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Once again the nazis

August 16th, 2017 No comments

“All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

“Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.” – W.H. Auden, “September 1, 1939” (Germany invaded Poland on that date, beginning World War II)

The Poetry of Tragedy

August 15th, 2017 No comments

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the independence and partition of India. Most Americans know little about Indian history and the struggle for independence from British colonial rule. If you only know the movie Gandhi, then you will believe that the British and indigenous peoples (Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim) shared common liberal values (i.e., a secular state based on popular sovereignty and individual freedoms). But liberalism, a European invention, did not dominate Indian politics.

Before the independence of India, there had never been a unified Indian “nation.” What we call India was a collection of states and districts that eventually came under the direct control of the British Crown. At the time of partition, there were approximately 1600 different dialects spoken on the Indian subcontinent, in other words, 1600 different ethnic identities. The idea of a unified liberal state, championed by Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, was a Western invention.

Islam entered the Indian subcontinent beginning in the 8th century. The tragedy of Indian history is that Islam, with its insistence on the one-ness of God, is antithetical to the dominant religion of India, Hinduism, with its multitude of Deities. This antipathy led to conflict and violence between followers of the two religions.

When India came under the rule of the British, religious tensions faded to the background, but conflicts remained. The Sepoy rebellion of 1857, which eventually led to direct British rule, was sparked by resentment of Indian Hindu and Muslim soldiers (Sepoys) against the British use of either pork of beef fat in its ammunition. When the country moved toward independence in the 20th century its major proponent was an alliance of Hindus in the Indian National Congress led by Gandhi and Muslims in the Muslim League led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

It was Gandhi’s goal to unite all of India into one new liberal state. But when the prospect of independence became real after World War II, the old animosities between Muslims and Hindus resurfaced. Fearing persecution, Jinnah insisted on a separate Muslim nation. The British eventually conceded to allow the creation of two states: India, with a majority of Hindus and Sikhs, and Pakistan, with a majority of Muslims. The plan was hastily drawn up and the border (the Radcliffe line) defined just five days before independence.

The problem with the line was that, while it was true that there were a majority of Muslims in the area designated Pakistan and a majority of Hindus and Sikhs in the area designated India, there were Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims in every district of the subcontinent. Fearing discrimination by the majority, religious minorities in both regions were displaced, seeking homes in the country dominated by their religion. The resulting suffering during the mass migration of millions led to mob violence and brutal attacks on both sides. An estimated million people died.

And what was gained? Take a step back in your mind and marvel that millions of people suffered and many died trying to cross an imaginary line because of fear and mistrust based on ideological differences. All of this suffering was created out of fabricated disunity, and all of it could have been avoided by political leaders recognizing the “other” as neighbor.

History does not repeat itself. But it does rhyme. And here we sit in the United States in 2017 tapping our feet to the rhythm of this tragic ode.

Indian Independence Day: everything you need to know about Partition between India and Pakistan 70 years on

70 years ago, Partition came into effect, dividing British India into two new, independent countries: India and Pakistan. At midnight on August 14 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, gave a famous speech which hailed the country’s decades-long, non-violent campaign against British rule: At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

I am not a know nothing.

July 31st, 2017 No comments


“I am not a Know-Nothing – that is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equals, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to that I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” Abraham Lincoln letter to Joshua Speed , August 24, 1855. https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/knownothingparty.htm, accessed July 30, 2017

Republican Congress vs. Republican President 

July 29th, 2017 No comments


Donald just signed a law containing provisions limiting his power to conduct foreign policy. In 1867 Radical Republicans in Congress, with a veto proof majority, passed the Tenure of Office Act over President Johnson’s veto, restricting him from firing and hiring cabinet members. Though Johnson was Lincoln’s Vice President he was not a committed Republican, and he opposed Congressional Republican’s plan for Reconstruction. When Johnson fired Secretary of War Stanton anyway, Congress impeached him and failed to remove him from office by a single vote. Hmmmm…..
Congress’ Message to Donald Trump is Tough

Fanaticism, breakdown, and a much darker future…

July 26th, 2017 No comments

Governor Jerry Brown discusses political polarization. NPR Morning Edition 7/25/17


“We listened to a variety of opinions from a variety of points of view. And some of the folk on the left said, oh, you can’t talk to oil companies. Are you talking to the Chamber of Commerce? Are you talking to the Farm Bureau? That’s just horrible.

“And then on the other side, The Wall Street Journal and some of the Republican activists said, you’re a Republican. You can’t vote for something that a Democrat would support. Well, both of those, in my view, are forms of political terrorism that are conspiring to undermine the American system of governance.”

“I would say history tells us that we need to find consensus. We need to swallow our own pet thoughts and build coalitions. That’s the nature of parliamentary democracy, American democracy. And we’re getting away from that. And the end product is always fanaticism, breakdown and a much darker future.

Original Article

The Mystic Chords of Memory

July 3rd, 2017 No comments

In one of those interesting coincidences of history, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both passed on the same day: July 4, 1826. It was exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which they both had worked to create.

In 1776, both men were bound by the task before them, the intricacies and dangers of declaring independence from Great Britain. Both had served on the committee that drafted the Declaration, though Jefferson did most of the writing and Adams, along with Benjamin Franklin, offered amendments. During much of their lifetimes after, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were fast friends.

