The Republican Party’s Unholy Trinity
By continuing to genuflect and kiss the ring of Donald Trump, the Republican Party reveals the true unholy Trinity it worships: White privilege, racism, and gun violence.
First, let’s make a clear distinction between white privilege and racism. White privilege, built on the foundation of white supremacy, is that sense of entitlement white people —- particularly white men (like Tucker Carlson) —- have which believes in the unquestioned RIGHT they have to CONTROL the levers of power in our society. Any threat to their grip on that power —- be it from African Americans, women, Latinx people, Asian-Americans, the LBGQT community —- and they reel in paroxysms of victimization (tune in to Fox News at any given moment if you want to see this in real time). White privilege is embedded in the societal structure of the United States —- its government & political parties, its economic system, its basic social status (structure), all of which were designed and controlled by white men from the very start. Let’s be honest: the Constitution (the 3/5th clause, the Electoral College), Supreme Court decisions (the Trail of Tears, Dred Scott, Plessy), and years of legislation (Jim Crow, the Chinese Exclusion Act, etc.) have only served to reinforce a worldview that is based on white men not only being in charge but being entitled and privileged within that system. Consider the centuries of privilege white men have accrued —- being the only ones admitted to “elite” colleges, where they created networks that continued in their domination of the economic and social systems throughout our history. Simply look at the work required for minorities (including women, LBGTQ, et al) to gain the simplest of rights (voting, access to public facilities, admission to universities, etc.) —- rights that have always been granted to white men. Those who continue to argue that they are “white and don’t have privilege” are lacking perspective, historical knowledge, and, I’d contend, a realistic view of the world. I know that being a blue-eyed white guy named “Johnson” was nothing but good for me from an early age. That sense of white privilege is the first solid leg of today’s Republican Party’s three-legged stool.
Regarding racism: the latest violence against a minority (the Atlanta Asian-American murders) reveals the deeply inherent racist bias of policing —- which is only one aspect of the historic and divisive racism the nation has nurtured for over 400 years. Reflect on this: imagine if the gunman who killed 8 people in the Atlanta area had been Black or Latino. Like Dylan Roof, the 21 year old white man who killed 9 people in a Charleston, South Carolina church, the Atlanta assailant, even though he was considered “armed and dangerous,” was arrested by white officers without “incident”—- and then we were told he was having a “bad day.” Eugene Robinson wrote about failing to hear if George Floyd might have been having a “bad day” --- and I’d add Eric Garner, Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor (as the start of a list), wondering if those people were having such “bad days” that they deserved to die. But the policing is only an extension, an arm, of a system that has violent embraced racism from the start. In keeping with a system of white privilege, racism is a natural outgrowth. The “other” (be it black, brown, yellow, red, gay, female, etc.) is always seen as a threat —- because the white people in power, from the start, know that those who are discriminated against, who are the target of terrorist violence, who are treated as “less than,” will, given the opportunity, seek justice and equality. The real sickness of the racist mind is the assumption that those who have been on the receiving end of their racist treatment will react violently (because the whites in power have, historically, used violence repeatedly against any who challenged them —- including white workers who wanted to unionize!). This racist mindset is now a solid leg of the Republican’s three-legged stool.
The final leg of the stool, of course, is guns. This is a hill the Republicans are willing to die on. Let me be clear: I do not want to do away with the Second Amendment and I do not want to “take your guns away.” I do, however, want much more strict regulation of: a) how people are able to acquire guns; b) what kinds of weapons and ammunition are available to the public; and c) how we keep track of who has what. The people I know who are gun owners are incredibly responsible --- their guns are in safes and/or otherwise secured in their homes (for “self-defense”). The problem we have in this country right now, as we saw this past week in Georgia, is that in any number of states a person, on a whim (or worse), can walk into a gun store and walk out with a lethal weapon --- no background check, no waiting/”cooling off” period, nada, nothing, zilch. We know that “gun shows” proliferate a vast number of states and anyone can acquire a tactical assault weapon (the big regulation” is that weapons can’t be “automatic,” meaning they take a little bit longer to fire shot-after-shot (and we discovered that “bump-stocks” make that point almost irrelevant). Yet, despite the number of mass shootings we have seen year-after-year, the NRA has convinced the Republican Party that the “Second Amendment” is more important than the First! And that’s the final leg to the Republican Party’s three-legged stool --- its unholy Trinity.
Let’s remember that this is not Trump’s doing alone --- he inherited a half-century of right wing/Republican evolution into this party of “No,” this party that stands for nothing other than “power” and blocking/stopping progressive change. Remember it began with Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority/Southern Strategy” and continued with the Reagan and H.W. Bush dog whistles about “welfare queens” and Willie Horton. It was advanced by Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” and W. Bush’s “compassionate conservativism.” With the explosion of the internet and the beginning of widespread conspiracy theories (remember “9/11 was an ‘inside job’”?) Trump’s “birther” mythology and his tv celebrity were perfect platforms to transform the white privilege/racist/gun-loving party into the 35,000 lies/insurrectionist-supporting party. And that’s who they are. They continue to LIE, blatantly, and genuflect at the Holy See of Mar-a-lago, where their Babylonian Captivity (aka the Avignon Papacy) is playing out. It will take time to undo the half-century of what the Republicans have constructed. Other political parties have died due to their inability to evolve --- the Federalists, the Whigs, the Know-Nothings --- and we may well be witnessing the Republican Party’s self-immolation. Only time will tell.
Stay safe. Get vaccinated.
The GOP’s O.J. Moment
The Slide Toward Autocracy
Despite being physically threatened by a mob that brutally killed a Capitol police officer --- a mob incited by their abusive boyfriend --- 45 Republican Senators voted against impeaching the former President, against holding their abuser accountable --- and now 44 have voted that the process is “unconstitutional.” Like Nicole Brown Simpson, who kept going back to O.J. even after making numerous 9-1-1 calls, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Josh Hawley and the rest of the Trump Cult made their 9-1-1 call on January 6th, only to recant by January 27th, ready to move back in with their bete noir. And now we find that we can’t identify 17 Republicans who have enough integrity to convict Donald J. Trump of a blatant (digitally recorded!) crime.
Let’s be clear about what we’re witnessing. The Republican Party that we knew for the half century prior to 2016, the Party of “balanced budgets and limited Federal spending,” the Party of “free trade and reducing the National Debt,” the party of “compassionate conservativism,” is DEAD. It has been replaced by a party that didn’t even publish a Party Platform in the 2020 election cycle. Basically, they put on their “I’m with Stupid” tee-shirts and claimed the 2016 Platform was good enough to run on again (since, in fact, they had accomplished so little). The Republican Party has been replaced by a CULT with NO ideology beyond grievance, white nationalism/supremacy, and total allegiance to Trump. They have amped up their desire for voter suppression along with the dissemination of false narratives and misinformation. All they seem to care about is retaining power so they can appoint judges, gut environmental laws, de-regulate business and provide fat tax cuts for the wealthy. As the minority party they will attempt to do what they did to Obama starting in 2009: obstruct, delay, obstruct, delay, obstruct.
