Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Class Traitor

Question: Does the Constitution impose any limits on the federal government? 

In 2009, the Progressives' answer to this question was, and I quote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Are you serious?" But, beginning approximately January 20, 2017, we began learning of a seemingly endless list of limitations on the federal government. And specifically, limitations on one branch of the federal government. And even more specifically, limitations on one person at the head of one branch of government. That person, of course, is the President. The President, we are now told – at least any President who was sworn into office on January 20, 2017 – must be totally transparent about how he and his family earned their personal wealth. The President also, we are now told, must not repeal the Executive Orders of any past President named Obama. The President, further, if his skin is not the correct hue, must not nominate a candidate to fill an empty Supreme Court seat in an election year. Further examples abound.

Perhaps you will notice that none of these limitations on the presidency derive from the Constitution. No, our progressives still are not much interested in constitutional limits. The problem with constitutional limits, or any kind of legal limits, really, is that they have to be written down somewhere. In public. Where people might read them, and bother our rulers about them. Limits can be a useful thing. But, once the progressives restore themselves to the ruling saddle, they become so many stinging flies. 

Surely, progressives believe that any president would operate within certain norms. But whatever these norms are, they are not legal norms. Constitutional limits are no good. Legal limits are no good. The needful thing is to have limits that are not written down anywhere. While progressives belong to a political party that trades power every election with a different political party, there are some people, in both parties, who are members of a different club – an invisible club – who gets to set those norms. Members of the invisible club can accuse each other of violating the norms. But not the American public. 

Before Trump, the country was run by the unwritten rules of a secret club. Legal rules are for rubes. And the more legal rules there are, the more effective the distraction.

When that invisible club lost to Trump in 2016, it was a much more devastating loss than merely losing to the other side: there were not supposed to be any contenders for the power of setting the norms of governance.
Hillary Clinton did not say so until 2016, but many Americans had known it for a long time: the ruling class of globalists in this country thinks the rest of us are deplorable. How could they not? When the globalists set their sights on their prize, they regarded the natives – we, the Americans – as an insolent band to be swept aside. As Thomas Becket, in the 1964 film named for him, said to Henry II of the Norman conquest of his own Saxon kinfolk, "One always hates what one wrongs": 
When you Normans invaded England,
you seized our Saxon land,
burned our Saxon homes,
raped our Saxon sisters.
Naturally, you hate Saxons.
The lower third of the American population has been brutalized in other ways, arguably more lasting and devastating. Illiteracy, illegitimacy and single parenthood, hooliganism, violence, lawlessness, drug taking, welfare dependency, general hopelessness, and the atomization of the family, are problems that have been, in equal measures, well-documented, serious – and neglected by policymakers. The same policymakers who have enriched and empowered the globalists over the same period.
So of course the globalists and their political enablers hate us regular Americans. One always hates whom one wrongs.

What has changed in the Trump era is simply that progressives are finally admitting it to themselves: Yes, once Trumpism is over, we shall rule you. Yes, we shall rule you because we, obviously, know what is best for you. But more to the point: We shall rule you because we hate you
Donald Trump: Class Traitor
Donald Trump was no barbarian. He was a New Yorker. Successful. Wealthy. Well-connected. An elite. 
True, Trump was uncouth. He pushed the legal limits in his business dealings. He engaged in infidelity. The WASP culture was lost on Trump. 

But the way of the WASP had been lost or forgotten long before Trump. The media had covered up infidelities and indiscretions of other post-World War Two presidents, with the notable exception of Nixon, by which time the worm had turned. Had journalists held back because of high-mindedness – a reverence for norms, an antipathy toward the gauche?
Yes, but not because journalists were high-minded, but because the American public was. The American bourgeoisie was never either high-class or high-brow, but they were middle-class and middle-brow, or nearly enough. Journalists and politicians were the ones who lowered the brow. It was these, our supposed high-brow elites, who took taxes from the middle-brow bourgeois to epater them with Mapplethorpe's piss. It is the middle-brow who chokes on the gauche, and pays for the discourtesy. Elite globalists want a world with other elite globalists, and below them only a mute hand-to-mouth serf class. They do not need a middle-brow middle-class nipping at their heels. Recall how unwelcome was Tom Wolf's cluing in the middle-brow to the Bernsteins' radical chic munching Roquefort cheese morsels with vinyl-clad Black Panthers? 
Long before Trump, Flavius Rufinus, born in Gaul, became minister of the Eastern Roman emperor in the fourth century. A Goth, Rufinus was derided by enemies for transgressing ruling norms. Giving voice to the hatred of Rufinus's enemies, the poet Claudian wrote:

