Pandemic Journal (# 32): Another Vision of the New Normal  

Whenever we in the U.S. and elsewhere are able safely to leave the restrictions of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we, in my opinion, will not return to what we regarded as “normal” before this pandemic. Nor do we know what the “new normal” will be. A previous post discussed noted commentator Fareed Zakaria’s opinion on this subject.[1]

Now we look at another vision of the new normal from Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, author and native Minnesotan.[2]

He opens with this blockbuster, “When we emerge from this corona crisis, we’re going to be greeted with one of the most profound eras of Schumpeterian creative destruction ever — which this pandemic is both accelerating and disguising.” Indeed, “No job, no K-12 school, no university, no factory, no office will be spared. And it will touch both white-collar and blue-collar workers, which is why this election matters so much. How we provide more Americans with portable health care, portable pensions and opportunities for lifelong learning to get the most out of this moment and cushion the worst is what politics needs to be about after Nov. 3 — or we’re really headed for instability.”[3]

“The reason the post-pandemic era will be so destructive and creative is that never have more people had access to so many cheap tools of innovation, never have more people had access to high-powered, inexpensive computing, never have more people had access to such cheap credit — virtually free money — to invent new products and services, all as so many big health, social, environmental and economic problems need solving.”

Friedman gains support for these startling predictions from Ravi Kumar, the president of Infosys, an Indian tech services company with his office in New York City and corporate headquarters in Bangalore.

According to Kumar, “the Industrial Revolution produced a world in which there were sharp distinctions between employers and employees, between educators and employers and between governments and employers and educators, ‘but now you’re going to see a blurring of all these lines.’”

“Because the pace of technological change, digitization and globalization just keeps accelerating, two things are happening at once: the world is being knit together more tightly than ever . . . and ‘the half-life of skills is steadily shrinking.’ As a result, whatever skill you possess today is being made obsolete faster and faster.”

Therefore, “the most critical role for K-12 educators . . . will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education. . . . self-motivation to be a lifelong learner will be paramount.”

Moreover, “explained Kumar, accelerations in digitization and globalization are steadily making more work ‘modular,’’ broken up into small packets that are farmed out by companies. Companies, he argues, will increasingly become platforms that synthesize and orchestrate these modular packets to make products and services.”

“Kumar added, ‘work will increasingly get disconnected from companies, and jobs and work will increasingly get disconnected from each other.’’ Some work will be done by machines; some will require your physical proximity in an office or a factory; some will be done remotely; and some will be just a piece of a task that can also be farmed out to anyone, anywhere.”

These changes will enable “many more diverse groups of people — those living in rural areas, minorities, stay-at-home moms and dads and those with disabilities — . . . to compete for it from their homes.”

All of these changes are “already having a big impact on education. ‘We have started hiring many people with no degrees,’’ explained Kumar. ‘If you know stuff and can demonstrate that you know stuff and have been upskilling yourself with online training to do the task that we need, you’re hired. We think this structural shift — from degrees to skills — could bridge the digital divide as the cost of undergraduate education has increased by 150 percent over the last 20 years.’’’

Today Kumar’s company, Infosys, “is not looking just for ‘problem solvers,’ he says, but ‘problem-finders,’  people with diverse interests — art, literature, science, anthropology — who can identify things that people want before people even know they want them.”

Kumar also claims, ‘We’re seeing the democratization of software — the consumers can now be the creators.’ It shows you how AI will take away jobs of the past, while it creates jobs of the future.”

Significant changes are in store for postsecondary education. According to Kumar, it “will be a hybrid ecosystem of company platforms, colleges and local schools, whose goal will be to create the opportunity for lifelong ‘radical reskilling.’” Already some companies like Infosys, IBM and AT&T are “creating cutting-edge in-house universities that partner with traditional universities and even high schools.

Conclusion

 Wow! What a lot of thoughts to ponder and evaluate! Comments with informed reactions to this Friedman column are encouraged.

As a retired, older individual, I have mixed reactions. On the one hand, I am glad that I will not have to face these changes in my own life. On the other hand, I regret not being able to be around for many more years to help in some small ways society, my sons and grandchildren cope with these challenges.

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[1] Pandemic Journal (#31): What Will Be the New Normal?, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 6, 2020).

[2] Friedman, After the Pandemic, a Revolution in Education and Work Awaits, N.Y. Times (Oct. 20, 2020)

[3] This Friedman passage refers to the famous concept of “creative destruction” by Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), an Austrian political economist, who emigrated to the U.S. to become a professor at Harvard University. His 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, argued that capitalistic economies proceeded by creative new processes, products and structures that destroyed the preceding ones. (See Joseph Schumpeter, Wikipedia; Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Wikipedia; Creative destruction, Wikipedia.

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All)

On October 3, in Assisi (Italy) at the tomb of Saint  Francis, Pope Francis released his lengthy (287 paragraphs) Encyclical Letter, “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All).”[1]

Here are this lay person’s overview of this important document and summary of the instantaneous reactions thereto from E.J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist on U.S. national politics and a Roman Catholic, and from other journalists.

Overview of the Letter

The title of the Encyclical– “Fratelli Tutti”—was used by Saint Francis to address “his brothers and sisters” and to propose “a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel.” The Letter’s guiding light is Saint Francis’ call “for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother ‘as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him.’”

