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Another New Book Available: States of the Union, The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published States of the Union: The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023.   St...

Friday, December 28, 2018

Our current crisis--another view

Over the last month weeks--two weeks of which I spent on a cruise--I have read three long books. I read The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough in preparation for cruising through the Panama Canal. It's a wonderful book, the kind of serious history that could become a best seller forty years ago, and the Canal turned out to be everything that I had hoped for.  The second was Madame Bovary, which I finally got into and finished on my third or fourth try.  And the last, which the cruise interrupted, was Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, by Adam Tooze, one of the foremost historians in the United States.  Now 51, Tooze, a Brit, has taught at Yale and Columbia, and this is his third major work.  He (and I) are among the few historians to have written very seriously about both Europe and the United States.  His other two blockbusters are The Wages of Destruction, on the German war economy (which I had things to say about in Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War), and The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931.  Crashed is a financial, diplomatic and political history of the world since 2008 or so, and its mere scope--not to mention its many insights--marks it out as a most unusual work to appear nowadays. Viking Press deserves credit for commissioning and publishing it, but I have yet to read a review that really did it justice.

Rather than write a traditional review myself, I am going to approach the book from the standpoint of this blog more generally: the framework of the periodic 80-year crises that have convulsed the western world (and much of the rest of it)  at least since the 18th century, and of which we are now in the midst of the most recent one.  This view, in fact, comes up once during Tooze's book, when he is discussing Steve Bannon and the Trump Administration. Bannon, he says, saw the climax of the financial crisis in 2008 as the beginning of an apocalyptic "fourth turning," and his footnote cites Bannon's movie, Generation Zero, in which I, and Neil Howe, both appeared.  He does not however mention Strauss and Howe, who discovered the 80-year cycle and analyzed it at length in two books. Their work can add a dimension to his.

Tooze's initial economic history of the last 75 years or so does parallel Strauss and Howe's vision of the saeculum (or 80-year period) that began in 1945 or so.  The victorious Americans and British created a new international economic order after the Second World War, featuring a gold-exchange standard to keep currencies stable and the creation of money under control, the IMF to make international finance work smoothly and discipline errant nations, and the WTO to promote international trade.  The United States also emerged from the New Deal with a very tightly regulated banking system.  The system began to crack in the 1960s, when dollars piled up in Europe allowed European banks to expand the money supply more freely than the system originally allowed for, and broke down in important ways in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when flexible exchange rates replaced fixed ones.  A decade and a half of inflation led in the 1980s to severe contraction, and then to the general turn away from economic regulation and high taxes under Thatcher in Britain and Reagan in the US.  Deregulation continued in the 1990s, when New Deal regulation was abandoned, and big banks acquired unprecedented wealth and power.  This coincided, of course, with an increase in inequality of both income and wealth, and it occurred, in the United States, under both Republican and Democratic institutions.

Hedge funds and a "shadow banking system" also allowed money to flow far more freely, and to flow into increasingly risky investments, such as subprime mortgages.  The crash of 2008--exactly 79 years after the equally fateful crash of 1929--resulted.  Tooze's book tells the story of the response to the crisis in the last decade--a very different response from the one that came from Franklin Roosevelt, leading to a very different economic picture now, in many ways, from the one that emerged from the Second World War.

Roosevelt, as I pointed out in No End Save Victory, interpreted the crash as an economic and moral failure in his first inaugural address and argued that the country needed new values as well as new regulations.  The Glass-Steagall Act, the FDIC, and the Securities and Exchange Commission were designed to get speculation under control and avoid further panics such as had taken place at regular intervals after the Civil War (1872, 1894, 1907, 1929).  They succeeded, and the United States did not experience another such panic for 79 years--until after these reforms had been undone.  But the Bush and Obama Administrations--the latter of which included men like Larry Summers, who had helped design the new post-New Deal order--did not see the crisis that way.  They saw it as a temporary liquidity crisis which the Federal Reserve could fix with massive infusions of liquidity.  That was how Treasury Secretary Geithner and Federal Reserve Board Chair Bernanke handled the crisis, and it saved not only the big banks, but the freewheeling system of liquidity that had developed over the previous 40 years.  One of the biggest lessons of Tooze's book is that the financial community--which provides the major capitalist governments with many of its economic policymakers--played a far more important role in devising and implementing the solutions to the crisis than the political process in any democracy.  This was especially true in Europe, where bankers and finance ministers told the nation of Greece, in particular, in no uncertain terms, that it didn't matter whom their people elected to govern them--any government had to do what they asked to get the help they needed to survive. This is now the world we live in.  The new regulations that the Obama Administration tried to impose were rather vague, and depended for their effectiveness on their implementation.  The new administration is now discarding them wholesale.

