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.
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, a generally empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the established formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky outfits, and attempting, overall, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
Silicon Valley’s new member of Congress has some big ideas for combatting wage stagnation.
Ro Khanna has a $1 trillion plan to fatten Americans’ wallets.
The newly elected member of Congress, who represents Silicon Valley, has become a loud progressive voice on the Hill during his brief tenure there. The way he sees it, Democrats have failed by not offering families a radical plan to end wage stagnation and bring prosperity to the middle class once again. He is working on a bill he believes will do just that, by boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide as much as $6,000 a year for individuals and $12,000 for families. (That would roughly double the maximum payout for families, and increase it tenfold for childless workers.) The plan is being heralded as a move towards a universal basic income in the United States, and Khanna hopes to pair it with efforts to move federal jobs out of Washington, expand universities and colleges, and encourage investment in depressed communities. Such a moonshot effort is not going anywhere soon, he concedes. But it would at the very least demonstrate to voters that Democrats had something new and bold to offer them.
If 2016 was the year of populist victories, there are signs this year will be different.
If 2016 was the year that populist protest triumphed in Britain (Brexit) and the United States (Trump), 2017 is shaping up as the year that political normality reasserts itself. Three events in three different Western democracies confirm that some of the familiar laws of political gravity do still operate.
The most spectacular of the events is unfolding in the United Kingdom. The Conservative party under Prime Minister Theresa May is rolling toward a crushing victory over a Labour party that veered to the hard left under Jeremy Corbyn. Corbynjoins radical views and stated sympathies with extremists—IRA, Islamist, and pro-Russian—to a personal befuddlement nicely captured in a Vice documentary that showed him autographing apples in permanent marker to distribute to admirers. (Who wants an autographed apple? You can neither eat it as a snack nor save it as a memento.) The befuddlement might be endearing were it not laid atop a paranoid management team staffed by the hardest of the British hard left. As an incredulous Politicoreported of Corbyn’s chief of communications, Seumas Milne:
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
As the president nears his hundredth day in office, he seems increasingly concerned about how he’ll measure up.
As he approaches his hundredth day in office, Donald Trump appears to be suffering—once again—from an acute case of presidential status anxiety.
In public, of course, he has labored to play it cool, strenuously insisting (and insisting, and insisting) that he does not care about the “first hundred days” metric that historians and pundits have used to evaluate the success of new administrations since FDR. Trump has called this milestone “ridiculous” and “artificial”—a meaningless media fixation. And yet, the less-than-laudatory press reviews seem to have left him seething. For evidence, look no further than the president’s pathos-drenched Twitter feed, where he recently took to vent, “No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!”
Different people have different ideas about what it means to sign an email “XOXO,” what you should use Facebook for, and how long you can wait before texting back.
The meanings we glean in conversation are often, maybe mostly, not found in the words spoken, but in how they’re said, and in the spaces between them. Tone of voice, and cadences created by shifts in speed, volume, and pitch, let listeners know whether “Nice job,” is complimentary or sarcastic, or whether “Wow” shows that you’re impressed or underwhelmed. The literal meaning of words is their message, and everything about how words are said is the metamessage. Metamessages communicate how you mean what you say.
More and more conversations are taking place on screens—via texting, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, email, and myriad other platforms. Some of these written conversations make up for the lack of voicing with conventions that mimic speech, like exclamation points, CAPS, and repetition of words or letters. I can be “so happy!!!!!!!” or “sooooo happy” or “SO happy” or “sosososo happy” or even “SOSOSOSOOOOOO happy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Emoticons, emojis, and gifs help, too. But these visual signals are only the tip of the metamessage iceberg.
Recent border battles have once again redrawn the lines of the metro area.
On the Saturday before Election Day last November, Jason Lary, a former insurance executive, crouched on a rough patch of grass at the center of a busy intersection 20 miles outside of Atlanta in DeKalb County. Lary was holding a hammer, and he tapped carefully on the thin wire base of a campaign sign. “My hand is like Fred Flintstone’s right now because I banged my hand in the night,” he said, noting his latest sign-related injury. This hazard, though, was worthwhile: “If you don’t start [the sign] with your hand, it will bend. It takes longer—guys are 10 times faster than I am. But my sign’s still gonna be up.”
This was a non-trivial advantage for Lary, who for the past month had begun most mornings with a kind of ground-game whack-a-mole. He would put up signs under the cover of night, only to have his opponents dislodge them by hand or, when that failed, run over them with their cars. Nevertheless, Lary was feeling good. “My opposition? Worn down,” he told me. “They don’t even have any more signs. And I kept a stash, knowing this time was coming. This is not my first picnic with nonsense.”
It would have been a breakthrough for Macedonia—a government finally in place after two years of political crisis—if it hadn’t turned bloody.
On Thursday, Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrats (SDSM)announced that Talat Xhaferi had been elected speaker of parliament, paving the way for a coalition between his party and parties representing ethnic Albanians, who comprise between one-quarter and one-third of Macedonia’s population, to form a government. (No one knows the exact proportion because there has been no census since 2002, as the parties cannot agree to hold one.) Even though the constitution mandates that ethnic Albanian parties must be represented in every government, the conservative-nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) has tried to portray Zaev’s coalition as a vehicle for a coup and eventual takeover of Macedonia by ethnic Albanians, who have higher birth rates than ethnic Macedonians.
The sorrow of the March for Science did not hit me until I saw a photo from it—an older woman standing next to a homemade sign adorned with Ms. Frizzle.
You know Ms. Frizzle, if only from a PBS ad. She is the elementary-school teacher with the curly red hair at the center of the Magic School Bus books and television show. In every episode, Ms. Frizzle corrals her small class of diverse kids into the Magic School Bus, which then drives to a local swamp, volcano, or human circulatory system. Then the eponymous magic happens—and the entire class is outfitted in hip waders, floating past a great blue heron; or in SCUBA suits, swimming through a vein past a red blood cell. Ms. Frizzle—not until recently did I notice her egalitarian title—lectures the class on the science of the scene.