Lay Me Down with Jesus

by Akim Reinhardt

The Second Line Tradition of the New Orleans Jazz Funeral - SevenPonds BlogSevenPonds BlogDeath was already about me. I’d recently written two death songs. Not mournful, but peaceful and welcoming. No reason. They just seeped out of me. Then came the Covid infection. It must’ve found me in upstate New York while vacationing with friends.

At first, I assumed it was just those damned seasonal allergies. As bad as they’ve ever been. But then it took a turn. When the thermometer read 100.2 F, I called it a night quite a bit earlier than usual. I wouldn’t open my eyes again for nearly a dozen hours. After finally crawling from the bed, I stumbled into the bathroom and reached for one of those free government test kits. Swab, spin, drip, wait. The incriminating line was a bold streak of bright red. I’m staring at it right now, having kept it as a memento.

By then the fever had broken, but the other symptoms were raging. Body aches. Serious fatigue. A dry cough. Each time my chest convulsed it triggered a momentary splitting headache. My nostrils felt raw, like they were or burning, even though I’d barely blown my nose. The overripe banana didn’t taste like much of anything. The dark chocolate was very intense. Aside from the brief fever, the worst of it lasted 48 hours. Then Jesus came to me. Read more »

The Impossibility of History

by Akim Reinhardt

A Prologue to Prologue | National ArchivesIs the Past Prolog? I’m not convinced. I say this as a professional historian.

The main problem, of course, is that there are many pasts. They are defined by temporality, by subjectivity, and by the limits of knowledge.

The past is ten seconds ago. Ten minutes, ten days, ten weeks, ten years, ten centuries. Which past is prolog to which present?

There is no one past. There are countless pasts. Mine. Yours. The billions, or at least millions, of people who were alive at any given moment. The great, great majority of them never meeting or even knowing of each other, having no discernible influence on each other. Humans can be worldly, but never really universal. Whose past is prolog to whom?

Yet even the shared pasts are contested. Because the past is no different than the present in at least one important aspect: it is experienced subjectively. Like the classic Akira Kurosawa film Roshomon, or the countless sitcom shows that borrowed its premise for a chicanery-riddled episode of mutual misunderstanding, there is no one version. Each person had their own. Their own vantage point, their own experiences, their own filters and agendas, their own limits and baggage, their own abilities and inabilities to understand what they see, feel, hear, and hear of. And even under the most favorable circumstances, every person does what every person must do: interpret.

There is a science of life, but life itself is no science. We need to invent and give meaning to what we do and experience. It is an unavoidable feature of the human condition. Our perceptions and understandings of human affairs are subjective. What contested past is prolog to what contested present? Read more »

The Long Fight: Hierarchies of Power and the Soft, Slow Motion Coup

by Akim Reinhardt

Tension (geology) - WikipediaThe United States has always faced a fundamental tension. On one side are those who champion, enforce, and/or profit from hierarchies of power: white supremacist racism, sexist patriarchy, Christian fundamentalism, and capital concentrations chief among them. Arrayed against these hierarchies of power are people who promote and work for racial equality, gender and sexual equality, cultural tolerance, the amelioration of poverty, and genuine freedom both for and from religious beliefs and practices.

For nearly two and a half centuries, these tensions have produced victories and defeats for all sides. While more of course remains to be done: the 20th century witnessed a steady rise in poor people’s (and everyone else’s) quality of life; women began making substantial advances a hundred years ago; racial, ethnic, and religious minorities have made important gains since World War II; LGBT people have achieved remarkable progress during the last half-century; and more recently, agnostics and atheists have begun carving out spaces of acceptance.

While these struggles are all longstanding, dividing lines are usually not very simple or clear cut. Ever since settler colonial slave owners began authoring stirring documents about freedom, many Americans have been on the side of freedom and equality on an issue or two, and against it on others. History offers no shortage of racist feminists, sexist civil rights workers, exploitative plutocrats who seek to help the poor in their spare time, homophobes of every stripe, and so on. Because there are so many divisions and contests, and because the lines of alliance and contestation are often unclear and shift over time, the major U.S. political parties have historically teetered back and forth on various issues. Read more »

The King of Pop, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and Modern Propaganda

by Akim Reinhardt

The Changing Face of Michael Jackson - SpindittyOver the course of more than a decade, Michael Jackson transformed from a handsome young man with typical African American features into a ghostly apparition of a human being. Some of the changes were casual and common, such as straightening his hair. Others were the product of sophisticated surgical and medical procedures; his skin became several shades paler, and his face underwent major reconstruction.

