Archives for category: History

Heather Cox Richardson is a historian who blogs frequently on current events. She is brilliant.

She wrote:

In Arizona, Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson has restored a law put into effect by Arizona’s Territorial legislature in 1864 and then reworked in 1901 that has been widely interpreted as a ban on all abortions except to save a woman’s life. Oddly, I know quite a bit about the 1864 Arizona Territorial legislature, and its story matters as we think about the attempt to impose its will in modern America.

In fact, the Civil War era law seems not particularly concerned with women handling their own reproductive care—it actually seems to ignore that practice entirely. The laws for this territory, chaotic and still at war in 1864, appear to reflect the need to rein in a lawless population of men.

The criminal code talks about “miscarriage” in the context of other male misbehavior. It focuses at great length on dueling, for example— making illegal not only the act of dueling (punishable by three years in jail) but also having anything to do with a duel. And then, in the section that became the law now resurrected in Arizona, the law takes on the issue of poisoning.

In that context, the context of punishing those who secretly administer poison to kill someone, it says that anyone who uses poison or instruments “with the intention to procure the miscarriage of any woman then being with child” would face two to five years in jail, “Provided, that no physician shall be affected by the last clause of this section, who in the discharge of his professional duties deems it necessary to produce the miscarriage of any woman in order to save her life.”

The next section warns against cutting out tongues or eyes, slitting noses or lips, or “rendering…useless” someone’s arm or leg.

The law that is currently interpreted to outlaw abortion care seemed designed to keep men in the chaos of the Civil War from inflicting damage on others—including pregnant women—rather than to police women’s reproductive care, which women largely handled on their own or through the help of doctors who used drugs and instruments to remove what they called dangerous blockages of women’s natural cycles in the four to five months before fetal movement became obvious.

Written to police the behavior of men, the code tells a larger story about power and control.

The Arizona Territorial legislature in 1864 had 18 men in the lower House of Representatives and 9 men in the upper house, the Council, for a total of 27 men. They met on September 26, 1864, in Prescott. The session ended about six weeks later, on November 10.

The very first thing the legislators did was to authorize the governor to appoint a commissioner to prepare a code of laws for the territory. But William T. Howell, a judge who had arrived in the territory the previous December, had already written one, which the legislature promptly accepted as a blueprint.

Although they did discuss his laws, the members later thanked Judge Howell for “preparing his excellent and able Code of Laws” and, as a mark of their appreciation, provided that the laws would officially be called “The Howell Code.” (They also paid him a handsome $2500, which was equivalent to at least 5 years’ salary for a workingman in that era.) Judge Howell wrote the territory’s criminal code essentially single-handedly.

The second thing the legislature did was to give a member of the House of Representatives a divorce from his wife.

Then they established a county road near Prescott.

Then they gave a local army surgeon a divorce from his wife.

In a total of 40 laws, the legislature incorporated a number of road companies, railway companies, ferry companies, and mining companies. They appropriated money for schools and incorporated the Arizona Historical Society.

These 27 men constructed a body of laws to bring order to the territory and to jump-start development. But their vision for the territory was a very particular one.

The legislature provided that “No black or mulatto, or Indian, Mongolian, or Asiatic, shall be permitted to [testify in court] against any white person,” thus making it impossible for them to protect their property, their families, or themselves from their white neighbors. It declared that “all marriages between a white person and a [Black person], shall…be absolutely void.”

And it defined the age of consent for sexual intercourse to be just ten years old (even if a younger child had “consented”).

So, in 1864, a legislature of 27 white men created a body of laws that discriminated against Black people and people of color and considered girls as young as 10 able to consent to sex, and they adopted a body of criminal laws written by one single man.

And in 2022, one of those laws is back in force in Arizona.

Dana Milbank knows that the Republican Party is morphing into an authoritarian stance, but they prefer not to called fascists. No, he says, their brand of authoritarianism goes back about two thousand years.

He writes:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears: They have come to resurrect Caesar.


MAGA Republican leaders take umbrage at being accused of “semi-fascism,” which is understandable: Twentieth-century dictators such as Mussolini and the German guy with the mustache gave fascism a bad name. But the MAGA crowd isn’t disavowing totalitarianism, per se. It’s just their taste in authoritarian figures skews toward the classics. They’re old-school — 1st century B.C. old. “Hail, Caesar” goes down so much easier than “Heil Hitler.”


