Category Archives: American History

In Memoriam: Dennis Banks

Former American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Dennis Banks died Sunday night at the age of 80.

My doctoral dissertation (University of Nebraska, 2000) and first book (Texas Tech Press, 2007) dealt with AIM, particularly their controversial political work and on Pine Ridge Reservation (SD) during the 1970s.

AIM was a very important but also highly flawed organization.  Some of their problems were not their fault, as they suffered extreme government persecution and repression, especially in the form of illegal FBI counterintelligence programs.  But sometimes they they made their own mess by not particularly caring who got burnt by their scorched earth rhetoric, or harmed by their often disorganized protests.

In a 2005 review of Dennis Banks’ memoir, I wrote the following:

There is also the brash rhetorical style and techniques that are emblematic of the speeches and writings of many AIM members.  It was shocking and original in the 1970s, and still has the power to move, but three decades later it at times seems tired.

Yes, by then the times had passed Banks by in some ways.  Nonetheless, it was and still is astonishing to consider how far he had come to co-found AIM during the late 1960s in St. Paul, Minnesota, and then become a prominent national figure. Continue reading In Memoriam: Dennis Banks

Return of the Criminal Presidency

We are perhaps on the verge of witnessing, for the third time in 100 years, a U.S. presidency so corrupt that multiple high ranking members will be imprisoned.

In early 1919, former president Teddy Roosevelt was the early favorite to re-assume the Republican Party’s mantle for the 1920 election.  However, he died unexpectedly shortly before the campaign season began, and a crowded field of contenders soon emerged.

Warren G. Harding initially had little hope of winning, and entered the race mostly to bolster his control of Ohio politics; he was one of the state’s two U.S. senators and held sway over much of its corrupt machine.  But when party leaders could not agree on any of the front runners, the convention deadlocked.  They soon settled on Harding, in part because he was from a crucial swing state, and in part because he was relatively unknown and hadn’t offended many delegates.

The compromise candidate from Ohio went on to win a resounding victory, setting what was then a record by taking 61% of the popular vote.

Harding was generally well liked during his time in office as society settled down from the tumultuous effects of World War I and its immediate aftermath. It didn’t hurt that the economy also began to hum.  But he would serve just 2½ years, dying of a heart attack while visiting San Francisco in 1923.

At first, Harding’s premature death increased his already widespread popularity.  It was only after his passing that the litany corruption attached to his administration would become a salacious public debacle.

It turned out that family man Harding had kept at least two mistresses, including one who claimed he fathered her child.  But it was the criminal antics of his administration that would eventually lead Historians to rank Harding as one of the worst presidents ever.

The name that still rings a bell among some Americans who learned about it in high school is the Teapot Dome Scandal.  Interior Secretary Albert Fall took bribes totaling $400,000 (nearly $6 million in today’s money) from oil executives in return for awarding them leases to drill on public land in Wyoming and California.  Fall was convicted, fined, and became the first U.S. presidential cabinet member to do time; he was sentenced to a year, and served 9 months. Continue reading Return of the Criminal Presidency

How to be Racist in Today’s America

A new poll reveals that 55% of white people believe white people face discrimination in today’s America.

At first glance, this seems to set new records for irony.  A majority of white people are worried about racism against white people.  It’s hard to make that up.  But in fact, it’s not ironic at all.  It’s actually predictable.  And more than predictable, it’s a fundamental precondition for white racism to exist.

Why?  Because nobody wants to be the bad guy.  Nobody wants to be the villain.  Everyone wants to justify their beliefs and actions.  It’s human nature.

And so victimizers often cast themselves as victims.  And more subtly, those who profit from an unfair system paint themselves as the real losers in grand social equations.

That’s why open racists have long complained that they are on the short end, they are the ones suffering, they are the ones unfairly penalized by the very group they are oppressing.

Nazis blamed the Jews for ruining their economy.  Early Americans blamed the Indians for wasting valuable land and preventing hardworking Americans from using it properly.   Slave owners blamed slaves for being childlike incompetents who required white people to support them.  Nativists blamed poor, non-white immigrants (including even the Irish, who at one point weren’t considered “white”) for taking their jobs.

Now a majority of white Americans think they’re the real victims here.  It makes perfect sense.

Most people need to justify their ugliness.  That’s true of Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, men and women. Continue reading How to be Racist in Today’s America

In Memoriam: Hugh Hefner

In 6th grade wood shop class, my main project was making a Playboy bunny logo.  I carved the wood, torched the grain, added finish, and then mounted it on a piece of peg board I had cut and painted red.

