The Author’s Corner with Gregory Downs

the second american revolutionGregory Downs is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. This interview is based on his new book, The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic (University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Second American Revolution?

GD: A gnawing pit in my stomach and a sense of unfinished business and a golden opportunity. The gnawing pit was from a feeling that I hadn’t done what I genuinely intended to in my American Historical Review essay “The Mexicanization of American Politics: The United States’ Transnational Path from Civil War to Stabilization.” I began that research with an interest in the interaction between domestic/national politics and international events, in the way that events in other nations shaped the discourse around what was possible or probable, and I wanted to use this to show U.S. politics as less bounded than our received terms convey, to explore the mutual construction of what gets classed as national and trans-national history, and to capture the ebb and flow of ideas through particular domestic political contexts. In the process of following the inflow of ideas about Mexican crises to U.S. politics in the 1850s-1870s, however, I never got to the truly interactive nature of those connections, and so in some ways reproduced a domestic framework, in which the United States was influenced by cultural ideas about other nations. This made me uncomfortable, as I knew there was a great deal to the Mexican side of the story that I hadn’t explored, and it also gave me a sense of unfinished business: how could I go further in exploring the mid-19th century as a broad crisis in republican theory, in which calculations of how (and whether) republics survived were shaped by ideas and political actors moving from one nation to another. There was much more to be said about the relationship between the United States mid-century crises and those in other countries.

The opportunity came in the Brose Lectures which gave me a format and an excuse to explore ideas that were historiographically important but might not fit easily into a book. And as I began reading and thinking more deeply, I became more impressed with the ways that the literature was already working to incorporate a multi-sided view of the U.S.-Mexican influence (especially in work by Erika Pani and Pat Kelly and others) and also with a thread I had worried over earlier but not followed: the centrality of Cuba. By following Cuban revolutionary exiles, I was able to find a way to follow circuits into and out of different countries’ domestic politics and to explore the connection between the revolutionary remaking of U.S. political structures and a global revolutionary wave that rose and then fell in the mid-19th century.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Second American Revolution?

GD: The Civil War was not merely civil–meaning national–and not merely a war, but instead an international conflict of ideas as well as armies. Its implications transformed the U.S. Constitution and reshaped a world order, as political and economic systems grounded in slavery and empire clashed with the democratic process of republican forms of government.

JF: Why do we need to read The Second American Revolution?

GD: The book examines the breadth of U.S. politics at a moment when we need to recover our sense of the bold and of the possible. Much of the book is dedicated to exploring those international currents I mentioned, and those have important (I believe) historiographical ramifications for U.S. history and potentially some interest for historians of Cuba and the Caribbean and 19th century Spain.) But the book also turns inward to examine the norm-breaking boldness of U.S. Republicans in the 1860s as they created new states, forced constitutional amendments through, marginalized the Supreme Court, and in other ways significantly altered the political system. Then, I argue, they covered their tracks in order to make their achievements seem moderate, and we have helped them do so by scolding them for their moderation. But in fact no political candidate offers solutions anywhere near as bold as “moderate” 1860s Republicans; no one matches John Bingham in threatening to dissolve the Supreme Court entirely if it doesn’t recognize the role it must play. Instead we have fallen into calling for respect for norms that are—as in the 1840s and 1850s—no longer respected. When faced with those norm violations, we tend to call for the referees. But there are no referees, other than the electorate. And to the electorate we make claims about broader failings but can’t offer plausible solutions; we tell them the political system is broken but don’t fix it. I think we need to recover our boldness and abandon our sense of futility. Rethinking the constitutional transgressions of the Civil War is one way we can expand our own political thinking to make it at least approach the boldness of allegedly moderate 1860s Republicans, and thus discover ways out of problems like the contemporary Supreme Court, the Senate, and other sticky but intractable problems of U.S. politics.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

GD: As a child I was raised between Kauai and my extended family’s home of central Kentucky and my extended family’s eventual new home in Middle Tennessee, and I was from a young age fascinated by the differences between those places, by the way that race and politics and memory worked so differently in Kauai than in Kentucky, and by the shadow that events (the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy or the Civil War) continued to gnaw upon the present. I worked as a journalist and as a high school teacher, so I didn’t always know that I would be an academic historian, but I always believed that the study of the past was venerable, difficult, and essential.

