Tag Archives: America


In a new era of politics, looking back at the restraint of George H. W. Bush

The Presidential podcast, with Lillian Cunningham:

The more the American political climate today resembles a personality-driven reality show, the more the country’s nostalgia seems to grow for restrained elder statesmen like George H. W. Bush. “There’s clearly a new appreciation of his grace, of his dignity,” biographer Jon Meacham says.

“But we miss the point of Bush if we simply focus on his good manners and neglect the genuine historical legacy that he’s left us,” according to Meacham. “There are sound historical, intellectual, philosophical reasons to appreciate with high regard the presidency of George H. W. Bush.”

In this week’s episode of the Presidential podcast, Meacham and fellow historian Jeffrey Engel discuss President Bush’s unique form of political leadership—a vintage combination of public service, conservatism and emotional restraint—and examine why his legacy has grown more positive over time.

Bush was a man who’d enjoyed great success at the head of American society, and saw at as his duty to protect and extend that society into the future. He didn’t think America was broken and so saw no need to fix it.

How America feels to Trump supporters

Ezra Klein talks with anthropologist Arlie Hochschild, who visited Trump country in Louisiana, and talked with many of his supporters to learn how America looks to them.

They see themselves as patiently waiting in line for their due reward, only to find the line isn’t going anywhere. When they look ahead, they see immigrants and other special interest groups cutting ahead, and Barack Obama and the federal government waving the line-cutters in. Trump supporters feel like aliens in their own country.

Much of Trump’s support comes from divisions between social classes — something that Americans still pretend doesn’t exist here. Trump supporters are told they’re privileged because they’re white, but they don’t feel privileged. And they’re right, because they’re white but they’re lower class.

Not discussed much in this podcast: Trump’s supporters aren’t the white poor; they’re more affluent than their neighbors. That doesn’t necessarily contradict the narrative that Trump supporters come from the lower classes; economic class and social class aren’t the same thing (as anybody who watches Downton Abbey knows!).

This is a terrific podcast, with many thought-provoking points.

Arlie Hochschild on how America feels to Trump supporters – The Ezra Klein Show podcast:

I’ve been reading sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s writing for about a decade now. Her immersive projects have revolutionized how we understand labor, gender equity, and work-life balance. But her latest book, “Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” is something new: she spent five years among tea party supporters in Louisiana, trying to bridge the deepest divide in American politics. It was, she says, an effort to scale the “empathy wall,” to create an understanding of how politics feels to people whose experiences felt alien to her. In this conversation, we discuss:-How she approaches immersive sociology-The kinds of questions she asks people in order to get them to open up about their political feelings-What it takes to “turn off your alarm system” when you encounter oppositional ideas-What she describes as the “deep story” that explains how conservative Americans, particularly older white men, feel increasingly looked down on-Why she feels empathy on the part of people who disagree is an important part of creating dialogue-Whether empathy and respect are in tension with each other-Why many white men don’t feel they’re part of a privileged group-What she thought of Clinton’s comments that half of Trump’s supporters are a “basket of deplorables”And much more. This is a time when listening and empathy are in shorter supply than ever, at least in American politics. It’s well worth listening to Hochschild’s advice on how to bring both back.

Tommy Chong asks Obama to pardon him for his bullshit drug paraphernalia bust

When federal agents banged on his door and asked him if he had any drugs, he said, “Of course I do! I’m Tommy Chong!” Now he wants his criminal record to go up in smoke .

There’s a serious point to this. The war on drugs ruined the lives of millions of innocent people and is a stain on America’s claim to being a land that cherishes freedom. Chong’s life wasn’t ruined, but he can shed light on their problems.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I smoked a lot of pot in college, never suffered any legal harm from it, and walked away from it in 1985. Now that it’s virtually legal maybe I’ll give it another try sometime. Or maybe not; I gave it up because I realized I’d stopped enjoying it.

(Full disclosure: I also shared a joint at a wedding in 1993 or so. But nothing between 1985 and then, and nothing since. I’m not going to claim to be “clean and sober,” because that would be an insult to people who struggle with addiction. It’s just something I did for a while, and decided it wasn’t working for me so I stopped.)

However, there’s an alternate universe where I got busted for marijuana possession, spent time in jail or prison, and had to get by with a felon conviction on my record. As millions of people do — all for doing a thing that me and Barack Obama did with impunity.

Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

Here’s how Trump might lose this thing

Glenn Thrush, Politico: 5 reasons Trump might fall in autumn

Most intriguing: “Everything has gone Trump’s way — and he’s still not ahead.”

For the past week or 10 days, Trump can’t do anything wrong and Clinton can’t do anything right. And he’s still behind in the polls.

Another factor that might undermine Trump: Trump himself. Trump sees this election as much as an opportunity for self-expression as for winning the election. When he gets cocky, he starts saying offensive things, and when those backfire he gets MORE outrageous.

