I'm an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Tennessee. I am retired, but assisting Fr Rob Courtney at Saint James the Less in Madison. My wife, Kathy, and I live on the Cumberland River, just north of Nashville. We have three children and eight grandchildren. I like to fish, make things out of wood, sing and play music (mandolin, uke, learning harmonica), play chess (learning), read, play golf. I like to find out who people are and what they think.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lacked the nerve to convict the former president for instigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. But he made a nice speech following the impeachment hearings in February: “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen,” McConnell said. He added, “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”
Fast forward to May: McConnell insists there is nothing more to learn. Odd, since it was he who had once declared:
“Whatever our ex-president claims he thought might happen that day, whatever reaction he says he meant to produce, by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world.”
“A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.”
But the now-former president didn’t. Do we know why? Do we know what he was doing at the time of the attack? Do we know who funded the insurrectionists and who communicated with them? Do we know how to prevent this from happening again? There is plenty to learn, which is exactly why McConnell wants to shut it down.
Gladys Sicknick — the mother of Brian D. Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after he confronted rioters at the insurrection — visited Senate offices on Thursday seeking Republicans who would allow a cloture vote to set up an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the violence. That apparently unnerved McConnell, according to a CNN report. One Republican “told CNN that McConnell has even made the unusual move of asking wavering senators to support filibustering the bill as ‘a personal favor’ to him.” That Republican told CNN, “No one can understand why Mitch is going to this extreme of asking for a ‘personal favor’ to kill the commission.”
No one? Perhaps he fears enraging the disgraced former president. Perhaps he fears reminding voters of Republicans’ participation in spreading the “big lie” that the election was stolen and attempting to overturn electoral votes even after the mob rampaged through Capitol. Perhaps he fears possible discovery of some Republicans’ deeper involvement in the insurrection. Perhaps he fears that the commission would debunk the “big lie,” which is now the justification for voter-suppression efforts around the country. And perhaps he fears Americans will conclude that Republicans cannot be trusted with power. (If the GOP holds the House in January 2025, does anyone feel confident it will abide by the results of the electoral college?) In essence, McConnell likely thinks a “personal favor” to advance his career and to return him to majority-leader status should take precedence over Gladys Sicknick’s plea to see accountability for her son’s death.
Meanwhile, a key Democrat who has the power to carve out an exception for the filibuster to allow the commission engaged in double talk. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) declared Thursday, “There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against the commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for.” He continued, “Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections. They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear.”
So Manchin will help put an end to this unjustified refusal to inquire into an assault on democracy? Not so fast. “I’m not ready to destroy our government,” he said, equating filibuster reform with the destruction of government. (Remember, the filibuster was not used until the late 19th century and became a vehicle for denying civil rights to Black Americans in the 20th century). Manchin added: “It’s time to come together. I think there’s 10 good people.”
Manchin is not dumb. His ploy is obvious: Make preserving the filibuster more important than any item (even voting rights or a commission to investigate insurrection) and insist, despite every bit of evidence to the contrary, that there are 10 Republican votes to break the impasse. But there isn’t. This was made clear on Thursday, when Republicans refused to allow the commission bill to go to the floor. Manchin’s excuse that the filibuster must remain in place to promote debate is incoherent. This was a vote to put a bill on the floor for debate. Rather, the filibuster is a convenient crutch for Manchin, who has avoided taking hard votes when 10 Republicans could not be found to achieve cloture. In that manner, he has ducked the wrath of more conservative voters back home and sidestepped the ire of the party’s progressive base.
Perhaps not now, but eventually, the pressure will intensify on Manchin. His political legacy will be determined: He either will be known as the man who defended democracy in its darkest hour, or the man who helped Republicans subvert our democracy
The source of the coronavirus that has left more than 3 million people dead around the world remains a mystery. But in recent months the idea that it emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) — once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory — has gained new credence.
How and why did this happen? For one, efforts to discover a natural source of the virus have failed. Second, early efforts to spotlight a lab leak often got mixed up with speculation that the virus was deliberately created as a bioweapon. That made it easier for many scientists to dismiss the lab scenario as tin-hat nonsense. But a lack of transparency by China and renewed attention to the activities of the Wuhan lab have led some scientists to say they were too quick to discount a possible link at first.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) from the start pointed to the lab’s location in Wuhan, pressing China for answers, so the history books will reward him if he turns out to be right. The Trump administration also sought to highlight the lab scenario but generally could only point to vague intelligence. The Trump administration’s messaging was often accompanied by anti-Chinese rhetoric that made it easier for skeptics to ignore its claims.
Story continues below advertisement
As a reader service, here is a timeline of key events, including important articles, that have led to this reassessment. In some instances, important information was available from the start but was generally ignored. But in other cases, some experts fought against the conventional wisdom and began to build a credible case, rooted in science, that started to change people’s minds. This has led to renewed calls for a real investigation into the lab’s activities before the coronavirus emerged.In the absence of crucial evidence of how the new coronavirus began comes many theories — one is that the virus accidentally escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. (Sarah Cahlan, Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)
Dec. 30, 2019: The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issues an “urgent notice” to medical institutions in Wuhan, saying that cases of pneumonia of unknown cause have emerged from the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
Story continues below advertisement
Jan. 5, 2020:Earliest known tweet suggesting China created the virus. @GarboHK tweeted: “18 years ago, #China killed nearly 300 #HongKongers by unreporting #SARS cases, letting Chinese tourists travel around the world, to Asia specifically to spread the virus with bad intention. Today the evil regime strikes again with a new virus.”
Jan. 23: A Daily Mail article appears, headlined: “China built a lab to study SARS and Ebola in Wuhan — and U.S. biosafety experts warned in 2017 that a virus could ‘escape’ the facility that’s become key in fighting the outbreak.”
Jan. 26: The Washington Times publishes an article with the headline: “Coronavirus may have originated in lab linked to China’s biowarfare program.” An editor’s note is added March 25: “Since this story ran, scientists outside of China have had a chance to study the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They concluded it does not show signs of having been manufactured or purposefully manipulated in a lab.”
Story continues below advertisement
Jan. 26: A study by Chinese researchers published in the Lancet of the first 41 hospitalized patients in Wuhan who had confirmed infections found that 13 of the 41 cases, including the first documented case, had no link to the seafood marketplace that originally was considered the origin of the outbreak.
