This is what conservative opponents of critical race theory don't want you to know

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a lightning rod for conservative ire at any discussion of racism, anti-racism, or the non-white history of America. Across the country, bills in Republican-controlled legislatures have attempted to prevent the teaching of CRT, even though most of those against CRT struggle to define the term. CRT actually began as a legal theory which held simply that systemic racism was consciously created, and therefore, must be consciously dismantled. History reveals that the foundation of America, and of systemic racism, happened at the same time and from the same set of consciously created laws.

Around the 20th of August, 1619, the White Lion, an English ship sailing under a Dutch flag, docked off Old Point Comfort (near present-day Hampton), in the British colony of Virginia, to barter approximately 20 Africans for much needed food and supplies. The facts of the White Lion's arrival in Virginia, and her human cargo, are generally not in dispute. Whether those first Africans arriving in America were taken by colonists as slaves or as indentured servants is still debated. But by the end of the 17th century, a system of chattel slavery was in place in colonial America. How America got from uncertainly about the status of Africans, to certainty that they were slaves, is a transition that highlights the origins of systemic racism.

Three arguments have been put forth about whether the first Africans arriving in the colonies were treated as indentured servants or as slaves. One says that European racism predisposed American colonists to treat these Africans as slaves. Anthony and Isabella, for example, two Africans aboard the White Lion, were acquired by Captain William Tucker and listed at the bottom of his 1624/25 muster (census) entry, just above his real property, but below white indentured servants and native Americans.

A second argument counters that racism was not, at first, the decisive factor but that the availability of free labor was. "Before the invention of the Negro or the white man or the words and concepts to describe them," historian Lerone Bennett wrote, "the Colonial population consisted largely of a great mass of white and black [and native] bondsmen, who occupied roughly the same economic category and were treated with equal contempt by the lords of the plantations and legislatures."

In this view, slavery was not born of racism, but racism was born of slavery. Early colonial laws had no provisions distinguishing African from European servants, until those laws began to change toward the middle of the 17th century, when Africans became subject to more brutal treatment than any other group. Proponents of this second argument point to cases like Elizabeth Key in 1656, or Phillip Corven in 1675, Black servants who sued in different court cases against their white masters for keeping them past the end of their indentures. Both Key and Corven won. If slavery was the law, Key and Corven would have had no standing in court much less any hope of prevailing.

Still, a third group stakes out slightly different ground. Separate Africans into two groups: the first generation that arrived before the middle of the 17th century, and those that arrived after. For the first generations of Africans, English and Dutch colonists had the concept of indefinite, but not inheritable, bondage. For those who came after, colonists applied the concept of lifetime, inheritable bondage. Here, the 1640 case of John Punch, a Black man caught with two other white servants attempting to run away, is often cited. As punishment, all the men received thirty lashes but the white servants had only one-year added to their indentures, while John Punch was ordered to serve his master "for the time of his natural life." For this reason, many consider John Punch the first real slave in America. Or was he the last Black indentured servant?

Clearly these cases show the ambiguity, or "loopholes," of the system separating servitude from slavery in early America. What is also clear is that one by one these loopholes were closed through conscious intent of colonial legislatures. In this reduction of ambiguity over the status of Africans, the closure of loopholes between servitude and slavery, are the roots of systemic racism.

Maryland enacted a first-of-its-kind law in 1664, specifically tying being Black to being a slave. "[A]ll Negroes or other slaves already within the Province And all Negroes and other slaves to be hereafter imported into the Province shall serve Durante Vita." Durante Vita is a Latin phrase meaning for the duration of one's life.

Another loophole concerned the status of children. Colonial American law was initially derived from English common law, where the status of child (whether bound or free) followed the status of the father. But adherence to English common law posed problems in colonial America, such as revealed in the 1630 case of Hugh Davis, a white man sentencing to whipping "for abusing himself to the dishonor of God and shame of Christians, by defiling his body in lying with a negro..." Whipping proved no deterrent for such interracial unions between a free European and a bound African. If English common law was followed, then the child of such a liaison would be free. So, in the years following Davis' whipping the legislatures in Maryland and Virginia enacted statutes that the status of the child, whether slave or free, followed that of the mother.

But closing this loophole assumes that only the sexual exploits of European men needed containing. The famous, and well-documented case of Irish milkmaid, Molly Welsh, who worked off her indentures in Maryland, shows the reverse actually happened as well. Welsh purchased a slaved named Banna Ka, whom she eventually freed, then married. They had a girl named Mary, who was free. Mary married a runaway slaved named Thomas, and they had a boy named Benjamin, who was also free. And Benjamin Banneker, a clockmaker, astronomer, mathematician, and surveyor, became an important figure in African American history, having authored a letter to Thomas Jefferson lamenting the lofty ideals of liberty and equality contained in the nation's founding documents were not extended to all citizens regardless of color.

Closing the religious exemption was another way in which colonial legislatures sought to separate Blacks from whites, and force slavery only on people of African descent. One of the reasons Elizabeth Key prevailed in court was that she asserted she could not be held in slavery as a Christian. In fact, there was a widespread belief in early America that Christians holding other Christians in slavery went against core biblical teachings.

Most first generation Africans in colonial America came from the Angola-Congo region of West Africa, first taken there by the Portuguese. Christianity was well-known, and practiced by Africans in these regions as early as the 15th century. So, many Africans destined for slavery, or indentured servitude in America, were already baptized, or were christened by priests aboard Portuguese slave trading vessels.

Colonial legislatures got busy. Maryland updated the 1664 law, cited above, with a 1671 statute that specifically carved out a religious exception for people of African descent. Regardless of whether they had become Christian, or received the sacrament of baptism, they would "hereafter be adjudged, reputed, deemed, and taken to be and remain in servitude and bondage" forever. Acts like this led to a tortured, convoluted American Christianity, developed to support slavery, and this legacy of racism within American Christianity continues to this day.

Apprehension of runaway servants and slaves was still another area in which colonial legislatures targeted people of color for differential, oppressive treatment. While granting masters the right to send a posse after runaways, a 1672 Virginia statute called "An act for the apprehension and suppression of runawayes, negroes and slaves," granted immunity to any white person who killed or wounded a runaway person of color while in pursuit of them. It read:

"Be it enacted by the governour, councell and burgesses of this grand assembly, and by the authority thereof, that if any negroe, molatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, runaway and shalbe persued by warrant or hue and crye, it shall and may be lawfull for any person who shall endeavour to take them, upon the resistance of such negroe, mollatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, to kill or wound him or them soe resisting."

Acts like this became the basis for slave patrols, and for the police forces that arose from them. Today, we still deal with the consequences of "qualified immunity," stemming from ideas like these enacted in 1672, which shield police from prosecution in cases of violence and brutality, especially against people of color.

Protection of southern rights even found its way into the Constitution. The Second Amendment protects the right of militias (a polite term for "slave patrols") to organize and bear arms. The Fugitive Slave Clause (never repealed) guaranteed southern slaveholders that their slaves apprehended in the North would be returned. Even the Interstate Commerce Clause allowed Southerners traveling North with their slaves assurances those slaves would not automatically become free by setting foot in states that outlawed slavery.

Though enacted centuries ago, the laws cited above are representative of the many laws that came to define American jurisprudence, and have at their core, the repression and oppression of Black Americans, and other people of color. This is why Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857, handed down a 7-2 verdict in the Dred Scott case, with the words that Blacks had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect." This is why critical race theory states that systemic racism was consciously created, as these laws and their enforcement show they were.

But this is also why Republican legislators and their supporters lump anything and everything having to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion into the box of critical race theory, then try to keep it out of schools and public institutions. They're afraid of Americans being told the truth: that the foundation of America, and of systemic racism, happened at the same time and from the same consciously created laws. In this way, these individuals are actually living proof of the validity of critical race theory, because they seek to consciously enact laws today which perpetuate the racial inequality established by laws enacted hundreds of years ago.


Clyde W. Ford is the author of numerous books including Of Blood and Sweat: Black Lives, and the Making of White Power and Wealth, due out next year from HarperCollins.

This article was originally published at History News Network

Historian: Republican culture war fight driven by need to hide a basic fact about American history

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a lightning rod for conservative ire at any discussion of racism, anti-racism, or the non-white history of America. Across the country, bills in Republican-controlled legislatures have attempted to prevent the teaching of CRT, even though most of those against CRT struggle to define the term. CRT actually began as a legal theory which held simply that systemic racism was consciously created, and therefore, must be consciously dismantled. History reveals that the foundation of America, and of systemic racism, happened at the same time and from the same set of consciously created laws.

Around the 20th of August, 1619, the White Lion, an English ship sailing under a Dutch flag, docked off Old Point Comfort (near present-day Hampton), in the British colony of Virginia, to barter approximately 20 Africans for much needed food and supplies. The facts of the White Lion's arrival in Virginia, and her human cargo, are generally not in dispute. Whether those first Africans arriving in America were taken by colonists as slaves or as indentured servants is still debated. But by the end of the 17th century, a system of chattel slavery was in place in colonial America. How America got from uncertainly about the status of Africans, to certainty that they were slaves, is a transition that highlights the origins of systemic racism.

Three arguments have been put forth about whether the first Africans arriving in the colonies were treated as indentured servants or as slaves. One says that European racism predisposed American colonists to treat these Africans as slaves. Anthony and Isabella, for example, two Africans aboard the White Lion, were acquired by Captain William Tucker and listed at the bottom of his 1624/25 muster (census) entry, just above his real property, but below white indentured servants and native Americans.

A second argument counters that racism was not, at first, the decisive factor but that the availability of free labor was. "Before the invention of the Negro or the white man or the words and concepts to describe them," historian Lerone Bennett wrote, "the Colonial population consisted largely of a great mass of white and black [and native] bondsmen, who occupied roughly the same economic category and were treated with equal contempt by the lords of the plantations and legislatures."

In this view, slavery was not born of racism, but racism was born of slavery. Early colonial laws had no provisions distinguishing African from European servants, until those laws began to change toward the middle of the 17th century, when Africans became subject to more brutal treatment than any other group. Proponents of this second argument point to cases like Elizabeth Key in 1656, or Phillip Corven in 1675, Black servants who sued in different court cases against their white masters for keeping them past the end of their indentures. Both Key and Corven won. If slavery was the law, Key and Corven would have had no standing in court much less any hope of prevailing.

Still, a third group stakes out slightly different ground. Separate Africans into two groups: the first generation that arrived before the middle of the 17th century, and those that arrived after. For the first generations of Africans, English and Dutch colonists had the concept of indefinite, but not inheritable, bondage. For those who came after, colonists applied the concept of lifetime, inheritable bondage. Here, the 1640 case of John Punch, a Black man caught with two other white servants attempting to run away, is often cited. As punishment, all the men received thirty lashes but the white servants had only one-year added to their indentures, while John Punch was ordered to serve his master "for the time of his natural life." For this reason, many consider John Punch the first real slave in America. Or was he the last Black indentured servant?