It is now February of 2021 and the Democrats have control of the executive and legislative branches and, even though their majority in the Senate is the thinnest it can be, they will have to two things: pass the Relief Bill via “reconciliation” and then do away with the filibuster to pave the way for future legislation (which may or may not happen). The Republicans, as of this past week, have basically acceded to Qanon Crazies and the Trump Cult and will not convict the former President, despite overwhelming evidence that he is, in fact, guilty (as early as last September he said OUT LOUD that he couldn’t/wouldn’t guarantee a peaceful transfer of power!). There has been a lot of talk about the country being as (or more) divided than it was in 1860, when the Civil War began with Southern secession starting before Lincoln was even sworn in. I don’t think we should take this comparison lightly. On November 5, 2020 Yale historian David Blight wrote a piece in the New York Review of Books entitled “Republicans: The New Confederacy” and the only fault I would find in his piece is that it doesn’t really touch on the racism and anti-Semitism that is part of the white nationalist-supremacist/xenophobic philosophy of T****’s party. Dana Milbank, in his Washington Post column on February 5, 2021 clarifies where he believes the GOP stands after watching 199 Representatives vote in support of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a renowned conspiracy theorist, racist, and anti-Semite. Together, the Blight and Milbank essays summarize where the Republican Party stands as Trump’s second impeachment proceeds.
According to Blight, “A modern campaign of voter suppression conducted by one of our parties grows with warped intensity . . . a constant rant about ‘voter fraud’ without evidence” is heard again and again. Blight continues: “The only thing rigged in this election are the Electoral College itself (in favor of less populated states that tend red), the decidedly undemocratic institution of the U.S. Senate (a Republican majority represents a population smaller by 15 million than the Democrats), and the myriad ways the current (then Trump) administration has manipulated government agencies to influence voting.” Blight describes this as part of a “new Confederacy:”
It knows what it hates: the two coasts, diverse cities, marriage equality,
certain kinds of feminism, political correctness (sometimes with reason),
university “elites,” and “liberals” generally. It is racial and undemocratic.
It twists American history to its own ends, substituting “patriotism” for
scholarship and science. It has weaponized “truth” and rendered it
What is most important to note about this new iteration of the Republican Party is that it is consciously undemocratic. I have said before that Trump’s GOP has become the White People’s Party and, in the wake of the January 6th siege on our Capitol, there is little room to dispute this notion.
Milbank, the day after the Republicans voted to keep Marjorie Taylor Greene on committees Kevin McCarthy had appointed her to, recoiled in horror because Greene is the embodiment of Trump’s racism and white nationalism. As Milbank notes:
One hundred ninety-nine Republican members Congress rallied to the
Defense of a vile, unapologetic anti-Semite in their ranks who calls for
the assassination of her opponents. This is more than a Republican
problem, it’s an American problem.
Milbank then proceeds to produce evidence of Greene’s extremism: supporting Holocaust deniers, posing with a white supremacist leader during her campaign, approving a claim that Israeli intelligence assassinated JFK and, of course, claiming the Rothschilds set the California forest fires with space lasers! Based on this, Milbank notes that “rallying around this unrepentant anti-Semite by Republicans is an ominous new frontier.” He then quotes numerous Republican House members who made excuses for Greene (“We’ve all said things we regret” --- except Greene has shown NO SIGNS of regretting any of her lunatic beliefs!). In concluding his observations, Milbank says:
In retrospect, it’s clear Trump led us to this point. In his 2016 campaign,
he singled out prominent Jews as part of a “global power structure” that
doesn’t “have your good in mind.” He elevated white supremacists, spoke
of “blood suckers,” told Jewish Republicans they wouldn’t support him
“because I don’t want your money,” and shared an image of a Star of David
atop a pile of cash. As president, he spoke of the “very fine people”
marching with the white supremacists in Charlottesville. Anti-Semitic violence
increased significantly . . . Trump continued embracing the far-right
violent Proud Boys in a presidential debate.
All of this, all of this evidence is out there --- in the public record, along with those hours and hours of digital video of Trump’s haranguing his followers, going back months and months, claiming the election was a “fraud,” that he “won in a landslide,” and that his supporters needed to march on the Capitol to “take their country back.” Nonetheless, the Republican Cowards in the United States Senate, led by Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley and . . . and . . . and . . . and. It is a chamber teeming with white men of NO integrity who will acquit a criminal, a cheater, a con-man. That’s the real “fraud” going on but it’s worse than that --- because this party of No Integrity is also working every day at dissembling our democracy and our democratic institutions. The Republicans have become the party of fraud and autocracy and the evidence of that is on full display on our screens every day.
Stay safe and get vaccinated.
A Covid-adjacent Story
Here’s one for you --- I’ve already mentioned my “bad luck” regarding publishing a new book during the pandemic (Facebook Post, February 1, 2021) --- how it’s difficult to “get the word out” when you can’t appear at Book Expo at the Javits Center, how you can’t do readings at bookstores and libraries, etc. Well, that was only Part One of my publishing nightmare, it seems.
For several months I’ve been (periodically) writing to my publisher, asking where my “Author’s copies” of my book were. Again, I was supposed to receive somewhere between 75 and 100 pre-publication copies of the book to sign and give away at events like Book Expo, etc. But that was all contingent on our former world, when the book’s publication date was September we all could leave our homes and not have to wear masks. As it turned out, publication was delayed until late October 2020 and I assumed my “Author’s copies” were somehow forgotten or delayed in the Covid-Amazon-FedEx-UPS pandemic surge. As it turns out, I finally heard from my publisher this week, on Thursday, February 4th, when the office “team” at Adelaide Books informed me that three boxes of book had been sent and delivered on November 24th (2 boxes) and 28th (1 box). The glitch, it seems, was my fault because on the contract I signed with the publisher I listed my address as “71 Aiken St., Norwalk, CT 06851” without including “Unit A2” (as I had on my first draft of the contract and somehow --- idiotically --- failed to do on the final copy!!). Totally my fault. So here I was, on Thursday, February 4th with a dilemma: where were my 3 boxes of books?