J.D. Vance, the Republican Senate nominee in Ohio, is one resident of this newly platted Caesarian section, as a recent profile in the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed. It referred to a year-old interview Vance gave on a far-right podcast in which he spoke approvingly of Curtis Yarvin, a self-proclaimed monarchist who argues for an American Julius Caesar to take power.

“We are in a late republican period,” Vance said, referencing the era preceding Caesar’s dictatorship. “If we’re going to push back against it, we’re going to have to get pretty wild, and pretty far out there, and go in directions that a lot of conservatives right now are uncomfortable with.”
The podcast’s host, Jack Murphy, endorsed this sentiment, discussing possible “extra-constitutional” remedies to be taken “if we want to re-found the country.” (He told Vance he thought voting an “ineffectual” way to “rip out this leadership class.”)


Vance, who said he had been “radicalized” by the actions of “malevolent and evil” political opponents, described what “wild” actions he had in mind at another point in the podcast. He wants to “seize the institutions of the left” and purge political opponents with “de-Nazification, de-Ba’athification.”

Vance suggested that former president Donald Trump, once elected in 2024, should fire all civil servants and replace them with “our people,” defy court orders blocking such an illegal action, and then “do what Viktor Orban has done,” referring to the Hungarian dictator’s bans on certain topics from school curricula. Vance justified such “outside-the-box” authoritarian actions by reasoning that the United States is “far gone” and not “a real constitutional republic” anymore.
Hail, Caesar!


Vance is far from the only emperor-curious MAGA leader. Former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro called Mike Pence a “traitor to the American Caesar of Trump” because the former vice president refused to help overturn the 2020 election. Another former Trump adviser, Michael Anton, hosted a Claremont Institute podcast with Yarvin about the desirability of an “American Caesar.”


Meanwhile, various tactics that would qualify as “extra-constitutional” have been proliferating on the MAGA right.


This week, Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee confirmed during the lame-duck Republican Congress after the 2020 election, turned the bedrock American principle of equal justice on its head. Cannon, granting Trump’s request for a “special master” to shield the government documents hoarded at his residence, said Trump’s need for protection from “stigma” was “in a league of its own” because of his “former position as president.” A judge granting extraordinary legal powers to the man who appointed her to spare him “reputational harm”? Hail, Caesar!

Last week, the House Jan. 6 committee wrote to Trump ally Newt Gingrich, outlining how the former House speaker encouraged Trump TV ads promoting false election-fraud claims, and how he suggested a “call-to-action” to intimidate election officials. “The goal is to arouse the country’s anger,” Gingrich wrote to Trump advisers, at a time when election officials desperately feared violence. Hail, Caesar!


Some MAGA Republicans have a novel solution to resolve pesky constitutional restraints: Rewrite the Constitution. As Carl Hulse reports in the New York Times, Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) introduced legislation seeking to compel Congress to call a constitutional convention — the first since the framers wrote it — to overhaul the United States’ founding document. The effort likely isn’t going anywhere, but it shows the contempt MAGA Republicans have for the constitutional order. Hail, Caesar!


Others in the MAGA movement simply reinterpret the Constitution to their own liking. County law-enforcement officials self-styling as “constitutional sheriffs” have assigned themselves power to decide what the law is, according to their own politics. One such sheriff in Michigan sought warrants in July to seize vote-counting machines to try to validate Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, Reuters reported last week. Armed lawmen going rogue to undermine elections? Hail, Caesar!


A few weeks from now, the Supreme Court will open its new term, in which it will decide whether to use a North Carolina case to allow state legislatures to redraw election maps — and potentially to overturn the outcome of elections and to disregard state constitutions — without any review by state courts. The high court blessing a radical legal theory that mocks the will of the voters? For MAGA Republicans, all roads lead to Roman imperialism.


Hail, Caesar!

I watched the third episode of the latest Ken Burns’ documentary, and I understand why he said it is the most important documentary he ever made.

As history, it is powerful. And it is even more powerful because there are so many echoes of present events in our own country.

In three episodes, we see one of the most cultured countries in the world fall under the spell of a charismatic madman. We see the German people march to his tune, cheer him, fall in line, then become brutes as they carry out his mission to exterminate the Jews of Europe and to capture the Continent.

We see heroic Americans trying to rescue desperate refugees. And we meet the anti-Semites in the State Department who wanted to keep refugees out and leave them to their fate. and we are reminded again and again that the American public did not want the Jewish refugees.

