Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, June 27, 2015 2:02 pm

Depending how your dream goes

FlagsConfedRainbow

(I don’t know who this artist is; if someone knows, please advise and I’ll be happy to give credit. Cartoon by Bob Englehart, Hartford Courant, but was Photoshopped; the original included only the first three panels.)

“This has been the best week for all Americans of good will since Richard Milhous Nixon fled the presidency.”

This post started out to be a lot of gloating about how badly so many different people of ill will have taken it in the teeth this week. I was going to write a lot about how the moral arc of karma is long but this week it bent toward a righteous, multifaceted ass-kicking. I was going to write about laughing as the people on the wrong end of these decisions cried their bitter, bitter tears of frustration and rage, and how I intended to fill goblets and flagons with those tears and how the whole damn house was going to enjoy several rounds on them and so on. And I particularly intended to review Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissents in two Supreme Court cases so that you could enjoy the spectacle of a right-wing hack’s head exploding.

But overnight, those feelings receded. They didn’t go away. They’re still there, and for all I know could come flowing back in all their fury given the right prompt. But they’re no longer top of mind.

Instead, what I’m feeling most right now is something that feels quite foreign to me: satisfaction. Why? Because without doubt this has been the best week for all Americans of good will since Richard Milhous Nixon fled the presidency more than 40 years ago. Not only is the Confederate battle flag likely coming down at the South Carolina Statehouse (at this writing no vote has been scheduled), but a number of large companies have pledged to stop selling Confederate-themed stuff. And at the Supreme Court, not only was the Affordable Care Act upheld (again), the court also ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in this country.

That last one, though not unexpected, was particularly delicious because the bad guys were hoisted on their own petard. The anti-SSM crowd had argued that marriage was so important an institution to our society that it had to be protected. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in a neat bit of judiciary jiujitsu, responded, in effect, “Yes, it IS important — so important that it is a basic right that belongs to ALL.” And then he dropped the mic.

Let’s look at who lost here:

So who won? Everybody, really, including the people who lost, because as a result of these changes, all of us, including them, are going to live in a better America. America is a little less bigoted, significantly more financially secure and a helluva lot more equal today than it was last weekend.

Now, this wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t point out a few caveats. For one thing, nice as it is to get the Dixie Swastika off the Statehouse grounds and to start a real conversation about the noxious culture surrounding it, we still have to start a real conversation about the larger culture of racism, of which the flag is only a symbol.

We would be morally obtuse if we didn’t grasp that the whole reason we’re even having a conversation about the Dixie Swastika is that a young man in the pernicious grasp of its culture walked into an old and beloved Charleston church and shot nine innocent people to death in cold blood. And we would be even more morally obtuse if we didn’t start that real conversation about the culture of racism. Oh, we’ve nibbled at it here and there — a number of politicians, including my own Sen. Thom Tillis, have been caught taking money from a white-supremacist group, the Conservative Citizens Council — but I’m afraid it’ll take even more bloodshed before we get serious about this.

We also need to talk about how easy it remains for crazy people to buy guns. I know that it looks like Gun America (including but not limited to the NRA) has shut down this conversation, and that more people will die needlessly as a result, but we need to keep having it anyway.

As for the Affordable Care Act and health insurance, we remain basically the only Western industrialized democracy where a health problem can bankrupt you. That still needs to change, for all the good, and it is a lot of good, that Obamacare has done in recent years (at lower cost than expected and with greater beneficial effects on the deficit than has been expected).

And while same-sex marriage remains the law of the land, there are still some holdouts, including some county clerks or deed recorders who are saying they simply won’t marry anyone rather than marrying same-sex couples. (Remember when public pools were closed outright during the desegregation era rather than be opened to African Americans? Good times.) They’ll have to be sued individually. But they will be. And they, too, will lose. And there no doubt will continue to be lawsuits because in areas other than marriage, some people will continue to insist, in the face of law, logic, and morality, that LGBTQ folks don’t have the same rights as the rest of us.

