Making sense of the events at the Capitol on Wednesday, unpacking the right-wing "Lost Cause" myth and its historical antecedent, and revisiting "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
On this week’s On The Media, journalists struggle to find the words to describe what happened at the capitol on Wednesday. Was it a riot? A mob? An insurrection? Plus, why supporters of the president’s baseless election fraud theories keep invoking the “lost cause” myth of the confederacy. And, taking a second look at "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
3. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw [@sandylocks], professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, on how post-Civil War appeasement allowed for the perpetuation of white supremacy in the United States. Listen.
4. Jack Hamilton [@jack_hamilton], associate professor of American studies and media studies at the University of Virginia, on the mixed and missed messages in the rock anthem "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" by The Band. Listen.
Music from this week's show:
Invitation to a Suicide — John Zorn
Sneaky Adventure — Kevin MacLeod
Glass House/Curtains — David Bergeaud
The Last Bird — Zoe Keating
Lost, Night — Bill Frisell
Using the Apostate Tyrant as His Tool — Kronos Quartet
The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down — The Band
The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down — Richie Havens
After watching many Republicans on the Sunday morning shows and hearing a few on the radio this morning, I notice that they’re actively preferring only one or two of the three solutions after Wednesday’s insurrectionist coup attempt.
The three broad options that everyone is talking about:
- Trump resigns
- 25th Amendment removal of Trump
- Impeachment in the House possibly followed by conviction in the Senate
Generally Republicans are looking more closely at options one and two (in that order) and then they’re immediately shifting the discussion to the appalling nature of the events themselves.
The important question we need to ask ourselves is why are they preferring resignation or the 25th amendment? The answer comes down to who is actively receiving the blame and who has to actively do the work to make the system function properly.
In option 1, Trump and Trump alone takes the blame and initiates the action. This lets all his Republican supporters off the hook for allowing him the bullying free reign he’s had for more than four years now.
Presently the chance that Trump resigns is hovering around zero because he is so loathe to smear his own reputation or take responsibility for anything. Resignation is too closely associated with the idea of being a “loser” which Trump cannot admit himself to be at any cost.
In option 2, Trump still takes the blame and only a small handful of primarily un-elected leaders needs to take the action.
As we’ve already seen this past week, cabinet members are either still too loyal to Trump, or have chosen to jump ship to save themselves rather than take the necessary proactive action against him.
In option 3, Trump takes the blame, but a large number of people need to take action. While almost all Democrats and a handful of Republicans can easily take this route, some Republicans are loathe to want this option.
In particular, most Republicans won’t want to take this route because it also means that they must take some of the blame for so actively supporting Donald John Trump’s lies and views for so long.
Not a single Republican I’ve seen was willing to take even an iota of responsibility for supporting Trump, his outright lies, racist policies, or insanity for the past four+ years much less the last two months. Two months in which they either actively supported his lies that the election was stolen or supported it with their acquiescence by silence. They’re still abjectly holding to the belief that the emperor is fully dressed, while only trying to admit that he’s taken off one glove. They may not want to say it but they know better.
We need to be able to admit that the Emperor is naked and that far too many of us are only half dressed at best. We need to ardently press for all three solutions to happen. We also need to advocate for a fourth option that requires sanctions of the members of congress who voted to continue to support the lie even after the insurrection.
To be the Americans we say we are or want to be, we need to hold power to account. We can’t leave the message that a future leader can do the same thing and get away with it. We need to admit our complicity in allowing Trump to pretend to lead us. We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility.
We can’t absolve ourselves without true penance
If you’re still unsure of why we cannot absolve ourselves (and honestly even if you aren’t), then I highly recommend reading a short Twitter thread/essay from earlier this week by Lili Saintcrow. It’s a highly illustrative parable about what has been going on in America and why it continues.
Let me explain something to those of you who didn’t grow up around violently abusive white supremacists.
*They absolutely do not believe their own bullshit*, but it’s useful for them to pretend they do.
— Lili Saintcrow (@lilithsaintcrow) January 7, 2021
And for those who don’t click through, I’ll excerpt two tweets in the thread which are very important to her searing point:
Domestic abusers, white supremacists, and religious bigots all operate off the same thin but very useful playbook that exploits other people’s politeness and (I’ve got to say it) “civility.”
“Obama was born in Kenya.” “She provoked me, I had to hit her.” “Biden’s followers stormed the Capitol.” “It was Antifa.” “I thought that black child was going to shoot me.” These are all the same species of lie, and they serve the same purpose–to absolve the speaker.
Republicans (and let’s be honest, really all of us) are going to have to individually and collectively do some very hard work here, take responsibility, and stop attempting to absolve ourselves.
Without it, we’re just repeating the mistakes of ending Reconstruction after the Civil War which ushered in the despicable Jim Crow laws and have kept our nation mired in racist ideas and racist policies. If we’re not careful we’ll be heading back to an actual and far more costly Civil War. Let’s take this opportunity to admit our mistakes and actually move forward.
We all deserve better. We all need better. We all require better.
We should all demand better.
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning scholar, a timely history of the constitutional changes that built equality into the nation’s foundation and how those guarantees have been shaken over time.
The Declaration of Independence announced equality as an American ideal, but it took the Civil War and the subsequent adoption of three constitutional amendments to establish that ideal as American law. The Reconstruction amendments abolished slavery, guaranteed all persons due process and equal protection of the law, and equipped black men with the right to vote. They established the principle of birthright citizenship and guaranteed the privileges and immunities of all citizens. The federal government, not the states, was charged with enforcement, reversing the priority of the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In grafting the principle of equality onto the Constitution, these revolutionary changes marked the second founding of the United States.