The publisher was kind enough to send me the tracking numbers (as it turns out, they were shipped from Amazon, of course) but because the numbers were so old, they could not be traced. I went to “Contact Us” on the Amazon website and engaged in a “Chat” with a Customer Service representative (who was very nice) only to find out that I couldn’t find out anything further about the packages unless I had and Order Identification number --- which the published has. I e-mailed the publisher, informing them of my attempt to retrieve the packages, hoping they could try from their end, with the Order ID number. They said they would see what they could do.
Those who know me are aware that I am not one who “sits around and waits” very well. I have a tendency to charge ahead, preferring action to deliberation so the idea of waiting to find out if the publisher could track down the books was really not an option for me. From my point of view, the books had been delivered to someone in our condo complex (there are 275 units with about 32 single-family units and about 54 to 72 cluster entryways where 3 to 4 units reside. That means there are approximately 86 to 104 doors that I would place a notice on, explaining the situation and inquiring as to whether anyone had seen these boxes Two Months Ago.
Thursday, midday, I headed out with a one-page missive, which read:
Dear Neighbors: February 4, 2021
In NOVEMBER (the 24th & 28th) three (3) boxes of books were delivered to some Unit at 71 Aiken St. which were intended for me, Wilbur Johnson, in UNIT A2.
These were my “author copies” of a memoir I published. I thought the delivery had been delayed because of the Covid pandemic but my publisher informed me this morning that they were sent and “handed directly to a resident.”
If you received them --- and/or if you returned them --- please let me know. These were my only copies of the book I wrote.
Thanks for your assistance.
Bil Johnson – UNIT A2
Please call/text (401) 261-0280 if you have any information.
Within about an hour I had taped that letter onto between 75 and 80 doors in our complex, at which point I decided to take and break --- and hoped that I might hear something from someone that would help me out and permit me to stop taping letters to more doors. Thursday evening I received a message on my phone from a neighbor in the “B Unit” who had not received the books but did have a helpful suggestion as to whom I might contact in our Management Agency. That person could send out an “email blast” to all the residents, thereby saving me some time and effort. I had, in fact, sent an email and left a phone voice message with the management company and (it’s Saturday morning) have yet to hear back. Nonetheless, it was a lovely gesture from a sympathetic neighbor (who had dealt with mis-delivered packages in the past).
And then Friday I received a text which read:
“Hello Bill (sp.) The books were left at Unit E12. There was no Unit # or telephone # on the packing label. They were returned to the Amazon delivery driver. The box of books was left at the common front door of the vestibule (not “handed directly to a resident”)”
So now we at least know what happened to the books! They were, indeed, delivered and they were, indeed, returned. It is now incumbent upon my publisher to trace through the records to find the Order Identification Number and inform Amazon as to where, exactly (Unit A2) the boxes need to be delivered.
I’m not holding my breath. Better to expect the worst and hope for a miracle in this case. If, somehow, they do eventually end up at my door I can promise you this: the residents at Unit B6 (the phone call) and E12 (the text) will get autographed copies, thanking them for helping me solve The Case of the Missing Memoirs.
Stay safe. Get vaccinated. Thanks for reading.
Right Time, Right Places: One Teacher’s School Reform Journey is available from Amazon:
From Adelaide Books:
And, as an e-book:
Education’s on my Mind
The news is filled with politicians (led by our new President) clamoring to “get the kids back in school.” In Chicago, teachers (led by one of my former students, their Union President, Jesse Sharkey) are threatening a strike if teachers can’t get vaccinations and the schools can’t be guaranteed to be “safe.” We’ve heard a lot about what children/students may “have lost” as a result of the pandemic and, certainly, parents have been pushed beyond their limits, asked to monitor and help their children/students during this extraordinary year. The Lovely Carol Marie often accuses me of being a “Pollyanna,” a cockeyed optimist, a rose-colored glasses viewer of the world. When it comes to children/students, I’ll plead guilty. I think kids are remarkably resilient, adaptable, creative, imaginative, and boundlessly energetic --- and I mean all kids (having worked in cities & suburbs, I believe I have enough experience to confidently make this claim). As such, I believe, as the veil of this plague lifts ever so slowly, as it might, that by the fall of 2021 schools will be up and running and life will begin to take on its own new shape (“normalcy?”). With that in mind, I ran across a letter from a school principal (I think on Facebook) late in the Fall of 2020 and I believe now is a good time to pass it along. The attribution only said a “school Principal in Ballard, Washington” and my research shows that would be Keven Wynkoop. Whether it is his or not, the letter speaks for itself and I think it is both wise and instructive.
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I am writing today about the children of this pandemic. After a lifetime of working among the young, I feel compelled to address the concerns that are being expressed by so many of my peers about the deficits the children will demonstrate when they finally return to school. My goodness, what a disconcerting thing to be concerned about in the face of a pandemic which is affecting millions of people around the country and the world. It speaks to one of my biggest fears for the children when they return. In our determination to “catch them up,” I fear that we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era. What on earth are we trying to catch them up on? The models no longer apply, the benchmarks are no longer valid, the trend analyses have been interrupted. We must not forget that those arbitrary measures were established by people, not ordained by God. We can make those invalid measures as obsolete as a crank up telephone! They simply do not apply.
When the children return to school, they will have returned with a new history that we will need to help them identify and make sense of. When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times. There is no assessment that applies to who they are or what they have learned. Remember, their brains did not go into hibernation during this year. Their brains may not have been focused on traditional school material, but they did not stop either. Their brains may have been focused on where their next meal is coming from, or how to care for a younger sibling, or how to deal with missing grandma, or how it feels to have to surrender a beloved pet, or how to deal with death. Our job is to welcome them back and help them write that history.
I sincerely plead with my colleagues, to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” Greet them with art supplies and writing materials, and music and dance and so many other avenues to help them express what has happened to them in their lives during this horrific year. Greet them with stories and books that will help them make sense of an upside-down world. They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework. They missed you.
Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken. They need to be heard. They need be given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post pandemic world.
Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them– and us– achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!
Stay safe. Get vaccinated as soon as you can. Thanks for reading.
Welcome to Covid-TV
We were a “tv” family in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Actually, there’s a picture of our apartment in Canarsie, taken when I was an infant, featuring a HUGE console (the shape of a jukebox) with about a 12-inch television screen in it--- that’s how much of a tv family we were. Dad even created a hole in a rec room wall to place our big Admiral cathode-tube tv in --- creating a “movie theater” effect. I bring this up because, while I’ve remained a tv viewer throughout my life, the pandemic has led to watching far more streaming/cable/broadcast television than at any other point in my adult life. As we approach the end of January 2021 and have marked one full year since the first case(s) of COVID-19 was identified in the United States, I’d like to note several things I’ve observed in the past few months --- which you may also have noticed if you’ve been watching an inordinate amount of television, too.