As stark as the changes were, perhaps even more jarring were Jackson’s public denials. His transformation was so severe and empirical that it was as plain as, well, the nose on his face. Yet he insisted on playing out some modern-day telling of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” either minimizing or steadfastly denying all of it. In order to explain away the changes or claim that they had never even happened, Jackson repeatedly offered up alternate versions of reality that ranged from the plausible-but-highly-unlikely to the utterly ludicrous. He blamed the skin bleaching on treatments for vitiligo, a rare skin disorder. He denied altogether the radical changes to his facial structure, claiming his cheek bones had always been that way because his family had “Indian blood.”

It was equal parts bizarre and sad. But in some ways, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of it all were those among Jackson’s loyal fans who swallowed his story whole. Despite the irrefutability of it all, they refuted it. They parroted his narratives in lockstep, repeating his claims and avidly defending the King of Pop from any questions to the contrary.

Today we face a similar situation. But it’s not about a pop star’s face lift. Ludicrous denials of reality and bizarre make believe counter-narratives are now are now central to discourses about politics and the politicized pandemic. Read more »

Black Lives Matter? #BlackFriendsMatter

by Akim Reinhardt

The white Southerners who fought US segregation - BBC NewsThree things we know about #BLM, two obvious, one a bit more subtle.

1. Activists originally created the Black Lives Matter slogan to point out and push back against the generally unstated truth that in American society, black lives do NOT matter as much as white lives. That in America, black lives have always been cheap. They were literally commodified for two and a half centuries; police, vigilantes, and mobs have beaten and even killed black people with relative impunity; and white people have, in general, always been safer around police. To say “Black Lives Matter” is to point out all of this, to assert the morality of black lives mattering as much as white lives, and to insist that we strive for that equality in America.

2. Reactionaries immediately attacked the slogan. They misinterpreted the slogan, sometimes intentionally, often myopically, claiming it meant that ONLY black lives matter, which it did not. They countered with the slogan “All Lives Matter” as if it were a different and better slogan, when in reality, “All Lives Matter!” is the core message of “Black Lives Matter!” Because “Black Lives Matter” is really shorthand for “Black Lives Matter Too!”

3. Many white liberals support the Black Lives Matter movement, either quietly, or with yard signs and bumper stickers. This allows white liberals to define themselves as “allies” without actually doing anything substantive. It provides white liberals an opportunity to publicly perform their politics, wrapping themselves in the slogan and proclaiming they are not racist. As if racism is only (or mostly) about what you believe and say. But of course all biases, including sexism, homophobia, and classism, are truly evil because of what people do. Read more »

Why Today’s Republicans Hate the New York Times So Much

by Akim Reinhardt

Headless Body in Topless Bar" writer dies. But why was that headless body there?When I was growing up during the 1970s, America still had a vibrant and thriving newspaper culture. My hometown New York City boasted a half-dozen dailies to choose from, plus countless neighborhood newspapers. Me and other kids started reading newspapers in about the 5th grade. Sports sections, comics, and movie listings mostly, but still. By middle school, newspapers were all over the place, and not because teachers foisted them upon us, but because kids picked them up on the way to school and read them.

Of course when dropping coins at the local newsstands and into boxes, us youngsters typically picked up tabloids such as the New York Post and Daily News, not those fancy papers so big you had to unfold them just to see the entire front page: the New York Times and the indecipherable Wall Street Journal. Those were for adults, and usually white collar ones at that.

My father was blue collar and not a big newspaper reader. But my mother was a high school English teacher and she made a family ritual of going out to buy the massive Sunday Times when it first hit newsstands on Saturday evenings. Mostly she just wanted the Book Review. We’d also pick up a Daily News because they too had a formidable Sunday edition; not cut into sections like the Times, but in a single massive tome like a phonebook. It had the best comics section of any NYC paper. After my sister and I had our way with the News, I’d occasionally thumb through the Times. No comics, but they did have an entire sports section.

