According to NPR -- and a lot of other places, I should add -- "having policy proposals" is just one of many "brands" for a presidential candidate as opposed to an essential and basic requirement:
It's kind of nuts to think that having ideas aimed at addressing the pressing issues of the day is a just another type of branding like, say, being a "straight talker" or being "someone voters would like to have a beer with." Nuts and, I might add, corrosive. For a politician to have a "brand" is consistent with a view of the voter as a consumer, not a citizen. I think we've already done quite enough to commercialize existence without doing do to democracy as well, but I'm probably a few decades too late in objecting.
In other news, I am extremely impressed by Warren's campaign thus far. Maybe that puts me in the minority but, again, I'm someone who actually wants to fix the problems in this country rather than simply feel better about the country in some vague, intangible sense the likes of which Don Draper types might appreciate when applied to laundry detergent or frozen entrees, which is what most of the other candidates seem to be offering.
A profile of Nancy Pelosi in the New York Times appeared over the weekend which outlines her "coldblooded plan" for leading the Democratic Party, defeating Trump and forging a new path forward. The plan is cynical and cowardly. I likewise suspect it will ultimately lead to failure, either at the polls in 2020 or, barring that, in a toothless, uninspiring Democratic presidency should whoever is nominated adopt her thinking and win the election.
The most striking part of it is just how strongly Pelosi is leaning into fear as a justification for an unambitious Democratic candidate and platform:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not believe President Trump can be removed through impeachment — the only way to do it, she said this week, is to defeat him in 2020 by a margin so “big” he cannot challenge the legitimacy of a Democratic victory.
Can we acknowledge how remarkable this is? Not the part in which the leader of the opposition party is saying, in public, that she legitimately thinks the President of the United States of America is planning a literal coup, because hell, I wouldn't put that past Trump at this point. No, the remarkable part is that her response is to to try to "inoculate" against that in political terms by hoping for a rare-in-this-age landslide election.
I would like to think that, in addition to just hoping such a thing doesn't happen, she has used the considerable powers and resources at her disposal to begin to forge some sort of legal, institutional plan rooted in her status as he most powerful member of a co-equal branch of government to prepare for such an unprecedented act and to warn Trump against even considering it. If so, I feel like it'd be best for her to give it voice. Trump's casting aside of the rule of law these past few years has been a very public exercise in which he has always tested the waters via tweets and ideas floated via media surrogates, forging ahead with his lawlessness once he realizes that no one will effectively push back. As such, If Pelosi legitimately fears Trump will usurp power after losing an election, maybe it'd be a good idea to warn him against it now in terms that he will fully understand.
Let us also acknowledge that all of this talk of a coup, couched in an article in which she talks about her well-known issues with the left wing of her party, not so subtly lays the groundwork for her to place the theoretical blame for such a coup on that left wing rather than, you know, the guy she thinks is going to stage the coup. "If young Democrats get their way we'll tack too far to the left and create Generalissimo Trump!" Pelosi is clearly arguing. I'll grant that we live in a scary age, but so blatantly basing her political strategy on fears like that, and so cynically saying that those most vocally opposed to Trump would be responsible for it all, is pathetic, especially for a figure of Pelosi's stature.
Short of worrying about a coup, Pelosi is worrying about how Republicans will react if Democrats offer anything in the way of ambition when it comes to policy or make efforts to hold Trump or Republicans to account in any real way:
[Pelosi] offered Democrats her “coldblooded” plan for decisively ridding themselves of Mr. Trump: Do not get dragged into a protracted impeachment bid that will ultimately get crushed in the Republican-controlled Senate, and do not risk alienating the moderate voters who flocked to the party in 2018 by drifting too far to the left.
While reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom of impeachment, Pelosi's comments later in the article about how it's convenient to be able to attack Attorney General Bill Barr rather than go directly after Trump, reveal just how afraid she is to get into any sort of confrontation with him. She has thus far shown no willingness to take even moderately aggressive efforts to investigate him or hold him to account in the wake of the Mueller Report or any of the numerous ethics scandals which have infested Trump's presidency. She seems to embody the concern, voiced fairly often these days, that it's best to avoid doing anything to draw Trump's ire or motivate the Republican media machine which would take shrill, hysterical aim at Democrats.
Nowhere in here, however, does Pelosi appear to acknowledge that Democrats could do nothing more provocative than cut ribbons at veterans hospitals and host the annual Easter egg hunt and Republicans and their surrogates in the media would still accuse them of being radical Stalinists hellbent on destroying America. Nowhere does she acknowledge that there is no act or policy position that Democrats could adopt that Trump will not rant and lie about and distort into something horrifying with the Fox News brigade throwing gasoline on the fire. He and they have done it countless times before and they will, with 100% assurance, do it again.
It is utterly pointless, then, to take a hands-off approach to Trump and Republicans, let alone to make that the lodestar of your political philosophy. Even if impeachment is a non-starter given the Republican Senate, using the full power of the Democratic majority in the House to investigate, subpoena and oversee the Executive is imperative. Not just because it's the right thing to do as a matter of basic governance, but because whether Democrats do that or not, Trump and the Republicans will claim they are doing it anyway, casting themselves as victims and casting Democrats as radical tyrants. If that's going to happen, you may as well do your damn job in the process and hold this administration's feet to the fire.
The policy strategy she advocates, such as you can even call it that, may be the saddest part of it all. Pelosi makes it clear here, as she has made it clear previously, that she would prefer that Democrats offer no substantive policy positions that might inspire voters and harness the energy of the party's motivated and highly organized base, all in the name of persuading the most swingy, uncommitted voters on a platform of platitudes and "alienation"-avoidance. The mythical "moderate swing" voter who, to the extent such beasts even exists -- and there's a lot of data suggesting they don't -- almost always swing right when they do, in fact, swing.
The absolute best that can be said about Pelosi's "coldblooded strategy" is that it's cynical. That she is counseling caution and moderation in the runup to 2020 in order to attract all of those swing voters and get a big, coup-negating victory but, once in power, Democrats will do good things, fix our nation's many problems and govern in such a way that makes our lives and the lives of subsequent generations better. That's the best case.
The more likely case: any Democrat taking her cautious, make-no-waves, offer-no-vision strategy now, if they even manage to win, will govern in a cautious, make-no-waves, offer-no-vision way. Partially because, if they promise nothing over the next 18 months, they will have no mandate to do anything ambitious whatsoever, even if they secretly wanted to all along. Mostly, though, because such an approach will be best adopted by someone who, in reality, has no ambition or concern about the future. Such as, I dunno, a nearly 80-year-old candidate who says he "doesn't have time" to lay out a healthcare plan and who "has no empathy" for the problems faced by the nation's largest living adult generation. For example.
It doesn't have to be this way.
There are numerous candidates, leaders and voters on the left who stand for things other than winning the next election for its own sake.
There are numerous candidates, leaders and voters on the left who support not simply getting rid of Trump, which is a given and the bare minimum that must be done to get us out of the nightmare of the past few years, but in taking the fight to him directly.
There are numerous candidates, leaders and voters on the left invested in creating an affirmative vision of a better nation and society and doing what it takes to achieve that vision once in power.
There are numerous candidates, leaders and voters on the left who believe that achieving all of these things require that we not simply quietly tiptoe past the bully in the hallway and hope to God he doesn't see us, but who know that to stop a bully you have to punch him in the goddamn mouth.
Support them. Don't accept Nancy Pelosi's sad, cynical and fearful "plan" or anyone who thinks that's the best path forward. We can do better. And we should.
I haven't lived in West Virginia for a long time, but if you ask me today I still say that's where I'm from. It's the place that, more than anywhere else, made me who I am and helped me figure out what I cared about.
West Virginia has long been the poster child for states which are hurting or backward or down on their luck. There are some heavy stereotypes which come with all of that -- and there's a lot of misleading broad-brush painting when even the most sympathetic folks talk about its nature and its plight -- but there's a lot of truth too. I love my home state, but I also hurt when I see how much it and its people hurt. I want better for West Virginia.
