Gil Troy Gil Troy blog brought to you by History News Network. Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://hnn.org/blog/author/4 Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as an Exercise in Muscular Moderation

Historical mythology treats it as one of America’s shining moments. Amid a searing civil war, the saintly president freed America’s slaves with the stroke of a pen, and a moving commitment to equality, which went into effect one hundred fifty years ago. In fact, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862, slated to go into effect January 1, 1863, is more prose than poetry, more a cautious state paper than a sweeping declaration. Historian Richard Hofstadter scoffed that it had “all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.” Indeed, this limited document only freed “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States.” There is, however, a deeper lesson here. Much of Abraham Lincoln’s greatness -- and his effectiveness -- stemmed from such caution. The remaining slaves in the Union were freed eventually and -- thanks to Lincoln -- inevitably. But even during America’s great Civil War, Abraham Lincoln remained rooted in America’s centrist political culture, preferring an incremental pragmatism to zealous extremism.

A passionate nationalist, committed to America’s founding documents and defining ideals, Lincoln became a leader seeking balance at a time of turbulence, a man of measure tempering a politics of passion. Lincoln ably balanced his Western populism with an Eastern go-getterish ambition, his homespun frontier sensibility with more polished statesmanlike eloquence, a lawyerly commitment to constitutionalism with a progressive commitment to change, the fight for union with the crusade against slavery, the proslavery border states with the abolitionist New England states, the need to triumph with the hope to heal. Lincoln functioned as the great American gyroscope in a critical time, steadying his reeling nation. Yet rather than worshiping an outdated status quo, Lincoln propelled the nation forward, understanding that the revolutionary changes America needed were best implemented slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately -- or at least as deliberately as possible. His modest statement in 1864 captures it beautifully: "I claim not to have controlled events but confess plainly that events have controlled me."

The statement is wonderfully, constructively, disingenuous. If Lincoln had been as humble as he liked to sound, he never would have entered politics. Moreover, he would not have been so effective. A master yachtsman, Lincoln rode the winds roiling his country, sailing forward where he wished to go -- while attributing setbacks or slowdowns to natural forces beyond his control.

Abraham Lincoln’s story further suggests there may have been other, less bloody, ways to end slavery. Lincoln, the American leader who actually freed the slaves and saved the union, often clashed with the abolitionists and the radical Republicans. Both groups denounced him so fiercely he dismissed them as “fiends.” The story of Lincoln’s presidency and of the Emancipation Proclamation reaffirms the importance of presidential center-seeking, while acknowledging the constructive tension that can result from radical outsiders demanding change, especially when fighting a monstrous injustice such as slavery. Still, for this system to work, and for democracy to progress, the leader must channel the intense energies of the fanatics, transforming their high voltage vision into lower wattage practical policies suitable for domestic consumption. 

* * * * *

The Civil War proved much harder to win than Lincoln expected.  In spring 1862, General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac failed to reach the Confederate capital of Richmond via the Virginia Peninsula. The defeat demoralized the Union.

Ironically, the Peninsula campaign setback liberated the president. The Confederate Army was using slaves on the battlefield to cook food, dig trenches, build fortifications, staff hospitals. This freed more Confederate soldiers to fight. Many slaves were running farms, helping the rebel homefront too. By defining the issue of freeing slaves as a “military necessity,” Lincoln could emancipate slaves in the rebellious territories by using presidential war powers.  On July 13, 1862, Lincoln told Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that emancipation was "absolutely essential for the salvation of the Union, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.” On July 17, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, freeing the slaves of those rebelling against the government. This Act, which violated the Republican platform’s promise that Congress would not end slavery, further emboldened Lincoln. As a politician, he read the shifting political winds. As a lawyerly chief executive, he said the president should free the slaves as a war measure rather than having the Congress act precipitously, and, he feared, dishonorably.    

Lincoln’s Cabinet members disagreed so strongly about when and how to emancipate the slaves that friendships had ruptured. Here, Lincoln demonstrated how he mastered his headstrong advisers. The president knew what he wanted to do. He had learned to lead not consult endlessly. Further debate would only intensify the rancor and add to the confusion.

On July 22, 1862, Lincoln read the draft of his Emancipation Proclamation to the Cabinet. He was informing his advisers, not soliciting their opinions. Lincoln wanted to read the announcement a few months before the New Year, to give Confederates until January 1 to end the rebellion, or watch the slaves go free. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair of Missouri warned Lincoln the Border States might bolt. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton rejoiced, however, hoping to mobilize three and half million freed slaves for the Northern effort -- or at least neutralize their contributions to the South.

Secretary of State William Seward feared such a declaration following a defeat. Lincoln might look desperate. Wait “until the eagle of victory takes his flight” Seward advised, then “hang your proclamation about his neck.” Lincoln would tweak his plan not reformulate it. Followed Seward’s advice, he waited until the Union repulsed the Confederation invasion at Antietam on September 17. The 23,000 casualties made for the bloodiest one-day battle in American history -- but a major Northern victory. 

Seward’s strategy worked. President Lincoln’s patience was rewarded. The proclamation, published September 23, was well-timed. The conversation within the North had progressed, the pressure had grown enough, so that Lincoln did not appear to be an extremist. Lincoln knew that the abolitionist governors in Massachusetts and elsewhere had grown restive, hesitating to send more troops. With the war now being fought for liberty and union, with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s forces stopped in Maryland, Northern idealism and confidence surged.

Lincoln’s plodding path to Emancipation had nurtured Northern public opinion. The Chicago Tribune gushed, “From this proclamation begins the history of the Republic, as our Fathers designed to have it.” From England, the philosopher John Stuart Mill contrasted Lincoln’s initial reluctance with the growing public consensus that emancipation was necessary “for the effectual prosecution of the War.”  

Even this partial Proclamation infuriated many Democrats, especially those in the still-slaveholding Border States. Democratic legal experts condemned the president’s “radical departure” from American respect for property and over seventy-five of pro-slavery jurisprudence. The Democratic Chicago Times charged that the Proclamation made the war “a contest of subjugation” -- exactly what “abolitionism has designed from the outset.” The opposition justified Lincoln’s rhetorical and constitutional caution. The Union was not strong enough, and Washington, D.C. remained too vulnerable, to risk losing any more states. Only the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865 would abolish slavery throughout the United States.

In a nation torn between the politically untenable poles of perpetuating an evil institution and abolishing it immediately, Lincoln had done the seemingly impossible -- he had forged a middle path. Step by excruciating step, earning credibility along the way, even while frustrating some, Lincoln led the skeptical North from fighting a war just for union to fighting a war to end slavery too. The president demonstrated his pragmatism here, focusing on the fixable day-to-day realities rather than sweeping and daunting abstractions. Lincoln understood that radical surgery would have shocked the body politic and would not have held. “If he does not drive as fast as I would,” the abolitionist Owen Lovejoy observed in 1862, “he is on the right road, and it is only a question of time.” By improvising a path to emancipation, Lincoln assured slavery’s absolute abolition, even among the loyal Border States, once the Thirteenth Amendment finally passed.

At a time of deep national trauma, Americans needed a strong chief executive, grounded in righteousness but not self-righteous, a muscular moderate, able to lead but able to listen. As he grew confident in office, Lincoln grew more candid about his tactics. When ideologues clashed in Missouri in 1863, Lincoln refused to take sides in a “pestilent factional quarrel” that had long bewitched him. “I could wish both to agree with me in all things; for then they would agree with each other, and would be too strong for any foe from any quarter,” he said wistfully. Failing that, he added forcefully: “I hold whoever commands in Missouri, or elsewhere, responsible to me, and not to either Radicals or Conservatives. It is my duty to hear all; but at last I must … judge what to do and what to forbear.” “The conservative Republicans think him too much in the hands of the radicals;” one Harper’s columnist wrote admiringly in the summer of 1863, “while the radical Republicans think him too slow, yielding, and half-hearted.” In liberating the slaves, even while limited to the rebel territory, Lincoln had liberated himself as a leader.

Balanced, prudent, moderate, Abraham Lincoln was a great and good man whose genius, like George Washington’s, lay in that ineffable, unquantifiable quality called judgment. Harvard’s great romantic poet, James Russell Lowell, in 1864 praised Lincoln as eminently suitable to lead a democracy, where “a profound common-sense is the best genius for statesmanship.”  Lincoln’s good judgment, his common sense, his democratic humility, pragmatism, and humanity, not only saved the Union in the nineteenth century, it offers a model of liberal nationalistic leadership we would do well to follow today.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/149944 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/149944 0
Unleash the Rhetoric, Mr. President. America Needs It

HNN Hot Topics: Presidential Inaugurations 

From the Globe and Mail (Toronto), Jan. 20, 2013

As Barack Obama drafts his second inaugural speech, he should remember the speeches that made him president. He should ponder the vision of multicultural nationalism in his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote. He should revive the controlled but righteous indignation in his 2008 address on race relations that defused the Reverend Jeremiah Wright controversy. And he should tap into the lyrical patriotism that made his first victory speech soar. He also should ignore his first inaugural address -- which replaced the eloquent, electrifying, inspiring “Yes We Can” candidate he was with the technocratic, overwhelmed, sobering president he has become.

The contrast on Inauguration Day 2009, between his restrained speech and the crowd’s near messianic expectations was striking. Fans hailed Mr. Obama for recognizing the challenges. But after four years of pedestrian appeals to Americans as sensible “folks,” Americans need less schoolmarm and more romance, less presidential cod liver oil and more rhetorical bubbly.

True, Mr. Obama’s sober response was logical. When succeeding Franklin Roosevelt as president in 1945, Harry Truman said he felt as if the “moon and stars” had fallen upon him. Mr. Obama telegraphed similar combinations of humility and fear -- and has continually emphasized his constraints. After the Sandy Hook massacre, reflecting many Americans’ frustration with Mr. Obama’s caution, this time regarding gun violence, ABC’s Jake Tapper asked: “Where have you been?” Mr. Obama answered, characteristically, by mentioning “the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars.” He then said, “all of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington.”

Mr. Obama’s prioritizing prudence is reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s initial stiffness when speaking at the August, 1963, civil rights march. The singer Mahalia Jackson, who had heard him mesmerize crowds before, yelled, “tell them about your dream Martin.” Mr. King did -- and made history.

Mr. Obama must now let loose, offering the lyrical leadership Americans crave -- and which they originally hired him to deliver. Americans want a public educator and consensus builder, not a technocratic grind.

Mr. Obama should use moments like the Newtown massacre to channel public indignation into action. He should learn from eloquent predecessors like Mr. King, and like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former Harvard professor and America’s Ambassador to the UN who denounced the 1975 Zionism is racism resolution, even though his boss Henry Kissinger ordered him to be less confrontational and it was not clear that attacking the UN would be popular with Americans. Mr. Moynihan’s moment also made history. “An issue of honor, of morality, was put before us and not all of us ran,” Mr. Moynihan explained.

This politics of patriotic indignation should mix with a grandeur of moral imagination. Unlike Mr. Obama, John Kennedy ignored the hopes his presidency generated. In 1962, when briefed about new ideas mobilizing young African Americans, Mr. Kennedy asked “where are they getting them?” His adviser Louis Martin exclaimed: “From you!” Still, only in June, 1963 did Mr. Kennedy define civil rights as “primarily” a “moral issue,” as “old as the Scriptures” and “as clear as the American Constitution.”

Decades later, even when Mr. Obama helped pass landmark health care legislation, he failed to define the issue clearly. His phrasemakers’ toolbox always seems locked, his sense of drama muted. When confronting Republicans, even when faced with fiscal cliffs and uncontrolled guns, “No Drama Obama” often seems more miffed than mad, more politically inconvenienced than morally indignant.

Americans do not just want melodrama. America needs a muscular moderate, an artful orator, to capture the moment, forge a national consensus, and brand it effectively. Abraham Lincoln did it in his second inaugural by envisioning a Reconstruction based on “malice toward none.” Franklin D. Roosevelt mixed indignation with imagination in his second inaugural when he tackled the problem of “one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” Ronald Reagan played off decades of anti-Soviet pique when he insisted, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” while Bill Clinton defined his second term as more affirmative than negative in building his “bridge to the twenty-first century.”

Americans have had enough fiscal cliffs and Republican-Democratic brinksmanship; they now want, they now need, clear new horizons and all-American statesmanship. America’s past offers Obama the precedents. America’s present offers Obama the agenda. America’s future will benefit if he can rise to the occasion rhetorically during this inaugural address and substantively during his second term.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of eight books, including Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism, just published by Oxford University Press.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/150216 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/150216 0
BFFs: America's Inauguration and Israel's Election Celebrated Democracy

This week, both America’s inauguration and Israel’s election demonstrated democracy’s vitality. Both special moments offered valuable lessons about the rational and mystical elements of this extraordinary form of government, based on liberty, mutual respect and consent of the governed.

The inauguration was a legitimizing ceremony and a healing moment, inviting Americans to cheer their system’s stability, their government’s continuity, and the opportunity every fresh start represents -- even second terms. The U.S. president is both king and prime minister, head of state and head of government. Those kingly aspects have a magical, otherworldly dimension. The pageantry, the oath, the red, white and blue bunting, the inaugural balls, and, these days, the requisite dash of celebrity with Beyoncé lip-synching the Star Spangled Banner as Bill Clinton beamed in the background, reinforced the president’s place in America’s pantheon, linked to his legendary predecessors. The range of politicians on the podium, followed by the bipartisan Capitol Hill lunch -- rather than a Tea Party -- emphasized the celebration’s non-partisan patriotic character, as even disappointed Mitt Romney Republicans hailed their president.

The inaugural address was both state paper and partisan spur. Barack Obama quoted from the Declaration of Independence and forged a new holy trinity of milestones in the fight for equality by celebrating the women’s movement, civil rights movement and gay liberation movement with his “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” phrasing. He then elbowed his Republican rivals, snapping: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

Israel’s election harked back to Americans’ drama during their presidential contest. In our world, with so many dictators and terrorists undermining liberty and disrespecting the people’s right to rule, every smooth, peaceful, democratic Election Day is a miracle to applaud, especially when it occurs in the Middle East. This time, many particularly enjoyed watching leading politicians, sophisticated pollsters and know-it-all pundits confounded.

Love him or hate him, fans of populism had to appreciate how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political miscalculations reinforced the people’s power. Netanyahu erred by uniting his Likud Party with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu Party -- Lieberman’s thuggery offended moralists while being dropped too low on the list demoralized Likud activists. Similarly, it was fun watching pollsters stumble, demonstrating that not everything is so predictable in our overly monitored, statistic-driven world. Most polls predicted 11 to 12 seats for Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid -- There Is a Future -- Party. The surge that gave him 50 percent more seats reflected the non-ultra-Orthodox Israeli middle class’s frustration with being over-taxed, over-worked and under-inspired as well as Election Day’s alchemy: moods shift, turnouts count, campaigns matter, democracy works.

Moreover, partisan commentators’ simplistic laments in Israel and abroad about “Bibi’s Israel” being anti-democratic, theocratic and hopelessly right-wing were wrong before Election Day, but more demonstrably false afterward, when the country’s polarization, liberal vitality and democratic volatility could no longer be overlooked, no matter how deep one’s prejudice toward Netanyahu or Israel. And Netanyahu will have to listen to the real Israel, middle Israel. The electoral math will allow him to form a right-wing-religious coalition -- but the people’s will demands a broader, more centrist government.

Neither America’s inauguration nor Israel’s election could obscure the deep divisions in both countries, their persistent problems, and one common challenge facing U.S. and Israel, that even polite Canada is starting to share -- today’s toxic partisanship. As a historian, I know that partisanship and mudslinging have old pedigrees. But democratic toxicity ebbs and flows. Moments of deep, dysfunctional division alternate with moments of majestic unity. In addition to whatever issues fragment individuals in the three countries, the modern media’s 24/7 news hysteria, the emerging blogosphere’s anything-goes nastiness, and our individuated, often selfish, advanced capitalist societies are giving politics today a particularly sharp, uncooperative edge.

It is easy, when examining these three allies, to criticize constantly, despair deeply and discount the inauguration’s magic, Election Day’s power, and the daily miracles that make the United States, Israel, and Canada members of today’s embattled minority of smooth, safe, functioning democracies. As we learn from each other to appreciate the good and try limiting the bad, we should remember the words of the great American diplomat, then Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who, when seeing the Soviet Communists and the Third World dictators gang up on America, Israel and other democracies in the 1970s, often cheered on by authoritarian leftists in the West itself, defiantly, inspiringly said: “It is past time we ceased to apologize for an imperfect democracy. Find its equal.”

Gil Troy is a history professor at McGill University and the author, most recently, of Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism. This was adapted from an op-ed in the Montreal Gazette.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/150315 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/150315 0
Ed Koch, Pat Moynihan, and the Politics of Patriotic Indignation Left to right: New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, President Jimmy Carter, New York Governor Hugh Carey, and New York City Mayor Ed Koch at the White House on November 2, 1978. Via Flickr.

The rapturous praise for the late New York Mayor Ed Koch tames his legacy, overlooking the fact that in 1988 the Atlantic called him “disgraceful” while the New York Times declared his “relentless … truculence” and “tantrum[s],” embarrassing and “inflammatory.” Beyond the kind sentiment, caricaturing Koch as a feisty lone gunslinger wisecracking his city back to health misses the deeper historical significance of Koch’s attempt to save liberalism from itself, as well as the broader ambivalence Americans have had with political anger.

Ed Koch, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and other practitioners of the politics of patriotic indignation understood, especially in the 1970s, that sometimes anger is the rational response to challenges -- and can certainly pay off politically. They used flashes of anger -- and wit -- to inspire Americans while seeking to preserve a more muscular, patriotic liberalism under assault from the more self-critical, McGovernik, identity-politics-driven New Left.

At the time, many Americans were demoralized by inflation roaring, crime soaring, family breakdown spreading and the specters of Watergate and Vietnam haunting the country. The Big Apple, New York, appeared rotten, one big gritty, grimy, terrifying crime scene slouching toward chaos, oozing toxicity, reeking of decay, teetering toward bankruptcy. As students of the urban scene, as traditional Franklin Roosevelt liberals, and as patriots who fought in World War II and eventually opposed the Vietnam War, both Ed Koch and Pat Moynihan understood that Americans -- and New Yorkers -- craved proud, affirmative, edgy leadership.

Moynihan paved the way as America’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1975. Offended by the Soviet-orchestrated Arab-endorsed General Assembly Resolution 3379 singling out one form of nationalism in that body of nationalisms, Jewish nationalism, meaning Zionism, as racism, six months after the fall of South Vietnam, Moynihan let loose. In his historic speech on November 10, 1975, Moynihan proclaimed that his country “does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act” -- echoing Franklin Roosevelt’s fury at the Japanese “day of infamy” which decimated Pearl Harbor.

Told that he was not being diplomatic enough, advised to “tone down” his defense of democracy and decency, Moynihan asked, “What is this word toning down; when you are faced with an outright lie about the United States and we go in and say this is not true. Now, how do you tone that down? Do you say it is only half untrue? What kind of people are we? What kind of people do they think we are?”

Even in the era of the smiley face and the “Have a Nice Day” mantra, even amid America’s characteristic stability and widespread liberty, there was a surliness to seventies culture. The fall 1975 television season’s top show -- for the sixth consecutive year -- was All in the Family, set in Queens, NY, with the gruff Archie Bunker, while the children’s hit Sesame Street was making Oscar the Grouch a national icon.

In 1976, a year after Resolution 3379, there were more echoes of Moynihan’s approach in the Academy Award–winning movie Network, starring Peter Finch -- and written by the Bronx-born Paddy Chayefsky. Finch, as Howard Beale, the avenging news anchor, commanded his viewers to stand up, open the window, “stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

Chayefsky’s slogan captured the 1970s’ Zeitgeist. Many of the 1970s’ most successful politicians understood that many Americans were indeed mad as hell. Big-city Democratic mayors such as Koch, elected in 1977, and Philadelphia’s Frank Rizzo, perfected an aggressive in-your-face leadership style. Calling himself a “liberal with sanity” demonstrated Koch’s prickly independence, and his refusal to allow liberalism to become defined by weakness or appeasement.

Many American WASPs and rationalist American historians have been ambivalent about anger. Americans have long tried repressing this emotion rather than channeling it. The most famous historical analysis of anger stigmatized it. “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” Richard Hofstadter wrote in “The Paranoid Style in American History,” in Harper’s in 1964. He chose the word “paranoid” to evoke “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” Five decades later, left -wingers still scorn conservative anger as bullying, demagogic, and irrational, while right-wingers deem liberal anger socialist, self-righteous, and irrational.

Yet this disdain for anger misses the way good, self-righteous rage has powered the American historical engine. The American Revolution was not just inspired by “Common Sense” appeals; Patrick Henry’s furious cry set the tone when he avowed: “Give me liberty or give me death!” Presidents from Andrew Jackson through Bill Clinton have used the occasional temper tantrum to great effect, with Jackson protecting the nation in 1830 with his famous, edgy toast “Our Union: It must be preserved,” just as Clinton’s “Sister Souljah” moment broadcast his independence from the conventional liberal pieties. And certainly our rights have been expanded, our democracy ennobled, by the shouts of reformers, from Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” to Martin Luther King Jr’s, tempered yet still edgy “I have a dream.” Neither Seneca Falls nor Selma nor Stonewall would have been civil rights milestones without being fueled by fury.

Anger has shaped America foreign policy, too. Part of the American sense of mission, of idealism regarding the world, stemmed from indignation against injustice in the world, not just self-protective or vengeful rage against attacks. Franklin Roosevelt stoked anger against the Nazis and the Japanese during World War II, intelligently, effectively, and righteously. Americans also expressed a perfectly reasonable, justifiable wrath against Soviet oppression during the Cold War.

In the 1970s, many mainstream liberals, such as then-Congressman Koch and then-Ambassador Moynihan, resented what liberalism was becoming. During the 1960s and the fight over Vietnam, Moynihan worried that, as he put it, “the educated elite of the American middle class have come to detest their society.” He and Koch feared the big budget liberalism of the Great Society had lost its way, programmatically, financially, morally and politically. Moynihan sought to restore Americans’ sense of mission by getting Americans angry again at the world’s bad guys -- the totalitarian thugs whose representatives he encountered in the UN. Koch sought to restore New Yorkers’ sense of mission by getting them angry at those who were making America’s flagship metropolis ungovernable, from feather-bedding union heads to criminal-appeasing judges, from gangbangers to limousine liberals.

This epidemic of relativism and self-criticism spawned the “age of nonheroes,” the U.S. News and World Report lamented in July 1975. Moynihan’s and Koch’s politics of patriotic indignation offered a welcome alternative to popular resignation. Their passion made them heroes in this disillusioned age. Their inspired, principled, political response to the blows of the 1960s and 1970s would help shape the 1980s, especially Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America, wherein America’s first Hollywood actor understood that Americans usually wanted Goldwaterism with a smile not a sneer, laced with the occasional, strategic growl -- be it at the Air Traffic controllers for striking or at Mikhail Gorbachev for just not tearing down “that wall” in Berlin.

They were an odd couple -- the cerebral Irishman from Hell’s Kitchen and the tough-talking Bronx Jew. Moynihan went high brow, conquering Harvard and wearing Savile Row suits; Koch went low brow, confronting party bosses and wearing “schlumpy” clothes. Moynihan’s elegance hid a toughness enemies were foolish to overlook; Koch’s gruffness hid an intelligence that made it foolish to underestimate him too. Moynihan detested the retail politics Koch loved – Moynihan never asked “how’m I doing?” Koch usually resented high falutin’ Harvard academics -- his books were anecdote strewn, not footnote-laden. Both particularly enjoyed defeating the loud, brash, feminist liberal Bella Abzug, herself iconic, in their big, defining elections.

Koch and Moynihan were not close but they respected one another. “Ed Koch gave New York City back its morale,” Moynihan would say. “And that is a massive achievement.” Koch would rank Moynihan as “one of our greatest senators,” and with the egoist’s touch of envy for a job by another well done, he would suggest that Moynihan’s “standing up and being responsible for the rescission of the Zionism is racism resolution of the U.N. was an act far more important than anything I have done.” Together, while not quite Ronald Reagan Democrats because both remained Democratic partisans, they helped many New Yorkers in their transition from being loyal Franklin Roosevelt Democrats to Reagan voters.

Even though at one point in the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of being “angry,” President Obama has been more Mr. Spock than Mayor Koch or Ambassador Moynihan. Obama’s restraint served him well in 2008, as he defused traditional racial stereotypes about angry black men. Moreover, when the fiscal crisis hit, he appeared calmer and more mature than the Senate veteran who was decades older than him, John McCain. Yet, these days, with too many guns in the wrong hands, and too many partisan legislators blocking constructive compromise, with the economy still fragile and American morale still low, it might behoove the President to echo Koch, to dish out some Moynihan, and emote, rather than so frequently appearing so remote.

The art of picking the right political fight remains a mystical one, combining gut instinct and crass interests. Both Koch and Moynihan mastered that skill. “Did I make a crisis out of this obscene resolution?” Moynihan would bellow, responding to criticism that he picked a fight in 1975. “Damn right I did!” That kind of affirmative courage helped save New York and redeem America, as it paved the way for the prosperity of the Ed Koch boom in New York, and Ronald Reagan’s patriotic “Morning in America” revival. We could use some more of that healing anger – and political leadership – today, during our own period of national doubt and demoralization.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University. The author of eight books on American history, his latest, Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism was just published by Oxford University Press.

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Moynihan's Moment ... Extended

Daniel Patrick Moynihan died ten years ago this week, on March 26, 2003. His remarkable career took him from Hell’s Kitchen to Harvard, from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to the Nixon and Ford administrations, and from serving as America’s U.N. Ambassador for only eight months, starting in July 1975, to New York’s senator for four terms, from 1977 to 2001. But Moynihan “was not interested in power,” his widow Elizabeth Moynihan recalls, “Pat was interested in access for his ideas.” His unconventional ideas continue to illuminate public debate, his patriotic vision of liberal national greatness remains relevant, and his towering presence is sorely missed.

As social scientist, public intellectual, and professorial politician, someone, who George Will quipped, wrote more books as senator than most senators have read, Moynihan enjoyed defying the conventional wisdom. In truth, it cost him dearly in 1965 when his “Moynihan Report” warning about “the Negro family’s” deterioration was called racist. Five decades later, as four of ten American babies are born to unmarried mothers, we have indeed “defined deviancy down,” the phrase he forged in 1993.

In the Senate, Moynihan also offered a forward-thinking, creative alternative to gun control. Realizing there were too many guns on the street already, he proposed increasing the tax on hollow-tipped bullets by “Ten thousand percent” to limit the ammunition supply. He proclaimed: “Guns don’t kill people; bullets do.”

More broadly, Moynihan struggled to save liberalism from the extremism of his fellow liberals as well as conservatives. During the 1960s and 1970s, when so many on the hard Left escalated their national self-criticism into collective self-loathing, he thundered: “It is past time we ceased to apologize for an imperfect democracy. Find its equal.” In 1976, he ran for Senate using the campaign slogan: “This is a society worth defending.” Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama won as liberal Democrats in post-1960s America, by distancing themselves from the hard left’s self-abnegation.

Beyond the apologetics, Moynihan acknowledged that in the persistent “tension between liberty and equality,” he favored “liberty.” Political totalitarianism worried him more than social inequities. Thus, he identified as a Wilsonian progressive, an FDR liberal, or a Great Society activist but not a neo-conservative. Moynihan suggested to “Punch” Sulzberger, the New York Times’ publisher, that whenever reporters called Moynihan a “neoconservative,” they should instead write “a liberal who votes for the defense budget” or simply a “liberal patriot.”

For all his skepticism toward liberals, Moynihan defended the welfare state during the Reagan era. He remained committed to the “great idea” at the heart of the Democratic Party, “that an elected government can be the instrument of the common purpose of a free people; that government can embrace great causes and do great things.”

In that spirit, before he became senator, Moynihan defended American values in November, 1975, as U.N. ambassador, when the Soviet Union helped push through General Assembly Resolution 3379 calling Zionism racism, trying to humiliate the United States six months after South Vietnam fell. Moynihan’s politics of patriotic indignation galvanized Americans during a time of national despair. Courageously condemning this “big Red lie,” that one form of nationalism, Jewish nationalism, in a forum of nationalisms, was somehow racist, paved the way for the patriotic resurgence of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” 1980s.

In challenging the U.N. so aggressively, Moynihan frustrated Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Idealists and realists had been clashing over American foreign policy for decades. Unlike the Machiavellian Kissinger, Moynihan believed in Woodrow Wilson’s vision of spreading American values worldwide. Moreover, Moynihan also anticipated that, beyond the Cold War, ethnic and religious tensions would dominate the geopolitical scene. He warned that America would now be “in opposition.”

Although he predicted the Soviet Union’s fall, the U.N.’s moral collapse, the American family crisis, and the epidemic of tribalism, among other modern phenomena, Moynihan was not prescient. He never expected the Republican Congressional triumph in 1994, among other political and geopolitical surprises. Moynihan was not a mystic, he had a method; applying rigorous social scientific research to real life problems, systematically, unsentimentally. He also believed in standing for principle, whether or not it was popular. “Did I make a crisis out of this obscene resolution?” Moynihan would bellow, responding to criticism that he picked a fight over the Zionism-racism resolution, “Damn right I did!”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan understood, as both professor and politician, that words matter and ideas count. In his 2002 Harvard commencement address, fighting the post-9/11 despair, championing the kind of mutual respect lacking today both within the American political universe and on the world stage, he acknowledged that “Democracy may not prove to be a universal norm. But decency would do.”

We need a Moynihan for today, a soothsaying social scientist, a truth-telling politician, a scholar statesman fighting for civility, a leader whose words matter and whose ideas count.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/151362 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/151362 0
Israel at 65: Start-Up Nation and Embattled State The particle accelerator of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science. Credit: Wiki Commons.

Today, as Israel celebrates its sixty-fifth anniversary, it should be the toast of the world. A model “new nation,” the Jewish State may be the most successful of the post-colonial states that emerged in the twentieth-century’s wave of nation-building as the great nineteenth-century empires collapsed. Starting with little, Israel quickly developed a thriving democracy, a booming economy, and a list of impressive technological and pharmacological achievements that have made life worldwide easier, safer, happier, and longer-lasting. Yet, for all its accomplishments, the start-up nation has also been the embattled state, built on contested territory, surrounded by hostile enemies many of whom seek to destroy it.

The duality of this high-tech Athens yet tough Sparta helps explain the intense, polarizing, sometimes-hysterical emotions the country often stirs. And this defining paradox also results in two different ways of periodizing its history, telling its tale. The conventional approach tells Israel’s story as the story of the Arab-Israeli conflict -- going from war to war, and peace prospect to peace prospect, starting with the 1948 Independence War until today’s no-real-peace-no-real-war stalemate. But that narrative of war-making and peace-processing must be complemented with a happier story, showing how the society grew from the austere 1940s and 1950s to the lush and plush 2000s and 2010s.

When David Ben-Gurion first declared the state on May 14, 1948 (Israel’s birthday celebrations are keyed to the Jewish calendar), the state’s prospects for surviving looked dim. Despite the excitement triggered by the United Nations’ decision on November 29, 1947, to partition Palestine and create a Jewish State, many believed that once Great Britain withdrew from the region, the Arabs would overrun the Jews. As Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Proclamation of Independence, five Arab armies -- from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, joined the local Arab irregulars hoping to destroy this new state.

Israel was badly outgunned and outmanned, underfed and underfinanced. But with the slogan “Ein Breira,” there’s no choice, the 600,000 Jews of Palestine-now-named-Israel fought to victory. The price was steep – including 6,000 deaths, one percent of the population; the loss of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City, dividing the Jewish people’s ancient capital; and hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees, spawning a problem that remains unsolved.

Thereafter, this country, forged amid gun blasts and mourning wails, remained besieged. In the 1950s, Fedayeen, guerillas from Egypt, continually raided Israeli settlements in the South, culminating in the 1956 Sinai campaign, wherein Israel overran the Sinai Peninsula, but then withdrew under American pressure. Tensions in the 1960s culminated in Arab vows to push the Jews into the sea in the tense spring of 1967. Instead, Israel’s Six-Day War victory that June resulted in a dramatic expansion geographically, as Israel seized control of the Sinai in the south from Egypt, the Golan Heights in the north-east from Syria, and the West Bank including Jerusalem, due East from Jordan, which had controlled the territory without international approval for nineteen years.

The Six-Day War polarized positions in the Middle East. The humiliated Arabs embraced the “Three No’s of Khartoum”: no negotiation, no recognition, no compromise. And the triumphal Israelis believed they did not need to compromise. Moreover, Israel’s decision to develop Jewish settlements in the 1967 territories has proven to be explosive. Some settlements are for security, some reflect ideology, some reestablished overrun settlements and some contain Israel’s population overflow. But Western critics and the Palestinians defined all as obstacles to peace, changing the moral calculus for many.

The 1970s shook the region up in three ways. First, the Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack in October 1973 represented the last major conventional military attempt to eradicate the Jewish State -- it almost succeeded but the Israelis fought back in three bloody weeks of battle. Second, the Palestinians, led by Yasir Arafat, used spectacular terrorist attacks to improve their diplomatic and popular standing. And finally, the Yom Kippur War’s aftermath, by boosting Egyptian pride, propelling Egypt from the Soviet orbit into the American orbit, and convincing Egypt’s military leaders that their undermotivated invading army would never destroy the Jews who were defending their home, encouraged Egypt President’s Anwar Sadat to visit Jerusalem in 1977.

The resulting Camp David Accords of 1978 and Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, followed by the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994, helped the Israel-Arab conflict morph into more of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Increasingly, Palestinians spearheaded the fight, militarily and ideologically. The 1993 Oslo Accords triggered what now seems to be a perpetual peace process, with the great waves of optimism from the early 1990s producing a Palestinian Authority with some power over Palestinian lives, a Palestinian return to terror in the early 2000s, and today’s seemingly perpetual stalemate.

On this sixty-fifth birthday, Israel is stronger than ever militarily. The peace treaty with Egypt has survived the Egyptian revolution -- so far. Most Israelis recognize the Palestinians as a legitimate nation and two-thirds in most polls approve the creation of a Palestinian state, as does Israel’s incumbent “right-wing” prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and respects the Palestinian Authority’s authority over many aspects of most West Bank Palestinians’ lives. Yet, Israel feels insecure, with Iran rushing toward nuclear power while threatening to wipe out the Zionist state, Hamas running Gaza while threatening to wipe out the Zionist state, and the PA sometimes cooperating with Israeli authorities economically and even militarily but nevertheless still demonizing the Zionist state.

