Shall We Stop Educating Our Children?

Betsy DeVos served under the former administration as Secretary of Education.  Ms. DeVos brought no qualifications in the field of education to the position – her only qualification was the huge sum of money (reported to be in the multi-million dollar range) she and her husband, Dick, had donated to the former guy’s campaign in 2016.  Ms. DeVos was no more qualified than I for the position, and did an even worse job than I would have, but that is all water under the bridge, for she and her corrupt boss have left the federal government … or have they?

It seems these days that anybody and everybody who served in the former administration feels qualified to write a book, and they believe that we will pay money to read their first-hand experience, or drivel, which is what most of these books are.  There are a few exceptions, such as Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy by Jamie Raskin, which I am currently reading.  However others, like One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General by former Attorney General William (Bill) Barr are merely ego trips for the authors.  The latest in the batch, slated for release on June 21st, is Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child by none other than Betsy DeVos.

Apparently Ms. DeVos defines ‘education freedom’ differently than I do, and hopes for an entirely different future for today’s children than I would wish for.  During a tour this week to promote her upcoming book, Ms. Devos made this statement:

“I don’t think the Department of Education should exist.”

My jaw dropped … she was, after all, paid $199,700 per year from our hard-earned tax dollars to lead the very department she now claims should not exist.  I read two articles about her ideas, why she believes the Department of Education should be shut down, and in my view she didn’t make one bit of sense.  She drones on about how ‘children are political pawns’ and “how poorly the system is serving children,” but offers no facts upon which she bases her opinions.  She apparently does not believe that every young person should have the opportunity to go to college, for she said …

“There are millions of great jobs going unfilled that don’t require a college degree.”

And regarding President Biden’s proposed student loan forgiveness program, she believes …

“It’s a horrible idea, and I don’t know how anyone can defend it. All you’re doing is buying a bunch of political goodwill.”

Way back in 2017, when DeVos was first made Secretary of Education, I posited that the goal she and Trump had was to ensure that only the children of the wealthy would ultimately be able to afford or qualify for a college education, that the other 99% of us would remain the proletariat, doing the heavy lifting for subsistence wages while those wealthy kids went into politics and managed their family’s multi-million dollar corporations.  Seems I was right.

Now, I consider her to be irrelevant and wouldn’t waste my time writing about her, except that … her ideas are becoming the ideas of the entire Republican Party that wants to diminish the education our kids are getting by failing to teach them facts, teach them history, teach them what they need to get into college and learn to think for themselves.  What if … perish the thought … the former guy somehow avoids the long arm of the law and is allowed to run for president again in 2024, and what if he were to win?  Would he follow DeVos’ advice and demolish the Department of Education?  And what would it be replaced with?  The Department of Christian Learning?  Will forced school prayer return to our schools, replacing such things as Biology, Literature, and History, all of which are seemingly being given the axe in many states today.

From banning books to refusing to teach about such things as slavery – the true cause of the Civil War – and the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the Civil Rights Era, and how white people treated the original owners of this land, we are turning education upside down and not in any good way.  I hope, I truly hope, that Ms. DeVos is never again in charge of anything in our government, but there are other equally noxious people in the Republican Party like Ron DeSantis who support the dumbing-down of our children.  What will this nation look like in 50 years if they succeed?

History Repeats Itself … If We Let It

As I so often say, and as many with better minds than mine have long said before me, if we fail to learn the lessons of history, then we are destined to repeat our mistakes.  In an article in The Guardian, Steve Philips writes about the lessons we need to have learned from the post-Civil War era and what our future holds if we fail to heed those lessons …


If America fails to punish its insurrectionists, it could see a wave of domestic terror

Steve Phillips

We must not repeat the mistakes of the years after the 1860s war for white supremacy that we call the civil war

The last time the United States failed to properly punish insurrectionists, they went on to form the Ku Klux Klan, unleash a reign of murderous domestic terrorism, and re-establish formal white supremacy in much of the country for more than 100 years. As the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack begins televised hearings this week, the lessons from the post-civil war period offer an ominous warning for this moment and where we go from here.

It is often difficult to sustain the requisite sense of urgency about past events, however dramatic and shocking they may have been at the time. Memories fade, new challenges arise and the temptation to put it all behind us and move on is strong. On top of all that, Republicans quickly and disingenuously called for “unity”, mere days after failing to block the peaceful transfer of power. If we want to preserve our fragile democracy, however, Congress and the president must learn from history and not make the same mistakes their predecessors did in the years after the 1860s war for white supremacy that we call the civil war.

In 1860, many people believed that America should be a white nation where Black people could be bought and sold and held in slavery. The civil war began when many of the people who held that view refused to accept the results of that year’s presidential election. They first plotted to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln (five years later, they would succeed). Then they seceded from the Union, and shortly thereafter started shooting and killing people who disagreed with them. By the end of the war, 2% of the entire country’s population had been killed, the equivalent of 7 million people being killed based on today’s US population.