Eric Foner’s compact, insightful history traces the arc of these pivotal amendments from their dramatic origins in pre–Civil War mass meetings of African-American “colored citizens” and in Republican party politics to their virtual nullification in the late nineteenth century. A series of momentous decisions by the Supreme Court narrowed the rights guaranteed in the amendments, while the states actively undermined them. The Jim Crow system was the result. Again today there are serious political challenges to birthright citizenship, voting rights, due process, and equal protection of the law. Like all great works of history, this one informs our understanding of the present as well as the past: knowledge and vigilance are always necessary to secure our basic rights.
Our WNYC colleagues fact-check a family legend about "40 acres and a mule," and find a story about the promise and peril of the American Dream at the end of Reconstruction.
Elbert Lester has lived his full 94 years in Quitman County, Mississippi, on land he and his family own. That’s exceptional for black people in this area, and some family members even say the land came to them through “40 acres and a mule.” But that's pretty unlikely, so our WNYC colleague Kai Wright, host of The United States of Anxiety, went on a search for the truth and uncovered a story about an old and fundamental question in American politics, one at the center of the current election: Who are the rightful owners of this country’s staggering wealth?
- John Willis is author of Forgotten Time
- Eric Foner is author of The Second Founding
- The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is located in Montgomery, Alabama. For more information about documented lynchings in Mississippi, and elsewhere, visit the Equal Justice Initiative's interactive report, Lynching in America. You can navigate to each county to learn about documented lynchings there.
A controversial settlement between the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has been voided. The settlement, approved in November, would have required UNC to hand over the Confederate monument “Silent Sam” to SCV and pay the group $2.5 mill...
John C. Frémont, one of the United States’s leading explorers of the nineteenth century, was relatively unknown in 1842, when he commanded the first of his expeditions to the uncharted West. But in only a few years, he was one of the most acclaimed people of the age – known as a wilderness explorer, bestselling writer, gallant army officer, and latter-day conquistador, who in 1846 began the United States’s takeover of California from Mexico. He was not even 40 years old when Americans began naming mountains and towns after him. He had perfect timing, exploring the West just as it captured the nation’s attention. But the most important factor in his fame may have been the person who made it all possible: his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont.
Jessie, the daughter of a United States senator who was deeply involved in the West, provided her husband with entrée to the highest levels of government and media, and his career reached new heights only a few months after their elopement. During a time when women were allowed to make few choices for themselves, Jessie – who herself aspired to roles in exploration and politics – threw her skill and passion into promoting her husband. She worked to carefully edit and publicize his accounts of his travels, attracted talented young men to his circle, and lashed out at his enemies. She became her husband’s political adviser, as well as a power player in her own right. In 1856, the famous couple strategized as John became the first-ever presidential nominee of the newly established Republican Party.
With rare detail and in consummate style, Steve Inskeep tells the story of a couple whose joint ambitions and talents intertwined with those of the nascent United States itself. Taking advantage of expanding news media, aided by an increasingly literate public, the two linked their names to the three great national movements of the time—westward settlement, women’s rights, and opposition to slavery. Together, John and Jessie Frémont took parts in events that defined the country and gave rise to a new, more global America. Theirs is a surprisingly modern tale of ambition and fame; they lived in a time of social and technological disruption and divisive politics that foreshadowed our own. In Imperfect Union, as Inskeep navigates these deeply transformative years through Jessie and John’s own union, he reveals how the Frémonts’ adventures amount to nothing less than a tour of the early American soul.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is wrong about what caused the Civil War, and wrong to give the benefit of the doubt to the slavers over the slaves.
Two starkly contrasting approaches to remembering troubled histories
A white southern mayor confronts the history in his city.
"There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in his now-famous speech in May of 2017. As Landrieu said those words, city workers a few blocks away uprooted an enormous statue of Robert E. Lee – the last of four Confederate monuments the mayor removed from the city after a years-long process. In a conversation with The Atlantic's editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg, Landrieu discusses the politics of race in the south, his grappling with history as a white southerner, and his own family’s connection to the story of civil rights in America.
I love extended interviews on small topics like this one. This does a really good job of taking a look at some of the broader details behind removing Confederate statues in New Orleans.
When it comes to America’s racial sins, past and present, a lot of us see people in one region of the country as guiltier than the rest. Host John Biewen spoke with some white Southern friends about that tendency. Part Six of our ongoing series, Seeing White. With recurring guest, Chenjerai Kumanyika.
Photo: A lynching on Clarkson Street, New York City, during the Draft Riots of 1863. Credit: Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation.
Growing up in Mankato, Minnesota, John Biewen heard next to nothing about the town’s most important historical event. In 1862, Mankato was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history – the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors – following one of the major wars between Plains Indians and settlers. In this documentary, originally produced for This American Life, John goes back to Minnesota to explore what happened, and why Minnesotans didn’t talk about it afterwards.
If you haven’t been listening to this excellent series, I hope you’ll stop what you’re doing right now and listen to them all. I highly recommend it as required listening for everyone–even if you think you know what the message is.
Though this particular episode wasn’t specifically created for this series, it fits in incredibly well. I almost wish that some of the others in the series delved this deeply into some of the history as this one does. It really brings the problem into high relief and puts a more human face on the problems we may not see around us by looking back at a particular incident.