Bob Schwartz

Category: Government

American Dislike of Studying History and Government Comes to Haunt Us

I have loved reading about American history and government since, well, since I have been reading. I was an officer in our high school Future Voters of America club, and I was a delegate to a mock presidential convention. A nerd then, and maybe still.

That is not typical for a large number of Americans, who seem disinclined to read much (and that is read, not just listen or watch) about these subjects. Partly that is because these subjects are usually required in school and are not always very well taught, with all due respect to those who have the sometimes thankless job of teaching.

My high school American History teacher was also our basketball coach, a decently smart and affable guy who happened to have been given one of the all-time exciting American History textbooks to teach from: The American Pageant, which thanks to the unique approach of its original author, historian Thomas A. Bailey, remains in print in its 16th edition. It was, and hopefully still is, one of the most fun reads of any textbook on any subject. Yes, I said “fun.” Without speaking for my classmates, I was excited to read each chapter.

I don’t believe all Americans think of learning about history and government as fun. More like work, maybe hard and distasteful and avoidable work. Except that avoiding knowing history and government means that when, as can happen, things get way out of whack, you won’t recognize what is happening, or recognize that as a historical matter, the consequences may be unfortunate, if not dire.

As can happen, things may get way out of whack, and they have. Maybe those who find learning about American history and government useless might squeeze it into their busy schedules. Particularly if they love America, because as we know, true love means learning about the one you love.

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It took Nixon 1,734 days. It took Trump only 109.

It took Nixon 1,734 days. It took Trump only 109.

Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre took place on October 20 1973. Besieged by investigations into Watergate, on that night he fired independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, which resulted in Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigning. That was 1,734 days after Nixon took office.

Today Donald Trump fired Attorney General James Comey, who was leading one of the investigations into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is 109 days after Trump took office.

It still took nearly a year, but Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974, in the face of certain Senate conviction of impeachment articles passed by the House. The articles begin:

ARTICLE 1

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice. (emphasis added)

We don’t know that the Republican-led House will have the courage to hold impeachment hearings, let alone pass articles of impeachment. Unlike the Nixon situation, where Republicans cooperated in a bipartisan upholding of core American and constitutional principles, it is hard to tell exactly what some Republicans believe or will do in these circumstances.

The only thing certain is that with this firing of the FBI Director, we are in dark territory. Will it get even darker? Will we see the light? And will no Congress rid us of this turbulent president?

See The Case for Impeachment by Allan J. Lichtman

The Long Hot Summer

The movie Detroit will be released on August 4. Directed by Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow, it is about the Detroit riots in the American summer of 1967.

Fifty years ago, the summer of 1967—known as “the long hot summer”—was an unforgettable moment in American race relations. The Detroit riots were just part of it. That summer, 163 riots took place in American cities and towns, including in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Tampa, Birmingham, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Britain, Rochester, Plainfield, and Newark.

And in Detroit. During five days there, 43 people died, 1,189 people were injured, 7,231 people were arrested, 2,509 stores were looted or burned, 388 families were displaced, and 412 buildings burned or damaged enough to be demolished.

As a result, President Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission to investigate and report. Months later the government published The Kerner Report: The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.


From the Introduction to the 2016 reprint edition of The Kerner Report by Julian E. Zelizer of Princeton University:

The report remains one of the most insightful government examinations of the state of race relations in twentieth-century America, with lessons that reverberate today and others that were ignored….

The Kerner Commission’s findings would be unlike almost any other report that the federal government had produced about race relations in America. Although the report stuck to conventional liberal ideas about how to improve racial equality, its analysis of the problems in the cities pointed to some radical critiques about the problem of institutional racism in America. The widely discussed report offered hard-hitting arguments about the ways in which white racism was built into the institutions and organization of urban America, so much that racial inequality was constantly reproduced over generations. The report tackled controversial issues like police violence against African Americans that had often been kept on the sidelines of mainstream political discourse….

In July, two major riots devastated the cities of Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan. These were the worst of 163 riots that broke out that summer, in places large and small, ranging from Plainfield, New Jersey, to Wadesboro, North Carolina. On July 12, rioting started in Newark after rumors that the police had mistreated an African American cab driver whom they were arresting. To the eyes of some close to the Johnson administration, Newark’s unrest was the culmination of many years of frustration with excessive police violence. In fact, President Johnson refrained from sending in any troops to achieve calm, fearing that doing so would only stoke the racial flames engulfing the city. After five days of devastating violence, the riots ended with twenty-six people dead, hundreds injured, and massive property damage to the community.

The violence in Detroit started on July 23, not long after the smoke from the Newark riots had cleared….

The rioters, they found, were usually educated and had been employed in previous years. Most of them were angry about the kind of racial discrimination they faced when seeking employment and places to live. They were frustrated with the state of their neighborhoods and wanted access to the political system from which they had been disenfranchised. They also were described as wanting to participate in the consumer culture that American leaders had boasted about. The rioters were not driven by radical agitators, nor were they recent transplants to the city. The report depicted them instead as ordinary, longtime residents of neighborhoods who could no longer withstand the deplorable conditions under which they and their families lived….

