Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria may well be remembered as one of the most egregious and inhuman disasters that he has ever taken since he came to power. For a President of the United States to make such a critical decision with so many implications, simply based on a conversation with Turkish President Erdogan, not only shows his shortsightedness and total lack of strategic approach, but his inability to appreciate how that will adversely affect our friends and please our foes. We are already witnessing the unfolding disaster, and there are no words to explain how and by what logic the President of the United States in particular can take such critical steps, knowing how disastrous the repercussions of his actions would be. We are already witnessing the humanitarian disaster that has been inflicted on the Kurdish community in Syria. They are the very same Kurds who have fought courageously and valiantly against ISIS and suffered thousands of casualties, demonstrating their commitment to fight to the end, at which they have largely succeeded. The last thing that any Kurdish fighter could imagine is for the United States to betray them, having demonstrated their loyalty at a terrible cost with horrifying losses. It is true, of course, the Kurds have not merely fought to support the US or other allies’ efforts in the war against ISIS, but also for their own self-defense, protecting their land and people. And now, they are fleeing by the thousands – nearly 65,000 have already fled, and aid groups expect as many as 450,000 to flee. More than 300 have already been killed by the vicious and ruthless Turkish military under the fanatic and zealous orders of Erdogan. Interestingly, while Republicans have thus far accepted and even embraced Trump’s follies on scores of domestic and international issues, they have not done or said hardly anything against his repeated egregious actions, lies, misstatements, and self-indulgence. This time, they finally raised their voices and condemned the precipitous withdrawal from Syria. They understood how dire the regional consequences will be in particular for America’s allies throughout the Middle East. No single ally in the region and elsewhere will be able to trust the United States under Trump to do anything on their behalf, let alone take any critical steps that might be needed to protect their national security. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of Trump’s fervent backers, stated “The president has abandoned the people who helped us destroy ISIS, chaos is unfolding, and when I hear the president — ‘We’re getting out of Syria’ — my statement to you is this is worse than what Obama did [in withdrawing from Iraq].” The Middle Eastern countries who have direct or indirect interest and concern about what’s happening in Syria, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel, certainly feel abandoned. They know firsthand that the result of the American withdrawal from Syria will have serious national security implications for them, as it would affect their long-term geostrategic calculus in a region with continuing upheaval. Netanyahu has expressed Israel’s concern over the situation, stating “Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies. Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people.” Erdogan’s office lashed out, with communications director Fahrettin Altun replying, “Empty words of a disgraced politician looking at many years in prison on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges.” The reaction of the European community, and scores of other countries throughout the world, has been one of disbelief. French President Emmanuel Macron, taking stock of the situation, warned “Turkey is putting millions of people at humanitarian risk. In doing so, Turkey will be responsible in front of the international community for helping Daesh (so-called Islamic State) building a Caliphate.” For Trump to take this kind of action that directly impacts the European interests in the region, without any consultation, amounts to betraying our closest European allies. Trump never understood that because of Europe’s proximity to the region, it will be affected directly and indirectly by the regional turmoil. For that reason, they have fought side-by-side the United States in the Middle East and Central Asia, even though at times they disagreed with American strategy. They made these sacrifices and commitments to preserve the alliance with the United States, and the integrity of NATO. Needless to say, the countries that benefit the most from this ill-fated decision by Trump are Turkey itself, Russia, and Iran. Turkey’s invasion of Syria will simply not end by defeating the Kurds; Erdogan will ensure that Turkey remains permanently in Syria, as this was all along part of his sinister strategic ambition. Iran will further entrench itself in Syria, and regardless of what Israel will do or say, there will be no prospect of Iran leaving, knowing the United States will not only refrain from using any military force to oust Iran, but it will no longer have much say about the future of Syria itself. Moreover, there is no other power that could compel Tehran to abandon its strategic interest in Syria under almost any circumstances, which terrifies the Israelis. Russia, who has been entrenched in Syria for five decades, has worked closely with Iran and Turkey. It should be noted that Putin, Erdogan, and Rouhani have met several times in the last 18 months and developed their own scheme about Syria’s future. It is quite clear that Putin and Rouhani certainly supported Erdogan’s invasion, which explains why neither Russia nor Iran have said one word about Turkey’s gross transgression. It is no secret that Trump’s decision was also largely motivated by his financial interest in Turkey, which goes back many years to 2012, with the opening of Trump Towers in Istanbul. To think though, that the President of the United States would sell America’s interests and abandon its allies for the sake of personal financial gain is not merely outrageous but criminal. To me, this amounts to nothing less than treason.
Fifty years ago, computers at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute were linked in an experiment that later would be described as the birth of the internet. Yet, as explained by Harlan Lebo, author of 100 Days: How Four Events in 1969 Shaped America (Amazon, Barnes & Noble), key advances would be vital to transform that infant technology into the dominant communication technology we use today.
“I don’t feel like a father of anything. It’s not how I think of myself. Every now and again, I think, ‘you know what? I invented the search engine.”
– Alan Emtage, developer of “Archie,” the first search engine
The internet may have been “born” in October 1969, but it then percolated for years as complex, near-impenetrable masses of data stored in computers around the world. The information was accessible only to scientists and government agencies who knew precisely how and where to look. Online technology would evolve for more than two decades before it would become practical for everyone to use. Four key developments in particular would make that transformation possible.
In March 1983, Paul Mockapetris, a computer engineer at the University of Southern California, proposed a new system for managing online content that would eliminate the confusion in how digital information is identified.
Mockapetris proposed a structure that labeled information using what he called a Domain Name System, or DNS. The name for each domain (soon to be known as websites) would be followed by an “extension” that described the type of organization: for instance, private companies were identified with “.com” (such as nytimes.com for The New York Times), or “.gov” for government organizations (nasa.gov), or “.edu” for schools (harvard.edu).
Many extensions would be created in the next three decades – some of them abbreviations (such as .net,” “.cc,” or “.co,”) and others full words (everything from “.gold” to “.attorney” to “.party.”) – and continue to be developed.
By using domain names, identifying a website became much clearer and vastly simplified how the internet could be understood and accessed. The first domain name for a company – symbolics.com – was established in March 1985; the site still exists today.
Like many other internet innovators, Mockapetris chose to develop his system without charge; he earned nothing from a development that would affect every one of the billions of websites worldwide. Later, Mockapetris would joke about his decision.
“A friend of mine said I was smart enough to invent the DNS,” he said, “but not smart enough to own it.”
In the hallway of Building 1 on the French-Swiss border where Tim Berners-Lee worked at the European Organization for Nuclear Research – better known as CERN – the plaque on the wall begins with large black engraved letters: “Where the Web was Born.”
In 1991, Berners-Lee was at CERN as a software consultant, and he felt stymied by the limited abilities of computers to share information.
“I found it frustrating that in those days, there was different information on different computers, but you had to log on to different computers to get at it,” Berners-Lee recalled. “Also, sometimes you had to learn a different program on each computer.”
“Can’t we convert every information system,” Berners-Lee proposed, “so that it looks like part of some imaginary information system which everyone can read?”
From that frustration grew Berners-Lee’s interest in developing a method that would standardize how information could be shared by computers online.
In March 1989, Berners-Lee collaborated with Robert Cailliau on a project that merged a recipe of earlier developments into a to create a new way for users to access information online.
“Most of the technology involved in the web, like hypertext, had been designed already,” Berners-Lee said. “I just had to put them together. It was… going to a higher level of abstraction.”
What Berners-Lee described as “a higher level of abstraction” was an inspired innovation that would transform how information could be stored and accessed online. Berners-Lee, working with Cailliau, had invented the World Wide Web.
Cailliau named their innovation during discussions in the CERN cafeteria.
“Tim and I (tried) to find a catching name for the system,” Cailliau recalled. “I was determined that the name should not be taken from Greek mythology. Tim proposed “World Wide Web.” I liked this very much, except that it is difficult to pronounce in French.”
By May 1991, CERN released the software for the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee created the first-ever “website” at CERN. Unveiled in August 1991, the website, in plain text with no formatting or design, provides basic information about the World Wide Web project (A duplicate of the original website is still posted here). The World Wide Web was opened to everyone.
In April 1993, CERN took the step that assured the thriving of the World Wide Web and released the software into the public domain.
Recalled Berners-Lee: “CERN’s decision to make the Web foundations and protocols available…royalty free, and without additional impediments, was crucial to the Web’s existence. Without this commitment, the enormous individual and corporate investment in Web technology simply would never have happened, and we wouldn’t have the Web today.”
Before the work of Berners-Lee and Cailliau on the World Wide Web transformed the internet into a functional global system for all to use, progress was already underway on a development that would convert the access of information online into a simple, productive experience – for general users, perhaps the single most important step in the transformation of the internet into a powerful, near-instant source of information and access.
Even with the addition of domain names, the internet was still hard to explore and difficult to sort through. In the late 1980s, when the totalnumber of websites was less than one million – let alone the billions of addresses that exist today – finding information without knowing a specific address was nearly impossible, akin to going to the Library of Congress and trying to find a specific sentence just by paging through the books.
Before there was any hope of the internet becoming a practical tool, users – especially the general public – needed devices that would help.
In retrospect, the solution was so important that today it is impossible to imagine the internet without it. But computer networks existed for almost 20 years before anyone developed a practical method to quickly identify information and its location anywhere. What was needed was a tool that would cut through the jungle and find the treasure; it would be called a search engine.
Alan Emtage would later state with pride that he was the first person from Barbados, and also the first from the Caribbean, to be elected to the Internet Hall of Fame – an honor he received in 2017. Emtage choose a frostier climate for his college education, heading north to McGill University in Montreal, to study computer science. While training for his graduate degree in 1989, Emtage created a collection of software that he called “resource discovery tools” – services that the average user could employ to routinely connect to computers around the world, and automatically download listings of files available to the public.
“It happened organically,” Emtage would say of his work, “I didn’t have to ford rivers or climb mountains.”
These tools, which Emtage called “Archie” (short for “Archive”) would combine to serve as the world’s first internet search engine, pioneering many of the techniques still used by search engines today (for an example of the original Archie page, go here).
Emtage was yet another internet innovator who deliberately chose to not patent his discovery – a decision that would have earned him millions as other search engines were developed that contained his fundamental processes.
“I’m not a billionaire; that’s OK with me,” Emtage told an audience when he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2017. “We thought about [licensing] it long and hard, to do so would strangle the baby in the crib – it would restrict the ability of people to use what we had learned and expand on it.
“The internet as we know it today would not exist were it not for the fact that a lot of the organizations and individuals allowed the fruit of their work to be used for free.”
Emtage is also a rare technology groundbreaker who routinely declines recognition as being a “father” of the internet (although he graciously passes along credit to Archie for being “the great-great grandfather of Google and all of those other search engines”).
“I don’t feel like a father of anything,” Emtage told a reporter in 2013. “It’s not how I think of myself. Every now and again, I think, ‘you know what? I invented the search engine.’”
Archie was a useful first step toward practical searching online. However, it was a rudimentary program and, for general-interest internet users, unwieldy to use.
Many more tools for accessing the internet would follow – Infoseek, Aliweb, and WebCrawler were among many names that came and went. But one tool in particular for accessing the internet that debuted in 1993 would outshine most others, primarily because of what it represented for both the form and function of how users would go online.
For the 20-year-old Marc Andreessen in 1991, the internet seemed like a giant opportunity waiting to happen.
“The whole internet phenomenon had been gaining momentum for the past decade,” said Andreessen years later, “but it was still very much limited to a small audience of people. It wasn’t friendly enough for people who wanted to do interesting things.”
Andreessen, while still an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and programmer Eric Bina, found a way to help millions do those interesting things. Andreessen and Bina developed a web browser that was both useful and engaging: released for a variety of computers in late 1993, they called their software Mosaic.
Where other browsers were bland and required multiple steps by users, Mosaic was alive with opportunity – a pleasant user-friendly screen, icons for choices, and – a particularly handy new innovation – bookmarks that would store the address of a chosen website for later use.
In other works, recalled Andreessen, “it was appealing to non-geeks.”
Mosaic cut to the core of what users wanted when they went online: software that was practical, but also appealing and intuitive.
Mosaic was the jump-start that the internet needed to capture the public’s interest – by mid-1994, more than 50,000 users a month were downloading the browser – and Mosaic is remembered as one of the prime catalysts for igniting the internet.
“Mosaic,” wrote Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols of ZDNet on the browser’s 25th birthday, “changed everything.”
Andreessen, at 22, would soon join entrepreneur and computer scientist James Clark in Silicon Valley, creating the company that (after haggling with the University of Illinois over the term “Mosaic”) became known as Netscape.
Netscape would dominate as a web browser; four months after the company released Mosaic Netscape 0.9, it accounted for 75 percent of all browsers.
In the mid-1990s, Andreessen would be portrayed as one of the young darlings in the emergence of Silicon Valley – an unconventional, anything-goes, financial adventurer; when he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in February 1996, Andreessen, in jeans and with bare feet, sat in an ornate chair next to the headline, “The Golden Geeks.”
Netscape would be acquired in March 1999 for $4.2 billion, making Andreessen one of the world’s richest computer scientists – four months before his 27th birthday.
The creation of the World Wide Web, domain names, search engines, and web browsers – four essential milestones in the evolution of the internet from a technical tool into a functional, practical, appealing device that could be used by everyone. The transformation had begun; digital communication would never be the same.
Donald Trump has a defense. There is a case to be made that the discussions he initiated with people in Ukraine should not lead to impeachment. Let’s imagine that defense. Maybe there is another phone call, shortly after July 25, where Trump tells Zelensky that there is no link between our relationship to Ukraine and their investigating Biden. Maybe there is evidence that what looks plainly like efforts coerce Ukraine’s gas system for personal gain by Trump’s envoys to Ukraine didn’t happen that way.
Maybe one could argue that Trump didn’t mean what he said to Zelensky. That would hard, though, given that he also said it to the Australian Prime Minister and to all of China. Or better, that he was completely ignorant of this law, because of his only distant contact with the rules of his office. Trump has demonstrated ignorance of many important aspects of his job, but to call this an honest mistake requires one to ignore everything that happened afterward. Maybe there were conversations in the White House about how to correct this mistake. We don’t know of any.
Right now that case is entirely theoretical, because the evidence we already have does point to impeachment. Many important people in the White House were appalled by the whole process around the fateful phone call, which seem to contain clear evidence of a crime. We know the major task of numerous White House officials was to hide evidence of the contents of this call.
Such plausible and implausible defenses are possible. It is striking that no Republicans are making them.
The Washington Post has usefully published statements from every Republican Senator who would say anything. Zero support the impeachment inquiry. Perhaps the best clue to Republican thinking about Trump is that none of them are offering any evidence, any argument, any reason. Instead, we hear two versions of the same non-defense, that there is no evidence of anything like a crime.
The first version is that what Trump said on the phone with Zelensky was fine, or as Trump says, “perfect”. Sen. Thom Tillis from North Carolina: “The transcript debunks the Democrats’ false claims against President @realDonaldTrump and demonstrates that their call to impeach him is a total farce.” Sen. John Cornyn from Texas: “We have the transcript of the call which doesn’t live up to the complaintant’s fevered accusations.”
Another version of this defense is that it was unfortunate that Trump said what he said, but not very serious. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: “I’m not a fan of the way in many cases the president goes about this and I would prefer he would not raise an issue like that with a foreign leader.” Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio: “He should not have brought up the Joe Biden issue, but again, there was no quid pro quo and I think the Democrats’ rush to impeachment is totally unwarranted.” This qualifies as courage among Republicans.
Usually this line is combined with attacks on Democrats and the media for even considering the issue. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma: “I think they’ve been looking for a way to impeach the president for years. I think they’re upset with him politically.” Sen. Todd Young of Indiana: “One thing is clear, the far-left has been desperate to get rid of President Trump since day one.” Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas: “Democrats have long sought to weaken the president, appease their base and further divide the country through impeachment. This latest action demonstrates their willingness to blindly follow this obsession regardless of the facts.”
The most radical formulation attacks the whistleblower personally. Trump leads this “defense”. He said, “I think a whistleblower should be protected, if the whistleblower is legitimate.” He labelled the “so-called whistleblower” part of a “political hack job.” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said the whistleblower’s identity should be revealed.
A second version was displayed by Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. When a CNN reporter asked her whether it’s appropriate for a president to solicit campaign assistance from a foreign power, she responded, “We’ll have to wait. We don’t have the facts in front of us. And what we see pushed out through the media, we don’t know what is accurate at this point.” A questioner at a meeting in her home state said, “When are you guys going to say, “Enough”? You stand there in silence.” She responded helpfully, “Whistle-blowers should be protected. Corruption wherever it is should be ferreted out.”
This “we don’t know yet” version says that what we do know about the call and Trump’s other actions is not enough. Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina: “He’s not really a whistleblower, so it’s really more hearsay.” Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho: “I will wait for further information regarding the facts of this matter and refrain from speculating.” Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado: “I joined my Senate colleagues in unanimously supporting the release of the whistleblower report, and I support the Senate Intelligence Committee’s on-going bipartisan review to gather all of the facts. Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry to appease the far-left isn’t something the majority of Americans support and will sharply divide the country.” But Gardner’s wrong: a majority of Americans do now support the inquiry. A poll from a week ago found 55% supported an impeachment inquiry.
Only a very few Republican Senators have taken the evidence we all have seen seriously. Mitt Romney of Utah appears to be leading those who are most anxious: “It remains troubling in the extreme. It’s deeply troubling.” Susan Collins of Maine remains true to her pretense at independence: “I thought the president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent. It’s completely inappropriate.” What about Ukraine?
Republicans have been running away from evidence about Donald Trump since 2016. Evidence about his business dealings, evidence about his lying, evidence about his sexual attacks on many unwilling women, evidence about the climate, evidence from the Mueller probe. They and Trump together are trying to achieve a new normal, in which evidence doesn’t matter at all, only what side you are on.
The last time a Republican was impeached for trying to tamper with a presidential election and then covering it up, that strategy didn’t work.
Before anyone can make a good judgment about breaking rules, we have to know the rules. Does a certain behavior fall outside of the law? It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the rules. Ignorance of the law is no defense, says the Bible, Greek philosophers, and Roman law. Republicans are following a different motto: “I’ll tell you what is legal and what is not legal later, when I find out more about what Trump did.”
That’s not leadership. That’s not responsibility. That’s not supporting the Constitution. That’s corruption.
Jerry Mulligan was an American GI artist who elected to live in Paris when World War II ended and the City of Lights was free of Nazi occupation. The talented painter produced work after work in his studio but his career alongside the Champs Elysee was going nowhere. Then he meets a songwriter, Adam Hochberg. They are searching for love and then the gorgeous dancer Lise Dassin arrives like the sun rising over the Seine River on a warm Paris morning.
Shortly afterward, Jerry meets Milo Davenport, a good-looking, rich American art patron who has a deep desire for his paintings and a deeper desire for him. Romance is in the air.
Well, yes and no. The story of Jerry and his two women, set to scrumptious music by George and Ira Gershwin, is the heart of the play An American in Paris, with book by Criag Lucas, that just opened at the Westchester Broadway Theater, in Elmsford, New York. It is an enthralling, eye pleasing and tune popping show featuring several really talented singers and dancers. It gives the audience a wonderful look at the art scene in Paris and a history of post war Paris that was artistically rich but economically wobbly.
Everybody remembers the An American in Paris movie, that starred the brilliant singer and dancer, Gene Kelly. It premiered in 1951 and is shown on television frequently (I saw it again two weeks ago). It is a story that has many twists and turns and leaves you with the feeling that all is lost between Jerry and Lise, the love of his life.
But wait…..this is a Hollywood musical…
I saw An American in Paris on Broadway four years ago. It was a wonderful show. I wanted to see it again, in upstate New York, because the musical is being produced in a very different theater, one with the audience on three sides of the stage, and I wondered how they could stage such a Broadway-perfect musical there. Well, they have.
It is surprisingly good, a musical ice cream sundae, with all the toppings. The director of the show, Richard Stafford, added two small stages at the sides of the main stage to serve as platforms for vignettes. The play starts on one, with songwriter Hochberg serving as the initial narrator of the story. Later Jerry, on one side stage, falls in love with Lise, on the other, when they meet in a Paris street crowd. It houses other scenes too. Stafford also really spreads out the show as the performers play to all three sides of the audience.
The story is simple, yet complex, as all historical tales seem to be. Jerry tries his best to win the heart of ballet fledgling Lise, but cannot. That’s because she has a deep, dark secret, still lingering from the war. He gives up after many efforts to charm her. Milo Davenport, bound and determined to win Jerry’s heart, does everything she can for him and appears to be well on her way down the aisle. But…
Audiences in upstate New York, like audiences everywhere, revel in the gorgeous music of An American in Paris, that includes memorable songs such as I’ve Got Rhythm, The Man I Love and ‘S Wonderful. In addition to the music, the play has marvelous choreography, supervised by Stafford as well. The famous seventeen minute long ballet at the end of the play, something Gene Kelly insisted on, ends the show. One complaining member of the audience said that the show “has too much dancing.” Yes, and Muhammad Ali’s fights had too much boxing.
There is a lot of history in the play. Milo continually criticizes Parisians who collaborated with the Nazis during the five years of occupation. There is history about the good people of Paris, and France, who hid Jews in their homes and about the resistance fighters that battled the Germans from the shadows. You learn much about the old café days of the 1920s in Paris and the troubled efforts to revive them in 1945.
Director Stafford gets superb performances from Deanna Doyle as dancer Lise, Tommaso Antico as songwriter Hochberg, Jonathan Young as Henri Baurel, and Lauren Sprague as Milo Davenport. The star of the show, though, is the spirited and gifted Brandon Haagenson as Jerry Mulligan. Like Gene Kelly, he dominates the story from start to finish. Haagenson, like Kelly, is a good dancer, actor and singer. He plays the role as his own, though and does not emulate Kelly.
An American in Paris is a complicated story of a man who loves a woman. You cheer for lovable Jerry, fear for Milo and Lise and their futures and, most of all, swoon in your chair listening to Gershwin’s showstopper ‘S Wonderful.
After Jerry, LIse and Milo sing and dance their way through the story, you say to yourself, well, Paris will never be the same.
Oh, yes it will. Thank God for that.
PRODUCTION The musical is produced by Bill Stutler, Bob Funking and USA TISO. Scenic Design: Steve Loftus, Costumes: Keith Nielsen, Lighting: Andrew Gmoser, Sound: Mark Zuckerman The show is directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford. Joseph Cullinane is the associate choreographer. The show runs through November 24.
The Wizard of Oz, that 1939 classic movie, remains one of America’s most popular films and its star, teen Judy Garland, one of our most beloved actresses. What happened to Judy before the movie that launched her career at age 15, though? Was it a typical Hollywood success story? Something different? Mystery?
Now the story is being told in a bright, cheerful new musical, Chasing Rainbows, the Road to Oz, that opened last week at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey.
The charming show stars Ruby Rakos as Dorothy (Judy’s real name was Frances Gumm), who is nothing short of sensational as Judy, who danced through Oz with the Lion, the Tin Man and Scarecrow. Rakos is not only a delightful actress, but has a knock out, hold on to your hat voice. She’s loud and proud and when she sings she wakes up people in Canada.
Chasing Rainbows is Judy’s story from the age of ten or so to the making of the marvelous movie. She is the daughter of a very pushy and greedy stage mother, Ethel Gumm. Like many moms of the era, Ethel travels around on the vaudeville theater circuit with her kids and husband Frank. Wanting more, she settles in Hollywood and shoves the kids into the movies. She leaves Frank, a rock solid, Judy loving dad, back home as she settles in her new home in Hollywood. The girls miss Dad, he misses them and they eventually hook up.
Frances Gumm changes her name to Judy Garland, as so many performers changed their names in those days and goes to MGM. Nobody there likes the teenager. From studio head L.B. Mayer on down, they all think she is ugly, too heavy, sings too loud and does not fit in with all the other young actresses whom Mayer considers his stars. Judy calls them all “dolls.” She perseveres and is befriended by Mayer’s secretary, Kay Koverman, who continually pushes for roles.
She does not get them. Everybody else becomes famous and Judy winds up as just a singer on a studio radio show with a tiny audience.
A lot transpires. Her parents drop off (long story there), others in the studio grab roles she wanted, such as little Shirley Temple, and Judy is distraught. Even sort-of boyfriend Mickey Rooney, with whom she will later make many movies with, can’t get her out of her funk.
All of a sudden, here comes The Wizard of Oz, a picture that Mayer produced only because he wanted to top Walt Disney’ Snow White. Judy lands the role of Dorothy and gets to sing her signature song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, that became an American classic (a lot of people at the studio hated the song and originally cut it from the movie, but it was restored).
Her history gets battered a bit. There was a lot of tension during the Wizard. Actors came and went, as did a handful of directors. The theme was changed several times, the promotional campaign was solidified and then scrubbed. It’s hard to get through all of this in a play, but the director of Chasing Rainbows, Denis Jones, does it rather smoothly.
The show ends with the premier of the movie and you do not learn anything of Judy’s rather tragic adult life, and that’s good. This is a feel-good show about Judy and Oz in 1939 and should end with the actors off to see the Wizard. The move about Judy’s last years, Judy, is playing two blocks from the theater where I saw the play. How ironic is that?
The musical is a good one, but has its problems. First, it is way too long, nearly three hours. That’s a lot of time on the yellow brick road. The first act is nearly one and a half hours and director Jones could ax five or six songs from it. All of those songs sound the same and carry the same theme. They could go without hurting the storyline and trim the time nicely.
The whole first act is too cluttered with family business and at times you get Judy confused with other members of her family. Mom’s marriage is given little time on stage and that’s too bad. The pace of act one is a bit slow. Act two is just masterful, though. It is the story of the making of the movie and Judy’s growth as an actress, along with her relationship with Rooney. Most of the best songs are in it and the choreography, also by Jones, is delectable.
Johns gets a bravura performance from Rakos as Judy. She is electric. He also gets fine performances from Max Von Essen as dad Frank Gumm, Lesli Margherita as mom Ethel, Michael Wartellas a bouncy Mickey Rooney (who was charged, OMG, with being a bad kisser, a charge that got a laugh since Rooney was married eight times), Karen Mason as Kay Koverman. Stephen De Rosa is wonderful as the crusty, grumpy Louis B. Mayer, the movie mogul who struts about the stage and makes history with his emotions and feelings about stars and scripts.
Chasing Rainbows, although a bit long and overly tuneful, is a fine look at Hollywood history and the life of one of its great stars.
PRODUCTION: The play is produced by the Paper Mill Playhouse. Sets: Alexander Dodge, Costumes: Linda Cho, Lighting: Japhy Weideman, Sound: Matt Kraus The show is directed and choreographed by Denis Jones. It runs through October 27.
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.
In 2020, America may decide to elect the oldest first term President in its history. Three Democratic candidates will be older than Donald Trump was on Inauguration Day in 2017 and Ronald Reagan was on Inauguration Day in 1981.
As I’ve written before, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will be 79 years and 4 months old by Inauguration Day in 2021 and former Vice President Joe Biden will be 78 years and two months old. Sanders would be older for his first term than Donald Trump would be at the end of a second term, and Joe Biden would be just three months younger at the beginning of his first term than Trump would be at the end of a second.
Age seems even more important after Sanders suffered a heart attack earlier this month. Sanders also had stents put in his heart. In his debate performances and campaign trail appearances, Biden has also showed signs of aging. His mental acuity has seemed off at times and his ideas seem to hearken back to the past rather than the future.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would be 71 years and 5 months at inauguration, making her the third potential President who would be older than Donald Trump was in January 2017 by a full year. Warren would be in her late 70s by the end of a second term in the Oval Office.
Historically, few world leaders have served in their 80s. Most famously, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was 81 years old when he left office in 1955 and he suffered two strokes before he resigned. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was 87 when he left office in 1963. Only Adenauer was older than Sanders or Biden would be at the end of a second term in the Presidency in January 2029.
Of course, there have been Kings and Emperors who were in office beyond the age of 80. Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain is 93. Japanese Emperor Akihito was 85 when he retired earlier this year. Several Popes have reached their 80s in office, including Pope John Paul II who died at age 84; Pope Benedict XVI, who retired at age 85; and the present Pope Francis is 82. But none of these leaders have or had the stress level and burdens of office of an American President.
Ronald Reagan seemed to be declining mentally in his second term. Many believe Trump has mental issues that may be related to age. One has to be concerned that Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden reaching their 80s early in their first term might be dangerous in theory for the nation. Since Warren would be in her mid-70s at the end of the first term, one has to be similarly concerned.
So the issue of age cannot be ignored and it is clear that if Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, or Elizabeth Warren are nominated and elected President in 2020, it is essential to have a much younger, more vibrant and energetic Vice Presidential running mate ready to take the helm in any emergency situation that might arise.
The current clash in Congress over whether to impeach the President has extended to more than two centuries the bitter political partisanship that marked eleven previous presidential impeachment inquiries and the 1787 debate in Philadelphia over how to impeach the President.
With windows of Pennsylvania’s State House (now Constitution Hall) sealed to ensure secrecy of the proceedings, the patience of sweltering delegates wore thin as July approached August. In rapid-fire succession, Massachusetts merchant Elbridge Gerry moved that the chief executive “be removable on impeachment and conviction for malpractice or neglect of duty.”*
New York’s Gouverneur Morris scoffed at Gerry’s proposal and moved to strike it. But Virginia’s George Mason riposted, “No point is of more importance than that of the right of impeachment. Shall any man be above Justice…who can commit the most extensive injustice?”
As fruitless back-and-forth exchanges turned into a chorus of catcalls, all eyes turned to the venerable Benjamin Franklin for help:
“What was the practice before in cases where the chief magistrate rendered himself obnoxious?” asked the aging sage rhetorically. With his spectacles balanced precariously near the tip of his nose, he feigned careful thought, then answered his own question:
Why, recourse was had to assassination in which he was not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character. It would be the best way therefore to provide in the Constitution for the regular punishment of the Executive where his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused.
As collective laughter filled the hall, tension eased, and Virginia’s diminutive James Madison, a planter’s son, joined the debate:
It is indispensable that some provision be made for defending the community against incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the chief magistrate. The limitation of the period of his service is not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers.
South Carolina planter Charles Cotesworth Pinckney drawled that he could not see “or understand the need for any sort of impeachments.” The power to impeach would allow the legislature to hold “as a rod over the executive and by that means destroy his independence.”
Gerry shot up from his seat, barking that impeachments were essential. “A good magistrate will not fear them. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them,” He pleaded with Congress not to adopt “the maxim that the chief magistrate could do no wrong.”
Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph agreed, calling impeachments “a favorite principle with me. Guilt, whenever found, ought to be punished. The executive will have great opportunities of abusing his power, particularly in time of war, when military force and in some respect the public money will be in his hands.”
New York’s Gouverneur Morris stood to say that arguments in favor of impeachment had convinced him “of the necessity of impeachments.
Our executive may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust, and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing it…. The executive ought to be impeachable for treachery; corrupting his electors, and incapacity. He should be punished not as a man but as an officer and punished only by degradation from his office.
Morris climaxed his argument with a stirring assertion: “This Magistrate is not the king! The people are the king!”
On the question of ”Shall the Executive be removable on impeachment,” six states voted “ay”–Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. South Carolina and Georgia voted “no.”
But the debate over impeachment had yet to resolve the question of what suspected crimes would be grounds for impeachment and who would try the accused executive. Members of the Convention reached a consensus, defining treason as “levying war against the United States or any of them; and in adhering to the enemies of the United States or any of them,” with at least two witnesses needed to convict. The definition of bribery seemed self-evident and was left without an explicit definition.
“Why,” George Mason interrupted, “is the [impeachment] provision restrained to treason and bribery?” Receiving no satisfactory answer, Mason answered his own question by moving to “extend the power of impeachments…to add maladministration.”
After Gouverneur Morris suggested that “election every four years will prevent maladministration,” Mason proposed ”high crimes and misdemeanors” instead. Eight states voted for the addition; New Jersey and Pennsylvania voted no.
It was not until September 12 that the Convention approved a final draft of the Constitution, including Section 4 of Article II: “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” With that, the Convention sent the Constitution to the states for ratification by ratification conventions in each state.
In the months that followed, eight states ratified, leaving only one more needed to establish a new nation. On June 2, 1788, the Virginia ratification convention came to order. Two days later, the legendary Patrick Henry, Virginia’s first governor, roared his objections: “As this government stands, I despise and abhor it. If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute!
My great objection to this government is that it does not leave us the means of…waging war against tyrants. The army is in his hands…. the president…can prescribe the terms on which he shall reign master…and what have you to oppose this force? What will then become of you and your rights?
Virginia’s Edmond Pendleton, the 67-year-old planter who chaired the convention, insisted that the proposed Constitution provided ample means to prevent tyranny: “We will assemble in convention” he explained, “recall our delegated powers, and punish those servants who have perverted powers…to their own emolument.”
Henry stared at the old man in disbelief: “O, Sir!” he replied softly. “We should have fine times indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people. Did you ever read of any revolution in any nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all?”
Virginia’s convention ignored Henry’s objections, however, and voted to ratify the Constitution, but it left unanswered Henry’s question. After 230 years, the question still awaits an answer from Congress.
*All quotations in this article at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia are from The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787,Edited by Max Farrand(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 4 vols., 1966), II:63-70 (Friday, July 20, 1787) and Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison(New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987), 331-336. The Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton quotations are from William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence and Speeches(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891, 3 vols), 2:381-382.
Sarah M. S. Pearsall teaches the history of early America and the Atlantic world at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of the prizewinning Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Eighteenth Century. She lives in Cambridge.
Her latest book is Polygamy: An Early American History (Yale, Press, 2019). Dr. Pearsall answered some questions and elaborated on why marriage is a “building block of societies and empires.”
KS: What is the stereotype of polygamy you’re working to correct?
SP: When Americans think of polygamy, they tend to imagine one of two forms. One is a harem with scantily-clad women dancing for a tyrannical sultan figure. This is the version they tend to see as an erotic and exotic one. The other, decidedly less erotic and very much home-grown, is of wives in Little-House-on-the-Prairie pastel dresses and French braids, set against Western mountains, trailing after a husband/leader who seems to have mesmerized his flock into polygamy and a number of other problematic activities. The first of these images is very old indeed, dating back at least to the sixteenth century. The other is more recent, stemming initially from polygamy associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons and now with so-called “fundamentalist” offshoots of it (not part of the mainstream LDS Church). Neither stereotype captures the richness of the many forms which plural marriages have taken. Both also emphasize the submissiveness and passivity of the wives in ways that are misleading.
KS: In the introduction, you write: “Polygamy controversies place us amid major events in early America because such clashes were about the organization and governance not just of house- holds but of societies, nations, and empires.” This is a very compelling passage. I wonder if you can elaborate a little – how was the structure of marriage such a powerful building block of societies and empires?
