives of U.S. citizens from numerical restriction. Although it was not foreseen at the time, this soon led to “chain migration,” a behavior that would completely reshape patterns if immigration in the coming decades.

The “liberal hour” ended abruptly with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968. According to Gable, Nixon “lived in terror of a Kennedy restoration — terror that Ted Kennedy would do to him what Jack Kennedy had done before.” This fear led Nixon to pre-empt many of Kennedy’s proposals by introducing his own conservative versions (e.g. health care reform) that withered without support. The obsession with Ted Kennedy also led him to create an extensive surveillance network to monitor the Democratic Party leaders, including Kennedy. This led to the creation of the “plumbers,” the secret group that would get caught in the Watergate break-in.  

No biographer of Ted Kennedy can overlook the night of July 18, 1969 when the senator drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, killing campaign volunteer Mary Jo Kopechne.

In Gabler’s rose-colored view of Ted Kennedy, the senator bore little responsibility for the tragedy. According to Gabler, the whole mess was the fault of Joey Gargan,  a Kennedy cousin and Boston-based attorney who handled many of the family’s legal matters.

Gabler states that it was Gargan who arranged for the six young women, the campaign volunteers known as the “boiler room girls,” to come to the beach house on Chappaquiddick Island. It was Gargan who drove Kennedy’s Oldsmobile over to the beachfront cottage earlier in the day (Kennedy arrived separately after a yacht race) and Gargan who supplied the cases of scotch, rum and beer for the party and Gargan who grilled the steaks.

In Gabler’s view, Kennedy had not wanted to attend “Gargan’s party,” and only came because he felt obligated. When he got into the Oldsmobile with Kopechne, he was just tired, not drunk. The accident could have happened to anyone, drunk or sober, because the wooden bridge was narrow, unlit and lacked guard rails. After the car landed upside down in the water, Kennedy tried several times to get Kopechne out of the car, but was “swept away” by the current.

In his account of the tragic evening, Gabler relies largely on Ted Kennedy’s own words: his statements made at the time inquest and the version of events he presented later in his posthumous memoir True Compass.

Gabler ignores a number of other accounts of the incident, notably statements by public safety officials who said Kopechne probably survived up to an hour in an air pocket. Nor does he give an adequate explanation for Kennedy’s delay in reporting the accident. By the time Ted walked into the police station at 10 a.m. the next day, the police had already pulled the car out of the water and recovered the body.  

Gabler does a disservice to his readers by trying to minimize Kennedy’s responsibility and placing the blame on Gargan, a loyal aide who spent his whole career trying to serve the family.

Kennedy, of course, went back to serve in the Senate. By 1972 his reputation had recovered sufficiently that he a number of Democratic leaders begged him to run for president in the race against President Nixon. Kennedy wisely turned them down, believing it was “too soon” after Chappaquiddick and that he would be better position in future years.

The book ends in 1974, when Gerald Ford ascended to the presidency after Nixon’s resignation. Gabler is now working on a second volume to cover Kennedy’s career from 1975 to 2009, which would include his run against President Carter for the 1980 Democratic nomination.

Gabler, the author of six previous books including An Empire of their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, is a talented writer with keen eye for the telling anecdote.  The book generally moves along at a brisk pace, occasionally getting bogged down in the complicated maneuverings of the U.S. Senate. Readers who are fascinated by the Kennedy family will find value in its detailed accounting of the youngest brother’s legislative achievements.  Those looking for a more detailed examination of the senator’s many lapses in judgement and the Kennedy’s family efforts to cover them up, will be disappointed.   

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179163 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179163 0
From Red Finn Halls to The Lincoln Brigade: Class Formation on Washington’s “Red Coast”

 

 

The Red Coast: Radicalism and Anti-Radicalism in Southwest Washington.

Aaron Goings, Brian Barnes, and Roger Snider

Oregon State University Press, 2019.

 

Reviewed by: Jerry Lembcke*, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA, USA

 

The historian Paul Buhle notes in a recent essay that deepening social crises with strains of social and economic class running through them may be stirring new interests in American labor history. The Red Coast provides evidence that he might be on to something.

The authors’ interest in the struggle of workers to form unions at the turn of the twentieth century—and the resistance of employers to those efforts—harkens to an old-school approach to labor studies in which scholars portrayed unions and companies, organizations, as the central actors in the stories they told. Goings, Barnes and Snider, however, blend that method, also known as “institutionalism,” with the “history from the bottom up” paradigm made popular by the “new” labor history movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Their sourcing of printed materials deposited in local and regional archives, biographies and interviews with participants in strikes and community mobilizations, and studies of immigrant groups that populated the coastal towns in which class conflicts erupted, all evince a kind of holism more common to sociology and anthropology than orthodox historiography. Politically, too, the authors are boldly inclusive: Communist Party members, prominent as union organizers and strike leaders across the country in the nineteen twenties and thirties—disparaged as alien outsiders by mainstream academics and sidelined by the historians trained in the new-school method—get their full due here as the reds of the Red Coast.

The Red Coast is an organized set of vignettes, short free-standing chapters that recount the class conflicts that gave rise to unions in Southwest Washington State. The so-called Gillnet Wars of the 1880s wrote the script that class relations would follow for decades: working-class immigrants, many of them Scandinavian, fishing for salmon with nets along the Columbia River met competition from river-front property owners who anchored massive fish traps to pilings driven into place by stream-driven machines. The trap technology was capital intensive and backed by the wealth of cannery owners. When the increased salmon catch drove the prices paid by the canneries too low for gillnetters to compete, they struck and attacked the traps. The Washington state Governor sent National Guardsmen to protect the traps ending the strike in 1896.

Scandinavians, prominent among the gillnetters, figured famously in the union campaigns going forward and none more so than the Finnish immigrants.  The Red Coast positions the Finns strategically on both flanks of the regional extract-export economy as loggers cutting and hauling old-growth timber, and dock workers loading logs and lumber for shipment abroad. Work in both industries was exhausting and dangerous. Jobs were seasonal and short, accessible through a boss-run hiring-hall system that kept workers dependent and wages low—conditions that bred anger and demands for reform. Union organizing is the through-line of this book and the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW), founded as an anarcho-syndicalist movement in 1905, wrote much of the history it recounts. The IWW was well known for its workplace militancy, preferring to settle grievances through “direct action” like strikes rather than contract negotiations. But, as much, it was the battles it waged for free speech, and the spirit of collectivism it fostered in the mill towns and port cities, that would be memorialized by historians. And it was the Finns who brought the cultural assets to the front lines of class war.

Class struggle was a way of life for the Finns and the Finn Halls were its centerpiece. The halls hosted dances, theater, dinners, poets, political speakers, and Sunday School classes.  The hall in Aberdeen included a restaurant, gymnasium, apartments, and office space. The halls were viewed as employer-free spaces where organizers gathered to explain the principles of unionism and plan for strikes. Socialist Party speakers sponsored by the national organization were welcomed into the halls. Central as they were to the shaping of working-class identity and support of workplace control by workers, the halls were frequently ransacked by vigilantes with backing from rightwing and employer groups.

Women were the mainstays of Finn Hall life, and the roots of Red Coast Finnish radicalism in Old-Country Finland are brought into view in a chapter devoted to them. At the turn of the century, women were pillars of the Finnish Social Democratic [Socialist] Party that waged a general strike in protest of Russian dominance and demands for civil liberties and political representation. In 1907 they became the first women in Europe to vote in a national election. Impressed by the power of the strike and vote, the American sisters followed suit. When male strikers were beaten and jailed during the pivotal 1912 Grays Harbor lumber-workers strike, women wielded the picket signs and held the line. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was the women who spearheaded Communist Party organizing through the Finnish newspapers, art and literature, and summer youth camps.

The Chapter “Proletarian Novels” best illustrates the cultural depth of the working-class radicalism nurtured in the Red Coast socialist and communist communities. Here, the authors recover for us a literary tradition little known today outside of academic circles, to which Grey’s Harbor natives Clara Weatherwax (Marching! Marching! 1931), Louis Colman (Lumber 1931), and Robert Cantwell (Land of Plenty 1934) were major contributors. The book’s last Chapter, “Communist Lumber Workers in The Spanish Civil War”, traces the life-course of Grey’s Harbor workers who came to class consciousness through labor conflict, political maturation with the nurturing of the organized Left, and an awareness that the war against Spain’s Fascist Franco government was a war against racism and anti-unionism—a cause they knew from labor and Communist Party newspapers they could fight for. They signed up.

 It is the authors’ skill at weaving a story of class formation—a class in and for itself—out of the economic, political, and cultural braids of work and community life left by those who made Southwest Washington red that makes The Red Coast a remarkable book, and all the more so to have done it at a time, ours, when identity politics has pushed class, as an analytical concept, to the margins of thought.       

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179262 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179262 0
"Hamilton" and Politics Today

 

 

 

Last year I was invited to prepare a podcast entitled The Real Hamilton, which was recently released. It was my first foray into podcasting, and I saw it as a great opportunity to compare the actual history of Alexander Hamilton and the founding generation to how Lin Manuel Miranda’s play depicts events.

 

The play itself is quite the phenomenon. Over 2.6 million people have seen it on Broadway since it opened in 2015 and another 8 million at other venues around the country. It won the Tony Award for best play in 2016 and the release of a filmed performance by Disney reached 2.7 million people in a ten-day period in July.

 

Listening to the music first and then seeing the play, I would ask myself, how much of this is true. I had a pretty good grounding in the founding era, have released a book about the period back in 2016 (The Emergence of One American Nation). Miranda wanted historians to take the play seriously, so I took him up on it. I found the play a largely accurate depiction (as much as a play can be) of events at a broad level. But I did find a few things out of place, which I point out in the podcast. Here are some of the most important.

 

One of the most glaring factual errors in the play has to do with the relationship between Hamilton, his future wife Eliza Schuyler and her sister Angelica. Two songs, “Helpless” and “Satisfied”, spaced apart in the play, provide a compelling plot line. Together the songs depict that Angelica was really in love with Hamilton but she gave him up to her sister Eliza. She did this partly because Eliza fell in love with Alexander at first sight, and partly because Angelica, as the older sister, needed to marry a rich man since there were no male heirs. It is a compelling plot line. The only problem is, it’s not true, although the play contains an underlying truth in the relationship between the three.

 

In fact, Angelica was already married by the time Eliza met Alexander. Still, Hamilton’s relationship with Angelica has always interested historians. He called Eliza and Angelica “my dear brunettes.” “Together the two eldest sisters formed a composite portrait of Hamilton’s ideal women, each appealing to a different facet of his personality,” Chernow writes. Rumors swirled that Alexander and Angelica were secret lovers. While there is no evidence of this, Eliza was no doubt aware of the speculation. At one point, Angelica told Eliza in jest that she should share her husband. “I love him very much and if you were as generous as the Old Romans you would lend him to me for a little while.” Yet Eliza never resented her older sister’s flirtations with her husband.

 

The play often depicts Hamilton as being on the side of the common person. For example, in the song the “Farmer Refuted” Hamilton sings that the “Have-nots are gonna win” in regard to the American Revolution. Alexander Hamilton, despite his background as a poor immigrant from the Caribbean, was never on the side of the have-nots, but rather, on the side of the rich and powerful. Many of the battles that he fought with Thomas Jefferson over his financial plans in the 1790s were over how Hamilton’s policies would impact equality, battles which have been repeated throughout our history. Hamilton would implement a financial system designed to promote what today we would call “trickle down economics” in an attempt to tie the wealthy to the new American government. His policies were not considered an attempt to promote the have-nots or to expand democracy. It was in fact Jefferson who was on the side of expanding democracy and policies that would promote the have-nots during the revolutionary period, not Hamilton. Jefferson feared that Hamilton’s policies would lead to ever expanding inequality and wanted a “rough equality of condition for a republican society---with every man an independent property owner,” Gordon Wood has written.

 

One of the glaring errors in the play is the depiction of Jefferson. As a writer for the Atlantic observes, Jefferson is shown as “a well dressed dandy” and a “dilettante.” To me, Jefferson was cast as a person who was not serious. Jefferson was many things, some of them quite unflattering, but he was a most serious person. President Kennedy, tongue in cheek, once told a group of Nobel Prize winners: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

 

In this era of Black Lives Matter, Jefferson can appear to be quite a monster. His support for the common man in politics did not extend to black people or women, only white men. Jefferson himself was a life-long slave owner, although he also understood that slavery was evil. He viewed blacks as inferior to whites yet had a long-term relationship with his wife’s black half-sister, Sally Hemmings, who bore him six children. Jefferson never believed that white and black people could live together in a racially mixed society, and so he proposed numerous schemes for the colonization of black people somewhere else upon their emancipation.

 

Hamilton is depicted in the plan as an abolitionist and there is some historical support for this view. In the song “My Shot”, Hamilton sings about how he and his friends are “a bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists.” Hamilton did seem to also understand from an early age that slavery was an evil that should be eliminated. He supported his friend John Lauren’s plan to allow slaves to fight in the Revolution to gain their freedom and thought black people “would make excellent soldiers.” In the mid 1780’s Hamilton joined the New York Manumission Society. Of all of the northern states, New York had the largest slave population. Hamilton served on a committee that put forth a plan to end slavery in the state. It was considered too radical and dropped by the Society, although it would later be adopted by the state of New York.

 

Still, Hamilton’s hands may not have been entirely clean on the issue of slavery. He had married into the Schuyler family, which owned as many as 27 slaves. Eliza and Alexander may have also owned a few slaves themselves. And new research conducted by a historian with the Schuyler Mansion State Historic site in Albany indicates that Hamilton engaged in the buying and selling of slaves for his family members and also legal clients. The evidence has not yet been weighed fully by other historians. Historian Annette Gordon Reed, who provided the original research substantiating Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemmings, argues that “It shows that the founders were nearly all implicated in slavery in some way.”

 

Even the events of January 6, 2021 can be read into the play. On that day a mob instigated by former President Donald J. Trump attacked the Capitol and upended our history of a peaceful transfer of power. In the song “One Last Time” Washington tells Hamilton he plans retire and not run for a third term as president. Washington asks Hamilton for his assistance in updating a draft of his Farewell Address. By the time Washington decided to retire in 1796, partisanship was out of control, much as it is today. Washington understood that political parties were “inseparable from our nature” and that they have existed “under different shapes in all governments.” The danger was when parties, led by “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men” pursue despotism. “The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual…[who] turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation…” One cannot help but think of Donald Trump when reading those words.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179259 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179259 0
The Roundup Top Ten for February 19, 2021

Can Historians Be Traumatized by History? (Content Warning)

by James Robins

"If the historian—the very person supposed to process the past on behalf of everyone else—struggles with trauma, then it is little surprise that societies as a whole struggle to face the violence of how they were formed and how they prevailed."

 

Phrenology Is Here To Stay

by Courtney E. Thompson

Liberal journalists have treated present-day exponents of phrenology as kooks. This is a dangerous dismissal of phrenology's origins among the 19th century intellectual elite which encourages false security that today's science is insulated from social currents of racism, sexism, or other power politics. 

 

 

Texas’s Power Grid Failing Shows why Biden Needs to Go Big on Infrastructure

by Teal Arcadi

The lesson of the Interstate Highway system is that when it comes to large and necessary infrastructure programs, opportunistic partisanship is better than laboriously building a bipartisan coalition.

 

 

The Unsettling Message of "Judas and the Black Messiah"

by Elizabeth Hinton

The film "brings the disparities engendered by a surveillance state into focus, leaving audiences to wonder what this country would look like if the war on white supremacy were fought with the same implacable intensity as the one against the Black Panther Party some 50 years ago."

 

 

It's Time to Stop Calling Slavery America's 'Original Sin'

by James Goodman

The theological origins of "original sin" mean that the metaphor portrays slavery, racism, and the dispossession of Native American lands as evils foisted upon Americans, rather than as social and political products of choices made by them. 

 

 

The Crossroads Facing Country Music after Morgan Wallen’s Use of a Racist Slur

by Amanda Marie Martinez

Country music has always been more racially diverse than the commercial recording and radio industries in Nashville have recognized. It's time for the industry to reflect the music's history. 

 

 

Jews Fear what Follows after Republicans Applauded Marjorie Taylor Greene

by Deborah Lipstadt

"Having spent decades studying, teaching, researching and fighting antisemitism, Greene’s claims were familiar territory. All of them – space lasers, 9/11, school shootings, Trump’s election loss and so much else – shared a common theme: conspiracy."

 

 

Ancient Rome Has an Urgent Warning for Us

by Kyle Harper

It's simplistic to look to the classics as instructions for political or social conduct, but the study of the past should inform our awareness of the power of nature to affect social and political life. 

 

 

Fighting School Segregation Didn’t Take Place Just In The South

by Ashley Farmer

"The Harlem 9’s fight serves as an important reminder that school desegregation protests were popular and successful in the North as well as in the South."

 

 

We Wouldn’t Have Had President Trump Without Rush Limbaugh

by Max Boot

Rush Limbaugh stripped conservative politics of principle, policy, and argument, broadcasting a show based on "assertion, mockery, and resentment." Donald Trump's presidency has proven that this was enough. 

 

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179250 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179250 0
History, Evidence and the Ethics of Belief

 

 

In his 1874 paper “The Ethics of Belief,” Cambridge philosopher and mathematician William K. Clifford tells the story of a shipowner who worried about the seaworthiness of a vessel about to carry a group of emigrants to their new lives across the ocean: “He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs.” However, he was able to dismiss these concerns from his mind and “put his trust in Providence” and watched the departure of the ship “with a light heart.” In the end, “he got his insurance money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.” Clifford concludes that our fictional shipowner should be judged guilty of the deaths of these people: “It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship; but the sincerity of his conviction can in nowise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts.”

While devout believers of missionizing religions do typically consider the personal belief of others a matter of ethical concern (is it ethical to let people go to hell?), most of us on the more pluralistic end of the spectrum tend to be accommodating of the diversity of worldviews out there, even the intolerant ones, given the inherent rights we ascribe to individuals. But many personal beliefs today do endanger us collectively. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people exhibiting a range of beliefs have resisted even the slightest public health efforts to control the spread of the disease—or have torn down 5G towers they believe to be causing the pandemic. Anti-vaxxers believe without evidence that vaccines, by their very nature, cause health problems. As a result, the nation has recently undergone several outbreaks of measles, and millions of Americans are likely to refuse any vaccine for COVID-19. The cry of “religious freedom” now serves to rally those who would deny public accommodations to non-heterosexual people, just as in decades past the cry of “religious freedom” served to rally those who wanted to keep their schools segregated, and in both cases these proponents of “religious freedom” believed without evidence that the nation would experience divine calamity for extending basic rights to gays and non-whites, respectively. Veritable reigns of terror, personal and political, have been fashioned from deeply held beliefs unsupported by the slightest whisper of evidence, as the parents of Sandy Hook victims can well attest. And now, Donald Trump and his followers, on a basis of a belief (one not supported by any evidence) that he actually won a landslide election, are willing to tear this nation apart and murder Americans en masse.

Clifford would argue that people like climate change denialists and Pizzagate enthusiasts have no right to their beliefs, not simply because these beliefs do not accord with the evidence at hand, but because these beliefs can and do cause harm to other people. It is a radical notion—the idea that a belief which has an impact beyond the individual must withstand the encounter with reality in order to be considered ethical. As Andrew Chignell puts it in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Clifford’s view is not merely that we must be in a certain state at the precise time at which we form a belief. Rather, the obligation always and only to believe on sufficient evidence governs our activities across time as well. With respect to most if not all of the propositions we consider as candidates for belief, says Clifford, we are obliged to go out and gather evidence, remain open to new evidence, and consider the evidence offered by others.”

We in the business of historical analysis discourse a great deal, in our own professional work but also in various popular forums, about the nature of evidence, especially when confronting those who would misconstrue the events of the past. This past year, historians have publicly marshaled the facts about, among other things, the nature of the Confederacy (against those who insist that monuments to traitors Robert E. Lee et al. have nothing to do with slavery) and the longstanding utility of public health measures (against those who claim that mask mandates are a novel form of oppression, even during a pandemic). However, despite an unprecedented level of engagement with the public, and despite it being easier now to share over digital platforms the many primary documents that inform our studies, historians are frequently frustrated by the persistence of beliefs that resist any evidence whatsoever.

But then, the founding mythos of the United States leans heavily into the idea of “freedom of religion,” and so we accord a privileged status to belief. Such belief, as we regard it, need not be grounded upon specific facts or principles—it need only be sincere. For example, after sharing with certain relatives my recent HNN article, “A Modern-Day Lynch Mob Invaded the Capitol on January 6,” an aunt of mine, who has one of John McNaughton’s hagiographical prints of Donald Trump up on her wall, texted me back thusly: “I believe everyone is entitled to their views. I would never try to belittle you for yours and I expect the same from you.” On the surface, this may seem like quite the statement of tolerance, especially from someone so long part of the “Fuck Your Feelings” crowd, but such a view does not simply discount the evidence underlying any assertion—it claims that evidence is not necessary for the formation of a belief and insulates from criticism any belief so developed. She expects—even demands—never to be belittled for any belief she may hold, no matter how ridiculous.

With our nation undergoing a series of crises—with the whole damn world in crisis right now—we must be willing to take the next step in our confrontations with a worldview that insists upon freedom from fact and make not only historical judgments but also ethical ones. Clifford, remember, concluded that his fictional shipowner “had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him.” And so must we take a stand and say the following to those whose worldviews that 1) have no basis in reality as can currently be determined, and 2) actively harm people beyond the individual adherent:

You do not have a right to your belief.

For our nation to survive, we must make this the new measure of citizenship. An engaged citizen must not merely be one who takes an active role in the public discourse. An engaged citizen must be, instead, one whose views and suggested policies are grounded in reality. Sure, we can continue to debate the significance of certain forms of evidence—historians and scientists do that all the time, and new evidence regularly emerges to challenge our previously held worldviews. But we can no longer afford to give a privileged place to beliefs just because they are beliefs. Our democracy, our world, will simply not survive it.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179164 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179164 0
Immigrant Families are the Second Casualty of War

Girl Scouts and other actors present Hinamatsuri (doll festival) on Japanese Girls' Day, Crystal City (TX) Internment Camp, ca. 1943-1945

 

 

 

If truth is the first casualty in war, immigrants follow as a close second. During the first and second world wars, tens of thousands of immigrants in the United States were locked up in prisons as part of a geopolitical game beyond their control. Today, after nearly two decades, forty people remain caged in Guantanamo, only two of whom have been convicted in a military commission system. What ties immigrants together with the Guantanamo prisoners is that many face indefinite detention without adequate access to legal counsel or due process.

 

Today in South Texas, the same lack of due process plays out with devastating consequences for immigrant families. The United States is not at war with Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador, where most immigrants in detention are from, but instead our government is fighting a war against immigrants themselves. Although President Joe Biden has promised a more humane immigration system, thousands of families remain behind bars.

 

In 2018, Matthew Albence, then acting director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) compared family detention facilities to “summer camp. ” A year later, while guiding a tour of a family detention center in Dilley, Texas, he declared, “This is clearly not a concentration camp.”