As I rambled towards adulthood, I continued buying the tabloids for their local sports coverage and hilarious front page headlines. However, I also found myself reading more of that Sunday Times. Never all of it, of course. I was far too young, and anyway, never trust anyone who does; no one’s interests are really that far ranging. Read more »

If You Ain’t Got the Do-Re-Mi

by Akim Reinhardt

Map from Orange County Register

I was about 10 miles up the road in Long Beach visiting my sister’s family when word came of last week’s massive oil spill in Huntington Beach, Orange Co., California. We were actually headed over to that very beach when my brother in law checked the conditions. 

Uh oh.

Ten or twenty years ago I might’ve made some tired, easy joke about how this state is a tragicomic carousel of disasters. Earthquakes, mudslides, droughts, riots, etc.  Just add this oil spill to the list. But now it’s the entire nation that resembles a bad joke with punchlines you can smell long before they arrive.  

And if this state is a microcosm of the larger nation, with about 12% of the U.S. population within California’s badly angled borders, then perhaps it has something to do with how money both creates and sorta solves problems, at least for some people. The wealthiest state in the world’s wealthiest nation, and neither can get out of their own way. They both stumble about, knocking everything over amid their ravenous search for profits, and then turn to the “regular people,” the actual workers with sigh-inducing lives and miserable commutes, and even the less fortunate, to foot the bill and clean it all up.

America, can’t abide by simple rules designed to keep a pandemic in check because you’re susceptible to the propaganda actively or passively spewed by profiteering TV networks and digital media? Then just spend lavishly to hog the world’s vaccine supply and ride out the worst of it while maintaining your freewheeling ways.

California, don’t have enough water to support both, 40 million people and an enormous, misguided agribusiness complex in a state that’s mostly desert or near-desert? Then spend decades building and maintaining massive hydro reallocation projects that wreak ecological devastation for hundreds of miles around. Read more »

Modern American Extremism

by Akim Reinhardt

There’s a lot we can learn about today’s America by observing the Mormon Church.

Last month the Church of Latter Day Saints, as its officially known, issued a strong, positive directive to its 16.5 million members. Vaccines had been proven safe and effective, it reminded them. And please wear a mask in public gatherings, it implored them. The statement’s language was uplifting and unifying: “We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders,”

It led to a backlash.

Despite this urging from the LDS’ top ranks, nearly a fifth of church members say they will not get vaccinated. Another 15% are hesitant. Some anti-vax and anti-mask members complain the church is restricting their freedoms. In response, some Mormon vaccination and mask supporters are accusing the mask and vaccine holdouts of apostasy. Even bishops (regional church leaders) are divided. In one Idaho church, bishops stood in front of their congregation unmasked to read the official proclamation encouraging masks.

The Church of Latter Day Saints has one of the most loyal constituencies of any large social organization in America. There is no unanimity of course; small splinter groups have always existed, and as with any religion, some people are always distancing themselves from the church or leaving it altogether. Nonetheless, for two centuries practicing Mormons have been bound together by faith; a history of persecution; geography; relative cultural homogeneity here in the U.S.; a rigorous schedule of activities in the home, at church, and elsewhere, all designed to reinforce membership and belonging; and by a highly organized, hierarchical, patriarchal, and doctrinaire leadership that has wielded tremendous influence over its loyal followers, who typically follow specific dictates such as no alcohol, coffee, or tea.

So if even the Mormon Church is having trouble getting its truehearted constituents to follow simple health directives overwhelmingly backed by science and designed for their own benefit, then you know this about something much bigger than masks and shots. This is about what has happened in America during the last four decades. Read more »

The Millions of Christs of America

by Akim Reinhardt

The three Christs of Ypsilanti (1964 edition) | Open LibraryAs an undergraduate History major, I reluctantly dug up a halfway natural science class to fulfill my college’s general education requirement. It was called Psychology as a Natural Science.  However, the massive textbook assigned to us turned out to be chock full of interesting tidbits ranging from optical illusions to odd tales. One of the oddest was the story of Leon, Joseph, and Clyde: three men who each fervently believed he was Jesus Christ. The three originally did not know each other, but a social psychologist named Milton Rokeach brought them together for two years in an Ypsilanti, Michigan mental hospital to experiment on them. He later wrote a book titled The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