Jan 30: Sen. Tom Cotton, speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, says: “This coronavirus is a catastrophe on the scale of Chernobyl for China. But actually, it’s probably worse than Chernobyl, which was localized in its effect. The coronavirus could result in a global pandemic.” He adds: “I would note that Wuhan has China’s only biosafety level-four super laboratory that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.”
Feb. 3: WIV researchers report in the journal Nature that the novel coronavirus spreading around the world was a bat-derived coronavirus. The report said SARS-CoV-2 is 96.2 percent identical at the whole-genome level to a bat coronavirus named RaTG13.
Story continues below advertisement
Feb. 6: Botao Xiao, a molecular biomechanics researcher at South China University of Technology, posts a paper stating that “the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.” He pointed to the previous safety mishaps and the kind of research undertaken at the lab. He withdrew the paper a few weeks later after Chinese authorities insisted no accident had taken place.
Feb. 9: In response to criticism from China’s ambassador that Cotton’s remarks are “absolutely crazy,” the senator tweets: “Here’s what’s not a conspiracy, not a theory: Fact: China lied about virus starting in Wuhan food market. Fact: super-lab is just a few miles from that market. Where did it start? We don’t know. But burden of proof is on you & fellow communists. Open up now to competent international scientists.”
Feb. 16: Cotton, in response to a Washington Post article critical of him, offers four scenarios on Twitter: “1. Natural (still the most likely, but almost certainly not from the Wuhan food market) 2. Good science, bad safety (e.g., they were researching things like diagnostic testing and vaccines, but an accidental breach occurred). 3. Bad science, bad safety (this is the engineered-bioweapon hypothesis, with an accidental breach). 4. Deliberate release (very unlikely, but shouldn’t rule out till the evidence is in). Again, none of these are ‘theories’ and certainly not ‘conspiracy theories.’ They are hypotheses that ought to be studied in light of the evidence.”
Feb. 19:A statement is published in Lancet by a group of 27 scientists: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that covid-19 does not have a natural origin,” the statement says. Scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” The statement was drafted and organized by Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, which funded research at WIV with U.S. government grants. (Three of the signers have since said a laboratory accident is plausible enough to merit consideration.)
Story continues below advertisement
March 11: Scientific American publishes a profile of virologist Shi Zhengli, who heads a group that studies bat coronaviruses at WIV. “I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China,” she said. If coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers thinking, “Could they have come from our lab?” The article said that after the virus emerged, Shi frantically went through her own lab’s records from the past few years to check for any mishandling of experimental materials, but she “breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back: none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves.” She told the magazine: “That really took a load off my mind. I had not slept a wink for days.”
March 17: An analysis published in Nature Medicine by an influential group of scientists states: “Although the evidence shows that SARSCoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here. However, since we observed all notable SARS-CoV-2 features, including the optimized RBD [receptor- binding domain] and polybasic cleavage site, in related coronaviruses in nature, we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”
The intelligence community weighs in
March 27: A Defense Intelligence Agency assessment on the origin of the coronavirus is updated to include the possibility that the new coronavirus emerged “accidentally” due to “unsafe laboratory practices.”
Story continues below advertisement
April 2: David Ignatius, writing in The Washington Post, notes: “The prime suspect is ‘natural’ transmission from bats to humans, perhaps through unsanitary markets. But scientists don’t rule out that an accident at a research laboratory in Wuhan might have spread a deadly bat virus that had been collected for scientific study.”
April 14: Josh Rogin, writing in The Post, reveals that in 2018, State Department officials visited the WIV and “sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats. The cables have fueled discussions inside the U.S. government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus — even though conclusive proof has yet to emerge.”
April 22: Yuri Deigin, a biotech entrepreneur, in a long and detailed post on Medium, reviews “gain-of-function” research undertaken at the lab and concludes that “from a technical standpoint, it would not be difficult for a modern virologist to create such a strain” as the new coronavirus. He adds: “The opposite point is worth repeating too: the inverse hypothesis about the exclusively natural origin of the virus does not yet have strong evidence either.”
Story continues below advertisement
April 24: Under pressure from the White House, the National Institutes of Health terminates the grant to EcoHealth Alliance that funded study of bat coronaviruses at WIV.
April 30: President Donald Trump tells reporters: “You had the theory from the lab. … There’s a lot of theories. But, yeah, we have people looking at it very, very strongly.”
April 30: In a rare statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says: “The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified….The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
Story continues below advertisement
May 3: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says in an interview with ABC News: “There’s enormous evidence that that’s where this began. … Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories. These are not the first times that we have had the world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab.”
May 18: The Seeker, an anonymous Twitter user, posts a medical thesis describing a mine in Mojiang, Yunnan, where miners fell ill with a viral-induced pneumonia in 2012.
June 4:Milton Leitenberg, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, reviews the history of lab safety and the type of research conducted at WIV and argues that the lab-leak theory cannot be easily dismissed. “The pros and cons regarding the two alternative possibilities—first, that it arose in the field as a natural evolution, as many virologists maintain, or second, that it may have been the consequence of bat coronavirus research in one of the two virology research institutes located in Wuhan that led to the infection of a laboratory researcher and subsequent escape—are equally based on inference and conjecture,” he says.
July 4: The Times of London reports that a virus 96 percent identical to the coronavirus that causes covid-19 was found in an abandoned copper mine in China in 2012. The bat-infested copper mine in southwestern China was home to a coronavirus that left six men sick with pneumonia, with three eventually dying, after they had been tasked with shoveling bat guano out of the mine. This virus was collected in 2013 and then stored and studied at WIV.
July 28: Jamie Metzl, a former Clinton administration national security official, writes in The Wall Street Journal that “suggesting that an outbreak of a deadly bat coronavirus coincidentally occurred near the only level 4 virology institute in all of China—which happened to be studying the closest known relative of that exact virus—strains credulity.” He calls for a “comprehensive forensic investigation must include full access to all of the scientists, biological samples, laboratory records and other materials from the Wuhan virology institutes and other relevant Chinese organizations. Denying that access should be considered an admission of guilt by Beijing.”
July 31: Science magazine publishes an interview with Shi Zhengli of WIV. She said it was impossible for anyone at the institute to have been infected, saying “to date, there is ‘zero infection’ of all staff and students in our institute.” She added: “President Trump’s claim that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from our institute totally contradicts the facts. It jeopardizes and affects our academic work and personal life. He owes us an apology.” In the interview, she admitted that some coronavirus research was conducted at biosafety level 2, not the more restrictive BSL-4.
