Remember when we believed someone who pleaded the Fifth was guilty? Those who took the 5th did not want to “incriminate” themselves. So the accused would not answer questions. Donald Trump, the same guy who in 2016 lacerated Hillary Clinton’s tech staff who installed her private email server, for taking the Fifth.* Trump said, “only the Mob takes the 5th.” But in 1990, in his first divorce trial and just last week, Trump took the Fifth himself. He says the allegations against him are a “witch hunt” or a “fishing expedition” as his excuse for not responding.
Trump sat with New York State’s Attorney General Letitia James a week ago. She has been investigating Trump’s state tax returns in a civil suit for tax evasion (lowering his income for purposes of income taxes) and inflating his wealth to obtain loans to cover his debts.
During his presidential campaign, Trump said that evading taxes “shows he’s smart.” But now, Trump’s long-time chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of evading taxes on $1.7 million perks, including a free apartment in Manhattan, school tuition for his grandchildren, and lease payments on a luxury car. (He made a plea deal rather than face 15 years in prison and will spend five months at New York City’s Rikers Island. He will be answering questions.)
What’s the source of the Fifth Amendment?
It goes back to the heart of Anglo-Saxon law–The Magna Carta signed on June 15, 2015, by King John, the British barons, and landowners at Runnymede. The charter limited the king’s absolute authority and laid out the rights of English citizens and commoners. American law is based on this social contract written into the Magna Carta.
In America, the Continental Congress passed the Bill of Rights in 1789; this included the 5th Amendment to protect a person’s rights in these ways:
A person cannot be forced to give testimony against themselves (Self-Incrimination). The 5th Amendment is the basis for the Miranda Warning. (“Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.”) The government must call other witnesses and find evidence to prove the crime.
You have the right to a fair trial that follows procedure through the judicial process
You are judged innocent until proven guilty. (Due process)You can’t be tried twice for the same crime (Double Jeopardy)
A Grand Jury looks at the evidence to determine whether to indict the accused for a criminal offense; if they decide to charge a person with a crime, they issue an indictment and hold a trial. The Grand Jury traces its roots directly to 1215, the Magna Carta, and Due Process.
The government cannot take your private property unless you are paid current market value in return. (Eminent Domain)
Another critical case about the Fifth Amendment (self-incrimination) involved five young black men convicted of killing a white woman in Central Park in New York City. After they were imprisoned for ten years, a court ruled they had been coerced into giving false testimony after lengthy interrogation and abuse. Under the Fifth Amendment, a confession obtained illegally is not admissible in court. They were freed when the truth came out. Then the actual killer was arrested and convicted.
Due process says that a person is innocent until proven guilty and deserves an opportunity to present their case in court. The concept of due process tells me to reconsider my idea that those who plead the 5th are “guilty,” but it is challenging at times.
Taking the 5th has different outcomes in criminal vs. civil courts. In federal cases, taking the Fifth does not imply guilt. But in civil cases, it can have consequences—providing an inference of guilt is allowed. The current case in New York State likely will be the beginning of a triangular legal sea saw between Trump, NY Attorney General James, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
What’s the Magna Carta’s role in Pleading the Fifth in American courts today? It’s bedrock. American law sits on the foundation of British law that traces to the 13th century when the nobility and the landed gentry demanded fairness in their courts and protection from the absolute power of the king.
Next week I’m looking at David Litt’s book Democracy in One Book or Less.
No one was ever charged after the investigation into the mail server.
There’s nothing like the sound of oars pulling through the water and the rush when drawing them back to thrust the boat forward. I live vicariously through my daughter now, who competed last weekend in the Henley Master’s Regatta. She stroked a quad crew to victory. So pardon my pride, but there is a broader issue here; stay with me.
When we “row” together, we have a much better chance of winning. When we row separately or out of sync, we lose.
The Henley is rowed an hour from London, so I could not fail to note what’s going on politically in England. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been paddling apart for some time, practically since he took the job in July 2019. He took over from Teresa May, who could not get Brexit through Parliament.
Johnson seemed to think that he could perpetually break with convention. Childish antics—like having a Christmas party for staff at 10 Downing when the rest of the country was locked down with COVID– rankled the Brits. But last week, he hit the wall when he again lied to his fellow citizens, denying knowledge about unsavory actions by a political associate. Furthermore, just a few weeks before, 40 percent of Parliament voted “no confidence.” This time he lost the leadership of the Conservative party and now will no longer be the Prime Minister.
In the end, he may have that in common with his orange-haired American conservative crony. Time will tell. Rather interesting, a new wrinkle or two has also come up for Donald Trump as well. Both men have rowed along their Atlantic shore, rebelling against traditional political norms—thumbing their noses at convention. Trump still has a following and is pushing hard to wedge the Republican party to continue to swing the conservatives to himself.
But the need to row together with a crew still works here. When you insert a wedge against a portion of your former party, are you not dividing what you should be combining to form a winning coalition? Maybe it only works when not everyone in the opposition votes. And when you separate the competitor by corrupting the Voting Rights Act (limiting voters) and dividing a state’s voting districts, making it impossible for diverse candidates to have a fighting chance—that does complicate matters.
What destroys all credibility is when the former president or governor commands/controls a Secretary of State–the person responsible for voting regulations, voting counting, and preparing the ballots for the Electoral College. That is one person who should respect their role in holding the vote as their state’s voters intended—irrespective of party.
The poll workers I have spent hours with during general and primary elections are dedicated to reporting an accurate ballot every time. I suspect that is true throughout the country. We row together because we believe in the process and are sworn to maintain the vote’s safety. It is nothing short of criminal for a Secretary of State to do the bidding of a political party, a governor, or a former president hell-bent on making up for the last election—he cannot admit he lost but appears sworn to win a second term. At least for now. Time will tell.
This wreath carries meaning for me this July 4th. Over the past few years, I saw too many American flags flying from the back of pick-up trucks circling U.S. beltways or hand-held by Proud Boys marching in Charlottesville or invading the U.S. Capitol. They swore allegiance to falsehoods and exclusionary beliefs I will never share.
They have warped the authentic meaning of the red, white, and blue. Yet, the principles of truth and justice have never wavered for me. I pledge my allegiance to the true America I love. I cannot associate myself with those who do not ask the critical questions democracy requires but prefer to follow along and exclude others from the opportunities and rights we enjoy.
In 2022, this wreath, approximating the proud feathers of the American eagle and the brightest stars in the sky, will represent my brand of patriotism. Today America is a country struggling mightily to return to its principles–while suffering body blows from those we never elected. A President, who lost the popular vote in 2016 and refused to concede his loss in 2020, now spreads political mayhem from coast to coast. His efforts further ignited falsehoods and culture wars that erupted at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th and are slicing this proud nation in two.
I don’t love my country less because I do not agree with the false representations of the U.S. flag in 2021. I can’t see our nation dragged backward two and a half centuries. The 21st century has no time for fabricated beliefs and false images of a glorified Disney-esque “Davey Crocket” time when men provided for their families by landing dinner with buckshot. American families cannot afford to move backward, leaving behind our leading role in technology, business/industry, and world affairs.
Do we want to return to an era where women tended the firepot to prepare whatever animal their spouse’s musket fell? Then women had four children because the child mortality rate was over 30 percent. Women didn’t fare much better. Without contraception, women wore out their bodies with repeated pregnancies, and a high percent died young while giving birth (life expectancy: 38 in 1787). Today women’s work outside the home and their earnings are as important as a men’s. The economy tanked during the Pandemic when schools were closed, and many women stayed home. We’re still beefing up the workforce.
If women had been present for the writing of the Constitution in 1787, the document would have taken a different course. Families and women’s needs, would have been recognized– not listing women as chattel belonging to men—unable to own land, start businesses, or sign legal documents without their husband’s along side.
Over the years, women have realized the only way to make gains legislatively would be by gaining the vote for themselves. Unfortunately, women did not get an opportunity to vote until 1920, one hundred and thirty years after the ink dried on the Constitution. Today women are in Congress: 24 serve in the U.S. Senate and 120 in the House of Representatives (27% of the 539 elected, an all-time high, but well below women’s 50.5 percent of the population.)
You have a responsibility, both men and women, to exercise your right to protect our future and our nation. This right comes with a commitment to get out to vote (or obtain and mail in a ballot if your state allows). Help protect your freedom by exercising that vote. In most states, you cannot register to vote on the same day as you vote. So, get registered NOW. Contact your county’s Board of Elections and be prepared to vote come November.
Determination does pay off. . . at last! Opal Lee, a grandmother from Texas, at 89 walked two and a half miles a day from Fort Worth to Washington. DC, surrounded by a caravan of cars. Opal walked to raise support for designation of Juneteenth (19th) as a federal holiday. Last year at 94, she received a signing pen from President Biden after he inked legislation creating such a celebration. Vice President Kamala Harris took her hand while praising her determination.
Opal, who had been a teacher before becoming “the grandmother of the movement”, had a personal reason for her crusade. When she was 12, she lived in Marshal, Texas, in a home surrounded by several white homeowners in Sycamore Park. A band of white men came one night and burned her home to the ground. Freedom means more to her than recognizing the end to slave labor, but safety in one’s home and access to quality education.
No doubt President Lincoln would be pleased with Opal’s determination and Congressional efforts in 2021 to celebrate Juneteenth, but he might hope this was not a consolation prize offered instead of insuring the opportunity for all Americans to exercise their constitutional Voting Rights.
Above you see the document that Lincoln wrote and signed after Congress passed the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, ending slavery in the Confederacy. Governors in Southern states, with economies mainly dependent on cotton, were very slow to pass this information on to the enslaved population, some waited until the end of the Civil War to notify blacks in the South that they were free.
Texans, being the furthest western state in the Confederacy and with an abundance of cotton, were least likely to share this information. And they didn’t. . . until Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, backed up by 1,800 U.S./Union troops, issued General Order Number 3, from his headquarters in Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865—157 years ago.
