“Voting Donald Trump out of office was crucial, but it will not be enough to save the American experiment.
Many critics have used the words “authoritarian” or “fascist” to describe the president’s mode of politics, as if he were an invader from outside our democratic way of life. In fact, Mr. Trump is a creature native to our own style of government and therefore much more difficult to protect ourselves against: He is a demagogue, a popular leader who feeds on the hatred of elites that grows naturally in democratic soil. We have almost forgotten how common such creatures are in democracies because we have relied on a technology designed to restrain them: the Constitution. It has worked by setting up rules for us to follow, but also on a deeper level by shaping our sense of what we are proud of and what we are ashamed of in our common life. Today this constitutional culture has all but collapsed, and with it, our protection against demagogues”
The Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy is one of Yale University’s most celebrated and prestigious programs. Over the course of a year, it allows a select group of about two dozen students to immerse themselves in classic texts of history and statecraft, while also rubbing shoulders with guest instructors drawn from the worlds of government, politics, military affairs and the media.
But now, a program created to train future leaders how to steer through the turbulent waters of history is facing a crisis of its own.
Beverly Gage, a historian of 20th-century politics who has led the program since 2017, has resigned, saying the university failed to stand up for academic freedom amid inappropriate efforts by its donors to influence its curriculum and faculty hiring.
“The United States owes its existence as a nation partly toan immunization mandate.
In 1777, smallpox was a big enough problem for the bedraggled American army that George Washington thought it could jeopardize the Revolution. An outbreak had already led to one American defeat, at the Battle of Quebec. To prevent more, Washington ordered immunizations — done quietly, so the British would not hear how many Americans were sick — for all troops who had not yet had the virus.
It worked. The number of smallpox cases plummeted, and Washington’s army survived a war of attrition against the world’s most powerful country. The immunization mandate, as Ron Chernow wrote in his 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Washington, “was as important as any military measure Washington adopted during the war.” “
PUBLIC CITIZENS The Attack on Big Government and the Remaking of American Liberalism
By Paul Sabin
“When you’re a household name for 56 years, you acquire more than one reputation. Ralph Nader has three.
Nader first came to public attention in 1965 when he published “Unsafe at Any Speed,” a best seller that said auto companies were building dangerous cars. That’s Nader the consumer advocate. Nader leveraged his fame into a network of nonprofit government watchdog groups staffed by idealistic young “Nader’s Raiders” recruited from top universities. That’s Nader the public citizen. In 2000, having concluded the two major parties were really “one corporate party wearing two heads and different makeup,” Nader waged a third-party presidential bid and took enough Florida votes away from Al Gore to cost him the election. That’s Nader the spoiler, still reviled by many liberals for making George W. Bush president.
It’s past time to put this grievance to rest. Gore’s defeat (by a mere 537 Florida votes) was so narrow that it can be attributed to any stray breeze. Paul Sabin, a professor of history at Yale, suggests in “Public Citizens” that if you want to blame a Democratic debacle on Nader, consider President Jimmy Carter’s defeat in 1980, even though Nader wasn’t a candidate that year.
“Public Citizens” is an elegantly argued and meticulously documented attempt to place Nader within the liberal tradition. Sabin’s thesis is that Nader the public citizen was a principal architect of the adversarial liberalism that succeeded New Deal liberalism. Birthed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, adversarial liberalism was defeated in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, whose antigovernment message (Sabin argues) acquired legitimacy partly through Nader’s spirited attacks on the federal government. “It was as if liberals took a bicycle apart to fix it,” Sabin writes, “but never quite figured out how to get it running properly again.” “
” “Loeb Reflects On Atomic Bombed Area,” read the headline in The Atlanta Daily World of Oct. 5, 1945, two months after Hiroshima’s ruin.
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In the world of Black newspapers, that name alone was enough to attract readers.
Charles H. Loeb was a Black war correspondent whose articles in World War II were distributed to papers across the United States by the National Negro Publishers Association. In the article, Mr. Loeb told how bursts of deadly radiation had sickened and killed the city’s residents. His perspective, while coolly analytic, cast light on a major wartime cover up.
The Page 1 article contradicted the War Department, the Manhattan Project, and The New York Times and its star reporter, William L. Laurence, on what had become a bitter dispute between the victor and the vanquished. Japan insisted that the bomb’s invisible rays at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had led to waves of sudden death and lingering illness. Emphatically, the United States denied that charge.”
“. . . Rachel Carson, the author of the environmental classic “Silent Spring,” attributed the rampant use of pesticides in part to government “propaganda” and “the authoritarian control that has been vested in the agricultural agencies.” Like Mr. Nader, she urged Americans to stop trusting the government to act responsibly.
Today, with an onslaught of attacks on the regulatory state coming from the right, it may seem counterintuitive to study how Mr. Nader, Ms. Carson and their allies contributed — from the left — to criticizing government. But in the 1970s, it was as if liberals took the big-government bicycle apart to fix it and then couldn’t figure out how to get it running properly again.