We learn about the indifference and decided anti-Semitism in other countries, including our own. We learn about Hitler’s admiration for our brutal treatment of indigenous peoples, killing them and then isolating them on reservations. Hitler also admired our harsh treatment and segregation of Black people.

Inevitably, in the third episode, there are graphic videos of the death camps. There are piles of naked bodies. And there are emaciated men and women who survived, barely, their eyes empty.

In the closing minutes, the parallels to the present are presented. Scenes of racism, Young white men in Charlottesville chanting “The Jews will not replace us.” The mob storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, one of them wearing a T-shirt saying “Camp Auschwitz.” Having just witnessed scenes from the death camps, the T-shirt was not just tasteless but horrifying.

This series should be shown to high school students in every school in the U.S.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews Dana Milbank’s new book about the crackup of the Republican Party. As I have often said, Milbank is my favorite columnist in the Washington Post.

Thompson writes:

Dana Milbank’s The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party is based on his quarter of a century of political reporting. From 1992 to the present the Republicans won the popular vote only once. There were calls for diversity in their party in order to reach more voters, but it went in the opposite direction. In the 1990s, the false and polarizing propaganda of Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity, and Fox News took off, as Newt Gingrich became the key political driver of an ideology that would dismantle legislative norms and institutions.

This piece only has room for a brief overview of the 90s. I assume that readers will see and will be shocked by the cruelty and lies of that decade, and how they foreshadow today’s assaults on democracy.

Milbank starts with the suicide of the Clintons’ aide, Vince Foster. Rush Limbaugh, who called the 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton “the White House dog,” claimed, “Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton.”

The prime donor of Gingrich’s political training organization, the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) was Mellon Scaife. Scaife then joined with Christopher Ruddy, who would become Donald Trump’s friend and informal advisor, to found Newsmax. They said Vince Foster’s death showed that Bill Clinton “can order people done away with … God there must be 60 people who have died mysteriously.” (By the way, such words didn’t keep Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating or Congressman J.C. Watts from helping to lead GOPAC.)

Brett Kavanaugh, who assisted in Ken Starr’s investigations of Bill Clinton and helped draft the Starr Report, knew as early as 1995 that “I am satisfied that Foster was sufficiently discouraged or depressed to commit suicide.” But he spent two years investigating, thus legitimizing, what Milbank called “all of the ludicrous claims.” In Kavanaugh’s files, that were released two decades later, were 195 pages of articles by Ruddy and Limbaugh’s transcript on the case.

Milbank writes that once Gingrich became Speaker of House in 1995, he “threw the weight of the speakership behind the Foster conspiracy theory.” That year, Ruddy, Scaife and Newsmax, would spread the lies further.

(By 2016, Rep. Pete Olson said that Bill Clinton admitted to A.G. Loretta Lynch that “we killed Vince Foster.” And Trump said the charges that Foster was murdered are “very serious.” And Milbank concluded that Justice Kavanaugh was not the most ideological of the Supreme Court’s majority, but he was the most political.)

Milbank explains how rightwingers encouraged violence. After the Waco tragedy of 1993, G. Gordon Liddy said of the ATF agents, “Kill the son-of-a-bitches.” Sen. Jesse Helms said “Mr. Clinton better watch his guard if he comes down here (North Carolina). He’d better have a bodyguard.”

Moreover, even though the Fish and Wildlife Department didn’t have helicopters, Rep. Helen Chenoweth said they were “sending armed agency officials and helicopters” to enforce regulations and “if they didn’t stop, I will be their “worst nightmare.”

In 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Building killed 168 people; Timothy McVeigh said his terrorist act was designed “to put a check on government abuse of power.” But some rightwingers claimed the bombing “was really a botched plot” by the FBI.

Also, Limbaugh asserted, “President Clinton’s ties to the domestic terrorism of Oklahoma City are tangible.” And Gingrich responded by defending the “genuine fears” of rural America regarding the federal government, and doubled down on repealing of the assault weapons ban.

Milbank goes into detail recounting how Gingrich “changed forever the language of politics.” Gingrich quoted Mao saying, “Politics is war without blood.” And he repeatedly made charges such as the Democrats “‘trash’ America, indict the president and give the benefit of every doubt to Marxist regimes.”

