The “Rank Undergrowth of Treason”
Good morning, everyone.
I believe that when the tall heads of this Rebellion shall have been swept down, as they will be swept down, when the Davises and Toombses and Stephenses... there will be this rank undergrowth of treason...You will see those traitors, handing down, from sire to son, the same malignant spirit which they have manifested, and which they are now exhibiting, with malicious hearts, broad blades, and bloody hands in the field, against our sons and brothers. That spirit will still remain; and whoever sees the Federal Government extended over those Southern States will see that Government in a strange land, and not only in a strange land, but in an enemy’s land.
”What the Black Man Wants” (1865)
Yes, I know, of course, that yesterday the United States Senate voted to “acquit” the former damn fool Donald Trump on an impeachment charge of “incitement to insurrection” 57-43 (with 2/3rds or 67 Senators needed to convict).
Seven Republican Senators voted with all 50 Democratic Senators to convict Trump of the charge as set forth in the House “indictment”.
That news is everywhere; in the MSM, the front page of this blog, the wreck section of this blog, all over other blogs. There’s no lack of news, analysis, and punditry of yesterday’s events...and that’s as it should be.
And I will cover some of that analysis and punditry this morning.
Today, I want to utilize some space in the Sunday Pundit Round-up to acknowledge and celebrate the self-chosen birthdate of one of the greatest Americans that has ever lived: the former slave, abolitionist, orator, suffragist, journalist, and yes, pundit, Frederick Douglass (and if the word “pundit” means anything at all, Frederick Douglass has to be considered as one of this country’s all-time greatest pundits).
The opening quote of this pundit round-up is from a speech titled What The Black Man Wants; an 1865 (impromptu!) speech delivered to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.
I wrote a 2015 diary about that speech. For the past few years (but not in 2020!), I’ve republished that diary, retro-fitting it for the contemporary moment. (Here is the most recent version.)
While the piece is now, to my mind, dated, the paragraph of the speech describing “this rank undergrowth of treason” is as prophetic as anything ever written, especially in light of the January 6th Capitol Insurrection.
It’s also worth noting that Mr. Douglass’ 1865 speech was not only about emancipation but also Black suffrage; the two subjects were almost always connected in Mr. Douglass’ mind.
It is no coincidence that one of the procedures in sprouting a “rank undergrowth of treason” is to invalidate and disenfranchise Black votes/voters.
That’s always been part of that program. It’s specifically why President Lincoln took an assassins’ bullet from John Wilkes Booth.
For the past couple of days, I’ve been reading an 1859 gem of a Frederick Douglass essay titled “Contradictions in American Civilization”; an essay which I cannot find an online link but is collected in The Narrative and Selected Writings.
In the essay, Douglass writes of a series of violent attacks taking place in Baltimore, New York City, and “an outrage perpetuated at Hartford on the reception of Gov. Seymour...” I don’t have the resources to track down the specific events Douglass writes of (some footnotes would be helpful for those passages!) but I gather that he’s writing about the notorious political violence related, in part, to the “Plug Uglies” and other political gangs of his times.
So, yes, I have some punditry coming right up about the circumstances surrounding Donald Trump’s impeachment and acquittal.
Political violence, voter disenfranchisement, treason...Mr. Frederick Douglass wrote variations of this very same subject material in the 19th century. Today’s pundits are writing about...contemporary events but I am not sure that they have any better or more eloquent of a grasp of the raw news material in front of them than Mr. Frederick Douglass did in his own day.
Anyway, all of that babbling is to say: Happy Birthday, Mr. Frederick Douglass!!!
And now it’s time for some pundits.
David Remnick of the New Yorker has an eloquent (if cliché) essay on how yesterday’s Senate verdict is one thing but history’s verdict will be quite another.
It is not difficult to imagine how the members of the 1776 Commission would evaluate Trump’s second impeachment trial. They, like the great majority of Republicans in the Senate, would vote for acquittal. Trump avoided conviction by a vote of 57–43 on Saturday, but history—history as it is assembled through the rigorous accumulation and analysis of fact—will not be so forgiving. Throughout the trial, the Democratic impeachment managers presented overwhelming evidence of Trump’s criminal culpability, his incitement of the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol. Their case was clear: for months, Trump sought to undermine, then reverse, a national election, and, when he ran out of options, after he was thwarted by various state election officials and the courts, he proved willing to see the lives of his own Vice-President, the Speaker of the House, and other members of Congress endangered so that he might retain power.
There is a long history of violence against democratic processes and voters in America: in the eighteen-fifties, nativist gangs like the Plug Uglies set out to intimidate immigrant voters; in the eighteen-seventies, white Southerners formed “rifle clubs” and attacked Black voters to hasten the end of Reconstruction. But this event was unique in U.S. history. This mob was inspired by a President.
After final arguments on the floor of the Senate on Friday night, I spoke with Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District and who was the lead impeachment manager for Trump’s trial. Shortly after we began talking about the proceedings, Raskin cut himself off for a moment, saying that he needed to collect his thoughts.
