Two Minds: Abe Lincoln & Frederick Douglass

Freedom Must Prevail

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery to become America’s greatest orator and writer, addressing America’s greatest shame. In 1857 Douglass wrote that freedom must triumph because it had “the laws which govern the moral universe” on its side.

Four years before the Civil War, Douglass predicted a collision between the two enemy forces “must come as sure as the laws of God cannot be trampled upon with impunity.” Then he phrased a line that Martin Luther King shadowed: “That jubilee will come. You and I may not live to see it, but . . .God reigns, and slavery must yet fall; unless the devil is more potent than the Almighty; unless sin is stronger than righteousness, slavery must perish.”

Douglass pointed to emancipation in the West Indies in the 1830s, calling it a “bolt from the sky.” He encouraged African Americans to see the earlier emancipation as a “city on a hill,” an interesting oft, repeated phrase, used by President Ronald Reagan in his depiction of America in his second campaign.

In the summer and fall of 1860, Douglass used his journalistic skills to jump back into the political arena in support of Republicans. According to biographer David Blight, Douglass walked the line between endorsing and denouncing the Republicans while strongly opposing Lincoln’s plan to colonize Blacks in Panama.

“The Republican party,” Douglass wrote his British friends, “. . . only negatively antislavery. It is opposed to the political power of slavery, rather than slavery itself.” Yet the Party could “humble the slave power and defeat all plans for giving slavery any further guarantee of permanence.” (Sewell, Ballots for Freedom, 343-65)

Lincoln: Untried but Honest and Well-Balanced

Douglass found Lincoln to be “untried,” but nevertheless “honest” and possessing a “well-balanced head” and “great firmness of will.” He regretted the Republican’s ‘lack of moral abolitionism,’ but would settle for “the slow process of a cautious siege.” (In speeches in Glasgow in 1860.) The only American politician Douglass had regular correspondence with then was Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, who he admired as the only one with the “daring and nerve to denounce the barbarism of slavery” on the floor of the Senate (Note: A South Carolina Senator nearly caned Sumner to death for his efforts.)

Douglass believed that Lincoln could end slavery throughout the country with a Constitutional Amendment. He’d been arguing the case for nearly a decade (Correctly: The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in America, but not until December 1865.)  In the fall of 1860, Douglass persisted writing thirty-two hundred words of editorials and another seven thousand words in a major speech on the West Indian Emancipation anniversary. 

Douglass: Republican Attitude Towards Slavery in 7 Examples

Here is Douglass’s depiction of the Republican coalition’s diverse attitude toward slavery. Notice some similarities in the breakdown of work and wealth in today’s society. His list is like a journalist’s first draft in five parts: 1) An expensive and wasteful ‘system of labor”; 2) An “aristocratic class who despise labor,” which in turn led to a broader “contempt” for all others who “work for an honest living”; 3),  A small Southern oligarchy (might insert Ivy or Stanford educated or just brilliant and out-of-touch) have become corporate “masters of the United States” and the “governing class” of the nation’s institutions; 4) Led some whites with an “aversion to blacks” to deny them all rights and liberties and to exclude them from new territories. (The country has matured so there are fewer “new territories,” but the  attitude towards people of color and immigrants among some political groups as the U.S. experiences a worker shortage with an aging population shows its own bias);  5) The genuine “abolition element” saw slavery as the “most atrocious and revolting crime against nature and nature’s God,” a system of inhumanity to be destroyed out of a “mighty conviction.”  Slavery was to become slowly erased as a form of labor, but the embers have burned and achieving equality among the races has been an eternal trial that has extended far longer than Douglass could have imagined.

Douglass’s first meeting with President Lincoln came after a long wait in the visitor’s line. Subsequently, the two continued to meet until Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, days after the surrender at Appomattox. Douglass’s face-to-face conversations with Lincoln convinced him that Black troops could provide the new recruits the Union needed.

“Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march to the South and rise the banner of emancipation among the slaves,” he said, according to historian David Herbert Donald. Those opposed said black soldiers would never fight and lay down their weapons to be taken up by the enemy. Others predicted that armed blacks would use the weapons against their masters, beginning a second war at home in the South, as occurred in Santo Domingo.

