History News Network - Front Page History News Network - Front Page articles brought to you by History News Network. Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://hnn.historynewsnetwork.org/site/feed Trump Inflamed the American "War of Sections." What Comes Next?

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks against certifying the Electoral College vote, January 6. 

 

 

The recent unprecedented occupation of the nation’s capitol by former President Donald Trump’s supporters included many disturbing incidents and scenes, but one that captured both the prevailing political condition and an unmatched historic moment was the image of white men parading Confederate flags along the halls of our national seat of government like a rag-tag band of conquering soldiers. They achieved what the armies of the rebellious Southern states could not in the war that some Southern planters once called the “War of Sections.”

In recent months, many of the South’s white political leaders and voters have responded to the presidential election, as Alabama and other Southern states did 150 years ago, rallying all “who are of the opinion that ‘Alabama should not submit to the election’” of the President-elect (Clarke County Democrat, Nov 29, 1860, 1).  Now, as then, there have been attempts to influence the Electoral College and prevent a duly elected President from taking office because he and his party were “hostile to our institutions and fatally bent on our ruin.” (Alabama State Sentinel, Nov 14, 1860.)

Of course, today only a small group has taken up arms to protest the election so far and, the nation is not headed into an actual civil war. But, there are great divisions in this country, and, while the definition of what is southern is shifting westward, the white south in today’s war-like presidential politics continues to provide the primary foot soldiers and lieutenants in support of their leader, who is not a southern planter, but ironically a New York plutocrat more familiar with how they pour concrete in New Jersey than how they still coon hunt in lower Alabama.

Donald Trump started his campaign for president in a massive rally in Mobile, Alabama, in August 2015, revving up the crowd by emphasizing his “take-no-prisoners” positions on immigration and related racially charged issues. It was a speech and style of invective that he replicated throughout the Republican primaries, where he led in all southern states, except in Senator Ted Cruz’s home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma, and throughout the general election, when the 11 states of the old Confederacy and three border south states provided him with a majority of his Electoral College votes – 165 of his 302 votes. Exit polls suggest that more two-thirds of all white voters in the south helped elect President Trump. In Georgia, for example, 70 percent of white voters cast their ballots for Trump in 2016.

During the three and a half years of his presidency before his 2020 campaign, Trump held twenty-five rallies across the south – more than in any other section of the country – and was welcomed by large, adoring crowds who often would delight the President by chanting “Trump, Trump,” “Lock Her Up” or “Make American Great Again!” months and years after his defeat of Hillary Clinton. Trump’s rambling, often personal denunciations of the news media, immigrants, central cities, Democratic Party leaders, and even the government he headed were received as gospel truth with sweet southern hospitality.

Almost four decades earlier Ronald Reagan demonstrated that a presidential candidate need not have a southern accent to win completely the heart and minds of most white southerners at election time – only a willingness to use dog-whistling racial terms and endorse states’ rights or Confederate symbols as an allegiance to heritage, not hate. But, in the person of Donald Trump, southern politics had not seen such symbiotic adulation between a candidate and his supporters since 1964 and 1968 when George Wallace ran for president with an equally acerbic, belittling style of scapegoating.

President Trump’s political brand quickly became the heart and soul of the Republican Party, with his most devoted support in the Republican-dominated south. Any time an election in the South did not go the way that the Trump and true-believing Republicans wanted, they used trumped-up social media to blame the result on “fake news” and “voter fraud.” For example, in 2017, when Alabama voters decided by a margin of only 21,000 votes to elect Doug Jones, a Boy Scout-like Democrat, over Bible-toting Republican Judge Roy Moore, who was accused by several women of being a pedophile, the election returns were quickly dismissed in what became a precursor for challenging the 2020 national election. “Black people in Birmingham caught voting multiple times with fake IDs,” and “Paper ballots are being destroyed in Alabama,” Trump-inspired social media claimed.

As votes were being counted in November, President Trump amplified his claims that the his own defeat was the result of a rigged or fraudulent election that had denied him an overwhelming majority victory, although he felt no necessity to offer one iota of evidence of any proven illegality or any irregularity that would change the election returns. Among the 14 southern states, he lost only Virginia and, for the first time, Georgia by a narrow margin. Still, two-thirds of Trump’s Electoral College votes in 2020 came from the traditional south.

In Georgia, two recounts, including one recount by hand, repeated assurances of a honest and fair election from a Republican Secretary of State who oversaw the voting, and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s audit of randomly selected absentee votes in a suburban county that flipped Democratic meant nothing to Trump and his followers. Nor did the rulings in over 40 state and federal courts turning down challenges to the election results in states Trump won in 2016 but lost in 2020.

Led by Texas, seventeen Attorneys General filed an extraordinary brief before the United States Supreme Court in December attempting to stop the certification of presidential electors in four battleground states the President lost. Nine of the states petitioning the Court were southern. In essence the Attorneys General argued that states have voting rights that are above citizens’ voting rights, which meant that they considered individual rights subordinate to states’ rights. It was a legal argument old as Dixie, but not since the days defending school segregation had a majority of Southern states’ top elected lawyers banded together for such a cause.

After the Supreme Court refused to hear the states’ rights case, Republican members of Congress moved forward in the New Year to overturn the election results on the day Congress was required to certify the Electoral College’s returns. In what can only be described as the political moment when Republican elected officials who had blithely obeyed Trump’s every social media post went from being careless followers to dangerous sycophants, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to annul the 2020 elections – and did so after the Trump-inspired mob overran capitol police, shut down both houses of Congress to interrupt certification, and mockingly pranced through the home of American democracy.

Led by Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, five of the eight senators who voted to void the 2020 elections in the aftermath of the mob-occupation were from the south. In the House, 58 percent of the 139 Republican representatives who voted to annul the election were also from southern states, including six members of Congress from Georgia.

As a matter of history, the political map of partisan politics in the United States has realigned in fundamental ways at various times since the nation’s founding, but since the drafting of the Constitution, white leaders in southern states – even as that geography has shifted westward– have had a disproportionate influence in shaping our national standards and laws in their own image and for their own self-interest. The current political malaise is no exception.

This fact does not mean that white folks in the rest of the nation have not joined white southerners, especially in large numbers in some western states, in sustaining and tolerating unexamined assumptions of white advantage and superiority worn as their birthright as voters. After all, 58 percent of all white voters across all of the United States supported Donald Trump’s reelection in November 2020.

Most important, it would be a profound mistake to understand the long historical pattern and the current political situation as unchangeable. Quite the opposite, the 2020 elections in Georgia demonstrate that, as an Atlanta rapper famously said at a New York City awards show in 1995, “The South got something to say” –  in this case about the future of southern politics. The interracial coalition of leaders and voters, energized by increased black activism, that flipped Georgia and, in turn, flipped the US Senate, embodies the promise of demographic, political and social changes that can sweep across nation’s southern and western sections in presidential politics when their campaigns are not starved of the resources needed to reach the hearts and minds of most voters, and when the right to vote is freely, easily available to all.

Yes, the Confederate flag may have been hoisted in the United States Capitol by hundreds of self-styled insurrectionists in a social media-made moment of tragic Trumpism, but in 2020 that flag was also removed from the state flag of Mississippi by a vote of the Mississippi legislature, and a new flag bearing the image of the magnolia was approved by a vote of the people in a very Trump-friendly state. Former Mississippi Governor William Winter badly lost the effort to change his state’s flag twenty years ago, but only six months before his death at the age of 97, he said, “The battle… does not end with the removal of the flag and we should work in concert to make other positive changes in the interest of all of our people.”