Despite the rampant treason and extraordinary carnage of the war, the country’s political leaders had little appetite for punishing their white counterparts who had done their level best to destroy the United States of America. After Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth successfully assassinated Lincoln in 1865, Andrew Johnson ascended to the highest office in the land. Johnson, a southerner who “openly espoused white supremacy”, “handed out pardons indiscriminately” to Confederate leaders and removed from the south the federal troops protecting newly freed African Americans.

The historian Lerone Bennett Jr captured the tragedy of the moment in his book Black Power USA: The Human Side of Reconstruction, 1867-1877, writing: “Most Confederate leaders expected imprisonment, confiscation, perhaps even banishment. Expecting the worst, they were willing to give up many things in order to keep some. If there was ever a moment for imposing a lasting solution to the American racial problem, this was it. But the North dawdled and the moment passed. When the Confederates realized that the North was divided and unsure, hope returned. And with hope came a revival of the spirit of rebellion … this was one of the greatest political blunders in American history.”

With that revival of white supremacist hope came ropes and robes and widespread domestic terrorism. Mere months after the ostensible end of the civil war in April 1865, half a dozen southern young white Confederate war veterans gathered in Pulaski, Tennessee, in December 1865 to discuss what to do with their lives, and they decided to form a new organization called the Ku Klux Klan. The first Grand Wizard of the KKK, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was a Confederate general who had been pardoned by Johnson. In less than one year, Forrest would go on to orchestrate “336 cases of murder or assault with intent to kill on freedmen across the state [of Georgia] from January 1 through November 15 of 1868”.

The effectiveness of the domestic terrorism in crushing the country’s nascent multiracial democracy was unsurprising and undeniable. In Columbia county, Georgia, 1,222 votes had been cast for the anti-slavery party in April 1868, and after the reign of terror that year, the party received just one vote in November .

Lest we think this was all a long time ago, the House committee hearings are about to remind us all that we had an insurrection just last year. Not only did a violent mob attack the country’s elected leaders and attempt to block the peaceful transfer of power, but even after the assault was repelled, 147 Republicans – the majority of the Republican members in Congress – refused to accept the votes of the American people and attempted to overthrow the elected government of the United States of America.

And far from being chastened, the enemies of democracy in the Republican party have only become emboldened, like their Confederate counterparts of the last century. Just as happened in the years after the civil war when the prospect of large-scale Black voting threatened white power and privilege, the defenders of white nationalism have engaged in a legislative orgy of passing pro-white public policies – from trying to erase evidence of racism and white supremacy from public school instruction to laws making it increasingly difficult for people of color to cast ballots. As journalist Ron Brownstein has warned, “The two-pronged fight captures how aggressively Republicans are moving to entrench their current advantages in red states, even as many areas grow significantly more racially and culturally diverse. Voting laws are intended to reconfigure the composition of today’s electorate; the teaching bans aim to shape the attitudes of tomorrow’s.”

All of this is happening because the insurrectionists have not and believe they will not be punished. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Democrats control Congress and the White House, and they can take strong and decisive action to ensure appropriate consequences for people who seek to undermine democracy. The House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump in 2021 for incitement of insurrection, and Congress can still invoke the 14th amendment’s provision banning from office any person who has “engaged in insurrection”. All those who aided and abetted Trump’s insurrection should face the full force of the laws that are designed to protect the multiracial democracy that the majority of Americans want. The fate of democracy in America is quite literally at stake.

Your Children’s Future — Fight For It!!!

There are a large number of things happening in the world today that keep me awake nights – the trampling of our voting rights in nearly every state in the U.S.; the great divide between followers of the two political parties in the U.S. and the lies being told; the lack of interest on the part of Congress to act in the best interest of the people of this nation; the war in Ukraine and the potential for world-wide disaster; the increase in racism and homophobia; climate change and our abysmal failure to address it in any meaningful ways; the failure of people to understand that COVID is NOT over; the alarming increase in the ownership of guns and their use, and much more.  However, the one that kept me awake last night was the whitewashing of history in the nation’s schools, prompted by racist individuals and supported by government and the courts.

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill is just the tip of the iceberg.  Many states are rebelling against the teaching of actual history and would prefer that schools teach only the more ‘noble’ moments in our history, leaving out or altering the facts about those moments that white Europeans were unconscionably cruel and murderous.  I well remember when I first learned in school about Christopher Columbus, the settlers who came here to escape religious persecution in Europe, and how the Indigenous People taught the settlers how to fend for themselves, how to grow food, and then on that first Thanksgiving, how they sat side-by-side and broke bread together.  A lovely story, only … it’s just a small part of the story.  Back in the 1950s, we weren’t taught about how the white settlers then turned on the natives, killed them and ran them off of their lands.  Slowly but surely, education began coming ‘round to the idea of teaching the facts, but suddenly in the last decade or so, that situation is reversing yet again!

