Had you been alive during the Civil War, would you have fought for the Confederates?
No doubt about it. What's more, I would fight for the Confederacy today if the circumstances were similar. There's a great deal of misunderstanding about the Confederacy, the Confederate flag, slavery, the whole thing. The political correctness of today is no way to look at the middle of the nineteenth century. The Confederates fought for some substantially good things. States rights is not just a theoretical excuse for oppressing people. You have to understand that the raggedy Confederate soldier who owned no slaves and probably couldn't even read the Constitution, let alone understand it, when he was captured by Union soldiers and asked, What are you fighting for? replied, I'm fighting because you're down here. So I certainly would have fought to keep people from invading my native state. There's another good reason for fighting for the Confederacy. Life would have been intolerable if you hadn't. The women of the South just would not allow somebody to stay home and sulk while the war was going on. It didn't take conscription to grab him. The women made him go.
What about fighting to end the institution of slavery?
The institution of slavery is a stain on this nation's soul that will never be cleansed. It is just as wrong as wrong can be, a huge sin, and it is on our soul. There's a second sin that's almost as great and that's emancipation. They told four million five hundred thousand people, You are free, hit the road. And we're still suffering from that. Three quarters of them couldn't read or write, not one tenth of them had a profession except for farming, and yet they were turned loose and told, Go your way. In 1877 the last Union troops were withdrawn after a dozen years of being in the South to assure compliance with the law. Once they were withdrawn all the Jim Crow laws and everything else came down on the blacks. Their schools were inferior in every sense. They had the Freedmen's Bureau, which did, perhaps, some good work, but it was mostly a joke, corrupt in all kinds of ways. So they had no help. Just turned loose on the world, and they were waifs. It's a very sad thing. There should have been a huge program for schools. There should have been all kinds of employment provided for them. Not modern welfare, you can't expect that in the middle of the nineteenth century, but there should have been some earnest effort to prepare these people for citizenship. They were not prepared, and operated under horrible disadvantages once the army was withdrawn, and some of the consequences are very much with us today.
Bedford Forrest's picture hangs on your wall. He was an ex-slave trader, responsible for the Fort Pillow massacre of captured black soldiers, and after the war deeply involved in the Ku Klux Klan.
You could add that in hand-to-hand combat he killed thirty-one men, mostly in saber duels or pistol shootings, and he had thirty horses shot from under him. Forrest is one of the most attractive men who ever walked through the pages of history; he surmounted all kinds of things and you better read back again on the Fort Pillow massacre instead of some piece of propaganda about it. Fort Pillow was a beautiful operation, tactically speaking. Forrest did everything he could to stop the killing of those people who were in the act of surrendering and did stop it.
Forrest himself was never a bloodthirsty sort of man who enjoyed slaughter. He also took better care of his soldiers and his black teamsters than any other general I know of. He was a man who at the age of sixteen had to raise six younger brothers and sisters after the death of his blacksmith father. He became a slave trader because that was a way of making enough money to support all those people and to get wealthy. Forrest was worth about a million dollars when the war started, an alderman for the city of Memphis. He was by no means some cracker who came out of nowhere. All writers will have great sympathy with Forrest for something he said. He did not like to write and there are very few Forrest letters. He said, I never see a pen but I think of a snake.
He's an enormously attractive, outgoing man once you get to know him and once you get to know more facts. For instance, he was probably Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, but he dissolved that Klan in 1869; said that it's getting ugly, it's getting rough, and he did away with it. The Klan you're talking about rose again in this century and was particularly powerful during the 1920s. Forrest would have had no sympathy with that later Klan. Last thing in the world was he anti-Catholic or anti-Semitic, which is what that Klan was mainly in the twenties. I have a hard time defending the Klan and I don't really intend to defend it; I would never have joined it myself, even back in its early days.
But I don't know what you expected men, having gone through four years of utterly savage war, to do--if you expected them to come home and put up quietly with the kind of occupation that happened in France after World War II. The French Maquis did far worse things than the Ku Klux Klan ever did--who never blew up trains or burnt bridges or anything else; they didn't even have lynchings. The Klan is as nefarious as you want it to be, but you have to understand better what they did do and they did not do. And the "massacre" at Fort Pillow, so-called, truly had better be investigated more closely.
When word of the massacre at Fort Pillow got up to Washington, Lincoln wrote to Grant and said, This is intolerable, I want whoever was responsible for it punished. Grant passed the word along to Sherman. If you know anything about Sherman, you know he would have jumped on Forrest like a tiger if he'd been guilty. Sherman never recommended anything along those lines. They sent a committee of Congress down to investigate Fort Pillow and they took testimony from people who were obviously lying their heads off, talking about people being buried alive, women and children shot while pleading for their lives. If you read a biography of Bedford Forrest, you'll get some notion of what a fine man he was.