Nov. 2: David A. Relman, a Stanford University microbiologist, writes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “The ‘origin story’ is missing many key details, including a plausible and suitably detailed recent evolutionary history of the virus, the identity and provenance of its most recent ancestors, and surprisingly, the place, time, and mechanism of transmission of the first human infection.”
Nov. 17: An influential paper written by Rossana Segreto and Yuri Deigin is published: “The genetic structure of SARS-CoV-2 does not rule out a laboratory origin.” The paper noted that “a natural host, either direct or intermediate, has not yet been identified.” It argues that certain features of the coronavirus “might be the result of lab manipulation techniques such as site-directed mutagenesis. The acquisition of both unique features by SARS-CoV-2 more or less simultaneously is less likely to be natural or caused only by cell/animal serial passage.” The paper concluded: “On the basis of our analysis, an artificial origin of SARS-CoV-2 is not a baseless conspiracy theory that is to be condemned,” referencing the Lancet statement in February.
Nov. 17: WIV researchers, including Shi, post an addendum to their Feb. 3 report in Nature, acknowledging that RaTG13, the bat coronavirus closely associated with the coronavirus, was found in a mine cave after several patients had fallen ill with “severe respiratory disease” in 2012 while cleaning the cave.
Jan. 4, 2021: New York magazine publishes a lengthy article by Nicholson Baker, who reviews the evidence and concludes the lab-leak scenario is more compelling than previously believed.
Jan. 15: Days before Trump leaves office, the State Department issues a “fact sheet” on WIV that states: “The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both covid-19 and common seasonal illnesses. … The WIV has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses. But the WIV has not been transparent or consistent about its record of studying viruses most similar to the covid-19 virus, including ‘RaTG13,’ which it sampled from a cave in Yunnan Province in 2013 after several miners died of SARS-like illness.”
Jan. 20: Joe Biden becomes president.
Feb. 9: A joint report by the World Health Organization and China declares: “The findings suggest that the laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain introduction of the virus into the human population.”
Feb. 11: WHO Secretary General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus refuses to rule out the lab-leak scenario. “Some questions have been raised as to whether some hypotheses have been discarded,” he said. “I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study.”
Feb. 19: National security adviser Jake Sullivan issues a statement about the WHO report: “We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them. It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government. To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”
March 4: Prominent scientists from around the world, in an open letter to WHO, call for a new investigation into the origins of the virus, saying the previous investigation was flawed. The letter detailed the elements of a “full and unrestricted” investigation. (Additional letters are released April 7 and April 30.)
March 22: The Australian newspaper reports: “Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers working on coronaviruses were hospitalized with symptoms consistent with covid-19 in early November 2019 in what U.S. officials suspect could have been the first cluster.”
March 28: “60 Minutes” airs report on lingering questions about the origins of the coronavirus, featuring Metzl and former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger. “There was a direct order from Beijing to destroy all viral samples — and they didn’t volunteer to share the genetic sequences,” Pottinger says, quoting from declassified intelligence information.
May 5: Former New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, reviews the evidence and makes a strong case for the lab-leak theory. He focuses in particular on the furin cleavage site, which increases viral infectivity for human cells. His analysis yields this quote from David Baltimore, a virologist and former president of the California Institute of Technology: “When I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus. These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2.”
May 14: Eighteen prominent scientists publish a letter in the journal Science, saying a new investigation is needed because “theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable.” One signer is Ralph Baric, a virologist who worked closely with Shi.
May 17: Another former New York Times science reporter, Donald G. McNeil Jr., posts on Medium: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab-Leak Theory.” He quotes W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University — who had signed the March 2020 letter in Nature Medicine — as saying his mind had changed in light of new information.
The Confederacy was a con job on whites. And still is.
March 06, 2017 05:57 PM,
By Frank Hyman
Reaction to removing the Confederate Flag
South Carolina residents respond on June 21 when Governor Nikki Haley began the process of removing the Confederate Flag from the statehouse grounds. Tracy Glantzemail@example.com By Tracy Glantz
I’ve lived 55 years in the South, and I grew up liking the Confederate flag. I haven’t flown one for many decades, but for a reason that might surprise you.
I know the South well. We lived wherever the Marine Corps stationed my father: Georgia, Virginia, the Carolinas. As a child, my favorite uncle wasn’t in the military, but he did pack a .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun in his trunk. He was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. Despite my role models, as a kid I was an inept racist. I got in trouble once in the first grade for calling a classmate the N-word. But he was Hispanic.
As I grew up and acquired the strange sensation called empathy (strange for boys anyway), I learned that for black folks the flutter of that flag felt like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And for the most prideful flag waivers, clearly that response was the point. I mean, come on. It’s a battle fla
What the flag symbolizes for blacks is enough reason to take it down. But there’s another reason that white southerners shouldn’t fly it. Or sport it on our state-issued license plates as some do here in North Carolina. The Confederacy – and the slavery that spawned it – was also one big con job on the Southern, white, working class. A con job funded by some of the ante-bellum one-per-centers, that continues today in a similar form.
You don’t have to be an economist to see that forcing blacks – a third of the South’s laborers – to work without pay drove down wages for everyone else. And not just in agriculture. A quarter of enslaved blacks worked in the construction, manufacturing and lumbering trades; cutting wages even for skilled white workers.
Flag Protester Talks About White Role
Thanks to the profitability of this no-wage/low-wage combination, a majority of American one-per-centers were southerners. Slavery made southern states the richest in the country. The South was richer than any other country except England. But that vast wealth was invisible outside the plantation ballrooms. With low wages and few schools, southern whites suffered a much lower land ownership rate and a far lower literacy rate than northern whites.
My ancestor Canna Hyman and his two sons did own land and fought under that flag. A note from our family history says: “Someone came for them while they were plowing one day. They put their horses up and all three went away to the War and only one son, William, came back.”
Like Canna, most Southerners didn’t own slaves. But they were persuaded to risk their lives and limbs for the right of a few to get rich as Croesus from slavery. For their sacrifices and their votes, they earned two things before and after the Civil War. First, a very skinny slice of the immense Southern pie. And second, the thing that made those slim rations palatable then and now: the shallow satisfaction of knowing that blacks had no slice at all.
