Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Is the Electoral College Racist?

Many people today believe we should end the Electoral College. They argue that it is a relic from a bygone era. They further allege it gives too much advantage to one major party (the Republicans) over the other (the Democrats), and they say it's racist.

Yes, in recent years, the Electoral College has been positioned front-and-center in the race debate. 

It's racist, critics argue, because... well... it was designed to prop up white men.  

Yes, that's the argument.  

If you detect any non sequiturs there, it's not because you understand basic logic -- at least according to these critics of the Electoral College and the Founding Fathers.  

It's because you aren't "woke" enough.

I just tweeted a thread (you are following me on Twitter, right?) that lays out the reasons for the Electoral College.  I encourage you to go read it.  (And if you're not following me, please do so). 


Friday, June 19, 2020

Enough! Malcontents and Vandals Desecrate George Washington and the Flag

As part of protests in Portland, Oregon on the eve of Juneteenth, a group of about 20 demonstrators vandalized and toppled a statue to the father of our country - and then burned an American flag on it.
I do NOT hold all those living in Portland, Oregon OR all those protesting for civil rights and racial justice responsible for this.
Rather, I am asking ALL Americans -- regardless of color, race, gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs, etc, etc. -- to recognize something CRUCIAL and which SHOULD be very obvious....
Please read this carefully....
When you topple a statue to George Washington and burn an American flag on it, you are doing much more than simply denouncing racism, protesting police brutality, or calling for criminal justice reform.
You are, in fact, very graphically and very clearly calling for the downfall of the United States of America.
If you value the United States of America, you will denounce this.
Rage and radicalism will not get us to where we want to be. We do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Let's unite against racism and for justice. But let's do so as Americans who love and value our country.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Liberty and Justice For All Depends on Living UP to our Founding Principles, Not Rejecting Them

Dear Reader:
For this post, I wish to make a personal appeal. An appeal from my heart. 
  • I deplore racism and embrace equal justice and civil rights for all.
  • I repudiate white supremacy, and recognize there are cultural and systemic issues which still need to be addressed.
  • I support criminal justice reform.
  • I support holding government and all civil servants (including, but not limited to, law enforcement) accountable.
  • I support moving Confederate statues to cemeteries and museums (and out of central, public, community spaces). And I call upon all Americans (and do so, as one born and raised in Virginia) to stop celebrating the Confederacy as a noble enterprise.
  • I believe some Army bases should be renamed.
  • I believe Harriet Tubman should replace Andrew “Trail of Tears” Jackson on the $20 bill.
  • I want to be a part of the solution and to do my part to move our country forward on all these issues.
BUT....
If you believe that toppling statues to our Founding Fathers will solve our problems, you are being foolish. 
And...
If you believe repudiating the founding principles of the United States is going to bring about equality and social justice....
You are being not only foolish, but reckless.
I am not saying statues are more important than people, nor am I saying the Founders were sinless saints worthy of national worship. They were flawed. They were (like us) sinners. 
Rather, I am arguing that they laid out principles upon which this Republic was founded that even the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass ultimately praised. And not only Douglass, but also Hiram Revels and all the first African American members of the US Senate and House of Representatives (elected during the Reconstruction era).
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr certainly criticized the Founders (and rightly so) but he did not trash them, nor did he call on the American people to renounce them. Go back and watch his “I Have a Dream” speech. He called on Americans not to renounce the founding principles of their country but rather to live UP to them: “I have a dream today that one day this nation wil rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
I support all peaceful protests for civil rights and equal justice under the law. 
But when it comes to the rioting, the violence, the destruction of property, and (yes) the toppling of statues, what we are experiencing is more akin to the FRENCH Revolution than the American Revolution. And frankly more akin to many of the socialist revolutions in the 20th century.
If we continue down this road.....and I say this as a student of history.... you have no idea the whirlwind we will reap.
This nation has its sins and shortcomings. 
We can choose to improve it with love or destroy it with hate.
I know my choice. What is yours?

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Now We're Defacing Statues to Abolitionists?

Statue to Matthias Baldwin (pic taken in calmer times)
The controversy surrounding some of our nation's statues is understandable. I can understand many people objecting (even passionately) to statues of Christopher Columbus, Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and even Robert E. Lee.

But Matthias Baldwin!?

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have reached full-on Insanity. We are living in the midst of utter incoherence.

The protests and unrests are about (or are supposed to be about) reminding Americans that black lives indeed matter and that civil rights should be guaranteed and safeguarded for all Americans. 

Well, guess what? Matthias Baldwin agreed. Were he alive today, he would almost certainly be marching in the streets protesting the murder of George Floyd. 

Matthias Baldwin was an early abolitionist and civil rights champion. He was a proponent of the importance of education, and funded the education of black children out of his own pocket!

And yet... few people today have heard of him. And rather than his monument serve as a beacon of light or hope or inspiration, it has become the target of rage and defilement.

Vandals have, over the last several days, defaced or destroyed statues and memorials to:

  • the 54th Massachusetts
  • Union soldiers from Philadelphia 
  • Matthias Baldwin, and...
  • Abraham Lincoln

It is inconceivable that someone can champion civil rights and racial equality on the one hand and with the other hand, deface a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts or a monument to Matthias Baldwin.

To read more about what happened to the Matthias Brown statue, click here

It's not just personally inconceivable. It's objectively incoherent, preposterous, and absurd.

