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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...

Saturday, December 30, 2023

The Fourteenth Amendment, Section 3

I quote:

"Section 3 Disqualification from Holding Office
"No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability."

The Supreme Court of Colorado and the Secretary of State of Maine have both declared Donald Trump ineligible for the presidential ballot under this provision of the constitution.  The case is already on its way to the Supreme Court, which will have to pass on it.  Should the court deny the states the right to take this step, they would in my opinion betray the "originalism" which several of the justices claim to be the foundation of their jurisprudence.  That is not only because of the plain meaning of these words, but because of the history of their application during the four years in which this provision remained in effect after the ratification of the 14th Amendment, from 1868 until 1872, when Congress, following the text of the provision, removed the disability from nearly all former confederates except the top leadership.  That history is summarized by this excellent web article, which I encourage you all to read in full, and which I will summarize.

Critically, it is very clear that one did not have to be criminally convicted of insurrection in the wake of the Civil War to be disqualified from office.  Almost no confederates were ever formally charged with rebellion, but thousands of them recognized the applicability of the clause to themselves, in effect, by petitioning Congress to remove their disability.  The article lists six men who assumed state or federal offices and were removed from them after judicial proceedings in state courts or federal court (as has happened to Trump in Colorado); by state executive officials (as has happened to him in Maine); or because Congress refused to seat them, citing section 3.   None them had been convicted of any crime relating to insurrection.  The reason conviction was not necessary, the article argues, was that disqualification from office is not a criminal penalty.   In addition, in one case, the Governor of Georgia refused to certify victorious candidate for the House of Representatives on the grounds that he had engaged in the rebellion, suggesting that states could act against ineligible candidates for federal office.  (The House of Representatives also refused to seat that candidate, however.)  The article also notes that section 3 was interpreted to apply to anyone who had advocated rebellion, whether they had specifically rebelled themselves or not.  Nor does it seem out of place for me to point out that the Democratic Party in the post-Civil  War era never nominated anyone from the old Confederacy for either president or vice president, even after Congress acted to remove the restriction on nearly all ex-confederates in 1872.  Such people were likely to have fought for the Confederacy and remained disqualified in fact if not by law. 

Two men have been disqualified from holding office under the clause in subsequent eras.  Victor Berger, the Socialist mayor of Milwaukee, opposed US entry into the First World War, leading to his indictment--along with many other fellow socialists, such as Eugene V. Debs--under the Espionage Act.  He was elected to Congress while under indictment in November 1918, convicted in February 1919, and denied his seat by the House of Representatives when it met in December 1919 under section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.  His conviction was eventually overturned and he returned to Congress in 1923, after having been defeated in the Republican sweep of 1920.  Interestingly enough, however, there seems to have been no attempt to keep Debs of the ballot in 1920, when he ran for president on the Socialist ticket while serving his sentence and won nearly one million votes. More recently, a New Mexico state court disqualified a man from holding office as a county commissioner because he had been convicted of trespassing during the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol--confirming that the clause is very much alive.  

The history of the application of this clause from 1868 into 1872, and more recently in New Mexico, suggests to me that the authorities in Colorado and Maine are historically well within their rights to conclude that Donald Trump participated in an insurrection and thus is now ineligible to hold any office under the United States, and therefore ineligible for the ballot for nomination or election in their state. (The argument that section 3 does not apply to the presidency is, in my opinion, utterly without merit.) Other states might do the same--but they would almost certainly be solidly blue ones, whose loss would not cost Trump any electoral votes. (The Maine ruling would have cost him one electoral vote, based on his victory in one of Maine's two congressional districts, in 2020, but Biden carried the popular vote in both Maine and Colorado quite comfortably.)  Meanwhile, the denial of certain states to Trump would probably energize his supporters in the critical purple states still further.   The Supreme Court will almost certainly not be asked if the federal courts could deny Trump the right to receive any electoral votes at all, and it is hard to imagine that this court would do so anyway.  In theory either house of Congress could vote not to certify a Trump victory on the grounds that he was ineligible to serve under section 3, just as the House several times refused to seat members on those very grounds, but that, it seems to me, would almost surely result in a new civil war of some kind.

The government of the United States could summarily bar many thousands of former office-holders from any role in government in 1868 because it had put down their rebellion by force during four years of almost total war.   We are in danger today because our government does not now enjoy comparable prestige and the country is still deeply divided over whether Donald Trump tried to overthrow the government or not.   I am not even sure that Trump's conviction for attempting to overturn the election, either in Georgia or in federal court, would change the situation very much, because even then, roughly half the country would reject attempts to disqualify him.  The failure over the last twenty  years to renew confidence in our Constitution and our institutions threatens terrible consequences.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Real Problems of Higher Ed

 I am not going to try to parse the controversy over Professor Claudine Gay 's resignation from the presidency of Harvard, because she as a person is a symptom, not a cause, of what is wrong in academia.  Neither her relatively modest scholarly credentials nor her public relations approach are in the least bit unusual.  The days when distinguished scholars or scientists ultimately became heads of universities are long gone, and I can't name a single president of a leading private institution or flagship state university who took office with particular new educational goals that he or she wanted to implement.   Our graduate schools seem less likely than ever to turn out groundbreaking young scholars in the humanities or social sciences, and nearly every college in the country suffers from the administrative bloat that makes college unaffordable.  Recently an interesting Wall Street Journal op-ed by President Greg Weiner of Assumption University in Worcester, Mass.--who proudly identifies himself as the first Jewish president of a Catholic college--argues that Jewish students--or, he might have added, any kid with real intellectual ambition--ought to check out certain Catholic colleges like his own, that still dedicate themselves to free inquiry.  Elite institutions, he says rightly, have lost their way.  They cannot easily regain it.  Weiner, in his mid-fifties, appears to be the kind of  historically oriented political scientist who dominated that field in my youth but is very hard to find on the faculties of major institutions today.  He has written books about James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  He also writes powerful and sophisticated op-eds, one of of which I found here.

I would today like to identify perhaps the single biggest change in the attitude towards what a college education should do over the length of my own academic career, which now spans 58 years.  Until the last fifty years or so, higher education was supposed to turn a young man or woman into a visibly different person by teaching them things they had not known and exposing them to new thinkers.  This included learning new languages, including, for most of the nineteenth century anyway, Latin and perhaps even Greek.   Young humanists immersed  themselves in the politics and the literature of the distant past, and learned new perspectives on politics and on life.  College initiated them into an intellectual elite that had developed itself over the centuries.

Three developments that coincided with my own youth radically changed that attitude.  The first, I think, was the enormous expansion of higher education undertaken to educate my own generation.  While graduate schools were thriving in the 1950s and 1960s, the demand for new faculty rapidly outran the supply of genuine intellectuals who chose that career.  The second was the Vietnam war, which told my generation that it did not have to believe anything that the older generation said.  And the third and perhaps the most influential was the emergence of new groups of female, nonwhite and gay academics who took a different view of what higher education was really for.  Here I have to be very clear about what I am saying.  The women, nonwhites and increasingly out gays who entered academia in the 1960s and 1970s in larger numbers included quite a few, some of whom I knew very well, who were entirely faithful  to earlier traditions and did excellent work.  Others, however, decided for various reasons that our intellectual traditions mainly tended to preserve the supremacy of straight white males, and only served their interests.  The attitude that the traditional curriculum revolved around straight white male concerns persists to this day--and having gone through college in the late 1960s, I think it completely misrepresents how straight white males experienced college.  My Harvard class of 1969 was very well educated in high school but all of us were bowled over during the first term by the amount of work we were expected to do and by the new ideas and concepts that we had to absorb.  That was so true that we were more than happy to receive Bs and even Cs and C+s in some of our courses, as I documented in A Life in History, and accept the Bs as genuinely good grades. 

The new view held that colleges and universities had to change both the composition of their faculties and the subjects they studied to meet the needs of women and minorities--both of whom had been important parts of American  higher education for quite a while.   Those who pushed that view argued that politics, society, and intellectual life had simply reinforced their oppression, and that the university, as the 1962 Port Huron statement said, was the place to begin overthrowing it. Forty years or so later, this view has been institutionalized to suggest that the real purpose of universities is to narrow students' intellectual horizons, instead of broadening them.  They are encouraged--not only in course work, but in freshman orientations and by new bureaucracies--to believe that they should simply be learning more about themselves, their own experiences, and people who "look like them."  That more specifically means studying a new history of oppression that will teach most whites (especially straight men) that they are oppressors while teaching the rest of the students that they are oppressed and have special needs of their own that college must address.  And these ideas have gone further than that now, insisting that even the sciences and professional education must change to "decenter whiteness" and replace their traditions with something new.  

Something else seems to have accelerated these trends in the last twenty years or so.  As bureaucracies and faculties get bigger and colleges get more expensive, they are increasingly beholden to students whom they cannot afford to offend.  That means, among other things, grade inflation--who wants to pay today's prices to get a B?  It means extraordinary sensitivity to student protests, and opposition to anything that might make any particular group of students uncomfortable.  It means more competition among elite institutions for well-off foreign students, another increasing group. It means a great reluctance, now on display, to offend any students among protected groups, who also represent more and more of the student body, especially at public institutions.  And it means that the key decisions for every university--how much to charge and what to spend the money on--are made not by outstanding faculty, but by full-time career administrators bidding in numerous ways for the students who can afford their vastly inflated prices.  In these conditions college faculties cannot do much to hold off the anti-intellectual trends throughout our society--led by the simple decline of reading--that are leaving our western heritage behind.