JF: What is your next project?

GD: I am working on completing my friend Tony Kaye’s manuscript on Nat Turner, a project he was working on when he died. After that I have many projects I am contemplating and am enjoying the time to reflect on what I most want to do and most feel challenged by.

JF: Thanks, Greg!

Would the Founders Have Recognized GOP Arguments Against Trump’s Removal?

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As we enter the 2020 election season I have been trying to do more writing for local and regional outlets here in Pennsylvania. This morning I have an op-ed on the impeachment trial at LNP/Lancaster On-Line (formerly Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era).  Here is a taste:

Other Republican senators, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pennsylvania’s own Pat Toomey, argued that Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president was “inappropriate,” but did not rise to the level of impeachment.

This last group of senators justified their acquittal votes in two ways.

First, some of them argued that the Founding Fathers would have opposed a partisan impeachment. (No House Republicans supported impeachment.)

This is not true.

In Federalist Paper No. 65, Alexander Hamilton, one of the most prolific defenders of the Constitution during the ratification debates of 1787-1788, predicted that impeachments would always be political. As a result, the Senate should always proceed with caution, prudence and wisdom.

Moreover, the framers of the Constitution would never have referred to an impeachment trial as “bipartisan,” since at the time of its writing there were no political parties in the United States.

The second way that this cohort of Republican senators justified their acquittal vote was by claiming that “the people” should decide whether Trump should be removed from office and this should be done when they cast their ballots during the November presidential election.

The Founding Fathers would not have recognized such an argument.

Read the entire piece here.

Presidential Censure in Historical Context

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Democrats in the Senate believe that Trump should be removed from office.  They will vote along these lines tomorrow.  But they only have 47 votes.  This is well below the 67 votes needed to remove the president from office.  In all likelihood, the Senate will acquit Trump.

But several GOP Senators have noted that Donald Trump acted inappropriately when he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden.  Marco Rubio even suggested that when Trump withheld American aid to Ukraine until he got an investigation into his political opponent the president was committing an impeachable offense.

While some Senators will defend the president at all costs, it seems that others–Lamar Alexander, Rubio, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney–may want to send a message of rebuke to the president for his corrupt behavior. A censure might be an appropriate way to do this.

I don’t think Joe Manchin will get many Democrats to support a presidential censure.  Most Democrats want Trump out of office. Censure will look like a compromise.  But what if the Republicans pushed for censure?  If they really think that Trump committed unethical or impeachable offenses, perhaps they would want to remind the president that his call to Ukraine was not “perfect.” By calling for a censure of Trump, Manchin appears to be calling their bluff.

If the Senate did pass a censure resolution against Trump it would not be the first time this has happened in American history.  As historian Mark Cheathem reminds us, the Senate censured Andrew Jackson in 1834.  Here is a taste of his post at his blog Jacksonian America:

In 1834, the Senate passed a censure resolution against President Andrew Jackson. The decision to rebuke Jackson stemmed from his actions during the Bank War. Suspicious of the 2nd Bank of the U.S., Old Hickory had waged a battle against the financial institution since his first term. In 1832, he vetoed a congressional bill that would have granted the Bank a new contract four years earlier than expected. The following year, in an attempt to permanently weaken the Bank, Jackson ordered Secretary of the Treasury William J. Duane to remove the government’s deposits. When he refused, the president fired Duane. Jackson replaced him with Roger B. Taney, who implemented the removal policy. Bank president Nicholas Biddle responded by instigating a recession. “This worthy President thinks that because he has scalped Indians and imprisoned Judges, he is to have his way with the Bank,” Biddle said. “He is mistaken.”