No institution received more scrutiny than the police. The rioting had shown without any doubt that law enforcement had become a problem in race relations. Rather than constructive domestic policies, more aggressive policing had become the de facto response from city officials. “In several cities,” the report stated, “the principal official response has been to train and equip the police with more sophisticated weapons.” The police played a big role in almost all of the riots, according to the commissioners. Indeed, in contrast to the findings of the McCone Commission, the Kerner report noted that systematic police violence against African Americans was at the heart of the riots of this period, more so than almost any other issue….

In provocative fashion, the report blamed “white racism” for producing the conditions that were at the heart of the riots. With a powerful account of the history of race relations, the commission had traced the problems in the cities all the way back to slavery. The point was not that white Americans were intentionally committing racial injustice against African Americans, but that racism was imbedded in institutions….

There have been some notable improvements since the time the report was published, however. The civil rights legislation of the 1960s did legitimate racial integration, while social programs from that period—such as Medicaid and food stamps—created an important base of support to alleviate the conditions that the poor faced. A growing African American middle class has also been one of the most important positive developments in race relations.

Yet the problems highlighted in the Kerner Commission’s report remain hauntingly relevant today. Many parts of inner-city America remain as unstable, if not more so, than when Kerner looked into the conditions that existed in the late 1960s. Lack of jobs, inadequate education, racial discrimination, and police brutality all remain prevalent in modern times. Poverty has also been spreading to the suburbs, bringing these issues into new areas, while economic inequality has generally become more severe and hardened. The war on crime and the war on drugs have replaced urban policy. For those who didn’t make it out, hope for change has only diminished….

The Kerner report still stands as a powerful statement about the struggles that African Americans face in a country where racism shapes many of our key institutions. The Kerner report, a shining argument that government can indeed respond to national problems, still has a great deal to offer policymakers and citizens as they wrestle with racial tension in the aftermath of the racial unrest in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cincinnati, and Baltimore in 2014 and 2015. In all of these cases police violence against urban residents again brought attention to the racial disparities that afflict many parts of the nation.

New CEO: “I thought it would be easier.”

Imagine that you hired a new CEO for your very, very big company (annual budget: $3.8 trillion). The job he takes is universally considered the most difficult job in the world.

Imagine that not all the shareholders approved him. In fact, the shareholders were very, very divided on his being hired.

Imagine that in his early days, he demonstrated some serious gaps in his knowledge and ability to do the job.

Then imagine the new CEO is interviewed and says this:

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Would you:

  1. Keep him and expect him to get better at his job.
  2. Excuse him because he is new on the job.
  3. Fire him.
  4. Pray.

“Trump jokes about replacing Haley, takes it back”

Washington Post today:

There was a bit of awkwardness at President Donald Trump’s lunch with U.N. diplomats when he made an undiplomatic comment about Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the U.N.

Trump was kicking off Monday’s lunch with ambassadors of countries on the U.N. Security Council when he asked the room if they liked Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Trump said that if they didn’t, “she could easily be replaced.”

The comment sparked some awkwardness, but seemed to be taken in jest. Haley and others gathered around the lengthy table laughed.

Above is a photo of Nikki Haley and Donald Trump at the lunch.

IAVA: “WTF!?!? A tax on our GI Bill!!”

I’ve posted frequently about the sorry state of veterans affairs in America. Hypocritical “Thank you for your service”—particularly from flag-lapel-pin-wearing ultra-patriotic politicians—followed by every effort to not serve those who deserve it.

Following is the text of an email just received from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) about the latest travesty. As the email says: “Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level.”


You’re not gonna believe this!

Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level by announcing a ridiculous plan to tax enlistees $2,400 to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill. Yes, some in Congress want to tax troops to use the GI Bill. It’s insanity!

It’s bad for veterans. Bad for our military. Bad for recruiting. Bad for our economy. And especially bad for families making a base pay of only about $19,000 a year.

And IAVA won’t stand for it. No way.

If you’ve volunteered to serve this country, you are entitled to your education benefits. It’s a cost of war. PERIOD.

IAVA created and passed the original post-9/11 GI Bill back in 2008. And we’ve been holding the line to defend it ever since. We fought to upgrade it in 2010. We’ve also helped hundreds of thousands of vets use it. And thanks to your support last year, we successfully fought $4B in proposed cuts.

But our earned wartime benefits are under attack again by politicians looking to nickel and dime our brothers and sisters–as bullets continue to fly at them in combat around the world.

IAVA will ferociously #DefendTheGIBill. Now and forever. We will fight to ensure all enlistees get the same benefits (or better) than we got. And we need you to have our back.

Sign our petition to send a clear message to Congress now: if you need money to pay for stuff, find it elsewhere! Not from the wallets of young enlistees.