Albence’s reference to “concentration camps” conjured up images from World War II only to deny the historical connection.  However, there is a largely forgotten history of family wartime detention deep in the heart of Texas.

 

We have seen the images of children sleeping on the ground in chain-link cages and read the descriptions made in 2019 by lawyers visiting the Clint facility outside El Paso, of horrifying scenes of hundreds of children held in a windowless warehouse, lacking toothbrushes and soap, and suffering from lice and influenza outbreaks. These may not be death camps, but in 2020 more than twenty immigrants died in ICE detention facilities.

 

In July 2020, facing the rapid spread of COVID in ICE detention facilities, Judge Dolly Gee in California ordered all children being held by ICE for more than 20 days to be released from detention into the custody of sponsors. But since that order only applies to children, parents have to choose between remaining with their children in COVID-ridden detention centers or allowing them to be released to the custody of strangers. Locking up families together is not a humane solution to family separation.

 

Forcing parents into such a Sophie’s choice happened before in South Texas, as I explore in my book Forever Prisoners: How the United States Made the World’s Largest Immigrant Detention System. During World War II, almost 5000 people--men, women and children--were incarcerated at an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) camp in Crystal City, Texas, just forty miles from where the family detention center in Dilley sits today. Although it was usually a man who was accused of being an “enemy alien,” wives and children “voluntarily” chose to join the male head of household rather than split up the family.

 

In the 1940s, the INS boasted about the recreational activities at the Crystal City camp much as Albence did in 2018, but families there described the devastation of being surveilled by guards with guns and encircled by barbed wire fences. By the end of the war, around 31,000 people labeled as “enemy aliens” were locked up in INS detention camps. There was no evidence that the vast majority of these people were a threat to the country, just as there was no justification for the internment of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans.

 

In 1988, Congress recognized the injustice of Japanese American internment, offered an apology and compensated victims. Japanese Latin Americans who were incarcerated, however, were excluded from this legislation. A secretive program run by the FBI kidnapped German, Japanese and Italian nationals living in Latin America, brought them to the United States on military transport ships and locked them up in detention camps in Texas and New Mexico. These camps ended up holding 8,500 people for the duration of the war. The plan was to exchange the detainees for US citizens who were being held by Axis powers. In other words, they were hostages, civilian pawns in a war game.

 

Following the war, many of the Japanese Peruvians remained in these camps, refusing to go to war-torn Japan and denied entry by Peru which exhibited its own anti-Japanese xeonophobia. Some of the Peruvian-born children in the camps, unable to return to Peru, became stateless and faced indefinite detention for years after the war ended.

 

Although these detainees were labeled “enemy aliens” and were incarcerated for national security reasons, they were imprisoned for “illegal entry.” The US government dragged them to the United States at gunpoint and then accused them of entering without authorization. Courts refused to review the legality of how the detainees were brought to the country arguing that this was beyond their jurisdiction.

One of the Japanese Peruvian children who was at Crystal City camp, Elsa Higashide, did not even realize that she had been declared an “illegal alien” until she was applying for her citizenship papers in college. Elsa remembers asking the judge who held her FBI file, “What is this? Why is my file stamped ‘illegal entry’? We didn’t come illegally. You folks knew we were coming in; you brought us here.”

The children and families from Central America and Mexico being held today in Karnes and Dilley, Texas were not forced to enter the United States by the military like the Japanese Peruvians were during World War Two. However, many of them are fleeing countries with some of the highest murder rates in the world, mostly due to drug cartel, gang and police violence.

 

These people, like the Japanese, German and Italian Latin Americans during World War Two, are victims of war, not national security threats. Rather than criminalizing them as “illegal aliens,” they should be welcomed as refugees.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179135 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179135 0
Opportunities for a Catholic President, Then and Now

JFK meets Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, July 2, 1963

 

 

 

 

The election of a second Catholic president—the first in sixty years—last November has already inspired extensive analysis of Joe Biden’s faith and how it might shape American religious activism during his administration. At first glance, Biden may seem unlikely to foster greater dialogue or heal longstanding divisions. In the last two presidential elections, white evangelical Protestants voted for the Republican ticket by a 4-to-1 margin. Since the turn of the century, the two major parties have split Catholic ballots almost evenly; in 2020, even as one of their own, Biden won no more than 52 percent of the Catholic vote, which was only a slight increase from Hillary Clinton’s score four years earlier.

 

These figures confirm what many know even from a passing understanding of American politics: Democrats have a religion problem. This is nothing new. Starting in the late 1960s, many white Catholics became uncomfortable with the pace of social change. Although few would leap from the silent majority to the Moral Majority, their voting patterns came to resemble those of white evangelical Protestants. This occurred as many progressive Catholics left the fold in the wake of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 papal encyclical on birth control. Guided by traditionalist bishops, conservative Catholics began to occupy more space within their own church. Abortion came to occupy more political space. Increasingly identified with liberal values, the Democratic Party struggled to retain this group. Catholic Democrats have had to answer for their convictions and, since Jimmy Carter, party leaders have often failed to speak to the concerns of people of faith.

 

As a devout Catholic and political moderate, President Biden now has an opportunity to broaden the Democratic tent from a religious perspective. If he is willing to play the part of an honest interfaith broker, he could do much worse than to turn to the first Catholic president’s playbook.

 

The story of John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign is well-known. In 1960, Kennedy waged a constant battle against prejudice. During the Wisconsin and West Virginia primaries and again during the general campaign, he had to assert and reassert his ability to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States” and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” One could be a faithful Catholic and a loyal American, he argued. Only a minority of Protestants were so convinced. On election day, Kennedy took approximately 80 percent of the Catholic vote; his score among Protestants was roughly equal to Adlai Stevenson’s in his stinging defeat four years earlier. Denominational silos still seemed impermeable.

 

Another story awaits those who delve deeper. Through adviser Theodore Sorensen, Kennedy reached out to prominent figures within the mainline National Council of Churches (NCC) in the spring of 1960. A week before the West Virginia primary, these leaders—including Eugene Carson Blake, Edwin Dalhberg, and Francis B. Sayre, Jr.—issued a statement that forcefully denounced the role of religious bigotry in the presidential contest. Intellectual heavyweights like Reinhold Niebuhr and John C. Bennett of Union Theological Seminary supported Kennedy. The Democratic campaign even recruited the NCC’s James Wine to increase outreach to Protestants following the party conventions.

 

The new administration was embittered by the Catholic bishops’ resistance during the campaign and their opposition to proposed federal aid to public schools. On the other hand, the mainline Protestant allies that Kennedy, Sorensen, and their team had gained in 1960 did not soon desert them. Fundamentalists generally remained beyond the White House’s reach, but Baptists responded favorably to the president’s firm stance on church-state issues.

 

In 1963, in the wake of international and domestic crises, Kennedy again partnered with mainline Protestants who shared his political vision. Through the National Conference on Religion and Race, an interfaith event held in Chicago in January 1963, he learned to speak their language. The rhetoric of moral justice shined through his quest for civil rights legislation. In fact, as the administration tacked left in its final year, it discovered Protestants ready to support a liberal course on race and foreign relations. These allies played an essential role in the campaign to ratify the nuclear test ban treaty and the civil rights bills put forth by Kennedy and his successor. Encouraged by the administration’s friendly approach, many white, liberal Protestants took this spirit of good will and social justice back to their congregations.

 

Scholars have fairly noted that Protestant congregations have typically been more conservative than their pastors and certainly more so than the intellectuals and organizers playing a leadership role in umbrella organizations like the NCC. The Religious Left that came in the wake of Kennedy was never a broad-based movement. Nevertheless, it is significant that a Religious Left did develop—that Kennedy was undeterred by his poor score among Protestants in 1960 and remained true to his pledges. In shared venues, he listened to American Protestants and together they rallied around common political objectives. This should be as central to Kennedy’s legacy as his role as a Catholic trailblazer.

 

In light of the religious vote in last November’s election, the second Catholic president would be justified in sensing futility in outreach to people of faith. But, like his predecessor, Joe Biden is uniquely positioned to create connective tissue between people of different traditions and outlooks. Though he might have to start from a very low common denominator, Biden may gain a great deal for his party—if not the political health of the nation—by listening and forthrightly addressing the concerns of people who sought a religious refuge in the Trump movement. Unlike Kennedy, he would have to begin such a sizeable undertaking with people of his own church.

 

Democrats cannot rest their hopes for their party merely on growing cultural diversity; however bruised they may be from the tribulations of the Trump years, they must be active in building a bigger tent. Their figurehead in the White House can and should model that spirit of exchange, and his sincerely-held beliefs may be the essential factor in that hard and often thankless work.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179169 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179169 0
Trumpism after Trump: Beyond Fascism

 

 

With the impeachment trial of Donald Trump now behind us, new questions are emerging about his legacy. While historians over the past five years have intensely debated whether Trump himself is a fascist, his return to private life and his uncertain political future have brought a new question to the fore: does the term “fascism” apply to the movement of Trumpism? As a movement, Trumpism is still in flux, but its extremist drift – as disturbingly illustrated by the newly aired footage of mob violence at the Capitol, the outlandish behavior of Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the possibility of domestic terror attacks -- lends credence to new claims that Trumpism should be seen as a form of “American fascism.” Yet while this charge is an important one that deserves serious scrutiny, it is premature to fully endorse it.  While Trumpism is undeniably defined by fascist traits -- a personality cult, hostility to liberal democracy, and now violent action -- certain questions linger. First, can Trumpism be seen as a fascist movement if its composition is still inchoate and its goals are still unclear?  Many different groups were present at the sacking of the U.S. Capitol: the white supremacist Proud Boys, Three Percenters, and NSC-131ers; Christian Nationalists preaching the message of Jesus; libertarian gun fanatics, such as the Boogaloo Bois; and QAnon true believers fighting the “deep state.”  These groups have little in common, however, aside from anger against the liberal “establishment.”  While some of them, it now appears, coordinated their actions at the Capitol, the majority came together stochastically and were unconnected by any central command structure. By contrast, traditional fascist parties were steered in a clear direction by dominant leaders pursuing clear goals.  To be sure, fascist parties did not appear fully formed on the political stage and took time to develop.  In Germany after World War I, many right-wing groups competed for followers: Pan-German nationalists, Stahlhelm veterans, Freikorps thugs, Organisation Consul assassins, Thule Society cranks, and – yes – fringe parties like the fledgling National Socialist German Workers Party.  It took years, however, before the Nazis rose above their competitors and gained anything resembling political traction. Trumpism is arguably at a similar moment, with the potential to develop in multiple directions.  Which one it will head in, however, remains unknown. This fact raises a second question: can Trumpism acquire a clear identity (fascist or otherwise) with its leader out of power?  Trump may linger as a political force, but since he is no longer the sitting president – and especially since he has been banned from Twitter and Facebook – his wings have been clipped.  It remains unclear, therefore, how his movement will evolve going forward. Here again, the case of Germany in the 1920s offers an important lesson.  After Adolf Hitler was convicted of treason in 1924 for trying to overthrow the Weimar government, he was slapped with a public speaking ban for several years and the Nazi party descended into internal squabbling.  It quickly sank in the polls, earning only 2.6% of the vote in 1928.  Trumpism without Trump as President may also end up adrift. Third, even if Trump remains an inspirational figure for Trumpism, can the movement be seen as fascist if the leader himself is not? Scholars remain divided about whether Trump’s political beliefs can be linked to fascism in any real sense. I have written elsewhere that, at best, he can be seen as a “situational fascist” -- as someone who stumbled into fascistic modes of behavior at the very end of his presidency, when, in the face of electoral defeat and possible criminal indictments, he incited violence to hold on to power.  To this day, it remains unclear what beliefs, if any, Trump subscribes to beyond personal self-interest. Trumpism thus remains something of a political cipher. For all of these reasons, it is difficult to compare Trumpism to other political movements whose names derive from their leaders.  There is a long list of such movements – Bonapartism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism – but they were all defined by an ideologically rigid, top-down relationship between strong leaders and willing followers.  There is no real precedent in American history for a political movement being closely tied to a single figure for any significant period of time (McCarthyism being a possible short-lived exception). Traditionally, America’s two-party system has absorbed upstart populist movements into the existing Democratic or Republican party establishments. It remains to be seen whether the GOP will absorb Trumpism and channel it into a more rightwing form of Republicanism, or whether Trump-supporting Republican representatives will transform the party in Trump’s own image.  A GOP split into two parties, while unlikely, is certainly conceivable and would weaken both. But even if Trumpism becomes a more cohesive movement in the near future, it will still be difficult to call it “fascist.”  There remain too many differences between classical fascism and Trumpism.  Among other things, the latter has not displayed the imperialist warmongering, irredentism, or expansionism of the former (though Trump did seem to have his eyes on Greenland for a while) and it has rejected the statist economic philosophy embraced by rightwing extremists in the 1920s and 1930s. All of these differences reflect the fact that Trumpists, like far-right parties in Europe, have had to acknowledge the status of liberal democracy as the western world’s default political system. Ever since the defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in 1945, far-right figures have had to pay lip-service to democratic values and employ democratic rhetoric to camouflage their anti-democratic agendas.  It is why Trumpists claim they are merely trying to make a “rigged” democratic system “fair” (and why they have to fabricate outrageous conspiracy theories to support their baseless assertions) rather than attacking democracy as inherently rotten, like traditional fascists.  Indeed, in order to dispel the disqualifying impression that they are “fascist,” Trumpists have not only refused to apply the term to themselves but have used it to attack their opponents, whether Antifa activists or liberal democrats. None of this has kept recent observers from linking Trumpism to fascism.  For some time now, scholars have used awkward terminology to hedge the relationship between the two movements: “fascistic,” “para-fascist,” “proto-fascist,” “fascistoid,” and “alt-fascist.”  Recently, new terms have been added to the growing list:  Timothy Snyder has referred to Trumpism as a form of “pre-fascism.” Enzo Traverso has called the Trump phenomenon “post-fascist.”  And Mikael Nilsson has recently called Trumpism “neo-Fascist.” While all of these concepts are suggestive, they suffer from various shortcomings.  “Pre-fascism” is both overly capacious and deterministic, for, strictly speaking, every political system is “pre-fascist,” though it would be a mistake to see such an eventuality as inevitable.  Calling Trumpism “post-fascist,” meanwhile, may be accurate chronologically, but misleadingly suggests its supporters have firmly moved beyond fascist doctrines, which may not be the case.  “Neo-Fascism” is the most promising of the recent formulations, but until we systematically lay out how it has adapted older fascist principles to contemporary realities, it, too, remains an imperfect concept. For all of these reasons, it may be best to view Trumpism through a new political prism.  Because fascism has unavoidable connotations related to Europe and World War II, we may do well to view Trumpism as something uniquely new and American. Trumpism can be seen as the product of the United States’ early 21st century political crisis.  It is a crisis with deep-seated origins and Trump is its symptom, not its cause.  Like other rightwing populist movements around the world today, its immediate origins are rooted in the nation’s turbulent history. Rather than describing Trumpism as a version of classical fascism, then, we may want to see the movement in terms of its most notorious slogan -- “Make America Great Again” – and conceptualize it as “MAGA-ism.”  Although the term is unwieldy and has only been embraced by scattered commentators, it has the benefit of reminding us that rightwing nationalism in the United States is likely to persist long after Donald Trump leaves the political scene for good MAGA-ism constitutes a generational challenge for the American political system. Whoever ends up leading the movement going forward – Josh Hawley? Ted Cruz? Michael Flynn? -- it will continue to express the myriad resentments that were successfully mobilized by (though hardly limited to) Donald Trump. To the extent that we can better understand the origins of MAGA-ism on its own terms -- beyond the paradigm of fascism -- we will be better able to counter the threat it poses to American democracy.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179134 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179134 0
The Balance of Power in 2021 Rests with Two Senators

Stephen Douglas, photographed by Matthew Brady, ca 1860-1865.

 

 

 

 

Joe Manchin and Jon Tester are now the most powerful men in the country. With the U.S. Senate evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, conservative Democrats Manchin and Tester hold the balance of power. Their history of breaking ranks to vote across the aisle poses a real threat to the Democratic agenda and President Joe Biden’s progressive promises. With a 50-50 senate, all Republicans need is one Democratic turncoat to water-down liberal legislation (or kill it entirely) . . . they now, potentially, have two.

 

Two wayward senators have held power over Congress and administrations before. In the years before the Civil War, the slave states relied on the votes of pro-slavery Northern congressmen (called “doughfaces”) to protect the spread of slavery and maintain their dominance of national politics. As the anti-slavery movement spread like wildfire in the free states, though, Northern politicos willing to defy their constituents and pursue a pro-slavery agenda became increasingly scarce. By the 1850s, enslavers could consistently count on only two doughfaced senators: Jesse Bright of Indiana and Stephen Douglas of Illinois – the Joe Manchin and Jon Tester of their age.

 

Unlike today, in the 1850s the senate was divided not between parties but between sections: free states versus slave states. And Bright and Douglas, serving the entire decade, often held the balance of power. Their votes and legislative leadership were key to Southern victory time and again: the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; permitting the spread of slavery into the free lands stolen from Mexico; and the Kansas-Nebraska Act (which permitted the spread of slavery into previously free territory). Doughfaced senators also deserve credit (or blame?) for the passage of the Lecompton Constitution of 1858, which forced slavery on the anti-slavery population of the Kansas Territory. Stephen Douglas, who faced a tough electoral challenge from Abraham Lincoln that year, smartly declined to support Lecompton. But, in the end, it made no difference, as enslavers had gained another doughface in Graham Fitch of Indiana (who slipped into office through an illegal “sham” election orchestrated by Bright).

 

Why would men like Douglas and Bright knowingly defy their free state constituents?  First and foremost, they believed in the legal right to enslave humans for profit, believed enthusiastically in the inherent inferiority of people of color, and at times were themselves enslavers (though Douglas and Bright carefully kept that fact hidden from the public). Equally important, they believed that the anti-slavery movement, and its would-be Republican allies, posed a direct threat to white supremacy, the American economy (founded on enslaved labor), and the Union itself. And thirdly, they were men whose entire careers rested on doughfaceism – their rise through party ranks and through state and federal offices depended almost entirely on the financial and organizational support of Southern grandees. To take a stand against slavery would be a betrayal of their party, their values, and their careers.

 

Manchin and Tester are in a similar position in 2021: Will they betray the majority (Democrats) to empower the minority (Republicans)?  Will they prioritize their conservative values over the will of the electorate?  Though enjoying great power and influence, doughfaces were ultimately rejected and reviled by scholars and voters alike (and, in the case of Bright, actually expelled from the senate). Overall, history has not been kind to those who held fast to conservatism in the face of an overwhelming liberal majority. An important lesson, indeed, for Senators Manchin and Tester.   

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179133 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179133 0
Political Violence: Still as American as Cherry Pie

 

 

 

SNCC chair H. Rap Brown was excoriated after a July 1967 press conference where he told reporters: “I say violence is necessary. Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie. Americans taught the black people to be violent. We will use that violence to rid ourselves of oppression if necessary. We will be free, by any means necessary.”

 

Following the attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol, President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement that “the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.” While some Republicans in Congress accused the Democrats and Black Lives Matter movement of normalizing violence and rioting, other elected officials from both political parties, including Donald Trump, echoed Biden’s remarks.

 

Unfortunately, H. Rap Brown was right. Violence, especially racist violence directed at African Americans, is as “American as cherry pie.” Colonial America was founded on the violence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and chattel slavery. In New York City, in 1741, enslaved Black people, suspected of planning an insurrection, were tortured to confess, as many as three dozen were publicly executed, and an estimated 70 were sent to Barbados to work and die on the island’s sugar plantations.

 

In the antebellum United States violence against African Americans was not just a Southern phenomenon. Before and during the American Civil War there were anti-Black and pro-slavery riots that resulted in murder in Cincinnati in 1829, 1836, 1841, in New York City in 1834 and 1863, in Connecticut in 1834 and 1835, in Boston in 1835, in Illinois in 1837, in Philadelphia in 1838 and 1842, in Kansas in 1856, and in Detroit in 1863. With a death toll of 120 people, the 1863 New York City draft riot that led to the lynching of Black men on Manhattan streets remains the largest and most deadly urban riot in United States history.

 

After the Civil War ended white racial violence against now freed Black people erupted in Memphis (1866), New Orleans (1866, 1874, 1895 and 1900), Tennessee again in 1868, Mississippi (1871), Louisiana (1873), Alabama (1874), South Carolina (1876 and 1898), and Atlanta, Georgia (1906). During the 1866 riots in Memphis and New Orleans as many as 100 Black men and women were murdered. In Colfax, Louisiana, a white militia murdered as many as 150 Black men in 1873. In 1898, a white mob in Wilmington, North Carolina overthrew an interracial elected government. Rioters destroyed Black-owned property and businesses and killed as many as 300 people.

 

As the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama documents, between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950, racial terrorism led by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, including former Confederate soldiers, swept through the South to enforce Jim Crow segregation, protect unfair labor relations, and deny African Americans the right to vote. There were over 4,000 lynchings in twelve Southern states. An estimated six million Black people eventually fled north and west to escape the South’s terrorist regime.

 

Again, racist violence was not confined to the South. In 1910, after Jack Johnson, the defending heavyweight champion and an African-American defeated James J. Jeffries, a white former champion, anti-Black riots broke out in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Chicago, Columbus, Houston, Lo Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. During and after World War I, as African Americans moved north to escape racist violence in the South and to find newly opening factory jobs, they were attacked in Chester, Pennsylvania, East St. Louis, Illinois, Omaha, Nebraska, Wilmington, Delaware, New York, and Chicago. White mobs destroyed hundreds of black homes and businesses on Chicago’s South Side. Over 1,000 Black families were left homeless. The worst white mob violence was in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 where white rioters, many deputized by local police, attacked and destroyed homes and businesses in the Greenwood District, a prosperous Black community. The Tulsa massacre is considered the worst incident of racial violence in United States history.

 

White attacks on Black people erupted again during World War II as African Americans challenged segregation in jobs and housing. Whites rioted against Black workers and families in Beaumont, Texas, Mobile, Alabama, Detroit and Los Angeles. After the war there were a number of anti-Black, anti-integration riots in the Chicago metropolitan area. The Chicago Commission on Human Relations recorded over 350 serious attacks on Black families trying to move into what had been white Chicago neighborhoods between 1945 and 1950 alone, while Chicago Police Department reportedly did not intervene to stop the violence. In Cicero, a Chicago suburb, 4,000 whites attacked an apartment building where a Black family lived in 1951.

 

During the Civil Rights movement Black and white activists were repeatedly assaulted and a number were murdered, including Rev. George Lee and Lamar Smith in Mississippi in 1955, Herbert Lee in Mississippi in 1961, William Lewis Moore in Georgia in 1963, Medgar Evers in Mississippi in 1963. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County, Mississippi in June 1964, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Rev. James Reeb and Viola Gregg Liuzzo in Alabama in 1965, Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Delano Herman Middleton and Henry Ezekial Smith in South Carolina in 1968, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. In the 1970s, efforts to racially integrate schools in Boston and Brooklyn led to attacks on school buses.