Neither my fellow students nor our shop teacher thought there was anything odd about this.  In fact, my teacher had given me the template to cut the the iconic bunny head.  He had dozens to choose from, and I, like many of his students before me no doubt, had picked that one.

There were no girls in junior high wood shop class.

Like many boys of the 1970s, my childhood was punctuated by various pornographic discoveries.  Pornography was more prevalent than ever before, but in an era before VCRS, it was still largely hidden away in XXX movie theaters, or stashed on the top shelf of your dad’s bedroom closet.  For a boy, it was tantalizingly close, yet still far away, like some ancient Greek punishment that mocks you with with unattainable temptation.  But unlike the doomed souls of Hades, for us there was a way.

In a scene repeated countless times around the nation, my initiation into the world of sexualized, naked women came via the dirty magazine an older boy dug up from underneath a large rock behind our apartment building in the Bronx.  I was about 8 years old, maybe younger, and I stared in wonderment at those women’s nude bodies.

In the years that followed, similar occasions led me to cross paths with well worn, second tier nudey mags like Cheri, Oui, and Jugs.  It’s something that stays with you. Continue reading In Memoriam: Hugh Hefner

Charlottesville, Heather Heyer, and America’s Quest for White Martyrs of Racial Violence

It began with Emmett Till.

He was a fourteen year old black boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1954 when two white men lynched him to death for whistling at a white woman.  That in itself, sadly, wasn’t so unusual.  Thousands of African Americans were lynched to death during the first half of the 20th century.  What was different about this particular lynching was his mother’s response.

Till’s mother demanded her son’s body be returned to Chicago instead of getting a quick burial in Mississippi. She then insisted upon an open-casket funeral so the world could see what they had done to her boy.  The black press covered the funeral as upwards of 50,000 mourners passed by the coffinJet magazine and The Chicago Defender newspaper published photos of his body, mutilated almost beyond recognition.  Afterwards, mainstream (white) national publications also ran the pictures and covered the story in depth, and Emmett Till entered the larger white consciousness as a martyr of racial violence.

Needless to say, there have been countless black (and Latinx and Indigenous and Asian) victims of racial violence in America over the last four centuries.  How many black people have been killed or maimed by whites for, essentially, being black? The number is impossible to know.  As an American historian, I suspect that tens of thousands would be an underestimate.  When considering the ravages of slavery and decades of subsequent lynch violence, the number could easily be in the hundreds of thousands.

Yet prior to Emmett Till, almost none of them ever entered white consciousness as martyrs.  Till became the first, the token black, the only one from among the countless thousands who most white people ever learned about in school or could cite by name.  That Slavery and Jim Crow repression wrought horrible violence was no secret.  But upon whom, specifically?

In the 1960s, Till was joined in this sad canon only by Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers (briefly), and Malcolm X (but only to a minority of whites).  However, with the death of King in 1968, white consciousness considered the civil rights era over, largely went into hiding on the issue of race, and stopped acknowledging new black martyrs of white racial violence.

Why? Continue reading Charlottesville, Heather Heyer, and America’s Quest for White Martyrs of Racial Violence

Interesting Times

I was wrong about Donald Trump winning the presidency.  Hell, I was one of those dopes who thought he wouldn’t even be able to get through the GOP primaries.  But at least one of my predictions did come true.

From day one, I told anyone who asked that a Trump presidency would be far more interesting than any other 2016 electoral scenario.  Indeed, a Trump presidency would be one of the most interesting political developments of the last hundred years, maybe of the next hundred.  And I’m afraid I was right.

After all, these are, if nothing else, interesting times.

There are many reasons to be deeply interested in the festering, moldy pyrotechnics of Trump’s amateur hour presidency.  There’s the sheer comedic value of watching him fumble and roar.  There’s the absolutely stunning, slow motion reshuffling of America’s role on the global stage.  There are the painful undulations and muted screams of a Republican Party unexpectedly confronting its own impotence in the hour of its great victory.  And there are all the things you were absolutely certain would happen that will not.

All of these funny, alarming, surreal shocks and many more cry out for explanation.  Anyone who’s paying attention desperately wants to understand just what the hell happening. Continue reading Interesting Times

My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture

C-SPAN has a series of televised lectures on American history by college professors.  A colleague was kind enough to recommend me to them.  C-SPAN then asked for a list of potential lecture topics.  I submitted the list, and to my surprise, they asked to film my lecture on Victorian culture in America.   The producer said they she selected this lecture because it’s a bit different from the usual topics they get on the Revolution, the Civil War, and such.