Rokeach hypothesized that since Jesus exists by the same code that the Immortals in Highlander later stated as “There can only be one,” these three men might be cured of their delusions when confronted with others who insisted likewise. Of course he was very wrong. Much like Highlander’s Immortals, they simply fell into conflict. When faced with the others’ unrelenting presence, each dug their heels in and doubled down on their delusions. Even Rokeach’s jaw-dropping manipulations, which included a string of outrageous lies and elaborate fabrications, could not dissuade them.

I’ve recently been pondering this infamous tale of poorly conceived psychological experimentation because in it I see reflections of problems currently plaguing America. Except instead of being thrown together in confinement, people with similar mental disorders are now finding each other on their own. And instead of a psychological professional at least trying (albeit in a highly flawed manner) to cure them, the medium of connection is the largely unregulated and even more manipulative internet. And, finally, instead of insisting there can only be one, mentally ill people are now reinforcing and reduplicating each other’s delusions. Read more »

I Haven’t Settled on a Title Yet

An image of a place I’ve never been before, which I found by image searching the phrase “a place I’ve never been before.” Apparently there is also a well known song by Mark Wills named “Places I’ve Never Been.” Many images related to that song also appeared.

The succinct, topical, and obvious choice is Review: Tom Lutz’s Aimlessness. It works just fine. But I am not taken with it. I shall come back to this.
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by Akim Reinhardt
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I don’t know how well Abbas knows me. Of course one can never really know how well someone else knows them. It’s a second degree of mystical confusion flowing the first: how well can you really know anyone else? [here]

How well do I know Abbas? Kinda. But more. Or less. I’m not sure. Over the last decade there have been email exchanges and the roughly biennial meet up for drinks. Our mutual friends have described him to me, and likely me to him.

How well does Abbas know me? Not at all in some ways. Very well in others. As 3QD editor he’s been reading my essays for over a decade. Is that what led him to suggest I review Lutz’s book on aimlessness? Certainly some of my own work here has broached the topic in various ways without ever using the word. There was the three-part essay from 2014 that chronicled my rambling 7,500 mile drive around the United States. And there was the book manuscript that I serialized at 3QD in 2019–2020. Ostensibly about songs that got stuck in my head, it was really about whatever mental and emotional meanderings those songs led my head to follow.

Is this why Abbas, who may or may not really know me, asked if I would like to review Tom Lutz’s new book about aimlessness? Read more »

Is this a Dagger and Fork I See Before Me: Menu Items from Shakespeare’s Diner

by Akim Reinhardt, Executive Chef (Marilyn Reinhardt, Megan Golden, Sous Chefs)

Truly, Thou Art Damned Like an Ill-Roasted Egg: Breakfast
All the World’s a Cage Free Omelet 10.99
Get Thee to a Buttery Croissant 8.99
Brevity is the Soul of Grits 5.99
If Muesli Be the Food of Love, Play On 5.99

What a Piece of Work Is Sandwich
Oh That This Too Too Solid Patty Melt 10.99
Eh Tuna Salad, Brute? 8.99
Cry Ham Sandwich and Let Slip the Dijon of War 10.99
Love Is a Smoked Brisket Sandwich Made with the Fume of Sighs 12.99

Better Three Hours Too Soon than a Minute Too Late: Appetizers
Now is the Winter Squash of our Grilled Content 5.99
Neither a Butter Beans Nor Lentils Be  6.99
Hell Is Empty and All the Deviled Eggs Are Here 3/5.99
Now Cracked Pepper a Noble Heart of Artichokes 7.99  

Salad Days
Romaine, Romaine! Wherefore art thou Romaine? 5.99
Two Beets (Red and Golden) or Not Two Beets (Just Red), That is the Salad 9.99
I Come to Eat Caesar Salad Raw, Not to Braise It 8.99
A Woman Would Run Through Fire andWater for Such a Kind Heart of Palm Salad
   11.99 Read more »

Carve

by Akim Reinhardt

Traditional Carved Red Wood with Flow Lines

I say carve.