 

In December 1986, Michael Griffith was chased onto a highway by a white mob after his car broke down near their Howard Beach, Queens neighborhood in New York City. Griffith was struck and killed by a car. In August 1989, Yusef Hawkins was shot to death after being attacked by a white mob in Bensonhurst Brooklyn in New York City. Hawkins had gone to Bensonhurt to inquire about a used car that was for sale. In August 1997, Brooklyn police tortured Abner Louima in their precinct house.

 

The advent of the cellphone camera finally exposed the extent of police and vigilante violence to a broader (meaning white) public, and the Black Lives Matter movement demanded that we “Say Their Names”: Ahmaud Arbery (Georgia); Sandra Bland (Texas); Michael Brown (Missouri); Eleanor Bumpus (New York); Philando Castile (Minnesota); George Floyd (Minnesota); Eric Garner (New York); Freddie Gray (Baltimore); Trayvon Martin (Florida); David McAtee (Kentucky); Tony McDade (Florida); Laquan McDonald (Chicago); Tamir Rice (Cleveland); and Breonna Taylor (Kentucky).

 

A violent United States committed genocide against North America’s indigenous people. Immigrants to the country were continuously attacked by nativist groups. Police and troops were used to break strikes, suppressing the rights of workers. If the United States is going to heal the divide exacerbated by Donald Trump during his presidency, it will have to recognize that violence, especially racial violence directed against African Americans, has been a big part in the past of who we are as a nation.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179167 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179167 0
What Becomes of a Broken Party?

Rioters ransack the desk of Senator Ted Cruz, January 6, 2021

 

 

The Republican Party is a minority party. That is why it has worked so diligently on gerrymandering and voter suppression techniques in recent decades. But are we witnessing the fracture of the Republican Party and the emergence of a new party based almost entirely on the cult of one person: Donald J. Trump? Will a new Trump-based party swallow the Republican Party whole, or will it instead split off, becoming the dominant party and leaving the GOP a shell of its former self?

Obviously, the answers to these questions could have profound consequences for our nation and our democracy.

History provides some guidance. The 1912 split in the Republican Party was likewise based on a personality cult. Former President Theodore Roosevelt turned on his hand-picked successor, President William Howard Taft, and bolted from the Republican National Convention in the summer of 1912 to form a new progressive party that became known as the Bull Moose Party. In that instance, the new party only served to rupture and divide the Republican Party, allowing the weaker national party at the time, the Democrats, to take power when Woodrow Wilson won the White House with a plurality of the vote. Wilson in turn opened the door to progressive reforms that later culminated in FDR’s New Deal and significant party realignment.

As might be expected with any party built around one person, the Bull Moose Party was short-lived. By 1916, Teddy Roosevelt was being wooed back to the regular party and had he not unexpectedly died in January 1919, he likely would have been the standard bearer for a reunited Republican Party in 1920.

A more intriguing example is found in recent times. Watergate interrupted many things about the Nixon presidency, but one of the least explored “what if?” questions is what might have happened if Richard Nixon had served out his second term and followed his inkling to create a new party based on what he called “the New Majority.” Nixon believed that a new party free from the stigma of the Republican brand would have staying power and could become the leading player in national politics.

On the morning of November 8, 1972, President Nixon, having only a couple hours sleep, made his way to the Oval Office and called his special assistant Harry Dent. Nixon had scored a landslide victory over Democrat George McGovern the day before, taking every state except Massachusetts and almost equaling Lyndon Johnson’s modern era record of 61.1 percent of the popular vote in 1964 (Nixon hit 60.7 percent). The conversation with Dent started at 9:16 a.m. and lasted for 13 minutes and 8 seconds. A master class on the Nixon strategy to transform national politics could be taught from this short call.

Harry Dent had been the chair of the South Carolina Republican Party and worked on the staff of Senator Strom Thurmond during the time Thurmond moved from Democrat to segregationist Dixiecrat to Republican. Dent was considered one of the architects of the Republican Southern Strategy. Nixon looked to Dent for advice on national trends.

Though he battered George McGovern, Nixon was deeply troubled by the results in the House and the Senate. Nixon had virtually no coattails. Republicans picked up 12 seats in the House, but Democrats remained firmly in control, 242-192. The Senate was a catastrophe, as Democrats picked up two seats, including 29-year-old Joe Biden’s surprise win in Delaware, leaving the Senate with a solid Democratic majority, 56-42 (one Independent; one Conservative Party).

In his quick election post-mortem, Nixon told Dent why he thought Democrats had been so thoroughly licked in the presidential contest. It was not that McGovern’s tactics were poor; it was his stance on the issues. “He stood for busing,” Nixon said of McGovern, “he stood for amnesty, he stood for acid, and he stood for bigger welfare.” Busing and welfare were race issues, acid represented the student protestors and promiscuousness, and amnesty spoke to the Vietnam War and the cost in American lives and treasure.

Nixon then neatly wrapped up all these issues into one mega-issue: patriotism. It was a false boast; it was mainly about racism and power, not love of country.

Nixon saw a wave of Democrats, especially in the South, but also the “hard hats” in the North, who were repelled by what they perceived as Democrats coddling of draft resisters, civil rights advocates, and a younger generation seemingly unmoored from conventionality. It was an anti-intellectual, blue-collar, racist, and Southern-based coalition that was not the Republican Party of Nelson Rockefeller or even Barry Goldwater.

Nixon and his Vice President Spiro Agnew attacked this New Left as “radical liberals.” Nixon saw the opportunity to use these social issues, or culture wars, to redefine his party. As one scholar noted, “Nixon’s conception of radical liberalism, by contrast, devalued traditional Republican concerns about small government and laissez-faire economics.”

Here is where Nixon considered the need for a new party altogether:

Nixon: “But I just can’t understand, Harry, isn’t it necessary to build a new party, to be quite candid?”

Dent: “Yes, sir.”

Nixon: “The word ‘Republican’ is an anathema in the South, isn’t it?”

Dent: “No question.”

Because of Watergate, the Republicans at the time eventually joined Democrats in ousting Nixon once his behind-the-scenes lawlessness was laid bare by the release of the White House tapes in the summer of 1974. That ended Nixon’s quest to create a new party, but it left a Republican Party saturated with his divisive strategies.

Though the Reagan years marked a return to small government and fiscal responsibility themes, the Republican Party continued to make use of the social wedge issues to win elections, adding abortion (Roe v Wade was decided two months after the Nixon/Dent phone call), but always under the protective cover of claimed patriotism. The Trump Revolt is the logical extension of Nixon’s culture war strategy. Divide with social issues; hide behind fake patriotism.

And now, appropriately enough, Donald Trump threatens to create a new party, one version of which has been incorporated already in Texas as the “MAGA Patriot Party.” While Trump has been on-again, off-again about his intention, is there any doubt Trump will either split the party or take it over entirely?

As with T.R. and Nixon, Republicans had an opportunity to return to their roots as a legitimate national party with the second impeachment trial of Trump. The Republican Party’s future was last week in its own hands. Their near-solid stand for acquittal in the Senate leaves open the door for a descent into further chaos by enabling Trump and Trumpism to ruin their party with a future run for office. It emboldens citizens who violently stormed the Capitol draping Trump flags everywhere and threatening democracy itself.

A Republican fracture will inure to the benefit of Democrats who have correctly gauged the changing demographics and the need for inclusion and diversity. The fifty senators on the Democratic side of the aisle in the Senate represent 41 million more Americans than the 50 senators on the Republican side. Democrats stand to become a super-majority party if Republicans split apart or tear each other apart. While good for the Democrats, it will be bad for the country, not to mention a continuing danger to the nation.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179168 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179168 0
Understanding John F. Kennedy: A Conversation with Acclaimed Historian and JFK Biographer Professor Fredrik Logevall

 

 

 

Dr. Fredrik Logevall is the Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University, where he is jointly appointed in the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Department of History. He specializes in U.S. foreign relations history and 20th century international history. He is the author most recently of JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1963, the first part of a planned two-part biography. 

Robin Lindley is a Seattle-based writer and attorney. He is features editor for the History News Network (hnn.us), and his work also has appeared in Bill Moyers.com, Salon.com, Writer’s Chronicle, Huffington Post, Crosscut, Documentary, NW Lawyer, ABA Journal, Re-Markings, Real Change, and more. He has a special interest in the history of human rights, conflict, medicine, and art. Most of his legal work has been in public service. He served as a staff attorney with the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations. He can be reached by email: robinlindley@gmail.com.

 

 

Our 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, remains an elusive figure often shrouded in myth despite thousands of books that consider his career and legacy. There are memories of a lionized hero and the glamor and triumph of a public life cut short by a horrific assassination. And there is also the record of his political and personal failings resulting in an image that has lost some luster over the decades.

Renowned foreign policy expert and professor of history Fredrik Logevall details and demystifies the life of Kennedy in his groundbreaking and extensively researched new biography JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1963 (Random House), volume one of a two-volume project.

Professor Logevall humanizes JFK as he illuminates how the future president responded to and was influenced by historical trends and events. He takes the reader from the struggles of the great-grandfather who fled Ireland at the time of the potato famine to Jack’s wealthy family, then through Jack’s education and war years to his early political career and his decision in November 1956 to pursue the presidency. Professor Logevall brings new light to the future president’s childhood and youth, his indiscretions, his interest in democracy and its challenges, his wartime bravery, and his early political machinations in the uncertain world of the Cold War.

As he illuminates JFK’s complex character, Professor Logevall charts the course of his life in the context of America’s rise to the position of international superpower. The biography reveals a better informed, braver, more serious, more curious, more reflective, more heedless, more ill person than previously explored. At the same time, the book candidly and unsparingly examines JFK’s personal and political failings.

For his critically acclaimed biography, Professor Logevall drew on a trove of newly released archival material as well as overlooked primary sources such as letters, diaries, personal files, and other resources. The result of his years of research is a lively and authoritative portrait of JFK and of mid-20th century America and the world.          

Dr. Fredrik Logevall is the Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University, where he is jointly appointed in the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Department of History. He specializes in U.S. foreign relations history and 20th century international history. He was previously the Stephen and Madeline Anbinder Professor of History at Cornell University where he also served as vice provost and as director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. Before that, he taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he co-founded the Center for Cold War Studies. He earned his doctorate at Yale University.

Professor Logevall has written several other books including Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (Random House), which won the Pulitzer Prize for History as well as the Francis Parkman Prize, the American Library in Paris Book Award, and the Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations. He also co-authored America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (with Campbell Craig; Belknap/Harvard). His writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, Daily Beast, and Foreign Affairs, among other publications. He is a past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and the Society of American Historians.  

Much of his research for volume two of JFK is completed, Professor Logevall said, but he has more work to do and is eager for the archives to reopen for researchers.

Professor Logevall generously discussed his work by telephone from his home near Harvard University during a snow storm. He remarked that the 15 inches of new snow reminded him of his native Sweden.

Robin Lindley: Congratulations Professor Fredrik Logevall on your magisterial biography of John F. Kennedy. Before I get to the book, I wanted to talk with you about your background. You grew up in Sweden and then moved with your parents to Canada. How did you choose a career in history and then become an internationally recognized expert on American foreign policy?

Professor Fredrik Logevall:  We moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, not long before I turned 12. When you live right next door to the greatest power of all and like to follow current events, you automatically become interested in US politics and foreign policy. It was a step-by-step process for me. We subscribed to Time, and I remember jumping on each issue as it arrived in our mailbox every week.

If there was a particular moment of revelation, it was reading David Halberstam’s book The Best and the Brightest [a critique of US policy in Vietnam] as an undergraduate at Simon Fraser University in BC. It just drew me in and I became obsessed with the book, with the vividness of the prose, and the sense that a great deal was at stake in the story Halberstam was telling; it just jumped off the page. I'm not sure I fully realized it at the time, but that book had an important impact on my decision to pursue graduate school ultimately where I studied foreign policy with a focus on the Cold War at Yale where I earned my PhD.

My doctoral dissertation was on Vietnam in the period from 1963 to 1965 on how Vietnam became a large-scale American war. I wrote it under the direction of Gaddis Smith, and revised it for publication during my first teaching position at UC Santa Barbara.  It appeared in print in 1999 under the title Choosing War.

Robin Lindley: Did Embers of War, your Pulitzer Prize winning history of the origins of the Vietnam War from 1945 to 1960, grow out of that earlier book? Your gifts as a historian and elegant writer are evident from Embers of War.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: Thank you! I wasn't intending to continue with the war per se but an opportunity arose when I was approached by Random House to produce what became Embers of War. It certainly built on the work I had done for Choosing War, though it’s a kind of prequel covering the French war and the beginnings of US involvement.

Robin Lindley: I recently learned that you were involved with the PBS Vietnam War documentary produced by Lynn Novick and Ken Burns and that you did an essay for Geoffrey Ward’s companion book. There are mixed opinions, but I think most agree that the film was compelling, moving, and showed the human face of war from all sides.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: Yes. It was a pleasure for me to be a member of their advisory board. They brought us to New Hampshire to watch and dissect the rough cuts, and I came away impressed by the seriousness of the endeavor. The decision they made to include the Vietnamese perspective was key, and the film is also excellent in bringing out the soldierly perspective.

There were suggestions later that the South Vietnamese views should have been better integrated into the film. That's a reasonable argument, and I have some other quibbles with the interpretations and emphases at various points. But it’s a powerful, moving film. I’ll show a portion of it in my class this spring, and also portions of the old WGBH documentary, Vietnam: A Television History, which to my mind remains incredibly powerful, even four decades after it first ran.

Robin Lindley: Thanks for sharing that background. Now, to your sweeping new JFK biography. How did you come to write another book on JFK when so many already cover his life?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: First, I’m fascinated with his era in American history and American foreign policy. I had written about Kennedy in other contexts pertaining to the Cold War and Vietnam, so I had an intrinsic interest in him.

Second, although the literature on the Kennedys is huge—by one count there are 40,000 books on him and his family—we don't have a lot of biographies of him, and none that do what I attempt here, which is a full-scale “life and times” effort. It’s surprising, but it’s true. The books by Dallek, Parmet, O’Brien, and others are valuable, no question, and I of course cite them, but to my mind they give insufficient attention to Kennedy’s early years and to the broader context in which he came of age.  The conceit of the book is that one can use the story of JFK’s rise to also tell the remarkable story of America’s rise to superpower status, that each story fleshes out the other.

I suppose a third reason for doing this, Robin, is that the source materials are just fantastic, and many of them are just down the street from me at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. It’s a marvelous collection with a vast trove of letters, diaries, texts, oral histories, and official documents. It's really quite spectacular. So, in addition to the wealth of secondary sources which I've used with profit, the primary material is very rich.

Robin Lindley: Did you find that more family and government documents have been released for researchers in the past decade?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: Yes, there is new material, no question. If not all of it is brand new, per se, much of it has only become generally available in the past few years. But I was also struck by the number of collections that have been available for decades and yet have not been widely consulted as far as I can see.

Robin Lindley: That’s certainly a gift for a historian. What was it like for you to follow in JFK’s footsteps at Harvard? Are there special sites where he lived and studied?

Professor Fredrik Logevall:  Yes. There’s Weld Hall, his freshman dorm in the Yard, and there’s Winthrop House where he lived in his sophomore, junior and senior years. They have a Kennedy suite, which is open to visitors and is really well done. And there are traces of JFK all over the university.

Though I signed the contract for this project before I joined the Harvard faculty, it’s certainly a blessing to live and work right here where he spent a highly important part of his life. I think I write better history when I can experience first-hand the places I’m writing about—and on a sustained basis, in different seasons, at various times of day. 

Robin Lindley: You mentioned that some of the primary JFK materials have been overlooked and there’s new material. What are some surprises you found?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: One of the things that surprised me was that this supposedly elusive figure actually reveals quite a lot of himself in his teens and twenties—critical years for him, as they are for most of us. That is to say, I could actually get fairly close to him because of the voluminous documentation, the letters that the family wrote to one another, the student papers, the diaries that he kept on his travels.

The second surprise is that JFK was less dominated by his father than many previous accounts have suggested. Unlike his older brother Joe Junior, Jack was willing and able to forge his own path, both in terms of his political philosophy and his views on foreign policy. For example, his view on what the American posture should be in the lead up to World War II was independent of his father's position in a way that I had not fully anticipated. Whereas the father was an arch appeaser both in the lead-up to the war and afterward, JFK determined well before Pearl Harbor that appeasement was untenable. He became, and would remain, an internationalist. Later, when the two men disagreed on political strategy during Jack’s campaigns, Jack’s view prevailed. Though JFK admired his father no end, and though the two of them were very close, at key moments he separated himself from his father and insisted on taking his own course. That surprised me and it’s an important theme in the book.

A final surprise is the one I mentioned earlier: to a degree I did not anticipate, I found I could use Kennedy’s life to illuminate the era. Many of the key historical developments I examine in this first volume can be better understood through his life—for example, the charged debate in the U.S. between so-called “isolationists” and interventionists in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor; the origins of the Cold War; the Red Scare and McCarthyism; the growth in importance of television in U.S politics; and so on. I anticipate that the same will be true in my second volume, when other issues will come to the fore. 

Robin Lindley: Thanks for those comments and on your groundbreaking research. You mentioned Joe Senior’s strong influence on JFK. How do you see his relationship with his mother Rose? One view is that she was distant and domineering with all of her children.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: Rose Kennedy has not gotten her due, it seems to me. She was a highly important figure in young Jack’s life, as mothers usually are. His interest in reading, in history, in the world, got much more from her than from his father. Ditto his love of politics. As you say, she could be emotionally reserved, even distant, but she matters a lot in the story, and would be highly important in his rise in politics. His campaigns were family affairs, and Rose’s role in them should not be underestimated.

Robin Lindley: And you mention Jack’s older brother Joe Junior who, in the popular imagination, was the family member destined for greatness. How do you see Jack’s relationship with him? And why do you think Joe Jr. volunteered for a virtual kamikaze mission in 1944—which ended in his death?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: The relationship was highly consequential, and thus looms large in my book. There’s no question that Joe Junior was the golden child in the parents’ assessment, and in the view of many others. Over time, however, Jack began to outshine him, to show greater promise. The parents never quite accepted this reality, which is a fascinating thing, but Joe himself could see it all too well. And though we cannot know for sure, I suspect that a desire to match Jack’s heroic exploits in the South Pacific in 1943 contributed to Joe’s decision to volunteer for that fatal—and absurdly dangerous—mission in August 1944.

Robin Lindley: You do a superb job of describing JFK’s formative years, his childhood and education. You’ve alluded to your sense of JFK, but did your view of JFK evolve in the course of researching and writing the biography?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: Yes, certainly. To begin with, I just know him better. Based on my previous work I had a broadly sympathetic view of JFK as presidential decisionmaker, especially in foreign policy. I have been critical of his actions on Vietnam, but overall I have tended in my past work to give him pretty high marks.

Now I understand his formative years much better, and have a better sense of personality, his strengths and his limitations. What I try to offer is a “warts and all” picture—or, to put it differently, I try to humanize him. He could be heedless of his friends, heedless of women (including his wife Jackie), and was not always a “profile in courage”—for example, in his cautious approach to the scourge of McCarthyism in the period 1950-54. But I also depict young man who was more substantive than previous accounts suggest, who cared deeply about policy and politics, who had a well-honed historical sensibility from an early age, and a commitment to public service.   

Robin Lindley: When you deeply research and think about a person, preconceptions may fall away.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: I think that's right. There are lots of examples with JFK. Here’s one: his experience in World War Two, especially when he was in the South Pacific in 1943, had an important effect on his outlook, as it did with many fighting men, and that caused him to think more deeply about his place in the world, about what should be the U.S. posture on the global stage. I lay out in the book the ways in which I think the war really mattered for him, and that’s another example of how my assessment of him changed in the course of the research and the writing of the book.

Robin Lindley: For me, your book is a profile in courage, an amazing story of young JFK’s resilience and courage and risk-taking. As you illuminate, he accomplishes so much, yet illness runs like a red thread through his life. He was often sick and in pain and he received the last rites on a couple of occasions. Yet his courage and strength are impressive as when he rescued his PT 109 crew after a Japanese destroyer rammed and sank his vessel. Despite his heroism and the admiration of his crew, he was always humble about that experience. I wonder if he felt some kind of responsibility for that collision?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: I think he understood that his own actions as skipper were partly responsible for allowing the ramming to occur, and he was determined in the hours thereafter to make amends. I also think, as you are suggesting, that his actions in helping to save the crew and himself were extraordinary, indeed genuinely heroic. The crew felt the same, both at time and in later years, as did his superiors.

And as you say, he demonstrated courage throughout his life. He was suffering from one malady or another almost constantly from early childhood on, yet seldom complained, and was always very active. And let’s not forget the crushing family tragedies. Consider that he loses his older brother, Joe Jr., in the war in 1944. Then the sibling to whom he felt closest, Kathleen, who was known as Kick and whom he considered his soulmate, dies in a plane crash in 1948. Earlier, he effectively loses the sibling who was closest to him in age, Rosemary, through a botched lobotomy in late 1941. So, of the four oldest children, he's the only one who's alive by the middle of 1948. It’s hard if not impossible to imagine how being in that position would have been for him.

Robin Lindley: You flesh out the complexity of his character. Despite his history of serious illnesses, he didn’t try to avoid danger. Even before the PT 109 incident, he joined the Navy—with the help of Joe Senior—and then volunteered for combat dirty. Then he saved his crew. He swam miles to drag a wounded crewmate to safety. He would have been exempt from any service with his medical issues, yet instead of avoiding combat, like most men with the choice, he served with distinction in a war zone.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: Yes, I agree. It’s a remarkable part of this story, the degree to which he was determined after Pearl Harbor not only to get into the service but then, as you say, ultimately to be in harm's way on the front lines.

With his health history, it would have been easy for him to stay on in his desk job in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington DC. His father had helped him get that job, and that's where he could have remained, but he didn't want to do that. He worked very hard and ultimately successfully to get to the heart of the action in the South Pacific.

Robin Lindley: JFK saw the horror of war and that experience affected his attitudes. He wasn’t a pacifist of course, but he wrote of his abhorrence of war and he had a jaundiced view of how the military works. How do you see these attitudes in his politics?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: It's an interesting point. His skepticism about the utility of military force to solve political problems really took root in World War Two and it was affected by his combat experience.

As I write in the book, he came out of the war with misgivings about what the military brass had decided on both the strategic and tactical levels; more broadly, he came out of it with questions about whether military force should be used in many circumstances. This skepticism certainly didn't make him a pacifist, as you say, and he always believed in the importance of having a strong US military, but it influenced his policy decisions as president. I will explore this theme more fully in volume two, for which I’ve done a good deal of research already.

His attitude about the utility of military force played out in important ways, including at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, when almost all of his advisors pushed for a military solution to get the Soviet missiles out of Cuba. At key moments during the crisis, JFK was virtually alone among them in saying, in effect, No, we've got to look for a political solution here. He insisted on the need to see things from Khrushchev's perspective.  In a nuclear age, Kennedy believed, the idea of great-power war was an impossibility; every effort must be made to avoid it. He felt that deeply, and felt it to the end of his days.