The western world built up it intellectual tradition by training generations of scholars and teachers to take certain ideas of free inquiry seriously, and immersing them in a continually evolving canon of basic texts.  All of that required dedication and years of work--which the genuine intellectuals among us, whom I have always believed are scattered at random throughout our society, put in largely out of love, not duty.  Most of today's universities deny their students that experience, and that is why those traditions are very endangered species.  Our leading institutions can still rely on their reputation and their role as pipelines into well-compensated professions, and therefore are unlikely to undertake drastic reforms.  Perhaps some smaller institutions--many of which are threatened with financial catastrophe--could make the necessary changs, which could safe money and improve their educational product at the same time.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Fall of the American Empire

 In preparation for a big interview (you'll hear more when the time comes), I've been reviewing my own new book (see above), and have reached the period of the early Cold War, when the American government and the American people became accustomed to a worldwide role.  The biggest turning point in this process was the Korean War, which moved the emerging conflict with the USSR and its new Chinese ally from a mainly political front until a military one.  The Soviets, nearly all Americans believed, wanted to spread Communism all over the world, just as the Germans and Japanese had wanted to extend their domination in the Second World War. The North Korean attack--approved, we now know, by Stalin, although it was Kim Il-Sung's idea--proved that they would take advantage of any opportunity to do so by force.  West Germans and western Europeans shared that view, and immediately pushed for West German rearmament and a stronger NATO.  Simultaneously the Soviet explosion of an atomic weapon triggered a new race for hydrogen bombs.  The young historians who argue today the Cold War was a conscious conspiracy by US elites to extend American power have shut their eyes to the impact of the two world wars.  Yes, Truman and Eisenhower overreacted in certain circumstances, sometimes with tragic consequences, but their assumptions seemed quite reasonable at the time, not only to them but to the American people.   That was still true when Lyndon Johnson followed those assumptions into the Vietnam War, and even when Ronald Reagan revived them in the 1980s.

My book makes something else clear as well: a new consensus has infected the foreign policy elite of both parties since the fall of Communism in 1989.  That consensus holds that the United States is now the unique, indispensable world leader, capable of and responsible for the resolution of any crisis anywhere in the world.  That idea has been echoed again and again by every President from the first Bush through Joe Biden--with the notable exception of Donald Trump, who at this moment seems to have the best chance of anyone of winning the next presidential election.  That assumption led the first Bush into the Gulf War and Panama, Clinton into the Kosovo war and into Haiti, Bush II into his crusade in Central Asia and the Middle East, Obama into Libya and back into Iraq, and now, Biden into extensive support for Ukraine.  It could also lead us into war with Iran or with China over Taiwan at almost any moment.

It is now clear, however, that there is no longer any consensus among the broader public in support of this world role.  The Republican party no longer recognizes any need for the national security state as it has evolved or the policies which it supports.  Republican Senators blocked military promotions for months, and have left dozens of key diplomatic posts vacant rather than approve Biden's nominees.  House Republicans are blocking aid for Ukraine and Israel until they get their way on another fundamental national security issue, the control of our border and immigration.  The so-called progressive wing of the Democratic party has also turned against the assumptions of the national security state, not only with respect to Israel, but in the Ukraine war as well.  All this is bound to affect the attitudes of other nations, including allies, who must increasingly realize that they cannot depend on the word of the American president because the president no longer can count on the support of his nation overseas.  There are two big reasons, I think, why this has happened.

The first relates to the insularity of our foreign policy establishment.  From Biden on down, they are so convinced of their own righteousness that they see no need to make a big effort to justify what they are doing to the rest of the nation.  (The Democratic Party has the same problem with respect to domestic issues, including climate change and immigration.)  Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan all took to the airwaves regularly to explain major military and diplomatic initiatives and treat the public as a real partner in their enterprises.  Biden has not done this even once, relying, wrongly, on quick sound bites from the White House to maintain public support.  The prime time radio or television address, which played a critical role in US politics from FDR through Reagan, has fallen into disuse.  Partly, of course, that is because Americans are now so deluged with entertainment options that they are much less likely to listen to it--but we all pay the price for that in other ways.

The second reason relates to parallel developments in domestic politics.  Average Americans trusted FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan because they also believed, rightly or wrongly, that their policies were improving their own lives.  These presidents routinely linked their defense of freedom overseas to their efforts to build a stronger society at home.  After forty years of increasing inequality and political fragmentation, that bond too has been broken.  Both parties focus their appeals on particular constituencies--their bases--and not on the needs of the nation as a whole. 

Re-reading the speeches of George W. Bush, one sees clearly that he (and Karl Rove) wanted very badly to recreate the atmosphere of 1940-1 or of the early Cold War.  Like FDR and Truman, he spoke of an existential worldwide threat requiring a great campaign to overcome--but he exaggerated the threat, on the one hand, and chose strategies that only made things worse, on the other.  Obama stuck to the Bush game plan in Afghanistan and revived it in Libya and then Iraq, while presiding over a very slow recovery from the financial crisis.  The government has failed to restore our confidence because so little of what it has done has worked.  Now, in sharp contrast to Eisenhower in 1956-7 or Nixon and Kissinger in 1973, it is utterly failing to exert any real control over what is happening in the Middle East.  All this relates, as I have said many times, to a general collapse of authority throughout our society that began more than half a century ago.  We haven't hit bottom yet.

Monday, December 11, 2023

The American World Turned Upside Down?

 In 1977, I  believe, I made the acquaintance of a Boston-area rare book and art dealer named Bill Young through Steve Flink, a mutual friend.  On the first of many afternoons that I spent at his house, it developed that he was an avid student of the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants who had been executed in 1927 for a double murder during a robbery in South Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1920.  The case had been controversial for more than half a century, and I was fairly familiar with it myself.  Bill, it turned out, was convinced that both men were innocent, and that the prosecution had substituted a key piece of evidence--a bullet fired from the Colt automatic Sacco was carrying when he was arrested--to make their case.  Over the next few months, he convinced me that he was probably right.  During that same year Governor Michael Dukakis issued what amounted to a posthumous pardon to the two men, and the state released more material that revealed that the state had falsified another key part of its case.  In 1979, Bill was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and on the last day that I saw him I agreed to take over his research and try to turn it into a book.  Five years later, with the help of a research assistant--a former student of mine named Michael Levitin--I turned it into a book, Postmortem: New Evidence in the Case of Sacco and Vanzetti, listing Bill and myself as the co-authors.  It re-ignited the controversy and got a lot of favorable reaction, and for a while some law professors were using it in courses.

The case, it is fair to say, had become the most controversial criminal case in US history during the 1920s, triggering huge demonstrations both in the US and around the world, and retaliatory bombings by some of Sacco and Vanzetti's fellow anarchists.  I am convinced that it was a terrible miscarriage of justice, marked by a number of instances of prosecutorial misconduct. In particular, the prosecution kept critical evidence from the defense--something that the Warren Court turned into grounds for overturning any conviction in which such things occurred.  That evidence included the minutes of the grand jury inquiry into the case, which Michael Levitin discovered in the Harvard Law School library, which showed how much certain eyewitnesses had changed their story and included statements by the medical examiner tending to confirm that one bullet had been substituted by the prosecution.

Thanks to an intrepid documentary film maker named Liz Collin and her writer JC Chaix, I am inclined to believe that we have lived through a comparable miscarriage of justice over the last three years:  the convictions of Derek Chauvin and three other police officers for the murder of George Floyd.  The documentary, The Fall of Minneapolis, can be watched for free here or on youtube.  I am indebted to Glenn Loury and John McWhorter for bringing it to the attention of their listeners, including myself, on Glenn's substack and youtube channel, here.  As usual, Glenn and John repeatedly called a spade a spade rather than referring to it metaphorically as a shovel, as Mark Twain would say.  I will now try to summarize what I have learned.  Collin and Chase have also published a book laying out their findings,  It is selling very well on amazon but it is only in forty libraries in the United States so far, none of them within 300 miles of my home here in Watertown.  Collin, it should be noted, is the wife of Bob Kroll, who at the time of Floyd's death was a the president of the Minneapolis police union.

There are two critical findings in the film, one of which casts grave doubt as to how Floyd died, and the second which may lead eventually to the dismissal of the murder case.

To begin with--and I had seen this reported before--the original autopsy report, written by the Minneapolis medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Floyd, found no evidence of asphyxiation due to pressure on his neck or elsewhere.  Instead, it found that Floyd suffered from serious heart disease, and that he had methamphetamine and a large dose of fetanyl in his system when he died.  Body cam footage, of which more in a moment, shows him with some kind of drug in his mouth during his argument with the police officers.  The two doctors hired by the well-known attorney Benjamin Crump who said that Floyd died of asphyxiation did not in fact perform an autopsy, according to the film--they simply presented a different conclusion based on the medical examiner's data.  By the time the initial official report was complete, several days after Floyd's death--it took that long to get the toxicology report--the nation and the world had already decided that Chauvin had choked him to death with his knee because of the cell phone video that a bystander had recorded, and demonstrations and riots were raging in Minneapolis and elsewhere. The film leaves the impression that the medical examiner felt he had no choice but to change his original conclusion that Floyd had died of some mixture of heart disease and the effect of the drugs he had taken.  It is one of the bedrock principles of American law that no one can be convicted of murder absent clear proof of the corpus delicti, that is, that foul play caused the victim's death.  The question of how the two independent pathologists, Michael Baden and Allecia Wilson, whom Crump hired, reached their conclusion needs final clarification.  Dozens of news accounts indicated that they had performed a "second autopsy," but Collin's book, They're Lying, and the film, insist that they only reviewed the medical examiner's finding.

