by Akim Reinhardt
People 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 »
by Akim Reinhardt
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 »
by Michael Liss
That Fifties-looking gent to your right is John J. Sparkman (D-Alabama) who was Adlai Stevenson’s running mate in 1952. Sparkman served in Congress for more than 40 years, the last 32 of them in the Senate. While not a star, he was associated with several pieces of important legislation and became Chair of the Senate Banking Committee and, late in his career, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was also a committed segregationist and, in 1956, signed the Southern Manifesto, in emphatic opposition to Brown vs. Board of Education.
Not the best look in what was then an evolving Democratic Party, and the party bosses who made the decisions in those days knew it. When it became time for Ike to crush Stevenson again, Sparkman was replaced by Tennessee’s more liberal Estes Kefauver, who did not sign the Southern Manifesto. Sparkman remained in the Senate, where he served for 23 more years.
This scary-looking guy to your left is John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who, during a truly extraordinary career that included being a Congressman, Senator, Secretary of State, and Secretary of War, also managed to sneak in two terms as Vice President under two very different Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. You are going to hear a lot over the next few weeks about “chemistry” between Joe Biden and his running mate. Suffice it to say that John C. Calhoun never had chemistry with anyone, except perhaps of the combustible kind. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Calhoun disagreed constantly, particularly on the enforcement of federal laws that South Carolina found not to its liking (including the juicily named “Tariff of Abominations”), which led Mr. Calhoun to resign the Vice Presidency during the Nullification Crisis in 1832.
I bring you these little worm-eaten chestnuts as an appetizer before today’s entrée, the coming vetting of either the next Vice President of the United States, or the next footnote to history. Sparkman’s and Calhoun’s experiences came to mind when it was announced that this is the week when Joe Biden’s team starts seriously thumbing through his binders of women. Since I have written kindly about Joe in the past, I thought he’d appreciate the input. Mr. Vice President, give me a call. Read more »