Maj. Gen. Granger’s order began: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Simple. Then: “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
This order announced the freedom of 250,000 slaves in Texas. In the two and a half years between the Emancipation and Granger’s arrival nearly 200,000 black men had enlisted, mainly in the Union army. Historians estimate that about 500,000 slaves—out of a total of 3.9 million—liberated themselves by escaping to Union lines between 1863 and the end of the war—the rest remained in slavery, according to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
More recently, in 1979, Texas State Rep. Al Edwards, “known as the father of the Juneteenth holiday” succeeded in working with the Texas Legislature to make the date an official holiday statewide as a “source of strength” to young people. “Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations,” Rep. Edwards said. These efforts plus others worldwide can be seen at https://juneteenth.com .
The Great Migration helped spread Juneteenth across the country, as Gates says, one person, one family, one carload or train ticket at a time. Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Sons: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, tells the story brilliantly, spreading the knowledge Juneteenth to places distant to the South, like Los Angeles, Oakland, and Minnesota. Ralph Emerson’s novel, Juneteenth, said to reflect the “mystical glow of history and lore, memory and myth.”
Juneteenth 2021 will also mark the unveiling of Frederick Douglass’s statue in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the result of long-term efforts of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
In honor of the festivities, perhaps these dining festivities will prepare us for the Fourth of July, red, white and blue creations, while Juneteenth recipes focus on the color red. I’m told that’s for resilience and freedom. So I have one offering and links to several others:
Plenty of stories about the original Thanksgiving float around at this time of year. I’m going with the Smithsonian’s story: Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Tribe received an invitation to thanksgiving from William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony in fall 1621.
The Pilgrims, who Bradford led, had fled England to avoid religious prosecution. To them “Thanksgiving” meant fasting and praying, so the original intent of the gathering might not have been a gourmet feast. But Native Americans had held Autumn Festivals for many years.
When Governor Bradford invited Massasoit, 90 warriors from combined tribes were meeting to form an alliance for mutual defense. Ousamequin, the warrior’s leader, had heard gunfire from the colony. (Colonists, not unlike future Americans, were celebrating by firing shotguns into the air.) The Tribe believed it meant a war had begun. But native leadership remained level-headed, thanks to the skill of translator Tisquantum. (Bradford called him “Squanto,” based on his community: Squantum.) After negotiating with Bradford, the Wampanoag agreed to attend thanksgiving.
Tisquantum had been kidnapped from the Patuxents on the coast of Cape Cod by explorer Thomas Hunt in 1614. Hunt took him to Spain, whereTisquantum was sold into slavery, but educated by monks. He escaped to England and learned English working for shipbuilder John Slanic, then returned to Plymouth. Upon his return, Tisquantum found his family and the entire tribe had died from Yellow Fever they caught from the European explorers. Alone, he joined the Pokankets.
After arriving on the Mayflower, forty-five of the 102 Pilgrims died of disease or starvation between 1619 and 1620. Maybe because of his own loss, Tisquantum agreed to share with the Pilgrims what he had learned about coastal farming, hunting, and fishing. He explained how to use a fish to fertilize the corn seed to improve the Pilgrim’s crops. His advice helped the Pilgrims to survive and become self-sufficient. This showed the true sense of community that could have marked a turnaround in Pilgrim-Native American relations. But as the colony grew, so too the need for additional land. Unfortunately, the value and scarcity of the rich land on the tip of Massachusetts created a desire to own it, which motivated the colony and later the growing nation’s efforts to push the Native Americans off the land.
1621: What Did the Warriors Bring?
Wampanoag warriors were fishermen and hunters, skills that ensured their tribe would have food. They came to the celebration loaded down with the fruits of their toil and the bounty of New England’s seacoast:
Venison, lobster, fish, wild fowl, clams, oysters, eel, corn, squash, maple syrup, and wild rice—a substantial feast. Maybe the warriors thought it was an “autumn festival!” It could easily take a three-day festival to consume such a feast. Over the centuries, the Native American tribes moved into the heartland,chasing buffalo and/or pushed west and south by federal policies. The tribes brought the foods they originally discovered on the coast that contribute to our Thanksgiving tables today: beans, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin, Chile peppers, and cacao, the basis of chocolate, another gift to us from Native Americans, is seen as an “essential” food by those craving sweets.
Did Anyone Say Pie?
Today most Americans take Thanksgiving pie for granted. If pie existed at all in 1621, it would come from a squash molded into a bowl and cooked over a fire. Move forward to 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first official Thanksgiving before the end of the Civil War. For his celebration, Lincoln made sure The Excelsior Pie and Cake Bakery had set aside one of his favorite Pecan Pies with Molasses.* Now we have a full spectrum of fruit pies year round, through the magic of freezers and pre-made pie shells. I’m depending on pumpkin blended with the modern miracles of Cool Whip and cream cheese for a Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie! (See Plum Pudding Recipe below.
(President’s Cookbook, Poppy Camon and Patricia Brooks, 1968.)
Obviously, not Mac & Cheese in 1621, right? Well, the British came up with pasta made from breadcrumbs in the 1390s! They added a sauce made of stock and what they called chese ruayn, a hard cheese similar to brie. The result: a cross between macaroni and cheese and lasagne. But it wasn’t your mother’s or my daughter’s Mac & Cheese!
My update to Mac and Cheese couisine came on Wednesday’s National Public Radio’s “1A” discusson of 2021 Thanksgiving offerings. Stephen Satterfield, host of “High on the Hog” podcast, explained that the updated British recipe for Mac & Cheese came back across the Pond in 1789. Thomas Jefferson’s slave James Hemings (half-brother of Sally) trained to be a chef in Paris. He rose to head chef at the Hotel de Langeac before heading back to New York City when Jefferson became Secretary of State.
Englishwoman Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe “To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese,” brings together bechamel sauce, cheddar cheese,and pasta (see below) Published in 1769, it could be similar to what Hemings served to Jefferson’s guests.
I have my own favorite Mac & Three Cheese recipe my daughter fixes at Thanksgiving. Breadcrums on top bake up to an crunchy, brown crust. The treat lies below among the moist macaroni and the three flavors of cheese. Some things do get better with time!
Anything goes in 2021 after a year and a half Pandemic that separated families and friends, isolating Americans. Now we have an opportunity to cook whatever your heart desires for the people you love, related or not. Whether it’s turkey or tofurky, to stuff or not to stuff, pumpkin pie or candy cames, the script is your to write this year. Take a moment to read about America’s Native Americans. You can start with the link below:
Note: A six-foot tall stone marker and aging bronze plaque at Plymouth, Massachusetts, commemorates themeeting of the Wampanoag’s Massasoit and Plymouth Colony Governor Bradford. Fortunately, Tisquantum of the Patuxent tribes could translate.
The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769
“To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese”
Boil four ounces of macaroni till it be quite tender and lay it on a sieve to drain. Then put it in a tossing pan with about a gill (a quarter of a pint) of good cream, a lump of butter rolled in flour, boit it five minutes. Pour it on a plate, lay all over it parmesan cheese toasted. Send it to the table on a warm plate, for it soon gets cold.
Plum Pudding Native American Traditional Recipe
Wild plums, sugar, cornstarch
Wash plums, put in a pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the plums split and fruit comes away from the seeds. Cool and strain juice and put juice in pot and boil. Make a paste with cornstarch and hot water. Used about e tablespoons cornstarch to ¼ cup hot water. Stir until lumps disappear. Slowly add paste to boiling juice to thicken pudding. Add cornstarch if needed. Remove from heat and add sugar to taste.
Two figures from the deep, dark past adorn my lawn this season of spook. I thought a wee bit of ancient English history might interest my Texan neighbors or at least their curious children who might continue, given a taste of it. I have started with the two most referenced—the ones on my lawn—Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife. He had four more wives. (As king, Henry took advantage of his regal power.)
Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas Earl of Wiltshire, served as ambassador to the Netherlands and France and encouraged his daughter to be educated there. Her date of birth is murky because records from the 16th century are spotty, but a birth in 1501 fits with her education in France and her courtship. While there, Anne served as a maid of honor to Queen Claude of France, learning how to appear in court.
Anne probably would not serve in court much before 14. She returned to England in 1522 to marry her Irish cousin James Butler, but the marriage did not take place. Instead, joined the court of English Queen Catherine of Aragon as maid of honor. King Henry would have been eighteen when crowned and married to Catherine. The king desired and achieved a court of unsurpassed glamour with he the handsome, athletic, and cultured lead. Henry liked to dress like a peacock, enjoyed wearing costumes, including a Turkish outfit of white damask, embroidered with roses made of rubies and diamonds.
Henry Declares War Against France, Builds Navy
But Henry was distracted. In 1522, he declared war against France. This required an increase in taxes, which was not popular. He built the British Navy from a few ships to fifty, earning the title “Father of the British Navy” and making England a serious contender on the water.
Henry got on the wrong side of Hapsburg Charles V of Australia, who carried influence with the pope, from whom the king would eventually want a divorce from Charles’ aunt. Not likely.
By 1526 Catherine of Aragon had failed to produce a healthy heir (her male child died young). Henry took this as an afront to his manhood, damaging his growing ego. While he continued his marriage with Catherine for 24 years, he began to look elsewhere.
Then the king noticed Anne Bolen’s beauty as she danced and sang in court. Henry moved the courtship forward sending Anne love notes and a golden pendant that have survived through the ages. He thought these would sway her decision.
Initially Anne would not be convinced of Henry’s sentiment because she did not want to be a mistress, knowing that women who did not produce legitimate children would not have a long future in court. She brought back from France a knowledge of court and her formal schooling could have been a few paces ahead of Henry. (Although his knowledge of three languages speaks well of him.) The couple could have corresponded in French and few the wiser. (We know Anne wrote in French from a letter to her father.)
We see a different picture of this pair from more recent evidence. Five centuries later, given the picture of the rotund Henry, we find it difficult that Anne would come under the king’s spell. Bur we have learned as a young man Henry bore no resemblance to the portrait by Holbein that shows a guy who resembles a walk-on lineman for the Chicago Bears with the face of an emotionless simpleton. Their courtship lasted seven years. At the front of it, he was a 6’2” man when most everyone else was 5’7.” He kept in shape jousting and performed what we would consider extreme cross-fit sports to impress his subjects and his conquests with his prowess. Henry more likely came in around 175 pounds in his courting years.