PS: Marriage does so much. To marry or not is a major decision. Whether you are married or not, you know this. Yet, perhaps for that very reason, people often do not think much about it as a structuring system; it feels timeless, underpinning the world as we know it. It brings states, religious authorities, communities, and families into the most intimate of realms, legitimizing children and ordering and transmitting property and inheritance. Sex and reproduction without marriage can be, and often have been, deemed illegitimate, a problem for individuals and society. With marriage, sex becomes a blessed act, a means of family continuation, and a way of putting new souls into the world to serve dynastic, religious, and political functions. Marriage also carries responsibilities and privileges, shaping gender, race, and rank. Who can marry whom, and how their roles are defined within the marriage, are powerfully foundational in any society. Nations and churches impose their views about which sex and families are legitimate, recognized, and clean, and which are not—or they try to do so anyway. They do not always succeed. Contesting changes in marriage forms has often been a way of expressing anxieties about larger social and cultural and religious changes, as seen most recently in same-sex controversies. These debates have also shown how central the nation-state has become to the regulation of relationships, but that rise was not inevitable. It was the product of centuries of contests over marriage. We tend to take certain forms of it as natural. Until recently, in the western world, that form was one man plus one woman. Although things are changing, what I call “the infrastructure of monogamy” remains remarkably foundational in American society. I became interested in those who saw lifelong indissoluble monogamy as the strange novelty in their world, as well as the investments colonial and national powers had in ensuring that their monogamous version of marriage was the only acceptable one.
KS: You deliberately preserve the agency of women in polygamous marriages, writing “Defiant defenses of plural marriage are worth taking seriously, even when—indeed, especially when—they puzzle us so much.” How did you approach taking the beliefs women in plural marriages seriously while also interrogating the patriarchal aspects of not just plural marriages but marriage writ large?
SP: I followed the women, especially the plural wives, themselves. Sometimes they surprised me by doing things like defending polygamy. In trying to figure out why they might have done so, I realized that I gained a new way of understanding their lives and worlds. Too often people have not listened to the unexpected testimony of these wives. It’s discomfiting, the idea that this “backwards” form of marriage might have served their needs sometimes. In addition, the lack of first-person accounts by most of them makes it fatally easy to ignore their perspectives. Most of the sources we have for these women were left by those keen to stamp out their marriages (missionaries and secular authorities) or by the men who benefitted most obviously from the system themselves. This situation meant I had to “read against the grain.” The women themselves lived in these marriages, and they knew firsthand how oppressive they could be. Yet these women also made lives for themselves and their children, responding to the challenges of change, colonialism, and nation-building in creative and innovative ways. Increasingly, women across a range of cultures were better able to express their sentiments in lasting ways. Some of them condemned only polygamy, but some also questioned marriage itself and the ways that it shaped gender relations. Polygamy for them was not a problematic outlier against a great system of monogamy which is how many male thinkers on polygamy framed it, especially in the age of Enlightenment. For at least some women, polygamy represented merely an extreme version of the inequalities they rightly identified in the monogamous Christian marriages of their day.
KS: Your work is cross-cultural, discussing the differences between how different communities approached polygamy while also emphasizing that this was a broader phenomenon. Why was it so important to you to take a cross-cultural approach?
SP: “Monogamic marriage,” one political theorist asserted in an American magazine in 1855, was “one of the elementary distinctions…between European and Asiatic humanity,” the very foundation “of our liberty, of our literature, of our aspirations, of our religious convictions” as well as “one of the pre-existing conditions of our existence as civilized white men.” Race, ethnicity, religion, and culture, as well as gender, have been vital to the history of marriage; this is a big, intersectional story, involving many different kinds of people. Polygamy has been a code for inferiority, one connected with these variables. Certain kinds of marriage defined certain kinds of people. Polygamy claims helped to make modern understandings of race, culture, and religion, in ways which continue to underpin American commitment to “monogamic marriage.” Yet polygamy has had defenders across all cultures, even among Christian ministers at points. This is intriguing. Moreover, examining polygamy reveals a great deal about the role of gender and sexuality in major transitions of colonialism, slavery, and the rise of the nation-state. I hope that this book helps people to ponder what is “natural” in marriage as well as what “early America” looks like. It was not all pilgrims and planters. It had many faces, languages, and cultures. To investigate how individuals navigated disputes over households helps to illuminate the richness and diversity of early America, with women’s perspectives central.
KS: Finally, how can this book help us understand and think about the state of modern marriage and challenges to it from the increasing popularity of polyamory to the increasing age of first marriages?
SP: I did not write this book to argue that polygamy should be legalized; I wrote it to show how fundamental marriage, gender, and sexuality have been to larger processes of change and continuity, in ways not always fully appreciated. Popular perspectives on gender and sexuality have shifted considerably in the last few decades. It is therefore hardly surprising that marriage, too, has been undergoing alterations. Polyamory seems an obvious offshoot. Working on this book, and talking to many people about polygamy, it came to strike me as increasingly strange that people accepted “the infrastructure of monogamy” so unthinkingly. I hope this book will prompt further reflection on these issues. To me, it’s good if people think about how best to define marriage, and what its wider meanings are for themselves and their society. Yet, with all the modesty of a historian who mostly thinks about the past, not the future, I might suggest a couple of cautions. Patriarchal privilege tends to bob to the surface in most systems of marriage; it’s easy to see how polyamory might go down that route. Second, as queer people learned to their cost and plenty of others over the centuries have, too, living in a family unrecognized by the state, not having privileges of health insurance and next of kin status and inheritance, is a challenging way to live. We might not all love state authority here (as people divorcing sometimes find), but we should recognize it for what it is: a force that shapes all of our lives, whether we are married or not. Marriage and its varieties connect individuals with that power, as I have tried to demonstrate in this book.
Nunzio Pernicone and Fraser M. Ottanelli, Assassins against the Old Order: Italian Anarchist Violence in Fin de Siècle Europe (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2018), 219 pgs)
After an anarchist and former steel worker named Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley in September 1901, McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt, in his first message to Congress, offered his own characterization of “the anarchist.” It ought to sound familiar to us today.
“For the anarchist himself, whether he preaches or practices his doctrines, we need not have one particle more concern than for any ordinary murderer. He is not the victim of social or political injustice. There are no wrongs to remedy in his case.”
Roosevelt’s message echoes in the denunciations of Islamic terrorism that have filled the last several decades; it amounts to a denial that any larger context is needed to explain an act of political violence. “No man or body of men preaching anarchistic doctrines,” Roosevelt declared, “should be allowed at large any more than if preaching the murder of some specified private individual. Anarchistic speeches, writings, and meetings are essentially seditious and treasonable.”
Any speech that could be labeled anarchist, even if its content was peaceful, was therefore an incitement to violence and a crime. Further, it could be used to justify giving government greater powers and resources to surveille, interdict, and punish any political competitor. As “enemies of the State” have continued to appear over the last century-plus, the State has continued to accumulate new powers and capabilities: to emerge stronger from every attempt to challenge its authority.
The assassination of McKinley, and Roosevelt’s thunderous response, came at the tail end of the spasm of politically motivated killings, or attentats, that’s covered in Assassins against the Old Order (University of Illinois Press), an excellent new study by Nunzio Pernicone and Fraser M. Ottanelli. Pernicone, the great historian of Italian and Italian-American anarchism, died in 2013; Ottanelli, the author of several works on Italian migration and the U.S. Left, completed his work. Their book attempts to restore the larger political context to late-19th century anarchist violence, much of it perpetrated by Italians, by surveying the history and then focusing on six sensational cases. Along the way, they tell an engrossing if tragic story of human suffering, oppression, rage, and revenge.
Their conclusion turns the table on Roosevelt’s: “Anarchist violence was essentially retaliatory violence precipitated by government repression.” In fact, they show, the origins of anarchist violence weren’t even in anarchism itself, but in the tactical doctrines of the Risorgimento, the nationalist struggle for Italian unification that, ironically, had earlier captured the imagination of liberals in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere.
“Propaganda of the deed,” the notion that individual acts of violence, including the assassination of tyrants and reactionary politicians was necessary to spark a revolutionary outbreak, was articulated by Carlo Pisacane, a companion of Mazzini, the father of the Risorgimento; Pisacane died trying to launch an insurrection in the Kingdom of Naples in 1857. His landing in the kingdom was celebrated in a poem by Luigi Mercantini that was translated into English by Longfellow; the date of his abortive rising is marked every year by a three-day festival in the Campanian town of Sapri.
Pisacane’s death was the end point of a period when Italian nationalists carried out a string of attentats, including the stabbing of one of Pope Pius IX’s ministers (1848), the fatal stabbing of Duke Carlo III of Parma (1854), and an attempt on the life of King Fernandino II of Naples (1856).
How did assassination then enter the toolkit of Italian anarchists? In the decades following Italian unification in 1870, “anarchism appealed to Mazzinian democrats disillusioned with the outcome of the Risorgimento, who increasingly conceived of their struggle in terms of social revolution,” Pernicone and Ottanelli write. If the attentat could serve the cause of national liberation, it could serve the new social struggle as well. Italian anarchists “established a direct linkage that was never broken between anarchism and the legacy of violence embedded in the revolutionary traditions of the Risorgimento.”
The early decades of Italian unification are often portrayed as a period of gradual political liberalization and economic expansion, but Pernicone and Ottanelli set the record straight. These years were punctuated by severe depressions, with relief for big landowners but no social safety net to alleviate the suffering in the countryside or the cities; worker unrest and uprisings; and government by a tightly restricted political class desperate to dampen the popularity of the socialist and anarchist movements.
Italy, in other words, was a highly combustible place that gave leftists plenty of reason to lash out and very little opportunity to express themselves in a mainstream-permissible manner. Assassinations were far from the only way that impoverished people, rural and urban, expressed their unhappiness. From their point of view, the most important events of the period were an attempted general strike in Rome in 1891 (“as a precautionary measure, the police deported 8,000 unemployed workers back to their hometowns”) and a series of rebellions that extended from Tuscany into Sicily; the unrest in the latter ended only when the government declared a state of siege and sent 40,000 troops to occupy the island.
But as in Mazzini’s time, political killings appealed to people, many of whom were marginal to the anarchist movement itself, as a way to focus the outrage of the masses on the figures at the top of the social, economic, and political order and thereby encourage wider uprisings.
Six of these sensational acts form the core of Pernicone and Ottanelli’s story:
“Anarchists were but an expression of a long-established tradition of tyrannicide in Italian history,” Pernicone and Ottanelli conclude, tapping into a popular image of the giustiziere: one who kills a despot for the common good. Almost by definition, a giustiziere is a lone actor who performs the deed out of a sense of duty. The authors stress that none of the six cases “conform to the contemporary definitions of terrorism, with its emphasis on the slaughter of innocents.”
But that didn’t stop the authorities from attempting over and over, in the trials of the assassins, to prove that each one was part of a larger plot. In particular, they were determined to implicate Errico Malatesta, Italy’s most famous anarchist, who in fact had always stressed insurrection over assassination as the path to a new society. The vendetta against Malatesta reached a bizarre height in 1901, when the Interior Ministry suspected that he had formed a plot with ex-Queen Maria Sofia of Naples, known for her implacable hatred of the House of Savoy, to liberate Bresci and possibly assassinate the new king, Vittorio Emanuele III.
The authorities were utterly ruthless in their efforts to indict the entire anarchist movement of these crimes, despite the fact that Italian anarchism was beginning a long decline and the mainstream Socialists were gathering strength; Pernicone and Ottanelli suggest that the government knew this and that its real objective was to discredit the Socialists and justify a crackdown on opposition politicians and press. The preferred instrument was domicilio coatto: imprisonment or exile to one of a string of squalid islands off the coast; anarchists got so used to the latter treatment that they came to refer to these penal colonies, mordantly, as the “health islands.”
To get them there, or to the scaffold, the government wouldgo to any length. In Caserio’s trial, the French judge tried again and again to get him to admit he was “the agent of an anarchist plot.” Each time, the defendant replied, “No, I am alone.”
Prosecutors hatched a ruse to convince Acciarito that he had a son living with the prisoner’s mother and that his refusal to cooperate, implicating other anarchists in the attempted murder of Umberto, was condemning them to poverty. When the truth came out, Acciarito dramatically denounced the prosecutors in court, provoking outrage in the press. He was nevertheless sentenced to solitary confinement, after which he was consigned to an asylum for the criminally insane until his death almost 40 years later.
Bresci’s assassination of Umberto was of course the greatest of the attentats; in its effort to prove a plot originating in the U.S., the Italian government pressured Washington, now presided over by that avowed enemy of anarchism, Theodore Roosevelt, to launch a massive investigation that eventually involved the Secret Service, the Justice Department, the Post Office, and the U.S. Marshals Service. “Not a trace of a plot [was] discovered by federal agents,” Pernicone and Ottanelli note. Bresci was confined to a fortress prison on the island of Elba, where he was found hanged in his cell, likely in a staged suicide.
From the beginning, there were two facets to governments’ response to anarchist violence. On one hand, as embodied in Roosevelt’s speech, they wanted the public to regard political assassinations as not political at all, but the acts of depraved, bestial individuals; on the other, they asked the courts to tie the murderers together in a vast political conspiracy. These two approaches were not really consistent with one another, but they served the purpose of demonizing anarchists both as individuals and as a movement.
One prominent figure, the historian Guglielmo Ferrero, argued for something different. Why not establish “an effective police force to keep tabs on extremists and [extend] greater political liberty to the anarchists, which would encourage them to channel their ideas and frustrations into nonviolent avenues of expression”? But there was as much chance of the government adopting such policies “as of Mt. Etna ceasing its eruptions,” the authors conclude.
The end of the comparatively short period of anarchist attentats coincideed with the rise of the parliamentary Socialists and an organized labor movement in Italy, and probably had more to do with these developments than with the government’s brutal crackdown. But it forms part of the dynamic noted at the beginning of this review, and that continues to this day: the exploitation of acts of political violence to strengthen the hand of the State. The brutal San Stefano prison, where Bresci may have been murdered, has its analogy in Guantanamo; Italy’s string of island penal colonies in the CIA’s global chain of hidden prison and torture facilities; and the repressive “exceptional laws” that the Crispi government passed in the wake of the attempt on the prime minister’s life in the passage of the Homeland Security Act following the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.
As in that earlier period, proving that the perpetrators are part of a larger conspiracy beyond sharing a common ideology, has mostly proven difficult. Once again, the State has the option of addressing the root causes of political violence, or lashing back with new methods of repression. Again, it has chosen the latter.
Although he was a career Army officer and “the architect of victory” in World War II, George Marshall’s name today is best known for an act of peace: the launching of a massive European aide program in 1948. The success of the Marshall Plan (which cost more than $100 billion in today’s dollars) earned him the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize.
In his new biography, George Marshall, Defender of the Republic, David L. Roll provides a revealing portrait of the man who served prominently in World War I and guided U.S. strategy in World War II and the early stages of the Cold War.
David Roll, an attorney and author of two other books on World War II leaders, The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler and Louis Johnson and the Arming of America, has meticulously researched archives across the U.S. and in the U.K. Roll significantly expands on the three previous biographies of Marshall and in a few cases, contradicts some of their conclusions. For example, he debunks the myth that Marshall had a “feud” with General Douglas MacArthur.
Roll’s biography is in some ways a nostalgic look at a time of American greatness and a reminder of how effective our tradition of civilian oversight of the military can be when it is run by mature leaders who subordinate their own interests to those of the American republic. Without stating it directly, the book offers a startling contrast to the present, when a narcissistic president routinely dismisses senior military advisors who dare to disagree with him.
Marshall was appointed Army Chief of Staff by President Roosevelt on September 1, 1939, the same day Hitler invaded Poland. As a top planner for General Pershing in World War I, Marshall was horrified by the drastic cuts his beloved Army endured in the postwar years. He was initially suspicious of Roosevelt, whom he viewed as a cunning politician, unwilling to take on the unpopular (and expensive) effort of building up the U.S. military.
In May 1940, with Hitler poised to conquer France, Congress cut $10 million from a desperately needed military appropriation. Marshall quickly went to the White House and bluntly told Roosevelt, “You’ve got do something and you’ve got to do it now.”
Roosevelt often recoiled from specific demands, and some of the President’s aides were shocked by Army chief’s boldness. But Roosevelt respected Marshall’s candor and immediately committed to a major increase in military spending.
In 1942, a dark year of many Allied defeats, Roosevelt came under repeated pressure from Winston Churchill to withdraw the beleaguered U.S. Army forces in the Pacific and send them to the European theater. Marshall resisted, insisting America must be able to fight on two fronts. FDR supported him and MacArthur’s forces were built up and soon claimed a series of victories.
In late 1943, when it became time to appoint the supreme commander of the long planned Allied invasion of Europe, Roosevelt hesitated. Churchill and Joseph Stalin, who worked with Marshall and valued his experience, suggested naming him to the job. Although Marshall wanted the high-profile position, Roll finds he refused to put himself forward. Roosevelt wavered, at first telling aides that we would name Marshall because “he is entitled to establish his place in history as a great general.”
In the end, he chose Dwight Eisenhower, who had led the led the successful invasion of North Africa. Roosevelt explained his final decision by saying he couldn’t sleep at night if Marshall was not in Washington. Marshall was deeply disappointed but never complained and immediately gave his full support to Eisenhower, a man whom he had earlier promoted from a low-level job.
After the Allied victory over Germany, American troops were rapidly withdrawn from Europe. In 1946-7, as Stalin tightened his grip on his eastern European conquests, the western European nations, still suffering from wartime destruction, experienced high unemployment and food shortages. Marshall, now serving as President Truman’s Secretary of State, realized that the U.S. would have to launch a massive aid program for them to resist Communism.
He asked key aides, including Charles Bohlen and George Kennan, to draft a plan for him to present to Truman and the Congress. He outlined the plan in a famous speech delivered at Harvard on June 5, 1947. It was immediately supported by leaders in Great Britain and France. Aides to President Harry Truman, recognizing its potential political dividends, wanted to label it the Truman Plan. However, Truman wisely noted that both houses of Congress were controlled by Republicans; if any major spending proposal named after him was sent up, it would soon die.
He told his political advisor Clark Clifford, “I’ve decided to give the whole thing to General Marshall.”
Truman said that if it was named the Marshall Plan, even “the worst” Republicans in Congress would have to vote for it.
Although Marshall is today remembered across the globe for his leadership and self-sacrifice, Roll notes that in 1950-51, when he served as Secretary of Defense, his reputation came under serious attack by Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Wisconsin Republican accused him of being part of a “great conspiracy” which was responsible for the victory of Communists in China. He also claimed Marshall was a defeatist who could have quickly ended the Korean War, but instead managed an unnecessary “slaughter” of American boys.
The harassment by McCarthy and others on the Republican far right convinced Marshall that after a lifetime of service, it was time to retire. He resigned from Truman’s cabinet in 1951, aged 71. He then lived a quiet life on his rural Virginia estate, riding horses and gardening. He died in 1959 after series of debilitating strokes.
Roll concludes his biography by quoting a proverb, “if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
With that as a yardstick, we can see how Marshall’s honesty and modesty were a key to his success, and how our current national leadership is so sorely lacking in those essential qualities.
While national histories of wartime resistance are plentiful, the European dimension of the shadow army has rarely been taken into account. Doing so makes it possible to write a comparative history that considers resistance as a global phenomenon, minimizing national frames and underlining the interrelations between groups, institutions and organizations of the countries concerned.
The Resistance in Western Europe (Columbia UP, 2019) aims to do exactly that for World War II resistance activities in Occupied Western Europe. Drawing on the materials from the National Archives (Kew, UK) andthe National Archives and Records Administration (College Park, MD), it explains how the Anglo-Americans attempted, between 1940 and 1945, to support the underground forces in Western Europe. Until 1943, The US, however, played a limited part. Their secret services, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was young (it had been created in June 1942) and they mainly relied upon British expertise. They were not popular, as the anti New Dealers suspected them to reinforce the State and to give Roosevelt dangerous powers. The burden, to sum up, was mainly carried on by London.
Six Western European countries–Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy—were chosen. They were very different. Norway had a regular government in exile while Italy, for example, fought on the Axis side. But in all these six countries, the Anglo-Americans tried to strengthen the Resistance movements, hoping, in the Italian case, that they could overthrow Mussolini. I hence argue that almost as soon as the war began the British considered internal resistance in the occupied countries of Western Europe an essential part of their strategy.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew that his nation’s ground forces, gutted in 1940, would not return to the old continent any time soon. The British Navy and the Air Force could play a role, but only in the medium term.That left the resistance which he hoped would yield promising dividends.
To structure and root the army of the shadows, the British relied on had three means of action which historians of the period often discuss separately: propaganda; the efforts of their own secret services to help the resisters; and recognition from the governments in exile. In fact, they worked in tandem. Propaganda, for example, encouraged people to rise up, special services armed and directed the crowds; while support from an exiled power helped legitimize the revolt – and vice versa. The Danish resistance, for example, suffered for a long time from the implicit support given by the Foreign Office to Christian IX. For if Denmark supported the Nazi war effort, particularly through its agriculture, the King never fell into the shameless collaboration of the Vichy regime.
Convinced that the oppressed peoples would soon revolt on their own, the British believed the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a Secret Service devoted to Action (and not to collect intelligence) could just stoke the flame. They reckoned without the Nazis who quickly and violently squelched any sign of rebellion. Following two failed rebellions in 1941, the Dutch opposition to the Nazis’ anti-Semitic policy and the French miners’ strike, the British adopted a more modest strategy for the general populace of work slowdowns and the avoidance fraternization with the enemy. At the same time, they encouraged those in resistance units to act which they did before and after D-Day in 1944. The British General Staffs, however, refused a widespread uprising which would end in a bloodbath.
Even as they encouraged resistance abroad, Allied proponents of resistance faced resistance from their own people. In the US and the UK, the military hierarchy did not believe in subversive warfare. Airmen preferred strategic bombardment rather than allotting aircraft to drop containers of ammunitions and radio operators. Governments in exile were sometimes uncooperative: either they jealously guarded their sovereignty, as CharlesDe Gaulle did, or they refused, as the Belgians did, to let SOE engage insabotage which could lead to severe reprisals. Relations between the British and the Americans were also complicated. The Americans began to suspect the British to act in an unfiredly way from 1943 onwards. In the French case, they, for example, claimed to help the Resistance but said nothing about the American help. This attitude could endanger the American-French relations after the war, a datum which lead the American staff to increase their own dorrping of weapons in 1944.
These obstacles, however, were gradually eliminated. By 1943, the resistance was playinga role in military operations. In Italy, Partisans fixed six German divisions in the North. In Belgium, the resistance, supported by the British London, helped 30,000-50,000 draft dodgers to escape compulsory labor. In France, the resistance hindered the transport of reinforcements to Normandy after D-Day.
Despite their successes, the resistance had many failures. In France, for example, de Gaulle had supported thepowerful maquis, hoping the French couldfree some parts of their territory without Allied assistance. But the resistance-only battles of Vercors, Mont-Mouchet, and Saint-Marcel ended in bloodbaths.The success of the Paris uprising was largely due to French and American regular troops.
As the war neared its end, the Anglo-Americans feared the secret armies they had supported—and in some cases had created—would create political disorder. The Communists could launch a revolution; resistance groups could oppose governments in exile or a civil war would break out between resisters and collaborators.None of these fears became reality. In fact, Stalin was not anxious to launch a revolution in Western Europe. He therefore encouraged the Communists to play the game of national unity. According to him, victory on Germany prevailed. And many resisters, even if they were reluctant toward the Old Parties were not ready to begin a civil war to impose violently their dreams. While they made mistakes by maintaining traditional but discredited powers such asor King Victor Emmanuel in Italy, the Allies bridged the gap between resistance groups and their governments.In Italy, for example, the Allied signed in December 1944 an agreement with the resisters who were still under the German yoke. Their representatives, the Comititato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (CNLAI) would recognizethe Roman Government; but the Government in exchange was considered as the legal representative of the Government in the North. The Italian Government agreed with this formula and signed an agreement with the CNLA on 26 December 1944.
Clearly the Anglo-American support for resistance in Western Europe wasessential to the Allies’ victory. Yet this contribution has been forgotten or discussed in a piecemeal fashion. “Memories were short and the French would very soon forget what had been done for them and might be more inclined to remember things that had not been done,” sadly noted the British Embassy in Parisin June 1945. They were perfectly right. But history has now to prevail on memory.
RETRO REPORT on PBS, a new one-hour magazine format series hosted by journalist Celeste Headlee and artist Masud Olufani and featuring New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz, airs on Monday and Tuesdays this October (check local listings) on PBS, pbs.org and the PBS App. Presented by Georgia Public Broadcasting and produced by Retro Report, a non-profit organization whose mission is to arm the public with a complete picture of today’s most important stories, the series offers viewers a fresh perspective on current headlines, revealing their unknown — and often surprising — connections to the past. The series continues Mondays and Tuesday nights, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET through Tuesday, October 29.
Kyra Darnton is the executive producer of Retro Report. She came to Retro Report from CBS News, 60 Minutes, where she produced stories covering everything from the Mexican drug war to counterfeit prescription drugs to the cover up in the death of US Ranger Pat Tillman. Her investigative reporting and storytelling has won multiple awards, including, most recently, a 2012 Peabody Award for a piece exposing fraud in cancer clinical trials. Kyra has worked in broadcast journalism for 20 years.
HNN editor Kyla Sommers interviewed Kyra over the phone about the unique aspects of television and the value of history in the news today. The interview has been edited for clarity.
KS: What inspired you to create the show?
KD: RetroReport is a six year old nonprofit news organization whose mission is to bring context to the current news and headlines. We help people understand that we’ve been here before and that there are lessons from history that can be applied today. So that’s been our philosophy since we launched. We mostly focused on short form videos because we really felt that they were the perfect length to be digestable but also substantive enough. One or two minute social video media didn’t feel like it would in-depth enough.
We spend six months, sometimes more, reporting and we have a staff of about 22 people who dig into original documents when they’re available—maybe not your kind of historical docuemnts because it’s mostly modern news events. We try to track down all the people who were first-hand witnesses and interview as many as much as we can and then craft them into a compelling narrative. We have a staff of reporters and then also documentary style film editors that help us tell the story using original archival footage, interview footage, and other things that we’ll gather using a contemporary lens.
We’ve been doing this for six years but the idea around the PBS show was really could we come up with a magazine style format where we have 4 different topics and each one covers something that is relevant to today but looks back through the lens of history to help you understand things better. One example is understanding our addiction to social media by looking at the work of B.F. Skinner and variable reward theory. The show gives you enough context to understand the nature of addiction as you’re refreshing your Twitter feed. So we’re picking simple stories and simple narratives and the twists and turns to different topics and putting it together into a show. Each episode features four different topics and then there’s a short humorous end piece which humorist Andy Borowitz writes and narrates. Andy’s segment is similar in that it’s over archival footage and discusses things that happened in the past. It’s like a funny version of RetroReport.
KS: So is each episode centered on a theme or is it disparate topics?
KD: It’s different toipcs. It coud be a story on immigration, a story on sexual harassment, a story on artificial intelligence, and recycling. We are trying to find themes that are relevant to today and then find a narrative that connects the past to the present. We thought a lot about the mix and tried to make sure that the topics feel like they go together and are complementary but you also don’t want to have four really depressing stories. You’re trying to mix it so they’re not all going to be tragic history because it’d be really painful.
KS: How did you select the topics when you were initially planning? Were there certain things that were especially important for you to cover or was it most important to appeal to a broad audience with a mix of sociological, technological, and political topics?
KD: I was focused on thinking about what is most relevant to today because that’s what I think makes the show different. We really try to be clear about how something in the past is still impacting us and relevant today. There were a variety of topics we wanted to do but we tried to pick the things that people are thinking about and care about and that feel relevant to our lives.
I always tell the story that when we first started we were obsessed with Mad Cow Dieses because it had happened and had a huge impact in the past and we were all so worried about what would happen. The story was about the passage of time but we couldn’t come up with what made it relevant. When you’re spending this much time and energy looking back at soemthing I thnk we really want to be clear and sure that we could forward our understanding of something for today. Which as an aside is what I love about what you do too—it’s ingratined in your work –which is helping people understand and gain perspective from historians who study and cover the past which I think is essential.
KS: Thank you! I know that the show focuses on history—using a lot of history—but it’s also very interdisciplinary. I’m curious how you interact with different disiplines and the different ways that different scholars approach topics to weave it together into one story or narrative.
KD Well, it’s for a general audience. I think depending on the topic our reporters will speak to as many people as possible while they’re reporting but it’s often not very in depth in the scholarship in the way that I historian might. We foucus much more on revisiting the events that happened and trying to understand what they mean.
There’s often a level of media criticsm in our stories, either overtly or under the surface. When you go back and revisit a news event, you find that often the story was originally reported in a kind of frenzy. Science and the media don’t always understand an event the same way and that difference can take a while to play out.
So, one of my favoreite examples of this is nuclear winter. It was a theory that the impact of a nuclear war would have these huge climatic effects and that really became part of the dialogue during the Cold War. What happened next is really interesting to me and I won’t give it away but we look back at the science and ask, what does the passage of time tell us about these theories? Sometimes obviously you have historians or scientists with different news and we try as best we can to explain both sides. The passage of time can really help us understand an event in a much more clear way than the frenzy of the immediate news.
The hardest part of these stories is actually trying to distill history in a couple of sentences or a couple of moments. We have a very robust fact-checking process and we’ll sometimes spend five hours debating how to phrase one line because we know that what we’re doing is taking this huge body of research and summarizing it. But, again, because it’s for a general audience it’s often making helping to make the connection between present and past.
KS: I always tell my students that sometimes writing a paragraph can be one of the hardest thigns to do. You think writing a 25 page paper would be harder but condesning a 25 page paper into a paragraph is a very tricky type of writing.
KD: You totally get it, that’s exactly right. And that is the problem of telelvision too– it’s a medium that really distills things in a short form. But I think television is the way so many people interact with the world so it’s really important. And there’s also the power of seeing, using this archival footage to see things that you remember or misremember or that you never experienced and to get to see them now. I think that’s part of the value too. We think of these stories as building a living library of modern news events. I should mention that we update them as things change over time. The ultimate goal of the project is to have this really robust digital living library of modern news events for future historians to use and interact with.
KS: Wow. That’s powerful. You’ve touched on this a bit, but for myself editing the History News Network and for a lot of other historians, we’re so focused on the written word and there’s often pretty unlimited space for how long a book can be. It’s definitely not the hard cut-off of an episode of telelvision. With television, did that alter the topics that you selected and change the preparation process?
KD: It doesn’t at all because it takes what we were already doing: distilling these really complicated topics and helping people connect to them. I hope it goes without saying, but if not I’ll say it: I don’t think a ten minute video can replace an amazing work of scholarship or even often a long in-depth journal article or historical paper. But what I do think is that it can help people really connect to history and get why it’s important. It can actually be a sort of gateway drug to learn more about these topics. So if you don’t know anyting about the Cold War and you hear about it during a story on nuclear winter in connection to climate change and geoengineering today, I think it expands your perception and your world view and makes you want to learn more. I think what we’re often doing is introducing the fundamental notion and then the hope is that people will seek out more content and scholarship on these toipcs.
KS: Absolutely. You discussed reviewing old news footage and realizing how the coverage of topics has changed over time and that there’s often an initial journalistic frenzy. After putting together a season of this show, what is the biggest lessons you’ve taken away for journalistic best practices in reporting on new events and it holding up over time?
KD: It’s such a good question and it’s such an important question. There are so many lessons but the biggest one is to embrace the passage of time and not be so quick to feel like you have to know what everything means right away. I think there is so much in the reporting process and how we get our news today that is broken. People see a headline on Twitter and think they understand an issue and that’s really a problem. I think it’s important to bake the context in and helping your readers or viewers understand not just what the latest headline is but also the context for how we got here and the bigger historical picture. It helps you understand where we are and also can provide a level of calm in this frenzied age. You just realize that we’ve been here before in many ways and I think it’s more important than ever to really understand that.
KS: That’s so true. These past few weeks especially, it feels like if you go away from Twitter for a few hours and then come back, it feels like everything has shifted and it takes 30 minutes to catch up.
KD: I think that way of expecting people to interact with the news, to constantly be reading everything and know everything, I thnk it causes people to turn off and be less informed and less engaged. So I hope that the value of brining context through these hopefully compelling stories is to get people to think a little differently about the world. I hope we get them to think, what is the history and how did we get here? What am I missing, how can I step back and take a breath? I think that’s one of the most important things that we could do. And in general I think historians are doing a great job—historians on Twitter even are helping people add context to where we are. I think that’s more important now than it has been previously.
KS; Well, thank you so much and I look forward to watching RetroReport which airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 9 ET on PBS.
“I’m going to get right into it because there’s so much to tell!” Christian Di Spigna is a man on a mission. Most public speakers start with pleasantries. They thank sponsors, greet friends in the audience, ease into substance. Not this one!
Di Spigna, a Colonial Williamsburg-based expert on the American Revolution’s prehistory, spent twenty years unearthing Dr. Joseph Warren’s full story since Warren, whom British troops killed and mutilated in 1775’s Bunker Hill battle a year before the Declaration of Independence, “had never gotten his due.” Speaking 244 years later at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Di Spigna who’s written a book, delivers.
“Here was a man who did so much and has become largely forgotten,” he asserts from the stage. “The Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s epic midnight ride, and the Battle of Bunker Hill loom large as monumental incidents that launched the country’s birth, discussed in countless history books. But most of those books fail to mention the role of Dr. Joseph Warren, the revolutionary pillar of that watershed epoch. I tried to revive his story and present an accurate portrayal of his life and death as best I could.”
Di Spigna’s Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero, published last year, succeeds.
“Before George Washington, before Thomas Jefferson, even before Alexander Hamilton, there was Joseph Warren,” the Wall Street Journal declares. “A British commander once called him ‘the greatest incendiary in all America.’” Christian Di Spigna has produced a gripping biography.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning historians Eric Foner and Joseph J. Ellis endorse it, respectively, as “an important contribution” to “bring Warren to life again as the prominent partner of Samuel Adams in leading American resistance to British imperialism in the decade before the first shots were fired.”
Sixty-one artifact and image slides frame the author’s lecture. Facts and style features so struck me that evening that I went two nights later to Manhattan’s historic Fraunces Tavern Museum – where Washington bade farewell to his generals – to witness Di Spigna’s performance once more.
Warren was an eloquent, persuasive polemicist. Enlightenment ideals of “social contracts” and “natural rights” infuse Warren’s 1774 Suffolk Resolves” two years before Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence applied them.
“That the late acts of the British parliament for blocking up the harbor of Boston, for altering the established form of government in this colony (Massachusetts), and for screening the most flagitious violators of the laws of the province from a legal trial, are gross infractions of those rights to which we are justly entitled by the laws of nature, the British constitution, and the charter of the province,” one of its nine grievances, foreshadows Jefferson’s format.
That “delegates of every town and district in the county of Suffolk” chose Warren to produce a report that would place them in peril proves that peers accorded the highest regard to this erstwhile physician. The document’s likeness to Richard Henry Lee’s 1766 Leedstown Resolves in Virginia suggests the chronological and geographical range of Warren’s political antenna stretched far beyond the Bay Colony.
