Extraordinary Democratic Delusions

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Just when I was starting to think that The New York Review of Books was not irredeemably idiotic on political issues, they publish an article that is so conspicuously incoherent and outrageously out of touch with the political climate in the U.S. that it’s destined to be anthologized in perpetuity in collections with “Clueless” in the title. The article, “The Party Cannot Hold,” by Michael Tomasky is about the current state of the Democratic party.

The current divide in the Democratic party, writes Tomasky,

is about capitalism—whether it can be reformed and remade to create the kind of broad prosperity the country once knew, but without the sexism and racism of the postwar period, as liberals hope; or whether corporate power is now so great that we are simply beyond that, as the younger socialists would argue, and more radical surgery is called for.

Hmm, he’s right, of course, that there is a faction of the Democratic party that wants to reform capitalism, to remake it to create the kind of broad prosperity the country once knew. The thing is, that faction is the “younger” one. The older, “liberal,” Democrats have concentrated almost all their efforts on getting rid of sexism and racism, laudable goals to be sure, but oddly disconnected in the “liberal” imagination from economic issues.

Tomasky is also correct, of course, that a growing number of people in this country think capitalism in any form is simply morally bankrupt and that we need a new socioeconomic system entirely. Few of these people, however, are registered Democrats. Most of them aren’t even Social Democrats since the overthrow of capitalism hasn’t been a part of the Social Democratic platform since the middle of the last century. Indeed, Wikipedia defines “Social democracy” as “a political, social and economic philosophy that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and a capitalist-oriented economy” (emphasis added).

Tomasky either didn’t do his homework or he is being deliberately disingenuous. His view that Social Democrats are planning the overthrow of capitalism is at variance with how Social Democratic parties actually function in the many capitalists countries of Europe where they are an important political force.

Tomasky points out that Sanders, even if he were elected, would be unable to implement many of the programs that are part of his platform, that the best he’d get in terms of healthcare, for example, would be “a Bidenesque public option,” meaning, I presume, an option such as Biden is advocating for now, because as Americans know too well, politicians almost never deliver on campaign promises. The electorate is nearly always forced to accept some watered-down version of what they’ve been promised, if indeed, they get any version of it at all.

That’s likely part of the reason so many people support Sanders. Few Sanders supporters are so politically naïve that they think once he was in office we’d have universal healthcare. They assume they’d get something less than that. They also assume, however, and history suggests, correctly, that if Biden were elected, they’d get something less than he’s promising as well, which means they’d get…— nothing at all! It’s either idiotic or, once again, disingenuous of Tomasky to suggest that there’s essentially no difference between Sanders’ and Biden’s healthcare plans. Even a child will tell you that something is clearly better than nothing.

Tomasky assumes that only if someone other than Sanders gets the nomination would the left “try to increase its leverage by, for example, running left-wing candidates against a large number of mainstream Democratic House incumbents.” I kid you not, he actually says that. That’s what happens when you don’t pay sufficient attention to what is going on around you. Or perhaps Tomasky is simply being disingenuous yet again and hoping that the average reader of The New York Review of Books hasn’t been following the Sanders campaign and the calls of both Sanders and his supporters for bringing about sweeping political change by running left-wing candidates against a large number of mainstream Democratic House incumbents.

“If Sanders wins the nomination,” writes Tomasky, “it becomes absolutely incumbent upon Democratic establishment figures to get behind him, because a second Trump term is unthinkable. But the reality,” he continues, “is that a number of them won’t.”

Hmm… Why is it that a number of “Democratic establishment figures” would rather have a second term of Trump than even one term of Sanders? That’s not my charge, I feel compelled to remind readers here: It’s Tomasky’s!

Michael Tomasky, editor-in-chief of Democracy, a special correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and a contributing editor for The American Prospect, came right out and admitted that the “Democratic establishment” despite it protestations to the contrary, would rather have a second term of Trump than even one term of a genuine populist such as Sanders!

Why is that? Well, because as Tomasky observes himself earlier in the article, “Democrats have, since the 1990s, gotten themselves far too indebted to certain donor groups, notably Wall Street and the tech industry.” Yes, this is the same Tomasky who began the article in question by characterizing the very same Democrats, whom he believes are in the pocket of Wall Street and the tech industry, as wanting to reform capitalism, to remake it to create the kind of broad prosperity the country once knew.

And people speculated that Biden might be suffering from some kind of dementia!

That’s not the only dotty thing Tomasky says in the article. “In a parliamentary system,” he says, “Biden would be in the main center-left party.” Okay, yeah, maybe, if we suddenly had a parliamentary system in the U.S. In any other country that presently has a parliamentary system Biden would be in the center-right party, if not actually the far-right party.