. Venetian diplomat Sebastian Giustiani left behind his impression of the young king that draws an attractive suitor, which he shared with the senate:
He is very accomplished and a good musician, composes well: is a capital equestrian, and a fine jouster; speaks good French, Latin, and Spanish, is deeply religious. . . He is extremely fond of hunting…He is also fond of tennis, at which game it is the prettiest thing to see him play, his fair skin glowing through a shirt of the finest texture.
Perhaps the diplomat wanted to score points with the king, but he gives a picture of someone NOT the size of a refrigerator (like the portraits of Henry VIII that come down to us.)
Pope Denies Annulment; Henry Names Self Head of Church of England
Desperate to end his marriage to Catherine with an annulment, Henry appealed to the Pope in 1534. Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry from the church for dissolving convents and monasteries. Henry broke from the Catholic Church and went to the English Parliament to endorse his claim to be the SUPREME Head of the Church of England, launching the English Reformation and separating from the Roman Catholic pope. This gave the king authority to annul his marriage himself.
The year 1534 marks the beginning of Thomas Cromwell’s role as the king’s chief minister, Great Lord Chamberlain. A lawyer and statesman, he became a chief proponent of the English (Religious) Reformation and helped engineer the annulment of the king’s first marriage. This helped Cromwell become an ally of Anne Boleyn, but this soured by 1536.
Henry took Anne to France to get a blessing for their marriage from the French Archbishop, which they received and celebrated with a secret marriage in November 1532. That same year Henry conferred on Anne the title Marquess of Pembroke, a step towards their upcoming official marriage on January 25, 1533. By which point Anne has already conceived a child, the future Queen Elizabeth I, born on September 7. This pregnancy was followed by several miscarriages.
Anne Fails to Bear a Son; Pays Ultimate Price in 1536
Henry became even less forgiving after he fell off his horse in a jousting contest in 1536, the third year of their marriage, and seriously injured his ankle and the front of his brain. He was unconscious for several hours and the physical damage to the control center likely harmed his emotional responses. Those who have studied his reign believe that he became a more brutal ruler after the accident, though he may always have had a mean streak to begin with.
This might have influenced his decision, to file treason charges against Anne considered false and self-serving. He wanted to remove her as his wife, so he could marry Jane Seymour. Anne’s execution took place in the Tower of London on May 19, 1536. This is where the GHOSTLY part comes. Henry brought in a professional executioner from France, known for a sharp blade, to complete her beheading. She left this earth at 35, leaving behind a daughter, Elizabeth I, who ruled for five years.
Are we to believe that Anne Boleyn did not haunt Henry VIII’s dreams?
Henry will marry four more times before his death in 1547, at which point his waist measured 54 inches. They buried him next to Jane Seymour, the only wife to present him with an heir—the only one he officially mourned.
Ian Crofton, The Kings & Queens of England. (New York: Metro Books, 2006) 128-135. Quote from Venetian and other information about the 16th century king come this source.
America is mesmerized by talent or what passes for it. Nearly two decades of televised contests have drawn huge audiences: snarky Simon Cowell’s America’s Got Talent (despite the fact that he is a Brit), music’s chameleon + EGOT John Legend (1) provides counsel on The Voice, granddaddy show American Idol still selecting soloists, and aging Dancing with the Stars, where contestants have put on their dancing shoes and coaxed themselves into spandex for years.
But are we sending the wrong message? Does talent alone win the race?
No question American Idol Grand Dame Kelly Clarkson towers over country music, winning three Grammy’s (12 nominations), and a slew of Video Music Awards before expanding into television to be a judge on The Voice, and earning Daytime Emmy’s in 2020 and 2021 for her talk show. But would we even know her name today if she did not squeeze every opportunity out of her American Idol crowning and diligently work to assure her worthiness?
Most cannot boast a true “talent” that towers over others in our field, so does that mean we will never achieve “success?” Grammy Award-winning musician and Oscar-nominated actor Will Smith has thought a lot about talent, effort, skill, and achievement. “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented,” he said. “Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic.” Since May the 51-year-old has worked the gym to turn his Pandemic-weakened body into a muscular physique, better than before 2000.
Psychologist Angela Duckworth studied the “talent vs. grit” question after teaching math to elementary students on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She thought, like many of us, that talent trumped about everything until she had an average student who kept pounding away at the problems until the light went on.
Duckworth’s Chinese father was fixated on creating “genius” children. She assured him she was not one, even when she received a McArthur (“genius grant”) Fellowship in 2014. What she wanted to tell him as a kid: “I’m going to grow up to love my work…I won’t just have a job. I will have a calling. I will challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I will get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”
In 2016 after over a decade of research, plus writing time, she poured her thoughts into Grit, (2) a book documenting her work showing how people extend their passion beyond talent with perseverance. Unlike struggling to identify talent, her research shows we lesser mortals can develop “grit.” Duckworth conducted research at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to test out her theory. Each year 14,000 juniors apply, just 1,200 are enrolled. Most of these men and women were varsity athletes, even team captains in high school. Yet one in five would drop out of West Point before graduation. A high percentage leave in the first summer, during “Beast” the “most physically and emotionally demanding part of your four years at West Point…designed to help you make the transition from new cadet to Soldier.”
These were cadets who scored well on the Whole Candidate Score judging preparation for the rigors of West Point. This included a weighted average of SAT or ACT exam scores, high school rank adjusted for the number of students in the graduating class, an expert appraisal of leadership potential, and physical fitness performance.
Military psychologist Mike Matthews, who worked with Duckworth, explained his personal reaction to Air Force training: “I was tired, lonely, frustrated, and ready to quit—as were all of my classmates.” What kept him and the remaining classmates from moving forward? A “never give up” attitude. Now Duckworth wanted to know if this applied to elite athletes.
Every four years elite competitive swimmers—multiple gold medal winners that included superstars Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz—bring their “talent” to our screens. Sociologist Dan Chambliss traveled with swimmers and their coaches for six years, from local meets to the elite teams composed of future Olympians. “It is as if talent were some invisible substance behind the surface reality of performance, which finally distinguishes the best among our athletes,” Chambliss said. “These great athletes seem blessed ‘with a special gift, almost a ‘thing’ inside of them denied to the rest of us—perhaps physical, genetic, psychological, or physiological. Some have it and some don’t. Some are natural athletes, and some aren’t.”
But Chambliss found biographies of great swimmers reveal many contributing factors: parents who were interested in the sport, earned enough money to pay for coaching, travel to swim meets and access to a pool, plus thousands of hours of practice in the pool developing muscle memory, all leading up to the “flawless” performance we see on our screens during the Olympics. All those hours polishing the apple until it turns gold.
“With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be,” philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche writes. “We rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”
Duckworth points to Nietzsche, who preferred that we not talk about giftedness or inborn talents. “One can name great men (note: and women) . . .They all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.”
There is no better example of the “little, secondary things” (rivets) that build into a “dazzling whole” than the persevering craftsmen of the Iroquois tribe, Mohawks, trained ironworkers. They built the Victoria Bridge near Quebec in 1886. Their work required not just personal strength, but mental fortitude, willingly facing death from great heights every single day. They learned climbing skills and absorbed from their elders the courage to venture out onto steel girders suspended in space far above the city.
Mohawks are not superhuman. Thirty-three Kahnawake (Mohawk) died in the collapse of the Quebec Bridge in 1907. That did not end the tribe’s commitment to urban structures. The next generation drove 12 ½ hours to Manhattan (and home on weekends) to walk on 12-inch girders fifty or more stories above the city’s sidewalks while drilling rivets into the 1,046- foot Chrysler Building (1930) and the 1,250-foot Empire State (1931) and the Rockefeller Center (1932-1939). In cold weather, ice needed to be scrapped off the beams before work began. No safety lines existed in those days. (3)
The Mohawks continued to work above the city to constructing five more skyscrapers (the UN, the Woolworth Building, the Seagram Building before applying their skills. Then the veteran ironworkers applied their skills to erect the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers from 1968 to 1973. Over the years Mohawk families moved to an enclave in Brooklyn, so the ironworkers were in New York to help rescue people from the burning towers in 2001 and provided their expertise to disassemble the metal protrusions from the building’s remains following 911.
Being an ironworker throughout the 20th century and into the 21st requires a fearlessness to push higher into the sky, ensuring the buildings continued to rise. No better definition of “grit” exists than the work ethic of those who built America’s towers of business and entertainment, some sacrificing their lives, to provide these lasting monuments to their perseverance.
Legend is one of 16 performers who have been awarded the ultimate creative quad–an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony for their performances on TV, in music, film, and the stage.
Angela Duckworth, Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance (New York: Scribner, 2016) Quotes can be found in her work.
(*Yes. we can. I took a short break from Past Becomes Present but didn’t do the promo because I didn’t know how long it might be. Optimistic by nature, I believed it wouldn’t be long. And happily, my positive attitude bore fruit!)
Optimists get a bad rep. People say we’re Pollyanna’s, breezing along believing that everything is wonderful and will continue to be. True, we like to walk on the sunny side, but there’s the other half of the equation—we work to “make it so.”
The recent Delta strain threatens to scale back Americans’ escape from Covid’s 15-month hibernation. Some cities, like Austin, hang a return to level 4 restrictions over our heads (and dim dreams of mini vacations, while increasing infections nationwide).
How do our brains handle the dramatic pendulum swings we encounter now? Well, being optimistic doesn’t come naturally. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor, and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says we are “hardwired” to stick to a negative bias. He indicates this goes all the way back to the caveman, preparing us to address the worst-case scenario. It’s why we know not to touch a hot flame after we’ve been burned. Humans are more likely to respond to negative stimuli.
But we are not condemned to be grumps! Humans can learn to protect themselves and bounce back from misfortune—like divorce, unemployment, or health crises. But how? We’re not good at predicting how each of us will react to misfortune, according to Tali Sharot in From the Optimism Bias, A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.