The Letter has an introduction “Without Borders” before exploring the following eight chapters:

  • One: Dark Clouds Over a Closed World;
  • Two: A Stranger on the Road;
  • Three: Envisaging and Engendering an Open World;
  • Four: A Heart Open to the Whole World;
  • Five: A Better Kind of Politics;
  • Six: Dialogue and Friendship in Society;
  • Seven: Paths of Renewed Encounter; and
  • Eight: Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World.

The Letter concludes with the following two prayers:

A Prayer to the Creator:

  • “Lord, Father of our human family,
    you created all human beings equal in dignity:
    pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
    and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
    dialogue, justice and peace.
    Move us to create healthier societies
    and a more dignified world,
    a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.”
  • “May our hearts be open
    to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
    May we recognize the goodness and beauty
    that you have sown in each of us,
    and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,
    and shared dreams. Amen.”

An Ecumenical Christian Prayer:

  • “O God, Trinity of love,
    from the profound communion of your divine life,
    pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
    Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
    in his family of Nazareth,
    and in the early Christian community.”
  • “Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
    discovering Christ in each human being,
    recognizing him crucified
    in the sufferings of the abandoned
    and forgotten of our world,
    and risen in each brother or sister
    who makes a new start.”
  • “Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
    reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
    so that we may discover anew
    that all are important and all are necessary,
    different faces of the one humanity
    that God so loves. Amen.”

E.J. Dionne, Jr.’s Reactions [2]

E.J. Dionne Jr. published an intriguing column about this lengthy Papal Encyclical Letter, only one day after it was published.[2] Here is a summary of what Dionne had to say, which will probably spark this blogger’s comments after he carefully and prayerfully studies the Encyclical Letter.

According to Dionne, this Letter only a month before the U.S. presidential election criticizes many aspects of current politics that are found in the U.S. and other countries:

  • It criticizes persons who advocate “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” and cast immigrants as “less worthy, less important, less human.”
  • It criticizes advocates of an ““every man for himself” worldview that “will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic.”
  • “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes … the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ — without using the name.”
  • It denounces those who speak of “empty individualism,” a “narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different,” and “a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference.”
  • The Pope “cited his earlier condemnations of “a ‘throwaway’ world” that lacks respect for the “poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ — like the unborn — or ‘no longer needed’ — like the elderly.” And he denounced human trafficking as a “perversion that exceeds all limits when it subjugates women and then forces them to abort.”
  • The Pope had 12 references to capital punishment as “inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice.”
  • The Pope criticized the world’s inability “to resolve problems that affect us all” like the COVID-19 pandemic and  “Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.” Moreover, ““God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’. … If only we might keep in mind all those elderly persons who died for lack of respirators, partly as a result of the dismantling, year after year, of healthcare systems.”
  • “Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.” This is “a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism.”

Other Reactions [3]

Chico Harlan, the Washington Post’s Rome Bureau Chief, and Stefano Pitrelli of that Bureau who covers Italy and the Vatican, lead with this statement, “Humankind, Pope Francis says, is in the midst of a worrying regression. People are intensely polarized. Their debates, absent real listening, seem to have devolved into a ‘permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.’ In some countries, leaders are using a ‘strategy of ridicule’ and relentless criticism, spreading despair as a way to ‘dominate and gain control.’”

Harlan and Pitrelli believe that the encyclical “amounts to a papal stand against tribalism, xenophobia, and the dangers of the social media age.” They also point out that this is only the third encyclical by Pope Francis. The first was “Lumen Fidei” (the Light of Faith) which was issued in 2013 soon after he became pope and was written mostly by Benedict XVI. The second, “Laudarto Si” (On Care for Our Common Home) in 2015 addressed responsibility for the environment, climate change and development.

The New York Times’ Rome Bureau Chief, Jason Horowitz, opened with Pope Francis’ criticism of the world’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as “exposing our false securities” and “inability to work together.” This was accerbated by the forces of “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism.” The document also “calls for closeness to the marginalized, support for migrants, resistance of nationalist and tribal populism, and the abolition of the death penalty.” Hindering “the development of universal fraternity” were economic inequality, sexism and racism.

The Wall Street Journal’s article on the encyclical is by Francis X. Rocca, who is its Vatican correspondent based in Rome. He says the document offered the Pope’s “prescription for a host of ills plaguing societies around the world, including poverty, terrorism and racism, and “echoes some of the major themes of his social teaching, including the rights of migrants and the poor, with a special urgency inspired by Covid-19.” He also notes for non-Catholics that papal encyclicals are “one of the most authoritative genres of papal writing.”

Conclusion

As a Protestant (Presbyterian) Christian, I plan to give this Encyclical Letter careful and prayerful study and then offer my reactions to the Letter and to the comments by Dionne and  other journalists.

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[1] The Holy See, Encyclical Letter: FRATELLI TUTTI of the Holy Father Francis on the Fraternity and Social Friendship (Oct. 3, 2020).

[2] Dionne, The Pope’s unexpected election message, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020).

[3] Harlan & Pitrelli, Pope Francis’s new encyclical is a papal warning about a world going bad, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020); Horowitz, Pope Criticizes Lack of Unity in World’s Response to Coronovirus, N.Y. Times (Oct. 4, 2020); Rocca, Pope Francis Says Covid-19 Pandemic Shows Limits of Market Economics, W.S.J. (Oct. 4, 2020). See also Pepinster, How Pope Francis’s encyclical could shake up the US election, Guardian (Oct. 6, 2020).