The Federal Reserve took the lead in restoring liquidity both in the United States and Europe, both by buying toxic and other securities and by  making dollars available to the Europeans by other means.  The crisis, therefore, appeared to cement the global leadership of the United States, as President Obama, no less, noted in a speech that escaped my attention at the time.

Closely related to this problem is another: the whole management of the crisis, both here and Europe, was designed to shift the burden of its impact from the financial community to the rest of us.   Whether the issue was subprime mortgages in the US or the Greek national debt, the proposed solutions put all the burdens upon the borrowers, not the lenders who had willingly made loans they should have known could never be paid back.  Again and again, Tooze shows, European bondholders successfully resisted having to simply write off some of their bad loans. Meanwhile, many thousands of Americans lost their homes and their savings.

The contrast with FDR's New Deal approach is rather striking, and illustrates the difference in values between his generation, the Missionary generation (born approximately 1863-83) and the Boom generation (born 1943-60 in the US at least), which led us through this crisis.  Roosevelt and his men blamed not only bankrupt economic and moral values, but also inequality itself, for the crisis, and imposed very high marginal tax rates, as well as regulation, to create a different world.  Today's leadership sees nothing wrong in principle with the new power of financial institutions or our increasing inequality--which, as Thomas Piketty showed four years ago in his book, is a natural outcome of unregulated capitalism.  Both 1929-33 and 2008 and its immediate aftermath were serious enough to make us question whether we were on the right path.  In the first case, political authorities answered with a resounding no; in our own time, they reaffirmed the path that we were on.  In Europe, too, the crisis became an excuse to try to roll back social spending and workers' rights in many nations--a process endorsed, as Tooze shows, by Angela Merkel, among many others.  No major nation, as I write, has a governing elite that seriously disputes the power of modern finance and the necessity of enormous inequality.  None of them responded to the Great Recession with New Deal-like measures to rebuild infrastructure and stimulate their economies, either--although China, as Tooze shows, did just that.

The new morality that is now emerging, moreover, is the morality of the Gilded Age.  Tooze quotes Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple (whose name for some reason did not make the index), to the effect that antitrust issues, data protection, and government attempts to collect taxes are nothing but "political crap"--an echo of Cornelius Vanderbilt's famous declaration, "the public be damned."  Peter Thiel goes even further, declaring that "competition is for losers."  Thirty years ago Tom Wolfe created investment banker Sherman McCoy, a "master of the universe," in The Bonfire of the Vanities, but the Boomer McCoy is a field grade officer compared to the hedge fund and tech Xers and Millennials who are transforming our world today.  Their prophets are the producers of the television series Billions, which, like The Wire, is worthy of Balzac or Zola, Wolfe's heroes.

There is far more to this book than I can mention in this post.  Tooze looks carefully at the impact of the crisis on Eastern Europe.  This story is remarkably parallel to one that I helped tell myself nearly 40 years ago.  In the early 1930s, too, the newly independent states of Eastern Europe got into dreadful financial difficulties as a result of the depression, putting some of them at the mercy of western banks, and eventually leaving them with no option but to sell all the agricultural products that they could to Germany for Reichsmarks that could not be spent elsewhere.  Now financial distress in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union has led to intense great-power competition for influence again, fueled this time by financial help and energy supplies.  Tooze also suggests, implicitly at least, why Vladimir Putin was so desperate to elect Donald Trump in 2016.  The Obama Administration's sanctions had an extremely serious effect on the Russian economy and he really needs to find a way out of them.