#1. During our months of involuntary sequestering I discovered I was oblivious to hundreds of sit-coms and dramas produced for broadcast television over the past 30 years. They are far too numerous to begin listing here but I do think it’s worth noting that if it’s a comedy Chuck Lorre is involved and if it’s a “police procedural” Dick Wolf created it. At least that’s what it looks like to me. Lorre was a producer of Roseanne and Mike and Molly (I’m sure the pitch meeting was, “Aw, c’mon, everybody loves fat people….two words: Ralph Kramden!”). He was the “brain” behind Grace Under Fire, Dharma & Greg, Two and a Half Men (“unusual” --- and dysfunctional? --- “family” sitcoms) and he is currently behind the Michael Douglas/Alan Arkin The Kominsky Method, Bob Hearts Abishola, and Mom. Lorre is best known, of course, for The Big Bang Theory or, as I like to call it, “Seinfeld Does Science.” That, of course, spawned Young Sheldon --- tracing the genesis of boy (and later man) genius Sheldon Cooper. Going back to the 1990’s, the shows run the gamut from borderline stupid broadcast tv sitcoms to pretty amusing broadcast tv sitcoms. If you’ve watched television over the last 30 years or so, you’ve certainly been exposed to (yes, like a disease) Chuck Lorre.
As regards the “police procedural” no one holds a candle to Dick Wolf. There is a long history of “cop/detective shows” on television (remember “Dragnet,” “Naked City,” “Peter Gunn,” “Columbo,” “The Rockford Files,” etc. etc.?). However, since 1990, Dick Wolf has dominated the scene with his Law & Order and “Chicago” franchises, in particular. Wolf cut his teeth writing for Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice before striking out on his own with the original “Law & Order” program --- a show that ran until 2010, matching Gunsmoke for the longest-running series (at the time --- surpassed now by Law & Order: SVU). In the process, I’d say the Law & Order shows influenced all that followed (NCIS, CSI, et al): a repertory cast with recurring characters in clear, identifiable roles with vague (but interesting?) back stories (which we get in dribs and drabs). Law & Order is the template --- now followed by two new Wolf shows: FBI and FBI: Most Wanted. So, that’s what I’ve learned about all the tv I missed while I was teaching and writing and leading my life without broadcast television (and, yes, it took until retirement for me to actually watch Seinfeld).
#2. Starting with the 2016 election rollout (which means late 2014, early 2015) we became addicted to “the news” --- particularly MSNBC. After the election, as the soul-crushing Trump Administration dragged on and on, we watched “the news” less and less (hence the previous observations about broadcast t.v.) and became tired of the incessant punditry on MSNBC (less so, CNN). We started watching local news (Channel 12) and NY1, our old standby from when I lived on the Upper West Side. But recently we discovered Shepard Smith on CNBC from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., realizing it is a perfect throwback news show, reminding us of the news shows we grew up with --- before cable broadcasting and infotainment tainted the news world. Growing up with Walter Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, and Howard K. Smith --- followed by Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, the “news” was informative and objective. While there may have been an occasional “opinion/editorial” piece, we learned to trust those reporting the news --- believing they were giving us the facts. Certainly the reporting from Vietnam fueled the anti-war movement, as did Civil Rights coverage. With the advent of “infotainment” in the early ‘90’s and then Fox “News” in 1996, we headed down that slippery slope of biased reporting and disinformation. Enter Shepard Smith. Unlike David Muir, Lester Holt, and Norah O’Donnell, who each have only a half-hour (if you’re lucky enough to catch them between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m.) “Shep” has an hour on the edge of Prime Time and his show, aptly named The News with Shepard Smith is a wonderful throwback to real news shows.
Smith rather famously left Fox News after being there for 23 years! As a journalist, he could no longer countenance the “lies” and “falsehoods” the network insisted on propagating (he had already withstood savage blowback from Fox viewers after announcing he was gay in 2017). NBC scooped him up, giving him the 7 p.m. slot and, if you have not watched (and particularly if you are an old Baby Boomer, like us), we highly recommend catching the show --- which is straight ahead news reporting with an occasional human interest story and nightly features entitled “Around the World in 80 Seconds” and “Coast to Coast” --- reporting on a variety of interesting stories you would never even know about if you watched MSNBC or CNN. It’s a nice reminder of how the news can be delivered without strident partisan overtones --- a welcome relief during this pandemic.
#3. Finally --- and I’m not sure if this is exclusive to the Northeast --- or possibly just Blue States --- BUT has anyone else noticed that almost all the families featured in commercials these days are “mixed-ish” --- that is, interracial?? The product doesn’t matter, wherever you turn insurance, automobiles, AARP membership, dog food, meal kits, you name it, there’s an interracial couple/family selling it to you. Suddenly, we’re in this post-Obama commercial world. But I do wonder if all these ads are running in Alabama and Mississippi and other Deep-Red states. If so, that might be progress, right? If not, it’s simply clever demographic advertising. I think the litmus test will be February 7th, the Super Bowl. Let’s see if any of what we know are “national” commercials feature interracial families --- that might give us an inkling as to why the Proud Boys, et al are losing their shit beyond limits. Just a thought.
And finally, finally: if you are also watching a lot of tv these days, do you also hate those fucking red and blue Charmin Bears wagging their butt in your face? Just sayin’ . . .
Stay safe, the vaccine is on the way. But stay safe.
The Measure of a Man
I’m old enough to remember seeing Henry Aaron playing baseball for the Milwaukee Braves . . . and the Atlanta Braves . . . and the Milwaukee Brewers. He was among the first group of baseball players who were my heroes --- the superstars around which the game revolved. Because I was born two years after Jackie Robinson “broke the color barrier” in major league baseball I thought baseball had always been integrated (when I first started “seriously” watching at age 8). The 1957 World Series is the first I remember clearly (I have vague recollections of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodger victory and the 1956 “perfect-game” Series) but the Yankees-Braves series was the first where I knew who the players were --- and Henry Aaron (“Hank,” “Hammerin’ Hank”) was the Braves answer to “our” Mickey Mantle. Those two men were the superstars on their respective teams (and this was before the term “superstar” was used!). They were among a handful of ballplayers who transcended the game because they were, quite simply, head-and-shoulders better than their peers. The others, at that time, were Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, and Frank Robinson. With Henry Aaron’s passing yesterday, only Willie Mays remains. But I want to look at that group of players collectively before focusing on Aaron and his importance not only to the game of baseball but also as a cultural icon.