I was in high school before I learned of white man’s treachery against the natives, and even then it wasn’t dealt with in any depth, but merely skimmed in the textbooks.  Today, in the 21st century, an increasingly large number of people are claiming a notion called ‘white supremacy’, the concept that people with whiter skin are somehow mentally and physically ‘superior’ to others.  You and I know this is bullshit … if anything, the reverse is true.

The history of the U.S., although shorter than that of most other nations, is fraught with the evil of humans and if we cover that up, bury it like dog poop, or whitewash it to make it seem just a blip, then we are committing a crime against future generations, for they will not have the opportunity to view history through a clear glass, to make their own judgments, draw their own conclusions, and learn the lessons that history has to teach.  They will be ill-prepared, as are many of today’s politicos, to understand the world they live in, to understand for instance the anger of Black people when one is killed for no good reason.

Ask a teenager today if they know why the BlackLivesMatter protests happened?  Do they understand that the murders of George Floyd and so many others make it apparent that we are heading back to the days before Civil Rights legislation, the days of Jim Crow, the KKK, and Black people being treated as if they were dirt?  Do they know what the Trail of Tears was, what happened, and why?  Do they know that after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, the United States government dispossessed thousands of Japanese-Americans, sent them to camps where they barely survived after losing their homes, their jobs, and all their worldly goods?

And more recently, do they know about the massacre at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida, in 2016?  Do they understand that crimes are being committed against people just because of who they love?  Do they know about the Charleston church shooting in 2015?  Or the one in Sutherland Springs, Texas in 2017?  All acts committed by those who believe their white skin, religion, or gender somehow gives them the “right” to kill people simply for looking, acting, or thinking differently than they do!

I no longer have school-age children, but if I did, I would be demanding that my child be taught the true history of the United States, which is not quite as pretty as the history that Governor DeSantis and other lawmakers across the nation would prefer to be taught.  Teach them yourselves if you have to, but please … do not let the next generation grow up stupid, foolishly believing that the history of white people in the U.S. is somehow noble.  The truth matters, even when it’s painful, and if we ignore the truth, then we will only devolve, never evolve.  What the schools are doing is a form of censorship … censorship no different than what we’re seeing done by the Russian leader today, denying people the truth.

Rather than banning books, buy them, place them in your child’s hands, read them yourself if you haven’t already.  Knowledge is power and we are depriving our children, grandchildren, and all future generations of that power, destining them to continue down the path of ignorance.  The fate of the world hinges on what our children learn today.

Saturday in the park – miscellaneous musings on March 12

With a high temp of 25° and snow on the ground here, I won’t be spending my “Saturday In The Park”, but our friend Keith did, and the thoughts that accompanied his time in the park are worthy of being shared. He covers a lot of ground here … all important topics. Thank you, Keith!

musingsofanoldfart

In deference to the band Chicago, let me metaphorically meander this “Saturday in Park” with a few miscellaneous musings. In no particular order:

-one of the Republican primary opponents for a NC US Senator seat is running a commercial against the positions of the last GOP governor who is also running. The ad focuses on what the governor said in criticism of Donald Trump to show that the governor is not Republican enough. The irony is every word the former governor said in criticism is true about the former president and my wife and I both nodded our heads yes.

-the malevolent and untruthful acting autocratic leader of Russia is accusing the US of plotting with Ukraine a bio-chemical attack against Russia. This is vintage narcissistic behavior – brand others with the accusations being made at you. The aforementioned former president uses this narcissistic defense mechanism often, so we should…

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Today It Is Ukraine. Yesterday It Was Elsewhere. Tomorrow? This Never Rests.

Our friend Roger is the ultimate historian and today he provides us with a thought-provoking post about the current war Russia has started against Ukraine … really, against the rest of the world. Thank you, Roger, for this timely post and your valuable insights!

Writing Despite Computers and Programmes

Where do we begin? How do we explain?

24th February 2022. Another Date To Remember….So many events, actions and commentaries since the day Putin and his court decided to take the next step in their endeavours to bring The Ukraine back under Kremlin control. The avalanche into the medias has been such that I literally had to check the start date. It was as if Time measured in days had ceased to be a relevant method of recording, all that counted was The Narrative, every daily action is affected by The Narrative, even Sunrise and Sunset are but part of the backdrop. So many folk are asking ‘How could this happen?’ Understandable.

Under the lens of the seemingly disturbing and dispassionate study of International Relations’ Realism theories what is happening in the Ukraine is predictable, almost inexorable. However this is not the arena to be bandying terms such as ‘Anarchic…

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Remember …

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It is a day we should all remember … a day we should hope never EVER happens again.  The lessons of this history have never been more relevant than they are today as we see many nations leaning away from democratic principles and toward authoritarianism.  Those lessons of history should be the focus of this solemn International Holocaust Remembrance Day—designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, on January 27th, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, in 1945.

The victims of the Holocaust were an estimated 6 million Jewish people, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.  We must … MUST take time to remember these victims and take note of how it all came about, else we risk repeating the mistakes, the horrors, of the past.