Have you seen his yellow-stained pelts?
How he slings barbarous fur round
his shoulders, sporting harnesses,
quivers, and arrows--the kind that
make an inhuman screech? Clothes make
the man, but this man's make a beast. 
It's disgraceful that he signs our 
laws while sitting in the curule chair, 
ruining our Roman way of life
with his poor taste in Gothic "style."
Our ruling norms had sunk well before Trump. When Matt Drudge put copies of the Monica Lewinsky story in the hands of every middle-brow American, they were aghast to learn how low their rulers' brow had sunk. While the Kardashians are the butt of every joke about modern American low-brow revelry, even elites today share in their culture. Fashion in clothes and music, even among the elite, is set by the class inhabited by the Kardashians. Theodore Dalrymple observed that when a member of the British royal family had her navel pierced, no one was in the least surprised. "Never before," Dalrymple noted, "has there been so much downward cultural aspiration." 

Ever since Drudge, Americans realized that all these people were fakers. That they were merely climbing from their low morals to spit on us from great heights. 

Trump flips the profile of the modern virtucrat: he may have no political convictions but he does have political courage. The old WASP presidents like FDR were a little above us. The modern globalist virtucrat lets us know we're a good sight beneath him. Trump is something new. We impugn his moral character, but he doesn't impugn ours. Amidst the disappointments of our ruling class, this, at least, is a welcome change. 
While it lasts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

It was never about RACE—It was always about CLASS

Seth Barrett Tillman, It was never about RACEIt was always about CLASS, New Reform Club (Oct. 28, 2020, 9:21 AM), <>; 

The Twitter thread starts <here>

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Professor Jonathan Adler’s Rashomon Moment


Professor Jonathan Adler’s Rashōmon Moment

This is what Professor Adler wrote:

The strongestargument that the use of these [White House] videos [celebrating JusticeBarrett’s appointment] counsel in favor of [Justice Barrett’s] recusal is thatthe videos themselves, and Justice Barrett’s willingness to participate in theevent, somehow indicates that she favors the President’s re-election. If suchan inference could be drawn, it would support the argument for recusal, much asJustice Ginsburg’s comments [in an interview] expressing her desire that Trump [should]los[e] the 2016 election counseled for her recusal in 2016 election cases.

So far so good. Next, Professor Adler wrote:

Of course, Justice Ginsburg did not recuse when such a case came before the Court, and there is a difference between drawing an inference from a justice’s own explicit conduct and drawing one from videos produced by third parties. The case for recusal in the former instance is far stronger.

But what did that enigmatic statement mean?

Did Professor Adler mean?:

Of course, Justice Ginsburg did not recuse when such a case came before the Court, and there is a difference between drawing an inference from a justice’s own explicit conduct [i.e., Justice Ginsburg’s interview expressing disdain for Trump] and drawing one from videos produced by third parties [such as the White Houses filming Justice Barrett’s participation in festivities]. The case for recusal in the former instance [involving Justice Ginsburg’s speech] is far stronger.

Or, did he mean?:

Of course, Justice Ginsburg did not recuse when such a case came before the Court, and there is a difference between drawing an inference from a justice’s own explicit conduct [i.e., Justice Barrett’s attending White House festivities] and drawing one from videos produced by third parties [involving newscasters interviewing Justice Ginsburg]. The case for recusal in the former instance [involving Justice Barrett’s conduct] is far stronger.

I am not entirely sure I know what Professor Adler intended here. I think, but again, I am not sure, Adlers use of the word conduct obscures the point he is attempting to make. I also think it likely different readers understood this paragraph very differently from one another. As to its original public meaning?


