“Like No Other Market”
Okay, Boomer, Adjust to Change
In the summer of 1987 I moved into a studio apartment on West 75th Street, the second building in from Riverside Drive on the south side of the street. Walking east from that apartment I would cross West End Avenue and reach Broadway where, if I looked south, I would see Citarella’s Fish Market, the Pandemonium Boutique, Fairway Market, D’Agostino’s Supermarket, and a Candy/Cigarette-Cigar Store. When I moved back to the Upper West Side in July of 2009 that same block (between West 74th and 75th Streets on the west side of Broadway) featured Citarella’s Fish Market and Butcher Shop and Fairway Market. What had once been two “local” stores now controlled the entire block. In fact, Fairway now had an outpost on West 125th St. and was expanding into the suburbs. Soon after, Citarella’s would do the same, becoming a “gourmet market” on the Upper East Side, the West Village, Greenwich, CT. and the Hamptons (South, East, Bridge).
Last week, Fairway Market (“Like No Other Market”), announced it would be filing for bankruptcy. As reported in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, the original owners of Fairway had sold 80% of the business to a private equity firm in 2007 and that firm, according to Gopnik, “thought it could, so to speak, exploit the social capital --- the good will and the reputation for egalitarian excellence --- that the firm had built up over time, to vastly expand and make vastly more money.” When I taught U.S. History to high school students I used to try to drum into my students the basic reason for the “boom/bust” economic cycles we see throughout our history: over-speculation and overextension of credit. Certainly that’s what has befallen Fairway. What Gopnik’s New Yorker piece brings home, however, is how the loss of Fairway is reflective of a larger societal shift occurring before our very eyes. Interestingly, to me, was an article in the current (February 2020) issue of Sports Illustrated about challenges facing baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, addressing the same issues. Let’s take a look.
In my world, Fairway Market and baseball occupy a similar psychic space: they are unique entities tied to my life --- from childhood through adulthood. As Gopnik notes:
Fairway is one of those odd original New York institutions that grew up organically, on the sidewalk, unlike the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s stores that have competed with it in recent years, which were dropped down on the street from a retail empire headquartered elsewhere . . . if it were possible to award the congressional Medal of Honor to a food market, Fairway would already have won one for its service to appetite.”
(Fairway and What We Mourn in a Store by Adam Gopnik, January 25, 2020 New Yorker)
What made Fairway unique --- and what endeared it to me as my “neighborhood” market in 1987 --- was that, as Gopnik further notes, it combined “what used to be called ‘gourmet’ shopping --- with the equally strong virtues of popularity. . . the democratic energy was so extraordinary.” Fairway, if you never shopped there, did have “gourmet” features ---like Zabar’s, up the street: barrels of coffee beans, a huge selection of olives and cheeses, a fascinating butcher shop and fish counter. But you could also get your laundry detergent, canned items, and pet products in the aisles (just like D’Agostino’s next door!). There was something about the “peasant-like, sawdust-on-the-floor, ‘We’ll sell anything that sells’ commoners’ market” (Gopnik) that made the place special.
With the loss of Fairway (and all its satellites in the suburbs) we can observe a larger pattern --- what Gopnik says is “the homogenization of retailing (Whole Foods & Trader Joe’s) which is part of the homogenization of our lives.” This is not new, of course. The advent of cable/satellite television was the first huge “unifying” homogenization of our culture --- we could all watch the same shows/sports/music at the same time/same day. We watched the 24/7 news cycle emerge (with its seeds of division --- the unintended consequence only perceived by Roger Ailes, it seems). But, as Gopnik further notes:
All of us know—or, if we don’t, then capitalism is here to teach us—that things pass. . . . And yet it is, historically, such private enterprises, from coffeehouses and grocery stores to high-end department stores, with their vast common spaces, that create the social capital that supports our common life—the possibility of bumping into people with whom we share a common citizenship but don’t often share a common space or pursuit. The accumulated social capital of such spaces becomes our common life. The single man buying cheese and the family buying paper towels in bulk stand in line together.
Every imaginable historical study and set of social-science data shows that the relationship between social capital—all those institutions of common space and trust, of casual encounter and shared memory—and healthy democratic government is as neatly tied, as robustly correlated, as two things can be. So the dislocation of common spaces into the online ether, though it is doubtless capable of being resolved in surprising ways we don’t yet know, is a thing that we are right to be concerned about.
And this is where Gopnik and the New Yorker intersect with Sports Illustrated’s story about baseball. As noted in Tom Verducci’s article, Manfred’s Middle Innings:
One of the game’s greatest appeals has been the natural time and space it provides for rumination and anticipation, but those who have grown up with readily available technological distractions abhor such voids. . . (Manfred’s) biggest challenge (is) ‘the next generation --- in terms of consumption habits, both live and in media.’ What is it about potential young consumers that most worries the commissioner? ‘Their attention span . . . The idea of sitting down and watching a two-hour, 30-minute movie is different for them than it is for me. The (younger they are) the more of a challenge it is.’
Just as more and more people grocery shop online --- through AmazonFresh (Whole Foods), or Fresh Direct, or Peapod (Stop and Shop), or Instacart , et al --- sports fans, as consumers, have also changed. Last summer I attended a Yankee game with my Bronxville High School teaching partner (1987-1993) Anthony Angotta (another Boomer) and we lamented the loss of what we loved about going to the ballpark. Baseball, during our formative years, was a sport which moved along deliberately but more quickly --- batters did not step out of the batter’s box between pitches, batters did not need blaring “walk-up” music as they approached the plate, fans did not get up and down a thousand times during the game to get food and socialize, or sit talking (loudly) on their phones. You had time to watch, reflect, discuss. There was no decibel- shattering, bass-note pounding music between innings, almost totally eliminating the possibility of a conversation about the game you’ve been watching. Nobody keeps score in a program (except for a few dinosaurs, like me). Spending inning upon inning in a variety of “shops” or food venues is now the norm, not the exception. There used to be a saying that when the NY Rangers played at Madison Square Garden there was a “fight where a hockey game occasionally broke out.” After visiting the “new” Yankee Stadium I described it as an “amusement park where a baseball game happens.” As Rob Manfred notes, today’s consumer, and the consumer (of baseball) of the future, has a different attention span. Baseball’s rules are changing. Relief pitchers will have to face a minimum of three batters (if they don’t complete an inning) --- a way of short-circuiting the incessant pitching changes that sabrmetrics has brought to the game. We’ll soon have an electronic home plate umpire (not necessarily a bad thing) and, who knows, maybe the National League will adopt the designated hitter. Adam Gopnik quotes John Updike in his New Yorker article : “at any moment an old world is collapsing and a new world arising; we have better eyes for the collapse than the rise, for the old is the world we know.”