All these challenges, and some nontrivial losses, still lie ahead of us. More blood and treasure will be spilled. Reactionaries gonna react. It’s what they do. It’s how they roll. And they tend to get worse, to escalate, every time they do; as Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog reminds us, “they vote, they dominate many American states, and they own guns.” And they’re getting at least some positive reinforcement from high places; as my friend Mark Costley observed on Facebook of the Supreme Court’s dissenters:

… they are — I believe consciously — furthering a right wing theme calculated to weaken the confidence of the citizenry in our government. The right wing of the Republican Party (commonly understood to be the right 11/12 of the party) has embraced an anti-intellectual populism in which the courage to be wrong and stick with your position is one’s greatest trait. This anti-intellectualism makes it impossible to engage in any effective discussion of policy making, national priorities, or governmental accountability.

Few politicians in U.S. history have gone broke inciting lack of confidence in the competence and good will of government, and there are a lot of scared, uninformed, armed people only too willing to believe the worst. So this, too, will be an issue even as we now have 35 years of experience in seeing what horrors so-called limited government inflicts upon our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

But I actually have some hope. As I observed above, this is going to be a better country for the losers as well as the winners in this week’s events, and it isn’t foolish to hope that because the country will be better, at least some of those who may see themselves on the losing end eventually will come to see that it all was for the best.

And I hope everybody else sees that, too, for this week has been as transformative in America as any in decades. And even as we begin to think about what lies ahead, it would be churlish of us not to celebrate it. It is uncharacteristic of me to say so, but I suggest we celebrate — not with the bitter, bitter tears of our opponents, but with champagne.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015 7:42 pm

Who really won the Civil War?

It’s a weird question, right? Only not as weird as you might think. I first started thinking about it when I found myself so often having to respond to this or that point on social media with, “We already had that conversation. In 1860-65. Your side lost.” But did it?

Sure, the Confederacy as a military and governmental entity collapsed in 1865. But the ideas that animated it — antidemocratic rule by gentry, brutal suppression of minorities, refusal to recognize federal democratic rule — today animate the Tea Party base of the GOP and have an unhealthy influence on U.S. politics and governance.

Consider this take from Doug Muder at the Weekly Sift:

[Jefferson Davis’s plan to escape to Texas and raise a new army to continue the Civil War after Appomattox] sounded crazy until I read about Reconstruction. Reconstruction was a mysterious blank period between Lincoln’s assassination and Edison’s light bulb. Congress impeached Andrew Johnson for some reason, the transcontinental railroad got built, corruption scandals engulfed the Grant administration, and Custer lost at Little Big Horn. But none of it seemed to have much to do with present-day events.

And oh, those blacks Lincoln emancipated? Except for Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, they vanished like the Lost Tribes of Israel. They wouldn’t re-enter history until the 1950s, when for some reason they still weren’t free.

Here’s what my teachers’ should have told me: “Reconstruction was the second phase of the Civil War. It lasted until 1877, when the Confederates won.” I think that would have gotten my attention.

It wasn’t just that Confederates wanted to continue the war. They did continue it, and they ultimately prevailed. They weren’t crazy, they were just stubborn.

It’s certainly true in the South, where Reconstruction ended prematurely in 1877 as part of a deal that gave Rutherford B. Hayes the White House.

If the Napoleonic Wars were your model, then it was obvious that the Confederacy lost in 1865: Its capital fell, its commander surrendered, its president was jailed, and its territories were occupied by the opposing army. If that’s not defeat, what is?

But now we have a better model than Napoleon: Iraq.

After the U.S. forces won on the battlefield in 1865 and shattered the organized Confederate military, the veterans of that shattered army formed a terrorist insurgency that carried on a campaign of fire and assassination throughout the South until President Hayes agreed to withdraw the occupying U. S. troops in 1877. Before and after 1877, the insurgents usedlynchings and occasionalpitchedbattles to terrorize those portions of the electorate still loyal to the United States. In this way they took charge of the machinery of state government, and then rewrote the state constitutions to reverse the postwar changes and restore the supremacy of the class that led the Confederate states into war in the first place. [2]

By the time it was all over, the planter aristocrats were back in control, and the three constitutional amendments that supposedly had codified the U.S.A’s victory over the C.S.A.– the 13th, 14th, and 15th — had been effectively nullified in every Confederate state. The Civil Rights Acts had been gutted by the Supreme Court, and were all but forgotten by the time similar proposals resurfaced in the 1960s. Blacks were once again forced into hard labor for subsistence wages, denied the right to vote, and denied the equal protection of the laws. Tens of thousands of them were still physically shackled and subject to being whipped, a story historian Douglas Blackmon told in his Pulitzer-winning Slavery By Another Name.