In 1977, a year before Gingrich was first elected, Milbank reports that a Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. After 15 years of his “relentless” attacks, that number was down to 18%. Gingrich then undermined congressional norms that encouraged compromise and constructive actions. During his legislative career, committee and sub-committee meetings dropped by nearly half. By 2017, they had dropped by almost 75%. The ability of Presidents to get laws passed was also undermined. Presidents’ legislative victories dropped from 73% of the agenda under Nixon. At the beginning of the Clinton term, he had a victory rate of 87% but by 2016, President Obama’s rate was 13%.

Another pivotal change occurred after the 1996 defeat of Bob Dole. Republican aide Margaret Tutwiler said, “We’re going to have to take on [board] the religious nuts.” A couple of decades later, White evangelicals were only 15% of the US population but about 40% of Trump’s voters.

And with the arrival of Karl Rove’s anti-gay “whisper campaign” against George W. Bush’s opponent, Ann Richards, personal attacks escalated dramatically. Another example of campaign lies was the attack on Sen. John McCain’s mental stability, and the claim he had “fathered an illegitimate black child.” Actually McCain had adopted a daughter from a Bangladesh orphanage.

Although I had been horrified by the behaviors of the rightwing, Milbank’s details provided me a much better understanding of how the views I’ve held allowed me to remain excessively optimistic. I used to believe that it was deindustrialization and the loss of economic opportunity (accelerated by Reagan’s job-killing Supply Side economics) that mostly fed the racism which propelled Trump into the White House. Now I’m convinced by Milbank’s evidence that it was racism – not economics – that spurred Trumpism.

Also, I had misremembered Mitch McConnell’s record in the 1990s. In 1993, McConnell joined Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms in defending the Confederate flag on the Senate floor, saying, “My roots … run deep in the Southern part of the country.” And he stood before a huge Confederate flag at a meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

In 1997, McConnell said in a fundraising letter, “Help to protect our country from a potentially devastating nuclear attack.” And he alleged, Clinton’s White House was “sold for ILLEGAL FOREIGN CASH”

I’m assuming that readers of this blog will quickly understand how the Alt Facts spread by politicians like Gingrich are linked to today’s crises. By 2018, only 16% of Republicans trusted the media over Trump. In 2020, people who said they were “very happy” dropped to 14% compared to the previous low of 29%.

Two years later, the attempted kidnapping of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer showed how the worsening rhetoric was putting people in danger. In 2019, hate crimes increased by 30%, and over 18 months in 2020 and 2021, the FBI nearly tripled its domestic terrorism caseload. FBI director Christopher Wray said, “The violence in 2020 is unlike what we’ve seen in quite some time.” And who knows what the numbers are in the wake of Trump’s response to the subpoenaing of the Secret documents?

The 25-year rightwing siege and Trumpism has put our democracy at risk. Being from Oklahoma City, I’m increasingly worried about the chances of bloodshed. And I’m doubly concerned after reading The Destructionists.

In 1994, Vice President Al Gore explained, “The Republicans are determined to wreck Congress in order to control it – and then wreck a presidency in order to recapture it.” Now, Milbank concludes. “A quarter century after a truck bomb set by an antigovernment extremist … Republicans have lit a fuse on democracy itself.”

Anya Kamenetz is the education reporter for NPR. This brilliant essay appeared in the New York Times. Kamenetz explains why public schools are the essential foundation stone of our democracy.

For the majority of human history, most people didn’t go to school. Formal education was a privilege for the Alexander the Greats of the world, who could hire Aristotles as private tutors.

Starting in the mid-19th century, the United States began to establish truly universal, compulsory education. It was a social compact: The state provides public schools that are free and open to all. And children, for most of their childhood, are required to receive an education. Today, nine out of 10do so in public schools.

To an astonishing degree, one person, Horace Mann, the nation’s first state secretary of education, forged this reciprocal commitment. The Constitution doesn’t mention education. In Southern colonies, rich white children had tutors or were sent overseas to learn. Teaching enslaved people to read was outlawed. Those who learned did so by luck, in defiance or in secret.

But Mann came from Massachusetts, the birthplace of the “common school” in the 1600s, where schoolmasters were paid by taking up a collection from each group of households. Mann expanded on that tradition. He crossed the state on horseback to visit every schoolhouse, finding mostly neglected, drafty old wrecks. He championed schools as the crucible of democracy — his guiding principle, following Thomas Jefferson, was that citizens cannot sustain both ignorance and freedom.