Warren was a compelling speaker in substance and style. His 1772 Boston Massacre Oration based constitutional law in the Roman Republic’s “Twelve Tables” and the Enlightenment’s ideals, precedents for the “Glorious Revolution” that in 1645 granted rights to all British subjects. His five-page legal brief weighs whether parliamentary and royal decrees have preserved or violated those rights in America. Colonial resistance to British “imperialism” is, he finds, imperative.
Rome “degenerated into tyrants and oppressors, her senators forgetful of their dignity, and seduced by base corruption, betrayed their country, her soldiers, regardless of their relation to the community, and urged only by hopes of plunder and rapine, unfeelingly committed the most flagrant enormities; and hired to the trade of death, with relentless fury they perpetrated the most cruel murders…Thus the empress of the world lost her dominions abroad…became an object of derision and a monument of this eternal truth, that public happiness depends on a virtuous and unshaken attachment to a free constitution.” British rule, having broken this compact, will ruin us, Warren warns.
Close your eyes, open your ears, pretend to hear” the roar of a Boston crowd that the Stamp Act, Quartering Act and Boston Massacre have already aroused. Our path is clear, Warren cries out: rebellion!
“May our land be a land of liberty, the seat of virtue, the asylum of the oppressed, a name and a praise in the whole earth, until the last shock of time shall bury the empires of the world in one common undistinguished ruin!” Boston citizens, whom precedent guides and rhetoric persuades, will heed his command.
Yet Warren, more than mere orator, orchestrated revolutionary acts through the Sons of Liberty and Committee on Safety, as Di Spigna makes clear.
“Dr. Warren coordinated a massive intelligence network to stay abreast of British troop movements. He sent Paul Revere with the Suffolk Resolvesto the First Continental Congress and assigned him to make that famous midnight ride. John Adams wrote in his diary that General Warren kept hassling me about going to the political meetings, but I didn’t want to get involved.”
Di Spigna distills twenty years’ research into a minute speech plus discussion. Facts fall like rain from his lips as he barrels along; clock’s ticking! He sheds light on launching his quest when I ask.
“I found ‘Stories of General Warren’ in a bookstore when my wife and I missed a ferry to Block Island on vacation. I didn’t know him at all then but reading other books about the American Revolution taught me to question what I’d already learned through the years.”
Vowing to tell Warren’s full story, Di Spigna, whom Eric Foner encouraged, went all out.
“When you start writing about something you have to go to the places and get a feel for it, experience it, see what these people actually saw,” he explained. I scribbled that in my notebook; days later I still “heard” him say that, so I sent him my question: why, in this case, was that necessary; hadn’t centuries of commerce and industry irreparably altered the scene?
“It can be challenging to reimagine landscapes and history that has shifted and changed over the years,” he answered, “but there are vestiges of the colonial era in Boston. Maps, prints, drawings, and certain photographs can help piece together the ancient landscape.” Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, “as close as we can get to strolling through an eighteenth-century town,” he added, enhanced memories of what he saw and felt in Boston.
Fragments of diaries and medical ledgers the author sought and bought at auctions and displayed in slides filled out the jigsaw puzzle his research completes.
Founding Martyr: The Life of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero, honors its subject and tireless author. His presentation earned standing ovations – and moved me – both times.
In August, Donald Trump tweeted that Jewish Americans who vote for a Democrat are guilty of ignorance or “great disloyalty: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” Many commentators wrote that this assertion echoed the anti-Semitic trope that Jewish Americans have “dual loyalty” to Israel.
Donald Trump is certainly not the first president tainted by anti-Semitic feelings, but as is often the case with Trump, he goes further in a manner and direction distinctively different from his predecessors.
The first president, George Washington, made a good-will visit to Newport, Rhode Island, home of the Touro Synagogue, in August 1790. The legislatures of the neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts were debating whether to ratify the amendments later known as the Bill of Rights that included freedom of religion. Washington, an adept politician, hoped that a visit to Rhode Island emphasizing religious freedom would turn the tide in favor of the passage of the Bill of Rights in the neighboring states.
Three days later, Washington wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue in which he said, “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Successive U.S. presidents and leaders generally followed Washington’s acceptance of Jewish religious freedom and Constitutional rights. For example, during the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order expelling Jews from his district encompassing parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi because of suspicions that they were operating a black market in Southern cotton. Abraham Lincoln rescinded the order eighteen days later.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, increasing Jewish immigration created an increase in anti-Semitism, ultimately contributing to the passage of the National Origins Act of 1924. This law restricted immigration to two percent of each nationality residing in the U.S. in 1890. The law severely limited future Jewish immigration since few Jews had arrived by that year. Despite this harmful policy, Coolidge, the president who signed the Origins Act into law, praised the American Jewish community. In May 1925, at the laying of the cornerstone of a new Jewish center in Washington D.C., Coolidge delivered a speech praising the influence of Jewish culture on America. One of his successors, Franklin Roosevelt, would have a greater opportunity to confront issues of anti-Semitism at home and on the world stage.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)’s relationship with Jews has sparked intense controversy. Many of FDR’s most prominent friends and associates were Jews. Henry Morgenthau, Felix Frankfurter, and Bernard Baruch were just a few of FDR’s closest and strongest Jewish supporters. FDR was twice re-elected with ninety percent of the Jewish vote as most Jews believed in his New Deal policies.
However, as a member of Harvard’s governing board, FDR went along with the quota to restrict the number of Jewish students at the university in the early 1920s. In the years leading up to World War II, anti-Semitism was rampant in Germany. At home, anti-Semitism rose in America as workers feared competition from immigrants for jobs. In response, FDR limited immigration. Under the National Origins Act, 26,000 German Jews could immigrate annually during the years leading to World War II. But the quota was only a quarter filled because FDR’s administration placed impediments to block Jewish immigration. Vice President Henry Wallace wrote in his diary that FDR spoke to Churchill in 1943 about the desirability of spreading the Jewish population thin in the post-war world.
FDR eventually led America in the destruction of Nazi Germany and the liberation of the concentration camps. In 1945 FDR secretly met with the Saudi King to persuade him to accept 10,000 Jewsin Palestine. The book FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman is a scholarly study of this complicated history.
FDR’s successor, Harry Truman made anti-Semitic comments in private, but in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, he was supportive of Jewish interests and especially supported a Jewish state in the Middle East. Truman defied his most prominent cabinet members including Secretary of State George Marshall to recognize the State of Israel in 1948. According to Michael Benson’s 1997 book Harry S Truman and the Founding of Israel, while Truman was interested in the Jewish vote at home, he was primarily motivated by humanitarianism.
Like Truman, Richard Nixon supported Israel publicly but he could be critical of American Jews in private. Despite the fact that several Jews including Henry Kissinger were prominent members of his administration, Nixon made anti-Semitic remarks privately on the White House tapes. For example, Nixon complained that Jews were “all over government”. But, Nixon approved Operation Nickel Grass, a massive airlift of fighter planes and missiles that enabled Israel to repel the attacks and invade part of Egypt during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Like some of his predecessors, Donald Trump has made anti-Semitic comments. The former president of Trump Hotel and Casino recalls Trumps saying that he wants “short guys that wear yarmulkes” counting his money. This is no different from previous presidents who made critical remarks about Jews and privately promoted negative stereotypes. However, in public, Trump has departed from his predecessors with statements that reinforce anti-Semitism. While trying to court Jewish voters, he reinforced the view of anti-Semites that American Jews have a primary allegiance to Israel. As with so many Trump blunders, he is apparently ignorant of the history and nature of anti-Semitism in America. That further serves to make Trump a president who dangerously expands hatred.
RICHARD C. LYONS is the award-winning author behind “The DNA of Democracy,” Volume 1 of the “Shadows of the Acropolis” series releasing on April 15, 2019. His first book, “But By Chance of War” (2012) won a Nautilus Book Award and a Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award. His education took him through the University of North Texas and a graduate career at Southern Methodist University. Lyons has been an avid admirer of the written word, which led him to literary pursuits as a poet, essayist and screenwriter. Professionally, Lyons has been involved in printing, publishing, stage and television production throughout his professional career. For more, visit https://www.lylea.com/.
“The DNA of Democracy” is an interesting title - what does it mean?
In viewing democracy through history, several cornerstones become apparent to its foundations, such as heroes who devote their lives to freedom, such as the will to found government for the good of all, not just some. Such as legal foundations as evident in constitutions going back to Athens and as modern as our own.
How and why did you choose the subject of democracy for your book? And what was your research process like?
I chose the subject because I have noticed what a fragile, temporal thing democracy can be. It is assumed we live in an eternal form of government, we do not, nor did the people of the Roman Republic. Several things are necessary for the health of democracy and they can be measured. As to the research, I found parallels or rhyming natures between the tyrannies of every era researched. Therefore, just as democracy has a DNA, tyrannies have a DNA as well.
Why is it so imperative for Americans to educate themselves on the history and processes of democracy, especially now?
We know as individuals we are in good health if our temperature is 98.6 degrees, if our heart rate is between 60 and 80 beats per minute at rest and if our chemistry exists within certain ranges. The same can be said about telling readings as to the balances in a democracy. It is necessary to know if as individuals we are physically healthy, just as it is necessary to know if the government that governs us as a people is healthy!
What are the greatest misconceptions about democracy and the democratic process?
The greatest misconception is that all governance is at the federal level and resides in the executive branch of government. That was not how our government was founded. “The DNA of Democracy” goes into depth, at a very readable level, to relate how the power of the individual in our democracy is the key to our democracy’s health.
Democracy has been a work in progress for centuries – will it ever stop evolving?
Government does evolve: it has a tendency to gather and concentrate power, hence the United States was conceived as a government with counter poise and balance between competitive branches. Volume 2 of the series, “Shadows of the Acropolis,” will go into depth on the critical subject of how dangerous our system can be, if it goes out of balance. “The DNA of Democracy” concerns itself first with how difficult the foundation of democracy is to achieve and the definition of what democracy is.
What are the differences and similarities between democracy and tyranny? And why is it important to make specific distinctions?
Because, just as one knows that a temperature of 101 degrees indicates ill health, by understanding what defines good health in democracy, defines what ill health would looks like and we can see examples every day…as either the virtuous expressions of a healthy democracy or the shadowy effects of an aspiring tyranny.
Have you personally visited any of the countries you wrote about in your book?
Yes, though there are not many mentioned in the book. Democracy is not widespread either historically or geographically, even though a lot of countries call themselves democracies. When you read this book you will be able to know if they are – why they are – or why they are not. It is a handy self-help guide on one of the most important topics to humanity, how humanity is governed, or better, how humanity can govern itself.
Your book explores the history of democracy in countries around the world at different times in history – which culture or time period fascinates you the most?
Simple answer, they all do. Our story is endlessly fascinating from the circumstances of the times and places to the sometimes grotesque, sometimes beautiful characters who lived in those places, at those times.
“The DNA of Democracy” is the first book in a series – what will the next installment explore?
Volume 1 defines democracy throughout history showing its necessary elements. Volume 2 will explore what human tendencies and natural tendencies endanger those necessary elements, such as individual participation and representation, judicial independence and political balance.
What historically are the telltale signs of a healthy democracy?
A. A balanced, mixed constitution of executive latitude of diplomacy, truly representative legislative assemblies and an independent judiciary.
B. Equality before and the equal application of laws which arise solely out of the legislative branch with the consent and enforcement of the executive and judicial branches.
C. The maintaining of power nearest the local level where it is applied.
D. A hands off policy regarding competing associations of faiths, charities, businesses.
E. Free expression, private ownership and individual rights.
Would you consider the United States, right now, to be an example of a healthy democracy?
Democracy is a form of government that is always in motion, hence the competing branches the constitution provides. But our democracy has been in motion in the past 50 years. Power that was once local or given to the states, is being assumed to the federal level. At the federal level power is aggregating away from the people’s representative assemblies of house and senate and into the executive branches myriad agencies and into the judicial branch. The constitution foresaw this will of every branch wanting to assume the powers of the others – it is happening both in the assumption of power in Washington DC and in the accumulation of power outside the reach of the governed at the federal level. Diagnosis: Not healthy.
Editors note: This is part of a series called The History Briefing. Contributors, primarily HNN internships, historically contextualize the week’s top headlines by summarizing how different historians have added their unique perspective to enhance news coverage.
Ever since Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on September 24th, the news has been dominated by impeachment updates. This week, the Trump administration voiced its unwillingness to cooperate with the inquiry and GOP support for impeachment grew. Historians weighed in on the current state of the impeachment inquiry across many publications this week. Here are some highlights.
J.M. Opal, the chair of the department of history and classical studies at McGill University, wrote an op ed for The Washington Post’s Made By History Section examining the impeachment of William Blount, a senator from North Carolina, in 1797. Opal believes William Blount was similar to Trump because he was “a man who tried to erase the line — blurry as it may be — between public service and private interest.” Blount was born to a wealthy family, had a real estate background, and was impeached on misdemeanors regarding foreign relations. As Opal reminds us, no U.S. president has actually been removed from office following impeachment but Blount provides an example of a Senator who was removed for similar offenses. Opal emphasizes the importance of taking the impeachment inquiry seriously because our founding leaders did so.
Josh Chafetz, a professor of law at Cornell University, historically contextualized the different paths the House can take. To Chafetz, the Trump Administration’s lack of cooperation warrants a “hardball” response from the House. Chafetz argues that the Bush and Obama administrations “raised significantly more plausible objections to congressional subpoenas,” yet the courts backed up the House and forced the administration to disclose subpoenaed information. Since the courts tend to back up the Houses’ power, Chafetz recommends that the House use its powers to arrest Rudy Giuliani and others who refuse to testify. The judicial branch can overrule Congress if it finds the person arrested was not in contempt of Congress, as happened in 1916. Although Congress has not arrested anyone since 1935, Chafetz explains a bold historical precedent that Congress could use as it continues its impeachment inquiry.
Journalists use history to strengthen stories and contextualize events, often by doing research or interviewing historians. Marisa Iati, a reporter for The Washington Post’s Retropolis section, used both tactics to critically analyze a statement from Rudy Giuliani this week. Giuliani compared impeachment to the Salem witch trials, tweeting that the late 17th century trials did not use anonymous testimony. Guiliani was firing back as Congressional leaders said the whistleblower coudl provide annonymous testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Iati’s research on the Salem witch trials suggested much of Guiliani’s statement was wrong. Iati describes what a witch trial looked like in the 17th century to emphasize the extremism of comparing the current invesetigation to the Salem witch trials. She writes, “Politicians and commentators of all ideologies have been known to refer to the Salem witch trials to argue that a member of their preferred party is getting a raw deal in an investigation.” The Benghazi incident that wedged its way into Hillary Clinton’s election coverage was often referred to as a “witch hunt,” Iati points out. The article was strengthened by the insights of Salem State University history professor Emerson W. Baker, who Iati interviewed for the piece. Historians help contextualize headlines for the public not just through penning their own arguments; agreeing to be interviewed also plays a key role in understanding the history of a particular event.
Frank O. Bowman, III contributed an article to Just Security that criticizes the White House’s letter refusing to cooperate in the impeachment proceeding released Tuesday. Bowman is a law professor at the University of Missouri and the author of a recent book, High Crimes & Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump. He calls the announcement a “public relations exercise” that is filled with “errors and mischaracterizations,” and characterizes the actions of the administration similar to those of the Andrew Johnson administration. He emphasizes that the administration’s refusal to cooperate must be addressed appropriately by the House of Representatives’ leadership. The House of Representatives has the constitutional authority to move forward with impeachment, as did Congress during the Johnson presidency, Bowman argues. Bowman’s historical background deems him a critical voice to inform the public about the week’s top story.
Editors note: This is part of a series called The History Briefing. Contributors, primarily HNN internships, historically contextualize the week’s top headlines by summarizing how different historians have added their unique perspective to enhance news coverage.
United States Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren made headlines this week over a story she has told on the campaign trail. In the early 1970s, Warren was fired from a teaching job because she was pregnant. While she was initially offered an extension of her job for the next year, after she was visibly pregnant, the job went to someone else. This account was originally questioned by a writer for Jacobin magazine, was then picked up by right-wing websites, and eventually was covered in the national news. Not only has Warren’s story sparked a conversation among the media and women who experienced similar discrimination, but it also inspired many historians to add clarity and context to pregnancy discrimination.
Historian and writer Joshua Zeitz Tweeted his input earlier this week. He explains that “to believe Warren is lying, one need be blind to the history of discrimination in ‘pink collar’ professions…” In the remainder of his Tweets, Zeitz describes the New Jersey state laws that prohibited the expulsion of pregnant teachers which were put in place a few years after Elizabeth Warren left her teaching job. While many pregnant teachers in the late 1960s, or even early 70s, faced less workplace discrimination in comparision to other professions, the fact that laws had to be enacted to legally bar pregnancy discrimination against teachers shows it was rampant.
History professor and Huffington Post contributor David M. Perry added nuance the historical analysis of pregnancy discrimination via Twitter. Perry tweeted:
Actual news: Over 60 women have now accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape.
NYT A1: We’re launching a week by week coverage of Elizabeth Warren’s pregnancy as it happened all those years ago, probably
Satirical in nature, Perry’s joke has a serious message about the treatment of women in not only the workplace, but also in the media. The rampant sexual harassment and assault women experience is a minor story while questioning the veracity of a woman’s experience of discrimination is headline news. While Perry’s tweet is short, it helps us question the media’s narrative and how it is rooted in historical sexism.
Historians and journalists have discussed the issue of pregnancy discrimination long before it made headlines this week. In Lily Rothman’s article “The Complicated History Behind the Fight for Pregnant Women’s Equality,” Rothman chronicles the history of discrimination that soon-to-be mothers have faced in the workplace and emphasizes that pregnancy discrimintion is still a big problem today. In 2014, for example, the Supreme Court heard the case of Penny Young who sued UPS because she was given unpaid leave for not being able to complete the laborious tasks required for her job while pregnant due to a recommendation from her doctor. As Rothman explains, the case hinged on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
Nancy Woloch, a professor of History at Barnard College, previously wrote a piece for HNN on paid maternity leave. Woloch’s article outlines the evolution of legal protections for people working while pregnant. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevented ”employment discrimination on the basis of sex”. The Medical Leave Act of 1993 ensured that pregnant women can take time off work without fear of retribution from the company.
Stone Age Brain is the blog of Rick Shenkman, the founding editor of the History News Network. His newest book is Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books, January 2016).
This is a blog post about Iran. Which is why I want to talk about Pearl Harbor. Let me explain.
In 2003, on a visit to Tokyo, I went to the Japanese War Museum. It was a visit I’ve never forgotten. The reason is the museum exhibit on Pearl Harbor, which I wrote about for HNN.
In the American telling, Pearl Harbor is the story of an imperial power attacking the United States out of the blue and for no good reason. It’s a story of treachery and connivance. It’s also a simple story of good guys and bad guys with the bad guys in the end getting their comeuppance.
This is not the story told in the museum. Most importantly, their story doesn’t begin with Pearl Harbor. It begins with an earlier decision by the US to cut off the supply of oil to Japan, a decision that strangled the Japanese economy. Pressed back on their heals the Japanese had little choice but to attack the US in retribution. Hence, Pearl Harbor.
What is missing from the Japanese story was the reason the US under FDR stopped oil shipments to Japan. It was because Japan was rampaging through Asia like a wild bully, as happened in Nanking, where 20,000 women were raped and 300,000 killed.
I have not been back to the museum since my 2003 visit. But here’s the lesson I learned that day that’s never left me. If you push a country to the brink of bankruptcy, said country is bound to feel strongly it is in the right to retaliate, whatever the reasons were for your action in the first place. Some six decades after the end of the war the people who put together that war exhibit were still of the opinion that the stoppage of oil was a legitimate casus belli.
So why bring this up now?
Iran today is acting in a way not too dissimilar from Japan. The message Iran was sending a few weeks ago when it blew up a good part of one of Saudi Arabia’s major oil refineries was that there’s a limit to the amount of pain the Persian country is willing to take. For a year it had waited patiently for relief from the sanctions the US was imposing but their patience had worn thin. The US kept increasing the sanctions, crippling the Iranian economy. Enough!
The Trump administration had its reasons for withdrawing from the nuclear agreement Barack Obama had cut with the Iranians. But from the Iranian point of view what mattered was the pain their people felt from the sanctions. At some point the Iranian regime was bound to react to that pain. A few weeks ago it did. And as Thomas Friedman points out in his New York Times column this week that single attack is now reshaping Middle East politics (and not for the good, I’d add).
On this blog I talk a lot about biases. So I would be remiss if I didn’t note that an obvious bias was at work in both Japan and Iran. To preserve themselves regimes will dream up any excuse they can manufacture to justify the actions they take to survive. The excuse need not be credible to outsiders. It is for domestic consumption. Owing to a natural desire to justify their own country’s behavior, people will readily accept said rationalization. This is human nature.
When the Trump administration cavalierly withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran they were playing with fire. A Pearl Harbor response was almost inevitable. When it came no one should have been taken by surprise.
I would guess that former National Security advisor John Bolton and President Donald Trump have never visited the Japanese War Museum. Too bad. There’s plenty to be learned from a war exhibit, even one that’s as badly biased as the one I saw back in 2003. (And apparently little has changed since then. According to news stories the museum still presents a warped right-wing view of the events that led to war.)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump last week. The impeachment came on the heels of a whistleblower complaint released to Congress and the Inspector General. The fallout from the complaint has created a media frenzy. Historians have helped us understand the historical context of whistleblowers.
Jennifer Lawerence, an Assistant Professor at Indiana University, wrote about the price whistleblowers pay for their risky actions. She noted multiple members of the intelligence community who have come forward as whistleblowers and faced retaliation such as Wiliam Binney, J Kirke Wiebe, Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning (all but Manning worked for the National Security Agency). These whistleblowers had to endure raids by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, confiscated property, prosecution, and even imprisonment. Lawerence added that whistleblowers from the intelligence community have historically lacked protections, specifically citing the ineffectiveness of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Act of 1998, which still stands today. Her nuanced approach to history helps clarify the treatment whistleblowers had to face and exposes an ignored component of whistleblowing.
Christoper Klein, a writer who specializes in history, wrote an excellent piece discussing when American whistleblowers first got protection from the government. Klein explained that the first protections originated in 1777 and were intended to benefit the ten sailors and marines who reported improper behavior by the Continental Navy’s most powerful man: Commander Esek Hopkins. When the soldiers reported Hopkins to Congress, they were imprisoned on Hopkins behalf. As a result, Congress passed a resolution to encourage the revelation of improper conduct. The cash-strapped legislative body also covered the sailors’ legal fees to ensure they had “adequate legal representation.” Klein underlined the significance of whistleblowers from the earliest points in American history. This particular piece can be used to compare how the government acted years ago to how the government is acting now.
Olivia Waxman, a writer for Time’s history section, created her own historical review of whistleblowers throughout history. Waxman detailed how the principle of whistleblowing dates back to medieval England and ancient Roman law. In early Britain, people who witnessed a transgression could report it to the king’s representatives for a chance at a bounty. She continued on to describe the False Claims Act of 1863 (also known as Lincoln’s Law), which punished contractors who sold shoddy goods to the Union Army during the Civil War. These laws aimed to protect against fraudulent activity. Waxman discussed some famous whistleblowers in American history including A. Ernest Fitzgerald (who testified that Lockhead Martin was overcharging the government billions of dollars), Frank Serpico (who exposed corruption in the New York Police Department), and Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers which described the government’s mismanaging of the Vietnam War). Waxman’s piece helps us understand the significant impact whistleblowers have had on American history and beyond.
Tom Mueller, a journalist and author of a forthcoming book about whistleblowing, also wrote an article about the history of whistleblowing for Politico Magazine. Mueller focused on the history of retaliations against “government truth-tellers.” One of the major cases he reviewed was the case against Thomas Drake of the National Security Agency. Mueller explained that as a result of Drake’s whistleblowing, he was indicted on ten criminal counts under various laws including the Espionage Act. Drake was threatened with thirty-five years of prison after the Federal Bureau of Investigation found what they deemed “highly classified” documents in his house. However, the Department of Justice’s case against Drake was so feeble that it collapsed on the eve of the trial. Mueller also explained how the Espionage Act is “regularly employed” to prosecute those who disclose national security information. He went on to explain that the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama aggressively used the Espionage Act to prosecute government employees who shared classified information. The Obama administration charged eight individuals in this process, more than any other president. Mueller’s incorporation of history helped to substantiate his growing fear: losing anonymity is almost guaranteed to bring professional and personal pain.
Fox News shields President Trump. But his love for their conspiracies might bring him down.
The connections aren’t as obvious, but America’s front lines remain the same as they’ve always been.
“The NBA just threw Hong Kong under the bus, purely for the sake of the almighty dollar. And if that’s not outrageous, I don’t know what is.”
Giuliani’s mind and career tell us as much as the impeachment inquiries are likely to do about why Trump’s presidency is so perverse.
It shouldn’t be legal to fire somebody for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
‘God Is Not Going to Put It in Your Lap.’ What Made Fannie Lou Hamer’s Message on Civil Rights So Radical—And So Enduringby Keisha N. Blain
Hamer’s bold message to “get up and try to do something” was one that all Americans committed to change needed to hear
The American right has advanced nutty conspiracy theories for decades. But the one we’re about to see play out will make Joe McCarthy look like an amateur.
In accusing the intelligence community whistle-blower of partisanship and treason, President Trump has redefined whistle-blowing to serve his private interests rather than the rule of law. In the American tradition, whistle-blowers expose illegal or unconstitutional acts that the powerful want to keep secret.
Sarah Milov, author of The Cigarette: A Political History, argues “the most dangerous aspect of vaping might not be what it does to the body, but rather what it does to the body politic.”
A look at Israeli history and its latest headlines.
The long history of baseball in D.C. after the Nationals clenchend a National League Conference Series appearance.
Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.
It’s useless to try not to talk about impeachment. It’s nearly impossible to avoid bringing it up. Running away from impeachment conversations doesn’t mean the conversation in your head will stop. So I’ll join in.
First, the national conversation is about Trump, and that’s not an accident. For a while, we heard and thought and talked about the Democratic candidates for President. They all talked about Trump, but that was only a small part of their message. Trump demands to be the lead in every news report, and now he is and will be for weeks, if not all the way to November 2020. He didn’t impeach himself just to top the news, but it’s a welcome outcome for him.
The impeachment inquiry came about because Trump cannot distinguish between his own personal interests and the interests of the US. He never had a job where he had to think about anything but his own welfare. As a businessman, he was a constant public disservice, forcing people to sue him because he discriminated against black renters, stiffed the construction workers who built his buildings, and cheated the students who enrolled in “Trump University”. His narcissistic personality makes it difficult for him to think about anything but himself in any situation. So it made sense for him to subordinate American foreign policy towards Ukraine, Australia, and China to his worries about his electoral chances against Joe Biden.
His thinking is dominated by certain fixed ideas, which reason, evidence, and argument cannot budge. He enlisted the Vice President, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General in his pursuit of a Ukraine conspiracy theory, which hardly anyone has heard of outside of radical right media, because it has no substance. Thomas Bossert, Trump’s first homeland security adviser, told him it was nonsense, but no person or group of persons can talk him out of these obsessions. Long after it was definitively proven that Obama was born in Hawaii, Trump continued to say he believed in his own lies.
The obsessions are about his exaggerated beliefs in his success and refusal to believe in any failure. He can’t stand the fact that he lost the popular vote to Clinton by 3 million votes. So he embraces one explanation after another, not based on anything more than his wishful thinking – first millions of undocumented people illegally voted for Clinton, now Ukraine plus the “deep state” secretly helped Clinton’s campaign and tried to pretend that Russia was helping Trump.
His political opinions are not convictions but malleable positions, depending on his interests and the moment. He has no fundamental beliefs except himself. That is evident from his changing positions on abortion, Democrats, and gay rights. Who jumps to the opposite side on every major issue of political culture?
He has no empathy or respect for people outside of his family. His family might be able to impress him with reasoned criticism, but they don’t because they are like him, putting self before any principle. More than any other group of people, their future is tied to his success or failure.
The American President presents the dangerous combination of absolute confidence that he is always right and always knows best, and a brain filled with nonsensical ideas. He commits impeachable offenses every day.
I don’t think that impeachment will get Trump out of the White House. There are not 20 Republican Senators who have the courage and patriotism to enforce the national interest when it might mean they lose an election. They share Trump’s ranking of their own political fortunes over any constitutional duty.
I think what matters is whether some Republicans in the House vote to impeach and some Republicans in the Senate vote to convict. In recent days, the first Republican dissenters have spoken out, led by Mitt Romney. Thus far, Senators Romney, Ben Sasse, and Susan Collins have openly criticized Trump. Republicans Will Hurd from Texas, Fred Upton of Michigan, and Mark Amodei of Nevada in the House have expressed support for investigating Trump, but are still wary of impeachment. Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle says that “two dozen” of his Republican colleagues in the House are deeply concerned about Trump’s impeachable actions, although few have said anything. The defections from Trump worship may bring out others. This is history, and what each Republican politician does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say, will define their legacies.
Unless more Republicans than the few so far show that they believe that he is a menace to our country, the impeachment inquiry will have little effect on the 2020 election. And that is the vote that matters.
In the first few minutes of Joker, the new Batman movie, Arthur French, who later become the clownish Joker, is beaten up by a gang of rowdy teenagers. French is working as a low paid clown, in costume and mask, when they assault him. He goes home to his shoddy apartment, walking up all the floors because, as always, his elevator is broken, and joins his psychotic mother, with whom he lives in poverty. The forty-ish French drifts into different moods, happy and sad, ecstatic and brooding. French takes seven brands of pills each day to calm himself down. He cannot resist cackling all the time, a disturbing laugh that sends shivers down your spine. Then, a la Bernie Goetz, he gets angry at three rich Wall Street types who harass him on the subway, whips out his revolver and kills them.
The public, that hates the rich, takes his side and people start to parade around the streets of Gotham City in clown masks.
French likes the attention paid to a killer. His moods deepen and, to save society, he starts to murder people. He shoots those he loves and those he does not love, a lot of them. There is blood all over Gotham City as he slinks away from his murders, cackling all the way home.
This newJoker is a dark, psychological mess, a man who, like the previous jokers in the Batman lore, has no feelings and no remorse. Gotham is scared. You will be scared.
Joker, that opened on Friday, is a brilliant, mesmerizing film, a deep and tantalizing look at a disturbed man and how sociological problems throughout his life brought him to his terrible state. Joaquin Phoenix, as the Joker is a sure fire Oscar nominee. He has lost a lot of weight for the role and his body quivers as frenetically as his head in many scenes. He shakes, he squirms, he squeals, he stretches, he clinches. He is just magnificent. He gives the Batman legend a new and dangerous focus in making a character for the ages.
Joker has problems, though. The beginning of the movie is very, very slow before it gets going with a roar with Joker’s first murder. The films moves on in spurts. It is electric for a few minutes, then dull and sluggish, then electric, then dull and sluggish. The film broods as the Joker does and gets a bit boring before Joker revs it up with more blood and gore.
In addition to Phoenix, there are fine performances by Robert de Niro as a famous talk show host and Frances Conroy as French’s sickly mom.
The film’s message is controversial. It suggests that poverty and perpetual problems of life in the city will cause the working class to rise up and riot, murdering lots of people along the way. I don’t know about that.
Batman fans will love Joker, but they will cringe and shudder, too. This Joker is not like the other famed Jokers of history. Writer/director Todd Phillips has created a new man here and he is different. Oh, is he ever different.
There is no adult Batman, Joker’s arch rival, in this film, but it neatly ties in the early days of the Batman legend and introduces Bruce Wayne as a boy and gives you a nice look at posh Wayne Manor.
The Joker is one of the oldest villains in comic book history. He first appeared in the debut issue of Batman in April, 1940. He was, and is, a psychopath who has no feelings for other people and no sense of remorse for crimes he has committed or people he has killed. The Joker has no sense of right or wrong. He also senses no fear at all and believes he is invincible.
Actor Heath Ledger described the Joker as “a psychopathetic, mass murdering schizophrenic clown who has no empathy for people.”
After two decades as a zany and colorful comic book villain, the Joker broke new ground as a frequent enemy of Batman and Robin in the goofy 1966 television series (BAM ! POW !) Batman, which is in reruns on several national television stations today (I see it on MeTV in the New York metro area). The joker in that series was played with enormous skill by famed actor Cesar Romero, who giggled and laughed across Gotham along with the Riddler, Penguin and other larger than life, quirky bad guys.
Romero’s Joker remained iconic until that sensational portrayal by Jack Nicholson as the Joker in the 1989 Batman movie. It was considered by many to be Nicholson’s finest performance. His Joker was eclipsed by the very disturbed and very scary portrayal of the villain by young Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight in 2008. Ledger showed Joker as a psychotic master of anarchy and criminality.
The Joker moved to higher ground with Nicholson’s portrayal because it set him up as an important character, as important as Batman himself, and gave him real style. In The Dark Knight, Ledger’s joker did the same in a different way, taking a little of the spotlight off the Caped Crusader.
Many critics say that the character of the Joker has evolved from comic book icon to Romero to Nicholson to Ledger to Phoenix. Not so. Each character is distinctly unique because these celebrated actors chose to make him so. They are all different “jokers” and they are going wild on their own.
Nicholson’s Joker was a common mobster until he fell into a deep vat of chemicals and became disfigured with a pasty white face and permanent evil grin. Ledger’s Joker just bounded out of nowhere with his stringy green hair, faded makeup and mangled face. Phoenix’s joker is a misery of inner and outer conflict with a loud, cackling laugh.
Nicholson’s joker stole the show in Batman with his witticisms and snappy remarks (“Wait ‘til they get a load of me!”).
Ledger’s joker had some snap rejoinders, too, such as asking a man he is threatening, “Why so serious?”
Romero had gaudy pranks. Nicholson used sight gags that were deadly and his head was often thrown back on his shoulders. Romero leaped about the set, Nicholson pranced, Ledger slinked.
Romero’s Gotham City was more comic book than the metropolis of the other jokers. Nicholson’s Gotham, inhabited by a sulking Batman, was dark and evil. Ledger’s was dangerous and Phoenix’ is simply terrifying.
All in all, these are guys you do NOT want to invite to your dinner party or your little girls’s birthday bash.
In 2008, sadly, the joker legend broke new and tragic ground. Just before the 2008 debut of The Dark Knight, Ledger died of a prescription drug overdose. His sudden death shocked the country (he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year, posthumously). It also forced people to see The Joker character in a new and sad way.
In 2012, the Joker made tragic news again when another Batman movie debuted, The Dark Knight Rises. It was screened at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. On January 22, a gunman, James Holmes, walked into the theater and began a shooting spree which left 12 dead and 70 wounded. Holmes, with his wild, scraggly red hair, was said by many theater patrons to remind them of the Joker. It was rumored, falsely, that Holmes was actually a fan of The Joker. The evil character became attached to the shooter in the minds of many.