Seth Barrett Tillman, Professor Jonathan Adler’s Rashōmon Moment, New Reform Club (Oct. 27, 2020, 4:03 PM), <>;

Jonathan H. Adler, Should Justice Barrett Recuse from 2020 Election Litigation? (Updated), Volokh Conspiracy—Reason (Oct. 26, 2020 10:39 PM), <>; 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

A Time for Choosing

I have been hearing some common themes lately. Maybe you have been hearing them too. The themes I have been hearing run along the lines of: Has America reached its sell-by date? And: What does it mean to be an American in 2020? And: Maybe life in America should not return to normal. 

What I am getting at is, there is a feeling about that America as we know it is over. 
And even more curiously, I get the distinct feeling that many people are glad of this. 
I get this feeling every time someone gets angry about the very idea of "making America great again." I get this feeling every time someone objects to the very idea that "America should be colorblind," or complains that the statement “America is the land of opportunity" is a form of "hate speech." 
I also get this feeling every time someone gets angry about ending Covid quarantines -- as in, letting businesses open, letting children return to school, and generally ending the existence that quite possibly has led to more suicide and drug-overdose deaths than Covid deaths. Amazingly, 74% of Americans supported a national quarantine. And apparently, they still support them.
Why all this anger, and all this fear? Without a doubt, Americans are served up many arguments, regularly, and in generous helpings, why they should be angry and fearful. But, and also without a doubt, Americans also have good reasons not to be either angry or fearful. In the end, whether we are angry and fearful is up to us. Whether we are angry and fearful is our choice. As Samuel Johnson prayed, "withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious, and doubts impossible to be solved."

Here is what I mean when I saw we have good reasons not to be angry and fearful. Over four years under the banner of Making America Great Again, an unprecedented percentage of Americans, 56%, feel they have been made better off by America. Of course, there are also many people on television who say that Making America Great Again is racist and is the cause of race riots and fires and killings in the streets. But no one is holding a gun to your head to believe that. If you wish to be angry and fearful, you could believe that. But if you were open to the option of not being angry and fearful, the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans have seen their lives materially improved provides good cause. 

Here is another example how one could choose to be hopeful, instead of angry and fearful, if only one were not determined to remain angry and fearful. Over the same past four years, 55% of Americans think “life for young black Americans has gotten better since Trump’s election” or stayed the same. Compared to the Obama Administration, in July 2016 only 13% said “life for young black Americans got better since the election of the first black president.” Surely, if someone were open to the option of not being angry about race relations in America, this would give good cause for hope and optimism.
There is cause for hope and optimism on the Covid front, too -- if one is not already heavily invested in an anger and despair political portfolio. The WHO recently rejected lockdowns as a supported policy. Americans also exponentially overestimate the risk of death from Covid. President Trump had Covid. Given his age and comorbidities, he was at a heightened risk. He faced it bravely, and weathered it handily. A recovered and emboldened President Trump told America: "Don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it.... Don't let it take over your lives. Don't let it happen....Don't let it dominate your lives."  

Surely, if someone were open to the option of not being angry and scared about Covid, they have cause for hope and optimism.

The past four years have delivered prosperity we were told was impossible, new peace in the Middle East we thought was hopeless, a respite from new American wars we figured were inevitable, and despite a terrible unprecedented virus inflicted on us by China, a light at the end of the tunnel. Four years of Trump have brought Americans peace and prosperity.

Yet, polls show that a majority of Americans are just not all that interested in peace and prosperity.

What is an American in 2020? An American in 2020 is the groundhog retiring to its burrow, regardless of the weather. 

A 2020 American is the person who has been made better off... and is mad as hell about it. 
This strikes me as an odd sort of malaise. Americans' 2020 malaise is not from external causes, though heaven knows such causes abound this year. No, Americans' 2020 malaise comes from within. Our malaise is by choice. 
Our responses are always a choice. Our response to a disease is a choice. In responding to the Wuhan virus, we now have several valid choices. We have an expert-supported recommendation to stop lockdowns. We also have an expert-supported recommendation to continue cowering. Likewise with our economy, we also have choices. We have expert-supported recommendations that offer greater prosperity by reopening our businesses. We also have expert-supported recommendations that urge austerity, by keeping our businesses closed and begging the government and banks for help.