An essential part of Mann’s vision was that public schools should be for everyone and that children of different class backgrounds should learn together. He pushed to draw wealthier students away from private schools, establish “normal schools” to train teachers (primarily women), have the state take over charitable schools and increase taxes to pay for it all.

He largely succeeded. By the early 20th century all states had free primary schools, underwritten by taxpayers, that students were required to attend.

And that’s more or less how America became the nation we recognize today. The United States soon boasted one of the world’s highest literacy rates among white people. It is hard to imagine how we could have established our industrial and scientific might, welcomed newcomers from all over the world, knit our democracy back together after the Civil War and become a wealthy nation with high living standards without schoolhouses.

The consensus on schooling has never been perfect. Private schools older than the nation continue to draw the elite. Public schools in many parts of the country were segregated by law until the mid-20th century, and they are racially and economically segregated to this day.

But Mann’s inclusive vision is under particular threat right now. Extended school closures during the coronavirus pandemic effectively broke the social compact of universal, compulsory schooling.

School closures threw our country back into the educational atomization that characterized the pre-Mann era. Wealthy parents hired tutors for their children; others opted for private and religious schools that reopened sooner; some had no choice but to leave their children alone in the house all day or send them to work for wages while the schoolhouse doors were closed….

Meanwhile, a well-funded, decades-old movement that wants to do away with public school as we know it is in ascendance.

This movement rejects Mann’s vision that schools should be the common ground where a diverse society discovers how to live together. Instead, it believes families should educate their children however they wish, or however they can. It sees no problem with Republican schools for Republican students, Black schools for Black students, Christian schools for Christian students and so on, as long as those schools are freely chosen. Recent Supreme Court decisions open the door to both prayer in schools and public funding of religious education, breaking with Mann’s nonsectarian ideal.

If we want to renew the benefits that public schools have brought to America, we need to recommit to the vision Mann advocated. Our democracy sprouts in the nursery of public schools — where students grapple together with our messy history and learn to negotiate differences of race, class, gender and sexual orientation. Freedom of thought will wilt if schools foist religious doctrine of any kind onto students. And schools need to be enriched places, full of caring adults who have the support and resources they need to teach effectively.

Without public education delivered as a public good, the asylum seeker in detention, the teenager in jail, not to mention millions of children growing up in poverty, will have no realistic way to get the instruction they need to participate in democracy or support themselves. And students of privilege will stay confined in their bubbles. Americans will lose the most powerful social innovation that helps us construct a common reality and try, imperfectly, to understand one another.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson reminds us of a time long ago when Republicans were champions of public schools. long, long ago.

On August 21, 1831, enslaved American Nat Turner led about 70 of his enslaved and free Black neighbors in a rebellion to awaken his white neighbors to the inherent brutality of slaveholding and the dangers it presented to their own safety. Turner and his friends traveled from house to house in their neighborhood in Southampton County, Virginia, freeing enslaved people and murdering about 60 of the white men, women, and children they encountered. Their goal, Turner later told an interviewer, was “to carry terror and devastation wherever we went.”

State militia put down the rebellion in a couple of days, and both the legal system and white vigilantes killed at least 200 Black Virginians, many of whom were not involved in Turner’s bid to end enslavement. Turner himself was captured in October, tried in November, sentenced to death, and hanged.

But white Virginians, and white folks in neighboring southern states, remained frightened. Turner had been, in their minds, a well-treated, educated enslaved man, who knew his Bible well and seemed the very last sort of person they would have expected to revolt. And so they responded to the rebellion in two ways. They turned against the idea that enslavement was a bad thing and instead began to argue that human enslavement was a positive good.

And states across the South passed laws making it a crime to teach enslaved Americans to read and write.

Denying enslaved Black Americans access to education exiled them from a place in the nation. The Framers had quite explicitly organized the United States not on the principles of religion or tradition, but rather on the principles of the Enlightenment: the idea that, by applying knowledge and reasoning to the natural world, men could figure out the best way to order society. Someone excluded from access to education could not participate in that national project. Instead, that person was read out of society, doomed to be controlled by leaders who marshaled propaganda and religion to defend their dominance.

In 1858, South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond explained that society needed “a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill.”

But when they organized in the 1850s to push back against the efforts of elite enslavers like Hammond to take over the national government, members of the fledgling Republican Party recognized the importance of education. In 1859, Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln explained that those who adhered to the “mud-sill” theory “assumed that labor and education are incompatible; and any practical combination of them impossible…. According to that theory, the education of laborers, is not only useless, but pernicious, and dangerous.”