Jackson’s opponents, led by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, also took action. When Jackson refused to give the Senate a document on the removal of government deposits that he had submitted to his cabinet, Clay introduced censure resolutions against both Jackson and Taney. “We are in the midst of a revolution, hitherto bloodless, but rapidly tending toward a total change of the pure republican character of the government, and to the concentration of all power in the hands of one man,” Clay said in a speech on the Senate floor. He compared Jackson to a tyrant and warned his fellow senators that if they did not stand up to him, then the nation would collapse. “We shall die—ignobly die! base, mean and abject slaves— the scorn and contempt of mankind—unpitied, unwept, unmourned!” he concluded dramatically. In a decidedly partisan vote, in March 1834, the Senate passed censure resolutions against both Jackson and Taney. Senators also rejected Taney’s recess appointment as Treasury secretary.

Read the entire piece here.

Peter Wehner on the Current State of the Republican Party

Mitch McConnell, John Barrasso, Roy Blunt, Joni Ernst

Peter Wehner’s recent piece at The Atlantic is titled “The Downfall of the Republican Party.”  Here is a taste:

In 1991, when Václav Havel received the Sonning Prize for contributions to European civilization, he spoke about those “who are starting to lose their battle with the temptations of power.” It is an insidious thing, Havel warned, to become captive to the perks of power. Politicians, he said, soon learn how easy it is to justify staying in power even as they give up bits of their soul in the process. It is easier than they think, he said, to get “morally tainted.”

“Politics is an area of human endeavor that places greater stress on moral sensitivity,” Havel concluded, “on the ability to reflect critically on oneself, on genuine responsibility, on taste and tact, on the capacity to empathize with others, on a sense of moderation, on humility. It is a job for modest people, for people who cannot be deceived.”

To see men and women who in other spheres of their lives are admirable, who got into politics because they believed it was a noble profession and had a positive vision for the Republican Party, beaten down and broken by Trump is a poignant thing. Their weakness and servility, their vassalage to such a fundamentally corrupt man, is dispiriting to those of us who not only lament the injury Trump is inflicting on the nation as a whole but who still care about the Republican Party and worry that conservatism is in the process of being subsumed into angry, ethnic populism.

What Republicans who have rallied behind Trump don’t fully grasp yet is the toxic effect he’s had on the younger generation, and on college-educated, suburban, and nonwhite voters. (Trump is wildly popular among blue-collar and rural voters, who are shrinking as a percentage of the voting population.) The damage done by Trump won’t be limited in its reach. He has imperiled the future of the party he leads. And those who think the GOP will simply snap back to the best of what it was pre-Trump—who think the worst elements of Trumpism will vanish once he leaves the White House—are kidding themselves.

Those who fell in line behind Trump have empowered him (and his many acolytes and media propagandists) to redefine much of conservatism and the principles that once informed the Republican Party. I don’t think that is what they intended, but that is what they have helped achieve.

Read the entire piece here.

What John Bolton’s Testimony Will Reveal About Republican Senators

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Mitt Romney: “Situational Trumpian”

Here is Damon Linker at The Week:

With it looking increasingly likely that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t be able to prevent a vote in favor of calling witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Trump, the GOP finds itself in a tight spot.

Everyone agrees that there’s something close to a zero chance that 20 — and only a tiny chance that any — Republicans will join with 47 Democrats to vote in favor of convicting and removing the president from office, no matter what Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton says under oath. (Conviction and removal would require an affirmative vote of 67 senators.) Yet allowing Bolton to testify about what’s apparently in his forthcoming book — namely, that in August 2019 the president understood himself to be withholding badly needed aid to Ukraine in order to get its president to announce he was opening an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden — would force Republicans to clearly reveal where they stand on the most important issue dividing the party.

Linker argues that Bolton’s testimony will reveal three kinds of Republicans:

  1. “The full-on-reality-warping Trumpians”
  2. “The moral-relativist Trumpians”
  3. “Situational Trumpians”

Read how Linker defines these categories here.

Who Should Joe Biden Pick as His Republican Vice President?

098ac-bidenYesterday Joe Biden said that he would consider a Republican as his running mate if he were to win the Democratic nomination in 2020.  Let’s have some fun with this.  Who would make a good GOP running-mate for Biden?

John Kasich:  Anti-Trumper who might help Biden win Ohio

Jeff Flake: Anti-Trumper who might help Biden win Arizona.