And, finally, Trump’s biggest enemy is fear.

Clinton’s biggest problem is that her supporters are a lot less enthusiastic about her than Trump’s supporters are about him. Hell, I’m an unusually enthusiastic Clinton supporter but an objective observer would label my support as “lukewarm.”

However, the prospect of a Trump White House scares the piss out of me.

I was talking with a friend the other day who is an astute political observer — and who, unlike me, hates both Clinton AND Trump. He said he sees it as highly likely that the United States would experience a military coup within a year of Trump taking the oath of office as President.

That possibility had not occurred to me — and I found I agreed with him, and was relieved.

That’s how scary Trump’s campaign is. A military coup seems like one of the BETTER outcomes of the 2016 election.

And, as Thrush notes, in an election, fear is as big a motivator as love.

Of course, that goes both ways. Trump’s racist supporters are terrified that a Clinton Presidency would be the death of white America. And they might be right, too — only what they see as a nightmare scenario, the rest of us see as the culmination of Martin Luther King’s vision and the American dream — of America as a place where a person is judged by “the content of their character,” not skin color, religion, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Even if Clinton wins the election, there’d still be a long way to go to achieve that vision. But this election could be a tipping point. One way or the other.

Trump’s immigration speech was about bigotry, not economics. 

Josh Barro at Business Insider explains.

Reasonable people can argue for restricting immigration on economic grounds. But that’s not Trump’s primary argument. His primary argument is that brown skinned people — specifically Mexicans and Muslims — are violent and dangerous. In reality, immigrants commit violent crime at a lower rate than native born Americans.

Moreover, Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel show that Trump’s bigotry isn’t limited to illegal immigrants.

Trump’s opposition to immigration isn’t about economics. It’s about ethnic purity. It’s about making America white again.

A brief history of hippopotamus ranches in America: a story about agriculture and espionage

peter_potamus_by_tr3forever-d60k4q7The Longform podcast interviews Jon Mooallem, author of “American Hippopotamus,” about that time 100 years ago there was a brief but serious movement to launch hippopotamus ranches in the US.

The American frontier was vanishing and the environmental movement was just starting. Advocates had the idea that hippo ranches would turn wetlands into useful meat-producing agricultural areas.

“Why I don’t think it makes sense to attribute Trump’s support to economic anxiety”

Matthew Yglesias, Vox:

While plenty of people, including plenty of Trump fans, certainly have concerns about the economy, it’s racial resentment that drives who does and doesn’t support Trump. And without endorsing the resentful views of people upset about declining white privilege, you can see that supporting Trump is perfectly reasonable for people who think this way.

The social and cultural clout of nonwhite people really has grown in the United States, and demographic trends suggest that it is likely to continue growing in the near future. This is a real and important change, and whenever real and important change happens, you would expect some people to dislike the change. Trump has tapped into this resentment.

Trump supporters are looking to make America white again.



America when the Second Amendment was adopted was a small nation on the edge of a vast unsettled frontier that was without government or rule of law. The nation had no professional police forces, and no standing, professional armies.

As for the bit about militias: Even in colonial times, an all-volunteer Army couldn’t beat a professional, standing army. George Washington himself complained relentlessly about that.

How America built itself on guns, then couldn’t let go

[Adam Chang/Vox]


The Day I Got My Green Card

Aatish Taseer, a gay South Asian British Muslim immigrant, writes a love letter to the USA, where his now the proud possessor of a green card.

“I was overcome by what must be one of the most unfashionable emotions of our time: boundless, unqualified love for America.”

Hell of an article.  Reread it every Independence Day.

(Is Taseer Muslim? Not sure. Doesn’t matter — having a confusing heritage that requires a PowerPoint presentation to explain is the American Way! Ethnic purity is for the Old World — hybrid vigor ftw!)

[The Wall Street Journal]



Stay-put nation

How America Lost Its Nerve – Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

Americans today are strangely averse to change. They are less likely to switch jobs, or move between states, or create new companies than they were 30 years ago.

Increasing housing prices are keeping Americans where they are, and when they do move they move from wealthier areas – where housing is more expensive – to poorer areas, where housing is cheaper. That’s the opposite of the pattern through the 19th and 20th Centuries, when Americans moved to find work and prosperity in wealthier areas.

Moreover, entrepreneurship is concentrating in wealthier areas, widening the wealth gap.


How President Garfield’s death changed America – Lillian Cunningham, the Washington Post Presidential Podcast

Garfield was physically robust, and likely would have survived his shooting, but the doctors got to him instead. They poked their dirty fingers around in his wounds and killed him with infection. Garfield’s death brought antisepsis into the mainstream of medical practice in the US — it was already gaining traction in Europe — but too late for Garfield.

Garfield came up from poverty and fought for the rights of African-Americans, and against political patronage.