Which of these paths America chooses will define who we are. America is made of those rare moments when its people commits to some belief. Americans can choose their own preferences, can choose policies that help their own businesses and lives. Or, as the New York Times urges, Americans can "choose the right side of history."
I am prepared for "History" to win the 2020 election, and for Trump -- and Americans' actual concrete interests and preferences -- to lose. Just as I was prepared for Trump to lose the 2016 election. Perhaps I will be surprised again. But whether in this election or the next one, the Trump era will come to an end. And I don't suspect four more years will make any real difference. We have already learned that Trumpism works: That globalism is a fraud on the American people. That new American military entanglements are not inevitable. That peace in the Middle East is possible. That foreign policy experts and military leaders might possibly, just maybe, sometimes, have no clue what they are talking about. That the criminal justice system can be reformed. That American blacks, contrary to the belief of American political elites (confirmed via Biden's revealing gaffe), are capable of thinking for themselves, capable of helping themselves. That third-trimester abortions, which the overwhelming majority of Americans abhor, are not inevitable. That ideology is a straitjacket, and if we can break free from it, our economy is not destiny. Policy is not destiny. They are choices. They ought to be our choices. Not the choices of commissions, or consultants, or committees, or conferences, of people whom we do not know, and who do not know us. And that "History" is not our judge: that there is, in the end, no "right side" or "wrong side" except for God -- or for those who would be God. For close to 9 million Obama voters who went for Trump in 2016, though assailed as racists and deplorables, that spell was broken. History is a false god invented by hack shamans who would put their own judgments in its mouth to shame and terrorize us.
Under Trump, for the past four years our country belonged to us, the Americans, again -- not to the globalists, the empire of the whole world. Our country having been returned to us, we were free, once again, for a brief shining moment, to belong to ourselves, to our families, and to God -- not to the world, not to the ages, and certainly not to the New York Times' vision of "History." 
That is the lesson of Trumpism. If we have not learned it in four years, we are not likely to learn it in eight. And those of us who have learned it must get ready. Because sooner or later, the empire strikes back. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Rethinking Our Past




Philip S. Foner wrote that Jacob Henry’s 1809 speech in his own defense “made a profound impression on progressive Americans by a brilliant reply to narrow-minded bigots.” Foner, The Jews in American History 1654–1865 (New York: International Publishers Co., Inc., 1945), 34, <>. Similarly Attorney General Levi wrote: “In 1809 the North Carolina legislature unsuccessfully tried to exclude Jacob Henry, who, as a Jew, did not subscribe to the Divine authority of the New Testament as required by the state constitution.” The Honorable Edward H. Levi, “Bicentennial Address of the Attorney General at Touro Synagogue,” Rhode Island Jewish Historical Notes, 7 (November 1976): 320, 322, <>. One notes Attorney General Levi’s hyperbole: it was not the legislature (as a whole) which was involved, but only the lower house, i.e., the North Carolina House of Commons, and the Commons did not “try” to exclude Henry, it was (as far as we know) only one member—Hugh C. Mills, from Rockingham County. 