Amid the chaos of impeachment and the bankruptcy of Fairway, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training in 16 days, an event I always look forward to. Stepping back and surveying the landscape, I have to acknowledge that, as my sunset becomes more of a reality, Updike’s “new world arising” is here and I have to learn to accept it. Yet this new, virtual/online world is a place where “institutions of common space and trust” are being eliminated and, with it, ”healthy democratic government.” Much of what we have seen in our politics over the last decade (remember, it was the Obama campaign that recognized social media/Twitter was a powerful tool for elections and governing) has been the homogenization of a divided electorate in social media spaces. Common physical spaces are disappearing (as of 2018, 20% of Manhattan’s commercial real estate was unoccupied!). So, as Adam Gopnik concludes, “it is hard not to feel a shrivel of the heart for the loss of a place at once so specific to its city and so open to anyone with the price of a potato in her pocket, hard not to feel a tear falling in memory of grocery carts past. The price of any one store’s passing may be higher than we know.”
The Bad Student
The confused messaging from Washington regarding the United States attacking Iranian cultural sites is nothing new to this administration. My Grandfather always used to say, “The fish stinks from the head” and that couldn’t be more true regarding our Executive branch in 2020. What struck me most as I watched and listened to the news the last few days --- with Trump callously saying he would attack Iranian cultural sites and his Secretary of Defense & Secretary of State tripping on their own dicks as they tried to backpedal --- was just how much Trump exemplifies all the characteristics of “the bad student.” For those of us who spent years in classrooms Trump is an archetypal figure regarding a certain type of student. It is no wonder he will not release his high school or college transcripts (we won’t even discuss tax returns). As with not letting members of his administration testify in the impeachment hearing, Trump’s resistance to revealing his academic record speaks volumes! Just as not letting people testify to Congress screeches “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” his not allowing the educational institutions he attended release his transcripts screams “Deficient! Deficient! Deficient!”
It doesn’t take a professional educator’s eye to see how much Trump struggles reading a teleprompter or to observe how his vocabulary falls into the 5th/6th grade range. I have no doubt that Trump has some serious learning disabilities that have been denied and gone undiagnosed throughout his life. Because his father was able to buy Donald’s education while encouraging his misogynistic bullying personality, we have to live with the result. Returning to our thesis: Donald J. Trump is the personification of the spoiled (and bullying) rich kid who exhibits all the traits of what teachers identify in classic “bad students.” If you go to the website Thought.com you can find the “Qualities of Top Students.” Five items they identify are: hard working; good at problem-solving; unafraid to ask questions; motivated to learn; supported by parents/guardians. It doesn’t take much to measure Trump’s abilities in relation to each of those characteristics. His hours on (his) golf courses speaks to “hard working,” while his ignorance in most affairs reflects his inferior “problem-solving” skills. He is not only incapable (afraid?) of asking question (for fear of looking stupid, which he is) but also fearful of having probing questions asked of him. He is, clearly, NOT “motivated to learn” (no reading, no morning briefings on policy). Finally, even the briefest look at Trump’s biography shows that his relationship with his Dad was transactional and based on money --- certainly not supportive in any nurturing way.
The Odyssey Online website (www.theodysseyonline.com) discusses what it takes to be “College Ready.” A student must: 1) be good at time management; 2) demonstrate determination; 3) be focused; 4) be able to organize one’s priorities; 5) demonstrate flexibility; 6) have a clear ability to communicate; and, 7) demonstrate a commitment to serious engagement. As we review Trump’s record for the past three years we can see that he has NO time management skills (and, in fact, seems to be incredibly lazy! ). His “determination” is only self-serving and fiduciary. He totally lacks focus and has only one priority: himself. Trump is clearly inflexible and totally unable to communicate clearly (because he lies every moment he takes a breath!). He also has NO commitment to serious engagement in anything beyond serving his personal interests.
When you combine severe learning disabilities with malignant narcissism you get Donald J. Trump – the Classic Bad Student. He doesn’t care when class starts (his world revolves around himself!), he clearly does not do his homework, he does not care to ask questions, he only wants to entertain those people who are his “friends,” he has no respect for institutions (education, government, etc.). He is the classic bad student and many of those who are his most vigorous supporters were also bad students. THEY are his “true believers” (more on that in a future BLAST) and, sadly, their numbers are legion. For that, as a lifelong educator, I apologize. That so many have so little education, are incapable of reflective, metacognitive thought, lack genuine curiosity, or feel such self-loathing explains their desire to identify with the Trump tribe. As with climate change deniers, as with hypocritical “Christians,” as with “Republicans” who have abandoned the rule of law and their own principles, Trump is grossly ignorant, uncurious, unreflective, barely literate and, in a word, a simpleton. Yet he is our President. He managed to con enough people (many of whom are equally ignorant, uncurious, unreflective, sub-literate, and simple) to squeak out an Electoral (and not Popular) victory in 2016. That he might get re-elected is a frightening prospect. He is not “Keeping America Great” and did not “Make America Great Again.” He is leading our nation down a path toward ignorant authoritarianism and has radically divided the populous of the United States. We live in historic times --- but not what many of us would consider “good” history.
Wagging the Dog 2020
The news networks were all abuzz about the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, particularly regarding “What is Trump’s strategy?” in this matter. Really? We’re within shouting distance of Election Day 2020, we have been watching the Liar-in-Chief for THREE FULL YEARS, and these twits are wondering “What’s Trump’s strategy?”
Let’s remember how this President operates. For him, each day is a new episode of The Presidential Apprentice and HE needs to be the “hero” of the day’s plot. After a month of being pounded with daily impeachment news, portraying the hero being dragged through the mud, how do we shift the narrative to put the hero into a positive light with his audience? Simple: “We took action last night to stop a War….”. Really? Has ANY evidence been provided that proves this statement? (In fact, NO) Pompeo says there was an “imminent threat.” The imminent threat, dear reader, was Nancy Pelosi.