Two things should be noted about this group of ballplayers who were so influential to my development as a fan --- and as a young player: #1) they were all Black; #2) they were “human-sized” (which makes their accomplishments all the more staggering!). Let me address the second issue first, because it’s important. These men, to me, were Baseball Gods who were all, clearly, headed to the Hall of Fame. Yet they were identifiable human beings. Check out these simple height-and-weight statistics:
Hank Aaron 6 ‘0” 180 lbs.; Willie Mays 5’10” 170 lbs.; Ernie Banks 6’1” 180 lbs.; Roberto Clemente
5’ 11” 175 lbs.; and Frank Robinson 6’1” 183 lbs. (Mickey Mantle, by the way, was 5”11” 195). The point here is simple --- these guys were the size of our Dads. Unlike today’s players, many of whom look more like NBA or NFL athletes, our heroes allowed kids to truly believe they could become big-leaguers! And that connects back to the first point: they were our idols and to us (at least to me and my brother) their race was not a factor in our identifying with or, better, aspiring to be like them. It wasn’t until I was older, as I approached Middle School in the late 50’s and early ‘60’s, that race and civil rights began to enter my consciousness. But it still didn’t affect me as regards who my athletic heroes were --- it was a very multicultural group across all the sports I loved. Sure, I rooted for Mantle and Maris, but I still believed Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Banks, and Robinson were as good (or better --- I still think Mays is the Baseball GOAT). Same in basketball, where Bill Russell was my Gold Standard and, while I was a huge Y.A. Tittle fan I would have killed if the Giants could’ve gotten Jim Brown, the greatest running back of all time! And I think this is where sports is so important for kids because, when done right, it focuses on the importance of team play and presents examples of individuals who achieve feats we can aspire to. And that’s where Henry Aaron re-enters the story.
I was about to turn 25 years old when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, hitting #715 on April 8, 1974 and was in awe of the accomplishment but also, by that time in my life, knew the adversity Aaron faced. By 1974 I was extremely aware of just how racist our nation was and I knew that a Black Man breaking the record of one of our culture’s most mythic White icons would not sit well with millions of my fellow citizens. Aaron, always the epitome of humility and class, did not amplify to the public what he and his family was going through in the moment --- it was only later, in the 1980’s that we, the pubic, learned the full extent of the threats on his life and the threats on his family. The fact that the Atlanta fans weren’t particularly supportive led Aaron to return to Milwaukee and play for the Brewers his last two seasons. As noted in the January 22nd New York Times:
Aaron had little interest in continuing to play for the Braves after the 1974 season. He felt that notwithstanding Atlanta’s reputation as a progressive representative of the New South, he had received only tepid backing from the fans as he neared Ruth’s record. And he heard racial abuse from some fans that reminded him of his minor league days in the Sally League.
“I didn’t expect the fans to give me a standing ovation every time I stepped on the field, but I thought a few of them might come over to my side as I approached Ruth,” Aaron said in his memoir. “At the very least, I felt I had earned the right not to be verbally abused and racially ravaged in my home ballpark.”
The modern civil rights movement made historic gains during Aaron’s career, but he knew that the road to equal treatment remained long.
“Any Black who thinks the same thing can’t happen today is sadly mistaken,” he told The Times in 1994. “It happens now with people in three-piece suits instead of with hoods on.”
Early on in his career, Black players were barred from hotels where white teammates stayed during spring training in Florida. Aaron joined with Bill Bruton, the Braves’ African-American center fielder, in pressing management for change, with no immediate success. Although Aaron wasn’t vocal on the larger civil rights scene, he became interested in the writings of James Baldwin, decrying patience in the face of racism.
“Baseball has done a lot for me, given me an education in meeting other kinds of people.”. But he added pointedly, “It has taught me that regardless of who you are and how much money you make, you are still a Negro.”
“I never wanted them to forget Babe Ruth. I just wanted them to remember Henry Aaron.”
Henry Aaron grew up in Jim Crow Alabama, played in the Negro Leagues, had a Hall of Fame major league baseball career, and had a full life as a businessman, baseball executive, husband and father. He was a brilliant athlete and a humble man, finally recognized as an “icon” long after he should have been. A younger generation of fans may only remember that he surpassed Babe Ruth’s record (while never hitting 50 home runs in one season) without noting that he is third in hits, all-time (take away ALL his homers and he still have over 3,000 hits!). But Henry Aaron would never have been the man to point all that out to you. He let his playing tell the tale, just as the civil rights work he did off the field was done quietly. The old cliché is “He played the game the way it’s supposed to be played” but, in Henry Aaron’s case “He lived life the way it’s supposed to be lived.” I hope people recognize the measure of this exceptional man.
Thanks for reading and stay safe.
Here’s When 2021 OFFICIALLY Starts
I know our calendar has recorded the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 BUT
I am going to propose that we revisit the idea of New Year’s Day. We all probably agree that 2020 has been one of the worst (if not the worst) year of our collective lives. The pandemic has made life more than difficult and the election year sideshow only added to the horror of 2020. Suspending life as we know it and waiting for an undefined end point is one reason I’m not feeling like 2020 has ended. The recent Siege at the nation’s Capital has only added to that 2020 feeling. Let me explain exactly why I am proposing a new New Year’s Day.
Before 2020 even ended, sometime around Thanksgiving, my 93 year-old mother tested positive for Covid-19. She had no symptoms but had to be quarantined. We have not seen her since late February because she lives in an assisted-living facility which has been locked up tight since March. Okay, so that’s still a 2020 event but Mom came through living in the quarantine wing of Gluco Lodge (trying to break out a few times: “She’s a pistol” and “She’s a pain in the ass” was the staff’s assessment) and in 2021 was sent back to her room (which she loves). Still a seriously addicted smoker, early last week Mom went out for a Parliament Light and, upon re-entering the facility, managed to fall down (on her previously --- 2019 --- broken left hip). She got up, dusted herself off and headed back to her room. A doctor was called and, when the staff went up to check on her, she was bleeding out of/in her ear and her bed had a significant amount of blood staining her sheets. They rushed her to the Emergency Room where it was determined she had a lacerated ear --- which they glued back together and sent her home. This is the first 2021 Emergency Room story.
Shortly into the New Year, maybe on the 3rd or 4th, we learned that the newest member of our clan, the 9-month old Giant Baby Boy (already 30 pounds!) was rushed to the Stamford Hospital Emergency Room because of extreme respiratory difficulty. Not Covid but very, very scary! It took two days before he came home and it’s only in the last few days that he is bouncing back to his old, Giant self.
While the Giant Baby was in the hospital he was joined by his maternal grandmother (a friend of ours and a former colleague of the Lovely Carol Marie) who had a ruptured appendix and was in serious trouble! She ended up in the hospital for almost an entire week and is only now, a couple of weeks later, beginning to feel like her old self.