That is not all.  The film presents many minutes of police body cam footage of officers' attempts to detain Floyd for at least ten minutes--before Chauvin was even on the scene.  Floyd becomes extremely agitated as soon as the officers approach him in his car, and refuses all their commands.  He also says, repeatedly, "I can't breathe"--well before he is under any restraint from the officers.  Floyd was a large, powerful man--bigger than any of the officers--and the film shows how scary the whole encounter was for them.  According to the film, much of this footage had never been shown before they put it in their movie.  This is a point where I need more information--I have received Collin's book and looked for a definite statement that this footage was denied to the jury (it was definitely denied to the public before the trial), but I haven't found it. If in fact the prosecution kept this footage out of the hands of the defense, that could, it seems to me, lead to the dismissal of the entire case.

Last, but hardly least, high-ranking officers of the Minneapolis police testified that the technique Chauvin used to hold Floyd down was not part of his training or the SOPs of the police department. That, it seems, was a lie, as the film shows with pictures from a training manual.  And it also shows other angles seeming to show that Chauvin's knee was on Floyd's shoulder, not his neck.  We also know that Floyd had been repeating "I can't breathe" many minutes before Chauvin put him in that position. 

Chauvin and his three fellow officers were eventually convicted of different offenses in both federal and state courts, and are serving concurrent sentences of 22.5 years for Chauvin and several years each for the other three men.   Very recently Chauvin survived an assault in prison during which he was stabbed more than twenty times.  Meanwhile, a substantial portion of the Minneapolis police force has quit in the wake of the case and the riots that followed, in which one precinct was forbidden to try to prevent rioters from taking over and destroying their building.  (That is described at great length by officers who were on the scene, and who make impressive witnesses.)  Crime has significantly increased in Minneapolis, even though political leaders backed away from their initial enthusiasm for "defunding the police."

The death of George Floyd and the near-unanimous conclusion that a police officer had murdered him while other officers looked on had a tremendous effect on American life.  Not only did it lead to many weeks of demonstrations, some of them violent, in many American cities, but it triggered the "racial reckoning" that led to putting a new national holiday on the calendar, popularizing the 1619 project, and winning much broader acceptance for the idea of the United States as a hopelessly racist society.  And yet, it seems entirely possible that Floyd wasn't murdered at all, but simply died from a combination of hypertension, heart disease, and a combination of fetanyl and meth.  Because of the case's impact, the new documentary may turn the case into a Republican talking point for the foreseeable future--all the more so since both President Biden and Vice President Harris did not wait for the trial to jump on the bandwagon and claim that Floyd was a victim of police brutality and racism.  And in the current climate, I cannot imagine how a new investigation could possibly enjoy the trust of large numbers of the American people, for whom the Floyd case is as settled as anything could be.  The case will have far more enduing consequences than Sacco and Vanzetti ever did.  Meanwhile, I urge you all to watch the movie.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Marty Peretz, 21st-Century Man

 Having subscribed to the New Republic for about thirty years and appeared in it a few times when Marty Peretz ran it, I eagerly made my way through his autobiography The Controversialist a week or two ago.  It was apparently much in demand in the west suburbs of Boston, and it took months for the library consortium to come up with a copy for me.  The book has drawn numerous reviews on line, most of which seem to make the same points about him and his career, and I will not go into those at any length.  Regarding his sexuality, as they note, Peretz declares himself gay in the book but says very little about that side of his life, never mentioning a single male sexual partner--and I don't care.  Nobody owes the public a thorough account of their sex life.  Peretz's book deals with his contributions to American public life, just as A Life in History dealt almost exclusively with my career in academia.  Incidentally, I have no idea if Peretz has a google alert for his name active, but if he somehow happens to read this piece, I am sure he would enjoy A Life in History.  Like his book, it has a great deal of information about the inner workings of Harvard, with which we were both so closely associated for so long.  That common association eventually brought us together for a while, but I will leave that story for the end of this piece.

Peretz was  born in 1939 in the Bronx to immigrant Jewish parents from Poland.  His father was a successful small businessman and landlord.  Peretz graduated from Bronx High School of Science, one of New York city 's competitive high schools, and probably in the 1950s the most difficult school in the country to get into.  He got into Princeton but went to Brandeis instead--and this leads me to my first relatively original observation about this book.

Peretz in his heyday at the New Republic, particularly from the 1980s, despised the label "neoconservative," but he certainly was a center-right figure and as he admits, his foreign policy views generally accorded with those of recognized neoconservatives. Thus many have forgotten or do not know that until the mid-1970s he ranked as a leftist--and his leftism dated from before leftism once again became fashionable.  He had, he tells us, two mentors at Brandeis.  The first was Herbert Marcuse, the Marxist, founder of critical theory, and prophet of the New Left, to which Peretz clearly belonged at least until a fateful conference in Chicago in 1967.  He evidently had more political influence upon the young Peretz than Max Lerner, his second mentor, and a devout believer in the American experiment.  Yet at no time in the book does Peretz really tell us anything substantial about his leftist beliefs in that era.  The Marcuse book that hand the most influence upon him, he says, was Eros and Civilization--because it encouraged young people to explore their sexuality.  He describes some relatively early civil rights activism, and in 1962, he joined the quixotic Senate campaign of Harvard professor H. Stuart Hughes, whom I became friendly with in graduate school, an independent run against Teddy Kennedy that called for a more reserved Cold War foreign policy.  He also mentions his sympathy for Fidel Castro.  In the middle of the decade, he like so many others became a committed opponent of the Vietnam War, and in 1966 he took up the cause of Biafra, the secessionist Nigerian province that the Nigerian government brutally suppressed  By 1967, he was helping to organize a Chicago conference of white and black leftists who were looking for a candidate to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination in 1968.  By that time he had married a very wealthy heiress, Anne Deveraux Labouisse, who became his political partner and whose fortune made him a significant political contributor, at least by the more restrained standards of the 1960s.  What is completely missing from this account of his youth is any indication of his views on economic questions--surely a remarkable omission from one who counted the leading Marxist of the mid-twentieth century as one of his mentors. 

About twenty years ago, Judith Klinghoffer wrote an interesting book, Vietnam, Jews, and the Middle East, showing how the 1967 Six Day War had shifted the identities and the politics of many American Jews by awakening new feelings for Israel.  Some of them, she showed, noticed that the United States emerged in that crisis as one of Israel's few friends, and therefore began to favor an aggressive US foreign policy around the world in the hope that it would make Israel more secure. Peretz makes clear in his book that his identification with Israel went back much further than 1967, but the war's aftermath changed his trajectory for another reason.  At the Chicago conference of radicals, black militants took over, spurned any white input, and insisted on passing an anti-Zionist resolution.  The black-Jewish alliance on civil rights was coming to an end.  Peretz remained a dove on Vietnam, and indeed became a significant player (in his account at least) in the Eugene McCarthy campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1968.  He also participated in the McGovern campaign in 1972--although he tells us that he wound up voting for Nixon,  partly, he says, because he was sure McGovern "had [Israel] in his sights."  I too supported both McCarthy and McGovern, and got to know McGovern slightly, and for what it is worth, I think he was a far superior public servant to McCarthy and a much friendlier human being.

Two years later The New Republic was up for sale, and Peretz bought it.  He rapidly changed its personnel and its political line, from moderate left to center-right--although as he points out, some leftist material continued to appear in it on some topics for a long time.  He went through a great many editors, a process he details without ever conceding that he was not an easy man to work for.  He continued to teach at Harvard (more on that later), and he brought a number of former students into the magazine.  He writes rather fulsomely about many of these subordinates, especially Leon Wieseltier, his long-time literary editor, whom he describes as a genius--a judgment in which I cannot concur.  The New Republic became a very reliable supporter of Israel--although not always uncritical--and, in the 1980s, a supporter of Ronald Reagan's anti-Communist counteroffensive in the Third World.  The left wing of the Democratic Party, it is fair to say, became its most common target.  Yet I came away from the book feeling that Peretz's personal likes and dislikes had an extraordinary degree of influence on its political stances.  Bill Clinton's policies, in retrospect, seem very similar to Peretz's preferences, and he also had elevated Peretz's former student and protégé, Al Gore, to the Vice Presidency. But Peretz clearly disliked the Clintons, and probably the worst piece ever to appear in The New Republic was Betsy McCaughey's scurrilous, utterly discredited attack on Clinton's health care plan--for which Peretz refuses to apologize.  He did not much care for Barack Obama either, and I don't think there is any reference to Obamacare in the book at all. 

What struck me more than anything else in the book, however, was Peretz's worldview--an unusual one in his youth that has become a mainstream one now, especially although not exclusively on the left which he now despises. He is an avowed, unalloyed tribalist.  This is not merely with respect to his Zionism.  It colors his whole world view and his reaction to numerous individuals.  He is profoundly skeptical about our whole foreign policy establishment because it tries, in theory at least, to treat all the peoples of the world equally.  He does not believe in an American melting pot.  And his tribalism--like that of many others--emerges most strikingly in his views of other members of his own tribe--Jews whom he believes to be too little interested in their Jewishness.  His list of such people includes Harvard colleagues like Adam Ulam and David Riesman, George Soros, and Madeleine Albright and John Kerry, whose Jewish forbears renounced their Judaism.  (I did not know--or I had forgotten--that John Kerry's paternal grandparents were converted Jews.)  This was perhaps his generational rebellion. His own father, he tells us, was a proud American, and the Jews of the GI generation (like my own father) believed for the most part in assimilation, which not a few of them changed their names to achieve.  Peretz doesn't. He believed in Jewish power within the system, and that is what he was trying to achieve.