Clearly these cases show the ambiguity, or "loopholes," of the system separating servitude from slavery in early America. What is also clear is that one by one these loopholes were closed through conscious intent of colonial legislatures. In this reduction of ambiguity over the status of Africans, the closure of loopholes between servitude and slavery, are the roots of systemic racism.

Maryland enacted a first-of-its-kind law in 1664, specifically tying being Black to being a slave. "[A]ll Negroes or other slaves already within the Province And all Negroes and other slaves to be hereafter imported into the Province shall serve Durante Vita." Durante Vita is a Latin phrase meaning for the duration of one's life.

Another loophole concerned the status of children. Colonial American law was initially derived from English common law, where the status of child (whether bound or free) followed the status of the father. But adherence to English common law posed problems in colonial America, such as revealed in the 1630 case of Hugh Davis, a white man sentencing to whipping "for abusing himself to the dishonor of God and shame of Christians, by defiling his body in lying with a negro..." Whipping proved no deterrent for such interracial unions between a free European and a bound African. If English common law was followed, then the child of such a liaison would be free. So, in the years following Davis' whipping the legislatures in Maryland and Virginia enacted statutes that the status of the child, whether slave or free, followed that of the mother.

But closing this loophole assumes that only the sexual exploits of European men needed containing. The famous, and well-documented case of Irish milkmaid, Molly Welsh, who worked off her indentures in Maryland, shows the reverse actually happened as well. Welsh purchased a slaved named Banna Ka, whom she eventually freed, then married. They had a girl named Mary, who was free. Mary married a runaway slaved named Thomas, and they had a boy named Benjamin, who was also free. And Benjamin Banneker, a clockmaker, astronomer, mathematician, and surveyor, became an important figure in African American history, having authored a letter to Thomas Jefferson lamenting the lofty ideals of liberty and equality contained in the nation's founding documents were not extended to all citizens regardless of color.

Closing the religious exemption was another way in which colonial legislatures sought to separate Blacks from whites, and force slavery only on people of African descent. One of the reasons Elizabeth Key prevailed in court was that she asserted she could not be held in slavery as a Christian. In fact, there was a widespread belief in early America that Christians holding other Christians in slavery went against core biblical teachings.

Most first generation Africans in colonial America came from the Angola-Congo region of West Africa, first taken there by the Portuguese. Christianity was well-known, and practiced by Africans in these regions as early as the 15th century. So, many Africans destined for slavery, or indentured servitude in America, were already baptized, or were christened by priests aboard Portuguese slave trading vessels.

Colonial legislatures got busy. Maryland updated the 1664 law, cited above, with a 1671 statute that specifically carved out a religious exception for people of African descent. Regardless of whether they had become Christian, or received the sacrament of baptism, they would "hereafter be adjudged, reputed, deemed, and taken to be and remain in servitude and bondage" forever. Acts like this led to a tortured, convoluted American Christianity, developed to support slavery, and this legacy of racism within American Christianity continues to this day.

Apprehension of runaway servants and slaves was still another area in which colonial legislatures targeted people of color for differential, oppressive treatment. While granting masters the right to send a posse after runaways, a 1672 Virginia statute called "An act for the apprehension and suppression of runawayes, negroes and slaves," granted immunity to any white person who killed or wounded a runaway person of color while in pursuit of them. It read:

"Be it enacted by the governour, councell and burgesses of this grand assembly, and by the authority thereof, that if any negroe, molatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, runaway and shalbe persued by warrant or hue and crye, it shall and may be lawfull for any person who shall endeavour to take them, upon the resistance of such negroe, mollatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, to kill or wound him or them soe resisting."

Acts like this became the basis for slave patrols, and for the police forces that arose from them. Today, we still deal with the consequences of "qualified immunity," stemming from ideas like these enacted in 1672, which shield police from prosecution in cases of violence and brutality, especially against people of color.

Protection of southern rights even found its way into the Constitution. The Second Amendment protects the right of militias (a polite term for "slave patrols") to organize and bear arms. The Fugitive Slave Clause (never repealed) guaranteed southern slaveholders that their slaves apprehended in the North would be returned. Even the Interstate Commerce Clause allowed Southerners traveling North with their slaves assurances those slaves would not automatically become free by setting foot in states that outlawed slavery.

Though enacted centuries ago, the laws cited above are representative of the many laws that came to define American jurisprudence, and have at their core, the repression and oppression of Black Americans, and other people of color. This is why Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857, handed down a 7-2 verdict in the Dred Scott case, with the words that Blacks had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect." This is why critical race theory states that systemic racism was consciously created, as these laws and their enforcement show they were.

But this is also why Republican legislators and their supporters lump anything and everything having to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion into the box of critical race theory, then try to keep it out of schools and public institutions. They're afraid of Americans being told the truth: that the foundation of America, and of systemic racism, happened at the same time and from the same consciously created laws. In this way, these individuals are actually living proof of the validity of critical race theory, because they seek to consciously enact laws today which perpetuate the racial inequality established by laws enacted hundreds of years ago.

Clyde W. Ford is the author of numerous books including Of Blood and Sweat: Black Lives, and the Making of White Power and Wealth, due out next year from HarperCollins.

Iowa Republicans reject Enlightenment values with confusing law that infringes on free speech to protect feelings

The Iowa legislature has just passed a new law on teaching about racism in the Iowa schools. It is long, vague, and contradictory. It is a confusing, poorly drafted piece of legislation. It is clear, though, that it drastically restricts speech on the part of students and teachers. It is now law, but unlikely to have much legal impact as it is almost certainly unconstitutional and does not include tough enforcement measures.

Yet it still matters. We are losing many of our best college graduates to places like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Texas. Our civic leaders try to win new businesses in the state yet employers are unlikely to invest in a state that looks like Mississippi, only with cold weather.

Reading this new law felt like skimming the Terms of Service on a commercial website, or carefully reading the warranty on a new toaster oven. It left me wondering how such a mess received the support of GOP leaders.

Sadly, this law is purely political. It has arrived in the midst of a larger movement against Critical Race Theory (CRT) a doctrine almost solely taught in law schools. Yet it will damage faculty governance over teaching in universities, and, along with recent threats to academic tenure, make it difficult to recruit the best professors to our state. However, it meshes well with current Republican thinking in the age of Trump. Iowa has a long tradition of local control of education. However, this law gives most power to the legislature. On a variety of issues, from hog lots to COVID-19 masking, the Iowa GOP believes in local control, except when it doesn't.

The law seems to protect students against discrimination based on their "political ideology." That sounds laudable, but it does not effectively define "ideology," creating confusion. Other elements of the law seem equally problematic. For example, it prohibits teaching anything with the consequence that "any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual's race or sex."

I'm not a lawyer, but it appears that the legislature has just passed a law against hurt feelings. My students are adults, and I love hearing their varied opinions. But when they learn about slavery, Indian removal, or the Vietnam War, it might be distressing. Feel good history, which celebrates great men, might sound fine. Unfortunately, it obscures the fact that disagreement and dissent are crucial to our country's past.

Teaching about race and anti-racism has been central for the field of history for more than a century. It has always been controversial because it has always been uncomfortable. And that won't change. American history contains stories of thoughtfulness and heroism. It also contains stories of brutality and hatred.

We have to tell the uncomfortable stories, the stories of Jim Crow, slavery, and race riots. Why? Because we can do better. The history of Reconstruction or the Civil Rights movement shows us that we HAVE done better.

We have a set of principles based on equality, derived from the Enlightenment. That is, we value freedom. It is precisely because we are committed to freedom that talking about unfairness and inequality can be so painful.

It can also be tremendously liberating; it offers the opportunity to change; to move closer to that American ideal of freedom. Let's try to get there. But we will always be uncomfortable. It can feel like pushing a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back to the bottom. But that boulder won't stay at the bottom. That is because Americans want real history--the stories that tell about our best moments and also our worst.

Twenty-five years ago, I moved to Iowa in order to teach history. I had been told three things about the state: it was cold in the winter, flat, and had a great system of education. Iowa winters are undeniably cold. It is not flat, and my first walk up College Hill in Cedar Falls cured me of that mistaken impression. And it did have a great system of education. UNI may be a small school, but I love the students. They are willing to think hard about the past. It is hard to define "Iowa nice," but our students have it and I am grateful for that. Is UNI still part of a great system of education, known across the country, and stretching from kindergarten to college? Maybe, but that tradition is hanging by a thread. A key step in saving it would be studying history, but not the warm and fuzzy fantasies that the legislature has created. There is a better way: let's give teachers and professors, who have studied the field, a chance to do their jobs without stifling control from the legislature and governor in Des Moines.


Wallace Hettle is a Professor of History at the University of Northern Iowa.

This article was originally published at History News Network

Experts beware: America is hurtling towards a Scopes moment as Republicans rage at critical race theory

In a recent debate over a law to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory, Tennessee legislator Justin Lafferty (R) explained to his colleagues that the 3/5th Compromise of 1787, used to determine a state's representation in Congress by counting enslaved people as "three fifths of all other Persons," was designed with "the purpose of ending slavery." Lafferty had his facts spectacularly wrong, but that did nothing to derail the law's passage.

Anti-Critical Race Theory laws like the one passed in Tennessee – as well Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Florida -- are not just aimed to push back against the heightened awareness of the nation's history of racial injustice in the wake of the popularity of the 1619 Project and last summer's massive protests over the murder of George Floyd. They are also attacks on educators -- and on expertise itself. As Christine Emba explained in a recent Washington Post article on conservatives' current obsession with Critical Race Theory, "disguising one's discomfort with racial reconsideration as an intellectual critique is still allowed." Not only is it allowed in these public debates, it is an effective strategy to curb movements for social change. It is also not new.

A century ago a similar right-wing outrage campaign was launched against the teaching of evolution in public schools. The 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" remains a touchstone of this era of conservatism. When John Scopes, a substitute teacher in Dayton, Tennessee was charged with violating a new state law against teaching evolution, the case became an international story. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.

The Scopes Trial's legacy rests perhaps too comfortably on defense lawyer Clarence Darrow's skewering of the anti-evolution hero William Jennings Bryan in that hot Tennessee courtroom, memorialized in the play (and film) Inherit the Wind. Darrow's withering questioning made Bryan appear ignorant and incurious. In response to Darrow's questions about other religious and cultural traditions, Bryan acknowledged that he did not know about them, but added that he did not need to know since through his Christian faith, "I have all the information I need to live by and die by."

Bryan's responses were more clever than the popular legend of the trial might lead us to believe. By asserting that he did not need to know what Darrow and the scientists knew, Bryan was calling into question the social value of modern expertise itself. When Darrow asked if Bryan knew how many people there were in Egypt three thousand years ago, or in China five thousand years ago, Bryan answered simply, "No." Darrow pressed on, "Have you ever tried to find out?" Bryan: "No sir, you are the first man I ever heard of who was interested in it." Translation: experts studied subjects that no one needed to care about. When asked if he knew how old the earth was, Bryan again responded he did not, but added that he could "possibly come as near as the scientists do." Here Bryan rejected the premise that the experts really knew what they're talking about any more than he – presenting himself to the court and the public as a simple man of faith -- did.