Lincoln argued that workers were not simply drudges but rather were the heart of the economy. “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.” He tied the political vision of the Framers to this economic vision. In order to prosper, he argued, men needed “book-learning,” and he called for universal education. An educated community, he said, “will be alike independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings.”

When they were in control of the federal government in the 1860s, Republicans passed the Land Grant College Act, funding public universities so that men without wealthy fathers might have access to higher education. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Republicans also tried to use the federal government to fund public schools for poor Black and white Americans, dividing money up according to illiteracy rates.

But President Andrew Johnson vetoed that bill on the grounds that the federal government had no business protecting Black education; that process, he said, belonged to the states—which for the next century denied Black and Brown people equal access to schools, excluding them from full participation in American society and condemning them to menial labor.

Then, in 1954, after decades of pressure from Black and Brown Americans for equal access to public schools, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor of California, unanimously agreed that separate schools were inherently unequal, and thus unconstitutional. The federal government stepped in to make sure the states could not deny education to the children who lived within their boundaries.

And now, in 2022, we are in a new educational moment. Between January 2021 and January 2022, the legislatures of 35 states introduced 137 bills to keep students from learning about issues of race, LBGTQ+ issues, politics, and American history. More recently, the Republican-dominated legislature of Florida passed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (Stop WOKE) Act, tightly controlling how schools and employee training can talk about race or gender discrimination.

Republican-dominated legislatures and school districts are also purging books from school libraries and notifying parents each time a child checks out a book. Most of the books removed are by or about Black people, people of color, or LGBTQ+ individuals.

Both sets of laws are likely to result in teachers censoring themselves or leaving the profession out of concern they will inadvertently run afoul of the new laws, a disastrous outcome when the nation’s teaching profession is already in crisis. School districts facing catastrophic teacher shortages are trying to keep classrooms open by doubling up classes, cutting the school week down to four days, and permitting veterans without educational training to teach—all of which will likely hurt students trying to regain their educational footing after the worst of the pandemic.

This, in turn, adds weight to the move to divert public money from the public schools into private schools that are not overseen by state authorities. In Florida, the Republican-controlled legislature has dramatically expanded the state’s use of vouchers recently, arguing that tying money to students rather than schools expands parents’ choices while leaving unspoken that defunded public schools will be less and less attractive. In June, in Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court expanded the voucher system to include religious schools, ruling that Maine, which provides vouchers in towns that don’t have public high schools, must allow those vouchers to go to religious schools as well as secular ones. Thus tax dollars will support religious schools.

In 2022, it seems worth remembering that in 1831, lawmakers afraid that Black Americans exposed to the ideas in books and schools would claim the equality that was their birthright under the Declaration of Independence made sure their Black neighbors could not get an education.

Notes:

Tom Ultican is one of the very best chroniclers of the “Destroy Public Education” movement. He was thrilled to discover a new book that explains the origins of the attack on public schools and calls out its founding figures. Lily Geismar’s Left Behind is a book you should read and share. It helps explain how Democrats got on board with policies that conservative Republicans like Charles Koch, the Waltons, and Betsy DeVos loved. This bipartisan agreement that public schools needed to be reinvented and disrupted brought havoc to the schools, demoralized teachers, and glorified flawed standardized tests, making them the goal of schooling.

Ultican writes:

Lily Geismer has performed a great service to America. The Claremont McKenna College associate professor of history has documented the neoliberal takeover of the Democratic Party in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In her book, Left Behind: The Democrats Failed Attempt to Solve Inequalityshe demonstrates how Bill Clinton “ultimately did more to sell free-market thinking than even Friedman and his acolytes.” (Left Behind Page 13)

When in the 1970’s, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, Paul Tsongas, and Tim Wirth arrived on the scene in Washington DC they were dubbed “Watergate Babies.” By the 1980’s Tip O’Neill’s aid Chris Mathews labeled them “Atari Democrats” an illusion to the popular video game company because of their relentless hi-tech focus. Geismer reports.

“Journalist Charles Peters averred that ‘neoliberal’ was a better descriptor. Peters meant it not as a pejorative but as a positive. … Neoliberals, he observed, ‘still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out,’ but ‘no longer automatically favor unions and big government.’” (Left Behind Pages 17-18) [Emphasis added]

Democrats in search of a “third way” formed the Democratic Leadership Council to formulate policies that moved them away from unions, “big government,” and traditional liberalism.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger labeled the DLC “a quasi-Reaganite formation” and accused them of “worshiping at the shrine of the free market.”