How did the plantation owners mislead so many Southern whites?
They managed this con job partly with a propaganda technique that will be familiar to modern Americans, but hasn’t received the coverage it deserves in our sesquicentennial celebrations. Starting in the 1840s wealthy Southerners supported more than 30 regional pro-slavery magazines, many pamphlets, newspapers and novels that falsely touted slave ownership as having benefits that would – in today’s lingo – trickle down to benefit non-slave owning whites and even blacks. The flip side of the coin of this old-is-new trickle-down propaganda is the mistaken notion that any gain by blacks in wages, schools or health care comes at the expense of the white working class.
Today’s version of this con job no longer supports slavery, but still works in the South and thrives in pro trickle-down think tanks, magazines, newspapers, talk radio and TV news shows such as the Cato Foundation, Reason magazine, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. These sources are underwritten by pro trickle-down one-per-centers like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.
For example, a map of states that didn’t expand Medicaid – which would actually be a boon mostly to poor whites – resembles a map of the old Confederacy with a few other poor, rural states thrown in. Another indication that this divisive propaganda works on Southern whites came in 2012. Romney and Obama evenly split the white working class in the West, Midwest and Northeast. But in the South we went 2-1 for Romney.
Lowering the flag because of the harm done to blacks is the right thing to do. We also need to lower it because it symbolizes material harm the ideology of the Confederacy did to Southern whites that lasts even to this day.
One can love the South without flying the battle flag. But it won’t help to get rid of an old symbol if we can’t also rid ourselves of the self-destructive beliefs that go with it. Only by shedding those too, will Southern whites finally catch up to the rest of the country in wages, health and education.
Frank Hyman lives in Durham,where he has held two local elected offices. He’s a carpenter and stonemason and policy analyst for Blue Collar Comeback. This essay originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and is reprinted with permission.
Published in 2012, that Washington Post piece demonstrates more than the foresight of its political scientist authors, Tom Mann of the center-left Brookings Institution and Norm Ornstein of the center-right American Enterprise Institute. It shows the disease within the Republican Party had spread long before Trump metastasized it.
Dent, now a CNN political commentator, quit the House after moderates like him became further marginalized. McConnell was shaken by violence inside the US Capitol for which he declared the defeated Republican President “practically and morally responsible.”
Mann and Ornstein described party leaders’ refusal to rein in lawmakers like Allen West of Florida, who falsely asserted that “78 to 81” congressional Democrats were communists. Out of Congress and relocated, West now chairs the Texas GOP.
The filibuster can be conquered: I know — I helped do it
It’s now conventional wisdom that the filibuster — or just the threat of a filibuster — will likely raise havoc with the core of President Biden’s legislative agenda: voting rights, immigration reform, gun control and climate change. Pundits of all stripes are wringing their hands at the prospect of senatorial deadlock. But only a handful have proposed any concrete actions to avoid this legislative cataclysm.
There is one shining example, however, when the filibuster — against all odds — was conquered.
The historic Civil Right Act of 1964 never would have survived in its final form unless the bipartisan pro-civil rights coalition found a way to defeat Sen. Richard Russell (D-Ga.) and his band of 18 Southern Democrats. More to the point, what happened then — 57 years ago — provides a useful roadmap for today.
A few basic facts:
All the smart money in 1964 said the filibuster, led by Sen. Russell, could not be defeated. The reasons were obvious. In 1964, Senate Rule XXII provided that 67 senators were needed to limit debate. Optimistic nose-counts indicated the bipartisan pro-civil rights forces lacked 12 “critical” votes to reach 67.
These votes could only be found from among traditional mid-western Republicans and conservative western Democrats. In their wildest imaginings, these conservative senators never considered supporting legislation to expand federal authority over personal property rights in granting equal access in restaurants, hotels, and jobs.
Worse yet, if the pro-civil rights forces seriously weakened these provisions as the price for ending the filibuster — the traditional strategy that Sen. Lyndon Johnson had used in 1957 to pass that civil rights legislation — the pro-civil rights allies in the House, especially Rep. William McCullough (R-Ohio), would revolt. The legislation would then likely perish in conference.
One could not escape the reality that breaking the filibuster was simply impossible.
The strong bill passed by the House (H.R. 7152) and supported by President Lyndon Johnson would fall victim to various weakening amendments and either die outright or be rendered toothless.
That was the well-established pattern. And that was what most observers forecast when the legislation finally cleared the House in February 1964.
Sen. Russell was expected to divide his 18 senators into three teams that would alternate holding the floor, thus permitting the other two to rest. The pro-civil rights senators, on the other hand, had to produce 51 senators at any time, day or night, to defeat southern quorum calls or motions to adjourn. This was expected — to erode pro-civil rights resolve over time and make likely weakening amendments or outright defeat.
Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) asked his assistant leader, Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) to serve as the floor leader of the House-passed bill. As Sen. Humphrey’s principal assistant for domestic issues, I ended up coordinating with the staff of other senators, communicating with the Department of Justice, and working with outside allies.
Working together, we hammered out a detailed strategy that we believed could eventually force Senator Russell to surrender:
Make the Southern Democrats hold the floor and debate the bill itself. Don’t let them read from the Chicago phone book or discourse on Auntie Sue’s fried chicken. Pro-civil rights senators, both Democratic and Republican, were assigned responsibility for major titles of the legislation. These “captains” would force Southern Democrats to debate, not just ramble on.
Deal fairly and openly with the Southern Democrats so no one — especially undecided conservative Republicans — could claim that the filibusterers had been denied a fair shot.
Establish and enforce a whip system that would ensure 51 pro-civil rights senators were present whenever Southern Democrats “suggested the absence of a quorum.” In 60 days of debate, the whip system failed but once.
Never schedule a cloture vote until victory was assured. No “test votes.” No amendments prior to cloture. A premature loss could only weaken the pro-civil rights forces.
Organize and focus outside groups supporting the bill. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights served as the coordinating body. Actively seek support among the three mainline religious denominations to make racial justice a compelling moral issue.
Operate an intelligence system that focused in detail on developing leverage with undecided senators. One example: We telephoned “talking points” each morning to the wife of a conservative mid-western senator so she would be well-armed for their nightly dinner conversation.