There is however a catch, which Tooze explores at length in many contexts.  While the elites of the western nations support globalization and its consequences, large parts of their electorates do not.  This has led on the one hand to some resurgent leftism in nations like Spain, Greece, and to some extent in the United States (see Sanders, Bernie), and on the other, to right-wing anti-immigration populism, which led in Britain to Brexit and in the US to the election of Donald Trump--two developments which none of the elites actually favored, but which the Tory and Republican elites, respectively, allowed to happen.  We do not yet know what the consequences of Brexit will be for Britain or the world economy, just as we do not know whether the United States can survive the incompetence and incoherence of Trump.  And we do not know how the American electorate will eventually react when it turns out that--as Tooze had realized by the time he finished his book--Trump is really, in practice, an enthusiastic proponent of deregulation, more inequality, and more globalism, who has already been content with very slight changes to NAFTA and will in the end, I predict, accept even less from the Chinese and declare victory on that front, as well.

In the previous crisis, the New Deal, the allied victory in the Second World War, the Labour government in Britain, and the Marshall Plan and the economic recovery in Western Europe secured the very active allegiance of the electorates of the western nations while setting them on a path to greater equality and prosperity.  I see nothing similar on the horizon now for any major western nation.  Nor do we know, as Tooze points out in his last chapter, whether the Trump Administration, in particular, will be able to handle the next international economic crisis that breaks out--which Tooze is convinced that it is sure to do. That is one of the two huge questions that the book has left me with.

The second question however is even bigger, and it is one that Tooze does not, I think directly confront.   It relates not to our politics but to the new economic system which he seems to know so well.  Has deregulation made our international financial system inherently unstable?  Is the insatiable greed of our bankers, hedge fund magnates, and others made excessive lending, and periodic crashes, inevitable, as in the late 19th century?  I strongly suspect that the answer is yes,  Tooze certainly raises this question a few times, usually in the words of others, but I don't think he really tries to answer it.  He is still only 51, however, and I am sure that he will have plenty of time--and plenty of occasion--to revisit this question in the future.  Meanwhile, he has performed a great service--and I am not aware of any other professional historian who could have written this book.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Two perspectives on the week's news

The resignation of Secretary of Defense Mattis leaves the United States in the midst of one of the great governmental crises of our history, one in which the character of the President and his relationship to the government make it more or less impossible for our system to function.  The first such crisis occurred in 1841 after the death of William Henry Harrison, when his successor John Tyler turned out to be a Democrat rather than a Whig and had to dispense with his whole cabinet. The second occurred during the Great Secession Winter of 1860-1, when key members of President Buchanan's cabinet cooperated with seceding southern states while the President did nothing.  The third occurred in the Administration of Andrew Johnson, beginning just five years later, when he, like Tyler, turned out to be utterly at odds with the party that had made him its vice presidential candidates The fourth occurred in 1919-20 when President Wilson had an incapacitating stroke.  And the last was in 1973-4, when Watergate isolated President Nixon, who succumbed to his own demons, but hung on for more than a year after his guilt was fairly clearly established and his eventual ruin, in retrospect, very likely.  Each of these crises only came to an end when the President left office.

Donald Trump, like Richard Nixon in his last year, now lives in his own world, a bubble within which he is a lonely hero saving his country despite the opposition of an army of enemies.  Unlike Nixon, he can turn on the television any time (and now does so, it seems, for as much as three hours on most mornings) and hear Fox News commentators echo is view of himself and the world.  But like Nixon--indeed, even more than Nixon--he can't trust anyone around him.  He is too disorganized to plan and execute a decision on his own, but when someone else--such as his son-in-law Jared Kushner--manages to make something happen, Trump resents the idea that he himself was not responsible.  Anyone who disagrees with him is merely standing in his way out of spite, he thinks, and needs to be fired--including the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.  The big question before us is whether Trump will indeed act on his feelings and persuade either his acting or presumptive Attorney General--Matthew Whitaker or William Barr--to fire Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller, while pardoning some or all of the men who have already been convicted.  I still think the odds are about 50-50 that he will, and that will trigger a real constitutional crisis, forcing the House of Representatives to impeach him, if he does.

Meanwhile, however, the President last week took a decision that may have great historical significance.