How is it possible for humans to stimulate and predict the outcome of possible future scenarios? Using imagination can help us create and examine all the possibilities we might face, pulling away the drama that could prevent our success.
Like many others, prior to experiencing hip surgery I feared for a long, painful recovery unable to get around and completing the most basic tasks with great difficulty.
Sharot’s research points to the human mind is flexible enough to find ways to restore balance when facing a challenge. Our brains can change our perceptions of the physical world.
Matt Hampson, a 20-year-old rugby player, experienced a life-changing event that proves the point. In 2005 during practice, he dislocated his neck, paralyzing him. Suddenly this vibrant young man needed round-the-clock care and steers his wheelchair with his chin and breathes through a ventilator.
Rather than dreading his life, Matt has found a purpose. He created the Get Busy Living Centre, a rehab center for those with life-changing injuries in Leicestershire, England. The brain can find the silver lining in seemingly unimaginable circumstances, if only we can use our imagination. The brain is more flexible and adaptable than we imagine.
We don’t need to have a crisis in our lives to take a moment to check in about our own purposes—or to create something that enriches us or others. Putting a couple words together, even just for us, can start the ball rolling. What’s important to you? How could you make a difference in your life and maybe others?
Notice the balloons in the photo above. They are not your garden variety birthday balloons. No, these are Hot Air Balloons. Why this choice? Anyone can manage a single helium balloon but rising a hot air balloon high into the sky and bringing it back to the ground safely requires effort and skill—an optimistic approach paired with knowledge!
Optimism is my vision. Positive brings on more of the same, provided it’s joined by works! So now let’s just try it out and see if it breeds!
(Note: For Women’s History Month I’m sharing the story of a pioneering woman journalist, written by her son, Jay Hamilton, a talented writer-producer.) His mother also pioneered multi-tasking, a trait we talked about last week.)
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my mother, Nancy Bradsher Hamilton, who along with my father were my inspirations. My current company, Hamilton Media DC, is an offshoot of Hamilton Productions, which my mother co-founded in the early 1980s. She was the driving force.
Looking back on her life, it’s hard to believe that a young woman raised by a single mother in the small town of Salisbury, NC, “took her shot” and landed in the “bright lights, big city” TV studios of Manhattan. There, she hosted numerous programs. Her pioneering journalism career included raising me and my sister. Looking back, I now realize that she epitomized the modern multitasker well before that term entered today’s lexicon.
This Women’s History Month you hear numerous women’s stories about their key influencers, also female. But I dare say, for each successful man, there is also a woman who inspired his success, too. Afterall, most men are unabashedly “mama’s boys.” I’m a member of that club.
Nancy Bradsher wrote a dairy entry in 1953, when she joined the staff of the women’s department of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I was a Depression baby born bald September 7, 1929 at Mercy Hospital, Charlotte, North Carolina.” She went on to grow hair and become the Women’s Club Editor. Back then the only jobs for women in journalism were in the “women’s departments.” Journalism was a male dominated world.
Throughout the years, mom worked as a reporter on the Salisbury Post, The New York Journal American and as a correspondent for The New York Times before co-founding Hamilton Productions and stepping in front of the camera. Mom had the “looks” and the smarts for TV and thrived in New York City with her sweet-sounding southern drawl.
Most of this was happening during my formative years. I knew her simply as “mom” and never gave it a thought about how she successfully balanced family and career. One of her favorite playwrights was Shakespeare. This Women’s History Month, I am reminded of one of my mom’s favorite lines from “As You Like It.”
All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.
So, too, one woman in her time can play many parts. My mom proved it as a pioneering journalist…wife…mother…grandmother. For her to play these many parts vindicates Shakespeare. I am enormously proud of all she accomplished and her contribution to women’s equality.
Jay Hamilton is founder of Hamilton Media DC and Chief Media Strategist of Story Squad.
Note: I met Jay when he wrote and produced a Telly Award-winning safety training video backed by the Department of Transportation with Operation Lifesaver after students were killed at Fox River Grove, IL in a school bus-train crash. Jay led us to Dalton, Georgia, during a very warm summer to work with the city’s school bus drivers. By using actual drivers and students, the video captured the attention of school bus drivers from coast-to-coast, which saved lives.
“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” Jazz Great Miles Davis
Endless time seems to move so slowly as to drip like a leaky faucet, making every moment pregnant with ideas, some alerting our fears to endless possibilities.
Time has taken on new meaning, while simultaneously dropping away into nothingness as we struggle to answer a multitude of WHEN questions.
It has been barely two months since my family flew off to work in London and a month since their dog, my part-time companion, joined them. Sometimes it seems like it’s been six months. Naturally due to the pandemic’s quarantine, I wonder when I might see them again. Even now, a visit this summer is rapidly slipping off the plate, but I am coping by writing, exercising, and appreciating every sunny day.
WHEN? The Universal Question
We’ve all joined in questioning WHEN? When did life as we knew it screech to a halt? When won’t I depend on Zoom to see colleagues or Facetime for friends and relatives? When can I walk in the woods, go to the library, or gym, or get my hair cut, or leave home to hear any concert in person? When will I enjoy the aroma of cooking not my own? Far more important to more than 36 million Americans: When, if ever, will my job come back, so I can resume living without losing a place to live and be able to feed my family?
No matter where we sit politically, or whether we stand in the unemployment line, the food bank line, or the grocery line, stress rides along daily with each of us.
There are few universal answers to WHEN. Many are being made state by state or county by county. As of mid-May, 90,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 1.5 million tested positive, while 260,000 have recovered. This nationwide pandemic has only engendered more stress and fear and seems in some parts of the country to have widened the divide. But in some communities, people from a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs are working together to feed the hungry unemployed and their children—taking action, which often lessens the feeling of helplessness and anxiety.
Recently I saw an article that sheds some light on this question:
“In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” by Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, which brings down to lay terms a study of the mindset of Navy SEALS, college students, and business leaders experiencing stress. They consider how to harness stress. Here are their three steps:
Acknowledge Your Stress
Seems by taking on stress we move the place it resides in our mind. Normally before we address our fear, it sits in the amygdala, the brain center for emotion. When we begin the acknowledge our stress, our thoughts move to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where executive control and planning take place–where we can be more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions– where we can do something about it.
Have you ever tried to stop thinking less about something and instead your mind returns to it even more often? That is the “ironic mental processing” at work in the brain as we stress over something. According to the scientists, the brain tries to help us out by constantly checking in to see if we continue to think of it. Suppression does not work.
Now is where you need to determine what is at the heart of your personal stress or anxiety.
Are you most concerned about getting sick yourself? Or your mate or partner? Is it your children, their education or health? Are you worried about a loved one who is at high risk? Is your anxiety caused by balancing working from home and family responsibilities?
Once you determine this, then you can examine your reactions to these stressors. What emotions come with this? Frustration, sadness, anger? What do you notice in your body? Tight neck and shoulders or do you have difficulty sleeping?
Own Your Stress
Why welcome stress into your life during a pandemic? We only stress, really stress, about the things (and people) we really care about. By connecting to the stress, we identify what is at the core of our anxiety. By denying or trying to avoid our stress, we can do the opposite and avoid what is really important to us.
Difficult task? Try completing this sentence, “I am stressed about (list answer you gave in step one) because I deeply care about. . .”
Use Your Stress—Make it Work for You!
If you connect to the core values behind your stress, then you set yourself up for the most essential ingredient: using or leveraging stress to achieve your goals and connect more deeply with the things that matter most to you.
Are your typical responses aligned with the values behind your stress? Think how you could adapt your response to this stress to facilitate your goals and your responses. There is a lot happening that we cannot control, but there are also unprecedented opportunities amid the fear. It is a matter of connecting with people and materials at hand. Action will help you overcome your anxiety and begin to tackle fear of the unknown. Addressing the here and now. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Difficult though it seems, if we fail to embrace our stress and utilize it, it will only grow. Take baby steps forward to tackle your anxiety.
On a personal note, much earlier in my life, I needed to learn coping skills after a difficult period. I developed a calm approach to crisis that helped me professionally and has stood by me for three decades. Sticking to our universal values, working to overcome fear and anxiety, we can develop stable solutions to serve us and the next generation.
Daniel Pink, When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018)
Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, Stanford University, “In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” New York Times, April 1, 2020
Alia J. Crum and Peter Salovey, “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716-733
A classic tenant of crisis management for savvy leaders. Even if your personal chipmunks are running a marathon in your stomach, when you have a team—whether its four classmates, a room full of colleagues, or all 328 million Americans—a time comes when it hits the fan, you set up your essential goal, put on your game face, hunker down, and pass out the assignments to the most qualified, most tested in the room. That makes it much easier to appear sweat less!
Establishing the Critical Goal
Leading a country and overseeing a military at war requires an intensely capable person. Lincoln wasn’t that person at the beginning of the Civil War, but he made it his business to catch up. Some say it took him until he hired U.S. Grant in March 1864, but Lincoln established his goal at the get-go. He did not waiver in his belief that preserving the Union was his prime responsibility. Everything else came second, was collateral damage, or would be a tool to accomplish this goal.
Lincoln preferred to focus on the essential foe and not push a blanket plan to prohibit slavery as he prepared the Emancipation Proclamation. He battled flames in front of him on the battlefield and saw significant matters smoldering behind him, threatening to ignite the abolitionists and the opposition Copperheads at his rear. This messy political stew revealed the alchemy he brewed while working to weave the nation together and draw his critics apart. Developing the persuasive mixture eluded him as his supporters began to lose faith that Lincoln could manage the broth before the wildfire consumed him.
Jousting with Journalists
Being a writer himself who appreciated a turn of phrase, Lincoln enjoyed mixing it up with journalists. Due to his seemingly “rustic” communications skills and quick mind hidden beneath a slow delivery, he could be waiting for reporters’ questions twenty steps ahead of them and have a fitting quip ready. Today wrangling with the media is a required sport for office holders, particularly if they seek or have achieved higher office. Disarming humor, not used as a spear but as a reminder of shared humanity, seems to have nearly disappeared with an earlier generation (think Ronald Reagan, who often appeared with a smile to friend or foe alike, or Barack Obama, who could flash a smile when he wasn’t preoccupied with a financial implosion).
