Category Archives: American History

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!

Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

I’ve been writing blog posts at this website for over six years now.  Well over 500 to date.  But I’m not doing it today.  I’m not writing an essay today.

Why, you ask?  Why am I refusing to entertain my loyal dozens (and countless accidental readers) with yet another rambling jeremiad today?  Well, there’s a whole bunch of reasons, really.  Behold.

I’m a Lazy Bastard: My whole life I’ve loved nothing better than doing nothing.  Sometimes I come clean and admit my lethargy.  Yet people often refuse to believe me.  “You have a Ph.D.  You’ve published three books.  You helped negotiate the Peace of Westphalia.  You can’t possibly be lazy.”  I wave off their protestations.  I insist that I am really quite slovenly.  I remind them that professors are notoriously lazy, barely rousing themselves to fabricate random grades for their students.  But the skeptics just pshaw and in insist I’m energetic.

Yeah?  Well not energetic enough to write this essay.

There’s a Stray Cat on the Back Porch: I think he might be part Maine Coon.  He’s got pointy ears that sprout tufts of hair.  He’s not fully grown but looks to be getting quite large.  And he doesn’t seem to mind the cold.  Hell, I think he enjoys it.  A few weeks back it got down to 14F at night.  For you fancy people with your hip, scientific measurements, that’s some big negative number in Celcius. Continue reading Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

The Counter Revolution

The United States boasts a deeply conservative economic tradition.  From its origins as a colonial, agricultural society, it quickly emerged as a slave holding republic built on the ethnic cleansing and occasional genocide of Indigenous peoples.  After the Civil War (1861-65), it reshaped itself in the crucible of unfettered laissez-faire capitalism straight through to the Roaring ‘20s.  A post-Depression Keynesian consensus led U.S. leaders to reign in the most conservative impulses during the mid-20th century, but the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s set the stage for the current neo-liberal moment.

Consequently, ever since the industrial revolution, the United States has typically trailed other developed nations in establishing a basic social welfare system.  It has never fielded a competitive socialist or labor party.  It was the last major nation to implement an old age pension.  More recently, ObamaCare made it the last major nation to mandate that all of its citizens receive some sort of healthcare coverage, even if it’s quite wanting in many cases.

Amid its overriding conservativism, the United States has had only three presidents with any real socialist tendencies: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45), Harry S. Truman (1945-53), and most recently Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose presidency (1963-69) ended before half of current Americans were born (median age 37.9)

The election of Donald Trump as president and, just as important, the impending Republican dominance of Congress, make certain that the United States will not correct its social welfare shortcomings anytime soon.  Indeed, the nation may take significant steps backwards.

However, a quick review of America’s stunted progressive history suggests that the opportunity for a progressive counter-revolution may be closer than it appears at this dark moment.  And not because Trump’s victory represents the last gasp of an aging generation or the violent undulations of a shrinking white electorate.  But rather, because Trump and his Grand Old Posse have the potential to wreak so much damage and engender so much ignominy upon the national consciousness as to generate the kind of rare and extreme circumstances that have previously led the United States to make genuine progress in developing modern social welfare.  The chaos and horrors of a Trump presidency may yet produce opportunities for improving the nation. Continue reading The Counter Revolution

The Founders Didn’t Want You to Vote, But I Do

founding fathersI’ve been blogging for just over six years.  During that time, I’ve published nearly 500 essays.

By far, the article that has been linked to more than any other is one of the first I penned back in 2010.  It is entitled “The Founding Fathers Did Not Want You to Vote.”

Traffic to that essay has been up and down over the years, tending to do well during election season.  But this year was different.

Online views began a consistent upward trend last November, experienced several spikes during primary season, and picked up steam as the party conventions aired.  Since September, it has been viewed dozens, and then hundreds of times per day.

So far in 2016, the essay has received more than three times as many hits as it had during the previous five years combined.

To date it has been viewed nearly 7,000 times at my website, with another 150 views today before by 10:00 AM.

