I'm a little more than halfway through Thomas Conot's American Odyssey, which I talked about last week. As I said, the book is a history of America through the lens of "The D." Anyway, I think one reason it isn't mentioned much is because Conot chose to mix fictionalized characters with history. It was a bad decisions, and it mars some damn fine research about the nature of cities.

That said, I came upon this passage and immediately thought of today's politics. It's about Henry Ford's legal war against the Chicago Tribune. Ford, notoriously thin-skinned, filed a libel suit against the Tribune for calling him an "anarchist" and a "ignorant idealist." From the book:

Daily the Tribune attorneys hammered at his intellectual capacity, knowledge of history and comprehension of world events. On the stand Ford described a "large mobile army" as "a large army mobilized," In response to the question: "What was the United States originally?" he replied: "Land, I guess." Asked to identify Benedict Arnold, he said that he was a writer. The American Revolution, he thought, had taken place in 1812...

The city slickers attack on Ford's IQ misfired, for the upbringing, education and values of the jurors were much like those of Ford. Ruling for Ford they awarded him six cents and court costs...Rural small town Americans, who bought two thirds of the Model T's, acclaimed the verdict. In the cities, Ford was laughed at...

The trial was a microcosm of the conflict between small-town and urban America, between fundamentalism and cosmopolitanism, between a return to insularity and internationalism, between nineteenth century and the twentieth century education. For the moment, the tide seemed to be running backward to the nineteenth century.

"The real United States lies outside the cities," Ford concluded....

And so, to this day, it is. As an addendum Ford ran for Senate and lost. He considered a run for president, but decided against it. I think populism is a very powerful force in American politics. But populism alone is rarely enough.

One other thing, Ford's talk of "the real United States" provides another another lesson one the expectation of "nobility through suffering." Ford's father--William Ford--hailed from County Cork and came to America at a time much of its population didn't consider him part of "the real United States." On the one hand, Henry Ford became a paternalistic ally to Detroit's black community. On the other (and more significant) hand, he became an antisemitic bigot whose works were cited, and distributed by, the engineers of the Holocaust. More than collective history, I find the make-up of each individual to determine their requisite nobility.


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