That Batman movie became international news and a national tragedy. Warner Bros. scrubbed several openings and delayed many more. Even so, the movie earned a billion dollars world wide. The Joker will not be shown at the Aurora theater where those movie patrons were murdered.
Just recently, dozens of relatives of those killed or wounded in the mass shooting in Aurora signed a letter that asked Warner Bros. to donate a percentage of its revenue for Joker to charities of Aurora gun victims.
Over the last few months Joker, that won the Venice Film Festival best movie award, has been the center of a firestorm over move violence. Many people are claiming that the violence of the new Joker might spur mentally ill people to go to yet another movie theater and murder people or wander into a city street, or park, and slay people. A website covering that has been monitored by police around the country. A theater in California received a threat and scrubbed several screenings of the film last weekend. The Los Angeles police have gone on high alert around movie theaters showing the Joker over violence fears.
At the quiet suburban theater where I saw Joker, signs were posted on entrance doors banning masks, costumes, bulky clothing and knapsacks.
To me, this is media hysteria. Phoenix, tormented by interviewer suggestions of violence, last week finally confronted the issue and, wisely, said that a disturbed person does not need to see Joker, or any other movie, to go out and commit violence. The film does not trigger it; they do themselves. How many thousands of violent movies have we all seen over the last 100 years? How many of them spurred people to commit murder? A handful, maybe less. As police note, better safe than sorry.
What do we do next, though, cancel all the cop shows on TV?
Let’s let the Joker bound about Gotham City in his clown face. We’ll enjoy his story and leave the rest up to the psychiatrists, hospitals and police.
When you sit down in the Golden Theatre, W. 45th Street, in New York, you see yourself in the huge set of mirrors on the stage along with the reflection of a huge white slave plantation manor house. You are not sure what it means, but when Slave Play begins you know quickly that you are in for a night not just of looking at a drama about slavery and its aftermath, but a good long look into yourself. And it is a searing, powerful look, too.
Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, that opened Sunday, is gripping, phenomenal, just sensational and a new and shaky bridge between the races, men and women and people in history.
The play starts with three vignettes from life on a Richmond, Virginia plantation in the pre-Civil War days. They are poignant and, at times wildy funny (one is about a woman slave master who sexually assaults her young, handsome male slave with a dildo but let’s not go there). The vignettes turn out to be role-playing scenes for mixed race couples at a contemporary group sex therapy session conducted by two know-it-all women psychiatrists (from Yale, from Yale, from Yale, they keep reminding you). The sex therapy session tries to help the couples understand the roles that race play in their sexual and emotional relationships.
The two psychiatrists, who really have no idea what they are doing, toss about theories that you never heard of and words that nobody understands in an effort to prove to their participants how smart they are. After a while, it is apparent that while the participants do not understand any of this, they all have a pretty good idea of the problems that confront them - but not the solutions.
Couple number one involves a black gay man, Gary, and his white partner Dustin. Oops, he is not white. He is, but he keeps telling the audience he is not (“Are you off white?” his black partner says).
The “white” partner, an actor, goes into a tirade about race and race and sex and race and emotion and then wails that because he has to live in out of the way East Harlem, he never makes it to auditions on time. That is the boundary in his intellect – at first. The second couple is tall, gorgeous, laid- back black man with an apparently older, ordinary looking white wife. They have racial troubles in their marriage but do not understand much about it, until they delve into how they got together – as a black man, white woman tryst in front of her ex-husband for racial kicks.
Couple number three is a white middle-aged man who is British. He was the first white man, and first Brit, that she slept with. They wound up getting married, but three years ago it was clear that something was missing.
Although the theme of the play is serious, and there is much heavy drama, the play is howlingly funny. The barbs and zingers never miss. My favorite moment was when one of the intellectual psychiatrists finishes a long-winded academic analysis of black and white relationships. One female participant yells out, “I just read that in the New Yorker.” It brought down the house.
By the middle of the play, much of the laughter dies off and Slave Play turns into a riveting, gut wrenching story about three mixed race couples who are mixed up. They do not understand what role race plays in their relationship, and don’t get it as men and women, either. Here is where playwright Harris skewers them, and everybody in America. He says that the troubles of slavery so long ago did not fade with the Thirteenth Amendment, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the protest marches in the street or the election of President Obama. They are still here for many people. It is tough for couples to shake off the shackles of slavery’s legacy and move on. The play tickles the funny bone and then, later, as it races towards its conclusion, it chokes us, literally chokes us, with its power.
The play rambles a lot about love and marriage, but it rambles a lot about the nation, too, and how we react to slavery today. How do you react if you’re black? If you’re white? Man? Woman? Can you shake off American history?
Was there anything wrong with all those tens of thousands of mulatto Americans who were the result of white master/slave girl relationships, mostly by force? Oh, yes. Have the two races overcome that now, in 2019? Has America? Oh no.
The director, Robert O’Hara, does a fine job of blending in the slave days of the play with the contemporary therapy session and in keeping the individuality of the participants in the session and the two kooky psychiatrists, too. He lets all the tortured stories unfold, without letting one gain prominence over the others.
O’Hara gets fine work from an ensemble cast of remarkably skilled actors who make slavery days in America come to life and make the modern day lives of mixed-race couples scalding, too. They are Ato Blankson Wood as Gary, James Cusati –Moyer as his not so white partner, Dustin, Sullivan Jones as Phillip, Joaquina Kalukango as Kaneisha, Chalia La Tour as Tea, Irene Sofia Lucio as Patricia, Annie McNamara as Alan and Paul Alexander Nolan as Jim.
Harris’ work is one more play in the long line of artistic works that have explored race in America. Does he have the final answer to those racial problems? Not all of them. But he does tell a haunting, intriguing and troubling story. You’ll talk about it for weeks.
This is theatrical dynamite, a play that comes along once in a generation. You will laugh, clench your fists in anger, widen your eyes, grip the arms of your seat, inhale deeply and exhale even more deeply. It is savage. It is gripping. It is a triumphant and scary look at the heart of America.
PRODUCTION: The play is produced by Mark Shacket, the New York Theatre Workshop, others. Scenic Design: Clint Ramos, Costumes: Dede Ayite, Sound: Lindsay Jones, Lighting: Jiyoun Chang, the play is directed by Robert O’Hara. It has an open-ended run.
Reprinted from The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America with the permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Copyright © 2019 by Thom Hartmann.
An Inflammatory headline in The Gazette (Arkansas), October 3, 1919
One hundred years ago, in the “Red Summer” of 1919, rampaging whites killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of African Americans in pogroms and race riots. One of the most murderous events occurred in the Mississippi Delta in and around Elaine, Arkansas. Late on the night of September 30, at a church located at a country cross-roads called Hoop Spur, about 100 African Americans met to organize the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America. On the eve of cotton harvest, small farmers, tenants, and sharecroppers demanded higher prices for their cotton from local white elites or pledged to go around them entirely by taking their cotton to market somewhere else. Pure greed set the landed gentry against them. White authorities claimed black unionists were organizing an “insurrection” and mass killing of white people, rather than getting an equitable price for their crops. Their unionization drove the planters wild. What happened next should live in infamy.
Blacks far outnumbered whites in Phillips County, but whites had most of the guns. A carload of whites approached the meeting and exchanged fire with black people guarding the church. One white man was killed and another wounded, possibly by stray bullets from their own side. Hundreds of white vigilantes, dozens of law enforcement officials, and most deadly of all, 500 U.S. soldiers mobilized from nearby Camp Pike by the Arkansas governor, led hellish assaults for the next four days. According to proud accounts by those who did it, mobs went from house to house killing black occupants. Troops marched through forests where people hid and used machine guns to mow them down. One modest estimate counted 100 to 237 dead, but others thought hundreds more black bodies clogged the rivers and were covered over in the woods.
Why did this happen? The Elaine Massacre highlighted racial holocausts sweeping the United States in the wake of World War I. In 1919, the United States was in the grip of a racist, anti-labor, anti-communist fervor. The Russian Revolution, the Seattle General Strike, and union unrest set off media and government campaigns against the left, unions, immigrants, Latinos and African Americans. Red Summer weaponized white workers and white ethnics to attack blacks encroaching on neighborhoods and jobs. Employers brought in blacks to break strikes and played off workers against each other. Red Summer helped kill a national strike of 350,000 Steel Workers, destroy interracial packinghouse worker organizing in Chicago, and undermine unions everywhere.
The white heat of racial massacre followed in Elaine based on the South’s legacy of slavery and institutional violence against black people. A white landowning class in the Arkansas Delta had made millions from slave labor and, with support by whites from other social classes, crushed black freedom after the Civil War through lynching, disfranchisement and segregation. In 1919, the price of cotton had shot sky high, and white landlords, merchants, and cotton factors stood to gain a windfall profit if they could keep the black workers who planted, tended, and harvested the cotton from getting a fair price for their crops.
The context was also national. During and after the Red Summer, black soldiers who had returned from World War I had weapons and knew how to use them. “New Negro” racial uplift and organizing blossomed. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Universal Negro Improvement Association led by Black nationalist Marcus Garvey both had branches in Arkansas. The black press, particularly the Chicago Defender, connected black resistance movements, as a million or more African Americans left the South for industrial jobs elsewhere, sometimes joined unions, and fought fiercely against racism. Black advancement and resistance threated the Jim Crow system, North and South.
The mass shootings in Elaine highlighted the ferocity and cruelty of racism and revealed the perversion of the criminal justice system. White authorities indicted no white murderers but undertook mass arrests of blacks, held nearly 300 of them in a jail in Helena designed to hold forty-eight, and used torture and beatings to elicit “confessions.” A Phillips County grand jury indicted 122 black people. In two separate trials, all-white juries took only minutes to convict twelve union members and sentence them to die in the electric chair. The orgy of violence in 1919 helped a rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan as a mass movement and its political takeover in parts of the lower Midwest and the South. Racial violence didn’t stop. In 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, whites raped, murdered, looted, shot and bombed from the air to destroy the thriving black community of Greenwood. Hundreds died as whites burned the business district and some 200 homes to the ground.
Elaine helped to open the floodgates of violence, but left a few kernels of hope and seeds of organizing for the future. Black writer and organizer Ida B. Wells-Barnett, black Arkansas attorney Scipio Jones, and the NAACP saved the Elaine Twelve from the electric chair. By 1925, they were all released from prison (and spirited quickly out of the state), and their case before the U.S. Supreme Court (Moore V. Dempsey, 1923) strengthened the court’s interpretation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to correct state criminal trials that blatantly ignored the rights of defendants. The ghosts of Elaine unionists also reached out to the next generation when the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union organized in the Arkansas Delta again in the 1930s. Racial terrorism and cotton mechanization destroyed the STFU too, but civil rights organizers in the 1960s chose to remember that blacks and whites in Ku Klux Klan country for a time successfully organized this bi-racial union.
Today, unfortunately, there is no closure on racism. When the Elaine Legacy Center remembered the town’s martyrs by planting a tree last August, someone cut the tree down. In a town of 500 or so people, about forty percent of them African Americans, median household income hovers between $16,000 and $19,000, and some forty percent live in poverty. Racial terror (and later, farm mechanization) undercut the fortunes of generations of black farmers and workers.
It remains extremely important that we remember signal events in our history, but also how we remember them. The great sociologist W.E.B. DuBois later explained that racial separation and violence drove a stake through the heart of nascent labor movement in the South, destroying the potential of union incomes for white as well as black workers. Elaine was a turning point, but it was only one of many.
We need to remember the past in order to do something about its legacies. There should be federal and state investigations to clarify what happened in Elaine so that the next generation does not continue to believe the myths created by those who carried out the murders, to consider ways to repair the economic and social damage, and to fight anew against white supremacy and terrorism. The evil of the “red summer” of 1919 still haunts the land. Evil’s still on the loose, and you’ve got to take a side.
The meaning of democratic socialism―a mixture of political and economic democracy―should be no mystery to Americans. After all, socialist programs have been adopted in most other democratic nations. And, in fact, Americans appear happy enough with a wide range of democratic socialist institutions in the United States, including public schools, public parks, minimum wage laws, Social Security, public radio, unemployment insurance, public universities, Medicare, public libraries, the U.S. postal service, public roads, and high taxes on the wealthy.
Even so, large numbers of Americans seem remarkably confused about democratic socialism. This April, at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, an attendee complained to Senator Bernie Sanders, a leading proponent of democratic socialism, that her father’s family left the Soviet Union, “fleeing from some of the very socialist policies that you seem eager to implement in this country.” Sanders responded: “Is it your assumption that I supported or believe in authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union? I don’t. I never have, and I opposed it.” He added: “What democratic socialism means to me is we expand Medicare, we provide educational opportunity to all Americans, we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.”
But, despite Sanders’ personal popularity and the popularity of the programs he advocates, large numbers of Americans―especially from older generations―remain uneasy about “socialism.” Not surprisingly, Donald Trump and other rightwing Republicans have seized on this to brand the Democrats as the party of socialist dictatorship.
Why does socialism―even something as innocuously labeled as democratic socialism―have this stigma?
Originally, “socialism” was a vague term, encompassing a variety of different approaches to securing greater economic equality. These included Christian socialism, utopian socialism, Marxian socialism, syndicalism, evolutionary socialism, and revolutionary socialism. For a time, Socialist parties in many countries, including the Socialist Party of America, housed these differing tendencies.
But the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution led to a lasting division in the world socialist movement. The Bolsheviks, grim survivors of Russia’s centuries-old Czarist tyranny and vigorous proponents of socialist revolution, regarded the democratic, parliamentary path followed by the Socialist parties of other countries with scorn. Consequently, renaming themselves Communists, they established Communist parties in other lands and called upon true revolutionaries to join them. Many did so. As a result, the world socialist movement became divided between Socialist parties (championing multi-party elections and civil liberties) and rival Communist parties (championing revolution followed by a Communist Party dictatorship).
Despite the clear difference between Socialist parties (promoting democratic socialism, often termed social democracy) and Communist parties (promoting the authoritarian Soviet model and Soviet interests), plus the bitter hostility that often existed between them, many Americans associated one with the other.
This confusion was enhanced, in subsequent decades, by the tendency of Communists to cling to the term “socialist.” As “socialism” had positive connotations for many people around the world, Communist leaders frequently argued that Socialists weren’t “socialist” at all, and that Communists were the only true “socialists.” Communist-led nations alone, they claimed, represented “real socialism.”
Actually, Communist and Socialist parties didn’t have much in common. The Soviet government and later unelected Communist regimes―much like fascist and other rightwing governments―became notorious as brutal tyrannies that instituted mass imprisonment, torture, and murder. In reaction, many Communists grew disillusioned, quit their parties, or sought to reform them, while popular uprisings toppled Communist dictatorships. By contrast, Socialist parties won elections repeatedly and governed numerous nations where, less dramatically, they enacted democratic socialist programs. Nowhere did these programs lead to the destruction of political democracy.
Meanwhile, the Socialist Party of America gradually disintegrated. One reason for its decline was government repression during World War I and the postwar “Red Scare.” Another was that, in the 1930s, the Democratic Party adopted some of its platform (including a massive jobs program, Social Security, a wealth tax, union rights for workers, and minimum wage legislation) and absorbed most of its constituency. Rather than acknowledge the socialist roots of these popular policies, President Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats chose to talk of a New Deal for “the common man.” This sleight of hand boosted the Democrats and further undermined the dwindling Socialist Party.
In response, conservatives―especially big business, its wealthy owners, and their political defenders―acted as if a Red revolution had arrived. Assailing Social Security, Republican Congressman Daniel Reed predicted that “the lash of the dictator will be felt.” In January 1936, at a gala dinner sponsored by the American Liberty League, a group of wealthy business and conservative leaders, Al Smith―the former New York Governor who had turned sharply against the Roosevelt administration―addressed the gathering and a national radio audience. Charging that New Dealers had enacted “the Socialist platform,” he asserted that “there can be only one capital, Washington or Moscow. There can be only one atmosphere of government, the clear, pure, fresh air of free America, or the foul breath of communistic Russia.”
During America’s Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union, conservatives frequently employed this line of attack. “If Medicare passes into law, the consequences will be dire beyond imagining,” Ronald Reagan warned a radio audience in the early 1960s. “You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” Against this backdrop, most Democrats kept their distance from the word “socialism,” while much of the public simply wrote it off as meaning tanks in Moscow’s Red Square.
More recently, of course, the disappearance of the Soviet Union and most other Communist nations, rising economic inequality, the attractive model of Scandinavian social democracy, and Bernie Sanders’ Americanization of “socialism” have enhanced the popularity of “socialism”―in its democratic socialist form―in the United States.
It’s probably premature to predict that most Americans will finally recognize the democratic socialist nature of many programs they admire. But that’s certainly a possibility.
I suppose we should all be happy that “McCarthyism” has become such a widely used accusation that it appears in almost every news cycle, and that there is now a consensus that it is a “bad thing.”
Unfortunately, the term has become almost entirely evacuated of its historical and political meaning. Exhibit A: Republican Senator Mitch McConnell accused critics of “McCarthyism” for pointing out that McConnell blocking investigations into Russian election meddling benefited President Vladimir Putin.Even worse, President Trump accusedactress Debra Messing of McCarthyism and in the same tweet calledfor Messing, an outspoken liberal whom he considers a political enemy, to be “thrown off television.”
Historians need to set the record straight. Let’s start by defining the term on the basis of the actual history. Historians and non-historians alike use the term “McCarthyism” to refer to a broadly applied mid-twentieth century red scare, named after the junior Senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, who stole the anticommunist limelight at its later stages in February 1950. The anticommunist repression McCarthy fronted had been going onsince at least 1947, and some historians argue, myself included, it began in the late 1930s.
With or without McCarthy at its head, McCarthyism was practiced very deliberately and narrowly. It used the investigative and police powers of the state to target communists and socialists (and a few liberals), exclude them from governing institutions, and banish them from most other parts of American political culture.
At its height in the 1950s and early 1960s, McCarthyism most effectively purged government agencies, schools and universities, film and television production, theater, publishing, and journalism. It ruined the careers of thousands of teachers, actors, writers, and civil servants. It was a constitutional nightmare that violated the right to free speech and assembly, the right of association, the right of due process, the protection against unwarranted surveillance, and the protection against self-incrimination.
Even more important: It closed off a whole tradition of political activism and speech from the American body politic. Until the 1970s, for example, American teachers still had to sign loyalty oaths denying communist affiliation in order to get jobs in American schools. Even today, left-wing teachers must be guarded about their political views and affiliations.
Thus, McCarthyism is a unique political phenomenon that had far-reaching and damaging consequences. Fundamentally, McCarthyism was the exclusion and persecution directed by the state– by investigative agencies like the FBI and specially empowered Senate and House committees – against the American left. These are big and ugly shoes to fill. Any claim to being the victim of a “new McCarthyism” would require the repetition of key aspects of this historical tradition.
Liberal actress Debra Messing has not filled those big and ugly shoes. Not by a long shot. When she asked for the list of attendees at a Hollywood fundraiser for President Trump’s 2020 campaign, she may have violated her own liberal principles. When she and Eric McCormick, her former co-star on the Will and Grace TV show, suggested they didn’t want to work with Trump supporters in future productions, they may have let their political views get in the way of their artistic better judgment.
But they didn’t practice McCarthyism. President Trump’s call for Messing to be “thrown off television” for what she and McCormick wrote is more what real McCarthyism looks like: a powerful political leader trying to get employers to fire people for saying something he doesn’t like and considers a threat.
Whoopie Goldberg, another of Messing critics, astutely noted that holding actors accountable for their political views bears some likeness to the Hollywood blacklist, which forced hundreds of communists, socialists, liberals and otherwise merely decent people out of their jobs in the film industry. But Goldberg is exaggerating when she says, “the last time people did this (referring to Messing’s remarks), people ended up killing themselves.” Yes, blacklisted artists and actors did commit suicide. But the blacklist was not a particular actor saying they didn’t want to work with others because they found their politics offensive. The real Hollywood blacklist was an act of political repression directed by the state against left-wing Hollywood artists.
Let’s recall how the blacklist actually started and worked: In 1942 the FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, began an investigation into communist influence in Hollywood. An extreme conservative in charge of the most powerful police agency in American history, Hoover believed that films exercised an undue influence on the political views and values of the American public, and that communists and other freethinkers were at fault.
As historian John Sbardellati recounted in his recent study of the FBI’s Hollywood probe, Hoover encouraged the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), a sub-committee established in the 1930s to investigate a wide range of subversive organizations, to undertake an investigation of Hollywood communism in 1947 when the House and all of its committees were taken over by Republicans after their triumph in the 1946 elections. HUAC Republicans gladly used the high public profiles of their Hollywood targets, which included popular actors like John Garfield and Paul Robeson, to jump-start the following year’s presidential campaign against President Harry Truman and the legacy of the New Deal.
What quickly unfolded was a series of hearings and investigations in which Hollywood personalities were called before Congress to attest to their loyalty and to deny membership in the Communist Party of the United States. Not all the people who were persecuted by HUAC were communists, but many of them belonged to the party at some point in their careers, including blacklisted writers and directors like Albert Maltz, Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson.
HUAC and the FBI forced Hollywood producers to create a blacklist of suspected communists, disloyal liberals and socialists, and generally uncooperative witnesses before HUAC and other committees. Some conservative movie studio heads like Louis Mayer gladly complied. Others did so out of fear that a broader and more punitive form of censorship would be imposed on them from Washington if they did not. Until the early 1960s, Hollywood studios refused to hire anyone on that blacklist or distribute films on which they worked.
While the blacklist may appear to Whoopie Goldberg to have started as a matter of personal choice like Messing’s and McCormick’s, and while right-wing Republican Mitch McConnell may protest the “new McCarthyism” when Democrats call him “Moscow Mitch,” McCarthyism isn’t just someone acting prejudicially on the basis of their political views. however ill conceived those choices may be. Nor is it the stifling of free speech on college campuses by “political correctness,” however damaging that might be to robust intellectual and political discussion.
McCarthyism was and is a long-standing practice of using the investigative and police powers of national and state governments to exclude the left from American political life. It attacks the left, demonizing communists and socialists, and building public hysteria to close down liberal programs in order to gain conservative advantage.
That historical tradition, sadly, has not ended – witness concerted Republican efforts to “put socialism on trial” as Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow declared it, and “convict it.” That is the real McCarthyism threatening American democracy at this moment. However misconceived Debra Messing’s publicly announced prejudices, there is no comparison.
Holly Jackson is an associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her writing on U.S. cultural history has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, as well as a number of scholarly venues. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Dr. Jackson discussed her latest book, American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation, with the History News Network. American Radicals will be released October 8th.
Why was this a peak moment of protest in American history?
American Radicals focuses on the period from around 1820 through the end of Reconstruction in 1877, and I’ve tried to show that social justice movements did not simply respond to the volatile political conditions of this time, but played an important role in shaping them. In the antebellum period, the federal government brokered a string of compromises over slavery, aiming to preserve the union between the sections. A critical mass of ordinary Americans taking active measures in opposition to slavery, and this certainly included enslaved people themselves, helped to push the country to its ultimate reckoning with this issue in the Civil War and also intervened in the period of social re-engineering that followed. This was a golden age for multi-issue activists who wanted to interrogate and overturn not only slavery, but also other longstanding forms of oppression that many Americans considered natural, even divinely ordained, including women’s subordination in marriage, prisons, economic inequality, and so on. There were also two major depressions in this period that catalyzed people to think about critically about capitalism and consider alternatives.
What were the tactics/methods of the first American protest movements?
Protest took many forms, ranging from lifestyle choices like veganism and consumer boycotts to strikes and demonstrates, up to attempted coups d’état. Thousands of Americans lived in alternative communities at some point during this period in order to separate their daily lives from a mainstream culture they found objectionable. One subset of abolitionists called the Come-Outers sometimes crashed church services. Free Lovers risked jail time for cohabiting with their partners, or else staged protest weddings. The figures I focus on were particularly invested in the power of the written word to make social change; they published pamphlets and novels and manifestoes, edited radical newspapers and magazines.
What can we learn from the abolitionists and women’s rights activists? How did they work together successfully? What were the limits?
These two movements were richly intertwined and mutually sustaining before the Civil War, which is not to say that activists always worked together across issues in perfect harmony. The strain of activism usually associated with William Lloyd Garrison was controversial even within the abolitionist movement, not only for its anti-government stance, but for its advocacy of women’s equality and public leadership. When a separate women’s rights movement emerged, the personnel was largely drawn from the antislavery community. Frederick Douglass was not only present at the Seneca Falls convention, he convinced the assembly to pursue the goal of women’s suffrage even though most of the women present thought it was too radical.
These collaborations were severely tested after the war. Some women’s rights leaders felt sidelined by the push for black male suffrage. Frances Harper and others advocated for what we would now call an intersectional approach, mindful of multiple social hierarchies at once, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony turned to racist fear-mongering in their arguments for women’s suffrage.
There are a number of other crucial relationships between the social movements of this period that are not as well known. For example, Stanton credited the utopian socialist Charles Fourier with the dawning of her feminist consciousness. The labor movement and Free Love each overlapped significantly with both antislavery and women’s rights.
What opposition did this era of activists face?
They were regarded by most of their countrymen as dangerous troublemakers and faced virulent opposition from many directions. Mainstream newspapers went far beyond lampooning their countercultural quirks to actively fomenting violence against them. Antislavery activists were assaulted, even murdered. Mobs set fire to their lecture venues. Laws were passed to curtail their right to free speech, including gag rules in the antebellum period and anti-obscenity legislation later in the century aimed at those circulating information about birth control. The book describes two instances in which American presidents deployed military force to crush civilian protests: the first was in Boston in 1854, where 50,000 people had turned out to demand the release of Anthony Burns, a self-emancipated refugee from Virginia, and the second was in Pennsylvania in 1877, when railway workers carried out a massive strike that spread across the country; soldiers killed around a hundred civilians. Americans have always had an ambivalent relationship to protest, despite our revolutionary origins
What does this era tell us about the discrepancy between the ideals and the reality of the United States?
Even though these activists were plugged into international networks and were deeply critical of nationalism, they framed their social justice work specifically as a struggle for American values. Across movements, they called for a “second revolution” that would complete the first, so that the everyday lives of all Americans might finally reflect the ideals of equality and freedom that had never been realized. The Declaration of Independence was a key text for many who wanted to reclaim its power as a radical manifesto and hold Americans to account for their own professed beliefs. It was quoted and reworked extensively by African American activists like James Forten and David Walker, and later by John Brown, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Free Lovers like Marx Lazarus.
What do you want readers to take away from this book about the lessons for today?
I hope American Radicals makes it clear that social justice protest has been a defining force in American history. As we grapple with the deep roots and long aftermath of colonialism, slavery, capitalist exploitation, it’s important to know that there was always profound opposition to those forces as well. This period saw the rise of modern social justice movements that transformed American society, though their work is far from complete. People who care about these issues today should understand themselves as part of a long tradition.
In 1854, Henry David Thoreau said he was plagued by a “sense of having suffered a vast and indefinite loss,” and he realized “that what I had lost was a country.” Then, as now, Americans were outraged about family separation, sexual assaults on women, an economic 1% exerting outsize control on the government, the devaluation of black lives. Americans have felt this sense of personal grief and outraged patriotism before, and it has fired some of the finest moments in our history.
President Trump never admits a mistake.
Even when the mistake is blatantly obvious, Trump still refuses to fess up. He goes to absurd lengths to attempt to falsely explain it away.
A typical example is the recent clamor over Trump’s obvious mistake of warning the nation that the state of Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian and was at risk of suffering severe damage. The National Weather Service immediately issued a correction saying that Alabama, in fact, was not in the path of the hurricane and thus was not at risk of suffering any damage.
But Trump could not admit he was wrong. Instead, Trump continued to insist that he was right.
In a surreal displayfrom the Oval Office of the White House, Trump displayed to the nation a map of the path of the hurricane that obviously had been doctored with a Sharpie pen to extend the hurricane’s path to inaccurately include the state of Alabama.
Why can’t Trump simply admit that he made a mistake? Why does Trump feel the need to go to such great lengths to insist he was not wrong?
In his 1924 book, “Mein Kampf,” Hitler describedhis strategy for how his then-neophyte Nazi party could seize power through the use of propaganda and psychological manipulation.
According to Hitler’s demented worldview, a leader must “fill people with blind faith” that he and his party doctrine are absolutely and unquestionably correct. The leader must create an army of “intellectually less capable men” who are instilled with “rigid discipline and fanatical faith” for the cause, and each follower must be “taught to stake his life for it without reservation.”
To keep the flock obedient, the leader and the party must always appear to be absolutely correct. The party’s pronouncements must be “unshakable,” “dogmatic,” “creedlike,” and always seem like a “granite principle.”
Objective truth and reality are disregarded. It is far more important to cling to what was said initially in order to maintain the impression of always being right, even if the original pronouncement was flatly wrong. As Hitler states, “[I]t is less harmful to retain a formulation, even if it should not entirely correspond to reality, than by improving it” to correct the error.
The problem with correcting errors is that this leads to “evil consequences.” Once the faithful realize that the doctrine from on high is not always unquestionably correct, then people may begin to question it. This can lead to “discussion,” “squabbles,” “uncertainty,” and “doubt.”
Questioning authority, of course, is abhorrent to authoritarian rule. Hitler warnedthat the party must avoid “all actions that splinter and create uncertainty.”
Hitler considered the Catholic Church as a model of this principle. Even though the doctrine of the Churchconflicted with proven science, the Church was “nonetheless unwilling to sacrifice so much as one little syllable of its dogmas.”
The lesson is that when the leader or the party is questioned, the response must be to fight. Fight everything. Concede nothing. Maintain a unified front. Project total power and absolute certainty.
The purpose of Hitler’s approach wasto condition the people to mindlessly follow the leader regardless of the leader’s policies or conduct. Democracy, however, is exactly the opposite. In a democracy, the people continuously assess the leader, and if the performance is unsatisfactory, the people can elect a new leader.
Trump, however, is following Hitler’s approach.
Trump is seeking to maintain his army of supporters based upon “blind faith” in Trump himself rather than upon reason. Trump has sold himself to his followers asa highly successful, incredibly wealthy, “very stable genius.”
So what happens when Trump makes an idiotic mistake? Deny it. Fight like mad. Maintain the unified front. The truth does not matter one bit.
Admitting a mistake could very well lead to evil consequences. Once the Trump faithful realize that Trump does indeed make foolish mistakes, they might very well begin to question the legitimacy of the overall Trump mystique.
This could lead to discussion, squabbles, uncertainty, and doubt. Maybe Trump is not a genius after all. Maybe Trump is not even very smart. In fact, maybe Trump is an outright fool.
And why in the world would anyone re-elect a fool?
No wonder Trump goes to such extraordinary lengths to never admit a mistake.
One little crack in the façade could cause the entire edifice to crumble.
In the center of the photo - Herb Callender (front, dark suit, Black male) and Ray Wood (sunglasses, bow tie, white suit, Black male)
Attorney General Barr recently gave a speech to the country’s largest law-enforcement organization in which he criticized “social justice reformers” and contended there must be “zero tolerance for resisting police”. A few days earlier the Young Turks broke the story that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) listed ”Black Identity Extremists” (BIE) as a top priority in its fight against terrorism. The FBI considered BIE a higher priority than Al Qaeda and White Supremacists. According to the FBI documents they acquired, a program codenamed “IRON FIST” planned to use undercover agents to counter these BIE.
The news reminded some of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of the 1960’s and 70’s that targeted Black activism. It is important to understand how government agencies, in particular law enforcement, work to obstruct Black people from organizing. The history of COINTELPRO illuminates why so many Black radical and grassroots organizations were previously destroyed and why it remains so difficult to organize today.
COINTELPRO was created to maintain “the existing social and political order”. It sought to “prevent the long range growth of militant Black organizations, prevent such groups from gaining respectability”. In practice, this amounted to political repression and flagrant violations of first amendment rights to speech, to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.
COINTELPRO often worked in conjunction with and received information from local law enforcement “red squads” such as the Bureau of Special Services (BOSS), a special division of the New York City Police department (NYPD). Also known as the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations, its job was to monitor and surveil political radicals.These divisions often relied on informants and undercover agents. Ray Wood, a.k.a. Ray Woodall, was one such informant who, as a police officer for BOSS, infiltrated the Bronx chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the early 1960s. Some historians like Ward Churchill and Susan Brownmiller have written about Woodbut new information providesa clearer picture of how undercover agents contributed to COINTELPRO.
One of the most significant organizations of the Civil Rights movement, CORE was the first of the non-violent direct action groups. It pioneered many of the tactics and techniques that have come to characterize the movement. Bronx CORE was one of the most militant chapters and was best known for its 1963 demonstrations against employment discrimination at White Castle restaurants. At the height of the campaign, more than 1,000 counter protesters carrying Nazi and Confederate flags and symbols faced off against roughly two dozen CORE demonstrators.
During this same period, Wood infiltrated Bronx CORE, successfully gained its members trust, and became the chair of its housing committee. Wood was a delegate for Bronx CORE to CORE’s 1964 national convention, giving him the opportunity to meet CORE leaders from all over the country. Locally, Wood was a well-known figure and even dated women from other CORE chapters.
While secretly a police officer, Wood often was involved in campaigns that publicly challenged the police. Wood worked closely with Bronx CORE’s chairman Herb Callendar who launched a campaign against police brutality after the White Castle demonstrations. The NYPD commissioner criticized the campaign and characterized Callendar, along with Malcolm X and rent strike leader Jesse Grey, as the “three most irresponsible Civil Rights leaders in the city”.
In 1964, Callendar, Wood and another Bronx CORE member carried out the chapter’s most audacious action to date: a “citizen’s arrest” of the Mayor of New York City (NYC). All three CORE members were themselves arrested but Callendar received an especially harsh punishment and wasplaced in the psychiatric wing of Bellevue Hospital. Callendar would later tell CORE’s national director James Farmer that the idea to arrest the mayor came from Wood.(1)
Wood suggested illegal acts to radical groups in the hope the organizations would act on his suggestions and provide police the ability to arrest Black radicals. For example, Wood likely planted the idea to blow up the Statue of Liberty. In 1965, Wood was outed as an agent when a story appeared in the New York Times about his role in instigating a 1965 plot by another radical group, the Black Liberation Front (BLF), to blow up the Statue of Liberty.(2) This was a plan previously suggested to members of East River CORE. Even though he was not a member, Wood went out of his way to attend East River CORE meetings be involved and helpful. As he got to know members, he suggested they get involved in more militant actions likethe Statue of Liberty plan and robbing liquor stores to raise funds for East River CORE. Such actions would have done enormous damage to the reputation and public support of the entire national organization as CORE stressed non-violent action. Unbeknownst to the chapter, Wood was spying on members and eventually reported chapter head Blyden Jackson as a possible member of the Communist Party to the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee.
