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The Battle between 1619 and 1776: The New York Times versus the History Community

The New York Times Heats Up the Culture Wars (https://blackjunction.tv)

2019 marked the 400th anniversary of the slavery of Africans in the British American colonies. A Federal commission was created in recognition of this event. The commission did not develop a national presence. Instead of leading a discussion on the event, it was confined to some local events in Virginia where the landing had occurred.

At the national level the most significant voice was that of The New York Times. The Sunday Magazine on August 18, the approximate anniversary date, was dedicated to The 1619 Project. According to a subsequent blurb, the issue sold out and additional copies were printed. A related podcast series was the most downloaded podcast in the United States. The Project has been turned into school curriculum with more than 3000 teachers saying they are using it. Copies were sent to over 500 schools in 91 cities and towns in 30 states. Over 200,000 free copies have been distributed to schools, libraries, museums and for various events. There is a book project underway.

All in all it is safe to say that The 1619 Project of The New York Times is a big deal. So what’s the problem?

A HISTORY COMMUNITY REACTION

There was a reaction of a different sort as well to this publication. Phillip W. Magness of The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) is maintaining a database of these responses at The 1619 Project Debate: A Bibliography last updated January 3, 2020. It would be a project in and of itself simply to report on these critiques. A great deal of attention in them is directed against the opening historical narrative written by Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times entitled “The Idea of America” (this title does not appear in the print edition). She had suggested the creation of a dedicated issue on 1619 at a staff meeting in January, 2019. She then invited 18 scholars and historians to a meeting at The New York Times for a brain storming session.

THE EDITOR’S NOTE

In this blog instead of analyzing her historical narrative or the responses to it, I will focus my comments on the six-paragraph Editor’s Note by Jake Silverstein at the beginning of the Sunday Magazine. He also is the person who responded in December to the Letter to the Editor signed by five historians who were critical of certain parts of the project.

The two-page Editor’s Note begins with “1619.” in huge print spread across the pages. The opening lines are:

1619 is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however, we were to tell you that the moment that the country’s defining contradictions first came into the world was in late August of 1619?

The claim is certainly an audacious one. It announces that the true birthday of the country should be celebrated when slavery began here and not with the Declaration of Independence. One may say that Silverstein’s use of the word “contradictions” is a way to claim that it is not the birthday of the nation that is at stake, just its “contradictions.” But then he would be comparing apples to oranges since the opening sentence specifically refers to “our nation’s birth.” The implication is that our true birth is in the contradictions and not in the declaring of our independence.

THE EDITOR’S NOTE VERSUS THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE

Still in the opening paragraph, Silverstein writes:

Their arrival inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years.

I am not sure precisely what is meant by 250 years or 1869 as the concluding date. The 14th Amendment on citizenship and rights was ratified in 1868 so perhaps that is the 250th year. The number is significant as we are beginning the 250th anniversary celebration of America’s birthday in 1776. The Boston Massacre, for example, occurred in 1770, so in Massachusetts it will start this year.

Be that as it may, the impression conveyed by the text is that for 250 years the British colonies and American states had slavery. Why 250 years? Consider for example the separate section of The 1619 Project prepared by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture with Caitlin Roper, editorial director. In that section a full page is given to a quotation from Frederick Douglass expressing “the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the Emancipation Proclamation.” That document was proclaimed on January 1, 1863. The Smithsonian section contains no such expression of joy on the 250th anniversary exclaimed in the Sunday Magazine.

Regardless of whether one uses 244 years or 250, it is a false message. Not even all the colonies had been founded by 1619. Outside of Virginia, no colony/state had a 250 system of slavery even assuming 1868 is the date for the end of slavery. For that matter many northern states had outlawed slavery decades earlier. Consider again the Smithsonian section. There is a box there entitled “She Sued for Her Freedom.” It tells of Mumm Bett suing for her freedom under the new Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. Her husband had died fighting in the American Revolution. Now she argued that slavery violated the rights enunciated in that document. She won and changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman. The Smithsonian concludes that item with:

Her precedent-setting case helped to effectively bring an end to slavery in Massachusetts.

This action occurred long before the 250-year period touted in the Sunday Magazine. Again, the Smithsonian section undermines the message of the Sunday Magazine.

In addition, other states were founded as free states and never had slavery. The intention to depict that all America had slavery and for 250 years is deceptive at best and outright wrong.

VIRGINIA VERSUS NEW AMSTERDAM

Furthermore, the characterization of slavery as a “barbaric system of chattel slavery” also is false. Northern European countries like England and the Netherlands had no or little familiarity with slavery. The legal codes of these countries could handle serfs but slavery was new. In New Amsterdam, the Dutch struggled for decades on the legal status of the African slaves. During that time, some Africans became free. Africans could own land did so on a farm adjacent to the farm of Peter Stuyvesant. Africans could join the Dutch Reform Church. Africans could testify in court. Africans could initiate law suits. The numbers involved were comparatively small at this time. I suspect that if New Amsterdam had remained Dutch, free Africans would have become more and more like free Dutch and that slavery would have ended long before New York began in 1799 to legally end it, again before the touted 250-year period.