I had to laugh at one passage in the book about The New Republic and the personnel he brought in.  It occurs at the end of a long discussion of his favorite subordinates there--Leon Wieseltier, Michael Kinsley, Rick Hertzberg, and Charles Krauthammer.  Here it is.

"Together we were upstarts--young and pluralist, Jewish and intellectual, not afraid to provoke. But we also came with the imprimatur of the best institutions: Harvard, Columbia, and Oxford. We weren't like anything old Washington had ever seen  We were not on anybody's invitation list in those days.  What we had was their attention. And we used it.

"Those people thought they had me pegged as a smart-ass pushy Jew.  But they didn't expect the heft, the sheer braininess.  They didn't expect the intellectual commitment.  We had in our hears the worst atrocity in recorded history, and it affected our thinking, our approach, on the issues of the day.  We were something altogether new. There had never been such a widely read magazine of Jewish journalists before.

"Mike and Rick, who served as the actual editors, didn't care much about the Jewish stuff. But Charles and Leon, who identified, were the authoritative voices in the pages.  So, though this was never my conscious plan, the New Republic was a break for identifying Jews and Zionists in Washington."

The phrase "this was never my conscious plan" reminds me of one of the funniest lines Woody Allen ever wrote, in Manhattan, when he is arguing with his ex-wife (played by Meryl Streep) over whether he actually tried to run her and her female lover over with his car.  "What would Freud say?" she asks. "Freud would say I tried to run you over," he replies. "That's why he was a genius."

Oddly, Peretz, who prides himself on being different, was a pioneer of the trend towards tribalism that has transformed American life over the last half century.  The leaders in that trend, I would suggest, were the Zionists like himself and the black radicals who took away the leadership of the left at the Chicago conference in 1967.  It has now spread not only to every major ethnic group, but also to different genders and people of different sexual orientations, and it has destroyed, for the time being, the possibility of any broad consensus among Americans.  Partly because I have never felt that I had a tribe, I have been immune from the trend myself.  Tribalism, as Peretz seems to understand, is contrary to the lessons of the Enlightenment, which thought that reason could overcome tribal loyalty.  In the middle the the last century that seemed to be happening in the United States.   Now we have been on a different path, which Peretz, in his own small way, contributed to.  This, I am now inclined to believe, is a natural human reaction--too much universalism breeds tribalism, and vice versa.

Ultimately, a newer tribalism struck a big blow to Peretz's reputation and self-esteem.  The book ends very sadly.  In 2010, he and Anne, his political and social partner for so long, divorced.  In 2012 he had to sell The New Republic to Chris Hughes, a tech wunderkind who immediately transformed it.  And in the midst of this, writing a blog, he ignited a firestorm by protesting that Muslims  did not "raise their voices against . . .planned and random killings all over the Islamic world," and suggested the Muslims in America were "worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse."  He apologized for that when it triggered a firestorm of criticism, but it turned a 50th anniversary event at Harvard in his honor as an opportunity for students and some faculty to blast him.  

I think I have faithfully conveyed the gist of The Controversialist--Peretz's memoir--yet I also know that my portrait has been too negative--because of the one brief, revealing experience that I had with him myself from 1979, I believe, though 1983.  This leads to his Harvard experience, and mine.

Peretz owed his career as a Harvard teacher (never a professor) to a loophole in the university's structure.  He earned his Ph.D. in Government in the early 1960s, just when the new major Social Studies was developed by my future friend Stanley Hoffmann. Drawing on faculty from the Government, History, Economics and Social Relations departments, Social Studies became an elite major that annually attracted some of Harvard's best students.  Its introductory sophomore tutorial revolved around Tocqueville, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and Freud.  (In recent decades, it has added Foucault and Habermas.) Peretz, along with Barrington Moore, Jr., because a permanent, although untenured, faculty member within that program, although I don't believe he ever published any scholarly work  other than a few academic reviews.  He also taught a full-year course, I believe, annually in the freshman seminar program, where Al Gore was his most famous student.  He was evidently a very effective teacher and he kept his finger on the pulse of undergraduate life through his students.

In 1979, when I was an Assistant Professor of history at Harvard, I decided to approach Peretz to see if I could review a polemic, The Real War, which Richard Nixon had just published, for The New Republic.  I simply telephoned him out of the view.  "I know about you, I've heard of you," he said immediately, indicating that we had had students in common.  He told me to go ahead, turning me over to his literary editor Jack Beatty(whom he later let go), and I wrote the review, which appeared. I wrote at least one more review, of Dangerous Relations by Adam Ulam, for them in the next year or two.

In 1983, The New Republic was preparing a twentieth anniversary issue devoted to John F. Kennedy.  I talked to Beatty about writing a piece about how Kennedy had been misunderstood by many recent commentators, and he told me to go ahead.  I wrote the piece, focusing on Kennedy's skill as a politician--but Beatty didn't like it.  I appealed to Peretz, and got a call back a few days later.  "Good piece!" he said, and it ran.  The week that it appeared, George Higgins, a Boston Globe columnist, devoted part of a column to the whole issue, focusing on two of the articles in it. I quote:

"For Its Issue of November 21, The New Republic put together four extended assessments of John F. Kennedy. This Is the sort of duty which devolves upon opinionated journals about national affairs - one accedes helplessly to the argument that It Is expected of them, but still cringes slightly as the barn doors creak open once again and display the same old tired war horses snorting In their stalls.

"Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, is the wheelhorse of that stable, naturally. He held a valid White House pass during JFK's tenancy, and he Is a trained historian. He. Is also no mean hand with the English language, and that's all to the good, of course.

"The trouble Is that Arthur Schlesinger has been around this track more times than old Tom Fool. Years ago he got wind of the reports that his President may not always have been a gentle, perfect knight. He heard there were those who thought he showed more profile than he did courage. As any friend would, Schlesinger became Incensed. He sallied forth to smite the sacrilegists, and In the heat of battle made claims for the martyred leader which would have made the man himself dissolve In gales of laughter. Mildly rebuked for those excesses, Schlesinger took umbrage and not heed, and blustered out still more extravagances.

"Now he appears to think he's stuck with them. and so we have this treatise on "What the Thousand Days Wrought," which seeks to subsume Into JFK's short years In office most of the progressive trends of the current century. It's rather embarrassing. .

"More realistic, I thought, was David Kaiser's knowing portrait of the President as a gut bucket politician, ·cozening the scribblers and hornswoggling Drew Pearson. I don't think there's any need to flounder around madly seeking reasons to beatify a smart politician, whose achievements in part rest upon his skillful use of sham. John Kennedy did not wrest the nomination out of Lyndon Johnson's grasp by yanking some damned sword out of a stone: he got It by being smarter, craftier and mean, and I think he ought to get the credit for his well-honed wits. Kaiser gives it to him, and it's quite refreshing."

I appreciated Marty Peretz's decision to run the piece, obviously, and I appreciate it even more now, having found from The Controversialist that he personally disliked Kennedy intensely at the time that he ran for president in 1960 and apparently never changed his mind very much.  This whole story shows a side of him that I can't help admiring.  He evidently trusted his student's opinion of me, and he genuinely liked what I had written for him.  Unfortunately I could not manage to establish a good relationship with Leon Wieseltier when he succeed Beatty as literary editor, and I stopped writing for TNR.  And I am sorry to report that in 2014, when it published an anthology of articles from its one hundred years of existence, it included Schlesinger's article from the JFK anniversary issue but not mine, which you can read here.

Peretz and I were part of a particular Harvard, one where students loved the humanities and social sciences and the best faculty enjoyed bringing out the best that they had to offer.  The reading lists of those years would be unheard of today--quantitatively and qualitatively.  And as teachers, we both took advantage of the opportunities that that institution offered.  That was why, really, those pieces of mine ever appeared in The New Republic, and for that I am still grateful.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Some History of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

 While I am sticking to my resolve not to propose a solution to the conflict in Gaza and the West Bank between Israelis and Palestinians, I do think that understanding how the conflict began and how we got to where we are can help us all.  In fact I think both parties to the conflict understand these questions much better than western observers.  Underlying all this, meanwhile, is a fundamental question about the essence of the modern world--and I will begin with that.