History and the lessons we must learn from it tend to seem less relevant to us as the years pass.  Today, 77 years after the end of WWII and 77 years after the liberation, there are few people still living who have direct, personal memories of the Holocaust.  But, we have the recorded history in stories and pictures to remind us.  These were not just “six million Jews” … these were people … REAL PEOPLE.  They were grandchildren, spouses, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters … they were each and every one loved by other people!  We cannot forget them or simply brush them off as another historical fact!  Take the story of 15-year-old Bertha Adler …

1940-44: Bertha was 11 when the Germans occupied Liege. Two years later, the Adlers, along with all the Jews, were ordered to register and Bertha and her sisters were forced out of school. Some Catholic friends helped the Adlers obtain false papers and rented them a house in a nearby village. There, Bertha’s father fell ill one Friday and went to the hospital. Bertha promised to visit him on Sunday to bring him shaving cream. That Sunday, the family was awakened at 5 a.m. by the Gestapo. They had been discovered.  Fifteen-year-old Bertha was deported to Auschwitz on May 19, 1944. She was gassed there two days later.

Or survivor Arye Ephrath …

From the moment he was born, Arye Ephrath was in danger. His mother gave birth to him with the help of a housemaid in spring 1942 while hiding from the first wave of deportations of Jews from their hometown in Slovakia. Later, a shepherd and his wife took in Arye on the condition they could disguise him as a girl so that he would blend in with their daughters.

Real people … these were real people like you and me.  It is true that we cannot dwell on nor live in the past, but we can also never afford to forget the past, else we are certain to keep repeating it.  More and more of late I am disgusted by people making comparisons of such things as mask and vaccine mandates to the Holocaust … THERE IS NO COMPARISON!!!  And today there is a push by certain politicos to re-write history, to teach children only happy things that won’t give them any discomfort.  BULLSHIT!  History is often uncomfortable, but it is far less uncomfortable for young people studying it in a well-lit, comfortable classroom than it was for those who lived … or died … through it!

I leave you with a poem by Charlene Schiff, nee Shulamit Perlmutter, the only one in her family to have survived the Holocaust …

I Remember

By Charlene Schiff

I Remember
Blowing bubbles in the air Rainbow colors, all so fair.
Nightingales and jasmine’s scent All that love and beauty meant.

I Remember
Rainbow colors, no, no more Guards with rifles by the door.
Star of David on my coat I can’t swim, I can’t float.

I Remember
A haystack in a farmer’s field Used by seven as a shield.
Then only one of us is left, filled with sorrow and bereft.

I Remember
The bottom of a water well. Did someone see me, will they tell?
I’m slipping, clinging to the rounded wall Dear God, don’t let me fall.

I Remember
Being hungry, snow and frost Cold, alone, and very lost.
Why go on with such a life Stalked by terror’s cutting knife?

I Remember
My heart by now an empty shell From all that pain, from all that hell.
It’s such a long and awful war My wounds forever an open sore.

I Remember
Papa’s hug and Mama’s kiss.
Darling Sister I’ll always miss.

Their loving, sweet and gentle faces.
Gaze at me from empty spaces.
They’re gone forever—all is vanished.
And my soul to torment banished.

Remember, my friends.  Do not let the lives of nearly seven million people be forgotten and do not fall into complacency thinking it cannot happen here or cannot happen again.  Yes, it can.

 “So the Old World Slipped Away Never to Return Again…”: A Look Back at my Prediction for 2020

The usual Wednesday ‘good people’ post is delayed this week, but worry not … it will be here. Meanwhile, I would like to share with you Padre Steve’s latest post, a look back at his predictions from a year ago and some truths we need to ponder about the lessons of history. Thank you, Padre — excellent analysis, as always. I, too, wish you had been wrong way back in December 2019. Sigh.

The Inglorius Padre Steve's World


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wrote this article on 13 December 2019. It was pretty pessimistic even then without the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic which has killed over a quarter of a million Americans and infected over 11 million more, over a million in the past week. Over course that was not included in this article. The title then was  “So the Old World Slipped Away Never to Return Again…”: the Coming Disorder of 2020. Damn I hate being right, and we still have 49 days left in the year and President Trump seems intent on destroying the country using a scorched earth policy and attempting to provoke violence as the Proud Boys and other White Supremacist and self-proclaimed “militias” which are nothing more than heavily armed right wing vigilante and terrorist groups unrecognized by any law and operating outside of the Constitutional understanding of militias. Now we are…

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To Hold Trump Accountable — Or Not?