Publish a daily mimeographed “Pro-Civil Rights Newsletter” that would be delivered each morning to every senator and the media, outlining what to expect each day and to refute Southern Democratic arguments.
The recounting of what happened in 1964 points the way in 2021.
Force the opposition to hold the floor and talk. No more premature “test votes.” No weakening amendments prior to cloture. Get organized by assigning senators to monitor the floor and be ready to defeat likely quorum calls. Coordinate closely with outside support groups and the media. Stay on the offensive.
Make a special effort to get religious denominations fully involved. Protecting the right to vote in 2021 has the same potential to become a moral issue as compelling as the defeat of Jim Crow was in 1964.
Force a rules change — using the nuclear option, if necessary — that shifts the load to those filibustering. Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute has suggested amending Rule XXII to provide that filibusterers would have to produce 41 votes to maintain the floor. Having to produce 41 votes at all hours, day or night, possibly for weeks, shifts the burden to those wanting to block action.
This approach has the compelling advantage of preserving the filibuster itself, thus recognizing the concerns of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and, I’m willing to bet, a handful of moderate Republicans.
The moral imperative of the struggle to preserve the right to vote as the foundation of American democracy must be hammered home relentlessly. As the filibuster drags on, and if the forces for passage hang tough, pressure for positive action will grow.
This battle can be won. And it surely is worth waging.
I spent much of today thinking about the Republican Party. Its roots lie in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in spring 1854, when it became clear that elite southern slaveholders had taken control of the federal government and were using their power to spread their system of human enslavement across the continent.
At first, members of the new party knew only what they stood against: an economic system that concentrated wealth upward and made it impossible for ordinary men to prosper. But in 1859, their new spokesman, Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln, articulated a new vision of government. Rather than using government power solely to protect the property of wealthy slaveholders, Lincoln argued, the government should work to make it possible for all men to get equal access to resources, including education, so they could rise to economic security.
As a younger man, Lincoln had watched his town of New Salem die because the settlers in the town did not have the resources to dredge the Sangamon River to increase their river trade. Had the government simply been willing to invest in the economic development that was too much for the willing workers of New Salem, it could have brought prosperity to the men who, for lack of investment, failed and abandoned their town. The government, Lincoln thought, must develop the country’s infrastructure.
Once in power, the Republicans did precisely that. After imposing the first national taxes, including an income tax, lawmakers set out to enable men to be able to pay those taxes by using the government to give ordinary men access to resources. In 1862, they passed the Homestead Act, giving western land to anyone willing to settle it; the Land-Grant College Act, providing funds to establish state universities; the act establishing the Department of Agriculture, to provide scientific information and good seeds to farmers; and the Pacific Railway Act, providing for the construction of a railroad across the continent to get men to the fields and the mines of the West.
In 1902, Republicans fascinated with infrastructure projects joined forces with southern Democrats desperate for flood control to pass the Newlands Reclamation Act. Under the act, the federal government built more than 600 dams in 20 western states to bring water to farmland. “The sound and steady development of the West depends upon the building up of homes therein,” President Theodore Roosevelt wrote. Water from the western dams now irrigates more than 10 million acres, which produce about 60% of the nation’s vegetables and 25% of its fruits (and nuts).
Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt combined this focus on infrastructure development with the need for work relief programs during the Depression to create the 1933 Civilian Conservation Corps, which planted trees, built fire towers, built trails, stocked fish, and so on. In 1935, Congress created the Works Progress Administration. During its existence, it employed about 3 million workers at a time; built or repaired more than 100,000 public buildings, including schools and post offices; and constructed more than 500 airports, more than 500,000 miles of roads, and more than 100,000 bridges. It also employed actors, photographers, painters, and writers to conduct interviews, paint murals of our history, and tell our national story.
As the country grew and became more interconnected, pressure built for a developed road system, but while FDR liked the idea of the jobs it would produce, building the road fell to Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. Three years after he became president, Eisenhower backed the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, saying, “Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods.” The law initially provided $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of road; at the time, it was the largest public works project in U.S. history.
In America today, there is good news. The Biden administration has rolled out vaccines at a faster pace than anyone foresaw. Today, President Biden announced that health care workers have administered 150 million doses of the vaccine and, at an average of 3 million shots a day, they are on track to administer 200 million by his 100th day in office. He is moving the date for states to make all adults eligible for a vaccine from May 1 to April 19.
The vaccines have dovetailed with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan from last month and the spring weather to speed up the economic recovery. Economists had expected a job gain of about 660,000 in March, but nonfarm payrolls actually rose by about 916,000. And now Biden has rolled out a dramatic new infrastructure proposal, the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan.
So why was I thinking about the Republicans today?
In this moment, Republican lawmakers seem weirdly out of step with their party’s history as well as with the country. They are responding to the American Jobs Plan by defining infrastructure as roads and bridges alone, cutting from the definition even the broadband that they included when Trump was president. (Trump, remember, followed his huge 2017 tax cuts with the promise of a big infrastructure bill. As he said, “Infrastructure is the easiest of all…. People want it, Republicans and Democrats.”) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warns that Biden’s plan is a “Trojan horse” that will require “massive tax increases.”
Biden has indeed proposed funding the Democrats’ infrastructure plan by raising taxes on corporations from their current rate of 21% to 28% (but before Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, that rate was 35%). It ends federal tax breaks for oil and gas companies, and it increases the global minimum tax—a tax designed to keep corporations from shifting their profits to low tax countries– from 13% to 21%.
This is in keeping with our history. Americans since Lincoln have proudly used tax dollars to develop the country. During Eisenhower’s era, the corporate tax rate was 52% (and the top income tax bracket was 91%). The Newlands Act was designed to raise money through public land sales, but in 1928, when Congress authorized what would become Hoover Dam, the Bureau of Reclamation began to operate out of the government’s general funds.
But it was Lincoln’s Republicans who first provided the justification for investing in the nation. In the midst of the deadly Civil War, as the United States was hemorrhaging both blood and money, Republican lawmakers defended first their invention of national taxes. The government had a right to “demand” 99% of a man’s property for an urgent need, said House Ways and Means Committee Chair Justin Smith Morrill (R-VT). When the nation required it, he said, “the property of the people… belongs to the [g]overnment.”