Further, Wood’s connection to East River CORE, combined with documented connections between members of the BLF and CORE in NYC, suggests Wood used CORE as a stepping-stone into other Black radical circles. Other historians, for example, have discussed how he infiltrated the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) in Queens and testified at the Panther 21 trial in the late 1960’s.(3)
By the 1970’s, Wood’s name had faded into obscurity. Historian Garrett Felber’s 2015 Guardian article about Wood reignitedinterest in him. Felber argued Wood mighthave been the mysterious second man arrested at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated. As part of the research team for Manning Marable’sbiography of Malcolm X, A Life Reinvented, Felber found notes from Yuri Kochiyama, a member of CORE and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) who witnessed the assassination. In OAAU meeting notes, Kochiyama, wrote that ”Ray Woods” was “seen running out of (the) Audubon, was one of two picked up by police”.
As Felber himself admits, the timing of Wood’s outingin the press (New York Times February 17, 1965) and the date of Malcolm X’s assassination (February 21, 1965) means it is possible word already spread among activists about Wood’s true identity. While this makes it more unlikely he would have been at the Audubon, it does not mean this theory should be completely discounted. His interactions with RAM and the Black Panthers in the late 1960’s suggests other Black activists in the NYC area may not have known he was an undercover police officer.
Regardless of if he was at the Audubon, Wood and other undercover agents like him had a detrimental impact on organizations like CORE. Wood was not just spying on CORE but was on a mission to “misdirect, disrupt, discredit and neutralize” CORE’s leadership. He was acting as a provocateur. What resulted from these operations were not just literal assassinations such as the police murder of the Black Panther’s Fred Hampton in Chicago, but character assassinations as in the case of CORE’s Callendar and Blyden. Such operations demonized Black leaders in the public eye and thereby de-legitimized both the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.
While BOSS maintains its job was not to facilitate, instigate or provoke the committing of illegal actions, as time goes on, mounting evidence suggests that is exactly what such agencies were doing. What remains to be determined is if Wood’s activities were unusual or the standard for BOSS and COINTELPRO.
Today, many of the activities of intelligence programs like COINTELPRO have been deemed illegal after the Church Committee hearings and the Handschu agreement. Nevertheless, recent programs like IRON FIST provide a warning thatthe FBI’s mission is unchanged.
In 2017, historian Robin Spencer wrote that the FBI’s labeling of current activists as ‘Black Identity Extremists’ was the latest version of COINTELPRO. While BIE’s are described as individuals who “use force or violence in violation of criminal law in response to perceived racism and injustice in American society”, they are also more vaguely defined as those interested in “establishing a separate black homeland or autonomous black social institutions, communities or governing organizations within the USA”. This broad definition could potentially include rappers such as Jay-Z, Black Christian church groups, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
The Black Life Matters movement has characterized itself through non-violent direct action. The Guardian, however, ran another story in 2017 detailing how law enforcement used social media to keep BLM activists under surveillance and infiltrate their groups. These techniques fuel distrust within groups andmake it much harder to organize. Creating such an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia was the goal of programs like COINTELPRO and agents like Ray Wood.
This distrust also affects scholars as it complicates efforts to research the history of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Some older activists of the 1960’s and 1970’s can be distrustful and refuse to be interviewed because of the history of journalists and scholars who have acted as agents. This frustrates efforts to learn about what effect these programs ultimately had on organizations such as CORE.
The history of COINTELPRO is essential to understand both for historians and current activists. There is still a great need to understand what happened to the activists and movement during this time period. We still do not understand the breadth of such programs and the damage done.
Currently, we cannot learn more because many of the program’s records are still classified. Releasing the records of these domestic spy programs could give scholars the tools needed to decipher this important time period in the Black Freedom Movement and give us a better understanding of how the legacy of these programs affect such activists today.
Fox’s Jesse Waters dismissedclimate change in a not-so-nuanced manner: “It gets hot. It gets cold.”
Yet weather matters, and it matters even to historians. I offer an illustration.
I have for many years been perplexed by the somberness of Jefferson’s thinking beginning with the spring of 1816 and continuing throughout the winter of the following year. Consider what I write in Thomas Jefferson: Uncovering His Unique Philosophical Vision:
In a letter to Abigail Adams dated January 11, 1817, Jefferson is uncharacteristically chapfallen. “Nothing proves more than this that the being who resides over the world is essentially benevolent, stealing from us, one by one, the faculties of enjoyment, searing our sensibilities, leading us, like the horse in his mill, round and round the same beaten path.” With each turn, the senses become satiated and fatigued by “leaden iteration” and the wish to live wanes. With the turn of a new year, Jefferson, it seems, has begun his crepuscular years. He waxes Stoical: “Perhaps however one of the elements of future felicity is to be a constant and unimpassioned view of what is passing here. … Mercier has given us a vision of the year 2440, but prophecy is one thing, history another. On the whole however, perhaps it is wise and well to be contented with the good things which the master of the feast places before us, and to be thankful for what we have, rather than thoughtful about what we have not.” Resignation seems an irregular, uncustomary sentiment for Jefferson—at least in his letters. Nine months earlier, he had told John Adams a story singularly different and seemingly anti-stoical. “My temperament is sanguine. I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern. … The perfection of the moral character is, not in a Stoical apathy, so hypocritically vaunted, and so untruly too, because impossible, but in a just equilibrium of all the passions.”
Why is there such a quick antipodal shift in perspective? The reason, I suspect—and here I am being slightly tongue-in-cheek—is because of a philosophical hangover of sorts.
Doubtless prompted by global and local events—America survived a Federalist threat of secession in 1814, and the War of 1812 for all intents and purposes ended with a remarkable victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815—the year 1816 was an especially philosophical year for Jefferson. His letters reflect a large amount of somber contemplation on contentious issues—foremost among them is the issue of republican government. In no other year does he reflect on the nature of republican government with such optimism and verve in letters. He is essaying to decipher the nature of true republicanism.
The problem was this: Jefferson, a relatively serious person, was especially serious in 1816—so much so that I groped for an explanation. I solaced myself with the notion of a “philosophical hangover”—a strange choice of metaphor given that Jefferson was not much of a tippler—and that was tantamount to saying that I had no answer. Jefferson’s serious turn and his concentrated effort on finding a perfect definition of republicanism in 1816 has always been a bugbear.
I found a possible answer while reading on the history of Lynchburg, Virginia. One of the earliest “biographers,” W. Asbury Christian, wrote of a gross weatheranomaly in the summer of 1816.
The … year, 1816, was a year of great dearth. The beginning was promising, but the ending was gloomy. It was known by many as the “year without a summer.” April was a month of storms, and in May vegetation that had budded was frozen. There was frost and snow in June; in July and August ice formed in exposed places, and September and October seemed to have taken the place of December. In consequence of this the crops all failed, and hard times followed.
The anomalous weather was not just endemic to Lynchburg. It was a global phenomenon. The Northern hemisphere suffered in numerous places snow in June and frost in July and August. The weather was cold and rainy, and there was to be an ever-present thick, dusty fog. The coldness and lack of sunshine caused massive crop failures over the globe. Food, thus, became scarce, and those who did successful grow food had to worry about theft. Even travel by horse became more expensive, as oats, the primary food for horses, too climbed in price.
There was across the globe a general panic. Many thought it was Armageddon, but the summer-less year was the result of a volcanic eruption. On April 5, 1815, Mount Tambora began to rumble and erupted over a four-month period. The ash and aerosols from the eruption blotted out the sun the following year. The average global temperature dropped three degrees Celsius. During that bleak summer, Mary Shelly wrote Frankensteinand Lord Byron wrote Darkness.
Byron’s poem begins:
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light.
Byron’s poem ends:
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.
And so, Thomas Jefferson too had a Byronic turn of mind in 1816. During that time, he turned to tackling one of the most vexing philosophical problems with which he had to grapple—expiscation of the nature of republicanism—and he did so in lengthy, somber letters to friends such as P.S. Dupont de Nemours (Apr. 24), John Taylor (May 28), and Samuel Kercheval (July 12). Examination of those letters reveals, first, maturation of his thoughts on republicanism, consistent with his earlier, inchoate views on the subject in works such as Summary View of the Rights of British American (1774), Declaration of Independence (1776), and his First Inaugural Address (1801), and second, a consistent political philosophy that is both rich and textured.
This episode shows plainly what serious historical scholars already know. Historical perplexities are often solved unexpectedly, inadvertently. It is often the case that one perplexity is solvedwhile one is examining another perplexity.
Moreover, it illustrates plainly the complexity of a historian’s job. It is not just a matter of studying persons or events within a particular era and culture, one must, as one particular Hippocratic physician—the author of the medical treatise Airs, Waters, and Places—stated millennia ago, breath their air, drink their water, and live in their places. Weather is not just something that happens while other things are happening. Weather often significantly affects history.
The current struggle for the political soul of America turns on the stories we tell ourselves about our own history. President Trump has spun a tale of contagious fear, inviting attacks on our imagined enemies. When we have allowed ourselves to be governed by fear in the past, it has legitimized assaults on Catholics, race riots, and mass incarcerations.
But Americans worried about physical safety and uncertain about their political future have been known to exercise remarkable constraint in a poisonous political environment. This was the case most notably in the early days of the American Revolution. It’s not that violence had no attraction for the revolutionaries. Anxiety generated plenty of anger and hate. But they did not surrender to their worst instincts. They upheld the rule of law and decided that patriotism could best be expressed by preserving the fundamental principles of habeas corpus and due process.
During the fall of 1776 revolutionaries in the state of New York faced an existential crisis. British forces threatened communities on the Hudson River from two directions: the recently conquered New York City in the south and the far north. Members of an emergency revolutionary committee decided they had to do something to control the large numbers of people in the Hudson Valley who either claimed neutrality or actively supported the British.
The danger was extreme. Violence stalked every farmstead. The state legislature had given committees charged with enforcing allegiance to the cause extraordinary power “to defeat the barbarous machinations of their domestic, as well as external enemies.” The committees were authorized to do whatever they deemed “necessary for suppressing insurrections; to apprehend, secure or remove such persons whom they shall judge dangerous to the safety of the State.”
In New York, the revolutionary committees gathered the names of suspects—some genuine British agents, others farmers who worried that open political commitment to the American cause would expose them to retaliation and a few Quakers. Authorities compiled lists of “notoriously disaffected persons,” while the revolutionaries urged “every virtuous citizen” to help expose their dangerous neighbors.
The campaign sparked many arrests—so many, in fact, that the local jails were soon filled to capacity. Desperate to secure the region from possible enemies and eager to focus their attentions on the British, the committees decided to send some two hundred suspects to Exeter, New Hampshire. The revolutionary government of New Hampshire agreed to take the prisoners, and even though these men had not been formally processed—there were no records of why the names of specific individuals appeared on the New York lists—they were dispatched on a journey to what was in fact an internment camp. The plan exposed the prisoners to attack. “We were told that the people of Exeter would deal with us according to our deserts,” one man noted, “by close confinement, if not by hanging.”
Some two hundred New Yorkers were forced to walk to New Hampshire. Those thought to be most dangerous were housed in a jail, while others had to find their own lodging in nearby villages. The Quakers were allowed to live with any Quaker families who would agree to take them in.
New Hampshire authorities resolved that “none of the Prisoners sent into this State from the State of New York have leave to write or send Letters to any person or persons whatever or wherever with the same being inspected.” The suspects were prohibited from having political conversations with local residents. They could not use “words or arguments to people they may converse with tending to hurt the Interests of the States of America, or in opposition to the present contest with Great Britain.”
These rules failed utterly to silence the prisoners most of whom thought they had been incarcerated for no clear reason. When they asked local committee members to justify their arrest, the New Hampshire authorities weakly explained that they had no answers. No one in New York had submitted the proper documentation.
In conversations in kitchens and on village streets, the prisoners complained that they had been denied the basic legal rights that every American took for granted. They had not received due process. No one in New York had bothered with habeas corpus, a right assumed by all British subjects that protected them from unlawful arrest. The people of New Hampshire listened to these complaints.
“Great uneasiness prevails among them & their clamors of being sent here without an examination at home,” a revolutionary committee in New Hampshire reported, “and conscious of their innocence which they assert, has had considerable influence among the People in these parts in their behalf.” New Hampshire authorities begged New York for help. “We wish an Impartial Enquiry might be made into their characters,” they wrote, “and if any appear innocent who was taken up and sent from their homes in Confusion and unavoidable hurry that you was involved in at that time, that an order may be sent for their discharge.”
Sensing that they had found a sympathetic audience, the prisoners did what so many other prisoners have done in similar situations. They submitted petitions for their immediate release. Soon the New Hampshire legislature received a flood of petitions. Again, the Exeter authorities urged the New York committee to provide instructions: “We earnestly desire some further direction relative to them, and if you think fit for them to be longer detained that you would send some particular charge of their crimes.”
By March 1777 the entire internment camp had collapsed. The military crisis in the Hudson Valley seemed less pressing, and New York ordered the return of the remaining prisoners. Many had already escaped. Most seem to have been reabsorbed into society. The great fear that had disrupted the lives of so many people was soon no more than a minor footnote in the history of American independence.
For us, the point is not that desperate authorities in New York ignored the rule of law when they succumbed to fear, always a corrosive force in civil society. They were not alone in doing so. Other revolutionaries allowed fear to justify violence against Native Americans and African American slaves. But these events should not cause us to loose sight of another story, one of restraint and compassion.
Ordinary men and women of Exeter made moral choices. Under extremely trying circumstances these citizens listened sympathetically to their political prisoners who appealed for justice when the success of the revolution hung in the balance. They established a standard for patriotic behavior that is as relevant today as it was in 1776. To do less—to turn our backs on caged children or remain silent when confronted by attacks on minorities—represents a denial of our own revolutionary heritage.
As the United Nations General Assembly approached adjournment without a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, world leaders left New York wondering if and how President Donald Trump will respond to Iran’s alleged missile-and-drone attack on Saudi-Arabian oil facilities earlier this month.
Mr. Trump has already announced plans to add 1,000 more troops to the 20,000 American troops already on the Arabian peninsula and the more than 35,000 deployed across the Arab world. With his latest deployment, Mr. Trump will have increased America’s military presence in Arab states by 37.5% since his Inauguration Day pledge to reduce American involvement there.
Incredibly, expansion of America’s military involvement in the Arab states comes nearly 235 years since the prescient John Adams tried stifling Thomas Jefferson’s ambitions for war against Arab pirate fleets in the Mediterranean Sea. “We ought not to fight them at all,” Adams warned, “unless we determine to fight them forever.”
Elected President in 1800, Jefferson ignored Adams’s warning and embarked on the first of two Barbary Wars with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya (then called Tripoli). Until America’s War of Independence, the British navy had protected American cargo ships against piracy, but U.S. independence left her ships fair game. America cargo ship losses soared above 10 percent, with untold thousands of American seamen captured, often tortured, and sold into slavery.
When Congress refused to go to war, Jefferson ignored lawmakers and the Constitution by ordering the Navy to the Mediterranean. By the time congress discovered Jefferson’s usurpation of power, the fleet had sailed too far to recall. When American warships entered the Mediterranean in the spring of 1801, Tripoli (now Libya) humiliated the American Navy by capturing the spanking new frigate Philadelphia, then the pride of America’s “new navy.”
After an outraged American public forced Congress to strengthen the American fleet, American Commodore Edward Preble raided Tripoli harbor, destroyed the Philadelphiaand opened the way for Captain Stephen Decatur to attack and destroy much of Tripoli’s port. In June 1806, Tripoli’s ruler sued for peace, and the United States established a naval presence in the Mediterranean that has continued almost without interruption to this day.
One brief interruption came after President James Madison declared war on Britain in 1812. With American and British navies too busy fighting on the Atlantic to guard cargo ships in the Mediterranean, the Arab states resumed predations on foreign merchant vessels. By 1815, however, America had recovered from the war with Britain, and President James Madison ordered Commodore Stephen Decatur to sail into Algiers harbor and destroy the Arab fleet. In 1816, the Barbary states sued for peace and ended piracy on the Mediterranean.
In 1823, President James Monroe adopted a new foreign policy to protect the merchant fleet by expanding American military might beyond its borders to protect foreign trade. In a seldom recognized extension of his famed Monroe doctrine, the President not only declared the American continent’s shores closed to foreign incursions, he extended government protection to American cargo ships on the high seas by ordering expansion of the Navy and its global deployment to protect American ships at sea.
Assured of improved ship safety around the globe, President Andrew Jackson signed a trade agreement in 1833 with Muscat and Oman, on the southeastern rim of the Arabian Peninsula—America’s first significant commercial penetration of the Middle East. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln expanded American foreign commerce farther into the Arab world, signing a Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with the vast Ottoman Empire and opening American trade in present-day Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.
Then, in 1908, the discovery of oil in Persia—present-day Iran—changed the world.
After World War I had showcased the importance oil would play in modern transportation, the British, Dutch, French, and American oil companies rushed to find and claim Middle East oil fields—most of them along the rim of the Arabian peninsula. But World War II changed Middle East boundaries into a patch-quilt of independent, often feuding Arab states, whose governments seized ownership of oil fields, granting only exploitation rights to the foreign oil companies that had originally owned the properties.
The creation of the independent Jewish state of Israel and Soviet Union efforts to gain influence in the region turned the Middle East into a perennial war zone.
To ensure the flow of Middle East oil to America, President George H.W. Bush sent 200,000 American troops into Kuwait in 1991 and expelled an Iraqi army from oil-rich Kuwait. In 2003, President George W. Bush sent 170,000 mostly American troops into Iraq to dislodge President Saddam Hussein and restore access to Iraqi oil fields by American and western oil companies. Although Saddam died in 2006, more than 5,000 American troops remain in Iraq.
And after fundamentalist Muslim terrorists based in Afghanistan attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the American government sent an army of more than 140,000 troops to Afghanistan to crush an insurgency linked to the terrorists. By 2017, Washington had claimed enough victories there to reduce its troop strength in Afghanistan to about 8,500.
Since then, the Trump Administration has rebuilt American troop strength by 50 percent and will raise the total to more than 15,000 by the end of this year. Meanwhile, American troops remain in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrein, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, and Egypt.
Given America’s new-found self-sufficiency in almost all essential natural resources, the motives for continued American military involvement in the Middle East have become less clear.
Indeed, decades of dependency on Middle East oil ended two years ago with the development of advanced fracking techniques for recovering shale oil in America and the discovery of vast new oil reserves in the Permian Basin of southwest Texas and New Mexico.
The United States military now has nearly 200,000 service personnel deployed at about 700 bases in 177 countries at a cost of at least $100 billion annually. Nearly 70,000 American troops are in Asia and the Pacific, more than 60,000 are in Europe, at least 35,000 are in Arab states, and 100,000 others are scattered across Africa and South and Central America—an indeterminate number of them on ill-defined missions.
For the Arab world, the pervasive American military presence represents a cultural and religious as well as military affront. As long as enough Arabs adhere to the law of jihad that enjoins them to kill nonbelievers in their lands, there would seem to be little hope that American fighting in Arab states can end.
Almost 235 years have elapsed since John Adams warned against America’s first military involvement in the Arab world. The United States today seems well on the way to fulfilling Adams’s prophecy that we will have to “fight them forever.”
In 1940, Germany invaded and captured France. Step-by-step, the Nazi occupiers began implementing a new state. There, as in other countries, the Nazis established a census to identify and locate Jews. Once identified, the Nazi occupiers planned to arrest French Jewsand send them to their deaths in concentration camps. The Nazis were stymied in France by insufficient numbers of trained people to key punch and process a huge number of computer punch cards.
René Carmille, director of the National Statistical Service (SNS), stepped in and negotiated for SNS to control and process Nazi census data on Jews. Carmille, a member of the French Intelligence Service and the Marco Polo cell of the French Resistance, then sabotaged the Nazi census. Lists of names and addresses of Jews could not be printed for round ups. Carmille saved the lives of thousands of Jews. His story is told in A Quiet Hero.
In the occupied countries of Europe, the Nazi census was a critically important step in identifying Jews as unwanted residents. Once the census was successfully processed, the Nazis printed files of names and addresses of Jews. What remained was to send the Gestapo to those street addresses, round up Jews and ship them to concentration camps. There most of them would be murdered. This was done with great efficiency following the census of Jews in Holland: seventy-three percent of Holland’s Jews were murdered.
France proved to be more troublesome. The Nazi census in France asked if the respondent was a Jew. The question itself failed to respect France’s long history of rigorous separation of church and state. Further complicating matters, France, unlike Holland, was home to a diverse mix of ethnic groups and religious beliefs.
Responses to the census’ religion question were then processed. However, the Nazis failed to plan and implement an adequate system for transferring paper-and-pencil census data to computer key punch cards. As a result, Nazi data processing capacities in France were overwhelmed.
General René Carmille, former controller general of the French Army and director of the Vichy government’s National Statistical Service (SNS), learned of the challenge faced by the Nazis in processing census data. Carmille contacted Xavier Vallat, Vichy’s Commissioner General for Jewish Questions and proposed that SNS process the Nazi census of Jews in France. Vallat accepted. In the newly emerging era of computers, Carmille sabotaged the Nazi census and became the world’s first ethical hacker.
The US constitution mandates a count of “the whole Number of free Persons” every ten years. Each census is the basis for the apportionment of membership in the US House of Representatives and allocation of billions of federal dollars to states.
A citizenship question was asked for the first time in 1890, when foreign-born persons in the US reached 14.8% of the population. By 1950 the number of foreign-born Americans fell below 5% and the question was dropped.
In 1942, up to 120,000 Japanese American citizens were defined as threats to the country and relocated to internment—concentration—camps. President Franklin Roosevelt established the camps under an Executive Order, one of the 20th century’s worst violations of American civil rights.Japanese American citizens were singled out after the US Census Bureau, in violation of existing laws, handed over their names and addresses to the Secret Service.
In 1960, a new short-form census, without a citizenship question, was sent to most American households; the long-form with a citizenship question was mailed to 1 in 6 American households. The long form became the American Community Survey, sent annually, from 1970 through 2000.
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump estimated the number of illegal immigrants in the USA at 30 to 34 million, about ten percent of the population, vs. government estimates of 11-12 million, about five percent. Candidate Trump proposed rolling back constitutional birthright citizenship for US-born children of undocumented immigrants and possible mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants. Following his election, he continued to call for increased border security, including construction of a Mexican border wall. He has repeatedly proposed a temporary ban on immigrants from Middle Eastern, principally Muslim, countries entering the United States.
Later, President Trump, after repeated references to the dangers presented by the so-called invasion of the United States by Muslim immigrants, both documented and undocumented, directed administration officials to include a citizenship question in the 2020 US Census: Is this person a citizen of the United States?
Even though US law prevents the Census Bureau from disclosure of individual citizen’s census information, answers to the question could be used to identify illegal immigrants and then take steps to deport them. Documented immigrants feared unwarranted harassment, even persecution. Undocumented immigrants feared that if their names and addresses became public, deportation would be made easier. Better to remain invisible.
President Trump issued executive orders increasing the number of immigrants considered a priority for deportation. A June 24, 2018, New York Times article quoted President Trump’s tweet, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judge or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” The addition of the proposed 2020 citizenship question, “Are you a citizen?” was a means to that end.
After proposing the new census question, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross stated the question would be important for more effective enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. He testified before Congress that the Justice Department had initiated the request.
In a 2018 deposition, former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Gore, who in March 2018 drafted the memo requesting the addition of the citizenship question, agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union—the citizenship question was not necessary to enforce voting rights. Further, Gore stated, Secretary Ross approached the Justice Department requesting the addition of the citizenship question, not the other way around as Ross falsely claimed.
Answers to the question would have identified persons President Trump labeled “invaders,” principally Muslims. Action could then be taken without judges or court cases. Harvard constitutional law professor Lawrence Tribe challenged Trump’s sweeping dismissal of due process. “The due process requirements of the 5th and 14th Amendments apply to all persons including those in the US unlawfully.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and other public interest organizations challenged the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 census, citing research that found the question would double the number of non-citizens who opt out, not complete the census, from 5.1 to 11.9 percent. The challenges asserted that this would result in fewer representatives from congressional districts with concentrations of undocumented immigrants, principally African American, Latino, and Muslim minorities, primarily Democratic districts. For Republicans, a positive outcome.
In 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration failed to demonstrate constitutionally sound logic for inclusion of the citizenship question in the 2020 census. The court concluded that the question would serve mainly partisan, anti-minority political goals.
In 1930s and ’40s Germany, a demagogue amassed political power and step by step implemented the new Nazi state, beginning with the use of the Nazi census to identify and remove minorities, principally Jews.
In 1942 in Nazi-occupied France, in the absence of institutional safeguards to liberty, Gen. René Carmille, a member of the French Resistance, gained control of the Nazi census data. He then sabotaged it. Names and addresses could not be produced for round ups. Twenty-five percent of French Jews were murdered (vs. seventy-five percent in Holland). Carmille, a quiet hero, saved the lives of thousands of Jews—at the cost of his own life.
In a United States of the future, might a demagogue adopt Nazi policies toward minorities and, citing the precedent set by President Roosevelt, direct a step by step reform of American treatment of minorities? Most likely it would begin with a census to identify minorities and then follow with violations of their constitutional rights? In such a future, will we have quiet heroes to defend our constitutional freedoms?
An unsettling truth grows out of the study of the past—history repeats itself.
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.
The Democratic Party has a major challenge ahead of the 2020 general election. They need to find a Presidential nominee who can defeat Donald Trump by overcoming his strong base and the likelihood of Russian interference, which he has explicitly stated he would welcome. Their objective is further complicated by the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to constrain accessible voting for all Americans.
Many Democrats wonder which candidate would be the most electable. Would a white man in his late 70s, such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont or former Vice President Joe Biden, be electable? Would a younger candidate–such as Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator Kamala Harris of California, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, or South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg—appeal more to the average American voter?
The latter five would each make history if they were elected president. They would be, respectively, the first white woman, the first mixed race woman, the second African American man, the first Latino man, and the first gay man elected to the presidency. Some Democrats worry that such a “first” would face great prejudice and discrimination, especially against Donald Trump and his solid political base. Trump’s faithful followers are comprised of folks who are seemingly opposed to the concepts of a woman, a person of color, or a gay person being the next occupant of the Oval Office.
What about Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, who would be the third oldest potential nominee within the Democratic Party? If elected, Warren would be older than Donald Trump was in 2017 upon her inauguration. A woman who has sparked some controversy with her political platform and cultural heritage, Warren poses a unique challenge in gaining the Democratic nomination and election victory in the present American political climate.
Many would think that fresh and younger nominees such as Klobuchar, Harris, Booker, Castro or Buttigieg could be the better alternatives. But would they be able to overcome the barriers to election, or would one of the older white men (Sanders or Biden) have a better chance of besting Donald Trump in the 2020 election? This is not a minor matter, as for many Americans, the idea of Donald Trump having a second term would be insufferable and a threat to the stability and integrity of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
To be clear, there is no room for error in this matter. Trying to determine a tenable strategy for 2020 is a crucial project that requires creativity and decisiveness. This weighs heavy on the minds of many who see Trump as a threat to the survival of the nation and in what is considered as the greatest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War.
When he wasa 33-year-old Illinois state representative in 1842, Abraham Lincoln was invited by a local chapter of the Springfield Washingtonian Temperance Society to address them on the occasion of the 110th birthday of the first president of the United States. Despite being invited to address the Washingtonians, Lincoln had no problem with his liquor. Child of the Kentucky and Illinois frontiers that he was, Lincoln was of course familiar with beer and cider, whiskey and bourbon, but he was asked to speak to the group as an interested outsider. The future president would tell the Washingtonians that “In my judgement… such of us who have never fallen victims have been spared more by the absence of appetite than from any mental or moral superiority over those who have.” It’s worth remembering the largely-forgotten Washingtonians this September, recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as National Recovery Month. Established to promote the “benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for mental and substance use disorders,” National Recovery Month exists to acknowledge the “message that recovery in all of its forms is possible… treatment is effective and people can and do recover.” In parsing Lincoln’s remarks to the Washingtonians, there are important historical reminders of what recovery can look like.
As a nineteenth-century American, Lincoln would have understood how liquor was seemingly omnipresent in both personal and professional life, contributingto the massive public health crisis of rampant alcoholism. Historian Daniel Okrent explains in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition that in the “early days of the Republic drinking was as intimately woven into the social fabric as family or church.” Okrent writes that by “1830 American adults were guzzling, per capita, a staggering seven gallons of pure alcohol a year,” which in modern terms are the “equivalent of 1.7 bottles of standard 80-proof liquor per person, per week – nearly 90 bottles a year for every adult in the nation.” Despite that environment, like most people (both then and now) Lincoln had no physical dependence on alcohol himself, no addiction to the substance, no inability to temper his own drinking. But unlike many people (both then and now) Lincoln didn’t attribute his lack of that malady to a particular moral fortitude. Instead, like the current medical consensus, Lincoln believed addiction is a disease rather than a lack of will on the part of the sufferer.
The Washingtonians were a remarkable group within the larger temperance movement, for they were not founded by any particular religious denomination looking to convert unregenerate drunks, but rather by alcoholics themselves who were seeking moral support and solution. Acknowledging the public health crisis of alcoholismand the lives and families liquor had ruined, Lincoln extoled the Washingtonian understanding that such an affliction was a disease rather than simple moral failing. “On this point,” Lincoln said, “the Washingtonians greatly excel the temperance advocates of former times…. They know [alcoholics] are not demons.” The future president argued that alcoholics should be treated as anyone would approach “the heirs of consumption and other hereditary diseases.” The belief that addicts were “utterly incorrigible” was a dangerous and deadly fallacy that Lincoln argued must be abandoned. Just as George Washington fought a war against tyranny, the Washingtonians would struggle against their own bondage in addiction.
For centuries “dipsomania” had been understood as either something to be laughed at or as a freely chosen sin, but in a nineteenth-century United States where alcoholism resulted in infirmity, abuse, and early death, there was an increasing sense that addicts were not people in need of castigation or conversion, but rather treatment. For the six reformed alcoholics who ironically founded the Washingtonians in the back of a Baltimore barroom in 1840, the addiction to liquor was something that people needed liberation from, not something that merited their denunciation or criminalization. In that regard, writes historian Christopher M. Finan in Drunks: The Story of Alcoholism and the Birth of Recovery, the Washingtonians are a chapter in one of the “great liberation movements” of American politics and history.
As such, the Washingtonians were inheritors of early movements such as the Native American chief Handsome Lake’s sobriety movement known as the Longhouse Religion that was founded in 1798, up to the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 by a failed stockbroker and former drinker named Bill W. and his compatriot, an alcoholic surgeon with several failed attempts at quitting who is remembered fondly as Dr. Bob. Central to the perspective and methodology of AA was a belief that it was through the group sharing of experience that alcoholics would best be able to alter their behavior, and in writings like Alcoholics Anonymous (normally referred to as the “Big Book”) and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W. and other authors enumerated the flexible, decentralized principles by which alcoholics could move towards recovery. As an organization, AA unknowingly took up the mantle of the Washingtonians, affirming that alcoholics and addicts were best served not by chastisement or imprisonment, that as Lincoln told his listeners it is not “just to assail, condemn, or despise them.”
The recovery movement encompasses not just the Washingtonians and AA, but also a plethora of organizations that, for all of their different philosophies and methods, are united in the conviction that whether because of genetic predisposition, personal trauma, or acculturation, physical and psychological dependence on both drink and drugs is not a failure of will, but rather an affliction that deserves treatment. Twelve Step organizations like AA and Narcotics Anonymous use the template developed by Bill W. and Dr. Bob, and they are joined by more secular approaches such as SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, Rational Recovery, and the non-abstinence-based Moderation Management. Despite the success of such groups, and their radical role in personal emancipation for millions of Americans, there is still stigma around addiction that results in death. Finan writes that for too long “Many people blame the drunks” (and the drug addicts), and that even after the emergence of the contemporary recovery movement, for “many drunks [who] want to stop drinking, the major institutions of American life [have] refused to help them.”
If recovery today has one advantage over the Washingtonians, it’s that the former has largely rejected disastrous prohibitionist policies against both drink and drugs or takes no official line on the issue. Even with initially understandable aims, prohibition has served only to ever make the drunk and the drug addict illegal, a punishment of people rather than a banning of substances. Without reducing Temperance to its most objectionable stereotypes, and acknowledging that it’s aims were often estimable if not utopian, it must be admitted that the “War on Drugs” which started with the Nixon administration comes from a very different ideological underpinning and has resulted in the unjust imprisonment of countless people. What has made such calamitous polices possible (beyond theirclearly racist nature) is the fundamental misunderstanding thatmost people still have regarding addiction. As Finan wrote, the “drunk’s responsibility for abusing alcohol was still being debated at the dawn of the twenty-first century.” Debating something that is medically settled has led to undue stigma against addicts, and has contributed to the current addiction crisis.
Last year over 70,000 Americans died as part of the opioid epidemic, a human catastrophe that has lowered the national life expectancy for the first time in our history. As horrific as the opioid epidemic has been, drinking related death are still more numerous, with over 88,000 people dying from alcohol overdose, injuries that resulted from drinking, alcohol withdrawal, or alcohol-related diseases. Worse, there has actually been a 35 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths over the past decade, as reported by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Perhaps this is in part a strange contemporary paradox: drinking is socially acceptable, if not encouraged, but there is a profound stigma around self-identifying as a recovering alcoholic.The Washingtonians understood that what’s so often offered is castigation, when what’s needed is charity; that what’s assumed to be conviviality, can sometimes be a crisis.
What the Washingtonians understood was that addiction is a form of imprisonment, and recovery can be a type of liberation, or as Lincoln told the assembled “we shall find a stronger bondage broken… a greater tyrant deposed. In it, more of want supplied, more disease healed, more sorrow assuaged.” There’s much that can be said about the Washingtonians, and the recovery movement which came after them. No doubt observations can be made that are historiographical, sociological, and epidemiological. But if there is one lesson imparted that’s the most important to the individual sufferer it’s this – history demonstrates that recovery is possible, and that it’s worth it.
The New Press just brought out Jim Loewen’s public history book, Lies Across America, completely revised and with a new chapter, “Public History After Charlottesville.”
Recently, Shelf Awareness, an interesting website new to me, interviewed me, mostly about books that have had an impact on my thinking. The conversation was intelligent (at least on their part), and they published it today, https://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=3588#m45942.
Since I seem to have moved to the memoir phase of life, I was happy to participate, and I offer the result to you below. Slightly altered, to become an essay, I think it works well.
What’s on your nightstand now?
For years I have been reading a fine dystopian fictional “history of the future,” the well-known Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It’s traveled with me to Egypt, the Azores, the Bahamas, all the countries on the Rhine (yes, I took that cruise), Iceland, and at least 20 states! My problem is, when I read in bed, I fall asleep immediately. That’s not Mitchell’s fault.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I must admit, it was the Dr. Dolittle series. Although I have not looked at them since attaining adulthood, I’m sure they were racist, even colonialist, since a white doctor knew just what to do with and for the animals and people in Africa. That I didn’t think about such things probably made their impact all the more insidious, but still, I devoured the books.