I believe that politics can never be reduced to a simple morality play, since society needs government to function at home, amass and spend resources, and carry on relations with foreign nations.  Even with a moral and intellectual incompetent in the White House, life, and government, go on.  So it is that this week may mark a milestone in recent history--the beginning of the end, it seems, of one of the defining crusades (and I use that word advisedly) of our era: the neoconservative attempt to use American military power to reshape the Middle East.  Two specific developments mark the shift. First, President Trump, overruling his whole administration, announced that the US would pull its 2000 troops out of Syria.  Secondly, the Weekly Standard, the official organ of neoconservative foreign policy, lost its financial angel and closed its doors. So ends, perhaps, the era of "the Global War on Terrorism," "the Long War," "the Fourth World War," and all the other postmodern conflicts that wrecked the United States, American politics, and large parts of the Arab world over the last 17 years.  I can't say that I am sorry.

This conflict, like every great war, had both long-term and immediate causes.  Since at least 1950 or so, as my friend Andrew Bacevich has pointed out for decades, the United States foreign policy establishment has reflexively believed that the United States must take an interest in any conflict anywhere in the world, and that American military power can solve it.  Even Vietnam did not shake that establishment's commitment to that view, although it did inculcate caution in our military leadership for a couple of decades.  During the 1970s the US became alarmed by the rise of political Islam in Iran and elsewhere, and the pro-Israeli lobby in the US became stronger and stronger in subsequent decades while Israel's politics moved to the right.  Neoconservatism--born in the wake of the Six Day War in 1967--saw the fall of Communism as a vindication of its belief in US power and adopted the view that democracy--and US influence--was destined to rule the world.  Paul Wolfowitz put that view into a confidential memo early in the first Bush Administration, and came back into power in 2001 determined to implement it. Then came 9/11.

A decade earlier, in 1991, William Strauss and Neil Howe had first predicted that the United States would come together to meet a great crisis sometime in the first 10-15 years of the 21st century.  The nation would put partisan divides behind it and coalesce, imposing more uniformity of thought and action, as it had after 1774, 1860, and 1933.  Most of us have forgotten, I think, how closely the Bush II Administration followed that script after 9/11 and how receptive the country was.  The nation adopted the goal of ending terrorism and the regimes that supported it.  Not only neoconservatives, but nearly the whole Democratic establishment, lined up behind the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq.  The venerable Robert Byrd, a GI, opposed the Iraq War, but the presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton supported it.  So did the editorial boards of our major newspapers.  No one could possibly argue, in 2003, that the Administration did not have the country behind it.

The problem, of course, was that we had no more chance of turning Iraq into a functioning, pro-American democracy than our parents had had of doing the same in South Vietnam.  Yet we embarked upon that project with a fraction of the resources we sent to Vietnam.  Meanwhile, the Bush Administration thought it could combine the war with tax cuts, and created a permanent deficit that has been with us until this day and which crippled the federal government when it had a real crisis to deal with in 2008-10.  Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of them threw away the chance to rebuild trust in government by embarking upona fool's errand.

One of my best posts on this blog, in 2007, documented Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard's cheerleading for the Iraq war during its first four years.  I didn't spend any time in how wrong he had been about the wisdom of the war before it began, but I showed how he had constantly predicted victory just around the corner, while things got worse and worse.  That post was written at the height of the "surge," General Petraeus's temporarily successful attempt to quiet things down in the Sunni portions of Iraq, when Kristol was once again claiming that triumph was at hand.  It wasn't: only Americans, who were not going to remain forever, made the political deals with the Sunnis that brought about a temporary peace.  They did quiet things down enough for Barack Obama, who had opposed the war, to withdraw American forces within a few years.  But they left the Shi'ite government still at odds with the Sunni minority, and ISIS arose as a result, forcing the US to assist the Iraqi government in a new military campaign.  Meanwhile the Arab spring had broken out, and the Obama Administration (and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) had adopted its predecessor's goal of democratizing the Middle East.  Their project too has ended in spectacular failure in Egypt, where a military coup restored the old regime, and in Libya, where the elimination of Qaddafi brought chaos and a refugee crisis that has destabilized European politics.