Last night I met someone who wants better for it too. He's the first person who's come along in a long, long time who seems to understand how to make things better too. His name is Stephen Smith and he's running for governor in the 2020 election.
Smith is running hard now, early, because he has to. He has to because he's decidedly not the hand-picked choice of the Democratic Party establishment to take on incumbent Republican Jim Justice. When you listen to him speak, as I did last night, you quickly understand why.
Smith's aim is not merely to put an end to Republican rule in West Virginia. It's to end more than a century's worth of exploitation of West Virginia's people, its wealth and its resources at the hands of wealthy, largely outside-the-state interests. Businessmen, landowners and extractive businesses who have treated West Virginia as their personal piggybank but who have no stakes in its people, its future or its prosperity. It's a system of exploitation that was just as prevalent during the 80 years when the Democratic Party dominated state politics as it has been under the relatively recent phenomenon of Republican dominance. Its a system that the current Democratic establishment, led by former governor and current U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, has shown no interest in fighting.
Smith's argument is that West Virginia's problems are not a function of Democrats vs. Republicans. Not a matter of the left vs. the right. Rather, "it's the good old boys versus the rest of us." Smith says to, "find the West Virginians who are working the hardest and hurting most -- that's whose side we're on." That side is not one anyone in power or most of the people seeking to take power in West Virginia have cared too much about, historically. As such, when you're aligned against both the Republican and the Democratic establishment as Smith is, you have a tough fight on your hands. They're backed by powerful, wealthy forces.
Smith, however, has some things working for him.
Chief among them is organization. Smith has spent 20 years as a community organizer, running the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. Such work is not done from an office in Charleston. Most of it is done on a hyper-local level. It's the sort of work that lends itself to local organization and such organization has been the core element of his campaign.
Already, more than a year-and-a-half before the 2020 election, Smith has recruited campaign captains in each of West Virginia's 55 counties and has recruited 41 down-ballot candidates at the local and county levels to help spread his message. By the end of May he expects to have visited every single county in the state. That early work has already led to a network of volunteers and donors that, in numbers, are several times larger than his closest competitors. In a state where candidates tend to rely on a few TV commercials, a few mailers and the belief that West Virginians will simply do what they're told by the people in power, Smith's campaign has a remarkably uncommon energy that is sure to work to its advantage. West Virginians are hungry for candidates who will listen to them and talk to them rather than talk at them, patronize them and take them for granted.
The message, obviously, is just as important as the organization.
Smith is not afraid to speak frankly about class. About race. About people taking that to which they are entitled as citizens as opposed to politely asking those who have taken so much from them already to kindly give a little back if they can be bothered to do so.
His campaign appearance last night began with a video referencing the Battle of Blair Mountain in which striking miners took up arms against coal companies, bought-and-paid for sheriffs, strikebreakers and their hired guns. He talks about how he worked personally to help aid striking teachers during the 2018 work stoppage who, like the miners at Blair Mountain, wore red bandanas when they marched (he handed out red bandanas to people in attendance last night). He notes that some of those miners and some of those teachers were Democrats, some Republicans, some independents and some apolitical. He notes that the miners who took up arms and the teachers who hit the picket line were white and black. He notes that the majority of striking teachers were women. The common thread was that the wealthy and powerful will do anything they can to divide and exploit those who are less powerful, but that when the less powerful band together they can take back what is rightfully theirs.
Smith minces no words when he says how to do that:
All of these are things which make perfect logical sense but which, for whatever reason, political candidates are afraid to say out loud. Probably because they get most of their support from the wealthy interests who have taken for so long and stand to lose when the people stand up and fight for themselves. Or because they are simply afraid to fight those interests.
I'm a politically outspoken person. Anyone who reads this site knows that. I'm not, however, a person who has worked for campaigns, donated in any great amount to campaigns or who has spent much time advocating for a specific candidate. That's probably because I care deeply about a certain set of ideas and values and, in my lifetime, it has been extraordinarily rare to find candidates who share those ideas and values in more than the most temporary or tangential of ways.
That has changed with respect to the 2020 West Virginia gubernatorial race. I am supporting Stephen Smith, both with my time, my effort and my money. I'd ask that, if you share these ideas and values, that you consider supporting him too. I'd ask that you do that whether or not you're from or whether or not you live in West Virginia. I ask that because if Smith's organizational model, his energy and his message can win the day in West Virginia, it'll be proof that they can win anywhere.
And God knows we need more of that everywhere.
Learn more about Stephen Smith here. Help join the fight here. Help fund the fight with a donation here.
I just read that they're going to shoot most of the "Hillbilly Elegy" movie in Georgia, not Ohio because Georgia has tax credits for production. I know that's not J.D. Vance's decision or anything, but I find it amusing that the movie about a guy who got famous for a book in which he argued that people need to take responsibility for their lot in life and how they should not expect handouts is chasing government subsidies. The only way this could be more delicious would be if Vance cited the lack of Ohio tax credits as poor people's fault.
Still, this is pretty on-brand. I mean, Vance's book was all about enriching himself by leveraging a people and a place of which he is a not a part, so using Georgia taxpayers for this Ohio-set movie in about a guy who wants people to think he's from Kentucky is only right. I'm not sure how the dissonance between the whole taxpayer subsidy thing and his by-your-own-bootstraps ethos will be resolved, but I'm sure he'll make an effort to do so in some glib New York Times editorial soon.
If you're wondering why I'm so cranky about this, you can go back and read the stuff I wrote about Vance and his book in the past. It'll explain it all:
The short version: while Vance had a genuinely rough upbringing and talks about it in frank and often affecting terms in his book, he is far more interested in using his experience as a vehicle with which to advance a conservative political agenda which blames the poor for their own struggles. His doing so found an eager audience on both the right and the left, with conservatives citing his personal success as evidence of the efficacy of their blame-the-poor ethos while liberals nodded along with him, not questioning his portrayal of the rural poor because his version helped assuage their guilt and gave them license to continue to look away. It's pretty odious all around.
If you want two better books about what it means to live in Appalachia and which explains the actual, not imagined, struggles Appalachian people face, I'd ask you to go read Elizabeth Catte's "What you are getting wrong about Appalachia" and Brian Alexander's "Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town."
They won't make fancy movies starring Amy Adams out of those books, but they have the benefit of containing actual information.
An article appeared in the Washington Post yesterday about a lynching in Wytheville, Virginia in 1926. A man named Raymond Byrd was arrested after being accused of raping a white woman. He was killed in his jail cell by a mob, his body was dragged through town behind a car and he was hung from a tree. Only one person was ever charged with a crime after it occurred and he was quickly acquitted by an all-white jury. That was the end of that.
The Post’s story is less about the lynching itself, though, than it is about a man named John Johnson. Johnson is in his 80s and he has spent the past several decades researching Byrd’s killing. He has complied newspaper articles, documents and artifacts. Most importantly, he has complied a list of names of many of the people who likely took part in Byrd’s lynching. Johnson has been trying to figure out what to do with his information and how — or even whether — to publish it or otherwise make it public.
Part of the problem is that Johnson is a black man and fears both for his own safety and the safety of other blacks in Wytheville who have helped him in his research. It may seem odd for someone to worry about such a thing in 2019, especially over an event that occurred in 1926, but as Johnson’s story makes plain, racial animus and the desire to shield those responsible for racist acts has followed him his whole life and remains strong to this day, even nearly a century later.
But this is not just a matter of open and obvious racists standing in the way of enlightenment. It is the case even among those who are otherwise sympathetic with Johnson’s cause.
In the story we meet a fellow researcher — a white woman — who has information about the lynching and a list of several names Johnson does not, yet she is unwilling to share it with him. Why?