 

 

 

Click to access papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si_en.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prominent Historians and New York Times Official’s Comments About The 1619 Project    

As explained in a prior post, in August 2019, the New York Times Magazine published what it called “The 1619 Project” to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first slaves brought to the British Colonies in North America and to “reframe American  history by considering . . . 1619 as our nation’s birth year . . . when a ship arrived . . . in the British colony of Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans [and inaugurating] a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. . . . Out of slavery—and the anti-black racism it required—grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.” It also claimed, “One of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”[1]

Historians’ Letter to Times[2]

Sean Wilentz (the George Henry Davis 1886 professor of American history, Princeton University) and four other prominent American historians[3] in a letter to the New York Times Magazine applauded “all efforts to address the enduring centrality of slavery and racism in our history” while saying The 1619 Project raised “profound, unsettling questions about slavery and the nation’s past and present” and was “a praiseworthy and urgent public service.”

Nevertheless, these historians expressed “strong reservations about important aspects” of the Project, including its intent “to offer a new version of American history in which slavery and white supremacy become the dominant organizing themes.”

These historians also were “dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed processes behind it.” Moreover, they asserted, “these errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing.’ They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”

This critique continued. “On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain ‘in order to ensure slavery would continue.’ This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. Some of the other material in the project is distorted, including the claim that “for the most part, black Americans have fought their freedom struggles ‘alone.’”

“Still other material [in the Project] is misleading. The project criticizes Abraham Lincoln’s views on racial equality but ignores his conviction that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed universal equality, for blacks as well as whites, a view he upheld repeatedly against powerful white supremacists who opposed him. The project also ignores Lincoln’s agreement with Frederick Douglass that the Constitution was, in Douglass’s words, ‘a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.’ Instead, the project asserts that the United States was founded on racial slavery, an argument rejected by a majority of abolitionists . . . [while being] proclaimed by champions of slavery like John C. Calhoun.”

“The 1619 Project has not been presented as the views of individual writers — views that in some cases, as on the supposed direct connections between slavery and modern corporate practices, have so far failed to establish any empirical veracity or reliability and have been seriously challenged by other historians. Instead, the project is offered as an authoritative account that bears the imprimatur and credibility of The New York Times. Those connected with the project have assured the public that its materials were shaped by a panel of historians and have been scrupulously fact-checked. Yet the process remains opaque. The names of only some of the historians involved have been released, and the extent of their involvement as ‘consultants’ and fact checkers remains vague. The selective transparency deepens our concern.”

“We ask that The Times, according to its own high standards of accuracy and truth, issue prominent corrections of all the errors and distortions presented in The 1619 Project. We also ask for the removal of these mistakes from any materials destined for use in schools, as well as in all further publications, including books bearing the name of The New York Times. We ask finally that The Times reveal fully the process through which the historical materials were and continue to be assembled, checked and authenticated.”

Response by the Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief[4]

Jake Silverstein, Editor in Chief of the Magazine, disagreed “with . . .  [these historians’] claim that our project contains significant factual errors and is driven by ideology rather than historical understanding. While we welcome criticism, we don’t believe that the request for corrections to The 1619 Project is warranted.”

“The project was intended to address the marginalization of African-American history in the telling of our national story and examine the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life.” In so doing, the Times “consulted with numerous scholars of African-American history and related fields” plus independent research by the authors of the articles in the Project and more consultation with “subject-area experts.” In addition, “as the five letter-writers well know, there are often debates, even among subject-area experts, about how to see the past.”

For example, other historians support “the contention that uneasiness among slaveholders in the colonies about growing antislavery sentiment in Britain and increasing imperial regulation helped motivate the [American] Revolution.” One main reason for this uneasiness was the 1772 decision of the British high court that slavery was unlawful because it was not supported by English common law. Although this case “did not legally threaten slavery in the colonies,” it along with the 1775 Dunmore Proclamation by the colonial governor of Virginia offering freedom to any enslaved person who fled and joined the British Army were major reasons for slave owners to support the Revolution.

The Times believes that it is important to have a wide-ranging discussion of the many issues around slavery and its continuing impact on America, involving “academics with differing perspectives,” and the Times will be pursuing such discussions.

Conclusion

We now have two recent articles about slavery and antislavery forces involved in creating the U.S. Constitution and Government by Sean Wilentz, who was one of the five historians who wrote the above letter about The 1619 Project.[5] They provide some of the historians’ reasons for their criticism of The Project.

Foremost was Wilentz’ assertion that although slavery is important, if not central, to American history, the United States was defined, from the start, neither by American slavery alone or by American antislavery but in their conflict” and “few things if any in modern history were more unexpected than the eradication of human bondage in the Atlantic world.”

Wilentz focuses on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the conflicts between the small states and big states, between the states-rights proponents and the strong national government supporters and between the slavery and anti-slavery advocates and the resulting necessity for compromises prompted by their mutual belief that all of the colonies needed to be in one national government under a Constitution that was endorsed by the Convention for submittal to the states for ratification.

Some of those compromises favored the slave-holding states: no abolition of slavery in the document and an implicit bar on the new national government’s direct interference with slavery where it already existed; counting 3/5th of the slaves for representation in the House of Representative and Electoral College; a fugitive slave clause; and prevention of abolition of foreign slave trade until 1808.

Other compromises favored the anti-slavery forces: refusal to recognize slavery in national law; the national power to regulate or ban slavery in territories under national purview; and the right to ban foreign slave trade after 1808.