The view that Sanders supporters are mostly young socialists is delusional. The very same issue of The New York Review of Books includes an excellent article about our current health-care crisis entitled “Left Behind” by Helen Epstein. Epstein explains that substantial numbers of the working poor support Sanders and that “117,000 Pennsylvanians who voted for Sanders in the [2016] primary cast their general election ballots for Trump.” It seems unlikely that all of those 117,000 Pennsylvanians were young socialists.

Tomasky’s world doesn’t even cohere with the world as represented by other contributors to the publication in which his article appears, let alone to the real, concrete world. It exists only in his fevered imagination and the similarly fevered imaginations of other Democrats who delude themselves that they are “centrists” rather than right-wing neoliberals. There are bits and pieces of the truth in Tomasky’s vision of the disunity in the Democratic party but he puts those bits together like a child forcing pieces of a puzzle where they don’t belong.

What Tomasky fails to appreciate is just how mad, in the sense of angry, the average American voter is. Epstein writes that “[i]f you include those who have left the workforce altogether, the U.S. employment rate is almost as high as it was in 1931.” She cites Anne Case and Angus Deaton as observing in Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism that “[t]he amount American spend unnecessarily on health care weighs more heavily on our economy… than the Versailles Treaty reparations did on Germans in the 1920s.”

Oh yeah, people are angry. Few people are blaming capitalism as such, but nearly everyone who’s suffering economically appears to be blaming the political establishment, and blaming the Democrats just as much as the Republicans. This is clear from the people interviewed in the 2019 documentary The Corporate Coup d’Etat. These are people who voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary, but who then voted for Trump in the general election. They’re not socialists. They’re just angry. Really angry, and they’re angry at both sides of the political establishment.

Tomasky is worried about the Democratic party breaking apart. Ironically, a Sanders nomination, was probably the last chance the party had to prevent a split.  Biden is simply too much a part of the political establishment to capture the votes of the increasing numbers of people who are unhappy with that establishment.

Tomasky’s whole article appears an ill-conceived attempt to frighten genuine progressives back into the Democratic-party fold. He acknowledges that the party is too beholden to Wall Street and the tech industry, that it has gotten so far away from its populist roots that much of its establishment would rather see Trump back in office than a genuine populist. Yet he concludes the article with the observation that “our [political] system militates against a schism” in the party. No third party, he thinks, could be a significant political force.

Oh yeah? Think again, Tomasky.

(An earlier version of this piece appeared in the March 12, 2020 issue of the online political journal CounterPunch under the title “Extraordinary Democratic Delusions and the Madness of the Crowd.”)

The Myth of Sanders’ “Socialism”

IMG_3559Fox News has an all-out frontal assault on Bernie Sanders’ purported “socialism.” It’s a sad statement on the level of ignorance in this country that anyone could take seriously the claim that Sanders is a socialist. What Sanders is advocating is something approaching the social-welfare systems of other economically developed countries and that’s a far cry from the socialism Fox News is using as a boogeyman to frighten conservatives. The “socialism” Fox is decrying is the old-fashioned Stalinist-Maoist kind where all important industries are nationalized, most of the private property of the wealthy is seized by the state, and there are no such things as individual rights and freedoms because the very idea of “individuals” is considered capitalist propaganda.

That kind of socialism is not pretty. I traveled through East Germany before the wall came down and I was horrified by the poverty and misery. I was raised in a liberal household, so I was unprepared for how obviously unhappy most of the people I met there clearly were. You didn’t even have to meet people to learn they were unhappy. You could see it on the faces of people in the street. I was traveling with a group of students who were all on a semester abroad program. Our home base had been West Berlin, but we took an excursion through East Berlin, and then several other cities in East Germany before settling in Vienna for the second half of the semester. We’d been forced to exchange 25 West German marks for 25 East German marks for every day we were going to be in East Germany. We were ecstatic, at first, to learn how cheap everything was in East Germany. We could buy much more with our money there than we had been able to in West Germany.

We learned very quickly, however, that there wasn’t really much to buy. There were few luxury goods and those few were shoddy and of inferior quality. There were books, of course, some books anyway, but they were printed on poor-quality paper and were poorly bound. The clothes were poorly made and decades out of date. The food was bad. Even the beer was bad. I don’t think I have a single souvenir from East Germany.

A few years later, I moved to the purportedly “socialist” state of state of Denmark. The difference between Denmark and East Germany could not have been more striking. First, no one seized the private property of the wealthy in Denmark. In fact, there are quite a few wealthy people in Denmark. Anyone who has ever taken a vacation to Scandinavia will tell you that everything there is very expensive. Food is expensive, clothing is expensive. Restaurants are through-the-roof expensive! I used to marvel when I lived there that anyone had the money to eat out in Denmark. And yet people did. Most the people in Danish restaurants are Danes, not tourists. Most of the people who buy Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace porcelain ($500 a place setting when I wanted to select it as my wedding pattern) are Danish. In fact, everyone in Denmark seems to have some of that porcelain. Where are they getting the money? I used to see Danish women all over the streets of Copenhagen in mink coats. I once saw a woman riding a bike in a mink coat. Stuff is nice in Denmark. Good quality, I mean. Well made. People invest in quality not quantity.

