The GOP Tax Bill is Another Attack on Us All.

Gentle Readers, it’s that time again. The Republican Party, which once produced our greatest president, has continued to dig its way through the concrete slab beneath the fallout shelter in its quest for the bottom. A tax bill has passed the House, with the vote of my Representative and maybe yours too, which will dramatically slash taxes for the extremely wealthy and corporations. Because they are using budget reconciliation to get that bill through the Senate without a filibuster, that means they need to write a bill that doesn’t add to the deficit over ten years. (Adding to the budget deficit within that time is allowed.) To make the math work, the GOP has decided that the rest of us should pay for it.

You may have heard that you will get a tax cut. Who ever told you that either told you on the deck of your yacht or wasn’t telling the truth:

By 2023, a key middle-class tax break expires. Many of the people facing tax hikes are solidly middle class ($40,000 to $75,000) or else in the “upper upper” middle class ($200,000 to $400,000), JCT found. A key savings for the middle class — the Family Flexibility Credit — goes away after 2022. The House bill also uses a low measure of inflation after 2022, meaning more and more people start to jump from the 12 percent tax bracket to the 25 percent bracket (which starts to kick in at $67,500 for heads of households).

That’s the House bill, but the Senate will be doing something similar and also repeal the ACA’s insurance mandate. You may know that as the pain that requires you to get insurance. It’s also the provision that gets enough of us into the risk pool that insurers can afford to take care of the sick and people with pre-existing conditions without demanding ruinous premiums from them. That may not sound just to you, and I will not defend the morality of for-profit health insurance, but it is how the system works. Insurers count on premiums from healthy people to keep them above water when someone gets very sick. Chronic illnesses, cancer, childbirth, and injuries can all make any of us extremely unappealing to the insurance industry unless we have a private pool made of solid gold. The estimated impact of removing the mandate is that thirteen million people would lose coverage. Some of those people would drop it voluntarily and take their chances, but many would not; the new rates would be too much for them to afford. This is a backdoor Obamacare repeal. And by the way, if you do get sick this bill removes your ability to deduct medical expenses from your taxes.

That’s cruel in itself. The bill also includes offenses against the historical profession and, for that matter, almost every profession. In the United States, becoming a professional usually requires a college degree to get your foot in the door. More than that, it tends to requires a graduate degree. Some disciplines have their own names for it, but most of these are Masters and Doctorates. Graduate school is ruinously expensive, much more so than ordinary university already is. Grad students who aren’t independently wealthy get by largely through the fact that universities ruthlessly exploit them in exchange for a pittance salary and waiving their tuition. The GOP’s bill will remove the deduction for that tuition waiver and tax it as income. Thus a person working to become a historian, or an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, almost any middle class or higher job, will be expected to pay taxes on an income two or three times what actually goes into their bank.

Gentle Readers, I’m friends with some people in grad school and others about to start it right now. None of them can afford that. They are your future historians and librarians. People with advanced degrees designed your car. They developed your medicine. They are essential to the survival of modern society and all the benefits it brings us. If you value what they contribute to the world and hope it continues, you can’t support this bill unless you also think that those roles should be open only to those of us lucky enough to be born fabulously wealthy.

There is some good news, though. If you’re a corporation you could deduct the cost of supplies you buy for your workers to use to make you money. To pay for that, among other things, the GOP will remove the ability of teachers to deduct money out of their own pockets that they spend on supplies for your kids. Virtually every teacher does this every year.

All in all, three-quarters of the cuts in this bill go to businesses and corporations. The extremely rich get the rest. In exchange for that, we are promised that money will rain from the heavens to make up for it. We’ve been promised that for every prior cut like this and none of them has ever paid for itself. This is the largest yet. If you believe them now and that this time will be different, I don’t know what to say.

If none of that moves you, then consider this: The House bill will knock a 1.4 trillion hole in the federal budget by design. That’s what it’s for. The plan is to create a massive deficit and then use it as an excuse to radically cut programs that people depend on for their very lives: Medicaid and Medicare top the list and would face immediate cuts to the tune of billions of dollars. This bill will kill people. It will devastate higher education. It will hurt teachers and children. And then the GOP will use it to come back around for more blood from the same people. It’s all being done with an almost total absence of committee hearings, chances for the minority to offer amendments, in haste and largely in secret just like ACA repeal.

This is sadism. I would call it inhuman, but I study people who do things like this to other people. Even the people at Forbes, not known for their bleeding heart liberalism or love of taxes, think this bill is madness. As these cuts will disproportionately harm those with the least, and we have ordered our society such that people who we don’t consider white tend to have the least, I consider this also a white supremacist piece of legislation. I cannot study what I do in good faith and let it pass entirely in silence.

Get in touch with your Senators, especially if they’re Republicans and doubly so if they’re Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, or John McCain, and let them know what you think about all that. You can get contact information for them here or use ResistBot’s automated system through Facebook Messenger or your smart phone. If all of this sounds great to you, then those systems also work the other way. I hope you agree with me that this is a fight worth having, but if not then we still have something like a democracy. You deserve to have your voice heard too. We are all Americans.

Thoughts on Puerto Rico

Gentle Readers, I guess this is something I’ll be doing more often again for all the worst reasons.

Some people believe that moral responsibility comes from one’s actions, mixed to some degree with one’s intentions. Many also believe that what one doesn’t do doesn’t count. We never have an obligation to act, but by acting we can incur obligations on ourselves. Standing aside means one hasn’t done anything right, but also nothing wrong. I don’t buy that and, if you get right down to it, I don’t think many people really do. Rather inaction becomes innocent to us largely when we feel like we should do something, but haven’t.

That must sound judgmental; moral reasoning can’t manage any other way. What we do and what we don’t do touches the lives of others. We can’t foresee every possibility or imagine the chain of causation across the world and down centuries; it would be absurd to insist that we should and hold us responsible for failing at it. But we must take responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of our actions and inactions. We choose them at the same time as, and because of, the choices we make to act or not.

This brings me to Puerto Rico, now devastated by Hurricane Maria. Everyone who had any right or business to know knew that Maria would probably sweep over our colony and cause tremendous devastation. We knew it just like we knew Texas and Florida would need help when hurricanes struck them. The United States is a rich country with a ludicrously expensive military that boasts tremendous logistical capability. When disasters strike, it’s out job to step up and do what we can. We have the ability. If we lack the willingness, then we must admit what we have chosen: to let people suffer and die while we quietly watch. This is true anywhere in our impressive reach, but the way human beings inevitably operate we feel that obligation most keenly for people we consider our own.