Your top five authors:
Mark Twain. He’s the only humorist from so many generations ago who is still consistently funny when reread today. And he can be deep, too.
William Faulkner. Yes, I went through my Faulkner period, and though I haven’t reread him in years, I’m still happy to remember many passages, both for his values and his prose style.
Walt Whitman. As Stephen Vincent Benét put it, in “Ode to Walt Whitman,” “You’re still the giant lode we quarry/ For gold, fools’ gold, and all the earthy metals,/ The matchless mine.”
Vine Deloria. Being Native American, his worldview is different, but he makes it accessible to all.
Edna St. Vincent Millay. Perhaps my mom’s favorite poet, she became one of mine too, especially her sonnets that sing of love and lament its loss.
Did you ever fake reading a book?
Yes, György Lukács, History and Class Consciousness. In grad school at Harvard in 1966, I took Barrington Moore’s famously difficult course in social theory. Moore taught by the Socratic method, and when he queried you, you’d best be prepared. The time came to study Lukács, but his book was translated into English only in 1971. We were to read chapter 1 of Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein in German. Supposedly I knew German, having taken two years in high school and two in college and then having scored 720 on the SAT German test. Actually, I knew better. I spent the next afternoon trying to read Lukács. After five hours, I had translated a page and a half. Doing the math, I realized that the whole chapter would take me another 70 hours! I had four other courses! So, when the seminar reassembled a week later, I hunkered down behind the guy in front of me, avoided eye contact with Moore, and thus avoided making a fool of myself about a book I’d not read.
Even after the translation came out, I never read the book. Ironically, reading aboutit while preparing this answer, I now realize I probably would have enjoyed it and learned from it. Sigh.
Book you’re an evangelist for:
The only historical novel I recommend without reservation: Okla Hannali by R.A. Lafferty. Even though by a white author, I credit it as a Choctaw history of the 19th century, in the form of a biography of a fictional Choctaw leader who was born in Mississippi around 1801 and died in Oklahoma in 1900. I realize such a statement creates all sorts of problems for me–expropriation of Native knowledge, white arrogance, etc. My only defense is the work itself. I have no idea how Lafferty, otherwise known for science fiction, learned so much about Choctaws (and white folks), but every time I have checked out any fact inOkla Hannali, no matter how small, Lafferty got it right. And what a read! Only a little over 200 pages long, but an epic, nevertheless.
Book you should have hidden from your children:
Thomas Berger’s Regiment of Women. I read it when it came out (1973) and enjoyed it. It seemed to me to be a pioneering feminist book and funny as hell. Then my son read it, followed by my daughter. Conversation with them reminded me that the book also contained seriously awry sex scenes that perhaps should not be read by kids age 13 and 11, especially when their mother sought to use any excuse to deny me contact with them. Luckily no complications ensued, either legal or psychological, so far as I know.
Book that changed your life:
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, photos by Walker Evans. Agee’s nakedly emotional prose helped me feel what sociologists helped me understand: most poor people are not to be blamed for their poverty. As Agee put it, in the voice of his white sharecropper subjects: “How were we trapped?”
Favorite line from a book:
As I confront the end of my own life: “Come, lovely and soothing death, Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving…” in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” from Leaves of Grassby Walt Whitman.
Five books you’ll never part with:
Leaves of Grass Millay, Collected Poems Okla Hannali Let Us Now Praise Famous Men Louis Untermeyer, ed., Modern American Poetry; Mid-Century Edition. This collection contains many poems that have meant a lot to me, from Whitman and Dickinson down to Langston Hughes and Kenneth Patchen.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
T-Model Tommy and other books from my childhood. Not Dolittle, though.
Book that played a crucial role in resolving a family disagreement:
Thorstein Veblen’s classic The Theory of the Leisure Class. The occasion was a serious conversation my Dad initiated during my sophomore year of college. He was upset that I had changed my major from chemistry to sociology. He confronted me with a challenge: “Just name me one person who ever graduated from Carleton College and made a name for himself in sociology.” I was about to reply, “Just name me one person who graduated from Carleton and made a name in anything,” but I knew he would come up with some Mayo Clinic doctor who was arguably well-known. Suddenly it came to me: in its 99 years, Carleton College had produced just one truly well-known person, famous for his book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. “Thorstein Veblen,” I crowed triumphantly. He was silent.
Let me add, The Theory of the Leisure Class deserves its fame. It is as relevant today as when it came out in 1899. It explains how we model our behavior and our standards of success–even of morality–on the class next above us in social structure, all the way up to “the wealthy leisure class,” his name for what we call the 1%. One chapter, “Devout Observances,” also contains a new and even hilarious sociology of religion. If you aren’t motivated to go read Lies Across America to understand how Americans misconceive the social world (a grievous mistake!), then can I persuade you to read Veblen?
Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.
We don’t know what we are doing about poverty. The Great Society programs reduced the poverty rate during the 1960s from 22% to 12%, but since 1970, rates of poverty in the US have remained between 10% and 15%. The proportion of children living in poverty is higher, perhaps as high as 21%. The poverty rate in the US is higher than nearly all other highly developed countries, and about twice as high as most countries in western Europe. The wide variety of federal and state programs for the poor have simply managed to maintain poverty rates at the same level for 50 years. Our policy-makers, Democrat and Republican, have been tinkering around the edges of poverty, but have not found a set of policies which can make an impact. Raising the minimum wage significantly, say to $15 an hour, would slightly reduce poverty, but not eliminate it.
We don’t know what we are doing about homelessness. Since the great recession of 2008, homelessness has dropped slightly in the US from about 650,000 to 550,000 in 2016, as poverty levels, the main cause of homelessness, fell. Since 2016, homelessness has again risen.
We don’t know what we are doing about the invasion of our lives by the internet. Misinformation and disinformation, transferred to us instantaneously and constantly, pollute our brains. Young people are not only addicted to their phones, for too many their ambitions are entirely tied up in hopes of becoming “influencers” in virtual space. Impenetrable corporations demand to know our private information, and then collect, exploit and sell it.
We don’t know what we are doing about climate change. Scientific experts warn us about how much damage we have already done to the environment by lifestyles that few people are willing to change. Rising temperatures in the earth’s oceans have already caused irreparable damage to aquatic life and to the human lives that depend on it. No nation has put into place policies that are sufficient to eliminate further warming. No scientific warning has been able to move enough people to demand the changes that are necessary. Nearly half of Americans continue to vote for a party which officially denies that climate change is a problem.
We don’t know what we are doing about the corruption of our society and our politics by money. This is nothing new. Despite centuries of agonizing about how to prevent those with money from amassing the power to suck up more money through illegitimate means, in democratic and authoritarian societies, we are no closer to a solution.
We don’t know what we are doing about the widening social chasms, the hollowing out of the middle, the growing anger, not just at the system or “the man”, but at each other.
We don’t know what we are doing about the linkage among all these problems. For the millennia that humans have walked the earth, it didn’t matter if we didn’t know what we were doing. The carefully balanced global natural systems that supported an incredible variety of life were impervious to the local activities of bands of humans. But now, with nearly 8 billion people digging up the earth, consuming everything we can get our hands on, spewing waste in every direction, and accelerating the speeds of these processes every day, we have thrown the earth out of balance. As our world apparently hurtles toward ecological, political, and social disaster, we have created problems for which there are no solutions in sight.
Now is the tipping point. And we don’t know what we are doing.
Hey, hey, LBJ
How many kids did you kill today!
That was one of many protest chants used against President Lyndon B. Johnson and his war in Vietnam, a tragic conflict that resulted in the deaths of some 58,000 American soldiers, plus some 200,000 South Vietnamese troops dead, and was the first war that America lost. It created a nationwide wrath against LBJ and his government and television news programs were filled for years with coverage of huge and loud protest marches against the war, especially after the 1968 Tet Offensive. The scalding story of the war, and Johnson’s heralded Great Society, is being told in a brilliant new play by Robert Schenkkan, The Great Society, that opened last night at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, at New York’s Lincoln Center.
I tried to think of ways to explain the war and its awful legacy, but the best way to describe it is to quote a man I heard at the intermission of the play. “All of the good things Johnson did with his great society, all of his programs. were wrecked by Vietnam., and it wrecked the American people and tore the country apart,” he muttered angrily.
That it did. The war began in the early 1960s and did not end until a peace agreement was reached in 1975. Johnson’ advisers, military and political, led by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, argued that the loss of Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese would mean the loss of all Southeast Asia to communism. Johnson sent in a few thousand advisors, then 30,000 combat troops, then more and more and more and left office with nearly 300,000 American fighting in Vietnam. He bombed the hell out of North Vietnam, thinking that would force the North, and the tens of thousands of Vietcong in Southeast Asia, to quit the war. They did not and the bombing, that killed so many women and children, merely spurred the North on to fight harder. The U.S. military became angry at the North Vietnamese resistance, and so did LBJ. He was stubborn, political, short sighted and relied too much on his advisors, but, as Schenkkan points out in the drama, he made all of those final decisions and it washis fault. All of it- every single explosion, every destroyed village. and every single cemetery grave – on both sides.
A key point in the Vietnam story, as Schenkkan notes, is that the tragedy of Vietnam unfolded just as Johnson’s tremendous Great Society package of programs, and Civil Rights advances, was taking place. He had a great ally in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a number of Senators, such as Everett Dirksen, and Congressmen. Johnson did not understand that success in those domestic programs did not translate to success in Southeast Asia but he kept trying to make it so - to no avail.
This powerful play is a painful reminder of history lost, of all those brave Americans who fought so gallantly for their country in that war, and came home battered and defeated.
One nice addition to the play is its “scorecard” program insert. On it, the theater lists all of the historical characters in the show, the actors who play him/her and a brief explanation of their role in the story. It makes the drama easier to follow. Without it, all of these people might wind up as just so much historical clutter.
The director, Bill Rauch, does a superb job of putting enormous amounts of drama on to a small stage surrounded on three side by the audiences He has slow motion police violence against marchers, protestors beaten up, chanters all over the place, short lines of actors that he deftly turns into long lines of marchers in a few seconds. He utilizes hundreds of videos and huge photos that play out against a backstage wall. Rauch gives the show a vivid historical-as-it-happened look and feel.
Cox gets much support from a splendid, strong corps of skilled actors.
Brian Cox IS Lyndon Johnson. I thought that Bryan Cranston had mastered LBJ n the previous play about the 36th President, All the Way, but here Cox is just as good. He showcases that big Texas drawl and schmoozes as magnificently as he threatens. He gives long speeches full of platitudes and then, when that does not work, reminds Senators that they might lose military bases in the next round of cuts (that does the trick, Johnson argues). He persuades. He cajoles. He is warm and cuddly and cold and ruthless. He has aa big, open arm embrace for all and a terrifying “I’ll kill you” hug for others. He trades bills votes and programs masterfully. If you can’t find a good documentary on LBJ and want to see what he was really like, see this play. Cox is a wonder.
Other fine performances are turned in by Grantham Coleman as Martin Luther King Jr., who shows you the real Martin Lither King Jr., a wise religious man who also knows how to plot and scheme and can go for the jugular with the best of them, Marc Kudisch as a dim witted, spiteful Mayor Daley of Chicago, Bryce Pinkham as a forceful Bobby Kennedy, whom LBJ hates with a passion. There is Gordon Clapp as a hateful and oafish J . Edgar hoover, who comes off (rightfully so) as the villain of the era. There is Marchant Davis as the activist Stokely Carmichael, who turns Dr. King’s peaceful marches violent and makes King shudder. David Garrison is George Wallace, a truly evil figure who later mellows. Ty Jones is effective as Ralph Abernathy, King’s chief lieutenant, Matthew Rauch is the brilliant Robert McNamara, the leader of the hawks in the LBJ administration.
There is a magnificent scene at the end of the play that sums it all up. LBJ, near tears in his wife’s arms, laments that everything that went so well for his Presidency turned to ashes over Vietnam and admits to her that he does not understand how it went wrong and certainly does not understand how to fix it. He complains that everybody from Republicans to the press has turned against him, and sees no way out except not to run for re-election. The shaken LBJ at the end is just as effective as the garrulous, arm twisting, aggressive LBJ at the beginning.
Then, as we know Richard Nixon became President and Vietnam still dragged on for several more years until it ended.
Just as big a tragedy that there was no salute for all those Vietnam vets who came home, no big thank you parade for what you did and tried to do at such a high price. That was a shame. There have been many “than you” tributes and movies and documentaries over the years, and we hope that made up for the disgraceful shunning they received from their country in the 1970s.
Looking back on Vietnam, you ask “How did this mess all happen?” This play tells you, and does so amid the several crises that beset the nation in those years and all of the political storms. It is history brought back for those over 50, chillingly, and a history lesson on how not to run a country for those under 50. Either way, it is splendid drama and sizzling history.
PRODUCTION: The play is produced by Jeffrey Richards, Louise L. Gund, Rebecca Gold, Jayne Baron Sherman, others. Scenic Design: David Korins, Costumes: Linda Cho, Lighting: David Weiner, Music: Paul James Prendergast, Sound: Paul James Prendergast, Marc Salzberg. The play is directed by Bill Rauch.
The tape recorder that recorded what became known as the “Nixon Tapes”
Sometimes a moment of clarity can change everything. The question is whether President Trump’s communication with the Ukrainian president about former Vice President Biden this past summer provides that moment of clarity in the impeachment inquiry that now has been launched by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Impeachment under our Constitution was meant to be a rare event. The Founders did not want Congress to impeach a president over sloppy, negligent or even immoral conduct—the Founders called it “maladministration.” If someone turned out to be a terrible administrator or ineffective or even malignant politician, that was not to be the basis for impeachment. In fact, the Founders argued at length as to whether to have an impeachment outlet at all, knowing that they already were providing a fixed term for a president (as opposed to a life term for Article III judges). The election was seen as the mechanism to remove poor or even rogue actors from the presidency.
But one concern caused the Founders to pause. What if a president was nothing but a tool of a foreign power? What if a president was paid by a foreign country to commit treachery against his own government? George Washington described how he did not want the United States to be turned into the “playground of European powers.”
Start with the words “Treason” and “Bribery” and you begin to see how the impeachment clause in Article II took shape. A president guilty of treason or bribery could certainly be impeached. But what about other acts? The term “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” was inserted with Treason and Bribery to describe other impeachable crimes against the state, major political crimes that undermined the integrity of the government or its proper functioning.
So in Watergate, the House Judiciary Committee voted to send to the House three articles of impeachment. The first concerned the cover-up of the Watergate crimes by the president and his advisors. That included paying hush money to the burglars to keep them from testifying and the dangling of pardons to E. Howard Hunt, one of the masterminds of the Watergate operation. The article contained nine instances of obstructive conduct. The second article of impeachment alleged various abuses of presidential power, such as using the IRS to harass political enemies and illegal wiretapping of citizens. Five paragraphs described a myriad of conduct. The third article alleges the president ignored lawful subpoenas from Congress in violation of duty to see that the laws be faithfully executed, including responding to duly authorized subpoenas.
The three articles, thus, concerned abuses of political power that interfered with the lawful investigation of conduct by the president and his associates who were involved in sabotaging the nation’s free and fair election process through political espionage and trying to hide who was involved through various means of obstructing the investigation into the criminal activity.
All that said, there is still something decidedly opaque about the term “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” and legal scholars can and do debate when a president’s conduct obstructs justice given that the president is empowered under Article II with the discretion to decide who and when to prosecute wrongdoers as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. It was a muddle.
Like the Mueller Report, the average voter was easily lost in the all the minutia of the Watergate crimes, even with live witnesses like John Dean laying out on national television instance after instance of presidential involvement in the cover-up. When some select tapes began to circulate, like Dean’s March 21, 1973 “cancer on the presidency” warning, the public and many Republicans still could not be persuaded that impeachable offenses had been committed. There was a fog of charges and countercharges, with most people aligning along a partisan divide. Nixon actually used the word “witchhunt.”
It took a moment of clarity to change everything. This is not to discount the cumulative effect of the “drip, drip, drip” of disclosures during Watergate. The Senate hearings in the summer of 1973 took a toll on Nixon’s popularity. The fight over the tapes, once discovered, and the firing of Archibald Cox as the Special Prosecutor in the fall of 1973 also raised the temperature in the debate over whether Nixon should go. But still, as 1973 surrendered to 1974, there was no clear consensus that Richard Nixon should be impeached. The House Judiciary Committee opened its impeachment inquiry and voted along mainly party lines to send articles of impeachment to the House in late July 1974. And yet, eleven Republicans on the Committee still demurred, failing to find Nixon guilty of obstruction of justice.
The defining moment came when the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in United States v. Nixon, ordering the president to turn over certain subpoenaed tapes. One of those tapes was of a conversation that took place just a week after the break-in. On Friday, June 23, 1972, Richard Nixon met with his Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman, to discuss how to get ahead of the Watergate investigation being conducted by the FBI. Haldeman suggested, and Nixon agreed, that the CIA should be asked to intervene and ask the FBI to “turn off” its investigation of the crime, as it might lead to CIA activity given that Howard Hunt had been involved in CIA activity like the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation.
It was a false narrative. The CIA had nothing to do with the Watergate break-in. The presidential directive to have the CIA intercede with the FBI, though, was easily understood as the kind of abuse of presidential power that was impeachable. When the tape and its transcript became available on August 5, 1974, it was the end. The tape became known as the “Smoking Gun” tape, as it clearly showed Nixon knew of and indeed directed the cover-up from the start. The Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who had not voted for Article I (obstruction of justice) changed their minds and declared that in the June 23 tape Nixon all but confessed his guilt. Amazingly, these Republicans still felt that the other evidence—payment of hush money, dangling of pardons—did not rise to the level of impeachable conduct. Days later, Nixon’s support totally evaporated in the House and the Senate and Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.
The point is that the June 23 tape presented a simple, understandable, irrefutable example of an abuse of presidential power. The president was directly involved in the wrongdoing. He clearly was using his power to try to stop an investigation by misusing the CIA and the FBI. This was easy to digest. It did not have the confusing narrative of “who knew what and when.” It was stark and it provided the basis for impeachment.
There is a similar feel about the Ukraine incident. The president is directly involved. He is misusing his official power to investigate political opponents. He is using his office to ask a foreign power to essentially intermeddle in domestic politics, perhaps influencing the 2020 election. The story may involve a quid pro quo—the withholding of military aid as a means of pressuring a foreign state to dig up or even manufacture dirt on an opponent.
There is none of the confusion or impenetrable detail of the Mueller Report. Instead this scandal provides easy-to-digest facts that show a president acting in a way that should allow the House to impeach and an unbiased Senate to convict.
Could this be President Trump’s “smoking gun”?
The Watergate complex in Washington, DC
After the fall of Richard M. Nixon, one often heard the refrain: “The system worked!” Existing safeguards, structures, and procedures protected liberty and reestablished the rule of law. After all, Nixon was caught and forced to leave office. But a haunting feeling remains. Did the system work, or did other forces bring about the downfall of Richard Nixon? And now, forty-five years later, can “the system” save us from another abusive and illegal president?
“The system” is the complex web of interrelated governmental and nongovernmental actors and institutions that serve as a check on power. In Watergate, the system included the media, Congress, the courts, the public, the CIA, FBI, the Justice Department, the special prosecutor’s office, and the grand jury. How well did the system perform its function?
The media began like a lamb but ended like a lion. While they were manipulated by Nixon during the 1972 campaign, after the election a herd mentality developed and they turned on Nixon. The Congress, especially in the Ervin and House Judiciary committees, played a very important role in the downfall of Richard Nixon. They moved slowly, methodically, but they moved against the president. The courts, especially Judge Sirica, and the Supreme Court at the end, were clearly a key in the downfall of Nixon. Again, they acted slowly, but effectively. The public, at first giving Nixon a landslide reelection victory eventually turned on the president. The FBI and CIA were used and manipulated by Nixon, as was the Justice Department. The grand jury was essential in getting to the bottom of Watergate. Finally, the special prosecutor’s office, treading on new ground, played an indispensable role in the process. In the end, the system had to act in concert to bring down Nixon.
For so many to act in concert is highly unusual. This speaks to the great difficulty of controlling a determined or runaway president. The system is indeed vulnerable when, even with all these political actors working against the president, it was the “luck” of two “tapes” which finally brought Nixon down! The first tape refers to the piece of tape the Watergate burglars put on the lock of the door to the Democratic National Committee to keep the door from locking shut. A security guard noticed the tape, removed it, but did not report the discovery. When the inept burglars put yet another piece of tape across the lock, the security guard, Frank Wills, finally became suspicious, reported the incident to the police, and this led to the arrest of the burglars. The second tape refers to the taping system Nixon installed in the Oval Office and elsewhere. When these tapes were released, after the Supreme Court in US vs. Nixon ordered the president to turn over the tapes, the president’s fate was sealed. This suggests that the system is actually a rather weak check on presidential abuses of power. “Watergate,” wrote Walter Lippmann, “shows how very vulnerable our constitutional system is. If the national government falls into the hands of sufficiently unprincipled and unscrupulous men, they can do terrible things before anyone can stop them.”
The system worked more than anything else because of luck, accident, and ineptitude. After all, the first break-in of the Watergate was a botched job, as the bugs weren’t properly installed. This necessitated a second break-in, at which time the burglars were caught.
What if Nixon had not taped himself? There would have been no “smoking gun” and Nixon might have survived. What if the coverup had been better managed? It might have held together. What if Nixon had destroyed the tapes before their existence had become known? He would not have had to defy a subpoena—one of the acts on which an article of impeachment was based.
Nixon and Haldeman recognized the role luck played in the Watergate story, as evidenced by this March 20, 1973 taped exchange on how Watergate was “discovered”:
Nixon: …a lot of bad breaks…
Nixon: We got a bad break with the Judge, for example.
Haldeman: Monumental bad breaks and a string of ‘em—one leading to another.
Nixon: This judge, that…
Haldeman: …one lousy part-time night guard at the Watergate who happened to notice the tape on the, on the locks on the doors. If he hadn’t seen them—the thing probably would never have busted. If you hadn’t had Watergate—you wouldn’t have had Segretti. You wouldn’t have had any of that stuff.”
In another sense, the system refers to the two-hundred-year-old constitutional framework and the norms and assumptions upon which it is based. This Madisonian system, described in Federalist No. 51, believed that “ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” that by separating power, viable checks might protect the liberty of the citizen.
The framers of the Constitution saw human nature neither in excessively benign nor unmercifully harsh terms. Man was capable of great good and great evil. The Founders knew man’s darker side, his baser impulses, and sought to control this while also empowering government. In a way, it was precisely for the Richard Nixons (and now Donald Trumps) of the world that the separation of powers and checks and balances were created. And in Watergate, Congress’ role in pushing back on the president was a key.
The impeachment process itself was shown to have very limited utility. The system of accountability is slow, cumbersome, and difficult. It can be used only in truly extraordinary circumstances. And while we do have periodic accountability (elections), and ultimate accountability (impeachment), we do not have a system of daily accountability (routine and continuous).
Finally, it was the system that allowed Nixon to rise to the highest office in the land, in spite of the many clues from his career as to what “the real Nixon” was like. It was the system that Nixon used and manipulated for so long. Thus, the system both nourished and destroyed Richard Nixon.
Watergate so disillusioned the American citizens that trust in government declined sharply, public cynicism toward government grew, a backlashoccurred that ushered in a spate of corrective legislation and saw a candidate for president get elected in 1976 in part because he promised the American public, “I will never lie to you.”
Thomas Paine once said that in America, the Constitution is king. The downfall of Richard Nixon struck a blow for the concept that no man is above the law, not even the president. While Nixon could attempt to justify his actions in a 1977 interview with David Frost by saying, “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal,” this view was flatly rejected by nearly all segments of the American system, at least until President George W. Bush resurrected the imperial pretentions of royal prerogative, and then Donald Trump further claimed truly imperial powers. Here, the words of Justice Brandeis remain operative: “If Government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law.” Reverence for the laws, Abraham Lincoln once said, should “become the political religion of the nation.” But sadly, we have moved away from Lincoln’s view.
What responsibility do “the people” bear for Watergate, for the rise and fall of Richard Nixon? After all, Nixon the politician had been on the political scene since 1948; his slashing campaign style, his character flaws, his ethical lapses were part of the public record. All the elements in Nixon that led to the abuses of Watergate were all operative and observable in embryonic form in his previous political behavior. Do “the people” bear some measure of blame or responsibility for Richard Nixon? There is a saying “In a democracy, people tend to get the government they deserve.” Did we “deserve” Watergate? This sobering possibility is brought home forcefully by historian Henry Steele Commager, who has chillingly written:
The basic problem posed by Watergate and all its attendant horrors is neither constitutional nor political; it is moral. It is not a problem posed by an Administration in Washington; it is one posed by the American people.
After all, we can never get away from the most elementary fact: The American people reelected Mr. Nixon by a majority of nearly eighteen million votes. Either they did not know what kind of man he was, in which case they were inexcusably negligent or inexcusably naïve, or they did know what kind of man he was and did not care or perhaps liked him as he was—as some Americans still like him the way he is. The latter explanation is probably nearer to the truth.
Did he not—indeed, does he not—represent qualities in the American character that are widespread and even taken for granted? In himself and in the curious collection of associates he gathered around him, he represents the acquisitive society, the exploitative society, the aggrandizing society. He represents what is artificial, meretricious, and manipulative.
He represents the American preference for the synthetic over the real, for advertising over product, for public relations over character, for spectator sports over active games, and for spectator politics over participatory democracy.
He represents, too, the widespread American conviction that anything can be bought: culture, education, happiness, a winning football team—or the presidency.
In a very real sense, during Watergate the American public could be accused of falling asleep at the wheel of democracy. Of all the checks which are to balance our political system, none is more powerful than alert and aroused public opinion. A thoughtful, responsible, aware public is the best defense against tyranny. There is no substitute for an aroused citizenry, no hope unless there is a rebirth of what Thomas Cronin calls “citizen politics.” Richard Nixon exposed one of the vulnerabilities of the American political system. “The system” will not protect us; we must be vigilant.
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that “man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” This is the rationale of the Founders of the American republic. It expresses a sensitivity to the duality of the human condition, of the paradoxical nature of man. The Founders sought to incorporate this view into to the establishment of a limited government, under the rule of law, with a division of power, a separation and sharing of power, and a system of checks and balances. They did not seek to paralyze political leadership, merely to keep it under control. Richard Nixon never understood this. Fortunately, the Framers of the Constitution did.
Now, the system—that mix of the Congress, courts, press, the bureaucracy, and the public—faces another vexing challenge. Can it withstand the assaults of a president who almost daily undermines the rule of law?
After Watergate, the Congress passed a variety of laws designed to discourage future Watergates and abuses of power. As important as these laws may be, they are not sufficient to the task. Laws are not self-executing. A nation of laws depends upon the people to enliven the law. A dedicated citizenry is the only hope against tyranny. As learned Hand said, “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”
The Framers of our republic realized that there would be times when a scoundrel found his way to the Presidency. As James Madison noted in Federalist No. 51:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to government, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
Are the people wise enough and our auxiliary precautions strong enough to stand up against this scoundrel now in the White House? Or is the Presidential Pied Piper playing too powerful a tune for the public to resist?
In 2007, I presented a paper on the myth of spat-on Vietnam veterans at a Queensland University conference in Brisbane, Australia. The paper drew on the history of homecomings experienced by U.S veterans of the war; it was well received by the attending historians, most of whom were Australians.
In the Q&A that followed, however, assertions were made that the Australian case was different: Australian returnees, it was said, were met with great hostility and even acts of spitting by the antiwar movement. My surprise at hearing that claim was then surpassed by the acceptance of its merit by the roomful of scholars. With the unspoken certainty of something everyone-knows-is-true filling the room, the story of spat-on Australian veterans went unchallenged into the end of the session.
Later, over drinks and dinner, my probes into what research had been done by historians and students of political culture on the Australian homecoming experience hit a wall: It’s common-sense, isn’t it? The antiwar movement hated the war and the military establishment—why wouldn’t they spit on the “diggers” when they came home?
I returned to the States as certain that there was an untold story in the Australian memory of Vietnam veteran homecomings as I was when began writing The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam. Alas, my pursuits of appointments and funding that would take me back to Australia to do that work were fruitless. Recently, I picked up Mark Dapin’s Australia’s Vietnam: Myth vs. History and it dispelled my lingering disappointment at the lost chance to interrogate some Australian coming-home-from-Vietnam stories. More importantly, Dapin does it in a way that advances the craft of myth-debunking while using his own growth from mythmaker to myth-breaker to show us what intellectual integrity looks like.
Dapin keeps himself on solid methodological ground throughout the book with repeated acknowledgements that he, the myth-debunker, cannot prove the negative, cannot prove what did not happen. But he can show what did happen: that hundreds of thousands of people turned out in 1966 and 1977 to welcome veterans home to Sydney, establishing as a myth the now-widespread claims that there were no “welcome home parades”; that government documents and official correspondence clearly record the obligation to serve in Vietnam when ordered, giving the lie to claims that Australia’s troops there were “an all-volunteer army”; that the first claims that returnees were called “baby killers” came in 1997, about thirty years after they came home.
Dapin takes the show-what-did-happen tactic to a higher level to attack the now-remembered demonstrations that greeted troops returning to Australian airports. So threatening were those demonstrations, it is claimed, that Qantas Airlines flights from Vietnam landed at night to thwart protester’s plans to assail the veterans. The truth, writes Dapin, is more prosaic: nighttime flights allowed Qantas to maintain the scheduled maintenance of the planes needed for daytime commercial flights.
Australia’s Vietnam is more than an empirical inquiry into the truth, say, of stories that Australian troops committed My Lai-type atrocities in Vietnam: did they happen or didn’t they? They didn’t, Dapin says, and the “memory” that they did began with a book published in the US. Dapin describes the book, Happy Hunting Ground by Martin Ross, as a former Marine “eager to impress his readers with the dangers and hardships he ostensibly faced while wandering around South Vietnam as a journalist… “(p. 110). Made-up atrocity stories function, as do other myths in Australian post-Vietnam folklore, to bolster the combat bona fides of Australian veterans by associating them with the imagery of American veterans ginned up by Hollywood.
Australia’s Vietnam is important for the rectification it brings to public memory of Vietnam War homecomings. It’s relevance for Australian readers goes without saying and used in critical dialogue with the American war-story literature it should find its place on those lists as well.
But the book is equally important as a case study of journalists’ role in mythmaking. Dapin’s first chapter, “The Myths I Helped to Make,” is one of the best in the book. Told by members of a veterans biker club that 90% of them have PTSD, that others were spat on, sleep with pick-handles under the bed, live in isolated camps in the bush, or carried a bag of Vietnamese heads in Vietnam—he believed many of them and wrote some them into print. The journalistic malfeasance that Dapin owns-up to now is more than made up for by offering himself for study in why journalists believe what they do. Phenomenologists have covered a lot of that ground that Australia’s Vietnam would be stronger for having referenced but schools of journalism can make the necessary accommodations for that.
Afterword. At the Brisbane conference mentioned above, I also recounted my R&R experience in Sydney in July 1969. Coming down the steps to street-side from my Kings Cross hotel, I was greeted by a young woman. “Are you a GI?” she asked. Tanned (in the Australian winter) with no hair, I confessed immediately. “Would you like to go to a coffee house?” she asked. Agreeable to that, I walked a short distance with her to a coffee shop (and perhaps bookstore) stuffed with antiwar literature and paraphernalia. There, I was offered sanctuary if I wished to desert, and eventual passage to Sweden for more long-term refuge. I left with a stack of printed material that I passed around the 41st Artillery Group upon return to Vietnam and a heavy-metal peace symbol which still hangs on my dining-room wall. The Brisbane conferees had “no idea” that Australian peace activists had reached-out to GIs and even admitted to hunches that protesters would have been hostile to GIs. It was, after all, 2007 and years before they would see Dapin’s myth-busting work.
[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Rethinking Rufus: Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men by Thomas A. Foster. Reprinted with permission from The University of Georgia Press.]
The promise of freedom may also have been used to entice enslaved men into sexual contact with white women. In eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, one court record of punishment meted out to a white woman and an enslaved man for having a child together sentenced her to be whipped and ordered him to “never more” “meddle with white women uppon paine of his life.” When the man was examined by the court he defended himself by complaining that she had “intised him and promised him to marry him.” His version was corroborated by the woman, who “confest the same.” Was this a promise to free him? Did she entice him and promise to marry him, or was the promise of marriage part of the enticement?
A similar case suggests that a promise of freedom may have figured as a method of enticement. In 1813 an enslaved man named David was convicted of rape in Virginia. In a petition to the governor in David’s defense, one neighbor testified that the woman Dolly Getts had in fact engaged in “improper intimacy” with David for three years prior to the rape accusation. Dolly and David were known by her father to “bed together” in the father’s house. He contended that Dolly had “admitted” that David’s “improper conduct arose from her persuasions, that she frequently made use of great importunities to the said David for the purpose of prevailing on him to run off with her which he for some time refused to accede to.” Several times she apparently convinced David to spend time together miles away from the house. On one such occasion, she “earnestly solicited David to go to her father and tell him they were married and perhaps they might be permitted to remain together.” Unwilling to take these risks, “David refused and charged her with having brought him into his then unpleasant situation.” In another related example, in 1826 a white woman was captured after having stolen a horse and an enslaved man. She had disguised herself as a man, and according to the account, “she persuaded him off and that she was the whole and sole cause of his stealing his master’s horse.” The enslaved man was punished for the theft of the horse.
The promise of freedom was probably less common than the threat of selling an enslaved man away. Court testimony from an 1841 Kentucky case involved an enslaved man and a white woman who lived together as husband and wife and whose case had come to court over the woman’s ability to sell her own land. The court declared that their relationship was not marriage but was instead one of “concubinage.” Moreover, the case included testimony that revealed the power dynamic within the relationship, since it was reported that the white woman “sometimes threatend to sell” the man, James, “when vexed with him.” Another neighbor testified that he “frequently heard her threaten to sell him if he did not behave himself.” In a related example, William Thomas complained that his wife, Sarah Jane, knew that he was going to sell an enslaved man, “for previously on two occasions defendant had found said negro too near Petitioner’s Bed in the night time and slipping away from her Bed privately.” The threat of being sold was a constant fear for enslaved people; it included the terror of being sold to southern states and the West Indies, known for brutal conditions and higher mortality rates, and the pain of being wrenched away from loved ones, kin, and community.
Violations of privacy included punishments that involved nakedness; the threat of such physical punishment could also be wielded by some women. One former slave described his mistress as whipping him: “Mr. Hammans was a very severe and cruel master, and his wife still worse; she used to tie me up and flog me while naked.” Another man described his mistress in similar terms, emphasizing physical contact that occurred after being “stripped naked”:
His wife was a harsh, cruel, hardhearted, tyrannical woman, her whole being was filled with hatred of the blackest and bitterest kind against the poor down-trodden, crushed, despised and trampled slave; she seemed possessed with some Satanic influence, and never was in her glory unless she could have her slaves tied up to the whipping post, stripped naked, with a pair of flat irons fastened to their feet, then she would stand by, drawing the lash like an infuriated demon, all the nicer sensibilities of her womanly nature seemed to be crushed out of existence. She would ply the lash until the poor victim would faint dead away.