Now, as Democrats double down on using the government to address the urgent problems of our era, like climate change and economic inequality, they should absorb the lessons of this history. If you attack government but still want to wield its power for social good, you have to show you can make it work better.” . . .
” . . . . President Jefferson, mindful of the desires of his Southern political base, adopted a hostile stance toward St. Domingue. The stage was set for isolation of the tiny island nation, a choice that had enormous consequences for its development.Napoleon brought a new challenge to St. Domingue when he decided in 1802 to reassert control over French colonies in the Americas. He sent a fleet to the island to accomplish the task. The residents fought back and, with the help of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries yellow fever, repelled the invaders. This victory was fateful not only for the residents of St. Domingue, who went on to form an independent republic that they renamed Haiti, but also for the course of American history.Napoleon, as part of his plan to re-establish the French empire in the Caribbean, was hoping to use the territory of Louisiana as a supply station for the island colonies. Once the Haitians had shattered his dream, Napoleon saw no reason to hold on to the territory. He was eager to sell it, and President Jefferson was equally eager to buy.The purchase doubled the size of the United States, which obtained 530 million acres for $15 million. If not for the French defeat at the hands of the Haitians, the sale may not have come off, leaving the United States possibly forever divided by a huge swath of French-controlled land or forced into armed conflict with the French over it. Of course, what the United States really bought from France was the right to contend with the various Indigenous people who had their own claims to the land.” . . .
“Two hundred and sixty-six years ago this month, a column of British regulars commanded by Gen. Edward Braddock was cut to pieces by French soldiers and their Native American allies in the woods just outside today’s Pittsburgh. The defeat turned into a rout when Braddock was shot off his horse, leaving the retreat to be managed by a young colonial officer named George Washington, whose own previous foray into the region had lit the tinder for the war.
This was the beginning of the French and Indian War (also known, much less poetically, as the Seven Years’ War), which as a boy I thought was the most interesting war in all of history.
I had encountered it originally through a public television version of “The Last of the Mohicans,” but I soon found that the real conflict exceeded even James Fenimore Cooper’s romantic imagination: The complexity of forest warfare and the diversity of the combatants on both sides, colonial, European and native; the majesty of the geographic setting, especially the lakes, mountains and defiles of upstate New York; the ridiculous melodrama of the culminating battle at Quebec, with a wee-hours cliff-scaling that led to a decisive showdown in which both commanders were mortally wounded, James Wolfe in victory and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm in defeat.”
David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Ross, thank you for an amazing essay. The top critics all make good criticisms, but they ignore the best parts of your piece. I posted your piece to my blog, just to capture your excellent list of histories on the seven years war, which I have never studied. I liked your suggestion of alternate outcomes, and novels about other forms of the present based on different outcomes of the past. I would especially like to see a novel based on the premise, that the Indians defeated the Europeans, and had to grow the continent with Indians in charge. Without the United States, the Germans and the Japanese would probably have prevailed in WW II, and that would be a great sequel novel.
I hope you find the time to read my historical ficiton on 18th century Vietnam, which was inspired in part by a biography in French of the extraordinary Bishop Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, who Nuguyen Anh, after becoming the new emperor of Vietnam, described as the greatest foreign friend in the history, of Vietnam and specifically, of Prince Anh’s success in seizing power in a long civil war, 1770-1802.
“Before there were books, there were stories. At first the stories weren’t written down. Sometimes they were even sung. Children were born, and before they could speak, their parents sang them songs, a song about an egg that fell off a wall, perhaps, or about a boy and a girl who went up a hill and fell down it. As the children grew older, they asked for stories almost as often as they asked for food.
The children fell in love with these stories and wanted to hear them over and over again. Then they grew older and found those stories in books. And other stories that they had never heard before, about a girl who fell down a rabbit hole, or a silly old bear and an easily scared piglet and a gloomy donkey, or a phantom tollbooth, or a place where wild things were. The act of falling in love with stories awakened something in the children that would nourish them all their lives: their imagination.
The children made up play stories every day, they stormed castles and conquered nations and sailed the oceans blue, and at night their dreams were full of dragons. But they went on growing up and slowly the stories fell away from them, the stories were packed away in boxes in the attic, and it became harder for the former children to tell and receive stories, harder for them, sadly, to fall in love.
I believe that the books and stories we fall in love with make us who we are, or, not to claim too much, the beloved tale becomes a part of the way in which we understand things and make judgments and choices in our daily lives. A book may cease to speak to us as we grow older, and our feeling for it will fade. Or we may suddenly, as our lives shape and hopefully increase our understanding, be able to appreciate a book we dismissed earlier; we may suddenly be able to hear its music, to be enraptured by its song.
When, as a college student, I first read Günter Grass’s great novel “The Tin Drum,” I was unable to finish it. It languished on a shelf for fully 10 years before I gave it a second chance, whereupon it became one of my favorite novels of all time: one of the books I would say that I love. It is an interesting question to ask oneself: Which are the books that you truly love? Try it. The answer will tell you a lot about who you presently are.