Looking back, the UN General Assembly’s 1975 Zionism is racism resolution appears to be another significant turning point from the 1970s, providing international legitimacy to a systematic campaign to delegitimize Israel and Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement that founded the country. As a result, many both in the Middle East and beyond, are far more pessimistic about prospects for an outcome than they should be, given the relative quiet and growing consensus favoring a two-state solution of the last few years.

Beyond the conflict, and despite the conflict, Israel has thrived. During the 1950s, Israel was overwhelmed with the task of absorbing 850,000 Jews from Arab countries, turning these refugees into citizens overnight -- but taking much longer to help them become Israelis. By the 1960s, Israel’s economy had more than doubled in size and stabilized -- by Israel’s fifteenth birthday in 1963, 97 percent of Israelis had running water, 93 percent had electricity -- a remarkable accomplishment few of its neighbors matched. Israel was also the toast of the international community, with its communal farming settlement, the kibbutz, seen as its defining institution. Moreover, fulfilling the vision of Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl, who dreamed of helping to liberate Africa once the Jewish State was established, Israelis were working on development projects in dozens of new African countries -- an initiative squelched in Israel’s twenty-fifth year, when Libya and Saudi Arabia used petrodollars to bribe poor African countries into boycotting Israel.

In 1977, Israel experienced an electoral revolution, as Menachem Begin’s Likud replaced the Labor Party, which had ruled since the state’s establishment. Despite being Polish-born, Begin appealed to the “Sephardim,” the Jews from Arab countries who were more religiously traditional and socially marginal. Begin also favored a more capitalist approach, which ultimately would reorient Israel’s agriculturally-based economy, resulting in the high tech miracle-maker of today.

Today, more than being the world’s beaten-up nation, Israel has become the start-up nation, an incubator for new companies and new inventions, new technologies in computers and cell phones, for new medicines and new surgical techniques. “Born in Israel Used Everywhere” is a popular post, circulated online, showing the Microsoft Windows NT Operating System, Intel’s Pentium MMX Chip, Instant Messenger Software, a USB Flash Drive disk on key, Firewall internet security software, a radiation-free breast cancer diagnostic test, drip irrigation for farmers, and large-scale solar electricity grids, among other wizardry. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, has researchers who helped develop seven of today’s top-25 biotech drugs, including Enbrel® against rheumatoid arthritis, Copaxone® against multiple sclerosis, and Erbitux® against cancer, an astonishing contribution from only one research center in such a small country.

As Israel celebrates its sixty-fifth birthday, some things have not changed. Israel’s Declaration of Independence rooted the Jewish State’s story in its Biblical heritage, while also promising all its inhabitants civic equality and dignity; sixty-five years later, Israel still juggles between its unique mission as the only Jewish State and its more universalist aspiration to be a civic democracy like the United States or Canada. Twenty-one parties, each with their own newspaper, competed in the first Knesset election; 65 years later, Israel’s democracy remains dynamic and chaotic. Within Israel’s first three years, 690,000 immigrants doubled the country’s population; sixty-five years later, Israel is integrating new immigrants, this time from Ethiopia and from the former Soviet Union as it collapsed ten years ago. And, alas, Israel still seeks peace with its neighbors.

Like India and China, Israel has built a modern country rooted in its ancient civilization. You hear it in the medley of liturgical tunes wafting through various windows in so many neighborhoods on the Sabbath -- especially with the usual perpetual background rumbling of cars minimized or absent. You see it in the twenty-first-century traffic and glittering lights of modern Jerusalem set against the backdrop of the Old City’s wall or the beautiful mosques of Jaffa juxtaposed against the Tel Aviv skyline. You feel it in the chaos of the food markets that are as crowded as the sleek supermarkets. And you express it in Hebrew, the Jewish people’s resurrected old-new language, used by all Israelis, including Christian and Muslim Arabs, in a day-to-day arrangement that could always be improved but is far more functional than hysterical headlines and venomous propagandists suggest.

Israel remains this extraordinary time capsule. The Bible relates that nearly four thousand years ago, the Lord promised this land to Abraham. More than one hundred years ago, the founder of the modern Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl imagined a modern, cutting-edge Jewish state. Today, some believe Zionism is over, having achieved its goal in establishing the country. But many others recognize that the real work of perfecting the state, of making it live up to its founding hopes, is only just beginning.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/151536 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/151536 0
Why the Brits -- But Not the Yanks -- Quarreled over Thatcher's Finale Credit: Flickr/rahuldlucca

Most Americans are surprised that Margaret Thatcher’s death and funeral proved so divisive in Great Britain. In the United States, the eulogies hailing the “Iron Lady” for resurrecting British spirit, saving England’s economy and helping to defeat the Soviet Union, paralleled the warm farewell Americans gave Ronald Reagan when he died in June 2004. The more contentious British reaction -- including the surprising campaign to propel “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead” to the top of the charts -- reveals differences in Thatcher’s and Reagan’s leadership styles, as well as enduring contrasts between British and American political culture.

Most Americans forget, but Ronald Reagan’s popularity during his presidency from 1981 through 1989 often wavered as dramatically as Margaret Thatcher’s did during her premiership from 1979 through 1990. In 1982, with the economy stagnating, with liberals attacking Reagan as a budget-cutting Scrooge, and with Democrats having increased their Congressional majority by 27 seats, many pundits wondered whether Reagan would be a one-term president. In late 1983, presidential trial heats still predicted that the Democrat Walter Mondale would unseat Reagan. And the Iran-Contra scandal that broke in November 1986 triggered a record drop in presidential popularity.

Nevertheless, Reagan had a lighter personal touch and a more pragmatic political approach than his British colleague. Reagan’s aw shucks, nice guy persona made him a hard politician to hate. He mollified rivals such as the Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, while Margaret Thatcher seemed to enjoy collecting enemies.

Moreover, America’s checks and balances worked. The division of power, with a Republican president restrained by a Democratic Congress, as well as the Supreme Court, along with Reagan’s own populist instincts, led him to make compromises Britain’s combative “Iron Lady” never would have made. Thatcher’s England therefore lurched right, privatizing dramatically after decades of social-welfare statism; while Reagan’s America steered rightward more gently, like a majestic ocean liner making a slight mid-course correction.

Reagan’s retirement and death were also smoother and, in a characteristic stroke of Reaganite luck, better timed. Following the American tradition of set presidential terms, Ronald Reagan retired elegantly after eight years, with his vice president George H.W. Bush winning the presidency in 1988. Reagan celebrated the peace, patriotism and prosperity he delivered, then flew out west to retire.

Reagan’s subsequent announcement of his Alzheimer’s disease, followed by his carefully choreographed funeral in 2004 -- when the economy was still booming -- allowed him to be buried in non-partisan dignity, with a nation mostly united in mourning. Contradicting its own editorial line, the New York Times front page hailed Reagan for “projecting the optimism of [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, the faith in small-town America of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the vigor of John F. Kennedy. The Massachusetts Turnpike, a central artery carrying tens of thousands of Reagan opponents daily, flashed an electronic sign saying “GOD SPEED PRESIDENT REAGAN.”

Reagan’s monarchical funeral procession affirmed the unique American mix in the presidency whereby the head of state also serves as head of government. Although George Washington's will detailed his “express desire” to be interred “in a private manner, without parade, or funeral oration,” Americans gave the first president a grand finale too. They gathered in services nationwide, honoring their hero whose birthday was already was being celebrated nationally and would be called America’s “political Christmas.”

Since then, especially when a chief executive dies in office, presidential funerals have been elaborate, patriotic affairs. Even the disgraced Republican Richard Nixon had a dignified public funeral. Over 4,000 mourners massed into the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, including the incumbent president in 1994, Bill Clinton, a Democrat, with all the living ex-presidents at the time, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Reagan, making what turned out to be his last public appearance.

By contrast, Thatcher, like many predecessors, was dumped by her own party. Moreover, most British prime ministers have had modest final ceremonies, feeding the current controversy over Lady Thatcher’s military honors. While mourning Thatcher’s policies, critics are also questioning the expense and the democratic proprieties of treating any elected official so royally. Ironically, the democracy that maintained the monarchy sometimes sounds more republican than the republic that rebelled.

This Thatcher-Reagan contrast offers two leadership lessons for President Barack Obama – and other American officials. America’s presidential grandeur offers the president great props and essential support. The nationalist feelings that attach to the head of state can be transferred to him as head of government, albeit delicately. And the moderating gravitational forces within America’s divided political system, while frustrating in the short term, can produce tremendous long term benefits. This built-in bipartisan centrism keeps presidents as consensus leaders, who can subsequently be appreciated as national icons, rather than as the kind of partisan and polarizing “conviction politicians” parliamentary systems frequently produce -- and Margaret Thatcher loved to be.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/151605 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/151605 0
How Come We Don’t Call RFK’s Assassination Palestinian Terrorism? RFK moments after being shot by Sirhan Sirhan. Credit: Wiki Commons.

Forty-five years ago, on June 6, 1968, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy died of gunshot wounds. His assassination, coming five years after his brother Jack’s and two months after Martin Luther King’s, traumatized America. Amid the tumultuous 1960s, with youth rioting, crime soaring, blacks protesting, the Vietnam War souring, and these young, visionary leaders dying, Americans wondered: “is ours a sick society?” While America then needed reforming, the soul-searching around Robert Kennedy’s assassination was unmerited. The truth -- which most overlooked then -- was that this Kennedy assassination was the first major act of Palestinian terrorism targeting the United States.

No new evidence has emerged, we just understand the world better. At the time, Sirhan Sirhan, Kennedy’s murderer, was usually called a “Jordanian” -- there was minimal international awareness of the “Palestinians” as a factor in “the Arab-Israeli conflict." Reporters mentioned that he was motivated by Kennedy’s support for Israel. And the assassination occurred on the Six-Day War’s first anniversary. Nevertheless, the post-mortems emphasized the plague of violence in general, the availability of guns in particular, and the chaos that seemed to be threatening America. As my thesis advisor taught me, when Lee Harvey Oswald killed John Kennedy in 1963, many people said “he” killed Kennedy, believing Oswald was a lone gunman; five years later, when a lone gunman shot Bobby, many said “they” killed Kennedy, reflecting growing fears of broad amorphous, social forces many people now distrusted.

Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Christian Arab born in Jerusalem, who had immigrated with his family to the US when he was 12, said, when arrested, "I can explain it. I did it for my country." In his notebooks, he had scribbled: "Kennedy must die by June 5th,” the Six-Day War anniversary.

Further proof of Sirhan Sirhan’s identity as a Palestinian terrorist came in March 1973, when Black September terrorists took diplomats hostage at the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. The terrorists demanded a prisoner exchange, which included Sirhan. Eventually, Yasir Arafat ordered his henchmen to murder the three Western diplomats, a Belgian and two Americans -- a brutal crime that also was frequently overlooked.

Sirhan’s defense fed the confusion. Sirhan’s ironically named Jewish defense attorney, Emile Zola Berman, argued diminished capacity, calling Sirhan an “immature, emotionally disturbed and mentally ill youth.”

But reasons for denying Sirhan’s true intentions, and soft-pedaling totalitarian Palestinian terrorism, run deeper. Palestinian rejectionist terrorism was in its infancy in those pre-Munich Olympics massacre, pre-Entebbe hijacking days. Americans were in collective denial regarding the toxic strain of anti-Americanism providing oxygen to Palestinian totalitarian terrorism, lying at the ideological intersection of Arab nationalism and Third Worldism, not yet inflamed by Islamism.

Yasir Arafat and his allies launched an ideological war to shape world opinion. Exploiting the rise of a global mass media, and what Columbia University professor Edward Said called the twentieth century’s “generalizing tendency,” the Palestinian extremists framed their local narrative as part of a global struggle. As a result, Said noted in 1979, “the Palestinians since 1967 have tended to view their struggle in the same framework that includes Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, and black Africa,” joining “the universal political struggle against colonialism and imperialism.”

This framework was anti-American, building on the Vietnam debacle to caricature the United States as the world’s evil imperialist power -- even though the Soviet Union was the true imperial power then. However, Americans still saw themselves as the country of the Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps, of good works and the Great War. This American faith in their own goodness and guiltlessness abroad led them to overlook the clear evidence that this Palestinian targeted Kennedy.

Simultaneously, a growing culture of guilt, whereby the media and intellectual culture of self-criticism degenerated into a culture of self-loathing, kicked in. The hyper-critical discourse of the time made it easier to blame America’s flaws for the RFK assassination and to fit it into a narrative of Sixties dysfunction than to acknowledge that this history-altering crime was a foreign phenomenon imported into America by a deranged immigrant.

Only after the horrors of 9/11 did most Americans fathom the depth of anti-Americanism fueling much Middle East terrorism. The “why us” handwringing about “what went wrong,” reflected the denial built up over decades. The Kennedy assassination tale, therefore, highlights the high cost Palestinian totalitarian terror has exacted from civilized society. It spotlights the ongoing dangers of ideological anti-Americanism, which continues to mix with anti-Zionism and serve as an ideological glue in the bizarre Red-Green alliance, linking Progressives with regressive Islamists. And it should illuminate other ideological blindspots, other ways a Far Left or Third World culture of blame plays on a Western, American, and Israeli culture of guilt -- leading too many to absolve evildoers and blame our flawed but still functional democracies.

If most could not see Kennedy’s murder for what it was, and instead blamed America’s ills, how many of us fail to see the hostility against Israel for what it is, and instead blame Israel as “the obstacle to peace,” “the cause of the conflict,” “the guilty party?”

To honor Robert Kennedy’s memory most fully, we must see the Middle East conflict more clearly. But history should not create handcuffs; we cannot be so blinded by anger at what we see we also fail to dream. After all, RFK himself was on his own journey of healing from being JFK’s “ruthless” right-hand man to a prince of peace, hoping, he wrote, “to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” This fallen hero challenged the status quo, saying: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Dreaming of peace, we should too.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/152145 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/152145 0
America -- The Republic of Nothing? Image via Shutterstock.

Cross-posted from the National Post.

As the United States celebrates its 237th anniversary this week, the country is undergoing dramatic changes demographically, structurally and ideologically. Last week, the Supreme Court made historic decisions about race relations and gay marriage, while the Senate advanced a major immigration reform, proposing a 13-year-process for transforming 11 million illegal aliens into citizens. America’s face is changing. But as the country becomes more diverse, dynamic, and broadminded, the challenges of retaining some ideological glue, some social stability, and some cultural thickness are growing exponentially. As America builds a Republic of Everything, it must not build a Republic of Nothing.

The U.S. is now the third largest country in the world by population, with 316 million residents. It is a less white America, with 72.4 percent deemed white, 12.6 percent black or African American, and 16.3 percent considered Hispanic or Latino (some of whom are also “white,” some of whom are also “black,” which shows how artificial these categories are). And it is a growing America, attracting immigrants, especially from Latin America, South America and Asia -- with 13 percent of the population foreign born. Despite an ongoing recession, legislative paralysis, aging infrastructure, and foreign policy headaches, the U.S. remains the world’s beacon, luring millions from impoverished dictatorships with dreams of prosperity and liberty.

Last week’s big moves celebrated America as a land of redemptive change. Ultimately, the battle over the Voting Rights Act was a fight over just how much progress blacks have made since 1964, and just how anachronistic remedies from the time have become. Similarly, the gay marriage decision and the proposed immigration legislation -- which still faces hurdles in the House -- revealed an America that is more pluralistic, more sensitive, more welcoming of difference. I have never seen such a major attitudinal turnaround occur so rapidly. Four years ago, many Democrats supported legislation banning gay marriage to appear as safe, mainstream politicians. Today, even many Republicans understand that fighting gay marriage is the politically riskier step. Similarly, in 2012, many Republicans learned that fighting immigration reform is a losing issue. Most Americans want to integrate those currently designated illegal into the country, without being inundated by more illegals.

The most unfortunate aspect of Windsor v. United States, wherein the Supreme Court invalidated part of the Defense of Marriage Act, was that the change originated with the Court -- and overran a democratically enacted law. The decades-long abortion stalemate has taught that social change progresses best when it comes from the state legislatures, the Congress, the governors and the president, not the Courts. Still, in this case, more so than the abortion case of Roe v. Wade, the Court followed public opinion rather than pioneering it. This is not a legal argument about the constitutional rights or wrongs, but a pragmatic argument about the politics of change in America.

Even Americans who are uncomfortable with these changes can take pride in this kinder, gentler America; this looser, less exclusive America, this forgiving, open America. The legal changes prove that, as the sociologist Alan Wolfe explains, “Thou Shalt Not Judge Thy Neighbor,” has become American’s eleventh commandment.

Today’s America also has 2 million people in prison, and 4 out of ten babies born to unmarried women (with 7 out of ten African American babies born to unmarried women).

In this age wherein everything is disposable including family, Americans need more grounding, more moral fiber. Elements of the old morality propped up prejudices we now reject. But a life just based on tolerating others lacks internal meaning -- and the kind of social adhesive necessary to make a nation great.

Americans should worry about the thinness of their collective cultural identity, the transience of many of their concerns, their addiction to trendiness and technology. Building a great nation requires a commitment to big ideas, transcendent thoughts, and altruistic ideals. Some of America’s greatest ills today, including rising debt, a declining work ethic, a tidal wave of selfishness, an obsession with popular culture, a compulsion to consume, an inability to compromise or plan or save or sacrifice, stem from today’s cultural and ideological flimsiness. In identity terms, the thinness of things can be liberating and welcoming; the thickness of things can be grounding and ennobling. Both individual and national greatness require a balance. On both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, we need a republic of something.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/152486 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/152486 0
Barack Obama’s Dainty Presidency President Barack Obama’s insistence that “My credibility is not on the line” – as plaintive a cry as Bill Clinton’s after the 1994 Republican sweep that as president he was still “relevant” – reflects a disturbing distraction inflaming the Syria debate. Responding to Assad’s crimes is complicated enough. But now, millions are dismissing Obama as “weak and indecisive.” Transforming this difficult decision into a barometer of presidential credibility raises the stakes and reflects a peculiarly American obsession with presidential potency.

Presidential power is surprisingly personal, contingent, and transient, not just institutional and consistent. America’s superpower status provides great potential, but each presidency depends on the incumbent’s skills. As we see when deployed deftly by a Ronald Reagan and ineptly by a Jimmy Carter, presidential power, like a muscle, can strengthen if exercised effectively – or shrivel.

This Syrian mess – exacerbated by Vladimir Putin’s haughty New York Times op-ed lecturing Obama about Americans “relying solely on brute force” -- confirms what the Democratic Congress’s dictating of the health care bill, the new waves of Democrats defecting, the downgrading of American credit, House Speaker John Boehner’s forcing the president to give his job speech to Congress a day later than Obama requested, Iran’s impunity, Egypt’s implosion, and many other insults already proved: few – in Washington or abroad -- fear the current president. Few seem to pay a price for defying him. Having floated into the Oval Office on waves of adulation, having sought affection rather than managed much as a community organizer, academic, and legislator, Barack Obama seemingly overlooked Machiavelli’s teaching: “it is much safer to be feared than loved.”

Although all leaders struggle to find the right balance, the presidency subjects American incumbents to perennial gut checks, testing their mettle. Emerging from a revolution against executive power, the presidency was born handcuffed. Defined by its limits, its success depended on personal characteristics, particularly virtue and courage. In Federalist 67, Alexander Hamilton characterized presidential power as transient and contingent, explaining that the president would be “elected by the people for four years; the king of Great Britain is a perpetual and hereditary prince. The one would be amenable to personal punishment and disgrace; the person of the other is sacred and inviolable.” Federalist 68 then emphasized the importance of having “characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”

Hamilton was thinking of his mentor, George Washington. As general and president, the 6’2” Washington exuded strength, both physical and moral. He broadcast his virtue and stoicism – humbly, of course. The first time President Washington appeared before the Senate, the insolent bickering so offended him he muttered he would "be damned if he ever went there again!" – setting a precedent of presidential distance from Congress.

Translating these personal characteristics into policy terms, Washington hoped the nation would convey his “don’t tread on me” quiet strength. He advised: “If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace … it must be known, that we are at all times ready for War.” America’s Zen isolationism would telegraph disciplined strength not wavering weakness.

Mimicking Washington, his successors often tried distancing themselves from politics by posing as virtuous statesmen. Even while popularizing the presidency, Andrew Jackson said: “one man with courage makes a majority.” Abraham Lincoln governed with the “faith that right makes might,” insisting: “we cannot escape history.”

Americans mocked cowards and shirkers. In 1812, James Madison found his foreign policy condemned as one of “Jesuitical tergiversation” – evasion – and “pusillanimous subterfuges.” Republicans charged Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan with showing “a want of firmness, a want of self-reliance, a want of adhesion to principle.” Two decades later, the Civil War hero Ulysses Grant dismissed another Republican James Garfield for lacking “the backbone of an angleworm.”

Americans prized lone pioneers, individualist entrepreneurs, principled politicians. They also feared appearing decadent while worrying whether their limited democratic institutions measured up to Europe’s monarchies.

Theodore Roosevelt emphasized the macho strain shaping this leadership model. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he sneered that President William McKinley, who wavered about attacking Spain, had “no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.”' As president, Roosevelt forged a bully pulpit for national leadership while bullying the occasional critic for effect. Roosevelt praised “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,” as opposed to “those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” In our less sexist age, Barack Obama has nevertheless found his Syria policy called “flaccid” and “impotent.”

Effective presidents cultivated a tough image. In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt’s defiantly cried “Judge me by the enemies I have made,” vowing to confront greedy public utilities. Rewarding friends and punishing enemies, Roosevelt distributed federal goodies like a tyrannical father doles out love, attention and allowance. Even Roosevelt’s failure to unseat the conservative Democratic congressmen in 1938 worked: targeting some party traitors intimidated others.

John F. Kennedy’s best-selling Profiles in Courage celebrated that “most admirable of human virtues” -- and launched his presidency. Posturing as a sleek presidential James Bond, Kennedy often quoted Dante that “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

Ronald Reagan, like Obama and unlike FDR, rarely bullied party members who strayed or opponents who obstructed. But Reagan knew he had to telegraph toughness, especially because many underestimated him as a mere actor. When he fired air traffic controllers for striking in August, 1981, Americans cheered. Many foreign investors later said that was when they “started pumping money into this country.”

Reagan looked particularly sturdy by being sandwiched between two pols frequently mocked as lily-livered. Jimmy Carter’s hesitant foreign policy, combined with his hectoring about inflation and energy, appeared anemic during the already sobering Seventies. On March 15, 1980, the Boston Globe ran an editorial about yet another Cartersque plea for economic self-discipline. A joke headline inserted during the editing process mistakenly appeared on the first 161,000 copies that day, proclaiming: “Mush from the Wimp.”

Four years later, Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” charged that Reagan’s Vice President George H.W. Bush had “placed his manhood in a blind trust.” Before winning the 1988 contest, Bush also endured a Newsweek cover headlined: “George Bush: Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.’”

The political scientist Richard Neustadt, conscious of the office’s limits, characterized the presidency’s power as the power to persuade. In fact, the presidency’s power is also to reward and punish, to create careers and destroy others – demanding a ruthlessness at home and abroad Obama’s dainty presidency avoids. America’s most successful presidents understood they had to be muscular moderates, building consensus without playing the patsy -- feared, respected and, if possible, as a bonus, loved.

Ironically, the world’s most powerful post triggers so much anxiety about the occupant’s frailty. Today, when presidents so dominate American culture and politics, pundits nevertheless frequently find the incumbent weak and the office weakened permanently. Gerald Ford, when accepting the Profiles in Courage Award in 2001, once Americans could appreciate his daring in pardoning Richard Nixon in 1974, said of courage, “no adviser can spin it. No historian can backdate it.” Our leaders have learned that no president can do without it – while few critics can resist mourning its loss.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153174 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153174 0
The ASA Advances the Longstanding Anti-Zionist War on Academia The American Studies Association’s rushed deadline of December 15 to vote on boycotting Israeli universities has provoked intense debate about the move and the manipulative tactics deployed, including exploiting this time of year when professors are busy grading. But the boycott is one skirmish in a larger fight.  In their sustained war against Israel, anti-Zionists have launched a war against academia itself, repeatedly desecrating academic ideals.

The academic world is majestically broad.  Scholars delight in our range of disciplines, methodologies, and approaches. Still, despite our delicious chaos, most of us leave graduate school with certain guiding principles.  Most academics remain committed to intellectual processes that: ensure information’s accuracy; appreciate the world’s complexity; defend ideas’ permeability; applaud diversity; and preserve scholarly objectivity. Since the 1970s, campus anti-Zionists have violated these standards – while trying to enlist organizations like the ASA as allies in this unscholarly war.

“Israel Apartheid Week,” the annual anti-Israel festival on dozen of campuses, is particularly outrageous.  Israel’s critics could use many words to express their disapproval. However, all academics, wherever we stand politically, should object to the sloppy, demagogic use of “apartheid” to describe the national not racial conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. South Africa’s apartheid system was rooted in racial distinctions, defining individuals and determining their rights -- or lack thereof – based on skin color. By contrast, there are dark-skinned Israelis and light-skinned Palestinians. No Israeli legislation has ever been based on race or any biological difference.

This apartheid libel diminishes the true evil of South African racism through false analogizing. It continues the Soviet-Arab propaganda strategy from the 1970s to South Africanize Israel, now singling out one form of nationalism, Jewish nationalism meaning Zionism, as “racist.”  During 1975’s General Assembly battle over Resolution 3379 calling Zionism racism, leading African-Americans feared the “incalculable damage” their struggle would sustain if the word racism were hijacked and reduced from a moral standard to a political football. Bayard Rustin, known as “Mr. March” for organizing 1963’s March on Washington, called the allegation “an insult to the generations of blacks who have struggled against real racism.” 

Professor Noam Chomsky, despite his harsh criticism of Israel, acknowledged the resolution’s “profound hypocrisy, given the nature of the states that backed it (including the Arab states),” along with the unfair repudiation of Israel’s legitimacy by “referring to Zionism assuch rather than the policies of the State of Israel.” Similarly, the Palestinian academic Edward Said, in The Question of Palestine, said Israel’s achievements should “not sloppily be tarnished with sweeping rhetorical denunciation associated with racism.” These two scholars refused to let their fury at Israel blind them to anti-Israel exaggerations.

Moreover, as educators we should encourage weeks, even months, celebrating Palestinian nationalism. But focusing on negating Jewish nationalism is nihilistic and incendiary.

As a scholar, the simplistic sloganeering regarding the Middle East particularly offends. Our job is to appreciate the world’s complexity, life’s multi-dimensionality. Yet, the “Israel-Apartheid,”  “Zionism is Racism,” “Boycott Israel” crowd reduces a complicated, layered conflict into a good versus evil morality play. Bad enough when students do it; but for academics to collaborate in this perversion demeans us professionally.

Similarly, academics benefit from operating in a global context wherein ideas can transcend borders. Boycotts threaten the permeability of thought. As a humanist, I am ashamed to say that scientists have often been the most passionate opponents of boycotting Israel – we saw this distinction a dozen years ago at Harvard and Columbia. While Political Correctness cowed too many humanities scholars – it was the silence of the tenured lambs -- scientists defended the free flow of ideas, methods, and innovations boycotts target. Even if Israel were not the “Start Up Nation” overflowing with so much medical, technological, and scientific ingenuity, imposing boundaries when we seek to transcend them would remain unacceptable.

Boycotts – and the entire, monolithic anti-Israel thought police that remains a small loud minority -- often discourage diversity even while waving that banner. The bullying that has occurred at San Francisco State, at York University, at UC Davis, at Concordia University, and elsewhere should give boycotters pause.  Do they wish to be associated with perhaps the shrillest, most aggressive, most anti-intellectual, most menacing force on campuses today? Just as academics should be able to criticize Israel without descending into simplistic stick figures, they should be able to criticize Israel without allying with such fascistic forces.

Finally, even in this age of scholar-activists, most of us still believe in preserving scholarly objectivity. Objectivity is not neutrality or amorality; it means “uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices.” Most academics strive for fairness, seeking to assess situations free of conventional biases. The boycott movement against Israel is a case of selective prosecution. It is absurd for academics whose universities may run academic programs in dictatorships like China, with all the harm it has caused Tibet and millions of political prisoners, to single out Israel for special opprobrium. 

When one country is so singled out, we should wonder why. Apartheid South Africa was an international outlaw, violating accepted international ideals. But in a world of Syrian, Sudanese, and Saudi Arabian abuses – and those are just some of Israel’s neighbors – the pile-on against democratic Israel, even with its flaws, is suspicious. Even those who overlook the cloud of anti-Semitism should acknowledge the longstanding Arab campaign challenging Israel’s legitimacy, now spreading its distorting prism to radical Progressives.

Boycotting is also inflammatory and counter-productive. Anyone who supports a two-state solution should learn from history. Delegitimizing Israel bolsters Israel’s radical right. The 1975 Zionism is racism resolution helped propel the Gush Emunim settlement movement. Similarly, the 1991 UN repeal of the Zionism is Racism resolution helped propel the peace process, resulting in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Boycotts are as anti-peace as they are anti-academic. Scholars who oppose Israel can find more honorable vehicles and accurate terms for expressing themselves. Furthermore, as professional skeptics, if a political stance so contradicts our fundamental principles, we owe it to ourselves and our students to scrutinize the stance itself – and our motives for embracing it. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153201 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153201 0
The Challenges of Writing about the Age of Clinton Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution for the fall of 2015. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015). 

Years ago, when I was slaving away in graduate school, I visited Moscow.  One Russian I visited asked me what I did. “I’m an American historian,” I answered. “Acch,” he spat, and dropping his prepositions willy-nilly said: “That’s current events! History of Kremlin is history -- 900 years fighting invaders!”

My Russian host never discovered that, even worse, I fancy myself a contemporary historian, and have gone on to publish books such as my new one The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s with barely a quarter-of-a-century for perspective. But given just how fresh my subject is for us historians, having broken my neck to get this book out in time for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I have been thinking a lot about the Russian conversation, and the challenges of writing  (and understanding) contemporary history. 

As I resurrect my HNN blog while launching my new book, and in the spirit of the History News Network – in all that title’s contradictions – I want to post a series of commentaries on the challenges involved in writing this book. In truth, it would have been a great idea to generate this conversation while I was still writing and editing but I simply had not thought of it. With any luck, these posts will trigger enough interesting responses to make me regret that I didn’t solicit these opinions before and get me working on a sequel, or a corrected first edition. So, while I will occasionally cross-post articles that I have written appearing in other media, this post marks the start of some fresh blogging, exclusive to HNN, on shaping a historical conversation about the Clintons and the 1990s.

Among the blogs I have planned out are “The Clinton Conundrums: Key Historical Questions,” “Developing a Conceptual Toolbox to Understand the Clintons and the ‘90s,” and “The Clinton Historical Stock Market: Where his legacy stands so far.” I am sure other topics will emerge, and look forward to a stimulating but respectful conversation, because of one thing I am sure: it’s time to take the Clintons seriously, as historical figures, not just as political leaders or cultural markers.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153681 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153681 0
It's Time to Acknowledge that Bill Clinton Dominated His Era Just as Reagan Did His Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution for the fall of 2015. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015). 

It’s time to take Bill Clinton, his presidency, and his times seriously. Historians dithered before getting right with Reagan, letting their political and intellectual disdain discourage thoughtful scholarship for over two decades after his inauguration. Then, suddenly, there was a Reagan love-in, with even some liberal historians writing surprisingly admiring books about the man and his times. The media’s obsession with both Clintons’ character flaws, fed by Bill and Hillary Clinton’s characteristically Baby Boomer self-righteousness masking self-indulgence, have disappointed and distracted too many chroniclers. Hillary Clinton’s ongoing political saga has added more confusion. She simultaneously evades and embraces her husband’s tenure, let alone her own complicated track record in the 1990s. Approaching the twenty-fifth anniversary of Clinton’s campaign launch, with Hillary Clinton running yet again for president, with illuminating Clinton papers and oral histories now being released, it is time to examine Clinton clearly, seeing through the clouds of his own inconstancy and the constant media barrage, assessing his vision, his policies, his achievements, and his – and their -- synergy with the 1990s.

]]> Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153684 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153684 0 The Gay Marriage Fight Between Hillary and Bernie: Setting the Record Straight

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution for the fall of 2015. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015). 

The fight between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders over former president Bill Clinton’s signing of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, proves that good politics makes terrible history. The question of why President Clinton signed the law, and whether he was staving off a worse alternative is a minor sideshow. The major issue is that both candidates, both of whom were born in the 1940s, are trying to show how enthusiastically they support gay marriage today when both opposed it in the 1990s. And to understand just what was going on with Bill Clinton – who was Hillary’s husband and the head of Bernie’s political party two decades ago – we should consult the historian’s favorite text, context.

]]> Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153686 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153686 0 These Are the Five Revolutions of the 1990s (And One Counter-Revolution) Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution for the fall of 2015. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015). 

Trying to understand Bill Clinton’s presidency requires a new toolbox of words and concepts to understand what happened in the 1990s, not just during his presidency. As the first serious history of the Clinton era, my new book The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, tracks some of the key changes of the time, offering some preliminary labels. Bill Clinton liked calling the 1990s a “bridge” to the twenty-first century, but it was more like a runway, with changes accumulating, building momentum, then taking off. At least five significant revolutions and one counterrevolution occurred in the 1990s, which both shaped and were shaped by Clinton’s presidency.  

]]> Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153692 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153692 0 We, the People, Were the Losers at the Republican Debate Republican presidential candidates brawl only two days after seeing President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Happy Talk was as jarring as eating spicy chili after an ice cream sundae. Jeb Bush, showing that he speaks Bushspeak like his father and brother, said: “the idea that somehow we’re better off today than the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States is totally an alternative universe.” Alas, none of these politicians, selling their respective “alternate universes,” triumphed, leaving we the people as the losers.

Obama’s State of the Union address demonstrated the advantages of incumbency. The president was presidential, commanding attention, seemingly basking in the love. Television beamed it all home: the grandeur of the House chamber, the crowd’s huzzahs, the repeated standing ovations. The fact that many legislators mostly sat stonily was not apparent. Viewers heard the Democrats’ shouts and saw them standing and sitting, standing and sitting, loyally doing their mass partisan squat thrusts.