That is the prophetic battle cry that in the era of Trumpism speaks of a war of ideals and ideas in which southerners of good will have begun to unite– and can reshape presidential politics at home and across the nation in coming years. The sectional war exists and will continue, especially in the outlook of many white Southerners, but a different, diverse South can rise for once – and remain for all. 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178884 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178884 0
Kamala Harris and the Modern Vice Presidency

 

 

Now that Kamala Harris has become the first woman as well as the first person of color to be sworn in as vice president of the United States, she and President Biden are already tackling arguably the most formidable set of challenges to face the country since Abraham Lincoln confronted the prospect of civil war in 1861. Significantly, she is serving with almost surely the most consequential vice president in American history, Joe Biden, who will be transferring much of his successful experience to her, with the two of them building on the 40-year transformation of the office. 

 

All this means, in short, that “the modern vice presidency” has achieved an optimal moment in its steady evolution because the president of the United States, Joe Biden, has enhanced the office he held under President Obama and is already hugely invested in Kamala Harris’s success; he will have his own ideas, as well as hers, and every incentive to further enhance her role.

 

The recently verified Georgia Senate election results mean that Harris’s duties will immediately include performing her only constitutionally-specified duty: presiding over the Senate and breaking tie votes, which are likely to be frequent in a body now divided 50-50.

 

An additional benefit to Harris in her other work is that the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, has previously served as chief of staff to Vice President Biden and is thus familiar with how the new arrangement works and will likely have her back when difficulties arise.   Moreover, Harris and Klain will inevitably become the two most Important players in the West Wing and, if history is any guide, they will be in and out of the other’s adjacent offices frequently seeking consensus on recommendations to the president and dealing with the crises of the day.

 

It’s a far cry from the 200 years during which the vice presidency was a position of neglect and ridicule. That changed in 1976 when Jimmy Carter decided to lift the office from its obscurity and make it instead an “asset” of the presidency itself and integral to the governing process.  While interviewing potential VP candidates, he encountered Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, who had witnessed his friend Hubert Humphrey, and later Nelson Rockefeller, suffering under presidents who gave them little to do as vice presidents and kept them removed from serious policy discussions. Mondale came to the meeting with Carter determined not to be similarly marginalized; he was only interested if he would have a “substantive” role. 

 

 Carter selected Mondale, and after a successful election, I sat down with the two of them at Blair House in December for the first discussion of Mondale’s role. Mondale proposed that his principal activity be as an across-the-board advisor to the president; to do that he needed unfettered access to the president and the information flow through his office, including national security discussions. After an hour’s discussion, Carter said he liked Mondale’s ideas and requested a memo detailing them. We quickly drafted and sent an 11-page memo to the president-elect, who approved it in its entirety two days later.

 

 President Carter soon offered his own thoughts, all of them insightful and unprecedented. He gave Mondale an office in the West Wing; he told his cabinet and staff to regard a request from the vice president as if it came from him, the president; he added that he would not tolerate anyone trying to undercut his vice president. He made me, Mondale’s chief of staff, a member of his own senior staff. All of this sent a clear signal that the nation’s second highest office had been fundamentally changed or, as Carter later put it, “executivized.”

 

The Carter-Mondale model has been used, sometimes with variations, by nearly every subsequent administration to the point where it has become virtually “institutionalized through use” (no constitutional or legal change necessary). The keys to the success of the arrangement are candor and mutual trust. Carter and Mondale had a weekly lunch where just the two of them could speak frankly about anything on their minds. These confidential moments helped shape a unique partnership based on trust that worked well for four years.

 

Although the modern vice presidency has become a major asset to the president, it’s nonetheless an office of almost total dependency, and therefore still a fragile instrument wholly reliant on mutual respect which, happily, was already evident in Harris’s full inclusion in the Biden cabinet interviews and other key transition meetings and now in the new Administration’s first days.

 

The vice president’s most valuable asset, like the president’s, is time. One of the features of the modern vice presidency is that the chief executive can delegate tasks to his number two who can carry them out, in the view of others, with authority. This makes it essential that the two decide how Vice President Harris can best help President Biden pursue his first-year agenda, keeping in mind that she can be called to the Senate any time a tied vote seems possible.

 

Out of the gate, she needs to move quickly to where she can make the most difference. That was essentially the Mondale model, but other principals have decided that the vice president should head up major administration initiatives, such as Biden performed for Obama in implementing the Recovery Act and other priorities.  Both models have merit and legitimacy; the answer in ordinary times lies in how the needs of the president can best be matched with the abilities and experiences of the vice president. 

 

But these are not ordinary times, and there is only one other nationally elected official who can speak with authority for the president on the urgent issues of coronavirus, the economy, racial injustice, climate change and civil insurrection.

 

They should consider delaying for six months a hard decision on which model to follow, allowing Vice President Harris to spend time in or near the Senate, with the flexibility to go where President Biden believes she can be most effective in pursuing his agenda.  That time will give them both a clearer perspective on how they can best work together, and which model -- or even a new one--is best suited to them and their agenda. The modern vice presidency can have its brightest moment yet, if Kamala Harris can take it to another new level for her successors to emulate, as Biden has before her.

 

 Joe Biden surely agrees that a vice president’s serious engagement in White House decision-making is the best preparation anyone could have if called upon to be president. Our first vice president, John Adams, who had no such preparation, captured it perfectly, “I am nothing, but I may be everything,”

 

I once asked President Carter what had caused him to focus on enhancing the role of the vice president. He said unhesitatingly that it was when he learned that Vice President Harry Truman was unaware of the atomic bomb before he succeeded to the presidency.  President Carter deserves great credit for having the historical insight to reconsider how we govern ourselves at the highest levels of our government; we should be grateful that he has lived to see this time when his idea has reached this moment of such acceptance and promise. 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178880 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178880 0
Misremember the Alamo

Donald Trump prepares to speak in front of his border wall in Alamo, TX.

 

 

Leaving rubble and smoke behind from the January 6 siege of the Capitol, Trump made a break for the border last Tuesday to Alamo. Not the Alamo—that monument stands 240 miles to the north in San Antonio. But this wasn’t a Four Seasons Total Landscaping sequel, Texas edition. Trump may not know much about history, but he knows American mythology. With his wall as a backdrop, any Alamo would do, he hoped, to create a last stand spectacle to remember. 

Speaking before the glowering 30-foot high steel bollards, Alamo provided the symbolic and real ground of division to demanded to rehash the story that launched his campaign. He claimed that he inherited a “dangerously lawless border” but that the wall has “saved countless lives, and especially I have to say lives from crime.” He later put it at “thousands of innocent lives.” He also falsely credited his wall with saving millions of American jobs and “hundreds of billions of dollars a year” that would have been spent on narcotics enforcement and welfare for “illegal aliens” who would “abuse our welfare system.” As an added benefit, he claimed that the wall protects America from terrorists and the “China plague,” referring to the disease that has claimed over 380,000 lives on his watch.

The Alamo wall is ultimately a projection screen for Trump and all that he represents. Trump is the master projectionist, always accusing others of his own crimes and depravities. On this wall of projection, Mexicans are the ones who steal Americans’ hard earned money, destroy jobs, and claim thousands of American lives. On Tuesday, Trump made a point to praise officers who “swore a sacred oath” to distract from the fact that he had just broken his own in cataclysmic fashion.

Trump has returned to the well of racism because he has found that every time he descends, his number go up—just like they did after he came down the golden escalator in 2015 to announce his candidacy and charged “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best...They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He promised that day that “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” By misappropriating Congressional funds and getting nothing from Mexico, Trump spent 15 billion dollars to put up 452 miles of new fence (almost all of it where old fences already stood) along a 1954 mile border. Another 315 miles of planned fencing remains in a state he called “either construction or preconstruction”—which in any state has done senseless damage to the environment and the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples along the border.  Scalable with a 30 foot ladder, the wall is his monument to xenophobia, physically incomplete and impotent. But symbolically, it completes him and would make him, he hoped, great again. 