The Republicans also defended developing the country. In a debate over the new Department of Agriculture, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee William Pitt Fessenden (R-ME), famous both for his crabbiness and for his single-minded focus on the war, defended the use of “seed money.” With such an investment, he said, the country would be “richly paid over and over again in absolute increase of wealth. There is no doubt of that.”
The Republican outrage over Major League Baseball moving the All-Star game out of Georgia after the passage of the state’s new voter suppression law reveals a bigger crisis in American democracy: the mechanics of our current system do not reflect the will of the majority.
Consumer-driven corporate America is increasingly throwing its weight against the new voter suppression measures across the country. While MLB and Coca-Cola are out front on the new Georgia voting law, American Airlines, Microsoft, and Dell are all opposing the new Texas voter restriction measures. These corporations are focused on those Americans with buying power, and on those they predict will have that buying power going forward. When they take a stand against voter suppression laws, they are making a bet that the future of America is moving away from the Republicans toward a more inclusive society.
They have drawn the fury of current Republican lawmakers, especially those in Georgia, who are insisting that these corporate decisions are part of a culture war in which Democrats are pressuring corporate leaders to “cancel” things with which they disagree. But MLB is not known as a progressive league. Its fanbase is primarily White and does not tend to lean left. The players were not involved in MLB’s decision to move the All-Star game out of Atlanta, a decision that will cost Georgia about $100 million. Nonetheless, former president Trump yesterday called for his supporters to boycott “Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS and Merck,” all companies on the record against the new voter suppression bills.
The emphasis of corporate America on what its directors think the majority of its consumers want shows the same sort of disconnect national polls reveal. Americans as a whole do not like the policies of current-day Republican lawmakers. Seventy-seven percent of us like the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and yet not a single Republican voted for it. Eighty-four percent of us like background checks for gun purchases, and yet that policy is anathema to Republicans.
Seventy-nine percent of us want the government to fix our roads, bridges, railroads, and ports. Seventy-one percent of us want the government to make sure we all have high-speed internet. Sixty-eight percent of us want the government to replace our lead pipes, the same percentage as people who want the government to support renewable energy with tax credits. Sixty-four percent of us want to pay for these things by increasing taxes on corporations and big businesses.
Republican lawmakers oppose all of these popular measures.
Because our political system is currently skewed toward the Republican Party, its members’ opposition in Congress is far more powerful than it is on the ground. Because of gerrymandering, Democratic candidates in 2020 defeated their Republican opponents by 3.1 percentage points nationally and yet lost a dozen seats in the House of Representatives.
The Senate is even less fairly representative. It is currently divided evenly, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (technically, 48 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats). But the 50 Democrats represent 41.5 million more people than the Republicans do (the U.S. has a population of about 328 million).
That Republican minority can currently stop all legislation other than budget bills and judicial appointments through the process known as the filibuster, which forces 60 members of the Senate to agree to a bill before it can move forward.
As current-day Republican lawmakers fall farther out of sync with what the majority of Americans want, they have turned to the courts to shore up their vision of a world in which government cannot regulate business, protect civil rights, or provide a basic social safety net, but can enforce rules popular with evangelical religious practitioners (although evangelical religion is also on the wane, apparently in part because of its political partisanship). “By legislating from the bench, Republicans dodge accountability for unpopular policies,” writes Ian Millhiser in a terrific piece in the New York Times on March 30. “Meanwhile, the real power is held by Republican judges who serve for life — and therefore do not need to worry about whether their decisions enjoy public support.”
And yet, the party is nervous enough about its eroding power base that a Republican-aligned group has launched an initiative called the “American Culture Project,” intending to redirect the “cultural narrative” that its organizers believe “the left” now controls with “cancel culture” and “woke supremacy.” Set up as a social welfare organization, the American Culture Project does not have to disclose its donors or pay federal income taxes. Through ads on Facebook and other platforms, it hopes to swing voters to the Republicans; it is organized in at least five states– Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia—under names like “Arise Ohio,” “Stand Up Florida,” and “Mighty Michigan.”
A fundraising email shared with Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post, who broke the story, says, “We are building assets to shape and frame the political field in advance of the 2022 election and beyond…. [Y]our support of our outreach can be the difference between the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate staying under control of the Democrats or shifting back to pro-freedom Republican majorities.”
How the Yankees’ Luckiest Batboy Ended Up in an Unmarked Grave
Eddie Bennett earned fame in the dugouts of the Major Leagues. He had almost slipped from memory when New Yorkers teamed up to honor his short, dramatic life.
April 2, 2021
For 85 years, visitors to St. John’s Cemetery in Queens skipped past an unmarked grave in Section 34, Row DD. This is where Edward Bennett, a batboy for the New York Yankees — maybe the most famous batboy in the Major Leagues — was buried and forgotten.
For most of the 1920s, Eddie Bennett was the Yankees’ handyman, mascot and good luck charm. He was the first to shake hands with a player after he crossed the plate, and he ferried Babe Ruth’s bats from the locker room to the dugout for the slugger to find the perfect fit — sometimes as many as 33 of them. “There ought to be a law,” Eddie jokingly complained to an adoring press corps that had made him a fixture of the sports columns.
He was such an integral part of the team, in fact, that he was voted a share of the team’s earnings. When the players got diamond rings to celebrate the Yankees’ crushing World Series victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1927, the batboy got one, too. “Feel the weight of it,” he bragged to a reporter.
How Mr. Bennett ended up in an unmarked grave in Middle Village, Queens — and how it was discovered and marked by a lifelong Yankees fan and a diocesan priest — is a tale of luck and charity and a fitting denouement to his drama-filled life.
His back story was a big part of his appeal. By the time he got to the Yankees, Eddie Bennett had come a long way. He was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 1903, and as an infant, he fell out of his carriage and twisted his spine, which stunted his growth and left him with a misshapen back.
When he was around 16, he was sacked from his job as a courier on Wall Street, the year after the Spanish flu swept through Brooklyn and killed both his parents. Looking for work, he found himself walking to the Polo Grounds, where the Chicago White Sox were visiting the Yankees for a doubleheader.
As he slipped under the bleachers to get a drink of water, Happy Felsch, a White Sox center fielder, spotted him. He laid his hand on the lump on the teenager’s back.
“Kid, are you lucky?” Mr. Felsch asked.
“Well, of course,” Eddie replied. What else could he say?
Where many of the time would have dismissed the youth for his physical ailment, Mr. Felsch saw a talisman.