Admittedly, the situation in Virginia differed from that of New Amsterdam given all the plantations. Still it took a while to develop the chattel system referred to. After all, to create a system where 75%-white Sally Hemings is black doesn’t happen overnight. The year after 1619 was not the beginning of Gone-with-the-Wind plantations. Again the Smithsonian section sheds light on the deceptiveness of the Sunday Magazine Editor’s Note. A section entitled “Race Encoded into Law” notes the passage in Virginia in 1662 that essentially defines slaves as commodities. This passage implies it took Virginia about 43 years to render a formal decision in law that slaves were property not people. Hence since Sally Hemings mother was biracial and her mother’s mother was black, she was legally a black slave too.

The point here is no to deny the barbarity of the chattel slavery system but to recognize that it did not spring forth fully formed the day after the landing in 1619 or in all the future colonies that were established. America would have been better served if The New York Times had told the story of how chattel slavery emerged in Virginia over these forty-plus years.

Why is Silverstein seeking to convey a message of a national barbaric system of chattel slavery that lasted 250 years? The answer is simple as he concludes the opening paragraph.

This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin.

The message bluntly put is that We the White People of America were born in America’s original sin. We the White People of America need to repent for this sin. And The New York Times is going to show us the path to redemption.

SLAVERY DOES REQUIRE ANTI-BLACK RACISIM

Silverstein compounds the problem in the opening words of the second paragraph.

Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional…

Slavery does not require anti-black racism. Who knew Spartacus was black? The word “slave” derives from the Latin sclāvus (masculine), sclāva (feminine) from the Slavic peoples who dominated the medieval slave population in Europe. For that matter, why is it even politically correct to use the word “slave” or “enslaved” anyway? Can you say “gypped” or “jewed”? Putting that aside for the moment, there is a huge omission in The 1619 Project. It’s bad enough that Virginia is made the basis for all colonial and American history to the exclusion of what was happening elsewhere, but another gap in the storytelling is Africa itself. Hannah-Jones does mention in passing that the Virginia Africans brought by an English pirate ship were from a Portuguese trading ship that was from Angola, but that’s it.

WHERE’S AFRICA IN THE 1619 PROJECT?

Somehow the Middle Passage doesn’t have a start point. There is a lot of attention on the destination points in the Western Hemisphere. There is a lot of attention on the horrific conditions in the transportation to the Western Hemisphere. But there is minimal to no attention on the start point of that passage. In the (1500 and) 1600s, that means primarily modern Angola. Back then it meant two major kingdoms, Kongo and Ndongo(/Matamba) with a Portuguese colony of Angola named after the founding king of the Ndongo kingdom. The ignorance of the importance of Angola can be seen in the 400th anniversary trip to Africa by the NAACP. Where did they go? To Ghana. Going to Ghana for the 400th anniversary of slavery in Virginia makes about as much sense as going to England to honor Ellis Island immigrants.

The Smithsonian section introduces a slightly different picture. It notes the Romanus Pontifex of 1455 “which affirmed Portugal’s exclusive rights to territories it claimed along the West Africa coast and the trade from those areas.” The Smithsonian quotes from the affirmation that Portugal had the right regarding the people it encountered to “reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.” But it excludes the reference to “Saracens” which was the whole point of the expeditions. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moslems now encircled Europe cutting off access to both Slavs to serve as slaves and trade with Asia. There was the hope among Catholics that they could do an end-around by sailing south around Africa. In 1455, they didn’t know how far the coast extended. The Portuguese would not reach Ghana until the 1470s and Kongo until 1482. It should also be noted that Portugal was not even aware of the Western Hemisphere at this time.

Evidence of these sailings as part of a religious confrontation and not a racial one may be seen in the actions in Kongo. The king of Kongo was baptized in 1491. Missionaries began baptizing Kongolese in droves. Free Kongolese sailed to Lisbon to be educated. Diplomatic correspondence between Kongo and Portugal and the Vatican commenced. One Kongolese married into the royal family approximately 500 years before Meghan Markle. In the 1600’s Ndongo/Matamba entered into extensive relations with the Vatican in its quest to be recognized as a Christian kingdom. Kongo and Ndongo/Matamba were independent countries and represented Catholic outposts in the confrontation with Moslems. At this point in time, slaves were people not property and slavery was not based on anti-black racism.

Same-race slavery in Africa is another omission from The 1619 Project. In the Travel section of The New York Times, Jacqueline Woodson wrote Finding Pain and Joy in Ghana about her trip there as part of the 400th anniversary (December 15, 2019, print). On the Ghana invitation to descendants of which she is one, Woodson writes

In its efforts to bring the African diaspora together, Ghana’s leaders are also hoping to make amends for the complicity of Africans in selling their own people in what would become the trans-Atlantic slave trade….
…I found myself struggling to come to terms with those who worked with white traders to move black bodies into chattel slavery.

She quotes a passage from Henry Lewis Gates in Ending the Slavery Blame-Game published in The New York Times, April 22, 2010.

The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred…. But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time. Slaves were the main export of the kingdom of Kongo; the Asante Empire in Ghana exported slaves and used the profits to import gold. Queen Njinga, the brilliant 17th-century monarch of the Mbundu, waged wars of resistance against the Portuguese but also conquered polities as far as 500 miles inland and sold her captives to the Portuguese. When Njinga converted to Christianity, she sold African traditional religious leaders into slavery, claiming they had violated her new Christian precepts.