The crusade in the Middle East had profound institutional consequences.  A new military-industrial-intelligence complex sprang up in suburban northern Virginia and Maryland, one that remains largely under the radar, and the US military was reconfigured, giving contractors a much greater role.  The military rediscovered counterinsurgency--which never had more than temporary successes in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The government created the Guantanamo prison, where it still holds captives.  And the philosophy behind the new wars--that the US had to kill Islamic extremists anywhere they pop up--has led us into new campaigns in Pakistan and Africa, killing people who pose no conceivable threat to the US.  But the crusade lost all resonance among the American people at large years ago.

In my review a few months ago of Bob Woodward's new book, I noted that Donald Trump apparently had some sound instincts about the futility of many overseas US involvements, including Afghanistan.  He had however allowed establishment types like Lindsay Graham--who explained to him, paraphrasing Bacevich, that there would always be evil in the world for the United States to fight--to prevail upon him to continue that war.  But now, apparently, he has had enough in Syria, and he has declared victory and ordered the boys brought home.  Whatever his motives--which may include doing a favor for Vladimir Putin--I think that was a sound decision.  Under Obama we undertook one of our fruitless searches for good guys in a foreign civil war, and refused to face the fact that Bashir Assad was too strong to be overthrown.  We need a reality-based foreign policy.

This doesn't mean, of course, that Trump is disengaging from the Middle East.  Jared Kushner has enmeshed us in close partnerships with Netanyahu in Israle and Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, and the Administration seems united in its hostility to Iran.  But these seem to be ties among allied families, rather than strategic decisions.  The crusade in the Middle East was the centerpiece of the foreign policy of the Boom generation, and shows how little long-term influence the Vietnam War actually had on the so-called strategists of my generation, who rejected any lessons that suggested that they might not be able to get anything they wanted merely by wishing for it.  Trump--the third Boomer President--may now put that crusade in reverse. That will not be an unwelcome development.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Some thoughts on our President

Donald Trump, it seems to me, has never really succeeded at any substantial enterprises. Yes, he built some large luxury buildings many years ago, but he eventually had to give up ownership of most of them and sell lots of units to foreign buyers who apparently used them to hide their cash.  He was the person most responsible for the failure of the US Football League in the 1980s.  His Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt.  He owes his success to his ability to sell the self-image of a glamorous,. brilliant businessman, the image that got him his gig on The Apprentice, which in turn made him enough of a national figure to run for President.  He has never shown any talent for running an effective organization or attracting and retaining capable subordinates--a problem which has gotten worse since he went into politics.   He was very narrowly elected because of the disastrous failings of both of our major political parties, who have lost touch with most of the electorate and no longer generate any loyalty among tens of millions of average Americans.

When he was elected people began to fear an authoritarian dictatorship. I was skeptical about that  from the beginning, and I still am.  Having established a strong connection with both the religious right and the Koch network through Mike Pence, Trump has mostly governed on behalf of the right wing of the Republican Party, which is libertarian, not authoritarian.  He and they are enthusiastically consigning the Progressive era, the New Deal, and much of the Great Society and its aftermath to the ash heap of history, but they want less government, not more.  The Trump Administration is treating illegal immigrants very cruelly, but that situation, once again, has arisen because of the cowardice of our political establishment, which for about three decades has refused to educate the people about the real economic needs of our nation and the source of the labor that feeds our economic growth.

Meanwhile, Trump has cast himself, from January 20 onward, in a particular role: the savior of the country, who copes fearlessly with terrible problems in the face of the treacherous opposition of the Democrats, the media, and a few Republicans.  Yet in fact, he has emerged as a coward and a wimp, especially on the world stage.  Just as he did in his business career, he repeatedly declares victory after sustaining defeats.  After threatening a nuclear attack on North Korea, he reached a deal with Kim Jong Il that lacked any safeguards, and now refuses to admit that Kim is ignoring his vague pledge to denuclearize.  He denounced NAFTA, but the new agreement he has reached does not differ from NAFTA in any fundamental way.  American corporations are ignoring his attempts to keep jobs in the US.   I expect something similar to happen in the China trade controversy--Trump will announce huge Chinese concessions that turn out to be illusory.  He is also telling the country that his famous wall is indeed being built, and that Mexico really is paying for it.  All this will, I think, continue to take a toll on his popularity, although some supporters will remain loyal.