I’ve got relatives all over the county, and I don’t want to hurt them. We’re not up to making people feel bad about their ancestors . . . Being eight generations, I feel very connected to them and wouldn’t want [people] to be negative toward me,” she continued, not elaborating, as she would later, that she’d “resent it” if anyone asked her to bear responsibility for what a relative had done because “I’m not guilty of any of that,” and “nobody today is guilty of that,” and that while she was in favor of museums and Civil War memorials, she did not think the lynching needed a memorial, or a place in a museum, or a public reckoning involving names because “people would be very angry about it — I can feel it.
This despite the fact that no one here is seeking anything from anyone. Everyone who could be held legally or financially accountable for the lynching is long dead and all relevant statues of limitation have run. No one is suggesting actual consequences for anyone because such a thing would be impossible. All Johnson is looking for is a basic acknowledgment of history and even that is too much for some. It's ironic that, in an age when a certain sort of person finds it fashionable to profanely and giddily tell others than their actual, current feelings matter less than facts, some people’s feelings about their relatives’ complicity in a 93-old murder are so precious and fragile that they are effectively foreclosing any examination of a literal criminal atrocity.
We’re supposed to care about the feelings of the descendants of murderers, but imagine how this must make the black citizens of Wytheville feel. Imagine how the relatives of people who were murdered or who were put in fear of racial violence on a daily basis for decades and centuries on end feel to hear that it may make someone uncomfortable to be told that their great-grandfather was a murderer. As a white man who hasn’t known much in the way of adversity in life I can’t put myself in their shoes of course, but as someone who is both descended from a long-dead murderer and whose family was upended and, in many important ways, still suffers from the consequences of that violence, I can tell you that (a) the skeletons in your family's closet can't really hurt you; and (b) knowledge and understanding of a dark history can be beneficial to healing and improvement. In my family’s case that violence was an isolated and random act no one had to worry too much about after the fact. I can’t even begin to imagine how it would feel to be the target of centuries of systematic, state-sanctioned violence and be told “sorry, it would hurt some people’s feelings to talk about it.”
Not that such denial to confront past racism is limited to over-the-top violent acts like the lynching of Raymond Byrd.
Unapologetic racists, the sorts of which who may have, at an earlier time, lynched a black man, exist and will always exist, but those sorts are pretty easy to spot and pretty easy to deal with in modern times. The problem is that they are held up as the only example of actual racists in this country and everyone who falls short of the standard set by hood-wearing, cross-burning klansmen are implicitly absolved. The people in Wytheville are turning away from a shocking, violent act, but a bigger practical problem are the millions of people who simply do not understand the consequences of our far more common and run-of-the-mill racist past and/or refuse to reckon with them in any meaningful way. They likewise refuse to understand how much they themselves benefitted from it either directly or, because they are white, benefitted from it in comparison to people of color.
We refuse to appreciate that our family may have acquired some degree of current wealth because our parents and grandparents owned homes or property in which equity was built while people of color were prohibited from owning property for centuries (because they were property) and have been subjected to housing discrimination for the past 150 years, thereby impacting their financial prospects to this very day.
We laud the example and legacy of our fathers or grandfathers who may have moved around to take advantage of educational or professional opportunities that helped them, and thus us, move up in the world but refuse to acknowledge that such opportunities were almost totally foreclosed to people of color until very, very recently and that even now such opportunities are not offered equally.
We live in an era in which the consequence-free extrajudicial killing of black people occurs with disturbing regularity. Part of the reason such a state of affairs persists is because we simply refuse to see it as the logical and inevitable extension of such killings which took place in the past, which went unpunished then and go unexamined to this very day.
George Santayana famously said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. I would offer that those who refuse to remember the past are complicit when it does so.
The Mueller Report is finished and it has been given to the Attorney General. We now begin what I suspect will be a nasty, extended fight over whether and/or when it should be released to the public.
I'm struggling to think of a single reason why it should not be released, in full, to the public. While there may be some security concerns around the edges of the thing they can be dealt with easily via redaction of names and the like. All other objections to releasing it would seem to be political in nature.
Republicans will not want it released because it will, in all likelihood, serve to make some Republicans look bad. Either because they were involved in the underlying matters (a small number of them to be sure) or because they have said and done things in the past two years which will prove to be embarrassing or stupid in light of what the report has to say (a great many of them, particularly Members of Congress).
I'd like to say I'll be surprised when Republicans object to the report's release but, sadly, I will not be. These are people who argue, with a straight face, that it's good to make it hard for people to vote, after all. Fighting against transparency and sunlight won't trouble them a lick.
As for the substance: I've been far less caught up in the Mueller Report hype than most of my friends on the political left. While I think the investigation was and is important, the idea that Mueller would indict multiple figures in the administration, let alone anyone close to Trump personally, has always seemed like fantasy to me, both for legal and practical reasons (more on that below). Mueller is no avenging angel and possesses no magic bullets which will end the nightmare of the past two years and change. The only thing that will effectively deal with that are effective oversight and pushback from Congress, political action, and elections. Mueller ain't no Jesus gonna come from the sky, even if he found out something big.
Which is not to say that what's in the report is not important. There are many things Mueller has already uncovered for which a full explanation and accounting must be made and a lot of questions about Trump, his campaign and his administration which must be answered, whether or not any indictable criminal activity was found. A non-exhaustive list:
It should finally be noted that, even if Mueller has not sought any further indictments, that does not mean that he has not found potentially criminal conduct on the part of either Trump or high-ranking campaign or administrative officials. There is a well-established -- and well-founded -- hesitance on the part of prosecutors to seek criminal charges against a sitting president and a strong belief among legal scholars that doing so is impermissible under the law. Rather, the notion is that Congress, a co-equal branch of government, is the primary means of sanctioning criminal conduct on the part of the executive. As such, it quite possible that Mueller has uncovered acts which are, in fact, criminal, but which are not appropriate for indictment given the figures involved or, possibly, are simply not appropriate for indictment at this time.
More likely, it is possible that the facts and conclusions presented by Mueller constitute a basis for Congress to act in some way, shape or form, be it action taken directly against the administration or legislation aimed at ameliorating what has happened or preventing it from happening again. We are entitled to know what Congress knows regarding all of this, both because Congress is the surrogate for the people, and because we are entitled to know the basis on which Congress acts in our name and in our stead.
The Mueller Report, in its entirety, must be released. Anyone who stands against its full release -- anyone who stands for anything less than full and total transparency regarding the important effort which has been undertaken these past two years -- stands against democracy.
On Friday Larry Baer, the CEO of the San Francisco Giants, was caught on tape having a loud, public argument with his wife. In the video he tried to rip a cell phone out of her hands, which caused her to tumble off of her chair and to the ground as she screamed "help me!" Baer walked away and made no effort to help his wife or act in any way to suggest that he cared that he sent her down to the asphalt.
It was a disturbing scene and the lack of criminal charges and the couple's later joint statement that it was all just an embarrassing misunderstanding did nothing to make it better. Whether you or the authorities consider it a crime or not -- I think it could be classified as battery, even if I do not believe Baer will actually be charged -- you cannot say Baer's behavior was acceptable. If you saw that happening to your mother or sister or daughter or friend, you would not be blasé about it, charges or no charges. You would consider it abuse.
Yet, so many of my readers and people responding to my stories about it online are blasé about it, or worse. Sometimes far worse.
I've blocked dozens of men calling Baer's wife a "bitch" or worse, or claiming that she was "looking for attention." Despite clear video of the incident, several people have defaulted to the old stand-by, "hey, we don't have all the evidence" or "maybe there's more to the story here, don't jump to conclusions." This morning someone commented, saying, "[h]e grabbed for the phone. Perhaps his wife was talking loud on it and embarrassing him. So he appeared to have a negative passionate moment, not a planned one." I wonder what would happen if a black man or a poor man or -- heaven forbid, a woman -- upon being arrested for something, attempted to get out of trouble by saying they simply had "a negative passionate moment."