Puerto Ricans are Americans, the same as I and most of you are. They have every right to expect their government, which is also ours government, to be ready on hand with plans, resources, vehicles, and people to come to their desperate aid. More people live on the island than in about half of our states, millions of lives at risk. The island lacks power and will for months. It’s residents face floods. Most of them have no clean drinking water. This is a humanitarian catastrophe that beggars belief. The Trump administration had no plan to help the island. They and the GOP majority in Congress now expect to vote some kind of aid bill through toward the middle of the month, which Washingtonian friends tell me means they might get it done by Christmas; I hope they’re wrong. The residents of Puerto Rico mostly don’t have white skin. If they did, the full logistical might of the United States government and its bottomless coffers would have opened for them. Supplies and aid workers would have been lined up to flow in. 

People have already died from American inaction. More will soon, possibly for months on end. Natural disasters claim lives and we can’t blame anyone. You can’t legislate away a hurricane or arrest a flood. But our government has chosen the side of the hurricane, whilst boasting of the insufficient amount of aid scraped together already. It has forbidden members of Congress from going to the island, for fear they will report the truth. The man at its head had more important things to do than help, namely picking Twitter fights with Puerto Rican politicians who go out in deep water by themselves to find people in need and improve his golf game at our expense. Most of those who die will be the most vulnerable, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and children. I don’t know how to explain this except as an act of mass murder, done to the people of Puerto Rico in all our names. When Joseph Stalin orchestrated a famine in Ukraine, we didn’t shy away from calling it that. We must hold ourselves to the same standard. This is America in 2017. No one deserves to be treated so monstrously, but here we are.

Private charity can’t replace the resources of the American state -most charitable organizations actually rely on state aid to do their work- but if you can help, then here are some good organizations.

Please help save the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. We have got to keep fighting.

Contact your Senators and Representatives through Resistbot via your smartphone or Facebook messenger. Call them through the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121, especially if you live in Alaska, Arizona, or Maine.

I’m sorry Gentle Readers; we’re here again. If you followed the news, you might have believed that the Graham-Cassidy bill to destroy Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, ripping health insurance and thus both access to health care and peace of mind from thirty-two million Americans was safely dead. On Friday John McCain announced his opposition to the bill. That gave it two declared no votes (the other from Senator Rand Paul) and two likely no votes (Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski). That should have sunk things, but Rand Paul has voted for prior ACA repeals/Medicaid destruction and has now signaled that he is open to doing so again as long as the cuts are deep enough. Graham-Cassidy didn’t have enough misery in it for him. Without Paul’s no, assuming Collins and Murkowski hold firm, the bill still dies.

The drafters know that and believe they don’t have the votes, so a new version of Graham-Cassidy dropped tonight. You may have heard reports that it gives states more money, but analysts looking at the bill believe that the authors are using accounting tricks to hide that most states still lose badly. The new version guts protection for people with pre-existing conditions, rendering some of them uninsurable at any price and others unable to afford insurance. It still turns Medicaid into a block grant which expires entirely in 2026. It still authorizes states to let insurers sell policies that don’t cover essential health benefits, like prescription drugs or mental health care. Every protection you value in Obamacare is left up to the states to maintain or rescind in Graham-Cassidy 2.0. The only thing they added were partial payoffs for senators who they need to get to fifty votes plus Vice-President Pence’s tie-breaker.

This entire process has been deeply disturbing to me for many reasons. The content of the bill itself, I deem frankly monstrous. Senators voting to pass it are choosing consciously to inflict unimaginable misery on countless people who will be forced off the insurance rolls, forced to buy more expensive insurance, or stuck with insurance that doesn’t cover what they need. It will cost lives. Please don’t take my word for it, listen to the actual experts. Graham, Cassidy, and company will say anything to sell their bill. Here’s a basic summary, quoting one of the people in the know:

  • Although the state-by-state numbers being circulated show these states faring well, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt called them “pretty misleading,” as they don’t take into account the per-person cap on federal Medicaid funding. They also add state savings to the block grants under the bill, but don’t include them in the current law baseline, meaning the comparison isn’t apples to apples.
  • Allows “multiple risk pools,” which could separate sick and healthy people and thus drive up premiums for people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Allows states to change the federal cap on out-of-pocket costs for enrollees.
  • Allows states to decide how much insurers can charge people with pre-existing conditions, the benefits plans must offer and how cost-sharing is structured.
  • States only have to describe their plans; they don’t have to submit waivers of insurance rules.
  • “If there was any question about Graham-Cassidy’s removal of federal protections for pre-existing conditions, this new draft is quite clear,” Levitt tweeted.

The bottom line is that we all lose. In 2027 every state gets a giant hole knocked in its budget, which they will have to pay for in lives or taxes. Some states might do the right thing, but states often make it very difficult to raise taxes so many will choose the alternative. It’s true that some states lose out sooner, of course. States that tend to vote for Democrats lose the most and fastest:

And more on the accountancy tricks:

The Axios piece and Gaba’s take correspond closely to that of Andy Slavitt, who ran Medicaid for President Obama. Please see this thread for a full version:

I’m sorry to throw so much of Twitter into this post, and also the last, especially for those of you who already follow my feed and so have seen all this before. The content of the bill is itself profoundly disturbing, to say nothing of its effects. But I must rely on Twitter because at the time of writing the new language became available only a few hours ago. The Senate will likely vote to make it law or not on Wednesday. No official estimates of its costs or effects can be in at that time, not even the most basic and incomplete analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate Parliamentarian, who rules on whether a bill’s provisions are permissible under the special rules the GOP is using to avoid a filibuster, has no hope of parsing through it all honestly and fairly. It took days for independent analysts to get out estimates of the previous draft, which the entire American medical industry from patient groups to doctors to hospitals and insurers, all damned.

This massive overhaul to an industry that constitutes a huge portion of the American economy, written in the dark of night and cynically sold to undecided Senators by promising them their states will not suffer as badly as other states. It was drafted in secret and will be voted on with at most two minutes’ debate in the United States Senate. The Senators have little hope of knowing what they are voting for or what it would do from the CBO, traditionally the most reliable, nonpartisan, and independent authority on a legislation’s costs and effects. The version of Graham-Cassidy which will receive a very partial, tentative score tomorrow that tells us almost nothing about it is the one from last week, not this one. There will be a sham hearing this afternoon.

This is not how a democracy legislates. It may be true on some deeply cynical level that it helps the party I prefer if this thing passes and outrage at the Republican party results in Democratic victories at the polls, but it’s not worth it in lives spent or damage done to our freedom. Legislative process is often arcane and of much aid to those who want nothing accomplished. It badly needs reform. This is not reform. This is highway robbery that might as well have been cooked up in the F Street Mess. If a massively important bill, which is profoundly unpopular in every poll taken for any version of it, can pass this way then we live in a nation where our leaders don’t expect to have to contest fair elections again.