I am even beginning to wonder if Trump enjoys the drama of the Mueller investigation, which allows him to portray himself as an embattled victim, and to keep his supporters riled up against Democrats and the Washington establishment.  He still may, in the next few weeks, try to shut down that investigation, asking his acting AG Matthew Whitaker to fire Rosenstein and Mueller to shut the investigation down.  I didn't see any other reason why he would have installed Whitaker in the first place, but time is running out, now that Trump has announced plans to replace him quickly with a mainstream Republican figure.  On some days Trump also seems to be preparing the country for pardons for Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, too.  But perhaps he really is ready to let the drama of the investigation continue indefinitely, as a useful distraction from his policy failures (and perhaps, it seems from some major economic setbacks that might be just around the corner.)  An argument over a presidential indictment could easily tie up the courts through next year, and there's a good chance that the Supreme Court would side with Trump.  Impeachment would fill up most of the news cycle for many months, and the Republican Senate would never convict, and might even refuse to respond to an impeachment in the House.

The real question the nation faces is whether in the 21st century we can do without a government based on Enlightenment principles of reason and the public good,. something which, at the moment, we do not have.  To get it back the Democrats have to offer it convincingly, and focusing merely on the president's many shortcomings won't do that.  The New York Times still runs excellent news feature stories on what the Republicans are doing to the country and the economy--most recently on how the Koch brothers have persuaded Trump's EPA to roll back and maybe even eliminate mileage standards for automobiles, on the grounds that the nation has more than enough oil for our SUVS and pickups.  But such stories do not penetrate the public consciousness in the cable news/social media era.  Trump is indeed a symptom, not the cause, of our problems.  Focusing on that symptom to the exclusion of all else will not solve them.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Persons and Censuses

 "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.  The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. "  U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 2 (3).

Let us begin, first, with the long-term historical interest of this now-infamous passage.  Readers today are most likely to pick out the 3/5 clause.  Today many black and white Americans believe that it defined black people as 3/5 of a person, as Spike Lee, for instance, claimed in one of his movies.  It did not: the Founders in this as in other passages--as historian Sean Wilentz has just pointed out in a new book--carefully avoided any explicit mention of race, or of the institution of slavery, in the text of the Constitution.   Moreover, the southern slave owners, not the northerners whose states were then abolishing slavery, wanted to count all their slaves in the census that would determine how many representatives they sent to Congress, and the 3/5 rule was a compromise that marginally favored the southern position.   I can't resist noting, also, that the original Constitution is equally free of racist and sexist language.  In the trailer for On the Basis of Sex, the forthcoming biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we see a dismissive white male justice tell then-attorney Ginsburg that "the word woman" does not appear in the US Constitution.  "Neither does the word 'freedom'," she replies.  The real Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I would like to think, would have responded--accurately--"Neither does the word 'man.'" The founders' chosen word to refer to inhabitants of the US, as shown in the passage above, was "persons"--one just as useful in the cause of equality today as it was then.  Yet young people today routinely refer to the founders as "those white guys" who cared about nothing but themselves.

The question I really want to address today, however, relates to the broader purpose of the above paragraph, the enumeration of inhabitants and the purpose which it is supposed to serve. The same issue found its way into the 14th amendment, the post-Civil War Republicans' first attempt to secure the rights of freed slaves and enshrine the outcome of the conflict.  It included the following:

"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,  and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State."

This clause, to begin with, makes even more explicit what the original Constitutional provision clearly implied: that the decennial census must count all inhabitants of each state, not simply all citizens--the point that has become relevant again today.  What I only learned relatively recently is that this clause was designed to encourage the readmitted southern states to allow freed slaves to vote.  Previously, under slavery, they had black inhabitants had counted at the rate of 3/5 of their numbers; now, if the southern states refused to let them vote, they would not count at all.  The Republicans also favored this solution because they were frightened to simply degree Negro suffrage (as it was then called) in the Constitution, fearing that many northern states, sadly, would reject it.  Under this clause the southern states had to choose between severely reduced representation and letting all adult males vote.  Unfortunately this tactic failed.  The former confederate states uniformly refused either to ratify the 14th amendment or to grant black citizens voting rights.  The 15th amendment followed in short order, and the northern states did ratify it.

