As my subscribers know, I have done thousands of interviews in my life. This interview with journalist, civil rights advocate, lawyer Roger Wilkins was one that I never forgot. I asked him to be straight and honest with me and to speak to his grandchildren in the future, of his experiences. That is exactly what he did, with such intensity and clarity. During this challenging time with the black lives matter movement and police unfairness and the coronavirus pandemic, I thought that I would present Roger’s comments again. I always felt that every student (at any age) should hear Roger to better understand what was experienced by so many Americans during slavery, in the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, and, to some extent, today. I want to take the time in this description to thank Roger Wilkins for the effort and energy he put into his responses to my questions.
The paradox of Trump’s insisting on his own niceness even while engaging in distinctly nasty conduct (political and otherwise) has a long history in the United States.
Trump epitomizes the conventional version of American niceness, which assumes that Americans are fundamentally decent and benevolent people with the best of intentions, whose acts of aggression are reluctant and defensive necessities designed to protect us.
.. This is the kind of amiability that obscures the shadowy side of American life.
.. Americans have also historically attempted to transform our niceness into a national attitude rooted in justice and mutual respect by acknowledging American cruelty and using it as an impetus to live up to an ideal of moral integrity based on the courage to tell the truth.
.. Since the 19th century, Americans’ belief in our own niceness has never wavered. Yet even then, American niceness obscured a tendency to refuse accountability for aggression and offense — and even unspeakable cruelty.
.. In 1814, Gen. Andrew Jackson supervised the mutilation of the corpses of more than 800 Creek Native Americans killed at Horseshoe Bend in Alabama during the Creek War. The desecration of the bodies involved cutting off the tip of each Indian’s nose to count the number of victims, and taking long strips of skin from the dead to use as bridle reins.
.. Thus the mistreatment of Indians wasn’t only a political problem but a profound failure on white Americans’ part to live up to their Christian reputation for courtesy, respect and kindness.
.. This same conflict could be seen in the issue of slavery.
.. If kindness were the rule in the master-slave relationship, Douglass argued, then Southern newspapers would not be filled with runaway-slave notices describing branding with irons and scarring from whips.
.. One is based on historical forgetting, on empty gestures and cliches, on refusing to own up to American errors; the other connects niceness with ethics and justice by recognizing Americans’ failures to be the kind people we imagine ourselves to be
- First, there is the libertarian narrative that dominates the G.O.P. America is a land of free individuals responsible for their own fate. This story celebrates the dynamism of the free market. Its prime value is freedom. Packer wrote that “the libertarian idea in its current shape regards Americans as consumers, entrepreneurs, workers, taxpayers — indeed everything except citizens.”
Second, there is the narrative of globalized America. This is the narrative dominant in Silicon Valley and beyond. “We’re all lifelong learners and work for the start-up of you, and a more open and connected world is always a better world.” This story “comes with an exhilarating ideology of flattening hierarchies, disrupting systems, discarding old elites and empowering individuals.”
But in real life when you disrupt old structures you end up concentrating power in fewer hands. This narrative works out well for people who went to Stanford, but not so well for most others.
Third, there is the story of multicultural America. “It sees Americans as members of groups, whose status is largely determined by the sins of the past and present,” Packer observed. “During the Obama years it became a largely unexamined dogma among cultural elites.”
Finally, there is the narrative of America First, the narrative Donald Trump told last year, and which resonated with many voters. “America First is the conviction that the country has lost its traditional identity because of contamination and weakness — the contamination of others, foreigners, immigrants, Muslims; the weakness of elites who have no allegiance to the country because they’ve been globalized.”
This story is backward-looking and pessimistic. In practice, Packer concluded, “This narrative has contempt for democratic norms and liberal values, and it has an autocratic character. It personalizes power, routinizes corruption and destabilizes the very idea of objective truth.”
I’ve just read Michael Lind’s fascinating essay “The New Class War” in American Affairs, and under its influence I’d say the future of American politics will be a competition between two other stories
- The first is the mercantilist model, which sees America not as the culmination of history but as one major power in competition with rival powers, like China, Russia, Europe and so on. In this, to be American is to be a member of the tribe, and the ideal American is the burly protector of his tribe. America’s government and corporations should work closely together to “protect our jobs” and beat back rival powers.
- The second is the talented community. This story sees America as history’s greatest laboratory for the cultivation of human abilities. This model welcomes diversity, meritocracy, immigration and open trade for all the dynamism these things unleash. But this model also invests massively in human capital, especially the young and those who suffer from the downsides of creative destruction
the 18th-century privy at the back of the lot that was excavated during construction.
“It was dug in 1776 and filled in 1789,” Mr. Stephenson said during a recent tour of the building. “So, basically, it held trash spanning from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution.”