You imagine a chisel flaking or chipping or gouging wood or stone.

I say line.

Now you see the chisel slicing and curving redoubled trenches through the surface.

I say straight.

You stir uneasily in your chair, or readjust your stance if you’re standing, perhaps mildly shrugging one shoulder. The chisel, for reasons you can’t imagine, carves a straight line. It is not rotating, turning, angling, or otherwise expressing itself creatively. It is simply working

This is not art, you murmur to yourself. This is just a straight line.

So odd, the word murmur. What a strange assortment of letters. A row of three, repeating itself once. rum rum backwards. Not red rum, such as murder backwards. Just rum rum. Why even one rum, much less two of them, cleaved together for reasons that are beyond us?

There is no rum here, light or dark, no molasses, no slaves. No triangular trade, carved through the Atlantic Ocean by large, wooden sailing ships, from Britain or Portugal or the Netherlands or Spain to Africa, usually West but occasionally Central, to the Caribbean islands, or perhaps to Brazil, and once in a while northward to the North American mainland, before returning back to Britain or Portugal or the Netherlands or Spain. Read more »

Epilog: Peace and Horror

by Akim Reinhardt

Two profound horrors have plagued the world in recent times: the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump presidency. And after years of dread, their recent decline has brought me a brief respite of peace.

Not that my peace was ever disturbed as much as many others’. One reason is that unlike the ICU patient or the undocumented immigrant child, neither horror has ever afflicted or assailed me directly. Another is that I have long been comfortable with impermanence, the reality that nothing lasts forever. Not the United States. Not me. Should the one be toppled by a dictatorial demagog or the other felled by a microscopic, multiplying coronavirus, so be it. All must end eventually.

Yet here we are, steps closer to but still somewhere short of the Great Undoing that the pathogen and the politician relentlessly dragged us towards. And only now, as their grips finally begin to release a bit, can I recognize more fully how each, in its own way, had previously commanded my attention, either undermining my peace or at least forcing me to redefine it.

First, the blinding orange glow.

Just the other day it dawned on me that not only hadn’t I thought about Donald Trump for a couple of weeks, but I also had not spent much energy charting the republic’s precipitous decline and decay. That is not to say I see Joe Biden as some kind of savior, or even have high expectations for his administration. I don’t. Nor am I convinced that the world is better off with the United States than without it. There are strong arguments either way. But regardless, to live in the United States during the Trump presidency, and to recognize the very real threat it posed to American culture and to U.S. constitutional systems and democratic and institutions, meant that you had to, at the very least, pay close attention to their ongoing perversion and erosion. Because it’s one thing to be intellectually okay with the United States’ eventual demise. It’s another to live through various stages of it while facing down the very real prospect of increased oligarchy, theocracy, nativism, and racism. Read more »

White America Needs to Clean House

by Akim Reinhardt

10 Ways to Get Rid of Your Old Junk | LoadUpWhite Americans get a lot of things wrong about race. And not just the relatively small number of blatant white supremacists, or the many millions (mostly over 50, conservative, and/or Republican) bitter about the supposedly undue attention, sympathy, and “breaks” that minorities receive; who insist actual racism was a problem only in the past, because Civil Rights “fixed” it; who believe anyone complaining about racism is just looking for an unfair edge in America’s level, color-blind playing field; who decry so-called “reverse racism”; who actually believe it is harder to be white in America than to be black or brown; or who simply minimize and downplay the existence racism.

Not just them. Even the small majority of whites who recognize that race remains a big problem in America often get it wrong. For example, many (most?) of them think that race is primarily about black and brown people. It’s not. Racism is primarily about white people.

Minorities suffer the effects of racism, and we must acknowledge and work to end that; however, you cannot cure an infection by simply placing a band-aid over the sore. You must clean out the wound thoroughly, surgically if need be, disinfect it, and then attack the infection at its root with antibiotics. In the old days it might have meant cutting off an appendage or limb. Similarly, racism won’t end or even be substantially reduced by strictly focusing on the suffering of its victims and making amends. Those are important and necessary first steps, but they don’t get at the core of the problem. Minority suffering is racism’s result, but racism is caused by what white people think and do.