Robin Lindley: JFK was more introspective than many American leaders and had a sense of his own mortality. I was struck that his favorite poem was Alan Seeger's “I Have a Rendezvous with Death.”

Professor Fredrik Logevall: Yes, I suggest in the book that he was to an extent an outsider within his own family. He was the reader, the introspective child, the one who looked things up, who loved history. He was the one with an interest in poetry. (He had an excellent memory and he could recall poems and long passages from books verbatim decades later.)  

Robin Lindley: And he also had this ready, ironic sense of humor and a willingness to make fun of himself.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: No question. I think that’s a key to understanding who he was and to understanding his success as a politician, culminating in his rise to the presidency. If you watch YouTube clips of his press conferences, for example, you’ll see many examples of this ironic, self-deprecating sense of humor that you're referring to. It really worked for him. But it was no latter-day development—one finds lots of examples of this humor in his letters when he was a kid and a young man, and in his diaries. Even when he was a boy, he had a subtle and ironic sense of humor that drew people to him.

Robin Lindley: I was impressed that, even in the 1930s, JFK visited Europe and wrote about the dangers of fascism and questioned whether democracy could survive. And, in recent years we've seen how strong and how fragile democracy can be.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: It’s an excellent point. I often think about how historical figures would respond to our current crisis if they were with us today. Kennedy would be deeply alarmed; I have no doubt.

From a young age he thought about democracy, and about the challenges of leadership in a democracy—it’s a fascinating thing about him. In his first political campaign, in 1946, he proclaimed on the stump that democracy required an engaged and informed citizenry. He further argued that it required a commitment to reasoned arguments drawing on empirical evidence and a commitment to good-faith bargaining between the parties. My guess is that if he were with us today—at age 103!—he would reaffirm his views on those points, and he would say they are vital if you want to have a democracy that actually works.

Robin Lindley: One may see many connections to our own day in reading your book on JFK. What do you think?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: I certainly felt that during the writing. A wise editor once told me that as a writer I don’t have to spell out those contemporaneous connections—the reader will pick up on it on her own. For example, when I wrote about [Senator Joe] McCarthy’s skill at identifying the resentments that bubble right below the surface in large parts of Middle America, his demagoguery, his disdain for decorum and for telling the truth, his intellectual laziness—well, it has a certain resonance! 

Robin Lindley: Yes. And it's striking that the Kennedy family was friends with McCarthy and that JFK didn't stand up to his bullying and lying.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: It wasn’t one of his finest moments. He did his best to dodge the issue, to bob and weave. Partly he did so because of the family connections with McCarthy. More importantly, there were a lot of Irish Catholic voters in Massachusetts who supported McCarthy to the end. So from a narrow political perspective there was logic in his position, but it certainly doesn't make him look good in history. He also created problems for himself with liberals in the Democratic Party, including Mrs. Roosevelt, who faulted his failure to stand up to a fiendish demagogue.

Robin Lindley: He also wasn't vocal on civil rights issues. It’s understandable politically with a need to mollify a bloc of segregationist Southern Democrats, but he didn’t come out strongly for racial justice until late in his presidency.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: Yes. It’s true and I will grapple in volume two with a lot of this. It’s going to be an important part of the story. It’s ironic, too, because early in his career, as a member of the House and his first years in the Senate, he actually had quite a progressive record on civil rights. 

Robin Lindley: As you have written, JFK also stressed the need for a strong and informed leader in a democracy. It's impressive that he often knew more than his aides about arcane policy matters. Some authors see him as a lightweight in his early years in Washington, but you show that he was curious and he read voraciously and understood politics and government. Of course, we don’t see those traits in our current president.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: No, a theme in the book is that JFK was not the callow young man of our imaginations. There was a seriousness to him, as I noted earlier, from an early age. And he prided himself on knowing the details of policy and was insistent that his aides also knew the details of policy. Quite often he knew the particulars more than they did when they came in to discuss what should be done on say housing policy, or relations with Britain, or whatever the policy issue might be. He did his homework and I think his advisors, and people who served either on a cabinet or subcabinet level, respected that and he thought that knowledge was vital.

Robin Lindley: Theodore Sorensen was JFK’s speechwriter and also helped with Senator Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning history Profiles in Courage. How do you see Sorensen’s relationship with JFK?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: It’s one of the great political partnerships in the nation’s history, I’d say, certainly in the 20th century. Sorensen is vitally important. And it’s interesting that it was all about the work—that is to say, the two men almost never socialized together.

Robin Lindley: Your book ends in November 1956 when JFK decides to run for president. His family seemed all in for the run. What prompted his decision then?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: He had been thinking about running for some time already, and he could see that he came out of the Democratic National Convention that year as a star in the party. He felt that his time had arrived, and that there was a lane open for him for 1960. There would be moments of doubt in the three years to come, which I will examine in my second volume, but he had charted his course.

Robin Lindley: I was 11 years old when JFK called on us to ask what we could do for our country. He inspired me and many friends to consider careers in public service. He stressed a role for each citizen in his vision of America. How is his legacy seen today? Revisionist histories have critiqued his political decisions and often focused on his personal indiscretions.

Professor Fredrik Logevall: It’s a complex legacy.

He was a gifted and flawed figure, personally and professionally. Still, he has a powerful legacy, at least in part because his inspirational rhetoric still resonates among a lot of people. He believed in politics, believed in government. Though not a particularly partisan figure, and though a political centrist, he felt strongly that government has a vital role to play in making society function better, in creating a more just and equitable America.

And, as you point out, we associate with Kennedy a commitment to public service. That’s still a powerful message for many Americans. That most famous line from the inaugural address, and one of the most famous lines in any inaugural address, was “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Even in a deeply partisan time, that notion has real power, I believe. And, as I show in this first volume, that sense didn't just spring up from Kennedy and his speechwriters in January 1961. It was there at the beginning, at the start of his political career, in 1946. He warned his audiences that year against easy cynicism about politics and politicians, and he urged his audiences to consider themselves to perform public service of some kind. He never stopped doing so in the years that followed. That’s gripping and helps account for his outsized legacy.  

Robin Lindley: Now we’re living at a time of deep political division and racial strife and economic inequality. And we face a deadly global pandemic. At this fraught time, where you find hope now and how may the story of John F. Kennedy bring us hope?

Professor Fredrik Logevall: Though as a Swede I gather I’m supposed to have a gloomy outlook on things, I am ultimately hopeful. I heard someone say the other day that American democracy has been through a stress test in this election and ultimately passed it, if less comfortably than should have been the case; that sounds right to me. The stress test indicated areas that need our collective attention in the coming years if we’re to strengthen our institutions, our democracy.

Kennedy, again, thought a lot about this—from his college days right to the end in Dallas. What I see in him is somebody who took his job seriously, his responsibilities as president seriously, and who inspired Americans, not just in death, but in life. Consider that in the middle of 1963, significantly more people claimed to have voted for him in 1960 than actually had voted for him. That’s telling. Though a committed Democrat through and through, he drew support from a sizable number of Republicans and Independents as well.

Moreover, though it’s true that our divisions today run deeper than they did in the early 1960s, we shouldn’t exaggerate the point. Kennedy, it’s well to remember, endured sharp attacks from extremists on the right who called him a stooge of the Kremlin, or the Antichrist, or both. In the months leading up to his assassination, some in the administration feared for his safety. Still, he carried on. More than that, he employed in his speeches the language of inclusion, emphasizing to the end Americans’ shared goals and dreams. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for us, as we contemplate the future of this wondrous thing we call the American Experiment.

Robin Lindley: Thank you for those words of encouragement and your thoughtful comments, Professor Logevall. And congratulations on your groundbreaking and illuminating new biography JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956.

 

 

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154469 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154469 0
A Lesson Unity and Renewal: George Washington and the Building of the Capital City

Andrew Ellicott's update of L'Enfant's plan for the capital city, 1792

 

 

We now find ourselves more divided than any time since the Civil War. As we endeavor to heal the deep cultural rifts and renew a sense of political unity, we would do well to consider a moment in history.  

Against all odds, George Washington and a ragtag band of poorly trained blacksmiths and ill-equipped farmers managed to pull off a most unlikely victory in the Revolutionary War. While the cessation of military operations in 1783 brought a long-awaited peace to the former colonies and freedom from the Crown, the struggle for independence was not over. Far from it. For the colonists, it would not be a simple matter of transitioning from soldier to citizen or from revolutionary to American. Rather, the civic vacuum created by the end of British rule posed a number of immediate and daunting challenges, most of which the fledgling nation was ill prepared to address. The question on everyone’s mind was, most assuredly, “What happens next?”

Indeed, the incipient enterprise of popular government was on shaky ground—bitterly divided, deeply in debt, and her citizens and the new states distrustful of one another. Paralyzed by a weak and ineffectual system of governance, the new republic was unable even to levy taxes or pay its veterans. It was apparent that it might be harder to run a constitution than it had been to frame one or even to win the war for the right to do so.

Within that context, the story of the Constitutional Convention and struggle to establish a new government is, of course, well known. However, there was another Founding debate that also shaped the nation in profound ways, but it is often omitted from the pages of textbooks and generally taken for granted by the American public—that would be the question about a capital city and the ensuing debates about its location, design, and size. Ironically, this issue often proved just as contentious for the Founders and nearly tore the young republic apart; yet, its resolution would help to unify and strengthen the nascent government and nation.

Indeed, creating an entirely new system of government that worked would be a precarious undertaking; doing so without a capital would be a long shot. Shockingly, the upstart colonists had announced their independence, fought a long war, then framed a constitution, all without a capital city or even a plan for a permanent seat of government. It was hardly the way to assure that the enterprise would work. And it would be just over a quarter-century from the first shot of the war until John Adams moved into the permanent capital.

The idea of a capital had been debated since the start of the war, but with little progress. For instance, the Continental Congress moved from one temporary capital to another. Needless to say, the inability to agree on a location from which to lead a revolution was a major embarrassment and nearly undermined the cause of liberty. In subsequent years, vote after vote failed to reach agreement about a site for the seat of government. Lacking a capital city, the new political experiment was a nation in name only. Therefore, the capital’s location and design would have important consequences not only for the host city’s economy, the future of slavery, and ability to govern, but perhaps most importantly, it would determine the type of nation the United States would become. In short, it would be the physical home of the new nation, but much more—the capital would be a laboratory for democracy.

After the long revolutionary struggle, General Washington was looking forward to domestic tranquility, but his work was not complete. Upset by the growing divisions, Washington would embrace an idea that would help strengthen the nation—a permanent capital city. Building an entirely new capital city, much less from “scratch” and out of the “wilderness,” was an undertaking fraught with difficulties. It was a novel and audacious, if not wholly unpractical plan. Yet, Washington had emerged from the Revolution as the nation’s most revered citizen. It was he—nearly as much as the vague and untested ideals of self-government and liberty—that inspired the people and held the divided country together. He would now need every bit of his considerable esteem for the task.

Washington’s vision was for a glorious “city for the ages,” a home for an energetic and stable federal government, one that would unite the north and south by being located in the geographic center of the country, imbue the people with something they lacked—a sense of nationhood—forge an American identity, while also giving America credibility in the eyes of Europe. It would help facilitate a “political culture” of democracy and both reflect and host the lofty ideals of self-government. In doing so, Washington hoped the building of a permanent capital would help heal the political deep and growing rifts forming in the fabric of American society and move the nation toward a renewal of the spirit of the revolution. Indeed, he faced challenges, including some we’d recognize today. Animosities were growing between north and south as well as those living along the eastern seaboard and their brethren in the frontier. The states were bickering and political factions were forming that further polarized debate. Referred to by scholars as “the critical period” in the nation’s history, the 1780s would be the decade that determined if the United States would long endure.

Washington proceeded to build support for his vision, identified the location, hired architects and recruited builders and tradesmen, then oversaw construction. It was not always pretty. He had to contend with parochial interests that opposed any site for the capital other than one in their home state, convince land owners in the area to sell their property, and constantly soothe tensions among the squabbling factions. Although he did not enjoy politics, the struggle over the capital Washington revealed his skill as a gifted political dealmaker who was not above wallowing in the political mud or twisting arms for votes. When necessary, the president proved to be quite effective lobbying members of Congress and, conscious of his charisma and enormous popularity, bringing the full weight of his reputation to bear on an issue.

To be sure, Washington is frequently, though inaccurately, depicted as a leader who never entered a political or partisan fray. In the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington biographer Ron Chernow, “sometimes it’s portrayed that George Washington somehow floated above the fray, that he was a figurehead and that Hamilton was running it. Not at all. Washington was absolutely on top of everything that was going on.”

Washington knew when to stand back and let events play out to his advantage. As has been said about Dwight Eisenhower, his could be a “hidden-hand” presidency. He surrounded himself with highly capable aides he trusted and let them act, a management style deemed essential by scholars of the presidency. At other times, like Theodore Roosevelt or Harry Truman, he knew when to act unilaterally and with expediency and force. Like George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, he took much personal interest in the details of the issue at hand.

Washington’s fingerprints would be on nearly every decision and detail involving the development of a capital city. It was apparent to members of Congress, one of whom noted that the project “more than anything else had his attention.” It became a near obsession for him, consuming his energy and attention such that one of his colleagues quipped that the president, “scarcely could have found the future seat of government more time-consuming.”

Ultimately, Washington’s vision prevailed and, in doing so, gave the nascent republic a chance. There are lessons in how Washington achieved what would be one of his lasting legacies—the city that bears his name and has housed the government ever since. The great Founder understood that democracy demanded compromise and cooperation. He sought consensus whenever possible. He was keenly aware that his every action and every word would have meaning, and therefore held himself to a high standard of honesty and civility. Even during the most divisive debates, he never put loyalty to “faction” (party) above the Constitution and nation.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179132 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179132 0
Heed the Cornerman's Cry

A man is arrested during the August 1965 unrest in Watts.

 

 

“People are trying to kill me!” he'd cried from Coney Island Avenue’s far side with no one near. He repeated as if shouting a mantra: “They want to kill me! It's assassination and I'm going to snap! People are trying to kill me!” Last month he’d raged about “those who’ve been committing  treason,” warning that “You know how we punish traitors!” He paced with me as we passed the One Stop Market, then the school on Brooklyn’s Caton Avenue. I matched his stride to transcend my nerves and respect the intense taller man. He veered off on his own upon reaching the park, still shouting at air.

This was different. A knit Jets cap kept his head warm. His mind was on fire. “They want me dead!” he kept on, street-crossing toward me. To the left, male and female joggers awaited the “walk” sign. The agitated man would, I thought, pass between us. The couple slanted to leave a wide lane he aimed for, then curled from to face me before I stepped down. “People are trying to kill me,” he cried. “It’s an assassination! What would you do if I said Icould try to kill you?”

“I’d say you’re my brother,” I answered, “so let's slow this down to not harm one another, then talk thoughtfully about how we together could solve the issues at hand.”

He stared in silence, then offered that “I can respect you because you showed me respect.”  He backed up two steps, then leaving called back that “other people are trying to kill me. I feel like I could snap! And I have a right to snap!”

The joggers observed but said nothing. Did they empathize from a distance?  Perhaps they dismissed him. I’ve hoped to see him on subsequent days since we've broken the ice. I want to know more about him. I've assumed he showed the rage and fear that African Americans repress to survive our racist ways.

John Howard Griffin's seminal 1961 Black Like Me “disabused the idea that minorities were acting out of paranoia,” Washington University (St. Louis) Professor Gerald Early writes. Griffin chemically treated his white skin to pass as Black on a journey through the Jim Crow South to expose the authenticity of racism and denial, both personal and systemic. The question when the book made waves still applies: What will one do with the knowledge?

No book or ballad, Senate bill or people’s protest alone pierces an inertia that enshrines the status quo. Our “all or nothing” public culture prizes quick fixes over sustained efforts toward substantive social change. We laud tragic heroes or heroines, lay their bodies to rest, then resume business as usual.

“May all of us that he will leave behind under this dome pray for even a fraction of his strength to keep bending that arc toward justice,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said when Congress Member John Lewis lay in state at the Capitol. Yet McConnell barred a Senate floor vote on $2000 relief checks as 25.7 million Americans lack adequate food, Feeding America, a national nonprofit food bank network, disclosed in December. A McConnell speech – with little internal outcry -- rebuffed the proposal as “socialism, a political stunt by the junior Senator from Vermont,” Bernie Sanders.

The Kentucky Republican, in the December 4, 2017 Wall Street Journal, lauded the Trump tax law that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in public testimony termed fundamentally flawed:

It overwhelmingly benefits wealthy shareholders and highly paid executives, leaves low and moderate income Americans behind, ignores the stagnation of working-class wages and exacerbates inequality.

 

Senator Lindsey Graham endorsed the $2000 legislative proposal and said a floor vote would pass it. Senator Sanders cited 6000 overnight emails that confirmed the nation’s need for it.

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, named for a Nixon Commerce Secretary, reported on May 13, 2020 that “the United States spends more on defense than China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and Brazil, the next ten countries, combined” at $732 to $726 billion. Yet the National Defense Authorization Act 2020 sailed through the Senate before it recessed.

“The machine has been programmed to dump out of one spigot a vast arsenal of lethal military junk, out of another a diminishing trickle of services,” Father Daniel Berrigan presciently wrote fifty years ago in No Bars to Manhood. “The isolation of power more and more separates men from the fate of its victims.”

The man who cried out to me symbolized the plight of many among us.

It could have been me. It could have been you.

What will we do with the knowledge?

President Johnson's 1968 National Advisory (Kerner) Commission on Civil Disorders warned we were becoming “two societies, one black, one white, separate but unequal” and “White America is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it and white society condones it.” Johnson rejected its advice to demilitarize urban policing, open suburbs to black resettlement near growing commerce centers, while improving urban housing, education, employment and social services. Johnson wouldn't redirect Vietnam War funding, felt he’d done enough for civil rights, and blamed Communist agitation for turmoil in twenty-five cities.

Johnson’s stance bred Nixon's “law and order” backlash and Reagan’s audacious campaign kickoff in Philadelphia, Mississippi lauding “states’ rights” in the county where the Ku Klux Klan killed Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. Reagan's “welfare queen” distortion, the first Bush's Willie Horton screed, W's post-Katrina neglect of Black New Orleans, and Trump’s white supremacist abuse of power are Johnson's legacy.

The Kerner Report's still timely proposals show what we need to do now. Will our President Biden revisit that road map to justice? Will grassroots pressure activate the immense Federal bureaucracy?

That would be a fitting response to the Trump Insurrection and the corner man's cry.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179170 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179170 0
King’s Final Book: Both Political Roadmap and Passionate Sermon

 

 

Note: This essay was originally published in two segments by the Newport Daily News, RI, on February 1 and February 2, 2021, and is reposted here by permission.

 

In his final book before his assassination, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” (Beacon Press, 1968) Martin Luther King, Jr.’s scope is broad and ambitious. Not only does he take on racism and injustice in the U.S., but he also grapples with these issues and more on the international level. More than this, he challenges us not only to think with our minds but also to feel with our hearts and souls.    King finished writing the book in early 1967, as the country was spiraling downward into the disunity and discord of the late 1960s. His overall purpose is never clarified in the opening chapter; therefore, it becomes clear that his purpose is to answer the question in his title: where does our country go from here—chaos or community?   Clearly one of his most important purposes is to challenge those African Americans who advocate “Black Power,” the movement gaining strength at the time, which was much more militant than King’s movement of nonviolence.    After his introductory chapter, “Where Are We?” surveying the status of blacks in the mid-1960s, he devotes his entire second chapter—the longest in the book—to dissecting the Black Power movement and systematically presenting his counter-arguments. King remains steadfast in his belief in nonviolence: “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence.”   In addition to Black Power and nonviolence, King deals with the concepts and issues of racism, justice, freedom, segregation, discrimination, poverty, and white fear, resistance, and backlash—a full agenda indeed.   He begins to define the central concept of racism by quoting others. George Kelsey: “Racism is a faith …a form of idolatry…an ideological justification for the constellations of political and economic power.” “…the idea of the superior race….”   He quotes Ruth Benedict: “…the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to hereditary inferiority and another group …superiority.”   King settles on a definition of racism as the “arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission,” eventually abridging his definition to simply “the myth of inferior peoples.”   In terms of diction, King’s word choice for blacks is “Negro” and “Negroes,” phrases that are now anachronistic and offensive. Also surprising and less understandable is his virtually total male vocabulary. He speaks always in male terms, using “he” and “him,” never “she” and “her;” “man” and never “woman.” The only time he even references women is in his brief section on the Negro family.   The main issue King addresses is the continuing racism and injustice in America, resulting in continued discrimination, exploitation, and poverty for black Americans. Despite some notable progress after the protests, boycotts, demonstrations, and even landmark federal legislation of the mid-1960s (e.g., the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965) a significant gap remains between the demands of the law and its full and genuine implementation. “White America was ready to demand that the Negro should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation, but it had never been truly committed to helping him out of poverty, exploitation, or all forms of discrimination.” King asserts: “The daily life of the Negro is still lived in the basement of the Great Society.”    The greatest responsibility for this injustice he places in the hands of whites. “In short, white America must assume the guilt for the black man’s inferior status.”   Even though whites bear the major blame, King maintains that the solutions for these problems must come from both white and black America. He states: “Negroes hold only one key to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the hands of the white community.”   In terms of programs, King is clear on the size and focus needed. America needs a “radical reordering of national priorities” so that a “massive program” can be implemented to provide either guaranteed employment or income, allowing dignity “to come within reach for all.” To ensure its achievement, a timetable should be established.    To those who might question the justification for such a program, King states: “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, in order to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis.”   Martin Luther King eventually turns his sights on black America. King argues that the overall strategy must be nonviolent agitation, even using the word “coercion.” It needs better leaders of character, fewer black people who remain “aloof” on the sidelines, and more political activism by better organized groups who understand the importance of alliances, all combining to bring the necessary power to effect real change.    As suggested by the pages he devotes to it and the emphasis he places on it, King’s second main purpose in writing the book is to make the argument for his strategy of nonviolence and challenge the strategy of Black Power. While conceding that Black Power was gaining strength, he states: “Black Power has proved to be a slogan without a program, and with an uncertain following.” Further, "no new alternatives to nonviolence within the movement have found viable expression.”    In his final chapter, King fulfills his third main purpose by raising his sights from the national level to the international level. While fighting the national crusade against injustice, he calls on all nations to recognize their interdependence, that we are all part of the “world house.” Technology and progress have brought us closer, making us all neighbors now. He summons us to develop a “passionate commitment” to fight the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.” To accomplish this, the “wealthy nations of the world must promptly initiate a massive, sustained Marshall Plan for Asia, Africa, and South America.”    King wrote this book not only with his mind but also with his heart and soul. Thus, the most challenging aspect of reading the book is that we hear King speaking with two different voices: the political realist analyzing the politics of racism and injustice in America, but also the passionate preacher touching our hearts and souls and calling all of us to a higher moral and spiritual plane. The former is concerned with politics and power; the latter is concerned with empathy and love.   In the middle of the second chapter on “Black Power,” this duality first shows itself. “The problem of transforming the ghetto is … a problem of power—a confrontation between the forces of power demanding change and the forces of power dedicated to preserving the status quo.” But then he speaks of love. “In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice.”   On the next page, he states: “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” He defines the “collision of immoral power with powerless morality” as “the major crisis of our times.”   In ending his chapter rejecting Black Power, he states: “It will be power infused with love and justice, that will change dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope. A dark, desperate, confused and sin-sick world waits for this new kind of man and this new kind of power.”    In ending his next chapter on “Racism and White Backlash,” he states: “Man-made laws assure justice, but a higher law produces love.”  He continues “…something must touch the hearts and souls of men so that they will come together spiritually because it is natural and right.”   In his final chapter on racism in the U.S., “Where We Are Going,” we hear the political realist first: An oppressed people realizes deliverance comes “when they have accumulated the power to enforce change.” He states that this is simply “mature realism,” and urges us to get the order right: “We have to put the horse (power) before the cart (programs).”    He continues: “Our nettlesome task is to discover how to organize our strength into compelling power so that government cannot elude our demands.”   He eventually uses military language: The movement must become a “crusade.” “Recognizing that no army can mobilize and demobilize and remain a fighting unit, we will have to build far-flung workmanlike and experienced organizations in the future ….” He states that “responsible militant organizations” are “indispensable” to the struggle.   However, to end the book he uses the voice of the passionate preacher. He quotes Arnold Toynbee: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”    He then returns and challenges us with the central issue of his book: the choice between nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation; between community or chaos. He also leaves us to judge whether these two worldviews, one of power and one of love, are indeed complementary or contradictory. ]]>
Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179165 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179165 0
How Abraham Lincoln Can Inspire Peace for Yemen As President Biden begins his diplomatic push to end the civil war in Yemen, each of us can get involved. We can even get some inspiration from Abraham Lincoln as we celebrate his birthday and Presidents' Day this month. That is exactly what happened in February, 1948 when Americans started the Abraham Lincoln Friendship Train to send food to war-torn Europe. The train got its start in the small farming communities of Nebraska, Iowa and other Midwest states. People gathered food supplies to load onto the train. Church World Service, Catholic Relief Services and charities organized the Train and its trek across the country picking up donations.   The Lincoln Train was part of a series of Friendship Trains in response to the hunger crisis in Europe. Food for the hungry was essential to win the peace after World War II.  The Marshall Plan of 1948 ultimately rebuilt Europe. This plan would not have succeeded without the generosity of the American people and the Friendship Trains. The American people fighting hunger certainly influenced Congress to pass the Marshall Plan and supply food aid in legislation.   Now today Yemen is desperate for food. The fighting between the Saudi Arabia led coalition against the Houthi rebels has led to severe food shortages for millions.  As President Biden says the Yemeni people are suffering "unendurable devastation.  This war has to end." Biden has already taken step one by cutting off military aid and arms sales to the Saudi coalition in Yemen.  The Trump administration had continued supporting the Saudis despite the fact that it was prolonging and worsening the humanitarian crisis. Save the Children says "Thousands of children have been killed or injured through targeting of civilians by all parties to the conflict, and American-made weapons have contributed to the violence." Children are also dying from starvation in Yemen as famine continues to stalk the poorest country in the Middle East. The UN says that  2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021,

“The increasing number of children going hungry in Yemen should shock us all into action,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “More children will die with every day that passes without action. Humanitarian organizations need urgent predictable resources and unhindered access to communities on the ground to be able to save lives.”