The Project, however, focuses in part on the causes for the Revolutionary War of 1775-83 and its claim “that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” Wilentz flatly says this is “simply untrue. Neither the British government nor the British people were ‘deeply conflicted’ over slavery” in this period. Yes, a British court in 1772 did hold slavery illegal in Britain, but this decision did not affect many slaves in that country and had no effect on the country’s foreign slave trade.[6]

The arguments of Wilentz are persuasive, but The 1619 Project should continue by encouraging scholarly and citizen debate over slavery and racism in the U.S.

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[1] Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 3, 2020).

[2] Bynum, McPherson, Oakes, Wilentz & Wood, We Respond to the Historians Who Critiqued The 1619 Project, N.Y. Times Magazine (Dec. 29, 2019; updated Jan. 4, 2020).

[3] The other authors of the letter were Victoria Bynum, distinguished emerita professor of history, Texas State University; James M. McPherson, George Henry Davis 1886 emeritus professor of American history, Princeton University; James Oakes, distinguished professor, the Graduate Center, the City University of New York; and Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Wade University emeritus professor and emeritus professor of history, Brown University.

[4] Editor’s Response, N.Y. Times Magazine (Dec. 29, 2019).

[5] See Historian Wilentz’ Response to Senator Tom Cotton on the Issue of Slavery, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 11, 2020).

[6] Wilentz, American Slavery and ‘the Relentless Unforeseen,’ N.Y. Review of Books (Nov. 19, 2019).

 

Historian Wilentz’ Response to Senator Tom Cotton on the Issue of Slavery 

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (Rep., AR) recently has been criticizing The 1619 Project ‘of the New York Times. The Project, he said, was “a racially divisive, revisionist account . . . that denies the noble principles of freedom and equality on which the nation was founded” although slavery “was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.”[1] The latter comment was made by the Senator in a recent interview by Tucker Carlson of FoxNews, in which Cotton claimed to draw support from prominent American historians, one of whom was Sean Wilentz of Princeton University.

Wilentz’ Response to Cotton[2]

Although four other American historians and I have “fundamental publicized objections to the project, . . . these in no way mitigate Cotton’s serious misrepresentations of the historical record for evident political gain.”

“Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, has introduced a bill in Congress that would punish school districts that use The New York Times’s 1619 Project in their curriculum by withholding federal funding. In so doing, he announced in a newspaper interview that America’s schoolchildren need to learn that the nation’s Founders said slavery ‘was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.’ His statement is as preposterous as it is false: presuming to clarify American history, Cotton has grievously distorted it.”

“None of the delegates who framed the Constitution in 1787 called slavery a ‘necessary evil.’ Some of them called slavery an evil, but not a necessary one. Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, for example, declared to the Constitutional Convention that he would ‘never concur in upholding domestic slavery,’ that ‘nefarious institution’ based on ‘the most cruel bondages’—’the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed.’ The great majority of the Framers joined Morris in fighting to ensure that slavery would be excluded from national law.”

“James Madison, the most influential delegate at the convention, explicitly repudiated the idea of building the union on slavery, stating that it would be ‘wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.’ Though himself a slaveholder, Madison wanted to guarantee that the Constitution, while it might tolerate slavery in the states where it existed, would neither enshrine human bondage in national law nor recognize it as legitimate.”

“A minority of the Framers, from the lower South, disagreed, but they believed slavery was no evil at all. ‘If slavery be wrong,’ Charles Pinckney of South Carolina declared, ‘it is justified by the example of all the world.’ Far from a necessary evil, Pinckney thought slavery was a necessary good, as it had been for time immemorial. ‘In all ages,’ he claimed, ‘one half of mankind have been slaves.’”

“There was, to be sure, one delegate who resembled Senator Cotton’s description: Pinckney’s cousin, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, also from South Carolina. At one point in the convention debates, a perturbed Cotesworth Pinckney registered a complaint, seeming to desire, Madison noted, ‘that some provision should be included in favor of property in slaves.’ That would have based the Union firmly on the constitutional right of slavery. And Cotesworth Pinckney did come close to calling slavery a necessary evil, noting that without it the Carolina economy could not survive (which was technically correct). But the convention majority, far from agreeing with anything he said, dismissed his objection out of hand.”

“The Constitution was hardly an antislavery document. Through fierce debates and by means of backroom deals, the lower South slaveholders managed to win compromises that offered some protection to slavery in the states: the notorious three-fifths clause giving an allotment of House seats and Electoral College votes based on a partial counting of enslaved persons; a twenty-year delay in authorizing Congress to abolish the nation’s involvement in the Atlantic slave trade; and a fugitive slave clause. Most importantly, the Constitution by implication barred the new federal government from directly interfering with slavery in the states where it already existed.”

“But neither did the Constitution, as Senator Cotton wrongly claims, establish slavery as necessary to the Union. It’s true that a few proslavery delegates threatened that their states would refuse to join the Union unless their demands were met. This occurred with particular force with regard to the Atlantic slave trade. A majority of convention delegates wanted to empower the national government to abolish the horrific trade, striking the first blow against it anywhere in the Atlantic world in the name of a sovereign state. Appalled, the lower South delegates, led by South Carolina’s oligarchs, threatened to bolt if the convention touched the slave trade in any way, but the majority called their bluff.”

“In the end, the proslavery delegates carved out the compromise that prevented abolishing the trade until 1808, salvaging a significant concession, though there could be little doubt that the trade was doomed. Even with this compromise, the leading Pennsylvania abolitionist Benjamin Rush hailed the slave trade clause as ‘a great point obtained from the Southern States.’ His fellow Pennsylvanian and a delegate to convention, James Wilson, went so far as to say that the Constitution laid ‘the foundation for banishing slavery out of this country.’”