Read more at http://time.com/4182501/republican-debate-losers/

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153719 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153719 0
How Obama has turned back the clock on race relations Americans celebrating Martin Luther King Day today should be proud of the incredible progress made since the civil-rights leader’s birth 87 years ago. At the same time, we should lament one of President Obama’s greatest failures.

The last Democratic president and the last Republican president both managed race relations more effectively than Obama has. Seven years after American voters made history by electing the country’s first black president, racial tensions have worsened.

It didn’t rank on Obama’s one-item list of his “few regrets” during his State of the Union address. But signs of Obama’s failure are on our streets, on our campuses and among our leaders, left and right.

Read more at: http://nypost.com/2016/01/17/how-obama-has-turned-back-the-clock-on-race-relations/

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153720 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153720 0
The Man Who Brought Us T-Rex With Jurassic World having grossed $1.7 billion this year, dinosaurs continue to fascinate and terrify us. There’s something so otherworldly, so monstrous, so mysterious about them. There they sit, or stand, dominating our natural history museums. Their gargantuan size and sharp features provide unnerving testimony to the different earthly realities millions of years ago. Their fossilized remnants offer compelling evidence that they are real. Their skeletons deliver reassuring proof they are dead.

All these beasts had to be discovered, recovered, reconstructed. Additionally, our obsession had to be nurtured. In many ways, one individual, the aptly-named Barnum Brown, is responsible for finding some of the greatest dinosaur discoveries and fueling our fascination with them.

Read more at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/01/16/the-man-who-brought-us-t-rex.html

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153721 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153721 0
The Jew Who Silenced America’s Earliest Anti-Semites The story of the Jews in America shows how a people persecuted by Christians and Muslims in the Old World were welcomed, not just tolerated, in the New World. Even when anti-Semitism has sprouted, Americans’ ingrained decency and love of liberty has triumphed, squelching any budding bigotry.

Today, alas, college campuses are witnessing an un-American outbreak of Jew hatred, not “just” anti-Zionism. “Nearly three quarters” of Jewish students in last summer’s Cohen Center at Brandeis University survey reported being exposed to at least one anti-Semitic statement in the 2014-2015 academic year. The Amcha Initiative, a group that tracks anti-Semitism on U.S. campuses, inventoried 302 incidents at 109 schools in 2015, including a vandalized menorah, swastikas spray-painted on Jewish student centers, a Jewish student punched in the face, and a YikYak message posted at the University of Chicago that sneered: “Gas them, burn them and dismantle their power structure. Humanity cannot progress with the parasitic Jew.”

In an age of zero-tolerance for subtle microaggressions, these macroaggressions should be generating widespread outrage—rather than being ignored, or even excused sometimes. To resist this scourge, Jews and non-Jews alike should learn about Americans’ historic and unending disgust for anti-Semitism. A characteristic but forgotten moment occurred in 1809, when a Republican rival tried expelling the Federalist Jacob Henry (PDF) from North Carolina’s state legislature—because Henry was a Jew.

Read entire article at The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153724 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153724 0
Baseball’s First Naughty Hall of Famers On January 29, 1936, members of the Baseball Writers’ Association selected the first five superstars to be installed three years later in the Hall of Fame. The writers chose well: in selecting Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner they were confirming athletic immortality more than conferring it. The founders of baseball’s Pantheon acted intelligently too. By establishing this iconic institution they used its colorful history to stake baseball’s claim as America’s national pastime.

Eighty years later, the founding five remain among baseball’s greatest players. A brilliant hitter and ruthless base runner most associated with the Detroit Tigers, Cobb retired with 43 major league regular season records. A legendary slugger and charismatic New York Yankee—after the Boston Red Sox sold him—Ruth helped popularize the game. Even though both of his biggest records have been broken, 60 homers a season and 714 in a career remain among baseball’s most magical numbers. A fastballer for the Washington Senators, Walter Johnson won 417 times, pitched 531 complete games and struck batters out 3509 times. A New York Giant who was more a crafty screwballer than a power pitcher, Christy Mathewson won 37 games one season, and pitched three shutouts during the 1905 World Series. And although today he is most famous for the million plus dollars one of his baseball cards fetches, Honus Wagner, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was a master fielder as well as an extraordinary runner and hitter, who won the National League battle title eight times.

Read entire article at - The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153727 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153727 0
Hercules Mulligan: The Spy Who Saved George Washington—Twice A year ago, even most American history professors probably had never heard of Hercules Mulligan, the American patriot whose name sounds like a punchline. 

Thanks to the musical blockbuster Hamilton, Mulligan finally is famous, 190 years after his death. Of course, the real Mulligan was not quite what Lin Manuel Miranda’s casting director sought: “Ethnically Ambiguous / Mixed Race, African Descent… able to sing and rap well … the life of the party, dripping with swagger, streetwise and hilarious…. Joins the revolution to get out of being a tailor’s apprentice.” 

Hercules Mulligan was a discrete but silver-tongued Irish immigrant in New York City, who prospered as a haberdasher, tailoring garments for colonial aristocrats and British officers. He was also a member of the Sons of Liberty, and his passion helped recruit Alexander Hamilton to the Revolutionary cause. His work also happened to make him a great, meaning oft-overlooked, spy. 

Read entire article at - The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153729 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153729 0
Sorry Hillary, America Already Had Its First Female President The New Hampshire primary showed that even many Democrats in this year of anti-establishment politics reject Hillary Clinton’s claim that “being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we've had up until this point.” Historically savvy opponents could add that, even if she wins, Hillary Clinton would not be the first person widely referred to in Washington as “Mrs. President.”  Edith Wilson earned that distinction – although it was often said derisively. The First Lady emerged as America’s most powerful person when Woodrow Wilson suffered a series of devastating strokes in 1919.

Edith and Woodrow Wilson were an exceptionally close presidential couple – still enjoying their marriage’s honeymoon phase. Wilson’s beloved first wife, Ellen, had died of kidney trouble in 1914. The stylish, ambitious widow to a jewelry fortune, Edith Bolling Galt, soon met the bereaved president, while visiting Woodrow’s cousin, Helen Woodrow Bones, in the White House.

In her memoirs, Edith Wilson, depicting herself as Woodrow’s savior, recalls Helen describing a sad, lonely president trudging through his work. Edith claims she and Helen bumped into the president on the way to tea. Showing she was ready for that orchestrated “accident,” Edith would write coquettishly: “I would have been less feminine than I must confess to be, had I not been secretly glad that I had worn a smart black tailored suit which [the haute couture House of Worth had made for me in Paris, and a tricot hat which I thought completed a very good-looking ensemble."

Read the entire article at The Daily Beast .

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153731 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153731 0
Filming Rodney King’s Beating Ruined His Life The Daily Beast ]]> Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153741 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153741 0 The German Jew Who Became an Ottoman Pasha The story of Mehmed Emin Pasha, born a Jew as Isaak Eduard Schnitzer and baptized as Eduard Carl Oscar Theodor Schnitzer, is a multiculturalist’s delight. This Jewish doctor who turned Christian, then Muslim, could be the cosmopolitan poster child, proof that we are all one and that distinctions don’t matter. But universalists beware; this pasha was no Zelig, fitting in chameleon-like at colorful historical moments. This shapeshifter adapted smoothly but stood out boldly, proving that the best way to contribute to the world is to root identities in particular cultures and act on core ideals.

Schnitzer was born in Oppeln, Silesia on March 28, 1840, into a German Jewish family that had already broken from the ghetto’s provinciality. Schnitzer’s father was a merchant, a proper German burgher wannabe. He embodied the Enlightenment delusion that we could, as John Lennon would sing, “all live together as one.” But Schnitzer’s father had made the classic Enlightenment deal with the devil. To become emancipated, to prosper, most Jews felt compelled to abandon much of Judaism—even though they would only be accepted marginally as Europeans.

Read the entire article at - The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153742 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153742 0
The NY Rens Were The ‘Greatest Basketball Team You Have Never Heard Of’ As NCAA’s March Madness builds to the Final Four on April 4, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is counting down to its announcement that day welcoming new inductees.

Visiting the Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, and reading the plaques yields some surprises. There, as expected, are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. But who are Robert L. Douglas, “Pop” Gates, and “Tarzan” Cooper? You expect to see the 1992 United States Olympic “Dream Team” and The Harlem Globetrotters, but who or what is the New York Renaissance? The answer showcases basketball and American sports at their best.

Douglas—dubbed “The Father of Black Basketball”—was the owner of the pre-NBA Black Professional League’s greatest team, and Gates and Cooper were among its brightest stars. From 1922 to 1949, the New York Renaissance—or, more commonly, just the New York Rens—barnstormed the country, crushing opponents with a blinding, infuriating passing game.

Read the entire article at - The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153748 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153748 0
The Secrets of the Woman in Hitler’s Bathtub The image is striking, no wonder it became famous. This exquisite woman catches your eye, one of those high-cheeked WASP beauties men were raised to revere and women were raised to emulate—then envy. She soaks regally in a bathtub, her shoulder luridly exposed, the tub shielding the rest of her body. The scene is intimate, familiar, yet alluring: you see soap dishes, washcloths, faucets, a bathmat, the usual white grouting.

But you start processing anomalies. Amid this seemingly middle-class, mid-20th century setting, there’s an aristocratic surprise: a small nude marble sculpture supervising the bather. It gets weirder. Eddies of dirt have blackened some of the bathmat, and the culprit is clear. This delicate model was wearing two combat boots standing in the foreground, with mud caked on their heels.

To the woman’s right, an official portrait of Adolf Hitler slouches on the bathtub’s ledge, providing the punchline. Lee Miller, a former model and ace wartime photographer, is in Adolf Hitler’s bathtub, in Munich on April 30, 1945, the day he killed himself.

Read the entire article at The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153769 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153769 0
How an Outsider President Killed a Party It was summer, and a major U.S. political party had just chosen an inexperienced, unqualified, loutish, wealthy outsider with ambiguous party loyalties to be its presidential nominee. Some party luminaries thought he would help them win the general election. But many of the faithful were furious and mystified: How could their party compromise its ideals to such a degree?

Sound like 2016? This happened a century and a half ago.

Many have called Donald Trump’s unexpected takeover of a major political party unprecedented; but it’s not. A similar scenario unfolded in 1848, when General Zachary Taylor, a roughhewn career soldier who had never even voted in a presidential election, conquered the Whig Party.

Read full article at Politico Magazine

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153774 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153774 0
Westway, New York's Great Highway That Never Was Traipsing along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s West Side today, enjoying green spaces, stunning vistas, and happy people, it’s easy to forget that this area recently was a dump-- symbolizing urban decay and governmental dysfunction.

After ships became too big to dock there, the rotting piers became wild urban hubs in the 1970s. A city of grime and crime supplanted the thrifty, hardworking, earnest metropolis of the 1940s and 1950s. 

Today, as children laugh, birds tweet, waves lap amid cars whizzing by, belching exhaust, hear the ghost of the great Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan whisper: “This is grand, but had you listened to me and built Westway, it would be heavenly!”

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153775 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153775 0
How a Sexist Prank Elected America’s First Female Mayor Hillary Rodham Clinton’s video this week celebrating her presumed emergence as the first female major party nominee quoted Shirley Chisholm. A recording has the former member of Congress and 1972 presidential candidate saying: “Those who think that the women’s liberation movement is a joke, may I disabuse you of that notion. It’s about equal opportunity.” Indeed, women have been turning men’s mockery into female feats for years.  In fact, the candidacy of the first woman elected as mayor—boosters insist to any political office—in the United States—began as a sexist prank.

In 1887, feeling empowered from having become eligible to vote four years earlier, women in the Quaker village of Argonia, Kansas, joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).  Crusading against booze expressed what some historians call “maternal feminism,” others call “municipal housekeeping,” going public with the motherly impulse to cultivate virtue.

WCTU women were often insulted and harassed, accused of being lesbians and doused with water or beer when they protested outside saloons. But, the historian Carl Degler notes, by the mid-1870s, “what has once been treated as a joke … began to be perceived as a groundswell of sentiment that in some places was even affecting the outcome of local elections.” This “Woman’s Uprising” inspired WCTU’s Argonia chapter to select a slate of prohibitionist men to run for mayor and city council...

Read full article at The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153778 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153778 0
The Racist Origins of the SAT Ninety years ago, on June 23, 1926, 8040 American high school students simultaneously pondered which of six words were “most closely related” and which numbers “come next” in a certain sequence. This first SAT was scored on a 200-to-800-point scale with 500 reflecting the median score. Aimed to test innate ability not knowledge acquired, the Scholastic Aptitude Test culminated two decades of experiments assessing intelligence that also produced the IQ test.

Dr. Carl Brigham, the psychologist who invented the SAT, also pioneered the Advanced Placement program. Unfortunately, this man most responsible for saddling two million American teens annually with No. 2 pencils and first-degree testing jitters was a Pilgrim-pedigreed, eugenics-blinded bigot. Brigham eventually repented. More important, these standardized tests became scientifically-validated admissions tickets into America’s meritocracy for the very immigrants and minorities Brigham hoped his tests would exclude.

Born in 1890 in Marlboro, Massachusetts, to a family descended from the Mayflower and enriched by a California Gold Rush-profiting grandfather, Carl Campbell Brigham was destined to go to Harvard. But, as one of his admirers would write—with no irony—“Something of the same spirit of adventure which sent his grandfather to California in 1849 must early have been active in determining Carl’s reactions to his environment.” Violating family tradition, he transferred to Princeton University. Following this great rebellion, he mostly lived within the Princeton bubble until he died in 1943...

Read full article on The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153781 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153781 0
Inside the Nazi Camp on Long Island For 14 million American kids and adults, summertime means camptime. Over these next two months, each of more than 14,000 day camps and sleepaway camps will initiate campers into their own particular, delightfully kooky, universes. The camps create 24/7 cocoons with their own lingo and songs, rituals, and codes, devoted to mastering computers or losing weight, to becoming better Zionists or learning golf, to recreating Native American traditions or designing software. Eight decades ago, during the 1930s, young German Americans attended Camp Siegfried. Their summer camp immersion entailed learning Nazi ideology, singing German folk songs, and wearing those creepy paramilitary Hitler Youth short-shorts. There they were, goosestepping and Heil Hitlering away, day and night, sleeping in bunks with swastikas emblazoned above the doorways. All this occurred a short walk from the intersection of Hitler Street and Goering Street, in Yaphank, New York, on Long Island, 60 miles from the Statue of Liberty.

Camp Siegfried was among the pro-Nazi summer camps affiliated with the German-American Bund, the homegrown organization that by 1941 had 25,000 members. Camp Siegfried was located next to a bigger German colony in Yaphank. Restricted to German Americans, “German Gardens,” as the neighborhood was called, named streets after prominent Germans, which then included Hitler, Goering, Goebbels. The Long Island Railroad even ran an 8 a.m. “Camp Siegfried Special” to ferry visitors from Manhattan. Only in January this year did a federal court invalidate the housing restrictions written into the original contracts which survived the repudiation of many German-Americans’ pro-Hitler orientation.

Considering Hitler’s monstrousness, it’s easy to condemn these Germans as moral pygmies. But Camp Siegfried and the Bund tell a subtler tale. The story begins with the pride uniting America’s largest ethnic group. The benign hybrid turns ugly with the bizarre crossbreeding between Nazism and Americanism, including mixing the American summer camp’s carefree innocence with Hitlerian evil.

Read the whole article on The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153784 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153784 0
When Elie Wiesel Confronted Ronald Reagan Elie Wiesel, who died Saturday at the age of 87, lived a life of heroism and eloquence that word by word, honor by honor, distanced him from the human hell he experienced in the Holocaust without ever quite freeing him. 

Even as he became famous, symbolizing the world’s desire to heal from World War II, bearing witness – and confronting the powerful wherever he saw injustice – anguished him. I witnessed the toll his efforts took on him in April 1985, after he confronted President Ronald Reagan, about a planned visit to a German military cemetery in Bitburg, despite 49 of Hitler’s SS Stormtroopers being buried there. 

White House strategists had anticipated a great moment, a meeting of two eloquent defenders of democracy: the strapping, perpetually-jaunty president and the wispy, tortured writer, a Holocaust refugee, thanking his President and his adopted nation for championing freedom.  Reagan was scheduled to award the Romanian-born novelist Elie Wiesel the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement at the White House, on April 19, 1985, the 42nd anniversary of the Polish Jews’ anti-Nazi uprising, the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt. 

Read the whole article on The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153785 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153785 0
When Eisenhower Took on Big Oil In a presidential campaign pivoting on the assumption that corporate America rules America, we should remember that the perceptions and reality of corporate control have fluctuated wildly over the years. William Jennings Bryan’s supporters cried “Let the People Rule!” in 1908.  Franklin Roosevelt bashed “economic royalists” in 1936.  Surprisingly, the president remembered as a placid, golf-playing, aging, Republican corporate shill, Dwight Eisenhower, fought Big Oil in the 1950s—and won.

Eisenhower’s showdown with the oilmen was particularly surprising because some of his best friends were petro-millionaires. Like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and other poor boys who became Commander-in-chief, Eisenhower enjoyed hobnobbing with rich people.  Not only could these friends invite him to pop down to Georgia for 36 hours of quail hunting on 3,000 acre plantations, there was also something both humbling and exhilarating about hanging out with with men who had succeeded in the one realm he never mastered, business.

Still, Eisenhower’s friends boasted that they never asked their friend for favors. And Eisenhower, a proud American patriot, did what was best for the country.

Read the whole article on The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153788 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153788 0
U.S. Political Conventions Have Been Weird From The Start Nearly 185 years ago, the first national nominating party convention selected an unconventional nominee. Not only did he not belong to the party that chose him, he had contravened their defining political principle—rooted in a paranoid political panic as absurd as today’s Birther blather. He had lost the O.J. Simpson-like trial of his day. And he had no interest in being president. “Now I hate politics, and can never be a party man much less a party leader for I trust I have a good conscience, and in these times I doubt the practicability of a politician possessing such a blessing,” he told a friend. “Besides, I have not the nerve to bear the vulgar abuse which is the politician’s standing dish.”

Nevertheless, the Anti-Masonic party convention, which assembled on September 26, 1831, in Baltimore, nominated William Wirt. The 59-year-old Maryland native, born to Swiss and German immigrants, was a best-selling author, oft-quoted orator, a superlawyer despite failing to convict former Vice President Aaron Burr of treason, a former attorney general, and former Mason. Politicians back then ritualistically professed disinterest in politics, awaiting the people’s call. Henry Clay would say in 1844, “I’d rather be right than president.” Wirt meant it. He was a transition figure between his mentor Thomas Jefferson’s republican elitism and his opponent “Andy” Jackson’s vulgar populism.

Wirt attended the convention reluctantly, hoping to unite the squabbling anti-Jackson factions behind Henry Clay. But the anti-Masons hated Clay, who had been a more enthusiastic Mason than Wirt. Given four hours to decide, Wirt accepted the nomination as his patriotic duty, writing, “Not only have I never sought the office, but I have long since looked at it with more of dread, than of desire.”

Read full article on The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153793 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153793 0
How Originality Vanished From Political Speeches Melania Trump’s hijacking of Michelle Obama’s words in her keynote speech at the Republican National Convention on Monday night had the Trump camp immediately blaming her “team” of speechwriters, long before Meredith McIver took responsibility. Meanwhile, the political class is outraged that GOP nominee Donald Trump's wife did not rely enough on professional speechwriters. The mistake “reinforces dominant themes of Mr. Trump’s campaign,” the New York Times sniffed, including “a reliance on the instincts of the candidate over the judgments of experienced political experts,” like the speechwriters tasked with writing Melania Trump’s speech. “A certain professionalism is expected,” former White House speechwriter Matt Latimer insisted, condemning Trump’s “spontaneous, freewheeling enterprise that actively disdains experienced professionals.”

Once upon a time, “the speechwriter did it” wouldn’t have been the excuse—it would have been the scandal itself. Americans used to prefer the amateur’s natural awkwardness to the practiced pol’s slickness, and thought that using “ghostwriters” or “speechwriters” diluted a president’s authenticity. That was until Franklin D. Roosevelt modernized the presidency, and everything changed.

To Americans in the 1700s and 1800s, delivering a speech was an act of authenticity, not performance art. In speaking your own words, your delivery reflected your integrity. Watching George Washington’s inaugural speech as president on April 26, 1789, Representative Fisher Ames of Massachusetts was moved by Washington’s nervousness; it suited the occasion’s solemnity. “His aspect grave, almost to sadness; his modesty, actually shaking; his voice deep, a little tremulous, and so low as to call for close attention … produced emotions of the most affecting kind,” Ames later recalled. To him, Washington’s unease reinforced his greatness, it “seemed to me an allegory in which virtue was personified. … Her power over the heart was never greater.”

Read whole article on Politico Magazine

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153794 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153794 0
How General Motors Saved Rosa Parks On the evening of August 30, 1994, a young drug addict broke down the rear door of a home in central Detroit. Back then, during the peak of the Great American Crime Wave, such a story was depressingly familiar. Crime was so ubiquitous, such burglaries rarely made the headlines, even when they turned violent. This crime, however, was different.

The elderly widow who lived in the house discovered a drunk who claimed to have chased an intruder away. He demanded a tip. She went upstairs for her pocketbook and gave him three dollars. He followed her, demanding more. When she refused, he hit her. “I tried to defend myself and grabbed his shirt,” she later recalled. “Even at 81 years of age, I felt it was my right to defend myself.” Hitting her again and shaking her violently, he threatened worse. Terrified, she gave him $53.

The crime generated outrage because when the intruder Joseph Skipper entered, he recognized his victim. “Hey, aren’t you Rosa Parks?” Skipper asked. The civil rights legend answered “yes,” but it didn’t help. After the crime, it took 50 minutes before the police arrived. The street justice, however, was swift. “All of the thugs on the Westside went looking for him,” one friend recalled, “and they beat the hell out of him.”

Read whole article on The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153801 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153801 0
Jonathan Daniels: The Forgotten Civil Rights Preacher Killed by a Cop in Alabama The murder in cold blood and in broad daylight of a religious leader is horrifying enough. Especially in America, we associate our preachers with words not swords and expect them to be immune from violence. But merely a half century ago, someone could brazenly kill an Episcopalian seminarian and shoot a Catholic priest without being punished. It happened, in August 1965, in racist Alabama.

In a just world, Jonathan Daniels, born in 1939, would be now completing a long, satisfying career as an Episcopal elder. Instead, he died a 26-year-old civil-rights martyr who sacrificed his life protecting a young black teenager.

Daniels was studying in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the Episcopal Theological School—today’s Episcopal Divinity School. In March 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for moral leadership from clerics brought Daniels to Selma, Alabama. Unlike most, he stayed, realizing, “I could not stand by in benevolent dispassion any longer without compromising everything I know and love and value. The imperative was too clear, the stakes too high, my own identity was called too nakedly into question…. I had been blinded by what I saw here (and elsewhere), and the road to Damascus led, for me, back here”....

Read whole article at The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153805 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153805 0
When America Rejected its Homegrown 'Joe McNazi' In the 1930s and 1940s, Americans’ politics was polarizing, ugly. Then, as now, toxic bullies exploited genuine anxieties and Washington’s disconnectedness to legitimize voices once considered too fanatic, and ultimately anti-American in their bigotry despite their “America First” rhetoric. Back then, decency triumphed. Influential leaders at critical moments rejected the haters, even when they agreed on certain issues. Who knows what will happen now. 

We can learn from Madison Square Garden’s huge “America First” rally on May 23, 1941, opposing American intervention in the growing World War. The leading isolationists, from right to left, from the celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh to the socialist firebrand Norman Thomas, blasted Franklin Roosevelt, warning about an unprepared America stumbling into another European war. A liberal columnist from The New Republic, passionately isolationist, John T. Flynn, rose to speak. Seeing the anti-Semitic, pro-Hitler thug Joseph McWilliams in the audience, Flynn proclaimed: “The America First Committee is not crazy enough to want the support of a handful of Bundists, Communists, and Christian Fronters who are without influence, without power, and without respect in this or any other community. Just because some misguided fool in Manhattan who happens to be a Nazi, gets a few tickets to this rally, this meeting of American citizens is called a Nazi meeting. And right here, not many places from me, is sitting a man named McWilliams. What he is doing here, how he gets in here, whose stooge he is, I do not know, but I know the photographers of these war-mongering newspapers can always find him when they want him.” 

This “man named McWilliams” was despicable. Born in Oklahoma to pioneering parents in 1904, this self-taught mechanical engineer invented an improved razor blade. When he moved to New York City in 1925, he supported Marxism. After a health crisis in 1935, he turned fascist and anti-Semitic, despite the Jewish friends who helped him financially...

Read whole article at The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153811 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153811 0
The Man Who Could Make Your Kids Less Ignorant A new Council of Foreign Relations and National Geographic survey shows that most American collegians are global illiterates. Only 29 percent of 1203 enrolled students or fresh graduates passed a “global literacy” test—asking, for example, whether Indonesia has a Muslim majority. The average score was 55 percent. Illiterate college students become ignorant citizens—and policy makers. In 2006, during the Iraq War, The New York Times reported that many members of Congress couldn’t distinguish Sunnism from Shiism. One Democrat admitted: “it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.”

Before force feeding anyone more facts, this survey is a reminder of how we must redefine the purpose of higher education. This way, whatever facts are conveyed will fit into a “perspective” and “categories” that resonate for students.

Although he died nearly 40 years ago in 1977, we need the wisdom of the educational reformer Robert Maynard Hutchins. While he probably would be shouted down on many campuses today for being politically incorrect, this Oberlin graduate and anti-McCarthyite was a true liberal. He wanted universities producing thoughtful, knowledgeable, and critical world citizens, not narrow-minded specialists, soulless technicians or indoctrinated political bullies...

Read whole article at The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153814 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153814 0
The Man Who Went Full Trump for FDR It’s still hard to believe that Americans would fall for such a demagogic smear campaign: The false corruption charges, clouding past actions in shadowy tales of double-dealing. The "birther" attempts to question the president's very eligibility. And the recruiting of a hack reporter to devise the smears, then spread them over the new media he mastered. You wonder about this nominee from one of our great political parties: where is any sense of shame, any nobility, any limits?

Eight decades ago, fourteen years before Donald Trump’s birth, Franklin Roosevelt's winning presidential campaign in 1932 stirred such disgust. When the defeated incumbent, Herbert Hoover, recalled the campaign, he accused FDR of ruining American politics with irresponsible techniques, ghostwritten speeches, and smear tactics. Many voters later wrote Hoover, apologizing for believing the lies. And until his death, Hoover snubbed the man he most blamed for that hatchet job, FDR's smearer in chief, ghostwriter, and birth coach to the atmosphere that fed 1932’s version of the birther rumor, Charles Michelson.

Charlie Michelson was a cutthroat newspaperman back when reporters eschewed fancy pants titles like “journalist.” They delighted in being troublemakers, often making up news while reporting it...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153819 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153819 0
Know-Nothing Bigot Who Won Big Can you believe such a crude “know-nothing,” immigrant-bashing, trash-talking, fickle rich guy exploiting working man nativist white prejudices could advance so far politically? He was one of those partying brats with a strict father who turned serious after college, yet still struck many as a candidate “as ridiculous as satire could invent.” But immigration arrivals had quintupled in ten years. Crime and poverty relief budgets soared. The system was so broken down that, as one senator acknowledged, “The people were tired of the old parties and they have made a new channel.” So, this market-savvy businessman shrewdly shifted from peddling to politics—adjusting key positions to maximize popular disgust.

Yes, in 1854, the once-wayward youth, Henry Gardner, stopped selling wool and started spinning political yarns, stoking the anti-establishment anger identified by Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. On Election Day, Gardner won a HUUUGE victory in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race, attracting 63 percent of the vote along with the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s contempt. The “new legislature consisted of one Whig, one Democrat, one Republican,” the historian David Herbert Donald wrote “— and 377 Know-nothings.”

Surprisingly, the Know-Nothings saddled themselves with their unflattering name. This anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-liquor, protest party originated in organizations protecting Protestant prerogatives as Catholics streamed into the cities. This was the time of NINA—No Irish Need Apply. Harvard hosted annual Dudleian Lectures devoted to “detecting, convicting, and exposing the idolatry, errors and superstitions of the Romish Church"...

Read whole article on the Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153823 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153823 0
In Praise of Abandoning Your Party Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext

We start, with an article posted this morning in Politico, noting the Long Noble History of American Party Bolting -- sometimes rejecting a party's nominee can be good for the country and the party.

As we approach Election Day, more and more Republicans are abandoning Donald Trump, declaring that they can’t possibly vote for the mogul on November 8. GOP senators, members of Congress, even the party’s previous nominees and presidents, including Mitt Romney and George H.W. Bush, are disavowing Trump—and in some cases supporting his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Not since Democrats for Nixon estimated that 20 million Democrats would vote for Richard Nixon over George McGovern have so many people considered leaving their own party over a presidential race.

Trump and his supporters, for their part, are fighting back by attacking the party-bolters as disloyal: As Trump tweets that “Disloyal R’s” are “far more difficult than Crooked Hillary,” and “don’t know how to win,” furious Trumpistas are condemning the bolters as “cowards” and “sellouts.” Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona has accused #NeverTrump Republicans of not just “betraying this party,” but “betraying the Constitution. 

 

Franks and other Trump loyalists are overlooking one inconvenient fact: Party bolting has a long and noble history in American politics. Since the earliest days of the Republic, voters have chosen at times to abandon their party—whether in a one-time rejection of a particular nominee, or permanently. This kind of party flexibility is not only what the founders wanted, in theory it produces better leaders.

 

If party affiliations were as static as Trump’s rhetoric suggests, all election results would be foregone conclusions, and the once “solid South” would still be Democratic. In fact, today’s Republican Party not only benefited from the metamorphosis of millions of Southern Democrats into Republicans since 1964, but the most famous party-bolter in recent American history—Ronald Reagan—remains their hero...

Read the whole article on Politico Magazine 

 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153825 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153825 0
How Bill Clinton's Presidency Spawned Donald Trump's Candidacy  

Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext

As we prepare for the third and final debate, the storm over Donald Trump's boorish behavior continues. Without excusing it, the hypocrisy of Democrats in condemning it and Trump Republicans in excusing it, is hard to take, considering that in the 1990s, Democrats dismissed similar behavior by Bill Clinton, and Republicans condemned it - as the following essay argues.

How Bill Clinton's Presidency Spawned Donald Trump's Candidacy

Although American presidential elections have long been nasty and brutish, this election is reaching new depths of vulgarity, thanks to Donald Trump, and heights of hypocrisy, thanks to both Hillary and Bill Clinton. If Trump had the discipline to defend himself subtly, cleverly, when confronted with the vulgar videotapes, he should have said: “It’s time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life” – then noted he was quoting Bill Clinton. Melania Trump should have requested a “zone of privacy,” saying of her husband, “I’m proud of his leadership, I’m proud of his commitment” – acknowledging that this time that she was stealing a First Lady’s lines: Hillary Clinton’s words during the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998.

 Ironically, of all Democrats, Donald Trump’s opponent is Hillary Clinton. Amid the partisanship, Democrats should face an inconvenient truth. Supporting Bill Clinton's “Reality Show Presidency” in the 1990s anticipated Donald Trump's “Reality Show Candidacy” today.

Although, unlike Trump, Bill Clinton was an experienced politician and a thoughtful policy wonk, Clinton’s eight-year assault on the marbleized ideal of a George-Washington-like demigod virtuously leading the people changed Americans' conception of the presidency. In a bit on the Donald Trump-hosted Saturday Night Live, a “porn star” anticipating a Trump White House purred: “I haven’t been there since the ‘90s.”

 Of course, Clinton's bad behavior was not unprecedented. He was more honest than Richard Nixon or Warren Harding and less promiscuous than John Kennedy or Warren Harding. But Clinton's brazenness, especially when caught lying about his affairs, along with his reframing of the president's job description, made his peccadilloes more influential than his predecessors'.

 In hiding their indiscretions, Kennedy, Nixon, and other presidential sinners deviated from a script whose legitimacy they accepted. The George Washington template reflected Revolutionary America’s republican belief that a leader’s virtue guaranteed the nation’s virtue. Gradually, Americans accepted the more democratic model of a prime-ministerial president rather than a king, but the yearning for a virtuous role model persisted.

Bill Clinton was a revolutionary. He survived, retiring with record popularity and impressive accomplishments. This unexpected triumph challenged Americans to replace their traditional yearnings for a virtuous man embodying America's purity with postmodern expectations of a complicated person who gets the job done.

 Clinton never aspired to the mythic perfectionism candidates pretended to realize. In 1992, he said “character is a journey, not a destination,” admitting he lived with a Christian struggle against sin rather than this American pretense to saintliness. But he promised—and proved— that he nevertheless would work 24/7 for Americans— “till the last dog dies,” he said in New Hampshire.

 Clinton's Baby Boomer peers endorsed this new view of the presidency. The 1960s subversive cynicism, confirmed by the Watergate scandal and the rise of investigative journalism, knocked presidents off their historical pedestals, opening the floodgates of presidential revelation. By Clinton’s inauguration, the models of presidential character were no longer the august Mount Rushmore quartet of George Washington Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt but the adulterers’ row of FDR, JFK, and LBJ—with Jefferson now remembered for his racist affair with his slave. Many Boomer Democrats contrasted the marital rectitude of political incompetents like Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon with these more fluid, successful, tomcatting presidents, to reinforce support for Clinton.

 Clinton’s post-character presidency suited Nineties America. America’s gender bender, with teens partying, women working, and gays marrying, changed assumptions about sex, sexuality and sexual morality. And the great American Hook Up, the digital revolution connecting computers to the Internet, celebrated pluralism, customized niches, and individualistic life plans, rather than the one size fits all way of life that the Washingtonian presidency embodied. The contingency carnival, with Oprah Winfrey as the county’s high priestess validating lifetimes filled with multiple choices, marked the rigidity of the traditional Cold War script for family life. Psychologists now called adultery “reprehensible” yet “irresistible.” The rainbowing of America had African-Americans and Hispanics supporting Clinton, rejecting what many called an outdated male leadership model of supposed perfection reeking of racism and white privilege. Capturing this new Zeitgeist, the novelist Philip Roth wanted the artist Christo, who wrapped Germany’s Reichstag in plastic in 1995, to wrap the White House in a “mammoth banner” proclaiming: “A HUMAN BEING LIVES HERE.”