So Lincoln and Grant may have had their mission-accomplished moment, but ultimately the Confederates won. The real Civil War — the one that stretched from 1861 to 1877 — was the first war the United States lost.

That system continues to hold sway over far too much of U.S. politics and governance today, and it is profoundly antidemocratic. Muder writes:

But the enduring Confederate influence on American politics goes far beyond a few rhetorical tropes. The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries.

That worldview is alive and well. During last fall’s government shutdown and threatened debt-ceiling crisis, historian Garry Wills wrote about our present-day Tea Partiers: “The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.”

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.

That was the victory plan of Reconstruction. Black equality under the law was guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. But in the Confederate mind, no democratic process could legitimate such a change in the social order. It simply could not be allowed to stand, and it did not stand.

In the 20th century, the Confederate pattern of resistance was repeated against the Civil Rights movement. And though we like to claim that Martin Luther King won, in many ways he did not. School desegregation, for example, was never viewed as legitimate, and was resisted at every level. And it has been overcome. By most measures, schools are as segregated as ever, and the opportunities in white schools still far exceed the opportunities in non-white schools.

Today, ObamaCare cannot be accepted. No matter that it was passed by Congress, signed by the President, found constitutional by the Supreme Court, and ratified by the people when they re-elected President Obama. It cannot be allowed to stand, and so the tactics for destroying it get ever more extreme. The point of violence has not yet been reached, but the resistance is still young.

Violence is a key component of the present-day strategy against abortion rights, as Judge Myron Thompson’s recent ruling makes clear. Legal, political, social, economic, and violent methods of resistance mesh seamlessly. The Alabama legislature cannot ban abortion clinics directly, so it creates reasonable-sounding regulations the clinics cannot satisfy, like the requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Why can’t they fulfill that requirement? Because hospitals impose the reasonable-sounding rule that their doctors live and practice nearby, while many Alabama abortionists live out of state. The clinics can’t replace them with local doctors, because protesters will harass the those doctors’ non-abortion patients and drive the doctors out of any business but abortion. A doctor who chooses that path will face threats to his/her home and family. And doctors who ignore such threats have been murdered.

Legislators, of course, express horror at the murder of doctors, just as the pillars of 1960s Mississippi society expressed horror at the Mississippi Burning murders, and the planter aristocrats shook their heads sadly at the brutality of the KKK and the White Leagues. But the strategy is all of a piece and always has been. Change cannot stand, no matter what documents it is based on or who votes for them. If violence is necessary, so be it.

And if you think for a moment that Muder’s take on the movement’s violent bent is fanciful or exaggerated, consider this.

This mindset has found a focus point, and a path to at least a modicum of power, through the Tea Party, which now effectively holds sway over one of our two major political parties and is directly responsible what much of America — and the world — finds so odious about today’s GOP and our country. (Credit where due, by the way: The blogger Driftglass has written on this theme for years.)

Muder concludes:

Our modern Confederates are quick to tell the rest of us that we don’t understand them because we don’t know our American history. And they’re right. If you knew more American history, you would realize just how dangerous these people are.

 