I wrote this lecture a few years ago for the freshman introduction course on U.S. History since the Civil War.  The topic is pretty far from my research area, and nothing I actually specialize in, but I included it on the list because it’s gone over well in the past.  Maybe because it includes a discussion of sex.

So for those of you who have ever wondered just how boring it would be to sit and listen to me ramble on about history for an hour, here’s your chance.  Highlights include photos of dazzling Victorian fashions for men and women, some botched spelling and word history, and a nice cutaway shot of a student yawning.

The lecture was filmed on February 23, 2017 at Towson University.  It originally aired on C-SPAN 3 at 8pm, and then again at midnight opposite Saturday Night Live.  I haven’t checked the ratings, but I’m pretty sure I crushed them.

C-SPAN Lectures in History: Akim Reinhardt on Victorian Culture Continue reading My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture

American Regicide

Donald Trump is going down.   His house of cards will collapse at some point.   The leaks will keep flowing and eventually his position will become untenable.   Conflicts of interest.   Connections to Russia.   All of it will become too great a weight to carry, especially since The Donald has very few genuine allies in Washington.

The Democrats want him gone.  So too do most of the Republicans.  Hell, they never wanted him to begin with.  The GOP did everything it could to derail his candidacy, and only climbed aboard after Trump’s runaway train was the last red line careening towards the White House.  So for now they’re playing nice with the former Democrat who eschews Conservative dogma in a variety of ways and is loyal to absolutely no one save himself.  But when the moment comes, they’ll gladly trade Trump in for Mike Pence, a Conservative’s wet dream.

For all of these reasons, Trump may not make it to the finish line.  But there’s at least one more factor to consider: the precedent of regicide.  And to understand that, we should begin by briefly recounting the demise of the Ottoman sultan Osman II.

Young Osman II ascended the Ottoman throne in 1618 at the tender age of 14.  Wishing to assert himself, in 1621 he personally led an invasion of Poland, which ended with a failed siege of Chota (aka Khotyn, now in western Ukraine).  In a rather unwise move, Osman blamed the defeat on his elite fighting force, the Janissaries.  Afterwards, he ordered the shuttering of Janissary coffee shops, which he saw as a hotbed of conspiracies against him.  The Janissaries responded with a palace uprising.  In 1622 they imprisoned the 17 year old monarch and soon after killed him.  Because it was strictly forbidden to spill royal blood, they strangled him to death. Continue reading American Regicide

Outraged? Get Outrageous!

I was reading a friend’s FB post earlier today.  I respect this person immensely, although I disagreed with him on one point.  Which is good.  He’s the kind of dedicated and genuine intellectual who encourages honest exchanges.

My friend is thoroughly appalled by the American political situation at the moment, as am I.  But he is also not given to public displays of emotion.  And so perhaps it made sense that, with regards to politics, he warned us that,
“the satisfactions of flamboyantly expressing one’s rage against Trump and the right can make it less, rather than more, likely we are going to turn this thing around as soon as it can be turned around.”

This is where I disagreed with him.  I wrote a short response on his page as to why, but I would like to expand upon it here.

Let me begin by acknowledging that there are many things we can do to effectively oppose Trump.  We need a broad palette.  But one important thing we can do, I believe, is engage in occasional public displays of moral outrage.  Even flamboyant ones.

Public displays of moral outrage against the lunacy and mendacity of Donald Trump specifically, against his core of executive cronies, and against the GOP more generally, are actually a good and productive thing right now.  There are several reasons why, but before I list them, let me clarify what I mean by “flamboyantly expressing one’s rage against Trump and the right,” to borrow my friend’s words.

I am not advocating that we join the GOP in its filthy pit of lies and “alternative facts.”  While I’m going to advocate a fight fire with fire approach, I don’t think we should extend that to the Right’s immolation of the factual truth, lest we lose sight of the forest from the trees.   We should not sacrifice core principles of democracy to win the immediate battle.  Indeed, in many ways the fight must be fore those core principles.

So, for example, we should not counter their science denialism; (climate change, evolution) with politically convenient science denialism of our own; for example, let’s not start wooing the anti-vaxer vote by spurring that movement on.  And let’s not sink to the level of fabricating lies to smear Republicans.  For starters, it’s so unnecessary; given their horrible actions and hateful ideology, it’s easy enough to smear them with the plain truth.

Rather,  I am championing the notion that we become morally outraged at Trump’s and the GOP’s fabrications and falsehoods, their lies and lunacy, their brazen assaults on honesty and democracy.  Furthermore, I think we should feel free to publicly display our moral outrage.  Why?  For several reasons.

For starters, it is important to recognize that we are clearly past normal. Continue reading Outraged? Get Outrageous!