“In baseball, it was a superstitious age, far more than we can appreciate today,” said Gabriel Schechter, a baseball historian and author of a biography of Charlie Faust, a mentally challenged mascot for the New York Giants.
The White Sox went on to win the second game. They had gotten themselves a new mascot, and Mr. Bennett, a new job. In time, his reputation as a jinx chaser made it to Miller Huggins, the Yankees’ manager. In 1921, he offered Mr. Bennett $25 a week to serve as a batboy, the equivalent of $335 today.
Mr. Bennett’s arrival came a year after Babe Ruth’s. Ruth’s thunderous homers would catapult the Yankees to seven pennants and four World Series, but the sportswriters always ensured that the batboy got some of the credit. “Both are doing much to bring the Yankees home first in the pennant race,” said the caption to a syndicated picture of Mr. Bennett and Ruth.
By the time Murderers’ Row trampled the Pirates in the 1927 World Series, the orphan’s domain had expanded to organizing transportation and handling baggage, duties normally assigned to the traveling secretary. He took to wearing well-tailored suits and brightly colored ties.
Sign up for the New York Today Newsletter: Each morning, get the latest on New York businesses, arts, sports, dining, style and more.
On the road, Mr. Bennett roomed with Urban Shocker, a pitcher. Shocker’s heart disease forced him to sleep sitting up, and he was worried he would lose his job if the team found out. But he knew he could trust Mr. Bennett with his secret, said Steve Steinberg, a baseball historian who wrote a biography of Shocker.
Alas, the jinx the batboy chased off the field caught up to him. And then, it all ended, no less improbably. In May 1932, a taxicab pinned him against a pillar, breaking one of his legs and sending him to the hospital. Hobbling about on crutches, he tried to return to the dugout but was soon replaced by Jimmy Mars, an ambitious youngster who ran away from his Chicago home as soon as he heard about the mascot vacancy.
Three years later, Mr. Bennett was found dead in a furnished room on West 84th Street. Autographed photos from Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt, both pitchers for the Yankees, hung on the walls, The New York Times reported. Balls and bats signed by Ruth and Lou Gehrig decorated the room. An autopsy found that Mr. Bennett had died of alcoholism. He was 31.
A few staff members from the Yankees front office braved the January cold to attend his funeral. None of the players went, possibly because they were scattered about owing to the off-season. The team paid for the burial at St. John’s.
The team would go on to win 23 more World Series, but the batboys who came after Eddie Bennett would never be as famous.
As big a Yankees fan as Charles Papio was, he had never heard of Mr. Bennett. One day in the fall of 2019, he came across the mascot’s name on the St. John’s Cemetery website, listed among the famous buried there, like Carlo Gambino, the crime boss, and the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Mr. Papio, a 73-year-old retired police officer, has a family grave at St. John’s and is a regular visitor. He had little trouble locating Mr. Bennett’s plot the next day, right next to Cooper Avenue.
When he got there, all he found was a patch of grass littered with dead leaves and a small American flag staked in it. There was no stone. Mr. Papio said a silent prayer. “My feelings were that he was a child of God and a mother’s child who had fallen through the cracks,” he said.
He started reading up on Mr. Bennett’s life. A practicing Catholic and an equally devoted Yankees fan — he owns mementos signed by Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle — he felt like something had to be done to honor the batboy’s memory.
Soon, he’d persuaded Ed Wilkinson, an editor at The Tablet, the Brooklyn diocese’s newspaper, to write a story about Mr. Bennett’s short, sad life.
The article soon made the rounds, and word that Mr. Bennett’s grave remained unmarked made it to the owner of a monument company on Long Island, who offered to donate a marker. The coronavirus pandemic delayed plans to hold a memorial service.
Finally, one sunny day last November, Mr. Papio put on a dark suit and drove to St. John’s. He stood by Mr. Bennett’s grave as the Rev. Michael Udoh, the cemetery’s chaplain, sprinkled holy water on a newly installed granite stone. It read: “Edward Bennett, 1903-1935. New York Yankees Mascot/Batboy, 1921-1932.”
Father Udoh, who was born in Nigeria, had learned of Mr. Bennett only the day of the service, but he said he was moved by his story. “Even in his condition,” he said, “he was dedicated to bringing joy to people.”
Synopsis: Systemic racism is alive and well in the South, the part of the country where I have lived my life. My educated opinion is that racism permeates our entire country, but everywhere may not be like Georgia where I saw it first-hand for seven years and which attempts to normalize racism with its voter suppression laws. Here’s the short version of Professor Heather Cox Richardson’s article: When Ronald Reagan talked about the “Welfare Queen (a Black woman who stole tax dollars through social services fraud), when tea partiers called our first Black president a “socialist,” when Trump voters claimed to be reacting to “economic anxiety,” they were calling on a long history. Today, Republicans talk about “election integrity,” but their end game is the same as that of the former Confederates after the war: to keep Black and Brown Americans away from the polls to make sure the government does not spend tax dollars on public services.
Since the Civil War, voter suppression in America has had a unique cast.
The Civil War brought two great innovations to the United States that would mix together to shape our politics from 1865 onward:
First, the Republicans under Abraham Lincoln created our first national system of taxation, including the income tax. For the first time in our history, having a say in society meant having a say in how other people’s money was spent.
Second, the Republicans gave Black Americans a say in society.
They added the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing human enslavement except as punishment for crime and, when white southerners refused to rebuild the southern states with their free Black neighbors, in March 1867 passed the Military Reconstruction Act. This landmark law permitted Black men in the South to vote for delegates to write new state constitutions. The new constitutions confirmed the right of Black men to vote.
Most former Confederates wanted no part of this new system. They tried to stop voters from ratifying the new constitutions by dressing up in white sheets as the ghosts of dead southern soldiers, terrorizing Black voters and the white men who were willing to rebuild the South on these new terms to keep them from the polls. They organized as the Ku Klux Klan, saying they were “an institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy, and patriotism” intended “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… [and] to aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws.” But by this they meant the Constitution before the war and the Thirteenth Amendment: candidates for admission to the Ku Klux Klan had to oppose “Negro equality both social and political” and favor “a white man’s government.”
The bloody attempts of the Ku Klux Klan to suppress voting didn’t work. The new constitutions went into effect, and in 1868 the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union with Black male suffrage. In that year’s election, Georgia voters put 33 Black Georgians into the state’s general assembly, only to have the white legislators expel them on the grounds that the Georgia state constitution did not explicitly permit Black men to hold office.