I was friends with a couple when I lived there who were quite well off. The husband was a doctor and the wife had been a nurse but had quit working to raise their daughter. They had a gorgeous house in the suburbs, two cars and a sailboat that slept several people — and the wife had a mink coat. In fact, all my friends who were over thirty were pretty well-heeled. Everyone complained about taxes, of course, just as they do in the U.S., but still, they seemed to live well.

You know how they used to organize trips to Cuba and Nicaragua so people could see how things actually worked in those countries rather than simply relying on anti-communist propaganda? Well, I’m thinking of organizing tours to Denmark for conservatives who’ve been brainwashed to think what Sanders is advocating is something like they had in the former Soviet Union.

Hey people: Go to Denmark. I dare you. Go there as see how people actually live. There’s no shortage of rich people in Denmark and no shortage of privately, or publicly (as in on the stock market, not as in owned by the government) owned companies. The Danish shipping company Mærsk is the largest shipping company in the world and there are lots of other Danish companies that are not owned by the government. In fact, economic mobility is greater in Denmark than it is in the U.S.

Denmark knows that its economic future is its people so it invests heavily in them. And it pays off. People are happy there, and they have nice stuff, unlike in the former Eastern-Block countries. They must be phenomenally productive too because they work fewer hours than we do and everyone has a government mandated six weeks of paid vacation annually and yet they are still quite competitive economically given their small size.

Hmm. Say Sanders were elected and there was suddenly Medicare for all and free higher education at state colleges and universities and a $15 minimum wage? Hmm. The people who would be saved from bankruptcy caused by obscenely high medical bills wouldn’t represent a threat to capitalism as we know it in this country, au contraire. They’d be able to pay their other creditors because they wouldn’t be broke. In fact, they be out there buying more stuff (because that’s what Americans do when they get more money, they buy more stuff).

Medicare for all would also be a boon not only to individuals but to businesses, especially small businesses, because they would no longer have to provide healthcare for their employees. Of course they would have to pay people higher wages, but relief from the burden of providing healthcare would be substantial and those higher wages would enable people to, you know — buy more stuff!

Sanders’ programs, if they were implemented, would represent a revitalization of the consumer engine that drives this economy. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the effect on the economy of students who would no longer be forced to live in their parents’s basements in order to be able to have enough money to pay off their student loans. They too would have money to spend!

The wealthy wouldn’t lose their lock on power if the purportedly “socialist” Sanders won and succeeded in implementing his programs. Charles Petersen observed in an excellent article, entitled “Serfs of Academe,” in a recent edition of the New York Review of Books, that only people with Ph.D.s from one of the few elite universities, most of which are private, have any hope these days of getting a teaching position at a college or university. The same thing goes for getting into an elite law school and going from there to a large New York law firm, etc., etc. Want to be a leader in this culture, well, then, you had better have a degree from one of the Ivies, or the equivalent, and most of those institutions are private. Even if Sanders won, it will continue to be the case, that only the well-healed will be able to afford them.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when one could get ahead with a degree from a state school or even with just a high school diploma. Those days are pretty much gone, though. That’s why anyone who can scrape together enough cash to send their child to a private school does. Everything depends on getting your kid into the best possible college and private prep schools give kids a leg up. When I was a child my parents explained to me that public school was an essential democratic institution. It was important, they explained, that well-educated middle-class and wealthy people not pull their children out of the public schools. It was important, they explained, that children of all classes and backgrounds and income levels mingle. That they learn about one another, form bonds of friendship, that the middle-class parents and wealthy parents could advocate for improvements in the schools that working-class and poor parents might not be able to do because of greater constraints on their time.

One never hears arguments like that anymore though. Now it is every man for himself. Everyone who can puts their kids into private schools to give them that leg up over the kids of parents who cannot afford to do that. Nice, eh? So the kids of the “haves” they get that leg up and the kids of the “have nots,” well, they don’t, and that is not going to change, not even if Sanders gets elected and suddenly state colleges and universities are tuition free. The rich will still be getting their kids into the best schools. They will still be running everything and they will still be handing that power down to their children.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean this as a criticism of Sanders. Just look at the opposition his centrist assault on our current system has generated. If he suggested anything really radical, such as a government stipend like they have in Denmark for all college and university students, he’d risk being carted off to a mental hospital.

We will be better off if Sanders won and was able to implement his programs. People would be happier. They would be able to go to college, some college anyway, without mortgaging the very future for which they go to college to have in the first place. They would be able to get the medical care and medicine, they need. And, perhaps most importantly for our consumer culture, they would have more money to spend. That’s almost too horrible, apparently, for some people to think about.