The Smithsonian section also mentions Njinga. It focuses on her exploits as a freedom fighter against the Portuguese. There is no mention of her as a slave-owner or slave-trader. There is no mention of her alliance with the Dutch against the Portuguese or of her purchase of guns and ammunition in exchange for slaves. There is no mention of becoming Catholic and trying to create a Catholic kingdom with extensive correspondence with the Vatican. Think also about the 500 miles mentioned by Gates. Now imagine the Tuscarora in Buffalo rounding up captive Indian tribe slaves, marching them to New Amsterdam, and selling them to the Dutch to be transported as slaves elsewhere. But Njinga gets a pass on her slave-owning and slave-trading in her fight against the Portuguese that Thomas Jefferson on a much smaller scale does not get. There was no abolition movement in Angola.

Frederick Douglass commented on this issue of African slave trade as well. With all the fuss about colonization and Abraham Lincoln in The 1619 Project, it is important to remember what Douglass had to say and which should be included in any school curriculum.

Depend upon it, the savage chiefs on the western coast of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage, and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily see and accept our moral and economical ideas, than the slave-traders of Maryland and Virginia. We are, therefore, less inclined to go to Africa to work against the slave-traders, than to stay here to work against it. (“African Civilization Society,” February 1859)

Why should Middle Passage blacks give up their white masters in the United States for the black ones in Africa who willingly, eagerly, and freely sold them to white people in the first place? Wouldn’t that make for a good high school essay topic?

1619 VERSUS 1776: THE BATTLE IS ENGAGED

With this background in mind, let us return to the original issue of replacing 1776 with as 1619 as the birth of the country and revising the school curriculum and national culture accordingly.

The 1619 Project of The New York Times is a direct assault on what Abraham Lincoln accomplished. Prior to him, one said “The United States are a country.” After him, one said as we still do to this very day, “The United States is a country.” It was Lincoln at Gettysburg who redefined America from being a collection of states to being a We the People country. Lincoln deserves credit not just for making Thanksgiving a national holiday for all Americans even if you were not of Pilgrim descent but for redefining July 4th as well. When Lincoln said “Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers…” he knew that not everybody in the audience was a son or daughter of the American Revolution. He asserted that to stand for the Union then was to stand with the Founding Fathers in 1776. That principle has applied to all naturalized Americans since then.

Obviously not all Americans agreed with Lincoln’s vision then nor do they now. Most famously, Robert E. Lee self-identified as a Virginian and not an American. In effect, his Founding Father was John Smith and not the Founding Fathers we know today or who perform in Hamilton.

America at its birth consisted not only of many states but many peoples. There were Africans, Dutch, French Huguenots, German Palatines, Irish Catholics, Scotch Irish, and Sephardic Jews just to mention the main non-English ones. In addition there were English Anglicans, English Pilgrims, English Puritans, and English Quakers. And then there were the multiple Indian nations/peoples who thought of themselves as independent entities in their own right. To create a collective We the People from that mixed multitude was and is no easy task.

How many multi-religious countries were there in 1776 where people of all religions had the same rights?
How many multi-ethnic countries were there in 1776 where all ethnicities had the same rights?
How many multi-racial countries were there in 1776 where all races had the same rights?

The American story of exceptionalism has many points of origin leading to July 4 which did not grow out of 1619.

1607 with John Smith and Pocahontas
1620 with the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving
1624 with the Dutch and the Island at the Center of the World
1630 with the Puritans and the City on a Hill.

All contributed to the story of America. There is no problem with adding 1619 to this list. Indeed, it should be. There is a big problem with deleting those dates and 1776 and replacing them with 1619 as the origin of America or as the basis of “nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.”

Consider this date which also could be added to the list. The first black to arrive in New Amsterdam was Juan (Jan) Rodriguez in 1613, six years before 1619. He was a free person of Portuguese and African (probably Angolan) descent. He married into a local Lenape tribe. His story then combines multiple races and ethnicities. In October, 2012, the New York City Council enacted legislation to name Broadway from 159th Street to 218th Street in Manhattan after him. The neighborhood today is Dominican so the location is in tribute to Rodriguez’s place of birth. The location is around 120 blocks from The New York Times. So how about making 1613 the new birthday in recognition of the Island at the Center of the World and the expression of e pluribus unum through the life of Juan Rodriguez?

Our country is not defined by race, ethnicity, religion, or a geographic location but by an idea. The Founding Fathers built on the strands that came before them to start to weave multiple peoples into a unity. Abraham Lincoln continued that effort by including people who were not biological sons and daughters of the American Revolution as ideological sons and daughters if they stood with the Union. Irish who sang Yankee Doodle Dandy continued that journey of being included as Americans. Ellis Island immigrants who sang God Bless America continued that journey of being included as Americans. Middle Passage blacks who said “I have an American dream” and helped America land on the moon continued that journey of being included as Americans. The 250th anniversary of the American Revolution provides us with a desperately needed opportunity to continue that journey in the 21st century with many new peoples who are proud to be Americans and celebrate July 4th.