Secretary of War Stanton, desperate for new recruits with or without Lincoln’s approval, agreed to train free blacks for South Carolina, Louisiana, and Kansas, where troops of any color were welcome. Lincoln’s position softened when Vice President Hamlin’s son volunteered to command colored troops. Lincoln realized a decline among white recruits after the initial word of emancipation.

Douglass had success recruiting black soldiers in New York, Massachusetts, and throughout the North. Word about Tennessee General Bedford Forest’s slaughter of 200 Black Yankees after fighting stopped at Fort Pillow did not help recruitment. Yet he recruited hundreds of men, including his two sons, who joined segregated units led by white officers. The issues of equal pay and rank continued throughout the war, but by fighting boldly in the Union uniform raised the image of all black men.

Congress passed the Confiscation Act of July 1862, authorizing Negro enlistments. Lincoln did not favor the policy for some of the reasons listed earlier. He even overruled General David Hunter in his attempt to recruit a Black regiment in South Carolina before the Confiscation Act. Lincoln said he “would employ all colored men as laborers, but would not promise to make soldiers of them.”

Despite the threats of mistreatment or even death if captured or surrendered in battle, Black men continued to sign up. While Lincoln found critics on every side, their participation in the war made it easier for him to recommend the vote for Black veterans who risked their lives for the Union. Douglass knew it would be difficult to reject giving the vote to men who bled for their country and helped to win the war.

But the Border states reacted hostilely and the Catholic archbishop of Maryland’s responded: “While our brethren are slaughtered in hecatombs (a sacrifice of 100 cattle to the gods by the Greeks), Abraham Lincoln cooly issues his Emancipation Proclamation, letting loose from three to four millions of half civilized Africans to murder their Masters and Mistresses!”  Outrage spread into the Midwest: The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Democratic paper, declared Lincoln “Dictator of America” and said it was “a complete overthrow of the Constitution he swore to protect and defend.”

I shall do nothing in malice. What I do is too vast for malicious dealing.” A. Lincoln

Former U.S. Attorney General and chairman of the 1860 Democratic convention in Baltimore and Charleston complained bitterly of  the “unspeakable calamities which the Republicans and the President have brought upon us” and predicted “the proposed massacre of eight millions of white men women and children in the Southern States in order to turn four millions of black men into vagabonds [and] robbers.”

New Orleans, home to a great number of Lincoln critics, including Thomas J. Durant, who later worked to sabotage Reconstruction efforts, told reacted to the President with violent words : “If the agitation about slavery is not silenced, every man woman and child capable of using the knife or pistol will rush into the fight regardless of life or property. . . and the result will be that the stars and stripes will not wave over this city ninety days longer.”

Lincoln answered them: “This class of men will do nothing for the government, nothing except demanding that the government shall not strike its open enemies, lest they be struck by accident!”  He assured them the fighting would stop “only when the Rebels surrender, and to achieve that end, stern measures must be taken.”

In a letter to his Southern critic, Cuthbert Bullitt, (July 28, 1862), Lincoln put the question to his critic: “Would you give up the contest, leaving any unavailable means unapplied? I am in no boastful mood. I shall not do more than I can, and I shall do all I can to save the government, which is my sworn duty as well as my personal inclination.” He pointed out as he did in the Second Inaugural, “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.’   Oh that international leaders could live those words today.

No Struggle, No Progress

Frederick Douglass, as a young man speaking against slavery. So often we see pictures of leaders from their later years, here is Douglass from his prime. public domain art

As I complain about my struggles, I read this phrase from Frederick Douglass’s life and question the value of my own frustrations. Born into slavery between two races on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1818, Douglass endured the lashes of his owners, Aaron Anthony, Hugh and Thomas Auld, in his youth. He never knew his father, and his mother, who was hired out to a series of plantations, quickly relinquished his care to his grandmother, Betsy Bailey. When he was six, the boy moved to the Wye Plantation, where he “wept a boy’s bitter tears” to learn his “grand-mammy was gone.” Douglass would later write, “Slavery does away with fathers, as it does away with families.” Given the color of his skin, most believed his father to be white, quite likely one of the plantation owners.