“America is a land of heroes,” Trump proclaimed at his last state of the union address to a joint session of congress in the Capitol. “This is the place where greatness is born, where destinies are forged, and where legends come to life....This is the place where the pilgrims landed at Plymouth and where Texas patriots made their last stand at the Alamo.” (He even wants Davy Crockett immortalized in a National Garden of American Heroes through a last ditch Executive Order issued in his last week in office ). At Alamo, he tried to lift himself up into that legendary script. But like most Americans, when Trump tries to “remember the Alamo” he gets it almost all wrong. 

American immigrants to Mexico, who had been offered land to make a new life for themselves in Texas if they would assimilate and swear allegiance to Mexico, decided to rebel against their new country. The offer was made so that these invited settlers would become bulwarks against the two empires Mexico feared: The United States and the Comanches. It backfired: the Anglos rebelled, and the ranks of those who had been invited in through the policy were swelled by illegal immigrants from the United States. General Santa Anna’s army marched north to put down the rebellion, and laid siege to the insurgents holed up at the Alamo. Legend has it that William Travis drew a line in the sand, demanding that everyone willing to give up their lives step across it. The line drawing never happened, but it has become iconic. It is a line delineating us and them. It is a line manifesting manliness and destiny. It is a line of patriotism. 

You still hear that those who stepped across it, as the legend goes, were stepping up for freedom, or for a way of life, or for something like a great state’s rights. In fact, they gave their lives for the cause of slavery, which Mexico was trying to abolish. That explains why the central myth of the Alamo is wrong: not everyone in the Alamo fought to the death that day. One of the survivors was a man named Joe enslaved by Travis; when Travis died, Joe hid. The Mexicans let him go free. Santa Anna paraded his army before Joe, boasting that he could march them all the way to Washington DC if he wanted.

It turns out that Santa Anna was wrong, and the Texas revolutionaries used the slogan “remember the Alamo” as a battle cry to ultimately defeat him at San Jacinto. When they did, there would be no freedom for Joe and any other Black men, women, or children in their new country. Not only would the Republic of Texas legalize slavery, it would declare even free Blacks to be slaves.  Joe, it turns out, was probably the grandson of Daniel Boone. America’s legends are always connected to slavery. Joe’s brother, William Wells Brown, had earlier escaped to freedom, and went on to become a legend in his own right as an abolitionist. Still enslaved, Joe escaped on the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto in 1838, when his captors were otherwise occupied commemorating Texas freedom. Focusing on the self-sacrifice of the white male slaveholders at the Alamo cast as freedom fighters masks the true nature of their cause: waging war for white supremacy. 

Many of the insurrectionists at the Capitol on Wednesday see themselves as latter-day Travises, Bowies and Crocketts—complete with coonskin hats, or one with horns. As one shell-shocked Republican Representative observed, “They come here and Trump’s made them think this is the Alamo.”   If we were to really remember the Alamo, we would see how its battle cry echoed in the Capitol on Wednesday, when a rag tag army of white supremacists unfurled the Confederate Flag, hurled the n-word at African American members of the Capitol Police, and claimed they were the ones who were fighting for their lives and for freedom with their backs up against a wall.

Remember Joe, and the legend looks different. Remember Eugene Goodman, the Black officer who used his intelligence and body to lure the lynch mob away from the chambers of the beating heart of democracy. Forget the Alamo.

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178886 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178886 0
Will Eugene Goodman Share the Fate of Frank Wills?

Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman is honored at the inauguration of Joseph Biden, January 20.

 

 

January 6, 2021, will regrettably resonate in American history—a day comparable to June 17, 1972, when our nation’s democracy was also upended by its own president. Today it’s Trump. Half a century ago the culprit was Nixon, who had authorized members of his administration to infiltrate and burglarize the offices and homes of his political opponents. In an ironic twist of fate, two men, Eugene Goodman and Frank Wills, both African American, unexpectedly put their lives in danger to save their country from its leader. On June 17, 1972, Wills, a security guard, patrolled the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C. when he shrewdly detected burglars inside the facility and reported it to the Metropolitan Police Department. His actions that morning led to a national scandal and ultimately ended in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Despite his brush with fame, Wills was never able to enjoy its benefits and died at the age of 52, alone and in poverty. Not surprisingly, there is already a sense of resignation that Goodman will be forgotten too. Will United States Capitol Police (USCP) officer Goodman, who cleverly lured rioters away from the Senate chamber during the mob attack on the Capitol, suffer the same fate as Frank Wills? It’s a fair question given how the United States has historically mistreated African Americans, but the short answer is probably not.  Knowing few details about Officer Goodman at this point (he’s a ten-year veteran of the USCP department and an Iraq war veteran), but in view of his current position as a full-time, federal government employee with a pension and job security—something Wills always had wanted, but was unable to obtain—in and of itself distinguishes these two men. Frank Wills was an hourly worker, making slightly above minimum wage. He had no job protection, no pension. He had minimal security training and was a high school dropout. Once the spotlight shined on Wills, he had little to offer the world. It is also a different era. Although we’ve recently been reminded how little has changed in our nation’s progress when it comes to racial equality, there are many more opportunities for people of color today than there were fifty years ago. Should Goodman hire an agent like his counterpart and try to reap his fifteen minutes of fame? It didn't work for Wills. When Nixon finally resigned, twenty-six months after the botched burglary at the Watergate, Wills’ fame peaked and he took full advantage of it. From selling photographs of himself for a buck a piece to charging reporters for interviews, it was so blatant what he was trying to do that the New York Times and other newspapers called him out for it. Perhaps, his shortcomings also had to do with whom Wills hired (the agent/attorney would later be disbarred for “unprofessional conduct”) than whether or not there truly were opportunities to monetize his newfound celebrated status. Again, different times, more opportunities, and, to be fair, Goodman—and I say this with all due respect to Frank Wills, who is the subject of my forthcoming biography—was in a situation that was far more dangerous and his actions proved far braver than Wills’. As anyone can attest from the video footage, Officer Goodman’s professionalism and courage merited formal recognition. He’s recently been nominated by members of Congress for the Congressional Gold Medal, and was an honored guest of Congress at Wednesday's inauguration. The officer’s actions might be the only silver lining we can discern from this violent, unprecedented episode that is now a part of our nation’s history. Frank Wills never got his dues, but I sure hope Eugene Goodman gets his.

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178885 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178885 0
Biden's Inaugural and the Return of History

 

 

Four long years ago, newly sworn-in U.S. President Donald J. Trump promised unprecedented achievements. It was a speech bereft of history, promising to overcome past problems—invoking crime, rusted factories, and jobs exported overseas—with unprecedented methods, in order to return to a mythic past that never existed. “We are looking only to the future,” Trump said, promising America would be filled with “winning like never before.” In a repudiation of establishment politics, he vowed to accomplish them by handing power back to the people. Trump called his followers “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.”

Joseph R. Biden, inaugurated on Wednesday as the nation’s 46th president, echoed some of Trump’s calls for unity and national renewal (as most inauguration speeches do). But there the similarities stopped. Instead of finding a new way to combat yesterday’s issues, Biden showed an understanding of how history can be applied to solve the problems of the present—the pandemic, inequality, racism, financial insecurity, and environmental degradation. Rather than harkening back to America as a finished product left to rot, Biden urged Americans to continue building this unfinished project we call the United States.

