Stacy Abrams Meets With American Historians

Abrams

Stacy Abrams, who lost a very close race for Georgia governor in November, was in Philadelphia on Friday to talk to American historians in town for the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians.  The topic was voter suppression.  Here is a taste of  Jennifer Schuessler‘s piece at The New York Times:

...last Friday, Ms. Abrams dropped in on a much quieter venue: the Library Company of Philadelphia, founded in 1731 by Ben Franklin, which bills itself as the oldest cultural institution in the United States.

It wasn’t a stop on Ms. Abrams’s book tour. Instead, she was there to participate in an intimate two-hour conversation about the history of voter suppression with four leading scholars. It will be published next year by the University of Georgia Press as part of a new series called History in the Headlines, which aims to bring historical expertise to bear on today’s most hotly debated issues.The Trump era has been a red-alert moment for many historians, who have mobilized in the classroom, on op-ed pages and on social media to combat what they see as the erosion of democratic norms and an attack on truth itself.

For the conversation, the moderator, Jim Downs, a professor at Connecticut College, had recruited what he called a “dream team”: Carol Anderson, the author of “One Person, No Vote;” Heather Cox Richardson, an expert in the history of the Republican Party; Heather Ann Thompson, the author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the Attica prison revolt; and Kevin Kruse, who has become famous for his epic Twitter threads smiting the dubious historical claims of pundits and politicians.

Before the event, they seemed galvanized at the prospect of talking with someone who has, as Mr. Kruse put it, skin in the game.

“When the email went out saying she was coming, I was like —,” Dr. Anderson, a professor at Emory University, said, clutching her heart. A few minutes later, Ms. Abrams approached.

Read the entire piece here.

Best History Tweets of 2018

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Over at Slate, Rebecca Onion picks the best historian Twitter threads of 2018.  Click here to read threads from Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Joshua Rothman, Beth Lewis-Williams, Kevin Kruse, Jenny Bann, David Walsh, Seth Cotlar, Keri Leigh Merritt, Heather Cox Richardson, R.L. Barnes, Kevin Gannon, and Joshua Clark Davis.

By the way, you can listen to interviews with Onion and Gannon on episodes of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  Onion was our guest on Episode 12 and Gannon was our guest on Episode 26.

Has America Failed?

Russia US Summit in Helsinki, Finland - 16 Jul 2018

Historian Heather Cox Richardson asks this question in a piece at CNN titled “Americans are right to wonder if the Great Experiment has failed.”  Here is a taste:

Americans are right to wonder if, at long last, what George Washington called the Great Experiment has failed, and that our founders have lost their extraordinary wager that regular people could govern themselves better than a few rich men could.

Consider that in his disastrous press conference in Helsinki Monday — and again in a comment before a Cabinet meeting Wednesday — President Donald Trump sided with a hostile foreign oligarchy over our own democracy.

Asked by a reporter Wednesday, “Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?,” Trump responded, shaking his head “Thank you very much. No.” (Later, his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, offered that he was saying “no” to answering questions.)

Trump’s alliance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, in defiance of America’s own intelligence community, the Department of Justice, and the bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, forces us to face that the fundamental principles of our nation are under attack.

History suggests the game is not yet lost. Three times before, in the 1850s, the 1890s, and the 1920s, oligarchs took over the American government and threatened to destroy democracy. In each case, they overreached, and regular folks took back their government.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Trump Sees Government as a “Series of Deals”

 

J.P. Morgan

J.P. Morgan

Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson argues that “deal making” in politics is a clear sign of oligarchy.

 

Here is a taste of her recent op-ed at The Washington Post:

His view of government as a broker of bargains rather than an expression of democratic will is nothing new. In fact, it’s been a common feature of oligarchic politics for nearly all of American history. In the light of the oligarchs of the past, Trump’s insistence that some deal could have prevented the Civil War has plenty in common with the anti-democratic wheeling and dealing of big bankers and slaveholders, and their fate bodes ill for the Trump administration.

“Why could that one not have been worked out?” sounds a lot like banking mogul J.P. Morgan’s comment to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, when Morgan found out that the government was about to slap his giant railroad conglomerate with an antitrust suit. “If we have done anything wrong,” the astonished Morgan said to Roosevelt, “send your man to my man and they can fix it up.”

Read the entire piece here.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson on Trump’s Muslim Ban: “It’s a Shock Event”

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Heather Cox Richardson of Boston College is one of my favorite historians.  I highly recommend her most recent book To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Today Richardson gave me permission to publish a piece she recently posted to her Facebook page.

Richardson is probably right in assuming that Steve Bannon is behind Trump’s recent Executive Order on Muslim refugees.  She describes what Bannon is doing as a “shock event.” This is an attempt to throw the country into confusion and chaos so that the administration can present itself as the only entity capable of restoring order.

Richardson explains:

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries– is creating what is known as a “shock event.” Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order. When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.

Last night’s Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.

Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like. I don’t know what Bannon is up to– although I have some guesses– but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle– and my friends range pretty widely– who will benefit from whatever it is. If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.richardson

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event. A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union. If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power. Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.

What Would a Civil War Course Look Like With An All-Female Reading List?

When I think of Civil War buffs I think of middle-aged white men–the kind of men who go to Civil War roundtables, tour battlefields, and read books about generals.  


Does the same thing apply to Civil War scholarship?  Perhaps. But Kevin Levin, the author of the blog Civil War Memory, argues that a darn good undergraduate or graduate course on the Civil War could be designed using only books written by female authors.  

Here are a few of the titles that would make his reading list:
Read his whole book list here.  

The Republican Party and the Income Tax

Ah, the irony of it all.

Heather Cox Richardson reminds us that the Republican Party once championed the federal income tax.  Here is a taste of her post at Bloomsberg:

The government has the right to “demand” 99 percent of a man’s property when the nation needs it.

That was the argument made by a Republican congressman in 1862 to introduce a novel idea: the federal income tax.

The Civil War was then costing the Treasury $2 million a day. To pay for uniforms, guns, food, mules, wagons, bounties and burials, Congress had issued hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds and paper money. But Republicans had a horror of debt and the runaway inflation that paper currency usually caused.

Taxes were the obvious answer. A conservative Republican newspaper declared: “There is not the slightest objection raised in any loyal quarter to as much taxation as may be necessary.”

Until then, taxes in the U.S. had always been apportioned by state according to population, and were generally levied on land holdings. But when it came to the huge sums necessary to fight the Civil War, such direct taxes would ruin farmers.

Instead, Republicans turned to what they called “indirect taxes,” which were essentially sales taxes of 3 percent on all manufactured goods. These, however, wouldn’t be sufficient to raise the needed revenue without making basic necessities prohibitively expensive for most Americans. 

Read the rest here.