 Feeding off these changes, Bill Clinton, the great shapeshifter, the political improviser, the maestro of modern politics, insisted no American family, including the First Family, was perfect. Clinton created a liquid presidency more suited to our emerging Republic of Nothing and of Everything, anchorless but pluralistic, than to America’s traditional, solid, Republic of Something. 

 Having laid this groundwork for six years, Clinton could survive the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal – with great assists from his Bad Boy charm and the economy’s Baby Boomer Boom. The great moral panic that nevertheless flared reflected the ongoing civil war not just between the overstated “Red” versus “Blue” American divide but within many American souls.

 Despite this week’s backlash, Donald Trump, a 70-year-old Baby Boomer born two months before Bill Clinton in 1946 has nevertheless built on Clinton’s legacy.  The president who told MTV viewers he preferred briefs to boxers, whose girlfriend tracked how far they “went” on an Excel sheet, and who dazzled and disgusted millions during eight years of his soap opera presidency, helped blur the line between celebrity and leadership. Trump’s brutal candor, perpetual self-indulgence, Bad Boy persona, and live-on-videotape sexual preening, takes “Saturday Night Bill’s” Elvis acting out to new levels.

 Donald Trump literally used a reality show as a presidential launch pad—rather than simply using the idea of a reality show with all its exhibitionism as a metaphor to explain Clinton’s presidency. Still, Trump’s campaign would not have survived the primaries without Clinton’s shameless trailblazing, making Bill Clinton the godfather of Donald Trump’s tawdry campaign.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153827 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153827 0
The Candidates are uninspiring but not the most corrupt - by far Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext

The candidates are uninspiring but not the most corrupt - by far

And the winner is… clearly not the American people. After three debates, Hillary Clinton appears to have survived, and Donald Trump may have self-destructed – we will see on November 8. Trump showed that he’s a monstrous bully, who perceives any adversity he faces into a conspiracy against him. Hillary Clinton was more disciplined, occasionally more appealing, but her campaign remained a bit of a doughnut to me – a bit too saccharine with all its careful appeals sprinkling sweets to this group and that special interest, while lacking a core message, a center. (Trump’s is a baloney sandwich which may have turned rancid)

Still, for all the charges and countercharges, here’s the historical good news. Despite the transcripts that would suggest they are competing in the “most corrupt candidate ever” sweepstakes, truth is, neither can compete with the corrupt candidates of yesteryear. Without excusing either candidate’s behavior, their sins do not compare to the blatant bribery and electoral manipulation that used to be the norm. Oddly, American politics has never been so clean, yet so many consider the political system, epitomized by these two nominees, exceptionally dirty.

In the 1800s, votes and politicians frequently were for sale. Bribing a member of Congress was legal until 1853, and many legislators received “consulting fees” thereafter. Mark Twain called Congress “the best government that money can buy.”

As billions of dollars rebuilt America after the Civil War, millions of dollars floated into politicians’ pockets. Boss William Marcy Tweed ran the tab for building the New York County Courthouse to $13 million dollars, paying one carpenter $360,751 one month alone.  

Another Tammany Hall boss, George Washington Plunkitt, distinguished between “honest graft” -- being “tipped off” to buy lands slated for public development, then flipping them for a profit -- versus “dishonest graft” -- lobbying for a project to be built on land you owned. The first was simply “lookin’ ahead.” Plunkitt admitted, “I seen my opportunities and I took 'em.”

Seeing opportunities and taking ‘em occurred on the presidential level too. President Ulysses S. Grant hired 42 relatives and so many greedy friends that disgusted Republicans formed a rival Liberal Republican Party in 1872. Four years later, the Democratic nominee Samuel Tilden didn’t just keep his income tax forms secret, he was accused of actually evading income taxes during the Civil War.  By 1880, one cartoonist imagined “The Two Rival Political Huckster Shops,” with Republicans and Democrats each advertising “Nominations for Sale.” Surveying this debacle, the “Spirit of Washington” lamented to the “Spirit of Jefferson”: “Behold the result of our sacrifices and labors.”

Perhaps most outrageous, the Republican nominee in 1884, former Speaker of the House and Secretary of State James G. Blaine, had become a millionaire on government salaries rarely exceeding five thousand dollars a year. As some “Mugwumps” abandoned the party again, the New York Sun attacked “Blaine, the beggar at the feet of the railroad jobbers, the prostitute in the Speaker’s chair, the lawmaking broker in land grabs, the representative and agent of the corruptionists, monopolists and enemies of the Republic.” Blaine was soon caught having ghostwritten a letter exonerating himself, then having sent instructions for the ruse ending with the directive: “Burn this letter.” This phrase became a Democratic battle cry.

With each party distributing its own ballots to voters, ballot stuffing risked becoming the national pastime. “Colonizers” swarmed particular precincts. “Floaters” auctioned off their loyalties. “Repeaters” voted early and often. When Benjamin Harrison ran for president in 1888, the Republican National Committee’s treasurer, W.W., Dudley, circulated a note on party stationary instructing Indiana activists: "Divide the floaters into blocks of five, and put a trusted man with necessary funds in charge." After the letter leaked, Democrats teased, demanding: “Blocks of Five, Dudley.” After winning, Harrison innocently exclaimed: “Providence has given us the victory.” Pennsylvania’s tough boss Matt Quay, aware of “how close a number of men were compelled to approach the gates of the penitentiary” to win, snapped: “Providence hadn’t a damned thing to do with it.”

The backlash furthered the move toward secret ballots. Still, as recently as 1960, a surge of corpses magically voting in Illinois and Texas helped John Kennedy earn the Electoral Votes he needed. Richard Nixon would justify his Watergate shenanigans in the 1970s by remembering the “substantial voter fraud” that defeated him in 1960. He reported that in “one county in Texas … where only 4,895 voters were registered, 6,138 votes were counted. In Chicago, a voting machine recorded 121 votes after only 43 people had voted.”

Today, money and votes are more easily tracked, while manipulations are more aggressively prosecuted. Since Watergate, American politics has become cleaner. Yet as with street crime, the media and prosecutorial crusades against corruption publicized the problem while controlling it, fueling fears of a dwindling phenomenon. In 2014, with 22 million government employees including more than 511,000 officeholders working in more than 87,000 local and state governments, the Justice Departmentcharged only 916 officials with corruption.  

Hillary Clinton’s conduct around the emails was reprehensible, but it’s the sloppiness of the self-righteous reformer who always think she’s right, not the grand felonies of yesteryear. And Donald Trump’s behavior is piggish, but it’s the monstrousness of the celebrity billionaire who surrounds himself with fawning fans and assumes everything – and everyone is his for the taking, not the master manipulations of the scheming pols.

Worried about sliding into decadence as Rome did, Americans have long yearned for virtuous presidents while fearing their fall.  During the 1787 constitutional convention, James Madison scribbled the word “corruption” fifty-four times in his notebook. In 1828, Andrew Jackson won the first popular presidential campaign railing against the “corrupt bargain,” of 1824, claiming that Henry Clay, the “Judas of the West,” had robbed him of the presidency.

Since the 1960s, intensifying media scrutiny and cynicism have updated these traditional fears. The credibility gap of Vietnam days has become a trust abyss. Now, online, accusations become exaggerated, Tweeted and forwarded into increasingly partisan and negative vortexes sensationalizing politics.

These harsher impressions poison a culture with a diminished capacity for adversity. The emergence of the first mass middle-class civilization after World War II, fostered a bratty perfectionism that emerged most clearly in the booming 1990s.  Things being so good diminished our tolerance for anything bad. In America the functional we assume all will go smoothly – and quickly object or even go legal if anything misfires.

So, no, today’s candidates are not the most corrupt ever, nor is our system crashing. While too much money still shapes our politics, campaign contributions are a form of honest graft – without outright bribery or voter fraud.

Both candidate’s angry rhetoric feeds the generalized cynicism, making it harder for either to establish trust. Constantly claiming the country is corrupted locks-in perceptions of both as corrupting. Trump treats “the Obama-Clinton administration” as weak and venal, making his candidacy “about restoring honesty and accountability to government service.” In deeming these corrupt elites too weak to control the “criminal illegal immigrants” who have swarmed into “this country,” Trump further unnerves Americans. And, in a line that confirms those who mistrust his ethics, Trump growls conspiratorially, “nobody knows the system better than I do.”

Hillary Clinton defends the incumbent while promising some change. Still, when she says “My mission in the White House will be to make our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top,” when she vows to make the economy “fairer,” her rhetoric helps explain why Americans who once overwhelmingly trusted their government now mostly distrust it.

In every presidential campaign, each candidate juggles bashing and dreaming, stirring Americans’ hopes and exploiting their fears. Yelling “Throw the rascals out” is the easiest way to self-promote. It’s more difficult to acknowledge America the functional, vowing to mix continuity and change. Voters want to believe in something.

Today’s constant bashing reinforces the anomalies we already live in our media-besotted world: believing our leaders are more dishonest than they are and that our situation is worse than it is. The negativity is contagious, tarring both candidates, along with the country one of them will need to lead constructively come January 20.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153828 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153828 0
Donald Trump Resurrects Hooverism - a disastrous Republican strategy Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext

Among the bizarre twists in this election is that Donald Trump is betraying Ronald Reagan's magnanimous American nationalism - which charmed a generation -- and channeling Herbert Hooverism -- which alienated generations...

Donald Trump Resurrects Hooverism - a disastrous Republican strategy

With the bully’s instinct for the American amygdala, the brain’s center of aggression, Donald Trump bashes free trade and open immigration. Feeling pressured from Trump and Bernie Sanders Democrats, Hillary Clinton has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In demonizing free trade and immigrants, Trump is resurrecting the constrained conservatism that made Herbert Hoover epitomize Republican reaction for decades. Someone should warn Trump that, ultimately, Hooverism works no better than McCarthyism. Historically, free trade and open immigration have fueled prosperity not undermined it.

The trade and immigration debates exploit anxieties about change in this most dynamic of countries. Trump’s Hooverism echoes the American Revolutionary’s instinct for autonomy.  In reacting to British-imposed duties like those in the Stamp Act, in dumping British tea, colonists linked consuming homegrown products with feeling independent.  Similarly, Trump’s nativism manipulates America’s historic E Pluribus Unum conundrum: how do we build one nation out of many? Ironically, nativists reflect America’s powerful assimilatory mechanism: the grandson of a German immigrant whose Americanism was questioned when he arrived in 1885 – and the husband of a more recent immigrant -- Trump now resists the newest newcomers.

Protectionists throughout the nineteenth century believed that taxing foreign competitors with tariffs would nurture America’s young industries. Similarly, nativists believed that limiting the labor supply would provide jobs for Americans. Yet this “Don’t Tread on Me” mix of economics and nationalism has been too pinched. America’s liberal nationalism worked best when it was magnanimous. America has flourished by absorbing new people and trading with minimal restrictions.

The often-arcane tariff issue bedeviled candidates throughout the 1800s. In 1844, Democrats nominated the first “dark horse,” James Knox Polk. There remains “but one question which can by any possibility defeat your election,” Senator Robert J. Walker, a leading Democrat, warned. “It is the tariff.” In 1880, the political novice General Winfield Scott Hancock correctly called the tariff “a local question” in an interview because different regions wanted more or less protection depending on what they exported or imported.  But the tariff was too potent symbolically for such nuance. “That,” Republican Edwin Cowles chuckled, “is one interview too many.” 

Most Americans thought they settled these issues in the 1930s. Herbert Hoover, the dour engineer, endorsed a harsh tariff and limited immigration as the economy crashed. Although historians still debate how much the tariffs raised on 20,000 imported goods exacerbated the Great Depression, the Smooth-Hawley Act Hoover signed in 1930 symbolized the dangers of raising such high barriers for imports that affected nations retaliate by limiting American exports. And the Germans’ murder of six million Jews offered a damning verdict on Republicans’ immigration restrictions in the 1920s, intensified by Hoover’s executive order in 1930, reducing immigration another 90 percent to “protect American workingmen from further competition for positions by new alien immigration….”

In the Democrats’ comic book version of history, the jaunty, generous Franklin D. Roosevelt, swept away Herbert Hooover’s pinched protectionism and negative nativism, with a wave of a Camel cigarette inserted elegantly into its aristocratic holder. Actually, FDR was a transition figure. His Secretary of State Cordell Hull championed free trade, making it a defining principle for Roosevelt and his successors. And while Roosevelt mischievously reminded the Daughters of the American Revolution that “you and I … are descended from immigrants and revolutionists,” many Roosevelt subordinates maintained the “paper wall” of bureaucratic regulations that doomed European Jews by preventing their immigration.

Still, after FDR, free trade and open immigration became pillars of America’s Cold War success. “World prosperity … requires that we do all we can to expand world trade,” Harry Truman said. Barry Goldwater was also a free-trader, but his cranky conservatism – and Richard Nixon’s edginess -- made it easy for the left to caricature Republicanism as reactionary and Hooverite, until Ronald Reagan’s expansive, smiley-faced conservatism endorsed free trade, along with “our own immigrant heritage, and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

In that spirit, in December 1992, as his presidency ended, the Republican George H. W. Bush signed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, to open commerce with Mexico and Canada. To ensure that Congress ratified the treaty, Bush’s Democratic successor Bill Clinton worked closely with Republican free traders. A crazy idea of Reagan’s to unite “the people of the Western Hemisphere in a bond of mutually beneficial exchange,” now became a bipartisan presidential project.

Clinton secured more concessions from Mexico, then arm-twisted skeptical Democrats in an in-your-face Lyndon Johnson way. And he wooed the American people. When Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush visited the White House for the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords signing in September 1993, Clinton convened a pro-NAFTA press conference with the ex-presidents. Forced to improvise because his note cards scrambled, the president nevertheless smoothly made the sale.  Clinton linked opening trade to the free circulation of goods and ideas encouraged by the Berlin Wall’s fall.  He predicted that NAFTA would “generate” many “jobs of tomorrow …. by fostering an export boom to Mexico.” Recognizing “trade as more of an opportunity than a threat,” most Americans backed Clinton’s free trade policies, just as two-thirds supported his crime bill and welfare reform too.

Dismissing these moves as Clinton just acting like a Reaganite Democrat misses Bill Clinton’s core identity as a forward-thinking centrist. Clinton had long warned about the real problem underlying what has become today’s free trade issue. America’s deindustrialization devastated Americans. During the 1950s’ mass middle class prosperity, union men like auto workers and longshoremen worked for one company for life, earning enough to finish every month with a little left over for savings, pensions, and fun. Four decades later, in a high tech globalizing economy, “made in America” manufacturing had become too expensive, and importing foreign goods had become too cheap.

While campaigning in 1991, Governor Clinton impressed a reporter, Don Baer, by speaking frankly to workers about “having multiple jobs throughout their lives,” urging them to be nimble, learning to retool repeatedly.  By 1996, Baer was a Clinton insider, watching pollsters advise President Clinton to stop addressing this challenge so frankly, because, while true, “it scared people.”

These trends have only intensified. In June 1979, there were 19.5 million manufacturing workers in America. Today, that number has dropped to 12.3 million.  Yet with 37 percent fewer workers, the country produces 78 percent more products, contributing $2.17 trillion to the American economy. This shift reflects modern capitalism not free trade. According to the Commerce Department, over the last quarter-century, exports of American manufactured goods have quadrupled, with the country enjoying a trade surplus with Mexico and Canada, its NAFTA partners, especially thanks to NAFTA’s expansion of Mexico’s middle class.

In 1998, some Americans’ atavistic fear of free trade caught up with Clinton. That December, 45,000 protesters denouncing the World Trade Organization (WTO) Summit in Seattle repudiated Clintonomics from the left. Protesting against globalization in 1999 was as futile as protesting against clouds in Seattle. Still, the Seattle Battle heralded Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Party insurrection against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party, long the bastion of free trade orthodoxy. Ironically, Donald Trump, the uber capitalist and New Gilded Age materialist, is echoing what George H.W. Bush’s former adviser James Pinkerton called “the politics of radical nostalgia.”

Unfortunately, even before the Great Crash of 2008 and the Slow Motion Recovery, globalization, deindustrialization, and the limited remuneration for McJobs, benefited Wall Street while hurting Main Street. The rich enjoyed more of the nation’s wealth. Despite Bill Clinton’s rhetoric, more Americans could not make ends meet.

In an ideal world, Hillary Clinton would confront Donald Trump’s hypocrisy on these issues. She would defend free trade and welcoming immigration policies as part of an expansive American nationalism that has long reflected America’s big heart – and helped build America’s big wallet. Rather than mocking him for manufacturing Trump products abroad, she would mischievously congratulate him for understanding the economic realities as a businessman, then condemn him for lying about his calculus to voters. Rather than echoing Trump and Sanders, she would challenge Americans to transcend their xenophobia and fear of change. Overall, she would help Americans articulate an open, confident, liberal nationalism that could pass the “Richard Stands” test, the schoolkid’s misstatement of the Pledge of Allegiance line, “for which it stands,” rebuilding a modern American consensus.

Alas, amid such an intense campaign, Hillary Clinton will probably continue what she’s been doing, giving the anti-free traders just enough validation to avoid a big fight, while hoping to retain enough wiggle room to govern the economy effectively if she wins. In that way, Donald Trump is betraying Reagan and channeling Herbert Hoover, while Clinton is channeling the wily FDR while betraying Roosevelt’s bolder bipartisan successors, including her husband.

Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153830 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153830 0
Hillary Clinton Should Embrace Her Centrism Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext'Stronger together' is not a governing philosophy

When I say to my students, “Donald Trump promises to…” they all shout “make America great again!”—even if most hate him. When I say “And Hillary promises…” I get a few “Stronger Together” replies, but mostly awkward silence. After three debates and 30 years in politics, Hillary Clinton’s political identity remains mysterious.

Trump’s campaign is a baloney sandwich, which may have gone bad. Clinton’s is a donut—sprinkled with sweets for different constituencies, but lacking a center. To fix this, Hillary Clinton should stop running away from Bill Clinton’s legacy. Defending Clintonism will make her look bolder, shape a mandate if she should win and attract the centrist swing voters she needs to win.

For all his slickness, Bill Clinton was as ideological a president as Ronald Reagan. By the 1980s, many Democrats wondered how Lyndon Johnson’s liberal reforms produced such a cultural trainwreck, with crime, violence, drug abuse and family breakdown growing as government did, too. At once doubting big government and rejecting Ronald Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric, Bill Clinton’s centrist synthesis revitalized liberalism.

Mr. Clinton’s “Third Way,” which fused opportunity, responsibility and community, shaped his greatest domestic achievements as president. Republicans talked about balancing the budget—Clinton delivered, eliminating the deficit by 1999. With more than 43 million crimescommitted in 1993 alone, Americans couldn’t trust a government that couldn’t even protect them. Clinton believed his crime bill would save liberalism by centering it. To show he wasn’t race-baiting, Clinton addressed African Americans directly as victims of crime, six times more likely to be murdered than whites.

That 1994 crime bill wooed Republicans with tougher mandatory sentences, new prisons and 100,000 more police officers. It also courted Great Society Democrats by banning nineteen types of automatic weapons, while investing $6.1 billion in crime-prevention programs. One 1994 Time/CNN/Yankelovich survey found 64.5 percent of blacks supported a three-strikes rule against repeat felony offenders.

Two decades later, with crime down and incarceration levels up, especially among minorities, it’s easy to overstate the bill’s harshness and impact. Thefederal prison population had already risen by 239.9 percent in the 14 years before the 1994 act’s passage, and, today, the federal prisons the law covered only house 13.5 percent of America’s prison population.

Similarly, Clinton’s welfare reform made sense back then. Taught by the sociologist William Julius Wilson that black poverty stemmed from deindustrialization more than racism and moved by constituents who resented the welfare stigma, Clinton ran for president promising to “end welfare as we know it.” After capturing Congress in 1994, Republicans pushed aggressively for “workfare,” trying to return recipients to the job force. They proposed block grants for each state along with a five-year lifetime limit on receiving welfare.

In 1996, Clinton passed welfare reform, with all its flaws, by forging a bipartisan coalition. Two-thirds of African-Americans supported a five-year limit for receiving welfare.

Initially, amid the 1990s boom, workfare worked. Welfare rates and child poverty rates dropped. The salaries of single mothers increased. Unfortunately, the Great Crash of 2008 plunged many people into “extreme poverty.”

Still, blaming persistent poverty or mass incarceration on one mid-‘90s law is simplistic. Clinton’s reset restored many Americans’ faith in government. He detoxified the crime and welfare issues by shifting the debate so far leftward that he is now bashed for not eliminating violence, racism and poverty.

America’s pied piper president benefited from governing after the Cold War ended and during 116 months of continuous growth, America’s longest peacetime economic expansion. “Did I solve every problem? No,” Clinton said recently. “Did I get caught trying? You bet.”

Sloppy, self-righteous, self-indulgent, Bill Clinton frequently failed, too. His scandal-scarred and potholed presidency polarized Americans, fueled the mortgage crisis and the deregulation that exploded in 2008 and, as he himself said, “failed” to neutralize Osama bin Laden before 9/11.

Nevertheless, Secretary Clinton shouldn’t ignore President Clinton’s political role-modeling and policy achievements. Hillary Clinton should build on her family legacy. Noting where to improve it will define her. She should stop fearing defections from Bernie Sanders voters on the Left and woo swing votes in the center. Today’s party-fluid voters are independent,pragmatic and worried about the economy. Memories of Bill Clinton’s centrist aspirations and 22 million new jobs should appeal to these Selfie Voters.

Hillary Clinton’s trust problem goes far beyond emails. “Stronger Together” and “I’m with Her” are Hallmark Card sentiments, not a governing philosophy. If Hillary Clinton cannot define an ideology, questions about her political character—not just her personal character—will continue to haunt her.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153832 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153832 0
2016 In Context: The Rhino Who Won an Election by a Landslide Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

As the day approaches to choose between America’s two historically unpopular major party nominees, some Americans still seek an alternative. 

Perhaps America’s unhappy undecideds should learn from history and write-in a Rhino: no, not a Republican in Name Only, a real rhinoceros like Cacareco. She charged ahead of a crowded field in the Sao Paolo City Council elections in 1959, earning “one of the highest totals for a local candidate in Brazil’s recent history,” The New York Times reported.

A serious impulse triggered this Brazilian charade. On October 8, 1959 in Sao Paolo, sewers were overflowing, prices were soaring, supplies of meat, beans, and voter patience were dwindling. Dismayed by the 540 candidates running for 45 council seats, some students decided, “Better elect a rhinoceros than an ass"...

Read the whole article on The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153833 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153833 0
2016 In Context: In this Crazy Election, Most American Jews Are Acting Normal

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a visiting professor at the Ruderman Family Program in American Jewish Studies at Haifa University, which funded the study and e-book The Jewish Vote: Political Power and Identity in US Elections on which this column is based.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext

For all the 2016 campaign’s anomalies, and despite many strange Jewish moments, from Bernie Sanders calling himself the son of a Polish – not Jewish – immigrant, to Donald Trump’s tallit-wearing in a black evangelical church – Jews are set to play their usual historic role on Election Day. Polls suggest that – despite yet another round of predictions that Jews were shifting Republican -- once again most Jews will vote Democratic. And once again, despite all the talk about “The Jewish Vote,” Jewish influence will be felt most through checkbooks rather than voting booths. Jews constitute only two percent of America’s population, limiting their voting power. But in recent presidential elections, Jews donated as much as 50 percent of the funds Democrats raised from individuals and 25 percent of Republican funds. With nine of Hillary Clinton’s top ten donors Jews who together have given her at least $80 million, that trend apparently continued (although Republican Jewish donations may have dropped this year, thanks to Trump’s boorishness).

The Jewish vote tells more about American Jewish identity than about American Jewish power. American Jews’ deep loyalty to the Democratic Party since Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency in the 1930s has mystified conservatives since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s —leading to repeated predictions of a rightward shift. And while in New York, the greatest demographic growth is in conservative-leaning Orthodox and Russian Jews, most American Jews remain proud liberals.

Just as most Americans after the Civil War defined themselves as Democrats or Republicans “becuz that’s how my daddy and granddaddy voted,” voting Democratic is often considered as central to the American Jewish inheritance as are an inspirational immigration story, silver candlesticks, and grandma’s matza ball recipe. George W. Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer remembers that when his “horrified” parents discovered he had become a Republican activist in college, they told sympathetic neighbors in Westchester: “at least he’s not a drug addict.”

Moreover, despite assumptions that Jews vote Jewish interests, especially regarding Israel, most American Jews are more pro-choice than pro-Israel in the voting booth—yet still so pro-Israel they prove that liberalism and Zionism overlap easily, contradicting many Israel-bashers’ claims. As the Far Left continues demonizing Israel, Jewish Democrats can teach liberals how to be pro-Israel and progressive, explaining that, as the left-wing Zionist coalition Ameinu insists, “progressive Zionism is not an oxymoron.”

American Jewish liberals often see their liberalism as naturally, obviously, “Jewish,” ignoring their many conservative Jewish cousins. In fact, American Jewish liberalism is quintessentially American. This tenacious American Jewish political identity reveals much about the American Jewish community and America itself. American Jewish liberalism stems from the great mutual love affair between America and its Jews, rooted in American exceptionalism, a phenomenon from which President Barack Obama benefited politically but which he rejects ideologically. This American exceptionalism, emphasizing America’s uniqueness, especially compared to Europe, is reflected in American Jews’ astonishing success —the many American billionaires, intellectuals, and leaders who are Jewish, as well as most Jews’ feeling so at home in America.

Israelis—who have been ruled by more right-wing governments than left-wing governments since 1977 and increasingly feel burned by the Left, will be amused to hear that American Jews define Judaism as inherently liberal (so will American Orthodox and traditional Jews, who are increasingly conservative politically). They will be fascinated to learn that many American Jews consider the United States the Promised Land. They will be distressed to hear that American Jews rarely vote with Israel in mind and usually focus on American issues.

But Israelis will be heartened to discover that despite Election Day neglect, and contrary to the hysterical headlines exaggerating American Jewish alienation from Israel, most American Jews remain pro-Israel—with the Cohen Center at Brandeis University surveys showing twenty-to-thirty year olds tending to be even more pro-Israel than thirty-to-forty year olds, mostly thanks to their Birthright trips. Moreover, because most Americans support Israel far more than the Palestinians, voters on the presidential level have never had to choose between a “pro-Israel” or “anti-Israel” candidate. Some mainstream American politicians may be tougher on Israel or softer on the Palestinians than others, but no major party presidential nominee has ever been “anti-Israel.” Usually, as in 2016, the Democratic and Republican candidates squabble over who is more “pro-Israel” and will better defend the Jewish State.

Still, as the great American social stress test, the 2016 election has highlighted three disturbing trends American Jews must confront. First, Hillary Clinton’s Jewish son-in-law and Bernie Sanders’s non-Jewish grandchildren indicate the mainstreaming and normalizing of intermarriage. It’s more typical to see intermarried Jews drift away from Judaism or at least avoid intense Jewish involvement, than to see their spouses become committed Jews like Ivanka Trump. Second, looking right, poisonous anti-Semitism emerged, expressed most dramatically in hostile tweets against Jewish reporters who dared to criticize Donald Trump. And third, looking left, appalling anti-Zionism – which often reflects and stirs anti-Semitism – is spreading on the Democrats’ Far Left.

After Election Day, responsible leaders from both parties must denounce the hatred unleashed – against Jews and others – as part of the healing America desperately needs following this ugly, tumultuous campaign.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153834 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153834 0
2016 In Context: The 2016 Ad Campagin Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a visiting professor at the Ruderman Family Program in American Jewish Studies at Haifa University, which funded the study and e-book The Jewish Vote: Political Power and Identity in US Elections on which this column is based.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext

At the risk of being outrageously unacademic, my gut tells me that this campaign has been affected far less by political commercials than previous campaigns.  We will have to await the vote and future research to see if I am right or wrong. But the Donald Trump campaign has been a personality-driven phenomenon choreographed by a celebrity who understands that the best publicity is free publicity. At the same time, his opponent Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for decades as well.

The campaign has been defined by Trump’s speeches – and outrageous statements; by media driven controversies over said statements, her emails, his taxes, her husband’s foundation; by leaks – of Trump’s 2005 Access Hollywood appearance and of Clintonites’ emails; and by the debates.

Speaking anecdotally, not one person I know has initiated a conversation about this campaign with me based on any of the ads - -it seems that Saturday Night Live parodies have launched far more interactions than paid political ads.

Still, political ads help tell a campaign’s story - -and show what a campaign thinks will work.

These quick links will show that: 

a.     a) Hillary Clinton is largely running a negative campaign against Trump, against Donald Trump, against Trumpism and against Trump/Pence. Her devastating ad Mirrors, while not as potent or talked about as the 1988 Willie Horton ad or the 1964 anti-Goldwater Daisy ad certainly ranks, in artistic terms, with ads like this one, of Goldwater cutting off the Eastern seaboard.

b.     b) Donald Trump is running both against Hillary Clinton and against the status quo. Most intriguing to me was this ad, movement, which, echoing Ronald Reagan’s famous Morning in America ad, suggests a more positive campaign strategy that might have worked, but was barely tried.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153835 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153835 0
2016 In Context: The Boomers' Civil War Continues with 2016 Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext

Even though Barack Obama’s triumph over Hillary Clinton and John McCain in 2008 was supposed to empower the Gen-Xers, the Baby Boomer generation set the agenda in 2016, once again. But despite impressions that Boomers think, act, and vote alike from the left side of the aisle, this campaign pivots around two inner civil wars that have repeatedly divided this obnoxiously-influential generation, born between 1946 and 1960.

The clash between 68-year-old Hillary Rodham Clinton and 74-year-old Bernie Sanders pitted radicals who wanted to provoke change from the outside versus more pragmatic liberals who wanted to foster change from within.  And the even greater divide between the two leading Democrats and 70-year-old Donald Trump highlights that generation’s true hidden fault line. With his demagogic instincts, Trump is exploiting half-a-century’s worth of resentments built up by the silent majority who in the 1960s and 1970s were more likely to be washing their cars, worshiping Elvis, and voting for Richard Nixon, then burning their draft cards, listening to Bob Dylan, and voting for George McGovern.

Bernie Sanders’ attack on Hillary Clinton as a pragmatic sell-out showed how much she and the country have changed. In her youth, Hillary Rodham broke with her college senior thesis subject, the subversive community organizer Saul Alinsky. In her memoirs she described their “fundamental disagreement. He believed you could change the system only from the outside. I didn’t.

Even while attending Yale Law School, moving to Arkansas, marrying Bill Clinton, and becoming the reluctant First Lady of Arkansas, Hillary Clinton generated a more radical vibe than her husband. In the 1992 campaign, Republicans attacked her as the family fanatic, the true believer who revealed the real, militant, Bill Clinton hiding behind his New Democrat, Good ole’ boy mask.  Republicans’ caricaturing of her as “The Winnie Mandela of Little Rock,” both shrewish and extremist, forced the Clinton campaign to sideline her and repackage her.

In fact, Hillary Clinton was doing what she had been doing since she broke with Alinsky: remaining a liberal while functioning in a newly Reaganized America. Still, this Methodist feminist, this moralistic hippie preaching a gospel of individual accountability and governmental social responsibility, has consistently synthesized two American ideological archetypes, the Puritan and the Progressive. At her best, she combines the Puritan’s sobriety, self-control, and social discipline with the Progressive’s generosity, idealism, and social engineering. Today, she champions that balance by calling herself “a progressive who gets things done.”

By contrast, Sanders is the purist who refused to “sell out.” Of course, he was never as radical as the Weathermen, nor as drugged out as some hippies. He went mainstream enough to get elected repeatedly, albeit in the People’s Republic of Vermont. Still, he has always been more gadfly than gladhander, more independent than insider. His tradition is that of a Populist purist like William Jennings Bryan rather than centrist Democrats like William Jefferson Clinton – or Franklin D. Roosevelt, who knew how to compromise.  To speak Sixties-speak, Sanders is still yelling “Power to the people,” as the Clintons became the people wielding power.

For all their differences, and despite Sanders’ pre-Boomer birth in 1941, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders fit the usual political profile of Baby Boomers as “movement” liberals who forged their progressive ideology fighting for civil rights and against Vietnam.  With their characteristic arrogance, they and their allies universalized their elite minority “counterculture” assault on tradition as generational.  This narrative ignores the other side of the Sixties. Through the 1970s, less than 27 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds even enrolled in degree-granting institutions. On campus, more students had their lives defined by parietals – dormitory restrictions on coed visitation – than protests, and were more likely to sing “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, then “We Shall Overcome.” Ugly moments like the Kent State shootings in May 1970, pitted Baby Boomer marchers against Baby Boomer National Guardsman. In 1972, 52 percent of voters under 30 voted for Richard Nixon; only 48 percent voted for George McGovern.

Today, conservative Baby Boomers like Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump are not recovering radicals; they were of the mainstream culture the counter-culture countered. Even if some “turned on,” they never “tuned in” or “dropped out.” Trump, for one, cashed in and cashed out. And it wasn’t only old Archie Bunker types yelling “America: Love it or Leave it,” millions of Baby Boomers yelled that too.

Culturally, all these politicians, except perhaps Sanders, were considered “Yuppies” by the 1980s, with that characteristic mix of Baby Boomer self-involvement even when they were being selfless, and self-promotion even when doing the most mundane things. But politically, the counterculture types might be best understood as “Adversarial Insiders.” When the literary critic Lionel Trilling described the “adversary culture” in 1965 as the “legitimization of the subversive,” or three years later, when he spoke of “modernism in the streets,” these Guerilla Careerists seemed unlikely to become America’s new establishment. By conquering the academy, the media, the courts, and the Democratic Party, they transformed America. Building on the 1960s’ rebellions, the 1970s’ implosions, and the 1980s’ recalibrations, these Adversarial Insiders -- including Mayor, Congressman, then, Senator Sanders --  made American democracy more horizontal, more accessible, less hierarchical, more informal, less bigoted. Their opponents, Provincial Outsiders, more rooted in their local contexts, preferred America’s solid, traditional, provincial past to its liquid, ever-changing, cosmopolitan present. 