Is it just possible that Article XXXII’s religious test, in the 1776 state constitution, was not rooted in parochialism and bigotry directed against non-Protestants? North Carolina Const. of 1776, art. XXXII. One might consider Article XXXII’s constitutional neighbor, Article XXXI, which provided: “That no clergyman, or preacher of the gospels of any denomination, shall be capable of being a member of either the Senate, House of Commons, or Council of State, while he continues in the exercise of the pastoral function.” North Carolina Const. of 1776, art. XXXI. “In 1801 the Reverend John Culpepper and the Reverend William Taylor were declared ineligible and expelled from their seats in the State Senate. In 1820, the Reverend Crudup met the same fate.” James Michael Hurley, “The Political Status of Roman Catholics in North Carolina,” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, 38 (September 1927): 237, 271. What we see here is “the peculiar state of affairs [by modern sensibilities] into which political life in North Carolina had drifted.” Ibid. On the record we have, the only people who were actually expelled from the North Carolina legislature based on a religious test were three Protestant ministers. For this reason and others, we should consider the possibility that, in 1776, the higher purpose of Article XXXI and Article XXXII was not essentially exclusionary. Rather, the goal may have been simply to model the newly independent state of North Carolina’s revolutionary-era constitution as closely as possible on the extant British constitution, taking into account the loss of royal officers and different circumstances in the New World. This might explain why men like William Gaston (a Roman Catholic), although they opposed Article XXXII, did not feel aggrieved or moved by it in any strong or deeply personal sense. Compare William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 275 (“[M]any able North Carolinians of the time, though not actually guilty of religious bigotry, had no quarrel with the provision.” (emphasis added)), with Henry G. Connor and Joseph B. Cheshire, Jr., The Constitution of the State of North Carolina Annotated (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1911), xxvii (asserting that Article XXXII was an “attempt to discriminate against Christians, other than Protestants”), and Milton Ready, The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2005), 173, <> (“At the heart of the issue lay the ancient animosity between Protestants and Catholics.”). 

To put it another way, political disqualification—based on a religious test—is wholly un-American, as we now conceive American identity. But, the constitution of North Carolina, in 1776, with its House of Commons, and its two House members (elected county-wide) for each county (or “shire”?) and its separate representation in the House for each town (or “borough”), and its exclusion of the clergy from the Commons, was modelled, in part, on an older English identity (even if, perhaps, it was only an English-identity of the North Carolinian imagination). Ready, The Tar Heel State, 170 (describing the “borough franchise” as “an ancient English custom kept by North Carolina’s revolutionary founders”). Consider the participants in the Henry proceedings and the names of the counties they hailed from—see how many of these place names were connected with English and wider British transatlantic history: Anson, Carteret, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin (based on “Dublin”), Halifax, Martin, New Hanover, Onslow, Pitt, and Rockingham counties. Still, in North Carolina, in 1776, and even as late as 1809, the transition had not yet been completed from the older English identity to the political mores which we 21st-century Americans now take for granted.


Seth Barrett Tillman, Rethinking Our Past, New Reform Club (Oct. 22, 2020, 12:50 AM), <>; 

The passage above is from my forthcoming publication: Seth Barrett Tillman, A Religious Test in America?: The 1809 Motion to Vacate Jacob Henry’s North Carolina State Legislative Seat—A Re-Evaluation of the Primary Sources, 98(1) North Carolina Historical Review (forth. circa Jan. 2021) (peer reviewed), <>. 



Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Pre-Election Update on the Emoluments Clauses Cases

There have been four Emoluments Clauses cases working their way glacially through the federal courts. Three of the four cases were so-called official-capacity claims—the actual defendant was the United States government. Although President Trump was the named defendant, he was only a nominal defendant—a defendant in name-only. In an official-capacity case, because the actual defendant is the United States government, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) represents the defendant. Blumenthal v. Trump was one such case. The President prevailed before the D.C. Circuit. Plaintiffs filed a petition for certiorari—that is, plaintiffs sought discretionary Supreme Court review. The Supreme Court DENIED certiorari. And so, that case is now over. The President has prevailed. 

There are two other official-capacity cases before the Supreme Court: Trump v. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which had been heard in the Southern District of New York, and then in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Trump v. District of Columbia and Maryland, which had been heard in the District of Maryland, and then in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In both of these cases, plaintiffs prevailed in the intermediate court of appeals, and the DOJ filed a petition for certiorari. In both of these cases, plaintiffs had the advantage of having prevailed in the court of appeals. In both of these cases, plaintiffs’ opposition briefs were due in October. In both of these cases, there was some possibility that the Supreme Court might decide the case before the election. And, in both of these cases, plaintiffs—not Trump, not the DOJ—sought extensions, which were granted. Plaintiffs’ briefs are now due after the election. Timely resolution before the election is no longer possible. 