The legacy of these tactics is on full display today. As David Theo Goldberg wrote in the Boston Review recently, Republican critics of Critical Race Theory "simply don't know what they're talking about." Goldberg is correct of course, but their ignorance is not a hole they are looking to fill anytime soon. It is rather both a shield and a weapon used to go on the offensive against the experts themselves. What the experts "know" about the 3/5th Compromise or the history of racial injustice generally (or climate change, or the dangers posed by COVID-19, or the outcome of the 2020 election) threatens their beliefs in how American society should look and function.

Similar to what we're seeing today, the attack on the teaching of evolution in the 1920s was an effective means by which to challenge all manner of troubling developments that always seemed to emanate from the latest pronouncement of some expert somewhere. Mordecai Ham, for example, was a popular Baptist preacher who first converted Billy Graham. In a 1924 sermon he moved seamlessly from attacking evolution as false to warning parents that having Darwinism taught to their children would assuredly lead to communism and sexual promiscuity. He thundered, "you will be in the grip of the Red Terror and your children will be taught free love by that damnable theory evolution." That Ham skipped effortlessly from the teaching of evolution to Bolshevism to free love makes sense only if one remembers that winning a debate over evolution was not the goal--condemning the modern day teaching of evolution was. Evolution then served as the entry point to attack educators and expertise in general as existential threats to their way of life.

After Bryan's death in 1925 sidelined the evolution debate, conservatives continued to connect expertise with unwelcome social change. When University of North Carolina (UNC) sociologists began to investigate the often-poor living conditions in nearby textile mill villages, David Clark, publisher of the Southern Textile Bulletin, the voice of the powerful textile industry, became irate. Clark was convinced that university sociologists were not "just" interested in research. In response he accused the school's experts of promoting "dangerous tendencies" and "meddling" in the business community's affairs. The university, he charged, "was never intended as a breeding place for socialism and communism." UNC's sociologists like Howard Odum, a fairly conservative, but well-respected expert, was taken aback by Clark's virulence. But, like Bryan and Ham, linking expertise with radicalism was central to Clark's strategy.

As Goldberg observed of today's critics of Critical Race Theory, David Clark actually knew very little about sociology or socialism. This became clear when UNC invited him to campus in 1931 to make his case before the faculty and students themselves. During the question and answer period an exasperated audience member asked Clark if he knew what socialism actually was. He responded: "I don't know, and I don't think anybody else does." A newspaper account recorded that "The audience fairly howled."

Clark's followers would not have been bothered by his concession on socialism -- and they would have not been surprised that the university audience laughed at him. Once again, the goal was not to win a debate over socialism; it was to stop social change they objected to. The experts represented a movement aimed at them, they believed -- a movement that also seemed to take delight in pointing out all that people like David Clark did not know. UNC, so proud of its accomplished faculty, was actually, in the conservatives' view, a "breeding ground for reformers" and "radicals."

The factual misstatements by today's Republicans can seem breathtaking to those who value living in an evidence-based reality. These include historical errors like Representative Lafferty's forehead-smacking error on the 3/5th Compromise or Congressman Madison Cawthorn's (R-NC) reference to James Madison signing the Declaration of Independence. And there is the ongoing misrepresentation, and even outright denial, of current day events that happened in plain sight – the January 6th insurrection, for example. But attempts by "the experts" to set the record straight will most likely be seen as more proof that the world is out to get them. For the rest, perhaps some comfort can be taken by remembering that facts, as John Adams once pointed out, "are stubborn things."


Charles J. Holden is Professor of History at St. Mary's College (MD). He is the author of Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump's America (University of Virginia Press, 2019).

This article was originally published at History News Network

Why a culture war over Critical Race Theory? Bans on congressional discussion of race in America go back to 1836

What is Critical Race Theory and why are Republican governors and state legislators saying such terrible things about it? If you are among the 99% of Americans who had never heard of this theory before a month or two ago, you might be forgiven for believing that it poses a grave threat to the United States through the indoctrination of our schoolchildren. To clarify the reasons behind the sudden rise in attacks against this little-known theory, it can first help to consider an earlier campaign of silencing in US history—the effort to shut down any discussion of slavery in Congress through a gag-rule that lasted for almost a decade in the 1830s and 1840s.

In 1836, in response to a flood of anti-slavery petitions, the House of Representatives passed a resolution (Rule 21) that automatically tabled all petitions on slavery without a hearing. By doing so, they effectively prohibited even the discussion of slavery in Congress. The Senate, for its part, regularly voted not to consider such petitions at all. Southern Representatives and their Democratic allies in the North believed that any attention paid to slavery was divisive in that it heightened regional tensions and promoted slave rebellions. They argued that the drafters of the Constitution never intended for the subject of slavery to be discussed or debated in Congress.

At the beginning of each session after 1837, during discussion of the House rules, the ex-President and then Representative John Quincy Adams would attempt to read anti-slavery petitions he had received. Originally, only Whigs supported his efforts, but more Democrats joined him each session, so that the majority against Adams gradually decreased until the gag-rule was repealed at the beginning of the 1845 session.

Parallels between the gagging of anti-slavery petitions and the campaign to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory are clear, if unnoticed before now. Like the Southern delegations who opposed discussion of slavery, opponents of Critical Race Theory believe that any discussion of persistent racial inequities in legal and other institutions is unacceptable because it is "divisive." Ben Carson and Christie Noem (Gov. ND-R) have asserted that Critical Race Theory is "a deliberate means to sow division and cripple our nation from within."

In fact the theory, based on an understanding that race is not biological but socially constructed, yet nevertheless immensely significant for everyday life, provides a way to investigate systemic racism and its consequences. It recognizes that racism did not exist solely in the past, that structures embedded in laws and customs persist in the present and permeate social institutions. These structures, intentionally or not, lead to the treatment of people of color as second-class citizens or less-than-full human beings.

As their central charge, critics frequently take the theory's argument that in the US racism is "structural" or "systemic" as synonymous with saying that the United States is "systematically" or "inherently" racist. However, doing so conflates "systemic" with "systematic": "systemic" practices are those that affect a complex whole of which they are a part; "systematic" practices are planned and methodical. To say an attitude or pattern is structural does not mean that it is unavoidable and unchangeable, that it cannot be addressed and its effects reduced through reforms. Indeed, a central tenet of the theory is that racism has produced its effects through specific, historical institutions, and that reduction of racial inequities can be accomplished, but only once the existence of such injustices is recognized.

Most lines of attack on Critical Race Theory depend in similar ways on misunderstandings or distortions. Whether subtle or not-so-subtle, unintentional or willful, their effect is the same: they misrepresent the theory. The opponents criticize what they call the theory's "race essentialism"— their misconception of Critical Race Theory as saying that an individual, based on their race, is "inherently" racist or oppressive. Against the idea of structural or "inherent" racism, the critics assert that racism only expresses personal choices and actions. But we need not accept their assumption that racism must be either structural or personal; both can surely exist at the same time.

Nor do we need to agree with the opponents that the theory considers all white people "inherently privileged" because of their race. In the 1930s, Social Security benefits were denied to domestic workers, the right to organize a union was withheld from propertyless farmworkers, and federally funded mortgages were denied to people of color generally through the practice of "redlining." The vote was denied to many people of color via poll taxes and other legal obstacles. Recognizing this pattern is not the same as saying that white workers, voters, and mortgage holders are "inherently privileged." Yet recognizing such a pattern does mean that some of the inequalities and disadvantages under which people of color have labored as a result of discriminatory legislation can be addressed through reformative legislation.

When State Senator Brian Kelsey of Tennessee supported a ban on teaching Critical Race Theory in public schools, he stated that the theory teaches "that the rule of law does not exist and is instead a series of power struggles among racial groups." However, to acknowledge that laws have been shaped by social structures and cultural assumptions of a particular time does not mean that the rule of law does not exist. Rather, it poses a challenge for us to root out the racist patterns and practices that have been invisibly at work in the idea of "equality under the law."

Finally, the detractors charge teachers with "imposing" or "forcing" the theory on their students. But these critics are not in fact calling for independence of thought. Rather, their charge seeks to suppress thought that questions historic and continuing inequities and inequalities, just as, almost two hundred years ago, representatives of Southern slave-owners and their Northern sympathizers imposed a gag-rule on their anti-slavery Congressional colleagues.

It is instructive that opponents of Critical Race Theory deny what the theory does not assert—that each white person is inherently, essentially racist, and that the institutions of American society are fundamentally, unchangeably racist. It may be easier to legislate these denials and to gag educators than to acknowledge what the theory does assert, and then work to make the difficult changes that are called for in the legal and the educational systems of our country. By denying that racism is entrenched and unyielding, they render it more entrenched and more resistant to attempts to address its consequences.

Frank Palmeri is Professor of English at the University of Miami and author of State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse. Ted Wendelin is an Instructor at the University of Colorado, Denver.

'There will be no loyalty -- except loyalty to the Party': Historian suggests the GOP has reached Peak Orwell

The phrase "the loyal opposition" was coined by John Hobhouse in a debate in the English Parliament in 1826. Less than a hundred years later, A. Lawrence Lowell, a political scientist (and later president of Harvard University) proclaimed the loyal opposition "the greatest contribution of the nineteenth century to the art of government."

Designed to make space for the political party out of power to dissent and hold the majority party accountable without facing accusations of treason, the concept of a loyal opposition depends on the deference of non-governing parties to the authority of democratic institutions and the normative framework in which they operate.

The saving assumption of the loyal opposition, Michael Ignatieff, former leader of the Liberal Party in Canada and President of the Central European University, has written, is that "in the house of democracy, there are no enemies." When politicians treat each other as enemies, "legislatures replace relevance with pure partisanship. Party discipline reigns supreme… negotiation and compromise are rarely practiced, and debate within the chamber becomes as venomously personal as it is politically meaningless."

Republicans in the United States Congress, many of whom endorsed groundless claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, it now seems clear, have changed the meaning of "loyal" to obeisance to party rather than to democratic principles. And the decision of GOP leaders in the House and Senate to block a bi-partisan commission to investigate the January 6 assault on the Capitol serves as the most recent example:

According to John Katko, the New York Republican Congressman who negotiated the provisions of the draft legislation with his Democratic counterpart Benny Thompson of Mississippi, the bill was modeled on the 9/11 comission to ensure it was "depoliticized entirely." The commission would have been composed of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, with equal subpoena powers, an inability to subpoena a witness without bi-partisan agreement, and shared authority to hire staff.

Although Democrats incorporated the provisions Kevin McCarthy (R-California) demanded into the bill, the House Minority Leader declared last month that he opposed the commission because its "shortsighted scope" omitted "interrelated forms of political violence in America… I just think a Pelosi commission is a lot of politics."