It seems pretty clear that Donald J. Trump felt a need to grab the 2020 headlines by pursuing a strategy of Wagging the Dog and provoking a war with Iran (Clinton did a similar thing, which led to the Hoffman/DeNiro film). What we do keep hearing is that Iran plays chess while Trump has barely mastered Checkers. “What is Trump’s strategy?” Simple: Get the headlines off the impeachment. Neither members of Congress nor Allies were informed about this action. After leaving the Nuclear Agreement with Iran upon taking office (remember, this Administration’s Prime Directive is: “If Obama did it, we have to un-do it!”), this action may well provoke that nation accelerating its work to develop nuclear arms!
Both H.W. Bush & Obama had opportunities to take Soleimani out and decided against it because the repercussions might be too severe. What this unilateral action by Trump was aimed at was simple: Friday night’s headlines (and the weekend news programs) were NOT about the Impeachment. Trump gets to play “Commander-in-Chief,”. Mr. Tough Guy, etc. —- rather than everyone being reminded he is a common criminal, a fraud, a tax cheat, a serial sexual predator, and a compulsive liar.
Trump is a huge National Security Liability…….inviting a foreign nation to interfere in our elections is one thing (and a crime!) but frivolously assassinating a high-profile and politically powerful Iranian general simply because he needed to end the week (and start the New Year?) with a “positive” headline speaks to the runaway malignant narcissism of this President. That the Republican Senate —- McConnell and Graham (and Cornyn and Cruz and Johnson and Kennedy and…and…and) —- falls into lockstep behind this sub-literate, bloviating egomaniac speaks to just how deeply Trump has decimated our institutions. Several 2019 year-end reviews noted how the Weimar Republic in 1920s/1930s Germany was destroyed by Hitler and his National Socialists, with some clear parallels to what we’re seeing with Trump’s ascendancy.
I know there is a knee-jerk reaction to that notion (“It can’t happen here. Not in the United States.”) but Germans were not lining up behind Adolf at first, either. The poisonous White Supremacist philosophy (borrowing liberally from America’s Jim Crow model and adding a healthy dose of fallacious eugenics) crept in at first, but gathered momentum, particularly as the economy turned down. Scapegoating and targeting Jews became more and more acceptable (have you read about the spike in anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. in the last 6 months? Or the incredible stats about the increase in hate-crime violence in cities after a Trump “campaign rally?). Of course, there’s also the “strategy” of artificially boosting the economy by kicking into “war” mode!
Citizens of the United States love their mythology. Trump is playing into an old, established strain of that mythology; one that appeals to white people who now believe they have been victimized and are suffering because the “libtard, snowflake” government (the “Deep State”) has sold their birthright as the people who built this country (white, Protestant men), the people who made this country “great“ to all those “Others” —- the Blacks, the “illegals,” the Latinos, and so on. There is a need to be vigilant and activist in protecting our democratic institutions. Germans slept, or sleep-walked, for too long and when they finally woke up, Hitler had power. In our present situation, with a complicit and complacent Senate, Trump is allowed to unlawfully assassinate an enemy; he is allowed to solicit aid from foreign powers to help fix another election, he is encouraged (by McConnell & Graham) to cover-up his crimes. We know he will pardon all the members of his Administration who are already doing (or almost doing) jail time (Manafort, Stone, Flynn). A man who has pilfered student money through a phony university and personally spent the money his Foundation collected (as a “charity”), who only cares about his personal “Brand,” and accumulating as much personal wealth as possible (remember that emoluments clause?), will stop at nothing to destroy the historic Institutions of the United States for his own purposes.
It’s a bleak picture, I know. But I think we are at the point where we are kidding ourselves if we don’t accept that Trump is dangerous and the Republican Party is complicit in all his crimes —- they are accomplices. And that’s how we may well lose our democracy and all the institutions associated with it. I would like to believe I am wrong and, come November 2020, see Donald Trump suffer an electoral loss that is epic in its landslide proportions. I’d love to believe that. But I can’t say I’m confident it will happen. In some ways it looks (to me) as if we are too far down the Trump Rabbit Hole to find our way home.
I hope I’m wrong.
New Year's BLAST
As 2020 reveals itself to us, I’d like to share some thoughts that were passed along to me during this holiday season. There were a couple of lists entitled (8 or 9) Things to (Quit/Stop) in 2020 --- and I believe they are worth sharing --- apply as you see fit.
Even better, my Brown Education Department colleague, Polly Ulichny, sent a lovely Holiday greeting (which seems to have originated with a John Douglas in Charlotte, Vermont --- but I could be wrong about that). I’m not going to include all the aphorisms that were written within the sketch of a Xmas tree but I’ll list the ones I think might be good for any/all of us to keep in mind in 2020.
That’s a lot, I know, and lord knows there are quite few items in the list that I will need to very consciously work on --- but I think I’ll keep those lists around to remind me how to try to be a better person in 2020.
Finally, I’d like to finish with a quote from a documentary about Wynn Handman (the founder of the American Place Theatre) entitled “It Takes a Lunatic.” Handman, a storied acting teacher, uses a Tolstoy quote to sum up his hope for himself as a teacher, and it’s one I certainly subscribe to:
You only die if you don’t live on in others.
With that, have a Happy New Year, and let’s hope 2020 is a year we will all look back on with positive memories.
A Teacher's Reach
The end of each calendar year invariably leads us to reflect on not only where we’ve been over the last 12 months but, for those of us who are older, over the landscape of one’s personal history. As I review this year, which included turning 70 in May, I am deeply saddened by the fact that the last of my personal triumvirate of Yale Mentors, William McFeely, passed away last Wednesday. The New York Times, in memorializing Bill, noted he was “the author of acclaimed biographies of Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass . . . (and) helped establish Yale’s black studies department.” All of that is true, of course, as is the rest of Neil Genzlinger’s glowing Times obit, but, for as comprehensive as that essay is, it couldn’t capture everything Bill McFeely meant to me. I have often said (and written) that my four years at Yale was the formative experience in my life --- and that’s certainly true. But, within those four years, my Junior year (when I was 19-turning-20)was the most formative year of my time there. It was during that year that Vincent Scully became the Master of Morse College and a huge influence on my life. Also during that year I took Charlie Reich’s American Studies 36a – The Individual in America and developed a friendship with the soon-to-be famous (The Greening of America) law professor. But, most importantly, as an American Studies Major, it was during that year that I had to take the required Junior Year A.S. Major Seminar and, by an incredible stroke of good fortune, was assigned to Bill McFeely’s section.