I apologize in advance for the lengthiness of this post, but I thought it was one worth consideration.  I have mixed feelings on this issue of whether Trump should be held to account for his actions such as obstruction of justice, bribery, conspiracy to defraud, and campaign finance violations once he leaves office.  On the one hand, I do want to see him treated just as any of the rest of us would be for harming the people of this nation, but on the other hand … can we truly begin to heal the Great Divide in this nation if Trump remains headline news for the next two years or longer?  I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read Sam Tanenhaus’ OpEd from The Washington Post last Friday


The reckoning

The country can’t recover from Trump’s presidency unless he’s held accountable

tannenhaus-samBy Sam Tanenhaus

October 16, 2020

Some Americans entertain a fantasy that goes like this: President Trump is voted out of office, finally faces justice for his serial misconduct and shuffles off to prison. A wearier, probably larger population looks forward to scrubbing the nation’s memory of these past four years and returning to pre-Trump life. A third sizable group shows unwavering loyalty to Trump.

One lesson of American history is that the country’s worst injuries are those we’ve caused ourselves. This history is not uplifting, but it is edifying, and it haunts. Failing to perform the necessary diagnostic surgery after a time of collective wrongdoing has costs. The steepest is this: Subsequent generations inherit a weakened democracy. Today it is imperative to confront the facts of the Trump era. We elected as president a homegrown insurrectionist. He rose to the highest position in our democracy and damaged it. Even now, he continues to assault our laws and institutions, our independent judiciary, our national security, our health, and our constitutional system of checks and balances. It’s unimaginable, ludicrous even, to contemplate doing nothing about Donald Trump.

No single course for a post-Trump reckoning will satisfy, let alone reconcile, the country’s divergent constituencies. And some damage can’t easily be undone — harm to America’s standing in the world, for example, and the fatally negligent response to the coronavirus pandemic. But in the search for accountability there are middle-path options that fall between prosecuting this singular president and prosecuting his broader legacy. One is to begin with a problem that Americans across the ideological spectrum agree needs fixing: our elections.

Elections are the place to start because so much of Trump’s misconduct relates to them. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election resulted in three dozen indictments or guilty pleas and five prison sentences, all related to Trump campaign actions during that election and afterward, when the president and others tried to cover up what they had done. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, have both done time. The Senate Intelligence Committee — led by Republicans — produced a nearly 1,000-page report detailing the Trump team’s misdeeds, most pertaining to the 2016 election. Prosecutors in New York, meanwhile, are digging further into Trump’s payment of hush money to a porn star ahead of the vote. And of course, in his impeachment, Trump was charged with misusing his office to try to get help from Ukraine in his reelection campaign — in violation of election law and of the framers’ fear that a president might, in James Madison’s words, “betray his trust to foreign powers.”

In at least one thing Trump has been proved right. Joe Biden is a strong opponent. If he is elected (increasingly likely), and if Democrats hold on to their majority in the House (it seems probable) and achieve one in the Senate (distinctly possible), they will be in a position to mount the kind of full-scale investigation they have been kept from doing while Trump is president.

But will the next administration hold the Trump crew truly accountable for past crimes, such as those uncovered by Mueller, the House impeachment committees and the Senate, to say nothing of the Trump family’s financial dealings? Should it? Yes, some will say, because of Trump’s long trail of malfeasance and mis-governance, which also involves top administration figures such as Attorney General William Barr. But the price of such an inquiry would be considerable. It could rebound against Democrats and undermine public confidence in their fairness and sense of proportion.

We are a fiercely divided country. As the historian Garry Wills remarked to me recently, the true crisis of our moment consists “of Trump showing us not about Trump but about us.” Republicans continue to support Trump as faithfully as any president in modern memory. It is true that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016, but he won 30 states. No matter the result in November, the tribal feelings that now define American politics will not change. They might intensify.

This is partly an outgrowth of Trump’s approach to the presidency — his unapologetic conception of the office as explicitly serving him and those on his side, even as he wages war against those who oppose or even question him. The formula, as Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine, is blunt and direct: “If Trump’s opponents are doing something, it’s a crime; if Trump and his allies are doing it, it isn’t.”

The president’s supporters have a grievance of their own. They can say that Trump’s enemies tried to delegitimize him from the moment he took office. His detractors spoke early and excitedly about impeachment, as though the removal of a president was sport. This was why cooler heads, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urged caution after Democrats regained a majority in the House.

With Ukraine, everything changed. The facts were clear. Trump’s plea to the Ukrainian president that he “do us a favor” by announcing that he would investigate Biden was a textbook case of abuse of power. It hardly mattered. Republicans mounted a counteroffensive, echoing Trump’s cry of “witch hunt.” The rest was an elaborate performance in which the only verdict that seemed to matter was public opinion. Yet the most significant poll showed that two-thirds of Americans, regardless of the outcome, would not change their minds.

Attacks on Trump, no matter how justified, have dependably aroused his base. There is no reason to think his post-presidency will be different. What’s to stop Citizen Trump from continuing to operate at the margins of the law, but without the cover of the White House and in the knowledge that there would be a reluctance to prosecute a former president? A fresh investigation, broadcast over the “lying” media, could play right into Trump’s program of self-glorification.