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who declared in 2010 that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president" and in 2021 that "100% of his focus" would be on "stopping the [Biden] administration," claimed, without evidence, that Pelosi, Thompson and Company negotiated "in bad faith" in order to "centralize control over the commission's process and conclusion in Democratic hands." Although the Justice Department is limited to investigating crimes and lacks the power to subpoena individuals with knowledge of the assault who did not break the law, the Minority Leader opined that the DOJ probe rendered a bi-partisan commission "redundant." To this allegedly good reason, he added his real reason: winning majorities in the House and Senate in 2022 requires Republicans to prevent Democrats from continuing "to debate things that occurred in the past." McConnell then orchestrated the filibuster that prevented the Senate from considering the legislation.

Ditto John Thune, Republican Minority Whip. Without addressing the need to determine what happened on January 6, who was responsible, and how another assault might be prevented, Thune expressed his fear that an investigation "could be weaponized" in 2022. Senator John Cornyn, who had agreed in February "with Speaker Pelosi – a 9/11 type commission is called for to help prevent this from happening again," also began to sing along with Mitch. "The process has been highjacked for political purposes," he declared. Democrats are "going to try to figure out what they can do to win the election. Just like 2020 was a referendum on the previous problem, they want to make 2022 one."

In the closing pages of 1984, George Orwell's dystopian novel, O'Brien, a functionary in the totalitarian state of Oceania (whose first name is never revealed), predicts that in the not-too-distant future "there will be no loyalty, except loyalty to the Party… There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy."

It has been said that "when the loyal opposition dies, the soul of America dies with it." And it may not be unreasonable to fear that unless principle begins to trump party that time may be at hand.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.

Republicans are scrambling to gag teachers – here’s the simple reason they’re wrong about Critical Race Theory

What is Critical Race Theory and why are Republican governors and state legislators saying such terrible things about it? If you are among the 99% of Americans who had never heard of this theory before a month or two ago, you might be forgiven for believing that it poses a grave threat to the United States through the indoctrination of our schoolchildren. To clarify the reasons behind the sudden rise in attacks against this little-known theory, it can first help to consider an earlier campaign of silencing in US history—the effort to shut down any discussion of slavery in Congress through a gag-rule that lasted for almost a decade in the 1830s and 1840s.

In 1836, in response to a flood of anti-slavery petitions, the House of Representatives passed a resolution (Rule 21) that automatically tabled all petitions on slavery without a hearing. By doing so, they effectively prohibited even the discussion of slavery in Congress. The Senate, for its part, regularly voted not to consider such petitions at all. Southern Representatives and their Democratic allies in the North believed that any attention paid to slavery was divisive in that it heightened regional tensions and promoted slave rebellions. They argued that the drafters of the Constitution never intended for the subject of slavery to be discussed or debated in Congress.

At the beginning of each session after 1837, during discussion of the House rules, the ex-President and then Representative John Quincy Adams would attempt to read anti-slavery petitions he had received. Originally, only Whigs supported his efforts, but more Democrats joined him each session, so that the majority against Adams gradually decreased until the gag-rule was repealed at the beginning of the 1845 session.

Parallels between the gagging of anti-slavery petitions and the campaign to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory are clear, if unnoticed before now. Like the Southern delegations who opposed discussion of slavery, opponents of Critical Race Theory believe that any discussion of persistent racial inequities in legal and other institutions is unacceptable because it is "divisive." Ben Carson and Christie Noem (Gov. ND-R) have asserted that Critical Race Theory is "a deliberate means to sow division and cripple our nation from within."

In fact the theory, based on an understanding that race is not biological but socially constructed, yet nevertheless immensely significant for everyday life, provides a way to investigate systemic racism and its consequences. It recognizes that racism did not exist solely in the past, that structures embedded in laws and customs persist in the present and permeate social institutions. These structures, intentionally or not, lead to the treatment of people of color as second-class citizens or less-than-full human beings.

As their central charge, critics frequently take the theory's argument that in the US racism is "structural" or "systemic" as synonymous with saying that the United States is "systematically" or "inherently" racist. However, doing so conflates "systemic" with "systematic": "systemic" practices are those that affect a complex whole of which they are a part; "systematic" practices are planned and methodical. To say an attitude or pattern is structural does not mean that it is unavoidable and unchangeable, that it cannot be addressed and its effects reduced through reforms. Indeed, a central tenet of the theory is that racism has produced its effects through specific, historical institutions, and that reduction of racial inequities can be accomplished, but only once the existence of such injustices is recognized.

Most lines of attack on Critical Race Theory depend in similar ways on misunderstandings or distortions. Whether subtle or not-so-subtle, unintentional or willful, their effect is the same: they misrepresent the theory. The opponents criticize what they call the theory's "race essentialism"— their misconception of Critical Race Theory as saying that an individual, based on their race, is "inherently" racist or oppressive. Against the idea of structural or "inherent" racism, the critics assert that racism only expresses personal choices and actions. But we need not accept their assumption that racism must be either structural or personal; both can surely exist at the same time.

Nor do we need to agree with the opponents that the theory considers all white people "inherently privileged" because of their race. In the 1930s, Social Security benefits were denied to domestic workers, the right to organize a union was withheld from propertyless farmworkers, and federally funded mortgages were denied to people of color generally through the practice of "redlining." The vote was denied to many people of color via poll taxes and other legal obstacles. Recognizing this pattern is not the same as saying that white workers, voters, and mortgage holders are "inherently privileged." Yet recognizing such a pattern does mean that some of the inequalities and disadvantages under which people of color have labored as a result of discriminatory legislation can be addressed through reformative legislation.

When State Senator Brian Kelsey of Tennessee supported a ban on teaching Critical Race Theory in public schools, he stated that the theory teaches "that the rule of law does not exist and is instead a series of power struggles among racial groups." However, to acknowledge that laws have been shaped by social structures and cultural assumptions of a particular time does not mean that the rule of law does not exist. Rather, it poses a challenge for us to root out the racist patterns and practices that have been invisibly at work in the idea of "equality under the law."

Finally, the detractors charge teachers with "imposing" or "forcing" the theory on their students. But these critics are not in fact calling for independence of thought. Rather, their charge seeks to suppress thought that questions historic and continuing inequities and inequalities, just as, almost two hundred years ago, representatives of Southern slave-owners and their Northern sympathizers imposed a gag-rule on their anti-slavery Congressional colleagues.

It is instructive that opponents of Critical Race Theory deny what the theory does not assert—that each white person is inherently, essentially racist, and that the institutions of American society are fundamentally, unchangeably racist. It may be easier to legislate these denials and to gag educators than to acknowledge what the theory does assert, and then work to make the difficult changes that are called for in the legal and the educational systems of our country. By denying that racism is entrenched and unyielding, they render it more entrenched and more resistant to attempts to address its consequences.


Frank Palmeri is Professor of English at the University of Miami and author of State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse. Ted Wendelin is an Instructor at the University of Colorado, Denver.

This article was originally published at History News Network

Republicans turn to whataboutism to stop the Capitol riot investigation -- but their strategy has failed them before

The idea of there being an equivalency—moral or otherwise—between the Capitol riot of January 6 and Black Lives Matter and Antifa street agitation is preposterous. Republican attempts to submarine the January 6 commission proposal based on the isolated incidents of urban violence that arose during legitimate citizen protest over police abuses is a complete ruse. But whataboutism is a favorite tactic of politicians who have no good response for their own malfeasance or that of their followers.

Let's take Richard Nixon and Watergate as the example.

In January 1973, Richard Nixon faced a sticky situation. He was trying to end the Vietnam War for the United States through brutal tactics because diplomacy had failed. In December, Nixon, without Congressional approval, instituted a punishing bombing campaign of Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor to bring the North Vietnamese back to the bargaining table in Paris. The strategy was having some success, though at the expense of international outrage over the bombing of civilian centers.

Nixon wanted support from the former president, Lyndon Johnson, and reached out to him on January 2, 1973, for what would be their last phone call. Johnson encouraged Nixon to keep at it. "Well, I just feel the torture you are going through on Vietnam," Johnson said. Nixon replied: "As you know, and I'm sure you feel the same way, we've got to get this finished in the right way and not in the wrong way."

Johnson responded, almost inaudibly, "You're doing it, and I just wish the best for you."

The complication for Nixon was that the Watergate burglars' trial was just about to commence in Judge John Sirica's courtroom in Washington. Howard Hunt, one of the leaders of the burglars, pleaded guilty before the trial would start, believing he had an implicit promise of a pardon through his lawyer's talks with Chuck Colson, a Nixon adviser. All of this seemed suspicious to Senate Democrats, including Ted Kennedy, Sam Ervin and Mike Mansfield, who were making noises of an investigation into Watergate and the political shenanigans of the 1972 campaign.

Nixon wanted a strategy to starve the Congressional appetite for a full-blown Watergate investigation. John Dean, Nixon's White House Counsel, suggested to Nixon's Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman that Nixon rummage around at the FBI to see if there might be corroboration to the rumor that LBJ had wiretapped Nixon's campaign plane in the 1968 campaign. J. Edgar Hoover supposedly told Nixon after he was elected that his plane had been bugged by Johnson.

Nixon never forgot it. And now Dean was recommending they try to "turn off" the Watergate investigation by threatening to expose Democratic wrongdoing in 1968, or whataboutism.

Nixon ordered a deep dive into FBI files and had his staff contact former FBI assistant to Hoover, Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, to find out if hard evidence existed of the 1968 plane bugging. This was a dangerous game, as Nixon knew LBJ would react with anger if he found out. Nonetheless, Nixon persisted.

On January 11, Nixon asked for an update from Haldeman. John Mitchell, Nixon's attorney general, had spoken with DeLoach, who, according to the Haldeman and an Oval Office tape, confirmed that the spying on Nixon did take place. DeLoach offered to help find confirming evidence but refused to provide an affidavit. Nixon was unhappy. "Bob, I want it from DeLoach."

All concerned were wary of Johnson's reaction. Schemer that he was, Nixon suggested that someone tell Johnson that the Washington Star was on to the 1968 bugging story and that together they had to squelch the story by telling Congress to back off all campaign investigations, whether of 1968 or 1972.

The ploy backfired. "LBJ got very hot," according to Haldeman and called DeLoach and said, "if the Nixon people are going to play with this, that he would release [deleted material—national security], saying that our side was asking for certain things to be done." Whatever the counterthreat was, it was serious enough to be classified to this day.

In the end, the gamesmanship did nothing to deter the Watergate investigation. The Senate voted in February to start its inquiry. That famous investigation, led by North Carolina Democrat Sam Ervin and Tennessee Republican Howard Baker, broke the back of the Nixon administration's criminal cover-up of the Watergate break-in. John Dean broke ranks and testified about his own culpability in the cover-up and his warning to Nixon that there was a "cancer growing on the presidency." Dean's testimony was fully corroborated when the White House tapes were ordered turned over by the Supreme Court in July 1974. Weeks later, Nixon resigned.