Strange isn’t it. We’d clearly all be better off, both materially and emotionally, if Sanders won and was able to implement his programs. Why can’t conservatives see that? Or perhaps they can. Perhaps it’s the thought of people being happy that has them so up in arms. This situation reminds me of what H.L. Menken said of Puritanism. He described it as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” That’s conservatives for you — people tortured by the fear that Americans might actually be made happier.

(An earlier version of this piece appeared in the March 5, 2020 issue of the online political journal Counterpunch).

A Lesson from the Danes on Immigration

Portrait caricatureDenmark is in the news again because of its purported hostility to immigrants. Brooke Harrington, a sociology professor at Dartmouth, published an op ed in the New York Times in December, with the inflammatory title “I Almost Lost My Career Because I Had the Wrong Passport,” in which she claimed she was nearly carted off to a Danish prison for giving invited guest lectures to the Danish parliament. It appears Danes have tightened up the immigration laws so swiftly recently that even the parliament was unaware it had become illegal for academics from outside the European Union to give guest lectures.

Harrington describes “cowering in the middle of [her] kitchen with [her] 7-year-old son, hoping that the two police officers pounding on the door of [her] Copenhagen apartment would not see [them].”

That detail is somewhat sensationalistic in that Danish police are famously civil and Danish prisons the envy of the world, as Harrington would know as she, like myself, lived in Denmark for eight years. The sensationalism served the purpose of the article, however, because the purpose was to draw an analogy between Denmark and the United States, and to point out how ultimately self-destructive are anti-immigrant policies. Harrington asserts, by way of illustration, that the negative publicity generated by her ordeal was likely the reason Denmark lost its bid to be the new home of the European Medicines Agency, an office of the EU that tests pharmaceuticals.

There are a number of problems, however, with the analogy Harrington draws between Denmark and the U.S. First, while it’s true that Denmark has become less welcoming to immigrants in recent years, the reasons behind this are far more complex than Harrington’s article suggests. The first, and most obvious reason, is that Denmark takes care of it immigrants in ways the U.S. does not. Immigrants benefit from the Danish social-welfare system just as do actual citizens. Denmark is not nearly so wealthy a country as the U.S., however. There is a limit to the number of people the Danes can take care of.

Unlike the United States, Denmark has few jobs for immigrants who have not yet mastered the native language. In fact, there are a limited number of jobs, period in a country of fewer than six million people with an unemployment rate of over 5%. Hence immigrants do not have the same positive role in the Danish economy that they have in the U.S. economy. Yet despite this, Danes have continued to welcome immigrants into their country, and to feed, clothe, and educate them.

“Nearly everyone,” Harrington admits, “from the prime minister who warned in an op-ed about overzealous immigration policy to government officials who tweeted about my case to the Danish police officer who read the charges against me over the phone, expressed regret about the absurdity of the prosecution.” Denmark also swiftly changed the law and dropped all charges against Harrington.

Danes appreciate the respects in which foreigners can enhance Danish culture. Denmark is a very small country, a fact of which every Dane is keenly aware. Danes are eager for the knowledge and experience that foreigners can bring to their culture and to the economy. What most Americans, including apparently Harrington, don’t realize, however, is that Danes are fiercely proud of their culture, a culture that the creeping contagion of globalization has long been eroding. When I moved to Denmark in 1990, nearly every shop, from department stores to grocery stores, was closed from early Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. Weekends, in Danish culture, were for family and friends. Florists were among the few shops that were open on the weekends because flowers were a traditional hostess gift.

Danes have, or at least had, a very easy-going lifestyle. They play, arguably, as much as they work and believe, probably correctly, that that is healthy. They even have federally enforced vacations that are paid for by payroll deductions. A small amount of money is deducted from each paycheck. Sometime early in the year, one receives a form from the government where one is required to record the dates one’s planned vacation. And then, like clockwork, several days before one’s vacation is scheduled to start, a check arrives in the amount that was deducted from one’s salary. This helps to ensure, they believe, that people will actually take a vacation, a practice they feel is absolutely essential to one’s general well being.

Things began to change, however, when 7-Elleven first appeared in Denmark back in the 1990s. They were open longer than other stores. Closing laws gradually changed, so now, if you run out of half and half on Saturday afternoon, you don’t have to make your way across town to the grocery store in the main train station, you can just go down the street.

Copenhagen used to be so peaceful and quiet on the weekends. That has changed. Many other things have changed as well, of course. After Denmark joined the European Union, Danes saw their autonomy gradually eroded as they were forced to bring their laws into line with those of the other EU countries whether they wanted to or not.

Danes are a proud people, with a culture they have reason to be proud of. And yet it is slipping through their fingers. I remember the first time I saw a foreigner speaking fluent Danish on a bus. This is a magnificent country, I thought then to myself. Danes took in foreigners and made them their own. Back then, nearly all the foreigners I encountered in Denmark, with the exception of Americans, spoke fluent Danish. Danish was really the only language one heard in public.