It was an auspicious year on many levels. The first women to attend Yale as undergraduates were on campus and our former all-male bastion was suddenly co-educational. As noted in the NY Times, Yale had recently created an African-American Studies Department (now called Black Studies) and Bill, as a Reconstruction Era scholar (he had already published a book about O.O. Howard & the Freedman’s Bureau), was a critical contributor to that endeavor. When we met him in September 1969, he was just starting work on a biography of U.S. Grant --- a book that would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1982. Our seminar was 12 students, 10 men, 2 women, and Bill seemed unfazed by this new situation (Maybe because he had two daughters? Maybe because he had taught graduate seminars which included women?). The seminar was one of the most outstanding experiences I had at Yale. It was a two-hour oasis every Wednesday afternoon, amid a wonderfully swirling and chaotic campus (we were headed toward an April 1970, strike and MayDay weekend demonstration that saw upwards of 100,000 people descend on New Haven to demand a fair trial for Black Panther Bobby Seale). Bill was unflappable during it all and a wonderful teacher throughout. His influence on my teaching career is immeasurable.
Bill was a natural seminar leader who guided us through “classic” American literature and history (William Bradford’s Plymouth Plantation, Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, Justin Kaplan’s Mark Twain & Mr. Clemens, James Baldwin’s essays, and so on) with a steady stream of provocative questions --- always finding room for everyone’s opinion and insight. We even took a “field trip” to Mark Twain’s and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s homes in Hartford, Connecticut one week --- with Bill cluing us in on how Twain bankrolled U.S. Grant’s biography, when the retired President/General was down and out. We didn’t know until late in the Spring that we would be Bill’s last Seminar group at Yale. He was headed up to Mount Holyoke to become a member of their history department and Dean of the Faculty. My signature moment with Bill that year occurred early in our Second Semester when the American Studies Department held its annual “Honors” essay competition.
There were six or seven Junior Seminars in American Studies, as I recall. All the students in those Seminars were given the same assignment: read Leo Marx’s The Machine in the Garden and write a critical analysis about his thesis. Marx’s thesis posited:
"the aspirations once represented by the symbol of an ideal landscape have not, and probably cannot, be embodied" and that "our inherited symbols of order and beauty have been divested of meaning." However, Marx does not believe that these artists offer any solutions to the problems they raise. They have "clarified our situation" but have not created the "new symbols of possibility" we need. (wiki)
It was the Seminar Leader’s job to read his/her class’s essays and nominate one for “Departmental Honors.” At that time I was voraciously reading tons of “modern” American literature --- Kesey, Heller, Pynchon, Mailer, Vonnegut, Ellison, William Melvin Kelley, et al --- and I thought, rightly or wrongly, that Marx’s thesis was wrong. My essay took issue with Marx ending his study at Fitzgerald, essentially asserting that no “important” American literature had been written since the 1920s/30s . And that’s what I argued. Bill found my challenge to Marx compelling enough to nominate the essay as our Seminar’s representative for Departmental Honors. Needless to say, I felt great! By the beginning of second semester in 1970 I had gotten to know Bill McFeely well enough to not only value his friendship but, more importantly, to recognize the depth and breadth of his intellect. For Bill to select my essay was as good as winning the Departmental Honors --- which proved just as well, as it turned out. The Department Elders returned the essay to Professor McFeely and told him to select another from his group --- mine, to their reckoning, had not fulfilled the assignment. In a move that would endear Bill in my heart and mind forever, he essentially told the Department they were short-sighted and narrow-minded and refused to nominate another essay. He actually apologized to me for the Department’s “hypocrisy.”
That summer the McFeelys packed up and left New Haven for South Hadley, Massachusetts, and the next phase of Bill’s career. I moved to North Guilford in the Fall and made several “road trips” to South Hadley, visiting Bill and Mary and their kids (Drake, Eliza, Jennifer). We would talk about his new position as the faculty Dean at Holyoke and my pursuit of an Intensive Major degree (writing a huge Senior Essay --- worth 4 course credits --- about the modern American Literature I had cited in the Departmental Honors essay). He particularly loved his free-standing fireplace with its picture window behind it because it reminded him of Mark Twain’s double-flue fireplace in Hartford --- you could sit by the fire and watch the snow fall. Early one morning, as I sat in front of that fireplace, looking out the window, I watched a cat stalk a pheasant --- almost like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon --- charging and leaping as the pheasant took off, leaving the cat with a few small feathers in its paw, but no prey conquered. I remember Bill laughing heartily as I related the story to him later that morning.
As I began my teaching career at Blind Brook Jr./Sr. High School in Westchester County I realized how much Bill’s teaching had impacted not only my decision to become a teacher but also my approach to teaching --- letting questions drive the inquiry. But Bill’s influence went even deeper than that. During my time at Blind Brook, as I became chair of the Social Studies/History Department, I was able, thanks to Principal Dave Schein, to hire my own staff. Two results of that hiring were directly connected to Bill and both hires proved to be outstanding teachers. One was Bill Mendelsohn, the younger brother of one of my McFeely Seminar classmates, Don, and the other was Bill’s daughter, Eliza, whom I had first met when she was a middle-schooler! In 1982, when Bill won the Pulitzer Prize for his Grant biography, Liza was on the staff and I was teaching an AP U.S. History class. It was only natural to invite Bill in to speak to our students and, typical of Bill, he was more than happy to oblige. How many times do you get to introduce your high school students to a Pulitzer Prize winning author for a “q.-and-a.?”
It’s December of 2019. The last of my Yale Mentors has passed away. The famous Henry Adams quote “A teacher affects eternity; he [or she] can never tell where his influence stops” applies to all three --- but particularly to Bill McFeely. The role-model of “lifelong learner” that Bill exemplified informed my life at every turn --- as a teacher, a coach, a writer, a musician, a reader, a thinker. Bill’s patience and thoughtfulness are not necessarily traits I’ve been able to emulate as well, but I am forever grateful to have had him share those with me, too. Indeed, he probably never really knew how much his influence affected me (though I think I tried to let him know) but I know I was the better for it --- and I know that’s true for not only his family but also the generations of students and readers he touched along the way.
How Art Helps Us See Our World
As we approach 2020, a Presidential election year, certain realities about party politics have coalesced very clearly. The Republican Party, as a direct result of 8 years of Barack Obama’s presidency, has become the party of white male supremacists. I am not saying that everyone who calls himself/herself a Republican is a white supremacist but the evidence is overwhelming that the Republican Party, under the leadership of the conspiracy-theorist Donald J. Trump, has become a party that supports white supremacy. Two events this week reflect this pretty clearly.