“I have to admit,” he said, “I’m exhausted.” For Raskin, the trial was the least of it. On the day before the assault on the Capitol, Raskin and his family had buried his son Tommy, a brilliant young man who was suffering from depression and took his own life on New Year’s Eve. And yet, despite the weight of that unspeakable tragedy, Raskin guided the prosecution of Trump in the Senate chamber with a grace, an unadorned eloquence, rarely, if ever, witnessed in our degraded civic life.
David Frum of The Atlantic writes that from the point of yesterday’s acquittal, it’s all downhill for the damn fool.
You say that you are disappointed? That a mere rebuke was not enough? That justice was not done? It wasn’t. But now see the world from the other side, through the eyes of those who defend Trump or even want him to run again. Their hope was to dismiss this impeachment as partisan, as founded on fake evidence, as hypocritical and anti-constitutional—to present this verdict as an act of oppression by one half the country against the other. That hope was banished today.
It’s not half against half. It’s a clear American majority—including a sizable part of the Republican Senate caucus—against a minority. And even many of the senators who voted to acquit went on record to condemn Trump as an outlaw and a seditionist.
Again and again, the Trumpists lost key votes. Five Republican senators and then six rejected the argument that the Senate lacked jurisdiction. Five Republican senators rejected the vote against witnesses. The accusing majority consistently stuck together. The condoning minority repeatedly splintered.
The 57 votes against Trump silence any complaint that he was condemned on some partisan basis or by some procedural unfairness. It crushes his truculent lawyers’ claim that the argument against Trump was mere chicanery. The senators who voted to acquit
are the ones likely to justify their decision on some strained, narrow, technical ground. The number who truly believed Trump innocent of the charges brought against him is surely smaller than the 43 who voted to acquit. Statements by senators such as Mitch McConnell and Rob Portman
show that their votes did not match their thoughts.
Perry Bacon Jr. of FiveThirtyEight wonders: Now what happens?
Trump is, of course, out of office. He is no longer an imminent, direct threat to lawmakers (a sitting president who can encourage his supporters to protest at the Capitol). Nor is he an imminent threat to American democracy (a sitting president regularly breaking with democratic norms).
But the results of this trial mean that both threats remain. Many of the people who invaded the Capitol have been arrested, and many of them are likely to serve time in jail. But it appears that none of the politicians who propagated the falsehoods about election fraud in 2020 — setting the conditions for the insurrection — will face any serious repercussions at all. That’s most notably Trump, but also figures like Sen. John Hawley. What’s to stop Republican officials in 2022 or 2024 from making up frivolous charges of election fraud and then watching as conservative voters take aggressive and even violent actions because they believe what prominent Republicans are saying?
Because the Senate trial did not result in conviction, Trump himself could seek another term as president, and there is every reason to think that he would accelerate his anti-democratic tendencies if he were in office again. And even if Trump himself doesn’t seek the presidency again, aspiring Republican politicians know now that the party’s base and elected officials will tolerate a lot of anti-democratic behavior. So, both Trump and Trump-style politics remain major threats to American democracy and potentially the future of the Republican Party.
Robert Reich, writing for the Guardian, is looking optimistically (!) forward to President Biden’s plans for the economy.
The juxtaposition of Trump’s impeachment trial and Biden’s ambitious plans is no coincidence.
Trump has left Republicans badly fractured and on the defensive. The party is imploding. Since the Capitol attack on 6 January, growing numbers of voters have deserted it. State and county committees are becoming wackier by the day. Big business no longer has a home in the crackpot GOP.
This political void is allowing Biden and the Democrats, who control the White House and both houses of Congress, to respond boldly to the largest social and economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Importantly, they are now free to disregard conservative canards that have hobbled America’s ability to respond to public needs ever since Ronald Reagan convinced the nation big government was the problem.
The first is the supposed omnipresent danger of inflation and the accompanying worry that public spending can easily overheat the economy.
I know that Vice President Kamala Harris’ column for the Washington Post about the perils affecting women in the COVID-19 era workforce was linked in the comment section of Greg’s APR yesterday but in case you missed it...
The pandemic has touched every part of our lives. Families everywhere are shouldering a huge burden as homes have become classrooms and child-care centers, and uncertainty plagues each day. Because of that, many working women have been forced to cut their hours or leave their jobs entirely. Even those who’ve managed to keep working full-time are stretched. Before the pandemic, working mothers already had it tough. Now, it seems nearly impossible.
This is not acceptable. And for me, it’s personal.
When I was growing up, every day and often on weekends, my mother left home to go work in the lab as a breast cancer scientist. And every day, my sister and I went to Mrs. Regina Shelton’s, who became a second mother to us. My mother had two goals in her life: to raise her daughters and to end breast cancer. For my mother to go to work, she needed to know her daughters were well cared for.
Stephania Taladrid of the New Yorker on how President Biden’s Administration can become a good neighbor to Latin America.