The final case, District of Columbia and Maryland v. Trump, is the only individual-capacity claim against the President. The President is being defended by private counsel, apparently, at his own expense. It is being heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The President’s brief was filed. Plaintiffs’ opposition brief was due in October. There was some possibility of judicial resolution prior to the election. Here too, plaintiffs sought an extension, which was granted. Plaintiffs’ brief is now due after the election. Timely resolution before the election is no longer possible. 

Not only did plaintiffs cause these and other delays, but they complain to the media that Trump has caused the delays. See Josh Gerstein, Trump poised to run out political clock on emoluments suits, Politico (July 9, 2020, 11:34 PM EDT), <>. Such claims are simply not true, but the media publishes these allegations, and they are subsequently recirculated on social media. Plaintiffs—not Trump, not the DOJ—have asked for extensions in each of the still ongoing cases. All the while, plaintiffs complain to the media that Trump is blocking judicial review. 

For nearly four years, plaintiffs have told the story that Trump’s outside business interests are illegal, unconstitutional, a threat to national security, and put the interests of plaintiffs and nation at real risk. Yet, at every turn, it is plaintiffs who seek to delay timely judicial review. 

And the national news media has not a word to say.

Seth Barrett Tillman, A Pre-Election Update on the Emoluments Clauses Cases, New Reform Club (Oct. 21, 2020, 4:53 AM), <>; 

The ‘Alliance for Justice’ Again

Yesterday, I documented how the Alliance for Justice’s (“AFJ”) letter, and its associated press release—are no longer available on the AFJ’s website. That letter, from 350 academics to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, explained that it was the Senate’s “constitutional duty to give President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee a prompt and fair hearing and a timely vote.”  

One reader has suggested that there was nothing untoward here. It may have been nothing more than “records management.” Now, at the old link, where the AFJ letter had appeared, the AFJ website now states:

With voting already underway, now is not the time to ram through a Supreme Court Justice. Alliance for Justice pledges to fight this nominee with everything we can.


Nothing to see here folks—just move along.



Seth Barrett Tillman, The ‘Alliance for Justice’ Again, New Reform Club (Oct. 21, 2020, 4:01 AM), <>; 

My prior posts on this topic

Seth Barrett Tillman, The Alliance for Justice’s 2016 Letter to McConnell has gone Missing!New Reform Club (Oct. 20, 2020, 3:53 AM), <>; 

Seth Barrett Tillman, The Two Discourses: How Non-Originalists Popularize Originalism and What that MeansNew Reform Club (Mar. 28, 2016, 9:22 AM), <>. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Alliance for Justice’s 2016 Letter to McConnell has gone Missing!


In 2016, the Alliance for Justice posted, on its website, a letter from 350 academics to Senate Majority Leader McConnell explaining that it was the Senate’s “constitutional duty to give President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee a prompt and fair hearing and a timely vote.” 

The Alliance for Justice’s letter was posted here: <>. But it is no longer there! Why is that? The press release was posted here: <>. It too is no longer there! Why is that?

I discussed the letter here: Seth Barrett Tillman, The Two Discourses: How Non-Originalists Popularize Originalism and What that Means, New Reform Club (Mar. 28, 2016, 9:22 AM), <>. 

I have posted a copy of the original letter here: <>. It is funny how things disappear from the web.


Seth Barrett Tillman, The Alliance for Justice’s 2016 Letter to McConnell has gone Missing!, New Reform Club (Oct. 20, 2020, 3:53 AM), <>.

PS: Here is another copy: <>.

Monday, October 12, 2020

How a Leftist Prof Hijacked History and Christopher Columbus

From “Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America” by Mary Grabar. This excerpt originally appeared at The College Fix and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Howard Zinn rode to fame and fortune on the “untold story” of Christopher Columbus—a shocking tale of severed hands, raped women, and gentle, enslaved people worked to death to slake the white Europeans’ lust for gold.

Today, that story is anything but untold. Zinn’s narrative about the genocidal discoverer of America has captured our education system and popular culture. The defacement of statues of Columbus with red paint had already become an annual ritual in many places.