Inspiring the Future

“What man has made; man can unmake.” Frederick Douglass

A self-made man, Douglass learned to use his voice and pen to awaken America to the true nature of slavery, then to support human rights. His name came to light recently when another son of Maryland, Wes Moore, borrowed Frederick Douglass’s Bible and paired it with his grandfather’s Bible, as he became the first Black governor of Maryland (and third in the nation). In 1899, Washington’s AME church had given this Bible to Douglass as he traveled to Haiti to serve as President Benjamin Harrison’s U.S. resident minister and counsel general at age 71.

Governor Moore’s election came not as a “just over the line” victory but as a 63.29% win over his Republican challenger. Moore served in the Army in Afghanistan (43rd Maryland), graduated from Johns Hopkins, and became a Rhodes Scholar. He developed BridgeEDU, a nonprofit, to reinvent the first year for undergraduate students to increase the likelihood of their academic success.

The two men showed a similar mission to use education as a tool. Though centuries apart, each realized how learning could be a building block to a successful future. Unlike Moore, Douglass did not have parents who could teach him to read. So, he sought people who would lead him to knowledge. Once he learned to read himself, he gathered others in groups to spread literacy to them–knowing the power it holds. From that experience and his work recruiting Black men to serve in the Union Army (raised in the South where it was illegal to teach them), Douglass said this:

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass

Young Douglass felt rage in seeing his aunt whipped by the master for sharing her affections with a younger man, instead of him. Douglass had his own welts that he would carry for a lifetime, but being unable to protect her gave him a long-lasting scar that he did not bear on his back. He lived in a “slave society” where the master’s authority over his bondmen defined all social relations, and all economic production depended intimately on the slaves’ brawn, brains, and compliance. Douglass saw slave life go from dawn to dusk, worried about money or hunger, eating, playing, loving, hating, marrying, worshipping God, singing, and dying in a world shaped by slavery. He saw a world that “enforced the right to own him body and soul.”(Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003) p. 8-10.

Douglass’s education began with Charles Lawson, an older man who worked at the Dungain & Bailey Shipyard at Fells Point/Baltimore with him and strengthened his faith, leading the teenager to seek greater knowledge. He called Lawson “uncle” and “father” and remembered later, “I could teach him the letter, and he could teach me the spirit.” He learned about Paul, the prisoner prophet, and the stories he carried throughout life. Lawson told the young man that God had “great work” for him and encouraged Douglass that slavery would not be permanent, which gave him hope.

Desperate to learn to write, Douglas snuck into the Auld’s library when they were away. He copied passages from the Webster Spelling Book. The Columbian Orator, the Bible, and the Methodist Hymnal. Words became his reason to live.

He used every opportunity to expand his knowledge. Sent to Baltimore’s shipyards as a teen by an angry master for an escape attempt, Douglass learned the caulking trade and thanked his luck he wasn’t sent to slavery on a Southern plantation. He hated “the right of the robber,” who took his slave’s earnings and gave them to his enslaver. Auld still owned his body and labor but could not possess his mind. He wrote from his heart: “To make a contented enslaved person, you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision and, as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason.

“He must know no Higher Law than his master’s will. . . if there be one crevice through which a single drop can fall, it will certainly rust off the slave’s chains,” he expressed his thoughts on the psychology of enslaved person and master.

Auld took all his $9 earnings but twenty-five cents the Saturday before Douglass fled. Anna Murray, his future wife, sold a featherbed, and together they raised enough for actual train fare, not on the underground. What Douglass learned about ships and the sea helped him escape. He got “free papers” to use at checkpoints from a retired black sailor and taught himself “to talk sailor like an old salt.” Douglass gathered “an authentic sailor’s red shirt and tarpaulin hat and black cravat, tied carelessly and loosely about the neck.” He could speak the language of the sea and believed himself ready to “Talk sailor like an old salt.”