For the last eight or nine weeks I have been reading the Iliad for a class of senior learners.  The class is well run and the discussions have invariably been lively, often focusing on the differences between the ancient Greek world view and our own.  Emotions rule the world of the Iliad--both the human world of Achilles, Agamemnon, Helen, Hector, Priam and all the rest, and the world of the gods, who continually intervene in earthly quarrels.  Students have constantly wrestled with the obvious differences between the Greek gods and the Judeo-Christian god to whom we have all been exposed all our lives, whether we are religious or not.  That latter god laid down laws and standards of virtue which he expected humans to live up to, pointing us, in  many instances, towards a calmer, more peaceful and more moral world.  Not only do the Greek gods not do that, but they also display all the vices of human beings.  The Greek world, as a result, is almost totally chaotic.  I have been something of a gadfly from the beginning of the class, frequently arguing that the Greek view might actually be a more accurate portrayal of human nature and the sources of human behavior than our own more idealistic one.  Recently, indeed, it occurred to me that our whole civilization is based on the idea that reason can provide rules that will allow us to overcome the chaos that Homer identified so clearly.   The history of the last few centuries certainly reveals the western experiment to be less than a complete success.  The wisdom of the Enlightenment has not prevented the eruption of wars on a scale Homer could not even dream of, even as the nations of the world have tried to organize lasting peace.   Perhaps, though, the experiment in rationality is worth continuing, not because it is destined to succeed completely, but because the alternative would be worse.  These, it turns out, are key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I am going to begin my analysis today with the creation of modern Israel in 1947-8.  Modern Zionism had emerged as an international movement in the late nineteenth century and won its first great political victory in 1917, when the British government--then at war with the Ottoman Empire--announced that it would support the creation of a "Jewish national home"--a new concept in international law--in Palestine, with the understanding that this would not prejudice the rights of the existing Arab population.  Thus was born not only the dream of a Jewish state, but the contradiction that has bedeviled it ever since.  The British pledged to implement that plan when they assumed control of Palestine under a League of Nations mandate after the First World War, and it immediately led to violent conflict between Jews and Arabs, who opposed the idea from the beginning.  By the late 1930s the British government had backed away from the plan and was severely limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine, even as the holocaust threatened.  After the war the Jewish population of Palestine revolted against British rule, and the British in 1947 announced their intention to terminate the mandate and turned the question of Palestine's future over to the new United Nations.  That body appointed a commission to study the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs and recommend a solution.

That committee recommended a partition of Palestine--that is, what is now Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank--into Jewish and Arab states.  The Jewish state it envisioned was considerably smaller than Israel today, and Arabs would have comprised almost half its population.  The Truman Administration endorsed the plan, and helped line up the two-thirds General Assembly majority that approved it on November 29, 1947, as UN Resolution 181.  The General Assembly, however, had no power to implement the resolution, and thus asked the Security Council to take steps to do so.  This attempt to resolve the issue peacefully and by legal and diplomatic means, however, collapsed at once.  

The Zionist leaders in Israel welcomed the resolution, even though they did not regard the terms of the partition as satisfactory.  They understood that the international endorsement of a Jewish state, however small, was perhaps the most critical step towards creating the Israel they had in mind.  The Arabs, on the other hand, made a terrible mistake, from their point of view, by rejecting it completely.  Within days, civil war between the Arabs and Jews had broken out in Palestine.  This was a very brutal conflict, as detailed by the Israeli historian Benny Morris in his book Righteous Victims, and by the late spring the Jews were beginning to get the upper hand.  Meanwhile, the Security Council refused to play the role the General Assembly had envisioned and could not agree to a new approach to the conflict that had emerged.  The attempt to solve the problem through international agreement had failed, and the two parties on the ground were now at war.

On May 14, when British authority in Palestine lapsed, the Israeli leadership, headed by David Ben Gurion, proclaimed the new state of Israel.  Neighboring Arab states--some of them newly independent as well--immediately declared war on that state and sent troops into Palestine.  As far as I can see, however, the Arabs within Palestine--who suffered, as Morris points out, from poor organization--did not at this time proclaim a state of their own.  In the international war that followed the Israelis managed to expand their territory far beyond what the partition plan had envisioned and beyond what they had controlled on their independence day.   Meanwhile, most of the Arab population of that territory either fled or was driven out. And the territory they did not regain--the West Bank of the Jordan River, East Jerusalem, and Gaza--did not become part of a Palestinian state after the armistice of 1949, but instead came under control of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments.  The UN recognized the Palestinians who had fled to Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan as refugees, but that was all.  Israel, like most other modern states--including the United States of America--had established itself not via international agreement, but by force, followed by varying degrees of international recognition--though without any diplomatic recognition from its immediate neighbors.  The Palestinians had been given no say in the process of redrawing the region's borders, had lost the military battle, and had now become stateless persons.

From 1949 through 1967 the Arab-Israeli conflict was a conflict among states, with Egypt leading the Arab coalition against Israel after Gamel Abdul Nasser took power there in the early 1950s.  None of those states accepted the status quo as anything but temporary. The Arabs hoped to destroy Israel, and sponsored guerillas who crossed Israel's borders to commit terrorist acts.  The Israelis--and this has been well documented by Morris, Conor Cruise O'Brien, and others--wanted to expand their borders.  They attempted unsuccessfully to do so when they attacked Egypt in 1956 together with Britain and France and occupied the Sinai peninsula, only to have President Eisenhower force them to withdraw, and they did so more successfully in 1967, when they attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria after Nasser had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships, effectively blocking the port of Eilat. The Six Day War left them in control of the Sinai Peninsula, all of Jerusalem, the whole West Bank of the Jordan River--referred to by the Israelis as Judea and Samaria--and the Syrian Golan heights.  They immediately offered to return the Sinai and the Golan in exchange for formal peace treaties with Egypt and Syria, but they did not make a parallel offer to Jordan with respect to the West Bank, which many Israelis saw part of the original grant from their god to the Jews.  Instead, the Israeli government began establishing settlements in the West Bank--and the settlements have grown under every Israeli government in the last 56 years, and now include half a million people.

The years from 1967 through 1979 transformed the conflict from a mainly interstate one to a renewal of the original 1947-48 battle between the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of Palestine.  The 1967 war sent more refugees from the West Bank into Jordan, and Yasir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Authority now emerged as the political representative of the Palestinian people, with some international recognition from various states and from the United Nations.  International efforts to arrange peace talks between Israel and the Arab states went nowhere until 1973, when Egypt and Syria staged a surprise attack on Israel and won initial successes, and Egypt emerged having regained some of the Sinai peninsula.  That led to disengagement agreements among Israel and Egypt and Syria, and then, in the late 1970s, to Anwar Sadat's peace ovetures and the conclusion of the Camp David accords in 1979, when Israel agreed to full withdrawal from the Sinai in exchange for full Egyptian diplomatic recognition.  Those agreements also promised "autonomy" for the Palestinians on the West Bank, although as I have come to understand, the Israeli government of Menachem Begin believed that that meant autonomy for the people, but not for the land--that is, while the Palestinians would enjoy some form of self-rule, they would not enjoy territorial sovereignty or their own state in what Begin referred to as part of the "land of Israel."  

Once again the Palestinians had taken no part in the talks and rejected any such plan.  Their leadership had now headquartered in Lebanon, where they played a role in a disastrous civil war and built up a substantial military capability.  That in 1982 led Israel to invade Lebanon to destroy that capability.  Eleven years later came another apparent breakthrough. Just as Jimmy Carter had brought Sadat and Begin together at Camp David, Bill Clinton brought Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Arafat to the White House to consummate the Oslo accords in 1993.  Those accords recognized Israel's right to exist and provided for some Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian authority to take over the administration of the Arab population there and in Gaza.  They did not promise a Palestinian state, but merely envisioned further negotiations between that Palestinian authority and the Israeli government to determine the "final status" of the West Bank and Gaza.  Shortly thereafter, these agreements apparently enabled the government of Jordan to sign its own peace treaty with Israel.  In short, the accords seemed to provide, for the first time, a framework within which Israelis and Palestinians could live together in peace, although the exact terms of their relationship remained to be worked out.

Important opposition to this new framework immediately emerged on both sides.  Hamas, which had been founded to organize Palestinian resistance in the late 1980s, immediately opposed the accords and emerged as a formidable competitor with the PLO.  In Israel Rabin was assassinated by a young Israeli who regarded him as a traitor for concluding the the accords in 1995.  Pressed by the Clinton Administration, Arafat and Rabin's successor Ehud Barak tried to conclude a final status agreement.  The parties met at Camp David, following in the footsteps of Sadat and Begin and Carter, in late 2000.  Israel offered Palestinian sovereignty over much of the West Bank and Gaza, but wanted to retain key settlement blocs and to divide the Palestinian territory in various ways, while also maintaining control of its airspace and limiting its military forces.  The Palestinians wanted some acknowledgement of a right of return for refugees, although exactly how it would be implemented remained unclear.  The two sides also disagreed about the fate of East Jerusalem and the custody of holy places.  An excellent and very well sourced Wikipedia article on the failure of the the talks suggests to me that the two sides remained very far from an agreement, and I urge all readers to look at it themselves and evaluate the responsibility for the failure of the talks.  Both sides, in different ways, repudiated the process after the summit's failure.  In Israel Ariel Sharon defeated Barak's center-right coalition in the the next year, and Palestinians in the West Bank launched new rebellions and terrorist campaigns, led in part by Hamas. The Israeli government concluded that they had simply used the Oslo agreements and the Israeli withdrawal to prepare for a new armed campaign against Israel.  A panel discussion organized by the New York Times tells a great deal about the origins of Oslo and why it failed.

The last twenty  years seem to have pushed both sides farther and farther from agreement.  In Israel neither Sharon nor his successor Benjamin Netanyahu have shown any interest in a two-state solution.  The Bush II administration blamed Arafat for the failure of peace talks and demanded new elections in the West Bank and Gaza to elect new Palestinian leadership.  To its utter amazement, Hamas won an easy victory in those elections, albeit with slightly less than 50 percent of the total vote.  The Palestinian authority, now led by Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen, refused to yield to Hamas, and has refused to hold any further elections since.  Sharon did withdraw Israeli troops from Gaza in 2005, making it a separate enclave. Hamas rapidly gained power there, and Israel and Egypt have blockaded the territory ever since, controlling all its utilities.  The complicated significance of that withdrawal is explained at length in another well-sourced Wikipedia article.