The generational fissures continued even as the Sixties and Seventies ended. In 1992, only 41 percent of Bill Clinton’s generational cohort – the 30-to-49 year olds -- voted for him, two percent less than his 43 percent of the overall popular vote. Polls found that only 41 percent of the women Hillary Clinton’s age felt closer to her lifestyle and values; 47 percent of those born between 1943 and 1962 did not. In the 1990s and the 1960s, like today, class identity proved more powerful than a media-generated fantasy about a cohesive generation of lefties arising.

The Sixties’ liberating revolutions assailed consensus-building structures like family, community, and country. The pace of technological, demographic, ideological, and economic change accelerated wildly in the 1990s. The digital revolution connected computers to the Internet but disconnected millions from real contact with one another. The rainbowing of America had the country absorbing millions of different immigrants. The mass gender bender transformed sex roles and family relations. The Information Age boom prized individuality and indulgence. The contingency carnival celebrated all this choice and change. The tablets had been smashed—traditional scripts trashed—frequently replaced with much shopping and mass confusion

In liquid America, flexibility, fluidity, immediacy, impulse, individuality, and consumerism trump solidity, tradition, patience, responsibility, and communalism.

Today, America risks becoming a Republic of Nothing, with everything up for grabs, few core assumptions accepted, and family, responsibility, community, tradition weakened. Nevertheless, Clinton and company in the 1990s also pioneered a new, more embracing, world, a Republic of Everything, a kinder, gentler, pluralistic place welcoming people who deviated from once rigid norms. This new openness would be apparent under the conservative George W. Bush, whose Cabinet “looked like America” less self-consciously than Clinton’s, including Colin Powell as America’s first African-American secretary of state. This new world emerged most dramatically on Election Night, 2008, when many Republicans joined Democrats in cheering Barack Obama’s election as a national redemptive moment.

In many ways, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are Borderline candidates, flouting rules, juggling identities, shifting moods. Today, fewer American know what we stand for in our Republic of Nothing – even as many appreciate our new, open, pluralistic Republic of Everything. Our mainstream media tells us what we are not – against racism, sexism, authority. But these new nihilists encourage cynicism not idealism, as our technologies encourage individuation not cooperation.  Being tolerant is a foreign policy not a national mission statement. Clinton and Trump must help this increasingly diverse America, this wonderful, welcoming Republic of Everything, rebuild a consensus around core values, key ideals, so ours once again is a Republic of Something not Nothing, passing the “Richard Stands” test, the schoolkid’s misstatement of the Pledge of Allegiance line, “for which it stands.” As the model liberal nationalist venture, a country founded on core ideals, America has long stood for something, even if imperfectly implemented. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” were meaningful guideposts in the McGuffey Readers era, when nineteenth-century students memorized defining American texts to try fulfilling American ideals.

In a complicated, multi-dimensional, pluralistic democracy like America’s, individual voters balance conflicting generational, social, economic, ethnic, geographic, ideological strains. It helps to be sensitive to the generational dynamic in politics. The Constitution itself was written by what one historian called “the young men of the Revolution,” those more defined by the frustrations of fighting the Revolutionary War with limited national power than their elders who initiated the rebellion against King George’s executive power. The 1860 election had young men post-revolution, proud Americans born after Thomas Jefferson’s presidency like Abraham Lincoln who defeated the older, staid, don’t rock the boat, statesman John Bell, born during George Washington’s tenure in 1796.  In 1896, even though he didn’t win, the 36-year-old William Jennings Bryan triggered a changing of the guard from Civil War veterans like Brigadier General Benjamin Harrison and Major William McKinley, who grew up with a weaker central government and campaigned by repeatedly “waving the bloody shirt” of war. By growing up in a post-Civil War America that was more united and more powerful, Bryan and his rivals Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson all agreed on the need for a more powerful presidency. And in both 1960 and 1992, John Kennedy, then Bill Clinton, fashioned their campaigns as crusades to unseat an older generation and seize the torch of leadership for their more dynamic, forward-looking peers.

Then as now, it helps to track generational tensions without conjuring a generational straitjacket. Yet, predictably, whoever wins, Baby Boomers on the Left will continue debating whether insiders or outsiders can best advance their progressive agenda. And whoever wins, the media will continuing defining Boomers as lefties, thus feeding the ever-growing resentments of those from the Other Side of the 60s, whose fury against the “McGoverniks” intensifies the more they are ignored – an anger Donald Trump, as one of them, stokes brilliantly.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153836 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153836 0
2016 in Context: 10 Clinton Moments We Wish We Could Forget The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy 

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext 

As Hillary Clinton runs for president, although as I argued in Time last week, she should resurrect her huband’s centrism, she should not promise “more of the same” regarding her husband’s presidency. The Nineties were a great decade of peace and prosperity, and Bill Clinton’s presidency had many highlights. But no one wants a rerun – especially of these low points of Bill Clinton’s presidency, as described in my book, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s . 

I know we have reached the point in the campaign where Dems have no patience for any criticism of their candidate – so, don’t worry – tomorrow I will send out 10 highlights from the Clinton years! 

1. Troopergate, Christmas, 1993. 

In December, 1993, as the rookie president and his First Lady hosted rounds of Christmas parties, the Clintons were rocked by detailed accusations, leaked by Arkansas state troopers to CNN and the American Spectator, describing an adulterous governor with countless conquests including one named “Paula,” always trying to dodge his foul-mouthed, sexually-frustrated wife.  As they scrambled to defend their boss, one Clinton aide admitted, “I think I'm going to throw up.” 

2. MTV: “Briefs” not Boxers  

As the first Baby Boomer president, Bill Clinton was a lot less discrete than his predecessors. On April 19, 1994, when asked during an MTV-sponsored town hall, “Is it boxers or briefs,” Clinton chuckled, and broadcast his underwear preference: “Usually briefs.” Not surprisingly, during this decade, use of the acronym “TMI” became widespread. 

3. Failing to stop the Rwanda genocide 

In April, 1994, the Rwandan Armed Forces and Hutu militias started slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutu politicians. Through mid-July, the frenzied butchery would continue, until French military intervention and the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) ended the mass murder. As more than 800,000 people, constituting three-quarters of the Tutsi population died, with countless others raped, brutalized, tortured, Bill Clinton dithered. His spokespeople bickered with reporters, refusing to condemn the mass murders as “genocide.” Legally, the formal designation would have compelled intervention. Four years later, Bill Clinton apologized, biting his lip to telegraph sincerity and taking “responsibility.”

4. National Homeownership Strategy in 1995 contributes to the 2008 crash 

With the best of intentions, President Clinton and his Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros launched a National Homeownership Strategy in June, 1995. By judging institutions by how many mortgages they approved, especially for minority buyers, the Administration bullied banks and other lenders to lower their standards. Unfortunately, easy credit inflated housing prices and burdened many poor people with unmanageable mortgages. Thirteen years later, during George W. Bush’s presidency, many bad mortgages, bundled into vulnerable mortgage-backed securities, would help crash the economy, making the 2008 recession a bipartisan achievement. Cisneros later admitted that “people came to homeownership who should not have been homeowners.” He confessed: “families are hurt because we as a society did not draw a line…. We were trying to be creative.”

5. The mysterious reappearance of the Rose Law Firm billing records – in the Clintons’ private book room. 

In a cruel twist–or a fumbled manipulation--on January 5, 1996, just as Hillary Clinton was launching her nationwide book tour for It Takes A Village, the Clintons’ private secretary Carolyn Huber announced she had stumbled onto missing records  in the Clintons’ “book room.” Five investigative bodies had requested the billing records from Hillary’s old Rose Law Firm, to see how involved she had been in legal cases connected to the Clintons’ failed real estate investment, Whitewater. The records suddenly appeared two days after the statute of limitations expired on one aspect of the case, the $60 million bankruptcy of Madison Guaranty, a failed Savings and Loan. The records showed more involvement in the bank’s affairs than Mrs. Clinton remembered, billing sixty hours over fifteen months.

6. Turning the White House into “Motel 1600” to raise campaign funds from celebrities – and mysterious Chinese donors. 

While running for reelection in 1996, Clinton's subtle but obvious peddling of access for political contributions had critics calling the White House “Motel 1600.” The quid pro quo was not unprecedented; the Clintonian brazenness and scale were. One-hundred-and-three White House coffees raised $26.4 million, averaging $54,000 per Danish eaten. Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers pulled in at least $100,000 per night. In 1997, allegations that Chinese agents had contributed generously to the Clinton campaign embarrassed the Democratic National Committee into returning $2,825,600 in improper donations.  

7. Trying to prove he was not a “McGovernik” liberal, Clinton enraged his gay allies by signing the Defense of Marriage Act in September, 1996.  

DoMA defined marriage as heterosexual, while permitting states to disregard gay marriages from other states. “[I]f there are people here who don’t like it,” Clinton snapped, “well, I’ve created seven and a half million new jobs and maybe it’s time for them to go out and take some of them.”  

Embarrassed nonetheless. Clinton signed the law at 12:50 AM, without photographers. He ignored this craven moment in his memoirs, and later endorsed overturning DoMA. 

8. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” 

Rumors in January 1998 of a presidential affair with a White House intern prompted a series of increasingly clear denials, culminating with Clinton’s infamous, finger-wagging proclamation: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” As the scandal grew – and triggered political and legal headaches for Clinton -- he also dodged a question during sworn testimony by saying “it depends what the meaning of the word is, is.” Ultimately, a stained blue dress proved that Clinton was guilty of adultery, and of lying to the American people. Fortunately for him, the Republican witchhunt against him triggered its own backlash and saved Clinton, although he was impeached. 

9. The Lewinsky scandal, along with a nationwide refusal to take seriously the threats of Islamist terrorism, tragically set the stage for 9/11. 

In August, 1998, as proof of Clinton’s deceit materialized, Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaida terrorists bombed two American embassies in Africa. On August 20, three days after Clinton’s testy grand jury testimony in the Lewinsky matter, the US military fired more than 75 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Afghanistan and the Sudan. The barrage missed bin Laden by a few hours, probably due to Pakistani intelligence leaks. Bin Laden survived.  The resulting controversy over the attack on the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum inhibited Clinton when other opportunities arose. Captured Islamist terrorists subsequently admitted that America’s passivity emboldened them. 

10. Even in the final moments of what Clinton had promised would be the “most ethical administration” in “history,” when both Clintons should have learned the importance of acting and appearing upright, their sloppy ethics and sense of entitlement again trumped good sense. 

Bill Clinton issued 176 pardons and sentence commutations, with many of the parolees like Marc Rich enjoying special access to him. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton accepted $190,027 worth of gifts to help fill  their two new houses, while taking some furniture donors had deeded to the White House. Bill Clinton, a brilliant politician, clearly was morally tone deaf and personally hollow; while his wife was often co-conspirator, not just victim or enabler. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153837 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153837 0
2016 In Context: 10 Clinton Moments to Remember Gil Troy, Professor of History at McGill University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.

 

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext 

As Hillary Clinton runs for president, I believe, as I argued in Time last week, that she should resurrect her husband’s centrism, trying to recreate some of the succeses of her husband’s presidency. The Nineties were a great decade of peace and prosperity, and Bill Clinton’s presidency had many highlights, as described in my book, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s .

I know we have reached the point in the campaign where partisans have no patience to read anything good about their opponents or bad about their hero/heroine -- so, buckle your seatbelts, tomorrow I look at why Hillary Clinton is so hated and distrusted. The day after I will look at the great highs and lows of Donald Trump's public service record. 

1. Playing “your momma don’t dance” on the sax with Ben E. King at the 1993 Inaugural Ball

2.  Martin Luther King memorial Memphis speech  (11/13/1993)

When Bill Clinton confronted blacks about crime – inviting them to work together on crime as a values challenge because blacks where disproportionately victimized by crime. Clinton’s candor and openness helped defuse the racial tensions around the problem and helped lead to the 1994 Crime Bill and today’s far lower crime rate.

3.  Little Rock healing (1997)

When President Clinton and Governor Mike Huckabee, a Democrat and a Republican, greeted the Little Rock 9 at the Schoolhouse door, 40 years after they had been blocked from entering by segregationists. 

]]> Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153838 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153838 0 2016 In Context: Donald Trump's Best - And Worst - Moments in Public Service Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext 

Having looked back at the 1990s, listing the ten best and ten worst Clinton moments in public service, let's look at Hillary Clinton's rival, Donald Trump through a similar lens.

TRUMP'S BEST MOMENTS IN PUBLIC SERVICE

1. In 1986, after years of delays and cost overruns, Donald Trump stepped in and promised to rebuild Wollman skating rink in Central Park.   Trump embarrassed city officials and New York's sclerotic bureaucracy by coming in under budget and in less time than expected.2.3.4. 5.6.7.8.9.10.Yes, nothing else! He has no real resume in public service, never having run for office before.

TRUMP'S WORST MOMENTS IN PUBLIC SERVICE

1. In 2015 and 2016, facing an electorate that is far more diverse than the one he was born into, Donald Trump nevertheless makes a series of statements that offended various groups, fueling a nasty, divisive presidential campaign.2.3.4.5.6.7.8.9.10. You get the point.... (note the one advantage here -- no experience in public service, no harm done til now!)

 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153839 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153839 0
2016 In Context: Understanding "Clintipathy" ... A Pathological Hatred of the Clintons Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext 

News of the FBI’s investigation of more Hillary Clinton emails isn’t just a bombshell—it’s a guided missile to her Achilles heel: her trust gap with the American people. And these assaults on her integrity are partially reasonable and partially unfair. Twenty years of irrational Clinton-bashing has shrunk popular trust in Hillary Clinton but in their Shakespearean relationship with the American people, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s moral blindspot has often justified some of the doubts.

Since the 1990s, Bill and Hillary Clinton have faced what we can call “Clintipathy“—a pathological hatred for them rooted in their roles as symbols of the Hippie Sixties and Yuppie Eighties. Hillary Clinton has benefited from many of the changes she and her peers initiated in making America more open, more egalitarian, more critical, more liberal. But as such a lightning rod, she’s made herself and her fellow cultural revolutionaries polarizing figures.

Old-fashioned sexism compounds this culture clash. Despite all her achievements, Hillary Clinton still faces many of the double standards imposed on women. Donald Trump—and Bill Clinton—often get away with half-truths and outright embellishments, enjoying a kind of hall pass reserved for roguish but charming football team captains. Meanwhile, many hold Mrs. Clinton to higher standards, treating her unfairly as the schoolmarmish, substitute teacher.

At the same time, if paranoids can have enemies, just because the Clintons have antagonists doesn’t mean they’re innocent. Hillary Clinton is responsible for the email mess and other ethical tangles, too. Given the hostility, she should have avoided even appearances of impropriety. But, it seems the very scrutiny she wanted to avoid led her into this moral chasm with her private server. Hillary Clinton seems to have been so traumatized by all the revelations in the 1990s, from publicizing the Clintons’ finances to exposing so many sexual intimacies during the Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones scandals, that when she became Secretary of State she sought to preserve her “zone of privacy.” Tragically, Secretary Clinton’s very desire not to have Judicial Watch and other opponents peer into every interaction caused the shoddy behavior that has us all poring over exponentially more of her exchanges.

Beyond this self-destructive paranoia, the Clintons have cut corners elsewhere, conveying a sense of entitlement, then lying about it. When caught, they have often justified their lapses with a characteristically Boomer self-righteousness, demanding absolution by invoking their idealism. Alice Roosevelt Longworth said President Warren Harding wasn’t a bad man, just a slob; the Clintons have been slobs, too. The march of mini-scandals in the White House was exhausting: the Whitewater financial shenanigans; the cover up after the Travel Office firings; the documents flying out of Vince Foster’s office following his suicide; the mysteriously reappearing Rose Law Firm billing records; the crass push for cash in 1996 which elicited shady Chinese and Indonesian donations; the lies about Bill Clinton’s sexual affairs; and the final outrages of too many unseemly presidential pardons and too much furniture shipped from the White House to their two new homes. Each scandal was not as terrible as opponents tried to make it but not as benign as the Clintons claimed.

Remember those moral missteps. Throw in the undeniable—and you can’t deny it, even if you want to—sexism. Now take the email fiasco. Add zealous enemies functioning in our time of an hysterical, polarizing blogosphere and deeply partisan divisions. Suddenly—voila!—this combustible environment perceives minor ethical twitches like major crimes.

If politicians could undergo soul scans, the evidence would probably show that Bill Clinton and Donald Trump lie more frequently and convincingly than Hillary Clinton. As a Methodist good girl who is neither a natural politician nor a bluffing businessman she doesn’t lie well. Despite Trump’s calling her “the most corrupt candidate ever,” her transgressions don’t rank with the bribery and sweetheart-deal-making that was common in 19th-century political parties—or on New York construction sites in the Seventies and Eighties. Democrats who deem her blameless and Republicans who brand her a master criminal both exaggerate. Such absolutes confuse voters, who must judge her lapses in context, proportionally, deciding how relevant such past behaviors are in determining what kind of president she—or her opponent—will be.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153840 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153840 0
2016 In Context: The Peeping Tom – and Tammy – Election Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext 

Shocked by how all these “recent inventions and business methods” have “invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life,” appalled that with “the press … overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of propriety and of decency” gossip “has become a trade,” two legal crusaders warned that “what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.” Although the two law partners, Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, were writing in 1890, they anticipated our brutal, bizarre 2016 Peeping Tom – and Tammy – campaign. This presidential election may be determined by two dramatic invasions of privacy – our mass eavesdropping on Donald Trump’s crass conversation with Billy Bush in 2005 and our collective snooping into the leaked emails of Hillary Clinton, Debra Wasserman Schultz, John Podesta, and others.

The fact that revelations of private exchanges threaten to be more influential this election cycle than public pronouncements about policy or ideology, suggests how debased our public discourse has become. We have plummeted a long way from an election like 1896 that pivoted around William Jennings Bryan’s eloquent rejection of a gold standard by saying: “you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” “Make America Great Again” and “Stronger Together” are far cries from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 Acceptance address concluding: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”

But even more disturbing is the way we all collude in repeated invasions of privacy, trampling on what Warren and Brandeis celebrated as the precious “right to be left alone.” In their now-classic Harvard Law Review article, the two traced the law’s development. Originally, legal protections punished “physical interference.” With growing “recognition” of our “spiritual nature,” our “feelings” and “intellect,” “the scope of these legal rights broadened.” Now, the term "property" has grown to comprise every form of possession – intangible, as well as tangible.”

In his famous Olmstead dissent in 1928, Louis Brandeis, now a Supreme Court Justice, considered “the right to privacy” essential “to the pursuit of happiness.” At the time, Brandeis worried about government intrusions on these rights. Our world teaches us that media – and mass – intrusions are no better.

We need to treat illegal hacks as piracy -- meaning the theft of intellectual property – and the information garnered from “Wikileaks” and other such pirates as stolen property. In that vein, anyone who passes on illegally obtained information is no better than the spouse of a jewel thief who knowingly wears a stolen diamond necklace.

This campaign is not the first contest to peep behind a politician’s public veneer and expose the hypocrisy that is as natural to politics as bats are to baseball. The Framers of the Constitution began with a reversed equation. They assumed that when people like George Washington paraded around as paragons of virtue in public, it reflected their private virtue. More broadly, Americans in the early nation linked individual and communal virtue. A president’s example gives “a tone to [the] moral pulse of the nation,” the Albany Argus explained in 1844.

But by mid-century, one’s public role was no longer the crucial determinant of one’s “character.” Educators like Horace Mann and Ralph Waldo Emerson preached that individual moral behavior bettered one’s “self” and improved society. “Character” now implied ethical conduct. A man “pure and upright in his private character,” the Argus continued, “is the only safe depository of public trust. . . . The vices and immoralities of private life will be carried into the public administration.” Just as a merchant would not select a clerk whose habits were immoral, or parents hire a teacher prone to vice, so should Americans protect themselves from the libertine and gambler, Henry Clay, the Democratic newspaper concluded.

Inevitably, then, there has always been a “Gotcha” element to American campaigning, seeking to unmask the true stinker behind all the perfumed peacocking. The 1884 campaign probably had the most influential leak in nineteenth-century American history, when on September 15 that year – not quite an October surprise the Boston Journal published Republican nominee James G. Blaine’s 1876 correspondence with a businessman, Warren Fisher, Jr., supplied by James Mulligan, once Fisher’s clerk. Fisher had helped Blaine sell some near-worthless railroad bonds in a series of questionable but profitable transactions. In one of these “Mulligan Letters,” Blaine ghostwrote a letter for Fisher exonerating himself. In the accompanying cover letter, Blaine explained the ruse and instructed: “Burn this letter.” Instead, “Burn this letter” became the cry of Democrats all over the country, as they denounced, “James, James, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the State of Maine.”

Of course, Americans have long loved gossiping about their political leaders, wondering about their private lives. Ironically, despite all the sanctimony coming from the Clinton camp these days about Donald Trump’s boorish behavior, Bill and Hillary Clinton spent much of the 1990s arguing for what Hillary Clinton back then called a “zone of privacy” and against what Bill Clinton condemned as “the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives” at the cost of our “national life.”

But our age of electronic voyeurism, where everyone is an aspiring Bob Woodward or Matt Drudge has created a nation of Peeping Toms and Tammys. As a result, in 2008, Barack Obama was embarrassed when a sympathetic Huffington Post blogger who was following him around recorded his obnoxious riff at a San Francisco fundraiser that many of the people in small town America “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Four years later, Mother Jones publicized a surreptitiously recorded video of what it called Mitt Romney “raw and unplugged” dismissing the “47 percent who are with” Barack Obama “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Romney was outed by the bartender who worked the event, Scott Prouty.

This year, amid the leaked emails and eleven-year-old Trump tape, Hillary Clinton was also caught lumping half of Trump’s supporters in “the basket of deplorables” as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.”

We have long known that a political gaffe is a politician caught in the act of being frank – or honest. And not every act of revelation is similar. Still, citizens should want politicians to have candid exchanges with their advisers on email, without fearing exposure of every half-baked idea, stupid qucip, and annoying correspondent. And those Democrats who were able to forgive Bill Clinton’s sins as “private,” irrelevant to his job, should be equally forgiving of Donald Trump, just as those Republicans who refused to forgive Bill Clinton should be equally condemning of Donald Trump.

Moreover, we need a fuller policy debate between our two leading nominees that goes beyond bluster and character assassination. This election, like many, ultimately triggers two central worries that haunted the Framers of the Constitution. Our country’s founders feared the kind of demagoguery Donald Trump exhibits as well as the reliance on government that has been the hallmark of Hillary Clinton’s career. This election is a lost opportunity to have the kind of bracing debate that help democracies mature.

Ultimately, however, this election reflects the loss of privacy we all experience by living on Facebook and Instagram, by being photographed and recorded practically wherever we are, by friends and foes alike. This most cherished right of privacy that Brandeis saw as so central to a happy and healthy life not just a functional democracy is missing, not just in this campaign, but in our lives.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153841 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153841 0
2016 In Context: Why Not Judge Israel the Way We Judge the United States? Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext 

Dear Canadians,

Clearly, the U.S. presidential campaign has revealed every American’s truly ugly face.

• America is racist: look at those cop killings, listen to Black Lives Matter, and see the statistics showing how disproportionately African-Americans end up imprisoned, on welfare and failing school.

• America is sexist: it has a major party nominee who boasts about pawing women, who speaks about women as if they are mere sex objects.

• America is anti-immigrant: consider those yahoos shouting down Muslims and Mexicans, blaming outsiders because they can’t find jobs, talking about building a big wall in the South, and billing Mexico for it.

• America is hostile to people with special needs: have you seen that leading politician mocking a reporter’s palsy?

• America is corrupt: of its two major nominees, one dodged taxes for years and one broke the law about handling government secrets via email, but the FBI director found her crimes not-prosecutable – not the standards of behaviour you want in a leader.

• America is undemocratic: try explaining the electoral college to a fellow Canadian, or having it explained to you if you don’t understand it. How many Americans even realize that every four years, they don’t cast ballots for one of the nominees for president, but for electors pledged to support that nominee?

• America is falling apart: look at that years-long electoral circus, the endless campaigning, the billions in campaign contributions, the fury between competing groups, the vicious partisan competition, and the many problems highlighted economically, politically, culturally and diplomatically – with few realistic solutions in sight.

Given what a disaster and disappointment it has become, shouldn’t we all agree:

• To boycott all American goods, all American academics, anything to do with America, immediately – and to agitate on every Canadian university to boycott America, making sure that all Americans on our campuses feel uncomfortable and rejected because of their evil country;

• To endorse as many UN resolutions as possible criticizing America, punishing Americans and isolating America. Let’s have a General Assembly resolution declaring “Americanism is Racism!” Let’s have a UNESCO resolution declaring the American Revolution never happened. Let’s have one Security Council resolution demanding Manhattan’s return to the natives, who clearly didn’t intend to sell it for $24 to settlers centuries ago, and piles of resolutions demanding that America stop building in its settlements, places named after natives – Detroit, Chicago, Massachusetts, Alabama – proving the indigenous suffering imposed by this racist, colonialist entity whose name we shouldn’t even mention;

• That America shouldn’t exist and should never have been established, given that it was built on land stolen from the natives (who were even mocked in the World Series by that Cleveland Indians team)?

Hmmm. Of course, the United States has its problems and its flaws. But every intelligent person reading these words also realizes that the “racist” country elected a black president, that “sexist” America is also Hillary Clinton’s America, that immigrants built this “anti-immigrant” country, that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, that America is far less corrupt than most countries, that no large democracy is as pure as a town meeting with its straight-up votes, and that America the dysfunctional may have been making headlines recently, but America the functional remains an extraordinarily safe, happy and productive place.

Moreover, boycotting America would hurt Canada, such anti-American resolutions wouldn’t pass in the UN, and Canada might be next on the docket if we start opening up the question of natives.

In short, we judge America wisely, maturely, in proportion and in context, understanding that countries are complex, that not everything is so black and white, that we shouldn’t be so harsh and judgmental, and that, we, too, have our flaws.

So I’m confused. If we can judge America and ourselves so fairly, why not Israel?

Read original article on the Canadian Jewish News

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153842 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153842 0
2016 In Context: An Election Night Rx for PTSD (Pre-Trump-Clinton-Election Stress Disorder) Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

Click HERE for more installments of 2016 In Context:  Gil Troy's commentary on the closing days of the election.

Americans finally have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- and hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, here are my final thoughts. 

Like two animals that have each bloodied each other but keep biting and clawing, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are staggering toward Election Day. After visiting four American cities in one week, I am struck by how anxious people are about this election. The last time I remember such nervousness was in 2000, during the George W. Bush-Al Gore deadlock, after Election Day. We have to go back nearly half a century to 1968, to find a moment when Americans were so polarized, so worried, so alienated from one another.

Even though we have not yet reached the big moment, it’s time to start thinking about the day after – and how to heal the country.

 Let’s remember that the presidential election campaign is an artificial exercise launched to select the most popular candidate to govern America. The primaries and caucuses, the conventions and debates, the commercials and speeches, all ritualize political combat, combining serious political business with the traditional, sometimes ridiculous, frequently colorful, sacraments of America’s civil religion. Similarly, Election Day combines the substantive mission of choosing leaders with traditions easing the shift from fighting to healing, from politics to governance. In the nineteenth century, many artistic depictions of Election Day – and the carnivals and festivals held as farmers and workers gathered to vote -- celebrated the political miracle, that we the people choose our own leaders based on their virtues not their monarchical bloodline.

To protect that sanctity of the election -- the very word originated in the notion of God choosing individuals for salvation -- state laws ban campaigning too close to polling places. Just as politicians switch from apocalyptic warnings if their rivals win, to redemptive toasts hailing the people’s genius and the system’s stability, these laws help Americans transition from the passion of the campaign trail to the contemplation of the ballot box. There is a sanctity to the voting booth that welcomes quiet after the shrill, profane campaign, paving the way toward unifying and leading the day after.

Even in the nineteenth century when corruption often tainted the ballot box, Americans treated the voting moment with revelry and reverence. With the candidate quieted, the citizen is empowered. The nation is supposed to start moving from what Senator Henry Cabot Lodge called our “idiotic way of carrying on a political campaign,” filled with one “silly habit” after another, to what one Republican in 1924 called “the wise exercise of the power and duties of President of the United States,” which “calls for almost superhuman moral, mental, and physical endowments.” In Connecticut, citizens of Hartford rejoiced in the people power elections activated with parades and balls often serving Election Cake – a flavorful cinnamon, coriander, molasses and raisin yeast bread.

Election Day ends with the vote count – and except in rare cases of deadlock or atypical boorishness – elegant exchanges between the winners and losers. The concession speech, like all regularized rites, hovers in that characteristically human space between the artificial and the real, the sterile and the meaningful, the dishonest and the honest. From celebrating Christmas to singing the national anthem, humans regularly choreograph moments to produce particular emotional outcomes and ideological attachments.

The democratic concession formula calls for magnanimous winners and gracious losers, with all promising to cooperate. Such expressions, even if insincere, legitimize the results and America’s democracy.

To many losers, these anguished moments feel like public deaths. After losing a Congressional election in 1824, Henry Clay compared “hearing every kind of eulogium and panegyric, pronounced upon me” now that he had lost, to experiencing your funeral “whilst alive.” Upon losing the presidency to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Jimmy Carter admitted, “I promised you four years ago that I would never lie to you. So, I can't stand here tonight and say it doesn't hurt.” Still, Carter “accepted the decision.”

Sometimes, candidates deflect through humor. In 1952, Adlai Stevenson, the Illinois Democrat, invoked Abraham Lincoln, the Illinois Republican, who said that after an election loss, “he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark… too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”  

Even during deadlocks – and immediately thereafter -- candidates, understanding the volatility of the situation, have acted cautiously, patriotically. In 1876, Democrats were frustrated with the silence of Samuel Tilden, who ultimately lost to Rutherford B. Hayes. But America had erupted into a deadly, five-year Civil War just sixteen years earlier, and Tilden’s concern for the nation constrained him. Similarly, in 2000, Al Gore, convinced that the Supreme Court decision giving the election to George W. Bush was flawed, nevertheless said: “This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done.”

Donald Trump’s reprehensible “rigged election” comment launched a pre-emptive assault on American democracy. The way he and Hillary Clinton act over the next 48 hours will help determine whether those ill-chosen, unpatriotic words were a fall squall or a Category 5 hurricane. Both have to show a grandeur, a vision, an underlying patriotism trumping partisanship that has been absent for most of this long, depressing campaign.

As Americans stagger toward Election Day, democracy often feels threatened by the passions campaigns trigger. But as the psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk teaches, “our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being.” This insight applies nationally too. Just as theologians explain that grace involves being able to bestow compassion even on sinners, post-Election healing doesn’t ignore political differences, it just shifts the conversational focus. Our two party system and quadrennial presidential system produce an in party and an out party every four years. Just as we wound with words, we can soothe with them.

Candidates who are patriotic Americans, supporting the democratic republic for which we stand, understand that as the primary disrupters of American harmony they have a particular responsibility to lead the healing. Let’s not just hope. Let’s demand that on Election Night – and subsequently – the two major party nominees – along with the thousands of candidates running November 8—play their historic parts, acting with grace and patriotism, redirecting the campaign’s fury into passion for governing. Such grace does not also prevent rival parties or defeated politicians, like standing armies on alert with their generals, from girding for tomorrow’s battles today – it just encourages them to first act nobly, patriotically, then start squabbling again.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153844 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153844 0
What Happened on Election Day: The Example of Ronald Reagan “I am scared that if Ronald Reagan gets into office, we are going to see more of the Ku Klux Klan and a resurgence of the Nazi Party,” Coretta Scott King said in November, 1980. “I’m afraid things are going to blow sky high during this next term,” a nursing student said. He’s a “nitwit,” added a Democrat. “He’s shallow, superficial and frightening,” one of that year’s historic numbers of “undecideds” insisted.

Ronald Reagan “seems not to relish complexity and subtlety,” the New York Times editorial endorsing President Jimmy Carter’s re-election proclaimed. “The problem is not a loose lip but the simple answer.” While fearing what Reagan’s own running mate, George H.W. Bush, had dismissed as Reagan’s “voodoo economics” during their primary fight, the editorial board feared “voodoo diplomacy,” too.

From coast to coast, half of a divided nation abhorred — and underestimated — the president-elect. “The American people,“ Hamilton Jordan, a key Carter aide, said, "are not going to elect a 70-year-old, right-wing, ex-movie actor to be president.”

Pollsters reported in 1980 that “More voters held negative attitudes toward each presidential candidate than in any campaign since polling began” — a record we just broke in 2016. The economic dislocation of galloping inflation and the energy crisis produced a nasty campaign. Feeling neglected by Washington, millions embraced Ronald Reagan’s populism.

Despite the Democratic panic, Ronald Reagan left America richer and safer after two terms as president. Reagan defied expectations by turning toward the center. He acted as president of the United States, not president of the Republican Party. Reagan used the transition period to heal wounds while claiming a broad policy mandate, despite winning only 50.7 percent of the popular vote. He vowed to “rebuild a bipartisan base for American foreign policy.”

His cabinet choices were so moderate that Pat Buchanan, the conservative flamethrower whose rhetorical bluster anticipated the advent of Donald Trump, lamented: “Where is the dash, color, and controversy — the customary concomitants of a Reagan campaign?” Just weeks into Reagan’s first term, conservatives were demanding that his aides had to “Let Reagan be Reagan,” meaning: stop being so reasonable.

But in adjusting, in tempering, Reagan was being Reagan. He knew the Constitution limited presidential powers — and he faced a Democratic Congress led by the formidable speaker of the House Tip O’Neill to remind him further. Illustrating Richard Neustadt’s lesson that the power of the president is mostly “the power to persuade,” many of Reagan’s achievements were symbolic. Rather than shrinking government as he promised, for example, he only lowered the federal government’s growth rate.

History is not destiny. And Reagan had both a lighter touch than Mr. Trump, and eight years’ experience as governor of California. Still, history is full of shifts and surprises. Mr. Trump must be a healer and unite America, as he tried doing in his victory speech. If he fails, the checks and balances that sometimes help crusading ideologues become effective leaders can ultimately impose a necessary gridlock.

When asked about conservatives’ frustration with him, Reagan kindly insisted it was only a “very few” critics. He said: “There are some people who think that you should, on principle, jump off the cliff with the flag flying if you can’t get everything you want.” Reagan recalled that “If I found when I was governor that I could not get 100 percent of what I asked for, I took 80 percent.” So far, Mr. Trump, the political amateur and sputtering demagogue, has lacked Reagan’s magnanimity or his flexibility. Can the reality-show star turned president-elect mimic the actor turned president?