The Republican Congress refused to seat Georgia’s representatives that year—that’s the “remanded to military occupation” you sometimes hear about– and wrote the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution protecting the right of formerly enslaved people to vote and, by extension, to hold office. The amendment prohibits a state from denying the right of citizens to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
So white southerners determined to prevent Black participation in society turned to a new tactic. Rather than opposing Black voting on racial grounds—although they certainly did oppose Black rights on these grounds– they complained that the new Black voters, fresh from their impoverished lives as slaves, were using their votes to redistribute wealth.
To illustrate their point, they turned to South Carolina, where between 1867 and 1876, a majority of South Carolina’s elected officials were African American. To rebuild the shattered state, the legislature levied new taxes on land, although before the war taxes had mostly fallen on the personal property owned by professionals, bankers, and merchants. The legislature then used state funds to build schools, hospitals, and other public services, and bought land for resale to settlers—usually freedpeople—at low prices.
White South Carolinians complained that members of the legislature, most of whom were professionals with property who had usually been free before the war, were lazy, ignorant field hands using public services to redistribute wealth.
Fears of workers destroying society grew potent in early 1871, when American newspaper headlines blasted the story of the Paris Commune. From March through May, in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, French Communards took control of Paris. Americans read stories of a workers’ government that seemed to attack civilization itself: burning buildings, killing politicians, corrupting women, and confiscating property. Americans worried that workers at home might have similar ideas: in italics, Scribner’s Monthly warned readers that “the interference of ignorant labor with politics is dangerous to society.”
Building on this fear, in May 1871, a so-called taxpayers’ convention met in Columbia, South Carolina. A reporter claimed that South Carolina was “a typical Southern state” victimized by lazy “semi-barbarian” Black voters who were electing leaders to redistribute wealth. “Upon these people not only political rights have been conferred, but they have absolute political supremacy,” he said. The New York Daily Tribune, which had previously championed Black rights, wrote “the most intelligent, the influential, the educated, the really useful men of the South, deprived of all political power,… [are] taxed and swindled… by the ignorant class, which only yesterday hoed the fields and served in the kitchen.”
The South Carolina Taxpayers’ Convention uncovered no misuse of state funds and disbanded with only a call for frugality in government, but it had embedded into politics the idea that Black voters were using the government to redistribute wealth. The South was “prostrate” under “Black rule,” reporters claimed. In the election of 1876, southern Democrats set out to “redeem” the South from this economic misrule by keeping Black Americans from the polls.
Over the next decades, white southerners worked to silence the voices of Black Americans in politics, and in 1890, fourteen southern congressmen wrote a book to explain to their northern colleagues why Democrats had to control the South. Why the Solid South? or Reconstruction and its Resultsinsisted that Black voters who had supported the Republicans after the Civil War had used their votes to pervert the government by using it to give themselves services paid for with white tax dollars.
Later that year, a new constitution in Mississippi started the process of making sure Black people could not vote by requiring educational tests, poll taxes, or a grandfather who had voted, effectively getting rid of Black voting.
Eight years later, there was still enough Black voting in North Carolina and enough class solidarity with poor whites that voters in Wilmington elected a coalition government of Black Republicans and white Populists. White Democrats agreed that the coalition had won fairly, but about 2000 of them nonetheless armed themselves to “reform” the city government. They issued a “White Declaration of Independence” and said they would “never again be ruled, by men of African origin.” It was time, they said, “for the intelligent citizens of this community owning 95% of the property and paying taxes in proportion, to end the rule by Negroes.”
As they forced the elected officials out of office and took their places, the new Democratic mayor claimed “there was no intimidation used,” but as many as 300 African Americans died in the Wilmington coup.
The Civil War began the process of linking the political power of people of color to a redistribution of wealth, and this rhetoric has haunted us ever since. When Ronald Reagan talked about the “Welfare Queen (a Black woman who stole tax dollars through social services fraud), when tea partiers called our first Black president a “socialist,” when Trump voters claimed to be reacting to “economic anxiety,” they were calling on a long history. Today, Republicans talk about “election integrity,” but their end game is the same as that of the former Confederates after the war: to keep Black and Brown Americans away from the polls to make sure the government does not spend tax dollars on public services.
Notes: I don’t link to my own books usually, but if anyone is interested, the argument and quotations here are from my second book, “The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North,” (Harvard University Press, 2001).
The Senate does not speak for you. Photo: Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images
As we wait for the Senate parliamentarian to let us know if 41 senators will be able to block a minimum-wage increase that a comfortable majority of Americans supports, it’s as good a time as any to be reminded of the non-representative nature of the Senate Republican Conference.
Daily Kos Elections has come up with a chart displaying the percentage of the population represented by senators from each party since 1990, along with the percentage of Senate votes each party captured (displayed in three-cycle averages, since only one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years):
Republican senators haven’t represented a majority of the U.S. population since 1996 and haven’t together won a majority of Senate votes since 1998. Yet the GOP controlled the Senate from 1995 through 2007 (with a brief interregnum in 2001–02 after a party switch by Jim Jeffords) and again from 2015 until 2021.
As Stephen Wolf observed in his write-up of the results, there have been consequences for this disconnect:
Five Supreme Court justices (and many more lower court judges) were confirmed by senates where the GOP majority was elected with less popular support than Democrats. Those right-wing hardliners are now poised to use their control over the court to attack voting rights and preserve Republican gerrymanders while striking down progressive policies. This same minority rule has also paved the way for massive tax cuts for the rich under George W. Bush and Donald Trump that have facilitated an explosion in economic inequality.
Thanks to the filibuster, of course, on many key measures, the 43.5 percent of voters represented by a Republican minority in the Senate have as much clout as the 44.7 percent represented by a Republican majority when the GOP won a trifecta four years ago. That’s why Democrats are trying to cram as much legislation as they can into a budget-reconciliation bill that cannot be filibustered and why the parliamentarian’s ruling on the scope of that bill is such a big deal for Americans trying to survive on minimum wage.
Understanding the realities of our constitutional system means recognizing its injustices, too — along with injustices like the filibuster, which cannot be attributed to the Founders.
Sign Up for the Intelligencer Newsletter
Daily news about the politics, business, and technology shaping our world.