Is there too much focus on the military in writing about the Civil War?
Well, Forrest said war means fighting, and fighting means killing. The Civil War was simply a four-year military action. The causes were so nebulous and so diverse. Lincoln said plainly: What I do about slavery I do because I want to win this war. If I could win this war by freeing all the slaves tomorrow, I'd do it. If I could win this war by keeping them all in slavery, I'd do that. I'd do anything to win this war. The emphasis was on war, "this mighty scourge." Almost everybody realized that the various bickerings and arguments and the fire-eaters in South Carolina and the abolitionists in Massachusetts, were sort of outside of things really. All they did was cause it. The real monster of the Civil War was that it cost us God knows what all, not only in young men, blue and gray, but in the recasting of what public life was going to be like. It brought a new cynicism in to us that we've lived with ever since. We began to appreciate scamps in politics, which we hadn't really done before. It was a military action and was to be studied as such--not neglecting the causes, not neglecting the arguments of what went on, but it's always primarily combat.
Forgive the lengthy block quote, but I like to err on the side of context. And given that context, I have to say that I found this interview deeply sad and deeply predictable. I've only made my way through the first volume of Foote's trilogy. I found it to be a lot of things, but neo-Confederate apologia isn't among them. It does slight slavery, but as I recall, it does not question--as Foote does here--that slavery was the cause of the War.
There are many lies here. Some of them rather blatant--claiming that the Klan didn't "have any lynchings," is not much better than claiming that the South didn't "have any slaves." Other are more slippery--damning emancipation by conflating freedom with prosperity, all the while ignoring the main actor in restricting black prosperity.
But the root of this is Foote's white romanticism. In Foote's eyes, Lee is not simply an honorable man but "a noble man, noble beyond comparison." Nathan Bedford Forrest is not simply the disbander of the (presumably nonviolent) Klu Klux Klan, but "one of the most attractive men who ever walked through the pages of history." Black southerners like Harriet Tubman, Andrew Jackson Smith or Robert Smalls are met with no such laurels.
I'm looking forward to finishing Foote's trilogy. It really is an engaging read. And yet here is the bit of sadness: He gave twenty years of his life, and three volumes of important and significant words to the Civil War, but he he could never see himself in the slave. He could not get that the promise of free bread can not cope with the promise of free hands. Shelby Foote wrote The Civil War, but he never understood it. Understanding the Civil War was a luxury his whiteness could ill-afford.
Unlike past presidents-elect, Donald Trump hasn’t expanded his support since the election. His belligerent attitude toward his critics may be one reason why.
Donald Trump always seems most grounded in chaos. He thrives on contradicting his aides, surprising his allies, disparaging his opponents. He revels in the tempest.
This combustible approach has touched a chord with his base of primarily non-college-educated and non-urban white voters who have felt eclipsed both economically and culturally and slighted by the nation’s leadership. But he will arrive at his inaugural Friday facing more resistance in public opinion than any newly elected president in the history of polling, and with lingering clouds over his legitimacy—symbolized by the surprisingly widespread House Democratic boycott of the ceremony. Trump’s agenda is polarizing enough, but the intensity of that opposition appears rooted even more in his relentless belligerence toward any critical voice or institution.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
For one thing, she’s never attended or taught at a public school.
Betsy DeVos is likely to be confirmed as the next secretary of education. There’s nothing unusual about the Senate supporting a president-elect’s choice to lead the U.S. Department of Education. But DeVos is a more controversial choice than nominees in recent memory.
At his hearing, the outgoing education secretary, John King, faced friendly questioning from the senators on the education committee in charge of moving nominations forward, including from the Republican chairman, Lamar Alexander. King’s predecessor, Arne Duncan, was confirmed in the Senate by a voice vote. It’s not just Democrats who have had easy confirmations, either. Both of George W. Bush’s education secretaries—Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings—were also confirmed by voice vote and received praise during their hearings from Republicans and Democrats alike.
The president-elect’s filings with the Federal Election Commission offer the best (and only) glimpse into what he owns and owes. Here they are in for the first time in a searchable, easy-to-read format.
One hallmark of President-elect Donald Trump’s behavior is a marked tension between brazen exhibitionism and near-total opacity. Trump is incorrigibly outspoken, especially on Twitter, and has been in the public eye for decades; his supporters and surrogates frequently maintain that these make him notably transparent. However, when it comes to any information by which Trump could be held accountable, such as the details of his policy positions, he has been anything but forthcoming, a tendency which poses an enormous threat to a system of governance built upon the idea of checks and balances.
Among the most notable manifestations of this opacity is that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump broke decades of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns. Although he initially said that he would do so, as the campaign wore on, he and his staff soon began proffering a number of explanations for why he didn’t. Though none of those excuses held up under scrutiny, Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns, which means that, though he is orders of magnitude wealthier than any of his predecessors, the American public knows significantly less about his finances than it has about any president’s since Richard Nixon. Given that Trump is entering the presidency with an unprecedented business empire—and unprecedented conflicts of interest—the dearth of information significantly restricts the public’s understanding of how Trump’s financial entanglements may influence his decision-making in office.