The UN World Food Program director, David Beasley, warns "We’re facing famine in Yemen….there’s 16 million innocent victims of this unnecessary man-made war, struggling to get food every single day." So as President Biden pushes forward with his plan to get a ceasefire in Yemen, we can help by sending food to the hungry. The World Food Program (WFP) and other relief agencies operating in Yemen need more donations. WFP has already reduced rations because of low funding. 

12 year old Amina in Yemen recently wrote a letter to the World Food Program's Annabel Symington. "She pleaded "People die of hunger because they do not have enough food for themselves and their children.....Dear people of the world, please don’t forget Yemen. Remember my letter. I hope in the future we can be together in peace." 

You can donate to WFP, Save the Children, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Action Against Hunger, UNICEF, IRC and other charities providing aid in Yemen. Infant feeding and school meal programs must reach all children.  Rhode Island based Edesia produces Plumpy'nut which can save Yemen’s malnourished children. You can even donate to WFP easily through the apps FreeRice and Charity Miles.  You can write letters to Congress urging them to fund hunger relief for Yemen. The Congress, in the upcoming Coronavirus relief bill, should include funding for WFP so they can feed the hungry in Yemen and other countries in need.  President Biden and his new special envoy to Yemen will work to end the civil war. The actions we take can help the peace process and save millions of Yemenis from starvation. 

 

As Abraham Lincoln said “With malice toward none and charity toward all."  We can each continue Lincoln’s quest to “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 

 

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179166 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179166 0
Lincoln and the Lesson of Leading From Behind  

 

 

 

 

As Abraham Lincoln rose to deliver his first inaugural address, the nation was on the brink of war.  In the 16 weeks between his election as president and his inauguration, seven southern states seceded from the Union and formed the confederate states of America.  Lincoln’s answer was to look to the past for guidance. For his inaugural, he consulted only four documents – the Constitution as the expression of America’s aspirations; Daniel Webster’s thunderous declamation in 1830 against secession; Andrew Jackson’s 1831 proclamation dismantling the arguments for secession; and Henry Clay, whom Lincoln described as his “teacher and leader,” for his final oration in 1850 to secure a compromise that averted civil war. While putting their arguments into plainer prose, Lincoln closed his inaugural address by reminding his audience of their shared past: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 

Throughout his presidency, Lincoln sounded the same theme for Americans to be guided by and to honor their collective past. He sounded this theme in his short remarks commemorating the battlefield at Gettysburg, beginning with his eloquent reminder, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” to his second inaugural reminding Americans of the path the nation had endured the previous four years. Lincoln’s genius was in looking back to find the way forward.

 

Great presidents, like Lincoln, Washington, and Franklin Roosevelt, lead from behind – not thrusting themselves far ahead of the pack with the hope of its following, but being in tune, each step along the way, with a community defined by its shared common values. Lincoln’s long-time rival Stephen Douglas keenly observed that Lincoln was “a man of the atmospherics around him.”  Lincoln did not create the “atmospherics,” but studied them to discern the path forward.  Understanding the “atmospherics” of the time requires learning, as did Lincoln, from his own and others’ experiences. Though Lincoln described himself as a “Clay man,” he grew up among Democrats devoted to Clay’s great rival Jackson and honed his rhetoric on the hustings in campaign after campaign, where he learned, as he told his law partner William Herndon, how to speak “low” so that the “common people” understood his message.  He never went farther than his followers could go. 

 

Though Lincoln had campaigned against Jackson twice and each of the presidents who proclaimed themselves his heirs (Van Buren, Polk, and Pierce), it was Jackson’s portrait, not Clay’s, that Lincoln hung in the presidential office. Lincoln used the portrait as a prop to remind his visitors who were once Jacksonian Democrats that he would emulate Jackson, long reputed for his stubbornness and temper, in firmly opposing secessionists.  When a delegation from Baltimore pleaded with Lincoln not to use force in response to South Carolina’s threats to attack Fort Sumter, Lincoln exploded, “There is no Washington in that – no Jackson in that – no manhood nor honor in that.”

 

Yet, it was Henry Clay’s attitudes towards slavery, which shaped Lincoln’s determination in his one term in the House to oppose the extension of slavery but not its abolition. Echoing Clay In his first inaugural, Lincoln reassured southerners that, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists.”  Initially, Lincoln defined the war’s sole purpose as maintaining the Union.

 

A year later, Lincoln redefined the war’s purpose: After listening to abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Lincoln redefined the war’s purpose:  Once a man who had used the N-word regularly and opposed abolition, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, freeing slaves in the war zone, and remarking then, “If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act.”  Months later, he made the war’s new purpose even clearer in concluding his remarks consecrating the battlefield at Gettysburg, “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  This last line, so familiar to Americans today, was familiar to Americans then, as it had been made decades before by Daniel Webster in nearly the same words. Lincoln led by reminding Americans of what they already knew.

 

Though he likened himself to Lincoln, Donald Trump never learned to lead from behind. His final days in office, from inciting insurrection to peddling pardons, revealed the problem with his presidency throughout:  Trump only heard the sycophants and angry mob that were the echo chamber of presidency.  He cut himself off, not just from reality, but from forging connections with the American community writ large. His lame attempt at leadership was to sow discord.  He governed like Jefferson Davis, the confederacy’s leader keen on rebellion, rather than Lincoln who championed unity.

 

President Biden understands how to lead from behind. As a candidate, he was in touch with America’s past and fundamental decency, which he embodied. In his inaugural address, Biden asked Americans to “listen” to and “respect” others, old values that now feel refreshing as Biden – and the country – yearn for a path forward. The answer, Biden said, was in our past, exemplified by Lincoln, who said, Biden noted, when signing the Emancipation Proclamation, he had “put my whole soul into it.” 

 

Lincoln’s portrait now hangs in the oval office. There, Lincoln shines as a mentor. Biden surely would agree with Lincoln’s final hope for ending division with “Malice toward none and charity for all,” a hope echoed in Mr. Biden’s pleas for “unity” in America, for which Lincoln gave his “last full measure.”

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179171 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179171 0
The Roundup Top Ten for February 12, 2021

What’s at Stake in the Fight Over Reopening Schools

by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

In Chicago, parents anxious to return children to school have blamed teachers' unions. Some proponents of reopening are using racial equity arguments while ignoring the gross racial inequality of schooling-as-usual before the pandemic and the work of teachers' unions to fight it.

 

Immigration Enforcement and the Afterlife of the Slave Ship

by Ryan Fontanilla

Since Ronald Reagan's executive order introduced the Haitian Migrant Interdiction Operation, the U.S. Coast Guard has been in an undeclared war against the 120,000 Haitian asylum-seekers it has interdicted, labeled "economic" rather than "political" refugees, as though the poverty they are fleeing is not political in nature. 

 

 

How Will Jeff Bezos Spend His Billions Now?

by Margaret O'Mara

John D. Rockefeller used philanthropy to blunt harsh criticism of his business practices and the social dysfunction represented by his immense wealth. What will his 21st-century analogue Jeff Bezos do for an image-burnishing second act? And will it be about service to the public or service to Bezos? 

 

 

Empire Shaped Ireland's Past. A Century After Partition, It Still Shapes Our Present

by Michael D. Higgins

The Irish President argues for a full reckoning with the difficult aspects of imperialism and sectarian violence in Ireland's history, by recognizing that a singular unifying narrative is an impossibility. 

 

 

The Problem of Environmental Racism in Mexico Today is Rooted in History

by Jayson Maurice Porter

The marginalization of Afro-Mexican history in the state of Guerrero prevents considering policy solutions that could advance environmental justice in areas harmed by tourism development and deforestation. 

 

 

Black History is Often Shunned, Like the Book I Wrote

by Martha S. Jones

The historian of voting rights and Black women's activism examines the reaction to a planned discussion of her book through a Louisiana public library. 

 

 

What Kyle Rittenhouse's Fate Reveals about Law and Order

by Nicole Hemmer

Historically, white vigilantism, especially against the demands of minorities for civil and economic equality, has been a key component of the politics of "law and order."

 

 

Marjorie Taylor Greene is Just the Latest Radical White Woman Poisoning Politics

by Elizabeth Gillespie McRae

White women have been active participants in creating and advancing the politics of white supremacy and eliminationist conspiracy theorizing. Marjorie Taylor Greene's antics are nothing new. 

 

 

Why a Shootout Between Black Panthers and Law Enforcement 50 Years Ago Matters Today

by Paul Ringel

A 50 year-old police attack on members of the High Point chapter of the Black Panther Party has been largely forgotten, but it shows the historical development of a pattern of law enforcement that targets Black militants and allows white supremacist radicals free rein. 

 

 

Henry Aaron and American Memory

by Robert Greene II

"The memories of Jackie Robinson and Henry Aaron, two Americans reviled by many of their compatriots during their playing days but embraced by virtually everyone now, are but the sports phase of a nationwide problem—the problem of properly remembering a painful past."

 

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179162 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179162 0
History (and Historians) Need a New Deal

Preserving records on microfilm as part of the Historical Records Survey of the WPA, 1937

 

 

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated an existential crisis for higher education in the United States.  Nothing short of a massive public reinvestment will be adequate to meet the magnitude of the emergency.  Any federal program for assistance should look to the example of the New Deal, particularly the cultural projects established in 1935 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  Just as these projects provided jobs for thousands of out-of-work writers, artists, and performers during the Great Depression, a new public program is needed to provide full-time work for historians and other academics in the humanities and social sciences who now find themselves unemployed, underemployed, or otherwise precariously employed. 

 

There are several reasons why the WPA culture projects –the Federal Art Project (FAP), the Federal Writers Project (FWP), the Federal Theater Project (FTP), and the Federal Music Project (FMP)– provide a useful model for responding to the current crisis of higher education.  First, the WPA culture projects democratized access to the making of American culture.  Talented young people, particularly those from working-class and minority communities, were able to pursue creative careers despite the economic catastrophe.  Second, the projects democratized access to various forms of culture, as the projects’ output were readily available as public goods.  In addition, public patronage, along with the organization and activism of the projects’ workforce, offered the promise of democratic control over the means of cultural production.

 

A new federal jobs program for the humanities and social sciences would similarly advance these democratic objectives.  Historians could be hired to create scholarly studies and educational materials as public goods, much as the authors of the FWP state and city guidebooks did more than eight decades ago.  Academics could be teamed up with artists in various media to document America’s past and to draw connections with the nation’s present, taking inspiration from the FAP Index of American Design and the experimental dramatizations of the FTP Living Newspaper series.  Or, following the example of the FAP Design Laboratory –which was the first comprehensive school of modernist design in the United States– scholars in the humanities and social sciences employed by the proposed program might establish new sites of innovation in teaching and research outside of the confines of conventional institutions of higher education.

 

In addition to the WPA cultural projects’ democratic ethos, their implementation of direct public employment also makes them such a vital precedent for the public reconstruction of the humanities and social sciences.  Unlike the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts founded in the 1960s as part of the Great Society, the WPA put writers, artists, and performers directly onto the federal payroll instead of injecting grant funding into existing networks of cultural patronage.  A new federal program modeled on the WPA would represent a desperately needed intervention into an academic labor market that has effectively collapsed.  By providing full-time, multi-year positions with a living salary and health insurance, the program would reverse the long trend toward casualization and begin the process of reestablishing acceptable labor standards that are humane for teachers and researchers and also essential for quality education and scholarship.

 

Furthermore, by placing thousands of academics on the federal payroll as full-time employees, the program proposed here would furnish a form of indirect assistance to hard-pressed universities, colleges, archives, libraries, museums, cultural centers, social service agencies, and other nonprofit entities.  While many of those hired by the program would ideally find ways to embrace the experimental and innovative impulses of the WPA cultural projects by founding new endeavors for producing and sharing knowledge, many others –perhaps the majority– would be allocated to existing institutions.  Colleges and universities participating in the program could upgrade adjunct faculty to full-time status, enhancing instructional quality through a substantial improvement in working conditions.   

 

The Great Depression offers not only an historical example of direct public employment for members of America’s creative class, but also lessons for making it happen.  The New Deal cultural projects were established not just because President Franklin D. Roosevelt or WPA chief Harry Hopkins had a soft spot for artists, writers, and performers who were down on their luck, but because unemployed and underemployed white-collar workers in America’s culture industries organized during the 1930s to demand jobs from the federal government.  Moreover, they succeeded in pressing the Roosevelt administration to initiate the WPA cultural projects in large part because their various unions, committees, and associations were part of a broader Popular Front social movement that united white-collar and blue-collar workers around an agenda that included staunch backing for organized labor, advocacy for racial and ethnic equality, and opposition to fascism.

 

Any chance of securing a robust federal response to today’s crisis of academic employment will likewise depend on extensive organizing and coalition-building.  It will require solidarity among all workers on our campuses –both between contingent faculty and those who may feel that they are secure for the moment, and between faculty and our coworkers in support and service roles– to rebuild our system of higher education so that it can provide a decent living for everyone whose labor enables it to function.  It will require that advocates for a WPA-style program for the humanities and social sciences forge alliances with proponents of free public college and student debt cancellation.  And, ultimately, it will require a recognition that the crisis of academic employment in the field of History, and in the humanities and social sciences more generally, cannot be resolved within the confines of our system of higher education.  The push for public reinvestment in secure jobs in our colleges and universities will ultimately need to be part of a much wider movement to reshape the political economy of the United States.  It will need to be allied with groups promoting the public provisioning of other goods and services, including healthcare and housing, as well as with groups resisting the spread of precarious employment more generally in the “gig economy.”

 

The alternatives are bleak.  Administrators at many colleges and universities are reacting to the pandemic by imposing deep retrenchments on institutions already ravaged by austerity.  They are consolidating departments, terminating degree programs, and laying off faculty, even those with tenure in some cases.  New tenure-track hiring in fields like History, already woefully inadequate in the decade following the 2008-09 economic crisis, has essentially ceased.  An entire generation of educators and scholars is in jeopardy, facing the prospect of either relentless exploitation as precarious adjunct instructors or eventual departure from the discipline for more stable employment. 

 

This is a needless tragedy for talented and dedicated young academics who have sacrificed for years to complete their doctorates and who now find their career aspirations thwarted.  It is also a terrible waste for our society, which more than ever needs the teaching and research that they would produce.  Furthermore, the current crisis represents a fundamental threat to the continuation of historical study as a collective intellectual endeavor.  Can the creation and transmission of historical knowledge as we have come to know it survive the loss of a cohort of scholars and educators, and the drastic contraction of graduate training that is already beginning?

 

Only a program of direct public employment for historians, along with other academics, can lead to a vibrant future for the discipline in which access to careers is expanded, with greater diversity and equity.  The history of the WPA cultural projects shows us the way.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179072 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179072 0
To Save Democracy, We Need Historical Memory to be "Hot"

 

 

 

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” is not a statement of history but one of collective memory. At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln made a profound promise that changed the way Americans would remember this shared memory. He obliged the living to remember the dead and their cause so that a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” might not only live but “long endure” even as the nation experienced “a new birth of freedom.” Lincoln essentially heated a long-cold memory of America. Put simply, hot memory reflects society’s willingness and ability to remember by bringing the past into the present. In contrast, cold memory encompasses remembering by keeping the past from penetrating the present. Lincoln’s hot memory illustrated how the war dead sacrificed their lives acknowledging America’s slave past and how that past contradicted and even cancelled the memory of equality. Hot memory allowed the nation to move forward.

 

On the evening before his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, Joseph Biden presided over a short but powerful ceremony of grief in the nation’s capital at the reflecting pool across from the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln’s memory, in monumental and historical form, provided the backdrop as Biden’s brief comments channeled the hot memory that Lincoln promised the dead. Around sunset, the President-Elect commemorated the 400,000 who died in the first year of COVID-19. Biden remarked “to heal, we must remember.” Four hundred lights lined the reflecting pool. As the glimmering of twilight turned into dark, the warm glow of the lights reflected back across the water and against the cold January night, Biden continued, “it’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.” On this evening, Biden summoned hot memory to acknowledge collectively the grief of so many who had thus far grieved alone without the nation. A message of grief and memory to help the nation move forward.

 

President Donald Trump’s administration thrived within cold American memory with devastating effect. His administration was infamous for the lengths it would go to insulate Americans from the past. From climate change denial to Trump’s “very fine people on both sides” remark about white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the doomed and incoherent 1776 Commission Report that tried to create “patriotic” history, to his insurrectionist supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, bringing a Confederate battle flag into the hallowed halls of Congress, Trumpism as a movement flourished by separating the present from the past and filling our culture with “alternative facts,” QAnon conspiracy theories of globalist Democratic pedophilia rings, and even fantasies of a false past that would make America great again. This cold memory short-circuited our ability to learn from the mistakes of the past.

 

Yet it failed at completely freezing American culture. Hot memory has been around us all along even if it took Amanda Gorman's brilliant poem to alert us to our frigid relationship with the past. Her line “It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,/It’s the past we step into/and how we repair it” was a call to practice a hot memory of the nation’s creed. The Equal Justice Initiative, for example, has built a museum and a National Memorial for Peace and Justice commemorating the victims of racial violence in Montgomery, Alabama. The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in Jackson, Mississippi promotes racial reconciliation and civic renewal. Black Lives Matter protests around the country have resiliently reminded us of a traumatic past (and present) of systemic racism. Segregationist monuments, especially depicting the likeness of Confederate leaders have been brought down in places across the American landscape. Even Congress has gotten into the act of warming memory by overriding President Trump’s veto of the Defense Bill and insisting on renaming bases, monuments, and symbols currently on U.S. military installations.

 

Memory is warming in these United States even while others try to chill it. The persistent thawing of cold memory is a long process made with small but important gains. The more we can bring the past into the present the more we can make progress in fulfilling the nation’s creed. As Gorman challenged us, “When day comes we step out of the shade,/aflame and unafraid/The new dawn blooms as we free it/For there is always light,/if only we’re brave enough to see it/If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

 

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179068 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179068 0
The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.— A Conversation with Professor Peniel E. Joseph

 

 

Dr. Peniel E. Joseph currently holds a joint professorship appointment at the University of Texas, Austin at the LBJ School of Public Affairs where he serves the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values, and at the History Department in the College of Liberal Arts. He is also the founding director of the LBJ School's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. He is the author of The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. (Basic Books, 2020).

Robin Lindley is a Seattle-based writer and attorney. He is features editor for the History News Network (hnn.us), and his work also has appeared in Writer’s Chronicle, Bill Moyers.com, Salon.com, Crosscut, Documentary, ABA Journal, Re-Markings, Real Change, Huffington Post, and more. He has a special interest in the history of human rights, conflict, medicine, and art. Most of his legal work has been in public service. He also served as a staff attorney with the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations and investigated the death of Dr. King. He can be reached by email: robinlindley@gmail.com.  

There is no way to understand the history, struggle, and debate over race and democracy in contemporary America without understanding Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.’s relationship to each other, to their own era, and, most crucially, to our time.

Professor Peniel E. Joseph, The Sword and the Shield

           

In popular memory, Malcolm X is often caricatured as a fiery racial separatist and Black Muslim proselytizer, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is recalled as a saintly preacher who worked for civil rights and conciliation. This simplified, one-dimensional perspective also suggests that the two men were committed adversaries who disregarded one another.

However, the story of each of these American icons is much more nuanced and more complex, as acclaimed American historian Professor Peniel E. Joseph reveals in his recent groundbreaking dual biography, The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. (Basic Books).

In many ways, as Professor Joseph writes, both men were kindred spirits and both revolutionaries in their unique approaches to racism, social injustice, violence, and democracy. And both evolved. And both sacrificed their lives.

In the months before his assassination in February 1965, Malcolm had dispensed with his racist rhetoric and shared a broad vision of anticolonialism and international human rights that he drew in part from Dr. King’s dream of a “Beloved Community.”