You can say that this is my cause and my party on the defensive. It is. It may be your cause next time. Even if you’re against the idea that the United States should regulate the health insurance industry or help poor people, this should scare the hell out of you. None of the Senators who have votes Graham and Cassidy are now trying to buy voted for the Affordable Care Act. They know that this bill hurts their states and their people. They also know how profoundly undemocratic it is to legislate in secret and sell unpopular bills with lies. One of them chose to vote against a dear friend of his in order to oppose Graham-Cassidy. Take it from John McCain:

I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.

I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it. The bill’s authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.

Let me be honest with you, Gentle Readers. I do not, as a person of liberal beliefs, think highly of John McCain on a routine basis. His public statements, positions, and votes often anger me deeply. I’m sure that if he knew of mine, he would feel the same. He suffered terribly in Vietnam, where he went on our behalf. Now he suffers from cancer. I would wish neither on him or anyone else, even for an instant. I hope he has a speedy and full recovery. I also hope that if you dismiss me as a far left crazy who should get back to his history, you don’t dismiss him because we agree on this process being a shame. This is how dictatorships work, with backroom deals cut in defiance of the will of the people and contempt for democratic norms. It should not be how any nation operates, let alone one that declares itself a beacon of freedom.

If you aren’t willing to fight for health care; fight for that. This is a traumatic time for everyone and go-around makes it a little bit worse, but we can’t give up. We have celebrated prematurely too many times, which helped get us here. We can’t stop before the other side, the side that wants to radically transform America, gives up. If we do that, they win and we let it happen. It’s time for Civics 101 all over again: go tell your congressional delegation to vote no. If they have announced opposition, even if they are leaders in the fight against Graham-Cassidy, get in touch to thank and encourage them. We have stopped these bills before through massive public pressure. We can do it again. It just takes enough of us standing up and saying this isn’t right, loudly and often.

Lastly, this week I realized something. You may recall that I greatly admire the writing and ideas of Ta-Nehisi Coates. He makes the point that victory in a struggle for justice is good, but the struggle has value in itself. I don’t think that I, a white man, understood just what he meant until now. We can win this, but we might not. We have a choice before us either way, though. We can stand silent and let bad things happen, at which point we must call ourselves by our right name: accomplice.

Every day we stand up and push back, we make it that much harder for the people who want to do great harm and see injustice thrive to keep on as they would. They want us despairing, convinced of the futility of opposition. This is a bad fight where the odds might be against us. Perhaps we should not dare to hope. We may do better for each other if we assume failure and fight anyway than by succumbing to overconfidence. But we are not alone and we are not powerless. The moral arc of history doesn’t bend on its own, but we can damned well knock a curve toward justice into it. We can do more. We can be a better, more just, more decent nation than we have been. We can hold to the values we claim. We can still be a free people who hope for greatness. No one person is going to change the course of history. Enough of us all pushing can. And have. 

Light the phone lines ((202) 224-3121) on fire. Send those ResistBot faxes -they’re still free- every day. Lives and freedom are both at stake. We cannot take anything for granted. This may not be over until 2020 or 2024. We have just got to keep fighting. What we do now, we do for those who come after as much as for ourselves.

And if you disagree with me, Resistbot and those phone numbers work for you too. Every free country, or country that hopes to be free, needs an active, engaged, vigilant citizenry. That goes for all of us and I hope we have become more all those things than we have long been in the course of this. There is value in that struggle. We are all worth fighting for, from the people in Puerto Rico looking at months without electricity and with no relief in sight who should be the sole focus of our attention right now to undecided senators and people with sick children. This is how we can do it.

Thank you for listening again. Once more, there will be history tomorrow.

Please help save the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. Your calls, faxes, and emails can save lives.

This is not a history post, Gentle Readers; please will bear with me anyway. I am grateful for every one of you, whether you stop by once or check every day. Knowing that you are there; that there are people who value what I write here enough to give the time to read it has helped me in ways too numerous to count. I would not have done the research without the readers, so you have benefited me tremendously. I understand the past and present so much more deeply now than I did a few years ago. The skills I’ve learned here have served me in other communities, most notably Reddit’s AskHistorians, where I have met new friends dear to me. The ability to come here five days a week and do something that I know others value, and contribute in a small way to the internet’s largest history enthusiast community, are deeply precious to me. All this together has done much to improve my mental health. It all started here, because some friends encouraged me to do this thing. I’m not in touch with all of you anymore but if you’re reading this; you know who you are. Please understand how much of a difference you’ve made in my life.

As I said, this isn’t a history post. Nor is it history adjacent or historically-informed commentary on recent events, as I’ve done in the past. I feel I’m presuming on you, as I’ve done once before, to even make it. I don’t do so light; I’ve put it off most of the day and I feel guilty writing it now, but I’d feel worse if I didn’t. The long and short of things is that I’ve been losing sleep over the latest plan to destroy the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, and eradicate Medicaid in the bargain. It’s called Graham-Cassidy and it’s the worst bill yet. It has a better than even chance of becoming law, perhaps even this week but most likely next. I’m not a health care expert, so I can’t walk you through the ins and outs of it. But those people exist and they’ve been sounding the alarm on and off for a month, then much more seriously starting late last week. It’s gone from a longshot in the Senate to one vote shy of passage. Here’s the briefest summary I could find:

Slavitt, who ran Medicare and Medicaid for President Obama, knows more about these issues than just about anybody. He also produced a bullet points list of what Graham-Cassidy would do:

A summary of Graham-Cassidy

This is a bill to end Obamacare, but it’s also one to destroy Medicaid. It takes us back not just to before 2010, but all the way back to before 1965. The sponsors will argue that it doesn’t, but by replacing a federal entitlement for anyone in need with block grants they have ensured it. Block grants are just piles of cash which states can use for anything. They shrink as the years go on and were built originally to strangle programs that politicians didn’t like but couldn’t get enough support to destroy outright. The American people often forgive tremendous malfeasance, but we do have our limits. The block grants end entirely in 2026, at which point Medicaid either ceases completely or the cost is borne entirely by the states. As states usually have balanced budget constitutional amendments and it’s very difficult to raise revenue, that means at minimum and long before the ten years run out they will have to drastically cut eligibility, benefits, or both to the people who need them most desperately. That includes people on life-sustaining care and people who only have a livable quality of life because they can get help. If this law passes, people will die because of it. Before Obamacare, tens of thousands died every year because they couldn’t afford health care. After it, they will again. It’s not a perfect law, just the best we could do in 2010. People are alive today who would have died but for it. The same goes for Medicaid.