Mitt Romney: Trump won Utah in 2016 by more than 18 points.  I don’t think putting Romney on the ticket will help Biden win Utah in 2020.  But Romney is a national Republican and a moderate who instituted Obamacare in Massachusetts before it was called Obamacare.

Jeb Bush:  This would be a strong anti-Trump ticket and might help Biden in Florida.

Condoleezza Rice:  She is only 65 years old and an anti-Trump moderate.

Who am I missing?

Impeachment or No Impeachment, the GOP Needs a Moral Backbone!

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I believe Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office.

Here are the facts:

  1. Donald Trump told the Ukrainian president that he would give him economic aid and/or a meeting in the White House if he investigated the Biden family’s relationship to a Ukrainian energy company. The goal was to prove that former Vice-President Joe Biden, who may be Trump’s chief rival in the 2020 presidential election, is involved in corruption related to his son Hunter’s position on the board of this energy company.
  2. Donald Trump called for China to investigate the Bidens as well.  Again, Biden is the front-runner in the Democratic primary race.  Trump openly suggested that he wanted a foreign country to investigate his political opponent.
  3. Donald Trump claims he wanted the Bidens investigated because he is a corruption fighter.  So let me get this straight.  Trump, of all people, claims to be using the power of his office to clean-up corruption in the world.  Let’s remember that this is the guy who scammed hundreds of people through “Trump University” and took money from his non-profit to advance his political aspirations and pay his business debts. (And these are only two examples of his corrupt business dealings. We could write a whole book about how his business is benefiting from his presidency).  Some of his associates are in jail.  Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the corrupt leader of Russia and the guy who tried to undermine the 2016 election (according to every American intelligence agency) has had more than sixteen exchanges with Trump.
  4. Yesterday Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani confirmed that Trump removed Maria Yovanovitch, a true corruption fighter in the Ukraine, from her ambassador post so he (Giuliani) could be free to investigate the Bidens.
  5. While the impeachment trial was going on, Rudy Giuliani was in Ukraine trying to dig up more dirt on the Bidens.  Again, Joe Biden is Trump’s political rival and a likely opponent in the 2020 election.  (This, I would argue, is actually worse than the June 1972 break-in of the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel).

Again, I think what Trump did was an impeachable offense.  The GOP members of the House and Senate disagree. But regardless of whether they are right or wrong about impeachment, how can they not publicly condemn Trump’s behavior in this Ukrainian mess? Where is the moral backbone of the GOP? How can people like Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes, Doug Collins,  Jim Sensenbrenner, Steve Chabot, Louis Gohmert, John Ratcliffe, Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, Debbie Lesko,  Elise Stefanik,  Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, Lamar Alexander, Marcia Blackburn, John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Ron Johnson, James Lankford, Rand Paul. Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, Tim Scott, Pat Toomey, and the rest sit back and not condemn this president?  History has its eyes on you!

Wehner: Republicans are “Living Within the Lie”

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Conservative public intellectual Peter Wehner reflects on today’s impeachment hearings. Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

We are facing a profound political crisis. What the Republican Party is saying and signaling isn’t simply that rationality and truth are subordinate to partisanship; it is that they have to be obliterated for the sake of partisanship and the survival of the Trump presidency. As best I can tell, based on some fairly intense interactions with Trump supporters, there is no limiting principle—almost nothing he can do—that will forfeit their support. Members of Congress clearly believe Trump is all that stands between them and the loss of power, while many Trump voters believe the president is all that stands between them and national ruin. In either case, it has led them into the shadowlands.

For those of us who are still conservative and have devoted a large part of our lives to the Republican Party, it is quite painful  to watch all of this unfold. Perhaps too many of us were blind to things we should have seen, or perhaps the GOP is significantly different now that it was in the past, when it was led by estimable (if imperfect) individuals like Ronald Reagan. Whatever the case, we are where we are—in a very precarious and worrisome place.

You can be critical of the Democratic Party and believe, as I do, that it is becoming increasingly radicalized while also believing this: The Republican Party under Donald Trump is a party built largely on lies, and it is now maintained by politicians and supporters who are willing to “live within the lie,” to quote the great Czech dissident (and later president) Vaclav Havel. Many congressional Republicans privately admit this but, with very rare exceptions—Utah Senator Mitt Romney is the most conspicuous example—refuse to publicly acknowledge it.