As Biden—and his speechwriting team, including the historian Jon Meacham—realizes, there is no magical way to build toward a better future. “I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real,” Biden said. “But I also know they are not new.” It takes hard, painstaking work, using tried-and-true methods like clearly written yet expertly crafted legislation, guided through Congress with compromise and deal making. It is done by respecting norms and traditions in the ways the legislative and the executive branches of government conduct their business.

The president, as well as legislators and political appointees, accomplish goals—whether they believe in “small” or “big” government—by dedicating themselves to the task at hand: governing the country by making and enforcing its laws. A rededication to good governance might be a way to overcome the increasing polarization that has wracked the country for the past three decades. It allows for dissent without making politics a zero-sum game focused on power rather than a common goal. As Biden eloquently put it: “Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”

It is no coincidence that the president’s next words took aim at Trump’s assault on truth, a call to “reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.” Making up facts about past and present fueled the rise of the conspiracy theorists who attacked the Capitol, believing in the Big Lie: that the election was stolen, either through massive voter fraud or an illegal plot to rig the election by changing voting methods.

Trump and his supporters (and not only the conspiracy theorists) view the past in heroic terms. The past is to be used to inspire Americans to be proud. It must be conserved, like a tiny, pristine ship in a bottle—devoid of context. And so a statue of Robert E. Lee represents not a snapshot in time of what people wanted to believe when they erected it, but a universal truth to stand for all time. Then destroying statues can be equated with destroying history. Trump hoped to erect a garden of national heroes, an eclectic list of American personalities, more appropriate for a wax museum than a sculpture garden. Ultimately, the garden of heroes was not about history because it was not meant to instruct but to elicit pride.

Another of Trump’s last acts as president was to publish the findings of the 1776 Commission, a body ostensibly about history but really another exercise in pride conservation. The job of the commission was to respond to New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which puts slavery at the forefront of America’s founding. The 1619 Project—like any historical work—is not above criticism or without flaw, and several prominent historians have spoken out against it. Rather than collecting a group of historians to produce a more nuanced and contextualized history that might explain and rectify the 1619 Project’s flaws, however, Trump convened a group of political loyalists—none of them specializing in the history of the American Revolution. It was no surprise, then, that the commission’s report was not a work of history, but a flimsy, fact-bending and citation-free critique. It is meant to inflame and attack, but produces no way forward. Having vanquished uncomfortable facts, what were Americans to do, their chests puffed with all this pride?

We must puncture our own bubbles of pride, within which people of all political stripes have ensconced themselves. History can be the needle—a way to end this “uncivil war,” as Biden called it. Why? Because history done right provides citizens and policy makers with what historian Francis J. Gavin has called a “sensibility,” made up of all the antidotes to our current malady that Biden invoked. Empathy. Humility. Understanding. One of Biden’s first presidential orders will disband the 1776 Commission (the report itself has already disappeared). It is a sign that the U.S. presidency, and hopefully the rest of the government, is rededicating itself to learning from history, rather than making it up whole cloth.

 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178893 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178893 0
"Hands Off Until He Was Safe Over": David Reynolds Urges Biden to Look to Lincoln

 

 

Historian David S. Reynolds recently published Abe: Abraham Lincoln and his Times, a cultural biography that shows how the 16th president was shaped by the many social currents swirling in the young United States.

Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of five other books including Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography (winner of the Bancroft Prize); Beneath the American Renaissance; John Brown, Abolitionist; and America in the Age of Jackson.

Reynolds spoke with the History News Network about Joe Biden’s election and how the President-elect might take lessons from Lincoln on unifying the country after a divisive election.

Q. The November election and its aftermath have left our country divided, but the hostility is not nearly as severe as in March 1861, when Lincoln took office. Describe the scene at that inauguration.

Abraham Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address during the worst crisis in American history.  Between November 6, 1860, when Lincoln won the presidency in a four-man race, and March 4, 1861, when he gave the inaugural address, seven Southern states seceded from the Union institution and formed what they called a separate nation, the Confederate States of America, with its own constitution, president, and legislature. Soon thereafter, four more Southern states would secede, while four border states would hang in the balance.

 By the time of his inauguration, Lincoln had received several threats of assassination. A report came that an attempt on his life would be made during the inaugural parade. At noon Lincoln rode in an open carriage with the outgoing president James Buchanan and two senators in a procession that led to the Capitol. The carriage was surrounded so densely by cavalry and marshals that it could not be seen by the spectators that lined Pennsylvania Avenue. From rooftops, sharpshooters watched the street, sidewalks, and windows. When Lincoln’s carriage reached the Capitol, the president entered the building through a boarded tunnel built for the occasion.

By the time Lin­coln emerged on the portico of the Capitol, a bright sun was shining. Standing on the portico steps in front of tens of thousands of people, with the unfinished Capitol dome bristling with cranes behind him, Lincoln delivered a speech that was a bold rhetorical effort to repair the Union.

He used every strategy in his oratorical toolbox. He reasoned against secession, calling it unconstitutional and conducive to anarchy.  America lived by majority rule, he declared, and the people had spoken definitively in the presidential election. His administration would respect the Constitution by leaving slavery untouched where it already existed and by returning fugitives from bondage, as long as they were granted due process.  In his stirring peroration, he insisted that the North and South must be friends, not enemies.

Along with offering reason and conciliation, Lincoln stated his administration’s policy “to hold, occupy, and possess the property, and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts.” Southerners took this to be a coercive threat of force by a “Black Republican” president.

Within eight weeks of giving the speech, Lincoln was presiding over a war that would last for four years and would cost some 750,000 American lives.

His masterly language could not stave off bloody civil war.

Q. President-elect Biden has promised to be a leader for “all Americans.” Are there any lessons of Lincoln’s presidency that President Biden might heed as he seeks to heal a divided nation?

To achieve his stated goal of being a leader for all Americans, Biden should continue to do what he did in the 2020 campaign and what Lincoln did before him: that is, position himself near the center and stay there.

In the campaign, Biden channeled Lincoln, duplicating a strategy that led to comparisons between Lincoln and his era’s most famous tightrope walker, the French acrobat Charles Blondin, who dazzled Americans with his tightrope walks, the most famous of which were his repeated crossings of Niagara Falls. Advancing across the rope, Blondin performed amazing tricks: somersaults, flips, headstands, pushing a wheelbarrow and even walking across with a man on his shoulders.

For journalists and political cartoonists, Lincoln was Blondin  — a politician who kept to the center, carefully avoiding extremes in his party. He won the Republican nomination in 1860 because he was known as a moderate who showed the capacity for stabilizing the nation at a time when it was deeply riven over slavery. The worst thing he could do, he knew, was to inflame extremists on either side of the issue.

 

Thomas Nast depicts Lincoln as tightrope walker Charles Blondin

 

Lincoln’s moderation, of course, was not enough to prevent Southern secession or the descent into Civil War.  Yet, during the war, it was Lincoln himself who observed the similarities of his task with Blondin’s. Several times, leftists in his party— in a day when Republicans were the liberals and Democrats were the conservatives — attacked him for not making the Civil War an explicitly antislavery war instead of one fought to restore the Union. When antislavery radicals complained of his slowness on slavery, he asked them to suppose Blondin was crossing Niagara while pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with everything valuable in America. Would they shake the cable or distract him by shouting, “‘Blondin, a step to the right!’ ‘Blondin, a step to the left! Blondin, stoop a little more—go a little faster—lean a little more to the north—lean a little more to the south.’?” “No,” he added, “you would hold your breath as well as your tongue, and keep your hands off until he was safe over.”

Lincoln’s point was that he, too, was undertaking a delicate strategic balancing act. If he came out too strongly against slavery in the early going, he could lose the loyalty of the slaveholding border states, in which case, he thought, the North might as well surrender at once to the South. “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game,” he wrote.         