Hinton’s testimony also revealed something about the variety of tactics that women employed toward men in such circumstances, many of them strikingly similar to the strategies employed by white owners against black women: “I have generally found that, unless the woman has treated them kindly, and won their confidence, they have to be threatened, or have their passions aroused by actual contact.” Here we see that direct threats accompanied some of these relationships, or indirect manipulation, with a subtler threat of violence. Once physical contact and arousal had been achieved, a man might have little ability to resist.
Regardless of the circumstances that prompted these varied arrangements, many of them clearly took place in the context of servitude and highlighted the power of the enslaving woman over the enslaved man. Harriet Jacobs, in her mention of a white woman who preyed on an enslaved man, wrote that she had picked a man who was “the most brutalized, over whom her authority could be exercised with less fear of exposure.” Anecdotes such as these suggest that some white women initiated sexual encounters and made clear what they wanted, knowing that their cultural role, the sexual innocence expected of them, helped to hide their actions. Jacobs’s account noted that she was personally familiar with this household. Her account also suggested that the woman preyed on more than one man. She “did not make advances … to her father’s more intelligent servants” but singled out for sexual assault instead a man “over whom her authority could be exercised with less fear of exposure” because he was so traumatized. Such a man, it is suggested, had been terrorized into submission on the plantation, and she took advantage of his state of mind to force herself upon him—with the threat of additional punishment if he did not accept her assault and if he did not keep it clandestine.
Wives and daughters of planters who formed these sexual relationships took advantage of their position within the slave system. Having sex with their white counterparts in the insular world of the white planter class, if exposed, would certainly have risked opprobrium, and even gossip about the women’s actions might have marred their reputations. Daughters of planters could use enslaved men in domestic settings, however, retain their virtue, and maintain the appearance of passionlessness and virginity while seeking sexual experimentation. In other words, one of the ways that some southern women may have protected their public virtue was by clandestine relations with black men. Hinton also told the AFIC that a white doctor reported to him that in Virginia and Missouri “white women, especially the daughters of the smaller planters, who were brought into more direct relations with the negro, had compelled some one of the men to have something to do with them.”
Sons of planters also engaged in such conduct, as Hinton also noted, even suggesting that young women imitated the behavior of their brothers. Hinton explained that some daughters of wealthy individuals on the American frontier, where interactions with male suitors were also relatively limited, as they were for planters’ daughters, given social constraints, “knew that their brothers were sleeping with the chambermaids, or other servants, and I don’t see how it could be otherwise than they too should give loose to their passions.” Another man reported that the conditions of slavery not only brought about the “promiscuous intercourse among blacks, and between black women and white men” but also created a context that encouraged white women to be “involved” in the “general depravity.” Harriet Jacobs wrote that daughters “know that the women slaves are subject to their father’s authority over men slaves” and therefore “selected” and coerced certain enslaved men to be sexual partners. Although Hinton and Jacobs perhaps could not conceive of women taking the initiative on their own and understood them as following the example set by their fathers and brothers, we should note that daughters seem to have engaged in the same behavior as fathers and sons, if not perhaps as many. Although clearly from Jacobs’s testimony, field hands were abused, we should also note that house slaves, given their closer proximity to white women, would have fallen under special control.
White women’s sexual exploitation of enslaved men may well have led to marital tensions among enslaved couples. In antebellum Alabama, one white man petitioned for divorce and alleged that his wife had been “delivered of a black child, the fruits of illicit intercourse carried on between the said Matilda [his wife] and a negro slave” owned by her father. Loren Schweninger uses the case as an example of how enslaved people sometimes seized opportunities to run away when husbands and wives, and thus households, were disrupted. In this case, the enslaved man’s wife ran away at this time. It might also be worth pondering this case from a different angle. What would have been the experience of this enslaved man? His master’s daughter, Matilda, engaged him in sexual relations. His wife ran away. Was love lost? Was he able to say no to Matilda? Or did she break up this enslaved family, with the man’s wife running away to escape an unbearable situation?
From Rose’s interview we glean no indications about Rufus’s experiences with white women other than that his mistress played a key role in his forced coupling with Rose. Sexual relations between white women and enslaved black men were well known in early America and resulted in court and church pronouncements and punishments, cultural derision, and the dissolution of white marriages. Efforts to police intimate relations between black men and white women stemmed in part from a desire to control women. Such behavior threatened white men and their authority over white women’s sexuality. Discussions of these relationships have often taken their cues from late nineteenth-century understandings of white women’s passive victimhood and black male sexual aggression, but even a cursory examination of the extant records surrounding these interactions suggests that much more was at work in these deeply fraught interactions. The relative power that white women had over enslaved black men’s bodies and their lives and circumstances makes it possible for us to view their sexual relations as defying white patriarchal authority but at the expense of enslaved men and their families, kin, and communities. Whatever white women’s actions accomplished in terms of solidifying their own autonomy was not equally shared by the enslaved men with whom they had intimate relations. Those men lived under constant threat of punishment and could only carefully navigate and negotiate the thorny path that white women presented them whenever sexual intimacy occurred. One wonders if the myth of the black rapist that emerged after emancipation, the fiction that black men uncontrollably sought sexual contact with white women, was not partly informed by white women justifying their actions during enslavement—and their fear of revenge.
I could not possibly applaud enough the young men and women who flooded the streets in hundreds of cities around the world demanding from their government to take immediate and long-term action to combat climate change. By the same token, I could not condemn and denounce more vehemently Mr. Trump and many of his ilk, like Bolsonaro of Brazil, for their criminal disregard of the catastrophic peril that climate change represents. By denying the threat that climate change poses and its devastating harm to countless living creatures, they are systematically undermining any chance we still have of avoiding a terrible catastrophe, including a mass extinction of species the likes of which the modern world has never seen.
On Monday, the United Nations Climate Action Summit, revealed how far presidents and prime ministers are willing to go. More than 60 countries announced tangible plans to reduce emissions and help the countries most vulnerable to climate change to manage the terrible consequences of global warming.
Yet, since the beginning of his administration, Trump has been undermining environmental protections; by his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change agreement, his refusal to attend the G7 special meeting on climate change, cut backs on the regulation of methane emissions, the freezing of antipollution and fuel-efficiency standards for cars, weakening the Endangered Species Act, while allowing gas drilling and offshore oil in all coastal waters off the United States.
Michael E. Mann, a noted climatologist and geophysicist, has observed that the science he and his colleagues does is “a threat to the world’s most powerful and wealthiest special interests.” This explains the self-serving denials of people like Trump and his company, who choose to ignore that a disastrous climate crisis is looming.
To have a better understanding of the unfolding disasters precipitated by climate change the following are not new revelations but point out some of the far-reaching implications of climate change that no country can afford to overlook.
The rainforest are a crucial bulwark against climate change because they act as a carbon sink, absorbing carbine dioxide out of the atmosphere. The rampant deforestation that is occurring in the Amazon and elsewhere (including Indonesia, Thailand and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) is effectively eliminating one of the most powerful resources we have for combatting global warming. When Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was elected in October 2018, he came to power intending to open up the Amazon basin to business interests. He cut the budget of Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency by $23 million, and essentially encouraged cattlemen, agribusinesses and loggers to exploit and deforest an ever-growing amount of Amazon land. Small wonder then that fires in Brazil are up 85 percent this year compared to the previous year. Although it is certainly a good thing that European leaders recognize the calamity resulting from the burning of the Amazon rainforest, the pathetic $20 million they have allocated for fighting these fires is a paltry sum considering the enormity of the disaster. This sum of money does not match the urgency expressed by the G7 leaders—do they really understand the magnitude of the disaster which is unfolding in front of our eyes? Presently, an area about one and a half times the size of a football field is being destroyed each and every minute of each and every day. The systematic destruction of the rainforest is not limited to Brazil. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen a loss of roughly 1,200 sq. miles of forest every year since 1990. That is a forest area around the size of Delaware which is destroyed annually. The rainforest in the Congo Basin is the largest in Africa, and second only to the Amazon Basin in size. Many of the wildlife species are threatened by illegal logging, including the lowland gorillas and chimpanzees. Forest elephants have seen their numbers decline by 60 percent. War, ethnic conflicts, deteriorating economies, and climate change have forced millions across the world to flee their homes. Over 1.6 million migrants and refugees reached Europe between 2015 and 2018 from Asia, Africa and Middle East. Tragically, climate refugees and internally displaced persons are just another facet of this crisis.
Climate refugees are people forced to leave their homes due to “sudden or gradual alterations in their natural environment.” The most vulnerable regions are sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America; studies show that by 2050, nearly 150 million people from these regions could be displaced due to climate change. Coral reefs are also dying at a horrifying rate as a result of global warming. 27 percent of monitored reefs have been lost and over 30 percent are at risk of being lost within the next few decades. The reasons for this unfolding tragedy are clear enough. Coral mining, overfishing, blast fishing, pollution, warming oceans and ocean acidification are among the major contributing factors.
Sylvia Earle, a notable marine biologist and former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association pointedly observed that, “Half the coral reefs are still in pretty good shape, a jeweled belt around the middle of the planet. There’s still time, but not a lot, to turn things around.”
Factory farming is contributing directly to global warming. Over 60 billion animals worldwide – including cows, chickens and pigs – are restricted to Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). These CAFOs release massive amounts of greenhouse gasses, surpassing even the entire global transportation industry. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent – nearly one-fifth – of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
Factory farming is also indirectly intensifying climate change through deforestation. In fact, clearing land for feed crops and grazing releases up to 28 million tons of carbon dioxide per year globally. As Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals, states, “We know, at least, that this decision (ending factory farming) will help prevent deforestation, curb global warming, reduce pollution, save oil reserves, lessen the burden on rural America, decrease human rights abuses, improve publish health, and help eliminate the most systematic animal abuse in history.” Climate change equally impacts Democrats and Republicans alike; young and old; white and persons of color; men, women, and children; and every species. Those who have brought us face-to-face with this horrifying reality must now realize that their time is up. Climate change is real, and the plethora of scientific evidence is indisputable. This is a calamity in the making—all nations that care must wake up before it is too late.
All the power to the young Swedish student Greta Thunberg who bravely stood before the UN special session on climate change and forcefully stated that, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
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.
The Republican Party was founded in 1854 to oppose the expansion of slavery. It has survived in philosophy and leadership over the past 165 years but now it has reached its demise under Donald Trump. While the Republican Party might still exist in name, it has lost all principle, all purpose, and all reason to exist under its present name.
The new revelations about Trump pressuring the Ukraine President to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son for corruption now have put the Republican Party on warning. With the movement in the House of Representatives toward impeachment, will any Republicans speak up and condemn what Trump has most recently done, or will they, effectively, go down in disgrace with a President who has never really shown respect for the party and its history?
Today’s Republicans have totally repudiated its great Presidential leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. All four of these outstanding Republican Presidents would certainly be shocked and dismayed by the Presidency of Donald Trump. But it has also repudiated Congressional giants, including William Seward, Charles Sumner, Robert La Follette, Sr, George Norris, Robert Taft, Arthur Vandenberg, Everett Dirksen, Jacob Javits, Barry Goldwater, Clifford Case, Mark Hatfield, Charles Mathias, Charles Percy, and a multitude of other luminaries. It has also ignored the principles and convictions of gubernatorial giants, including Thomas Dewey, Earl Warren, Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney, William Scranton, and many others.
Under Abraham Lincoln and during Reconstruction, the Republican Party was the party of ending slavery and promoting racial equality. It was the party of responsible government regulation of capitalism in the public interest underthe administration of Theodore Roosevelt. Under Theodore Roosevelt and even Richard Nixon, the Republican party encouraged responsible environmental and consumer legislation to protect the American people. It was the party of a strong military and promoted national security during the Cold War under Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. It was the party of responsible international alliances and treaties in the years since the Second World War under all Republican Presidents from Eisenhower to George W. Bush.
The Republican Party was far from perfect and at times it contradicted these principles. It encouraged monopoly capitalism in the Gilded Age, the 1920s, and has once again since Ronald Regan. It has ignored and sometimes encouraged racism and nativism. Richard Nixon employed the “Southern Strategy” and the Watergate tapes recordings demonstrated his anti Semitism and racism. Ronald Reagan allowed the “Religious Right’ to have an undue influence in the 1980s. The Republican Party today pushes to end the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, promotes mass incarceration and tough mandatory minimums, and continues the injustice it has done to racial minorities and the poor. Massive evidence of government corruption under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan previously undermined Republican credibility with the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, respectively. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush engineered massive tax cuts, harming the middle class and the poor, and created a new Gilded Age similar to the late 19th century.
But the party always had healthy internal debates: progressive and conservative Republicans clashed in the early 20th century Progressive Era and the New Deal era; liberal and conservative Republicans in the post World War II period from 1945-1980; and moderate and conservative Republicans in the age of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes. If Republican Presidents did not always offer great leadership, members of Congress and state governors often weighed in on policy. Whenever the Republican Party seemed to have lost its way, challenges came from Republican members of Congress and governors that kept the party viable and respectable. Few felt that the party leaders in Congress and in the states were willing to give up their independence to any President and the party leadership.
But now, that has all changed. All of the principles of the Republican Party have been destroyed in the age of Donald Trump. The Republican leadership in Congress and the states has simply given up any concept of disagreement or resistance, and have accepted Donald Trump as an authoritarian leader with no limits on his executive power. This is true of racial and ethnic discrimination; of overlooking massive violations of civil liberties; of abuse of immigrant children and their families escaping from poverty, violence, and bloodshed in Central America; and of giving over total control of the economy to major corporations without any government regulation. There is no resistance to policies that totally abandon environmental and consumer regulation and fail to protect national security from the threats of foreign nations with authoritarian leaders who flatter our President like Russia, China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. The Republican party now supports undermining international alliances and treaties, alienating such close friends as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India. Additionally, the total abuse of any standard of ethics and morality, including the President’s own scandalous private life is ignored and often denied as reality by the leaders and office holders of his own party.
Months ago Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee and emphasized that Russia interfered in the Presidential Election of 2016; that Donald Trump and his campaign welcomed Russian intervention; and that Donald Trump obstructed justice in the investigation of the campaign. Still the GOP leadership has no issue publicly with Donald Trump. No matter how outrageous his statements, the extent of his lies, or the harm he brings domestically or internationally, almost no Republican defies Trump. Even Trump’s move to oppose free trade, a long held view of the party, moves ahead without much protest. In fact, it seems as if the Republican leadership and office holders are terrified of our President. Even after the El Paso, Dayton, and Odessa-Midland Massacres, there is mostly silence from Republicans.
Donald Trump has promoted so many policies of abuse and corruption, including undermining the contributions of past Republican Presidents, and yet House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and nearly all Republican office holders defend him, or stay silent. Only a few Republicans not in office anymore have spoken up and challenged Trump.
The Republican Party is dead as we knew it, and the question is this: will anyone in that party finally lead a decisive challenge to the abuse of power going on, which threatens the nation and the world at large, or will a new political party emerge, as the Republicans did in the crisis of the 1850s, when they replaced the Whig Party?
American democracy and constitutional government is at stake right now every day!
Fears that Russian intelligence is actively working to undermine Western democracy—in the United States, Europe and around the globe—are running high. Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III documented multiple systemic interferences by Russia in his report on the 2016 presidential election released earlier this year, and he warned that Russia is actively targeting the 2020 election. Similarly, Russia conducted a “continued and sustained” disinformation campaign against Europe’s parliamentary elections in May, according to a European Union report. Techniques include planting false news stories, hacking into campaign accounts, creating fake social media accounts, and using software applications known as bots to spread distorted, divisive content.
While Russian bots and fake Facebook accounts are relatively new, efforts to undercut Western values and democracy and sow division among allies have long been part of the playbook for Russian and Soviet intelligence. One of the highest-stakes attempts came 60 years ago. On November 10, 1958, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev fired the opening salvo of what would become known as the Berlin Crisis, a gambit meant to force the Western powers to pull their troops out of the divided city. Khrushchev declared that Soviet forces would withdraw from the city, and pressured the Americans, British, and French to follow suit. In effect, it was a demand that the Western powers relinquish their right of access to Berlin that had been agreed to at the end of World War II. Doing so would mean abandoning West Berlin, which was surrounded by East German territory.
Not unlike the current Russian efforts to undermine public trust in democracy, behind the scenes, the KGB waged a determined campaign using propaganda and disinformation to paint the Americans as cynical occupiers interested in Berlin only as a base for nefarious espionage operations that were oppressing the German people.The Soviets charged that West Berlin was a “nest of spies” and its victims were the citizens of both East and West Berlin. Exhibit A was the Berlin Tunnel. The audacious joint operation, by the CIA’s Berlin base chief Bill Harvey and Peter Lunn, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) Berlin station, involved digging a secret, quarter-mile-long tunnel from the American sector into the Soviet sector to tap into Red Army communications. Though the KGB had been tipped off about plans for the tunnel by the notorious spy George Blake, the intelligence service took no action against the tunnel. They Soviets didn’t even warn Red Army commanders, for fear of compromising Blake, as described in Betrayal in Berlin. For nearly a year, from May 1955 until the Soviets announced they had discovered the tunnel in April 1956, CIA and SIS captured reams of material about Soviet military capabilities, operations, and plans, as well as information from GRU (Soviet military intelligence), KGB and East German intelligence offices using the tapped lines.
Ironically, the U.S. was able to counter the KGB campaign against Western espionage– thanks to intelligence gathered by Berlin Tunnel. As the tension surrounding the crisis grew in late 1958 when Khrushchev laid out his demands, the CIA base in Berlin went to work compiling information about Soviet intelligence transgressions.
Khrushchev’s formal ultimatum calling for the withdrawal of the four powers from Berlin, delivered in Moscow on November 27, 1958, set a six-month deadline. Otherwise, he warned, the Soviet Union would sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany and cede control of access to the city to the East German regime, steps that could effectively end West Berlin’s status as a free city. Berlin is a “malignant tumor,” Khrushchev declared in his speech at the Moscow Sports Palace. “We have decided to do some surgery.”
In one fell swoop, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower later said, Khrushchev had turned Berlin “into a tinderbox.” On New Year’s Eve 1958, the Allies officially rejected the Soviet demand, setting the stage for a dangerous confrontation.
Disinformation—disinformazia—had long been a staple of Soviet intelligence, but the KGB had begun throwing more resources into their efforts. In January 1959, Aleksandr Shelepin, who had recently taken over as head of the KGB, established a new organization, Department D, to create and coordinate disinformation programs. Department D’s first priority was West Berlin. The KGB had recently discovered that a Soviet military intelligence officer, Pyotr Popov, was spying for the CIA. Combined with the impressive scale of the tunnel, the KGB considered the CIA’s Berlin base a major security threat that needed to be neutralized. “This unit [is] headed by the American Bill Harvey, known by the nickname ‘Big Bill’,” a KGB memorandum said. “… The available material provides a basis for assuming that ‘Big Bill’ and his coworkers carry out active intelligence work against the countries of the Socialist camp, for which they have a large agent network.”
Resuming the same propaganda strategy that followed the discovery of the tunnel, the KGB launched a new campaign portraying West Berlin as an espionage swamp and center of subversive activities. A key goal was to damage public support for the U.S. among the populations of other Western nations.
The U.S. State Department feared that the Soviet campaign might undercut Western solidarity about not abandoning Berlin at talks scheduled to begin in Geneva in May 1959 between foreign ministers from the four powers in an attempt to defuse the crisis. John Foster Dulles, terminally ill with cancer, had resigned as secretary of state in April, and had been succeeded by Under Secretary of State Christian Herter. The former Massachusetts governor and congressman would be facing off against the formidable Andrei Gromyko, near the start of a nearly three-decade career as Soviet foreign minister.
In preparation for the summit, the CIA’s Berlin Operations Base prepared a counterattack listing a long catalog of Soviet and East German espionage and covert operations run from East Berlin, many of them discovered by the tunnel. “Now that the tunnel was no longer running, we could use it all, and we did,” recalled David Murphy, who was then deputy chief of the base. The CIA provided Herter and his aides with lengthy memos detailing the eastern espionage operations.
After a month of tense talks in Geneva amid Soviet accusations about West Berlin, Herter made his move June 5 at a forum attended by the press. Herter confronted Gromyko with the evidence, charging that East Berlin was “one of the heaviest concentrations of subversive and spying activities in the world.”
The American painstakingly recited the litany of evidence compiled by the CIA. He told Gromyko that it was “reliably estimated” that the Soviets had “26,000 officers, directing more than 200,000 agents and informers” operating in West Berlin, West Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe. He accused the Soviets of responsibility for 63 kidnappings of defectors, activists, and others in West Berlin opposed to the East German regime, most of the cases involving “brute force.”
Herter further charged that the Soviets were using East Berlin as “the center of an extensive campaign of slanderous personal vilification” against Western officials, sending anonymous letters to the spouses of Allied officials and German civilians implying their husbands or wives were unfaithful. He accused them of spreading lies and rumors through whispering campaigns—what then passed for social media.
“The goal of this centrally directed effort at subversion is the complete overthrow of the existing constitutional and social order” in West Germany, Herter charged.
Gromyko “sat there for two hours while the secretary of state read him word by word every single thing from these memoranda about Soviet and East German intelligence operations in East Berlin,” recalled Murphy. “It was the first time that we used counterintelligence material [to publicly confront the Soviets], and we were able to do it because the tunnel provided it to us.”
Gromyko was “stony-faced through the recital,” according to one account, while the rest of the Soviet delegation “acted pained and aggrieved.” Finally, Gromyko responded that the Soviet file on Western spying in Berlin was “much more comprehensive” than the American list, but he needed to give only one example: “the matter of the tunnel dug from West to East Berlin.”
It was certainly a valid point.
But the elaborate American presentation was widely reported by the Western press, with numerous articles highlighting the vast scale of Soviet espionage operations against the West. Herter reported to the president that the counterattack “shook Gromyko up a bit” and had blunted the Soviet campaign. “We may hear very little more about it,” the secretary of state predicted to Eisenhower.
Meanwhile, Khrushchev proved unwilling to go to war over Berlin, and the six-month deadline he had set for Western withdrawal passed virtually unnoticed. “It was the ultimatum that, only a few months before, many had feared would bring up the curtain of World War III,” Eisenhower later wrote. “The day came and went—a day lost in history.” But as Eisenhower well knew, the Berlin problem was hardly solved.
Three years later, with Khrushchev’s consent, the East German regime led by Walter Ulbricht constructed the Berlin Wall in August 1961. With free access across the sector borders closed, Berlin was effectively shut down as an espionage center. But it came at an enormous cost to the Soviet and East German regimes. Any pretense that the communist governments were defending the freedom of those behind the Iron Curtain was gone.
When the Berlin Wall finally fell 30 years ago, a development was soon followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, many celebrated what was widely seen as the final and complete triumph of liberal democracy in the Western world. But as the warnings of Russian interference from the recent reports by Mueller and the European Union make clear, that battle is ongoing.
Roger Fortin, Ph.D., arrived at Xavier University in Cincinnati in the fall of 1966 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of History. During his fifty years at the University, he was promoted to the rank of Professor and assumed a number of administrative positions, including Academic Vice President and Provost. During his tenure he wrote four books, including Faith and Action: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati: 1821–1996; To See Great Wonders: A History of Xavier University: 1831–2006; and Fellowship: History of the Cincinnati Irish, as well as numerous scholarly articles. A popular and dedicated teacher, Fortin has been recognized by Xavier University as Distinguished Service Professor of History.
Andrew Fletcher: We often reference the Founders as the originators of many of the ideals that still guide us today. What Founders’ ideals are at the core of America’s promise?
Roger Fortin: In addition to the ”unalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the founding generation saw civic virtue as necessary to ensure a nation of laws and establish a political system with checks and balances largely designed to prevent the abuse of power. They expressed what they deemed possible and desirable, arguing that individuals should develop themselves as fully as possible. The Founders also emphasized the importance of honesty. Motivated by a love for the truth, they urged accuracy, clarity, and precision in language. While the Declaration of Independence symbolized the dignity and worth of every individual, there were glaring paradoxes in society. Blacks, women, and Native Americans were not viewed as equals to white men. Notwithstanding the failings of the Founding Fathers, over time their ideals have proven more energizing than their flaws.
Andrew Fletcher: Why did the Founders promote education as much as they did? What is the value of a liberal education in America?
Roger Fortin: For individualism and social responsibility to coexist, they thought, depended heavily on the quality of education. They hoped to provide a liberal arts education, implanting in the minds of young people the principles of virtue and liberty that would enable them to act as free and independent human beings, making it possible for them to live full and happy lives, as well as helping others.
Andrew Fletcher: What is the essence of the American Dream?
Roger Fortin: To some people the American Dream is success measured by money, power, and fame. To others the term may connote freedom, equality, opportunity, upward mobility, owning a home, among others. The American Dream is about hope, the hope that every individual of whatever status has the chance to be all that he or she can be. That is the essence of the Dream.
Andrew Fletcher: The country is now in a much different place than it was 243 years ago. How has the American Dream changed or stayed consistent, and why?
Roger Fortin: The American Dream is part of America’s soul. Like our nation’s ideals, the Dream of a better and happier existence for everyone is timeless. As part of America’s lifeline, it is indispensable in sustaining our identity and mission and safeguarding and energizing the nation’s ethos.
Andrew Fletcher: You discuss the Founders’ belief in the “pursuit of happiness” as a basic right. What did the Founders mean by “pursuit of happiness?”
Roger Fortin: The founding generation agreed with John Adams when he wrote that the government that provides “ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.” They also generally agreed with Adam Smith, the eighteenth century Scottish economist, philosopher, and father of capitalism, that true happiness lay in “tranquility and enjoyment,” which had less to do with an individual’s economic status than it did with the moral qualities of men and women.
Andrew Fletcher: America finds itself in an uncertain position and unstable political climate today. What modern challenges do America’s values and character face? In Chapter 5, you assert that the Founders’ ideals help us to lead more fulfilling lives. How do the Founders’ ideals relate to contemporary everyday life for Americans?
Rogert Fortin: While there are things that divide Americans, such as racism, ethnicity, and class, there are many more things that unite us. Our common humanity and fundamental desire to be happy unite us. We’re interlocked with other human beings; we’re all connected.
We live at a time when we’re experiencing a continuing revolution in time and space relationships as well as seeing the digitization, virtualization, and automation or more and more things. The new technologies have thrust a new scale of life upon us. As we assess our nation’s ideals and values and reflect upon our sense of direction, we should care about our character. Living life consistent with one’s values and convictions is the most noble of human endeavors. As Jefferson put it so well, “in matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle stand like a rock.”
Throughout the nation’s history, Americans latched on to the Founding Generation’s ideals, which encourage refinement of those qualities that characterize individuals at their best. As gardens bear the same flowers anew year after year, so in each generation – especially today – the ideals must be born anew and revitalized.
The President-Elect of the EU Commission Ursula van der Leyen, the Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Secretary Genera Elhadj As Syl, the CEO of Penguin Random House Markus Dohle, billionaire philanthropist and Chair of Bertelsmann Management Group Liz Mohn, and two dozen other high-profile global elites joined me at Trilogue Salzburg in August 2019.
This yearly event is described by its organizers as follows:
Surrounded by the stimulating atmosphere of the Salzburg Festival, the Trilogue Salzburg convenes leading thinkers, decision-makers and renowned personalities from the arts, civil society, business and politics to engage in cross-cutting, inter-cultural and future-oriented debate.
Each year, the organizers of the conference choose a different future-oriented topic. This year, the topic was “Fragmented Realities - Regaining a Common Understanding of Truth.”
Indeed, this year did not disappoint. Full of prominent leaders - ranging from politicians and business leaders to nonprofit leaders and thought leaders - the conference featured extensive discussions of how to address misinformation and post-truth politics.
I was invited to attend and participate in a roundtable panel there. You can see me second from left in the back in the photo above, and also at 3:17 in this video
If you enjoy video, here’s a videocast based on this blog:
A prominent thought leader, I’m a social scientist who published substantial peer-reviewed research on how to fight misinformation, a public figure who wrote hundreds of articles and gave hundreds of interviews on this topic, and a best-selling author who wrote The Truth-Seeker’s Handbook: A Science-Based Guide. I’m also a civic activist as the co-founder of the Pro-Truth Pledge project, dedicated to uplifting truthfulness in all areas of public discourse, and President of the Board of Intentional Insights, the 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit that runs the pledge project.
What surprised me most at the event was the percentage of high-profile participants who lacked research-based perspectives on this topic. Conference attendees mostly advocated old-school approaches to addressing the lack of truth and trust in society, such as more education about misinformation and critical thinking. So I found myself at odds with most of the participants.
I pointed out that if such methods worked, we wouldn’t be in the bind that we are, and we wouldn’t need a conference on how to deal with this problem! Research has found that many forms of education about misinformation actually leads to the spread of misinformation. Even the typical ways that journalists try to counteract misinformation can often backfire, causing people to hold more strongly to these myths. So do the ways health experts teach about health misinformation.
That’s why simply saying “we need more education” is a very, very bad idea: the traditional and intuitive way we teach about misinformation is often exactly the wrong thing to do. We need the right education - the specific type of education that research has found to not spread misinformation - which is not what is usually taught! Global elites taking part in the conference can make a meaningful difference in improving education.
Several participants made the claim that the recent wave of misinformation resulted from economic inequality between the rich and poor. In their view, such inequality led to the poor being more willing to believe misinformation. Yet measures of inequality haven’t changed much between 2000 and today, while misinformation has become much more powerful and prevalent in the last few years.
Instead, the key difference is the astronomically quick growth of social media as the source from which people get their news, and the prevalence of misinformation on social media, since tech companies aren’t doing much to filter out fake news. The global elites who attended the conference have the power to address the inaction of tech companies, and indeed some conference attendees are already starting to do so.
Hopefully, some of the research-based perspectives shared by myself and a couple of other participants familiar with cutting-edge research in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics on promoting ethical and truthful behavior will make some impact. I shared some of the points about education and many other topics informed by my scholarship and writing.
Another example. One of the other attendees was Dhruv Ghulati, co-founder of Factmata, who personally signed the Pro-Truth Pledge and whose organization signed it as well. He discussed the need to reward - financially and otherwise - high-quality journalism, instead of the current financial incentives rewarding click-baity journalism. Providing financial incentives for such journalism is the essence of Factmata.
Most exciting of all, Pro-Truth Pledge donors gathered sufficient funding to make an early, pre-release run of my forthcoming book co-written with Tim Ward, called Pro Truth: A Practical Plan for Putting Truth Back Into Politics, available for pre-order here.
The book describes how we can turn back the tide of post-truth politics, fake news, and misinformation that is devastating our democracy through the Pro-Truth Movement: a movement which has already begun, and is making a tangible impact. I was able to make personal, signed gifts of copies of the book to 23 out of 30 conference attendees. My hope is that it will make a real difference to the fight against misinformation to have such high-profile people read this book. My gratitude to the donors who helped make it happen!
P.S. Don’t forget to pre-order the book now!
Image Credit: Bertelsmann Stiftung
Originally published at http://glebtsipursky.com on September 22, 2019.
Bio: Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases. His expertise and passion is using pragmatic business experience and cutting-edge behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience to develop the most effective and profitable decision-making strategies. A best-selling author, he wrote Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (2019), The Truth Seeker’s Handbook: A Science-Based Guide (2017), and The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships (2020). Dr. Tsipursky’s cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 400 articles and 350 interviews in Fast Company, CBS News, Time, Business Insider, Government Executive, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Inc. Magazine, and elsewhere.
His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training experience as the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts. Its hundreds of clients, mid-size and large companies and nonprofits, span North America, Europe, and Australia, and include Aflac, IBM, Honda, Wells Fargo, and the World Wildlife Fund. His expertise also stems from his research background as a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist with over 15 years in academia, including 7 years as a professor at the Ohio State University. He published dozens of peer-reviewed articles in academic journals such as Behavior and Social Issues and Journal of Social and Political Psychology.
He lives in Columbus, OH, and to avoid disaster in his personal life makes sure to spend ample time with his wife. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook, YouTube, RSS, and LinkedIn. Most importantly, help yourself avoid disasters and maximize success, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace, by signing up for his free Wise Decision Maker Course.
Some 45 years after the movement to impeach President Nixon, the speaker of the House of Representatives reviewed—or revised?—its history.
Interviewing Speaker Nancy Pelosi for Rolling Stone, publisher Jann Wenner raised the question of impeachment. Were we headed there, following Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian election interference and the resulting report?
Ms. Pelosi (my representative in Congress) showed no sympathy for the movement to impeach President Donald Trump. She correctly stated that the House never impeached Richard Nixon. However, she incorrectly stated why the House did not impeach him:
The House proceeded with the hearings, but they never impeached because of information that came out that made it clear that they shouldn’t put the country through this process. It’s a very disruptive process to put the country through, and it’s an opportunity cost in terms of time and resources. You don’t want to go down that path unless it is unavoidable.
Actually, Nixon headed off impeachment and removal as president by resigning.
“Watergate” became a household word when leading press and broadcast media pursued that scandal. It began quietly with “a third-rate burglary” (quoting a Nixon spokesman) at Democratic headquarters in Washington’s Watergate complex in June 1972. Watergate grabbed ever more headlines and TV time, once the burglars, Nixon’s “plumbers,” got linked to his reelection campaign. Woodward and Bernstein and All the President’s Men became well-known names.
By mid 1974, the public, Congress, and courts stood quite ready to put the country through the impeachment process outlined in the Constitution.
Few Americans who followed television or newspapers could ignore the Senate Watergate Committee’s nationally televised hearings, begun in May 1973; indictment of seven Nixon aides, naming Nixon as “unindicted co-conspirator”; televised impeachment proceedings by the House Judiciary Committee, begun in May 1974; prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s subpoena for 64 tapes of White House conversations; Nixon’s transcripts (with each “expletive deleted”); and the Supreme Court’s 8–0 order to release all tapes.
In one belatedly released tape, recorded days after the burglary, Nixon and his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, were heard plotting to block investigations. It was “the smoking gun.”
House Judiciary approved three bipartisan articles of impeachment in late July 1974. The charges were obstruction of justice, abuse of power by misusing government agencies, and contempt of Congress by ignoring subpoenas. (A charge of illegally bombing Cambodia won no GOP votes.)
Republican leaders informed Nixon that his congressional support had nearly disappeared and, if he stayed in the White House, he would be impeached and convicted, i.e. unseated. So on August 8, 1974, he announced his resignation. The next day, Nixon became the first president ever to quit—and thereby avoided getting fired.
History notwithstanding, the Pelosi interpretation highlights a current split among House Democrats. Some welcome impeachment, alleging Trump’s obstruction of the Russia investigation, unlawful emoluments, and provocative statements. Others, most notably Speaker Pelosi, shun the process as too disruptive, eating up time and diverting representatives from important legislation. Anti-impeachers make another argument: If Trump is impeached, i.e. charged with offenses by the (Democratic-led) House of Representatives, his trial in the (Republican-led) Senate will surely end in acquittal. Trump can then say, “See? I’m innocent. The House lied.”