Lincoln saw journalists as another branch of politics. (At the time 3,000, or three-fourths of the newspapers published in America, were supported by a political party). He worked to establish a mutual understanding with the big three of the day: James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, Democratic, pro-slavery, against most of Lincoln’s stands; Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, an abolitionist who had a love-hate relationship with the President, but got special treatment on several stories; and Henry Raymond of the New York Times, a Republican and formerly Greeley’s chief lieutenant, later founder of the New York Times in 1851.
Greeley, like Bennett. loved his role in journalism, but the two loathed each other, primarily for political reasons; A final Greeley-Raymond final split came when Raymond beat him to become New York’s Lieutenant Governor in 1854. Setting up the perfect storm between the three major newspaper editor’s Lincoln needed to cajole. In 1864 he helped engineer Lincoln’s 1864 re-nomination.
Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable or Worse
Bennett came from the pro-Democratic Party, pro-slavery and against pretty much everything Lincoln valued, but Lincoln wooed him rather than pushing him away, most of the time. Lincoln walked a tightrope between Bennett and Greeley when he fed stories and news tips to Greeley, but at times the Tribune bit the hand that fed it, angering Lincoln.
In August 1862, Horace Greeley published “The Prayer of the Twenty Million,” a plea of the “Loyal Millions” requiring a “frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land.” Greeley wanted Lincoln to enforce the emancipating provisions of the Second Confiscation Act (July 17, 1862) removing slaves from the Confederate states. Greeley believed his readers had carried Lincoln to victory and “now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well-being of mankind.” They expected Lincoln to deliver on their request.
Lincoln responded on August 22, 1862 in the Daily National Intelligencer, a newspaper long a part of the Washington scene, founded by George Washington. Lincoln said he did not argue with what Greeley said, but reaffirmed his own chief goal to “save the Union and not either to save or to destroy slavery.” At the very bottom of the letter, Lincoln affirmed: “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere be free.”
Concerning the letter, historian David Herbert Donald pointed out Lincoln sought to assure the large majority of Northern people that he did not want to see the war transformed into a crusade for abolition, while offering himself time to contemplate further moves against slavery.
No doubt that Lincoln suffered at the hands of the press, but he also knew how to give as well as he got and used humor as honey to make the message go down a little easier. Yet he chastised a visitor to his office who pestered him for “one of his stories.” Lincoln noted his stories were not a “carnival act but were a useful way of directing discussion.” (Elihu B Washburne Chapter3 note 15)
Lincoln exercised patience, waiting for a victory, or close to it, to bolster his proclamation. He only freed the slaves in the states that were in Rebellion—the Confederacy, holding the freedom of slaves throughout the country for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Who Was the Greater Martyr?
The question came up recently as to whether Lincoln or the current President were the greater “martyr” (poor word choice, given that one made the ultimate sacrifice) to the slings of the press. While the current President has a wide array of broadcast and digital media to pester him, Lincoln could only rely on the telegraph and the vital coast-to-coast postal system to send his lithograph—with his warts, wayward tie knotted under his collar, and an unruly mop of black hair—far and wide. His tired, sympathetic mug became fodder for frequent political cartoons that etched in the brains of the electorate.
Lincoln’s low key personality and friendships helped him take on the darts that were flung his way. He had fewer instruments available to respond, being able to utilize only the overhead wires and the power of his pen. He aimed his words at “the people” of the entire nation—North and South alike. The modern president reacts by email or sends a barrage of Twitter messages laser-focused on those aligned to him, “his base,” not concerned about increasing his support or addressing the entire country.
Seven years ago, Mark Bowen of The Atlantic looked at “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day.” He said that the “bile poured on him from every quarter made today’s Internet vitriol seem dainty.” Lincoln seemed caught in a no-win situation, always criticized by those who felt he had gone too far versus those who believed he hadn’t gone far enough. (Mark Bowen, “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day,” June 2013.)
Lincoln’s critics came not just from the South, but from Northern sources, causing him “great pain,” according to his wife, in part because he had thin-skin and felt the thorns others might ignore. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher ‘s attack specially grieved the President, who was sensitive about his lack of formal education. Beecher wrote:
” It would be difficult for a man to be born lower than he (Lincoln) was. He is an unshapely man. He is a man that bears evidence of not having been educated in school or in circles of refinement.”
After reading such an attack, Lincoln exclaimed: “I would rather be dead than, as President, thus abused in the house of my friends.” Note, he did not take Beecher off his list of friends. When faced with a raft of such statements, Lincoln would wave his hand and say, “Let us speak no more of these things.” (Ibid.)
In 1861, Ohio Republican, Lincoln’s own party, William M. Dickson charged that Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity. . . and his spirit necessarily infuses itself downwards through all departments.” Early in the war, Lincoln was still learning the ropes, but this had to sting.
Charles Sumner, a Republican from Massachusetts, to whom Lincoln often turned for advice, opposed his re-nomination in 1864, wrote: “There is strong feeling among those who have seen Mr. Lincoln, in the way” of business, that he lacks practical talent for his important place. It is thought that there should be more readiness and also more capacity, for government.” (Bowen)
Could Jealousy Have Framed the Response?
If one looked at Lincoln’s Inaugural Address through a clear, clean lens, would not the words sing?
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this road land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
And yet, an editorial writer for the Jersey City American Standard (surely a Democrat) found the speech “involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax.” Ouch!
The Gettysburg Address Didn’t Fare Much Better
“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” The Harrisonburg Patriot & Union printed a much-belated apology 150 years later. Thank goodness they weren’t, and we have this example of clean, heartfelt writing.
The responses pro and con to the Gettysburg Address no longer sway modern opinions. It’s established that positive responses were from the Republican press, while the negative came from the Democratic. Those in-between might have been caught up in the custom of the times that believed the longer the speech, the better it was. Though the crowd that day, most standing throughout, would appreciate a two-minute speech. Perhaps the true nature of Lincoln’s pared-down speech, using exact, purposeful words and few of them (269 in the original speech) would fit nicely on the front pages of newspapers across the country. His intention: to reach the masses.
The celebrated orator who spoke for two hours ahead of Lincoln, Edward Everett, knew a good speech when he heard it and gave credit to Lincoln in a note. “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Inside the Lincoln Shrine
Since he did not sit for TV interviews, Abe did not require Pancake makeup and likely would not have taken to it, indicating with a quip that not much could improve his physical image. Today the lights in the Lincoln Memorial and the exquisite work by sculptor Daniel Chester French do not require a touchup. Recently the current White House occupant chose a respite in Lincoln’s shine to seat his favorite contemporary news team for a partisan report.
Maybe the 16th President would have equated that with his sit-down with Greeley of the Big Three Newsmen in the 19th century, but maybe he would have preferred the sound of school children instead. Lincoln, accustomed to working in the White House all but three weeks of the Civil War, might have been surprised that a month sequestered there be such a burden for the current president. Likely Lincoln would see the visit inside as a respite—maybe to catch the draft from the former’s reputation.
The World Sweated After His Final Speech
Once the ink on the Appomattox surrender dried, Washingtonians rushed to the White House portico to hear a response from their President, expecting a grand announcement of victory. They didn’t know Abe, who asked the army band to play “Dixie” on the lawn outside his window, calling it a “good tune.”
Lincoln didn’t gloat, instead moved on mentally to the essential work–bringing the nation together. He called for national thanksgiving. He did not plan vengeance against the South’s leader and agreed with a letter he’d received that said: “The people want no manifestations of a vengeful spirit. They are willing to let the unhappy rebels live, knowing that at the best, their punishment, like Caine (sic), will be greater than they can bear.”
Instead Lincoln talked about the hard task ahead: Reconstruction and bringing the tattered nation back into one. John Wilks Booth, a late entry to the far edge of the audience, did not have to strain to hear the President’s high-pitched voice. His disgust grew into rage as Lincoln advanced the idea of the elective franchise for the colored veteran men.
Lincoln told the crowd that by keeping the vote from these men (now 140,000 strong after the deaths of 40,000 black Union soldiers), were saying:
“This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.”
The President sealed his fate when he spoke of rewarding those who had sacrificed the most, (see note) extending the vote to any black male veteran. With these words, the anger in Booth’s mind boiled over to rage. His initial plans were to kidnap Lincoln to exchange him for Confederate prisoners of war. In his wrath, Booth heard Lincoln’s words as the ultimate sin and from that moment planned for Lincoln to pay the ultimate price.
Yet the country and the Southern states suffered more because of Booth’s action. Bleeding emotions from those fateful days 155 years ago, misunderstandings and grievances surrounding race shape the national psyche and influence the nation’s divisions today, threatening to bring more destruction to America than a pandemic ever could.
You decide: Who was the greater martyr?
Jennifer Weber, “Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads,” University of Michigan Vol. 32, Issue 1, Winter 2011, p. 33-47
Mark Bowden, “How Lincoln Wad Dissed in His Day,” The Atlantic Magazine, June 2013
David Blanchette, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL. “Abraham Lincoln, like Donald Trump had his media enemies, too” February 25, 2017
Horace Greeley’s” Open Letter to President Lincoln,” New York Tribune, August 19, 1862
Abraham Lincoln’s “Letter to Horace Greeley,” Daily National Intelligencer, August 22, 1862
Donald Herbert Donald, Lincoln, (London: Random House, 1995)
Ryan Holiday, “Abraham Lincoln as Media Manipulator-in-Chief: The 150-Year History of Corrupt Press,” Observer, November 5, 2014
National Archives: “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War,40,000 of the 180,000 negro ground troops died in the Civil War; 10,000 in battle and 30,000 of disease, receiving different treatment than white soldiers. Thus 75% of blacks died of disease vs. 50% of whites.