When the very future of the United States was at stake, then, Lincoln saved the nation by remaining centered while pushing incrementally to the left, toward social justice — like Blondin walking across his rope, adjusting his balance as the conditions demanded.

By staying balanced on the political tightrope, Biden won the support of both wings of the Republican Party and, more importantly, the majority of American electorate. His success shows the wisdom of recent plea by centrist Democrats for the party to abandon self-destructive references to socialism and defunding the police.

Biden’s vow to work as hard for those who didn’t vote for him as for those who did is, potentially, today’s version of Lincoln’s pledge to act “with malice toward none; with charity for all.” By centering himself between far-left radicalism and right-wing extremism and adjusting his balance as the moment demands — he can advance a forward-looking agenda without alienating average Americans or losing support within his own party.

 

Q. Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865 has been acclaimed as his finest speech. What qualities make it so memorable?

Minimizing the personal, Lincoln’s second inaugural address was directed at the en­tire nation. Focused, elegantly balanced, suggestive in every phrase, it offered healing to a nation ravaged by four years of bloody war. It did so by assigning meaning to the war without sounding partial or smug.

Lincoln avoided one-upmanship in his rhetoric. He did not speak for one side. He made no mention of South or North, Democrat or Republican. He talked about “all” and about the “parties” involved. Four years ago, “all thoughts” were turned toward war; “All dreaded it— all sought to avert it.” “Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came” [underlining added].

The collective pronouns helped to detach the war from a particular section or party. All Americans, he was saying, dreaded war; but “the war came,” like an inexorable force. Even in describing the war itself, Lincoln used the rhetoric of unity: both sides expected a short war, both sides prayed to the same God, and the prayers of neither were fully answered.

He directed this language of unity toward a clever debunking of those who evaded the fact that slavery was the actual cause of the war. Many Southerners liked to attribute the war to other factors— the incompatibility of Southern Cavaliers and Northern Puritans, the sovereignty of the states, and so on. A Louisville newspaper typically insisted that “the slavery question is merely a pretext not the cause of this war,” which in fact resulted from “the hereditary hostility, the sacred animosity and eternal antagonism between the two races engaged.” Lincoln, by saying that “all knew” the war was about slavery, was discarding such evasions and returning to the real cause of the war.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right”— the flowing phrases, made res­onant by Lincoln’s use of parallelism, are so fixed in the national mem­ory that it is difficult to hear how they must have sounded in March 1865. If “malice toward none” and “charity for all” may have meant that Lincoln was willing to be fair to Southerners during Reconstruction, “firmness in the right” suggested that, whatever happened, he would not bend in his devotion to civil rights.

In the last sentence of the speech, Lincoln invited Americans “to bind up the nation’s wounds,” to care for soldiers, widows, and or­phans, and “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.” Here, all- embracing com­passion merged with a demand for human rights; the peace Lincoln en­visaged was not only “lasting” but also “just.”

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178887 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178887 0
Vice Presidential Loyalty and Independence Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178888 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178888 0 Cheese to Chalk: Can Democracies be Compared to Dictatorships?

 

 

Just before the US presidential election on 3 November 2020, the American philologist and professor of gender studies Karen Tongson commented on a BBC speech by Thomas Mann in July 1942, in which the exiled writer predicted the demise of the  “scheusäligen” (unspeakable) Nazi system:  “Aus wird es sein mit seiner Schund- und Schand-Philosophie und mit den Schund- und Schandtaten, die daraus erflossen” (It will be the end of the Nazi philosophy of disgrace and shame and the disgraceful and shameful deeds ensuing from it).

 

Professor Tongson used this speech by Thomas Mann to reflect on the state of American democracy on the eve of the presidential election. She said she was “somewhat less optimistic” than Thomas Mann. Then she added that if she had to add up all the many ‘disgraceful and shameful’ deeds of the 45th president of the United States, it would take far too long, and concluded that democracy in the US was on the edge of the abyss (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 28 October 2020).

 

Others observing US developments were also concerned about whether the US system of checks and balances would be able to survive Donald Trump’s continuous attacks on its basic tenets. In particular they expressed their alarm at Trump’s refusal to accept the election result. Finally, however, the confirmation of Joe Biden’s victory by the Electoral College on 14 December showed that it is not as easy as many observers had feared to dismantle the political framework of an American system that has grown into a solid structure over two centuries. Once again, the comparisons drawn between current US developments and events in 1930s Germany have proved excessively alarmist.

 

Not only the politics of Donald Trump, but also many political actions by his pre-predecessor George W. Bush were frequently compared with the politics of Nazi Germany. A typical example for this trend were the hypotheses expressed by the American writer Naomi Wolf in her interview for the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 9 November 2007. Since the tendency to confuse the fundamental differences between totalitarian dictatorships and democratic states is reflected particularly clearly in Ms Wolf’s arguments, I would like to respond to her theories in detail.

 

Are the 1930s repeating themselves?

 

In her interview in the SZ Wolf insists on comparing the US situation during the era of George W. Bush with that of Germany in the 1930s.  Her comparison does not refer to the crisis-ridden Weimar Republic of 1930–1933, but to the Hitler dictatorship created in 1933. In other words, the United States in the Bush era is compared to a German state in which Hitler’s Enabling Act turned the German parliament into the dictator’s puppet, in which all parties, except for the one in power were suppressed, free unions and the free media destroyed. From then on, government policies could only be criticised indirectly in the manner, for instance, of the Frankfurter Zeitung. The 1930s in Germany are also associated with the notorious Aryan Paragraph, the concentration camps, the Nuremberg Laws, the November pogroms of 1938 and finally with Hitler’s Enablement Letter of October 1939 at the beginning of the Euthanasia Programme, with the aim to murder the mentally ill.

 

Outside Germany, the Nazi regime in the final years of the 1930s is notorious for its task forces (Einsatzgruppen) on the Eastern Front, which “by the middle of September 1939 had begun to eliminate the intellectual and religious elite in Poland” (according to the German historian Friedrich Battenberg).

 

What, therefore, induces Ms Wolf to make such a daring comparison? How can she spot any similarities between a democratic system and a totalitarian dictatorship? She says that “for seven years [the Bush] administration trampled on the social contract of [American] democracy... It simply expected [the people] not to notice.” As an American she felt she had the right to compare it to Hitler in the 1930s.

 

Attempts by the Bush administration to fire federal attorneys are compared to “Goebbels’ measures.” Then she claims doctors were supporting torture, even doctors

and psychiatrists who were under oath not to harm anyone and who with their signature were permitting practices defined by the Red Cross as torture. She compares such doctors to those in Germany.

 

Although Ms. Wolf tries to put this statement into perspective by declaring that this is not a comparison but a parallel, this is a specious, unconvincing argument. Even Ms. Wolf’s interviewer can’t quite understand the difference between a parallel and a comparison.  What is also confusing is that Naomi Wolf also compares the Bush administration to a completely different totalitarian dictatorship, namely the Stalinist USSR.  For her, the US fight on terror is on a par with Stalin’s hunting down enemies of the state. She also claims that under Stalin the definition of an enemy of the state, a subversive, or a saboteur constantly changed.

Thus the US under the Bush administration ends up being compared to a regime that caused more than 680,000 so-called ‘enemies of the state’ to be executed in 1937-38 alone.