I grew up in Bombay, India, a city that is no longer, today, at all like the city it once was and has even changed its name to the much less euphonious Mumbai, in a time so unlike the present that it feels impossibly remote, even fantastic. In that far-off Bombay, the stories and books that reached me from the West seemed like true tales of wonder.
Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” with its splinters of magic mirror that entered people’s bloodstreams and turned their hearts to ice, was even more terrifying to a boy from the tropics, where the only ice was in the refrigerator. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” felt especially enjoyable to a boy growing up in the immediate aftermath of the British Empire.
Perhaps tales of elsewhere always feel like fairy tales. But for me, the real wonder tales were closer to home, and I have always thought it my great good fortune as a writer to have grown up steeped in them. . . .”
” . . . The fantastic is neither innocent nor escapist. The wonderland is not a place of refuge, not even necessarily an attractive or likable place. It can be — in fact, it usually is — a place of slaughter, exploitation, cruelty and fear. Captain Hook wants to kill Peter Pan. The witch in the Black Forest wants to cook Hansel and Gretel. The wolf actually eats Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Albus Dumbledore is murdered, and the Lord of the Rings plans the enslavement of the whole of Middle-earth.
We know, when we hear these tales, that even though they are “unreal,” because carpets do not fly and witches in gingerbread houses do not exist, they are also “real,” because they are about real things: love, hatred, fear, power, bravery, cowardice, death. They simply arrive at the real by a different route. They are so, even though we know that they are not so. The truth is not arrived at by purely mimetic means. An image can be captured by a camera or by a paintbrush. A painting of a starry night is no less truthful than a photograph of one; arguably, if the painter is Van Gogh, it’s far more truthful, even though far less “realistic.”
The literature of the fantastic — the wonder tale, the fable, the folk tale, the magic-realist novel — has always embodied profound truths about human beings, their finest attributes and their deepest prejudices too. The wonder tale tells us truths about ourselves that are often unpalatable; it exposes bigotry, explores the libido, brings our deepest fears to light. Such stories are by no means intended simply for the amusement of children, and many of them were not originally intended for children at all. Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin were not Disney characters when they started out on their journeys.
It is, however, a rich age in literature for children and young-hearted adults. From Maurice Sendak’s place “Where the Wild Things Are” to Philip Pullman’s post-religious otherworlds, from Narnia, which we reach through a wardrobe, to the strange worlds arrived at through a phantom tollbooth, from Hogwarts to Middle-earth, wonderland is alive and well. And in many of these adventures, it is children who grow into heroes, often to rescue the adult world; the children we were, the children who are still within us, the children who understand wonderland, who know the truth about stories, save the adults, who have forgotten those truths.” -30-
“There was an era — and that era was the 1970s — when a Time magazine poll named news anchor Walter Cronkite as “the most trusted man in America,” and Watergate investigative heroes Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were largely responsible for the occupation of journalist regularly charting near the top of the rankings of most admired professions in the USA. (Even today, 99% of mainstream American journalists remain committed to delivering the truth, despite the delusional cries of “Fake News!” popularized by certain public figures.)
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Paul Greengrass and written by Greengrass and Luke Davies, based on the novel by Paulette Jiles. Rated PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, mature thematic material and some strong language). Running time: 118 minutes. Available Friday on demand.
If we were to conduct a poll of the most trusted actors in America, I’d argue Tom Hanks would be near the top of that list — and Hanks is perfectly cast as an 1870 news anchor of sorts in Paul Greengrass’ gritty and visceral and deeply resonant “News of the World,” a rough-and-tumble Texas road-trip movie that plays like a hybrid of the John Wayne movies “The Searchers” and “True Grit” and even reminded me a little of George Clooney’s recent epic “The Midnight Sky.”
Hanks re-teams with his “Captain Phillips” director to play a very different kind of captain — one Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who fought for the Confederate Infantry and sustained injuries both external and internal, and has now carved out a unique way of making a living, i.e., he rides from town to town in the raw and rough state of Texas (where many haven’t fully accepted losing the war and racially motivated violence is lurking around every corner) and literally reads the news of the world to the townsfolk for 10 cents a head, bringing them the latest developments from near and afar, whether it be an outbreak of meningitis, a coal mine tragedy or a deadly ferry accident. (Hanks is such an all-American actor — and yet this is his first Western.)
Jefferson is a stoic man, a widower who keeps to himself, but his solitary, nomad life is upended when he happens across a 10-year-old girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel), who has spent much of her life as a captive of the Kiowa tribe and has been left with the authorities after her captors were killed. Jefferson takes on the responsibility of transporting the girl to her only surviving relatives in the far-off hill country of Castroville, and thus begins a long and arduous journey, made all the more difficult because Johanna is deeply resentful of this strange man, speaks not a word of English and doesn’t even understand the concept of a knife and fork. There’s a lot of learning to be had along the way. . . . “
David Lindsay: Kathleen and I both enjoyed and were thrilled so by this new western, ‘News of the World’, nominated for best picture in the 2020 Academy awards, that we then watched the outtakes, and interviews, and then the next night, we watched the whole move and outtakes and interviews over again. There were plenty of precious moments in a very beautiful but ugly world in Texas in 1870.