And, in the last three years of his life, Dr. King moved on from civil rights issues to campaign against the three evils of materialism, militarism and racism. He spoke with Malcolm’s passion against the war in Vietnam and against economic injustice and he drew scorn not only from old enemies but from former friends and allies in the media and even in the civil rights movement.

Professor Joseph illuminates and interweaves the stories of these two extraordinary men in his compelling and vivid narrative based on extensive research and years of experience studying the history of Black freedom movements. He fleshes out the humanity and passions of his subjects while presenting an intellectual consideration of their philosophies as well as the historical context of their struggles, their activism, their transformations.

Professor Joseph is, in the words of renowned historian and Professor Ibram X. Kendi, “one of the greatest historians of Black America.”

Dr. Joseph currently holds a joint professorship appointment at the University of Texas, Austin at the LBJ School of Public Affairs where he serves the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values, and at the History Department in the College of Liberal Arts. He is also the founding director of the LBJ School's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. Joseph’s scholarship has focused on what he characterizes as Black Power Studies, the transnational movement for Black liberation in America and globally, whose reverberations are the site of both intellectual inquiry and ongoing political contestation against White Supremacy and anti-Black racism. Through six books, scores of essays and articles, and historiographical and theoretical critiques, Joseph has mapped out a genealogy of Black Power antecedents and influences that have impacted multiple fields of interdisciplinary scholarship.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Professor Joseph is a public intellectual who comments frequently on issues of race, democracy and civil rights in the print and broadcast media. He also has written several award-winning books, including Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America; Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama; and Stokely: A Life, a definitive biography of Stokely Carmichael. Further, he edited The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era and Neighborhood Rebels: Black Power at the Local Level.

Professor Joseph generously responded to questions on his work by telephone from his home in Texas.

 

Robin Lindley: Congratulations Professor Joseph on your dual biography of Malcolm X and Dr. King, The Sword and the Shield. Before I get to your book, I’d like to ask about your background as a historian. You’re a leading expert in American history with an emphasis on the civil rights era, the Black Freedom movement, and related issues. What sparked you to choose a career in history?

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: It’s due to my mother’s influence. I grew up in Jamaica, Queens, New York City, and my mother was a hospital worker and a union member at Mount Sinai hospital. It was really from her that I became interested in social justice and racial equality. She is a feminist, a deep Christian, and a human rights historian. I was on my first picket line in elementary school with her so I learned really fast about movements to end social injustice so that people could get together and demonstrate peacefully and change policies, and protect workers and provide people with cleaner water to drink and more access to housing and health care.

In addition to my mother’s deep interest, I was then growing up in New York City, which was segregated with a lot of police brutality during the years of [Mayors] Koch and David Dinkins. Seeing this up close sparked my interest in social movements, activism and politics intellectually, but also as an active person, as a human being.

Robin Lindley: I read that you entered college at age 16. That's remarkable.

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: No, I was 17 and graduated in three years. I finished at 20 as a double major in history and African studies and went on to get my Ph.D. at 27 at Temple University in Philadelphia.

I was very passionate about history and I think college and then graduate school led me to become a professor. It’s a privilege to read and study and learn for a living. And I've never lost my intellectual curiosity about these movements and the history.

Robin Lindley: Thanks for that background Professor Joseph. You’re an admired teacher as well as an acclaimed writer and an award-winning biographer. You have mentioned that you find biography a useful teaching tool for historians. How does biography come into your teaching?

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: Biography is really important because students and readers are captivated by stories. A great example of that is Barack Obama’s new book A Promised Land, as well as his earlier memoir, Dreams from My Father. He talks about basically his first three years as president but you get the campaign and get aspects of his family. And he tells a story that's very, very compelling with different anecdotes. He’s telling people a story, and through that story you get foreign policy, domestic policy, race, and the environment. You get so many different aspects of not only his life but the times and events that shaped him.

Biography is important because, when fleshing out a group of women or men through the actual lives of people who have lived in the past or who are living now, people come to better empathize with the struggles and the issues much more than if they have only abstractions. So even if there's this cataclysmic event, whether it's a civil war or a famine, if you tease out the life of one particular group of people or actors, people can actually connect with the larger story more than if the focus is at the level of abstraction and theory.

Robin Lindley: You accomplish that goal with history and lively storytelling in your new book, The Sword and the Shield, a dual biography of two iconic Americans, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You debunk many popular misconceptions about both men who are often seen as polar opposites. Did you know when you began the book that you would find that they were kindred spirits in many ways?

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: Yes. It was through doing research on other books that I started to see both of them differently and found out much more about King and breadth of his radical revolutionary politics as well as Malcolm’s political evolution. My research on Stokely Carmichael and the Black Power Movement eventually led me to write this book.

Robin Lindley: It’s a powerful story. In my view, you have intertwined two profiles in courage. Contemporary audiences may not know of their sacrifices. Dr. King and Malcolm X were under constant threat daily. They faced violence, death threats, and assassination attempts and, of course, both were assassinated. And both were under intense surveillance by the FBI. Dr. King was very aware that, when he traveled, the FBI bugged his rooms and tapped his phones, yet he always publicized his schedule. Their persistence is a study in resilience and courage. Their accomplishments came at a dreadful cost.

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: Yes. I think that you're right about what they faced at the time, the kinds of constant threats that they experienced. And most of us are never going to have to face those constant threats.

I tried in both their cases to give them the humanity that they and their families deserve, and also recount the risks they dared. And they definitely were very, very courageous people.

And it's remarkable that neither of them ever gave up. Malcolm X could have stayed in Africa and saved his life. Dr. King could have retreated as well. A lot of people wanted him to be a pastor and a public intellectual. They didn’t want him leading the Poor People's Campaign and the strike in Memphis.

But they continued their work. They were resilient and both were passionate about not just civil rights, but human rights. And that thought continues to resonate to this day in terms of the language they used with Dr. King stressing Black citizenship and Malcolm focused on Black dignity. But they came to see over time that both Black citizenship and Black dignity were required.

Robin Lindley: As you note in your book, Malcolm X and Dr. King met only once in person, at the US Senate in 1964. Did they keep in touch at all?

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: Yes. Their people wanted them to meet but they never got around to the meeting they were supposed to have.

Malcolm knew Clarence Jones, who was Dr. King's attorney, and they were supposed to meet again but did not. However, in December 1964, Malcolm went to Harlem and was sitting next to Andy Young, the future UN ambassador and mayor of Atlanta, while Dr. King gave a speech right after winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Malcolm also went to Selma when King was in jail there. That was in February 1965, right before Malcolm died. He visited Coretta Scott King and told her that he admired her husband. He said he was just there to help and not hurt. He wanted people to know that if King didn't get voting rights, there was going to be an alternative. And that's what he'd been saying: the ballot or the bullet.

You could see the convergence in that final year of Malcolm’s life. In an interview, Malcolm also told the novelist Robert Penn Warren that he and Dr. King had the same goals for human dignity in mind.

Robin Lindley: Their work has so much resonance now. In The Sword and the Shield, you use a couple of metaphors with Malcolm X as a sword and a prosecutor for Black dignity and Dr. King as a shield and defense attorney for Black citizens. Can you talk about those descriptions?

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: Yes, absolutely.

One of the interesting things about both of them is their evolution. As this prosecuting attorney, Malcolm is really prosecuting white America for crimes against Black humanity that date back to racial slavery. One of the most striking things about listening to their speeches, with Malcolm’s from 1952 to 1965, and Dr. King’s from 1955 to 1968, is that they both start to confront racial slavery. That's a real motif in their speeches along with race, democracy, and caste privilege.

King served, initially at least, a different function as the defense attorney defending white and Black people, and arguing that Black people just want an equal and fair shot and full citizenship. He tells Black people that Jim Crow segregation and racial slavery have not somehow made white people irredeemable, even though he said, look, it's impacted the soul of white people because we shouldn't be living like this. That’s why the Southern Christian Leadership Conference [headed by Dr. King] adopted the motto “To Redeem the Soul of America.” That language recognized that all people were affected by the treatment of Black Americans, even those who felt they were in a more privileged position. And whites were not giving away anything because society is not supposed to be like this.

Over time though, Malcolm grew into a radical statesman who frequents the United Nations and travels overseas. After going on the Haj [the pilgrimage to Mecca], he felt whites could be part of the solutions and civil rights should be a human rights movement.

Robin Lindley: You illuminate King’s transformation after the death of Malcolm.

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: After Malcolm's death, King becomes the prosecutor. What's so interesting is that King, who had been the defense attorney, was still nonviolent but he attacked racism. He said that the biggest threat to peace in the country was white racism and white racial terror against Black people. The white people were producing the violence and there'd be peace but for the chaos from white people. 

One of the fascinating things about King’s life is when he evolves and speaks truth to power. He's still talking about nonviolence, but he's speaking in bold radical terms about the need to end militarism and materialism and racism. King is an anti-imperialist. He argues for ending the war in Vietnam and building the Beloved Community through a revolution of values that resists racism and white supremacy. And King starts to call people out. He calls out the president and he calls out the Congress. And he calls the United States the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. King is also an anti-capitalist. He pleads with the nation to undergo a revolution of values wherein the poverty he witnesses in, for example, Marks, Mississippi that moves him to tears, will leave the nation’s conscience so troubled that America will have no choice but to remake itself by ending poverty for good.

Robin Lindley: And King also attacks the economic system and economic inequality.

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: Yes, King also worked on the ground as an organizer during the course of this [Poor Peoples] campaign, even in Mississippi, in the poorest zip code (Quitman County) in the country. He was in tears seeing all these poor Black folks, and he said to them that the way they were living was a crime. So he said they were going to Washington and they were going to get a guaranteed income, and they would stay there until they did. He’s using the same language Malcolm X who said that Black people had been the victims of a series of crimes against them. And then King talked about the Homestead Act and how the Act gave 40 acres of land to white European immigrants, but added that Black people never got their 40 acres and a mule. And, to this same audience of poor Blacks, he talked about Reconstruction, and he said these people are the same people telling you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

This is what we're facing in this country. As a scholar, I'm endlessly fascinated by both of these men and the language they used. They were both brilliant in their way. They utilized history to present the historical context of the way life was then. They did this in a way that becomes extraordinarily powerful.

Robin Lindley: Despite his radicalization, King never abandons nonviolence as a tactic.

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: For me, it’s always about King building a peace movement. I wanted to show in this book how King was a peaceful revolutionary who was going to Washington without a gun or a knife or even a curse word. He actually didn’t curse.

King was saying that we have to change the systems of domination and racial oppression or none of us are going to survive. So he's really remarkable. And this is where King and Malcolm converge in talking about citizenship and dignity. And by the end, King is saying Black is beautiful, and he's talking about Black pride. He’s using the words of Malcolm.

Folks like the Black Panthers misunderstood King. They failed to realize the revolutionary strength of massive non-violence civil disobedience. Stokely Carmichael was a Black Power icon who understood, admired, and respected King’s enormous power, even when, perhaps especially when, they disagreed. And he loved King even as he disagreed with his tactics vocally.

Stokely Carmichael realized that King was a revolutionary and that's why they were friends. King invited him to dine at his home, and King didn't do that to most people. Stokely was in the front row when King came out against the war again at Ebenezer [Baptist Church, Atlanta] and Stokely led the standing ovation. So, when you look at King and you see the fact that somebody like Stokely Carmichael respected and even loved him, it really is a much different portrait of the person that we celebrate on his holiday annually.

Robin Lindley: Yes. I didn't realize that King and Stokely Carmichael were so close until I read your book.

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: Yes. King is such a huge, capacious figure. I am very excited to just be able to delve deeper into his life. He's a real revolutionary, and he showed how you can be a revolutionary without also being violent, and how his revolution is about fundamental social change and transformation without any kind of violence.

Robin Lindley: It seems that the last three years of King's life, after his civil rights achievements, are often ignored in popular memory.  However, in those final years he called out the evils of militarism, materialism and racism, as you stress. He spoke out against the Vietnam war and he planned the Poor People's Campaign. At the end of his life, he was in Memphis to support striking garbage workers. And he had a long history of speaking out for workers and union movements.

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: He absolutely did. Michael Honey had the great book on King and labor: Going Down the Jericho Road, as well as another book on King and labor.

King was a huge supporter of workers of all colors and backgrounds, but especially Black workers. He realized, as he struggled for racial justice and social justice for all people, that he had to look through the particular lens of the struggles of Black people.

King is a fascinating figure and we've turned him into this anodyne, milquetoast figure that everybody claims they love because he's not offensive. But he was somebody who fought for social justice, not just domestically but internationally. He spoke about violence, poverty, hunger, and racism, and how we could eradicate them if we had the right priorities. To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Tommie Shelby and Brandon M. Terry, is absolutely indispensable to a richer, more nuanced, and historically and philosophically contextualized understanding of King.

Robin Lindley: And King lost many friends and allies when he moved from civil rights to criticizing the government, opposing the Vietnam War, and campaigning against income inequality and economic injustice. He was maligned in the press and even by former colleagues in the Civil Rights Movement for expanding his critique of America.

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: Yes. He lost that mainstream sheen and in those last three years. He had been a Nobel prize winner. He had been Time magazine’s man of the year. He had attended White House conferences with Kennedy and LBJ. He lost that sheen because he was  critical of US imperialism and racial capitalism. He was also critical of domestic and international violence as he spoke about deep institutional problems that we have yet to confront. He felt that confronting those things was the only way we would have peace.

For King, it wasn’t enough to pass the Civil Rights Act. You still had police brutality. When he testified before the president’s Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders in October of 1967, he said that the roots of urban rioting were poverty and exploitation and racism. He was very outspoken and that's where I think he and Malcolm converged.

King became this outspoken leader who people felt uncomfortable with where, in an early iteration, people felt more comfortable with him. And it's really quite striking and extraordinary to see.

Robin Lindley: I never thought I’d see Nazis and other white supremacists openly rally in 21st century America or that I’d see a president and other national leaders spew racist rhetoric. This year has been especially hard with a deadly global pandemic that has disproportionately infected and killed Black and brown people in the US. Where do you find hope today Professor Joseph?

Professor Peniel E. Joseph: I found profound hope in the BLM protests of 2020; the voting rights activism of Stacey Abrams and Black women in Georgia; the moral Mondays movement of Reverend Barber in North Carolina; and the global dimensions of movements for Black citizenship/dignity that have galvanized human rights movements the world over.

Sam Cooke reminds us that “A change is gonna come,” and we are experiencing and undergoing that long, painful process of change now. A new world is not only possible, but on the horizon of existence. We have to work for it, but it is being created in each act of resistance, organizing, suffering, and love.

Robin Lindley: Thank you for those inspiring words Professor Joseph, and for sharing your thoughtful insights. And congratulations on your remarkable dual biography of two American revolutionaries, Malcolm X and Dr. King.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154466 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154466 0
Young Du Bois in Germany: On the “Great Socialistic State of the Day"

 

 

In the summer of 1892, a young Harvard graduate student crossed the Atlantic in a steamship. After arriving in Rotterdam and briefly visiting Amsterdam, he took a boat up the Rhine, travelled east to Eisenach, and eventually settled in comfortable living quarters in Berlin. The student was W.E.B. DuBois--the young philosopher, historian, and sociologist who would eventually become one of the most influential African-American intellectuals of the twentieth century.

 

Du Bois left us with a series of insights about Imperial Germany, now the object of sustained historical reflection as the Federal Republic of Germany marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Germany in 1871 and the founding of the so-called Second Empire. Was this new nation anti-modern or modern, historians ask? Was it a militaristic or a democratic country? Was it on its own, distinctive path or was it a precursor to the Third Reich or? As a young black student, Du Bois asked these questions too, only he did not yet compare Imperial Germany to the Third Reich, but rather to his own country, the United States.

 

Du Bois was no ordinary student. First in the class of 1888 at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, Du Bois had given his valedictorian address on the subject of one of “the strongest personalities the world has ever seen.”[i] One might think of the obvious  contenders for that honor in the late 1880s. Abraham Lincoln, for example. Or the elder Frederick Douglass. But the young Du Bois focused on someone else entirely: Otto von Bismarck. From Du Bois’s perspective, the iron chancellor had turned “a handful of petty quarreling principalities” into a genuine and unified nation.[ii] But if Bismarck united his people, he was no Moses, and he did not deliver his people unto democracy. On the contrary, Bismarck’s politics revealed what happens when “we raise the nation and forget the people.” [iii] Addressing his fellow students, the precocious African-American high schooler pointed out that the Germans did not understand the first thing about self-government, and predicted should Bismarck ever step down, a deluge would surely follow.

 

In 1890, the new Kaiser did indeed force Bismarck to step down, and in “Present Condition of German Politics,” drafted in 1893, Du Bois analyzed the deluge. Only no deluge occurred, and instead a dynamic tension arose between the existence of “a strong military monarchy indispensable to [Germany’s] integrity” on one side, and the country’s intellectual and industrial energy, which had “set in motion a democratic movement in the land fatal to monarchy and militarism alike,” on the other.[iv]  The Imperial German solution, according to DuBois, was to expand the state and regulate the economy. By combining a “vast penetrating army system” with “governmental interference in industry, politics and society,” Germany had figured out how to keep the country strong, aid the working man, advance democracy, and create the “great socialistic state of the day.”[v] Yet because parliament had to approve the military budget, this peculiar amalgamation of monarchism and militarism on one side, industrial energy and democracy on the other,  also meant that popular nationalism was built into the system.

Du Bois was by no means averse to Germany’s flashy nationalism. “The march of soldiers, the saluting of magnificent uniforms, the martial music and the rhythm of movement stirred my soul,” Du Bois wrote. It also caused him to think about his own country, where “in the south, fellow Negroes simply did not speak or think of patriotism for the nation which held their fathers in slavery for 250 years.”[vi]  Indeed Imperial Germany showed Du Bois the emotional power of a national community, making him realize that the Germans “had something he had never felt and perhaps never would.”[vii]

 

National symbols, one easily forgets, held the promise of integration. Du Bois saw the possibility for the industrial workers, most of whom supported the Socialists. He did not reflect on it for Germany’s two great minority groups: the Catholics and the Jews. Instead, he drew a straight line from Luther to Bismarck and even accepted common shibboleths of anti-Semitism. “The great capitalists of Germany, the great leaders of industry, are Jews,” Du Bois wrote, “they have forced citadel after citadel, until now they practically control the stock-market, own the press, fill the bar and bench, are crowding the professions…”[viii] At both Harvard and at the University of Berlin, anti-Semitism was endemic to his student circles. He also heard it from his Berlin professors. But Du Bois did not see the obvious parallel. To his mind, Jews were well integrated and guaranteed rights. They did not endure grinding poverty, and they were not lynched.

 

For the young Du Bois, Imperial Germany was like an inverse mirror. He felt himself liberated there from the kind of bigotry that poisoned life in the United States, especially in Nashville, where segregation laws and lynching laced acid on race relations, but also in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was barred from student dormitories, often mistaken for a waiter, and excluded from the Harvard choir. In Berlin, by contrast, he lived in a “roomy” flat in a boarding house,  which included a feather bed, tile stove, bureau, table, mirror, and coffee served to him every morning.[ix] He went to hotels and restaurants and was always served. And at a time when inter-racial marriages were banned in many U.S. states, Du Bois seldom drew special attention when in the company of white women. “My race forms but slight impediment between me and kindred souls,” Du Bois thought.[x]

 

A black stranger in a less spiteful white land, Du Bois embraced Imperial Germany as modern because of its openness and its enlightened social policy. But he also admired its patriotism and did not altogether disagree with its anti-Semitism. He knew that Imperial Germany was undemocratic, but believed it was becoming more democratic. And he hoped that the comportment of the Germans towards colored people presaged a more tolerant future. Born three years after the emancipation of the slaves, the young Du Bois belonged to a generation of African Americans who saw history moving forward, however slowly and painfully. He did not easily imagine that history could reverse itself. Perspicacious as he was, he could not have foretold that in two decades time, Germany would be majorly responsible for starting what George F. Kennan called the “original catastrophe of the twentieth century,” the First World War. Nor, for all his insight, could he have foreseen that in a half-century’s time, the country he was so fond of would count the reintroduction of slave labor in the service of genocidal war among its horrors.

 

Du Bois’s encounter with Imperial Germany is a reminder that history is always open, and that, like Du Bois, even the most astute contemporaries are enmeshed in both its promises and its prejudices. A brilliant young man, Du Bois saw Imperial German society with attentive eyes and a sociological gaze, and if he did not get Germany’s future quite right, the contrast certainly helped him see the racism of his own country, the United States, with greater clarity.

 

[i] “Commencement Speech delivered at Fisk University, June 1888,” in W.E.B Du Bois Papers (MS 312), Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Present Condition of German Politics (1893),” Central European History, 31,3 (1998), 176.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] W.E.B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn, 106.

[vii] W.E.B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn, 106.

[viii] Du Bois, “The Present Condition of German Politics (1893),” 175.

[ix] Du Bois, “Harvard in Berlin,” in Du Bois, Against Racism, 29-33.

[x] Letter from W. E. B. Du Bois to himself, February 23, 1894. W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312).

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179066 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179066 0
How Democrats Lost the Great Plains

William Jennings Bryan Draws a Crowd in Nebraska, 1915.

 

 

The story of Great Plains politics is about how a once independent region full of gracious people became so baptized into Republican orthodoxy that they’ve placed their hopes in fortunate sons and narcissistic TV stars.

I’ve spent most of my life in Nebraska, where I watched Republicans become increasingly dominant. In 1989, the year I was born, both of Nebraska’s US senators were Democrats, as was one of its three House reps. The following year, Nebraskans elected Democrats for governor, auditor, and state treasurer. By 2020 all those seats were firmly held by Republicans. We haven’t had a Democrat as governor for more than two decades, and the Republicans we elect continue to get more conservative. I unpack how and why this happened in my new book “Rural Rebellion: How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold.”

What happened in Nebraska is so consequential because it happened in other states, too, particularly in the Great Plains. Following the 1980s farm crisis, states with large rural voting blocs saw many seats flip from red to blue. By appealing to economic issues, such as federal support for agriculture, Democrats in Nebraska as well as in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, and other states were able to defeat Republicans tethered to conservative doctrine. Republicans wrestled back that power. These states that once helped Democrats become the majority in the Senate are now an albatross for the party. Five of the six individuals South Dakota and North Dakota sent to Congress in 1989 were Democrats, but the Dakotas have zero Democrats combined as of this writing. Kansas used to have two Democrats in Congress, but now it has one. Oklahoma sent five Democrats to Congress, now it sends zero. Missouri sent five Democrats to Congress in 1989; now it sends two.

During the New Deal and Great Society, the moderates and liberals these states used to send to Congress were instrumental in getting progressive laws passed that supported unions and public-power projects. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, representatives from these states backed public education initiatives, legislation that supported the well-being of the working class, and equal rights laws. Those days are gone. These states no longer give Democrats the incremental votes they need to pass legislation. And the Republicans they elect now are much more conservative than Republican politicians were thirty years ago, which adds further difficulty in getting progressive legislation passed. The region has strayed so far rightward it feels blasphemous to suggest that things haven’t always been this way.