 

Totalitarianism vs. democracy

 

The above examples show Naomi Wolf’s illogical argumentation. It is like comparing chalk to cheese, leading from one non-sequitur to another. Democracies, however much they may be beset by crises, exist both institutionally and structurally on a completely different planet to totalitarian dictatorships. A totalitarian regime is established not by partially hollowing out the political and social checks and balances, as is the case in certain democracies, but by eliminating them completely. The facts that Hitler’s destructive and self-destructive politics could be stopped only by the superior military power of the Allies and the Stalinist terror only after the dictator’s death are due to the complete destruction of the system of control by institutions in both totalitarian states. The United States today has a complex network of checks and balances: the two chambers of Congress, an independent judiciary, federal structures, self-governing bodies, and, last but not least, a free press, the fourth estate. Openly criticising the politics of Stalin or Hitler usually led to a death sentence, a famous exception being the Catholic bishop von Galen. By contrast, the radical criticism of actions by the Bush administration filled hundreds of columns in the US press on a daily basis. Anyone who dismisses such fundamental differences as irrelevant lives in a world of their own making. In fact, they are turning the real world on its head. This is the bizarre impression that Ms Wolf’s arguments create. It appears that 80 years’ worth of painstaking research on political science and history aimed at defining totalitarian systems and revealing how they differ from authoritarian regimes, and showing how right-wing and left-wing dictatorships differ from each other, are all lost on Ms Wolf.

 

Is there something similar in the air?

 

When, after his election, Donald Trump began to rattle the pillars of American democracy, one after the other, some observers began to fear that the “German scenario” of the 1930s was rearing its ugly head in the USA (but also in Europe) once again. There was something similar in the air according to Polish-American historian and journalist Anne Applebaum, in her interview for the Tagesanzeiger (December 2016). In his 2017 book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder added:

“The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”

 

The system collapsed like a house of cards

 

Incidentally, an inverse impression of the robustness of government institutions was propagated by many witnessing the German situation in the early 1930s. Shortly after Hitler was proclaimed chancellor, Benno Reifenberg, the editor of the liberal Frankfurter Zeitung, called it a hopeless misjudgment of the German nation to believe one could force a dictatorial regime upon it: the diversity of the German people would surely call for democracy.” Very few analysts recognised how significant the turning point was on January 30 1933. One of few exceptions was the communist dissident August Thalheimer, who was swift to perceive the imminent catastrophe shortly after the National Socialists seized power. His predictions were to be borne out very rapidly. The Reich Chancellor’s decree “Zum Schutz von Volk und Staat” (For the protection of the People and the State), issued after the Reichstag fire of  February 27, 1933, triggered the almost-total dismantlement of pluralist structures throughout the state, at a breathtaking rate. As early as the beginning of July 1933, the French ambassador in Berlin, François-Poncet, summarised the first months of the Nazi Regime by saying “[Hitler] only had to puff – and the whole political system collapsed like a house of cards.”

 

What amazed many observers was the fact that the process of extensive ‘enforced conformity’ met with very little resistance. The spectacular rejection of the above-mentioned Enabling Act by the SPD party in the Reichstag was only one of few exceptions to the rule. The Catholic journalist Waldemar Gurian noted the ‘moral powerlessness’ of those who opposed the National Socialists. He said “the spineless opponents had stopped believing in themselves and had capitulated to save their lives, not realizing that by prevaricating on the final decisions they were sealing their fate.”

 

Certain exiled Russian thinkers who had witnessed the collapse of the ‘first’ Russian democracy 16 years beforehand were also surprised at the inability of German democracy (and several other Western democracies) to resist the attacks by their totalitarian opponents, especially considering the centuries-old tradition of the rule of law, which prevailed in this part of Europe in contrast to Russia.

 

No repetition of 1933  ‘German scenario’ in the Trump era

 

Now let us return to Donald Trump and the frequent fears that history in the form of the 1933 German scenario may repeat itself.

 

In On Tyranny, Snyder writes that Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who had to experience how democracy gave way to fascism, national socialism or communism. Americans’ only advantage is that they can learn from their experience. He believes the time is ripe. In an interview for the Süddeutsche Zeitung on February 7, 2017, Snyder added that institutions would not tame Trump, since for Trump, institutions and laws were merely obstacles standing in his way, which he wished to eliminate. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former advisor, is frequently quoted in this context. Bannon refers to himself as a “Leninist” with the aim of destroying the existing American system.

 

In the end, Trump and his advisors underestimated the robustness of the US democratic institutions, which look back on a history spanning more than 240 years. Trump’s electoral defeat of November 3, 2020, and the fact that all his attempts to challenge and overturn his opponent’s electoral victory have failed are a clear indication of this. The US pluralist structures may have suffered considerable wear and tear after four years of Trump’s administration but they are vigorous, and far from being destroyed as was the case in Germany after the 1933 Enabling Act.

 

Nevertheless, the consequences of Trump’s challenges to US democracy should not be underestimated either. His egomania and stubborn denial of reality have badly damaged US political culture, maybe permanently. Joe Biden is confident that Americans’ trust in their institutions has stayed strong, despite the turbulent last few years. Yet, whether the confidence of the president-elect is justified remains to be seen.

 

POSTSCRIPT: Some observers have compared the storming of the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 with the burning of the Reichstag in Berlin on February 27, 1933, an event that paved the way for Hitler´s dictatorship in Germany. The crucial difference between these events was, however, ignored. A few weeks after the burning of the Reichstag, the German parliament was turned by the Enabling Act into the dictator´s puppet. A few hours after the storming of the Capitol, the American legislature definitively confirmed Trump´s electoral defeat. The American system of checks and balances demonstrated again its vitality. Even in the last phase of Trump rule there was no repetition of the “German scenario” of 1933.

 

English translation from the German Text “Irreführende Parallelen – lassen sich Demokratien mit totalitären Diktaturen vergleichen?” (DieKolumnisten, December 30, 2020).

Translated by Elizabeth Rogans

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178882 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178882 0
Historians Pay Tribute to Hank Aaron

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178878 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178878 0
George Washington Resisted the Siren Call of Absolute Power

George Washington at Newburgh, NY, 1783. Detail of Sketch by Edward Percy Moran c. 1915. Image George Washington's Mount Vernon. 

 

 

Most of us know that George Washington refused a third term as president of the United States. He set a precedent followed by all other presidents except for FDR and it is now enshrined in the Constitution as Amendment XXII. Less known is that he earlier refused an even more exalted offer: that of military dictator. What happened?

In early 1783, as the Revolutionary War was for all practical purposes over, the situation in the nascent U.S. resembled the chaos in ancient Rome at the time of Caesar, or in France in the late 1790s. The Continental Congress was weak and unable to raise money to pay debts to civilians for war supplies and the back pay and pensions promised to the officers and soldiers. Officers and leading financers met and agreed that the only protection for creditors, whether civilians or soldiers, was the strength of the army. In fact, the army was the only well-functioning national organization. If Congress proved unable or unwilling to honor their debts, military force should be used as a temporary expedient–as any military dictatorship invariably has claimed in world history. The big question was whether the army’s commander in chief, George Washington could be persuaded to join the emerging insurrection. Nobody less than Alexander Hamilton took it upon him to persuade Washington. 

In a letter to Washington, Hamilton argued that Congress is “a body not governed by reason (or) foresight but by circumstances.” He proposed that an army revolt could help to spur Congress to action. However, he was also concerned that such a coup might get out of hand, an outcome could be avoided if Washington would put himself at the helm of this movement, not for his own sake, but for the sake of the country. This same old argument has been used time and again, from Julius Caesar to today’s strongmen like Egypt’s President, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Under Washington’s benign control, justice would be achieved.

Washington did not buy Hamilton’s arguments. He was keenly aware of the situation. As he said to one general: “The army, as usual, are without pay and a great part of the soldiery without shirts. And though the patience of them is threadbare, the states seem perfectly indifferent to their cries.” Yet, he did not believe a military junta headed by him was the solution. In his response to Hamilton, Washington argued that it would be “impolitic” to involve the army as party in the legislative process, which might only “bring on its concomitants.” But Washington also saw the danger. He realized the atmosphere among his officers was grim, to say the least. If he would not act, the army might move without him. Therefore, he called a meeting of all officers on March 15, 1783 at the headquarters of the Continental Army at Newburgh, New York. 