That isn’t true anymore. Denmark is afraid of becoming a multi-ethnic society because they fear their culture can’t sustain it. That is, they fear Danish culture will not continue to exist alongside other cultures but that it will simply be supplanted, eventually, by these other cultures. That may seem an irrational fear. Nearly every country is larger than Denmark, however, and one of the defining characteristics of the Danish psyche is an awareness of just how small Denmark is.

The situation in the U.S. is very different from the situation in Denmark. We don’t have a national culture in the same sense that the Danes do. We were a multi-ethnic society almost from the beginning and that is something of which we are justifiably proud.

We do share something with the Danes, however, and that is a gradual, but apparently relentless diminution in the quality of our lives and an erosion of our autonomy. If you want to see people behave badly, then make them feel threatened. History has tried to teach us that lesson over and over again and we refuse to learn in.

Liberals can sling all the mud they want at people they charge are bigots because they want to close the national doors to foreigners. If you want people to open their doors, though, you have to make sure there’s warmth inside to spare.

(An earlier version of this article appeared in the December 6, 2019 issue of the online political journal CounterPunch.)

Educating Ourselves about Violence

IMG_2992I’m at a loss to say whether Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover’s highly-celebrated account of her escape from a fundamentalist, survivalist, home-schooled upbringing in Idaho to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, is a good book. What I can say without hesitation is that it’s a disturbing book. It took me awhile to get through it, actually. I was reading it at night before I went to sleep. I had barely started it when I was overcome one morning by dizziness and nausea as I got out of bed. The feeling subsided as the day wore on, but it returned the next morning, and if anything, was even worse.

I don’t remember now how long it took me to figure out what the problem was, and I still can’t be certain that I was correct. I believe, however, that the problem was that I was reading Westover’s extended and graphic descriptions of serious head injuries just before going to sleep and hence planting the suggestion in my mind that I had suffered a similar injury.

Whether my guess was correct or not, the dizziness and nausea, disappeared when I stopped reading the book. I was afraid to pick it up again and didn’t for a long time.  I wouldn’t have picked it up again except that it was the selection of a reading group I was hoping to join. The thing is, there isn’t much to it but these extended, graphic descriptions of injuries. It is essentially a collection of such descriptions strung together with accounts of Westover’s physical and emotional abuse by various family members, and, toward the end, thin filaments of hope as she gradually extricates herself from a web of nightmarish familial relationships.

The book assaults the reader. I’ve never read anything like it before, and I hope never to read anything like it again. I couldn’t get through even a few pages without feeling as if I had been physically throttled, or worse. Here’s just a brief snippet of the one of the many descriptions of head injuries. The Westover family, at the father’s insistence, had set out after dinner on a twelve-hour drive from Arizona, where they had been visiting, back to their home in Idaho. It isn’t clear how the accident happened, as Westover had fallen asleep.

I looked around. Tyler had twisted his upper body so that he was practically climbing into the backseat, his eyes bulging as he took in every cut, every bruise, every pair of wide eyes. I could see his face but it didn’t look like his face. Blood gushed from his mouth and down his shirt. I closed my eyes, trying to forget the twisted angles of his bloodstained teeth. When I opened them again, it was to check everyone else. Richard was holding his head, a hand over each ear like he was trying to block out a noise. Audrey’s nose was strangely hooked and blood was streaming from it down her arm. Luke was shaking but I couldn’t see any blood. I had a gash on my forearm from where the seat’s frame had caught hold of me” (pp. 50-51.)

….

I don’t know how we got home, or when, … Once inside, I watched Tyler spit streams of crimson down the bathroom sink. His front teeth had smashed into the steering wheel and been displaced, so that they jutted backward toward the roof of his mouth.

Mother was laid on the sofa. She mumbled that the light hurt her eyes. We closed the blinds. She wanted to be in the basement, where there were no windows, so Dad carried her downstairs and I didn’t see her for several hours, not until that evening, when I used a dull flashlight to bring her dinner. When I saw her, I didn’t know her. Both eyes were a deep purple, so deep they looked black, and so swollen I couldn’t tell whether they were open or closed. She called me Audrey [Westover’s sister], even after I corrected her twice.

Mother didn’t come out of the basement for a week. Every day the swelling worsened, the black bruises turned blacker. Every night I was sure her face was as marked and deformed as it was possible for a face to be, but every morning it was somehow darker, more tumid. After a week, when the sun went down, we turned off the lights and Mother came upstairs. She looked as if she had two objects strapped to her forehead, large as apples, black as olives. (pp. 52-53).

There’s a lot more of this stuff. There’s a second car accident under almost identical circumstances, with equally serious injuries described at similar length and in similar detail.

Westover and her brothers are repeatedly injured in their capacity as employees of their father’s scrap metal business and their injuries are described at similar length and in similarly graphic detail. Westover’s father isn’t cavalier about occupational safety. That would be putting it too mildly. He is outright contemptuous of it. He seems, in fact, diabolically to court disaster.