Two weeks ago we thought they did not have the votes for this. We believed that after the one vote defeat in the Summer that the GOP had given up and moved on. Most of us, myself included, forgot the lesson of the House vote: Back in March, we thought for sure that after giving it one go the Republicans had given up. They regrouped, produced a far more radical bill, and hammered it through without hearings and with a margin of two votes. The life-destroying ACA repeal / Medicaid eradication is never more at risk of passage then when we think it dead. Now momentum is building, in part because Graham-Cassidy shamelessly plunders the states that expanded Medicaid to pay temporarily for the budget hole they’ll dump on the states that didn’t. Guess which states have more Republican legislators in them. A few GOP states will take a massive haircut too, but those are deemed acceptable losses. I don’t want to wallpaper this post with images, but here are two more to give you the current details:

If you’d rather read it in text form, then here’s an explainer. The bill will probably 32 million people without insurance, which combined with the present uninsured would leave us worse off than we were before Obamacare. The ban on refusing coverage or charging more for pre-existing conditions would be among the legislative casualties. Lifetime limits would be back. Insurers could sell you a junk plan and hike your rates the instant you got sick. Cassidy-Graham took everything Americans hated about health insurance in 2009 and opted to go for worse still.

My state, Michigan, will lose $3,041 billion in federal health care money in 2026, and far more after. We are not the poorest state, but we can’t afford that. Few states could. When it comes time to choose who will suffer, the most vulnerable are always first on the list. The most vulnerable in the United States include plenty of white people -my mother and I both presently get our insurance through the ACA- but white Americans have done our best to ensure that the most vulnerable are disproportionately not people who look like us. I know that’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true. Right now Arizona stands to lose a lot too, but since John McCain (R-AZ) cast the deciding vote last time you can bet they’re working on a way to make sure Arizona gets into the plus column. The last time, his governor told him that the state couldn’t afford it. This time we probably don’t have that luxury. Furthermore, McCain and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are close friends. He’s the Graham in the bill’s name.

I don’t want to embed an entire thread of tweets -I have imposed on you enough- but if you want the full state of play then please look at this thread:

I know this is the fifth time we’ve had to beg our members of Congress to let us keep having health care so we can keep living, keep having lives worth living instead mired in pain and worry. But it might be the last time. The special rules that the Senate presently uses to pass things by simple majority (50 Republicans plus the Vice President, in this case) expire September 30 and the GOP have made it clear they want the next turn with those for tax cuts. Wikler currently expects a vote late next week. It looks bad for all of us who care about our fellow citizens. According to polls, that’s an overwhelming majority of Americans. Even among Republican voters, none of the bills to date have been popular. The GOP knows that and has tried to sneak every one of them through without a thorough review and due consideration.

We let that happen once before, but we stopped it twice over the Summer. This is still a democracy and the people still have power, as dark as things look. The greatest power we have now is our voices. The votes were lined up before and one fell out. One can again, but we need massive and unrelenting public pressure. We need to show up and be loud, reminding politicians that they work for us. Not everyone can make it to DC for a protest or visit a field office, but we all have phones and we all have the internet. It’s time to light the wires on fire for ourselves and, most importantly, for each other. Write letters to the editor calling our your congressmen and Senators by name and calling on them to fight. If they’re already a confirmed no, then thank them and make sure they stay that way. If they’re a yes, tell them to reconsider. Do it even if your Senator’s name is on the bill. You are literally their boss.

You should get in touch with your governors too, especially if they’re Republicans and you have a GOP senator. You can do it on your own, or through the Capitol switchboard (202) 224-3121), or with the help of Resistbot. (The switchboard will not have your governor’s number, but Resistbot does.) Resistbot will give the right phone numbers via text or Facebook messenger. It will also allow you to send faxes, all completely free and easy to use. There’s no limit here; you can fax, or call every day. If something changes during the day, you can do it again. They’re not going to throw your message away because you rang twice. I have horrific phone anxiety so I use the faxes. The worst that’s ever happened to me was receiving a letter from my congressman. If you’re not sure what to say, then there are scripts you can use and there’s no shame in doing it.

All that said, please only contact your congressmen, senators, and governors. They’re the people who work for you. It’s dishonest to pretend you’re local when you’re not and if staffers get the impression that most of the people who contact them are from out of district then they’ll ignore genuine messages along with the bad. Our democracy can’t afford that on any issue, now or in the future.

I know it’s hard to do this; it’s harder still to have to keep doing it. It’s hard enough for me to keep at it. I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone with sick loved ones. We can still turn this around. It might come down to obstructionist dirty tricks, but everything about the progress of this legislation on the GOP side has been one dirty trick after another. Call on your senators to withhold consent and filibuster by amendment to run down the clock. Call on your governors to lean on your Republican senators, especially if you live in Arizona. If you don’t feel confident writing your own faxes, please steal mine. This is what I’ll send to my Senators (both Democrats, you’ll have to adjust for a Republican) every day for the next two weeks:

Medicaid and the ACA are in the GOP’s firing line again with Graham-Cassidy. It’s the worst version yet. The law would destroy tens of thousands of lives. I’m sorry, but it’s so. You have got to take this deadly seriously. Assume they have the votes and be ready to obstruct to save those lives. I can’t tell you how difficult this is for me personally, and I don’t presently rely on either program for essential services. Imagine how people who will soon die without them feel. For them and all of us, you have got to pull out all the stops.

Be loud on your social media. Toss out senatorial courtesy and withhold consent on everything until after September 30, when the reconciliation runs out. Be ready with amendments to filibuster during vote-a-rama. They have eight working days left. You can gum this up and force the GOP to move on. You are not powerless. You have got to stand up for the people of Michigan and every other state. We need you desperately. Please do everything it takes.

This is something we can do for ourselves and, more importantly, for each other. Or it’s something we can not do and just let the bodies fall where they may; we have a history of that. But it’s not the only history we have and history is not destiny. We each make it in our ways small and large, through all the things we choose to accept or choose to fight. This is a time to fight. We can’t all be abolitionists or civil rights workers, but we can stand against the wrongs in our own time. There are people suffering now that we can help with the bipartisan bill being worked on Senate committee. There will be far more suffering and far fewer helped if Graham-Cassidy passes.

I don’t want to ask you for anything but your time, but if you can do this then please do what you can. Calls, faxes, telling friends, everything can help. Spread these resources around; I don’t need credit and you don’t need to share my prose with them unless you want to. Let the people who represent you know that you can’t stand idly by and watch them consign your fellow human beings to untold misery, insecurity, and death. If this is presumptuous, if I have broken the social contract between us then I’m sorry. These are things I had to say.

Thank you for listening. There’ll be history tomorrow.

The Coming Purge

Gentle Readers, it appears likely that Donald Trump will announce the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals today. He may have done so by the time you read this. The president of the Electoral College has done many deeply disturbing things in his few months in office, enough to last a reasonable country for at least a few decades. He has applauded Klansmen and Nazis. He has tried to ban an entire religion from entering the country. He has tried to ensure more than ten thousand people die every year for lack of access to affordable health care. Now he has higher ambitions.