“History, of course, proved Wilson wrong—but not completely wrong. With the rise of the cotton economy, based on the invention of the cotton gin, which Wilson could not have foreseen, American slavery was far from stymied, but grew to become the mightiest and most expansive slavery regime on earth, engulfing further territories—including Cotton’s own Arkansas.”

“The Framers’ compromises over slavery had little to do with it, however. The problem was not primarily constitutional but political: so long as a substantial number of Northerners remained either complacent about slavery’s future, indifferent to the institution’s oppression, or complicit in the growth of the new cotton kingdom, the Constitution would permit the spread of human bondage.”

“Even so, in fact, the Constitution contained powerful antislavery potential. By refusing to recognize slavery in national law, the Framers gave the national government the power to regulate or ban slavery in areas under its purview, notably the national territories not yet constituted as separate states. The same year that the Framers met, the existing Congress banned slavery from the existing territories north of the Ohio River under the Northwest Ordinance, a measure reflected in the Constitution, which the new Congress quickly affirmed when it met in 1789. Later antislavery champions, including Abraham Lincoln, always considered the Northwest Ordinance to be organic to the Constitution; proslavery advocates came to regard it as an illegitimate nullity.”

“In time, as antislavery sentiment built in the North, the condition of slavery in the territories and in connection with the admission of new states became the major flashpoint of conflict, from the Missouri crisis of 1819–1821 to the guerrilla warfare of ‘Bleeding Kansas.’ Proslavery champions like John C. Calhoun of South Carolina invented an argument that denied the Congress any power over slavery in the territories; Lincoln and his fellow Republicans refuted that argument. And upon Lincoln’s election as president in 1860, this constitutional issue was enough to spark the secession that led to the Civil War and Emancipation.”

Senator Cotton has some mistaken things to say about that history, too. The Framers, he asserts, built the Constitution ‘in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.’ This absurdly imputes to the Framers powers of clairvoyance. Although Lincoln sometimes suggested that the Framers had purposefully designed slavery’s abolition—even Lincoln could wishfully exaggerate—the Constitution hardly ensured slavery’s doom. It took Lincoln’s and the antislavery Republicans’ concerted political efforts to vindicate the Constitution’s antislavery elements that set the stage for what Lincoln in his ‘House Divided’ speech of 1858 called ‘ultimate extinction.’”

“Far from establishing a Union based on what Senator Cotton calls the ‘necessary evil’ of slavery, the Founders fought bitterly over human enslavement, producing a document that gave slavery some protection even as it denied slavery national status and gave the federal government the power to restrict its growth—and so hasten its demise. The slaveholders, unable to abide that power, eventually seceded in an effort to form a new slaveholders’ republic, with a new Constitution built entirely on slavery: its cornerstone, as the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens declaimed, was ‘the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.’”

“As far as a Union founded on the ‘necessary evil’ of slavery is concerned, Cotton appears unaware of how profoundly the Constitution of the United States of America differed from that of the Confederate States of America.”

Wilentz’ Longer Account of the U.S. History of Slavery[3]

In November 2019, Wilentz, delivering the fourth annual Lecture in honor of Philip Roth, drew upon the novelist’s insight that history was “the relentless unfolding of the unforeseen” or “where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page [of history] as inevitable.” For “the centrality of slavery to American history,” Wilentz says, “the United States was defined, from the start, neither by American slavery alone or by American antislavery but in their conflict” and “few things if any in modern history were more unexpected than the eradication of human bondage in the Atlantic world.”

This was so even though “the ideals that propelled the American Revolution shared crucial origins with the ideals that propelled antislavery. Yet American slavery did not die out as most expected” with “revolutionary America” as a “hotbed of antislavery politics.” In fact, slavery “expanded, turning the American South into the most dynamic and ambitious slavery regime in the world” with “slaveowners [stiffening ] their resolve to affirm their property rights in human beings” and coming “perilously close to establishing an American empire of slavery.”

Conclusion

These ideas of Wilentz help us understand why he and the other four prominent American historians dissented from at least one of the major premises of The Project of 1619, which will be discussed in a future post.[4]

Although I was a history major many years ago at Grinnell College, I do not have the intimate knowledge of the slavery and antislavery conflicts that are discussed by Professor Welentz. Nevertheless, I wonder whether he is overreacting to Senator Cotton’s comment.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia convened in 1787 to consider whether and how to amend the existing Articles of Confederation after Alexander Hamilton’s report on the  unsuccessful attempt to do so at the Annapolis Conference of 1786 coupled with his forceful criticism of those Articles and recommendation of the calling of a convention to “render the constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the union.”[5]

For the first two months or so of the Constitutional Convention there were debates between delegates from large and small states, between those favoring states-rights and those wanting a strong national government. “By the end of June the convention seemed in danger of dissolving, with nothing accomplished.” That, however, was prevented when the Convention accepted a proposal by Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut (“the Great Compromise”) for equal representation of the states in the Senate and proportional representation by population in the House. Thereafter other compromises were reached, including counting three-fifths of the slaves for representation in the House.[6]

In other words, many compromises were necessary in order to obtain agreement on the new Constitution before it could be submitted to the states for ratification. Some of those compromises accommodated slavery while others did not. As Wilentz said, the Constitution “gave slavery some protection even as it denied slavery national status and gave the federal government the power to restrict its growth—and so hasten its demise.” In short, compromises with the evil of slavery were necessary in order to create the new Constitution.