Zinn is the inspiration behind the current campaign to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” High school teachers cite his book in making the case for the renaming to their local communities. In October 2018, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Rochester, New York, joined at least sixty other cities in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Six states also do not recognize the holiday as Columbus Day. Many articles reporting on this trend cited Howard Zinn’s role in the change in attitude.

Stanford anthropology Professor Carol Delaney, who was quoted in a Courthouse News Service article to provide a counter-narrative, informed reporters that Columbus acted on his Christian faith and instructed his crew to treat the native people with kindness. But such inconvenient facts are inevitably drowned out by the Columbus-hate that Howard Zinn has succeeded in spreading.

Presumably extrapolating from the “many volumes” he had read, Zinn found the inspiration for the dramatic opening sentences of “A People’s History of the United States” [presented in full at the link by the aptly-named—Ed.]:

“Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log: ‘They . . . brought us parrots and balls of cotton, and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned. . . . ’”

The quoted passage from Columbus’s log continues with Columbus’s description of the Arawaks. They are “well-built” and handsomely featured. Having never seen iron, they accidentally cut themselves on the Europeans’ swords when they touch them. The passage ends with Columbus’s now infamous words: “They have no iron. Their spears are made out of cane. . . . They would make fine servants. . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

The ellipses in this passage are Zinn’s, not mine. Those omissions are essential to Zinn’s dishonest retelling of the Columbus story. By leaving crucial words out of the quotation, Zinn makes Columbus say something very different from what he actually said.

It’s unlikely that he even read as much of “Columbus’s journals” or the works of “Las Casas, the great eyewitness” as he claimed. The truth is that Zinn’s description of Columbus’s first encounter with the American Indians is lifted from “Columbus: His Enterprise: Exploding the Myth,” a book for high school students that Zinn’s friend and fellow anti-Vietnam War activist, Hans Koning, first published in 1976.

Zinn perpetuates Koning’s smears. In Koning’s telling and in Zinn’s, Columbus set out to enslave a uniformly gentle people for the sole purpose of enriching himself with gold. In fact, that is far from the truth. European efforts to find a sea route to Asia had been going on for hundreds of years. As William and Carla Phillips point out in “The Worlds of Christopher Columbus,” Columbus’s voyages of discovery were a continuation of Europeans’ ventures of sailing to Asia—at first, around Africa—that had begun in 1291. For centuries before Columbus, Portuguese and Spanish explorers had also ventured farther and farther out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Thus, Columbus’s mission was multi-faceted and inspired by several different motivations: “to reach the East Indies, so as to take Islam in the rear, and to effect an alliance with the Great Khan—a mythical personage who was believed to be the sovereign of all that region, and favorable to the Christian religion—and finally . . . to diffuse Christianity throughout that unknown continent and trade with the traditional sources of gold and spices.”

Desires to find new lands for more resources and to escape enemies and persecution are not impulses unique to Europeans. The natives of North America “in prehistoric times” themselves came from Asia and “crossed the land bridge across the Bering Strait to the lands of the Western Hemisphere.”

When he encountered naked natives instead of the Asian merchants he was expecting, Columbus did not jump to thoughts of working them to death for gold as Zinn, following Koning, suggests. For example, in his log entry for October 12, 1492, Columbus wrote, “I warned my men to take nothing from the people without giving something in exchange”—a passage left out by both Koning and Zinn.

But Zinn’s most crucial omissions are in the passage from Columbus’s log that he quotes in the very first paragraph of his People’s History. There he uses ellipses to cover up the fact that he has left out enough of Columbus’s words to deceive his readers about what the discoverer of America actually meant. The omission right before “They would make fine servants” is particularly dishonest. Here’s the nub of what Zinn left out: “I saw some who bore marks of wounds on their bodies, and I made signs to them to ask how this came about, and they indicated to me that people came from other islands, which are near, and wished to capture them, and they defended themselves. And I believed and still believe that they come here from the mainland to take them for slaves.”