What’s happened is that the uniformity and polarization of national political parties made it harder for Democrats to get elected there, and loyal Republicans filled this vacuum. This is a new development that sprung up in my lifetime. Some of the historical writings I came across while researching my book seem quaint compared to today’s hyperpartisan political environment. “Historically, party identity and loyalty has often played a secondary role in determining the support Nebraskans have given political candidates,” wrote Nebraska historians James Olson and Ronald Naugle. “Correspondingly, the Republican or Democratic labels have not necessarily connoted the degree of conservativism and liberalism which at any point might describe the same parties on a national level.”

Democrats unintentionally helped enable Republican domination in my home state by pulling back their campaigning in the area, struggling to build an infrastructure in the heartland to support local candidates, bickering among each other, and only reaching out to locals when there was a high-profile race they thought they could win. The perception among the people I grew up with is that Democrats pushed their party so far to the left that they’ve made elections insurmountable for Democrats who used to win in the heartland. In Nebraska, this helped contribute to many people leaving the party. When I was born, 42 percent of Nebraska voters registered as Democrats; today just 29 percent do. The dwindling share of Democrats makes it all but certain that for most races the winner is decided in the Republican primary.

Meanwhile, Republicans trump opponents with their ad spending, unite behind their candidates, and get their messages continually amplified by Fox News, local Rush Limbaugh imitators, churches, and coffee shop gossipers who keep regurgitating the same messages back and forth to the point that nobody knows who generated the arguments to begin with. This feedback loop enables conservatives to ride to glory on the wings of cultural wedge issues like guns, abortion, and immigration.

There’s no single bullet that stripped this region of its political moderation. The reasons behind this political change are many and they are not mutually exclusive.

Nebraska’s a state that used to make life hell for monied interests, rallying behind progressives like William J. Bryan. Now the state nails itself to the Cross of Gold. Aside from placing faith in a bombastic reality-TV star, it elected a governor from a family worth billions who uses his connections and wealth to target fellow Republicans he finds too moderate. Due to deregulation of campaign finance, many donors remain hidden as they spread their Washington-led partisanship into our state. Brain drain, the glut of elderly voters, the growing rural-urban divide, and people increasingly choosing to live among like-minded folks play their part too in creating polarization across the heartland.

While Donald Trump’s rise was unparalleled, much of middle America has been moving to the right for a while. In fact, this decades-long political shift helped enable him.

 

 

Parts of this essay have been adapted from the book Rural Rebellion: How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold, courtesy of University Press of Kansas.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179062 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179062 0
Who Can Claim to be the United States’ First University?

Anglican Rev. James Blair secured Willam and Mary's royal charter in 1693.

 

 

The 2020 U.S. presidential election will have important consequences for higher education. Colleges and universities await the first round of policy moves from the Biden administration. About 330 years ago, a change in government led to the founding of the first university in England’s colonies.

In 1688, the Rev. Increase Mather arrived in London hoping to secure a royal charter for what was then Harvard College. Harvard had been operating without a charter since 1684, as it had been widely assumed that the revocation of the Massachusetts Bay Company’s charter that year had also revoked Harvard’s charter. Once in London, Mather had an encouraging audience with King James II, who told him he would ensure that Harvard would not come under Anglican control (a constant worry for Puritan Harvard). It looked like Harvard might acquire its royal charter.

Unfortunately for Mather, King James was deposed three weeks later. After William and Mary were crowned, Mather thought he should try again, but was dissuaded and returned to Massachusetts in 1692 without a royal charter for Harvard. At his behest, the colonial legislature voted Harvard new charters in 1692 and 1697, but both were annulled by the government in London on the ground that the charters did not empower the crown to appoint a visitor, an official who would have oversight of the college. In 1700, still without a charter for his college, Mather wondered whether it was “not much more eligible to have the Colledge turned into a school for Academical Learning without privilege of Conferring degrees” than to accept a charter on the crown’s terms, as he feared that accepting a visitor appointed by the crown would ultimately lead to Anglican control of the Puritan college. 

In 1691, while Mather was still in England, the Rev. James Blair arrived from Virginia to acquire a royal charter for another institution. A year and a half later, on February 8th, 1693, he was awarded a charter for “The College of William & Mary in Virginia.” This charter granted important privileges. Virginia’s legislature had directed Blair to ensure that the college “bee under noe other Visitation” than by a group of visitors, mostly colonial Virginians, who had been selected by the legislature. Where a lack of a royally appointed visitor was deadly to Harvard’s charters, the crown approved the colonial Virginian visitors, apparently without opposition, and even gave them the power to appoint their own successors.

We recently made the discovery that this charter awarded William & Mary the status of a university, a fact that has been hidden behind an overly literal English translation of the Latin. The charter is modelled on the charters of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. It diverges in important ways, however. Where the 1624 charter of Pembroke College Oxford, for instance, simply refers to the institution as a “college,” William & Mary’s charter calls it a “studium generale or college.” Previous scholars of the charter failed to recognize the significance of this medieval term, which is translated in the English version of the charter as “place of universal study.” It was a legal term of art for a university and did not appear in the charters of British colleges. William & Mary’s charter also granted it the office of chancellor and a seat in Virginia’s legislature, both privileges enjoyed by universities but not colleges. The crown did not award the privileges of a university lightly. Only universities could award degrees in the British Isles, and the existing universities jealously guarded their prerogatives. As recently as 1659, a college at Durham had petitioned to be elevated to a university with degree-granting powers, but faced the unified opposition of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and failed to acquire a university charter. The crown had refused a charter to Harvard, but granted William & Mary, an institution that had not even been established yet, the prerogatives of a university, the first university that the crown chartered outside of the British Isles.

What had changed? The government and its priorities. Mather had reason to believe when he arrived in England that King James would be receptive to his request for a charter. James was Catholic and actively tried to promote Catholicism in England. Puritans were incidental beneficiaries of James’ pro-Catholic policies, which he tended to justify in terms of toleration for non-Anglicans. William of Orange, on the other hand, was anxious to present himself as a defender of Anglicanism. William & Mary was a thoroughly Anglican institution. Blair, who would become its first president, was a Scottish Episcopalian with the right credentials: he had been deprived of his parish in Scotland for his opposition to James’ Catholicism and fell in with a circle of clerics in London who saw themselves as protectors of the Anglican Church against James’ pro-Catholic policies.

The policies of the new government do not appear to have set Harvard back over the long run. In the short run, however, Harvard was left to operate without a charter until, in 1707, Massachusetts’ legislature simply declared that Harvard’s 1650 charter had never actually been revoked. In the meantime, William & Mary had received a charter for a university. When William & Mary celebrates Charter Day on February 8th, it will be celebrating the establishment of the first university in what would later become the United States.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179063 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179063 0
Absurdity Theory Steve Hochstadt is a writer and an emeritus professor of history at Illinois College.

 

My brother emailed me to make sure I knew that we Jews had space laser technology capable of starting wildfires out West. Naturally he wondered who controlled it--Orthodox or Reform? But here’s the question I asked him as we corresponded about the suggestion by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene that we, the Jews, in the guise of the always convenient Rothschilds, pointed a laser from the sky to start fires in California: “If we could burn up any place in the world, why would we pick California?”

 

Greene is absurd to publicly broadcast an idea that stupid. But many people where she lives sent her and her message to Washington. She imagines a plot reminiscent of those scary 1950s movies about some impossible bogeyman. Now the bogeywoman sits in Congress, and everybody is listening.

 

She is one sharp thorn on a much bigger political club wielded by American conservatives so they can run our governments. That club is the invention and propagation of weird tales of horror, often called “conspiracy theories,” where the monsters are liberals, or even better, Jewish liberals.

 

If Jews, whatever group of humans that label might bring to mind among her fans, had so much power, why would we burn California, where one out of every six American Jews live? Explaining the central absurdity of that idea, or of the idea that mass shootings whose blood and death we all know about were actually a hoax, or of the idea that Democrats stole a national election, is where these theories fail.

 

Holocaust denial created a model for modern absurdity theories by focusing on facts. Millions of words and photographs and diagrams and scientific-sounding analyses have been created to explain why any particular known fact about the Holocaust is made up. David Irving, the premier Holocaust denier with historical credentials, sued Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for libel, because she labeled him “a Holocaust denier, falsifier, and bigot,” who “manipulated and distorted real documents”, as Wikipedia puts it. Richard Evans, the British historian who advised Lipstadt’s defense, made an official report: “Not one of [Irving's] books, speeches or articles, not one paragraph, not one sentence in any of them, can be taken on trust as an accurate representation of its historical subject.”

 

Like most other crazies who go public, Irving was eventually unmasked, but he screwed around with facts for decades, because his political message about Jews was welcome in many corners of the Christian world. But abstracted from the slippery “facts” that dominate Holocaust deniers’ writings, the most absurd part of their message is rarely addressed. For 75 years, “the Jews” enlisted millions of the most prominent and powerful people across the world to recreate history in word and location, and to promulgate in every way that impossible history as truth.

 

Antisemites have never underestimated our cleverness, although denying the evidence that some of us actually are smart. So how do they explain how we did that? I don’t mean how we got some old man to talk about non-existent gas chambers in Auschwitz or how we forged a document enumerating the people whom Nazis had just shot. How did we bring that immense conspiracy into being and how have we maintained it all these years? We must be really powerful, beyond the imagining of Greene and her ilk, if we could create these enormous conspiracies without leaving a trace.

 

Where are the letters, emails, photographs, diagrams, and web pages, even self-constructed á la Irving, showing us, the Jews, creating and leading that conspiracy? Or creating the magic laser to incinerate our friends instead of our enemies? How did the libs manage to both rig elections in Republican states and then create the worldwide spectacle that Biden won?

 

Mike Pompeo spent two months since the election pretending that Biden’s victory was not legitimate. For years, he has exercised vast control over a network of highly trained people around the world, many of whom had been sent out as emissaries of Trump’s ideology. But none of them sent back a bit of evidence explaining how or why every government in the world has dismissed the stolen election fantasy. If Pompeo had anything that could be bent, twisted, chopped up and regurgitated as proof that Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson and Vladimir Putin and Justin Trudeau all signed on to the plot to rig the election and defend it afterward, why hasn’t he produced it? Is he waiting for his next political campaign?

 

No, I think there is another reason. It seems to work quite well to just assume that central absurdity without explanation. Somehow it is not important to explain how a group of people, many under constant scrutiny by all forms of media, could be so secretive, so organized, so depraved and evil, to run a vast child abuse ring underneath a pizza place in Washington DC. The original Reddit post that touched off this particular conservative flight into absurdity, claimed in fact the abuse was easy to spot: “Everyone associated with the business is making semi-overt, semi-tongue-in-cheek, and semi-sarcastic inferences towards sex with minors. The artists that work for and with the business also generate nothing but cultish imagery of disembodiment, blood, beheadings, sex, and of course pizza.”

 

The absence of any explanation of the origins and inner workings of these great conspiracies, the successful veil of utter secrecy that the world’s official bodies have cast over their diabolical plans, implies a much larger conspiratorial network. Pizzagate and Holocaust denial and our space laser require full participation from police and security forces at all levels. Recent conservative absurdity theories have thus transformed the FBI from heroes of the fight against crime into co-conspirators. Trump had no choice but to include denunciations of the FBI in his flights into the absurd.

 

Holocaust denial is co-terminous with antisemitism. The people whom the deniers reach already believe that Jews are capable of unimagined evil, that we are all in it together, that we exercise unbounded but secret power. They don’t have to be convinced by some sleight of hand of the theorists. Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn’t have to explain to her voters why we Jews would dream up a remarkable plan to burn out our own. Her followers are already there. They just want to know the details. In this case, Greene may be up a creek. No “space expert” has jumped in to explain our technological blueprints. She might have to walk away from that one entirely. She can blame this one on her “team” of social media producers, probably the same people who shared a video on her Facebook page where Nick Griffin, a well-known British Holocaust denier, says an “unholy alliance of leftists, capitalists and Zionist supremacists have schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation.”

 

The seemingly less absurd absurdity theories that are twisting our national politics, “Stop the Steal” or “I wasn’t defeated, I am really President,” have just enough details to obscure the more potent, unspoken, and fundamentally preposterous idea behind them. The Dems stole the election, they created a Disney spectacle of victory in an endless loop, and they convinced tens of millions of ordinary Americans, everyone’s neighbors and relatives, to go along.  I swear this is true, because some people I don’t know, with no inside knowledge, say it’s true, and I share their hatreds.

 

The believers in new undetectable conspiracies by vast numbers of satanic people overlap with the generations of promoters of Holocaust denial. That denial began with the perpetrators themselves as they were killing millions of satanic Jews, who were trying to take over the world. Without lasers.

 

Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

February 1, 2021

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154467 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154467 0
Why Voters Shouldn't Be Given the Chance to Re-Elect Donald Trump

This blog post was written by Rick Shenkman, the founder of George Washington University’s History News Network, and the author of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books).

A friend writes:  "I oppose impeaching Trump. Impeachment is the Constitution's procedure for removing a president from office when his/her actions are deleterious to the nation. If the noxious president is no longer in office, the impeachment mechanism is no longer called for."

He adds:  "Barring Trump from running again prohibits seventy million people from voting for their candidate of choice.  Several score senators do not have the right to overturn the wishes of millions.  Any democracy worth anything must give its citizens the right to drive the country off a cliff."

My response:

Let's begin with your last line, which I find disturbing in the extreme.  It presupposes that what the majority wants is what they should get, no ifs, ands or buts.  I reject this assumption.  If a majoirity of Americans suddenly decided to revert to the practices of segregation I wouldn't want them to get their way and I certainly don't believe they'd have the right to do so.  The framers designed the Constitution expressly to block majority opinion in a variety of ways in order to protect minority rights.  It was well established in 1789 that popular opinion is often fickle.  Nothing that has happened in the intervening period suggests that the founders operated in error.  I for one wouldn't want to live in a society where the majority always get their way.  

Nonetheless I favor democracy.  I hold this position for two reasons:  1.) Democracy in principle is virtuous.  It gives people a stake in their government and when it’s responsive enhances social trust.  2.) Democracy is likelier to give us better results than, say, dictatorships, given that democracies are self-correcting. Though I don't believe that voters are rational actors, when leaders make serious mistakes they are usually thrown out of office.  

That said, democracies can be well-designed or badly designed and as a result may not give us good government despite the tendency toward self-correction.  Ours is a case in point.  

As a result of the undemocratic Senate and the undemocratic Electoral College our system now rewards the GOP.  This bias in favor of the GOP inhibits self-correcting mechanisms.  The GOP can fail and still be rewarded with power.  Trump came remarkably close to winning re-election despite an unprecedented string of failures because of the GOP bias inherent in the Electoral College. As Andrew Prokop notes, "a shift of just 48,000 votes in AZ, GA, and WI would have resulted in a 269-269 tie." And a tie would have thrown the election into the House of Representatives, which, voting by state, would have given Trump the election.

Given the weaknesses of our system it behooves the Democrats to take steps to remove the threat of a second Trump administration. On this ground alone I’d favor an impeachment trial.

But there are multiple reasons to favor impeachment and conviction.

Impeachment carries two penalties.  1.  Removal from office.  2.  A ban on holding office in the future.  The first is evidently the more serious penalty.  That’s why it takes a 2/3rds vote in the Senate to convict.  The second penalty only takes a simple majority vote in the Senate.  But both are included in the Constitution.  You have discounted the value of the second feature for some reason, unexplained.

The founders did not say a president is subject to impeachment and conviction except for anything they can get away with during the final months of their term.  Yet your approach would in effect amend the Constitution to limit impeachment and conviction in just this manner.  

And those final months in a president’s term are likely to be the most fraught wherein he is likeliest, if he is so inclined, to break the law and our democracy.  For it is just then that he will be fighting for his political life.  To let Trump off because he broke faith with his office in the final months of his tenure would set an unfortunate precedent an unscrupulous successor would be sure to take advantage of.  Since the GOP is likely to give us another Trump-like figure in the near-future we have to be careful about the precedents we are setting.

The founders fully recognized the usefulness of the impeachment of former officials.  As Princeton Professor Keith E. Whittington explained in the Wall Street Journal recently:

"For the Founders, it would have been obvious that the 'power to impeach' included the ability to hold former officials to account. The impeachment power was imported to America from England, where Parliament impeached only two men during the 18th century, both former officers. No U.S. state constitution limited impeachments to sitting officers, and some allowed impeachment only of former officers."

Finally, should the people vote for a second Trump administration in 2024 and get it as a result of the GOP bias in the Electoral College you would likely see a civil war ensue or at least raise the possibility of one.  Certainly, the chances of a civil war would not be zero.  Why would you take the risk?

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154465 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154465 0
Weaponized Whiteness: Invisible Hand and Iron Fist

A Black Lives Matter protestor confronted by armed militia members after the police killing of Breonna Taylor, Louisville, KY, September 2020

 

Categorizing the riotous mob that invaded the Capitol Building on January 6th remains a contested matter. Whether dismissive of clownish performers in a violent spectacle or alarmed by proto-fascist insurrectionists attempting a coup, a common descriptive thread, nevertheless, runs through the various interpretations of those incited by Donald Trump’s belligerent words. That interpretive thread leads directly to identifying the D.C. rioters as aggrieved and resentful whites. 

 

Trump’s ideological Big Lie to “Stop the Steal,” emblazoned on banners that fluttered above the rallying crowd and then loudly chanted by those who broke into the Capitol, resonated beyond the thousands gathered in Washington. His message, amplified by right-wing media and social media, of “illegal” voting tapped into the dog-whistle politics that informed the racial resentments of his followers and much of the Republican Party since Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”

 

Even before Trump emerged as a candidate for the presidency, the Republican Party utilized racist strategies to impede the political empowerment of people of color. Manipulating the institutional levers of a deeply undemocratic electoral system, from partisan gerrymandering to voter suppression tactics, became an integral part of gaining and maintaining political power. In effect, the Republican Party had developed institutional mechanisms to weaponize whiteness. 

 

As a consequence of both settler colonialism and racial capitalism, weaponized whiteness has a long history in the United States of controlling and terrorizing racialized others through both legal and extra-legal methods. The legal expressions of weaponized whiteness operated through structural arrangements built into a system of white supremacy. Perpetuating its rule through socio-economic, political, and cultural practices, these legal expressions represented the “invisible hand” of white supremacy. In the twentieth century, this “invisible hand” of white supremacy guided racial discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the allocation of public goods and services. 

 

While the Democratic Party in the South deployed the institutional operation of weaponized whiteness through Jim Crow laws, at times they turned to an extra-legal “iron fist” of vigilante violence to maintain political power. From city-wide massacres in Wilmington, North Carolina to Rosewood, Florida to Tulsa, Oklahoma to wide-spread lynching, such state-sanctioned vigilante violence helped Democrats aggressively assert their white supremacist political privileges.  

 

Contesting both the “invisible hand” and “iron fist” of weaponized whiteness through legal challenges and political protest, especially after World War II, African Americans and their allies slowly eroded the rule of white supremacy. As the white backlash to these civil rights victories grew, party allegiances, first in the South and then elsewhere, switched from Democrats to Republicans.

 

It’s not surprising, therefore, that a vigilante wing of the Republican Party emerged, in particular under Trump. Mobilizing to defend Trump in the aftermath of his electoral defeat in 2020, this vigilante network, composed of white supremacists and white nationalists, were an integral part of the insurrection on January 6th. The violence exhibited then and threatened for days before can only be described as fascistic, especially in its disdain for the mechanisms of formal democracy, its deep misogyny, and denial of reason in favor of the irrational. 

 

Trump encouraged this vigilante violence throughout his presidency, refusing to condemn the neo-Nazi and white nationalist outrages at Charlottesville. Provoking his vigilante minions during some of the initial lockdowns for the coronavirus, Trump tweeted on April 17, 2020 that, among other states, his followers should “Liberate Michigan.” Less than two weeks later, there was an armed takeover of the Michigan Capitol Building. A small group of these proto-fascists even plotted to kidnap and execute Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Ever the bully and enabler of vigilante violence, Trump not only refused to apologize for these incitements, he doubled-down in the lead-up to and at the January 6 rally. 

Yet, Trump has not been an outlier when it comes to the use of vigilante violence for the protection and perpetuation of white supremacy and white nationalism. With cries for “law and order” and the pointed use of drug and criminal justice policies, the Black community, in particular, faced renewed state-sanctioned violence and police brutality in the late twentieth century. As the “war on poverty” of the 1960s morphed into a “war on crime,” African Americans became the target of punitive policing as a consequence of racist presumptions about the “pathologies” of the Black community. With the insurgencies of those Black communities from Newark in 1964 to Detroit in 1967, innocent African Americans fell victim to the mayhem of malevolent police.  

 

Policing in Detroit and Chicago took an ominous vigilante-like turn with the creation of “special” police units that waged a reign of terror against Black men. The STRESS (“Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets”) squad in Detroit in the first years of its existence in the early 1970s murdered a young African American male each month. In Chicago the counterinsurgency techniques and torture practiced in Vietnam found their way into a police unit that subjected over one hundred Black criminal suspects over a twenty-year period to those brutal methods first deployed in Vietnam and later used by some of the very same police in the “enhanced” interrogations at Guantanamo. 

 

Especially in the aftermath of the Black Power insurgencies of the 1960s, aggressive militarized policing and punitive policies towards African Americans resulted in the massive expansion of imprisonment. This physical and legal harassment of African Americans not only led to higher rates of incarceration, but also continued the legacy of system racism when it came to the criminal justice system. Whether through the operation of racial profiling in the criminal justice system or the extrajudicial killings of people of color by police or other non state-sanctioned white vigilantes, punitive measures disproportionately targeted communities of color.  

 

As a system of punitive white supremacist power that incarcerates millions of people of color and the poor, marginalizing them, their families and communities, this carceral state results in what critics of the carceral state call “civil death.” Hence, the absolute need for restorative justice for people of color who have been disproportionately punished by the carceral state. 

 

Confronting how weaponized whiteness has terrorized African Americans was, of course, one of the main thrusts of the massive mobilizations under the banner of BlackLivesMatter from Ferguson through the George Floyd protests. Taking on the vigilante violence of Trumpists will not only be a matter for the traditionalists like McConnell, Romney, Cheney, etc in the Republican Party and their corporate sponsors (who, nonetheless, tolerated and enabled the invisible hand of weaponized whiteness), but also the millions who rallied under the #BLM banner.  

As Timothy Tyson contends in his conclusion to his compelling history of the Emmett Till murder: “All of us must develop the moral vision and political will to crush white supremacy – both the political program and the concealed assumptions. We have to come to grips with our own history – not only genocide, slavery, exploitation, and systems of oppression, but also the legacies of those who resisted and fought back and still fight back.” Our commitment to fighting back against weaponized whiteness, whether in its covert “invisible hand” or overt “iron fist” dimensions, will ultimately determine whither weaponized whiteness and whether we can realize an authentic and inclusive multiracial democracy. 