Over at my website we, unfortunately, have an upvote/downvote system for comments, allowing readers to agree or disagree with other readers. A fun thing is happening with those: anyone voicing criticism of Baer or condemnation of domestic violence is receiving tons of downvotes. Far, far more than comments on most articles ever get. I have deleted the misogynistic comments, but those generally defending Baer or condemning those who would criticize him are receiving upvotes, again, in far greater numbers than our site normally gets. I strongly suspect that the articles have been picked up by various men's rights forums -- which are a cesspool of misogyny as it is -- and that they are very sending traffic over to specifically upvote and downvote comments which conflict with their pro-abuse world view. It has happened before, to my site and to other sites.
I, like anyone with decent parents, teachers and other adults in his life, was taught growing up that violence against women was abhorrent and unacceptable. That it was the worst thing a man could do. When I was young I believed, naively, that most people were taught this too. As I got older I lost my delusions on that score. If I held on to those delusions at all into adulthood they were lost after a friend got jury duty on a domestic violence case in the late 1990s. The defendant threw a phone -- an old dial-up desk phone that had some weight to it -- at his wife, hitting her and splitting her head open. The trial resulted in a hung jury. One of the jurors who would not vote to convict the guy said in the jury room, "I'm not gonna send a guy to jail for hitting his wife with no phone." This, by definition, was a man who passed a voir dire that, theoretically, was aimed at weeding out people with preconceived views on the matter at hand.
Evidence doesn't matter to some people. Even when abuse is caught on video it is meaningless to them. The "hey, people are innocent until proven guilty" and "let's not rush to judgment" responses in these instances are, usually, a dodge and, since we're not the cops and are not on a jury, they're also irrelevant.
It's simply the case that, as most women know but most men, I suspect, don't quite appreciate, there are a lot of men out there, more than you think, who simply do not think it's wrong to abuse women. Who think it's far worse, in fact, for a man to be held accountable for abusive behavior than it is for him to engage in abusive behavior to begin with.
It makes me sad. It breaks my heart. But it's the truth.
I just read the statement from Micheal Cohen prefacing his testimony before Congress.
Cohen is simultaneously believable about which he speaks yet is still delusional about his role and his own character. What he said is simultaneously revealing by virtue of the fact that someone is actually, finally, giving voice to those words in an official setting yet obvious in that nothing he says is at all surprising to anyone who has paid even a bit of attention. Overall, his statement speaks to how villains believe themselves to be the heroes of their own stories. His statement will not change Trump supporters' views, because they are lost causes who are even more deluded than Cohen is.
Trump was and is unfit. He was and is a lying, crooked, racist imbecile. This is not news nor should it be news to anyone.
Neither this testimony nor any magic from Robert Mueller is going save us from that because so many people want it or, at the very least don't care. Trump once famously said that he could shoot someone in the middle of the street with impunity. I don't know about that, but I am confident that he could be found to have committed the highest of crimes or misdemeanors and the United States Congress would do nothing to stop him or punish him. That is simply where we are as a country right now.
The only way through it is to elect someone who is not him and to begin the long and hard work of fixing all that has been broken. Unfortunately a whole lot of people are going to actively or passively prevent that from happening for many different reasons.
At least the ones who actually love Trump will be straightforward about it. A lot of other people who claim they hate Trump will nonetheless help his cause because they hate other things and other people more. They hate Democrats or they hate progressive policies or they hate the media or what have you and, while giving lip service to their disdain for Trump and all he represents, they get something out of him that they fear they would not get from someone else. They want to let corporations poison the water, let banks put poor people in debtors' prisons and ensure that the judiciary is in their pocket as they do it, and Trump is in the best position to do make that happen. These people, too, believe themselves to be the heroes of their own stories.
The Cohen statement is a good read. But if it takes his words for you to believe that Donald Trump is unfit and deserving of removal from office -- that, in Cohen's words, Trump is a "racist, a conman and a cheat," -- I'm not sure what planet you've been living on, because it's been manifest for years and years.
Over three years ago I wrote an essay about how environmental calamities that have hit the places where I grew up -- Flint, Michigan, Parkersburg, West Virginia and Southern West Virginia -- were not mere accidents. They occurred because those with wealth and power consider the lives of poor people in poor places like that to be cheap by design.
I ended the essay by noting that such has always been the case and that, in all likelihood, it always will be the case. It will happen again and again because politicians simply don't care about the people who live there and the general public, for the most part, cannot be bothered to care.
This morning I woke up to see this:
I've lived long enough and I know enough history to know that our system is frightfully efficient at crushing both hope and the hopeful. I know that powerful forces will align in an effort to thwart anyone who dares push back against the power and the priorities of the wealthy. I know that a handful of progressive politicians and activists are, at present, no match for both the machinery of corporate America and the apathy of most Americans.
But seeing a politician actually say things like this out loud is unbelievably inspiring. Every bit as inspiring as it is shocking.
"Green New Deal backers say they want more high-speed trains to make airline travel less necessary, and more electric cars and charging stations. But experts warn that changing the existing fleet of cars in the U.S. would be an extraordinary effort." -- NPR tweet, February 9, 2019
"Colonists say they want to throw off the yoke of royal tyranny and form a new nation founded on the principles of self-evident truths about equality and liberty. But experts warn that winning a revolution against England would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1776
"Abolitionists say they want to end slavery, America's original sin and an atrocity of untold depths and darkness. But experts warn that changing the economic model of southern agriculture would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1852
"New Deal backers say they want to rescue the nation from economic catastrophe and take steps to both prevent another one and mitigate the effects of another one should it occur. But experts warn that doing literally anything would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1932
"World War II backers say they want to stop the march of fascist tyranny that promises untold death and destruction and imperils the very notion of freedom and democracy. But experts warn that defeating Germany and Japan would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1941
"Civil Rights activists say they want to end a century of Jim Crow laws and extend Constitutional protections to everyone, not just whites. But experts warn that asking people not to discriminate and actually abide by the law would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1954
"President Kennedy says he wants to put a man on the moon in an effort to inspire a nation, prove its superiority to communist dictatorships and to open up a new frontier of scientific discovery and human imagination. But experts warn that landing a man on the moon would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1961
Doing anything that truly matters takes extraordinary effort. Aid in that effort. Help direct that effort if you genuinely feel that it is misguided in some important way. But don't sit the hell back and whine about doing something simply because it takes effort.
In September I wrote about Kenan Memorial Stadium at UNC Chapel Hill and its namesake, William Rand Kenan Sr., who murdered scores of blacks in the 1898 Wilmington Massacre.
This week I hosted NPR's sports show, "Only a Game," and produced a story about it.
The results of yesterday's midterm election defy hot takes and easy narratives. On one level -- in terms of just how overwhelmingly voters, in raw numbers, voted Democratic and/or anti-Republican -- it was a Democratic wave of historic proportions. The sort of wave which puts to lie the common Republican and media talking point that America is "a center-right nation." No, in terms of the sentiment of the people of this country as of November 6, 2018, it is certainly not.
That sentiment was clearly blunted in terms of results, however. Given that massive lean towards Democrats in overall vote totals, fair elections would have given them far more than a majority of a couple of dozen House seats. Indeed, in the past, a lean like we saw last night typically has given the majority party twice as much if not more of a gain in the House. That that's all Democrats got is clear evidence that Republicans' craven agenda of gerrymandering has benefitted them greatly.
But while that's disappointing -- and while a few specific, notable races did not go in Democrats' favor -- there is no way whatsoever to honestly spin last night's results as good for Republicans or bad for Democrats. To do so requires one to lose sight of how political tides turn in a lasting way in this country, just how badly things have gotten over the past several years and just how much work it takes, and was always going to take, to effect real change.
