Enough Already, Blue State Friends

Don’t let this map fool you. It’s as medium-geranium-red as they come.

Today was a day of almost comic-book level evil, and do you want to know what didn’t make it any easier to take?  All of my blue-state friends using their social media feeds to exhort anyone that they know who might happen to have a Republican representative in Congress to please please please be sure to call their representative.  As someone who lives in a sort of medium-geranium-red Congressional district, with a representative that switched his vote from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ as the bill got worse, they were talking to me.  I get that on a day like today you probably feel a little bit helpless since your representative understands the basic human value of healthcare already, but do you want to know why this was unhelpful and also kind of annoying?

(1) We know.  If we’re your social media friends and we live in a Republican Congressional district, it has probably already occurred to us to call our representative.  We’ve probably been calling our representative a lot recently, actually.

(2) This kind of partisan fight is really immediate and visceral for us.  We live our lives surrounded by people who are obviously comfortable with voting for a comic book villain for Congress, so fights like today’s are a part of our daily lives.

(3) We’re probably a little jealous that you get to live comfortably ensconced in some safely blue urban (and probably coastal) Congressional district, and being reminded of that privilege isn’t that pleasurable on a day like today.

(4) It seems like there might be other, more useful ways to contribute to the fight than reminding the very people who have been on the phone with their representatives for literally weeks not to forget to call their Congresspeople.  I don’t know what those ways are, but hey, it’s my privilege not to have to think them up, because I live in a medium-geranium-red Congressional district where I get to call my representative all the time.

Mackintosh’s Law

Nothing to see here, folks.

After news broke today of the latest Sean Spicer “gaffe” regarding Hitler supposedly not having used chemical weapons, I am ready to call it.  I hereby declare Mackintosh’s Law*:

Any time a member of the Trump Administration opens their mouth on the subject of the Holocaust … really, any time he or she (mostly he) even thinks about the Holocaust … they are about the step into the middle of a self-created ahistorical and antisemitic political shitstorm.

*Actually, let’s called it First Mackintosh’s Law.  I reserve the right to declare more “laws” in the future.  Mike Godwin was really onto something.  Declaring “laws” is super fun.  Watch this space.

On Incompetence

I bet he even loses when he's playing this game with Barron.

I bet he even loses when he’s playing this game with Barron.

Donald Trump is many things, most of them terrible.  (Seriously, has there ever been a human being with fewer redeeming qualities?  And I’m someone who is usually pretty pollyannaish about seeing the best in people.)  One of his prominent characteristics is deep and profound incompetence.  The man has basically fucked up everything he has ever touched.  His business ventures are a mess, which have only ever been saved by lucky intervention.  He has no attention span, can’t see a project through to completion, and does not appear to learn from his mistakes.  His real estate empire is a cobbled-together mess, glued together with tax dodges, shady dealings, and multiple bankruptcies.  His branding business is small-time and absurd.  The one thing he has proved good at in the twenty-first century, bullying people on TV, has crumbled to dust as networks and sponsors have run screaming.  He has left a trail of failed marriages and hollow interpersonal relationships behind him, and his children (at least those who have taken a public role in the past few years) seem as empty and miserable as he is.  In his perpetually infantile self-involvement, he has developed a reverse Midas touch.  Everything he touches turns reliably to shit.  (The fact that he has gotten as far as he has, anyway, is a testament to the overwhelming power of dynastic, inherited wealth in the United States.) Read more

Lacrimosa; Or, What I’m Scared Of

Mournfully be that day On which from ashes shall arise The guilty man to be judged.

Mournfully be that day
On which from ashes shall arise
The guilty man to be judged.

Today is a tough day.  I am stunned, sad, and scared. Stunned because I didn’t see this coming; I thought we were better than this.  Sad because today is terrible and destructive and needs to be mourned (Mozart: Requiem is on heavy rotation today). And scared because I really don’t know what come next.  Thinking back to the 2000 election, I remember being stunned, sad, and scared, but it was a different kind of fear.  Back then I was scared because I knew exactly what George W. Bush would do as President, and it terrified me.  This is different, because I have no idea what Trump will do as President.  So I decided to write out my fears on the theory that naming the monster under the bed makes it less scary. Read more

Poor Dumb Dads; Or, When Clinton’s Supporters Can’t Avoid Sexism

He's bad at his one fundamental job, but for some reason we love him anyway?!?!??

He’s bad at his one fundamental job, but for some reason we love him anyway?!?!??

Lots and lots of friends and acquaintances have been sharing and celebrating Louis CK’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton on Conan last night.  While I agree with CK’s fundamental endorsement … Clinton should be president, and she should be president because of her own unique and exceptional qualification, not just because she isn’t Donald Trump.  On that front, CK and I could not agree more.  I just wish he could have made his endorsement without falling back on the old, tired, worn-out “bumbling-dad” cliche that has been a staple of commercial culture since the 1940s, and which has dominated pop cultural portrayals of fatherhood since the 1980s.  It’s so, so tiresome. Read more

Memorializing the Confederacy and the Misuses of History

It is undeniably a metaphor for my life that I have to pass under this sign every time I go to Wegmans.