The 1619 Project represents a giant step backward away from continuing that journey. The front page article of today’s New York Times (“Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories.”, January 13, 2020) is about the divided history textbooks of our divided nation. The political reporting of the newspaper testifies to the importance of the hostility to the politically correct in the 2016 presidential elections, a far bigger factor than Putin. Now The New York Times has decided to promote and aggravate the division of the country just as our President does at the precise time when we need to heal and unite as We the People. The New York Times has given us a false history that is woke but not helpful. What a wasted opportunity.

Republicans versus Trumpicans: A New York State Case Study

In 1861 after winning the presidential election, Abraham Lincoln traveled by train to Washington, D.C. from Springfield, IL. His journey took him through New York State.

On February 18, he arrived in Albany. A riot ensued. While all this fuss was occurring over the arrival of the President-elect and he was dining at the Executive Mansion, the drama “The Apostate,” was staged at the Gayety Theater on Green Street. During the performance, the 23-year-old male lead who held a dagger accidentally fell and stabbed himself. He lived. The actor’s name was John Wilkes Booth. What if the wound had been more severe? There is no indication that Booth and Lincoln met then although obviously the former was aware of the latter.

So how did the new Republican Party fare in the Empire State?

In 1860 Abraham Lincoln won New York State with 35 Electoral College votes.

In 1864 Abraham Lincoln won New York State with 33 Electoral College votes. Confederate states did not participate in the election. Who knows what would have happened if they had voted and sent electors to be counted. After all, according to Lincoln, the Confederate states were legally still part of the United States. Another “what if” question.

In 1904, New York Republican Teddy Roosevelt won New York State with 39 Electoral College votes.

In 1948, New York Republican Thomas Dewey won New York State with 47 Electoral College votes.

In 1980 Republican Ronald Reagan won New York with 41 Electoral College votes.

In 1984 Republican Ronald Reagan won New York with 36 Electoral College votes.

That was the last time a Republican Presidential candidate won New York.

In 2016, New York was down to 29 Electoral College votes.

There was even a time not so long ago when both New York State Senators were Republicans. Then it became one. Then it became none.

The 21st century has not been good for Republicans in New York State. Once upon a time Republican New York State governors were national figures who became President or who tried to become President. When George Pataki sought national office he barely registered on the Presidential Political Richter scale. For that matter the Democrats have not done much better. Since the days of Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic New York presidential candidates have been a carpetbagger and former Democrat and Clinton supporter who attended future Democratic Governor Andy Cuomo’s bachelor party and used the Republican Party instead to become President before moving to Florida.

So where did things stand now for Republicans in New York State?

No Republican can win a statewide election in New York. The best one can hope for is around 40%. Consider the example of Marc Molinaro. In an earlier time period, he was the type of person who had future in the Republican Party at the state level and therefore perhaps at the national level. Now he has neither. He tried once at the state level and was victim of the 40% rule. He could try again for a state-wide position but why?

Molinaro could aim smaller and run for Congress, but why? First, his background is in executive positions so he would be a fish out of water in Congress. Second, he would be in a minority party which in the House of Representatives means you have no power whatsoever. Third he would be obligated to constantly travel both in his geographically-large Congressional district and to Washington. Fourth his district probably would change after the 2020 census and for the worse for him. Finally, does he really want to settle for making a name for himself like Elise Stefanik? For what purpose? Is that all there is?

During his gubernatorial campaign, Molinaro stated that he wrote in Republican former Congressman Chris Gibson for the 2016 presidential election. The father of a daughter with developmental disabilities, said that Trump mocking a disabled journalist, Serge Kovaleski of The New York Times, during a late-2015 campaign rally was the tipping point. Therefore even if elected to Congress, the non-Trumpican would have no standing within the Trumpican Party. So here he is in what should be the prime of his political life ready to make the big move like a Roosevelt or Dewey and instead he has nowhere to go.

Note: Since I first wrote these words, Molinaro has announced he will not be a candidate for Congress.

The Republicans continue to be irrelevant in the Legislature as they have been for years.

In 2018, the Senate Republicans experienced the full onslaught of the vaunted red wave the Trumpican President had predicted. For decades the Republicans had been able to retain control of the Senate despite the statewide changes. Finally all the maneuvering and lack of Democratic unity came undone. Now the Republicans are struggling to maintain a 1/3 position in the Senate. There is no constructive purpose even talking about it becoming the majority party again.

The trends are running against the Republicans. The most recent news from the Census front is that New York is the biggest population loser in the country. As one headline in USA Today put it, the new motto is “I LEAVE NY.” Roughly 1.4 million left from 2011-2018, a huge number of people equaling about 7% of the 2010 population. In the past, New York had been losing both upstate Republican and downstate Democratic population. The difference was that when people left upstate, no one replaced them; when people left downstate, they were replaced by Americans who wanted to relocate to New York City and by immigrants.

At the Congressional level, the result after the 2020 census will mean the loss to the state of another Congressional seat. It will probably be a Republican one although it keeps getting harder and harder to find one. The Democrats are advised not to flip all the Republican congressional seats. Leave at least two in proximity to each other so they can be combined into one district.

At the state level, the number of Senators and Legislators will remain the same. What will change is the allocation. As downstate grows to be an increasingly larger percentage of the total state population, the number of districts will grow accordingly. That change won’t go into effect until the 2022 election but the handwriting is on the wall. Already, Republican State Senators are dropping in droves. As the headline in City&State New York blared:

The state Senate is hemorrhaging Republicans
Life in the minority has some GOP incumbents getting out of Dodge.