=============================

[1] Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 3, 2020);  Senator Cotton Continues Criticism of The 1619 Project, dwkcommenataries.com (Aug. 10, 2020).

[2] Wilentz, What Tom Cotton Gets So Wrong About Slavery and the Constitution, N.Y. Review of Books (Aug. 3, 2020).

[3] Wilentz, American Slavery and ‘the Relentless Unforeseen,’ N.Y. Review of Books (Nov. 19, 2019).

[4]  See Historian Wilentz and New York Times Editor Exchange Views About The 1619 Project, dwkcommentaries.com (forthcoming Aug. –, 2020).

[5] Williams, Current & Freidel, A History of the United States [To 1876], pp. 170-72  (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1959.) (This is my book from college and comments from others with more detailed knowledge of the Constitutional Convention are solicited.)

[6] Id. at 172-77.

Senator Cotton Continues Criticism of the 1619 Project 

In a July 30th interview by Tucker Carlson of Fox News, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (Rep., AR) reiterated his attack on The 1619 Project of the New York Times. [1]

The Senator told Carlson, “The 1619 Project is a radical work of historical revisionism aiming to indoctrinate our kids to hate America. To teach them that America was founded not on the natural equality of mankind and the freedom that flows from that as the [Declaration of Independence] . . . says but rather founded on racism. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Cotton added, “The 1619 Project debunked by leading historians of the era like Sean Wilentz, and Gordon Wood, and James McPherson. . . . And some of those are liberals. Even the lead author recently admitted in response to my legislation that The 1619 Project is not a work of history, it’s a work of journalism. I would say it’s a work activism. But your tax dollars should not be going to fund an effort to teach our kids to hate America. ‘The New York Times’ should not teach American history to our kids.”

Conclusion

These comments by the Senator  have prompted objections by one of the referenced historians, Sean Wilentz, which will be examined in a future post while yet another future post will examine  previous criticisms of the Project by Wilentz and four other leading American historians and the response thereto by the Times’ editor of the Project.

========================

[1] Schwartz, Sen. Cotton: “The 1619 Project” A Radical Work of Historical Revisionism That Aims To Indoctrinate Kids, RealClear Politics (July 30, 2020). Senator Cotton’s previous criticism of The 1619 Project and his proposed legislation to prevent its being used in U.S. public schools  is discussed in a prior post. (Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, dwkcommenbtaries.com (Aug. 3, 2020).)

 

 

 

Derek Chauvin’s Policing Background

On July 19, the New York Times published a report on its investigation of the policing background of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who led the February 25th physical restraint and killing of George Floyd.[1] Here are the highlights of that report.

From the start of his career with the Minneapolis Police Department in 2000, “Chauvin stood out as gung-ho.”

In May 2013, Kristofer Bergh, than a 17-year old, and three friends were playing “Nerf Gun Assassin” when one of them accidently fired an orange dart out the window. Chauvin and another officer “pulled up, pointed their guns at the teenagers and shouted orders laced with expletives.” The four teenagers then were put into the police car  for what seemed like an hour. As they were being released, Chauvin said, “Most of you will be 18 by the end of the year. That means you’ll be old enough for ‘big boy jail.’” This led to a complaint against Chauvin. And one of these boys, now in their early 20’s, told the Times reporters that Chauvin “was overly aggressive and not understanding that we were just kids.”

Moreover, many interviewees said Chauvin “did his job as if he were playing a role — a tough Dirty Harry on the lookout for bad guys” and he “seemed to operate at an emotional distance from those around him. Mr. Chauvin was a quiet and rigid workaholic with poor people skills and a tendency to overreact — with intoxicated people, especially — when a less aggressive stance might have led to a better outcome.” In other words, he “was awkward. Other officers often didn’t like him or didn’t know him. He didn’t go to parties and didn’t seem to have many friends. Some neighbors knew so little about him that they didn’t even know he was a police officer until after his arrest.”

An unnamed officer said, “In a group setting he would never connect and [instead] stand there like a small child. I was put off by his lack of communication skills. You never felt like he was present.”

Lucy Gerold, a retired police commander, said Chauvin “occasionally . . . would seem a little  cocky” and was “the guy not everybody liked or wanted to work with.” When he left work “in full uniform,” he “stood ramrod straight like he was still in the military.”

Although Chauvin received some kudos for his work, he did receive 22 complaints or internal investigations. According to Dave Bicking, a board member of the Twin Cities’ Communities United Against Police Brutality, this is a high number and “should have definitely raised alarm with the department and triggered a review,” when most officers might get one or two complaints in the same period of time.

As has been noted in other reports, the Times says that Chauvin on most weekends for 17 years worked an off-duty police gig outside the El Neuvo Rodeo nightclub in south Minneapolis, whose owner said he “often overreacted when he saw something that bothered him, like unruly behavior around the club, including drunk patrons congregating on the street — especially on ‘urban nights’ when the clientele was largely Black.” Chauvin also frequently used pepper spray when there was a disturbance at the club, and when the owner complained, he merely said, “That is protocol.”

George Floyd also worked on security at that nightclub, but the owner said she does not recall ever seeing the two men together. Apparently the Times’ reporters never sought out other nightclub employees to see if they ever saw any contact between the two men, including any conflicts or arguments. This should have been an obvious line of inquiry to see if Chauvin had some grudge against Floyd that the May 25th encounter near Cup Foods gave Chauvin an opportunity to redress.