White people empathizing with black and brown people is important, and it is vitally important that whites listen to minority voices. However, ending or substantially reducing racism will not come about until white people talk to each other and sort themselves out. Because racism is a white problem. Read more »

Fuck It, I’m Staying Here

by Akim Reinhardt

Sunset America New York Statue - Free photo on PixabayMy Jewish maternal grandparents came to America just ahead of WWII. Nearly all of my grandmother’s extended family were wiped out in the Holocaust. Much of my grandfather’s extended family had previously emigrated to Palestine.

My maternal family history illustrates why many modern American Jews continue to view Israel as their ultimate safety net. After two millennia of vicious anti-Judaism, many Jews believe they can eventually be run out of any country, even Untied States. American Jews’ sometimes uncritical support for Israel is underpinned by a wistful glance and a knowing nod; if it does happen here, we can escape to there.

Even though I am only half-Jewish, my familial immigration history is more recent than most American Jews.  Their ancestors typically arrived here a full generation or two earlier than mine, and most of them did not lose a slew of close family members in the Holocaust like my grandmother did.

But unlike most American Jews, I can counter the fear of “It can happen here” with a sense of American belonging that stems from deeply rooted Southern WASP family history. Depending on which of my paternal branches you follow, we’ve been here upwards of about three centuries.

Or so they tell me.

Exactly how long ago the Reinhardts, Lowrances, Younts, Dunkles, and Hollers I’m descended from first arrived here is besides the point. In fact, not having an exact date actually helps; it was long enough ago that no one really knows. And that feeds into the one common thread binding deeply-rooted white Protestant Americans, despite their many differences in class, education, geographic region, and religious denomination. It’s the unassailable sense that you belong here because you’re from here. That you’re not really the sons and daughters of immigrants. Rather, you’re descended from the people who took this land from Native Americans, and who fought to gain independence from the British. That you’re part of the group who really “earned” it. America’s your inheritance. You own it.

This is also the core of Trumpism: believing you have a better claim to being here than other people do. Read more »

Lowered Expectations

by Akim Reinhardt

Most People are Good | SLC6A1 ConnectPeople are basically good.

God, what a tiresome trope.

It is a desperate and naive sentiment, often advanced by those who can’t bear the truth. I say this as a historian who has studied genocide, ethnic cleansing, slavery, vast, violent, exploitative colonial systems, and more mundane expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. But if you’ve neither the time nor the inclination to brush up on 10,000 years of human history as a background for this discussion, then allow me to point you towards the present.

More than 70,000,000 people just voted for Donald Trump. Again.

After four years of observing, on a near daily basis, his presidential grotesquerie. The racism, the sexism, the vindictiveness, the endless vitriol, the knee-jerk authoritarianism and ceaseless attacks on and erosion of American constitutional mechanisms and democratic norms.

The number plagues us like a cancerous tumor unfazed by chemotherapy or radiation, and too large for a scalpel to carve away without disfiguring the corpus: 70,000,000. Read more »

Move to Canada If Donald Trump Wins? How About Break Up the United States Instead

by Akim Reinhardt

KEEP CALM AND MOVE TO CANADA | Moving to canada, Keep calm, Canada quotesIs there anything more clichéd than some spoiled, petulant celebrity publicly threatening to move to Canada if the candidate they most despise wins an election? These tantrums have at least four problems:

1. As if Canada wants you. Please.
2. Mexico has way better weather and food than Canada. Why didn’t you threaten to move there? Is it because of all the brown people? No, you insist. Is it the language? Well then if you do make it to Canada, here’s hoping they stick you in Quebec.
3. New Zealand seems to be the hip new Canada. I’ve recently heard several people threaten to move there. News flash, Americans: New Zealand wants you even less than Canada does.
4. Fuck right off then if you don’t want to be here.

As we stare down the possible re-election of Donald Trump, I’ve got a much better alternative: Stay put and begin a serious, adult conversation about disuniting the states.

If, through the vagaries of the Electoral College, 45% of U.S. voters really do run this nation into an authoritarian kleptocratic, dystopian ditch, then instead of fleeing with your gilded tail between your legs, stay and help us reconfigure the nation. It might be the sanest alternative to living in Trump’s tyranny of the minority, in which racism and sexism are overtly embraced, the economy is in shambles, the pandemic rages unabated, and abortion may soon be illegal in most states as an ever more conservative Supreme Court genuflects to corporate interests and religious extremists.