Historian James Flexner called the Newburgh it “probably the most important single gathering ever held in the United States.” Washington addressed the officers but failed to sway them. Then something happened. To reassure the officers of congressional good faith, he pulled a supportive letter from a congressman, but stumbled over the first few sentences. He seemed confused, staring at the paper helplessly. He then pulled from his pocket a pair of new reading glasses, which came as a surprise to his officers, who had never seen him wearing glasses. He said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.” This heartfelt, simple act did what lofty words failed to achieve – it moved his angry, battle-hardened officers to tears. It reminded them of the many sacrifices their commander in chief had made for his country. The so-called Newburgh conspiracy was over. There would be no military coup.

The final act of this saga occurred in December 1783. He went before the Congress and said: “Having finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great theater of action … I here offer my Commission and take leave of all the enjoyments of public life.” The words and symbolism were profound. Congress had commissioned him as military leader eight years earlier, and, to Congress, Washington returned his commission. The new republic would be a city on the hill, led by civilians, and the armed forces – like any other group in society -- were subject to civilian control.

It is easy for us to underestimate how unusual Washington’s refusal to heed the siren call of absolute power was. Almost every revolution in the history of the world, however idealistically begun, has ended in tyranny. The military dictatorships of Julius Caesar and Oliver Cromwell had destroyed the Roman and English Republic, respectively. Just a few years later, in 1799, General Napoleon Bonaparte would grab power in France. Since then, many other countries experienced military dictatorships—always claimed to be for the good of the people, with democracy just around the corner—e.g., Pakistan, Brazil, Congo, Argentina, Burma, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, and Portugal. America avoided that fate because of one man saying no.

Washington’s authentic leadership was not lost upon others. The highest praise came from an unexpected quarter. According to his erstwhile nemesis, King George III of Great Britain, Washington stood out as “the greatest character in the world.” 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178883 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178883 0
The Roundup Top Ten for January 22, 2021

The Trump Administration's Thinly-Veiled Rebuke of 'The 1619 Project' is a Sloppy, Racist Mess

by Kevin M. Kruse

The Commission report selectively quotes from Martin Luther King and ignores massive white resistance to paint a picture of the Civil Rights movement as a national consensus, in order to bash contemporary demands for racial justice. 

 

Why is Charles Curtis's Legacy So Complicated?

by Kiara M. Vigil

VP Charles Curtis advocated for policies toward Native American nations that today seem steeped in paternalist and assimilationist values, but in the context of the 1920s his legacy should be seen as part of debate among Native leaders about the tension between preservation and incorporation of modern American society.

 

 

Embracing Democracy: The Storming of the US Capitol and the Positive Lessons of Weimar Germany

by Andrew I. Port

A 1922 political assassination rallied the German public and political class against the far right. The Weimar Republic's failure to consolidate itself around the idea of democracy shows that the January 6 Capitol riot cannot be allowed to fade from discussion lest the authoritarian beliefs behind it return even stronger.

 

 

Georgia’s New Senators will Write the Next Chapter in Black-Jewish Relations

by Jeff Melnick

The history of the Leo Frank trial and lynching shows that, while both groups have faced prejudice and discrimination, "the glory of Black-Jewish relations has always been more aspirational than achieved." Georgia's two new senators have a chance to advance a coalition for progress and equity.

 

 

In a Civil War, Accountability Must Precede Healing

by Melody Barnes and Caroline E. Janney

"With no consequences for their acts of rebellion, the months after Appomattox saw former Confederates regain local and state control and bend it to their purposes."

 

 

Why the Mob Thought Attacking the Capitol was their ‘1776 Moment’

by Franita Tolson

"The pro-Trump insurrectionists seeking to replicate 1776 ignore that America has consistently recommitted itself to democracy in the two centuries since the Revolution — choosing voting over violence and ballots over bullets."

 

 

White Christian Nationalists Want More Than Just Political Power

by Lauren R. Kerby

"White Christian nationalism also unites nostalgia for a lost age of Christian power with a profound sense of victimization. No one should underestimate how dangerous this combination is, particularly among those who decide that their faith requires them to retake their nation."

 

 

Four Years Of Doing Activist History

by William Horne

The founder of the Activist History Review argues that the mantle of scholarly neutrality must be rejected: it allows historians to abdicate the responsibility to fight forms of abuse and exploitation that they understand intimately, and will never shield the profession from political attacks. 

 

 

Biden Rescinding the 1776 Commission Doesn't End the Fight over History

by Nicole Hemmer

"In dissolving the 1776 Commission on his first day in office, President Biden helped end one source of misinformation about our past, a reminder that, as we work to restore democracy, we will need to restore honest inquiry and accurate history as well."

 

 

Biden Inauguration amid Trump COVID Failure could End Republican Era of Bashing Government

by Seth Cotlar

Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory helped cement the popular notion of the futility of government action. Will four years of Trump capped by one year of the COVID-19 pandemic restore public demand for competent and active government? 

 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178876 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178876 0
Confronting "Who We Are"

Detail of 1906 Atlanta Racial Massacre, Le Petit Journal. Photo Bibliothéque Nationale de France

 

 

In response to the events in Washington, DC, on January 6, politicians and journalists were quick to insist that “this is not who we are.” Rather, the insurrectionary actions unfolding on Capitol Hill were the doing of pro-Trump extremists and domestic terrorists. The description of these acts as domestic terrorism serves to highlight their exceptional and un-American character. But a look at history suggests that in many ways, these events have a long tradition in this country.

In the late nineteenth century, Black abolitionists and anti-lynching activists used the term “terrorism” to describe the political rationality of a polity built on white supremacist principles of white domination and the oppression and exclusion of Black people. For the African American anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, for example, terrorism was a means of expressing and enforcing what she called the “unwritten law” of white supremacy. Wells argued that to defy the Reconstruction amendments that had abolished slavery, guaranteed equal protection under the law, and prohibited disenfranchisement on account of race, the South relied on an unwritten law that directly contravened the new legal order and reversed the legal achievements of Reconstruction. Mob violence played a crucial role in enforcing this unwritten law, as “the mob did what the law could not be made to do.”

But the mob was not alone in bearing responsibility for racial terrorism: “the city and county authorities and the daily papers” were as complicit as local media, which “issued bulletins detailing the preparations” and public transport, which “brought people of the surrounding country to witness the event, which was in broad daylight with the authorities aiding and abetting this horror.” In short, for Wells, terrorism did not describe the odious actions of extremist individuals and groups but was a means of political domination and racial control and served to re-establish white dominance against the political gains of Black Americans.

Wells’ prescient account invites us to reconsider what we know about white supremacist terrorism in the United States. To begin with, we can see that “terrorism” is a contested term that means many different things and is used to accomplish a variety of goals. Wells invokes it to show that ostensibly isolated incidents are not an exception but an expression of long-standing social norms. These norms are not legal norms but what the philosopher Charles Mills calls a “shifting racial etiquette” that prescribes

“postures of deference and submission for the black Other, the body language of nonuppitiness…, traffic-codes of priority (‘my space can walk through yours and you must step aside’), unwritten rules for determining when to acknowledge the non-white presence and when not, dictating spaces of intimacy and distance, zones of comfort and discomfort (‘thus far and no farther’); and finally of course, antimiscegenation laws and lynching to proscribe and punish the ultimate violation, the penetration of black into white space.”