“For what purpose?” they respond point-blank when asked why they don’t speak out with moral urgency against the president’s moral transgressions, his cruelty, his daily assault on reality, and his ongoing destruction of our civic and political culture. Trump is more powerful and more popular than they are, they will say, and they will be targeted by him and his supporters and perhaps even voted out of office.

The answer to them is that it is better to live within the truth than to live within a lie; that honor is better than dishonor; and that aiding and abetting a corrupt president implicates the aiders and abettors in the corruption.

Read the entire piece here.

Scot McKnight: “I can think of no good thing that has happened to evangelicalism as a result of its alliance to the Republican party. All I can think of are negative things”

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Biblical scholar and theologian Scot McKnight recently visited Oklahoma Christian University (OCU).  Here is a taste of an article from The Talon, the OCU student newspaper:

In a Q&A following the speech, McKnight did not hesitate to call out multiple facets of modern-day Christianity. He began by commenting on the contradiction of party politics with the evangelical faith.

“I think it is undeniable that the church in the United States is declining in its numbers, but it is clearly declining in its significance in our culture,” McKnight said. “I think it was a massive mistake in the 1970s and 80s when James Kennedy, James Dobson and Jerry Falwell decided to align that group of evangelical fundamentalists with the Republican party.”

Continuing in this line of thought, McKnight went on to state a thought surmised by many evangelical thinkers of our time.

“I can think of no good thing that has happened to evangelicalism as a result of its alliance to the Republican party. All I can think of are negative things,” McKnight said. “I’m not taking a political position. I would call myself a classic conservative. I’m not a Republican, I’m a Christian. I believe that we have made undeniable damage to the church’s witness because we align ourselves so much with political parties.”

Read the entire piece here.

George Will: The GOP is “a party of slow-learning careerists” who have tethered their “careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw”

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I am glad that conservative columnist George Will is coming to Messiah College on October 31, 2019.  In yesterday’s column, Will rips into the Republican Party and its “canine loyalty” to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

In Federalist 51, James Madison anticipated a wholesome rivalry and constructive tension between the government’s two political branches: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected to the constitutional rights of the place.” Equilibrium between the branches depends on “supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives.” But equilibrium has vanished as members of Congress think entirely as party operatives and not at all as institutionalists.

Trump is not just aggressively but lawlessly exercising the interests of his place, counting on Congress, after decades of lassitude regarding its interests, being an ineffective combatant. Trump’s argument, injected into him by subordinates who understand that absurdity is his vocation, is essentially that the Constitution’s impeachment provisions are unconstitutional.

The canine loyalty of Senate Republicans will keep Trump in office. But until he complies with House committee subpoenas, the House must not limply hope federal judges will enforce their oversight powers. Instead, the House should wield its fundamental power, that of the purse, to impose excruciating costs on executive branch noncompliance. This can be done.

In 13 months, all congressional Republicans who have not defended Congress by exercising “the constitutional rights of the place” should be defeated. If congressional Republicans continue their genuflections at Trump’s altar, the appropriate 2020 outcome will be a Republican thrashing so severe — losing the House, the Senate and the electoral votes of, say, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and even Texas — that even this party of slow-learning careerists might notice the hazards of tethering their careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw.

Read the entire piece here.

The GOP is Trying to Win the Amish Vote for Trump

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Over at The Washington Post, Julie Zauzmer reports on the “Amish PAC,” an attempt by Republican operatives to get the Pennsylvania Amish to vote for Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

Amish PAC aims to win more votes for Trump in 2020 in a state both the president and the Democrats are desperate to win. Amish people tend to align strongly on policy with Republicans, who share their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But making voters out of the Amish, who forgo technology like television and the Internet and who believe fiercely in the separation of their religious community from government intrusion, may be a steep goal.

On a farm where eight Amish children in their traditional clothing were playing baseball, a young woman said sternly of those who would ask the Amish to vote: “We don’t really appreciate that.”

While she skillfully snapped lima bean pods off the bushes at her farm, another woman said about voting: “My husband never did; I never did.”