Together, we will hold the line. And we will win.

Onward,

Paul Rieckhoff
Iraq veteran
Founder and CEO
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA

PS. We need fuel for this urgent fight. Donate now to #DefendTheGIBill.

The Trump Plan for North Korea: Gorgo’s Revenge

Mr. Unpredictable and Secretive says he has a plan for dealing with North Korea, China and other international situations, but he can’t say what the plan is (he can’t say or he can’t say?).

In the deep archives of comic book history, I found a clue.

The comic from 1962 is called Gorgo’s Revenge. Gorgo was the monster from a 1961 British movie, in which Gorgo attacks London. The comic book series Gorgo’s Revenge (later called The Return of Gorgo) continues the story, this time in China.

It seems that Gorgo’s return is considered to be a sign to the people of China, oppressed slaves of the Communist regime, that it is time to seek their freedom—by fleeing to Taiwan. (By 1962, the idea of the Nationalists overthrowing Mao on the mainland was no longer considered a reasonable goal.)

Gorgo arrives, emboldens and inspires the Chinese Nationalists, and sets back the nuclear ambitions of the Chinese Communists by years. Good work Gorgo!

It is impossible to know whether the president ever read Gorgo’s Revenge as a kid, or what he read or reads. But it does seem that it might contain just the sort of plan he has in mind. Sort of.

Trump Van Winkle

The U.S. just dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever on an ISIS target in Afghanistan.

The president apparently believes he can “defeat” ISIS and “win” the war in Afghanistan by dropping really big bombs. The biggest. Sad that no one thought of that before.

A number of times in world situations (and in domestic situations too) it appears that Trump has been completely absent from any discussion, debate or learning for decades. It doesn’t matter, since his opinion, at least until recently, has been based mostly on what he sees and hears on the news and on his emotional gut reaction. And as with most uninformed gut reactions, subject to change at a moment’s notice

Or maybe he’s been asleep. Like Rip Van Winkle, who slept for at least 20 years, only to wake up and discover a strange but more satisfactory world. Maybe one in which he is suddenly president.

Twilight Zone America: Characters in Search of an Exit

The strange and uninformed version of history that Sean Spicer recounted today is just one more episode in what increasingly seems like Twilight Zone America. The Washington Post:

Spicer brought up Hitler unprompted during Tuesday’s White House briefing while emphasizing how seriously the United States takes Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a, you know, someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said. “So you have to if you’re Russia, ask yourself: Is this a country that you, and a regime, that you want to align yourself with? You have previously signed onto international agreements, rightfully acknowledging that the use of chemical weapons should be out of bounds by every country.”

Later in the briefing, a reporter read Spicer’s comments back to him and gave him the opportunity to clarify. Spicer’s answer only added more confusion.

“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said, mispronouncing Assad’s name. “I mean, there was clearly, I understand your point, thank you. Thank you, I appreciate that. There was not in the, he brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that. What I am saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent, into the middle of towns, it was brought — so the use of it. And I appreciate the clarification there. That was not the intent.”

Twilight Zone America. Consider the episode Five Characters in Search of an Exit (see image above), in which an Army major finds himself in a room with an odd assortment of four other people. Rod Serling explains at the opening:

“Clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, and an Army Major—a collection of question marks. Five improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation; just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows. In a moment, we’ll start collecting clues as to the whys, the whats, and the wheres. We will not end the nightmare, we’ll only explain it—because this is the Twilight Zone.”

And closes with this:

“Just a barrel, a dark depository where are kept the counterfeit, make-believe pieces of plaster and cloth, wrought in a distorted image of human life. But this added, hopeful note: perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children, there can be nothing but love. A clown, a tramp, a bagpipe player, a ballet dancer, and a Major. Tonight’s cast of players on the odd stage—known as—the Twilight Zone.”

Clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, Army major. And Sean Spicer. Yep, that’s Twilight Zone America.

Media and trump: The Reverse Cry Wolf Effect

The media are suffering from the Reverse Cry Wolf Effect. That is, not shouting out a warning when a real danger approaches.

Instead of pointing out what might actually be a serious danger, when trump raised the preposterous and unsupported issue of Obama’s birth, the media treated it as interesting, reportable and sort of funny. And then kept it alive, forever.

Since then, trump has continued to make preposterous allegations and statements. To put it less politely, to chronically lie about matters big and small. The media, having already decided that everything he said and did was interesting, reportable and sort of funny, kept right on treating it as normal, if a bit quirky.

The latest interesting, reportable, quirky, sort of funny thing that trump claimed without any evidence is that Obama (“Bad (or sick) guy!”) wiretapped trump tower. You can tell that the media is on the verge of saying what plenty of respectable commentators are saying: objectively, trump is trying to distract us from his incompetence and real problems, he has always had an irrational hatred of Obama, and he may also be a little bit unstable.

But the media isn’t sure whether anybody will believe them. Why should we?