The House of Representatives voted to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If you are not familiar with the Act, here is some background (via Wikipedia).
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It was signed into law by United States President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the civil rights movement on August 6, 1965, and Congress later amended the Act five times to expand its protections. Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act secured the right to vote for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.
The coverage formula was originally designed to encompass jurisdictions that engaged in egregious voting discrimination in 1965, and Congress updated the formula in 1970 and 1975. In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula as unconstitutional, reasoning that it was no longer responsive to current conditions. The Court did not strike down Section 5, but without a coverage formula, Section 5 is unenforceable.
In attempting to Restore the Act to countervail the Court’s 2013 ruling the voting ran strictly along Party lines with only ONE Republican voting for it. In 2006, the last time the Congress voted to Amend and renew the Act the vote was 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate. Yesterday’s vote was a party-line 228-187. The Bill will now move to the Senate where it is expected to DIE at the hands of the Republican majority. It should be noted, regarding the 2013 Shelby decision:
Five years after the ruling, nearly 1,000 polling places had been closed in the U.S., with many of the closed polling places in predominantly African-American counties. Research shows that the changing of voter locations and reduction in voting locations can reduce voter turnout. There were also cuts to early voting, purges of voter rolls and imposition of strict voter ID laws. Virtually all restrictions on voting subsequent to the ruling were by Republicans. (Wikipedia)
In 2006 there was widespread bipartisan support for renewing Voting Rights. As the Republican Party recoiled from the Obama presidency, however, and fell under the sway of a racist President, only one Republican supported the notion that all Americans should have an easy path to voting. The need to ensure that white people (and white men, in particular) maintain an advantage in our society is clearly the goal of the current Republican Party.
This vote compounded the veiled threat made by Attorney General only two days earlier at a Justice Department awards ceremony for police officers. At that event, in barely coded language Barr stated:
“The American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers,” Barr said. “And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves.” He added, “If communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need." (Vox Sean Collins December 4, 2019 – italics & bold, mine)
Is anyone unsure of which “communities” Barr means in this statement? I know the Trump/Republican apologists will claim it is a “harmless” statement and mine is the usual “liberal” inferring that sees “racism” in everything this Administration does. Given the record of this Administration (“There are good people on both sides”) it is hardly an inference to understand who Barr is targeting in his speech. I won’t belabor this topic because I believe some of the best arguments to educate and inform our fellow citizens about the racism built into the DNA of this nation --- and each of us --- is on full display on your tv screen --- and I’m not talking about Fox News.
Both HBO and Netflix are currently airing programs that demand your attention. They are provocative, artistic, and confront the reality of racism both historically and in our current context. I will not include any spoilers regarding either program but only encourage you to watch and think.
If you have a Netflix subscription you should watch American Son with Kerry Washington in the lead. Adapted from a stage play of the same name (and featuring the same cast that brought the production to Broadway) it is about 85 minutes of anguished drama about a mother in a police station in South Florida trying to find out what’s happened to her son, who has been involved in a traffic stop. Without going into detail, let me only say that the issues that are raised (a white father, the son’s name, the police handling of the mother and the father, the assumptions made --- by the white males, in particular) should strike extremely responsive chords with any honest and open-minded viewer. As an older white male watching this, it was disturbing, moving, and, while a bit cliched at times, very effective art.
More powerful --- and visceral --- is HBO’s Watchmen. Based on the 1986 graphic novel, Damon Lindelof (“Lost,” “The Leftovers”) adapted the original “superheroes as humans” theme into a current context (2019) and focused the story on racism and white supremacy. Using the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 (if you are not familiar with this event, please “Google” it) as a jumping off point, Lindelof provides the viewer with fascinating television as he not only educates us historically but also provides an extremely visceral sense of how racism is deep in our bones --- affecting all of us, even 400 years after the first slaves were brought to Virginia. It’s a nine-episode event and is currently up to episode 7 --- but episode 6 is a “knock your socks off” experience! I will say no more and only recommend you watch/binge it.
“Difficult” times often breed great art (Goya’s The Disasters of War & Picasso’s Guernica, for example) and I believe this television programming (along with Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play on Broadway) does what art is supposed to do: it makes us uncomfortable, at the very least, and provokes us to think and, hopefully, think honestly and deeply, providing insight and reflection. I suspect we will see more of this kind of art --- onscreen and on stage, as well as in painting, music, and dance --- emerging over the next year and beyond.
“There’s No ‘I’ in Team”
It’s an old coach’s cliché, of course: “There’s no ‘I’ in t.e.a.m.” Recognizing that the group is more important than the individual is at the heart of team sports. Historically, this “team thing” had been the domain of boys/men but that landscape began shifting seismically in the late 1960s/early 1970s --- years of radical social change, spearheaded by African-American civil rights and followed by women’s rights, gay rights, the environmental movement, as well as shifts in the art world (music, cinema, etc.). In 1973 I was a 24 year-old freshly-minted Master of Arts in Teaching educator starting my first full-time job in the Blind Brook/Rye school district. My initial assignment was to teach 7th grade Humanities to about 100 adolescents each day. I was also hired to be the Middle School basketball coach, something I was very excited about. And that’s where this story begins.
But let’s set some context for that 1973-74 school year. The top-40 hit songs during that year were Tony Orlando & Dawn’s “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree,” Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” and Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” to name a few. (Of course there was an exploding LP/album market that featured Stevie Wonder, Eagles, Steely Dan, the Allman Brothers, etc.). On the big screen people were watching “The Exorcist,” “The Sting,” “American Graffiti,” “Magnum Force,” and “Serpico.” The little screen’s top 4 programs were “All in the Family,” “The Waltons,” “Sanford and Son,” and “M*A*S*H” (Monday Night Football was #19). Other significant cultural events included Billie Jean King defeating Bobby Riggs in 3 straight sets in the Astrodome in September. “Happy Days” debuted in January 1974 and Stephen King published his first novel, Carrie,” in April of ‘74. Hank Aaron tied and then broke Babe Ruth’s home run record that same month.