Let me explain. Barack Obama established DACA in 2012 to help people who came to the United States as children. They arrived and remained illegally, always unsure of their safety and security, because their parents fled with them from horrors back home. They risked traveling vast distances and placed themselves and their families in the hands of criminal syndicates known for torture, murder, and rape in order to come to the US without our leave. One does not do this lightly; economic opportunity doesn’t draw people to such extremes. They deemed what they faced in their prior homes so terrible for themselves and their children that they took those risks. If we believed our national creeds, we would call them heroes.

DACA permits children who came to the US this way to legally remain, work, and study here. To get that right, they had to report themselves and risk deportation to horrors unknown to them for most of their lives. It took a breathtaking act of faith for almost eight hundred thousand undocumented immigrants, Americans in everything but name, to come forward that way. The government vetted them for criminal history and national security before approving their status. That bought them two years safe from deportation, with a renewal option thereafter if they paid a fee. It gave these people a security they hadn’t had before and, by making their status legal, protected them from the exploitation inherent in not having recourse to the police.

Undocumented immigrants to the United States don’t usually come from rich countries full of white people. Rich countries, by pillaging poor countries, have usually bought themselves plenty of stability. Most DACA recipients hail from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. According to our racial theories, they don’t get to claim whiteness. It doesn’t matter that they’re ordinary people just like the rest of us and the United States is their only home. They have the wrong color written all over them, so they must go.

I don’t know how this will all transpire, but ending DACA puts eight hundred thousand people on notice that they may be thrown out of their homes. In many cases, they will be forced back into the dangers that their parents tried to spare them from. Some will muddle through, but people will suffer and die from this. When other countries do forced population transfers with reckless disregard for life, we call it crimes against humanity. Consistency demands we do the same here. Americans have had pogroms and genocides before, but until recently we seem to have been dragging ourselves kicking and screaming away from them. We can’t say that anymore. Forcing DACA recipients into these dire situations isn’t an accident of the policy or an unforeseen outcome; it’s the goal.

George Washington and Robert Lee: Some Thoughts

George Washington and William Lee, whom he enslaved

Gentle Readers, here we go again. The President employs a lawyer, as most officeholders do, to see to his affairs. This president requires one more than most. He has chosen John Dowd. I know nothing about Dowd except for his most famous client and what this New York Times story reports. Many lawyers study history as undergraduates and the skills one picks up in law school have substantial overlap with those of historians. That doesn’t make lawyers into historians, but one would hope they help to some degree. Dowd got an email which purported to vindicate Trump’s late claims about the removal of Confederate statues and forwarded it among his circle of journalists, officials, and friends. The email claims


Both owned slaves.

Both rebelled against the ruling government.

Both men’s battle tactics are still taught at West point.

Both saved America.

Both were great men, great Americans, and great commanders.

Neither man is any different than Napolean [sic], Shaka Zulu, Alexander the Great, Ramses II, etc.

You cannot be against General Lee and be for General Washington, there is literally no difference between the two men.

Where to start? I will pass over Lee’s and Washington’s military virtues as irrelevant. Good generalship accrues to causes infamous and praiseworthy just as easily and so says nothing about the overall worth of the people and causes involved.

Both men rebelled against the ruling government. I don’t feel a great urge to defend the American Revolution, which had at best mixed blessings for anyone who had the wrong skin color, but Washington and the rest fought for more than the simple, bloody-minded desire to preserve slavery against all hazards. Lee can claim no such thing. Nor should we endorse anyone who rebels against a ruling government, unless we endorse Lee, Washington, Lenin, Gandhi, and Hitler as essentially the same. People rebel for causes good and bad, against governments good and bad, with such regularity that smiling on the lot of them requires staggering ignorance or staggering recklessness.

The notion that Lee, who fought for four years to destroy the United States, somehow saved it barely deserves an answer. He fought against everything Washington fought for. He Lee won, the nation Washington helped build would have ended at the point of Lee’s bayonets. If fighting to destroy the United States in the name of slavery makes you a great American, only white supremacists could cheerfully claim the title and the rest of us owe it to ourselves and their victims to be the worst of Americans.

Robert E. Lee

Lee and Washington both owned people, fair enough. Neither treated those people they enslaved well, though both might flatter themselves by thinking so. Both zealously pursued runaways and ordered violent punishments for those who defied them. Both sundered families, though Washington eventually stopped. He also freed those who he enslaved of his own free will, albeit only in his last will and testament. Lee kept the slaves he had as part of his father-in-law’s estate until the last possible minute, and went to court to get that time extended. Washington, for all his numerous faults, kept more slaves at Mount Vernon than he could profitably use in order to preserve families. Lee spent his time as executor of the estate hiring slaves out in Richmond and elsewhere, so shattering family bonds, specifically to increase his profits. None of this makes Washington a good man, despite owning people. He far more than Lee ever did and did so for longer, but it surely counts as a difference.

In myth, Lee refused to bear arms against Virginia and so almost accidentally fell into the Confederacy. In reality, he chose to fight on behalf of slavery and expressed his support for the institution regardless of Virginia’s other political circumstances. Washington thought this about the Union:

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

Neither Virginia nor any other Southern state sought a constitutional amendment, or even ordinary legislation, to part from the United states. By Washington’s logic they had a duty to obey the government, whoever the president and whatever the policy toward slavery. The first president lived up to that principle through his public career. All the way back to the Revolutionary War, he complained about petty state jealousies and national impotence which left his army short of funds and supplies.

One might argue that Washington did not face the question as Lee did, poised between Virginia and Slavery on one side and the United States on the other. We can’t argue that he actually did, as no secession crisis took place in Washington’s lifetime. However, Washington Edmund Randolph that he had thought about the issue and came to a decision. Randolph later told Thomas Jefferson, who noted the fact in his papers:

the P. speaking with R. on the hypothesis of a separation of the Union into Northern and Southern said he had made up his mind to remove and be of the Northern

Washington might have chosen differently when the occasion came. Few of us demur from bold talk when not expected to deliver at once. But we have the evidence we have and what Washington said to Randolph matches the consistent tenor of his public life and other declared principles.

John Dowd might not know of the Randolph conversation. It took me more than the usual amount of effort to chase the quote down to a source, so I can’t fault him for that. But given the other howlers in his forward, facts clearly don’t enter into it. Like many of us, Donald Trump likes to surround himself with people he finds easy to relate to.