Douglass’s Flight from Slavery: Maryland to Massachusetts

On September 3, 1838, Fred went to work early and met Anna a few blocks from the City Dock on the way to the Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad train station. A friend brought his baggage to the Negro car just as the train started moving. The next hurdle he faced would be convincing the conductor that he—the young mulatto Fred Bailey—could be Stanley, darker-skinned, retired Stanley. Mission accomplished. Then a German blacksmith from the shipyards recognized him but “had no heart to betray me.” (Life and Times, 198-99)

At Wilmington, Delaware, he walked off the train and across town to the wharf and a steamboat to take him down the Delaware River to Philadelphia, where he touched free soil for the first time. He waited for the first Black man to ask for directions to the New York’s Willow Street train station. Then Fred took the night train up the side of New Jersey to the Hudson River landing at Hoboken. Around sunrise, he caught a ferry across the Hudson to the Chambers Street dock.

It took reflection, but he remembered the joy of being a “FREEMAN. Walking amid the hurrying throng and gazing upon the dazzling wonders of Broadway” (which already could thrill in 1838) “with free earth under my feet.” But, while he already had embraced a role, finding just the correct word to express himself, his joy stumped him. He felt sensations “were too intense and too rapid for words.”

“I felt as one might when escaped from a den of lions,” he wrote. “Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be described, but joy and gladness, like the rainbow of promise, defy alike the pen and pencil.” But he could no longer trust the people around him—any white man could be a potential kidnapper seeking to benefit from a master’s reward. At first, he slept among the barrels at the wharf. Then a black sailor sent him to the home of David Ruggles, a Black abolitionist, newspaper editor, and grocer who lived four or five blocks from the dock. He led the New York Vigilance Committee, aiding fugitive slaves throughout New York City.

Ruggles edited Mirror of Liberty, the first black-owned and operated magazine, and maintained a public reading room with antislavery books and newspapers. Ruggles opened Fred to the dangerous work of abolitionism. His host suggested he change his name to Frederick Johnson, which lasted until he landed in Massachusetts, to get further away from Auld’s slave catchers. There he took the name “Douglass.”

Ruggles mailed Frederick’s letter to a friend in the Baltimore debating society, who contacted Anna, who could not read, and sent her North September 10 for the 24-hour trip parallel to Frederick’s. In her trunk, she carried a “plum-colored silk dress” that she wore in the Ruggles’ small parlor for their marriage three days later. Rev. James W. C. Pennington, who had escaped Maryland a decade earlier, presided.

Douglass planned to continue to Canada, but Ruggles suggested New Bedford, Massachusetts, as a whaling port, where he could find work as a caulker and a welcoming fugitive slave and free black community. So, they left New York aboard the steamer John W. Richmond. (Life and Times, 205-6.)

Little Zion, AME, First Pulpit

 At barely 30, Douglass gave his first official oration from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion pulpit in New Bedford, Massachusetts. After that, he became a sexton, steward, local preacher, and the Sunday school superintendent at the small church of fugitive slaves and free blacks. He later referred to the church as “Little Zion” and remembered it as “among the happiest days of my life.” A year later, Anna gave birth to their third child while they lived in two rented rooms.

Douglass made quite a sensation in the 19th century. Very few whites had seen a talented mixed-race man like Douglass who could both speak and write skillfully. Of course, being an intellectual “oddity” came with cursing and a blessing—the curse of being treated as some freak or not trusted and the blessing that his work to become a self-made man began to bear fruit. But it did not come automatically.

Abolitionists William Garrison came to New Bedford in 1839 to speak, just as his newspaper began to reach Douglass. A year later, Ellis Gray Loring and other white abolitionists “found” Douglass and were eager to have him as a lecturer. “This stunning young fugitive who escaped two years ago was a light mulatto, well, well-formed, of open countenance & speaks very good English.” Loring noted, “Fred is poor, and a laborer, but his speaking skills could produce great effect.” (Within a few years, Douglass left Maryland for a speaking tour of England without papers. The East Coast abolitionists would purchase his freedom from the Aulds by his return. Since he’d gained a following in England, it would be impossible for Douglass to remain a fugitive slave without papers.)

After hearing Douglass speak in 1841, William C. Coffin, a local bookseller and member of a prominent antislavery family invited him to join a large delegation of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society for a “grand convention” on the island of Nantucket. They asked Douglass to speak to a prominent group of white abolitionists, including Garrison. On this rare occasion, Anna accompanied Douglass. The next morning at the conference, Douglass relaxed, which allowed his natural intelligence and wit to shine through. An attendee wrote: “Flinty hearts were pierced, and cold ones melted by his eloquence. Our best pleaders for the slave held their breath for fear of interrupting him.” (Frederick Douglass, “Living a New Life,” 27).