Politically, of course, the Watergate Scandal was roiling. On October 30, 1973, we had the “Saturday Night Massacre,” when Nixon ordered his Attorney General (Eliot Richardson) to fire the Special Prosecutor (Archibald Cox), essentially stopping the Watergate investigation. Richardson and his Deputy A.G. William Ruckelshaus, both refused and resigned. Solicitor General Robert Bork fired Cox but, after a huge public outcry, hired Leon Jaworski to replace Cox within two days. By November 17th Nixon was announcing “I am not a crook” and in early January of 1974 the President refused to surrender 500 documents and audiotapes to the Senate Watergate Committee. By the end of the month one of the Watergate burglars, G.Gordon Liddy, was found guilty and on the same day (January 30th) Nixon, in his State of the Union address, announced “One year of Watergate is enough.” By March, seven White House officials were indicted and charged with “conspiracy to obstruct justice.” In May of 1974 the House of Representatives opened formal hearings in the impeachment process. Quite a school year, indeed. As we know, Nixon ultimately resigned on August 4, 1974 rather than face impeachment (which would have made him unable to receive a pardon!).
For those of us who have lived over the 46 years since the fall of 1973 we find ourselves witnessing our third impeachment. Apparently we are in some kind of “once every generation” impeachment cycle. But let’s get back to the original thesis here: “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” Coaching the Middle School basketball team in 1973-74 was my first experience as a coach. My models for being a coach were the numerous men I had played baseball, basketball, football, and lacrosse for during my own athletic career --- from Little League through high school and college. I was learning on the job and it was like trying to change the tire on a moving vehicle. But my players, our team, were an incredible group of kids --- eager to learn and play and we had a pretty good season. The next year I became the first Varsity basketball coach at BBHS (with NO seniors on the team because our school was adding a grade per year and we were only a 7-11 that year). We were 0-16 and, aside from learning humility, I was still getting my feet wet as a coach. Luckily for me, we had hired a new Phys.Ed. teacher, Jim Spano, who took over the Middle School team --- and then the Junior Varsity, inheriting the group I had originally coached (and taught in both their 7th and 8th grade Humanities classes). They were clearly a special group.
I’ve written about how unique Blind Brook Jr./Sr. High School was during the years I was there (1973-1984) and I’ve also written about this particular team before. By their senior year (1978-79), with support from an equally special group in the Class of 1980, we had a great season and ultimately lost the County Championship by 3 points to the eventual New York State Championship team (it should be noted that these guys had already won the NY State Soccer championship!). What continues to be unique is that, since 2010, a core group from that team (with some other former athletes from those years), has met every December to have dinner together and “catch-up.” Last night it really struck me that 46 years have passed since we began our journey together in Rye Brook. 46 years. That’s almost a half-century! I’m 70 years old. Sitting there last night I looked around and saw a group of accomplished, intelligent, unique men --- now in their late 50s. They are exemplary fathers, husbands, citizens in every way. Watching the interaction between these men, my former players, was most notable for that “No ‘I’ in team” dynamic. Some still see each other regularly. Others only connect during this annual event but the warmth, the unselfish interest in each other is clear.
I was far from a great coach. Luckily, all these players were also my students in Humanities, American History and other classes --- where I spent more time with them than I did in the gym. But, as any athlete knows, there’s a special bond built between athletes who work together day after day on a field or a court, when the fans aren’t watching, when you’re learning how to be your best, when nerves fray and “fatigue makes cowards of us all” (Vince Lombardi). Learning to rely on the other guy, to trust your teammate, to work for the team above all else is unique. When you have great results, championships or even a chance to win the Big Game, it makes it all the more special. If you haven’t had that experience you may not exactly “get” what I’m writing about here. But if you were at any of the dinners during these last 10 Decembers, it wouldn’t take long at all for you to recognize what “There’s no ‘I’ in team” is all about. I feel lucky to be part of this group, to be able to see them now, all these years later, and still feel the energy we shared in those sideline huddles, clawing and scratching to try to win a game.
There is no “I” in T.E.A.M.
How the Democrats & the Media
Get it Wrong!
The overcrowded Democratic field of candidates for President expanded this week with Mike Bloomberg throwing his hat into the ring. His polling “people” have apparently found that none of the current candidates can beat Trump in the crucial swing states necessary to wrest the Presidency from the current Felon-in-Chief. That may be the case --- we know how well polling served us in the 2016 election (I know, I know, if you “dug into” the polls you would have seen Clinton’s vulnerability and Trump’s possibilities). The Democrats are having trouble winnowing their field and no one has captured the imagination of the voters. What we are already being bombarded with, from all the media outlets, are polls from IOWA and NEW HAMPSHIRE --- the sites of the first two Democratic primaries/caucuses. Those results are generally followed by the prospects candidates have in SOUTH CAROLINA. Bloomberg, no fool he, is sinking his considerable re$ource$ into Super Tuesday ---March 3, 2020 --- when 14 states (and two other “jurisdictions”) will vote for the Democrat they want to run in the November election. I am not a fan of Mike Bloomberg (all the years I worked as an NYC teacher, while he was Mayor, he refused to even negotiate with our Union to settle a contract and, as a result, our pay was frozen for SIX YEARS --- while rents and cost of living continued to escalate. But that’s just one thing I don’t like about the guy . . . there’s also his “temporary” restructuring of the city charter so he could serve a third term). My focus here is on the media’s frenzy about the first three primaries/caucuses (the Nevada caucuses, which occur between New Hampshire & South Carolina are given short shrift, for some reason) and how that not only distracts voters but actually fails to allow candidates who might be more suitable to win a national election to build momentum.
The media places far too much emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire simply because they are the first two caucuses/primaries. Currently, Pete Buttigieg is leading in Iowa (he’s almost a neighbor, coming from Indiana) and, as a result, has gained traction in New Hampshire, where the Senators from neighboring states (Vermont and Massachusetts) are leading. While all this might make for eyeball grabbing tv news --- and we will only hear more and more about these two caucuses/primaries from now until February --- which is, I believe, a genuine problem. Let’s look at the statistics to see why.
Iowa is a state with a total population of a little over 3 million people. That’s less than half the size of New York City. 91% of those people are white (Donald Trump won 51 % of the vote --- 800,000 people --- in 2016). New Hampshire’s total population is 1.3 million people and 1.2 million are white (Clinton edged out Trump 46.98% to 46.61% in 2016). Together these two states are about half the population of New York City and, unlike the Big Apple, they are about 95% white! Why, then, does the media insist upon proclaiming these so important, other than they are the first two “elections” for the Democrats? They provide potential momentum for a candidate who may not be a viable candidate nationally. The media’s next obsession, of course, is South Carolina, with its overwhelming number of African-American voters registered as Democrats. Certainly that’s an important factor for any Democrat who hopes to win the 2020 election but let’s take note of the following. The total population of South Carolina is a little over 4 million people (Iowa and New Hampshire, combined) and only 37% are registered Democrats. That means there are about 1.5 million registered Democrats in the state. According to scvotes.org, there are 992,000 registered “nonwhite” voters in the state. Even if they are all registered as Democrats, should that primary propel someone to the Democratic nomination?