Thoughts on Charlottesville

Gentle Readers, you all know the news by now. Over the past weekend, a group of Nazis (and to whatever degree it makes sense to separate them anymore, Klansmen) carrying tiki torches marched through Charlottesville, Virginia. They chanted their usual slogans, “blood and soil,” “the Jews will not replace us,”  you can get the full list from any documentary. They came armed for war. The police now believe they had weapons cached around the city; the governor of the state believes they packed more heat than the local department did. They came, as fascist groups usually do, hoping for a fight. When the counter marchers, including remarkably brave students from the University of Virginia who faced an armed mob who literally believe their lives expendable, did not offer a fight, the fascists invented one.

One of those Nazis, James Fields, drove a car into the counter protesters, injured several, and murdered Heather Heyer. You know her story. Others may yet share her fate. I’m sure the thought of it makes many of them happy indeed. They win for showing up, win for seeing each other in numbers, and win again for the murder. We must remember them. I offer also this story I saw reported less in the media over these awful days:

Deandre Harris, works at a local high school. He has the hard, draining job of an instructional assistant in a special education program. If you know nothing else about special education, understand that the people who work in those classrooms with those kids are heroes. Harris marched; the Nazis found him. He explains what happened next:

“Me and about five of my friends were out protesting. We thought [the racists] left, but at one point they came back. Everyone was exchanging words with the group, but then the KKK and white supremacists just rushed us,” Harris told The Root in an interview.

“They were beating me with poles. I have eight staples in my head, a broken wrist and a chipped tooth,” Harris said.

Harris had friends who saw him beneath their pile of limbs, poles, and hatred. They stepped in, so he lived to tell his story. This all took place in a building adjacent to the Charlottesville police department. Harris’ case might not fit technical definitions built on nineteenth and early twentieth century crimes, but white supremacists tried to murder him for political activism. Deandre Harris was lynched last weekend. This happened in the United States of America in 2017, decades after the civil rights movement and not one year after our first black president left office.

The horrors continued. Nazis marching openly in numbers should chill us all to the bone and conjure memories of absent grandparents and great-grandparents who fought what we have long called the Good War. We decided as a nation that we would have Nazis as our ultimate villain. The ultimate in American virtue these past eight years fit into a red glove colliding with Hitler’s face. Everything the Nazis were, we were not. The United States existed to destroy Nazism. We kill Nazis in video games. We watch them die in movies. We cheer their failures in comic books. We have no more efficient shorthand for evil.

That was then. The choice to focus on someone else’s sins relieves us of our own burdens. Doing that doesn’t make Americans uniquely evil; everyone would rather talk about the faults of others than their own. But we do have a unique and horrifying history that doesn’t go away for our ignoring it. Rather, by ignoring it we continue that history. According to fascism scholar Robert Paxton, the first Ku Klux Klan might count as the first proto-fascist movement in world history. As in developing proslavery theory to its fullest flower, Americans got ahead of the curve. A nation built on genocide and slavery had advantages in these things. A nation that pretends to a different founding has still more.

The potential for authoritarianism of every stripe exists in every culture. In the United States, it has found its fullest flower through white supremacy. That has been with us from the seventeenth century onward. We have declared victory over it many times and always it has returned. Here we go again.

You have doubtless heard the many denunciations. Politicians must say that this is not us and we have no room in America for it. We all know otherwise, but to we say these things in aspiration; the America we want does not permit such horrors. We are not, we know, better than this. We want to be. When our leaders give the ritual condemnations they remind us of our aspirations and, at least rhetorically, declare that they will not have the American state endorse such actions on their watch. The actual follow-through on such things rarely, with the notable exception of a brief period in the 1960s, inspires confidence but the statements have meaning all the same. They articulate a national creed which disassociates us from the perpetrators and does not work to encourage further acts of white supremacist terror.

If speaking the ritual phrases asks almost nothing of politicians, it at least does that. The occasion warrants at least a briefly lifted finger, sincere or otherwise. The perpetrators know that as well as anyone and watch these responses with care. They also note when attention dies down and the more sophisticated tools of white supremacy march on. That sends a message: We disagree with your methods but share your goals. I wish it said more, but neither the nation’s history nor its current events admit any other conclusion that I can see.

Then the loser of the 2016 election got to become president. Said white supremacist opted to fill our White House and head our Justice Department with more of his kind. They know Donald Trump as one of their own, more so than the usually extensive cast of friends that the white power movement has in Washington. Unlike the polished hands at double talk and dog whistles, the strategy the Republican party embarked upon in earnest in 1968 and hasn’t wavered from since, he says the quiet parts out loud. The immediate response of a man with no filter and a remarkable ability to remember the names of people who displease him for Twitter rants, involved blaming both sides. The Nazis and the Klan knew they had a big green light from Trump and a wave of violence spread immediately after his election. Via Twitter, he gave them a much bigger and more explicit one. The president, at least of the Electoral College, essentially told people he knew capable of murder that they should get right to it.

In the months since November, this has become a cliche. It remains true all the same: If you ever wondered what you would do during slavery or the rise of the Nazi party, you are doing it right now. I don’t know where this is going any more than you do; historians have no particular gift for seeing the future. But I do not believe and we cannot believe that this will all just work out. More likely that not, we will see more assaults and more victims, faster and faster. Maybe we can stop it, maybe not. I can’t tell you what will or will not work. I don’t expect the tactics of the past to necessarily work again. The Civil Rights Movement required a degree of acceptance and support from the federal government that anti-Trump and anti-racist groups obviously now lack. It also cut across partisan lines by undermining white Democratic hegemony in the South in a way that made it appealing to some members of both parties rather than a strictly partisan issue. That is likewise no longer true. If you don’t believe me, consider that states controlled by the Republican party have introduced bills to essentially legalize running over protesters in the street. Consider also this photograph of the majority leader of the United States Senate:

Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

This is the nation Americans live in, more than we have in a long time. It has taken decades of work to bring us to this point. The movement did not need a Trump to get this far, though he may have accelerated their timeline. It will survive him. It stands poised to radically transform the country. We may not survive it. Or it may not survive us.

Please call, fax or email your senators to save the Affordable Care Act

Gentle Readers, I don’t do this often. What I write below has nothing to do with history. I have some things I need to say. If you want to skip my reasoning and get right to it, contact information is at the bottom of this post.

Neither I nor any of my loved ones receive life-sustaining care through the Affordable Care Act; our lives are not on the line. But countless Americans do. If its protections go away, they face the choice of bankruptcy or death. Tens of thousands of lives are at stake every year. Millions more will be at risk, one accident or bad gene away from disaster. These people don’t have to die before their time. We have the money and we have the power to save them all: the aged grandparents, the newborns, the premature babies, the sick toddlers, the teenager hit by a car, all the people battling cancer, and all the people who battle mental illness and addition every agonizing day just to get to the next. They are all people just like you, with loved ones and people who love them, hopes, dreams, faults, and all the stuff that makes us human; maybe they are you.