Nine and counting with others at risk even if they run as incumbents or drive into a ditch.

So what is the New York State Republican Party going to do? At the national level, the Lincoln Project represents an attempt to restore the place of Lincoln in the Republican Party. Good luck with that. Polls show that Lincoln has lost favor with Republicans. That was true even before the 2016 elections. It is only because the party of Lincoln already was dead [R.I.P. Party of Lincoln (1856-2016), March 12, 2016] that it could become the Trumpican Party. So far this cycle, 26 Congressional Republicans are leaving the House. Soon only Trumpicans well be left.

As more and more evidence emerges during this interim between House impeachment and Senate acquittal, the transformation of the Republican Party into the Trumpican Party becomes more and more obvious. Consider the example of Mike Pompeo. He did not fight for his people in the State Department against the President. Why should the people of Kansas believe he will fight for them when he runs for Senate there? Why should they believe him period, about the Ukraine, about Iraq and Iran, about anything? Do you think he would tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth if he did testify? How much of party can you build on that?

In the Westmore News, my local weekly newspaper, there was a column by Dick Hubert entitled “The Republican political divide in our community.” He wrote about how the Republicans (Hubert does not use the term “Trumpicans”) oppose the effort of Wilson and Conway to save the Republican Party. He cited the example of New York State Trumpican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy urging political warfare against anyone even questioning Trump. Hubert quoted a media release from December 18, 2019, by Langworthy:

Neither the voters nor history will not (sic) look kindly upon this political hit job….[The] Democrats who went along with this sham will be held accountable.

It is unlikely that the new evidence further documenting the attempted extortion and cover-up will have any impact on a true Trumpican.

Hubert quoted Rye Town Republican Chairman Dan Panicia as being more forthcoming than the Westchester County Republican Chairman Doug Colenty who did not respond to this inquiry:

As far as impeachment, this has been purely political theater from the start, the sooner it is over the better. What a waste of time. Congress needs to focus on passing legislation that will benefit Americans.

This claim ignores the hundreds of bills the House has passed including on a bipartisan basis that the Senate has yet to consider.

These Trumpicans are fiddling with the Trumpican Party burns. Hubert noted the party professionals and volunteers who worked on the various campaigns of Republican former Rye Town Supervisor and Congressional candidate Joe Carvin who have informed Hubert that they have left the Party in disgust and/or cutoff communications with the Trumpicans.

At the national level, it is well known that white, college-educated, suburban Republican women have abandoned the former Republican Party in droves when it became the Trumpican Party. When Molinaro ran for Governor, his Lieutenant Governor candidate may have been just such a person. Julie Killian, former Rye City Councilwoman, declined to state for whom she voted. Her refusal to declare her loyalty means she has no future with the Trumpican Party. Not that the Trumpican Party has a future here. Republicans cannot win a county-wide race in Westchester and has been practically obliterated in the County Legislator. It has become difficult enough to find people to run yet alone who can win as Republicans or Trumpicans. When our Congressional Representative Nita Lowey decided not to run for re-election (she is older than the leading Presidential candidates), she created a once-in-a-generation opportunity. So far 8 Democrats have announced their candidacy; the Democrats have a deep political bench. BY contrast, although the Republicans do have an announced candidate this time, he comes from business wealth and not a political bench: there isn’t one.

Hubert ends his column with a dismal depiction of the Trumpican Party future in New York State.

Altogether, it’s not a pretty picture. Like the fate of Humpty Dumpty, it’s not at all clear the pieces can ever be put back together again….
Locally, at least, a safe prediction would be that policy and political disputes may be settled in our environs by Democratic primaries and the possible emergence of new parties.

Hubert’s conclusion echoes my own comment that Wilson and Conway would be better served trying to create a new party based on Lincoln than on trying to transform the Trumpican Party back to a party that admires Lincoln.

Covenant to Lady Liberty: An Idea and Political Identity

Moses and the Covenant (https://www.imdb.com)

There is more to Moses than Charlton Heston. Ignore the theology. Ignore the special effects. Ignore Cecil B. DeMille. Instead focus on the political. Focus on the fact that when Israel emerged in history it did not have a king, it did not have a temple, it did not have a capital city. It was not a nomadic people. Yet somehow people still were able to identify themselves as Israel. What the people did have that no one else had was a covenant. While not exactly a Constitution, it did serve to define the people. Whereas our defining document begins with WE THE PEOPLE, Israel’s began with “Yahweh thy God took thee out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 20:2).

Pharaoh Merneptah (1212-1202 BCE), the son and successor to Ramses II, claimed to have destroyed the seed of Israel. When the Merneptah Stele was discovered in 1896 with these words, it caused quite a stir as you might imagine.

Merneptah Stele, Cairo Museum (Wikipedia)

Merneptah used an indentifier with the word “Israel” to indicate that Israel was a not a settled people as were the people of the Canaanites cities that Egypt had ruled for centuries. But they were not nomads in the land of Canaan either. So what were they?

Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of small unwalled settlements in the land of Canaan that date to this time. They are considered to be Israelite because realistically speaking who else could they be? Merneptah knew there was a people Israel there and they knew they were not a city-based people. So how did they maintain their identity?