Since taking power in Gaza Hamas has built up its military capabilities there. Meanwhile, north of Israel, Hezbollah, a militant Shi'ite group backed by Iran, has become a very important political force in Lebanon and established a parallel military capability.   Both Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon have built up enormous stockpiles of rockets and drones which they have periodically fired into Israel, which has defended itself with antimissile systems and carried out several punitive expeditions.  Early this year, the creation of a new right-wing government in Israel, including settler activists who apparently have designs on the entire West Bank, moved the conflict into a new phase.  Then came the massacre of October 7, and now, the Israeli war on Gaza.

In recent years there has been much talk, on both sides, of a one-state solution rather than a two-state solution.  Since the numbers of Jewish Israelis and Arabs between the Jordan River and the sea--including Gaza--are almost equal at this point, and the Arab birth rate is higher, the militant Palestinian leadership presumably regards that as a step towards eventual takeover of the whole area, with very serious consequences for the Jews, while the Israelis see it as too big a threat to the existence of the Jewish state.  Meanwhile, both sides covet territory belonging to or inhabited by the other, just as they did in 1947-48.  The principles of self-determination and equality that international politics claim to have been based on at least since the First World War cannot, sadly, solve this problem, because, despite the existence of many people of good will on both sides, neither political authority respects the claims of the other.  At times I find the insistence of my own government upon an eventual two-state solution somewhat pathetic, since there seems to be no possibility of it coming to pass, but thinking about last week's discussion of the Iliad and our times, I see that to give up on the two-state solution would be giving up on a particular vision of humanity, in this case at least, that we do not want to lose. 

The October 7 invasion and massacre was the kind of terrorism the Palestinians have used since Israel's foundation, but on a larger scale.  Their use of big rocket attacks from Gaza--joined by Hezbollah from Lebanon--seem designed to make at least large parts of Israel uninhabitable for the Israelis, and reports from Israel indicate that they are having some success.  In response, Israel is using unprecedented tactics in Gaza, treating it and its population the way the British and Americans treated the Germans and the Japanese during the Second World War.  I do not know what the goal of their bombing is, but it seems pretty certain that more than half of the Gazan population will be homeless by the time the war is over, whether it successfully destroys Hamas or not.  In the last few weeks, not only Israeli right-wingers, but even people within the current government, have been putting forth the expulsion of all the Palestinians from Gaza--two million of them--as the only solution to Israel's long-term problem. The Israeli Intelligence Minister just advocated resettling Gazans elsewhere publicly, only to be disavowed by anonymous government spokespersons.  Meanwhile, armed settler militias have emptied sixteen Palestinian villages in the West Bank during this year.  These steps, like the bombing, hearken back to the Second World War.  The Allies at the end of that war cooperated in the expulsion of nearly twelve million Germans from territory given to Poland and the USSR, from Czechoslovakia, and from elsewhere in Eastern Europe.  The Allies--utterly supreme in 1945--faced no real opposition to what they did then.  We do not know what the consequences of a parallel step for Israel today would be.  I hope that it does not take place.

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Platonic Disease

 I have never read Plato's Republic, but I have been aware for a long time of its idea of a state ruled by philosophers.  Uncle Google has kindly supplied me with this quote:

“Unless, said I, either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsory excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy, for the human race either." 

The idea that the most educated and thoughtful people should rule has played an enormous role in modern history, partly because it has obvious appeal to the educated class that now dominates modern states. The Enlightenment theory of government seems in fact to have drawn on it, since it presumed that reason could identify and solve society's problems, and monarchs such as Voltaire's sometime friends Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great seem to have seen themselves in this way.  I think that the idea has become particularly influential in some key political strata of the United States over the last half century, and that a variant of it now dominates both journalism and academia.  And I fear that this is a key reason why our political system and our traditions are teetering on a precipice.

The Democratic Party remains the party committed to the idea of government as problem solver.  Where do ideas on how to solve problems come from today?  Some come from institutions like the JFK School of Government at Harvard, where I taught part-time in the late 1970s.  That was an interesting experience.  I was teaching the course The Uses of History with Ernest May and Richard Neustadt, which took a relatively traditional approach to policy making.  Using actual case studies and historical readings, our students looked at some good and bad decisions from the past, and we discussed how history might have helped achieve better outcomes.  I vividly remember Neustadt, who had become a good friend of mine, remarking that the course was what the students had expected from the Kennedy School when they arrived--but that the bulk of the curriculum was very different.  Much of it used macroeconomic techniques to evaluate policy programs.  Logic, that implied, could establish the truth--and one had to be a JFK School graduate to understand its use.  Decades later I re-established contact with one of my favorite undergraduate students in those years--then a left liberal--and found to my amazement that he was now a Republican.  "The Kennedy School turned me into a Republican," he told me.  Class lessons seemed to him so out of touch with economic and political reality that he could not take them seriously.

This is highly relevant, it seems to me, to the Biden Administration's political problems.  Drawing on many years of work in think tanks and universities, it has designed and passed potentially very important legislation to rebuild infrastructure and transform our energy future.  Neither Biden nor any lesser administration figure, however, has made a serious effort to explain how the legislation will work to the American people.  That is exactly what presidents like Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan did, mostly on radio and television, as my new book shows.  Roosevelt discussed every New Deal measure at some length and put them all within the context of an attempt to build a new and far more equal society.  Truman did the same with proposed new measures for civil rights and national health insurance, and although he could not pass them, he laid the foundation which Lyndon Johnson managed to complete.  Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy also laid out their foreign policy programs in great detail.  Nixon, ironically, played the same role in welfare reform that Truman did in health insurance.  Congress turned down his family assistance plan, but the very similar earned income tax credit--although never explained at any length by Clinton and his successors--drew on the same ideas.  Reagan repeatedly listed the wonderful things that his tax cuts would bring about, and even though he certainly oversold them, the reduction of inflation and the gradual economic recovery convinced the nation that he was on the right track.  Clinton did sell a tax increase that eventually balanced the budget, and Obama made an effective case for expanded health insurance, but that was about as far as they went. George W. Bush promised to transform the Middle East along democratic lines, but could not do so.  Trump used Twitter to dominate the news, but couldn't communicate real solutions to real problems there.

Changes in the media are part of the problem--although the media might give the president more space if he had more to say.  The newspapers no longer print entire presidential addresses, and Biden's two State of the Union addresses, I believe, are the only speeches he has made that all the major networks--who are shadows of their former selves anyway--have carried.  Frequently important speeches of his are relegated to inside pages of the New York Times, an unheard of practice in earlier decades. The other reason for this, however, is that the major media outlets no longer respect the right of elected officials to set the national agenda and propose solutions.  Op-ed columnists in particular--who have emerged as the superstars of major papers--arrogate that job to themselves, whether their ideas have any chance of being implemented or not.  This of course encourages their readers to adopt their ideas, even if they have no chance of being adopted.

The revolt of the late 1960s targeted authority of all kinds--social, religious, sartorial, intellectual, and political.  I believe that hostility to authority has been perhaps the most enduring legacy of that era--and I have discussed many times how much further it has gone in recent decades.  Our government, I am convinced, cannot function if we do not trust our elected officials to make decisions and carry them out.  They may have earned our skepticism, but the depth of that skepticism prevents them from re-establishing real respect and trust.

Yesterday, Donald Trump at a rally referred to his political opponents as "vermin" trying to destroy the United States.  Every story about that speech quotes some historian noting that this echoes the authoritarian leaders of the last century, with the implication that we must heed our historians to preserve our democracy.  The press gives them the status of Plato's philosophers. That, alas, is no substitute for genuine faith in our democracy among our common people--large portions of whom turned to Trump in the last two elections, and may again, because they have lost that faith.  A truly effective new president, I think, will have to have some understanding of what earlier presidents managed to do, and how they did it.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Something different--pictures worth a million words

 This week's post will take about six minutes to watch.  It is a clip from a remarkable film made around 2009 in Israel, Lemon Tree.  The plot, as you will see, revolves around a Palestinian widow living in the West Bank, whose land includes a lemon grove.   The Israeli Defense Minister has moved next door, and this has immediate repercussions that the clip explains.  According to Wikipedia, the plot is closely based on real events.  You will find the clip here:


This is an avi file, a standard video format.  I hope that your device will open it in its favorite video player, whatever that happens to be.  I use Media Player, which I think is free.

This post is dedicated to my grandfather, Moshe Ber Kaiser, who over the strong objections of his wife moved his whole family from Ukraine to the United States--where life was better.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Mideast Tragedy

Because of an accident while I was working on this post, it is dated October 31.  It is actually going up on November 4.

The Israeli invasion of Gaza, designed to avenge the deaths of 1400 Israelis and wipe out Hamas,  is well underway.  Benjamin Netanyahu has warned his people of a long and difficult war, while reports from Washington suggest that the administration is hoping for his downfall.  Today I will try to lay out my view of the situation as it has developed in recent decades, and where it seems to be going now.  

I have written here many times that both history and journalism should in my opinion focus on what was or what is, not on what the author wishes should have been or should be.  There is no topic more difficult to hold to this rule than this one, but I am going to do my best. The often-heard argument, "Yes, that's what they seem to think, but they shouldn't be thinking that," leaves me cold. 