The same answer at market stall after market stall, where Amish farmers sell their wares: Never voted. Never wanted to vote.

But Ben Walters, who co-founded Amish PAC, says the tide is turning. He heard from more Amish people willing to vote in 2018 than in 2016; in 2020, he thinks, the numbers will be still higher. “Their votes would be so important, and there’s a lot of them,” he said. “Since 2016, every single year, it gets a little bit easier. We’re seeing more and more signs of progress. I think behaviors are finally changing”…

At Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Kyle Kopko and Steven Nolt — two of the foremost experts on the Amish — are studying the results of the PAC’s efforts. Nolt said he is skeptical the PAC can make much of a dent. “For a group like the Amish PAC, the key is — to what extent could a group like Amish PAC take that civic identity that’s here, and leverage that into registering to vote and actually voting?” he said. “There’s not a prohibition, [but] there would be a fairly strong, strong religious and cultural bias against [voting.]”

Read the entire piece here.

Steven Nolt probably knows more about the Amish than anyone else alive.  If he thinks that this effort will not “make much of a dent” it is likely that this effort will not make much of a dent.

The Church as the “GOP Farm Team”

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Over at The Week, Bonnie Kristian has a brief piece chronicling the role that evangelicals are playing in propping-up the Republican Party.  She writes in the wake of this event at Liberty University.  Here is a taste:

That such an event would exist, and that it would be hosted at Liberty, is hardly surprising. But, as I feel I am constantly saying about the intersection of religion and politics in America these days, what does not surprise still should shock. Pastors and Pews may be the natural evolution of the religious right, the logical next step in Republican politicians’ use of church infrastructure for political ends, but that makes it no less worthy of protest.

This is not the point of church.

This is not why we gather together. This is not how we grow the kingdom of heaven. This is not how we incarnate the new reality started at the cross. This is not a way to spread the hope of Christ.

The Republican Party platform is not the Gospel. No politician of any party can, in that sense, offer good news. Seeking political power is not a pastor’s job. And to thus subvert church into a partisan political resource is to make it cease to be the church, to take that third temptation — “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” — where Jesus turned it down. It makes Christianity a means to a far lower end.

Read the entire piece here.

What Happened to the Never-Trump Republicans?

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A few still exist, but most of them have lined-up with their Trump-controlled party.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear from people who did not support Trump in 2016, but today defend him and his policies with vigor.  Lawrence Glickman, a historian at Cornell University, provides some historical context to help us understand why these never-Trump Republicans like Ben Shapiro, Glenn Beck, and Erick Erickson went “extinct.”

Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:

The very same thing happened in 1964, when party loyalty and ideological similarity convinced moderate Republicans to embrace the controversial candidate upending their party. In the late spring that year, as it became increasingly likely that Sen. Barry Goldwater (Ariz.) had a clear path to the Republican nomination for the presidency, twin fears gripped the then-formidable moderate wing of the party: first, that Goldwater might bring catastrophic loss to the Republican Party, and second, that if he were to win, it would bring a dangerous man to the White House.

But rather than going to war against Goldwater, the moderates, led by former president Dwight Eisenhower, first vacillated in their criticism and then relented, ultimately offering active support for their putative enemy.

Their actions help explain how a shared enemy and ideological affinities often lead political figures to overcome doubts they once had about the fitness and extremism of the leader of their party.

Of the moderates, Eisenhower’s behavior is especially telling. He should have been leading the charge against Goldwater. After all, the Arizona lawmaker and author of “The Conscience of a Conservative” had denounced the social welfare policies of his administration as a “dime-store New Deal.” And according to the journalist Theodore H. White, author of “The Making of the President” series, “Eisenhower was appalled at the prospect of Goldwater’s nomination.”

Yet the former president refused to publicly or explicitly denounce Goldwater. Instead, he whipsawed from private criticism of Goldwater to loyalty to his party, seeming to endorse even some of Goldwater’s more extreme ideas.

Read the entire piece here.

Quick Thoughts on Reagan’s Racist Remarks. Or What Say Ye Dinesh D’Souza and Friends?