Read original article on The New York Times 

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and the author of Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153848 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153848 0
Burying the Hatchet. Literally. On Thursday, Delaware’s losing and winning candidates will meet in Georgetown, for Return Day, a tradition since 1791. Officials used to announce state electoral results at this unity carnival while serving what an 1888 state history called “all kinds of edibles … opossum … rabbit meat,” and “OX ROAST SANDWICHES fresh from an all-night open pit barbecue.” Such festivities restore civility, emphasizing the patriotic bonds that unite us despite the partisan differences that divide us.

Although most candidates learn their fates on election night, this state holiday still celebrates the common ground that often needs rebuilding after intense campaigns, while now serving roast beef instead of ox. As rivals parade together in antique cars or horse-drawn carriages and party leaders bury a hatchet together, literally, they act out a healing ritual we all could use.

Gracious concessions, even if insincere, also legitimize the results and our democracy. Stephen Douglas urged the South to accept Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860. William Jennings Bryan telegrammed William McKinley in 1896 acknowledging that the people’s “will is law.”

Al Smith delivered the first real presidential concession speech in 1928. Overlooking Republicans’ anti-Catholic bigotry, Smith respected majority rule, saying that Herbert Hoover would not be “the president of the Republican Party but the president of the United States.”

After close elections, losers have often made self-sacrificing calculations to concede for the sake of the nation. Perhaps surprisingly, Richard Nixon acted nobly in 1960. Republicans were so convinced that John Kennedy had won fraudulently that President Dwight Eisenhower offered to raise money for a recount. Nixon realized a “recount would require up to half a year,” undermining the “legitimacy of Kennedy’s election” in ways that “could be devastating to America’s foreign relations.” Refusing to “subject the country to such a situation,” Nixon gave the speech every candidate dreads delivering, promising Kennedy “my wholehearted support.”

After losing in 2008, John McCain graciously acknowledged “the special significance” of Barack Obama’s election. Days later, McCain quipped: “I’ve been sleeping like a baby. Sleep two hours, wake up and cry. Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.”

No one expects Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to jaunt around together in some Delaware jalopy right after Election Day. Still, Americans need their leadership. Buried hatchets can be retrieved eventually: The main mission of American politics remains ensuring effective governance. Rather than undermining democracy by grumbling about rigged or stolen elections, the candidates must follow Delaware and apply the balm of patriotism to the wounds partisanship has gouged into the body politic.

Read original article on The New York Times

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and the editor, with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Fred Israel, of “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008.”

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153849 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153849 0
When The Electoral College Took Down a Winner To call America’s ninth vice president Richard Mentor Johnson a man of contradictions is like calling Donald Trump egotistical—the mere label does not capture the magnitude of the claim. Johnson was a wealthy landowning populist who denounced the “monied interests.” He was a loyal soldier who ran against his former commander when they were both vying for national office. He was a slaveholder who suffered politically for carrying on an interracial romance publicly—and treating a black woman as his wife in racist Kentucky. He insisted on passing on ancestral lands to his two black daughters—but hunted down his second “wife” as a runaway slave when she cuckolded him. And, while serving as Vice President of the United States, Richard Johnson took a leave of absence to serve drinks in the tavern he ran back home.

It is fitting, therefore, that this prince of paradox is one of those rare American politicians whose political careers suffered from the contradiction that sent Hillary Rodham Clinton packing: that Americans don’t elect their President and Vice President directly. Moreover, Richard Johnson is the one major party nominee whose election was affected by what most of us consider to be simply a theoretical problem, the faithless elector, the elector who defies the voters’ instructions and votes freely, as the Constitution permits.

When Richard M. Johnson ran to be vice president in 1836, he should have been more popular than the ticket’s standard bearer, Martin Van Buren. Andrew Jackson’s Vice President, Van Buren was a crafty New York operative, broadly distrusted. Johnson was more Jacksonian, populist, homespun, authentic, and a genuine war hero. He was, he said, born in 1780, in frontier Virginia, “in a canebrake and cradled in a sap trough,” an exaggeration given his father’s extensive Kentucky landholdings...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153851 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153851 0
The English Settler Who Ate His Pregnant Wife Thanksgiving. It’s about family. It’s about gathering “together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” as we sing in our all-American, non-denominational, way. It’s about those mysterious Pilgrims, who toggle in our minds between being religious fanatics and cute cartoon characters—although you wonder how they kept their black and white outfits so crisp and clean on the frontier. And it’s about food. What’s Thanksgiving without those autumnal yummies: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie. But our historical understanding of the holiday’s origins are as mashed up as our sweet potatoes. We blur Pocahontas, Captain John Smith, Squanto, and William Bradford, and the Mayflower into one geographically inaccurate, timeless mess. And while we believe we are replicating the Pilgrims’ menu, they probably ate seal and lobster without sweet desserts, because their sugar stocks were depleted. Least appetizing of all, some of our settler forbears, these all-American heroes, were so hungry, so depraved by starvation that rather than consuming that Norman Rockwell-esque beautifully browned turkey, they ate chops of human cheek and chunks of human tongue.

Consider the colonist who mistook his pregnant wife for a meal. Although his name is lost to history, his story helps illuminate the mishmash that has become America’s Thanksgiving tale. While some will use it to pillory the colonists as brutes, it actually highlights their achievements. Not only did they survive unbearable conditions and launch this great adventure called America, but amid all the misery they taught an invaluable lesson we should remember as we adjust to living in Trumpland: Don’t forget to appreciate the good and say thanks, even when trouble strikes.

We don’t know much about the pregnant-wife-murdering cannibal. George Percy, the colony’s interim president, wrote an account in 1625 describing the misery of The Starving Time at Jamestown, Virginia. This reminds us that Thanksgiving celebrates two foundings, two colonies, separated by two decades and 595 miles. The first settlers arrived in Jamestown, with the Virginia Company in 1607. Thirteen years later, the Pilgrims in the Mayflower aimed for Virginia but found Cape Cod...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153853 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153853 0
The American Who Buried a Kamikaze Enemy
 The 75th anniversary commemorations of the dastardly Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seem to be a great gift to the Alt-Right’s xenophobic nationalists. That Day of Infamy – December 7, 1941 – seemingly confirms fears of treacherous foreigners while evoking nostalgia for the Greatest Generation’s war-winning whitebread America. But history demands we Shift Center, remembering that in World War II democratic decency defeated dictatorial demagoguery.

In fact, using America’s involvement in the Second World War to rationalize bigotry betrays the memory of the 416,800 who died fighting Nazi and Japanese racism, including Pearl Harbor’s 2,403 martyrs. In that spirit, just as most tourists visiting Pearl Harbor today end by visiting the decommissioned battleship the USS Missouri, this year’s anniversary ceremonies should end by honoring the values Missouri, its captain William McCombe Callaghan, and America represent – epitomized by Callaghan’s gracious, unexpected gesture, of honorably burying at sea the kamikaze pilot who tried killing Callaghan and his crew on April 11, 1945.

Decades later, many discount just how much Americans hated the Japanese – and how justified the hatred was. Japanese warplanes starting bombing Pearl Harbor just minutes after Japanese diplomats entered the State Department, pretending to negotiate. Japanese soldiers butchered 300,000 Chinese in the 1937 Rape of Nanking, ultimately murdering as many as eight million people, following what scholars call the “Three Alls Strategy” Sankō Sakusen: kill all, burn all, loot all. Japanese officers reputedly ate the flesh of captured American pilots.  Japanese soldiers tortured Americans in Prisoner of War camps and on the brutal Bataan death march of 1942. American war posters warned against “THE JAP BEAST AND HIS PLOT TO RAPE THE WORLD.” That American hatred and distrust did have a darker side—racist incitement and imagery that culminated in the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans...

Continue reading this article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153854 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153854 0
When John Glenn Saved Ted Williams’s Life That great American hero, John Glenn, died just days after the 75th anniversary of that great American disaster, Pearl Harbor. The Japanese surprise attack shaped Glenn’s life. It helped make him a hero of what we now call the Greatest Generation and the Mad Men era. Pearl Harbor mobilized a generation, resulting in the novelistic coincidence of Glenn flying during the Korean War with another Mad Men-era hero—and a truly Mad Man—the legendary but peppery baseball legend Ted Williams.

It’s tempting to reduce the friendship to a wartime Odd Couple fling. Glenn was a contained Midwesterner who wore his heroism lightly. Williams was a temperamental kid from a more turbulent background in San Diego, who, early on, admitted he wanted to be considered the “greatest hitter who ever lived.” Glenn, the gentleman, was always courtly and courteous while courting the press—and the people. Williams couldn’t care less. In 1956, when he spit yet again at hometown Red Sox fans—twice—and was fined $5,000, Williamssaid: “I’m not a bit sorry for what I did. I was right and I’d spit again at the same fans who booed me today.”

However, if we learn from the civil-rights activist Bryan Stevenson that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” we will learn about Ted Williams as hitter, philanthropist, civil rights champion, and war hero. And what novelist would have dared imagine that this godlike baseball player who retired in 1960, would have flown half his combat missions in Korea with a young John Glenn, who became a modern deity in 1962 when he became the first American to reach the heavens, orbiting the earth three times in 4 hours and 56 minutes...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153857 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153857 0
A Historian Notes that Bernie Sanders Was ONE Factor in Hillary's Loss and He Gets Hammered?

In the last three weeks, I have been viciously attacked by some Bernie Sanders supporters and some Progressive extremists who claim I blame Sanders for Hillary Clinton’s loss. The fury, obscenity, and distortions unleashed by two articles I wrote for Time.com reveal to me, sadly, that what Hillary Clinton called the “Trump Effect,” blaming Donald Trump for “bullying and harassment … on the rise,” reversed cause and effect. As reprehensible as his campaign rhetoric was, Donald Trump did not cause this problem. His campaign was an unfortunate symptom – and the kind of demagoguery he indulges is not limited to the right side of the political spectrum.  Political discourse in America today – which as an historian I know has never been pretty – has turned particularly ugly at the extremes, left and right. They need not be the same to be equally bad – rotten goldfish and catfish both stink.

It all started with that mystery political junkies frequently ponder – what is the impact of a primary fight on the general election? Sometimes, it strengthens the eventual nominee. Most historians believe that in 1960, Hubert Humphrey’s fight against John Kennedy made JFK a better candidate, and a better human being. In West Virginia, Kennedy mastered the Catholic bigotry issue while his exposure to Appalachian poverty motivated him to try fighting poverty as president. At the same time, most historians believe that Ted Kennedy’s insurgency hurt Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Pat Buchanan’s rebellion hurt George H.W. Bush in 1992 – both challengers pulled the incumbent to the party’s extreme, making it difficult to find the center during the general election.

My first article mentioned various explanations for Hillary Clinton’s failure, calling her 2016 campaign “as rigid and empty as it was when she lost in 2008.” I labeled her “a doughnut candidate, sprinkling sweets to particular groups but lacking any core.” Still, I argued that Bernie Sanders’ surprise candidacy pulled Hillary Clinton so far to the left “to prevent an effective re-centering in the fall, while goading her into wooing different constituencies rather than uniting the nation.”

This is what historians do. We look for explanations. It’s not about “blaming,” but if we were playing a blame-game, the fault lies with Hillary Clinton for failing to cope, not Bernie Sanders for daring to challenge. I believed Sanders’ success psyched her out and was ONE reason why she alienated working class whites. That’s not Sanders’ fault, especially after she won the nomination. She, as the winner, need to move on and recalibrate.

Of course, all my nuances didn’t matter. Most of the angry responses that weren’t obscene and insulting treated me like an idiot and a shill, who overlooked Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses and put the entire onus on Bernie Sanders. Rather than considering how this one factor fit into the mix, these pro-Sanders extremists just vented, with me as their target.

Two weeks later, I wrote a response, detailing the abuse, which included some gratuitous anti-Semitic attacks (yes, in defense of a Jewish candidate).  Despite the self-righteous claim that all the vitriol in America is coming from Donald Trump and the supporters he inflamed, I was struck by how virulent these particular zealots on the left were. Applying Hillary Clinton’s definition of the alt-right as rejecting “mainstream” conservatism and trafficking in “prejudice and paranoia,” I suggested we were seeing an alt-left emerging in response to Trump’s election, rejecting “mainstream” liberalism and also descending into demagoguery. I carefully added that: “condemning them equally doesn’t mean they’re equally dangerous, with the alt-right’s Hitlerism and hooliganism spiking since Trump’s election.”  Once again, the subtleties didn’t matter. The bile – and attacks -- have mounted.

I no longer call this “cyberbullying” – because to be bullied, I would have to succumb – and I’m more defiant than ever. My critics call me a “crybaby” for complaining – I’m trying to hold up a mirror to this gooniverse, and strip members of their self-righteousness. If I were a dirty Trump trickster, trying to undermine claims that Trump’s bullying is poisonous and contagious by proving that liberals can be abusive too, I couldn’t have done a better job of outing these laptop hooligans. (And please, if you quote this sentence, start with the “if” – it’s a speculation and a challenge, not a confession!)

One popularly re-tweeted response said “You need to log off twitter if name calling hurts you.” I’m not hurt – I’m disgusted. I love political give and take. I am appalled that these character assassins are so quick to mischaracterize, and libel. Beyond my concerns for the delicate tissue of civility which unites a democracy and keeps citizens talking to one another, I worry that other historians will hesitate to offer any unconventional explanations because they will fear being targeted. I am sure that untenured academics are learning to keep quiet and parrot the party line, lest they trigger some career-damaging social media storm. And I regret that the Internet’s anonymity has encouraged this kind of drive-by tweeting and messaging – rather than the substantive exchanges its founders envisioned.

Here’s what I have learned: You write something complex, it gets reduced to a soundbite:

I give various explanations for Hilary Clinton's loss, including the impact of the Bernie Sanders candidacy -- it's diminished to "this idiot blames Bernie for Hillary’s failure.”

You write with a scalpel, they summarize with a sledgehammer: I say the extremism of some on the left shows a parallel “prejudice and paranoia” Clinton condemned, suddenly, the twitterverse erupts saying this *^#$%^ is comparing us to the Hitlerian right.

You make an argument, they go personal: I offer an analysis of the 2016 campaign and its reaction, the thought police just sees a blame game and questions my motives, my integrity, my intelligence, my religion, my looks. 

All this vitriol goes way beyond argument by soundbite and 140-characters; its argument by insult. It actually demonstrates --- I regret to conclude -- why Trump's method worked. He wasn’t creating the problem, he was exploiting it. Dinosaurs who live in the world of 700 word op-eds, 7000-word essays, 70,000-word books – and a rigorous commitment to truth-- had no idea where this guy came from. I say – look left and right. Donald Trump emerged from the fetid swamp that characterizes too much political rhetoric today, wherein your identity counts more than your integrity or the integrity of your argument. If you are “with us” anything goes, you can do no wrong; if we deem you “against us,” you can do no right.

More clinically, as a political historian, all the ping-ponging over the last few weeks has highlighted some fascinating phenomena that should be tracked:

--  Clinton’s loss to Trump -- following her victory over Sanders in the primaries with the Democratic establishment’s support -- has triggered a fury against her on the Left, and an anger that has many using words like “centrist” and “neoliberal” as epithets.

-- This backlash demonstrates a deep division in the Democratic party, with Bill Clinton’s legacy taking a beating.

-- What I am calling the Anonymotry of the Internet -- the anonymous-fueled bigotry of the online culture -- has helped radicalize, polarize, and coarsen political culture.

-- Many progressives are focusing on the economic divide in the nation – and pillorying Hillary for not going left enough, without seeing all the ways she identified with the left through identity politics, helping to trigger the “white nationalist” reaction, and the white working class defection from the Democrats.

My second piece ended with a call for civility, and an attempt at modeling the kind of dialogue I believe we need. I described reaching out to one of my critics and showed that when we treated each other civilly, we found we agreed more than we disagreed. Of course, most of my critics ignored that ending – or mocked that as well.

Some of the most polite reactions to my essay also disturbed me. “We are just not about endangering & disenfranchising people,” I was told. “We are for health care.” Those responses implied an ends-justify-the means rationalization of extreme tactics. Life is too messy and confusing for any one group of partisans to be too convinced of their virtues -- and their rivals’ sheer evil.

Nevertheless, if my critics think they are on the side of the angels I say… prove it. I would love to be proven wrong. I would love to see partisans on the left stop being nasty, personal, vicious. I would love to see substantive debate and respectful tactics that match everyone’s version of their best selves, rather than petty attacks that reflect the worst within us and bring out the worst in us. The Founders believed that virtuous people acted virtuously; I abhor this post-modern doctrine that implies I can act abominably because I am so convinced of my own virtue.

Similarly, I appeal to my fellow academics to stop being agents of unreason. It’s easy to join the pile-on, harder to stick to substance and to our method. Our collective reputations have suffered because too many of us use the mantle of legitimacy we earned with our Ph.D.s and professorships to lower the debate rather than raise the debate. Aren’t there enough rabble-rousers out there, shouldn’t we rededicate ourselves to our particular mission to speak through our analysis, through our research, through our reason?

Finally, while I stand by every word in both articles, one critic made an interesting suggestion that “Control-Left” might be a more accurate characterization of the extremists than “Alt-Left” and would help avoid the anger stirred by claims of false equivalence.  I’ll accept that friendly amendment, and warn that the zealots of the Ctl-Left – meaning those who try bullying anyone who dares disagree with them – are also harming our country. It’s time for the Ctl-Left and the Alt-Right to calm down – and Shift-Center.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153860 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153860 0
When The New York Times Defended Putting a Black Man in the Bronx Zoo Just as the late Stephen Jay Gould updated Charles Darwin by arguing that humans evolved through fits and starts—“punctuated equilibrium”—social progress also is less steady than we would like. Even amid a positive trajectory, there are breakthroughs, plateaus, and setbacks. Sometimes, what seems like a step back actually helps propel society forward. The short unhappy life of Ota Benga—the human being exhibited in the Bronx Zoo—demonstrates how one big example of racist ugliness may have resulted in at least one small step toward racial progress.

Although the true origins of this sad story begins with the specious theories of superiority whites developed centuries ago, Benga’s tale begins in the early 1900s, in the Belgian-controlled Congo Free State. His life in his community ended when King Leopold’s Force Publique invaded his world, murdering his wife and two children, then selling him as a slave to the Baschilele tribe. This all too familiar outrage took a bizarre turn when an American anthropologist, Samuel Philips Verner, purchased him for five dollars’ worth of cloth and salt. This woefully misguided missionary then brought Benga along with eight other young Africans to star in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Benga’s slight build, dark skin, and artificially sharpened teeth—from a ritual called chipping—fit many Americans’ racist stereotype of the African savage. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch greeted the “African Pygmies for the World’s Fair” on June 26, 1904. Benga and his troupe won the gold medal for entertaining the crowds with their dances and other tribal rituals...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153863 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153863 0
The Man Whose Dream Became Israel History tries correcting the tricks memory plays on us—while respecting memory’s power. Thomas Jefferson is famous for writing the Declaration of Independence during the Revolution—although he served as Virginia’s governor during the war too. Paul Revere is best known for his Midnight Ride in 1775—although the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow coined the phrase “One if by land, two if by sea” … 85 years later.

Similarly, Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, is mostly famous for launching his movement in reaction to the anti-Semitism of the Alfred Dreyfus trial. As with all great historical tales, Israel’s foundation story conveys one essential truth—reactions to European Jew hatred did inspire Zionism. But this too-simplistic story risks eclipsing other nuanced truths, making Zionism seem too defensive and a critique of French liberalism rather than a more affirmative nationalism that also feared Austro-Hungary’s blood-and-soil anti-Semitic right.

But first, Herzl’s Zionist Aha Moment.  It’s December 1894 in Paris. Theodor Herzl, a 34-year-old assimilated Austrian-Hungarian Jew, is covering the Dreyfus Affair. This lawyer, playwright, and journalist, with piercing eyes and a beautiful black beard, embodies the Enlightened rationalism and liberalism that freed Europe from the Middle Ages and Jews from their ghettoes. Alfred Dreyfus, a French officer, stands trial for treason. On December 22, 1894, when the court convicts Dreyfus—on trumped up charges, leading later to Emile Zola’s famous J’accuse—the crowd, inflamed by nationalism, doesn’t shout “Down with Dreyfus.” Instead, they yell—in Enlightened Paris—“Down with the Jews"...

Read whole article on the Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153867 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153867 0
The Millionaire Who Took on McCarthy A melodramatic mix of half-truths, rants, and innuendoes made Wisconsin’s junior Senator Joseph P. McCarthy powerful and intimidating. By 1951, he had cowed some of the Senate’s all time all stars, including Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Estes Kefauver, Robert Taft, J. William Fulbright, and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. 

The rare senator willing at that time to confront this “hit and run propagandist of the Soviet type” was a rookie senator from Connecticut. For introducing a resolution to expel this blathering bully, William Benton suffered McCarthyite blowback, including a $2 million libel suit. Many also believe Benton’s heroism lost him his Senate seat in 1952. Still, Benton insisted: “Somebody had to do this job.” Years later, as his legend grew, he would demur: “Well of course I like to think I did a lot of things that showed courage in the Senate.” But he admitted, it may have been “in part because of my political inexperience.”

This political amateur also had something his other colleagues lacked: a real life awaiting back home. As a millionaire adman, publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and owner of the Muzak Corporation, Benton could afford to be daring. Professional politicians, he would lament, “too often underestimate the long-range values of boldness and stubbornness in defense of an ideal.” As America’s new leaders take office, they should remember William Benton’s courage, deciding what ideals they will champion, no matter what...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea. He is Professor of History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153868 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153868 0
An Inaugural Prayer: Stretch Yourself as Person and President – to Stretch us too… O God, as we invoke Thy name, on this day consecrating national unity, we note that even belief in You no longer unites us. Still, just as we hope everyone will hear this invocation as an invitation to access our inner godliness, we hope Americans will again see the red, white and blue fibers of proud history, shared liberty, and common destiny connecting us, beyond the issues dividing us.

As a Jew, I say “God Bless America” for welcoming us as fellow citizens, equal in every way. This is the American miracle, accepting the tired, the poor from all over, valuing all people as seeds of our future, not harbingers of decline. American nationalism is uniquely absorbent, a patchwork quilt creating E Pluribus Unum,one out of many.

Reading the book of Exodus this Sabbath, Jews will relive our liberation from Egypt, this wondrous template of revolutions for freedom. Moses inspired America’s revolutionaries. The escape to the Promised Land inspired African-American slaves. We too need liberation -- from consumerism’s excesses, from popular culture’s idolatry, from politics’ polarization, from social media’s nastiness.

We extol America’s Founders for building this democracy with the Biblical building blocks of liberty, equality, and individual dignity, epitomized by that verse adorning the Liberty Bell proclaiming “liberty throughout the land.” The Framers fused yesterday’s wisdom with the sensibilities of their day– we should too.  

As Americans, standing in democratic awe, we mute partisanship momentarily. We note how terrorists bond us in anguish – we vow to bond in national pride too. Let us be motivated by love not fear, by mission not mourning, by hope not despair. Let us reach the highest heights of idealism and goodness together rather than just fighting evils abroad – or each other at home. Democracies don’t just bond for self-protection; liberal nationalism anchors us and propels us to improve the world.

We honor our outgoing President, Barack Obama, for gloriously uniting us when he was elected. Whatever our partisan differences, we rejoiced that this land that once enslaved blacks was now led by one. And we thank the remarkable Obama family for their public service – and public spiritedness.

We welcome Hillary Clinton to this podium. We thank her for validating this peaceful transfer of power, demonstrating that we don’t boycott the people’s choice. Winners and losers gracefully shake hands and move on, fulfilling Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural proclamation after the vicious election of 1800: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

We don’t dodge passionate debates when necessary but don’t ignore common ties whenever possible. We will debate every presidential action vigorously, but as good patriots we also cherish and defend our system’s integrity, from the electoral process to rituals like this one.

And as we beseech defeated Democrats to act gracefully, we ask victorious Republicans to act humbly. If after the Civil War Abraham Lincoln could offer “malice toward none… charity toward all,” so can we.

We bless President Donald J. Trump, who now transitions from combative campaigning highlighting differences, to the patriotism of the presidency seeking commonalities too. As he joins America’s presidential pantheon, we wish him George Washington’s stability, Jefferson’s love of liberty, Lincoln’s nobility, Franklin Roosevelt’s magnanimity, Ronald Reagan’s fluency, George H.W. Bush’s dignity, Bill Clinton’s dexterity, George W. Bush’s constancy, and Obama’s integrity.

We entreat you Mr. President, on this hallowed day: heal this country, appeal to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature,” leading wisely and generously. Remember, as FDR did in 1937, the forgotten Americans, the “ill-clad, ill-housed, ill-nourished.” And mobilize the patriotic self-sacrifice John Kennedy aroused in 1961, when he said “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Be strong enough to scare our enemies so you need not crush them, and courageous enough to be gentle enough to rally our friends at home and abroad in common cause.

President Trump, stretch to be the best person and the best president you can be – and Americans will stretch with you; we know that leaders who shrivel into small-minded, divisive demagogues, diminish their followers too.Sing the song Ronald Reagan sang in his second inaugural, rhapsodizing about “the American sound… hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair.”

We pray, Mr. President, that you will save America from becoming a Republic of Nothing, lacking anchoring morals, consensus ideals. Forge a new consensus making America a Republic of Everything – open, welcoming, pluralistic – but also a Republic of Something, with core ideals, motivated by a renewed covenant offering every American a good life and maximum liberty, while pursuing genuine happiness in ways that improve America – and inspire the world. Amen.

Read original article on The Jerusalem Post.

Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting professor at the Ruderman Program at Haifa University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153874 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153874 0
The ‘Daddy King’ of the Civil Rights Movement The Reverend Martin Luther King, Ebenezer Baptist’s charismatic pastor, taught his son “not to hate the white man, but that it was my duty, as a Christian, to love him.” The Reverend Martin Luther King fought segregation by riding “the Whites Only” elevator in Atlanta’s City Hall and marching against segregated water fountains. The Reverend Martin Luther King fought for equality, not just liberty, chairing the Committee on the Equalization of Teachers’ Salaries. And the Reverend Martin Luther King, aka “Daddy King,” did all this in the 1930s and 1940s, years before his son, Martin Luther King Jr., began campaigning for justice.

Sometimes, you wonder how impressive children like Bill Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt emerged, despite alcoholic fathers. By contrast, the Nobel Prize-winning younger King, known in the family as “M.L.,” so followed his father that the honorific “Daddy King” risks defining the elder King only by his more famous son. However, to the extent that the nickname reinforces Daddy King’s reputation as a guiding light of Civil Rights, it fits just right. 

More than his son, who grew up in a comparatively protective cocoon, the man originally named Mike King lived the American dream. Born in 1897 in hardscrabble Stockbridge, Georgia, this grandson of slaves grew up hard. Once, his mother thrashed a white man who beat him—forcing his father, having then protected his wife with a rifle, to hide for three months until white tempers calmed. A teen preacher, King moved to the big city, Atlanta, to refine his style. He ended up with the training he sought—and more than he dared hope—marrying the daughter of one of Atlanta’s great preachers, the Reverend A.D. Williams, whose pulpit both Kings ultimately inherited...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153875 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153875 0
An Inauguration Day Plea to Democrats: Stop Moping, Trump Won

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution for the fall of 2015. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015). 

Seventy-two days of cry-ins and bellyaching is enough. Today, on Inauguration Day, Democrats should remember the civics lectures they gave Donald Trump about accepting election results when they expected to would win, and stop moping. By agreeing to attend Trump’s inauguration, Bill and Hillary Clinton are validating America’s peaceful transfer of power, without endorsing the victor. Anti-Trump diehards should acknowledge reality too. Boycotting the Trump presidency increasingly seems juvenile, undermining Democratic credibility. It’s time to oppose particular Trump actions, policies, appointments, and statements surgically not categorically – and accept him as President.

Since Election Day, millions of disappointed Democrats have languished in the first four of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of mourning: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. Few seem to have reached “acceptance.” Democrats have a republican obligation to recognize Trump as head of state. At the same time, all Americans enjoy the democratic rights to oppose any moves he makes as head of government.

Yes, the words “President” and “Trump” are now become forever linked – get used to it. Some will continue resisting reality – I know a conservative politico who taught his son in 1998 to recite all the president’s names, from George Washington to George H.W. Bush, as if Bill Clinton hadn’t been inaugurated in 1993. But such antics are counterproductive. Democrats will gain credibility by choosing battles wisely, fighting policies not reality; offensive statements not Trump’s status.

This is not the first time Democrats have lost – or disappointed supporters insisted the wrong candidate won. Democratic despair, no matter how heartfelt or justified, is cliché. “The American people have elected a mere Tom Tit,” the professorial former president John Quincy Adams muttered in 1844 after the Democrat James Knox Polk upset the former Senator and Secretary of State Henry Clay. “I am unmanned,” New York’s Millard Fillmore wrote Clay when the Buffalo Congressman finally could put pen to paper after the election. “A cloud of gloom hangs over the future. May God save the country; for it is evident the people will not.”  More recently, in 1994, when the Democrats lost their Congressional majority after four decades, Mario Cuomo the refined governor of New York, who also lost that Election Day, blasted the Republican “storm troopers” conquering Washington.  

America’s winner-take-all, two party system frames elections as binary choices between good and bad, qualified and unqualified, redeemer and destroyer. Every election becomes “the most important, ever,” with losers often doubting the people’s wisdom and America’s future. Even those appalled by Trump’s boorishness and bigotry should remember that the Constitution’s checks and balances limit presidential power – and have produced a stable system despite chief executives as mendacious as Richard Nixon and as mediocre as Warren Harding.

Ultimately, Democrats will recover by doing what Trump fails to do:  approach politics with some self-doubt while giving rival Americans the benefit of the doubt. The twentieth-century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who, when inflamed, called some of  Dwight Eisenhower’s executive actions “stupid,” nevertheless preached that partisans would “be less affronted and baffled” by voters’ “clashing conclusions,” if they noticed that different citizens balance the values of “freedom” and “justice” differently. Understanding that this tension, applied to governing dilemmas, inevitably produces imperfect choices, should make us all less judgmental, Niebuhr taught. This humility echoed the skepticism of Ralph Waldo Emerson, America’s nineteenth-century philosopher of “fluxions and mobility.” “Why fancy that you have all the truth in your keeping?” Emerson asked. “There is much to say on all sides.”

In that spirit, beyond rejecting these infantile calls to shun Trump, perhaps Democrats can ban all Nazi and Ku Klux Klan analogies. Such language sounds unhinged and unpatriotic, dismissing the very voters Democrats must woo back to ensure happier Inauguration Days.

In 1940, after failing to block Franklin Roosevelt’s unprecedented third term “by only a few million votes,” the losing nominee Wendell Willkie explained how Republicans could function as “a vigorous, loyal and public-spirited opposition party.” Rejecting “the partisan error of opposing things just for the sake of opposition,” Willkie declared: “Ours must not be an opposition against—it must be an opposition for—an opposition for a strong America, a productive America.” As America inched toward war in 1941, Willkie didn’t hesitate to criticize Roosevelt harshly, for failing “in the most elementary task of management.” Nevertheless, Willkie affirmed that “in emergencies the President should lead.”

A decade later, the Senate Democratic leader applied Willkie’s lessons masterfully, despite being blown away by what he later called a “kind of a hurricane across the country” in 1952 that dislodged Democrats from the White House after twenty years. After January, 1953, Johnson explained that “If you’re in an airplane, and you’re flying somewhere, you don’t run up to the cockpit and attack the pilot. Mr. Eisenhower is the only President we’ve got.”

Believing “The American people are tired of wrecking crews,” seeking a “politics of responsibility” not partisanship, LBJ cooperated with Dwight Eisenhower when possible. Johnson supported Eisenhower’s foreign policy – with occasional dissents regarding the Korean War Armistice and Eisenhower’s fury against Israel in the 1956 Suez Crisis. On domestic matters, Johnson’s maneuvers often turned Eisenhower’s initiatives “New Deal-ish,” achieving the results he sought, bypassing futile fights with the popular president while appearing patriotic. Johnson’s approach helped him shift from being Minority leader to Majority leader in 1955; he is now remembered as one of America’s greatest parliamentarians.  Most important, back then most Americans respected Congress – today, only between 10 and 20 percent of Americans approve.

Blind obstructionism hurts Democrats more than it helps. Beyond the obvious hypocrisy in mimicking Republican tactics after eight years of denouncing them, gridlock advances the Republicans’ who-needs-government narrative, while undermining Democrats’ message. The party that has faith in government loses most when Americans lose faith in government.

Historically, most Americans have demanded bipartisan cooperation beyond Inauguration Day’s forced smiles. Most understand, as Michael Dukakis ultimately understood the “tough” 1988 election, that campaign insults are “politics, pure politics.” In 1981, even as partisan Democrats mourned Ronald Reagan’s win, many citizens demanded that Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill give the new Republican president a chance. Some citizens pushed bipartisan unity so aggressively thatworried aides wanted O’Neill flying on military jets rather than being besieged by demands at airports. Similarly, even though Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration had Rush Limbaugh fearing “the one-party dictatorial government that now will soon run America,” people shouted at Republican Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole as he jogged on Miami Beach, “Give him a chance, give him a chance.”

Democrats should show they are what Lyndon Johnson called “builders." Johnson proposed “holding your hand out while keeping your guard up, opening your lines of communication while keeping your powder dry.” Americans have no ritual to perform on Inauguration Day: we pledge allegiance to the flag not the president. But Congressional Democrats should fight strategically, rather than “resisting” wildly.

Donald Trump’s continuing combativeness hasn’t made it easy. Still, living through 2016 once was bad enough – it’s now over. The choice is not between bullying or being bullied. Oppose Trump’s capriciousness with Democratic steadfastness. A loyal opposition fights passionately, patriotically, effectively.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153877 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153877 0
When Nixon’s Henchmen Plotted to Assassinate a Journalist with LSD What happens when America’s president is insecure, touchy, prickly, vengeful, narcissistic, and paranoid, more obsessed with crushing his enemies than leading the people? 

If history is a crystal ball—we survive. Richard Nixon’s White House was a petri dish breeding deceit and distrust. It teemed with espionage and enemies’ lists, wiretapping and burglaries, leaked national secrets and even murder conspiracy. All those sins represent just one pre-Watergate feud: Nixon’s crusade against the investigative reporter Jack Anderson. Still, this old-style gumshoe journalist who saw his job as digging for dirt not writing think pieces, helped proved the system’s resilience.