One of Westover’s brothers, and then later, her father, accidentally sets himself on fire. We get extended graphic descriptions of both those injuries as well. Here is just a little snippet:

I don’t remember what I saw when I first looked at my father. I know that when Mother had removed the gauze that morning, she’d found that his ears were so burned, the skin so glutinous, they had fused to the syrupy tissue behind them. When I walked through the back door, the first thing I saw was Mother grasping a butter knife, which she was using to pry my father’s ears from his skull. I can still picture her gripping the knife, her eyes fixed, focused, but where my father should be, there’s an aperture in my memory. (p. 281.)

You think I’m exaggerating when I say the book is little more than such descriptions of injuries. I’m not. There are so many violent incidents in the book it’s impossible to keep track of them. There are car accidents, motorcycle accidents, falls, impalements, immolations, assaults. The variety of accidents and injuries staggers the imagination.

Westover’s father never carried any of the heavy pieces of metal that littered his scrap yard to a sorting bin. He just “chucked” them “with all the strength he had, from wherever he was standing” (71) … . He orders Westover into a bin of scrap iron that he’s about to dump in order that she can help to “settle it” — as he’s dumping it… ! There’s the “Shear” that Westover’s father acquired for cutting large pieces of scrap metal that was so obviously “lethal” that one of Westover’s brothers called it “a death machine”… . There’s the forklift and “old cheese pallet” that Westover’s father insists on using instead of a “man lift with a basket” (157)… .

The book is generally well written. But why write such a thing? Westover can’t possibly have wanted to relive those experiences. Did an editor put her up to larding the book with gore on the assumption that readers would like it? I was happy for her at the end after it was clear that the rest of her life was going to be better than the portion she had shared in her memoir. Yet I found the book as a whole deeply disturbing

Clearly, it resonates with many readers, however. It was a best seller and has catapulted its author to fame and fortune. It was nominated for numerous awards. The New York Times listed it as one of the ten best books of 2018. Time magazine named Westover one of the most influential people of 2019. President Obama included it in his summer reading list.

Part of the reason for the book’s success is undoubtedly that it dovetails so neatly with the liberal-elite world view. Young woman caught in a world of violence, racism, sexism, separatism and religious extremism, extricates herself from these evils through — education!

There isn’t much in the book, however, about Westover’s education, and what there is runs like a parallel narrative that rarely seems to connect in any meaningful way with the story of Westover’s violent and abusive childhood and adolescence. Westover’s story deserves telling. It could have been told, however, in much less graphic detail. A couple of extended descriptions of accidents would have sufficed. An account, for example, of the first car accident could have been followed by “…and then later, there was a second accident.” The fist burn description could have been followed by “…and then later my father also accidentally set himself on fire, only this time, the burns were even worse than those my brother had suffered.”

It is almost as disturbing to me as reading the book itself to realize that, based on the book’s success, the public clearly has a taste for such gore. Of course I’ve known Americans love violence. The whole world knows that. I had naively assumed, however, that intellectuals were in the minority of consumers of violent entertainment.

James Gilligan, a forensic psychiatrist and author of several excellent books on violence, writes in Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic that all the serial killers he has worked with were abused, either emotionally, or physically, or both, as children. This abuse was so severe, he argues, that their only defense was to deaden themselves emotionally. They feel very little. “This absence of feeling,” he writes, “is described consistently by murderers throughout the world and throughout history….Many murderers,” he explains, “find that the only way to feel alive, since they cannot feel anything emotionally, is to feel physical pain. So they attempt to induce such feelings by cutting or otherwise injuring their bodies” (p. 39).

Well, that’s us, isn’t it? That’s the U.S. Our culture is so bullying, so punitive, so insensitive, so inhumane, even for those in its upper echelon, it has reduced our capacity to feel. We use violent entertainment to shock ourselves into feeling something, anything, even fear and revulsion, just to reassure ourselves that we are alive and capable of feeling. That’s the only explanation I can think of for the success of Westover’s relentlessly horrific memoir.

Westover may be a great writer, but Educated is not a great book. There’s too little in it that is edifying and too much that’s profoundly disturbing. Westover was ultimately very lucky. If you persevere through the book, you’ll be happy for her. I can’t recommend you do that, though. My recommendation, contrary to President Obama’s, is that you don’t read the book at all.

If you have a taste for violent reading, read Gilligan, and in particular, his Preventing Violence (Prospects for Tomorrow). There’s plenty of gore there, but lots of humanity and wisdom as well. More importantly, while Westover’s book is an account of how one woman escaped from an intolerably violent environment, Gilligan’s books offer a way out for all of us from our intolerably violent culture.

(An earlier version of this essay appeared in the August 14, 2019 edition of the online political journal Counterpunch.)