Whataboutism is a dangerous strategy. At least in the Watergate example the two instances were of some equivalence, if true—both involved presidential surveillance that was probably unlawful. The current situation is vastly different. Comparing protest violence connected to street demonstrations might be apple to apple—for example, violence at BLM protests equated with violence by Trump Proud Boys supporters in the street protests in Washington in December 2020—these might be considered of a kind.

But a violent insurrection at the United States Capitol with the purpose of stopping Congress from certifying a presidential election is of a different character and magnitude altogether. A frontal attack on democracy is entirely different from street violence that is easily controlled by law enforcement. We have had riots in our cities and looting related to civil unrest, but we have never had the seat of government placed under siege, except in time of war with Britain in 1812.

If Republicans want to investigate street violence, they are free to look into it. But it is imperative to our very form of government that the insurrection of January 6 be completely and full investigated.


James D. Robenalt is an attorney and author of four nonfiction books, including January 1973, Watergate, Roe v Wade, Vietnam, and the Month that Changed America Forever. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

This article was originally published at History News Network

How did America reach the point where one party is openly rejecting the democratic process?

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released in April 2021 indicates that a majority of Republicans feel that the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. On January 6, when Congress convened to count and certify the electoral votes, 147 Republican members of the House of Representative voted against certification even after a mob had taken over the U.S. Capitol. This is unprecedented. Never before has a major political party rejected the results of a presidential election. What caused this phenomenon? When and how did forces come together resulting in an attack on democracy by a major political party?

American history is replete with presidential elections that could have been justifiably challenged. Many times results have been less than clear-cut and controversial. Before the 12th Amendment each elector would cast two votes. The candidate with the most votes became president and the runner-up vice-president. In the 1800 election, Jefferson and Burr, the Democratic Republicans, tied for first. It was left to the House of Representatives controlled by the Federalists to decide whether Jefferson or Burr would be president. They chose Jefferson, who was then accepted by all sides as our third president. Today it would be inconceivable for a Republican Congress to decide which Democrat is elected president. But that happened in 1800 as the Federalists accepted the Electoral College system as prescribed by the Founding Fathers.

In 1824, Andrew Jackson got the most popular votes but nobody won a majority of electoral votes. The House of Representatives then elected John Quincy Adams president with the support of failed candidate Henry Clay. Jacksonians complained of a "corrupt bargain," but Adams was accepted as president.

The 1860 election of Lincoln is the one time that democracy did not work. But Lincoln was rejected by a regional faction, not by the action of a national party. That is different from 2020 when the legitimacy of an elected president has been rejected by the leadership of a major national party.

The 1876 election became extremely complex and controversial. Samuel Tilden the Democrat outpolled Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The vote count in three southern states (Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina) was disputed, with substantial evidence indicated that Democratic forces stole the election from the Republicans in the three disputed states. Hayes supporters in each state sent alternate slates of electors. The ongoing presence of federal troops in the South to enforce Reconstruction heightened the partisan stakes of the election, and no vote counting agreement could be made. With Congress unable to decide, a 15-member election commission was appointed, and awarded Hayes the presidency. The Democrats agreed on the condition that federal troops would be removed from the South. Tilden was disappointed but accepted the results. Ultimately, both parties accepted the election, though at great cost to Black southerners.

In 1888, Democratic President Grover Cleveland received the most popular votes, but Republican Benjamin Harrison became president winning a majority of electoral votes. No controversy occurred.

In 1960, Americans witnessed the closest presidential election of the 20th century as John Kennedy narrowly won over Richard Nixon in the popular and electoral votes, but with evidence of fraud in Illinois and Texas that could have changed the election in a recount. Vice President Nixon presided over the Congressional counting and certification of the electoral votes. Nixon declared that it was his "honor" to declare John Kennedy the new president.

In 2000, the close election came down to the state of Florida in the contest between Bush and Gore. The Florida Supreme Court authorized a hand recount of undervotes, which were ballots showing no presidential preference. Gore's lawyers contended that machines reading punch card ballots missed presidential votes. By a margin of one vote, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the recount, awarding Bush Florida by 537 votes and the presidency. Gore conceded the election on the night of the Supreme Court ruling and a majority of Democrats accepted the results.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won nearly three million more popular votes than Donald Trump, but Trump won the electoral vote majority. She conceded on election night. A majority of Democrats accepted the results with no credible attempt at a recount.

This history makes it clear that America has had controversial presidential election results that could have been contested but were largely accepted by both major parties and the losing candidate until 2020. How did this break in tradition happen? In the 1990s a more virulent partisanship arose. When Bill Clinton was elected, Senate Republican leader Bob Dole stated that Clinton, elected with only 43 percent of the vote, should have only limited power. Republican members of Congress began implying and even stating that Clinton is "not my president." After the Republicans took over both Houses of Congress in the 1994 elections, Clinton became the "inconsequential" president to them. This occurred as a media revolution was happening.

Talk radio in the 1990s gained an unprecedented power. A survey of Congressional staffers in 1994 indicated 46 percent credited Rush Limbaugh as their greatest influence. About 25 million Americans a day were tuning in to hear Limbaugh de-legitimize Clinton. From abortion to policies toward gays to healthcare issues, this man is un-American Limbaugh declared. To complete the media revolution, Fox News with no pretense of objectivity became the highest rated cable news network.

For eight years of George W. Bush's administration, virulent rhetoric about the presidency ceased. But then came Barack Obama and more de-legitimizing. On Obama's inauguration day, Republican lawmakers and strategists held a meeting to discuss ways to completely stop the Obama Administration. When Obama proposed healthcare reform, demonstrators carried signs with a racist caricature of the president to the U.S. Capitol. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled, "You lie!" to the President as he addressed a joint session of Congress regarding his healthcare proposal. Wilson later apologized, but Limbaugh said that there was nothing to apologize for. As Obama campaigned for president, a birther/conspiracy movement arose claiming that he was not a natural-born American citizen.

With no proof, Donald Trump gained national attention as a birther in 2011. He went on to win the presidency in 2016 captivating those who had become virulent partisans. His base became the culture warriors, talk radio/cable news acolytes, and white racist tinged people. These people had been seeing a disrespect for the presidency become commonplace and acceptable since the early 1990s. When Trump created a cult of personality they were not only ready to join but they followed Trump in destruction of democracy. They still support the ex-president who is under criminal investigation.

In January 1965 after President Lyndon Johnson gave his State of the Union address outlining his Great Society, Republican House leader Gerald Ford said that his party also envisioned that kind of America, but disagreed as to the way it should be achieved. That was the respectful partisanship of its day toward a president. Due to a process of disrespect begun in the 1990s, that kind of partisanship is gone.

Art of the deal: Historian says politics aside, Trump was an ineffective manager and leader

One of the most intriguing aspects of current politics is the fealty of the Republican Party to Donald Trump. Central to this loyalty is the view that Trump was an effective leader. As a candidate in 2016, the future president claimed that he was uniquely qualified to lead the country, unite the public, and overcome gridlock in Congress. To accomplish these goals would require successful persuasion. Was this talented self-promoter able to win public support for his initiatives? Was this experienced negotiator able to overcome polarization in Congress and obtain agreement on his proposals? Was Donald Trump an effective leader?

Did the public follow the president's lead?

At the core of Donald Trump's political success were his public relations skills. He possessed well-honed promotional talents sharpened over a lifetime of marketing himself and his brand. Once in office, the president wasted no time in conducting a permanent campaign to win the public's support. On the day of his inauguration, Trump filed for reelection with the Federal Election Commission. Less than a month afterwards, on February 18, 2017, he held the first of what were to be dozens of political rallies around the country.

Did he succeed in winning support for himself and his policies? I have shown in great detail, he did not. Instead, he consistently failed to win the public's backing for either his policies or his own handling of them. Indeed, he seemed to turn the public in the opposite direction. He made the Affordable Care Act, which had been unpopular, popular, and the health care policies he backed unpopular. Similarly, in the face of a general desire to control our borders and protect the country from terrorists, Trump managed to alienate the public from his immigration policies. Perhaps most remarkably, his tax cut for nearly all taxpayers and businesses was unpopular. In addition, the public remained supportive of free trade and critical of his handling of trade policy.

Capping Trump's failure to win public support was his earning the lowest average level of general job approval of any president in the history of polling. Moreover, this approval was also the most polarized, with the difference among members of the two major parties averaging 81 percentage points.

As president, Trump dominated the news, but his impulsive, undisciplined, and divisive communications created distractions from his core message and alienated the public. His discourse was characterized by ad hominem attacks aimed at branding and delegitimizing critics and opponents, exaggerated threats and inappropriate offers of reassurance, blurred distinctions between fact and fiction, encouragement of cultural divisions and racial and ethnic tensions, and challenges to the rule of law. The public was not persuaded by this inflammatory rhetoric and concluded that he was an untrustworthy source of information.

The president Trump more successful in solidifying his core supporters—those who already agreed with him. Although we cannot know for certain, it appears that his rallies, tweets, and other communications—along with affective polarization and motivated reasoning—kept Republicans in the public in his camp, making it more difficult for congressional Republicans to challenge him.

Most significantly, it appears that Trump's efforts to influence the public were detrimental to the polity. His rhetoric encouraged incivility in public discourse, accelerated the use of disinformation, legitimized the expression of prejudice, increased the salience of cultural divisions and racial and ethnic tensions, and undermined democratic accountability. For the Republicans who followed him, he distorted their knowledge about politics and policy, warped their understanding of policy challenges, and chipped away at their respect for the rule of law.

Did the president succeed in leading Congress?

Donald Trump claimed a unique proficiency in negotiating deals. Announcing his candidacy for the presidency on June 16, 2015, he proclaimed, "If you can't make a good deal with a politician, then there's something wrong with you. . . . We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal." Was he able to exploit his experience to win congressional approval for his policies?

He was not. Once in office, he floundered. His passivity, vagueness, inconsistency, and lack of command of policy made him an unskilled, unreliable, and untrustworthy negotiator. He often adopted a reactive posture and easily lost focus. He was not successful in closing deals and convincing wavering members, principally Republicans, to support him. His shifting positions, inconsistent behavior, exclusion of Democrats in developing policies, and use of threats and ridicule squandered whatever potential for compromise might have existed. As a result, he received historically low levels of support from Democratic senators and representatives. His high levels of support from Republicans in both chambers of Congress were largely the product of agreement on policy and party leaders keeping votes he might lose off the agenda. When they were resistant, the president could not convince Republicans to defer to him, and his customary tools of threats and disparagement gained him little.

Trump was successful in preventing bills he opposed from passing, as are most presidents, but Congress passed little significant legislation at his behest. He was even less successful after Democrats gained control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. He could not win support for new health care policy, immigration reform, or infrastructure spending. By 2020, he had virtually no legislative agenda. Congress took the lead on pandemic-related bills. Government shutdowns and symbolic slaps at his foreign policies characterized his tenure, even when Republicans were in control of the legislature.