I run a small, non-profit, personal web page.  An idiosyncratic little blog with fewer than 70 subscribers and just over 500 Facebook followers.  The popularity of “The Founding Fathers Did Not Want You to Vote” dwarfs anything else I’ve ever published, including my many essays cross-posted at much larger sites like 3 Quarks Daily, or various pieces that have occasionally caught lightening in a bottle.

I have no illusions about the essay’s popularity.  I realize that many people who click to the page do not actually read it, or much of it.

But I also know how people are finding it, and I think that says something. Continue reading The Founders Didn’t Want You to Vote, But I Do

Guest Blogger Scott Pilutik: Donald Trump’s Attack on the Constitution

Image credit: NRO (from NationalReview.com)Pointing out Donald Trump’s democracy-threatening moments is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.  But I fear some of his more egregious ideas are being normalized, and thus becoming progressively less dangerous-sounding the second, third, and thousandth time they’re uttered.

Two from last night’s debate in particular are worth mentioning: (1) Threatening to jail your political opponent should you succeed to the job, and; (2) Smearing defense lawyers with their client’s crime.

Neither critique is new.  “Lock Her Up” will be on the future K-tel greatest hits version of Trump’s campaign, and criminal defense attorneys are hardly strangers to populist condemnation (when you get a chance, thank Law & Order’s Dick Wolf for his malignant contribution to this perception).

However, threatening to jail your political opponents is a common feature of banana republics and dictatorships, and it’s sad that people feel the need to even point this out.  Sad!  Hillary Clinton was cleared by the justice department.  People need to get over it and be less selectively outraged.

Furthermore, when Trump hauled Kathy Shelton into his shit-flinging circus, he implicitly assailed the Sixth Amendment’s guaranteed right to defense counsel in criminal trials.   In 1975, Clinton was appointed defense counsel to the man Shelton accused of rape.  It’s the type of job that few people want, but which is absolutely necessary in a functioning democracy.

Our Bill of Rights contains a number of counter-intuitive features that are intended to cement boundaries that can’t be breached by the whims of majorities: First Amendment freedom of speech guarantees the right of even KKK members to march in a parade; the Fourth Amendment prevents illegally obtained evidence from being used against otherwise-guilty criminals at trial, thereby serving the larger goal of keeping police forces honest; and the Indy 500Sixth Amendment promises that no person will be left defenseless at trial, even rapists, murderers, and, say, Nancy Grace.

These and many other features were installed for good reasons by people who acutely understood the damage that results without such protections.

It is precisely these unpopular protections that “Make America Great,” and what made our Constitution the model for so many democratic nations.  The people who assume unpopular roles within the constitutional scheme are vital and, indeed, heroes.

Which is why it’s not only ironic but dangerous that Trump marches under the banner of patriotism while he promises to govern by his angry, impulsive id, and erode these protections.

Scott Pilutik is a lawyer and Rangers fan living in New York City.

Continue reading Guest Blogger Scott Pilutik: Donald Trump’s Attack on the Constitution

Talking to a High School Student about Racism

high-schoolRecently, a high school student contacted me because she had questions about racism in America.  Specifically, she wanted to interview me for a school project on the topic of institutional racism.

Institutional racism is a tricky subject, and I did my best to introduce her to the complexities and nuances of something that often flies under the radar.  Many white Americans are unaware of the issue, or have trouble understanding it if they are aware.  And so after I answered her questions, I decided to re-print our Q&A.

Here is my conversation with a high schooler about racism in America.

*

Thank you very much for helping me with my project by taking the time out of your day to answer a few of my questions on the following questions/topics.

How do you define institutional racism?  And how prevalent would you say it is in modern North American society?

We normally associate racism and bigotry with the intentional actions of an individual or group of people.  But institutional racism is the result of larger social forces that can be difficult to detect.  Instead of one person or a few people doing or saying something racist, institutional racism comes about when society at large expresses racism in more subtle and impersonal ways. Continue reading Talking to a High School Student about Racism

An Open Letter to Trump Supporters

open-letterLet’s be honest.  This probably  isn’t the type of website that attracts many Trump supporters.