Anti-democratic forces and illiberalism did not spring up, fully formed, with Donald Trump's election in November 2016. As I have written many, many times in this space, we have experienced years and years of these corrosive trends. Just as Republicans' program of court-packing, tax cuts, deregulation and disinvestment in our nation's future has taken decades to bear the rotten fruit it is now bearing, so too has the erosion of campaign finance laws, the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and the enactment of widespread gerrymandering. Republicans began making it their explicit agenda to deconstruct civil society, to benefit and protect the powerful and to cast the vulnerable aside in the 1960s, accelerated these efforts in the 1980s and accelerated them even more in the years since the 1994 Contract with America election. They likewise made it their agenda to rig elections many, many years ago. That agenda was not going to be stopped in a single midterm election.
That agenda was, however, chipped at in real and substantive ways last night:
It took years for Republicans to bugger up this country and a handful of big time superhero candidates were not going to fly in and fix things in a single night. Do not lose sight of the fact, however, that a lot of street level superheroes are starting to get results. In the past two years a hell of a lot of people have done the work to start the process of fixing things. They have knocked on doors, registered voters, and have persuaded millions that there is a better course than the course our nation has been on for so long. That work paid off in many, many positive ways last night, even if it did not do so in 100% optimum ways.
It's easy to break things. It's way harder to fix them. You do so by putting your head down and doing that work. Continuing that work. You make some progress in 2018 and you make more progress in 2020. You win some elections. You take stock, get back to work and then you win some more in 2022, 2024 and beyond. The work is never done. But if the work is done right it can pay off, slowly, over time.
It began to pay off a little last night.
For three years, Donald Trump has courted and enjoyed the support of the "alt-right," which is a euphemism for white supremacists, anti-Semites and neo-Nazis. They played a very large role in his election, with their temporary, barely sanitized public image providing putatively respectable cover for base racism, anti-Semitism and fascism.
After his election, torch-carrying neo-Nazis marched, chanting their racist and anti-Semitic intent in no uncertain terms, and even murdered a woman. Trump refused to condemn them. To the contrary, he embraced them.
Since taking office, Trump and his supporters have rationalized, normalized and praised white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Just yesterday the president himself employed blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric at a rally, scapegoating a wealthy Jewish man as a political enemy and joining a crowd which chanted its desire to "lock him up."
This morning, a man rushed into a synagogue, declared that "all these Jews must die," and murdered at least eight people.
Donald Trump is not legally responsible for the criminal actions of others. But as the President of the United States and the leader of a major political party, large swaths of which have embraced neo-Nazism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism, he and his supporters are damn well morally responsible.
We are what we do and what Donald Trump has done is well-documented. Our president is a white supremacist. Our president is an anti-Semite. Our president has no problem with political violence as long as it is used as a weapon against those he calls his enemies. This is not an opinion, it is documented fact. Our nation is under attack from white supremacist terrorism, our president has done nothing to even remotely condemn it, let alone do anything about it. To the contrary he has encouraged it. As such, our president bears a large amount of moral responsibility for it.
To suggest otherwise is to be willfully ignorant of history.
To suggest otherwise is to be willfully ignorant of how political, racial and religious violence is fostered and inspired.
To suggest otherwise is to be willfully blind to that which is going on before our very eyes.
To suggest otherwise is to be complicit in the ugliness and horror which has overtaken this country.
There's a column at the National Review today which provides a good look into how blinkered and deluded conservatives are and how deeply buried in their ideology they have become.
The premise is not a bad one: "We're all in this together! What's good for my brother is good for me! Shared prosperity makes life better for everyone and brings forth harmony and not division!" It's a riff on Alexander Hamilton's understanding of what our nation was and could be.
I'm not the biggest Alexander Hamilton fan in the world but, generally speaking, I agree with that stuff. Shared prosperity is important, as is our sense of community as a nation.
There are just a couple of problems, though:
My conservative friends: there is absolutely nothing wrong with believing that "mutual economic gain is the keystone of The Union." If you do believe that, however, try advancing at least a single, solitary economic initiative that promotes mutual economic gain as opposed to the massive number of policies you support which serves the interests of business and the wealthy alone, does harm to the poor and to working people and fosters vast and, eventually, destabilizing economic inequality.
Until you do that, you're spewing empty ideology which flies in the face of the reality which you conservatives have created.
Two weeks ago I wrote a story about the history of the namesake for the University of North Carolina's football stadium. The upshot: in 1898, William Rand Kenan Sr. -- for whom Kenan Memorial Stadium is named -- led a white supremacist paramilitary force which rode through Wilmington, North Carolina on a horse-drawn wagon, massacring dozens and possibly hundreds of black citizens with a machine gun. The aim: to commit a coup d’etat overthrowing the local government, led by blacks and their white Republican allies.
My aim in writing that story was to bring to light a dark chapter of American history the specifics of which had been long-buried, but the reverberations of which have lived on for 120 years. History has whitewashed the Wilmington Massacre itself, but a direct result of the massacre was full and thorough ushering in of the Jim Crow era, the effects of which are still felt socially and economically to this day. What's more, many of those responsible for Wilmington -- while having their crimes either excused or forgotten -- went on to fame, fortune, greatness and, in the case of Kenan, were immortalized in monuments to their memory.
When I wrote that story, I hoped that it would start a conversation that might lead to a greater awareness of just how much of modern American society rests on a foundation created by slaveowners and white supremacists. I hoped that, eventually, someone might ask whether or not a giant college football stadium, for example, should stand as a memorial to a guy like William Rand Kenan Sr.
I didn't think, however, that the conversation would last only two weeks:
UNC-Chapel Hill will change the name on a plaque at Kenan Memorial Stadium to distance the university from William Rand Kenan Sr., who was involved in the Wilmington racial violence of 1898. The plaque on the stadium will be altered to honor William Rand Kenan Jr., Kenan Sr.’s son . . .
While it's being couched as merely changing the plaque, the fact is that the place is "Memorial" stadium, with said memorial being the plaque. If you change who is being memorialized I think it's fair to say that, technically speaking, you are changing the name of the stadium. Or certainly the purpose of its name.
I likewise think that while changing the memorial to Kenan's son is something of a cute move by the university -- no new signs or letterhead or anything else needs to be ordered -- it is, in this case, significant enough.
As the university's chancellor noted in her official statement on the matter, the son -- William Rand Kenan Jr. -- is a far more important figure for the university. His multi-million dollar bequest to the university in the 1960s led to a $300 million+ foundation that continues to benefit the university in countless ways. While some of his money was, in fact, family money inherited from the Kenan's slave owning past, it was only a small fraction of it, earned at least a couple of generations before him. He built the vast majority of it through his work as an industrialist and inherited a great deal more through his sister who had married the oil man Henry Flagler who predeceased her.
To be sure, the slave holding past of the Kenans is significant and should be noted by the university (efforts are being made to do this) and, as I wrote in my story, Kenan Jr., like so many men of his time, chose to overlook and minimize what happened in Wilmington specifically and in America at large. They should not be absolved of that. It's the case, however, that Kenan Jr. was born after the Civil War, was not involved in Wilmington and does not have any documented history of active participation in white supremacist organizations, white supremacist history or white supremacist acts. Yeah, I realize that's a pretty low bar when it comes to memorializing someone, but in light of that and in light of his undeniable impact on the university during his lifetime and in the decades since his death, it does not strike me as inappropriate to memorialize him if UNC thinks it appropriate. Especially given that the alternative would be either keeping the current monument to a murderer or mounting a long and 100% certain-to-fail challenge to get any reference to the Kenans removed from the stadium.
Being satisfied with the move from Kenan Sr. to Kenan Jr. is not just a matter of pragmatism, however. I think there's a benefit to be had in doing it this way.
As a result of the removal of the current monument and the stadium's re-dedication, the university is committing to working with UNC's "history task force," which is charged with contextualizing the university's past. If they were to simply change the name of the place to "Tar Heel Stadium" it'd be pretty easy to paper over the Kenans and their history and pretend it never happened. By changing it to William Rand Kenan Jr., one holds out hope that there will be a bit more room, in the new memorial, to explain both his history and the history of the stadium's name change. That's what "contextualization" is, after all. William Rand Kenan Sr.'s actions in Wilmington were completely and utterly unknown by almost everyone before now. By keeping it Kenan, it'll be a lot harder to bury that uncomfortable history.