 

Reading Plato in the Age of the Oligarchs

Sachs' Republic coverPlato has a bad reputation in many circles because his most famous work, the Republic, appears to defend all sorts of ideas that are unpalatable to most contemporary readers, ideas such as that people need to be protected from the truth, that large-scale censorship and even the deliberate dissemination of false and misleading information by governments is defensible as a means of ensuring order in a society. I believe, however, as I have argued elsewhere, that such a view of Plato is mistaken.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the positive value of a liberal arts education. I couldn’t agree more. There is much we could learn, for example, from Plato’s Republic. Despite the fact that it disparages what it calls “democracy,” the democracy it describes is not one that I believe would be recognizable as such to any Enlightenment thinker. More importantly for the purposes of the present reflections, the Republic takes nearly as dim a view of societies that value money above everything else. Such societies are generally referred to as “plutocracies,” which literally means “government by the wealthy.” Interestingly, however, Plato calls them “oligarchies” which means “government by the few,” because he believes that societies that value money above everything else will inevitably end up concentrating the wealth in the hands of a very small number of people.

I love teaching the Republic for many reasons. It is a beautiful and deeply moving book. One of the things that makes it such a joy to teach, though, is how it engages students. The city on which the book focuses is what Socrates calls an aristocracy, or “government by the best individuals.” Even this city, he acknowledges, however, in Book VIII, will inevitably succumb to a process of dissolution into a series of increasingly degenerate states, first to a timocracy, or “government in which love of honor is the ruling principle,” then to an oligarchy, which values money above everything else, from there to a democracy, which according to Socrates, values nothing at all except freedom from restraint, and finally, to a tyranny.

Students need no coaching in where to place the U.S. on this sad trajectory of political decline. They zero in on oligarchy every time, despite the fact that most of them have been raised to think of the U.S. as a democracy. Young people are a lot smarter than we tend to give them credit for being and they have little tolerance for people who value money above everything else.

I made an important discovery recently that relates to this issue, thanks to one of my students. It concerns a problem in several translations of the Republic, including Allan Bloom’s, which is considered by many scholars to be the best.

There is a personality type, asserts Socrates, that corresponds to each type of political regime. The oligarchical personality type, that is, the personality type that values money above everything else, appears to be just. He isn’t really just, though, according to Socrates. He simply needs to maintain a reputation for being just for the purposes of contractual relations, but he does this, Socrates explains, by

forcibly holding down bad desires, which are there, with some decent part of himself. He holds them down not by persuading them that they had “better not” nor by taming them with argument, but by necessity and fear. (554c7-d).

One of my students remarked that it was strange Socrates would say that the oligarchical man holds down his bad desires with some “decent” part of himself, but that despite that, he wasn’t really just, but only appeared to be just. The student wanted to know what the Greek term was that was translated as “decent.”

I looked it up. The Greek expression Plato uses in the passage where Socrates talks about how the the oligarchical man holds down his bad desires “with some decent part of himself” is ἐπιεικεῖ τινὶ έαυτοῦ. The relevant term is ἐπιεικεῖ. It means “fitting,” “meet,” or “suitable” according to Liddell-Scott, the standard dictionary for translating ancient Greek into contemporary English. It’s related to ὲπιείκεια, which means “reasonableness,” “fairness,” or “equity.”

My student was right, though, to point out that there was a problem with describing the part of the oligarchical man that holds down his bad desires as “decent.” Neither Bloom’s “decent part of himself” nor Shorey’s “better element in himself” coheres well with the point Socrates is making in the passage because the oligarchical man isn’t trying to be good. He isn’t genuinely virtuous, but only appears to be virtuous. He holds down his evil desires, according to Socrates, out of “fear,” not because he wants to be good, but because he is afraid that by giving in to those desires, he’ll get a bad reputation and no one will want to do business with him.

It isn’t any “decent” part, or “better element,” of the oligarchical man through which he restrains his evil desires. He has a desire to seem (δοκέω) just, not to be just. The desire to seem just isn’t actually a good desire. That is, it doesn’t have any positive moral worth, hence the reference to his “other evil desires” (my emphasis). Bloom omits the “other” (ἄλλας) when he refers to the oligarchical man’s holding down his “bad desires” (κακὰς ἐπιθυμίας). This omission encourages the view that there is something morally praiseworthy in the oligarchical man that is responsible for his good reputation. There isn’t.

Paul Shorey’s Loeb Classical Library version of the Republic translates this passage as “he, by some better element in himself forcibly keeps down other evil desires dwelling within.” It looks like Shorey was aware, however, that it isn’t actually anything morally positive, or “decent,” in the oligarchical man that holds down his “bad desires,” because he has a note in which he writes that “ἐπιεικεῖ is here used generally, and not in its special sense of ‘sweet reasonableness’.”