On top of all that, the Lovely Carol Marie has spent the last two weeks getting cataract surgery (complicated by one eye which is “frozen” as a result of a 2004 brain aneurysm!). She is fine but did spend a few days impersonating Helen Keller --- having all of that exacerbated by having also received gel-shots in her knees (which are not taking especially well). Needless to say, all of this (the Giant Baby, his maternal grandmother, his paternal grandmother – Carol Marie) has made it seem like 2020 has continued into this so-called “New Year.”
Adding to all this, one of my classmates, an old friend and fellow Skull and Bones members, passed away two days ago and an even dearer Yale friend just informed me he has been recovering form kidney cancer surgery (performed in December)!! Sounds very 2020 doesn’t it?
And then, of course, we had the events of January 6th --- something none of us thought we’d ever see --- an assault on the United States Congress by American citizens following the orders of their cult leader, and our current (seditious) President. This was, of course, an extension of the November 2020 election. The 45th President, breaking with more than two centuries of tradition, decided a “peaceful transition of power” did not apply to him and urged his supporters to attack the Congress as it was certifying the election of the winner of the 2020 Presidential election. As the current administration writhes in its death throes, while 4000 Americans are succumbing to Covid-19 each day (an act of depraved indifference by 45), we cannot really believe 2021 has begun, can we?
Here’s my proposal: it happens that January 21st is the Lovely Carol Marie’s birthday. Given that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in on January 20th, doesn’t it make perfect sense that January 21st be declared New Year’s Day 2021? Not only is it a lovely tribute to the LCM but it gives us all time to take a deep breath and look forward with some optimism. We will not be totally rid of the Orange Menace and his moronic cult (Jim Jordan and Moe Brooks are still in Congress, after all) but it will allow us to consider a future where we receive Covid-19 vaccinations and the world begins to re-form and resemble one we are familiar with. So, that’s it. January 21st is our New Year’s Day --- at least until January 1, 2022.
Stay safe. Wear a mask. Happy New Year next Thursday.
Let’s Be Clear
What happened on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. may have been shocking in the moment, no one should have been surprised. And I’m not just talking about Trump. This was a predictable outcome of the almost sixty years of Republican Party evolution. From the moment Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 the die was cast. The “Dixiecrats” (Southern Democrats) began to leave the Democratic Party and, by 1968, were logical allies with Nixon’s Silent Majority. The unifying factor: Whiteness. From that 1968 election season, right up to Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol Building, the Republican Party has inexorably moved in this direction. It was always the party of corporations --- always valuing property over people--- and, as such, had a disproportionate number of Wealthy White Men dominating the party (Not that the Democrats didn’t --- but the mid-Sixties changed the demographics, creating a deep schism between the parties). Let’s be clear: the Republican Party has been on the path to Trumpism for more than a half-century. A brief look down history’s Memory Lane reveals the Road Signs posted along the way.
By the Election of 1968 the United States was in turmoil. The Civil Rights Movement’s and the Anti-War Movement’s strident (and almost daily) demonstrations had created serious division in the United States. One segment --- committed to “liberation” and “peace” --- was demonstrating for equal rights for minorities, for women, for LBGTQ people and against not only the War in Vietnam but also the global colonialism of U.S. power. The other side --- the “establishment,” the “status quo” ---became Nixon’s “Silent Majority” with former Southern Democrats “fleeing” to the Republican Party. The unifying aspect of that party was Whiteness and, slowly but surely, any of the formerly “liberal” Republicans (yes, there was such a creature once upon a time) were peeled off, sent out to pasture, or expelled from the party (check out John Lindsay, Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, Ken Keating, Everett Dirksen, et al). What used to be the Democratic “Solid South” now moved into the “R” column. States that were solidly Democratic for a century --- because Lincoln had been a Republican! --- left the fold. Once their Party opened its arms to African-Americans (and other minorities) with Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Southerners fled to a Party that would put their priorities --- the “protection” of White Supremacy ---first. Let’s be clear: this is where the Road to Trump began. (And let’s also be clear that Mitch McConnell is a direct descendant of George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and Trent Lott --- maybe not as overtly racist but certainly someone who will protect property over people, while feathering his own nest.)
And then, of course, in 1981, the next Republican President is their icon, their nominee for Mount Rushmore: Ronald W. Reagan. Republicans in the 21st century gush on and on about how “great” Reagan was --- and that makes sense because he pushed the Republican Party so far Right that it led to the Democrats tying their fortunes to “moderate”(right-leaning) Bill Clinton by 1992. But let’s look at Reagan’s record (as noted by Joe Davidson of NBC News in June of 2007).
And then we have the Bushes, 41 & 43: Connecticut Yankees (despite W’s claim of being a Texan), Yale legacies, landed gentry. I won’t even go into detail about just how White these two are. I’ll simply list a few names: Willy Horton, Lee Atwater, Dick Cheney, Clarence Thomas, Katrina. As far as Bush the First goes: he vetoed a civil rights, nominated Clarence Thomas, a Black man opposed to affirmative action, to the Supreme Court while expanding the “War on Drugs,” targeting minorities. George W.’s record doesn’t look quite as bad, but that may be because the expectations for him were so low. His slow response and racist mishandling of Hurricane Katrina is a dark stain on his record (like 9/11, of course) and, while he was not as egregious as Nixon, Reagan, or Daddy, he did not at all open up the Republican Party to greater diversity or inclusivity and would never be confused for a pro-active warrior against white supremacy. The Bushes, quite simply, are poster boys for white male privilege.
That’s the foundation and first floor for the House of Trump. What accelerated the reality show con man into national prominence, of course, was his blatantly racist claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Trump already had a track record as a bigoted racist (is that redundant?) stretching back to 1973 (when he and his father denied rental housing to African-Americans) and continuing with his haranguing for the death penalty for the “Central Park Five” (5 Black & Hispanic boys) who, of course, have been totally exonerated (and Trump still insists they should be executed!). The question becomes, then, how is it such an extreme, clearly racist person can become a Presidential nominee of a major political party? The answer is clear: that party is in synch with Trump and has spent the last four years not only supporting but also encouraging him! Only a party that has historically supported white supremacy, that has made no attempt at being inclusive or diverse, that has vilified and demonized people of color for decades would have room for someone like Donald J. Trump.