.. “We tend to think there was a script we were all speaking from, but the reality was messy,” Mr. Stephenson said. “I guess we might be considered a little bit critical of originalism in that sense.”
.. The guiding design idea, Mr. Stephenson said, “was creating a movie you can walk through, rather than a book we’re illustrating.”
.. One tableau depicts some of the thousands of enslaved people who fought for the British. “Sometimes,” as a large wall text bluntly puts it, “freedom wore a red coat.”
.. Another gallery uses life-cast figures and a six-minute film to recreate a debate among the Oneida nation about which side to take. The Oneida sided with the Revolution, but wall text makes the quandary of Native Americans plain: “How could they preserve their independence in the midst of this vicious civil war”?
.. similar panels explore the meaning of events for Native Americans, enslaved African-Americans and other marginalized people. “We call these our ‘wait just a damn minute’ panels,”
.. juxtaposes a copy of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and a defense of British rule called “Plain Truth” attributed to James Chalmers, one of many places where loyalists get their due.
.. Another case holds a German-language Declaration of Independence, printed in Philadelphia a few days after July 4, 1776. It’s a reminder, Mr. Stephenson said, that the American Revolution didn’t happen only in English.
Steve King’s dangerous belief that demographics are destiny undermines American exceptionalism and the integrity of conservatives.
.. They think that the influx of Hispanics from Mexico and Central America or immigrants from the Middle East — whether they arrive legally or illegally — is a threat to the fabric of American culture and values.
.. an American culture rooted in ideas about liberty, democracy, and the rule of law not only survived but flourished as the population of the nation was eventually transformed from a WASP majority into one in which the descendants of the Scotch Irish and English settlers became a minority.
.. Irish, German, Italian, and Eastern European Jewish immigrants were each branded in turn as aliens from a culture with no history of supporting democracy. Even as each group took its place in American society, other Americans feared that the newcomers could never assimilate.
.. He might claim he was talking about culture, but the mention of “babies” is a not-so-subtle attempt to say that the survival of Western values requires white children to outnumber those who are not white.
.. By asserting that preserving “our civilization” cannot be accomplished by “other people’s babies,” King is promoting a view of American identity that is at odds with the country’s basic principles. To believe that Hispanic or Muslim immigrants — or those of any other ethnicity or faith — can’t fully accept the values about liberty that King claims to cherish is to ignore two centuries of U.S. history and ideas. “Other people’s babies” have been fighting and dying to defend American values since before Iowa was a state.
.. At the heart of King’s statement is not only a prejudicial mindset but also a profound pessimism about the strength of the values the congressman says he wishes to preserve. The country thrived because those values were not the preserve of a specific ethnic or religious group but could be embraced by anyone regardless of his background or faith. It is not naïve to assert that this hasn’t changed even while the skin color of immigrants is darker today than it was in the past. That is the essence of American exceptionalism.
.. If conservatives wish to continue governing in the future, they must reject talk about “other people’s babies” and promote their ideas with enough confidence that Hispanics and other minorities will eventually embrace them.
American presidents like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump are bad for relations between Israel and Jews in the United States. They lay bare the fact that American Jews and Israeli Jews have different sets of priorities and values. These presidents underline the understandable, if unfortunate, reality that Jewish Americans prioritize Israel quite low as they vote — and that Jewish Israelis do not care about the political sensitivities of American Jews.
.. Israel knows that Jewish Americans are wary of certain leaders of the evangelical religious right, and yet accept their political support without many reservations.
But this dangerous man is incapable of bottling up his dark self for a full 90 minutes. And in the end, he finally crosses the one political barrier he had yet to fully cross — trashing democracy itself, we the people.
.. The remaining enablers — Reince Priebus, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pence — had to know that things were bad when the Republican presidential nominee was tougher on the sainted Ronald Reagan than on the Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin.
.. And they had to know the game was over when another 3 a.m. tweet was blasted out by Trump, with his conclusion that he won, because of online polls that could not pass the vetting of Baghdad Bob.
.. He’s become a very tired and confused 70-year-old man feeding nuts to squirrels in the park of his delusions.
.. Steve Bannon, the former head of a fabulist, far-right website — Breitbart. Bannon is not much of a Republican.
.. “I’m a Leninist,” he said in a conversation recounted by Ronald Radosh in The Daily Beast. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
.. His debate-night threat, holding the validity of the election itself hostage, is no surprise. Trump is bereft of patriotism, and seems to hate the country he wants to lead. He’s been talking down this nation and its most cherished institutions throughout his campaign. Time and again, he would rather defend Russia than the United States.
.. He’s gone after free speech — that would be the right granted in the amendment just before the only one he knows — threatening his enemies in the press. That same first amendment ensures that a religious test will not be used to judge us — another thing he has thrown to the side.
.. But in the final debate, his true persona was there for all to see — a self-hating American.