Douglass: “Putting His Whole Heart into the Cause”

William Garrison, the editor of The Liberator and well-established spokesperson for antislavery, wrote: “I shall never forget his first speech at the convention—the extraordinary emotion it excited in my mind—the powerful impression it created upon a crowded auditory. . . I think I never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment.”

Douglass believed he found “one in intellect richly endowed – in natural eloquence a prodigy—in soul manifestly ‘created by a little lower than the angels.” Within a week of the conference, Douglass had a new vocation—giving witness to the evils of slavery, attacking racial prejudice, and proslavery in the churches of Massachusetts and New Hampshire for three months, “putting his whole heart in the holy cause.” He would turn his life to the “power of the word” for the next five decades. But, of course, in 1841 and many years hence, he subjected himself to hatred, resistance, and violence, taking risks every time he ventured into proslavery America. And just five years after his Sabbath school sermons.

Douglass garnered hope and learned that antislavery forces should make no compromise with slavery in any form—in church, legislature, or the public square—and should work to destroy the institution, root, and branch in their lifetimes.

David N. Johnson expressed his amazement upon hearing Douglass speak in Boston– like a theatrical event: “His voice rivaled Daniel Webster (the orator of the day) in its rightness, depth, and sonorousness of its cadences.” Johnson noted that “listeners never forgot his burning words, and his rich play of humor left a greater impression.”

Douglass published his first book at 27, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an enslaved American, written by Himself in 1845. Throughout his life, he would publish two others: his masterpiece, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, revised in 1892, three years before he died.)

His commitment to justice and freedom lives on today among those still working to protect democracy and extend educational opportunity to all Americans, like Maryland Governor Wes Moore

Yet to come: Douglass’s lifelong role as a defender of human rights– freedom from slavery, the 14th Amendment (1868); the Black male vote – the 15th Amendment (1870); and the vote for women, the 19th Amendment (1920 when ratified by ¾ of the states, after his death).

Main source and recommended read: David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2018, pp 764.)

What Issue Delayed House Speaker?

US Capitol Building at sunset with American flags is the home of the United States Congress in Washington D.C, USA. iStock

What was the issuebehind the Speaker ballots?

Look at the possibilities—the economy, immigration, the War in Ukraine—yield not one single issue to unite behind Kevin McCarthy’s bid. When last the decision of a leader in the House dragged on for days—1855 and 1859—one point burned across the landscape, slavery. With few exceptions, the choice blazed “yes” in the South and “no” in the North before the Civil War. Neither side wanted a leader in the House who did not share their views. But then, slavery or the defeat of slavery would be debated. But in 2023 it’s to feed the personal agendas of those 20 Members seeking to raise money for their own political campaigns and for right-wing causes, but mainly to grasp TV time on CSPAN and FOX.

In 1855, it took 133 ballots to elect Nathaniel Banks (R-Massachusetts) of the American Party as Speaker. The decision stretched from December 2, 1855, to February 3, 1856, when he bested William Aiken D-SC just 103 to 100. The contest began with 21 candidates for Speaker but winnowed to three final candidates, who were called upon to state their views on the recent legislation on slavery expansion in the West. Rep. Banks had ties to anti-slavery New York Times Editor Horace Greeley. In one of many fights on and off the House floor that year, Albert Rust (D-Arkansas) tried to disqualify Banks, punching him with his fist. Then later, Rep. Banks found Rep. Banks and Greeley downtown and hit Banks with his cane.

Now the U.S. House vote for Speaker came down to 213 FOR, not slavery or any defining policy, but in support of giving the POWER of the gavel to Kevin McCarthy v. 213 AGAINST McCarthy and FOR Hakeem Jeffries, who consistently pulled his Party members, but could not reach the 218 required to win the gavel. In the end, past the midnight hour Friday, McCarthy swayed a few votes his way, then persuaded six to vote “present,” reducing the number needed to stop the impasse. (Heaven help us if he promised more than giving the far right the ability to remove him if five of the 20 far-right Members do not fancy his leadership, requiring another ring-around-the-rosy.) Finally, at 1:30 am Saturday, McCarthy snatched the gavel and waved it above his head, nearly like an ax. Let the games begin.