As we watch the impeachment proceedings unfold (Why didn’t the Democrats challenge Trump’s obstruction --- not letting members of the executive branch testify based on his claim of Presidential immunity/power --- right after the Mueller report? If they had, the ruling that, in fact, members of the Executive branch must obey a legal subpoena, would already have cleared appeals!) and the nominating process begin in earnest we have to wonder if there is any strategy coming from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Tom Perez is cheerleading the process but does not seem to have a clear idea of where the party should go regarding consolidation of issues (wouldn’t it be nice if the candidates all focused on several key issues --- health care, climate change, corruption, for example?). As I noted in an earlier BLAST, it looks more like a circular firing squad, improving Trump’s chances for re-election. Maybe a dark horse will emerge as the primaries/caucuses proceed (Gavin Newsome? Michelle Obama?) and the Democrats will build momentum as they head to their convention and challenge the most corrupt and self-dealing President in the history of the U.S.
We have to hope that will be the case or we may well be seeing the demise of the oldest Constitutional democracy in history. The Republican Party has already surrendered to Trumpism and is totally willing to look the other way regarding the rule of law, the sanctity of alliances, and the kleptocratic impulses of their cult leader. If he wins another election, how far will the corruption extend? Does the Constitution (a document he clearly has not read and does not respect or understand) stand a chance? He pardons war criminals, clearly attempts to fix an election, and continues to profit from his Presidency. Are there no Republicans with a sense of history? Are there no Democrats with a clear message for the American people?
The media, as I have noted before, is deeply complicit in all this --- not calling out the Liar-in-Chief for all his “many people are saying,” and “we’ve heard” bullshit. They refuse to stand up to this autocrat the way a free press needs to --- while he uses Fox News and his Russian accomplices to spread disinformation freely. (A recent example is Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana telling Fox News he believed Ukraine was involved in the 2016 interference and then walking it back on CNN the next day! Those Fox News viewers will never know he walked it back. Clever manipulation of disinformation by the useful idiots in the Republican Party and at Fox News.) We know this is just the beginning. As we get closer to November not only Fox News but Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter will become hotbeds for Republican and Russian disinformation and, as a result, we may well be in for 4 more years and the sunset of democratic republicanism that began over 240 years ago.
Donald Trump is America’s Karma
(Yet Another History Lesson)
The cosmic principle according to which each person is rewarded or punished in one incarnation according to that person’s deeds in the previous incarnation. Fate. Destiny.
The impeachment hearings are revealing the extreme aberration of the mechanics of our government by the current administration. A reality show host has perverted the lives of U.S. citizens on a daily basis for almost three years now. What I’d like to do is portray the larger context that explains how we have come to this juncture in our history.
Our story begins several weeks ago, with the death of Noel Ignatiev on Saturday, November 9th. Most people don’t know who Noel Ignatiev was but his passing merited an essay in the November 15th online edition of The New Yorker (Jay Caspian Kang, “Noel Ignatiev’s Long Fight Against Whiteness”). My connection to Ignatiev began in 1995, with the publication of his Harvard dissertation How the Irish Became White (Routledge). I was teaching in the Education Department at Brown and was focused on attacking the notion of white privilege as part of my instruction. Ignatiev, as it turned out, had been fighting that notion for his lifetime, writing about “white chauvinism” as early as 1967, in a letter to the Progressive Labor Party. As noted in The New Yorker, “Many scholars have cited Ignatiev’s letter as one of the first articulations of the modern idea of ‘white privilege.’” At that time, Ignatiev, a devoted Socialist, was working in steel mills in Ohio and it took another decade and a half before he finally went to Harvard’s graduate school to work on How the Irish Became White and coalesce his ideas about how the “white ruling class” has essentially indoctrinated working class & poor whites to identify with that ruling class rather than their more natural ally, workers of color. Ignatiev believed that relating the narratives of these working class people uniting (something he was able to accomplish on a very small scale in individual steel mills)would, somehow, lead to a spontaneous revolution that would transform American society. In keeping with that notion, he and John Garvey, a former NYC cab driver and labor organizer, created the journal Race Traitor in 1993. The motto of Race Traitor was “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity” and their patron saint was John Brown.
So how does the late Noel Ignatiev help explain our current situation: a corrupt President facing impeachment and probably escaping removal because the Senate will not convict him? It’s all got to do with white chauvinism/white supremacy/white privilege that Ignatiev so eloquently articulated but has now been shelved to an academic discipline (Critical White Studies) and is not spotlighted as the factor that led to Donald Trump’s election. Ignatiev saw white privilege as a “time bomb” in our society and I believe the election of Barack Obama lit the fuse that led to the Improvised Explosive Device that is Donald J. Trump. To truly understand this, we have to take Mr. Peabody’s Way-Back Machine (hat tip to Jay Ward’s Rocky & Bullwinkle) to trace how the myth of white supremacy has infected our body politic so deeply that we don’t even think we are ill.
For us to fully comprehend the depth and breadth of white supremacy and racism in the United States in 2019, we have to go back to the beginning and move through each phase of its historical construction, brick by hideous brick. The easiest way to do this is to examine each historical era that contributed to the creation of a world where a Donald Trump can rally millions of people to his white supremacist/racist exhortations. Looking back, we need to carefully study the Colonial period (1607 – 1763), the Revolutionary era (1763-1787), the creation of our Constitutional republic (1787-1801), the Antebellum years (1801-1860) and, of course, the Civil War & Jim Crow Reconstruction (and proliferation). As we move into the 20th Century Jim Crow Era, we begin to see a full-throated Civil Rights Movement emerge, particularly after the Second World War. That struggle produced the Republican Party’s defection to dog-whistling racism (led by Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”) --- formerly the domain of Southern “Dixiecrats” (racist Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms). As a final Act, we get the elections of Barack Obama & Donald Trump --- and you have to see those as the clear cause/effect logical product of 400 years of white supremacy and racism.