And yet, America is not just a political carnival with gladiators in the arena and spectators in the stands. It is also a democratic republic — a nation of laws, procedures, history and tradition. A good, or rather ghastly, example of history failing to hold its chief actors accountable is the first president to be impeached, Andrew Johnson, in 1868. For many years schoolchildren were taught, with the aid of the book “Profiles in Courage” by John F. Kennedy, that Johnson’s escape from removal was an act of high statesmanship. Supposedly Sen. Edmund Ross of Kansas, a Republican who went against his party and voted to acquit, “may well have preserved for ourselves and posterity constitutional government in the United States.” The real villains, in Kennedy’s view (shared by many at the time), were the “Radical Republicans,” who arrogantly treated the defeated Confederate states as “conquered provinces” and wanted to “crush their despised foe” and voted to convict.

Today the episode is judged very differently. Johnson, most agree, was one of the worst presidents in history and a danger to the republic. Taking office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, he flagrantly violated the principles of post-Civil War Reconstruction. He sided with “all-white Southern state governments full of ex-Confederates, stood by when they enacted ‘black codes’ that oppressed ex-slaves, and took no action when racist mobs began to murder black Southerners,” according to a history in The Washington Post. Johnson’s removal would have sent a powerful message about the nation’s new, post-slavery course; his acquittal instead reinforced pro-Confederate sympathies, which have lingered for generations.

So, too, with the case of the next president to face impeachment, Richard Nixon. He resigned in 1974 when it became clear that he faced removal for his Watergate crimes. His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him. For years, the thinking was that Ford’s action was statesmanlike, and the nation gratefully heard his soothing assurances that “our long national nightmare is over.” But the pardon helped plant the seeds of a counter-history of Watergate, promulgated by Nixon and his defenders, that Nixon was not the perpetrator but the victim, hounded by the liberal media, and that the investigations and impeachment were an  example of “the criminalization of politics.”

What happened afterward may suggest a sensible approach to holding Trump accountable. In 1975, after the New York Times published a sensational report by Seymour Hersh under the headline “Huge C.I.A. operation reported in U.S. against antiwar forces, other dissidents in Nixon years,” the Senate organized a committee to examine the long history of Cold War intelligence. The chairman was Sen. Frank Church of Idaho. Respected legislators from both parties, giants of the period, also were on the panel. Their inquest looked hard at the Nixon administration but also pressed further and turned up patterns of wrongdoing by three predecessors, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Not everyone was happy with the result. The intelligence community felt under siege. But no one could accuse the committee of being partisan.

Here is a possible road map, then, for a public accounting of the Trump years. Instead of mounting an investigation of all his excesses and corruptions, the Biden administration could reach out to Trump’s supporters with a statement acknowledging their concerns, and Trump’s, that our elections are “rigged.” Why not take him at his word? To some extent, many are — in both parties. Each has assembled teams of lawyers and operatives for state-by-state legal battles, in the expectation that if Trump loses, he will challenge the results.

At that point, rightly or wrongly, a substantial portion of the country will question the validity of our elections. This has happened before, in 2000. Biden, as president, might address these concerns, respectfully announcing that he will set up an Election Commission, a formal investigation on the scale of the Warren Commission, which tried to uncover the facts of the Kennedy assassination, or the commission formed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A more immediate example is the panel convened after the 2000 election. Chaired by former presidents Ford and Jimmy Carter, it presented recommendations. One was that there be a ceiling of 2 percent on the share of votes thrown out because of errors. Another was to have a federal agency create national standards for voting machines. A third was to restore voting rights in all 50 states to felons who had served their sentences. President George W. Bush supported the “key principles” stated by the panel and urged Congress to act on them. But the operative word was “recommendations.” The report did not say the government should require these changes. And so almost 20 years later, the defects remain.

But the circumstances are different now; the crisis has grown. Trump has sown doubts about our elections for the whole of his presidency. As soon as he took office, he declared that the 2016 election was “rigged” because the popular vote had gone against him. He organized a “commission” of his own on voter fraud, with Vice President Pence in charge. It quietly disbanded eight months later, having met a total of two times and without filing a report. The material it did produce was “glaringly empty,” in the words of one member. A commission set up by Biden could take up the work of Trump’s panel, only push much further.

And this is where the Church Committee could be a good model. Just as it pursued the trail of intelligence wrongdoing back to the early years of the Cold War, so Biden’s blue-ribbon panel would start with the 2000 election and the recommendations made afterward, this time pointing out what was lost because those recommendations were not adopted. From this premise, the commission could range widely and hear testimony on many important matters — for instance, efforts to suppress African American and Hispanic votes in battleground states. Every Republican who has affirmed or suggested that the 2020 elections are rigged, beginning with Trump himself, would be given a chance to testify with immunity and in a closed session, their words recorded. The findings would be released with ample transcripts.

Such a proceeding will be vulnerable to accusations of bias. But the facts would be on the record, and perhaps we would learn more about how democracy works, and doesn’t work, and what we can do to repair it.