That’s why Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol should not entirely shock us. In supporting a white supremacist demagogue whose sole purpose was to un-do the Obama administration --- to erase any trace of our first African-American President --- the Republican Party showed its true colors. That almost 150 Republican legislators supported Trump’s ludicrous claims of “voter fraud” and 45% of Republican voters support the attack of the Capitol reveals that the Confederate flag and Old Dixie is alive and well in the Republican Party. Finally, the mob that attacked the Capitol was overwhelmingly WHITE MEN and were treated deferentially by the WHITE Capitol police in many instances. Imagine if that mob had been Black Lives Matter demonstrators. It’s time to recognize that this is the logical development of the Republican Party. It is the White Male Party. Period.
Let’s be clear.
Preview: Trump’s “Lost Cause”
After the South lost the Civil War in 1865 it only took a year for a powerful mythology to take hold. According to Wikipedia, “The Lost Cause” was:
an American pseudo-historical, negationist ideology that advocates the belief that the cause of the Confederate States during the American Civil War was a just and heroic one. This ideology has furthered the belief that slavery was just and moral, because it brought economic prosperity. The notion was used to perpetuate racism and racist power structures during the Jim Crow era in the American South. It emphasizes the supposed chivalric virtues of the antebellum South. It thus views the war as a struggle primarily waged to save the Southern way of life and to protect "states' rights", especially the right to secede from the Union. It casts that attempt as faced with "overwhelming Northern aggression". At the same time, it minimizes or completely denies the central role of slavery and white supremacy in the build-up to, and outbreak of, the war . . . white supremacy is a central feature of the Lost Cause narrative.
Yale University history professor Rollin G. Osterweis summarizes the content that pervaded "Lost Cause" writings:
The Legend of the Lost Cause began as mostly a literary expression of the despair of a bitter, defeated people over a lost identity. It was a landscape dotted with figures drawn mainly out of the past: the chivalric planter; the magnolia-scented Southern belle; the good, gray Confederate veteran, once a knight of the field and saddle; and obliging old Uncle Remus. All these, while quickly enveloped in a golden haze, became very real to the people of the South, who found the symbols useful in the reconstituting of their shattered civilization. They perpetuated the ideals of the Old South and brought a sense of comfort to the New. (Bold print is mine)
One does not have to take a great leap to see how “the Lost Cause” mentality not only animated the MAGA movement and led to Trump’s 77,000 vote Electoral victory in 2016. It foretells the direction MAGA will now morph into. Trump, as we know, will never concede or acknowledge that he actually lost the 2020 election and he will continue to rile his base by way of Tweets and through State Television (Fox News). And that’s where the new mythology of a modern “Lost Cause” will be shaped.
If we look at the Wikipedia description of the South’s “Lost Cause” we can see its underpinning was not only white supremacy but also a belief that “slavery was just and moral because it brought economic prosperity.” (bold mine) As we have watched Trump bet his ranch on the Stock Market, on riding herd over “the greatest economy in history” while he systematically defended white supremacists and tore immigrant children from their parents --- putting them into cages! In Trump’s World the pandemic has been a problem only in that it destroyed his economy. So, what will the MAGA “Lost Cause” mythology sound and look like, starting January 20, 2021?
With the end of Reconstruction in 1876, the North --- ten years out from the war’s end and tired of military occupation of the Southern states --- acceded to the South’s mythology of a” Lost Cause.” The interest of “reunification” superseded racial and social justice. It wasn’t the first betrayal of African-Americans by white people, certainly, but it was one that shaped the next 145 years. The South, without Northern objection, constructed their Jim Crow world --- and the North, slowly but surely, aided and abetted the white-privilege/white supremacist society (housing segregation, racial profiling and criminalization, etc.). Statues and societies arose glorifying the “Lost Cause” and it has only been in these last few years that U.S. society has begun to exorcise those demons.
How can looking at what followed the Civil War allow us to foretell what might arise around us in the next few years? Where the South couldn’t overtly attack the North in 1866, we almost immediately saw a strong strain of literature supporting the “Lost Cause” myth emerge, after the War. We can be sure that Trump and his minions like Fox News, Alex Jones, and Rush Limbaugh will immediately not only glorify the Trump presidency but also incessantly attack the Biden Administration. As we watch the Trump white nationalists and neo-Nazis, the Qanon crazies and Proud Boys gather in D.C.’s Black Lives Matter Plaza, outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we can identify the through-line of the Trump narrative as we go forward. The Democrats are “socialists” and “unpatriotic” who have thrown in with Blacks and immigrants and other people of color as well as white “snowflakes” who “stole the election.” Another strong element supporting Trump and his “lost cause” was documented in Friday’s Washington Post by opinion columnist Dana Milbank (and I have to offer profuse “thanks” to the brilliant jurist, Jim Moyer, for bringing this to my attention).
Milbank notes that White Evangelical Christians comprise 26% of the electorate, even though their percentage in our population has steadily shrunk since 2008 (it may be as low as 15% of the U.S. population). What makes that significant --- and directly contributes to the Trump “Lost Cause” mentality --- is that they comprise 40% of Trump voters and they, more than any other group, have responded to Trump’s dog whistles. As noted by Milbank:
A Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate who now runs the Public Religion Research Institute, Robert P. Jones, argues that Trump inspired White Christians, “not despite, but through appeals to white supremacy,” attracting them not because of economics or morality, “but rather that he evoked powerful fears about the loss of White Christian dominance.” (bold, mind)
The Institute’s American Values Survey from September found overwhelming majorities of White evangelical Protestants saying that police killings of African Americans were “isolated incidents,” and that Confederate flags and monuments are symbols of Southern pride rather than racism. (Smaller majorities of White mainline Protestants and Catholics felt the same way.) Majorities of White evangelicals also perceived discrimination against Christians and Whites and rejected the idea that slavery and longtime discrimination make it difficult for Black Americans to succeed.
There was little evidence of differences among White evangelicals by gender, generation or education.
They are, as a group, dying out (median age in the late 50s), and their views are hardly recognizable to many other Americans. Majorities of White evangelical Protestants don’t see the pandemic as a critical issue (they’re less likely than others to wear masks), believe society has become too “soft and feminine," oppose same-sex marriage, think Trump was called by God to lead and don’t believe he encouraged white supremacist groups.
That sums it all up, doesn’t it? All the elements of the post-Civil War “Lost Cause” is contained in the White Evangelical Christian base that Trump panders to and they will, through their mega-churches and outsized political influence, persist in opposing Black Lives Matter as well as dismissing science regarding the pandemic and climate change while cleaving to their leader who was “called by God” to protect White Christian America.