In his translation of Columbus’s log, Robert Fuson discusses the context that Zinn deliberately left out:

“The cultural unity of the Taino [the name for this particular tribe, which Zinn labels “Arawaks”] greatly impressed Columbus…. Those who see Columbus as the founder of slavery in the New World are grossly in error. This thought occurred to [Samuel Eliot] Morison (and many others), who misinterpreted a statement made by Columbus on the first day in America, when he said, ‘They (the Indians) ought to be good servants.’ In fact, Columbus offered this observation in explanation of an earlier comment he had made, theorizing that people from the mainland came to the islands to capture these Indians as slaves because they were so docile and obliging.”

Zinn’s next ellipsis between “They would make fine servants” and “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want” covers for Zinn’s dishonest pretense that the second statement has anything at all to do with the first. The sentences that Zinn joins here are not only not in the same paragraph—as he dishonestly pretends by printing them that way on the very first page of A People’s History— but they’re not even in the same entry of Columbus’s log. In fact, they’re from two days apart.

Zinn’s highly selective quotations from Columbus’s log are designed to give the impression that Columbus had no concern for the Indians’ spiritual or physical well-being—that the explorer was motivated only by a “frenzy for money.”

But literally the explorer’s first concern—the hope that he expressed in the initial comment about the natives in his log—was for the Indians’ freedom and their eternal salvation: “I want the natives to develop a friendly attitude toward us because I know that they are a people who can be made free and converted to our Holy Faith more by love than by force.”

Zinn just entirely omits the passage in which Columbus expresses his respect and concern for the Indians. Zinn also suppresses—and, where he doesn’t suppress, downplays— the evidence from even the sympathetic Las Casas that the Indians could be violent and cruel. Zinn has to admit that they were “not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes.” But, like Koning, he is eager to explain their violent behavior away, arguing, “but their casualties seem small, and they fight when they are individually moved to do so because of some grievance, not on the orders of captains or kings.”

In Zinn’s telling, the Arawaks—or black slaves, or Cherokees, or New York Irish, or whoever—must always be persecuted innocents and the condemnation of their sufferings must be absolute. The officially oppressed cannot be blamed even for any crimes they themselves commit, which are inevitably the fault of their oppressors.

According to Zinn, there’s no such thing as objective history, anyway: “the historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.”

Once ideology has become a moral virtue, Zinn can discount standards of scholarship—such as those of the American Historical Association—as having to do with nothing more important than “technical problems of excellence”—standards of no importance compared to his kind of history, which consists in forging “tools for contending social classes, races, nations.”

Thus it would seem that the noble political purpose behind Zinn’s history justifies him in omitting facts that are inconvenient for his Columbus-bad-Indians-good narrative.

Debunking Howard Zinn is available from Regnery Publishing.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Trump the Grey Has Fallen

"There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive forever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness—those forces are miracle, mystery, and authority. Thou hast rejected all three and hast set the example for doing so. When the wise and dread spirit set thee on the pinnacle of the temple and said to thee,“If thou wouldst know whether thou art the Son of God then cast thyself down, for it is written: the angels shall hold him up lest he fall and bruise himself, and thou shalt know then whether thou art the Son of God and shalt prove then how great is thy faith in thy Father.” But thou didst refuse and wouldst not cast thyself down.

 —Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 'The Grand Inquisitor' from The Brothers Karamazov (1880).

 ‘Come, Gandalf,  tell us how you fared with the Balrog!’ 


"We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels. ... In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last ...."

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (1954).

My own hunch is Trump has in mind for himself a role something like that of Gandalf the Grey: to go away for a while and defeat the Covid Balrog, and to return in our darkest hour, having forced us to consider seriously the prospect of "a Harris administration, together with Joe Biden"; to wander toward ruin; to weep in our despair. 

Trump is beleaguered on the Chinese virus, which has undermined his two great strengths: that he was right all along about our economy, and that he was right all along about China. I think he means to return to us as Trump the White, with renewed authority to fight on our behalf against those who would kill our economy, and against those who would kill our people. He has, after all, and for the first time, aroused sympathy among his enemies. Upon his return, that sympathy will turn into awe -- and, perhaps, even into love. 

The left means to rule by mystery and authority. Through "social justice," "experts," "fact-checkers," and crisis fiat governance, their project is all but achieved. But Trump may have one of the ancient tricks still up his sleeve: to perform a miracle.