The only cloud on their friendship was that they disagreed profoundly about politics. This did not seriously affect their friendship until both became involved in presidential politics. By an eccentricity of the Constitution as originally written, when Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson for the Presidency in 1796, Jefferson became his Vice President. Their political differences made a working relationship impossible. Jefferson believed that Adams and others of like mind, particularly Alexander Hamilton, were actively working to destroy the country; to turn it into a monarchy. Adams, for his part, believed Jefferson’s ideas to be dangerously radical. Jefferson was intent on steering the country in a more liberal direction, to the point if necessary of a new revolution.

In 1800 Jefferson again ran for President against Adams. It was a vicious campaign. In those days people did not campaign for the Presidency but allowed proxies to speak for them. Jefferson’s followers described Adams as having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” In return, Adams’ men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” And worse.[i]

The election nearly broke the country, and when the Federalists reluctantly surrendered the outcome to Jefferson, Adams, on his last day in office, filled the Federal judiciary with Jefferson’s enemies, and then left town before Jefferson could be inaugurated. Their friendship seemed hopelessly damaged. In fact, they did not communicate again for over ten years.

Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, worked through those years for a reconciliation between the two men who he called “the North and South Poles of the Revolution.”[ii] In the end Jefferson learned through Rush that despite their differences Adams still professed affection for him. Subsequently a letter correspondence was begun that spanned the remaining years of their lives. Adams wrote to Jefferson in 1813, “You and I, ought not to die, before We have explained ourselves to each other.”[iii] Their relationship once again blossomed into an intimate friendship.

What had separated these two men was an absolute certainty of the correctness of their own political ideas and a disregard for those of the other. The disregard in the end deteriorated to the point where each could only perceive the worst in the other. For the sake of their political ideas they allowed themselves, in a sense, to discount each other’s humanity. History is littered with countless similar episodes. In 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin wrote to his former friend William Straham, “You and I were long Friends : You are now my Enemy, and I am, Yours, B Franklin.”[iv]

The story of Adams and Jefferson is fitting for this Fourth of July, because our country is more divided now than at any time since the Vietnam era, and perhaps even since the eve of the Civil War. It is rather obvious that what these men hated was not each other, but each other’s ideas. We too have seen our civil society tattered by the collision of incompatible ideas. It is a clash of ideas, as this episode demonstrates, as old as the country itself.

For the most part our differences have, rather than leaving us weaker, been the bedrock of our strength as a people. There was only one occasion when the conflict of ideas became so hardened as to be insurmountable, and that occasion resulted in the Civil War. It should serve as a lesson that if we become unmovable in our self-righteousness we put the entire American experiment at risk. In 1800, Adams’ and Jefferson’s rivalry put the country at risk, but in the end a reluctant compromise saved the country. It was the inability to compromise that led to the opposite result in 1861.

Jefferson noted this as he assumed the Presidency after the bitter election of 1800. In his inaugural address, he was conciliatory.

[E]very difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.[v]

He noted that though there was fierce disagreement it was over how best to serve the country. Americans need to remember that those who are our political opponents have the best interests of the country at heart, even if they seem woefully misguided. When we begin to deny the other the same love of country we have, then we reach the impasse we are in.

The United States, in some ways, has always been a diverse nation. As time has passed the nation has become ever more diverse, often through painful struggle. But the wisest among us recognize that diversity is our source of strength. We bring to the table every point of view, every culture, every religion, every ethnicity. Each brings a unique strength to what unites us: our devotion to enact the principles of the Revolution as expressed in our founding documents. And though there are those who fear more inclusion, we have become very skilled at celebrating diversity.

What we are not good at is celebrating our unity. As we rejoice in our differences we have lost sight of what binds us together. That is our humanity. If each of us can come to see that those we oppose politically are not our enemies but our friends, we can survive through these trying times, as we have in the past. In the end, what brought Adams and Jefferson back together was the recognition that they both loved the country, even if they could not agree on how best to express that love.

I leave you with the inaugural quote of another President in a time of deep division, on the eve of a cataclysm he could not prevent.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.[vi]

I wish the best celebration of independence for all who love the United States, no matter the beat of our different drums.

[i] Kerwin Swint, “Adams vs. Jefferson: The Birth of Negative Campaigning in the U.S.,” Mental Floss, September 9, 2012, 1, accessed July 2, 2017, http://mentalfloss.com/article/12487/adams-vs-jefferson-birth-negative-campaigning-us.

[ii] Benjamin Rush, “To John Adams from Benjamin Rush, 17 February 1812,” National Archives: Founders Online, September 17, 1812, accessed July 2, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-5758..

[iii] John Adams, “John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 15 July 1813, with Postscript from Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson, [ca. 15 July 1813],” National Archives: Founders Online, July 15, 1813, accessed July 2, 2017, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-06-02-0247.

[iv] Benjamin Franklin, “From Benjamin Franklin to William Strahan, 5 July 1775,” National Archives: Founders Online, accessed July 2, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-22-02-0052.

[v] Thomas Jefferson, “Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address,” The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, accessed July 2, 2017, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jefinau1.asp.

[vi] Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln,” The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, accessed July 2, 2017, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln1.asp.

“A third rate burglary…”

May 13th, 2017 No comments

Courage

April 7th, 2017 No comments

A nation of laws…?

April 4th, 2017 No comments

Be a patriot.

February 13th, 2017 No comments

“20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.”

20 Lessons from the 20th Century on How to Survive in Trump’s America

A history professor looks to the past to remind us to do what we can in the face of the unthinkable. “Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so.

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