I Think …

I quite often say that we seem not to learn from the lessons of history.  Oh sure, we remember for a while – a generation or two – but then the memories dim as the people who lived through that history die off and there is nobody to tell the stories with passion, with first-hand experience.  The immediacy fades and we return to the old ways or settle into new ones. One example is Hitler and the Holocaust.  My grandparents and parents well remembered those lessons, for they lived through them.  I have, perhaps a slightly dimmed sense of it, for I was not yet born, but still a heightened awareness from a childhood spent hearing the stories from one set of grandparents, my mother, and my father who fought in WWII.  And I passed many of those stories to my own children and granddaughter, but by this time they are 3rd and 4th hand stories and are losing some of their authenticity.  Another generation and the stories likely will not be told at all.

Surely there are history books from which we can learn, but again, with few exceptions, written words on a page often fail to bring the story to life, fail to inspire or excite.  And so, we may know the facts, while at the same time forgetting the lessons.  Arrogantly, we believe that those things could never happen in today’s world, never to our generation. Two comments I read yesterday gave rise to this post and an attempt, probably feeble, to find something in the past on which to judge the political and social turmoil the U.S. is experiencing today and find solutions to keep us all from killing one another.

The first comment was by USFMAN, commenting on my post Be Better:

“You cannot outshout a demagogue like Trump so look for similar situations from history that might offer solutions. Gandhi’s idea of mass passive resistance and Martin Luther King’s Freedom Riders come to mind.”

The second was by our friend Roger (Woebegone but Hopeful) commenting on Keith’s post That Jesus Saying:

“The danger lies in the separation of the nation into quarrelling tribes who never listen to each other. This is not good. Does no one look back to the histories of the 1840s to 1860s? Does it take another ‘Bloody Kansas’ for folk to sit up and think, ‘there is something wrong here’”

Interestingly, Roger lives in the UK, Wales to be specific, and yet most often has a better grasp of the history of this nation than we who have lived here all our lives.  And he, as well as many other friends from across the pond, see our situation with clearer eyes than we do.  Perhaps there is something to be said of that expression “can’t see the forest for the trees”?

Anyway, these comments started me thinking.  A very brief bit of historical context for those who may not remember the details.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 gave the territories of Kansas and Nebraska the right to choose, by popular vote, whether to become a slave state or a free state.  Slavery being the most contentious issue of the day, tensions ran high, to say the least, and a lot of dirty politics ensued.  So dirty, in fact, that when a congressional committee investigated a year or so later, they found that 1,729 fraudulent votes had been cast as compared to 1,114 legitimate ones!  Needless to say, violence ensued:  a hotel and two newspaper offices were burned, homes and stores ransacked, and murder & mayhem became the order of the day.

Long story short, a divisive political issue nearly destroyed a society, causing death and destruction.  Now granted,  that was in the days of the ‘Olde West’, and we are more … civilized today.  Or are we?  We have white police officers killing unarmed blacks.  We have white supremacist groups creating chaos on city streets and university campuses.  We have people refusing to serve other people in their place of business because of politics.  We have a ‘president’ who incites violence, encouraging people to hurt others.  Are we more civilized that Kansans in the mid-nineteenth century?  Don’t be too sure.  It would seem that we really haven’t come very far at all.

Which brings me to USFMAN’s comments …

How many times in the last year or two have I said that I wish we had another Martin Luther King?  Too many.  Martin Luther King was only one of the Civil Rights leaders some 50-60 years ago who worked tirelessly to bring about change, but what was unique about him was two things:  his charisma that gave him the ability to lead, and his philosophy of non-violence.  Martin, you may remember, had a dream.  He knew what he wanted to accomplish.  As I read the text of his speech for probably the 100th time, I realize that Martin Luther King’s dream in 1963 was not much different than our own dream today.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

We have many burning issues today, concerning relationships with our allies, health care, education,  poverty, immigration, guns, environment, abortion, and more.  Most of these issues were  not born under the regime of Trump, but he has fanned the flames of discord and disharmony in every single event. But at the crux of most of it is bigotry, intolerance and discrimination of one group or another.  Discrimination against not only African-Americans, but Muslims, Latinos, LGBT people, non-Christians, the poor and even women.  Rather than being able to say we overcame the discrimination that Martin Luther King was fighting, we have expanded it to include other groups – almost anyone who is not white, Christian, and preferably male.

Now that I have offered my rambling thoughts, you probably wonder where I am going with this, if I have a point.  I do.  It seems to me that, in the absence of a Gandhi or Martin Luther King in our midst to lead the way in peaceful protest, then we must each become those leaders, using our voices to promote ideas of equality, to insist our voices be heard, and to do so without violence.  Colin Kaepernick was one such leader last year.  MLK would have been proud of Mr. Kaepernick, for never was there a more peaceful way of protesting, yet he made his point.  This is the way to win equality … the only way, I think.