The answer is the covenant renewal ceremony. They were united by an idea. Israel was not a people based on geography. It was not a people based on race. It was not a people based on ethnicity. It was a people based on an idea expressed in the covenant and later physically expressed in the Ark of the Covenant. Periodically, the people met (or at least the elders did) to renew that sense of identity. At first Israel did so at Mount Ebal as instructed by Moses (Deut. 11:29, 27:4, 13) and done by Joshua (Josh, 8:30-35). Archaeologists have discovered the altar used in the ceremonies but the consequences of admitting it are too much to accept.

The Altar at Mount Ebal (Biblical Archaeology Society)

After Mount Ebal, the covenant renewal ceremony relocated to Shiloh. Shiloh also served as a place for men to bring the unmarried women in their family to find mates (Judg. 21:19-23) much like the camp meetings in the early 1800s in the United States. The ark remained at Shiloh until it was captured by the Philistines.

Shiloh and the Capture of the Ark of the Covenant (Biblical Archaeology Society)

When David became king of all Israel, he continued this tradition of defining the people based on an idea. He brought the ark to Jerusalem, his new capital. Jerusalem, unlike with the founding of Washington, DC, had been enemy territory for centuries. Based on the archaeological record, Jerusalem had been a good vassal of Egypt during the more than three centuries of Egyptian rule in the land of Canaan.

Diplomatic Correspondence between Vassal Jerusalem and Egypt (Amarna Letters)

It is reasonable to conclude that Jerusalem like other vassal cities would have joined with Pharaoh Merneptah against the newcomer Israel. And according to the biblical account, Jerusalem organized a coalition against Israel (Josh. 10:1-5). In the biblical accounts of this time period, Jerusalem definitely is not part of Israel (Judg. 1:7-8, 21; 19:11-12).

Yet David makes the enemy city his capital. He installs the ark there (II Samuel 6). He buys land there from most likely the Jebusite king of the city and the Temple of Solomon would be built there (II Sam. 24:16-25; I Chr. 24:15-30; II Chr. 3:1). He does not massacre the Jebusite inhabitants of the city. Instead he welcomes them into his kingdom, his government, his family. Consider the words of Rahab the Canaanite, the female figure used to symbolize the Canaanite people who are now under the rule of David, King of Israel.

Joshua 2:10 For we have heard how Yahweh dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

Note that the Canaanites have heard what Yahweh has done. By contrast, the Israelites had seen what Yahweh had done.

Exodus 14:13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of Yahwweh, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.

In this contrast between those who saw and those who heard, one may recognize the difference between the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution and the naturalized Americans who have no biological link to the Patriot cause. It is precisely this distinction and inclusion that Lincoln will replicate at Gettysburg (see below).

Before Lincoln did do that, four score and seven years earlier, the Founding Fathers had to first create the United States of America based on an idea. To understand what they accomplished it is necessary to put aside our racial classification system. Based on the standards of the time, they were trying to create “WE THE PEOPLE” out of a disparate amalgamation of peoples. There were English of various types, Scotch Irish, Irish Catholic, Dutch, Palatine Germans, Sephardic Jews, and French Huguenots among other peoples. There was no precedent for combining such a diversity into a non-imperial republic. Certainly no political entity was organized on such a basis in Euope. The idea of constituting themselves as a people was farfetched to say the least. They knew it was an experiment. They knew it might not work. They probably would be shocked by the idea of a pending 250th anniversary for such a political entity.

Lincoln at Gettysburg continued this definition of the political entity based on an idea. When he said “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers,” he knew that not everyone in his audience was a son or daughter of the American Revolution. But just as David included in the political kingdom of Israel people who had not been part of the people of Israel that Merneptah had claimed to have destroyed two centuries earlier, so Lincoln linked all the Americans of his present to the events 76 years earlier. If you stood for the Union now, you were one with those who had created the Union then.

This idea took a giant leap forward for humanity with Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise. His hero was Lincoln so I presume Lincoln was a hero to Gene Roddenberry as well. Earth like the 13 states was part of a Federation. Beings of different races were joined together in a single entity. The precise details of how the Federation of Planets operated are not the issue here. What is the issue is the concept of beings becoming one without abandoning their individuality as with the Borg or in Mainland China. In this regard, Federation with its Prime Directive and other defining principles is another step on a journey that began millennia earlier when a mixed multitude entered into a covenant. They are united not by geography, not by race, not by ethnicity, but by an idea.

It’s all one story. Moses in the wilderness with the covenant, David at Zion with the Ark of the Covenant, the Founding Fathers with the Constitution, Lincoln with the Gettysburg Address,  Kirk on the Enterprise are all part of a single story. As the Ark of the Covenant once was the physical expression of the covenant idea that defined Israel, so the Statue of Liberty is the physical expression of the idea that defines the United States. Both for the people who come here and those in Hong Kong, Russia, and elsewhere, the Statue of Liberty is the global symbol for people who want to be free. So which Charlton Heston ending will America choose? The Charlton Heston of The Ten Commandments who ends the movie with the words of the Liberty Bell to proclaim liberty throughout the land (Lev. 25:10) or the Charlton Heston of Planet of Apes overwhelmed by the sight of the Statue of Liberty buried in the sands?