And of course it cuts both ways. Should current polls hold and Joe Biden manage to win the election with just over half the popular vote, those on the losing side will be every bit as upset. So upset that they too would likely open to a conversation about remaking an America. Read more »

The Bitter End and the Forever Now

by Akim Reinhardt

Richard Nixon: The Rise And Fall Of An American President - HistoryExtraThere is a minor American myth about shame and regret. It goes like this.

In the years following Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation amid scandal and disgrace, polls found that fewer Americans admitted to having voted for him than actually did. Apparently many former Nixon voters now realized the error of their ways and were embarrassed to admit ever having pulled the lever for him.

Everything about this story is false, and the truth of it is worse. Nixon’s loyal supporters stood by him the entire way, despite his crimes. His popularity did not retreat behind a wave of shame; it was merely muted by the national embarrassment of his resignation.

What does this tell us about today’s Trump supporters? Partisan divisions are much worse now than they were during the mid-1970s, so Trump voters’ fierce loyalty to this sexist, racist charlatan is unsurprising. But in explaining why, we tend to focus on the Cult of Trump, as if he has special qualities that give him some magical hold over his supporters. True, in many ways Trump is a unique politician in American history. Yet given our history, it seems likelier that his supporters’ undying devotion is less about the spells Trump casts, and more about the constancy of American political partisanship.

Indeed, the difference between Trump’s and Nixon’s loyal supporters might be more about decibel count than sentiment. And so by looking back at the steadfast support Richard Nixon maintained right through his resignation, we can better understand the misguided loyalty keeping Trump’s reelection campaign afloat. Read more »

How Black is Not White?

by Akim Reinhardt

Today in TV History: Bill Clinton and His Sax Visit Arsenio – TV ...During the 1990s, the impossibility of a black president was so ingrained in American culture that some people, including many African Americans, jokingly referred to President Bill Clinton as the first “black president.” The threshold Clinton had passed to achieve this honorary moniker? He seemed comfortable around black people. That’s all it took.

Because an actual black president was so inconceivable that a white president finally treating African Americans as regular people seemed as close as America would get any time soon.

In 1998, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison brought Clinton’s unofficial title to national attention with a New Yorker essay aimed at discrediting the impeachment proceedings against him. One of Morrison’s rhetorical devices was to check off all the boxes in which Clinton displayed “almost every trope of blackness,” including being raised in a working class, single-parent household, and loving fast food.

By 2003, the idea of a black president was still outlandish enough that it served as common comedic fodder. Chris Rock starred in the film Head of State, a fantasy comedy in which Chicago Alderman Mays Gilliam becomes a fluke president. And Dave Chappelle portrayed an unabashedly African American version of President George Bush in a Chapelle Show sketch. The skit’s running joke was how outrageous and “unpresidential” it would be to have a black chief executive. Read more »

Native Lives Matter

by Akim Reinhardt

U.S. Soldiers putting Lakota corpses in common grave
Burial of the dead after the massacre at Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD. U.S. Soldiers putting Indians in mass grave (1/1891).

Two months ago, a college student in my Native American history class was perturbed. How it could be that during her K-12 education she never learned about the 1890 massacre of nearly 200 Native people at Wounded Knee? She was incensed and incredulous, and understandably so. It’s an important question, a frustrating question, and a depressing question. In other words, it’s the kind of question anyone who teaches Native American history is all too used to.

My students typically begin the semester with a vague sense of “we screwed over the Indians,” and are quickly stunned to discover the glaring depths of their own ignorance about the atrocities that Native peoples have endured: from enslavement, to massacres, to violent ethnic cleansings, to fraudulent U.S. government actions, to child theft and the forced sterilization of women, to a vast, far-reaching campaign of cultural genocide that continued unabated well into the 20th century.

I started slowly, explaining to her that one problem is the impossibility of covering everything in a high school history class. Even in a college survey, which moves much faster, you just can’t get to everything. There’s way too much. A high school curriculum has no chance.

But, I said, that begs the question, both for college and K-12: What gets in and what gets left out? Read more »