Union pollster Victor Fingerhut called them “crypto-Republicans.”

Douglas Wilder a black Virginia politician criticized their “demeaning appeal to Southern white males.”

Others called them the “conservative white caucus” or the “southern white boys’ caucus.”

Jesse Jackson said its members “didn’t march in the ‘60s and won’t stand up in the ‘80s.” (Left Behind Pages 46-47)

In 1989, From convinced Bill Clinton to become the chairman of the DLC. That same year the DLC founded the Progressive Policy Institute to be their think tank competing with the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute. Today, it still spreads the neoliberal gospel.

This is an important book that explains how the Democratic Party lost its way.

Conservative activists in Texas are ready to fight for changes in the social studies standards because they smell “critical race theory” (I.e., any reference to racism in the past or present), and they are hopping mad that the standards refer to the gay rights movement. Apparently, they want a deletion of any standards that refer to racism or the existence of gay people.

The Houston Chronicle describes disagreement among rightwing extremists about whether to revise the standards now, in response to angry parents, or wait until 2023, when three new rightwing extremists join the state board. One of the new members participated in the January 6 insurrection.

The board is already controlled by Republicans. After January, it will shift even farther right into extremist territory. One sane Republican, Matt Robinson, lost his re-election to the far-right insurrectionist because he refused to support the MAGA love for charter expansion.

Conservative education activists are accusing the Republican-controlled State Board of Education of helping liberals smuggle bits of Critical Race Theory into social studies standards that were expected to be up for an initial vote next week.

But the vote is conspicuously absent from the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, as a faction on the board calls for delaying them into next year, when 3 current GOP members are expected to be replaced by new members who lean more to the right…

Their frustrations with the early drafts of the standards included: the inclusion of LGTBQ activism alongside civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, a requirement for students to define “sexual orientation,” non inclusion of Moses as a historical figure, supposed inclusion of Critical Race Theory in ethnic studies courses and the lack of a requirement for history students to learn the U.S. motto, “In God We Trust.”

Dana Milbank is my favorite columnist in the Washington Post. He is outspoken and documents what he says. I am always informed by reading his work. This is a good one.

He writes:

President Biden on Thursday offered some harsh words about those of the “extreme MAGA philosophy” currently hacking away at our democracy.


“It’s not just Trump,” he said at a fundraiser. “It’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something: It’s like semi-fascism.”


He expanded on the theme later at a rally. “The MAGA Republicans,” he said, are “a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace — embrace — political violence.”

Good for him. Those who cherish democracy need to call out the proto-fascist tendencies now seizing the Trump-occupied GOP.


Republican candidates up and down the November ballot reject the legitimate outcome of the last election — and are making it easier to reject the will of the voters in the next. Violent anti-government rhetoric from party leaders targets the FBI, the Justice Department and the IRS. A systemic campaign of disinformation makes their supporters feel victimized by shadowy “elites.”

These are hallmarks of authoritarianism.


Americans are taking notice. A new NBC News poll finds that “threats to democracy” has become the top concern of voters, replacing the cost of living as the No. 1 concern. The 21 percent who cite it as the “most important issue facing the country” include 29 percent of Democrats, and even 17 percent of Republicans. (Many Republican voters have been deceived into believing there’s rampant voter fraud, but at least they care enough about democracy to be concerned.)

The Republican response to Biden’s warning? “Despicable,” Republican National Committee spokesman Nathan Brand said in a statement. “Biden forced Americans out of their jobs …” (For the record, the economy has added nearly 10 million jobs during Biden’s presidency, after losing 2.9 million during Trump’s.)
That’s emblematic of the GOP response generally when called out on its assaults on democracy: victimhood and fabrication.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) offered a classic of the genre this week. Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, writing in The Post, had condemned Rubio’s contributions to “a culture of fakery,” saying the senator’s “fake populism and anti-intellectualism … are necessary ingredients of an authoritarian takeover.” Rubio, writing in the Federalist, a Trumpist publication, responded with more fakery, and by portraying himself as the victim. “This cisgender white male reeks of privilege,” Rubio wrote of Wilentz, borrowing the language of the woke left.
Rubio, misrepresenting a Post account of a Biden meeting with historians (including Wilentz), said that those warning about authoritarianism are “peddling … imaginary threats.” Rubio added: “If you’re looking for authoritarianism, look no further than what happened under the watch of Anthony Fauci and his allies in the elite establishment.”
The day after Rubio alleged that the true authoritarian threat is the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (a job Fauci has held since the Reagan administration), the senator joined Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a campaign event. There, DeSantis said this about Fauci: “I’m just sick of seeing him. … Someone needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac.”