Abandoning Leadership

Donald Trump wrote off the majority of the public and much of Congress. His genius for politics focused on playing to his base, with all its attendant detriments for the success of his presidency and the health of the polity. Governing by grievance may have met his personal needs but it did little to enhance his effectiveness as a leader. In the end, his response to his failure to persuade was to push the boundaries of presidential power and violate the norms of the presidency.

George C. Edwards III is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Jordan Chair in Presidential Studies Emeritus at Texas A&M University. He is also Distinguished Fellow at the University of Oxford, editor of Presidential Studies Quarterly, and general editor of the Oxford Handbook of American Politics series. His most recent book is Changing Their Minds? Donald Trump and Presidential Leadership (University of Chicago Press, 2021).

Historian: MAGA's 'culture of resentment' has a lot in common with Nazi Germany

William A. Galston's recent essay "The Bitter Heartland" begins, "We are living in an age of resentment . . . [that] shapes today's politics." The more I read of it (and more about it later), the more the great resentments of Hitler's followers came to mind. They resented rich Jews, the victorious Allies who in 1919 had imposed the "unfair" postwar Versailles Treaty upon them, civilian German politicians who had signed the treaty, communists, who had taken over in Russia and were a rising force in Germany, and the "decadent" godless ways of Berlin, as hinted at in the play and film Cabaret.

The Versailles Treaty forced Germany to give up land to their west and east and also their overseas empire. It also imposed strict limits on its armed forces and weapons. But perhaps most bothersome of all to the average German was the imposition of war reparations, which many Germans believed contributed to their great financial agonies. This was especially true during the great inflation of 1923 – by then a loaf of bread could cost billions of Reichsmarks – and the Great Depression. Historian Peter Fritzsche notes that "between 1929 and 1932, one in three Germans lost their livelihoods. At the same time, young people had no prospect of entering the labor force . . . German farmers suffered terribly as commodity prices slumped."

Fritzsche also relates some of Hitler's early tactics like boycotts that "relied on entrenched resentments against allegedly wealthy, rapacious, or tricky Jews," and he writes that "the Nazi leader appealed to popular fears and resentments and transformed them into final judgments and the promise of direct remedial action." Moreover, Hitler used a we-versus-they approach, "pitting patriotic Germans against subversive Communists, Aryans against Jews, the healthy against the sick, the Third Reich against the rest of the world."

Almost a century after Hitler came to power in 1933, some of Donald Trump's followers remind us of Hitler's crowds. On at least one occasion, after Hitler ranted about the "November criminals" (German politicians who negotiated the war-ending armistice of 1918), the audience cried out, "Hang them up! Bust their ass!" In both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns, Trump crowds (in response to their hero's words about Hillary Clinton) shouted "lock her up."

Already during the 2016 campaigning, writer George Saunders observed some of the resentments of Trump supporters. Many believed "they'd been let down by their government . . . and [were] sensitive to "any infringement whatsoever on their freedom." Many suffered from what Saunders labeled "usurpation anxiety syndrome," which he defined as "the feeling that one is, or is about to be, scooped, overrun, or taken advantage of by some Other with questionable intentions."

In Galston's 2021 essay "The Bitter Heartland" he cites a 2016 poll that indicated that 65 percent of whites without college degrees "believed that America's culture and way of life had changed for the worse since the 1950s." But more than that poll, his essay dissects the continuing Trumpites' resentments much more thoroughly.

Like some before him, he indicates or hints at where the Trump resentful are mostly found: in small towns and rural areas, and among older people, non-college graduates, groups once dependent on manufacturing and mining jobs, and "social conservatives and white Christians." The resentful are more provincial and traditional and many of them "lack access to high-speed broadband."

"They have a sense of displacement in a country they once dominated. Immigrants, minorities, non-Christians, even atheists have taken center stage, forcing them to the margins of American life." They believe that the big-city elites, the professionals, and the government—before Trump came along—all failed to help them achieve their share of the American Dream. They resent professionals and liberals telling them how to live, calling them racists, or limiting their freedoms—e.g. to buy multiple guns or go about maskless during our present pandemic. "President Trump was at his best, they say, when he ignored the experts and went his own way."

Like Saunders earlier, Galston thinks that many of the resentful feel they are "being treated unjustly, unfairly, or disrespectfully." The appearance of Trump and discovery of like-minded people—via the Internet and the person-to-person contacts of smaller towns—help overcome feelings of powerlessness. Feeling more powerful, some "people merely want a remedy for the injustice they have experienced. But others—typically those who experience disrespect—want more than redress; they want revenge."

Galston closes his essay with some suggestions for dealing with Trumpite resentments, but they are less compelling than his analysis of them. Partly this is because, while some are legitimate, others—like the reluctance of many white Christians to grant equal rights to all ethnic and religious minorities—are not. As we learned from examining the supporters of Hitler, understanding the difficulties of people and even sympathizing with their plight (e.g., being jobless) does not mean condoning resentments that lead to hateful behavior like victimizing Jews.

The preceding comparison between two phenomena of group resentment, separated by almost a century, in two different countries and political cultures, omits many contrasts and nuances. In addition, we know how Hitler and German Nazism ended. The ending of the Trumpite culture of resentment is still unknown. Will it gradually decline? Will the Biden administration successfully address many of the Trumpite grievances? Will Republicans continue to stoke them? Will Trump run again in 2024? None of us know for sure. But thanks to the writings of Galston and others--he mentions Katherine Cramer and Arlie Hochschild--we better understand the resentments, and that's a start.

Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University, a Contributing Editor of HNN, and author of A History of Russia. 2 Vols. For a list of his recent books and online publications click here.

Political riots are an all-American phenomenon -- but ignoring them shouldn't be: veteran journalist

The House commission to investigate the insurrection on January 6 passed with a vote of 259 to 175 with 35 Republicans joining the Democratic majority. Despite the vote, as of now, it looks like a commission to investigate the insurrection at the Capitol will not happen because Republicans in the Senate seem to fear the truth about what happened on that fateful day. Partisanship in the form of Republican stonewalling is dominating an attempt to discover more facts about the January insurrection. But as serious as was the insurrection that day, we should not forget that demonstrations, gatherings, protests and riots are nothing new in American life as they are in many other nations. What took place on January 6 in Washington D.C. was not unique. As many have said, political violence in the United States is as American as apple pie. Here are some thoughts and musings on street violence in America since it became a nation.

The event of January 6, 2021 at the Capitol was only the most recent street protest to affect our lives. What happened on that date in Washington will sadly and likely happen again, not only in Washington but also in capital cities in many states around the country. There really is no way to fully protect the buildings where the nation and its states do its business. Though we all hope the "insurrection" was an aberration, enemies of democracy can easily repeat themselves. It is time we as a nation took our heads out of the sand and owned up to the fact that demonstrations, riots, rallies and gatherings that turn violent are unfortunately an American way of life. Look at the number of riots in America starting with Shay's Rebellion in 1786 and the Whiskey Rebellion that ran from 1791 to 1794. Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 1821 was not a riot but definitely an uprising and a cry for freedom, which common demonstrations usually are. I use the term to cover anything that happens in the street when crowds of people congregate for a common goal. It may be for a shared purpose depending on where you stand. Too often a peaceful demonstration turns into a riot because the police or army try to quell it or the demonstrators tire of being benign and rear their heads in protest.

I saw crowds gather on the streets of Guatemala, Paris, Belfast, Londonderry, Saigon, London, New York, Hong Kong, and Manila. Many times I saw those same crowds grow lively and often times deadly to themselves and their adversaries, police or army. All for a cause they believed in. If you as a viewer are aware of the world around you, witness the many race related demonstrations that start peacefully and devolve into deadly confrontations with the police and you get the picture of something deeply ingrained in our society and societies around the world. It is a way of standing up to authority and showing who you are.

The right to free assembly is sacred. The right to free speech is inviolate so long as it does not endanger anyone who disagrees with or efforts to impede freedom. During a protest or street march it is when demonstrators become anxious or obstreperous and when their avowed enemies, police or military become frightened and defensive, that trouble starts. It is when good sense and the inability to control emotion disappear allowing our worst instincts to dominate. It is when violence occurs and we see physical clashes that are impossible to control. The moment when a crowd of civilians clash with uniformed opposition is the moment when any chance for peace dies. Unfortunately, It happens frequently in America's history.

Before the Civil War there were more than 60 riots by abolitionists in the streets across America in pursuit of their cause against slavery. However, not everyone wanted to abolish slavery. Before the Civil War there were at least 50 recorded street demonstrations promoting slavery, 23 of them considered major. New York City had violent anti-draft riots against Lincoln's policies in the mid 1860s during the war. Before the "official" start of Reconstruction in 1870 a New Orleans race riot in July 1866 in which white rioters attacked free Blacks saw 46 killed and at least 146 wounded. It was a sad harbinger of things to come during the years of Reconstruction and the birth of Jim Crow.

Not all riots were racially inspired. The vicious Orange Riots of 1870 pitched Irish Catholics against Protestants in New York, a cultural theme carried over from Ireland. The death toll was over 60 dead; with some lynched on lampposts and many more injured who never received proper care.

Between 1870 and 1919 there were as many as 200 known demonstrations and riots across the United States. Many of those even then were encouraged and inspired as they are today by disenfranchised whites who feel threatened by their supposed loss of power to increasingly enfranchised, yet mostly powerless Black people. It is why we see people in the streets today marching in support of Black Lives Matter and sadly mourning the too many unnecessary deaths of Black people at the hands of police.

Today, these are not the only demonstrators on the streets of our cities. Called rallies, or gatherings, benign but still festering, they are dangerous camouflaged euphemisms for something that is deadly sinister. White supremacists stand in defiance of Blacks and liberals, or anyone for that matter who stands against them, almost all are their avowed enemies. Starting as seemingly peaceful get-togethers they often become angry, hostile confrontations with not only the authorities but also their open opponents.

Because of social media everything moves faster than ever. People gather, sometimes with planning, sometimes not, and then they march and erupt. We live in an era where peaceful rallies quickly become sour. As a nation we have never lived up to the basic tenets of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Equality is a grand idea that increasingly seems to wither as we witness its decline. That does not stop people from striving for equal rights. But the ugly aspect of who we are often seems to prevail. Can we as a people keep our darkest instincts in perspective and under control? Can we keep malice to a minimum and construct a life free from hatred and irrational emotion? In our current climate is that possible?

During the height of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln was doing everything he could to keep the country together he understood better than almost anyone else what was at stake in America's search for its soul. In his Second Inaugural Address Saturday March 4, 1865, in Washington following two days of heavy rain and under still cloudy skies and very muddy unpaved streets, he said famously this at the end of the speech:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the Nation's wounds, to give care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

As it applies today, is it a dream that we can fulfill? Can we reach its hope? Do we have the will? Only time will tell. In that hoped for spirit, would the new commission that passed the House be serious in its search for the truth. I remain cynical. I am certain that gross partisanship will prevail because the Senate wants no part of the commission. If the commission survives we should consider it the Olympics of politics. In the passion of competition, let the games begin.