As such, white supremacy, and the terrorism used to maintain and enforce it, are not merely the doing of a few extremist individuals but a cornerstone of U.S. politics that compels widespread complicity and often does not involve the use of direct violence. On January 6, the mob attempted to do what the President and his enablers were unable to do, but its actions are in continuity with more mundane practices designed to prevent the realization of true multiracial democracy. Wells shows us that these practices have always been a central strategy of U.S. nation-building, and U.S. citizens have routinely resorted to terrorism in pursuit of their political goals.

If we want to be better than this and redeem the promises of the nation’s founders, we must recognize that this, too, is who we are. Until we confront this fact, we will not only continue to face mob violence and the corrosion of law, government, and our moral character, but also threats to national security, civil rights, democratic institutions, and global peace posed by a political system built on the idea of white superiority and the often-violent exclusion of groups perceived as threats to this system.

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178793 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178793 0
Pardon Me?: The History of the Washington Territorial Government and the Self-Pardon

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

            By Order of the Governor, …

            /s/ Isaac I. Stevens,

            Governor, Washington Territory   

 

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

 

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

 

Sources

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178797 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178797 0
Biden Isn't the First President to Have to Change Tracks en Route to Inauguration

Lincoln arrives in Washington, 1861

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178798 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178798 0
The Politics of an Inauguration Unlike Any Other

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178795 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178795 0
The History of Skipping a Successor's Inauguration

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178794 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178794 0
The Free Press and Democracy in a "Murder the Media" Age

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178792 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178792 0
The Great Evasion

Soviet-era SS-18 ICBM Test

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178790 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178790 0
The Long Overdue End of the “Serious Conservative"

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178749 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178749 0
Donald Trump’s Situational Fascism

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178784 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178784 0
Were Trump's Pardons Even Legal?

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178789 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178789 0
Banana Republic or Nut Country? January 6 Put American Exceptionalism in Perspective

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178785 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178785 0
Restoring Civil Society by Executive Order?: An Inaugural Reverie

Armed Militia members at Michigan Capitol building, April 2020.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178791 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178791 0
The Problem with a Self-Pardon

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178759 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178759 0
The Cult of the Lost Cause and the Invention of General Pickett George Pickett – Major General George E. Pickett – was our family’s marquee Confederate relation, distant cousin though he was.  Every schoolchild in America has heard of him, thanks to the ill-fated infantry charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.  For a long time what I knew about him was pretty much what everyone learned in 8th grade: Pickett’s failed charge, on July 3rd, 1863, was the turning point, the moment when the Confederates started to lose.    

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

George & LaSalle Pickett

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154458 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154458 0
The Roundup Top Twenty for January 15, 2021

Trump Is the Republican Party’s Past and Its Future

by Lisa McGirr

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

 

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

by Steven Lubet

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

 

 

Historians in Historic Times

by Karin Wulf

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

 

 

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

by Sam Wineburg

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

 

 

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

by Sylvia Taschka

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

 

 

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

by Jim Cullen

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

 

 

Vikings, Crusaders, Confederates

by Matthew Gabriele

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

 

 

The Capitol Riot Revealed the Darkest Nightmares of White Evangelical America

by Matthew Avery Sutton

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

 

 

Reviving Sedition Prosecutions Would Be a Tragic Mistake

by David Beito

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

 

 

Disenfranchisement: An American Tradition

by Julilly Kohler-Hausmann

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

 

 

The Inaction of Capitol Police Was by Design

by Kellie Carter Jackson

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

 

 

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

by Eric Foner

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

 

 

Letters From an American, January 8, 2021

by Heather Cox Richardson

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

 

 

How to Ensure This Never Happens Again

by Beverly Gage and Emily Bazelon

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

 

 

The Striking Parallels Between the Assaults on Charlottesville and the Capitol

by Nicole Hemmer

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

 

 

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

by Karen L. Cox

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

 

 

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

by Claire Potter

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

 

 

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

by Jonathan D. Sarna

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

 

 

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

by Firmin DeBrabander

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

 

 

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

by Megan Kate Nelson

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

 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178787 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178787 0
Teddy Roosevelt and Josh Hawley's History Lessons

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178703 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178703 0
Editor's Note on Coverage of the Capitol Riot and Related Events Readers, as I imagine that you are, I am stunned, if not entirely surprised, by the events of this past Wednesday when a mob incited by the President stormed the Capitol building to obstruct the verification of the electoral votes. 

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

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

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

 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178707 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178707 0
A Modern Day Lynch Mob Invaded the Capitol on January 6

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178706 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178706 0
Black Women Have Been Important Party and Electoral Organizers for a Century

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

[ii] Parker, Unceasing Militant, 150.

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178711 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178711 0
Historians, Insurrectionists and Fragile White Folks  

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178783 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178783 0
Trump's Nero Decree

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178758 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178758 0
A New "Trump Precedent" Under the 25th Amendment?  

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178747 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178747 0
Public Speech and Democracy  

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

This is particularly important in a democracy.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178720 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178720 0
Will the Republicans Take the Fascist Option?  

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fascists are anti-democratic 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fascists attract followers with the “big lie”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

                       

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Fascists celebrate violence

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Fascists reject established values and objective facts

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           

 

Fascists have no time for women’s rights

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fascists abandon their mass of followers once in power 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Fascists thrive in a power vacuum

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178702 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178702 0
Introducing Ann Banks' New HNN Blog "Confederates In My Closet" This week HNN introduces a new blog, authored by Ann Banks, titled "Confederates In My Closet." Beginning with a personal examination of her family history with the Confederacy, Banks explores the intersections of race, memory, and heritage. Read her first post here, and check here for future updates. 

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

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

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

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

 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178748 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178748 0
How I got into This For decades I harbored in the back of my office closet an archive I inherited from my father’s Alabama kin.  Wills bequeathing family oil portraits; yellowed newspaper clippings about antebellum homes-turned-museums; hand-drawn genealogical charts, held together with rusty paper clips, tracing my connection to high-profile Confederates from Gen. George Pickett to L.P. Walker, the first Secretary of War of the Confederacy. I nicknamed this trove “The Pile” and for years I kept it in quarantine.  If these bits and pieces told a story, I wasn’t ready to hear it. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154453 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154453 0
Images of the Capitol Riot Reflect a National Crisis

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178704 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178704 0
Jefferson's Other Legacy: Religious Liberty

Photo by author

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178705 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178705 0
Historical Rhetoric Resurfaced in Georgia's Runoff Election

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178710 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178710 0
Humphrey and Biden: One Presidential Scholar's Two Political Heroes Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154455 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154455 0
Leaders Have Shirked Responsibility When Pandemics Affected Presidents

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178709 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178709 0
Life during Wartime 529

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154452 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154452 0
Lessons for Today from FDR and the Progressives?

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178750 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178750 0
Will VMI Move Further Toward Change and Away from Stonewall Jackson?  

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178708 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178708 0
Roundup Top Ten for January 8, 2021

A Confederate Flag at the Capitol Summons America's Demons

by Rhae Lynn Barnes and Keri Leigh Merritt

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

 

Will the Democrats Win in Georgia?

by Jason Sokol

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

 

 

The Deep Origins of Latino Support for Trump

by Geraldo Cadava

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

 

 

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

by Christine Adams

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

 

 

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

by Stuart MacKay

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

 

 

How U.S. Pandemic Restrictions Became a Constitutional Battlefield

by John Fabian Witt and Kiki Manzur

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

 

 

Stop Worrying About Upper-Class Suburbanites

by Lily Geismer and Matthew Lassiter

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

 

 

We Can’t Let Our Elections Be This Vulnerable Again

by Richard L. Hasen

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

 

 

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

by Julia Gaffield

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

 

 

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

by David Olusoga

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

 

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Mon, 25 Jan 2021 23:12:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178696 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/178696 0