A transition figure, Jack Anderson had shoes soiled by muckraking, hands ink-stained from typing, and face powdered for his nine-year TV gig on ABC’sGood Morning America. He was Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Lesley Stahl and Dan Rather, all wrapped in one. And, when America needed it, he helped take down a president...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting professor at the Ruderman Program at Haifa University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153879 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153879 0
TRUMP’S TRASHY TRANSITION IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE America’s presidential transition is a magical democratic moment. A gift from our secular democratic gods -- the Framers – this healing timeout eases the shift from the brutality of campaigning to the civility we need for governing. It helps the incoming president adjust, set the tone, popularize a defining image, and fashion a mandate.

 

Then came the Trump transition.

 

Trump’s Transition failed. Trump hired key staffers. But the popularity boost every incoming president but one – Ronald Reagan – enjoyed since 1960 didn’t happen: 2016’s sourness has bled into 2017. Meanwhile President Barack Obama scrambled to cement his legacy – trying to shackle his successor to the old order.

 

There have been worse transitions: Seven Southern states seceded after Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans won in 1860. The Herbert Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt handoff was so fumbled it inspired the Twentieth Amendment, shortening the transition by six weeks from March to January 20. Hoover denounced Roosevelt’s “astonishing,” “foolish,” sadistic refusal to cooperate as hundreds of banks failed.  Roosevelt waited to take power in 1933, to pitch his “Bank Holiday” with New Deal reforms. (Note, however, the strategy worked politically. After winning 57.4 percent of the popular vote, Roosevelt enjoyed a 69 percent approval rate when inaugurated).

 

When Thomas Jefferson unseated President John Adams in 1800, this first Constitutional transfer of power from the ruling party to the opposition was peaceful but stressful. Adams didn't even show up for the inauguration, leaving town at 4 A.M. Adams saddled the new administration with “midnight judges.” Jefferson’s attempt to undo them triggered what became the landmark decision asserting the Supreme Court’s right of Judicial Review,Marbury v. Madison.

 

Obama tried handcuffing his successor, John Adams-style. Obama jabbed Israel, commuted a record 231 sentences in one day, banned oil drilling off the Atlantic Coast, and transferred 10 more prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Obama also made more than 100 sudden-death appointments.

 

Nevertheless, Inauguration Day, 1801, proved redemptive. Jefferson’s gracious inaugural address proclaimed: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” Forgetting Federalist pranks like removing the clangers in bells to silence the celebrations, historians have hailed Jefferson’s peacemaking.

 

Alas, Donald Trump’s “American Carnage” address did not reach out to the majority of Americans who voted against him – and continue to oppose him. The inaugural speech kept to the tone of the troubled transition. Trump failed to reshape the narrative. The man who deftly hijacked story lines during the campaign, apparently missed the transition-and-inauguration memo.

 

 

The transition is a second campaign, or an “uncampaign,” with the president-elect shaping perceptions through real actions and defining symbols. It is also a chance to reconcile, to help Americans adjust perceptions, because most wish to “fall in like” with their leader.The transition often injects humanizing tidbits about the new leader emerging, nuancing the campaign narrative. John Kennedy’s magical transition in 1960 created the model. Reporters boosted the Kennedy legend: the youth, the Harvardian eloquence, the Irish-Catholic wit, the famous family, the young kids – especially after John Junior’s birth onNovember 25 – and Jackie. Sixteen years later, Jimmy Carter’s transition triggered a peanuts-and-grits fest charming the country with the downhome Southernness of the first president elected from the deep south since Zachary Taylor before the Civil War.

 

If as consumers Americans occasionally suffer from “buyer’s remorse,” as voters Americans usually experience “patriot’s delight” – or, more cynically, “groupie’s slavishness.” Ronald Reagan was the only president since 1960 not to enjoy at least a ten point popularity jump, because he first tried turning his razor-thin victory in 1980 into a broader “mandate.” Still, he laid the foundations for future popularity by appointing a surprisingly moderate cabinet (although surviving an assassination attempt in March, 1981 generated his first big popularity boost).

 

Donald Trump’s crackling, combative “I’m a germaphobe” press conference highlighted his failure. Trump didn’t improve his image, Kennedy- or Carter-style. While Trump’s celebrity-status made rebranding more difficult, he failed to satisfy American’s curiosity about the new leader – which, when sated, can soften perceptions. He didn’t change tone, reach out, or heal. Similarly, Trump ignored Reagan’s example, not bothering to mollify critics. Many Democrats seem even angrier – with Trump’s impulsivity and brashness confirming their fears. Rather than inviting second looks, Trump reached Inauguration Day with Democrats still resisting, encouraging futile calls to boycott the new president.

 

Trump, ultimately, must learn the lesson Reagan taught in managing his own conservative supporters. When they grumbled that he turned wimpy, Reagan showed he was going to be the president of all Americans not just his fans. Trump keeps doubling-down, playing to his core, refusing to stretch. The result was a trashy transition, a polarizing inauguration, and a new president who has yet to appear presidential. A true nationalist would not just shout “America First,” but first would heal America.

 

The stakes for Trump have increased. Having squandered the traditional transition break, having kept his aggressive tone on Inauguration Day, can he reframe perceptions during the First Hundred Days? Or, as many fear, is he just the Donald Trump he has always been, more P.T. Barnum and Richard Nixon than George Washington and Ronald Reagan, more carnival barker and thin-skinned demagogue than magnanimous statesman?

Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting professor at the Ruderman Program at Haifa University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153880 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153880 0
Trump Needs some Sage Rabbinic Advice

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution for the fall of 2015. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015). 

]]> Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153882 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153882 0 She Was the Steve Bannon of the Great Depression When she smiled her face could look cherubic, with wide eyes and chubby cheeks conveying a calm she rarely felt. In fact, she became famous by twisting her face with such disgust and issuing such cutting remarks she could have been the Gold Medalist in demonization as America’s Animosity Olympics—1930s and 1940s edition—peaked.

She joined the chorus screeching “AMERICA FIRST!”—putting American values of tolerance, decency, and equality last. She hated blacks. She hated Communists. She hated the Roosevelts. But most of all she hated Jews. Indeed, Elizabeth Dilling earned the nickname a Nazi newspaper gave her: “the female Fuhrer.”

In a twisted salute to womanpower, this Chicagoland matron competed with the populist demagogues Father Charles Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith in denouncing what they called Franklin Roosevelt’s “Jew Deal” and Communism as an international Jewish conspiracy. Born in Chicago as Elizabeth Kirkpatrick in 1894, married to a wealthy lawyer Albert Dilling in 1918, this anxious, frustrated woman exploited the era’s anxieties, trying to make everyone else as miserable as she was...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153888 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153888 0
The Most Patriotic Act of Treason in American History? It sounds more Hollywood than history. A paranoid president, unhinged, drinking heavily, ranting against his enemies, terrifies subordinates. The defense secretary commits what may be the most patriotic act of treason in American history: ordering the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ignore any White House military initiatives lacking his signature.

Most historians believe that as Richard Nixon staggered toward resignation in 1974, Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger undermined the president’s constitutional authority. The late Watergate expert Stanley Kutler was skeptical, asking where was the paper trail? But who would write down such orders? It is more believable that this prickly, patriotic, public servant risked his career to save America rather than risking his reputation by inventing such a crazy story.

Born to an immigrant Jewish family in New York in 1929, refined with a Harvard trifecta—A.B., A.M., and Ph.D.—in the 1950s, Schlesinger was one of the meritocratic Bureaucratic Braniacs who succeeded the WASPy, aristocratic, Cold-War-era “Wise Men.” Schlesinger converted to Lutheranism in his twenties. His Harvard classmate and Washington rival, Henry Kissinger, was a Jewish refugee who barely escaped Nazi Germany. Kissinger sniffed that Schlesinger was a rare intellectual “equal"...

Read the whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153893 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153893 0
The Progressive Attorney General Who Raided Immigrants—And Paid the Price The immigration raids were unexpected, unnerving, unjust.  In one devastating American-dream-shattering, day, federal agents arrested more than four thousand aspiring Americans for supposedly threatening America.  

This overreaction, the Big Red Scare of 1919, triggered a Red, White, and Blue Repair.  Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer became a laughingstock for initiating these immigrant-rousting “Palmer Raids.” And his nemesis, a lowly Assistant Secretary of Labor, Louis F. Post, became a hero.

Before this immigration crackdown Palmer was known as a progressive Democrat, a Woodrow Wilson man and a man of conscience – while Post was considered a kook. Born in Moosehead, Pennsylvania, in 1872, a Quaker and Swarthmore graduate, trained as a lawyer, Palmer served in Congress from 1909 to 1915. He opposed child labor and endorsed lower tariffs, defying many constituents who feared free trade...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153899 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153899 0
The Jew Who Changed Football Forever Originally, football was all scrimmage in a no-pass zone, with rules and machismo sensibilities dismissing passing as wimpy. The game was a grinding ground war, a smash-up derby for big galoots, with occasional breakaway survivors fleeing the pack.

The revolutionary who gave football an air war, who freed it from being all-Blitz-all-the-time, the disruptor who spawned the Hail Mary Pass and the Bomb, Joe Namath and Johnny UnitasJohn Elway and Tom Brady, was a now-forgotten all-American with the body of a Greek God but the name of a Jewish accountant: Benny Friedman.

Back in the twenties and thirties, Friedman was the game’s Babe Ruth and Nelson Mandela, its Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey: he was top performer and freedom fighter, edgy innovator and huge celebrity. Friedman was so good that Tim Mara bought the Detroit Wolverines outright just to get Friedman’s services —and Mara’s New York Giants turned profitable within a year...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153906 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153906 0
When Nixon Floated—Then Gaslit—the First Female Supreme Court Candidate If he survives this ugly nomination fight where partisanship trumps ideology and qualifications—yet again—Judge Neil Gorsuch won’t be joining his daddy’s and granddaddy’s Supreme Court. America’s most exclusive fraternity used to be such a boys’ club that even when a Republican president floated the name of an impressive woman jurist, his trial balloon popped. Tellingly, in 1971, the American Bar Association advisory committee deemed Mildred Lillie, the first serious female Supreme Court possibility, “unqualified.”

That Richard Nixon tried to be the pioneering president to first name a woman to the highest court in the land appears to be another Nixon anomaly. The Red-baiting, liberal-hating, enemies-list-making Nixon also signed off on the Environmental Protection Agency, Affirmative Action, and an ever-expanding federal budget—while visiting Soviet Russia and Communist China.

Was he a closet feminist too?...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153913 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153913 0
The Ivanka Trump of the 19th Century The Ivanka Trump of pre-Civil War America, Harriet Lane dazzled Americans using the technology of her times: mastering the daguerreotype and the telegram rather than the Internet and Instagram. As the glittering, petticoated star of a beleaguered White House, she charmed princes and populists, the press and the public. Yet, ultimately, all her girl power couldn’t save her uncle James Buchanan’s pitiful presidency.

Lane’s style was just risqué enough to enhance her legend without destroying her reputation. Beyond the glitz, this first woman to be called “first lady” in print contributed helpful politicking, wise advice, and a popularity boost to the Buchanan presidency. But, like Ms. Trump, Miss Lane was not married to the man she called “Nunc” and others called “Mr. President.”

Fellow mourners’ anguished solitude reinforced the natural solicitude James Buchanan had for his niece Harriet, born on May 9, 1830. By the time she turned eleven she had lost both her parents. While mourning his sister, Buchanan remained haunted by the great loss of his life, when the great love of his life, Anne C. Coleman, died. This tragedy in 1819, shortly after Buchanan abruptly ended their engagement, triggered speculation that she killed herself. The pain he lived with constantly, occasionally burst through the portly Buchanan’s genial veneer. Although he loved his “adopted daughter,” he could be curt and controlling, monitoring her mail and shaming her for serving a bad meal. Insisting she follow his “advice” before getting engaged, and warning only to marry someone who can “afford you a decent and immediate support,” the brokenhearted Buchanan explained: “In my experience I have witnessed the long years of patient misery and dependence which fine women have endured from rushing precipitately into matrimonial connections without sufficient reflection"...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153922 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153922 0
Ed Murrow and Marlene Dietrich's Secret Affair The story of the voluptuous movie star Marlene Dietrich committing adultery with the conscience of America, the CBS Newsman Edward R. Murrow, should feed our obsessions with sex, celebrity and cynicism -- but it won’t.

This was no mere fling between Airhead Beauty and Brainiac Beast. Both were principled superheroes who helped make America great in the 1940s and 1950s.

Seemingly, two opposites attracted. She was famous for her looks; he was famous for his voice. She crossbred Weimar Berlin decadence with Hollywood glamour; he crossbred log cabin values with snappy New York media sensibilities. She set tongues wagging, as a breathy, exotic, high-cheek-boned movie star, with a flair for men’s tuxedoes, married men, and unmarried women; he sent radio listeners, then television viewers, soaring, as a courageous, silver-tongued reporter, with a flair for vivid phrases, dramatic moments, and moral crusades...

Read the whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153926 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153926 0
The Rabbi Who Captured a Town Alone Fifty years ago, on the fourth day of the Six Day War, June 8, 1967, a bespectacled, bearded Israeli army chaplain captured the radical Palestinian town of Hebron, population 38,309 -- singlehandedly. Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s solo conquest is a classic Chaos of War story.  It’s also a particularly Israeli tale that helps explain the 1967 War’s redemptive significance to most Jews, from religious to secular.  

Rabbi Goren was one of those larger than life characters who helped make Israel, Israel. Like George Washington when he was president, these post-1948 pioneers often made lasting policies simply by setting precedents in the new state. Born in Poland in 1918, Shlomo Gorenchik was raised in the Religious Zionist tradition. Most Zionists – Jewish nationalists who believed that the Jews as a people have collective rights to establish a nation state in their ancient homeland, Israel – rebelled against Rabbinic passivity. Religious Zionists synthesized faith in Judaism with an embrace of Zionism, seeing secular pioneers rebuilding the Holy Land as doing holy work.

Gorenchik and his family reached Palestine in 1925. When he was 12, he studied at “Yeshivat Hebron,” a seminary honoring one of Judaism’s four holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Safed, where Jews continued to live throughout the centuries. Some Jews equated Hebron’s holiness with Jerusalem’s, because of the Cave of Machpelah, the Patriarchs’ Tomb – which Jews, Christians, and Muslims revere as the burial place Abraham purchased for the forefathers and foremothers. The tomb’s exterior looks like the Western Wall – the remnant of the Jews’ Holy Temple. Herod the Great built both structures in Jesus’s day. Unfortunately, Arab riots 1900 years later in 1929 and 1936, destroyed Hebron’s Jewish community, creating a deep symbolic wound, especially for Religious Zionists...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153937 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153937 0
How the Great Yankee Wife Swap Scandalized—and Changed—America As America’s unofficial national pastime, baseball has traditionally steered clear of sex, America’s real pastime.

Even if Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle scored both on and off the field, the game long had a G-rated quality. Baseball’s virginity lasted until March 4, 1973 at 10 a.m. That’s when Mike Kekich announced his “wife swap” with another Yankee pitcher, Fritz Peterson. Baseball—and America—have yet to recover.

Peterson followed with a press conference at 4. They were switching it all—houses, wives, kids, dogs. “I have nothing to hide,” Peterson said, insisting “It’s not a smutty thing”—when everybody thought it was....

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153958 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153958 0
How Nikola Tesla Sparked the Electric Age With the launch of Tesla’s Model 3 electric sedan, inventor Nikola Tesla is about to become more famous than ever—and for all the wrong reasons, being compared to Henry Ford, the car guy, not Thomas Edison, the electricity guru.

Tesla may have outdone Edison in wizardry, but not in business—Tesla died broke and broken. In a small, well-played part in The Prestige, David Bowie captured the eccentric, tortured, moralistic, futuristic Tesla. Today, as we wander around, swimming in invisible waves transmitting energy all around us, as we spend our lives addicted to wireless devices catching a hail of transparent messages, we live in Tesla’s world.

Although many say Tesla invented the twentieth century, it is more fitting to say he invented the twenty-first century, Kenny Breuer, Professor of Engineering at Brown University, explains. Breuer says most of Tesla’s inventions became “winners” later, “so for years no one really appreciated his achievements. Electric motors, wireless communication, wireless powering, those are all Tesla’s ideas that didn’t really dominate until the rest of technology could catch up with his brilliance"...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153965 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153965 0
This Anti-Slavery Crusader Was The Enemy of Lincoln Fremont, California is once again shorthand for pioneering—as the factory headquarters of the Tesla, the pathbreaking electric car.

Sometimes, geography is destiny: Mastercard, fittingly, is headquartered in Purchase, New York. John C. Frémont, the man after whom Tesla’s hometown of 233,000 was named in 1956, was America’s Pathfinder. As a pioneer, he helped popularize the settling of the West. As a soldier, he helped expand America. And as a politician, he helped hew the path for America to become the land of the free.

But Tesla stockholders beware: Frémont’s biography, like California’s history, was rocked by earthquakes. The army arrested and court-martialed him. Abraham Lincoln fired him. The Panic of 1873 bankrupted him.

Read whole article on The Daily Beast. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153967 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153967 0
The Truth About Colonel Klink: When America's Favorite Comedy Nazi Commandant Was Played by a Jewish Refugee Imagine achieving fame as an actor playing Nazis in America – thirty years after fleeing the Nazis to America.

In our dour politically correct culture, which takes comedy too seriously, it sounds like a particularly excruciating form of hell. Werner Klemperer, born in Cologne in 1920, built his career playing a Nazi criminal Emil Hahn on trial in Judgment at Nuremberg, and the mass murderer Adolf Eichmann inOperation Eichmann. Then, he was the bumbling, hyper-Teutonic, Colonel Wilhelm Klink in the TV sitcom Hogan’s Heroes from 1965 through 1971. Coming from a generation that could see art as challenging and comedy as subversion, Klemperer was proud of these roles.  His outrageous star turn ridiculing Nazis week after week on CBS was downright liberating.

It sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit gone bad: produce a comedy about a German Prisoner of War camp just twenty years after the liberation of Auschwitz; Gomer Pyle meets Stalag 17.  Then hire three German Jewish refugees as three prominent Nazis. Include among the “prisoners” a Buchenwald survivor who lost twelve siblings and parents in Auschwitz, and still bears the concentration camp number A5714 the Nazis branded onto his forearm...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153971 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153971 0
The Surprisingly Glamorous History of New Jersey Presidential Vacations Donald Trump’s 17-day “Working Vacation” at the Trump National Gulf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, has resurrected the tradition of New Jersey Summer White Houses.

The first president to enjoy an extended summer vacation in New Jersey, Franklin Pierce, spent ten days in Cape May in 1855—back when the words “New Jersey” evoked fresh sea breezes not industrial (and political) sludge.  Two American traditions marred the visit. First, Americans’ over-enthusiasm for visiting celebrities had the locals firing a cannon honoring Pierce. The shot was too early in the morning and too close to Congress Hall where the President and his First Lady Jane were sleeping. Their sleep-in ended, abruptly.

More disturbing–and quite familiar–was the New York Times complaint that the “country” at this “critical moment” has “lost its president.” “President Pierce is at Cape May,” the editors sniffed. “For practical purposes he might as well be at Cape Horn” in Africa. The president’s supporters responded indignantly because Jane Pierce was suffering in Washington’s un-airconditioned 99 degree heat. “Has it come to this,” asked the Washington Evening Star, “that a president of the United States cannot visit the seaside with a member of his family, to whom the fresh and invigorating ocean air is essential to recovery of health, without incurring the malignant mendacity of partisan newspapers?”...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153974 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153974 0
The Preacher Whose Statue Was Booted for Reagan Although many patriots die on battlefields, the Reverend Thomas Starr King may be the rare patriot who died on the speaker’s circuit.

President Abraham Lincoln considered King the man most responsible for keeping California in the Union. King also helped keep California free and united defying pro-slavery Southern Californians threatening to bolt. Giving the small, sickly King an audience and a cause roused him. “Though I weigh only 120 pounds,” he acknowledged, “when I’m mad, I weigh a ton.”

Amid America’s ugly brawl over slavery, King never let his patriotism turn harsh, defensive, pinched, or xenophobic. His patriotism was lyrical, expansive, idealistic, charitable and redemptive. Just 10 years ago, Ronald Reagan’s statue replaced King’s in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. In this age of Monumental musical chairs, let’s move the marbleized figure of this big-hearted patriot into Donald Trump’s Oval Office—immediately...

Read whole article on the Daily Beast. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153979 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153979 0
The One-Armed Orphan Who Brought Human Rights To The World The human wrongs many experienced during the twentieth century—individually and collectively—spawned today’s human rights movement.

Even the Thomas Jefferson of human rights, John Peters Humphrey, was a one-armed orphan bullied in private school. After working in the United Nations for twenty years, he concluded that this hope of humanity had become an “organization of shame.” His greatest achievement, drafting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was ignored for decades as the movement’s George Washington—Rene Cassin—won the Noble Prize and its Paul Revere—Eleanor Roosevelt—became America’s liberal saint. 

The origins of John Peters Humphrey’s commitment to human rights are so cinematic, even Hollywood would fear constructing such obvious psychological motives. Born in New Brunswick, Canada in 1905, Humphrey had the kind of childhood that could have produced a criminal—or a do-gooder. His father died before he turned one. Doctors amputated his left arm, after his clothing caught fire, when he was six. Then, his mother died, when he was eleven...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153983 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153983 0
The Teen Killer Who Radicalized the NRA Harlon Carter, “Mr. NRA,” the man who turned America’s national rifle club into its formidable gun lobby, knew guns could kill people—including the 15-year-old Mexican kid he blew away with a shotgun when he was 17. 

Believe it or not, the National Rifle Association began in 1871 committed to “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation”—according to the sign displayed for years at its national headquarters. Its famous lobby sign with the edited version of the militia-less Second Amendment—“… the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”—only came a century later.

Founded by two Civil War veterans embarrassed by Northern soldiers’ inferior marksmanship, the NRA helped pass America’s first gun control laws in the 1930s. Harlon Carter, a tough, bullet-headed conservative, hijacked this nationwide sporting club in 1977 with convention floor machinations immortalized as The Cincinnati Revolt...

Read whole article on the Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153988 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153988 0
The Casting Couch Perverts Who Peddled Fairy Tales The Casting Couch is as old as Hollywood and as inescapable as bad reviews.

Journalists keep blaming many different initiators of this demeaning show business “audition.” Suspects include Mack Sennett of the Keystone Comedies; Samuel Goldwyn, the G in MGM; Louis B. Mayer, the second M in MGM; Howard Hughes the studio head, aviator and germaphobic billionaire;Jack Warner of Warner Brothers;  and Benny Thau, the MGM casting whiz whose casting couch, some say, “was the busiest in Hollywood.” The talent agent, Henry Willson, may have invented the gay casting couch. If victory has a thousand fathers, power and perversion do too.

All these powerful men had many affairs with young ambitious hotties hoping to become movie stars. The most frequently mentioned of these pioneering phallocrats in the movie business, however, are Harry Cohn and Darryl Zanuck. Their stories are typical – and reveal the sick mix of sex and power obscured in a haze of all-American hypocrisy that explain the rise of the entertainment industry’s perverse, pervasive rite of passage...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153989 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153989 0
The Man Who Created Yankees’ Murderers’ Row Edward Grant Barrow, born in a covered wagon, helped invent modern sports by building the Yankee baseball dynasty, making their famed Murderers’ Row truly murderous, and starting every game with the national anthem.

This Yankee executive who pioneered the modern mix of capitalism and patriotism, of sport and spectacle, had pioneering roots. Born in 1868 as his family moved West to Nebraska, Barrow sported a middle name honoring America’s post-Civil War hero, U.S. Grant. A rare manager who was ready to use his fists and boost his product not just organize efficiently, he had a colorful career pitching for his local team, selling newspapers, promoting boxing, producing theatrical shows, managing hotels, even hawking an electric-car.

But his defining mission involved feeding America’s need for heroes on the ballfield not the battlefield. The normally prickly sportswriter Joe Williams would write: “The [Babe] Ruths had done the hitting, the [Herb] Pennocks the pitching, the [Bill] Dickeys the catching, and the [Tony] Lazzeris the fielding, but it was Barrow who knitted the organization together, gave it a pattern and a far-seeing program... That’s why” Barrow’s hiring in 1920 “represents the best deal the Yankees ever made"...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153999 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153999 0
The Confederate General Who Became a ‘Race Traitor’ General James Longstreet, was one of the “three persons of the South” whom President Andrew Johnson believed should “never receive amnesty.”

President Johnson was half-right. Longstreet had “given the Union cause too much trouble.” Longstreet never apologized for betraying his country. He never regretted crushing Union troops at bloody battles, including Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. He never renounced his region’s reprehensible pro-slavery war aims. He would write: “That the South had just cause for war in protecting and defending lawful property is proved by the sequel.”  

Yet he was no General Lee or Jeff Davis. While other Southerners romanticized “the Lost Cause,” he had the guts to tell Confederate comrades their cause was lost...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154003 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154003 0
The Builder of World’s ‘Eighth Wonder’ Who Died of Stress The Holland Tunnel, which stresses out many of the 35 million drivers who pass through it annually, has nothing to do with the Dutch and everything to do with a health warning: Beware, all that stress might kill you.

The Tunnel, which opened on Nov. 13, 1927, commemorates the engineer who designed it, Clifford Holland. He achieved immortality because he did not live to see his great creation. Only 41, he died on Oct. 27, 1924—crushed by the kind of tension his tunnel now mass-produces. 

In fairness, his were the grand worries of the Master Builder, trying to engineer a new approach to an ancient problem: How can humans cross the river? Approximately 20,000 commuters ferried between New Jersey and New York daily. The trip was long—and the lines to get onto the ferries, longer.  Moving freight was expensive and unreliable. When the river iced over, Manhattan was isolated. After New Yorkers could not get coal for heating  during the harsh winter of 1917 to 1918, much of the opposition to the proposed tunnel finally melted away...

Read whole article on the Daily Beast. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154005 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154005 0
Samuel Untermyer: The Superlawyer Who Took on Hitler Samuel Untermyer, a hard-nosed lawyer, an eagle-eyed investor, a big-hearted civic leader, and a green-thumbed horticulturalist, was torn when America fought Germany in World War I—only to be among the first Americans to turn on Hitler’s Germany, long before America entered World War II.

In truth, Untermyer’s nostalgia for his ancestral homeland in 1917 was far more characteristic than his fiery advocacy 16 years later. Born to German Jewish immigrants turned Confederate supporters in 1858, Untermyer described himself “as one of German parentage, whose ancestors were for centuries imbedded in the soil of that land,” and someone with the “strongest feeling of sympathy toward the German people.”

Indeed, Untermyer grew up in the clubby confines of the German immigrant elite. His law firm was a partnership of German-American relatives. He even married a non-Jewish German woman Minnie Carl. But within weeks of Adolf Hitler’s coming to power in January, 1933, when most German Jews were deciding to stay in Nazi Germany—and most Americans were trying to appease it—Untermyer understood what was happening...

Read original article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154025 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154025 0
Samuel Untermyer: The Superlawyer Who Took on Hitler Samuel Untermyer, a hard-nosed lawyer, an eagle-eyed investor, a big-hearted civic leader, and a green-thumbed horticulturalist, was torn when America fought Germany in World War I—only to be among the first Americans to turn on Hitler’s Germany, long before America entered World War II.

In truth, Untermyer’s nostalgia for his ancestral homeland in 1917 was far more characteristic than his fiery advocacy 16 years later. Born to German Jewish immigrants turned Confederate supporters in 1858, Untermyer described himself “as one of German parentage, whose ancestors were for centuries imbedded in the soil of that land,” and someone with the “strongest feeling of sympathy toward the German people.”

Indeed, Untermyer grew up in the clubby confines of the German immigrant elite. His law firm was a partnership of German-American relatives. He even married a non-Jewish German woman Minnie Carl. But within weeks of Adolf Hitler’s coming to power in January, 1933, when most German Jews were deciding to stay in Nazi Germany—and most Americans were trying to appease it—Untermyer understood what was happening...

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154026 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154026 0
Director Peter Glenville Was a Brilliant Artist, a Conservative—and in the Closet in 1960’s Hollywood I am supposed to call Peter Glenville a gay director who was also a conservative Republican and a tax dodger, but it’s more accurate to call him a prominent Cold War-era Hollywood and Broadway director—who also happened to be a closeted Catholic conservative tax dodger. 

Welcome to the modern biographer’s dilemma. Today we often define people by asking: Who slept with whom? We’ve decided that sexuality defines us all. But every historian is a diplomat representing yesterday’s lost world to readers today. Good historians speak the language of today without letting the language from yesteryear get lost in translation. 

Three movies dazzled the nominators for the 37th Academy Awards in 1965. Mary Poppins had 13 nominations. My Fair Lady and Becket each earned 12. On Oscar night, My Fair Lady won eight awards, Mary Poppins won five, and Becket only one, for best adapted screenplay. In a just world where artistry trumps shtick, Becket would have done better—and be remembered today...

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154027 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154027 0
Female Reporter Broke Epic Congressional Sex Scandal—In 1850 In one of America’s first congressional sex scandals, a brave woman nervously publicized the open secret about “The Godlike” Sen. Daniel Webster’s sexual promiscuity—and, surprise!—got fired.

It was spring, 1850, and America was unraveling. Political arguments degenerated into personal insults, then escalated into permanent ruptures. The polarized country seemed to be suffering a nervous breakdown under a thin-skinned, aging, amateur president who had never held political office before and had never even voted for president before voting for himself. 

Zachary Taylor’s America was splintering over slavery—with Jane Swisshelm’s help. As Congress debated what ultimately became the Compromise of 1850, this outspoken abolitionist journalist felt betrayed by the former secretary of State, perennial presidential hopeful, and magnificent orator, Massachusetts’ Sen. Daniel Webster. Disgusted by this Northern icon’s surrender to the Southern Slave Power, “sniffing” a “moral stench,” Swisshelm decided to publicize some hot gossip Washingtonians took as gospel...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. His forthcoming book, The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg's classic work, will be published by The Jewish Publication Society in Spring 2018. Professor Gil Troy is Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154031 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154031 0
How the American Sappho Published the First Book of Lesbian Love Poetry Elsa Gidlow, who published America’s first book of lesbian love poetry and the first openly lesbian autobiography, helped invent the stereotype of the mellow, mindful, bed-hopping, pagan-worshiping, self-indulgent, perpetually seeking Northern Californian.

If intersectionality describes how different oppressions mimic one another, Elsa Gidlow’s life as a “poet-warrior” demonstrates what we could call sproutability: how different liberations blossom together. Born in England in 1898, Gidlow was a free spirit. She approached everything openly, expansively, from relationships to gardening, from writing to politics. 

Raised in the Montreal suburbs in poverty and family misery, Gidlow turned her escapist reveries into poetry. She declared her independence early: from her family, traditional gender roles, heterosexuality, conventional politics, and French Catholic Quebec’s square spirituality...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. His forthcoming book, The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg's classic work, will be published by The Jewish Publication Society in Spring 2018. Professor Gil Troy is Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.

http://www.giltroy.com/.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154035 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154035 0
How America’s First Black Ambassador Became a Popular Hero The first American diplomat to defy his boss—the secretary of state—to give sanctuary to a dissident, and who endured the siege of his home as thanks for championing human rights, was born to care about freedom intensely: he was America’s first African-American ambassador, too. 

Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett had not been a slave. He never fought in the Civil War. He was bookish not macho. But he was tough.

The defining episode of his diplomatic career occurred in 1875 as he represented the United States to Haiti (the term ambassador came into use in 1893). Haiti, the first black republic and the Americas’ second free republic, was in chaos. While assuring Bassett he was a “lover of justice,” the country’s new leader Michel Domingue was hunting down opponents...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154037 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154037 0
How a Shy Jewish Boy’s Nose Issues Gave America Rudolf for Christmas Rudolph the Red-Nose reindeer’s creator didn’t have a very shiny nose, but he was a Jewish guy with a very, ahem, prominent beak.

Some of the West’s ugliest, most foundational, stereotypes haunted Robert Lewis May’s life. Yet his saga tells a lovely Yuletide tale about a best-selling Christmas song romanticizing a rescued underdog, that actually rescued a hopelessly romantic underdog – May himself.

‘Twas the month after Christmas, 1938, and the great retailers at Montgomery Ward department stores were already preparing for Christmas… 1939. Robert May was an advertising editor for the company famous for coining the phrase "satisfaction guaranteed or your money back" in 1875...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154038 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154038 0
The Labor Journalist Blinded by Union Thugs While fighting to keep the labor movement pure, Victor Riesel became a walking, wounded symbol of unions’ corruption, when a thug blinded him with acid.

It was April, 1956 and post-war, pre-Sixties-crime-wave New York City felt like the center of the universe. Cars still had fins. Men still sported fedoras. Ladies and New York cops still wore gloves. But America was starting to “Rock around the clock.”  

The Guys and Dolls who ate cheesecake and gossiped at Lindy’s around-the-clock felt they were at the epicenter of the center of the world. Night after night, they spied the television comedian Milton Berle there, and evoked the spirit of Damon Runyon, whose savvy, New Yorky stories immortalizing Lindy’s inspired the 1950 Broadway hit and 1955 Hollywood blockbuster “Guys and Dolls"...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154042 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154042 0
The Colonel Who Plotted the 14 Points of World Peace Once upon a time, American presidential policymaking sought to be systematic, selfless, significant, and successful, like that most un-Trumpian Fourteen Points speech Col. E.M. House helped draft for Woodrow Wilson 100 years ago.

On Jan. 8, 1918, an anti-foreigner presidential temper tantrum would have been justified: Europeans were incorrigible. After overcoming its George-Washington-inspired isolationist wariness of getting sucked into Europe’s perma-conflicts, America had started burying some of the 116,708 soldiers who would die in this “war to end all wars.” Of course, Europe suffered worse—18 million deaths during the Great War—later called World War I. Still, the British and French desire for vengeance mocked Americans’ sacrifices—and idealism. 

Rather than raving, Wilson followed his “alter ego” House’s advice—and his own best instincts. He was statesmanlike instead...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154044 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154044 0
When Trump Hatchet-Man Roy Cohn Sued Martin Luther King for Libel Believe it or not, Roy Cohn, the slimy lawyer who unintentionally helped make “McCarthyism” American for “smear,” once sued Martin Luther King Jr. … for libel. 