The Presidential podcast looks at his life and work:

Only 100 days into office, President James A. Garfield was shot down in a train station in 1881 by a disturbed office seeker. The newest episode of the Presidential podcast tells the dark story of Garfield’s murder and his medical treatment, but also illuminates some of the brightest, most overlooked aspects of his life story.

“Destiny of the Republic” author Candice Millard and Michelle Krowl, of the Library of Congress, take listeners through Garfield’s impoverished beginnings, his fierce intellect, his gregarious nature—and the way his death changed both American medicine and the civil service.


Most people in jail are pretrial – they haven’t been convicted of anything. And yet they’re required to pay bail to get out, to pay court costs, and even to pay their own room and board (as if they were there by choice). While the middle class and wealthy can afford these expenses (just barely in the case of many middle class), the poor can’t, and so they languish in jail, while in the outside world they lose their jobs and families.

Many of these people are in jail for non-DUI traffic violations, or for failure to appear in costs or to pay previous court costs.

Nancy Fishman of the Vera Institute of Justice discusses the problem with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

Is America Engaged In A ‘Vicious Circle’ Of Jailing The Poor?

The State of the American Dog


When a cocker spaniel bites, it does so as a member of its species; it is never anything but a dog. When a pit bull bites, it does so as a member of its breed. A pit bull is never anything but a pit bull.

Powerful, moving, and at times hard-to-read article by Tom Junod in Esquire about pit bulls, and how they parallel the state of America.

Pit bulls are a mainstream American dog. You see a lot of them, the bullet-shaped face where you used to see long, German-shepherd-like noses. Despite their popularity, they’re the dog most likely to be hated, feared, and banned by law from many American communities. Many people believe pit bulls are vicious and violent by nature; others believe they’re gentle, loving dogs, maligned by prejudice and ignorance.

What pit bulls are, says Junod, is dogs, each one an individual, but part of a species capable of both gentle love and aggression. Never forget your dog is a predator, or else you’re setting yourself up for tragedy.

Ironically, all this emotion is heaped on a breed of dog that has no scientific existence. A pit bull is not a breed the way a German shepherd or a collie is a breed. A pit bull is simply a kind of dog that has a number of characteristics: Shape of skull, body type, coat, and so forth. And even that is imprecise — a pit bull is basically what you point to when you’re talking about pit bulls.

Pit bulls are more likely to be owned by poor people, and ethnic minorities. Affluent whites will often cross the street to avoid them.

You learn a lot about America when you own a pit bull. You learn not just who likes your dog; you learn what kind of person likes your dog—and what kind of person fears him. You generalize. You profile. You see a well-heeled white woman walking a golden retriever and expect her to cross the street and give you a dirty look; you see the guy who’s cutting down her trees or pressure-washing her driveway and you expect him to say: “That’s a beautiful dog.” Or: “How much you want for that dog?” Or: “You fight that dog?” You learn that the argument about pit bulls takes place along the lines of class and, to a lesser extent, race. The opposition to pit bulls might not be racist; it does, however, employ racial thinking. If a pit-bull-Labrador mix bites, then the pit bull is always what has done the biting, its portion of the blood—its taint—ineradicable and finally decisive.

Pit bulls are killed by the thousands every day in America. Literally thousands every day. They’re very likely to be brought to shelters, and difficult to adopt out because of their reputation. (And that reputation should not be dismissed out of hand as mere prejudice. Discussions about pit bulls and viciousness are a confusing mix of slander, truth, and self-fulfilling prophecy.)

America is two countries now—the country of its narrative and the country of its numbers, with the latter sitting in judgment of the former. In the stories we tell ourselves, we are nearly always too good: too soft on criminals, too easy on terrorists, too lenient with immigrants, too kind to animals. In the stories told by our numbers, we imprison, we drone, we deport, and we euthanize with an easy conscience and an avenging zeal.

The State of the American Dog

This is such a terrific article that I’d like to study it to figure our how it’s researched and structured. I’ve done woefully little long-form multi-sourced journalism in the last decade.

Francis Fukuyama still stands by “The End of History,” 25 years later

None of this means, however, that we can rest content with democracy’s performance over the past couple of decades. My end-of-history hypothesis was never intended to be deterministic or a simple prediction of liberal democracy’s inevitable triumph around the world. Democracies survive and succeed only because people are willing to fight for the rule of law, human rights and political accountability. Such societies depend on leadership, organizational ability and sheer good luck.

The biggest single problem in societies aspiring to be democratic has been their failure to provide the substance of what people want from government: personal security, shared economic growth and the basic public services (especially education, health care and infrastructure) that are needed to achieve individual opportunity. Proponents of democracy focus, for understandable reasons, on limiting the powers of tyrannical or predatory states. But they don’t spend as much time thinking about how to govern effectively. They are, in Woodrow Wilson’s phrase, more interested in “controlling than in energizing government.”

At the ‘End of History’ Still Stands Democracy: Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall’s fall, liberal democracy still has no real competitors