Clearly, these vandals - these malcontents - did not pay attention in history class or read a worthwhile history book in their lifetime. But what makes this even harder to grasp (at least for those of us who like to occasionally engage our brain) is that these folks can't even be bothered to read the plaques that normally accompany such statues or memorials!

To be clear, I oppose racism, repudiate white supremacy, support criminal justice reform, and believe in holding all public servants accountable. And I know that not all those protesting for civil rights and equal justice for all support the madness associated with defacing, damaging, or destroying these statues. 

But I hope all of us can agree: Nonsense like this needs to stop!




Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Sins (and Shortcomings) of our Father: My Review of Alexis Coe’s You Never Forget Your First

Just finished listening to (thanks Audible!) the latest biography of George Washington: You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe. I was inspired to give this biography a listen by HISTORY’s recent “Washington” docudrama mini series. 

I have mixed feelings about this book. 

1) First, the listicles and factual asides sprinkled throughout are a very nice touch. 

2) The modest length and more relaxed (at times, even fun) tone of the book makes it much more approachable than some of the mammoth tomes written about the father of our country. This is a much easier book to read, for example, than the 904-page Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. 

3) It is refreshing to have a female historian’s perspective on Washington - a man whose biographies are almost all written by men.  Nevertheless, I care more about getting to the truth and heart of Washington than I do about the sex or gender of the author.  In this day and age of political correctness, however, I find myself increasingly in the minority in that opinion since the whole notion of truth is often considered dependent on identity politics. 

Thus, most reviews and quite a bit of the promo surrounding this book touts the fact that Alexis Coe is a woman.  To which I say “Great,” but it’s not the most important aspect of this book. Not at all. Although....

I did chuckle when she talked about how some of the male biographers emphasize the size of Washington’s thighs. She is right about that, and it’s nice to read a bio that doesn’t care about such things. 

4) Coe does shed some light on interesting, and often unflattering, aspects of Washington’s life with which many Americans are unfamiliar. Yet she and/or the book’s promoters often overstate some of the misconceptions or some of the facts that she brings to light. For example, the book tells us that George Washington was indeed the first President under the new U.S. Constitution but did not live in the White House. John Adams was the first to do so. This is hardly revolutionary information. Anyone with even a mediocre knowledge of early US history is well aware of this.

5) Coe’s take on Washington’s dealings with American Indian / Native American tribal nations is critical and very one-sided. I have no problem with certain aspects of Washington’s life being criticized, but let’s be fair and balanced about it. Don’t just give us half the information - selecting the parts of history which fit your narrative and make your subject look bad, while ignoring the parts that provide crucial context to your subject’s decisions. The reality is that Washington respected Native Americans, much more so than some of his successors such as (most notoriously) Andrew Jackson. 

6) Slavery is indeed the most difficult and most vexing aspect of Washington’s legacy. Coe shines a big spotlight on this, and brings to the forefront some important and impressive research that she did on many of the enslaved persons who labored in bondage for the Washington family.  (See my article “Should We Honor a Slave Owner?” for more of my take on this difficult subject.)

7) Many reviewers hail her biography as “evenhanded,” but the truth is that Coe aligns herself more with the Howard Zinn school of history than with any kind of balanced look at US history. This isn’t always wrong. I do appreciate those historians who bring important attention to previously marginalized people and figures in history. But in their quest to eschew the traditional “Great Man” approach to history, people like Coe and Zinn often forget (or choose to ignore) the FACT that many (actually most) of the common, ordinary men and women in history (including, often, people of color), were the ones who ELEVATED certain people like Washington to the status of “great man.”  

As an example, it was a person of color - namely, Richard Allen, the bishop and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church - who (as a contemporary of Washington) preached one of the most eloquent and memorable eulogies of the man following Washington’s death. 

Overall, I recommend Coe’s book as a worthwhile and succinct contribution to the field of study surrounding George Washington. But I do so with the caveat that hers is not the only Washington biography one should read. 

In interviews, Coe has criticized past biographers of Washington (those male biographers she likes to contrast herself against) as being too reverent, not sufficiently “curious,” and too “protective” of Washington. “I don’t feel a need to protect Washington,” Coe tells Smithsonian magazine in an interview. “[H]e doesn’t need me to come to his defense, and I don’t think he needed his past biographers to, either, but they’re so worried about him. I’m not worried about him. He’s everywhere. He’s just fine.”

While I agree that historical study should cover all the relevant facts and should eschew blind worship, I disagree with Coe that Washington’s legacy is “just fine.” 

The United States is very polarized today. We need people to help unite us, not divide us. We need people like George Washington. But if too many biographers like Coe come along and focus on the negatives — and do so without providing a full and fair context - then Washington will lose his ability to unite us. 

And we will suffer for it. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Should We Honor a Slave Owner? George Washington and Slavery

Should we honor slave owners? Specifically, should we honor one of the most famous slave owners in history, namely George Washington. It’s a question that divides many Americans and echoes some of the most contentious conversations on race in America today.
Today is widely known as “President’s Day” (or some say “Presidents’ Day”), but the holiday is officially and properly known as “George Washington’s Birthday, Observed.” And thus it’s appropriate to call our attention to George Washington, the father of our country … and a slave owner.
Until the middle of the 20th century, there was no dispute that George Washington should be honored. Americans pretty much universally agreed that the father of our country should be respected and honored.
The times, however, are changing.
To continue this article, click on the link below...