Dehumanizing a foe’s appearance and fantasizing about violence against him: Where have we seen this before?


Earlier this month, a man was sentenced to prison for threats against Fauci — including, as the Daily Beast reported, a wish to break every bone in his “disgusting elf skull.” It was one of countless violent threats against the scientist as Republican officials targeted him for, among other things, the “sweeping shutdown” during the pandemic, as Fox News’s Neil Cavuto put it to Fauci this week.
“I didn’t shut down anything,” Fauci replied.


That’s true. All Fauci could do was give advice. Some governors followed it. DeSantis didn’t. Instead, he fueled conspiracy theories, dubious treatments, and hostility to masks and vaccines. And Florida, after vaccines became available, had by far the highest covid-19 death rate among big states.


Since then, DeSantis has devoted himself to book banning, voter intimidation and restrictions on what schools can teach about race, history and sexuality — all while DeSantis, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, bashes “elites.”


Such relentless attacks on facts, expertise, learning and voting, like fantasies of violence against a nefarious elite, are tools of the authoritarian. But don’t take Biden’s word for it.


At DeSantis’s alma mater this week, Yale President Peter Salovey opened the academic year with a speech on the current “assault on truth,” in which he quoted Hannah Arendt, revered philosopher of the pre-Trump right: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”


This is where the MAGA Republicans are taking us. It’s past time to call it what it is.

Now here is a surprise: Paul Petersen, editor of the conservative journal Education Next and leader of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, published an article with his postdoctoral student M. Danish Shakeel demonstrating the steady and impressive progress of American public schools over the past half century.

They write:

Contrary to what you may have heard, average student achievement has been increasing for half a century. Across 7 million tests taken by U.S. students born between 1954 and 2007, math scores have grown by 95 percent of a standard deviation, or nearly four years’ worth of learning. Reading scores have grown by 20 percent of a standard deviation per decade during that time, nearly one year’s worth of learning.

When we examine differences by student race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, longstanding assumptions about educational inequality start to falter. Black, Hispanic, and Asian students are improving far more quickly than their white classmates in elementary, middle, and high school. In elementary school, for example, reading scores for white students have grown by 9 percent of a standard deviation each decade, compared to 28 percent for Asian students, 19 percent for Black students, and 13 percent for Hispanic students. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds also are progressing more quickly than their more advantaged peers in elementary and middle school. And for the most part, growth rates have remained steady throughout the past five decades.

Conventional wisdom downplays student progress and laments increasing achievement gaps between the have and have-nots. But as of 2017, steady growth was evident in reading and especially in math. While the seismic disruptions to young people’s development and education due to the Covid-19 pandemic have placed schools and communities in distress, the successes of the past may give educators confidence that today’s challenges can be overcome.

This article contradicts the foundation of the rightwing-conservative narrative that “our schools are failing,” which is the rationale for school choice and harsh treatment of teachers.

As Petersen and Shakeel show, the conventional wisdom among the “blow up public education” sect is wrong. Public schools are not failing. They are succeeding.

I made the same argument in my book Reign of Error. I showed that test scores and graduation rates for all groups are at an all-time high.

But more importantly, Paul Petersen made the same assertions in 1983, when he was the staff director for a Twentieth Century Fund commission on education. I was a member of the commission, as was Albert Shanker of the AFT, Dean Patricia A. Graham of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and other luminaries.

The commission issued a report called “Making the Grade,” which lamented the woeful state of the schools. But our staff director Paul Petersen insisted that the commission was wrong in its dire conclusion and wrote a separate statement, expressing his dissent, in which he defended the schools.

I have served on many commissions and task forces but that was the only time that the staff director dissented from the group for whom he worked.

Paul Petersen was right in 1983.

He is right now.

Our public schools are not failing.

They have been a great success.

The attacks on them by Christian nationalists, billionaires, Catholic champions of vouchers, racists, extremists, and zealots for school choice is completely unjustified.

Their attack on the schools is an attack on our democracy.

It should end now.