Louis P Masur, Lincoln’s Last Speech, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) p. 12
NOTE: Michael Burlingame’s 1000-page tome, Abraham Lincoln, Vol II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) p. 810 The week of the murder Booth was challenged as to what he had done for the Cause. While he had thought of the death of Lincoln, he had not moved on it, instead having put together a group to kidnap the President, planning since the prior fall. But the events including the surrender, pushed him to act.
In conversation, we often talk about the past as if it were the present.
Instead we should live in the present but prepare for a future that improves upon it. You say it’s hard to know whether the future will meet that expectation. Ah, but if you aim low, for a so-so or not-so-good future, it’s harder to envision the possibility of a better one and harder yet to obtain the desired future.
“Past Becomes Present,” is this blog’s title, pulling our combined history into present day for better or worse. Or turning history inside out. That seems legitimate. But in conversation this week, I found myself reliving the past, not so much to sample its lessons, but to examine points of trial and pain that should be soothed and digested by now. I decided to take a look at the role the past and future play in life. One might think my hands and mind would have little bearing on the future as I am over 60, but as long as there is breath in any of us, we can influence tomorrow–whether it is the next time we awaken or even possibly 30 years from now.
If we want to push forward, we need to go far beyond the past, carrying it with us, pay attention to our role in the present, embrace it, but hold in our minds a vision of the future that we will work to achieve.
Cruel realities of 21st century life—extreme fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, political philosophies that whiplash the country left and right, and an economy rising upper incomes but often neglecting the bottom–threaten to cloud our impression of the present and impose fears for the future.
As a grandparent, who frequently looks into the inquiring eyes two generations below, I seek the positives that could provide them a future worth moving into. While the current state of affairs has not reached the conundrum faced by Abe Lincoln in the Civil War and Winston Church in World War II, they exercised hope in bleak worlds when their people needed it most.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Message sent to Congress delivered a written review of the nation-(The tradition at the time minus tv cameras to register the clapping, standing, and sitting of the opposing parties). On December 1, 1862, Lincoln seemed to address my concern as he wrote:
“ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Abraham Lincoln December 1, 1862
Churchill ventured across the Atlantic Ocean peppered with German U-boats to address the Canadian Parliament on December 30, 1941. He asked for their assistance but also spoke to his countrymen:
Let us address ourselves to our task, not in any way underrating its tremendous difficulties and perils, but in good heart and sober confidence, resolved that, whatever the cost, whatever the suffering, we shall stand by one another, true and faithful comrades, and do our duty, God helping us, to the end.
Winston Churchill December 30, 1941
Each man had the ability to see beyond the current difficulty to believe in their nation’s ability to overcome, not in a Disney-esque fashion, but in a positive reality built out of turmoil.
Few could have predicted what post-war Reconstruction would bring without a fair and steady hand, like Lincoln’s, at the helm. Some might say America still suffers from the missteps after 1865 that resulted in Jim Crow laws in the South that punished blacks and might have been avoided had race relations been handled differently immediately following the Civil War. Fortunately for Europe, Germany, and Japan a more progressive hand administered the Marshall Plan after World War II, yielding strong partners today. But still this did not prevent backward looking nationalist tendencies from cropping up throughout Europe and the U.S. today.
Every country and every era has been divided by serious issues, but without agreement about the need to draw the sides together and ease opposition by finding areas of agreement and common need, stagnation or worse begins to destroy a country and upset global harmony. On so many issues America seems to be at a stalemate, but as Churchill so memorably proclaimed to students at Harrow School on October 29, 1941:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
For modern America facing the future this seems to translate: Stick to your guns, don’t give in to petty challenges. If, however, your country is at stake, work like heck to preserve democracy, just like Lincoln worked to preserve the Union, and Churchill sweat blood to protect England from the Nazi horde.
Online messages hoping to increase eyeballs from the right or left have flooded the net since 2015. Now with Elon Musk’s purchase of the massive mega horn Twitter, could we see the floodgates open for neo-Nazi, fake news, racist, anti-seminist, and pornographic content?
Musk’s emails at the time of his up-and-down indecision about whether to pay $44 billion to acquire Twitter tried to assure conservatives it would be a platform for “free speech.” Yet, a week after the purchase, Musk said he would not immediately lift the ban on those dropped from Twitter until after a review. This comment gave some security to those concerned about where his statement challenging “political correctness” might lead.
Musk tried to reassure the public that his Twitter would not be a “free-for-all hellscape,” then he proceeded to play follow-the-leader with other conservatives spreading fake news last weekend. Now the quick “trim” of half of Twitter’s workforce makes no allowance for Twitter’s fast response to expected hits testing the protective nets for “free speech” allowed on the network (if any remain). Concerning evidence has come already with a 500 percent increase in the use of the “n” word on Twitter, according to Princeton’s Network Contagion Research Institute.
For political or financial reasons, Musk could have painted himself in a deep corner for a company that has not made a profit for eight of the past ten years. (Was his inclination to buy Twitter based on more than money?) In purchasing a company valued at $25 billion, Musk needs quick moneymakers. (He took out a $13 billion loan to complete the sale.) That brings us to Musk’s idea of charging Twitter users $8 a month for the privilege. Yet a poll of Twitter users indicates 50 percent would not be willing to pay, even with a promise of fewer ads. While the former Twitter owners planned to reduce costs by cutting the staff by 25 percent, Musk sent pink slips (via personal email) to as many as 50 percent (or more) of the company’s employees on Friday.
Another money maker being considered is allowing porn to run on the channel Twitter. This change for Twitter might need serious consideration since corporations pay the bills by running their ads alongside Twitter so that individual users can twitter along for free. Several large corporations, including General Motors (albeit a competitor to Musk’s Tesla), Oreo (Mondelez International Inc.), VW/Audi, Pfizer, and L’Oreal cosmetics, have paused advertising on Twitter until their future course stabilizes.
Major media companies IPG and Havas Media, both multinational ad firms, are advising their clients to pause ad spending on Twitter. In addition, Musk will meet by video with clients of Publicist Groupe (Anheuser-Busch In-Bev SA and Samsung Electronics), and WPP LLC (the largest multinational ad company with Coca-Cola, Google, and the home products under Unilever’s umbrella).
Americans will not directly access these corporate discussions with the Twitter owner. Still, we can make our voices heard by emailing our support to Twitter and the companies standing up for a Twitter we would not be afraid to share.
In the meantime, could false statements burn holes into America’s “free speech” blanket? Since the Republic’s beginning, few limits have been placed on Americans’ “free speech.” This freedom of speech comes under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights passed in 1791.
A lot has happened in America over the past 230-plus years. Words mattered then too, but discourse came through the spoken word, not broadcasts. For example, the musical, “Hamilton,” reveals a time when the personal offense could lead to violence to “solve” disagreements through duels. Aaron Burr, offended by something Alexander Hamilton said at dinner, challenged him to a duel. Burr killed Hamilton, then fled to become a hunted man. Today an insult is spread to 100 million people in the blink of an eye or demeans an entire race by racist comments that disgrace a nation. Is this where we are going? Is this the free speech America’s Founders enshrined in 1791?
As part of my education as a journalist and while studying for a master’s in mass communications, I took several Constitutional Law courses covering the constitutional rights of “free speech” and the First Amendment. Of course, this is no substitute for law school, but it stimulated an interest in the subject.
A life, any life, is a series of connections. Sometimes these links are broken. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no hand to reach out to or help when we need it most.
A life, any life, is a series of connections. Sometimes these links are broken. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no hand to reach out to or help when we need it most.
Selema Gomez, the singer and actress, now 30, experienced her mental and physical health crisis in the past decade. Her ability to address these issues encouraged her to reach out to help others. Today is World Mental Health Day, October 10, when medical teams and individuals worldwide seek to raise awareness, educate, advocate for mental health support, and remove the stigma associated with the disease.
Today Goma introduced the trailer for “My Mind & Me,” to be released on Apple TV Plus on November 4. She has also launched the “Wondermind” computer platform (www.wondermind.com), a mental health fitness site, to help people address various issues, including loneliness–an essential way to learn more about mental health.
Today, October 10, is World Mental Health Day. The need for help can be simple or overwhelming when we become depressed because the mental fog has depleted our view of the world of depression or other mental illnesses. This can result in a lasting depression that requires medical attention.
Since the Pandemic, the need for mental health services has increased. While legislation in the U.S. supports insurance and funding to place mental health on equal footing with physical health, budgets and services have not kept pace. As a result, parents seeking treatment for their children and teens are forced to pay “out-of-network” costs to find services for their children. Others unable to pay for these services have been forced to go without treatment, possibly causing safety issues in their communities.
In the last decade, Gomez has been diagnosed with lupus, a brain disease that impacts the joints and organs of the body, and bipolar illness, which includes bouts of depression and mania. Both are under control now, and she wants to reach out to help others learn about mental health and remove the stigma attached to these diseases.
Take this step to learn more. Check out the mental health fitness site. We must make mental health and well-being a global priority—NOW.
Once in death, friend and foe alike ponder one’s life. At 96, the Queen’s history offers much to consider. By this decade, her subjects had come to see her as the nation’s mum, if not a national grandmother, whose calm, leadership skills were much more than the extension of her hand to in-coming Prime Ministers.
Countries wanting to renounce their allegiance to Britain now that the Queen has passed on will deal with younger royals moving beyond the Elizabethan period of British history.
But those who disdain women of a certain age do so at their peril. The British appreciate the talents of mature women, maybe given the long reign of Queen Elizabeth. This woman also exhibited a sense of humor. She enjoyed playing her part in a spoof, pretending to parachuse from a plane with another British favorite, Daniel Craig.
In his 007 roles, Craig led a chase with another well-known British actor, Dame Judith Dench, who passed through much of Bond history as the leader of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. Pardon my comparison bringing together the Queen with another celebrated Brit, Dame Agatha Christy, who sold more mystery books, short stories, and plays (one billion copies) than anyone except Shakespeare. He began publication three centuries before Christy wrote a word. Nevertheless, her Belgium Detective Poirot still draws an audience to the small screen or the bookstore. Now fifty years after Christy’s death, her creation, Miss Jane Marple, continues to detect the guilty evil doers in homicides in quaint English villages.