A mix of patriotic balladeers and apolitical acts will take the stage on Thursday and Friday.
It is not true, as a lot of commentary would have it, that Donald Trump’s inauguration will feature “no stars.” Some of the entertainers who have signed on to play have, in fact, built their success on entertaining millions of people. But it is true that what’s considered “the A-list” will be conspicuously absent, as will be acts from other lists: The B-Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen tribute group, backed out from an unofficial inaugural party after outcry; Broadway singer Jennifer Holliday reneged from the main concert event.
The mix of entertainers lined up for Thursday’s “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” on the National Mall and Friday’s swearing-in ceremony represents a hodgepodge of ideology and expediency. In a savvy MTV essay about Trump’s national-anthem singer Jackie Evancho, Doreen St. Félix argued that booking the 16-year-old America’s Got Talent runner up was “a matter of scavenging, and then gilding over the spoils”—a description that could apply across the lineup given the many headlines about Trump’s team getting turned down by celebrities then saying that not having famous people is a good thing. But in its relative lack of glitz, and in its coalition of performers well familiar to state-fair stages, this week’s bill may inadvertently achieve the stated inaugural goal of projecting an image not of Trump but of the people who elected him.
The Russian leader tries to claim the role of senior partner in relationship with the U.S.
You have to feel bad for the Moldovan president. The newly elected Igor Dodon had traveled to Moscow to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin for the first Russian-Moldovan bilateral meeting in nine years. Yet here he was, standing side by side with Putin, his hero and model for emulation, at a regal-looking press conference and some reporter has to go and ask about the prostitutes.
“You haven’t yet commented on the report that, allegedly, we or in Russia have been collecting kompromat on Donald Trump, including during his visit to Moscow, as if he were having fun with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel,” said the reporter with the pro-Kremlin LifeNews. “Is that true? Have you seen these files, these videos, these tapes?”
The president-elect’s lawyers have explained why they don’t think he’ll violate the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause—but their arguments fall apart under closer scrutiny.
Last week, President-elect Donald Trump’s lawyers issued a brief, largely unnoticed memo defending Trump’s plan to “separate” himself from his businesses. We believe that memo arbitrarily limits itself to a small portion of the conflicts it purports to address, and even there, presents claims that depart from precedent and common sense. Trump can convince a lot of people of a lot of things—but neither he nor his lawyers can explain away the ethics train wreck that will soon crash into the Oval Office.
It’sbeenwidelyacknowledgedthat, when Trump swears the Oath of Office, he will stand in violation of the Constitution’s foreign-emoluments clause. The emoluments clause forbids any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting any “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” (unless Congress explicitly consents).
Some Democrats, most notably Representative John Lewis, have labeled Donald Trump with the same epithet applied to his two immediate predecessors.
When was the last time America had a “legitimate” president?
You’d have to go back a ways to find a unanimous choice. Certainly not Donald Trump. Representative John Lewis, the civil-rights icon, has sparked a fury by saying, “I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.” Had Hillary Clinton won, she would not have fit the bill, either: Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that she should not have been allowed to run. Certainly not Barack Obama. Many opponents—none of them more prominent than Trump, yet again—argued, falsely and preposterously, that he was not even eligible to stand for the presidency because he had not been born in the United States. And certainly not George W. Bush, whom many Democrats viewed as illegitimate for several reasons: his popular-vote loss; questions over the final count in Florida; the fact that the Supreme Court effectively decided the election on a party-line vote.
Expanded school choice is a continuation of forced self-determination.
In recent weeks, pundits and scholars have bemoaned the privatization of public education that is likely to occur if Betsy DeVos is confirmed as Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education. Democracy Now!, for instance, billed DeVos as “Public (School) Enemy No. 1.” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement described her as “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.” At her confirmation hearing Tuesday evening, Democratic senators grilled her about her track record promoting private control of public education and demanded, to little avail, that she would commit to keeping public-school dollars in public schools.
The agency’s “follow the water” strategy risks creating a lost generation of scientists.
Two weeks ago, NASA announced the selection of two new missions to explore the solar system. Psyche will fly to a metallic asteroid of the same name, and Lucy will explore “Trojan asteroids” that travel along Jupiter’s orbital path. The missions will advance our understanding of the origins of the solar system, and are by all accounts worthy missions. In choosing them, however, NASA passed on the chance to return to Venus, a planet in dire need of exploration.
A generation has now gone by since the agency set a course for the second planet from the Sun, and with this latest mission opportunity lost, the earliest an expedition there might launch (from some future selection process) would be 2027—nearly 40 years since our last visit.