And that should make everyone happy, right? So many people who dislike the revisiting of our country's slave-owning and white supremacist past decry that to do so is to "erase" history. They should be pleased then, because this does the exact opposite. It brings history that had been intentionally obscured by darkness back into the light.
Good job, UNC. You have a long way to go to fully contend with your past, but at least in this instance you got it right.
Last week I wrote a rundown of some of the many, many lies Brett Kavanaugh told under oath during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. An NBC News report from last night reveals that he may very well have told another one. A pretty damn serious one, in fact.
The story surrounds the claims of Kavanaugh's college classmate, Deborah Ramirez, who says that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her. Her claims were first made public in an article in The New Yorker in late September. Kavanaugh claimed under oath that the first time he heard of her claims was in the New Yorker story, which he suggested blindsided him and which he characterized as "an orchestrated hit to take me out.”
The NBC story claims, however, that based on text messages exchanged between Kavanaugh, his nomination/legal team and old colleges friends, Kavanaugh and/or his surrogates were working behind the scenes to head off Ramirez's allegations at least two months before the New Yorker story broke:
Further, the texts show Kavanaugh may need to be questioned about how far back he anticipated that Ramirez would air allegations against him. Berchem says in her memo that Kavanaugh “and/or” his friends “may have initiated an anticipatory narrative” as early as July to “conceal or discredit” Ramirez.
If he and/or those working with him were trying to get people's stories straight about Ramirez's allegations in July it was, quite simply, a lie for him to say last week that the first he heard about those allegations was in the New Yorker story. A lie aimed at hiding the fact that he knew of a serious allegation beforehand and suggesting that an effort to suppress the allegation -- to craft "an anticipatory narrative" -- was undertaken. This would stand as a lie, by the way, irrespective of the truth of Ramirez's claims.
If the text message bear this out -- and all it would require would be for them to show that, at some point before the New Yorker story, Kavanaugh and/or his team were texting people talking about Ramirez's allegations with at least some degree of specificity -- there is no defense for his testimony last week. It will stand as perjury and it should be disqualifying. More than that, it's the sort of thing that, in almost any other circumstance, would cause his state bar to investigate him with the eye toward a license suspension or disbarment.
Yet, it still seems, Republicans will attempt to ram him through and onto the Supreme Court.
I came from a couple of small and disadvantaged towns that did not have some prefabricated assembly line of future leaders. The people who came from those places and who did, in fact, accomplish things did so because they sought to transcend geography or race or socio-economic status or family history. They had to. They needed to break the mold of their surroundings or their ancestry in order to do good things in life because falling into the common expectations and routines of their environment meant doing less than they aspired to do.
Later, when I went to college and especially when I went to law school, I began to encounter Brett Kavanaugh types. The ones I met were angrier and jerkier than most because George Washington was their safety school and they were disappointing dad by not getting into Yale, but they were of that mold. A lot of them, actually, came from Bethesda and prep-school-laden suburbs like them.
I never heard of Brett Kavanaugh until recently, but I've spent my entire adult life thinking about guys like him. The ones for whom trying to transcend anything would be bad for them rather than good, because everything had been set up for them to succeed and they had better not fuck that up.
Most of them did succeed, of course, but almost all of them are boring, average and pathetic people, no matter their station, wealth or power. Pathetic because they never had to do a damn thing. Because they never once, in their entire lives, had to dream or to work particularly hard. Because they did not, in fact, ever consider the possibility of doing so.
Over at Jacobin today, Megan Day writes about Brett Kavanaugh, men like him and their sheer, mediocre banality. In doing so, she puts her finger directly on that which I've been feeling about guys like him my entire life. It's a feeling that is often claimed by others to be envy, but it's anything but. I feel sorry for these men. I feel sorry for those who have been handed everything in life and, thus, appreciate nothing.
I feel sorry for men who never stop to think of how far they have come because, really, they never went anywhere.
As an attorney with 11 years of trial experience, I found Christine Ford's testimony about her alleged attempted rape by Brett Kavanaugh to be convincing and compelling. Any lawyer with even half that experience would, if they were not being nakedly partisan, agree.
Contrary to what random people on the Internet will tell you, this is not a matter of everyone's opinion being of fair and equal weight. Experienced legal practitioners know that there are basic criteria for what makes a witness believable. Ford met virtually all of them. If a lawyer tells you otherwise, they are lying for partisan reasons.
I'm less interested this morning in her credibility, however, and more interested in the credibility of Brett Kavanaugh. Based on yesterday's hearing that, likewise, should be pretty uncontroversial. He's a liar. He lied repeatedly about things big and small, both yesterday and while under oath several years ago. To wit:
Some of these matters may seem, in isolation, to be trivial. In context, however, they are anything but. The sort of person Brett Kavanaugh was as a high school student has direct bearing on the very serious and heinous act of which he is being accused and his lies about such matters -- his drinking, his attitude toward and treatment of women -- have a direct bearing on his credibility. That he would blatantly lie about such matters is damning and utterly destroys the credibility of his denials. While there is not enough evidence to bring criminal sexual assault charges against Kavanaugh, there is plenty of reason to believe he lied repeatedly in an effort to get out from under the accusations, suggesting that he did, in fact, do what Christine Ford said he did.
Even short of that, however, his lies are disqualifying in and of themselves. He's a lawyer. He's a judge. He's poised to become one of the nine most powerful jurists in the nation. A single lie about even a trivial matter under oath would place any attorney's license in jeopardy and say damning things about his credibility and ethics as an attorney. Multiple lies from a man who wishes to serve on the Supreme Court are inexcusable and would, at any other time in out nation's history, ensure the failure of his nomination.
Yet Kavanaugh will likely be confirmed. He will be confirmed because Republicans do not care that he lied. They do not care about anything other than a political victory and control of the Supreme Court and they will countenance perjury and, it seems very likely, attempted rape, in order to get it.
I defy any person -- especially any lawyer -- to make a case for Brett Kavanaugh's credibility and fitness to be a Supreme Court justice in light of his lies and, yes, his perjury. I defy them to do it without reference to broad political talking points, ends-justify-the-means rationalizations and tu quoque reasoning. I do not think it can be done. At least not if one is being intellectually honest. Even the Republicans with whom I engage on social media and who, normally, will make an effort to argue that white is black until the position is no longer tenable are not even making the effort, likely because they know they cannot do so.
You will likely get your Supreme Court justice, Republicans. But you are getting it at the price of your soul. And you are certainly getting it at the cost of my respect for you. Now and forever going forward.
Most people will watch the Brett Kavanaugh hearing today in order to see whether Christine Ford or Kavanaugh is more believable as they testify about the alleged sexual assault that has led us here. As they weigh the witnesses' credibility, they should remember that they need not rely solely on the "he said, she said" aspects of all of this.
Brett Kavanaugh's boyhood friend, Mark Judge, was named by Christine Ford as an eye-witness to the alleged sexual assault. If what Kavanaugh and all of his supporters says is true, and that it did not happen, Mark Judge should be able to DESTROY Christine Ford's testimony, corroborate Kavanaugh's testimony and end this definitively. He should be able to say "yes, I read what Dr. Ford said about this, but it is simply untrue. This never happened." It would constitute at least some -- perhaps a lot of -- corroboration for his denial.
Instead, Judge literally went into hiding and the GOP is refusing to subpoena him.
This is a farce. it is an instructive and illuminating farce, but the outcome is preordained. Republican Senators will listen to Christine Ford today, but they will not hesitate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh because they do not think that backing an attempted rapist is as bad as not getting their first choice confirmed to the Supreme Court before Election Day.