Here, for the first time, sexism did find its way into the US Constitution--while this passage certainly does not clam that only men can vote, it denies women any specific constitutional right to do so.  As a matter of fact, 16 states--a third of the total--granted women the right to vote before the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920.  At  no time did the US Constitution prohibit women's suffrage.

And now, in 2018, the original passage from Article I has become controversial again, thanks in part because of the distinction that was implied in that passage and made explicit in the 14th Amendment: the distinction between inhabitants, who reside within the states and must be counted for the purposes of apportionment, and citizens, who now enjoy the right to vote.  The number of inhabitants of the US who are not citizens is probably at an all time high at this moment.  These include an estimated 13 million lawful permanent residents, or Green Card holders, who are eligible to become citizens but have not yet done so, and a comparable number of illegal aliens who at this time have no path to citizenship.  Illegal aliens (referred to on the left now as "undocumented") are often estimated at 11 million, but a recent study, which appears to be carefully researched, showed that the number could easily be as high as 22 million.  A new controversy has arisen because the Trump Administration wants to add a question to the census--one that has been part of the questionnaire in earlier periods--asking whether the respondent is a US citizen. Various states are suing to try to keep that question out of the census.

I hope my regular readers have come to understand that I have a real obsession with fairness, and with trying to identify workable, impartial rules to meet all sorts of legal and political situations, rather than simply to focus on what will help, or hurt, causes which I happen to favor.  That often divides me nowadays from many of my fellow Democrats.  The states and liberal activists oppose this question because they feel that it is designed to intimidate illegal aliens and cause them not to participate in the census, leading to an undercount. That may be true.  I on the other hand find the question not only reasonable, but necessary, if we are to try to deal realistically with the presence of 11 million or 22 million illegal immigrants within the US.  It seems to me that we all should care enough about this situation to try to find out the truth, whatever the motives of the administration happen to be.  I also believe that the present situation is not one that we should be trying to perpetuate.

A great many illegal immigrants live in blue states--although some red states, led by Texas, have large populations of illegals as well.  The Democrats are worried that if a great many of them avoid the census, their states will be undercounted, leading to a reduction in federal benefits allocated to their states, and even, possibly, a reduction in the number of representatives in Congress they receive in the next reapportionment.  What really disturbs me about all this is that the leadership of the Democratic Party seems to have dropped any demand for a path to citizenship for our 11-22 million illegal aliens, the vast majority of whom hold down jobs, obey the law, and are raising families.  The Democrats are finding it more expedient to focus on DACA and the dreamers, a more appealing group from a public relations standpoint, but who represent only a fraction of the real problem.  Ironically, by pushing for the fullest possible count of inhabitants both legal and illegal, while failing to push for a path to citizenship, the Democrats are echoing, weirdly, the position of the antebellum white southerners.  While they want these people counted to get full benefits and representation for their states, they don't particularly care if they get to vote.  And they seem comfortable with this position even though the current situation, like the situation in the South from 1876 to 1965, obviously undermines American democracy.  In each case, we have a large working population--most of it in the lower economic half of our society--who cannot vote.  That obviously skews national, state and local politics rightward, and helps perpetuate, and worsen, economic inequality.

On too many issues--especially economic ones--the Democratic Party has been reduced to calling for marginal changes that appear to at least check the prevailing trends in our political and social life, rather than make a fundamental attack on the ills of our age.  This also seems to me the problem with their stance on immigration. Yes, DACA recipients deserve protection, and yes, the increasingly aggressive persecution [sic] of illegal residents by ICE needs to stop,  but the only real solution to our demographic problem today is a path to citizenship, even if it has to be combined with new and more severe restrictions on additional  immigration.  We must not in my opinion try to sweep the issue under the rug, as we did the issue of suffrage for black Americans for 90 years.  I hope to live to see some real progress on this issue.