Free State of Jones: The First Honest Movie about Reconstruction

"Free State of Jones" is genuinely bold filmmaking in its refusal to romanticize a the violence and terrorism of war and its aftermath.

Free State of Jones is genuinely bold filmmaking that refuses to romanticize the violence and terrorism of war and its aftermath.

Americans really love their Civil War. In the popular imagination, the Civil War is the nation’s trial by fire; that utterly necessary event that determined if a house divided against itself could rise from the ashes and prove to the world that a nation “of the people, by the people, for the people” could survive.

Yet beneath the mythology of reconciliation is the reality of a war that endured long after the armies laid down their guns. Strip away the mythology and you’re left with what historian Eric Foner calls America’s “Unfinished Revolution,” a revolution defined by violence, terrorism, and a string of broken promises that stifled the march of equality for generations. This “Unfinished Revolution” was Reconstruction, and the film Free State of Jones depicts Reconstruction’s brutal reality better than any previous popular treatment.

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What the Civil War Can Teach us About Patriotism

A monument to Union soldiers from Iowa at Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg, Mississippi. Nothing is more patriotic than making sure that death for country is a last and necessary resort.

A monument to Union soldiers from Iowa at Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg, Mississippi. Nothing is more patriotic than making sure that death for country is a last and necessary resort.

The Fourth of July holiday weekend is here, and, in keeping with tradition, Americans will be observing the founding of their nation as only they can: by searing woolly mammoth flanks (on sale at Walmart) on their Realtree-decaled, 124 propane tanked, patio grill to commemorate the time Chuck Norris, a laser cannon-armed cyborg George Washington, and a velociraptor-mounted, open-carrying, tax-cutting Jesus teamed up to win American independence from the overbearing colonial clutches of the gay-communist-British-liberal-anti-freedom zombies.

The Fourth of July is the official holiday for American patriotism, and Americans are a very patriotic people. But in the spirit of Independence Day, it’s worth examining what we mean when we celebrate “patriotism.”

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47 Vallandighams: The GOP’s Iran Letter and the Shadow of Civil War Treason

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R-Confederacy) and his GOP collegues don't take kindly to Obama being president of 'Murica.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R-Confederacy) and his GOP colleagues don’t take kindly to Obama being president of ‘Murica.

What exactly is treason? Well that’s an easy one, innit? Treason is when a scheming, disloyal jerk betrays a sacred oath they took to their country, usually in the service of an enemy power or for shallow, partisan, political gains. It’s one of those concepts that everyone intuitively understands, but it gets really thorny when brought under the parsing nuance of the law.

Thus, when 47 members of the Republican-dominated Senate sent “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” (seriously, they used a generic salutation more akin to an editorial in a local newspaper) for the express purpose of undermining the Obama Administration’s ongoing diplomatic nuclear talks with Iran, they probably weren’t concerned about committing treason against the United States (besides, Obama’s from Kenya anyhoo, right?). And while their boneheaded attempt to score political points with their war-happy, right-wing base by giving said knuckle draggers yet another collective, foreign-conflict buzz may or may not constitute treason in a constitutional sense, there’s another conception of treason — the popular conception — that’s played a major role in U.S. history, and 47 GOP senators have skirted this line closer than Cubans in a missile crisis.  Continue Reading

Confederate Echoes: The Ugly History Behind Questioning Obama’s Patriotism

Former Republican Mayor of New York City thinks that there colored boy is only three-fifths "Murican.

Rudy Giuliani, the Former Republican Mayor of New York City, apparently thinks that thar colored boy don’t love ‘Murica.

Remember when everyone liked Rudolph Giuliani? The former “Mayor of the World” was, after all, Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Yeah, I remember that too. But Giuliani is also a right-wing dunce.

Case in point: he recently stirred the endlessly bubbling American political chamber pot when, at a private gathering of like-minded conservative Oompa Loompas held for Wisconsin Koch Brothers organ-grinder monkey Scott Walker, he questioned President Barack Obama’s patriotism. “I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani babbled, “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” Translation: Obama’s black different; we’re not; Anti-Americanism follows. But questioning a political rival’s love of country is an old American political tactic, and it hasn’t gotten any less vile over time.  Continue Reading

Ted Cruz, “Bourbon Dave,” and the Legacy of Border Ruffianism

Ted Cruz, the junior Reublican senator from Texas, likes to smite his political foes by angrily faux-filibustering. Because freedom.

Ted Cruz, the junior Republican senator from Texas, likes to smite his political foes by angrily faux-filibustering. Because freedom.

The two-week long, Tea Party Republican-engineered shutdown of the federal government is finally over. This week the Senate reached a deal that a politically battered House GOP reluctantly endorsed because it kicked the can of U.S. fiscal and political dysfunction down the road until December and February, when they can again wage scorched earth politics against all-things Obama.