King died with the suit unresolved. Just three weeks after his assassination, Gilligan v. King furthered the liberalization of our libel standards Donald Trump is now attacking. 

Of course, according to mainstream media-mirroring America, a bout pitting America’s smearmeister general, “Citizen Cohn,” against America’s civil rights martyr Dr. King, is as morally lopsided as Donald Trump running against, say, Oprah Winfrey, for president. Yet fair judges took Cohn’s complaint seriously...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154046 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154046 0
America's Year of Living Trumpishly: Oh My! Fittingly, America’s year of living Trumpishly ended in a government shutdown – modern America’s now-ritualized expression of partisan fanaticism and governing deadlock. Living Trumpishly means having a vulgar, vicious president who unleashes inner demons not better angels. Living Trumpishly means left and right both listening censoriously, acting self-righteously, and detesting those who dare disagree with “us,” the enlightened. Nevertheless, America is resilient. Despite the pain and chaos Donald Trump generates, the Constitution is working. Trump’s great failure, however, is reducing America’s sacred “bully pulpit” to a bullying pulpit.

 

First the good news. The stock market is climbing, unemployment, dropping. America-the-functional is functioning. Nearly sixty percent of Americans are bullish economically. Trump’s opponents are mobilizing, exercising their still-vigorous democratic rights and shaping the debate profoundly, from rebranding children of illegals “dreamers” to finally, belatedly, outing some sexual thugs. 

 

The separation of powers are checking and balancing Trump –despite Republicans controlling Congress. Honest Obamians should admit that Trump’s tax bill – whose impact will take years to assess – had some good: even Barack Obama sought lower corporate taxes. Moreover, in defeating ISIS, challenging Iran, recognizing Jerusalem, trusting Israel, and dissing the UN, Trump’s foreign policy outshines Obama’s.

 

So America will survive Trump’s harshness toward immigrants and sweetness toward alt-right hatemongers, his sloppy racism and Putin man-crush. Who knows whether his saber-rattling will intimidate or inflame North Korea. But these mysteries keep some debates about him in the realm of the normal, continuing America’s post-Sixties liberal versus conservative clash.

 

Trump’s assault on America’s civic culture, however, is pathological: relentless, unnecessary, inexcusable, and destructive. It’s why nearly sixty percent of Americans dislike him.  In renouncing the non-partisan, kingly presidency, Trump abandons the magic that unites a country, making citizens feel good about one another, their leaders, themselves. 

 

In 1932, a New York tycoon running for president, Franklin Roosevelt, called the presidency “more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is preëminently a place of moral leadership.” 

 

Seeing presidents as “leaders of thought” elevating the people reflected the sensibilities of ‘76. The Declaration of Independence expressed “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Inventing the presidency, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68 that the presidential chair should be “filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” That described the consensus choice for president, George Washington.

 

Moral leadership is not moralistic but mission-driven, rooted in Biblical values and visions, mobilizing democratic citizens to improve their lives, their nation, the world. Americans embraced and perfected this liberal nationalism.

 

Washington’s presidency injected pragmatism into this idealism.  In his first inaugural address, defining America as a novus ordo seclorum, a New Order of the Ages, Washington vowed to “win the affections of its Citizens, and command the respect of the world.” The Republic’s “destiny” was to preserve “the sacred fire of liberty” through this grand “experiment.” Like the Alpine Swift, a bird that rarely stops flying, Washington – and his greatest successors -- saw democracy as forever progressing, perpetually seeking to soar.

 

Similarly, Abraham Lincoln appealed to “The better angels of our nature,” promising “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” He too rooted lyrical rhetoric in muscular policies. Lincoln couldn’t have won the Civil War without being grounded; but Lincoln wouldn’t have been Lincoln without aiming higher.

 

Theodore Roosevelt built on the Washington-Lincoln foundation. Using the democratic legitimacy stemming from the president’s status as representing “the plain people,” TR became America’s high priest, shaping the nation’s conscience. Once, his publisher George Haven Putnam accused him of sermonizing. “Yes, Haven, most of us enjoy preaching,” TR confessed, “and I’ve got such a bully” – meaning excellent – “pulpit.”

 

Inspirational words inspire: to make America truly great, America’s presidents were expansive not just defensive. As the political scientist Erwin C. Hargrove wrote of Franklin Roosevelt, “His leadership enhanced citizenship.” 

 

FDR understood that moral leaders need not be choirboys. Instead, the presidency offers “a superb opportunity of reapplying, applying in new conditions, the simple rules of human conduct we always go back to.” FDR became the national teacher and preacher, performer and reformer – articulating a values-laden vision. Cynics today mock such aspirational leadership as grandiose. But big-hearted leaders know how far to stretch without breaking the bond with the people; smallminded leaders don’t even try.

 

Donald Trump has consistently aimed low. His Republican Convention acceptance boast that “nobody knows the system better than me,” offered a leadership model of the fox guarding the chicken coop not an angel propelling us heavenward. Trump’s “America First,” defense doesn’t give anyone else a second thought. Proclaiming “politics is tough” and the “world … an angry place,” he makes everything tougher and angrier. Rather than the exalted, John Kennedyesque “Ask what you can do for your country” tones, which have become the norm at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump is channeling Sergeant Stan Jablonski of the 1980s television series Hill Street Blues, saying: “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.”

 

The Trump presidency is not only testing Donald Trump but the American people. The Alpine Swift has crash-landed. Too many Americans, from left-to-right are acting like pigs slinging mud or moles burrowing ever deeper into their particular partisan tunnels, not noble birds flocking together, seeking to soar. The effect, alas, is toxic, not only within America – but globally.

 

Donald Trump’s leadership demeans citizenship; shame on so many of us, left and right, for racing him to the bottom.

 Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. His forthcoming book, The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg's classic work, will be published by The Jewish Publication Society in Spring 2018. He is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154053 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154053 0
America’s First Jewish Sex Symbol John Garfield was a handsome actor, a controversial artist, and a Communist fellow traveler who inspired “the talent” in Hollywood to produce themselves and become super-rich capitalists – like Oprah.

In May, 1952, more than 10,000 people massed outside New York’s Riverside Memorial Chapel for what many considered “the biggest celebrity funeral” since Rudolph Valentino’s in 1926. Devastated fans hailed Garfield’s sultry performances in Body and Soul and The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Fellow liberals seethed that the Communist Witch-Hunt killed him. And gossips tittered because the married Garfield died as the Los Angeles Times headlined: “in N.Y. Home of Actress.” 

As Broadway Method Actor, America’s first Jewish sex symbol, Blacklisted Liberal, and Hollywood’s pioneering independent producer, “Garfield was the star for the whole world, the romantic rebel himself,” the once-blacklisted screenwriter Abraham Polonsky recalled. Born Jacob Julius Garfinkle in 1913, he neutered his name Hollywood-style but not his staccato New Yawk-talk – or his politics. This pretty boy was a tough guy too...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154054 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154054 0
W. Bourke Cockran, The Forgotten Democratic Congressman Who Championed Churchill & Free Trade Winston Churchill learned to appreciate a good cigar, free trade, and fine oratory from an Irish-American orator who was his mother’s lover—and believed in young Winston more than his own father ever did. 

The Oscar-nominated movie Darkest Hour, though compelling, misleads on this part of the British Bulldog’s biography. Winston Churchill never needed to wander around wartime London seeking his muse. He had found him 45 years earlier in Gay Nineties’ Manhattan.

Actually, Churchill was only one of many of W. Bourke Cockran’s seductions—and fans. When this Irish immigrant turned super-lawyer, spellbinder, and legislator died suddenly in Washington in March, 1923, two hours after a dinner celebrating his 69th birthday, the nationwide mourning had nothing to do with Churchill, who was by then a political has-been. Cockran’s mentorship of Churchill offers a relevant epilogue to a rich all-American life that dazzled turn-of-the-century Americans with colorful prose and crystal-clear logic delivered theatrically in a resonant Irish brogue....

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154056 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154056 0
The Man Who Named the Super Bowl After His Kid’s Toy Lamar Hunt, America’s super duper Sixties’ serial sports franchiser and league founder, used his daddy’s oil fortune to launch the American Football League, World Championship Tennis, the North American Soccer League, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Chicago Bulls, while naming football’s do-or-die World Series after his kids’ incredibly-bouncy Superball.

In winning their record-breaking tenth American Football Conference Championship Game this January, the New England Patriots won yet another Lamar Hunt Trophy. Sadly, few remember Hunt – or hail him for America’s football obsession, and for the estimated 4.9 billion potato chips, 1.3 billion chicken wings, and 1.2 billion beer bottles we will consume on Super Bowl Sunday. 

Born in 1932, Lamar was the tenth child of Haroldson Lafayette Hunt (1889-1974), the Illinois-born Arkansas gambler who used his poker winnings to buy the East Texas Oil Fields, and become a super-rich, cartoonish Texas tycoon. Living in a super-sized Mount Vernon knockoff, H.L. Hunt fathered fifteen children with three overlapping wives. His roguish hypocrisy fed rumors that he inspired the J.R. Ewing character on TV’s Dallas¸ while his kooky conservatism fed darker whisperings that he bankrolled President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154062 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154062 0
Is Harriet Jacobs The Black Anne Frank? Is calling Harriet Ann Jacobs, a teenage runaway slave who hid in a crawl space for nearly seven years, a black “Anne Frank,” helpful or disrespectful?

The answer is “yes, both.”  Analogies are like medicines—most have side effects. Historians like using the familiar to access the unfamiliar, yet dislike reducing complex events to one dimension that resonates—and risks implying that fame always predominates. 

Anne Frank died seven months after the Nazis raided the “Secret Annex” where she hid for two years.  She was fifteen. Harriet Jacobs escaped her oppressors and lived until 84. She became, er, a black Harriet Beecher Stowe, and a female Frederick Douglass. Her searing memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl defied America’s proprieties to expose what happened when men treated women as property...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154063 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154063 0
The Revolutionary Drummer Boy Turned Haitian King Once upon a time, even the wild story of a 12-year-old American Revolutionary drummer boy becoming King of Haiti couldn’t interest Americans because he – along with his fellow soldiers – was black. 

As with America in Vietnam, the British Army dominated militarily during the Revolution—until it lost. And like Vietnam, a local fight for independence from colonial rule became a global war. 

In 1778, the British surprised American troops in Savannah and captured the city. Georgia was important enough strategically that French forces joined with their American allies to try liberating Savannah. On September 23, 1779, Admiral Charles-Hector Theodat d’Estaing, fresh from failing to dislodge the British from Newport, Rhode Island, demanded Savannah surrender. Four thousand French troops from the West Indies on 37 ships backed up his demand. Foolishly but nobly, he gave the British 24 hours to consider. The British fortified the ramparts and deployed reinforcements...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154067 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154067 0
Even the Wild West Embraced Gun Control Although we all know that cowboys strutted around shooting off their Colt .45s “Peacemakers” all day, the Wild West wasn't so wild that it – and the Stormy South -- couldn't include gun control. 

History is annoying. It muddies our legends with facts. Indeed, many local laws in the nineteenth-century prohibited carrying concealed weapons. A Dodge City billboard warned: “The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Prohibited.” Also, that “gun that won the west,” the Peacemaker – was about a tenth as popular as the Harrington & Richardson. And the legendary Gun Fight at the OK Corral was triggered partially by the Tombstone, Arizona, law compelling individuals to check-in their guns when they arrived in town.

History is also delightfully messy. Past nuance undermines partisan certainties. As UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler writes in Gunfight, “You are certain to see more gunfights in a two-hour movie about the Wild West than you would have seen in a year of the dusty streets of Deadwood, South Dakota” – or most Wild West hot spots. And the South, Winkler adds, “was the region where some of the earliest, most burdensome, gun control laws in American history were first enacted.” At the same time, Southerners and Westerners were often gunslingers. And, as the Harvard Professor Steven Pinker writes in The Better Angels of Our Nature, the South and West were and remain America’s most honor-obsessed, and thereby most violent, regions...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154070 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154070 0
The Black Director Who Should Have Won an Oscar The grandson of slaves, Oscar Micheaux made 44 movies, becoming the “Cecil B. De Mille of Race Movies,” and the “Czar of Black Hollywood,” inspired by that obnoxiously racist film from 1915: Birth of a Nation.

As optimists, Americans usually treat inspiration as positive, but fear and fury motivate too. This Oscar who deserved an Oscar but never got one, turned watching Birth of a Nation into the birth of his movie career. And he refused to be shackled by the limitations all blacks endured during what we should call the Awful African-American Purgatory. Living from 1884 to 1951, he was sandwiched into that black state of suspended political animation—post-Civil-War pre-Civil-Rights—when black freedom wasn’t completely denied but not yet achieved.  While defying racism, Oscar Micheaux was so upbeat, so patriotic, and so successful, the historian Dan Moos calls him a Black Turnerian. That label embodies the optimism, pragmatism, and nationalism the late-nineteenth-century historian Frederick Jackson Turner found in the American frontier.

Micheaux’s birthplace, Murphysboro, Illinois, in 1884, and upbringing on a Kansas farm with ten siblings, set him up to be a middle American. But his adopted hometown of Gregory, South Dakota, which celebrates his legacy with an annual festival, reflects the frontier pioneer he chose to be. When he was 21 he was already homesteading 160 acres in South Dakota. Tough and ambitious, he found acceptance out West—neighbors complimented him as one of them, by calling him more South Dakotan than black...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154072 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154072 0
The Subversive Socialist Journalism of I.F. Stone The ongoing debate 29 years after he died about whether the radical journalist I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy is yet another embarrassing partisan dustup that makes leftists look soft on Soviet Communism and rightists look hostile to good journalism.

The question is also secondary—like emphasizing Babe Ruth’s pitching. I.F. Stone carved out his reputation most dramatically, week by week, from 1953 through 1971, as he and his wife Esther produced his four-page Washington newsletter. This Mom-and-Pop newspaper operation peddled truth, demanded justice, and defied convention as journalism turned corporate, conformist, consumerist. 

Stone believed that radicals should be iconoclasts—rejecting truisms, left and right. He believed journalists should be independent—beholden to no bosses to bully them, no sources to massage them, no peers to pressure them. And he proved that defending democracy required vigilance, range, and creativity...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154080 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154080 0
The Frederick Douglass Rival Who Shocked With His Call to ‘Resist’ Should an African-American preacher’s cry in 1843 to his enslaved brothers and sisters “Resist, resist, RESIST! …. Use all means” even “If you must bleed” – be remembered today as brave and prescient or forgotten as marginal and radical; too Malcolm X, not Martin Luther King enough?

So far, the popular verdict is clear. Fifty years after Martin Luther King’s death, his phrases are already immortal.  Yet 175 years after his stirring speech—and a lifetime of courageous, eloquent, advocacy--the Reverend Henry Highland Garnet is forgotten. Reinforcing the judgment is the ongoing reverence for Garnet’s moderate rival, Frederick Douglass.

Although forged in revolution, Americans like their revolutionaries with powdered wigs and frocked coats, with top hats and “malice toward none,” with suit jackets and dreams we all “have.” It’s actually America’s strength. Slavery’s foul legacy is burdensome enough. We’re proud we had no Robespierrean guillotines or Stalinesque purges. But clearly, America’s Revolution of landowners and slaveowners fell short.  In his “Address to the Slaves of the United States,” stirring seventy delegates at “The National Negro Convention of 1843” in Buffalo New York, Garnet called the Declaration of Independence “a glorious document. Sages admired it, and the patriotic of every nation reverenced the God-like sentiments which it contained.” Yet once in power, Garnet growled, the revolutionaries “added new links to our chains"...

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154084 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154084 0
Zora Neale Hurston: Black Feminist Icon and Thought Criminal How dare Zora Neale Hurston author the African-American feminist classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, yet hate the New Deal, blast Brown v. Board of Education’s desegregation demand, and endorse Republican conservatives like Robert Taft!?

As inconceivable as Hurston’s heresies may be, her popularity today is even more incredible. She died so abandoned that neighbors had to contribute money to bury her—but couldn’t afford a tombstone. Today, Time considers Hurston’s “great tale of black female survival” one of its All-Time 100 Novels. On Amazon, we learn it’s “perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African-American literature,” that it’s “Not only groundbreaking as a piece of feminist literature, but also as one of the first books of its kind written about the African-American community.”

Credit the novelist Alice Walker with this literary resuscitation. In 1973, Walker found Hurston’s grave—and marked it. In a 1975 Ms. essay, she reintroduced Hurston to the world...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154086 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154086 0
Meet the Turn-of-the-Century Sex Worshipper Who ‘Married’ an Angel “Mrs.”—not Miss—Ida Craddock preserved her virginal virtues despite being an unmarried and graphic “sex reformer” in the early 1900s… by having “a husband in the other world,” the angel Seroph.

On October 17, 1902, the three—or four—times-married Mrs. Elizabeth Decker of Philadelphia, awaited her high-spirited, controversial daughter Ida in a restaurant on 23rd Street in Manhattan. “Mrs.” Craddock was outrageously late, Lizzie Decker was agitated, as usual. After all, she had an unmarried daughter publishing detailed advice about the subject no Victorian lady was even supposed to know about.

A member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Mrs. Decker already had tried committing her crazy daughter in 1894. Now, this self-styled “High Priestess of the Church of Yoga,” teaching the “gospel of marriage” was in deeper trouble. Craddock had foolishly confronted Anthony Comstock, the moralizing postal inspector who headed the Society for the Suppression of Vice. After lunch Craddock was due in court to be sentenced to five years in jail for mailing obscene material....

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154092 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154092 0
Overshadowed by Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace Was the Most Admirable Man in Science History Although Alfred Russel Wallace should be as famous as Charles Darwin for discovering that species evolve – Wallace was evolved enough to delight in Darwin’s glory, not stew in Darwinian jealousy.

Thomas Edison’s one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration genius formula got it half right; it’s also 150 percent marketing. Although we imagine lone inventors shouting “Eureka,” most discoveries are three-dimensional, involving colleagues, predecessors—and competitors. Edison should be known as one inventor of the light bulb, along with Joseph Swan, Henry Woodward, Matthew Evans, William Sawyer and Albon Man. In a less pr-centered world, we would think of Elisha Gray and Antonio Meucci, with Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, Karl Benz with Henry Ford’s motor car, and Alfred Russel Wallace with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Wallace’s obscurity is so striking because his input was so important yet Darwin’s name is now so dominant. The light bulb isn’t the Edisunlight, the phone is not the Bellaphone and the car is a car, with Ford, Mercedes-Benz and other brands. But the theory is Darwin’s, the school of thought Darwinism, the mode of competition Darwinian...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154095 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154095 0
The Father of the Iranian Nuclear Bomb While the man Israeli intelligence recently outed as the “father” of Iran’s nuclear program –Mohsen Fakhrizadeh—belongs to Iran’s repressive Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the man traditionally deemed “the father” of Iranian nukes is more ambiguous – an ex-Communist turned exiled Shah supporter, a peace activist who still supports Iran’s nuclear program, for nationalist reasons. 

Dr. Akbar Etemad has lived three different cliches. His first about-face from Communist to nuclear scientist and bureaucrat proved that some minds are too expansive to be contained by any one ideology. His prominence as a peace activist after sneaking out of the new Islamic Republic of Iran suggests he belonged to the Republic of Science, like J. Robert Oppenheimer, the dissident scientist who rejected the nuclear weapons he helped design. But Etemad’s lifelong stance as a proud Iranian suggests that even if the Mullahocracy falls – Iran’s nuclear ambitions will persist. 

Predicting foreign policy is a tricky business. In fact, this topsy-turvy tale begins with a most unlikely co-star in launching Iran’s nuclear program: America’s president Dwight D. Eisenhower...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154098 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154098 0
The British Family That Ruled in Borneo as ‘White Rajahs’ While Americans warn that wealthy families go “from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” the White Rajas of Borneo went from combat boots to dancing shoes—and from superstar to nut-bars—in their three generations of colonial rule.

The Brooke family’s century of ruling what is today a key state of Malaysia—Sarawak—proves a key democratic and nationalist lesson: Although colonialism sometimes facilitated stability, prosperity, and harmony, the cost in the imperiousness of the rulers and the infantilization of the ruled was too high. This colonialist version of getting the trains to run on time helped produce today’s relative harmony among the Dayak, ethnic Chinese, Malays—each representing more than 20 percent of the population. Similarly, in the 1840s, the White Rajas fought piracy and outlawed horrific rituals which included courting your sweetheart and celebrating your child’s birth with your neighbors’ freshly killed skulls. Nevertheless, you cannot put a price tag of people’s national dignity to decide their own fate.

In 1838, James Brooke, a British adventurer, captained his 142-ton sailing ship, the Royalist, to wrest control of southern Borneo from another imperial power, the Dutch. The Sultan of Brunei thanked Brooke for crushing a local Iban rebellion by awarding him 3,000 square miles of the area known as Sarawak in 1841. In 1842, more military backing earned Brooke the title “Rajah of Sarawak.” While bringing in Western values that respected individual dignity, while building the economy but discouraging too much Western trade to protect his subjects for exploitation, Brooke did have the British imperial blind-spot to collective sensibilities, let alone democracy for all. The national flag Brooke created for Sarawak of a red and purple cross on a yellow ground was more suited to Brits than to Borneo...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast.

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154100 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154100 0
The Tragedy of Armenia's First Prime Minister: Too Blunt and Now Forgotten Hoping to be the George Washington of the Caucuses, Hovhannes Kajaznuni helped found the first Republic of Armenia one hundred years ago, only to end up trashed by some Armenians as its sniveling Neville Chamberlain, hailed by others as Armenia’s truth-telling Isaiah, but mostly forgotten today.

The Armenian state is one of the world’s youngest, founded after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Armenian people, however, trace their history back 3,000 years – and should be celebrating the centenary of their Republic, founded in May, 1918.

Many compare Armenians to Jews – both proud venerable peoples bonded to ancient homelands surrounded by hostile neighbors. World War I proved treacherous for Armenians as many neighbors imploded – and their region exploded....

Read whole article on The Daily Beast. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154103 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154103 0
Rosey Grier: The Lineman Who Tried to Save RFK—And Voted for Trump Rosey Grier, the lineman who wrestled the gun that killed Bobby Kennedy from Sirhan Sirhan, has spent his life wrestling stereotypes, proving that big men can cry—even do needlepoint—while black men can vote for Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.

One of the last names Robert F. Kennedy uttered fifty years ago was Rosey Grier’s. In his California primary victory speech moments before he was shot in June 1968, Kennedy said: “And to Rosey Grier, who said that he'd take care of anybody who didn't vote for me. In a kind way because that's what we are. Smile pretty.”

Indeed, this six-foot-five, 300-pound defensive tackle has charmed Americans with his grin and light touch for decades. But that night darkened suddenly, when Sirhan Sirhan started shooting while shouting “Kennedy, you son of a bitch.” Sirhan, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship, resented Kennedy’s support of Israel. Although it wasn’t reported that way in 1968, Kennedy’s assassination was one of the first Islamic extremist terrorist attacks against an American—and in America...

Read whole article on The Daily Beast. 

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154108 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154108 0
Alice Walker’s Shame

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s .

I know that as a Zionist I am supposed to be a card-carrying member of the III – the Israel Indignation Industry. As such, I am supposed to condemn the New York Times for publicizing Alice Walker’s endorsement of David Icke’s anti-Semitic tract. I’m also supposed to excoriate HNN for publishing Robert Cohen’s “no, really, some of her best friends are Jewish” defense of Walker. I will do no such thing. I salute HNN for allowing Cohen to embarrass himself with such a superficial, anachronistic, single-anecdote-driven, self-promoting yet ultimately self-condemning defense of the indefensible.  I thank Alice Walker for her honesty, which exposed the anti-Semitism festering among some on the far left.  And I appreciate the New York Times’s neutrality on this moral issue, for demonstrating the double-standard which tolerates modern anti-Semitism. The Times’s moral laziness – would they be so passive regarding a racist tract – challenges us to see whether we are willing to condemn someone for rank Jew-hatred even if she is an extremely talented person of color, and even if she tries masking it behind pro-Palestinian human rights talk.

For those who missed it, the facts. The New York Times Book Review asked the legendary novelist Alice Walker what she was reading. On her bookshelf is “and the truth shall set you free” what David Icke calls his “stunning expose of the hidden agenda behind global affairs.” Endorsing the book, Walker wrote, “In Icke's books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about. A curious person's dream come true.”

Curious indeed. Icke writes wacky connect-the-dots history, wherein random events line up to advance the interests of “those at the higher levels of the Elite-Illuminati-Brotherhood” who “are, I believe, vehicles for the manipulation of the physical world by the Prison Warders of the Fourth Dimension.” Icke’s world is a bing-bong world “of the Big Plan,” of “the cult of the all-seeing eye” – the Masons – and their “Pyramid of Deceit.” Icke – and, judging from her fawning comments about his work on her website, Walker too – want us“to move away from conspiracy theory and see that it is conspiracy fact” – regarding “lies” about Auschwitz, the Holocaust, plane crashes, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, Israel’s creation, life itself. 

If you think I’m exaggerating: how are these for thesis statements in a book one of America’s beloved cultural icons just endorsed: “It is hard to believe at first, but you don't have to search too far to realise that almost every major negative event of global significance has been part of the same long-term plan by the All-Seeing Eye cult to take over the planet via a centralised world government, central bank, currency, and army. And it is being done by programming the human mind.” And elsewhere we learn: “This system I am describing is the means through which the extraterrestrial Prison Warders and the Luciferic Consciousness on the non-physical frequencies around this planet, project their control into the physical world as the Global Elite/Illuminati/ Brotherhood network. Divide and rule, control of the flow of information, secret manipulation, and conflict. Over the last three hundred thousand years or so, all these methods of control by the Prison Warders can be seen in the Elite network on Earth.”

Whew!

Once attacked for championing a bizarre book that blames the Mossad, the ADL, the Rothschilds, and Henry Kissinger for spawning much of the world’s evils, that implies Jews’ bring anti-Semitism on themselves –“they expect it, they create it” – Walker doubled down. She could have said, I don’t believe everything I read. Instead, she gushed. “I find Icke’s work to be very important to humanity’s conversation, especially at this time,” she wrote. “I do not believe he is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish.  I do believe he is brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask, and to speak his own understanding of the truth wherever it might lead.”

We all read all kinds of books that don’t reflect on us. But you only endorse books you endorse.

Inevitably, pathetically, Walker couldn’t resist bolstering her enthusiastic approval of this nonsense with her women-of-color credentials. “Many attempts have been made to censor and silence him,” she wrote. “As a woman, and a person of color, as a writer who has been criticized and banned myself, I support his right to share his own thoughts.” Can someone explain how the genuine oppression she has suffered and transformed into profound art is somehow transferrable to Icke and his superficial, rehashed, conspiratorial idiocy?  

Moreover, this man has sold over 200,000 copies of his books according to Vox. Walker’s work is published and quoted widely – although not translated into Hebrew because she violated her own commitment to open dialogue by refusing to have the Color Purple published in Israel.  I don’t think the issue here is censoring or silencing.

The issue, instead is PCB: politically correct bigotry. By leveraging her celebrity in theNew York Times, Alice Walker has mainstreamed and validated anti-Semitism, the oldest hatred, the most plastic hatred – which the left and the right, religious and secular, repeatedly form-fit and recycle. Just when the genuine insight – not the political manipulation – behind “intersectionality” should have taught us how universally demeaning bigotry is, and there should be zero-tolerance for all prejudice, including Jew-hatred, Walker deploys her literary credibility to hive off anti-Semitism from the litany of other illegitimate hatreds.

How is it “brave” – Walker’s word – for Icke to write, “As Hitler treated those Jews cast adrift by their own hierarchy, so does Israel treat Palestinians today”? The Nazification of Israel has become a tic of the hard left. It is truly anti-Semitic in its exaggerations – the Palestinian population has grown over the last fifty years – and is simply perverse in treating Jews like their killers.

How is it – Walker’s phrase – “very important to humanity’s conversation” to write about “the Jew’s hooked nose,” and again blur victim and victimizer by claiming “the racism of extreme Jews and the racism of Adolf Hitler are both based on a colossal myth.” And how, “especially at this time” – what, the Age of Trump, after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre? – does piling more hatred contribute to “humanity’s conversation?”

The mystery is solved on page 126. There, Icke runs through the anti-Semite’s favorite Talmudic quotations, wrenched out of context, to categorize the Jews as “incredibly racist, quite stunningly so.” Icke’s riff echoes Alice Walker’s reprehensible 2017 poem “To Study the Talmud.” In that rant– still displayed proudly on her website – she applies an equally superficial approach, collecting misleading quotations, for even more nefarious ends. Calling Israeli “rule” over Palestinians “demonic/To the core,” she wonders “where to look/For the inspiration/For so much evil?” That question takes her from a legitimate, if overheated, political critique into the essence of prejudice – essentializing and otherizing the Jews as a people, and Judaism as a civilization.

Joining a long line of anti-Semites, Alice Walker finds “that part/of the puzzle that is missing,” the “root” of Israeli evil, by studying “The Talmud – as its poison belatedly winds its way/Into our collective consciousness.”

Of course, she, and Icke insist they are not anti-Semitic. Of course, she insists, the charge of anti-Semitism is the price she pays for supporting the Palestinians. Her poem actually suggests the opposite: her support for the Palestinians has made her increasingly anti-Semitic, not merely anti-Zionist.

Unlike most people, who simply condemn Icke on the basic of a quotation here and there, I actually waded through his tract – sacrificing hours of my life I wish I could recover. Let’s be clear, the book is not just anti-Semitic, it’s anti-American, anti-intellectual – and quite insulting to readers, assuming we’re all dupes and will buy any assertion.  The fact that someone as serious as Walker endorses something as silly as Icke’s book outs her, frankly, as a kook – and a misanthropic one at that. 

In an age when so many people are so sensitive to the damage a President can cause by failing to condemn evil, let’s acknowledge how much damage such an influential intellectual can do by fomenting evil. And in a world of zero tolerance toward sexism, racism, homophobia, and so many other bigotries, isn’t there something disturbing to find a passionate voice for tolerance so stunningly intolerant of the Jews? 

And, in that context, to have a professor of history, such as Robert Cohen, not engage any of these issues, not do the basic research, but instead write a superficial endorsement of Walker is stunning. His argument, that Walker is not anti-Semitic in 2018 because fifty-five years ago in 1963, she “took a courageous stand on behalf” of Howard Zinn a “Jewish teacher” who stood up against racism is absurd – and ahistorical. True, this argument allowed Cohen to work in a self-promotional plug for a book he wrote about that era. But although Walker’s literary virtues – starting with her craftsmanship – clearly did not transfer to Icke, despite her adoration, Professor Cohen’s enabling of Walker’s wickedness is contagious: he is diminished by excusing her hatred away. Historians specialize in tracing how people often change over half-a-century. His argument is like excusing a sexual harasser today because he was nice to his girlfriend in the Sixties. It also fails to respect the seriousness of the charge or the many dimensions of Walker’s and Icke’s historically-based, deeply-rooted, Jew hatred.

The issue is not HNN or even the New York Times. Rather than censoring Walker, or LeBron James, or Louis Farrakhan, we should censure them. Bringing these prejudices to light may in fact be helping. For example, more and more leaders in the Women’s March are refusing to abide the hypocrisy of shutting down any other microaggressions they perceive while tolerating macroaggressions against Jews. Perhaps noticing these controversies on the left, while repudiating the Jew-hatred festering on the right, will help all Progressives become as anti-anti-Semitic as everyone, from right to left should be.

Sadly, Alice Walker, David Icke, and apparently Robert Cohen too, failed to realize that, as one wise writer wrote in 1983, “Every affront to human dignity necessarily affects me as a human being on the planet, because I know every single thing on earth is connected.” That writer, a very different, more morally coherent voice back then, was Alice Walker. Hopefully, theNew York Times Book Review’s passive exposure of her toxic opinions will eliminate at least one source in our world of hypocrisy, of anti-Jewish hysteria, and of inter-group hatred, enhancing human dignity, “especially at this time.”

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154166 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154166 0
A Salute to Rick Shenkman and His Contribution to History

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s .

 

Related Link  Farewell:  An interview with Rick Shenkman on his exit from HNN

 

When I was in graduate school and attended my first American Historical Association, I was shocked. I could not believe how little the historical establishment did to make us graduate students feel welcomed, to feel part of a broader historical community, to feel some sense of nobility, of excitement, of camaraderie, regarding our joint mission as pastmasters, as truth-seekers and tellers. Over the years, I regret to say, I have seen few colleagues do all that much in any contexts to foster that sense. I, for one, harbor great guilt that so many of our graduate students seem stuck in the same trauma cycles of depression, discouragement, loneliness, anomie, alienation, and, sometimes abuse by the system or their elders, that too many of us endured. 

 

Our collective failure – our outrageous negligence – makes Rick Shenkman’s achievement with HNN, the History News Network, all the more impressive.

 

Day in, day out, year in, year out, Rick has not just been our community builder -- he’s been our town crier, our cheerleader, our scold, our coach, our teacher in so many ways. His website has got scholars thinking thoughtfully, critically, substantively at a time when we historians have stopped interacting with one another on so many levels. His efforts have resisted so many of the trends that have proven so toxic to free, open, dialogue in today’s academe. You click on HNN to find compelling, relevant articles in a time of scholarly monasticism, to find lively, accessible articles in an era that prizes stylistic turgidity, to find robust, respectful debate in a moment that prefers finger-pointing and virtue-shaming to free-thinking and open-minded-learning

 

The fact that Rick has done this with so little support – financially, institutionally, emotionally, existentially – from the profession at large is scandalous. The fact that he has done this while continuing his legendary career as a thoughtful historian who can sell tons of books while generating important, substantive, academic debates is miraculous. And the fact that he is passing “his baby” in such good, robust shape, to his successor, is a magnanimous act on his part. 

 

We look forward to continuing to learn from HNN, to engage with HNN, to feel a sense of historical camaraderie thanks to HNN, under the able leadership of the new editor-in-chief Kyla Sommers.  And we hope that Rick continues to challenge us, to teach us, to inspire us – on these pages and the pages of the future books he will undoubtedly start writing in earnest, after nearly twenty years of double-triple-quadruple duty, overworked, underpaid – but not unappreciated!

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Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:55:22 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154170 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154170 0