Today, July 25, 2017, the United States Senate will vote on a Motion to Proceed on some kind of attack upon health care for all those people. I will be blunt: Whatever they vote on is a plan to murder all those people I just mentioned just as surely as if they were all lined up against a wall and shot. Those who survive anyway will suffer more, needlessly.

We don’t know what they plan to vote to proceed with because the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, hasn’t told us. He has cooked up a health care bill in secret, multiple times, bypassing every institutional norm of the Senate. There have been no hearings. More than once, it seems like he has hurried to get something forward before the Congressional Budget Office could examine it and inform the Congress of its likely consequences. If the Motion to Proceed passes, then the Senate will have no more than twenty hours’ debate over two, maybe three, days. Amendments will fly. None of the Senators have looked at the bill; none of them know what it does. Probably some of them don’t care to know. Once the paper begins flying, no one will know what the final bill is until the ultimate vote. McConnell himself might put in a final amendment that wipes out all the previous ones.

Here’s what we do know: Every previous version of this the GOP has come up with has been a devastating attack on vulnerable Americans. They’re not going to change tracks now. We also know that if they thought this bill was popular, they would be happy to run it through the normal committee hearings to understand how it would touch the lives of millions. They would invite Democrats in to ask questions and suggest modifications. Instead they skulk about like assassins. They know this bill is poison from the start. Every health care advocacy group that’s looked at it, even the health insurance industry themselves, think it’s a terrible idea and will cause tremendous harm. Even the charity that funded Mitch McConnell’s treatment for polio, the March of Dimes, thinks so. He refused to meet with them.

That’s bad enough; I have worse. The reason we don’t legislate like this normally is that we take governance seriously and expect accountability of our politicians. They should know what they’re doing, what the costs are, and who will bear them. The people should have a chance to be heard at every step of the way, even people we personally disagree with or loathe. Democracy cannot survive otherwise, whether we have elections or not. If Mitch McConnell and the Republican party get away with this one, then they will do this for everything they want to do that can’t stand the light of day. We may never get back the deliberative process that, for all its faults, remains a great safeguard of our liberties.

Already we teeter at the edge of a deeper crisis than the one we have faced at least since October, when the Republican leadership learned that Russia was working to win Donald Trump the presidency and insisted that President Obama say nothing or they would attack him for it. That was probably our first coup. The second has been ongoing, in slow motion, since January as the man who lost the election of 2016 by millions of votes works to transform our nation into a dictatorship. He has already fired one man investigating his Russian connections, a Republican stalwart no less. That was the third coup, arising from the second but a signal point in its own right. Now he lays the groundwork for firing the Republican stalwart appointed to continue the investigation. That could be our fourth coup. If he can get away with that, and past precedent suggests the Republicans in Congress are happy to ensure he does, what else can he do? Give him that power and give the Senate the power to draft laws in secret and pass them by virtual fiat, and American democracy may never recover.

Even if you don’t care about heath care and don’t mind Vladimir Putin -a man who regularly assassinates people who he dislikes- fixing our elections, you should care about that. Authoritarianism is present in every society, waiting to be unleashed. Once it is, no one is safe. Southern whites lynched their fellows for not being sound on slavery, a system they insisted upon for the safety of the white race. No one is truly safe in such a world except for a small number of people at the very top, who make us vulnerable so we must look to them for protection and so buy our silence. They will come for all of us, given the chance.

I don’t know if we can save this. I’m sorry; I really don’t. I don’t know if we ever get back to where we were as a nation just one year ago. Despair is a natural reaction in these times. But I know this: enough Republican senators are wavering or can’t agree on a repeal of the ACA, a replacement for it, or something else that all hope is not lost. If McConnell loses this one, then he might be forced to drop the effort and return to normal order for the Senate. He will still pass laws I abhor, but we may inch back from the precipice and in doing so save so many lives.

The only thing left to us is the First Amendment. We can petition our Senators with the convenience of modern technology. Reach out and touch them, especially if your senator is a Republican. If they are, tell them to oppose all the attempts to destroy or undermine the ACA. If they’re a Democrat, thank them for fighting to save it. Every Senator gets regular reports of what comes in over the phones, faxes, and emails. They use that data to get a sense for their constituents. Being a Senator is a job that most of them want to keep for a long time. If they think that voting one way will outrage the great majority of their voters, then they will not do it. We have the ability to save all those lives and maybe our democracy in the bargain. Do we have the decency? 

The United States has failed to meet the promises it makes to its citizens and the world on a daily basis for as long as it has existed, but Americans are not a singularly evil people. We can -we have- done better in the past. We can do it again. We are both the nation that instituted and sustained slavery and the nation that abolished it. We can choose the brighter path.

How to Contact Your Senator

The single easiest way to get in touch with your Senator is courtesy of ResistBot, basically an automated operator which will give you phone numbers or fax missives to them. You can access it through Facebook Messenger or your smartphone and it is totally free. If you have trouble talking to people on the phone, as I do, faxes are just like typing an email. The prompts will tell you everything you need to do. It takes minutes. If you call, leave a voice mail if you don’t get a person. If you have to, try more than once over. The Capitol switchboard can put you in touch with your senators: (202) 224-3121. The vote isn’t set until this afternoon, so we have some time. If the motion to proceed does pass, don’t let up. It’s not over until the Republicans give up their crusade or the bill is signed into law. Get in touch every day. If something changes, get in touch again. It’s all we can do. We owe it to all those people depending on us, including ourselves. Please.

E Pluribus Unum for White Supremacists

Americans teach our children to admire the country as a place where people of diverse origins can come together. By diverse, we have usually meant the right parts of Europe and believing in the right religion. Just how large a circle that draws varies over time. My surname ends in a vowel, which a few decades back put me into the wrong group. My grandfather grew up in an ethnic ghetto, which they had even in small towns. The Polish people lived on this side of the river, while everyone else lived on the other. They spoke Polish at home and learned English elsewhere. In school two generations later, we always knew the teachers not from the area by how they stumbled over our surnames. By then, everyone else could get at least close to however we chose to render the weird piles of consonants that made sense to our grandparents but we added to the difficulty with inconsistently modifying the pronunciations to fit English spelling conventions. Many Americans have similar stories. Make the number of generations removed from immigration into a variable and you can take in most of us. We become Americans, Americans become us, and the national myth rolls along.

We make exceptions, of course. Native Americans and African-Americans can live in the country for centuries longer than any of our ancestors and remain outsiders, at best contingently human. Part of becoming American, for the rest of us, usually means we join in afflicting them with special zeal. At some point, the unstated logic goes, one has to get on board with the national creed. Irish Americans learned it in the nineteenth century, understanding free black Americans in the North as an existential threat to their jobs. In those days, immigrants worried that the native-born would steal their work. But we muddle through, injustice by injustice, atrocity by atrocity, smiling and linking arms as we go about the national project of making North America a white person’s paradise. To do otherwise would mark us as foreign, like those adults who refuse, in their perfidy, to make the trifling effort to pick up English as a second language. E pluribus unum or else.