I wondered who won the gavel in 1859-1860 after that Congressional battle. William Pennington won the election for Speaker on Feb. 1, 1860, after 63 ballots. He had been governor of New Jersey from 1837-43. His father served in the Revolutionary Army and as and had served as N.J. governor after the war (1813-15). Later Madison appointed William to a federal judgeship. Amid that balloting for Speaker, there were nine physical fights of the floor of the House and one street fight involving Members of Congress.

ASIDE: To show every era has its voting challenges, twenty-three years before William served as Speaker, he was involved in the “Broad Seal War” in New Jersey. Two contingents of candidates (Democrats and Whigs) in a closely contested race came before him as governor. Each held commissions bearing the seal of New Jersey on the opening day of the 26th Congress in 1839, requesting to be seated. Pennington seated the Whigs (his Party) and refused to sit 5 of the 6 Democrats. Finally, after they proved the county clerks in Cumberland and Middlesex counties suppressed returns in certain townships, the Democrats were seated on February 28, 1840. These members gave the Democrats the majority in the House.

Members avoided violence in 2023, but late on Friday when on the 14th ballot Matt Gaetz (R-FL), leader of the “Never Kevin” extreme right-wing contingent, voted Present,” tensions mounted. At first, GOP members thought that would be enough to seal the deal. Instead, Congressional fisticuffs threatened Friday night when Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) moved fists drawn towards Rep. Gaetz only to be restrained by a fellow Southern Member, averting a battle, not wanting to solve frustrations with violence. Later it was learned that Rep. Rogers had been rumored to be the next Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Will his undisciplined action on Friday night deter other Members from confirming him to this leadership position?

Promises to grasp the gavel in 2023?

Offerings to the Publicity-Thirsty Gang of 15 foretells of rocky times ahead. Could it be called blackmail? We will have two years to determine how this quid-pro-quo operates.

Offerings were made to those who changed their vote from “Never Kevin” to “Present,” making it possible for McCarthy to acquire the Speaker’s gavel. Here are some of the suggested concessions:

  1. If just one Member disagrees with the Speaker, a roll call of the House could be called to determine whether he stays or goes (referred to as having a pistol pointed at the Speaker’s head).
  2. More of the 15 Disaffected could serve on the all-important Rules Committee that sets what bills would be placed on the calendar, when, and what amendments are allowed.
  3. Allow a House vote on term limits.
  4. Possibly also setting the 2022 spending limit for 2024, requiring federal budget cuts and a $75 billion cut in the federal military budget.

It remains to be seen how much of this wish list will be delivered, difficult voting on the Rules of the House and the 2023-2024 legislative agenda. In the Spring, America’s debt ceiling is expected to be reached. A similar legislative fight took place in 2011 when the nation also experienced divided government between the House and the White House. Will the U.S. maintain its financial reputation around the globe? Will media on GOP and DEM sides be able to adequately explain the real impact failing to pay America’s debts have on the average American? In 2011, the nation’s credit rating declined. What will happen in 2023?

Freeman, Joanne B. “It’s Tempting to Laugh at McCarthy’s Struggles, but History Shows That This Type of Chaos is Not a Joke.”  New York Times, Jan. 7, 2023.

Is This the Founders’ Free Speech?

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.

Mental Health Checklist: Wondermind.com

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.

Selena Gomez launches mental health website

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.

Celebration: That Long Winding Road

The three-mile hike through the woods to Windsor Castle featured the “beefeaters” (castle guards) and Naval marines walking near the modern black hearse carrying Queen Elizabeth’s body.

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.

The Games Founders Played… Repeated with Software

The scales of justice are not always applied to elections when district maps are drawn.

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.

DOJ Doesn’t Play Games

Who holds the Aces? Time will tell.

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.

You think we have problems?

Clip-art of the British Flag

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.

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Rowing Together; Rowing Apart

Rowing Together on Lady Bird Lake, Austin Photo by Author

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.