Sunday, August 22, 2010 11:35 pm

Catchin’ up on stuff; or, Odds and ends for Aug. 22

  • Questions more people need to be asking about the deficit, answered.
  • Why, if I lived near DC, I might be tempted to burn a Confederate flag at Glenn Beck’s upcoming rally.
  • I think the F-bomb has become a highly convenient excuse to keep adolescents from seeing a movie that shows how the American government screwed over an American hero and lied to his family.
  • Apparently it’s OK for American journalists to write highly inaccurate articles as long as they do so in the right (pun intended) way. Relatedly, these days, a DC journalist, given the choice between giving a deserved screwing to a colleague and giving an undeserved screwing to the American people in general, will screw the American people every time.
  • Governmental foot-dragging has its intended effect: Tom DeLay walks free. There are no consequences. There is no accountability. Rule of law? Ha.
  • The Internet will be the death of the music bidness as we’ve known it. Of course, no one who has known it will shed a tear, but that doesn’t mean the bidness is going down without a fight. Now they’re partnering with the National Association of Broadcasters, another powerful lobby, to try to get the government to mandate the inclusion of FM radio in future cell phones. Good luck with that. Oh, and die already.
  • The question isn’t why “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger “quit” her radio show after dropping about 11 N-bombs. The question is why any responsible broadcaster ever allowed someone with such obvious mental problems on the air dispensing advice in the first place.
  • Despite rising wheat prices caused by Russia’s drought-driven ban on exports, U.S. wheat farmers aren’t sure they should plant more wheat. Why? They’re pretty sure the wheat market is rigged, just as it was a few years ago. Now someone explain to me again what social utility investment bankers serve. Relatedly, Harper’s makes the case that they’re just playing games with the world’s food supply.
  • August: Stupid American Month.
  • If The New York Times or CNN had contributed $1 million to the Democratic Governors Association, do you think the country would have responded with such a yawn? Me, neither.
  • So will all the Wikileaks critics shut up now that the Pentagon’s own evidence shows Wikileaks tried to work with the Pentagon to redact sensitive information but was rebuffed? Yeah. I thought not.
  • The oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster? Government reports to the contrary, it’s mostly still out there.
  • When it comes to protecting our rights and our privacy, those commies in Europe are eating The Land of the Free’s lunch.
  • You know how the government has always claimed Guantanamo detainees are “the worst of the worst”? In fact, the government lacks enough evidence to charge 3/4 of them with any crime at all.
  • The $75 billion Home Affordable Mortgage Protection Act is a bust … because Congress, after approving the money, did nothing to ensure that bankruptcy judges would use so-called “cramdown” provisions to make sure the money would do what it was supposed to do. What has happened instead has left a lot of homeowners even worse off than if the government had done nothing and has hampered the recovery of the housing market. And the administration hasn’t bothered to try to get Congress to do the right thing. Heckuva job all the way around.
  • Memo to Army Maj. Gen. Charles E. Chambers: Your punishing soldiers who opted not to attend a concert by an evangelical Christian rock band should carry punishment of its own: loss of your stars and your pension. You violated your oath to protect the Constitution, General, plain and simple.
  • Robert Frank has an interesting proposal that could help both government and consumers: The government should buy up consumer debt, on which consumers are paying 20% and up, and charge consumers 8%. This would put more disposable income in consumers’ hands and give the government a substantially better return on its investment than the 2.8% or so that 10-year bills currently are paying. It makes so much sense that there’s zero chance Congress will pass it because it would hurt deny banks their current flow of blood money.
  • Shorter Paul Volcker: Lending deregulation was bad because allowing higher interest payments on risky sub-prime loans encouraged banks to make more risky loans.
  • Barry Ritholtz: We’re good at saying “What if we had done nothing?” about the bailout, but an even better question is, “What if we had done the right thing?”
  • COOL (as it were): Scientists are working on a way to use carbon dixoide and certain kinds of bacteria to convert crude oil into cleaner-burning methane — while the oil is still in the ground. A separate effort is working on using solar power to convert CO2 to carbon, or carbon monoxide to, in turn, synthesize hydrocarbon fuels.
  • I have found my Official Anthem for the Summer of 2010. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too R-rated to link to, but I’ll give you a hint: It’s by Cee-Lo, from his forthcoming album.
  • Colombian Supreme Court to U.S. military: Don’t let the sun set on you in Bogota. Oops.
  • Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, leaves the Wall Street Journal and tears U.S. news media several new orifices on the way out the door (whether he also grabbed a beer is not clear).
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has apologized for a blog post suggesting that the male-female wage gap and the glass ceiling aren’t real problems, which might actually mean something if it would apologize for everything else it has said and done in that same vein for the past several decades. But it won’t, so it doesn’t.
  • The American Family Association apparently believes our soldiers in Iraq died for nothing. Actually, so do I, inasmuch as that war was illegal from the git. But you know why the AFA believes it? Because Iraq is not a Christian nation.
  • Would someone who considers him/herself a deficit hawk and supports extending George Bush’s tax cuts for millionaires please explain to me how we can afford to do that but cannot afford to put people to work?
  • And, finally, this week’s tasteless joke, from D. Aristophanes at Sadly, No!:

A priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero. The bartender says, ‘What’re you drinking?’ and the imam orders him beheaded because sharia law dhimmitude Allahu Akbar alalalalalalalalala flabberty jabberty jabber etc. etc.*

You’ve been a great crowd! We’re here all week!

*Also the priest molests the bartender’s kids and the rabbi drinks their blood.

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