Ron Steinman spent 35 years at NBC. He was NBC's Bureau Chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War. In 1975 he joined the Today Show, spending 11 years as a senior producer in Washington and New York, including covering politics and overseeing production of the Today Show's live special weeklong broadcasts from China, Moscow, Seoul, Vietnam and overseas presidential trips. He is the author of Death in Saigon, a murder mystery set in Saigon during the war. His latest book is "My Commonplace Book." Steinman won a Peabody Award, a National Press Club award, two American Women in Radio & Television Awards, and has five Emmy nominations.

Historian: Republicans are courting disaster with their Trumpist loyalty tests

On Wednesday, May 12, 2021, the extreme conservative majority of the Republican Party removed Liz Cheney (WY), who had insisted on the legitimacy of Joe Biden's election and condemned the January 6 Capitol insurrection, from her leadership position in the US House of Representatives. This dramatic act is a harsh warning to partisans who dare to challenge the Trump cult of personality and the far-right agenda. 170 years earlier, Democrats did the exact same thing. In the short term, it split their party; in the long term, it nearly destroyed the Union.

In the antebellum era, the Democratic Party was the conservative partisan vehicle, defending white supremacy, maintaining the reign of elite Southern enslavers, and quashing all reforms, including much-needed infrastructure improvements. Central to the Democratic agenda was the expansion of slavery and the forging of a vast hemispheric pro-slavery empire. By the 1840s, however, opposition to the spread of slavery had grown dramatically in the free states. Democrats in the North began to feel pressure from their constituents to halt the march of the enslavers and challenge King Cotton.

Despite growing opposition from Northern Democrats, the Southern party bosses pursued their aggressive pro-slavery plans. In the 1830s and 40s, they waged war on Indigenous Americans to remove them from fertile cotton lands, passed Congressional "gag rules" to prevent any discussion of the "peculiar institution," and aided the pro-slavery Texas Revolution. In late 1845, they launched an invasion of Mexico. Anti-slavery Northerners, including several Democratic office-holders, balked at the blatant grab for more slavery territory. Led by Pennsylvanian David Wilmot, Northern Democratic moderates made a stand in August 1846, adding a "proviso" to a war appropriations bill stipulating that slavery would not be permitted in any territory stolen from Mexico. Since spreading slavery was the entire point of the war, party leaders were incensed. The motion was defeated. Nevertheless, the damage had been done: a dramatic split occurred in Democratic ranks.

In the 1848 state and national elections, moderate Northern Democrats who opposed the expansion of slavery ran on the new Free Soil Party ticket. The rupture proved fatal. Both the Democratic and Free Soil presidential candidates went down to defeat and the Whigs (who had no formal position on slavery) took the White House.

Needless to say, Democratic leaders wanted blood. Over the course of the next four years, they expunged any anti-slavery sentiment from their ranks, either by outright expulsion of intransigent Northerners or forcing them into submission through party discipline. Votes on the infamous Appeasement of 1850 (a massive pro-slavery victory for enslavers) became the litmus test of party fealty. Democrats who did not vote in favor of various pro-slavery measures, such as the horrific Fugitive Slave Act, were denied campaign funds, attacked in the press, and deprived patronage -- a political death sentence. Contrite Free Soilers who voted as they were told, however, were allowed back and duly rewarded.

Things were even uglier and more chaotic at the state level. In Indiana, Democratic boss (and secret enslaver) Jesse Bright resorted to physical intimidation and illegal wire-pulling to defeat the anti-slavery faction and reward repentant Free Soilers with offices. In the Empire State, a three-way political war erupted between intransigent "Hards," who refused to brook any opposition from anti-slavery moderates, "Softs," who were willing to make deals with former Free Soilers, and the "Barnburner" majority, who bolted the party in 1848 and wanted to expel the Hards. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, pro-slavery conservatives James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce, respectively, seized control of county and district conventions to deny former Free Soilers elective office at any level. "Old Buck" and "Handsome Frank" would later be rewarded with the presidency for their service to the Slave Power.

A united Democratic Party emerged in time for the election of 1852, thoroughly shorn of any anti-slavery elements. "We have got rid of all negroism," chirped Buchanan with pleasure. Though good for enslavers, the victory was pyrrhic. The party was now free to pursue even more aggressive policies without any internal debate or discussion.

In short order, Democrats passed legislation that spread slavery to formerly free territories, nullified the Missouri Compromise, launched illegal invasions of Caribbean and Central American nations, enforced the Fugitive Slave Act with a vengeance, tried to force slavery on the unwilling settlers of the Kansas Territory, and physically assaulted anti-slavery activists in the streets and in the halls of Congress. These actions precipitated the Civil War. By 1856, Northerners had set aside their differences over banks, immigration, and internal improvements to unite against the spread of slavery in a new Republican Party. The election of the first Republican president in 1860 triggered secession and the Union was nearly torn asunder.

The lack of ideological diversity and any meaningful policy debate within the antebellum Democratic Party caused that organization to enact an extreme program that enraged the majority of Americans and caused national disaster. Republicans in 2021 seem to be following that same strategy: punishing dissent, expelling moderates, and favoring conservative purity over practical policy. Moreover, just as Democrats in the 1850s tried to force slavery on anti-slavery populations, Republicans today are forcing their minority agenda on the majority through voter suppression laws, gerrymandering, and illegal activity. If Republicans value the health and future of their party, and the nation, they need to take a look at the past and reconsider their persecution of moderates.

Dr. Michael Landis teaches history at Union College and serves as a trustee of the Saratoga County History Center. He is the author of Northern Men with Southern Loyalties: The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis (Cornell, 2014). He tweets @DrMichaelLandis

Historian: The Framers' failure to defend war powers from the presidency has given us endless war

George Washington presided as delegates to the Federal Convention in Philadelphia drew up the United States Constitution in some four months of 1787. Signers numbered 39, of 55 who attended, representing 12 states (Rhode Island absent).

History taught them "the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it" (James Madison). Monarchs often made war "for purposes and objects merely personal, such as a thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition ..." (John Jay). To discourage war, delegates allowed only Congress "to declare [i.e. initiate] war" (Article I, Section 8, Clause 11).

But they made two errors, one of commission, the other omission:

  1. They gave one man all executive power, including command of the military. In 1789 the first Congress had 59 representatives and 22 senators; it assigned the Supreme Court 6 justices. Members now number 435, 100, and 9 respectively. Yet the executive has always been one man. While not king, he has become a ruler with more war power than George III had.
  2. They failed to foresee abuse of the president's military function and explicitly guard congressional war power from his encroachment. The impeachment process is available, but it has never been invoked for the high crime of illegal war. Anyway, what good would it do after a nuclear catastrophe?

Some delegates opposed a one-man executive. Governor Edmund Randolph of Virginia called it "the foetus of monarchy." He and Virginian George Mason favored giving three men joint executive power. Others, notably James Madison and Benjamin Franklin, wanted at least a council to assist the executive.

Pennsylvanian James Wilson's insistence on a solitary executive won out. He called it "the best safeguard against tyranny." Perhaps Wilson et al. assumed that Washington would become president, setting high standards. Seven states assented, (not including Delaware, Maryland, and New York).

The delegates made the president the army and navy's "commander-in-chief," a historic, strictly military position. Convention records don't explain why they thought everyone elected president would be qualified—or why they trusted him not to misuse the power and initiate war.

Washington and other early presidents respected Congress's constitutional war power. Some presidents, from Polk to Franklin Roosevelt, undermined it by provocation or circumvention. Outright defiance began with Truman. Every subsequent president has emulated him in some way. Yet all presidents take the oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" required by Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 8.

The delegates did their best. Theirs was a noble experiment. The experiment failed.

Biden Upholds the Constitution

Three decades ago, President George Herbert Walker Bush massed troops in Saudi Arabia, preparing to wage war on Iraq, He railed against its invasion of Kuwait, ignoring his own invasion of Panama a year earlier. Bush claimed the authority to start a war as military commander-in-chief.

On constitutional grounds, 54 members of Congress, led by Rep. Ron Dellums (D-California), sued to prevent the conflict. Federal Judge Harold H. Greene found the plaintiffs justified (12/13/90): The Constitution's framers "felt it unwise to entrust the momentous power to involve the nation in a war to the president alone." Hence "the clause granting to the Congress, and to it alone, the authority to decide war."

Greene refused to issue an injunction however: Until a majority of Congress acted and war was certain, the case was not "ripe." At least, like early U.S. judges, he tackled the constitutional issue. Modern courts usually duck such cases, saying plaintiffs lack standing to sue, raise a "political question," et cetera.

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Delaware), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called a hearing on constitutional war power (1/8/91) and said, "In England the king alone could decide to take a nation to war." Here "the war power rests in the Congress.... The Constitution's founders all understood this to be a key principle of our republic."

Biden quoted Alexander Hamilton: "commander-in-chief" amounts to just "supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces as first general and admiral...." The president lacks the British king's powers to declare war and raise and regulate fleets and armies—powers our Constitution gives the legislature (The Federalist, 69).

Biden went on: "Americans once lived under a system where one man had unfettered choice to decide by himself whether we go to war ... and we launched a revolution to free ourselves from the tyranny of such a system."

Bush relented and allowed a congressional vote. It went his way, helped by testimony falsely alleging atrocities by Iraqi soldiers. Biden voted no.

Biden Ignores the Constitution

Biden's 2007 memoir says he pressed President Clinton to bomb Serbia. Clinton did so in 1999, ignoring Congress. Biden urged him to keep it up.

In 2002, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden supported a resolution (originating in the White House) to let President George W. Bush decide whether to fight Iraq. The measure, adopted, violated the Constitution. As Biden had insisted 11 years earlier, such a decision was for Congress to make.

In the 2020 debates, then Vice-President Biden made known he would send forces into combat "very, very reluctantly" and only when the "overwhelming, vital interests of the United States are at stake." He did not mention Congress.

Last February 25, 36 days after inauguration, President Biden bombed Syria, reportedly killing 22 people believed to be "Iran-backed militants." (Victims of our "precision-guided munitions" are seldom identified as children, women, or peaceable men.)

Spokesmen gave various imaginative explanations for the aggression. It was "defensive" and "retaliation" for an attack on U.S. forces in Iraq (though not an attack by Syria). It aimed to "deescalate" the regional situation and "to send a message to Iran." What did that message say? Forget my pre-election promise of peace? An e-mail would have been clearer and saved a bundle. Nobody explained what overwhelming, vital interests of the U.S. were served by taking the 22 lives.

Based on Biden's 1991 rhetoric, that act of war was also an act of "tyranny." Such tyranny has arguably spanned some four score years, irrespective of the president's political affiliation.

In Congress, reactions crossed party lines. The raid drew both praise for avenging attacks and condemnation for violating constitutional war power. Prior congressional approval would not have sanctified the attack, though giving it constitutional legitimacy. Several U.S. treaties prohibit aggression.