Planet of the Apes (YouTube)

My Birthday and the Day I Was Born Are the Same Day: Previewing the 2020 Election (Part 1)

Lincoln Memorial Courtesy GalleryHip

Once upon a time more years ago than I care to count, my sister had an epiphany. Suddenly discrete data packets in her brain coalesced into a vision of breathless clarity and intense emotion. She was effused with the joy and happiness that only one who has seen the truth possesses. Overcome with the intensity of the experience she stood up and proudly exclaimed:

I JUST REALIZED THAT MY BIRTHDAY AND THE DAY I WAS BORN ARE THE SAME DAY!

For all she knew, she was the one and only person on the planet who had attained such knowledge.

How old do you think she was when she had this moment of understanding?

I was reminded of this bit of family lore when our immature child President announced to the world that in the eighth decade of his life, he had suddenly learned that Abraham Lincoln had been a Republican…and that not many people knew that. He apparently was quite proud of himself for now being the possessor of such obscure but important knowledge.

His moment of insight suggests that prior to this learning experience he had thought, along with most others, that Lincoln had been a Democratic President. Instead of simply making fun of him for being a blithering idiot, one should inquire as to how he came to think that Lincoln has been a Democrat.

Certainly it was not something he had learned in school.

Certainly it was not something he had read in a book.

Certainly it was not something he had learned from Fox where Lincoln never is mentioned.

So how then did he come to think of Lincoln as being a Democrat?

He may have presumed that since the former party of Lincoln now is a Confederate party of malice, that Lincoln therefore must have belong to the opposition party.

He may have presumed that since Steven Spielberg had produced a movie about Lincoln that therefore anyone who was a hero to La La Land liberals must have been Democratic.

He may have presumed that since New York State Governor Mario Cuomo had been a big admirer of Lincoln that therefore Lincoln must have been a Democrat as well.

He even may have been vaguely aware of Martin Luther King standing at the Lincoln Memorial at his “I have a dream” speech and since all Middle-Passage blacks are Democrats, therefore Lincoln must have been one too.

In short, we will never know for sure how it came to be that he thought Lincoln was a Democrat only to just recently discover that he was in error.

This eureka moment of understanding raises two critical issues. First, it calls into question his vaunted skill on not needing to be prepped, of not needing to read, of not needing to know anything in advance because he is so smart he can quickly size up the moment, understand the players, and determine the correct course of action. By now we are all in awe of his perceptive ability to make sense of health care, Korean-Chinese history, and taxes and to realize how easy the job of being President of the United States of America is for him even though he had no relevant experience and little knowledge going into the job. After but 100 plus days in office, the job is old hat to him, even boring since it is so easy. Unlike with his predecessor, there is no drama to his administration where everything runs like clockwork in a well-oiled smoothly humming machine.

Secondly, his Lincoln-as-Republican realization calls to mind what else he didn’t know about Lincoln besides his political party. For example, Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address with the famous words:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Is malice towards none a characteristic of our current Republican president?

Is charity for all a characteristic of our current Republican president?

Is binding up the nation’s wounds characteristic of our Republican president?

Does Lincoln having been a Republican have any meaning to people who claim to be Republicans today?

In Lincoln’s annual message to Congress, he referred to America as “the last best hope of earth.” Such thoughts continued the tradition begun by John Winthrop even before there was a United States. They were proclaimed most recently and prominently by Republican President Ronald Reagan who declared our country to be a shining city on a hill that the eyes of the world are upon. The America of Winthrop to Reagan and even beyond had a special role in human history. Even the Politically Correct acknowledge America’s special role in human history. True it is as the Great Satan but that still is a pretty impressive global role in human history.

Where is the vision today? In a world where everything is transactional, where everything is about the deal, where everything is about making money, there is no vision to inspire the world in a journey to a better tomorrow. So he now knows that Lincoln was Republican, so what?

Does Lincoln having been a Republican have any meaning to people who claim to be Republicans today?

Are there any ramifications to America’s abandonment of its role as a city on hill that the eyes of the world are upon? Certainly Turkey is happy about it. So is the Philippines. And Venezuela would be too if its autocrat prevails in the battle against democracy there.

Former Deputy Director of the CIA David Cohen warned of the danger to America of a purely commercial policy. He drew on his own experiences working with undercover agents from other countries. They were people who put their lives on the line for America precisely because it stood for everything our immature child president rejects. The values of the city on a hill that the eyes of the world are upon offered an alternative to the life they knew in their own country. They dreamed of living the American dream.

Cohen writes: “that image of the United States as the ‘last best hope of earth,” proclaimed by our leaders for decades, is an enormously effective recruiting too…” He goes on to tout the value of “the American idea” in promoting our interests. As he put it: “Tarnishing the idea that America stands for something uniquely good makes it harder for the C.I.A. to recruit spies.” Cohen concludes his op-ed piece with a ringing endorsement of America’s role in human history in starkly immediate terms for the safety of the country: “relinquishing America’s place as the shining city on the hill will do real and profound harm to our national security.” Our immature child president genuinely lacks the mental necessities to understand this reasoning. What about the former party of Lincoln?

Speaking again of Lincoln, let me conclude with one other area where his vision and that of the party that he belonged to differ – immigration.