Even though Trump will leave office on January 20, 2021 we will not have seen or heard the last of him and his most loyal followers. The mythology of Trump’s “Lost Cause,” like the mythology of Trump “the brilliant businessman,” or Trump “the billionaire,” will persist, if not grow. If Trump finds (or creates) a media outlet to continue flogging his rancid creed of white supremacy we will be subjected to an onslaught of “Lost Cause” diatribes and screeds. Looking at the Electoral Map, it is becoming more and more obvious that the former Republican Party, now the Trump Party, is shrinking. Texas is certainly becoming purple, as is North Carolina, and only the Belt Buckle of Old Dixie and the deepest Red rural flyover states can be counted on in a country whose demographics are rapidly changing. Nonetheless, the Confederacy’s “Lost Cause” hung on for almost a century and a half so, given that change is happening faster due to technology, we can expect to hear about Trump’s “Lost Cause” for the foreseeable future --- but hopefully not beyond the 2028 or 2032 cycles. Hopefully.
Stay safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Don’t congregate indoors.
“More Polarized Than We Have Ever Been”
Are We, Though?
Over the past four years I have tried to reassure myself that Trump’s following was a “cult.” That there was a solid 35% (maybe?) who believed what this pathological lying con man said, and I genuinely believed that 65% of our population was clear-eyed, sane, and saw him for what he was. In the harsh light of last week’s election results, though, I have to re-assess my basic thinking. When over 70 million of my fellow citizens vote for this man I have to recognize that his following is far more than a cult --- and what does that mean about the United States of America in 2020? We’ve been told over and over again (by the media) that we are “more polarized than we have ever been” (often with the caveat – “other than during the Civil War”). Are we, though? As one who spent a significant portion of his life teaching United States History (or teaching people to teach U.S. History), I decided to step back a little to look at our history as a Constitutional Republic, right from the beginning, to determine if we are, in fact, more polarized than ever before.
Time-traveling back to the Washington Administration (1789-1797) we can see the emergence of our current two-party system arising from Washington’s competing Cabinet “sons” Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of the Treasury) and Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State). Right from the beginning, the argument over how much power the Federal/central government should have, versus how much power should rest in the State and Local governments was raging. Hamilton’s Federalist Party and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party began polarizing the United States by the time the 1796 Presidential election rolled around. (Now let’s keep in mind, too, that a huge number of Americans were not even part of the political system in the late 18th century: slaves, women, white men who didn’t own property were all disenfranchised. Does that mean they were “polarized?” Maybe, maybe not --- but they were certainly not invested in the system.) The result of that 1796 reflected just how divided/polarized the nation was, in fact, electing a Federalist President (Adams) and a Democratic-Republican Vice-President (Jefferson) --- which ultimately led to the 12th Amendment, essentially the President & Vice-President had to be members of the same political party. The 1800 election reflected the growing polarization in the country and resulted in something we might witness this January: John Adams, the outgoing President, did not attend Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration (preferring to leave the “President’s House” at 4 a.m. --- distraught about his loss, as well as the death of his son).
Jefferson, of course, was the first in what has become known as the “Virginia Dynasty” of Presidents (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe – 1801-1824). The dominance of the Democratic-Republican Party (shortened to “Democrats” by 1828) during this period does not mean the nation was not polarized. Again, we had millions of people --- slaves, women, “unlanded” white male non-voters --- who were not part of the polity, and were, quite possibly, “polarized” as a result. In 1824 we had the beginning of a seriously polarized nation when Andrew Jackson --- who overwhelmingly beat John Quincy Adams in the popular vote (41% to 30%)--- lost the Presidency as the result of a House of Representatives vote (the “Corrupt Bargain” of Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House). The Jacksonian era did usher in greater voting rights (non-land-owning white men got the vote) but, more significantly, it created a scenario we can easily identify in 2020. Jackson was a non-Virginian Democrat: a frontiersman, an Indian fighter, a slave-owner, and, most significantly, a man who despised the Northeastern “Elite” of politicians and bankers. It is not by accident that Donald Trump has a portrait of Jackson hanging in the Oval Office. After Jackson won the election of 1828, John Quincy Adams had to escape out the back door of the White House when Jackson’s supporters actually stormed the building! Jackson is referred to as a President of the “common man” and there was huge division in the nation --- not only between the West (frontier) and East but also between the slave-owning Southern states and “free” states of the North, as well as nativists and expansionists versus those who were gradualists and had a more positive view of immigrants. The Jacksonian Era was the beginning of the inexorable march toward the greatest polarizing event in our history, the Civil War.
It should be noted here, as we observe Joe Biden’s 50%-plus popular vote victory that 39% of American Presidents have received a plurality (less than 50%) of the popular vote and won the White House ---- and five of those (including Trump) actually lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College. Eleven Presidents have won the popular vote and the Presidency (Cleveland and Clinton twice each)with less than 50%. My point here is simple: our nation has often been sharply and extremely divided. What I would posit, regarding our current situation, is that we are much more aware of, and sensitive to, the polarization because of the pervasiveness of Social Media and Cable News. Our screen culture has made awareness of the divisiveness that Trump has sown front and center for four years --- and it has been soul-sucking. But I’m not sure it’s any worse, in reality, than earlier splits in our society. Few of us remember clearly McCarthyism and how that was such a hot and divisive issue sticking in the public’s eye on a daily basis. I do remember the mid- and late-1960s and the issues surrounding the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the gay rights movement and, most significantly, the Civil Rights movement created clear lines in the sand --- some of which were generational (Baby Boomers vs. the Greatest Generation) but much of which was a liberal/conservative chasm.
That we are confronted on a daily --- indeed, hourly --- basis with the divisions we are experiencing makes it feel like this is the worst, most divisive period in U.S. history. I would posit that our awareness is heightened and, as a result, we are becoming more and more cognizant of a polar conflict that has existed since even before the Constitutional organization of the Republic in 1789. Basically, we are watching, almost every day, a fierce and concerted challenge to white, male power that has not only dominated our history but dictated (and written) it. That all of us have now clearly seen how police treat people of color on a daily basis, we are dmanding a broader, deeper examination of the system that allows such injustice to exist. It brings into question how other minorities of all stripes (brown, red, yellow, gay, female, trans, disabled, etc.) have been mistreated historically. Yes, it is that “white male patriarchy” --- but it’s no longer simply on a page in academic textbooks. Our incessant screen-watching culture (at least in part) is now demanding we start confronting the longstanding system that privileges (wealthy) white men above all others.
Does this explain why 70-plus million citizens voted for Trump? Almost three out of five WHITE voters voted for Donald Trump. That is the power of the White Male Patriarchy. Mitch McConnell embodies that power and he is hanging on with his black and blue talons for dear life. So, yes, we are polarized --- but is it anything it new? Maybe we are finally turning a corner, albeit slowly, and frontally assaulting those who control the levers of power. That change is long overdue.
Stay Safe. Wear a Mask. Wash your hands.