For decades now, Americans have understood Nazis as the antithesis of all things American. We have made them into our ultimate symbol of evil. Anything we dislike, we consider something the Nazis did or would have done. Any leader we loathe, we compare with Hitler. We may use other comparisons too, but when only the big guns will do we go with the Third Reich. Some malevolent fools might try it, but no real American could go Nazi. We have no place for such vile individuals.

E pluribus unum, America has worked its magic again.

Charlottesville, Virginia, has a statue of Robert E. Lee. For some time now, many have thought it past time to get rid of the thing because honoring a traitor who fought a nation built on white supremacy and slavery in order to make a new nation still more thoroughly built upon them should not continue. The proposed removal drew protests and, quelle suprise, the Nazis showed up. They came bearing torches, in the hallowed tradition of their German and American heroes. It seems they took a pass on wearing their sheets or brown shirts, but other than that they marched straight out of central casting. They had things to say too, which showed that they had done their homework:

The protesters chanted, “You will not replace us” and “Blood and soil.”

Richard Spencer, the Trump-heiling unwitting star of this reenactment of Captain America’s first appearance, couldn’t stay away from the fun. All his friends turned out., after all.

Back in the day, American white supremacists thought little of Nazis. The United States had its own ways to hate and for the most part didn’t need tips from foreigners who copied off our paper when it came to racial laws. No one likes a cheater. So we should put this one down on our calendars. Americans who hate like the Klan and the Confederacy come together with Americans who hate like the Nazis, all basking in their magnificent whiteness. When the Klan, our homegrown fascist movement, rode around with torches everyone knew the purpose. Men in sheets didn’t scare anyone much past the age of ten, but men in sheets who would murder you for the color of your skin made an impression. Here too the protesters did their homework.

Other Americans condemned them, as we do. The men who want to serve as Virginia’s next governor joined in, even from the more eagerly white supremacist of the two parties. Spencer and the others probably expected as much. They understand Donald Trump as one of their own even if he makes feeble gestures otherwise now and then to maintain plausible deniability. One candidate, Democrat Tom Perriello asked them to get their hate out of his hometown. Spencer answered back on that they won and he lost. Perriello responded:

I’ll not argue otherwise, though the Richard Spencers of the world have won often enough since 1865. They know their history well enough to know that. I bet Perriello does too, but it doesn’t do for a candidate to admit such things. They also both know that most of the Virginia governor hopefuls condemned Spencer, but one did not. Corey Stewart, former head of Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign, seeks the Republican nomination and has made the Lee statue a large part of his campaign. He wants it to stay. Yesterday, he managed to tweet out a Mother’s Day message but not to comment on Spencer or the protest. I have no doubt Spencer and company will cherish the memory of that fact. The rest of us must simply live with the fact that a man who expects to run for statewide office in the America of 2017 doesn’t see a need to distance himself from a Nazi torch mob. Some of us will probably die from it too.

In Defense of the National Endowment for the Humanities

Gentle Readers, some of you might enjoy my prose but I suspect you keep reading for the history. That history comes from a mix of original research on my part and the work of others, who guide me to documents and further work through their footnotes. A typical post begins with my reading what a historian has said about something, checking those footnotes, and then reading the sources if I can access them. In the course of that, I also come on things by chance. If you read the acknowledgements of any history book, you’ll find long lists of colleagues, archivists, and others thanked. Still more fill the citations. Every work of history owes much to unnumbered collaborators from librarians to mentors to students, friends, and family.

And they cost money. I do my research through an internet connection, but I can do that because of you. For decades the United States has used tax dollars to fund historical research in much the same way, albeit rather less generously, as it does science. Those countless historians digging through the archives often do so with government grants. If you look through the citations of any history book, except perhaps the most narrow and technical works, you will find numerous references to widely-scattered archives. Even if one has the good fortune to live near an important archive, others always remain that require travel expenses. That’s gas for your car, your airfare, hotel costs, and historians have long accustomed themselves to eating while they do all of this. Grants and other federal funds make meeting those expenses far easier, especially for the vast majority of historians who lack the considerable wealth of the few academic superstars who regularly hit the bestseller lists.

If you have ever read a history book published in the United States in the last fifty years, you have almost certainly read a work that received support from our government many times over. In addition to the historians themselves, the United States funds many of the archives used. It has funded work I do here, by way of the digitization projects which have made so many documents available to me. I lack the funds and ability to travel to Kansas or Missouri where I might find bound volumes or loose issues of those nineteenth century papers. I journey to them through the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website, which is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. If you have a local museum, university, college, historical site, or library, then your community probably has had funding from them too. The NEH has a search function you can use to find what it has done for your town.

We have a public library here with an impressive local history room, which received $6,000 in 2009. To the best of my knowledge it doesn’t have any interesting slavery-related materials, but I have had occasion to use it all the same. Last fall, my father saw a news report about the anniversary of a plane crash. He vaguely recalled the event but not any details, so one Tuesday we hopped in the car and got over to the public library, which hosts the collection. I thought we would probably have to go through the microfilm and we found the proper reel, but we no sooner did that than a librarian came over. She told us that they kept clippings from the local newspaper for aircraft disasters. In less than five minutes, we sat down in a pleasant little room with one of the gray archival boxes you see in the documentaries. We came away with almost everything we needed to know. My father wanted to know about a monument that the families had built on public land. The librarian knew a few local people who studied that kind of thing and put me on the phone with one, who gave us directions. That NEH grant paid for our afternoon’s research and facilitated a thoroughly pleasant afternoon together.

The loser of the 2016 presidential election got to be president anyway. This past week he submitted a budget which does not merely cut the NEH, but actually eliminates it on the grounds, presumably, that the NEH has never killed a sufficient number of people as to impress him with its hard power bona fides. I consider it eminently worth keeping, and vastly increasing, simply for the good work it does. You can’t put a dollar value on the greater understanding of ourselves that the humanities provide. But if one insists, then the NEH consumes such a tiny part of the four trillion dollar budget that eliminating it wouldn’t pay for a brand new aircraft carrier or some other war-winning gadget for a war we have yet to embark upon. If one feels an overriding need to slash spending for its own sake, then the president might well look at his own travel budget. His weekend jaunts to his vacation home in Florida have already cost us millions, rather more than almost every historian will ever see.

The cuts to the arts and humanities will not kill anyone, which is more than I can say for most of the cuts that Trump prefers, but they do strike to the heart of this blog’s mission. I hope you will join me in condemning them and making your opposition known.