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[1] Barker & Kovaleski, Officer Who Pressed His Knee on George Floyd’s Neck Drew Scrutiny Long Before , New York Times (July 18, 2020).

 

More Republican Opposition to Trump  

A prior post discussed The Lincoln Project, which was organized by a prominent group of Republicans, “to “defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box.”

Republican Voters Against Trump[1]

Now the Lincoln Project has been joined by a new group, Republican Voters Against Trump.

Initially it was composed of 93 ordinary individuals from 34 states who describe themselves as “Republicans, former Republicans, conservatives, and former Trump voters who can’t support Trump for president this fall.” Their website quotes one of them as saying, “I’d vote for a tuna fish sandwich before I’d vote for Donald Trump again.”

This new group is aimed at chipping “away at “Mr. Trump’s support from white, college-educated Republican voters in the suburbs” in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona, all of which are represented in the 93 individuals featured in the group’s website.

This new group is about to launch “a $10 million digital and television advertising campaign that will use personal stories of conservative voters giving voice to their deep — and sometimes brand-new — dissatisfaction with the president.”

This new group was organized by Sarah Longwell, “a lifelong conservative and a prominent Never Trump Republican;”  Bill Kristol, the prominent conservative writer; and Tim Miller. a former top aide to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

 The Lincoln Project’s Recent Activities[2]

The Project has released an ad contending that Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale has been fleecing the re-election effort. Even Trump himself in a recent telephone call with Perscale is reported to have threatened to sue him because of all the money he had made while working for the president.

In addition, the Project has broadened its efforts to campaign against Republican Senator and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. Dubbing him “Rich Mitch,” it accuses him of enriching himself while not improving the rankings of his own state (Kentucky) with respect to job opportunity, education and health care.

This recent effort was described by one of the Project’s co-founders, George Conway, this way. ““When he fixed the impeachment trial by blocking evidence of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors, McConnell violated and abased the solemn oaths he took as a United States Senator. Add in the fact that, as our ad shows, he’s managed to do much better for himself than for the people of Kentucky, and it becomes a no-brainer: McConnell has to go.”

McConnell also is subject to criticism for his unrelenting campaign for the Senate to confirm young, conservative attorneys to lower federal court judgeships, including overt suggestions to older conservative judges to resign now so that the current administration with McConnell’s assistance can confirm additional judges with those “credentials.[3]

Now Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has joined this effort to encourage more senior federal judges to resign as soon as possible so that the current Republican-controlled Senate can confirm more conservative judges before the November election might cause the Republicans to lose control of that body going forward.[4]

Conclusion

These conservative efforts against Trump are reinforced by New York Times conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, who recently said Trump “is interested in power only as a means of getting attention” and feared “claiming any power that might lead to responsibility and someday blame, a showman’s preference for performance over rule, a media addict’s preference for bluster over deeds.” When the U.S. in this pandemic needs “a president capable of exercising power,” it found “it had only a television star, a shirker and a clown.”[5]

==================================

[1] Republican Voters Against Trump; Karni, Get Republicans to Vote Against Trump? This Group Will Spend $10 Million to Try, N.Y. Times (May 28, 2020).

[2] The Lincoln Project, President Donald J. Trump Is Running His Re-election Campaign As Poorly As He Runs His Government (May 20, 2020); Haberman & Karni, Polls Had Trump Stewing, and Lashing Out at His Own Campaign, N.Y. Times (April 29, 2020); Wagner, Anti-Trump super PAC launched by Republicans takes aim at McConnell, Wash. Post (May  28, 2020); The Lincoln Project, The Lincoln Project Releases New Ad: “#RICHMITCH” (May 28, 2020).

[3] Pandemic Journal (# 24): What We Are Leaning in the Pandemic (May 25, 2020).

[4] Sonmez, Graham urges senior judges to step aside before November election so Republicans can fill vacancies, Wash. Post (May 28, 2020).

[5] A Conservative’s Critique of Trump, dwkcommentaries.com (May 19, 2020).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 21): Concurring Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic         

Pandemic Journal # 19 set forth Fareed Zakaria’s analysis of the U.S. class conflict over responses to the coronavirus pandemic. This analysis is shared by Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times.[1]

Stephens’ terms for the two classes are “Remote”  and “Exposed.” “The Remote are, disproportionately, knowledge workers, mostly well educated, generally well paid. Their professional networks, and many of their personal ones, too, are with people who also work remotely” or roughly 37 percent of American workers. The other two-thirds, the Exposed, “include everyone — shop owner, waiter, cabdriver, sales associate, factory worker, nanny, flight attendant, and so on — for whom physical presence is a job requirement. They are, typically, less well educated, less well paid.”

“For the Remote, the lockdowns of the past two months have been stressful. For the Exposed, they have been catastrophic. For the Remote, another few weeks of lockdown is an irritant. For the Exposed, whose jobs are disappearing by the millions every week, it is a terror. For the Remote, Covid-19 is the grave new risk. For the exposed, it’s one of several. For the Remote, an image on the news of cars forming long lines at food banks is disconcerting. For the Exposed, that image is — or may very soon be — the rear bumper in front of you.”