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179065 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179065 0
Notre Dame: The Soul of France (Review)

 

 

As word spread from text to text and across news wires on an otherwise routine Monday evening on April 15, 2019, a palpable sense of shock and sorrow began to sweep through the city, the nation and the world.  Anxious Parisians lined the streets in utter disbelief.  While some spectators took photos with their phones and sang Ave Maria, others prayed in silence and openly wept at the prospect of the collapse of their beloved cathedral.  Notre-Dame, which had stood at the center of Paris for eight centuries, continued to burn out of control.  Over the course of the next few hours, Jean-Claude Gallet and his expertly-trained firefighters would execute an audacious plan to extinguish the flames and ultimately save most of the sanctified structure.

Prior to the known (and joyful) outcome, hundreds of millions of people around the globe, including Catholics, Protestants and agnostics, shared moments of dread and redemption and vowed to rebuild “Our Lady of Paris” – the translation of “Notre-Dame.”  Why did the fire at Notre-Dame both personally consume and devastate its myriad onlookers?  In Notre-Dame: The Soul of France (2020), Agnès Poirier delivers an exceptional account of the historical, spiritual and psychological centrality of Notre-Dame in the lives of her followers – past and present.

 

 

Through chapters two and three, Poirier traces the founding origins of the cathedral and explores how Notre-Dame steadily became embedded into the culture and conscience of the country. Upon its inaugural construction on the Île de la Cité – a small island on the Seine River - in the year 1161, only fifteen percent of the French resided in cities.  Paris, however, boasted a population of more than a quarter of a million – the largest city Europe.  Rather than a product of a monarchical disbursement, the laborious creation of Notre-Dame relied on generous contributions from nobles and churchmen and relatively meager (yet no less noble) donations from impecunious town-dwellers and peasants. (p. 25-31) Over the reigns of Philip II (1180-1223) and Philip IV (1285-1314), Notre-Dame received a significant infusion of funds from royal coffers and began to figure prominently in state affairs.  The original architect, whose name has been lost to history, not only designed a Gothic masterpiece but also managed to “create the highest building ever erected in a city” in its time. (p. 32-40)

In the late sixteenth century, zealous bands of Catholics and Protestants took up arms and battled to impose their brand of Christianity upon France.  Subsequent to the assassination of King Henry III (August 1, 1589), the country descended into chaos and struggled through a vacuum of power.  To foster a countrywide reconciliation, Henry IV built a coalition of religious moderates at the convened Estates-General in January 1593, converted to Catholicism, accepted the crown of France at Chartres cathedral (February 27, 1794) and visited Notre-Dame with his entourage a few weeks later to create a public spectacle for peace. As Henry listened to choruses of Te Deum in the cathedral, billets (leaflets) and town criers announced his intention of forgiving and pardoning Catholic radicals in the city, who had repeatedly incited violence against their perceived enemies, in return for their departure from Paris.  Subsequently, annual processions from Notre-Dame would mark the day Henry IV – otherwise known as Henry The Great – effectively ended the French Wars of Religion for the next two hundred years.  As Notre-Dame continued to rise in prominence, Louis XIII (the son and successor of Henry IV) vowed “‘to rebuild the great altar of Notre-Dame of Paris, with an image of the Virgin holding her precious son taken down from the cross’” for the purpose of proclaiming Mary “‘the special protector of our Kingdom.’” (p. 48-52)

On the role of the cathedral in the French Revolution (1789-1799), Poirier commendably captures the ideological contours of a country riven by extremism across the intellectual and political spectrums.  Immediately after storming the Bastille and liberating its prisoners on July 14, 1789 – the defining anti-monarchical, opening salvo of the Revolution – gleeful Parisian rebels assembled en masse at Notre-Dame to commemorate the rebellious act of defiance.  Only three weeks later, the National Assembly voted to level French society by ending the feudal-aristocratic order and promptly gathered at Notre-Dame once again to both celebrate their democratic achievement and begin the process of composing the Declaration of the Rights of Man. (p.55-57) After deposing Louis XVI in 1792, the revolutionary leaders became further radicalized upon an invasion of Austrian and Prussian armies and a large-scale uprising in western France (the Vendée) – both intent on restoring the King and monarchical rule.  To repel the dual-threats, Notre-Dame’s “bells and bronze art objects, such as crucifixes and lecterns, were ordered to be melted down to make cannon.” (p. 61)   After proclaiming the abolition of Christianity in 1793, the revolutionaries notably converted Notre-Dame into a “‘Temple of Reason’” and closed other churches.  Two years later, Notre-Dame and France returned to Catholicism after the fall of Maximilian Robespierre and his short-lived tyrannical rule.  Rather than fully contextualizing the tumultuous years of the Revolution and its collision with the ancient institution of Catholicism, the centuries-old traditions of Notre-Dame and the entrenched worldview of its parishioners, Poirier instead produces a somewhat overly brief summation of the era.

In the second half of the monograph, Poirier highlights the selection of Notre-Dame by Napoleon to receive the crown of Emperor (May 18, 1804) in Chapter 5 and then insightfully delves into the literary and material revivification of the Cathedral in the nineteenth century.  When Victor Hugo published Notre-Dame de Paris (1832) – a novel that would be retitled The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the tale captivated the French imagination and inspired a movement to restore medieval buildings to their original, glorious condition.  After years of neglect, Notre-Dame suddenly earned the attention of scholars, dignitaries, government officials, the populace-at-large and the young and brilliant architect – Viollet-le Duc.

As a young man, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) considered the two most prestigious schools of architecture in Europe – the École des Beaux-Arts (Paris) and the Académie de France (Rome) – as largely bereft of intellectual integrity, beholden to rigid and fossilized thinking and filled with professorial cliques determined to stifle original thought in order preserve their power and privileges.   Consequently, Viollet-le-Duc selected a mentor, developed as a semi-autodidact and won the attention of officials for his architectural vision and prowess.  In 1844, the French government adopted his audacious twenty-year plan to restore Notre-Dame to its original form by rebuilding “the thirteen steps that used to lead to her façade and had been filled around 1507.” (p, 108)   In addition, Viollet-le-Duc planned on recreate the original statuary – including figurines of the twenty kings of Judah removed during the most radical phase of the French Revolution. (p. 110) From the pen of Victor Hugo and the designs of Viollet-le-Duc, Notre-Dame re-entered the historical and spiritual conscience of the French on a grand scale.

Through eight centuries fraught with disappointment, disease and death, punctuated by royalty, revolutionaries and reform and infused by countless lives filled with love, hope and joy, Notre-Dame epitomizes the collective struggle of Western Civilization in periods of triumph and tragedy.  As the cathedral serves as a link to both our historically-constructed present and aspirations for the future, the socio-cultural significance of Notre-Dame upon state and society cannot be overstated.  Hence, Notre-Dame: The Soul of France deserves plaudits for  revealing the sanctity of its symbolic place in the transcendence of time.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179071 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179071 0
Unforgettable Images, and Something New in TV News

 

 

When a person takes a still picture or records a video of a sudden, unexpected or violent event—a car accident, a plane crash or the like—on a cell phone, it often has historical value not for what it shows but because it captured the moment. If of real value it might then exist in an archive somewhere and probably forever. There is a meme that nothing ever dies on the Internet. What happened on January 6, 2021 will undoubtedly live forever. Some think the serendipity of clicking a camera or turning on a video recorder is a form of citizen journalism. It’s not that, exactly. There are times, however when random cellphone images have a role to play in telling an important story.

In Washington, D.C when professional journalists, especially those in television braved that dangerous situation to create an historical record, every second and frame of which is undergoing scrutiny like no other event in modern times, what they captured is unique beyond belief. Something else was going on that we should not ignore. Along with the professional camera operators who did an outstanding job of covering the attack on the Capitol were the many journalists who normally do not shoot video. They used their cell phones in ways they never imagined. They were recording the event the same as non-professionals filling their camera with random video that is proving to be astounding. They were providing us, the viewer, with images we never thought we would ever see.

Looking back on the riot through the cameras of those who took many of the pictures of the storming of the Capitol reminds us that we cannot take lightly the power of live coverage by TV news. Fortunately the television networks in front of the Capitol were there to cover what everyone thought would be a benign demonstration, though there were those who believed otherwise. No journalist or pundit completely took into account the power of President Trump's inciting words. No one took into account how his followers would interpret what he said and become the mob that obeyed him to overthrow our government.

As soon as the mob got out of control, which was faster than anyone thought possible, and it breached the Capitol, smashing its way into the building, reporters, camera persons and producers went to work showing the events on live television. They recorded compelling, powerful images of what they saw for a rapt audience, for the record, and for future historians. Ultimately the FBI and all other law enforcement would use their pictures to build a case against individual invaders. Personal cell phones were also recording the event in ways the professionals could not cover. In a word, there were more cell phones in use than professional cameras. Cell phones were able to get close pictures inside the anger, violent and mostly out of control mob where the professionals, because of their limitations of size and accessibility, could not easily go. Professionals were inside the mob filming the riot but they were limited because there were fewer of them to cover all the angles.

We should not forget that It was an event unlike almost anything we had ever seen in the past unfolding in real time in front of us as we sat on the edge of our couches watching Most of the time when an event unfolds before our eyes, unless there is a working surveillance camera system, we are not around to see the car or plane crash, the drive-by shooting, or a major demonstration that is often peaceful but sometimes not. Recently cameras were present in cities around the country for Black Lives Matter demonstrations, especially when demonstrators and police clashed. Go back to 1992 for Ruby Ridge, where there were cameras but little to record except the seemingly endless waiting game. In Waco, Texas in 1993, only at the end were there images that shook us. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 provided us with what we in the news trade call aftermath, which was terrible enough.

I was a member of a production team at NBC News that covered Martin Luther King's huge march in Washington in August 1963 when more than 250,000 people massed in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear King deliver his "I have a dream" speech. People arrived. They marched. They stopped in place. They prayed. They listened. They dispersed. They returned home. We, and the other networks (CBS and ABC back then) dutifully covered the event on live television. When the event ended we ended our coverage and went back to regular programs. There was no violence. Respect reigned.

January 6, 2021 produced different images from all sources of a kind that became the highlight reel of that year or any year into the future. New, graphic and violent pictures continue to emerge every day often accompanied by terrifying, threatening voices primed to destruction and murder. In some ways, the images have become so regular they threaten to easily inure us from their power. We must remain vigilant and keep looking at all images as they unfolded before our eyes. The storming of the Capitol or a similar event could happen again. By keeping the images from January 6, 2021 in front of us, it might help us understand what is happening if it ever does.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179067 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179067 0
You Call This a Peaceful Transfer of Power?

 

 

A contentious presidential campaign is waged by one side with propaganda and heavily armed goon squads that assault statehouses and the other candidate’s campaign, suffering almost no consequences. The strongman candidate in power attempts to subvert the fairly verified election results by cajoling and threatening local elections officials and then his own vice president—to no avail.

In a last ditch effort to hold onto power, he incites a mob to storm the nation’s Capitol and stop the certification of the vote. They do as he commands, breaking down doors, overwhelming the thin line of guards, beating a policeman to death and ransacking offices, searching out legislators to punish. Senators and Representatives escape with their lives—barely.

The insurgents walk out grinning for their own cameras, bragging about their coup: this is the first time the Capitol has been assaulted since the War of 1812.

The strongman’s party does not recognize the legitimacy of the election, continues even after the deadly attack to try to subvert the results, and later a majority of senators of his party vote overwhelmingly that he is beyond impeachment—and thus, beyond the law.

Just two weeks after the insurrection, the new president takes his oath of office— while the bridges leading out of the city are closed, the railroad has halted southbound trains, streets are closed off, government buildings are barricaded, and civilians have been urged to stay off the streets of their own capital city.

Abraham Lincoln addressed a nation on the brink of war on March 4, 1861, virtually unguarded amid a throng of anxious citizens. Even during the worst days of the Civil War, Lincoln again stood on the steps of the Capitol to deliver his beloved Second Inaugural Address—surrounded not by legions of soldiers, but by civilians, crowds of hopeful men and women shattered by war and praying for their tall, gaunt leader to succeed.

Now the new president delivers his speech of hope and unity surrounded by high metal fences and motor vehicle barricades, guarded by a phalanx of armed bodyguards and a cordon of 25,000 troops.

If we watched this scene play out in Argentina, Turkey, Ukraine, or Thailand, we would bemoan the failure of democracy, write about a fragile government battling rebel insurgents in its own capital, make dire predictions about how long such a government could stand.

Yet in this besieged time and place, the American press hails this as a “peaceful transfer of power.”

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179069 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179069 0
The Constitution Forbids a Post-Presidential Impeachment Trial

 

 

Heaven forbid we should see another impeachment! [i]

   

In the spring of 1787, eleven years after the bloody American revolution, 61-year-old George Mason faced one of the most momentous decisions of his life. A man of deep political thought and convictions, Mason had already written Virginia’s Declaration of Rights in 1776, which had formed the blueprint for Jefferson’s eloquent version of the Declaration of Independence. Mason had to decide whether to attend the Constitutional (‘Federal’) Convention in Philadelphia with his friend and neighbor, George Washington. Mason hesitated, foreseeing a political bloodbath in drafting a new constitution for his fledgling nation. And he was right.

America was woven together by three revered political documents: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. George Mason’s intellectual potency had a decisive role in shaping and producing all three of these documents. Perhaps, Mason’s greatest historical addendum was his addition of the clause for “impeachment” of the President. Of paramount importance to Mason was how to remove a “bad” president. He personally added the immortal words “high crimes and misdemeanors” to the Constitution. He and Benjamin Franklin successfully argued for removal of the president by legislative impeachment, an English practice for discharging the king’s ministers. Without impeachment, Mason urged, the only way to remove an unjust leader was assassination. Impeachment permits “regular punishment” or “honorable acquittal.” Impeachment should be available to curb abuses of executive power, Mason wrote, but it should not be so easy as to provide Congress with a device by which it could dominate the president. 

George Mason specifically wrote detailed, precise language in the impeachment clause that is relevant to the debate today on whether President Trump may be tried by the Senate after he leaves office. It has never happened before in American history. If alive today, here is the seminal point I believe George Mason would argue: the impeachment clause is strictly meant for a current and sitting President. Not an “ex-President” or former “civil officer.” The final section of Article II specifies that the “President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States” shall be removed from office if convicted in an impeachment trial for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” This section does not say “former President” or ex-Presidents. By definition, a former President would not be a civil officer under the impeachment clause. Donald Trump becomes a private citizen after leaving office and the Constitution only applies to civil officers. The Constitution gives Congress the power to impeach and remove federal officials, not former federal officials. Mason’s impeachment language states in clear and unambiguous language the word “President.” No other reasonable interpretation can be conjured up other than Mason meant that only a “current” President could be impeached—not a former President.

Now that the House of Representatives has impeached President Trump, the Senate trial will begin on February 8, after Trump has left office. Impeachment of a former President is not contemplated in any way, shape or form in the Constitution itself. George Mason and the Constitution itself answer this question clearly. Impeachment is confined to the “President.” Trump would no longer be incumbent in office at the time of a Senate trial and thus would not be subject to “impeachment conviction.” Thus, I believe George Mason would argue that a former office holder may not be impeached, removed or disqualified. This interpretation would also honor the primary purpose of the impeachment provision, which is to protect the country from extraordinary abuses by executive branch officials and by judges who have lifetime tenure. Mason would contend that the Constitution does not subject private citizens to post-presidential impeachment. The founders rejected the British model that allowed Parliament to impeach anyone, except for the King, and so they limited impeachment to certain public officials, including presidents. Subjecting a president to impeachment after he has returned to his private life would violate this basic constitutional principle. Indeed, the Constitution itself applies only to governmental, not private action, and Mason’s impeachment language confirms this intuitive concept.

The Senate’s only prerogative under the Constitution is to convict or acquit a ‘President,’ not a former President. The penalty of impeachment conviction is spelled out clearly: removal from office. Some argue that impeachment might still be important if an officer resigns from the office so as to disqualify a former officeholder in the future (for example, Trump could not run again for president), but that argument is tangential to the critical separation of powers role that Mason’s impeachment clause envisioned: affording Congress a check on the sitting president.

George Mason was the premier constitutionalist of his time. If he were called on today, Mason would echo the sentiment that an impeachment trial of a ‘former’ President is unconstitutionally forbidden by the very document he helped write. 

 

[i] One Republican after the Samuel Chase impeachment trial; Quoted from HENRY ADAMS: History of the United States; New York; Charles Scribner's Sons (1889), II, 243

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179064 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179064 0
Not the First Mob Attack on the Government in D.C.

 

 

 

An angry mob marches up Pennsylvania Avenue intent on attacking the building housing a branch of the federal government.  Security barriers are breached and there is violence. The occupants inside quake in fear for their lives. Sound familiar?

January 6, 2021, was not the first time such a scene played out in the nation's capital. It also happened on August 17, 1841. Then, the mob's fury was not directed against Congress and the Capitol Building, but against the president and the White House.

Five months earlier, in April 1841, Vice President John Tyler had assumed the presidency upon the death of President William Henry Harrison. The sixty-eight-year-old Harrison, the first president of the Whig Party, had given a longwinded inaugural address in cold weather. He developed pneumonia and was dead a month into his term. Tyler, a former Democrat and a state's rights Virginian, was only nominally a Whig, having been placed on the ticket at the party's convention to attract southern voters to Harrison, who then resided in Ohio.

The Whig Party’s agenda called for a federal role in the financing of roads and canals, infrastructure to build the economy of the still-young country. The key bill of the Whigs in Congress, which they passed in early August, provided for the reestablishment of a national bank to help promote economic development. Eight years earlier, President Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, had killed the prior national bank, attacking it as a tool of the elite and as an enemy of the common man.

On August 16, President Tyler’s son, an aide on the White House staff, delivered his father’s veto message to a crowded Senate chamber. The bank was unconstitutional, wrote Tyler, a federal infringement on the rights of the states. Whig senators sat dumbfounded in their seats. There was hissing in the gallery. A Whig president had just vetoed the signature item of the party’s economic agenda. Democrats were delighted.

The next evening, August 17, and into the early morning hours of August 18, a mob descended on the White House, carrying torches and blaring horns. Many of those in the crowd were inebriated. They went through the gates and assembled near the North Portico. “Down with the veto!” they shouted, and “Huzzah for Clay!,” a reference to Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, the leader of the Whig Party and the main proponent of the vetoed bank legislation. The vocal protest became more threatening. Stones were thrown at the White House and rifles were raised skyward and fired. Later, a scarecrow-like figure was raised high into the air and set ablaze. The president of the United States was burned in effigy steps away from his own front door.

Tyler and his family were inside, including the first lady, Letitia, who was virtually an invalid, having suffered a debilitating stroke a couple of years earlier. In the evenings, there were no police nor other security personnel at the White House, leading to a realistic fear by the family that the mob could break through the doors or windows and assault the president. The Tylers roused some of the servants in the house and, as candlelight appeared in the windows of several rooms, the mob, apparently afraid of shots being fired in its direction from inside, or having lost its nerve, departed.   

The District of Columbia government quickly adopted a resolution condemning the attack on the president and his family by “worthless individuals” and some arrests were made. Within days, Tyler was burned in effigy at protests in St. Louis, Nashville, Louisville, and other cities. In Ohio, a demonstration against the veto of the bank bill featured a gallows, specially made for the occasion. At the time, Tyler downplayed the protests and took the high road. He wrote that “the light reflected by burning effigies has only served to render the path of duty more plain.”

When those arrested came to trial, the president delivered to the court a letter requesting leniency. The demonstration, he wrote, “was one of those outbreaks of popular feeling incident, in some degree, to our form of government, and entirely evanescent and harmless in character.” Given this, the prosecutor asked that the charges not be further pursued, which the court granted. The attorney for the defendants expressed the regret of his clients for their actions, and their gratitude for the president’s magnanimity.

Tyler won the political battle that generated the protest against him. Congress failed to override his veto of the bank bill and, when a second bill was passed a couple of weeks later addressing some of his concerns, he also vetoed that one and his veto was sustained. After the second veto, the frustrated Whigs in Congress officially ejected him from the party.

The 1841 mob attack on the White House led to a needed reform. The next year, Congress appropriated, and the District of Columbia established, a nighttime police force, known as the Auxiliary Guard, to patrol the city in the evenings, including the White House grounds and surrounding areas.

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179070 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179070 0
The Roundup Top Ten for February 5, 2021

Movie at the Ellipse: A Study in Fascist Propaganda

by Jason Stanley

Not enough attention has been paid to the video shown to spectators at Donald Trump's January 6th "Save America" rally. A close look shows it to be a work of propaganda firmly in the tradition of fascism. 

 

When the Threat of Political Violence Is Real

by Joanne B. Freeman

Republican calls for unity refuse to claim responsibility and in some cases level the threat of further violence to bully colleagues out of holding Trump and his allies accountable for the Capitol riots of January 6. This is reminiscent of the climate of threat and violence in Congress in the 19th century ahead of the Civil War.

 

 

The Case for a Third Reconstruction

by Manisha Sinha

During their brief hold on power, so-called "Radical Republicans" used their power to build multiracial democracy in the South and punish white supremacist terrorism. We face the same challenges today and must learn from and complete the work begun in Reconstruction and renewed by the modern Civil Rights movement.

 

 

First-Person Shooter Ideology​: The Cultural Contradictions of Call of Duty

by Daniel Bessner

"Right now, this one game is teaching millions of young Americans about the epic struggle between their government and the Soviet Union, a century-defining cataclysm." But the lesson is one of cynical resignation to today's state of endless war. 

 

 

The Real Rosa Parks Story Is Better Than the Fairy Tale

by Jeanne Theoharis

“I don’t believe in gradualism,” she made clear, “or that whatever is to be done for the better should take forever to do.”

 

 

Americans Don’t Know What Urban Collapse Really Looks Like

by Annalee Newitz

"Having spent the past several years researching a book about ancient abandoned cities, I’ve come to realize that urban collapse is a modern-day version of an apocalypse prophecy: It’s always lurking just around the corner, seductive and terrifying, but it never quite happens."

 

 

The Commonality between Biden’s Education Secretary and Betsy Devos is a Warning

by Adam Laats

Public education has long been envisioned as a black box that can fix the social problems created by inequality in the United States. When it has failed to perform this miracle, the education system has been subjected to successive waves of wrenching reform. It's time to fix the society outside the school walls. 

 

 

Museums as Monuments to White Supremacy

by Ana Lucia Araujo

Recent protest and scholarship have highlighted the knowledge of major cultural institutions that artifacts in their collections were looted from Africa and other colonized places, and support calls to repatriate the artifacts. 

 

 

Amazon’s Cynical, Anti-Union Attack on Mail Voting

by Craig Becker and Amy Dru Stanley

Even before the pandemic, forcing unionization elections to be held at the workplace was the equivalent of holding a political election at one party's headquarters. Workplace democracy requires allowing workers to vote by mail to decide whether to be represented by a union. 

 

 

Graduate School is a Foreign Country

by Susan Ferber

"Collaboration—that didn’t seem to be a skill much prized in grad school": the author reflects on a career in publishing, and the cooperative work of bringing books into the world.

 

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Thu, 25 Feb 2021 03:19:01 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179061 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179061 0