The problem is a simple one: two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, want the same land between the Jordan River and the sea.  The leading political elements on the two sides--Hamas on the one hand, and the current Israeli government on the other--reject the other side's right to sovereignty in any of that territory.  It's easy to feel that the Palestinians should have given up their goal long ago, but they haven't.   Many Israelis and an unknown number of Palestinians would be willing to compromise, but such people have rarely if ever been able to prevail on either side.  Nor is this all.  As we shall see, neither side is satisfied with the current status quo.  And this is not a problem of a majority and a minority, like race problems in the United States from 1865 to 1965 or the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India in 1947.  The Palestinian and Israeli populations of the territory in question are very close to equal.

Since the Carter years the government of the United States has pretty consistently taken the position that while Israel has a sacred right to exist, some framework involving a two-state solution should enable the Palestinians to enjoy full political rights as well.  It has never been clear whether any Palestinian leadership--or the Palestinian people as a whole--would see such a solution as anything but a stepping stone to eventual control of the whole area, achieved by any means necessary.  Certainly there is no indication that Hamas would--and Hamas appears to represent at least a plurality of Palestinian opinion.   When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas took it over, and Hamas also won the election in Gaza and the West Bank handily in 2006 with 45 percent of the vote to 29 percent for Fatah, the Palestinian establishment party.  There is no indication that events since 2005 have made the Palestinian authority under Mahmoud Abbas more popular.  Hamas has built a military base in Gaza, largely in underground tunnels, and put together a large arsenal of rockets and other weapons there with the help of aid from Iran and elsewhere.  It also apparently developed a very sophisticated military planning capability, which early this month allowed it to disable the Israeli defense system on the border completely and carry out the massacre of more than 1,400 Israelis, military and civilian.

The US government continues to suggest that a two-state solution is the only desirable solution to the conflict.  In the current crisis US officials imply that such a solution might emerge after Hamas is destroyed.   That seems to me very unlikely for two reasons.  First of all, the Palestinians have never responded to Israeli military action against them by becoming reconciled to Israel's existence.  They have only become more and more militant.  And equally importantly, the Israeli government has not shown any real interest in a two-state solution for more than twenty years, and the new government has repudiated it publicly and is doing more and more to make it impossible.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is not making any secret of his view of the future.  Just last month, before the entire United Nations, he held up a map of the Middle East with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia in green--that is, Israel plus five countries countries with which it has diplomatic relations, plus Saudi Arabia, with whom negotiations to establish them were proceeding.  The map showed Israel including both Gaza and the entire West  Bank, with no territory at all marked out for a Palestinian state.  More than six months ago, Bezalel Smotrich, himself a West Bank settler and Netanyahu's Minister of Finance--and now responsible for the government of the West Bank--went him one better.  In a commemorative speech in Paris, he announced that "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people"--a claim Golda Meir also made half a century ago--while his podium displayed a map showing all of Jordan, as well as the West Bank, as part of Israel.  That, I remember from Ezer Weizmann's book, The Battle for Peace, echoed articles by Menachem Begin in the years immediately after Israel's founding, when he too argued as a member of the opposition that the East Bank of the Jordan was part of the Old Testament grant of territory to the Jews.  Begin at that time looked like a fringe figure in Israeli politics. Smotrich is a central figure now.

Another front in the struggle is the West Bank itself.  Just six weeks ago, an Israeli academic and peace activist, David Shulman, had a remarkable article in the New York Review of Books detailing what is happening in the West Bank now: settlers emptying entire small villages of West Bank Arabs and taking over their land for new settlements, with no interference from the Israeli Army.   The UN reports that 237 Palestinians and 25 Israelis died in West Bank violence from January 1 to October 6, and another 123 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, some by settlers and some by the Israeli Army, while 1,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes.  It is not clear to me exactly what the Israeli right expects to happen to the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank.  Anyone who asks us all to look at the Hamas Charter and what it says about the future of Israel should also look at this evidence of how the Israeli government sees the Palestinians' future. Yes, many Israelis oppose all this, including some of the journalists I have quoted in this piece, but for the time being, at least, they are helpless, and they would have to command a substantial majority to reverse current trends.  

We also need to ask what the actual result of the current military campaign in Gaza will be.  Few would deny the Israeli right to punish the perpetrators of the massacre that started this war, but the consequences of their tactics too enormous to ignore.  The Israeli government's demand that about one million Gazans leave the northern part of the strip to leave it completely open to Israeli military operations is, as far as I know, unprecedented in modern warfare.  The devastation that the air and ground campaigns are wreaking upon Gaza is obviously making large parts of it uninhabitable for the foreseeable future..  I just heard a Gazan arguing that the Israelis are trying to turn the whole Gaza population into refugees again and empty Gaza out.  Who could reassure her that it isn't?  Meanwhile, Arab countries refuse to take any Palestinian refugees, and the only Palestinians allowed to leave Gaza for Egypt are either critically wounded or possess dual citizenship. Today, November 5, the New York Times reports that Israel has in fact asked Egypt to allow several  hundred thousand Gazans to enter Egypt.  The Egyptians refused.

Since the October 7 attacks that killed 1400 Israeli civilians and soldiers, Israeli leaders have used language reminiscent of American presidents in the last two decades.  They have talked of crushing Gaza to the extent that Israel would be safe for generations, and many have compared what they plan to do to the enormously destructive American-led campaign against ISIS in northern Iraq.  In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Netanyahu himself  describes the conflict as a war between civilization and barbarism. "Iran has formed an axis of terror by arming, training and financing Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and other terror proxies throughout the Middle East and beyond," he says, echoing George W. Bush in 2001. "In fighting Hamas and the Iranian axis of terror, Israel is fighting the enemies of civilization itself."  Like Bush then, he argues that the whole world must side with Israel for its own sake.  The column leaves the impression that a people ruled by an evil political movement is sunk in barbarism and enjoys no real rights.  It could also mean that Netanyahu wants the US and other nations to join him in a war against Iran, which the Obama Administration was reportedly quite close to doing before it reached the now-defunct nuclear agreement with Iran in the second Obama administration.  The Israeli historian Benny Morris, who best the drum for war with Iran in 2008-12, has just encouraged the Israeli government to consider an attack on that nation again.

We want a world where nations live together in peace.  The US government, with its feeling of responsibility for everything that happens in the world, its very close ties to Israel, and its interests in the Arab world, very naturally continues to talk as if a real solution was possible--but neither the Palestinians nor the Israeli government seem to think so.  I doubt that the Israelis can crush Hamas and Gaza into submission.  I wish I could see a real solution on the horizon, but I can't.  

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Ibram X Kendi's Crusade against the Enlightenment

      This post, which was commissioned by my friend Glenn Loury, appears here.  If you get a popup announcing a paywall, simply find and click the "continue reading" button and you should have no problems.  Let me know if you do.

Monday, October 09, 2023

July 1914, October 2023

 I have already written something on a completely different subject that will eventually be posted here, but it was for a different forum and I am waiting for them to put it up.  Meanwhile, war has broken out on the borders of Israel, and I think that this could turn into a new world crisis and even a new world war.  I shall explain why.

Europe in 1914 included about five great powers:  Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.  Italy and Turkey ranked below those five.  Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy belonged to the Triple Alliance, although Italy was reserving its right to decide when its alliance obligations might come into play.  France and Russia had been allies since 1894, and France and Britain had reached an Entente--an understanding--in 1904 and had cooperated diplomatically in at least two crises since.  The Balkans were now composed of small independent states.

The immediate cause of the outbreak of the war was, of course, the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand--the heir to the imperial throne--by young Serbian nationalists.  Serbia had recently expanded its territory in a war against Turkey, and dreamed of creating what eventually became Yugoslavia.  Bosnia-Herzegovina, an Austrian province, had a largely Serbian population, and the Archduke was killed on a visit to Sarajevo, its capital.  The killers were actually working for Serbian Army intelligence, which was a law unto itself--rather like Pakistan's ISA--and which the Serbian government feared.  Austria feared the Serbian threat because much of the population of the empire belonged to subject nationalities--Serbs, Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, Rumanians and Poles.  In the wake of the archduke's assassination they decided that Serbia had to be crushed and partitioned among various powers.

Israel began life a far more homogenous national state than Austria-Hungary was, but its de facto borders now include millions of Arabs who are if anything more opposed to Israel's existence than the Serbs in Bosnia were to Austria's.  About four million Palestinians are nearly evenly divided between the West Bank, which the current Israeli government appears to want to merge with Israel, and Gaza, over which the Israelis maintain various forms of control.  About 1.8 million Arabs live in pre-1967 Israel, and seven million Jews live in that territory and on the West Bank.  Hamas, like the Black Hand--the secret Serbian organization that dominated Serbian army intelligence--is a terrorist organization beyond the control of the Palestinian Authority, its official government.  It rules Gaza.  Decades of Israeli attempts to wipe out its leadership and thwart its attacks have, it must now be said, completely failed to reduce its capability.  It just just mounted an operation of unprecedented scope and effect,

Thus in the current situation, in my view, Israel is playing the role of Austria-Hungary--an established power threatened by minorities and terrorist revolutionaries, which it is now determined to crush.  The United States, I would suggest, is playing the role of Germany--the patron of a lesser power and longstanding ally--Israel now, Austria-Hungary then--which is unleashing a local war in response to a terrorist attack.  I would suggest however that the United States government, like the German government in 1914, has other objectives besides the simple defense of Israel, which remains relatively secure.