In many ways, Biden’s objectives on everything from immigration reform to restoring Venezuelan democracy will first require reversing his predecessor’s legacy. To bring the wall’s construction to an end, his Administration will have to settle claims brought by land owners and contractors, which could cost billions; in Caracas, Biden faces a political opposition in complete disarray and a regime that only tightened its grip on power despite Trump’s sweeping sanctions. The expectation is that the new President will broaden American engagement in the region and revive the principles which once defined it. Biden supporters contend that his decades of work in the region make him well suited for the staggering task at hand. As Vice-President, he oversaw Obama’s Latin America policy and visited the region sixteen times. One of Biden’s signature achievements was to secure seven hundred and fifty million dollars from Congress to help Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras tackle corruption, violence, and poverty, declaring that Central America’s security and prosperity is “inextricably linked with our own.” In return, leaders in all three countries committed to enact reforms. After Trump took office, he slashed hundreds of millions in aid. Now, Biden is proposing four billion in assistance to the three nations.
Jeff Hawn and Sim Tack of Foreign Policy magazine contemplate what a world without Russian President Vladimir Putin would look like.
Putin is not solely responsible for shaping Russia’s foreign and domestic policies, or the government structures that enact them. He heads a collective group of stakeholders, including business leaders, the siloviki (“securocrats”) of the armed forces and security services, and regional magnates. Putin and his network directly benefit from their positions of power, but the broader network of stakeholders also wants to remain in power and maintain their access to the state’s resources regardless of whether Putin is in command or not.
The Russian leadership, with Putin still serving as the main instigator and adjudicator, is thus looking to establish long-term political stability that would prevent future leaders from upsetting the balance they created. From Putin’s own patriotic perspective, this would spare Russia another weak leader like former President Boris Yeltsin who would allow the state to be weakened from within.
German Lopez of Vox has a smart essay on the false dilemma that President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package represents a choice of stimulating the economy or providing help and relief to people.
Both sides have good arguments. Covid-19 has obviously battered the economy, with 10 million fewer jobs compared to the year before, shrinking GDP last year, and downward trends in various other metrics. But there’s a good chance much of this will bounce back once the pandemic ends — so what’s needed isn’t so much getting the economy back to “normal” (only the end of Covid-19 can fully do that), but broad economic relief to Americans who are suffering now.
Biden’s response to all of this: Why not both? As he put it last week, “It’s not just the macroeconomic impact on the economy and our ability to compete internationally; it’s people’s lives. Real, live people are hurting, and we can fix it.”
Understanding Biden’s overall proposal in this light makes sense of what can seem like a grab bag of progressive priorities. Some ideas might seem inefficient or excessive for stimulus but make a lot of sense for relief, and vice versa.
For example: Some economists have argued the $1,400 checks should be cut off for Americans with incomes above $75,000 because they’re less likely to spend the money — so they’re less likely to truly stimulate the economy. Some other economists, like Claudia Sahm, disagree, pointing to empirical evidence that the money likely will be spent within months.
But even if the checks-are-inefficient-stimulus crowd is right, the $1,400 checks still can provide another value: peace of mind. The higher-income beneficiaries (who still aren’t exactly rich) may not spend the money as quickly or efficiently as their lower-income counterparts, but the checks still offer support and a safeguard after a year of uncertainty.
Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times on how a generational digital divide is affecting seniors seeking a vaccine for COVID-19.
It’s easy to forget there is an entire generation among us, maybe two generations, who never had to join the computer age.
They have been able to live productive, independent lives without knowing the first thing about using a computer, let alone owning one. Others in their age group might know just enough to check their email.
And now we are telling them they are welcome to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine, encouraging them, because we recognize they are the most in need. All they have to do is go online to register and compete against more computer-savvy citizens to nab an appointment.
It’s a flaw that won’t necessarily be rectified by increased vaccine supplies, though I expect more vaccine will solve a lot of problems. For a significant portion of the elderly, though, more vaccine won’t solve anything.
They need an appointment system that’s easier to navigate and, in some cases, a system that will bring the vaccine to them instead of making them go to the vaccine.
Finally this morning, an excerpt from the punditry of the Immortal birthday dude, Frederick Douglass, in the January 1867 issue of The Atlantic.
For better or for worse, (as in some of the old marriage ceremonies,) the negroes are evidently a permanent part of the American population. They are too numerous and useful to be colonized, and too enduring and self-perpetuating to disappear by natural causes. Here they are, four millions of them, and, for weal or for woe, here they must remain. Their history is parallel to that of the country; but while the history of the latter has been cheerful and bright with blessing, theirs has been heavy and dark with agonies and curses. What O’Connell said of the history of Ireland may with greater truth be said of the negro’s. It may be “traced like a wounded man through a crowd, by the blood.” Yet the negroes have marvelously survived all the exterminating forces of slavery, and have emerged at the end of two hundred and fifty years of bondage, not morose, misanthropic, and revengeful, but cheerful, hopeful, and forgiving. They now stand before Congress and the country, not complaining of the past, but simply asking for a better future. The spectacle of these dusky millions thus imploring, not demanding, is touching; and if American statesmen could be moved by a simple appeal to the nobler elements of human nature, if they had not fallen, seemingly, into the incurable habit of weighing and measuring every proposition of reform by some standard of profit and loss, doing wrong from choice, and right only from necessity or some urgent demand of human selfishness, it would be enough to plead for the negroes on the score of past services and sufferings.
Everyone have a good morning!