It is undeniably a metaphor for my life that I have to pass under this sign every time I go to Wegmans.

This week, a weirdly fresh scab was ripped off an old wound by a class project undertaken by one of my colleagues in sociology.  In his political sociology course, Eric Bonds charged his students with undertaking “a community involvement project that would help them develop democracy skills and not simply vote in an election and then tune out.” The project that his class undertook was a petition and presentation to the Fredericksburg City Council arguing that they city should rename Jefferson Davis Highway (US Route 1) within the city limits.  At the Tuesday evening meeting, the class made its presentation to council.  Despite my irrational hope that somehow Fredericksburg wouldn’t be Fredericksburg on Tuesday evening, the proposal was roundly criticized and then summarily ignored.  Members of the public who rose to comment were critical of the proposal on the grounds that “chang[ing[ the highway’s name … would ‘erase’ a piece of the city’s history.”  Not only would City Council not entertain the petition, a motion to create a task force to study the issue couldn’t even get a second.  In other words, Fredericksburg is still Fredericksburg. Read more

A Lovely Piece Highlighting the Human Costs of Fredericksburg’s Lack of Affordable Housing

Fredericksburg Trailer Park circled in red.  Note how isolated it is from the rest of the city, by a power line and an arterial roadway.  (Click to enlarge.)

Fredericksburg Trailer Park circled in red. Note how isolated it is from the rest of the city, by a power line and an arterial roadway. (Click to enlarge.)

A recurring concern of this blog is Fredericksburg’s problems with affordable housing, and particularly how the civic culture of our small city shapes its openness to broadly diverse residents.  Since I last addressed the subject last winter, little has changed; indeed, the city has recently recommended rejection of a new downtown development that would add 110 units of relatively affordable housing (the key term here being “relatively”).*  In this morning’s Free Lance-Star, I found a lovely piece by Lindley Estes about the fate of the Fredericksburg Trailer Park and its residents, which speaks directly to the real and immediate human costs of Fredericksburg’s affordability crisis. Read more

Trump has a Good Old Fashioned American Fortune

He preferred to bankroll Henry Clay rather than take a shot at the big chair himself. Let's hope Trump is as successful as Clay was. (courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

He preferred to bankroll Henry Clay rather than take a shot at the big chair himself. Let’s hope Trump is as successful as Clay was. (courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

I have been fascinated by the debates raging about Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, and the related debates about the size of his fortune and the source of his wealth.  The consensus seems to be that he is refusing to release financial information because it will show that he isn’t nearly as rich as he says he is.  While it’s absolutely entertaining to watch Trump writhe as the gossamer threads of his “success” are blown away by gale-force media scrutiny, I was particularly struck by John Cassidy’s reporting on the specific sources of Trump’s wealth in The New Yorker.   It turns out that (unlike Romney in 2012) much to Trump’s wealth is derived from old-fashioned, boring, concrete real estate, rather than modern, sexy, ephemeral market capitalizations.  As Cassidy points out, “Trump certainly owns some very valuable properties, most of which are in New York City.”  It struck me that Trump’s fortune comes from what is perhaps the second-oldest form of American fortune-building: owning a piece of Manhattan Island.  While it’s not quite as old and venerable of an American wealth-building tradition as owning enslaved people and forcing them to grow tobacco for export, it’s pretty close.  It places Trump’s fortune in a long and “illustrious” tradition of great American fortunes, along with the Beekmans, the Schermerhorns, the Astors, and many others.  Those previous owners of bits and pieces of Manhattan Island inspired Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; too bad this one seems to be operating as The Destroyer of American Political Innocence.

The Grammar of Inevitability; Or, Why TED Speakers Write Like Undergraduates

"Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive... It's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE!"

“Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive … It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!”

I have always distrusted TED Talks.  They masquerade as scholarship for the masses, when they are in fact pretty much the exact opposite of scholarship.  They radically simplify rather than embrace complexity.  They rush towards answers without stopping to consider questions.  They reflect, or even celebrate, the conventional wisdom of their day, rather than questioning or even contextualizing it.  They may be the lyceums or chautauquas of the 21st century, but at least in the 19th century, sometimes you got to go swimming or sailing in between doses of packaged platitudes. Read more

Enough with March Madness. Scholarship Isn’t a Sport

This is the March Madness that historians should be obsessing over.

This is the March Madness that historians should be obsessing over.

Let me start by stipulating that I really like The Junto, which is “a group blog on Early American history.”  I think it makes a great contribution to the online life of early Americanists … more collaborative than solo outlets like mine or The Way of Improvement Leads Home, and less formal than Common-place.  But every year around this time I have to take a break from reading it because they give so much play to their annual “March Madness” feature.  As they described it this year, “each year we engage in a spirited tournament of voting in some category related to early American history.”  They accept nominations in the category (this year it’s journal articles) and “[t]hen, by the power of The Junto’s bracketologists, [they] put together tournament brackets, announce the brackets, and open it up for your votes.”  I think this exercise is highly problematic for two reasons, one of which is broad and general, and the other of which is narrower and more specific. Read more

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