But that’s not just a Public Professor thing.  It turns out that online or off, most Clinton supporters have minimal contact with Trump supporters and vica versa.  It’s a national phenomenon that speaks to the profound geographic and social segregation of partisan America.

Indeed, it’s probably a bit pointless for me to post an open letter to Trump supporters here.  But honestly, I’m not sure where else to turn.  After all, I don’t get to hoist monthly essays onto any Republican-leaning websites, and what follows is bound to be a bit too long for that modern day version of a Letter to the Editor, the beastly maelstrom known as a Comment Section.

So if you happen to be among that slim minority of Clintonistas who has real and meaningful interactions with Trumpatistas, feel free to share this with them, he said, like pen pal in want of a postman.

Dear Trump Supporter:

I get it.  Clinton supporters can be insufferable, condescending elitists. Continue reading An Open Letter to Trump Supporters

The Two Party System is Officially a Nightmare

Teenager For BarryMuch has been made of the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most loathed presidential candidates since the birth of polling.  Each of them has managed to alienate roughly half the country.  About a quarter of Americans despise both of them.  They make Barry Goldwater, Michael Dukakis, and Mitt Romney look beloved.

There has been a lot of focus on why these two candidates are so widely reviled.  Simple partisanship doesn’t seem to adequately explain it; fewer than a third of American view either of them favorably.

The Washington Post and ABC News tell us that Clinton-haters typically see her as a corrupt, untrustworthy flip-flopper, while Trump-haters hate too many things about him to list here, but it largely boils down to him being perceived as an inexperienced hatemonger.

Fortune magazine dispenses with the specifics and instead points to Clinton’s and Trump’s long and choppy resumés as repulsing the masses.  Despite whatever accomplishments they may have racked up over the years, the thinking goes, voters simply can’t get past the many “bad” things each candidate has done.

However, I’m less concerned with why exactly these two candidates are so widely detested.  On some level, the why doesn’t really matter; what’s more pressing, I believe, is the how.  In terms of American political mechanics, how could this happen and what does it mean?  How did we get here, and what can we learn from it?

The one common mechanical process in almost every aspect of American politics is the two-party system: an extra-constitutional artifice that long ago hijacked government.  And it is through those double swinging doors that we have stumbled into our current political purgatory.

This bi-polar orgy of villainy signifies that America’s two-party system itself is badly broken; indeed, this scenario might not have emerged if there were additional healthy political parties.

Let’s start with Donald Trump. Continue reading The Two Party System is Officially a Nightmare

How The Washington Post Embarrassed Itself Badly

Marty Two Bulls cartoon
cartoon by Marty Two Bulls

Did I ever tell you about the four years I spent in prison back in the late 1990s?

Well, actually, it was just two hours on Thursday afternoons as a volunteer with the Native men’s group at Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I could gussy up the experience and say I was teaching inmates.  But mostly I was just hanging out.  Many prisoners, particularly those who’ve been in a while, are starved for new faces and happy to get some fresh conversation.

Sometimes I’d talk to people about serious issues.  Other times we’d just shoot the breeze.  One day while inside, I was talking to a guy.  Nothing serious.  I don’t even remember about what.  He asked something of me.  I said, “You got it, chief.”

Now here’s the thing.  Growing up in New York City, “chief” was (and still is) in the same class of words as “boss” and “buddy.”  They’re all informal monikers one man might casually give another if you don’t actually know each other’s names, or as a temporary nickname even when you do.  It’s a sign of modest respect and affection in the moment.  In a typical New York City context, they’re all completely harmless words and have zero racial connotation.

But the moment “chief” slipped out of my mouth in prison, I immediately remembered that of course this particular word has a very heavy connotation for Native people, particularly men.

His entire demeanor changed in a heartbeat.  We’d been happy, joshing around.  Now he stared right through me.

“Don’t you ever call me that again,” he said quietly, anger flashing in his eyes. Continue reading How The Washington Post Embarrassed Itself Badly