Moreover, what about the long-suffering people of Syria, whose homeland foreign leaders have appropriated as a battleground? Ex-Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) expressed sympathy, writing that Biden, Trump, and Obama all deserved impeachment for attacking Syria.

Throughout their terms, both Trump and Obama conducted unauthorized military actions in Asia and Africa. Biden's election platform promised to end "forever wars." Syria aside, how is he doing?

Two days after inauguration, U.S. forces conducted an "emergency response" exercise in Somalia. Five days later came a U.S.-led air attack in Iraq, killing 11 "ISIS" people. The Afghanistan war still rages. Biden supposedly halted support for the ravaging of Yemen, yet, without congressional authority, he promises to defend the Saudi monarchy, which perpetrates it. He assures Israel he will strengthen military cooperation. He deploys bombers to Norway. Warships approach China and Russia, as Biden insults and threatens America's top nuclear rival. (Putin, a "killer," will "pay a price.")

When Bush Senior invaded Panama, the late R. W. Apple Jr., chief New York Times Washington correspondent, postulated "a presidential initiation rite" since World War II for presidents "to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood ...." All believed "the American political culture required them to show the world promptly that they carried big sticks." Bush—accused of timidity—showed by attacking he was "capable of bold action."

Was that Biden's "message"?

However administrations change, executive war-making persists. Imagine the reaction of the Constitution's framers if they could see the power now at the president's fingertips—capable of destroying life on earth.

Presidential Hit Parade

Summarized below (in reverse chronological order) are highlights of the records of the last 14 presidents, emphasizing war and violence. Reasons for the bloodshed are largely forgotten. These vignettes illustrate the executive's affinity to war.

Donald Trump ran for president favoring both peace and the killing of "terrorists" and their families. In office, he escalated existing hostilities and loosened rules of engagement, causing soaring civilian casualties. MOAB (Mother of All Bombs), the largest non-nuclear U.S. bomb, was exploded for the first time in Afghanistan (casualties unannounced). Trump picked fights in Asia and Africa, renounced arms treaties, threatened North Korea with "fire and fury," and supported Saudi assaults on Yemen, vetoing a congressional resolution to quit. He assassinated Iran's top general, then ordered Iran bombed but changed his mind.

Barack Obama entered office opposing "dumb wars" but conducted them for his entire eight years, the first presidency to permit no peace. He escalated the Afghan war. His Libyan "no fly zone" became a war for regime change. He helped Saudis bomb Yemen. He plotted periodic drone assassinations in various countries and took pride in ordering Osama bin Laden shot, without trial, in Pakistan.

George W. Bush started the Afghan war—now in its 20th year—though Congress never authorized war on Afghanistan. He then instigated America's second war on Iraq, lying that President Saddam Hussein, had "weapons of mass destruction" and ties to terrorists. Estimates of resulting fatalities reach a million-plus. Bush approved torturing prisoners.

Bill Clinton intervened in eight countries during eight years in office. Clinton bombed Yugoslavia for 11 weeks, aided by NATO (supposedly dedicated to peace). He ignored Congress, even after it voted against upholding his war. Other victims of his: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, Haiti, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan.

George H. W. Bush, George W.'s father, attacked Panama, without congressional authorization. He then planned war on Iraq. Congress narrowly approved forcing Iraqi troops to leave Kuwait. As Iraqis departed, U.S. forces fired on them. Civilians in Baghdad and other cities succumbed to U.S. bombs. Bush as vice-president was heavily involved in Reagan interventions.

Ronald Reagan entered unauthorized hostilities in Lebanon, Grenada, and Central America. As though making up for a recent loss of 240 marines in a Lebanon bomb blast, he invaded Grenada, an island nation with one 2000th the U.S. population. About 80 were killed, including 20 Americans. With active CIA participation, Reagan sponsored the Nicaraguan Contras, whom he called "freedom fighters" but critics considered "terrorists." Scandal erupted when he sold Iran arms to finance the Contras. Reagan supported the Salvadoran regime despite its massacres of citizens, sending it military aid and armed "advisors."

Jimmy Carter ran for office pledging to involve the American people in forming foreign policy. The only U.S. president since Hoover to wage no overt warfare, Carter covertly armed anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan, forerunners of al-Qaeda. He threatened force to defend U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf. Trying to rescue hostages in Iran, Carter lost eight servicemen in an air accident.

Gerald Ford, during his short, unelected term, sacrificed 41 Marines in a needless military assault on a Cambodian island. It aimed at freeing the Mayaguez, a merchant ship seized by Cambodia, which was preparing to free her anyway.

Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson before him led the U.S. Indochina

war, 1964–1973. The Wall in Washington, DC, commemorates 58,279 U.S. servicemen who fell in that presidential conflict—not Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian victims, which number as many as 3.6 million. Nixon also intervened covertly in Chile and Johnson sent troops to the Dominican Republic

John F. Kennedy approved the CIA's Bay of Pigs invasion and sabotage program in Cuba. To look tough, he risked war with Russia in demanding withdrawal of missiles it had installed in Cuba, though he had put missiles in Turkey and ordered plans to nuke Russia. He sent weapons and thousands of "advisors" to South Vietnam and covertly eliminated its peace-seeking president.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of Allied European forces in World War II, inherited the Korean war, reaching an armistice in six months in 1953. He threatened to use nuclear weapons if war recurred, then made nuclear "massive retaliation" his general "defense" policy. Using the CIA, he overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala and OK'd the invasion of Cuba. He sent military aid to Vietnam before and after the French left.

Harry S. Truman is infamous as the first to use atomic bombs, in annihilating Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. He also launched the practice of outright presidential war-making when in 1950 he ordered combat in Korea without congressional permission, claiming authority from the UN. His war killed nearly five million, the majority civilians. Truman armed rightist regimes and French forces fighting in Indochina.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the last president to obtain a constitutional declaration of war (excluding Bush Senior's reluctant OK of an Iraq war vote). However, FDR's policies, provoking Japan economically and militarily while concentrating warships in Hawaii, apparently invited the "date which will live in infamy." Promising 1940 voters peace, FDR executively armed Britain, engaged U-boats, and sent troops abroad. In 1939 he protested aggressors' bombing of civilians as "inhuman barbarism." After war was official, he ordered massive bombings of cities, killing innumerable civilians.

Do we elect a chief executive—or a chief executioner? No president is likely to maliciously shoot someone to death point-blank. That's murder. But no president seems to mind ordering many people shot or bombed in a distant land. That's war.

Paul W. Lovinger is a San Francisco journalist, author, editor, and activist. He may be reached through http://www.warandlaw.org.

Historian: There's one reason why the GOP may not want to be so quick to call themselves 'The Party of Lincoln'

The Republican Party may soon live up to its moniker, "The Party of Lincoln," though not in a way that bodes well for the GOP. Abraham Lincoln, of course, was the first Republican president. While he is heralded today as one of our greatest chief executives, he was never very popular in his own day. Nor was his party.

It is worth remembering that the Republican Party was not a "national" party from its inception; it drew its support exclusively from the North. Born in 1854 in Jackson, Michigan, the party in its earliest days was organized around opposition to the extension of slavery into the western territories. Concern over slavery in the West erupted in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1853, which opened up those two territories to slavery after over thirty years of prohibition there. Energized over containing slavery, the party attracted anti-slavery activists, Northern Whigs, and ex-Free Soilers, who similarly wanted the West kept as "free soil for free men."

Early Republicans knew that their fledgling party needed to broaden its appeal beyond the slavery issue. So they advocated support for internal improvements, what today we would call infrastructure. As New York Tribune editor Horace Greely wrote in 1860, "An Anti-Slavery man per se cannot be elected." But, "a Tariff, River-and-Harbor, Pacific Railroad, Free Homestead man, may succeed although he is Anti-Slavery." Containing the "peculiar institution" alone would not be enough to secure victory, but adding other planks to the party's platform could result in electoral success.

For obvious reasons, the Republican Party held no appeal for southerners. During the 1860 election, Lincoln's name did not even appear on the ballot of ten southern states. Although he was able to amass a majority of the electoral college votes, Lincoln won only 39.7% of the popular vote. Six out of every ten Americans voted for someone else, as the nation descended into civil war.

Four years later, some Republicans wanted to dump Lincoln for Salmon P. Chase or John C. Fremont. While Republicans renominated Lincoln, they replaced Hannibal Hamlin as the vice presidential nominee in favor of Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat. Republicans knew their base alone would not be enough to secure victory. The party of Lincoln had such limited appeal that Lincoln himself needed the support of Democrats to win reelection.

Fast-forward to the present, one hundred and sixty years later the Republican Party chances again to become a party of limited appeal. Under Donald Trump's leadership, a deep fracture has grown within the GOP. While a majority of Republicans remain loyal to the former president, some have grown weary of his mendacious ways. Even after election results were counted and recounted, Donald Trump will not concede defeat. And as he continues to falsely claim victory, he demands that Republicans similarly proclaim "the lie."

Even before the election, fissures in the Grand Old Party were apparent. Some Republican leaders, especially those who had or were about to retire from office, rejected Trump. It was a strange and telling moment when Ohio's former governor John Kasich, a life-long Republican, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in support of Joe Biden's candidacy.

Nonetheless, the influence Trump has over Republican office holders is so great, the vast majority do not dare suggest that the emperor has no clothes—that Trump lost the election fair and square. Instead, they embrace and perpetuate the lie. To do anything less will result in Trump's wrath and a primary challenge. Even after January 6, only a small number of Republicans in Congress have shown the political will to challenge Trump's deceit. So, they voted for acquittal again, when he stood trial for inciting the capitol riot. In their shortsighted effort to save their own political skins, those Republicans are fundamentally transforming their party.

In stark contrast to the majority of House Republicans who supported efforts to overturn the Electoral College vote, ten Republicans voted for impeachment. In the Senate, though the handful of Republicans who mustered the courage to vote to convict might seem small, they represent a growing number who reject Trumpism and the lie. Once alone, Mitt Romney was joined by Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey, Bill Cassidy, and Richard Burr. Indicative of the depth of Republican divisions, several of them were censured by their own state party committees.

The Republican electorate is similarly split. A full three out of every four Republicans believe that there was widespread voter fraud in 2020, handing the election to Biden. Though most Republican voters remain loyal to Trump and his lie, a growing number are re-assessing their fealty, repulsed by the events of January 6. For them, there was no steal to stop. They would not believe the lie. After all, "you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

Such divisions within the Republican Party threaten to devastate the GOP. A party that has only won the popular vote once in the last eight presidential elections can ill afford its present fracture. Trump's lie chances to fatally handicap the party of Honest Abe. As Lincoln warned years ago, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Tim Lynch has taught for thirty years at Mount Saint Joseph University in Cincinnati, where he is a professor of History. He has published extensively in the area of American labor history and protest music, including Strike Songs of the Depression (2001). Most recently, Tim published To Build a Home: Reflections on Construction (2021) about his experience of building his own home.

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