On Saturday the University of North Carolina football team will host the Pitt Panthers in their home opener, kicking off the Tar Heels’ 92nd season in Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill. Almost none of the 40,000+ fans who will show up have any idea who the stadium is named after, and even those who think they do probably have it wrong.
They've likely heard the name Kenan, as it is an extraordinarily prominent name in and around UNC. One of the university’s founders was a Kenan. The business school is named after a Kenan as is a charitable trust that endows dozens of professorships and distributes numerous grants benefitting literacy, the arts, science, technology, and secondary school education. A Kenan is currently on the Board of Trustees for the UNC School of the Arts.
Almost all things Kenan at UNC are named after chemist, industrialist and developer William Rand Kenan Jr., an 1894 UNC graduate who, after teaming up with his brother-in-law, the oil man Henry Flagler, built railroads and made a fortune developing Miami and the Florida coast. When he died in 1965 he bequeathed most of his $95 million fortune to his alma mater. Today the trust that bears his name is worth over $300 million.
The football stadium is not named after William Rand Kenan Jr., however. Rather, at his request, and following a generous donation, it was named after his parents, William Rand Kenan Sr. and Mary Hargrave Kenan. It is they, according to a plaque affixed to a freestanding monument inside the stadium, who Kenan Memorial Stadium is intended to memorialize and continues to memorialize to this day.
Most fans entering Kenan Stadium probably don’t pay much attention to the plaque and, as a result, don’t know the first thing about William Rand Kenan Sr. Even if they did read it, though, they would not learn the most notable thing about him.
William Rand Kenan Sr. was the commander of a white supremacist paramilitary force which massacred scores of black residents of Wilmington, North Carolina on a single, bloody day in 1898.
For nearly a century the events which took place in Wilmington on November 10, 1898 were known as “The Wilmington Race Riot.” That very name, however, was a lie intended to obscure what really happened.
Long portrayed as a violent uprising of black instigators put down by heroic and noble white citizens fighting for law and order, it was, in fact, a massacre. It was simultaneously a coup d’etat in which a white militia, led by a former Confederate officer and a white supremacist named Alfred Moore Waddell, killed black residents in the streets and in their homes, chased even more out of town, burned black-owned businesses to the ground and overthrew the local government, led by blacks and their white Republican allies in a coalition born of the briefly-ascendent Fusion Movement, which had just been legitimately elected.
History has tended to portray the massacre as spontaneous. It was anything but. It was preceded by months of racial and political tensions, stoked by red shirt-wearing white supremacist Democrats who were aggrieved that in Wilmington, then North Carolina’s largest city, a Fusion government sought to protect the gains freed blacks had earned during Reconstruction. On election day in 1898 the red shirts attempted to steal ballots and drive black voters away from polling places. Those efforts failed and the black-Republican coalition held power.
That night a group of over 450 white men met at the courthouse and signed a so-called “White Declaration of Independence” which specifically called for the repeal of black voting rights and the banishment of black political and business leaders from the town. The following morning signatories to the Declaration burned the offices of the Wilmington Daily Record, — the town’s black-owned newspaper — to the ground and threatened its publisher with lynching. The massacre, planned out in advance and undertaken with deliberation, had begun.
History has likewise portrayed the violence in Wilmington that day as being carried out by an unruly mob. This is also a lie. The massacre was an organized paramilitary action in which the Wilmington Light Infantry, a state militia unit which had just returned from duty in the Spanish–American War, spread out over the city, taking it over street by street, killing black citizens in the process.
The most intimidating — and the most deadly — component of the Wilmington Light Infantry was was its machine gun squad, which commanded a rapid-firing Colt gun mounted on a horse-drawn wagon. The gun, capable of firing 420 .23 caliber rounds a minute, was not property of the United States Army or the state militia. Rather, it was purchased by local businessmen who, according to contemporary accounts, believed that the gun would “intimidate into quietude” those who saw the weapon and “overawe Negroes.” The machine gun squad was likewise itself not a military force. It was led by a Civil War veteran and local businessmen named William Rand Kenan Sr., with other local business owners under his command.
The bloodshed began when foot soldiers shot and killed blacks who had gathered on the street following the burning of the Daily Record’s offices. The massacre grew much deadlier when Kenan’s machine gun wagon crossed the Fourth Street Bridge into the predominantly black part of Wilmington known as Brooklyn. Its first fusillade came in response to what witnesses claimed to be sniper fire, though no sniper was ever found. According to eye-witnesses, the gun’s volley killed 25 blacks in a matter of seconds. Later, as Kenan’s machine gun squad proceeded past an area known as Manhattan Park, it was witnessed firing into a house where three black residents were killed. The gun was later used to threaten black churches into opening their doors to be searched for weapons whites believed blacks to be stockpiling and individuals white leaders deemed to be dangerous or subversive. No weapons were found but many black residents were marched out of hiding. Some were thrown in jail. Some were never seen again.
As the morning wore on, Kenan’s forces and other units of the Wilmington Light Infantry conducted house-to-house searches, intimidating residences into compliance, arresting blacks by the dozens and shooting those who gave even the slightest hint that they might resist. Some blacks who were specifically identified as influential in the community were hunted down and killed. As shots rang out, hundreds of black men, women and children fled town, some permanently, some to take shelter in nearby cemeteries and swamps until the violence subsided. By sundown, buildings in Wilmington’s black neighborhoods were pockmarked with bullet holes and anywhere from 60 to as many as 300 blacks had been killed. The exact number is lost to history due to white leaders’ hasty burial of bodies in mass graves and due to black witnesses either having fled town or having been intimidated into silence.
The next morning white leaders, with the backing of the Wilmington Light Infantry, forced the Republican Mayor, the board of aldermen, and the police chief to resign at gunpoint after which they and black leaders which had not been killed or who had not fled were marched to the train station and forced to leave the state under armed guard. That same day Alfred Moore Waddell — the white supremacist leader who orchestrated the events which led to the massacre — was named mayor, an office he would hold until 1905. The coup d’etat completed.
Within a year of the massacre the North Carolina legislature — determined to prevent blacks from holding political power like they did for a time in Wilmington — passed a new constitution which made it close to impossible for blacks to register to vote and imposed poll taxes and literacy tests that effectively disfranchised black voters completely. Nearly every other southern state would model laws on these North Carolina statutes. The “Solid South” of the Jim Crow era was secured and would remain in place, officially, until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Unofficially, efforts to discourage blacks from voting continue to this day.
William Rand Kenan Sr. was hailed as a hero for his role in the massacre. The white-owned Wilmington Messenger newspaper lauded the Wilmington Light Infantry and Kenan personally, writing “[i]n the Revolutionary War, in the Civil War and in this race war, a Kenan was the bravest of the brave.” A few weeks after the massacre it was reported that Kenan held a massive barbecue for all of those who participated, after which the assembled men gave Kenan a vote of thanks for his service in the massacre. In February 1903 Kenan was named to the University of North Carolina's Board of Trustees. He died two months later.
For the next several decades the Wilmington Massacre was invariably branded a "riot," "insurrection," "rebellion," "revolution," or "conflict," necessitated by an unlawful uprising of black aggressors, with the violence of it all dramatically downplayed, distorted or cast as unavoidable. A typical example of this can be seen in Incidents by the Way, the 1958 memoir of William Rand Kenan Jr., the UNC benefactor, who wrote of his father’s actions thusly:
“As a small boy I was much impressed with the following: There was a riot of colored men in Wilmington and my father organized a company of men with all kinds of rifles together with a riot gun on a wagon and they cleaned up the riot very quickly, although they were compelled to kill several persons. My father rode the wagon and directed the operation.”
William Rand Kenan Jr. was, in fact, 26 years-old at the time and was working as a chemist for Union Carbide. He was almost certainly well-aware of the circumstances of the massacre and likely distorted the timeline of it, casting himself, erroneously, as a “small boy,” in order to distance himself and his family from its horrors as time passed.