Unlike Christy’s fictional characters, the Queen’s final ceremony reminds us that sooner or later, we will all take that final journey to be placed under a headstone or in an urn. Unlikely we will have bagpipes or Beefeaters along, but life is a winding road; rough or smooth will be up to each of us.
What Queen Elizabeth brought to the British during her 70 years on the throne are two attributes in short supply in 2022–continuity and stability. For that, her countrymen and women offer their gratitude.
Do you remember Elbridge Gerry? If not for one slip-up, he could have a role in “Hamilton” or been revered like Thomas Paine.
How soon we forget that Gerry was a genuine Founder, a signer of the Declaration of Independence at 32. Being from Massachusetts, he nearly guaranteed the American Revolution by voting to block shipments of British tea into Boston Harbor (disappointing local tea drinkers) and serving in the Continental Congress. In addition, Gerry helped draft the Bill of Rights. The job of Vice President might not have been any more revered in 1811 than in modern times, but he served under President John Adams in his second term. Adams proclaimed before the district plumping incident, “If every Man here was a Gerry, the Liberties of America would be safe against the gates of Earth and Hell.”
All that is forgotten—Gerry’s 36 years of public service from Signer to U.S. Rep to Governor—disappeared with a cartoonist’s rendering of a salamander in the Boston Gazette in 1812. David Litt’s book, Democracy in one book or less, explains Gerry redrew Massachusetts’ senate district lines, so the Republicans were “guaranteed” to win.
Both political parties have engaged in gerrymandering over the intervening years. Both Parties have done it, but in recent times the Republicans have been more efficient and used the 2020 Census to fine-tune their game. So now, after 200 years, we battle salamander divisions in multiple Congressional districts in many states.
Gerry was not the first to fudge the lines. None other than Patrick Henry, in the cradle of democracy, Virginia, during the first congressional election in 1788, warped the district lines attempting to prevent none other than James Madison from winning a seat in the House of Representatives. Litt jokes about “Henrymanders” but doesn’t have the same ring. Now Henry doesn’t have a role on Broadway, and his name has been unblemished for 200 years. He is not forever linked to his political grudge against Madison, who took his seat and might have been too much of a gentleman to call him on it. (More research needed.)
BTW, Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) lost the 1812 election for governor, his Party lost the State House of Representatives, and when his opponents took the statehouse, they overturned the changes Gerry had made to the map. His reputation suffered again when a follow-up cartoon portrayed a salamander skeleton with the epitaph: “Hatched 1812, Died 1813.”
In 1997 American voters decided on 165 swing districts by ten percentage points or less. By 2012 the number of swing districts fell to 90, and by 2016 down to 72 nationwide. Over the next twenty years, gerrymandering cut the chances of living in a competitive House district by half.
How did this come about? Many factors combined, but gerrymandering became a snowball flung downhill after the 2008 election of Barack Obama, a Democratic supermajority in the Senate, and a renewed majority in the House.
Team Mitch McConnel for the GOP spent $30 million to find a tool to help them dig into redistricting in 2010, a year of the Census. They acquired REMAP software for the “Redistricting Majority Project,” centered on flipping and winning state legislative chambers in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. In 2010 the GOP won 117 state legislative races in these states and redrew not just their state maps and Congressional districts. The Party created a red wave that took the House and Senate for the GOP, helped eleven of its own takeover governors’ mansions, and flipped twenty state legislatures to red. Former Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz (R) explains the philosophy behind their plan: “It really represents legislators picking voters rather than voters picking legislators.” A bent view of democracy.
The GOP drew four times as many state district boundaries as the Dems, who became sitting ducks, with a surplus of “vote sinks,” uncompetitive congressional districts. In the wake of the 2011 redistricting cycle, Litt identified five states skewed Democratic and nineteen skewed Republican.
In 2012 the Dems attempted to reverse the odds spending $48 million on a software-based plan to redraw Congressional district lines to catch up. In most states, districts are drawn every decade by the Party that controls the state legislature in conjunction with the Census. However, a few progressive states have named a bipartisan commission to set the boundaries.
That same year voters chose the Democratic candidate by a margin of 1.4 million votes in their local House races. Using gerrymandering, the GOP placed DEM voters into districts where they were overwhelmed by GOP voters and won a majority of thirty-three seats. The votes of people who live in cities got swamped. For example, in Michigan, Obama won 54 percent of the vote, but Democrats won only 5 of the state’s 14 congressional seats. In Ohio, the GOP won 52 percent of the presidential vote and 75 percent of the Congressional seats.
The number of seats considered “swing,” where either candidate could win, has dwindled over the last 46 years. In 1976, three in four Americans resided in counties that split their vote 60-40 or even closer, according to Bill Bishop’s 2009 book, The Big Sort. In 2012, the number of swing districts dropped to 90. Four years later, there were only 72.
As Litt describes it, “Modern Gerrys can slice districts with a finesse that puts brain surgery to shame.” “Mapititude for Redistricting” can automatically crunch demographic numbers to tell you with extraordinary detail what to expect from a given seat. The GOP’s firm grasp of redistricting technology has skewed today’s gerrymandering on a scale “unprecedented” in modern history. Due to the political circumstances of the last election, the Dems hold on to the House (by a thread now), but as of 2020, the GOP started with a gain of between twenty and thirty Congressional seats. Recent decisions by the Supreme Court may indirectly help DEM voters even the score in the months before November 8. But as far as a correction to the voting situation, the now conservative Supreme Court, after the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, has declined to rule on gerrymandering issues.
Finally, elections in Alaska, California, Maine, and New York city-wide have used “ranked-choice voting” to allow the voter to select the candidate they like best and vote for whatever Party without wasting a vote. When the polls close, the election staff begin by counting first-choice votes. If one candidate receives more than 50 percent, they win. If not, anyone who voted for the last-place finisher gets their second-place choice count. Litt believes this will increase participation because voters can vote for the person who excites them the most.
Elbridge Gerry has something in common with 21st-century politicians; his desperation to carry his Party to victory in 1812. As a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who played a role in the Continental Congress, he threw away his legacy as a Founding Father. Instead, he fell to the human trait that has afflicted political candidates for over 200 years—the lust for power that corrupts and spurs candidates to bend or ignore the rules to win a campaign. Unfortunately, the hunger for victory or the desire to retain it (at all costs) seems to turn some politicians’ ethics to mush.
Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA matadornnetwork.com
“They who have no voice nor vote in the election of representatives do not enjoy liberty but are enslaved to those who do.” Ben Franklin, 1774
I signed up for VDVR training (Voter Deputy Voter Registrar) since Labor Day begins the campaign season for the 2022 Midterm Election. VDVR is not risk free. The completed registration form lists my name and VDVR number at the bottom. If I incorrectly fill out the form here in Texas, it can bring a criminal penalty, a felony, even if I make an honest mistake. Strange that helping people register to vote can create such fear and loathing in the TX Legislature.
How many people can I register in a day going door-to-door or sitting in a booth at a parade or civic event? 20 to 40. How many people could be registered if automatic registration took place at the DMVor Social Security? Millions. It’s a numbers game. Nationwide 1 in 4 eligible voters are not registered to vote, which partially explains why the U.S. has one of the lowest rates of voting among the developed nations.
But adding registered voters to the rolls does not appeal to some elected officials, who prefer the status quo. Yet progress is being made. Since 2015 nineteen states have switched to automatic voter registration (AVR), primarily blue states. But wait, nineteen mostly red states have acted to restrict voting rights, mostly in 2021. Bills to restrict voting (440) have been filed in 48 states, just 34 have passed, including four wide-ranging omnibus voting restrictions in Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and, yes, Texas.
False Smoke Screen: “Voter Fraud”
Since the 2020 Presidential Election, former President Donald Trump’s redundant and fake cries of fraud, have complicated the registration process. But what’s the risk here? David Litt in Democracy in One Book or Less does not deny there is voter fraud, but instead of dreaming up any old number, he relies on recent, nonpartisan studies.
Litt points to the fact that impostors filling out multiple ballots in places where they’re not registered is rare indeed. Impersonation “tarnishes approximately one ballot out of every 32,250,000.” If you can’t wrap your brain around that number, “imagine a human chain of voters, starting at polling in New York City, stretching across the country to Seattle, dropping down to Los Angeles, and returning back east as far as New Orleans.” In that 5,000-mile line, precisely one of them will commit fraud. (That’s .0000017 percent.) Checks and balances make it much more difficult to commit fraud.
Partisan, geographic, and racial divides over access to the ballot are the law in seven states, which have harsher voter ID laws, seven shrunk the amount of time allowed for mail-in voting, and four limited the use of ballot drop boxes for mail-in votes. Seven states made it easier to purge voters off the voter rolls. In 2020 the Electoral wizards in Georgia applied an “exact match” criterion to registration forms and election day signatures, not by handwriting experts, but by untrained poll workers. Who among us signs their name the same when we’re in a hurry vs. when we’re signing an official document? Is it possible to achieve a “perfect match”? Colorado has agreed to accept “a substantial match” to remove confusion.
Purging Voters: 16 million in 2016
The response to 2020 fears of “voter fraud” created a Catch-22 for those in Florida who have completed prison terms. In 2018 in Florida, nearly 65 percent of state voters supported a referendum (Amendment 4) calling for the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders who completed their prison terms unless they had been charged with murder or felony sexual offenses.
Amendment 4 went into effect on January 8, 2019 and cleared the way for 1.4 million ex-offenders to register to vote. (The state’s ban on felons voting—which disenfranchised 1 in 5 Black Floridians—dated to the Civil War.) However, a year later, Florida’s GOP legislature added another hoop to pass through, contrary to Amendment 4. It requires payment of fines related to their offense (some compounded while they were in prison) before being allowed to vote—essentially a poll tax.
