In light of the NRA's call for even more guns, in even more places, friend of the room and historian Tony Horwitz (Confederates In The Attic, Midnight Rising) sends along this beautiful missive noting the haunting similarities between the aggressive expansionist tactics of The Slave Power and aggressive, expansionist tactics of "The Gun Power." I am tremendously excited, and privileged to offer this to you guys. Tony's is a beautiful mind. Watch him work.
In the 1840s and 50s, abolitionists often spoke of a menace they called "The Slave Power." This pejorative wasn't aimed at Southern slavery, per se. It referred to the vast reach of proslavery money and influence in Washington and beyond. If unchecked, abolitionists warned, the Slave Power would poison every corner of American life and territory.
I'm wary of historical analogies. But in the wake of the Newtown massacre, I'm struck by parallels between the Slave Power and a force haunting us today: call it The Gun Power.
For decades we've appeased and abetted this monster, as Americans once did slavery. Now, like then, we may have finally reached a breaking point.
I don't mean to equate owning slaves with owning guns. But I do mean to equate the tactics and rhetoric of the NRA with those of proslavery "Fire-Eaters." The NRA casts itself as a champion of the Constitution. So did slaveholders, citing the safeguards accorded owners of human "property." Few Americans questioned slavery's legality, though they debated the Founders' intent, just as we do with the Second Amendment.
But as the nation spread, slaveowners turned the defense of a right into an expansionist crusade. Slavery wasn't just a right that nonslaveholders had to recognize and uphold. It must extend wherever slaveholders traveled and settled. So, too, has the N.R.A. demanded the right to carry guns into every conceivable place, including schools, churches and hospitals.
The N.R.A. does so in the name not only of rights but of "safety" and "self-defense." Guns, you see, aren't a danger to be regulated; they're a source of peace and security that everyone should enjoy.
Proslavery zealots had their own version of this. While 18th century slaveowners like Jefferson had treated the institution as a necessary evil, John C. Calhoun lauded slavery as a "positive good," a source of freedom even, because it liberated whites from drudgery and class conflict and blacks from African "savagery." It followed that all should enjoy its benefits. "I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth,' declared Mississippi Senator Albert Brown.
This wasn't just bluster. Even after the U.S. had enlarged itself by a third at Mexico's expense in the 1840s, Brown and others urged the nation to conquer Central America to provide Southerners with more land to plant and enslave. In the 1850s, Americans invaded Cuba, Baja, and Nicaragua, where a proslavery partisan, William Walker, installed himself as leader and reinstated slavery. His dictatorship won recognition from the administration of President Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire.
Northerners like Pierce were derided as "doughfaces"--half-baked and malleable in the hands of Southern leaders.
The N.R.A. has its own such minions, many of them Democrats the organization has bought or bullied with its lobbying and war chest. A famous political cartoon from the 1850s, titled "Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler," shows a miniature Pierce and Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois holding a bound man's hair while two Southern Congressman hoist a black man down the captive's throat. A similar cartoon could be drawn today, featuring the NRA's Wayne LaPierre and legislators with A ratings from the gun lobby, ramming concealed weapons and Stand Your Ground laws through state bodies too cowed to oppose them.
These kinds of tactics can work for a time, a very long time, as they did in the case of slavery. Most mid-19th century Americans, after all, were white supremacists who had little or no care for the plight of blacks. What most Northerners hated and feared wasn't slavery in the South, but the prospect of competing with slave labor and slaveholders' wealth in new territories, putting white freedom and opportunity at risk.
I suspect most Americans today who don't own guns have somewhat the same stance towards gun ownership. So long as guns stay on shooting ranges, or in the hands of hunters, or those who can make a good case that they need protection, few of us will make a stink, however much we disapprove. But forces like the Slave Power and Gun Power know no limits.
Emboldened by success, and imbued with a fanatical and paranoid world-view, they see enemies everywhere and regard any hint of compromise as betrayal. As New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley wrote in 1854, slavery "loves aggression, for when it ceases to be aggressive it stagnates and decays. It is the leper of modern civilization, but a leper whom no cry of 'unclean' will keep from intrusion into uninfected company." Much the same applies to the NRA and its insatiable appetite for new territory to allow arms in, and new ways to allow those guns to be used--such as putting armed guards in our elementary schools, as the NRA today suggested.
In the 1850s, slaveholders got their way in Congress (including a hardened Fugitive Slave Act), in the Supreme Court (the Dred Scott decision), and in the White House (occupied by a succession of doughfaces). But proslavery hardliners weren't satisfied. They sought the resumption of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which the Constitution had banned as of 1808. They branded moderates like Abraham Lincoln--who pledged to leave slavery alone in the South--as members of a "Black Republican" conspiracy to overthrow slavery. And they banished former allies such as Stephen Douglas, who lost his A-Rating for straying from the ultra-orthodox line that there must not be any restriction on slavery.