To the disputants, I suggest a compromise. It could help put the brakes on impending U.S. warfare.
In a national broadcast, I proposed this idea to Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA 17th in “Silicon Valley”): “If the House—or Speaker Pelosi—would let it be known that if Trump started any war, he would be impeached, it might possibly discourage him from attacking Iran or some other country.” (“The Thom Hartmann Program,” 7/8/19.)
The congressman’s response: “It’s not a bad idea actually. We have an amendment to defund any activity in Iran. So if the president then goes and attacks Iran to start an offensive war without authorization, in defiance of Congress’s spending power, I think that is the type of case for impeachment that the Founders envisioned. I think it’s worth considering.”
Good for him, although frankly I had in mind Congress’s constitutional war power (Article I, Section 8, paragraph 11), rather than its spending power (Article I, Section 8, paragraph 1), and any new war, not just with Iran. As for that amendment, to the National Defense Authorization Act, by Rep. Khanna and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL 1st), it passed the House July 11 and awaits Senate action.
Later it occurred to me that employing any weapon from our nuclear arsenal was an especially grave offense. It would not only violate international law but also jeopardize human survival.
So under the compromise proposed here, the House of Representatives sets aside impeachment as long as U.S. forces don’t engage a new enemy or use a nuclear weapon. But the House resolves that if either event takes place, it will be treated as an impeachable high crime.
Is there reason to suspect that Trump would start a war or drop a nuke? Yes! John Bolton, his national security adviser—who persuaded Bush Jr. to attack Iraq in 2003—has long urged against Iran. [The sudden end of Bolton’s job was announced 9/10/19.] Sanctions and provocations harass both Iran and Venezuela (both oil producers, like Iraq). And Trump, up for reelection, sees political advantage in a presidential war, judging from his tweets. In 2011 he wrote, “In order to get elected, Barack Obama will start a war with Iran.” Trump repeated the prediction twice in 2012.
Now let’s look at his martial record as president.
Trump at war
In 2013, citizen Trump repeatedly warned against attacking Syria. But in April 2017, President Trump shot 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield, also striking a nearby village. Nine civilians, including five children, and seven military men were reported killed. By committing sixteen homicides, Trump supposedly punished Syria for using a chemical weapon, though lacking authority to act as judge and executioner and lacking evidence that Syria even possessed the weapon.
He had usurped Congress’s exclusive power to initiate war. Yet Rep. Pelosi, then House minority leader, called the attack “a proportional response.”
U.S. forces under Trump have also battled in Yemen and aided Saudi bombings of the Yemeni people even after Congress voted to end support. Secret Trump operations in African lands came to light in October 2017 when four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger. And in a continuation of the undeclared war on Mideast “terrorists” that Bush Jr. and Obama waged earlier, civilian deaths have soared under Trump.
Although condemning others’ chemical weapons, he permits use of the flesh-burning white phosphorous. In Afghanistan in April 2017, the MOAB (massive ordnance air blast), largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, with a mile-wide blast radius, was detonated for the first time, without concern for civilian safety.
Trump could justifiably be impeached for treaty violations. (That could have been said of every president since FDR). The Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War (signed 1907, ratified 1908) forbids signatories to attack or bombard communities, dwellings, or buildings that are undefended; to employ poison or poisoned weapons; to kill or wound treacherously; to deny a foe quarter; or to employ arms, projectiles, or material causing unnecessary suffering.
Attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, etc. violate the Pact of Paris, or the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact, signed in 1928 (under President Coolidge). Still in effect, it condemns war for solving international controversies, renounces war as an instrument of national policy, and vows to seek settlement of disputes or conflicts only by pacific means. Nazi and Japanese war crimes defendants were charged with violating the pact by aggressive war.
Latter-day aggression also breaches the United Nations Charter, adopted in 1945 in San Francisco. Article 2 requires all members to settle their international disputes by peaceful means and refrain from threatening or using force against any state’s territorial integrity or political independence. Parties to any dispute that might bring war must, first of all, seek a peaceful solution; seven methods are suggested. The North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 (the basis for NATO) echoes the UN mandate to settle quarrels among nations peacefully.
Disrespecting treaties & nukes
Trump’s reaction to pesky treaties is to scuttle them. In early August, he declared the U.S. out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev and approved by the Senate 93-5 in 1988. It permitted Russia and the U.S. mutual inspection and eliminated nearly 2,700 missiles that could have sent about 4,000 nuclear warheads to kill millions.
Trump treats nuclear weapons nonchalantly. He considers allowing commanders “battlefield nukes,” each possessing the power of the Hiroshima bomb. He suggested giving A-bombs to Japan—the only nation hit by those weapons. He continued (and took credit for) Obama’s trillion-dollar plan to “modernize” the nuclear arsenal, saying, “Let it be an arms race.” And he reportedly asked, “If we have them, why don’t we use them?” Answer: because a nuclear war could obliterate human life.
It takes a two-thirds vote of the Senate to adopt a treaty, so Trump’s one-man undoing of INF should raise a red flag. Although the Constitution does not expressly mention the termination of treaties or statutes, note these facts: Article 6 makes treaties federal law. Under Article 2, a president must enforce the laws. Repeal of a law requires another law and, by Article 1, only Congress legislates. Thus presidential repeal is unconstitutional. (For more details, see www.warandlaw.org, specifically “President’s right to exit arms treaty disputed…” and “Executive assault on treaties perils peace and Constitution.”)
Editors note: This is the first article in a new History News Network series: The History Briefing. Contributors will historically contextualize the week’s top headlines by summarizing how different historians have added their unique perspective to enhance news coverage. This week, we begin by examing how historians have enhanced our understanding of Nancy Pelosi’s decision to open an impeachment inquiry.
On Tuesday afternoon Nancy Pelosi opened an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The media responded appropriately by producing nonstop coverage of impeachment proceedings. But not all journalism is the same. Impeachment is a nuanced subject that has a complicated history. Let’s take a look at how historians are adding to the impeachment story.
Jonathan Katz, a historian and journalist, wrote a compelling story that traces impeachment inquiries through history. He convincingly argued that both inquires and charges overwhelmingly result in damaged presidencies. In some cases – such as John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, and Richard Nixon – their presidencies ended entirely, even without formal charges or convictions. Katz also pointed out that the president’s political parties suffered as a result. He highlighted several instances in which political parties failed to elect presidents or gain a majority in Congress in the decade following impeachment. His argument presented a compelling case and added an important distinction to the dominant news story: impeachment historically has a very negative impact on presidents and their parties. His historical perspective is important because the media is often focused purely on the contemporary while failing to understand historical precedence. Katz does precisely the opposite, suggesting that President Trump should be nervous.
Gillian Brockell of the Washington Post’s Retropolis – a historically informed section of the newspaper – wrote an intriguing comparison between Watergate and the current investigation. Her article highlights an important nuance that many journalists miss: the document released by the White House is a memorandum – a fancy word for a rough document – not a verbatim transcript of the phone call. Her journalism drew a distinct parallel that highlighted the Nixon Administration releasing a rough memorandum as well. She emphasized that his memorandum and the actual transcripts read quite differently and had serious consequences for then President Nixon. Her historical comparison teaches an important lesson to this breaking news story: conclusive evidence cannot be drawn from rough draft documents. Her nuanced understanding of history conclusively portrayed to the public that we need original documents, not summaries released by the administration itself.
Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer, both of Princeton University, wrote another piece that connects Trump to Nixon. They open their story with convincing evidence that the Trump investigation is a much closer parallel to Nixon rather than Clinton, as many had suggested. Their argument also parallels that of Katz, by noting that the impeachment process impacts public opinion. Many journalists have failed to make this distinction and have rather focused on current public opinion polling. Their article offers nuance to the media discussion by establishing a fleshed out comparison between Trump and Nixon while contrasting them against Clinton. Their piece – which was written before Pelosi’s inquiry – urges Democrats to proceed with impeachment because, in the past, it has strengthened their party and the nation.
Ronald Shafer, again for the Washington Post Retropolis, wrote the often untold story of President Tyler’s impeachment inquiry, the first in American history. Tyler, unlike Trump, was being investigated by his own Whig party because of his unwillingness to cooperate. While that is not the case for Trump, the article alludes to an important distinction: a partisan struggle and a deeply divided country. Tyler’s inquiries did not result in charges because of the divide, a conclusion that would align with much reporting that warned against Trump’s impeachment. The House Committee did not suggest impeachment because of “the current state of public affairs”. Shafer’s telling of Tyler’s story gives the reader a key insight to what could happen to the current President because of today’s partisanship. But as Katz reminds us, the impeachment process resulted in Tyler not seeking reelection.
Sidney Blumenthal – a fellow at the Society of American Historians – wrote a comparison between Nixon, Clinton, and Trump. The most comprehensive comparison of the list, Blumenthal analyzes public opinion data, the timeline of events, and indictments of those close to the presidents. He concludes that, because of public opinion data, the Clinton case is not an adequate predictor of the upcoming Trump impeachment. He focused on Trump’s unprecedentedly low approval ratings to prove how much of an anomaly this case is. In conclusion, he uses Nixon’s deteriorating approval ratings during the trial as evidence of a scary future for Trump. It is his belief that Trump faces far worse circumstances and a similar demeanor to Nixon, who had a much stronger case than our current president. Blumenthal’s account adds interesting parallels between the three modern cases for impeachment, their public support, and how the plan on combatting evidence to the public. It is Blumenthal’s belief that Trump should be nervous.
What a week! I–like many of you, I’m sure—have been glued to my phone, constantly hitting refresh on Twitter and the Washington Post’s website.
This morning alone, lawmakers released the whistleblower report at the center of the ongoing controversy over a phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Joseph Maguire, the acting intelligence chief, is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. Trump’s response? “THE DEMOCRATS ARE TRYING TO DESTROY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND ALL THAT IT STANDS FOR. STICK TOGETHER, PLAY THEIR GAME, AND FIGHT HARD REPUBLICANS. OUR COUNTRY IS AT STAKE!”
Perhaps most significantly, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced she would launch a formal impeachment inquiry on Tuesday. 218 members of congress now support an impeachment inquiry—a majority of the 435 members of the House of Representatives.
As we wait for the next big development to break, it’s valuable to pause and zoom out to the bigger picture of American history. To help us to do that, students in my “History and the News” class asked several historians to offer their perspective on this week’s events. Some are established historians; some are in graduate school. All provide valuable insights into the historical context of this momentous week.
Eladio B. Bobadilla (@e_b_bobadilla), Assistant Professorat the University of Kentucky
Historically, impeachment has been exceedingly rare. Only two presidents have been impeached—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—and neither was convicted.
The two cases were starkly different. In the backdrop of Johnson’s impeachment lay critical debates about Reconstruction, a defining period for millions of newly-free African Americans and their descendants. The case of Clinton, by contrast, revolved around allegations of personal (specifically, sexual) misconduct. What the two did have in common—beyond the failure of the Senate to convict—narrowly in the case of Johnson, less so in the case of Clinton—was that they proved to be captivating political theater and that they reflected deep divisions in both government and the population.
While historians are hardly equipped to predict the future, I expect a tumultuous next year, especially as we head to an election season that will be defined by impeachment proceedings and political, legal, and social battles.
Varsha Venkat (@varsha_venkat_), PhD student at the University of California, Berkley
An impeachment inquiry is more than just an indictment against the president’s actions, historically it has made it difficult for the president to keep control of the public conversation. In our current technological age with the 24 second news cycle, this is probably the most important consequence of the House’s decision to begin an impeachment inquiry. Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton each experienced this loss of control as well. It has also been the case that historically, during the turmoil of an impeachment process, the president has been more receptive towards compromise and even restraint. Though President Trump has not revealed this capacity during his time as president so far, one can hope that even the process of daily hearings and public discussion about his removal will lead him to reconsider some of his more problematic decisions. History shows us that impeachment has been a political decision, and it is important to keep in mind the political consequences for both the Democratic and Republican parties during this process, not just the potential consequences for the president.
Jennifer Mercieca (@jenmercieca), Associate Professor at Texas A&M University
The rule of law is threatened by right wing nationalists all over the world. Yesterday we saw institutions in two nations make political decisions to uphold the rule of law. Most people watching the events unfold yesterday in Britain and the US probably didn’t notice that both the UK Supreme Court and the US House of Representatives justified their decisions based upon the need to defend the rule of law. That’s historic both because the rule of law is legitimately threatened at this moment and because institutions are acting to defend it. I hope, we all hope, that this isn’t the moment that future historians will point to as the rule of law’s “last stand.”
Andrew Hartman (@HartmanAndrew), Professor of History at Illinois State University
Getting impeached would be just desserts for Trump, someone who has always skirted legal boundaries for selfish purposes, a habit that did not end when he became president (in fact got worse because the stakes became much higher). But I would qualify this in two ways: 1) There’s a great deal of uncertainty as to whether this will work to the benefit of Democrats, since it will embolden Trump’s sense of victimhood which he has played to his advantage for the last four years. Some would argue that political calculation should not factor into impeachment considerations because the law’s the law, but this is naive since politics always and especially factors into something as serious as impeachment. Moreover if people are that concerned with law and order in the White House there are hardly any presidents that have not deserved impeachment, which leads me to my second qualification. 2) What does it say when our willingness to impeach is correlated to the potential political advantage and not to matters of war. Nixon should have been impeached for illegally bombing Cambodia, a much more serious offense than Watergate. Reagan should have been impeached for the CIA illegally mining Nicaraguan harbors under his watch. The list goes on and is not limited to Republican presidents. The immoral and unjustifiable Vietnam War was ultimately a Democratic war for which LBJ deserved impeachment or worse. In short, impeaching Trump would feel good to those of us who find him a disaster of a human being and an embarrassment to the nation. But it comes with political and historical red flags.
P.S. I wrote the above before the whistleblower complaint was made public. It seems more likely than ever that Trump might finally be in trouble. The dam seems to have finally broken. Which is good, and perhaps changes the political calculation (though not the historical calculation).
Derek Litvak (@TheTattooedGrad), PhD student at the University of Maryland
“No one is above the law.” When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said this, a question I often ask myself came to mind. What is the law? Studying legal and constitutional history has brought me to the same conclusion on many occasions: The law is whatever those in power make it. And therefore, the Constitution, as the “supreme law of the land,” follows suit. However, as much as history has taught me this lesson, it has also shown me how much those not in power can affect change. From the abolition of slavery, to women’s rights, to marriage equality, the law and our Constitution have always been a battleground. Some battles are won. Many are lost. I remain hesitant to put much stock in Speaker Pelosi’s “impeachment inquiry,” as opposed to formal articles of impeachment. But perhaps Democrats are now willing to at least fight the fight, and stop letting those in power make the law what they wish.
David Walsh (@DavidAstinWalsh), PhD Candidate at Princeton University
To me, one of the biggest questions for historians when thinking about the impeachment saga is, “why now?” After all, Trump committed essentially the same set of offenses during the 2016 election and actively obstructed justice in office while attempting to cover it up – which ultimately culminated in what essentially amounted to an impeachment referral by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to a Democratic House less than six months ago. And the Democrats punted. So what changed? There are two factors: one, this is an *active* attempt to solicit foreign aid by the sitting president for his ongoing re-election bid. The smoking gun, as it were, is still in the president’s hand. That makes this scandal distinctive from Watergate, Iran-Contra, and even Trump’s criminal behavior in 2016. Two, the fact that congressional Democrats punted on impeachment six months ago has fueled a tremendous amount of anger at the party from its voting base. The sustained grassroots pressure on Democratic incumbents to, in the words of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, to “impeach the motherfucker,” seems to have finally born fruit.
Rick Shenkman (@rickshenkman), founder and former editor-in-chief of the History News Network
Republicans are, it is safe to assume, going to disparage Speaker Pelosi’s decision to begin a formal impeachment inquiry. But given what we know already about President Trump’s behavior an impeachment inquiry is exactly what the Constitution calls for. At the heart of the latest Trump violation of historical norms is the allegation that he turned to a foreign government for dirt on potentially the strongest opponent he is likely to face in the upcoming 2020 election, according to current polls. This goes Richard Nixon one better. To take out his perceived strongest opponent (Ed Muskie) in the election of 1972 Nixon merely resorted to a series of dirty tricks. Trump, in contrast, has shown a willingness to involve a foreign government in his machinations. This is exactly what the Founding Fathers worried might happen and is the reason they went to such great lengths to insulate the presidency from foreign influence. There is a reason the Founders included in the Constitution the clause forbidding a foreign government from bestowing on any federal officeholder ”any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever” without the approval of Congress. They worried deeply that our politics could be upended by foreign meddlers, as in fact happened almost immediately when French Citizen Genet saw fit to involve himself in our affairs in George Washington’s second term. The present case is a kind of reverse Genet Affair. All accounts suggest in this situation the foreign power in question has wanted nothing to do with this nasty business. Rather, it is the president of the United States who instigated it. That surely compounds the crime.
Video of the Week
For the fourth time in American history, an impeachment inquiry has been launched against a sitting president. Presidential historian Jon Meacham joins Chris Jansing to discuss the context of this monumental moment in time.
Roundup Top 10
There are no systemic constraints on how presidents engage with their foreign counterparts.
Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet secretary, is a model for how to bring activism to government.
Our planet’s relationship to carbon dioxide has changed drastically before; it can change again.
The authors of the Constitution foresaw the possibility of a corrupt president who would abuse his official powers to stay in office.
From the colonial era to today, the bitter legacy of bondage and racial oppression has sparked demands for compensation, with some successes and many broken promises.
Until now, there was room for reasonable disagreement over impeachment as both a matter of politics and a matter of tactics.
From a legal point of view, the case for impeaching Trump may well be difficult to resist. Politically, though, it’s a different story.
The Ukraine scandal has a lot of similarities to Watergate.
Japan and South Korea are at odds today because Washington has been playing favorites for decades.
We keep comparing young Americans to baby boomers and Generation X, but those comparisons are deeply flawed.
With Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that the U.S. House of Representatives will begin an official impeachment inquiry, at least two committees—the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—will investigate President Donald J. Trump’s alleged violations of a constitutional ban on “emoluments”—or, in simpler English, profiting from his office.
Whether such violations constitute impeachable offenses—i.e., high crimes and misdemeanors– will be a question for the full House to decide. If impeached, he would become only the second of forty-five presidents to suffer such a humiliation. Although thirteen presidents faced threats of impeachment, Congress only impeached Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998).
If, as charged by some in Congress, President Trump did in fact receive emoluments, he would only have adhered to an all-but-hallowed American tradition that dates back to the nation’s origins—and even earlier.
As early as 1778, Patrick Henry exposed profiteering by Quartermaster General Thomas Mifflin, the Philadelphia merchant who created winter-long food shortages at Gen. George Washington’s Valley Forge encampment by hoarding foodstuffs in his company’s Philadelphia warehouses. Although 11,000 Continental Army suffered near-starvation, Pennsylvanians elected Mifflin their state’s first governor in 1780.
At the same time that Patrick Henry was exposing Mifflin’s profiteering, polemicist Thomas Paine, then secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs, was exposing rampant profiteering by members of the Continental Congress. “To what degree of corruption must we sink,” the author of Common Sense demanded to know, “if our delegates and ambassadors are to be admitted on a private partnership in trade? Why not as well go halves with every quartermaster and commissary in the Army?”
Treasury Superintendent Robert Morris—arguably America’s richest man—reacted with fury. “In becoming a delegate,” he shouted at Paine, “I did not relinquish my right of forming mercantile connections.” Morris’s business partner Gouverneur Morris—an unrelated delegate in Congress and a business partner of Robert Morris—moved to dismiss Paine, and Congress fired him, in effect embedding profiteering by public officials into American politics.
Far from any popular outrage at such official profiteering, Americans often cheer and, in some cases, re-elect public officials convicted of such crimes. Governors of 13 different states have been convicted of illegally profiting from their offices. In Illinois alone, one U.S. senator, six representatives, and five governors have been convicted of illegal profiteering, along with fifteen judges and twenty city and state officials of varying ranks. In Connecticut, Bridgeport voters re-elected their mayor for a seventh term after he had served six years in federal prison.
In what may be unique in American history, though, a sitting President now faces three suits charging him with violating the emoluments clauses in Articles I and II of the Constitution. But like many constitutional prohibitions, the clauses are vague. For one thing, both clauses fail to define emoluments clearly. Nor do they specify who can sue a President for alleged violations or which courts should hear the charges: civil, criminal, state, or federal. Private individuals filed one of the suits against Mr. Trump, members of Congress a second, and the District of Columbia joined the state of Maryland in filing a third.
As for defining emoluments in the past, there was no objection, for example, to Lafayette’s giving his friend President Washington a key to the Bastille prison in Paris Lafayette was a French Commanding General, and the key, was—and remains–a treasured artifact. It now hangs in a gilded glass case in Washington’s mansion at Mount Vernon, Virginia. Strictly speaking, Washington clearly violated the constitutional ban on accepting “any present” from any “king, prince, or foreign state.”
He may, however, have committed far more serious violations as President by personally managing his 7,400-acre Mount Vernon plantation and collecting revenues from the sale of its grains, fish, whisky, and other products. Thomas Jefferson, our third President, was guilty of similar violations while President, selling thousands of barrels of corn, wheat, hogs, and cattle—and buying and selling slaves–at his 5,000-acre plantation at Monticello, outside Charlottesville, Virginia.
Presidential enjoyment of emoluments did not stop with Jefferson, however. In 1869, scandal enveloped the Ulysses S. Grant administration, when cabinet officers appointed 40 relatives to government posts and engaged in widespread gold speculation. And in the next century, after President Warren Harding had died in 1923, his Secretary of Interior Albert Fall went to jail for accepting bribes for leasing two government oil reserves to private oil companies. It was unclear whether the President had shared in the “emoluments.”
“The President,” says one of the Constitution’s two emoluments clauses, “shall not receive…any other emolument [besides his salary] from the United States, or any of them.” By today’s standards, our first, third, and the other presidents who managed and earned money from their farms and businesses while in office should have placed their holdings in blind trusts under independent trustee supervision. In an effort to carve emolument clauses into stone, President Dwight D. Eisenhower forced his long-time White House chief of staff, former New Hampshire Governor Sherman Adams, to resign for having accepted a gift of a vicuna overcoat and oriental rug from a manufacturer-friend then under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.
In the modern era, Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush avoided the faintest odor of emoluments by putting their assets into blind trusts and relinquished control in favor of unrelated third parties.
President Donald Trump’s refusal to follow suit provoked three lawsuits. Two of them charge the President with violating both the domestic and foreign emoluments clauses by accepting payments from the U.S. and foreign governments at his various Trump hotels and resorts. A third suit—filed by members of Congress—charges the President with violating the foreign emoluments clause by receiving foreign-government payments for lodging and meals at Trump hotels and resorts, along with licensing fees and other moneys. Now, in addition, six committees the House of Representatives will begin a wide-ranging impeachment investigation that will examine whether he used the threat of withholding foreign aid to coax officials in the Ukraine and other foreign nations to contribute possibly damaging intelligence against his political opponents.
In one recorded telephone conversation, the President allegedly threatened to withhold foreign aid to the Ukraine unless the president of that country investigated Democratic candidate Joseph Biden and his son.
President Trump has boasted of foreign leaders flocking to his hotels—especially the Trump International Hotel, seven minutes by taxi from the White House in Washington, D.C. The Kuwait embassy, for example, held lavish independence-day parties there in 2017 and 2018, while Bahrain’s government and the Azerbaijan embassy each hosted elaborate events there. All would appear to violate the foreign emoluments clause to prevent foreign influence on federal officials.
The President himself has spent untold amounts of government money on weekend and vacation visits to luxury Trump resorts in Florida and New Jersey with his family and his huge staff. In addition, most members of his cabinet and, according to The New York Times, about half the nearly 200 Republican members of Congress “have been seen at or spent money at Trump-branded properties,”spending “close to $20 million since 2015.”
Mr. Trump has also admitted that the American military has repeatedly paid for uniformed military flight crews to stay and play at the five-star luxury Trump Turnberry hotel in Scotland, where the Saudi royal family has invested millions partnering with Mr. Trump’s company. The Saudi partnership, along with the visits by American military flight crews would appear to violate both emoluments clauses. The Pentagon disbursed $184,000 to Turnberry between August 2017 and July 2019 and $17 million to nearby Prestwick airport since January 2017.
Nor is Mr. Trump shy about his apparent violations, even promoting his properties in official pronouncements. In anticipation of the next summit meeting of the Group of 7 world leaders in 2020, he announced that his luxury golf resort in Doral, Florida, is a “great place” with “tremendous acreage” to host the meeting. “We haven’t found anything that could even come close to competing with it,” the President crowed.
The President, of course, is not only convinced that he is innocent of constitutional violations, be is confident he will never face trial. Given the army of lawyers he commands and the all-but-endless delays in the discovery process in federal courts, he may be right.
The Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution
The Foreign Emoluments Clause: Article I, Sect. 9., Clause 8: No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no person holding any office of profit or trust under them shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.
The Domestic Emoluments Clause:Article II, Sect.1, Clause 7: The President shall at stated times, receive for his services a compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any of them.
Article II, Sect. 4: The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
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Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.
Every day we organize our lives around trust in people we have never met. Listening to the weather report, waiting for a bus, asking for directions, eating at a restaurant, putting money in a bank or accepting someone else’s check, giving out our credit card number on the internet, and in dozens of other ways, our daily lives are based on trusting that people will be honest and do what they say they will. Without high levels of trust in other people and the institutions they represent, the free flow of goods and services on which we depend would stop, and our social interactions would shrivel.
During my lifetime, trust in public institutions has fallen. Trust in government was very high in the postwar period, remaining at nearly 80% during the Kennedy years. My generation is partly responsible for increased skepticism about what government tells us. During the 1960s the unprecedented suspicion of young Americans toward people in power turned out to be justified. The government lied to us about the war it was waging in Vietnam. LBJ’s fabrication about the Tonkin Gulf incident was only the most egregious example. Year after year, official military reports about the war consistently painted a false picture of success. The dogged and dangerous reporting of print and TV journalists eventually brought us a truer image of endless stalemate. President Nixon’s dishonesty served as further proof that our government was not to be trusted to tell us uncomfortable truths. I remember devouring the daily news as the Watergate scandal developed. Government lied and covered up, media uncovered and revealed what we deserved to know.
Trust in government fell precipitously after 1965, varying between 20% and 40% (except for a brief jump right after 9/11) until recently, hitting only 17% earlier this year. This plunge was common to both parties, all generations, blacks, whites and Hispanics.
The self-congratulatory myths about American society as uniquely free and equal drilled into our heads at school were exploded by the realities brought to light by the civil rights movement. The American past had been whitewashed by generations of authorities in schools and colleges, media and government. High school history texts and college courses portrayed slavery as a beneficent system. The mass murder of Native Americans, the persistence of lynching into the 20th century, the ubiquity of discrimination in North and South were hidden from view. Again the media took the lead in revealing the truth about systematic discrimination, displaying for all to see the violence behind segregation.
Although the unpleasant revelations of the late 1960s and 1970s damaged popular trust in leading institutions, the skepticism they engendered is healthy. No government should be trusted to tell the full truth about how well its policies are working. Taken as a whole, the media tend to provide a rosy picture of our society. But while “Father Knows Best” embodied the white myths about American life, news broadcasts and articles brought the disturbing information about war and racism into our homes.
The series of Gallup polls shows the broad decline in trust in major American institutions since 1975. The proportions of Americans who said that they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in organized religion fell from 68% to 36%, in Congress from 40% to 11%, in the presidency from 52% to 38%, in public schools from 62% to 29%, in the medical system from 80% to 36%, in banks from 60% to 30%, in television news from 46% to 18%, and in newspapers from 39% to 23%. These are startling numbers. Trust in the military and the police has not fallen.
A Pew survey at the end of last year demonstrates the current widespread distrust of people in power in America. 17% of those surveyed believe that members of Congress act unethically “all or most of the time”, and another 64% think this happens “some of the time”. Leaders of technology companies, journalists, and religious leaders are also mistrusted by two-thirds of Americans. The best ratings are given to military leaders and public school principals, but more than half of the public thinks they, too, act unethically more than “a little”.
What has further eroded trust is the concerted partisan attack on the institution that has most consistently delivered the information we desperately need – the media. In response to more openly critical news coverage of the American status quo, conservatives made the news itself into the enemy. Nixon was the first President to make the press into a significant target, even though an amazing 93% of American newspapers had endorsed him in 1972. Once the Watergate scandal began to dominate the news, Nixon attacked the media as unfair. In late 1972, he told Henry Kissinger, “Never forget, the press is the enemy, the press is the enemy…write that on the blackboard 100 times.” Vice President Spiro Agnew had been attacking news reporting since he took office in 1969.
For a long time, it appeared that this Republican strategy had little effect on Republican voters. Surveys from 1990 through 2005 showed that the difference between Republican and Democratic respondents about their trust in the media was relatively small. Between 60% and 70% of Democrats thought that news organizations tended to favor one side in their reporting, as did about 75% of Republicans. After 2006, as the Bush administration lost popularity, more and more Republican voters turned against the news. The mistrustful Republican proportion jumped to about 85%, where it has remained. When Sarah Palin based her 2008 campaign on attacking the “lamestream media”, she was preaching to the Republican base.
Most recently the mistrustful Democratic proportion fell to 52%. Overall, trust in the news is very low, but with significant partisan differences: 35% of Democrats, but only 12% of Republicans say they trust the information they get from national news organizations “a lot”. Less than half of Republicans think journalists “provide fair and accurate information” and less than one-third think they “cover all sides of an issue fairly”, while these percentages for Democrats are 84% and 74%.
This partisan lack of trust in the news is not healthy. Conservatives who mistrust national news organizations have shifted their attention to openly biased and often untruthful internet sources, like Breitbart News and Alex Jones’ Infowars. There they absorb packaged nonsense which reinforces their prejudices, along with more claims that the real news is “fake news”.
Skepticism about those who wield power, including news organizations, is healthy when it encourages careful criticism, fact-checking, an unwillingness to take opinion as fact. Conservatives hate the mainstream media which reveals what they don’t want to know, especially when their President is constantly shown to be a liar, and perhaps a traitor to the Constitution.
Blind trust is foolish. Blind distrust is dangerous.
In 1898, famed playwright George Bernard Shaw decided he wanted to write a play about Julius Caesar’s relationship with Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. He was not happy with all the previous versions of their story, including William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and piles and piles of history books. No, he wanted a new story, his story, and wrote Caesar and Cleopatra.
The story is great fun but, er, pretty much invented and not that close to the truth.
In it, Caesar does not romance sultry young heartthrob Cleopatra. He does not bed her, kiss her or even tag her on Facebook. The Queen, one of the most powerful women in the history of the world, is totally controlled by her maid, Eeethratatama, or something like that. Cleo yearns after Mark Anthony, Caesar’s military chief of staff, before she even meets Caesar himself. Her brother and co King, Ptolemy, 12 years old at the time, duel for years over who should run the country. Everybody runs up and down the stairs, gasps a lot and sneers.
It is a lot of fun, but nowhere near the true story. Cleo and Caesar did have a son and there were not a lot of storks flying about the Nile in those days.
Why is the history stretched so thin? Shaw had hundreds of books on the pair to research, didn’t he? Well, he did, but he picked Theodor Mommsen’s 1856 work History of Rome. In it, Mommsen invented his version of Caesar, so different from the real Julius. Shaw liked Mommsen’s view and wrapped Caesar, and Cleopatra, in it for his play. Why? Who on Earth knows?
The distorted history play, a rather wacky version of the story of the Roman cictator and the Egyptian beauty, opened Tuesday at Theatre Row, on W. 42d Street, New York. It is zany, confusing, off beat to be sure and full of laughs for the audience, that sits there wide eyed, trying to absorb the rather complicated story.
If you want to learn about Roman and Egyptian history, this play is not for you. If you want a solid and emotional drama, this play is not for you.
If you want to just sit back and laugh, though, Caesar and Cleopatra works well. It is bawdy, sophomoric, forced and has a lot of really unusual situations. It’s not a good play, but it’s a good night at the theater and a lot of chuckles. This play, penned before the turn of the last century, is very much like a modern Saturday Night Live skit. All it needs is a band.
Folks you never saw Egypt this way, not for a moment.
The play opens in a marvelously decorated theater (they just renovated Theater Row and the complex looks wonderful). The usher hands you a newspaper with stories about Caesar and Cleo, along with a brochure describing the background of the play and a ghastly sketch of playwright Shaw.
Then, as you walk in, your eyes spot half a dozen large EXCAVATION STE broadsides. You sit down and stare at a construction set up on stage with half-finished walls and wooden stairs. Apparently, the contemporary Egyptian Archaeological people have stumbled upon something and it is the old story and the play.
A moment later, Cleo’s vivacious maid, Etatateeta (don’t try to pronounce it), takes center stage in one of the chicest white pants suits you, or Julius Caesar, ever saw. She spins the beginning of the tale, setting up the two main characters, their battle, Cleo’s kid brother Ptolemy (Ptolemy is played by a large puppet).
The story: Caesar has arrived chasing his military enemy, Pompey, whose has been murdered by Pompey’s men, but in the play, you don’t know that. Caesar then meets Cleopatra (she does NOT roll out of a rug here). She wants his army to help her crush Ptolemy’s army, that is fighting Caesar’s army, that is part of Mark Anthony’s army, that has re-enforcements somewhere that are always on their way and there are ships and explosions and fires and thousands of men fighting – all very messy.
The play is fun. There are audacious characters, led by hyperactive teenybopper Cleopatra herself. Then there is Appolodorus, “the Sicilian,” who bounds about the stage for two hours, Pothimus, an elderly adviser who gives everybody bad advice, and Caesar’s two aides, Rufio and Brittanius, who talk too much and aid too little.
Shaw just insists, over and over again, that Caesar had no romantic or sexual interest in Cleopatra and wastes countless minutes showing him as her “mentor” in an effort to get her to be a wise and good ruled. Let me get this straight -a guy has no romantic interest in a well-dressed rich woman with a lot of land and chests full of gold who was so good looking that Hollywood had to get Elizabeth Taylor to play her?
You’ve got to admire director David Staller. He keeps a tight rein on a story that might go off the 32d Dynasty rails at any moment. He gets fine acting from Brenda Braxton as maid Etatateeta, Robert Cuccioli as Caesar, Teresa Avia Lim as Cleopatra, Jeff Applegate as Rufio, Jonathan Hadley as Brittanius, Rajesh Rose as Pothimus and Dan Domingues as Appollodorus.
Is the play different? Oh, yes. Is it funny? Yes. Is it worthy seeing? Up to you.
PRODUCTION: The play is produced by the Gingold Theatrical Group. Sets: Brian Prather, Costumes: Tracy Christiansen, Lighting: Jamie Roderick, Sound: Frederick Kennedy. The play is directed by David Staller. It runs through October 12.