The war in Ukraine has emerged as the first armed conflict in a struggle between three twenty-first century great powers, the United States, Russia, and China--the Oceana, Eurasia and East Asia that Orwell predicted in 1984.  While Russia is trying to destroy the post-1989 settlement that emerged in Europe after the USSR collapsed, the United States and the EU and an enlarged NATO are trying to maintain it.  Meanwhile, tensions have grown steadily between the United States and China over Taiwan.  In this kind of environment, the greatest powers regard any defeat by one of their allies as a potentially disastrous shift in the balance of power.  That is why the United States is doing so much to support Ukraine, and it is one reason that President Biden immediately announced the strongest possible support for Israel, including conventional military support even though Israel is not facing a conventional war. 

Most important of all, Iran is another player in the situation that could easily escalate it.  The Israelis regard Iran as a mortal enemy and have been determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  The Obama Administration's attempt to remove that threat diplomatically broke down under Donald Trump, who repudiated the agreement that John Kerry had reached with the Iranians--partly, it was clear, to secure backing from powerful American Jews like the late Sheldon Adelson.  The Biden administration seems to have abandoned its attempts to revive that agreement.  Iran also provides important support to both Hamas and Hezbollah, the other leading terrorist organization on Israel's borders, headquartered in Lebanon--which may jump into the conflict now.  (Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the first terrorist incursion over the Israel-Lebanon border.)  The United States, to my horror, has been trying to improve its relations with Saudi Arabia, which would definitely make Washington a partner in an anti-Iranian alliance in the Middle East.  There is even talk of Israel normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, which might draw it into such an alliance.  

If Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia decided to attack Iran, Russia--which has friendly relations with Iran now--might join in on Iran's side.  It would be extremely difficult for the United States to maintain its generous support for Ukraine while also fighting such a conflict ourselves.  And with the United States involved in two different conflicts already, Beijing might easily decide that the time to invade Taiwan had come.  Suddenly we would be in the midst of a third world war.

Germany in 1914 decided to back Austria to the hilt in its demands against Serbia because the German government wanted a trial of strength with France and Russia, whom they thought they could either humiliate diplomatically or defeat militarily.  The men and women in charge of US foreign policy today clearly still believe that our will should prevail anywhere on the globe, and might not be averse to military action to make that point.  President Biden might also welcome it as an attempt to unify the nation behind him as the election approaches.  I am not at all sure, however, in the current climate, whether that would work.  Such a war would test the cohesion of the United States.

The Arab-Israeli tragedy continues.  Four generations of Palestinians have now grown up under occupation, each one at least as hostile to Israel as the last.  75 years of conflict, combined with demographic changes, have made Israel a very different country than it was before 1967.  Despite its repeated failure to impose its will on the Palestinians, the Israeli government is now the verge of its most destructive effort to do so yet in Gaza.  It speaks of destroying Hamas, and Netanyahu has even advised Gazans to flee--but there are about two million of them living in the most densely populated political entity on earth, and they have nowhere to flee to.  A great power makes a mistake, in my opinion, when it ties its destiny to that of a smaller power in the midst of an endless war.  The real responsibility of great powers is to keep in mind the ultimate objective of any war--"which is to bring about peace," as Clausewitz said.  That is what Germany could and should have done in 1914, and what several American presidents tried to do in the Middle East.  It does not seem to be our policy now.

Monday, October 02, 2023

The Boomer legacy continues

 In the last two weeks I have listened to two revealing podcasts that shed some light on the state of youthful opinion.  The first, by Glenn Loury, was mainly an interview with Sabrina Salvati, a Millennial (I think) black podcaster from the left. (Glenn's wife LaJuan Loury also took part in the interview.)  The second was a remarkable two-hour conversation between Briahna Joy Gray, a lawyer and commentator who was press secretary on one of Bernie Sanders's presidential campaigns, and Norman Finkelstein, a dissident Boomer academic and the author, most recently, of I'll Burn That Bridge When I Get to It, a massive polemic against wokeness in general featuring a long chapter on Ibram X. Kendi, the author of How to Be an Antiracist, whose stewardship of a new center for antiracism at Boston University is now under attack and under investigation. Finkelstein is one of the most intellectually controversial people in the United States.  Born in 1953, the child of two Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, he made his name as a critic of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians and of some American Jewish supporters of Israel.  He accused Alan Dershowitz of plagiarizing parts of his book The Case for Israel from another secondary source--this controversy is discussed calmly and at great length in Finkelstein's Wikipedia entry--and Dershowitz retaliated by waging a long an successful public campaign to get DePaul University, where Finkelstein was teaching, to deny  him tenure in the 2000s.  Finkelstein now teaches part time, I believe, at community colleges--that is the impression I got from some of his remarks in the interview.

I suspect that  Salvati and Gray represent a substantial strain of Millennial left wing opinion, although I cannot be sure. Salvati has only 900 subscribers on Substack, while Gray has almost 82,000 subscribers on her youtube channel.  One striking view that they share is opposition to support for Ukraine.  Both of them, particularly Salvati, seem to view the war as just another example of American imperialism and endorse the idea that we are fighting a "proxy war" against Ukraine, and that American foreign policy is controlled by "warmongers."  Salvati insisted that the decision to give cluster munitions to the Ukrainians will in the long run do more harm than good for the Ukrainian people--ignoring that President Zelensky very much wanted those munitions, and that the Ukrainian people obviously overwhelmingly support his leadership in the war.  That was not all.  Salvati accused both  Donald Trump and Joe Biden of being Fascists, and Gray ended her interview with Finkelstein--whom she has had on her podcast before, and obviously likes personally--by saying that she would vote for Marianne Williamson in the Democratic Primary and Cornel West in the general election.  Gray also suggested the Biden appeared on the UAW picket line as part of a strategy devised by mysterious corporate powers that be to hide plans for hurting the UAW in an eventual agreement.

I have no sympathy whatever for those views about the Ukraine war, a genuine struggle for independence and territorial integrity against a lawless, imperialist Russia.  Indeed I still regret, as I said about a year and a half ago, that NATO didn't think seriously about intervening militarily in the war as soon as it became clear that Ukraine could and would defend itself. I was skeptical about our original intervention in Afghanistan in 2001--and said so in print--and I was totally opposed to invading Iraq, but this is a completely different kind of war. What struck me about Salvati's and Gray's views in general, however, was their similarity to the views of so many of my contemporaries in the 1968-70 period.  They had decided not simply that the Vietnam war was a mistake, but that it was simply one element in a completely imperialistic and wicked US foreign policy.  They had also decided that there was no difference between the two parties and had taken  no part in the 1968 election, except to disrupt the Democratic convention and some of Hubert Humphrey's rallies.  They had contributed to some extent to Richard Nixon's victory, which as it turned out meant four more years of war in Vietnam, as well as the Watergate scandal, which we could not then foresee. 

Just as Franklin Roosevelt, Harold Ickes, Harry Hopkins, Frances Perkins, and many other members of the post-Civil War Missionary generation bequeathed certain values to the GI generation that fought the war, Strauss and Howe in the 1990s expected Boomers to leave a new set of values to Millennials.  I'm beginning to think that that happened, but in a far more fragmented way.  Newt Gingrich and  now, Donald Trump, have inspired some Millennial right wingers, and Boomer left wingers seem to have passed their views down two generations as well.  Gray in the Finkelstein interview mentions that her grandfather was a Black Panther, as was the father of Gen Xer Ta Ne-hisi Coates.   And, of course, many Boomer and Xer academics have passed the world view of the late 1960s on to many younger students in colleges and universities. 

The Finkelstein interview was interesting from another angle.  Finkelstein devoted a long chapter in I'll Burn That Bridge When I Get to It to Ibram X. Kendi's book, Stamped from the Beginning, which purported to be a history of racism in the United States and western culture generally.  He points out, in great detail, the factual and logical weaknesses in Kendi's arguments, especially the argument that giants of the abolitionist and civil rights movements such as William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. DuBois were actually racists because, in his view, they looked down on black culture or wanted black people to join in white western civilization.  Finkelstein is an interesting person.  He described himself to Glenn Loury as a communist with a small c, and he is intentionally abrasive, but his conversation with Gray makes clear that he is an idealist when it comes to historical scholarship, and is therefore incensed that someone with incredibly oversimplified views of Kendi could have zoomed right to the top of the academic ladder.  (Oddly, I,  who like Finkelstein had a checkered career in academia, am not surprised by this: it happens all the time.  He has not perhaps grasped the simple truth that the true scholars among us--who include members of all races and genders--are too few to define the ethos of our profession.  The big winners in academia combine a sense of what people will like at any given moment with a talent for networking, and those appear to be Kendi's talents as well.)  Finkelstein also mentions that while he has always regarded the New York Times as a conservative, establishment paper, he felt for several decades that he could trust it to provide true information.  He no longer does, and I understand that, too.

The Ukraine issue is interesting from another perspective.  Both the extreme left and the extreme right now oppose aid to Ukraine--and the extreme right in the House of Representatives has managed to delay aid to that beleaguered nation.  This is a parallel to the early years of the Cold War, when both left-wing liberals--some of them with actual Communist associations--and extreme conservatives opposed it--the former because they were on the other side of it, the latter because they saw it as an excuse to expand federal power.  By the mid-1950s both extremes had essentially been eliminated from Congress.  The denouement of the budget crisis--which, it must be said, has only solved it for six weeks--suggests that the country might now be ruled by some kind of centrist majority.  And while I am not as far from Briahna Joy Gray as you might think with respect to the current direction of the Democratic establishment, I still think that such a centrist majority would probably be the best thing for the country at this point.  It is the only alternative either to endless division or an actual breakup of the country.  I only wish that we had a Harry Truman or a Dwight Eisenhower to lead it, but Gen X has not produced a leader like that yet.