Rather than accede to Douglas's nomination as Democratic candidate in the 1860 presidential election, which he might well have won, Southerners split the party and nominated one of their own, dividing the Democratic vote and paving Lincoln's path to the White House. At which point, the Fire-Eaters led Southern states out of the Union rather than accept a democratically-elected president they opposed.
The NRA shows signs of similar derangement and over-reach. During the election, it demonized a president who had done nothing on gun control, claiming a "massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term." It has alienated staunch allies like Democrat John Dingell who resisted the NRA's mad-dog campaign to hold Eric Holder in contempt over "Fast and Furious." Other supporters who have deviated an inch from the NRA line have been targeted for electoral defeat.
And now, as the NRA's crusade bears fruit in Aurora, in Newtown, in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the nation shows signs of finally rousing from its slumber and acquiescence to whatever the Gun Power demands. The freedom of gun-owners--as interpreted and enforced by the NRA--threatens the freedom and security of every American. This was, in essence, the argument of Northerners who conjured the Slave Power: unstopped, it will enslave us all.
Here's one last link between the Slave Power and Gun Power, albeit ironic. The NRA was founded after the Civil War by Union veterans who felt Yankees had shown a lack of marksmanship in battling Rebels.
The NRA's first president was General Ambrose Burnside, who led Union troops at Antietam, a battle that in turn led Lincoln to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This early NRA appears to have regarded guns and marksmanship as necessary to the maintenance of a well-regulated militia. Today's NRA, of course, resists the "regulated" part of that equation. And militia, in its mind, means massively armed individuals ready to resist the "jack-booted government thugs" of the ATF and other agencies (including the United Nations).
In short, the NRA has become a neo-Confederate movement that sees Federals as foes, and that stokes the paranoia of its followers by claiming, as LaPierre did this year, that Obama's re-election marks "the end of our freedom forever." That's more or less what Fire-Eaters said about Lincoln in 1860.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The Fourth of July—a time we Americans set aside to celebrate our independence and mark the war we waged to achieve it, along with the battles that followed. There was the War of 1812, the War of 1833, the First Ohio-Virginia War, the Three States' War, the First Black Insurrection, the Great War, the Second Black Insurrection, the Atlantic War, the Florida Intervention.
Confused? These are actually conflicts invented for the novel The Disunited States of Americaby Harry Turtledove, a prolific (and sometimes-pseudonymous) author of alternate histories with a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. The book is set in the 2090s in an alternate United States that is far from united. In fact, the states, having failed to ratify a constitution following the American Revolution, are separate countries that oscillate between cooperating and warring with one another, as in Europe.
The executive producer of Masterpiece says Jane Austen works a lot better on screen than Hemingway does.
For 44 years, PBS’s Masterpiece franchise has brought high-end Britain TV programs to American audiences. While the ultra-successful Downton Abbey comes from an original screenplay, many of Masterpiece’s shows over the years have been adapted from great works of literature. And the vast majority of those great works of literature, unsurprisingly, have been British.
But every so often, an American novel—like James Agee’s A Death in the Family or Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark—has been turned into a Masterpiece. On Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Rebecca Eaton, the longtime executive producer of Masterpiece, said she wished that the program had tackled more U.S. authors over the years. “The reasons that we haven't are twofold,” she said. “One is money, the second is money. And the third is money. Also, the dark nature of American literature, which is something to think about for a moment."
How a re-creation of its most famous battle helped erase the meaning of the Civil War.
"No person should die without seeing this cyclorama," declared a Boston man in 1885. "It's a duty they owe to their country." Paul Philippoteaux's lifelike depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg was much more than a painting. It re-created the battlefield with such painstaking fidelity, and created an illusion so enveloping, that many visitors felt as if they were actually there.
For all its verisimilitude, though, the painting failed to capture the deeper truths of the Civil War. It showed the two armies in lavish detail, but not the clash of ideals that impelled them onto the battlefield. Its stunning rendition of a battle utterly divorced from context appealed to a nation as eager to remember the valor of those who fought as it was to forget the purpose of their fight. Its version of the conflict proved so alluring, in fact, that it changed the way America remembered the Civil War.
The meaning of the Confederate flag is best discerned in the words of those who bore it.
This afternoon, in announcing her support for removing the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley asserted that killer Dylann Roof had “a sick and twisted view of the flag” which did not reflect “the people in our state who respect and in many ways revere it.” If the governor meant that very few of the flag’s supporters believe in mass murder, she is surely right. But on the question of whose view of the Confederate Flag is more twisted, she is almost certainly wrong.
Roof’s belief that black life had no purpose beyond subjugation is “sick and twisted” in the exact same manner as the beliefs of those who created the Confederate flag were “sick and twisted.” The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten. Over the next few months the word “heritage” will be repeatedly invoked. It would be derelict to not examine the exact contents of that heritage.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.