Five Best Monday Columns

Annette Gordon-Reed on Ferguson, The Wall Street Journal on Rick Perry's indictment, Adam Lee on Christian persecution, Paul Krugman on modern war, and Leonid Bershidsky on police militarization. 

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Annette Gordon-Reed in The Financial Times on why the events in Ferguson show that America has not overcome its past. Gordon-Reed writes that Thomas Jefferson predicted the difficulty of the United States ever reaching an era of racial equality. "Jefferson saw slavery as a state of war between master and slave. It was a legal institution that categorised blacks as property and gave all whites authority over every black person. Even after it was destroyed, the law and the officers who enforced it remained a useful way of keeping blacks in an inferior position – in particular, of policing the movement and behaviour of black men." She suggests that the continuing struggles within the American criminal justice system validate Jefferson's 18th century warning. "This is not to suggest that criminals should not be punished or to argue that law enforcement is anything other than an essential cornerstone of any society based on law. It is to say that the 'deep rooted prejudices' that Jefferson spoke of have warped this vital social function – and made black people, particularly young black men, presumptive felons outside the boundaries of full citizenship."

The Wall Street Journal (subscription) on how the indictment against Texas Governor Rick Perry is politically motivated. "Usually when prosecutors want to use the criminal statutes to cripple a political opponent, they come up with at least some claims of personal or political venality. In this case the D.A.'s office is trying to criminalize the normal process of constitutional government... Mr. Perry saw a political opening and said he would veto $7.5 million in funds for Ms. Lehmberg's Public Integrity Unit unless she resigned." Now, the editors say, a politically motivated District Attorney is taking advantage of situation. "The larger political context is that the Travis County D.A.'s office is one of the last redoubts of liberal Democratic governance in conservative Texas, and it has a history of partisan prosecutions that fail in court. In 1994 Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was acquitted shortly after her trial began for misusing her former office as Texas treasurer. And in 2013 a Texas appeals court overturned the campaign-finance conviction of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Both Republicans endured enormous personal expense and no small amount of anxiety that they could have gone to jail on false charges... Until the indictment is tossed, it will hang over [Perry's] candidacy and complicate the task of raising campaign money."

Adam Lee in The Guardian on why American Christians should stop whining about persecution. Lee criticizes what he sees as the increasing tendency of conservative Christians to use religious persecution to sway political power in their favor. "American conservatives who inveigh against the erosion of their religious liberties are crying that they’re the oppressed minority: not because they face forced conversion or death, but because they’re not getting their own way on same-sex marriage or the Obamacare contraception mandate... But actual minority religious groups – including Christian groups – who face genuine persecution, cast American Christians’ claims of persecution in a ridiculous and embarrassing light." Lee writes that claims of persecution in the U.S. mostly come from a white Christian majority scared of losing their decreasing political influence. "As America becomes more diverse and less religious than ever, white conservative Christian men are losing their disproportionate influence on politics and, because they think of themselves as the natural and deserving custodians of that power, having to share it feels like a shocking injustice."

Paul Krugman in The New York Times on why modern nations continue to wage wars. In the past, Krugman contends, countries went to war for economic reasons. "Once upon a time wars were fought for fun and profit; when Rome overran Asia Minor or Spain conquered Peru, it was all about the gold and silver. And that kind of thing still happens. In influential research sponsored by the World Bank, the Oxford economist Paul Collier has shown that the best predictor of civil war, which is all too common in poor countries, is the availability of lootable resources like diamonds. Whatever other reasons rebels cite for their actions seem to be mainly after-the-fact rationalizations. War in the preindustrial world was and still is more like a contest among crime families over who gets to control the rackets than a fight over principles." According to Krugman, the wars of today, which are economically destructive, are mostly fought to solidify a leader's power at home. "The larger problem, however, is that governments all too often gain politically from war, even if the war in question makes no sense in terms of national interests."

Leonid Bershidsky in Bloomberg View on the problems with police militarization. In the wake of Ferguson, Bershidsky examines how police militarization only leads to bigger and more meaningful protests. "As the creeping erosion of this notion continues, police officers around the world are becoming convinced they are fighting a war on something or other, whether that's drugs, terror, anarchists or political subversion. This mindset contrasts with the public's unchanged perception of what the police should be doing, which is to keep the streets safe, a conceptual clash that can lead to unexpected results. Ukraine provides one recent example. On Nov. 30, the Berkut riot police beat up a few hundred students who had camped on the main square of the capital, Kiev, to call for closer ties between Ukraine and Europe. Ukrainians were not used to being treated like the population of a 'colony of rule.' Hundreds of thousands took to the streets the following day, setting off a chain of events that led to the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych and the current crisis on Europe's eastern borders." Bershidsky suggests U.S. police forces must once again work to earn the public's trust. "Arming police with military weaponry and outfitting them for battle is a recipe for creating violent conflict where there was none and achieves the opposite of keeping public order.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.