In a debate with Stephen Douglas on July 10, 1858, in Chicago, the future President redefined how one was to define an American in a way those who are ignorant of Lincoln have not yet learned. Suppose one wasn’t a Son or a Daughter of the American Revolution? Could one still fully celebrate July 4? Listen to Lincoln’s answer:

In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men-descended by blood from our ancestors-among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe-German, Irish, French and Scandinavian-men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

For Lincoln, one did not need to be a blood-descendant of the American Revolution to be one with the spirit of the event. Through adherence to the principles of the Declaration of Independence every American stood as one with those who had fought and died for America’s birth. The new Republican Party that Lincoln had joined was the immigrant party (except maybe not so clearly the party of the Irish), the party whose political interests were served by reaching out newly arrived and would-be Americans. By disavowing immigrant restrictions it succeeded in holding on to a fair share of the foreign-born vote, especially among younger Protestant voters. These immigrants from Scandinavia, France and Cornwall, among other places, supported Lincoln, Union and America.

Learning that Lincoln was a Republican should be the first step and not the only step for the president of the former party of Lincoln. If he is having trouble learning what it means to be an American, perhaps there are some Russians who can help him.

Amanda Anisimova
Scott McIntyre for the NYT

Konstanin Anismov, Russian immigrant and father of Maria Anisimova who graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and of Amanda Anisimova who will represent the United States as the youngest player in the French Open since 2005, on his immigration to America:

We really like Spain, but then we recognized when we visited America that everyone who comes here is going to feel like home. In Europe, you always feel like a foreigner because it is a completely different culture. America is a united country where people come from all over the world, and after a couple of years, they feel this is home. (“Only 15, but Ready for Her Grand Slam Debut” NYT 5/27/17).

If only the former party of Lincoln or the party of identity politics believed that. Is there no Lincoln in American politics today?

 

R.I.P. Party of Lincoln (1856-2016)

Lincoln Memorial

In the past few days, some Republicans have mentioned the name no Republican presidential candidate dares mention: Abraham Lincoln. No self-respecting candidate seeking to survive the primary gauntlet would be so foolish as to utter the name of America’s greatest president. There simply is no place in the Party of Malice for Lincoln.

Democrats deserve no kudos either. They opposed Lincoln when he was alive and with their relentless pursuit of victimhood and identity politics, there is no place for him there either today.

We face the prospect of a presidential election when the candidates of the two national parties are under indictment and instead of hope, hate will be watchword.

Despite the abandonment of Lincoln from national discourse, it is still worth considering what he had to say both for what he achieved then and what he could achieve today if only there was a place for him in national politics. In a debate with Stephen Douglas on July 10, 1858, in Chicago, the future President redefined how one was to define an American in a way those today who despise him have not yet learned.

“We are now a mighty nation…We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years [to 1776] and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,-with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men….We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; …they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration [on July 4] to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves-we feel more attached the one to the other and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit.”

Notice what Abraham Lincoln was doing here. He reminded Americans that it is the annual celebration of July 4 that links the people of the present to the heroic forefathers who had created and built this prosperous country four-score and two years ago. This connection he referred to seems biological in nature. But suppose one wasn’t a Son or a Daughter of the American Revolution? Could one still fully celebrate July 4? Now listen to Lincoln’s answer:

“We have besides these men-descended by blood from our ancestors-among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe-German, Irish, French and Scandinavian-men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us,”

How is it possible for immigrants to this country to celebrate a holiday to which they have no biological connection?

“but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”

For Lincoln, one did not need to be a blood-descendant of the American Revolution to be one with the spirit of the event. Immigrants were entitled to have their shot at living the American Dream. Through adherence to the principles of the Declaration of Independence every American stood as one with those who had fought and died for America’s birth. The new Republican Party that Lincoln had joined was the immigrant party (except maybe not so clearly the party of the Irish) and later the Black Party, the party whose political interests were served by reaching out newly arrived and newly enfranchised. By disavowing immigrant restrictions it succeeded in holding on to a fair share of the foreign-born vote, especially among younger Protestant voters. These immigrants from Scandinavia, France and Cornwall, among other places, supported Lincoln, Union and America.

So now think again about these familiar words from the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” When Lincoln said “our fathers” he knew that many people in the audience were not descendants of those who had founded the country. But Lincoln was not excluding them by this word choice, for by examining his words from five years earlier we see that he knew how much of America and the support of the Union depended on the immigrants to this country. In 1858 he had merely referred to the “moral sentiments” that connected the immigrants to the Founding Fathers; now, in the midst of the Civil War, he asserted they had been baptized by blood into the American covenant community. Those who fought to preserve the Union stood as one with those who had fought in the war to create the Union. They sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic with the same gusto that Americans once had sung Yankee Doodle Dandy. They were Americans by Choice.

As we just celebrated the Sesquicentennial of the Homestead Act, the Morrill-Land-Grant Colleges Act, and the Pacific Railway Act launching the Transcontinental Railroad, I am reminded that even without the Civil War Abraham Lincoln was a great President who understood America as a great work always in progress, that he acted to ensure people would have a home to call their own, the education to be able to live the American Dream, and the infrastructure to connect the country. To fulfill the American Dream in the 21st century, our immigrant country needs to be inspired not just by Lincoln’s monument and legacy, but by people who reach for his vision, his eloquence, and his leadership. Who will tell his story? Lincoln may belong to the ages, but does he still belong to the Republican Party?

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