Florida’s county election boards followed the original law established in Amendment 4 and reached out to ex-offenders to register, including 49-year-old street cleaner Nathan Hart. He registered at the DMV in March 2020 and received a Voter’s Registration Card. But on August 18, Hart was arrested by the county sheriff’s deputy and two state law enforcement officers. They charged him with falsifying his registration and being an “unqualified elector.” Both are third-degree felonies. He was held in jail for 14 hours and faced fines of $5,000 and five years in prison.
Similar cases will grow in Florida with a special “election force, a first-of-its-kind.” Governor Ron DeSantis introduced proudly at a campaign event. He asked for $6 million to hire 52 people to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws. Florida’s legislature reduced it to $1.2 million and 15 investigators.
It’s understandable to delete the names of voters who have died or moved to another state, but the numbers would not reach the millions. The numbers of purged voters have grown nationwide since the Brennan Center reported that nationwide 16 million voters were culled from voter lists from 2014 to 2016. This total is a 33 percent increase from 2006-2008. Texas threw off 363,000, Wisconsin 232,000, and Georgia won the prize saying goodbye to 1.5 million voters, angering candidates. Some of these voters have been returned, but it’s puzzling to know that these purges were not part of a routine process but came in the heat of political battles. A 2016 Reuters analysis found the cuts hit the largest Democratic counties and twice the rate of GOP. Black city voters were more likely to be purged than white suburban dwellers.
In 2015, Wisconsin began to enforce a photo ID law for all elections. However, a federal judge found that the Wisconsin law led to “real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.” Although the judge found no evidence of widespread voter impersonation in Wisconsin, the “cure is worse than the disease.”
Scrubbing the names of people who have been verified dead or moved to another state can be routine. But a targeted voter purge is not legal, but a throwback to an ugly time. In 1959, the White Citizens Council of Washington Parish, Louisiana, conducted a purge, removing 85 percent of Black voters and just.07 of whites.
Another example, in 1999, a conservative activist group, ironically called the Voting Integrity Project (VIP), endorsed a company called Database Technologies. Florida hired this company to purge its voter rolls before the 2000 election. One example of their over-zealous approach to cleaning the rolls: legitimate voter Michael Jones of Tampa became “confused” with Michael Jones, a convicted felon in Ohio, and Linda Howell, election supervisor in Madison County, appeared on the list. The conservative estimate is that 12,000 eligible voters were erased from Florida’s voter rolls—half of them African Americans. In 2000 Al Gore lost the Presidential Election by 537 votes. Could this purge, before that election have made a difference? But we moved forward.
Mail-in Ballots: Dangerous or Necessary?
A mail-in ballot made it easier for me in 2021during Covid. First, I requested a ballot online. I had time to review the candidates and issues, then used my notes when I filled in the ballot. I drove to the Travis County Elections office and deposited my ballot into a sealed box (with an election official standing next to it).
Despite the hew and cry against it, mail-in voting is not something new-fangled. Oregon has done it since 1989. Since then, seven other states have instituted mail-in balloting: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah (by no means a liberal state), and Vermont. In addition, Nebraska and North Dakota often experience foul weather in the fall, permitting counties to opt for mail-in ballots.
Mail-in ballots can be a Godsend for disabled people or the elderly who can no longer drive. Nine states allow mail-in balloting in small elections: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. As the expense of finding locations for a general election, expensive voting equipment, and the challenge of staffing them grow each year, other states may be forced to reconsider
We have options. It doesn’t need to be so difficult to register or even vote. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems there are elected officials who work to make it more difficult, not easier. We need to tell them with our votes that we, the people, don’t want voters removed to meet their political benchmarks. We want it to be easier to vote for all Americans. Despite the roadblocks put in our way, the message will get through if we work diligently to protect our democracy.
Next time we’ll talk about Elbridge Gerry, who went to Harvard, worked in his family business in Massachusetts, then served in the Continental Congress, became governor, and won praise from John Adams. Did he deserve the shame upon his name for “gerrymandering?”
Let’s get the objections out of the way first. Last week’s FBI visit to Mar-a-Lago was not spur of the moment. In January 2022, the Department of Justice issued a subpoena for documents that Donald Trump had taken back to his Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Springs upon leaving the White House. Then they obtained 15 boxes, some marked classified. These were taken back to the National Archives, where Presidential Records are kept. After a review, the Archives found that boxes of classified information were missing.
Donald Trump, like any other former President, could take with him diaries and personal documents not related to official business in office as president. But the records are not like a tray of mints offered upon leaving Sardi’s in New York, free for the taking. According to the Presidential Papers Act, originally passed in 1978 responding to Richard Nixon, official presidential documents were to be released to the Archives upon leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
During the outrange by the former president’s supporters last week, there has been a reference to Watergate. Many of these people either weren’t alive then, haven’t cracked a history book, or just liked throwing around the word “Watergate” to gain support from others not curious enough to learn the true backstory. This search for documents took place in broad daylight.
Trained members of FBI operated with a legal search warrant, which was granted based on information about where the documents were located (all necessary before a federal judge in Florida would sign off). The attorney general added his signature to the warrant on Friday, two days prior to the search.
“ Watergate” involved a break-in at a Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Office Building in 1972. The five men arrested for the break-in were connected to the Committee for Re-Election of the President (Nixon) sponsored by a political branch of the Republican Party. They were low-level thieves hired because Nixon had become paranoid, thinking he would lose the election. So paranoid that he set up an audio taping system on his White House phone that laid out his illegal deeds like a roadmap.
The search of Mar-a-Lago came with a legal search warrant and did not come without warning. In May 2022, AG Merrick Garland and the DOJ sent a subpoena to DJ obtain information about the missing documents. Trump ignored it. Because of the sensitive nature of the documents, the DOJ determined to press for the documents. They needed to learn where the classified documents were kept in order to obtain a legal search warrant. Someone within Trump’s inner circle provided the information needed to obtain the warrant. A Florida judge signed off after receiving specific information about the documents and the location on August 5. On Monday, August 8 the search began. This wasn’t a spur of the moment “witch hunt.”
Outrange from Trump supporters followed during the week (see Watergate above) reached a dangerous level, threatening the security of federal law enforcement. Garland held a press conference to explain the process of the warrant and indicate Trump had a copy, which he could release if he desired, but set a deadline. Move up to Friday, August 12, DOJ got the go-ahead from Trump and released a copy of the August 8th search warrant and a list of the contents of the 20 boxes removed from Mar-a-Lago on Monday. The boxes taken included 11 boxes marked classified, including 4 sets of top-secret documents. Charges were made for mishandling of defense information (classified documents) and destruction of federal documents. Those included related to Oliver Stone’s pardon and interaction with French Premiere Macron.
One irony in the case is that in 2019 Trump signed into law an increase in the punishment for breaking these laws from one to five years in prison.
Trump could have present the list to the media himself. Instead, he sent out attorney Christina Bobb to explain that Trump was following “decorum.” Since when in his life has Trump followed decorum?
On Friday, August 12, Garland released the list of the boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago, as the match continues. Garland remained calm, uncharacteristically responding to the uproar during an FBI investigation. He said he signed off one the search warrant himself after the judge. Friday Garland also released the list of the boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago. The match continues, but with classified documents now in DOJ hands, DT’s limo may have hit a speed bump too high to sail across.
Have you looked across the Pond lately? They just tossed off a Prime Minister (for cause), and the temperature rose above 100 in a country without air conditioning. It’s not just that they are stiff upper lips and all that. No, it doesn’t usually get that hot, so they’ve gone without. House fans might not be enough to cool off the Brits, particularly in Parliament!
Now that Boris has finally vamoosed 10 Downing Street, they set about the task of finding a replacement. Unfortunately, the British process of selecting a new prime minister bears little resemblance to America’s selection of a president. We may find out in short order if this is better or worse, but Americans have been stuck on what we refer to as “the democratic process” of voting leaders into office, not depending on a select few to choose for us.
Just four people remain in the race for prime minister in Britain, standing up on a stage in London for a televised debate format. (Two of them served in Boris’s cabinet, but bailed ship in the final days and weeks.) No primaries will winnow these candidates down to two. It’s a different process that American media seem not too bothered to cover.
Ah, it’s just the crazy Brits. Well, they are still our greatest ally in Europe. The Ukraine War is also getting scant reference over here, despite its long-term impact on Europe and grain resources around the world (though I understand there is a compromise of sorts to allow shipments to Africa and other starving parts of the world). Money spent on that war will not be available to meet different needs. Yet Putin seems eager to move on to other parts of Eastern Europe; he covets to return to a long-gone empire he craves to become czar over it before his demise.
If you think back to the time of Ronald Reagan, you might remember Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, who teamed with him on the takedown of the Berlin Wall. And Maggie told George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990: “Remember, George, this is no time to go wobbly.” Well, so the advice goes both ways!
Boris put the weight of his country behind Ukraine, and his party is more populist than in Maggie’s time. For better or worse, he did get Brexit across the plate, though maybe Prime Minister May ahead of him got it up the hill but could not get it over (and got sacked for it, too.) He rushed his country out of the European Union, but the decision is out on that one.
Ah, but back to the election in Britain. But it isn’t what we Yanks would think of as a genuine election—just the five Tory members of the British Parliament. The choice here is before the 650-seat House of Commons, with 358 Members being Conservatives. Generational change will take place in Britain. All four candidates are under 50. In America, many key members in Congress and the president are over 75. We could get a lesson in what younger leadership could accomplish or that experience counts.
The selected prime minister could rule as long as Thatcher—eleven years from 1979 to 1990. So the impact on the future of Britain, Europe, and the US could be substantial, certainly well beyond the amount of coverage this selection is receiving in the States. First, the British lawmakers, not the public, will whittle down the list of candidates to two. It will be up to 200,000 official members of the Conservative Party to select the person who will be the next leader of Britain.
The decisions made across the Pond in the next two to ten years will determine if the Brits experience a renewal moving forward or a decline. Take no joy in a poor decision. Our future also rises and falls with that of our European neighbors. But none more than the Brits, who were once the Mother Country, now are partners in growing a responsible world to meet the challenges of the 21st century.