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By now you should know about the recently released audio recording of Ronald Reagan calling African people “monkeys.” Reagan, who was governor of California at the time, made the remarks to Richard Nixon in 1971.

Listen to the remarks here and read historian Tim Naftali’s contextual piece at The Atlantic.

When I learned about this recording I thought about the debate between conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza and Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse.  For several years D’Souza has been making the case that the Democratic Party is the real racist political party, while the Republicans, as the party of Lincoln, is the party of equality and civil rights.

Southern Democrats were indeed racist in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century.  Many Republicans were also pretty racist, but they championed abolitionism, led a war to end slavery, and fought for the equality of African-Americans in the decades following the war.  But things change.  Historians study change over time.  While Southern Democrats opposed the civil rights movement, so did conservative Republicans such as Barry Goldwater and others.  Meanwhile, other Democrats, such as John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and the leaders of the civil rights movement, all sought to end Jim Crow in America.  Today the overwhelming majority of African Americans vote for Democratic candidates because of this legacy.

So what does D’Souza do about Reagan’s racist comments?  If the GOP is not the party of racism, then how does D’Souza explain the recorded remarks of the party’s conservative flag bearer?

David Blight: The GOP is No Longer the Party of Lincoln

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David Blight teaches history at Yale University and is the prize-winning biographer of Frederick Douglass.  In a recent op-ed at The New York Times he argues that today’s Republican Party would be unrecognizable to Abraham Lincoln, the party’s first president.  Here is a taste of his scathing piece:

In 2012, I took part in the Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage, an annual trip to Alabama led by Representative John Lewis. On a Sunday afternoon I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma next to Kevin McCarthy, now the Republican House minority leader, his wife and children at his side.

At the time, Representative McCarthy seemed to embrace the nature and purpose of this excursion to the sites of some of the transformative events of the civil rights struggle. I saw him smiling, even singing along with the ever-present freedom songs that animated that amazing experience.

Today, that memory makes me wonder: What does Mr. McCarthy — or any Republican, for that matter — tell his children about his place in a party that continues to sink deeper into the grips of Donald Trump and his personal brand of racial divisiveness?

Last week a reporter asked Mr. McCarthy if the president was a racist, following his derogatory comments about four Democratic congresswomen. Mr. McCarthy not only vehemently denied the charge, he also insisted that the furor over the president’s remarks was not a problem for Republicans, because it was the “Party of Lincoln.”

Read the rest here.

The Republican Party Knows Michael Cohen’s Testimony is True

 

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Republican Congressmen Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan

The New York Times is running a very revealing op-ed by Peter Wehner, a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, on Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress yesterday.

 

Here is a taste:

Yet Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, in their frantic effort to discredit Mr. Cohen, went after him while steadfastly ignoring the actual evidence he produced. They tried to impugn his character, but were unable to impugn the documents he provided. Nor did a single Republican offer a character defense of Mr. Trump. It turns out that was too much, even for them.

In that sense, what Republicans didn’t say reveals the truth about what happened at the hearing on Wednesday as much as what they did say. Republicans showed no interest, for example, in pursuing fresh allegations made by Mr. Cohen that Mr. Trump knew that WikiLeaks planned to release hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee in the summer of 2016.

In a sane world, the fact that the president’s former lawyer produced evidence that the president knowingly and deceptively committed a federal crime — hush money payments that violated campaign finance laws — is something that even members of the president’s own party would find disquieting. But not today’s Republican Party.

Instead, in the most transparent and ham-handed way, they saw no evil and heard no evil, unless it involved Mr. Cohen. Republicans on the committee tried to destroy the credibility of his testimony, not because they believe that his testimony is false, but because they fear it is true.

By now Republicans must know, deep in their hearts, that Mr. Cohen’s portrayal of Mr. Trump as a “racist,” “a con man” and “a cheat” is spot on. So it is the truth they fear, and it is the truth — the fundamental reality of the world as it actually is — that they feel compelled to destroy. This is the central organizing principle of the Republican Party now. More than tax cuts. More than trade wars. More even than building a wall on our southern border. Republicans are dedicated to annihilating truth in order to defend Mr. Trump and they will go after anyone, from Mr. Cohen to Robert Mueller, who is a threat to him.

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