It is highly unlikely that any of the thousands of football fans who come to Kenan Stadium each fall or any of the dozens of young men who play for the Tar Heels — a great many of whom are black — are aware of the infamy of the stadium’s namesake. Indeed, even those most familiar with the university and its connection to the Kenans know little if anything about it.
“The Kenans are an enormously generous family of benefactors to the University of North Carolina. Everybody knows that,” UNC history professor Harry Watson told me when I interviewed him recently. “The average undergraduate would say ‘oh, yeah, the Kenans, they’re a pretty important family who have given us a lot of money’ but the biographical details are not likely well known as even that,” Watson said. “Kenan Sr.’s role in the violence of 1898 is not widely known at all.”
“There are probably a couple of people on campus who know,” said UNC history Professor William Sturkey, who specializes in the history of Jim Crow and the New South. “I think a lot of people would be quite shocked. It’s just something that’s been buried and forgotten.”
It’s not the first thing that has been buried and forgotten about the history of the Kenans.
A plaque on Kenan Memorial Stadium refers to the Kenan family's wealth as coming from “chemicals, power, railroads and hotels.” That is true so far as William Rand Kenan Jr.’s adult fortune was concerned, but the Kenans were already wealthy thanks to plantation slavery. Indeed, according to an 1850 slave census, the Kenan family owned 49 people, including 23 people aged 10 or under. This would be the household in which William Rand Kenan Sr., who manned the gun in Wilmington and for whom the stadium was named, was raised.
Last February Sturkey, a member of the school’s Faculty Athletics Committee, introduced a motion recommending that the athletic department take steps to place a new plaque on the stadium to note the family’s slaveholding past. His intention was not to cast the Kenans in a bad light — he did not know about Kenan Sr.’s role in Wilmington at the time — nor was it his intention, as so many people are accused of doing when such matters arise, to “erase history.” To the contrary, Sturkey said, it was the history of the slaves owned by the Kenans that was erased. As a historian, Sturkey said, he just wanted the full story to be told.
“[Slaves’] presence and their lives were omitted. And not just omitted, but intentionally omitted.” Sturkey said. He said that, via his motion, he was suggesting that the Faculty Athletics Committee ask the athletic department to “take steps to recognize the existence of these people whose lives were so crucial to compiling the wealth which built the university . . . it was about simply telling the truth and not misleading people.”
Sturkey’s motion was unanimously passed but it has not been acted upon and the athletic department has given no reason why it has not done so. Not that the athletic department would be the first department which has chosen to ignore the slaveholding history of the Kenans. Over at the Kenan-Flagler Business school website there there appears a timeline of the Kenan family's history. It conspicuously jumps from 1793 to the 1880s, with no mention whatsoever of what the Kenan family was doing, and how it was making its money, during the intervening years.
“Kenan is a name that’s all over our campus, but in terms of how we’ve approached history, we’ve let the greatest benefactors tell their own history,” Sturkey said. “But by doing that, of course, we’ve allowed them to have the complete say in what that history is.”
Based on recent events at UNC, it would appear that, if the Kenans and the university continue to insist upon complete say in how history is told, they will do so at their peril.
Like so many other places in the south, North Carolina is no stranger to the ongoing controversy surrounding memorials and monuments of the Confederate and Jim Crow eras. It is unique, however, in not only its opposition to doing much if anything about them, but in its affirmative protection of such monuments.
For 105 years, a statue called “Silent Sam” sat on a prominent quad on UNC’s campus, facing the main street which passes the university. While ostensibly intended to commemorate the Civil War and its fallen soldiers, Silent Sam, like so many other Confederate monuments erected in the late 19th and early 20th century, was in fact a monument to the Jim Crow Era. If there was any doubt of this, one need only read the speech given by industrialist, philanthropist, and white supremacist Julian Carr at Silent Sam’s dedication ceremony in 1913.
Carr, who advocated for taking voting rights away from blacks and who referred to the Wilmington Massacre as “a grand and glorious event” after it occurred, did not mince words on the afternoon Silent Sam was dedicated. He talked openly, and with no small amount of pride, about how Confederate soldiers saved “the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South,” adding, “to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States — Praise God.” He added that, in the days after the end of the Civil War he had, on the very spot where the statue now stood, “horse-whipped” a “negro wench” for speaking disrespectfully to a white woman. Given how it was spoken of at its very dedication, there is no question that the statue was not intended to memorialize fallen soldiers but, instead, to stand as a monument to white supremacy.
Silent Sam had been a source of controversy for years, but in the wake of 2017’s Unite the Right march in Charlottesville which, among other things, cast more light on Confederate and Jim Crow-era monuments, protests had increased significantly. The university listened to protesters’ arguments but claimed it could do nothing about Silent Sam because its hands were legally tied.
And, to a very large degree, they were. By both a university bylaw adopted in 2015 and by a state law passed in 2015 which prohibit the renaming or buildings and removal or relocation of monuments under all but the most narrow of circumstances. Given the timing of the passage of these laws and the events which inspired their adoption, they were, without question, aimed at heading off protests of monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow before they began. Absent those laws, the sign makers would be pretty busy: UNC has no fewer than 30 buildings named after figures tied to white supremacy.
Not that those laws are the only thing motivating UNC officials and donors. Some seem quite eager to protect monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow on their own terms.
Last month a series of emails were leaked and published in which one member of the UNC Board of Trustees called for cameras with night vision to be installed around Silent Sam in order to protect it and called protesters “criminals” and “entitled wimps” who should be arrested as a deterrence measure. In another email the university’s Vice Chancellor referred to university leadership’s interest in “preserving a piece of our history,” and defending the statue from “outside parties” who may protest it. Wealthy donors threatened to withhold six-figure contributions to UNC if Silent Sam was removed, with one calling protestors “spoiled intellectuals.” Whether it was because of that direct pressure and the interests of UNC officials in protecting the statue, or whether it was because university bylaws and the state law prevented them from taking action, in early August the UNC Board of Governors announced it had no plans to remove Silent Sam.
If UNC officials thought that would be the end of the matter, they were sorely mistaken. In the wake of the decision to take no action, protests intensified. On the evening of August 20 — the night before the fall semester began — hundreds of protesters gathered around the statue, threw ropes around it and, in less than ten seconds, brought Silent Sam crashing to the ground. What was left of Silent Sam was taken to a university warehouse in the back of a dump truck. His fate is as of yet unknown, but at the moment the University seems intent on re-erecting the Jim Crow relic.
While a statue can be toppled, a 60,000-seat football stadium cannot be razed by a few hundred protesters. Unlike what has happened with troublesomely-named buildings and monuments at Duke University, the University of California at Berkeley and what will soon happen at Stanford University, it cannot be removed or renamed, at least without the sort of political and legal action which no one in a position to do so seems at all willing to undertake. Which leaves UNC -- which did not return a call or email seeking comment -- in a precarious position. Indeed, the university would seem to have only two choices.
The first choice would be to acknowledge the role of William Rand Kenan Sr. in the Wilmington Massacre and to find a way, via additional plaques or interpretive materials, to tell the full history of that dark chapter of the Kenan family. In so doing it might, as Professor Sturkey suggested, begin to recognize the totality of the history upon which UNC was built and begin to remember those who have been intentionally erased from that history. Given the Silent Sam pushback and based on how even a modest motion to amend the misleading historical plaque about the Kenan family at the stadium was already ignored, it seems unlikely that the university would do such a thing.
Which would leave the only alternative: to do nothing. To continue to bury the history of its stadium’s namesake and his role in one of the darkest atrocities of the Jim Crow era, thereby allowing the largest and most prominent building on campus to memorialize a man who should, by all rights, stand in infamy.
Will the university do nothing? Better yet, will the people who toppled Silent Sam and those who supported them stand idly by if it does?
Special thanks to LeRae Umfleet, author of A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot (2009), published by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, which served as an important source for this article