The Colonial Period (1607-1763). Even though slaves were not first imported to the British Atlantic Seaboard colonies until 1619, a system of indentured servitude was already an ingrained feature of a classist society, dividing “masters/owners” from “workers/servants.” There were several legal actions taken before Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia in 1676, a turning point in America’s racist history. Colonial Virginia had passed laws excluding “Negroes” from “normal protections of government” (1639) and would not allow baptized Blacks or Indians to change their legal status (as non-citizens - 1667). Maryland, in 1664, passed the first “anti-amalgamation” (race-mixing) law in the colonies, soon followed by other Southern colonies. But it was Bacon’s Rebellion, in 1676 Virginia, when Black and white indentured servants and slaves united with frontiersmen, taking up arms against the Colonial Governor Berkeley, that led to a hardening of racial identity in the British colonies. “The alliance between European indentured servants and Africans (many enslaved until death or freed), united by their bond-servitude, disturbed the ruling class. The ruling class responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.” (wiki) And that’s where our deep racist divide’s cornerstone was laid.
Prior to Bacon’s Rebellion “servants” (Black or white) were considered the “property” of the planting class. After the Rebellion, as noted in Patrick D. Anderson’s essay in the Grand Valley Journal of History:
Colonial elites responded to the growing solidarity by treating whites and blacks differently in order to inhibit class-consciousness and promote racial separation. For decades, the only difference between white and black servants was that the latter were occasionally servants for life, but in the face of growing class-based resistance, the elites used racist justifications to create legal racial distinctions. The elites' ideas about the "nature" of blacks came to the fore as they remorselessly degraded people of African descent. The belief was held by many, even in England, that the negro was not a man but a wild beast, marked by an intelligence hardly superior to that of a monkey, and with instincts and habits far more debased. He was considered to be stupid in mind, savage in manners, and brutal in his impulses. (italics & bold, mine)
With those ideas in mind, the British Southern colonies codified racism and white supremacy. With white planters turning more and more toward using slaves, as opposed to indentured servants, the slave population increased and the planting elite did not want poor whites aligning with the Black slaves. Patrick D. Anderson clearly explains:
As the demographics of the colony transformed, black and white workers – now called slaves and freeholders or laborers – were split into two classes. The new class of slaves were defined racially and excluded from the community in various ways. Blacks were given different clothing, food, work, and housing to emphasize the difference between slave and white.
Compared to their African counterparts, white workers perceived themselves as a distinct group above slavery, even though they remained subject the power of the ruling elite. Most working class whites acquired small plots of land by 1776, and were therefore considered "free," in contrast to dependent slaves.
If we look at the Trump demographic (white, non-college educated, rural or ex-urban men, in particular) it is not difficult to see the deep roots that were planted during Colonial America to create the white supremacist/racist “base” the current President appeals to.
In Case You Missed This . . .
(Another History Lesson)
“Impeachment” is an odd term, isn’t it? According to the (online) Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to impeach (transitive verb) means “to charge with a crime or misdemeanor.” The process of impeachment, of course, was written into our Constitution as a means of removing a public official from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” For those who may have slept through their U.S. History class in high school (and I know you are Legion!), let’s take a look at what the Founders debated when drafting this section of our Constitution. Article One, Section 2, Paragraph 5 states: “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” In Article 2, Section 4 they elucidate: “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. “ (heritage.org) Let’s take a look at how the Founders came to this conclusion.
Law professor Clark D. Cunningham (Georgia State University) wrote on snopes.com:
I’ve found statements made at the Constitutional Convention explaining that the Founders viewed impeachment as a regular practice with three purposes:
Based on that, the Founders saw impeachment as, potentially, a regularly used tool the legislature would employ to ensure the Executive would not engage in criminal or unpatriotic behavior. Let’s hear what delegates at the Constitutional Convention said at the time.
Massachusetts merchant Elbridge Gerry moved that the chief executive “be removable on impeachment and conviction for malpractice or neglect of duty.” 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?” (Harlow Giles Unger, historynewsnetwork.org)
James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” (and future President) noted:
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 (to steal or take dishonestly (money, especially public funds, or property entrusted to one's care; embezzle) or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers. (Unger, historynewsnetwork.org – Bold, mine)
Prophetic? Not entirely, as Madison wasn’t the only one at the Constitutional Convention with those concerns. Virginia’s Governor, Edmond Randolph, and New York’s Gouverneur Morris echoed Madison’s concerns.
Randolph called 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.” (Unger, historynewsnetwork.org- bold mine)
Morris stated: 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. This Magistrate is not the king! The people are the king!
Wise old Benjamin Franklin, assuming George Washington would be the first President, said: “The first man put at the helm will be a good one,” Benjamin Franklin mused to the Constitutional Convention in early June, perhaps winking in Washington’s direction as he said it. But then he added ominously, “Nobody knows what sort may come afterwards.” (Gillian Brockell, Washington Post, 09/28/19). Indeed, Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist #65 anticipated the world we are living in when he said:
“In many cases [impeachment] will connect itself with the preexisting factions ... and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”
Washington, in his Farewell Address, had warned about the perniciousness of Political Parties. In September of 1796, anticipating the upcoming election in which he would not run for a third term, he described the importance of keeping the Union together. Beyond his “avoid entangling alliances” foreign policy advice, the first President said this about political “factions:”
the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests. However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion. (owleyes.com – bold, mine)
Jeffrey Engle, the Director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, discussing how the Founders might view our current proceedings, told the Washington Post:
They say, ‘Well, what if a president works with a foreign power? Well, then of course he should be impeached. What if a president decides to try and make money in office? Well, of course he should be impeached. What if a president lies as part of his campaign? … Well, then of course he should be impeached,’” Engel said, before alleging, “which really is Donald Trump’s biography.” (Brockell, WaPo 09/28/19)
Sean Wilentz (Princeton History Professor) “offered his assessment of how the framers would view the current impeachment-related process in the House. ‘Should the Senate Republican majority refuse to remove Trump on specious grounds, cloaking partisanship, the framers would have concluded that the republic had collapsed.’” (Brockell, WaPo, 09/28/19)
That may well be where we are headed, given Moscow Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate. We may be on the brink of testing Ben Franklin’s famous quote: “A Republic, if you can keep it.” It would be sad, indeed, if we were watching the demise of our Republic at the hands of a craven autocrat who cares only for his personal advancement.