If The Romans Could Do It, So Can We …

My friend and fellow blogger Roger frequently reminds me, when I despair over our current situation, that the U.S. is yet a young nation, relative to his own UK, and that if we look at the lessons of history, we will see that other nations have overcome disastrous leaders and so will we. This morning on my journey through ‘Newslandia’, I came across a piece written by Nicholas Kristof that hit home and brought Roger’s words to mind.  Though I generally avoid doing this, I am sharing Kristof’s words in their entirety today, for I think it is a message we all need to hear.

There Once Was a Great Nation With an Unstable Leader

kristofWhat happens when the people of a great nation gradually realize that their leader may not be, er, quite right in the head?

When Caligula became Roman emperor in A.D. 37, the people rejoiced. “On all sides, you could see nothing but altars and sacrifices, men and women decked in their holiday best and smiling,” according to the first-century writer Philo.

The Senate embraced him, and he was hailed as a breath of fresh air after the dourness, absenteeism and miserliness of his great-uncle, Emperor Tiberius. Caligula was colorful and flamboyant, offering plenty of opportunities for ribald gossip. Caligula had four wives in rapid succession, and he was said to be sleeping with his sister. (Roman historians despised him, so some of the gossip should be treated skeptically.)

He was charming, impetuous and energetic, sleeping only three hours a night, and he displayed a common touch as he constantly engaged with the public. His early months as emperor brimmed with hope.

Initially, Caligula focused on denouncing his predecessor and reversing everything that he had done. Caligula also made popular promises of tax reform so as to reduce the burden on the public. He was full of grandiose pledges of infrastructure projects, such as a scheme to cut through the Isthmus of Corinth.

But, alas, Caligula had no significant government experience, and he proved utterly incompetent at actually getting things done. Meanwhile, his personal extravagance actually increased the need for tax revenue.

Suetonius, the Roman historian, recounted how Caligula’s boats had “sterns set with gems, parti-colored sails, huge spacious baths, colonnades and banquet halls, and even a great variety of vines and fruit trees.”

Romans initially accepted Caligula’s luxurious tastes, perhaps intrigued by them. But Caligula’s lavish spending soon exhausted the surplus he had inherited, and Rome ran out of money.

This led to increasingly desperate, cruel and tyrannical behavior. Caligula reportedly opened a brothel in the imperial palace to make money, and he introduced new taxes. When this wasn’t enough, he began to confiscate estates, antagonizing Roman elites and sometimes killing them.

A coward himself, Caligula was said to delight in the torture of others; rumor had it that he would tell his executioners: “Kill him so that he can feel he is dying.”

Caligula, a narcissist and megalomaniac, became increasingly unhinged. He supposedly rolled around on a huge pile of gold coins, and he engaged in conversations with the moon, which he would invite into his bed. He replaced the heads of some statues of gods with his own head, and he occasionally appeared in public dressed as a god. He was referred to as a god in certain circumstances, and he set up a temple where he could be worshiped.

“Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody,” he told his grandmother, according to Suetonius.

Caligula had a thing for generals, and he periodically wore the garb of a triumphant military commander. He removed the breastplate of Alexander the Great from his sarcophagus and wore it himself at times.

The Senate, dignified and traditional, watched Caligula with increasing alarm. He scandalized the public by sometimes dressing as a woman, and he aggravated tensions by scathingly denouncing the Senate, relying on sarcasm and insult, and showing utter contempt for it.

One of Caligula’s last allies was his beloved racehorse, Incitatus, who wore a collar of precious stones and lived in a marble stall. Caligula would invite Incitatus to dine with him.

Edward Champlin, a historian of Rome at Princeton University, says that Caligula pursued “a love of pranks that a 4-year-old might disdain” and had a penchant for “blurting out whatever is on his mind” — such as suggesting that Incitatus could become consul. These rash statements rippled through Rome, for leaders of great powers are often taken not just seriously but also literally.

Yet as Caligula wreaked havoc, Rome also had values, institutions and mores that inspired resistance. He offended practically everyone, he couldn’t deliver on his promises, his mental stability was increasingly doubted and he showed he simply had no idea how to govern. Within a few years, he had lost all support, and the Praetorian Guard murdered him in January 41 (not a path I would ever condone).

Caligula was as abominable a ruler as a great nation could have, yet Rome proved resilient.

Likewise, Rome survived Emperor Nero a generation later, even as Nero apparently torched Rome, slaughtered Christians, slept with and then murdered his mother, kicked his pregnant wife to death, castrated and married a man and generally mismanaged the empire.

“If there’s a hero in the story of first-century Rome, it’s Roman institutions and traditional expectations,” reflects Emma Dench, a Harvard scholar of the period. “However battered or modified, they kept the empire alive for future greatness.”

To me, the lesson is that Rome was able to inoculate itself against unstable rulers so that it could recover and rise to new glories. Even the greatest of nations may suffer a catastrophic leader, but the nation can survive the test and protect its resilience — if the public stays true to its values, institutions and traditions. That was true two millennia ago, and remains true today.

Some interesting parallels to our own tyrant, don’t you think?  The Romans survived and overcame, just as shall we.  Have a Happy Sunday, dear readers!