Says Stephens, “The 2020 election will hinge on who decisively wins the vote of the Exposed.” Although the Democrats’ emphasis on containing the virus seems to have more support than the “open up” strategy, Stephens expresses some skepticism. One  assumption of the containment argument is “that Covid-19 is containable and will eventually be curable. If it isn’t, what are the lockdowns really achieving, other than delaying the march toward herd immunity while imposing ruinous costs on those least able to afford them?” Another assumption of the containment argument is “that the lockdowns are the economic equivalent of a medically induced coma. But what if they’re really a form of politically induced necrosis, killing jobs and businesses that will never come back?” The third assumption of the containment strategy is “that the balance of public sympathy will rest with the comparatively small numbers of acute Covid-19 sufferers. But what happens when their numbers are dwarfed by those suffering from awful personal hardship?”

Yes, many Democrats believe that they will win the November election because of “Trump’s catastrophic failures in managing the crisis. But Trump’s political stock-in-trade is resentment, above all toward those who mistake their good luck for superior merit, or confuse virtue signaling with wise policy, or who impose policies on others without fully feeling the effects themselves.”

Stephens finds this analysis presciently discussed in a February 2016 Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan, who  “made the distinction between two classes of people: the ‘protected’ — that is, the well-off, the connected, the comfortably insulated — and the ‘unprotected’ — everyone else.” She added, “The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.” This larger point, said Stephens, was that Trump was going to win the 2016 election, which was “unfathomable to so many people at the time (including me).” [2]

Conclusion

I am a Democrat who fervently wants Trump to lose the November election. Yet, Stephens, Zakaria and Noonan make persuasive points that need to influence Democratic strategy in the upcoming election.

==============================

[1] Stephens, In this Election, It’s the Remote Against the Exposed, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2020).

[2] Noonan, Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected, W.S.J. (Feb. 25, 2016).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 14): Reading and Writing  

This Pandemic Journal is a means of recording how this blogger is living through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Its entries cover a wide range of  topics: reflections on the pandemic’s development; reflections on politicians’’ policies and statements about the pandemic; reactions to analyses of the pandemic by journalists; personal things to do.

I spend a lot of time keeping up on the news by reading the hard-copy of the local newspaper (StarTribune) and other news sources online (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Diario de Cuba, Granma (from Cuba), New York Review of Books, HuffPost, Politico, Atlantic, CNN, State Department, and others from time to time.

So far at least, I have not had time to read books. An exception is Louise Erdrich’s new novel “The Night Watchman.” Surprisingly I had difficulties with the book that has resulted in a lengthy essay about the book that soon will be added as a regular post.

 

Pandemic Journal (# 11): Pandemic Proves Trump’s Incompetence

As a Democrat, this blogger has thought since his 2016 campaign that Donald Trump was totally incapable of being a competent and responsible president. Since then, he has continued to demonstrate, in my opinion, that that conclusion was correct. Now that is further corroborated by his “performance” to date during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The details of that “performance” are set forth in lengthy articles in the New York Times and Washington Post.[1] The conclusions of such analyses were brilliantly set forth  by Finian O’Toole, an Irish  author, literary critic, historical writer and political commentator,[2] and by Michael Gerson, who was an aide to President George W. Bush for policy and strategic planning and speechwriting, author of books (Heroic Conservatism and City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era) and now a nationally syndicated columnist. [3]

According to O’Toole, “Trump’s narcissism, mendacity, bullying, and malignant incompetence were obvious before the coronavirus crisis and they have been magnified rather than moderated in his surreal response to a catastrophe whose full gravity he failed to accept until March 31, when it had become horribly undeniable. The volatility of his behavior during February and March—the veering between flippancy and rage, breezy denial and dark fear-mongering—may not seem to demand further explanation. It is his nature. Yet there is a mystery at its heart. For if there is one thing that Trump has presented as his unique selling point, it is “utmost Vigilance,” his endless insistence that, as he puts it, “our way of life is under threat.”

Gerson set forth his conclusions this way.  “[T]he fact of Trump’s deadly negligence is now demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. . . .  It is now evident that Trump:

  • ignored early intelligence reports of a possible pandemic;
  • delayed the ramp up of practical preparations;
  • was often more focused on political considerations, on the news cycle and on stock market performance than on epidemiological reality;
  • deceptively played down what he knew to be a rising threat;
  • coddled China when it should have been confronted;
  • instinctively distrusted experts and seemed unable to absorb simple information and sound advice;
  • lashed out at aides who took the crisis seriously;
  • shifted reluctantly and belatedly from a strategy of containment to mitigation;
  • is strangely obsessed with unproven treatments for the novel coronavirus; and
  • has systemically lied about the promptness of his own response.”

Gerson concluded, “These accounts reveal a White House staffed by incompetent loyalists, distracted by turnover and riven by feuds. A White House carefully pruned and shaped to resemble the chaos in Trump’s mind.”

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[1] Lipton, Sanger, Haberman, Shear, Mazzetti & Barnes, He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus, N.Y. Times (April 11, 2020); Rucker & Costa, Commander of confusion: Trump sows uncertainty and seeks  to cast blame in coronavirus crisis, Wash. Post (April 2, 2020); Abutaleb, Dawsey, Nakashima & Miller, The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged, Wash. Post (April 4, 2020). See also Lemire, Miller, Colvin & Alonso-Zaldivar, Behind Trump’s Botched and Delayed Coronavirus Response, Huffpost (April 12, 2020); Parker & Gearan, Coronavirus crisis highlights Trump’s resistance to criticism—and his desire for fervent praise, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020); Frum, This Is Trump’s Fault, The Atlantic (April 7, 2020).

[2] O’Toole, Vector in Chief, N.Y. Review of Books (May 14, 2020).

[3] Gerson, The horrendous reality at the heart of Trump’s pandemic response, Wash. Post (April 13, 2020).