Meanwhile, the horse-race junkie American political media has been focusing on the “winners” and “losers” of the shutdown. Most media outlets, save the hand-wringing experts at the Center for American Progress, have declared the Tea Party Republicans the tail between their knees losers: the victims of ideological rot and political miscalculation. Except for Ted Cruz. Indeed, the junior Republican senator from Texas — his term in the Senate barely a year old — was near universally dubbed a political winner even though his party was left with egg on their reactionary white faces.

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Government Shutdown and the Return of the Fire-Eaters

Virginia's Edmund Ruffin, a fire eater who, early in the Civil War, vowed that he would would go down with the Confederate ship. And the son-of-gun did it, too.

Virginia’s Edmund Ruffin, a Fire-Eater who, early in the Civil War, vowed that he would go down with the Confederate ship rather than submit to Yankee rule. And the son-of-gun did it, too, with a gun.

History is sort of important. We as humans consistently look back on the dunderheaded actions our species took in the past and often vow that we’ll never again jump onto the bad idea train even when it passes by at a slow pace with open side cars. Some folks, however, can’t resist: they don’t just want to ride the bad idea train, they want to run it full speed into the gaping, boulder-strewn gorge of failed historical trends. We describe these people as being on the wrong side of history.

Such is the case with the radically conservative Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, who are gleefully doing all that they can to turn the governmental train into a smouldering heap of wreckage. The current GOP-led House may validate the Greek philosopher Plato’s claim that all democracies must fall prey to the whims of society’s loudest, most dim-witted, authoritarian-minded nematodes, eventually collapsing into anarchic chaos before a tyrannical ruler reasserts control. The U.S. isn’t there yet, but the Tea Party caucus is sticking up the conductor, and it may just be a matter of time.

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The Republican Party, Race-Baiting, and Reconstruction’s Legacy

A campaign button worn by so-called "Reagan Democrats:" blue collar white northerners worried that Democrats had caved to black interests.

A 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign button worn by so-called “Reagan Democrats:” blue-collar white northerners worried that Democrats had caved to black interests.

Its become a truism in modern American politics that the Republican Party traffics in coded racial resentment. Dog-whistle phrases like “taxes,” “welfare,” “food stamps,” “dependency,” “entitlement reform,” or, if you’re the non-too-subtle former Pennsylvania senator Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” have helped relay the message to status-anxiety ridden working and middle class whites that the GOP will protect them from the welfare scrounging black hordes.

With good reason, the GOP’s use of racial resentment to win votes is considered a twentieth-century century phenomenon, but it also has deep roots in the nineteenth century Reconstruction era, when the intersection of race and class planted the seeds of racial resentment that show a clear link between the party of Abraham Lincoln and the party of, well, the Tea Party.

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The GOP, the Debt Ceiling, and the History of Killing Political Legitimacy

Poster advertising a "Save the Union" meeting, Frederick, Maryland, September, 1860.

Poster advertising a “Save the Union” meeting, Frederick, Maryland, September, 1860.

The situation was unprecedented in scope. The conservative party in America, its hardcore base mostly relegated to the South, had just suffered a devastating electoral defeat in which a lawyer and political progressive from Illinois won the U.S. presidency along mostly sectional lines, carrying primarily northern and west coast states. In response to the stinging rebuke of their policies by the majority of the American people, the conservative party decided that rather than accept the outcome of the presidential election, they would instead try to prevent the victorious party from governing by denying their very political legitimacy. In so doing, the conservative party in America waged war against democracy itself.

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Abe Lincoln Resurfaces, Still Helping with our Better Angels

An image taken in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863 that very well might show a previously un-noticied picture of President Abraham Lincoln. Picture by Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

A picture taken at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania that very well might show a previously unnoticed image of President Abraham Lincoln. Picture by Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Recently, news broke that a keen-eyed former Disney animator named Christopher Oakley had discovered a previously unknown image of President Abraham Lincoln in an old picture taken by photographer Alexander Gardner. Gardener took the photo on November 19, 1863, the day Lincoln delivered his “Gettysburg Address,” perhaps the most famous – and shortest – speech in the history of the United States. If this admittedly blurry and tiny image does indeed show Old Abe, and the evidence looks fairly convincing that it does, then it would be one of the very few images of the 16th president not taken in a posed, studio setting.

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Obama Calling Lincoln: History as the Great Legitimizer

President Barack Obama meets "President Abe Lincoln" during a 2012 campaign rally in Iowa.

President Barack Obama meets a fellow prairie stater, “President Abe Lincoln,” during a 2012 campaign rally in Iowa.

Over the summer, President Barack Obama made a series of speeches designed to drum up public and private support for better infrastructure investment as part of his broader long-term economic recovery plan. This speeches were mostly political, insofar as no such plan has any chance of squeezing through the fatalistic lunatic factory that is the current Republican controlled Congress. The president knows this, of course, but his speeches gave him the chance to do what all politicians do during their time in office: invoke history to legitimize the present…and the future.

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