It appears ἐπιεικεῖ is being used here in the purely prudential sense of “fitting.” That is, the oligarchical man holds down some bad, or evil, desires in order more effectively to serve his evil desire to seem just. What holds down those other “evil desires” is whatever it is in him that is, in fact, capable of doing this. It isn’t some morally praiseworthy part of himself. So why have so many scholars chosen to translate it with English terms that have positive moral or ethical connotations? Such translations actually make the passage harder to understand.

The new Loeb Classical Library version of the Republic by Chris Emlyn-Jones and William Preddy has the oligarchical man using “some element of fairness within himself” to restrain his “other wrong desires.” That’s perhaps no worse than Shorey’s translation. Unfortunately, unlike Shorey, they fail to alert the reader to what is problematic in translating ἐπιεικεῖ with a morally positive expression such as “element of fairness,” so in that sense, the new Loeb Republic is a step backward.

Benjamin Jowett’s translation “has enforced virtue,” where Bloom has “decent part of himself” and that is actually better than either Bloom’s or either of the Loeb translations. The best translation of this passage, however, that I have found is, I believe, Joe Sachs’. Sachs has “quasi-decent constraint over himself” for ἐπιεικεῖ τινὶ έαυτοῦ. The qualification “quasi” is important because it makes clear, as none of the other translations does, that the constraint the oligarchical man exercises over himself only seems to be “decent.”

I haven’t used Sachs translation before, but I am going to consider using it the next time I teach the Republic. It may not be uniformly better than other translations, but it definitely seems deserving of a closer look.

It’s tempting to think that works that have already been translated many times probably don’t need to be translated anew. In fact, however, no translation is ever perfect. Language changes over time, and that translators have their own particular biases. It is therefore a good idea to re-translate important works at regular intervals, just to make sure that the language of the translation is keeping up with contemporary usage and that any bias that may have influenced earlier translations is corrected for.

Clearly Plato’s Republic deserves to be repeatedly re-translated. There is a great deal of wisdom in it, including insight into the moral bankruptcy, on both an individual and a collective level, of valuing money above everything else.

(An earlier version of this article appeared in the November 16, 2018 issue of Counterpunch)

 

Reflections on “Reflections from a Hashtag”

I was sexually harassed by one of my professors in graduate school. He was the director of the graduate program and was known to host parties at his apartment for the graduate students. I assumed, when he invited me to his apartment for “dinner,” that the “dinner” in question was such an event.

I was wrong. I was the only guest for what had clearly been conceived as a romantic dinner. There was filet mignon wrapped in bacon and an excellent cabernet. I was surprised to find myself the object of such attentions, but I wasn’t frightened, not at first, anyway. The professor in question, let’s call him Professor H. (H. for “harasser”), was only a few years older than I was. We were both young and unattached. Unfortunately, though I was flattered by his interest, I didn’t reciprocate it. I tried to communicate this to him in a way that would minimize his hurt and embarrassment. He was a hard man to put off though. The evening ended, I kid you not, with his literally chasing me around the dining table. He kept moving uncomfortably close to me and I kept moving away, around and around the dining table until, finally, he seemed to get the point.

When he realized, or appeared to realize, anyway, that I was not simply playing hard-to-get, he told me that he appreciated my honesty and that what was most important to him was that we continued to have a positive professional relationship. And we did continue to have a positive professional relationship, at least for the next couple of weeks.

“Whew, dodged that bullet,” I thought to myself gratefully.

But then, things changed. He suddenly became openly hostile toward me. He would publicly disparage everything I said, both in class and outside of it. He once spent an entire class arguing to the other students present that a remark I had made in relation to what is known in philosophy as “personal identity theory” demonstrated beyond all doubt that I was an irredeemable idiot.

Professor H.’s behavior toward me became increasingly hostile as the weeks passed. Finally, the lone tenured woman in the department approached me privately and explained that she knew what was going on. She had been a victim of Professor H. herself. It was very important, she explained to me, that I complain to the chair of the department because Professor H. was disparaging me to other faculty to such an extent that I was in danger of losing my funding.

So I dutifully complained to the chair. I will never forget his first words.

“Oh, I am so sorry,” he said, “Professor H. has been warned about this.”

By that time, I knew Professor H. had a history. I just didn’t know how extensive it was. It seemed he used the graduate program as his personal dating pool. He’d started doing that, actually, even before he’d become the director of the graduate program. His behavior was so conspicuous that a group of graduate students had actually protested his appointment as director.

“Oh, I am so sorry,” the chair said. “You don’t want to make a formal complaint against him, though,” he continued, “because that would hurt his career.”

I’m not a vindictive person. It seemed to me that Professor H. was not really evil, but simply incredibly emotionally immature. I didn’t want to hurt his career (though in retrospect, I doubt very much that a formal complaint against him would have had that effect). I just wanted him to leave me alone. I wanted to have my work evaluated fairly. The chair said he would talk to Professor H., and I’m sure he did, because my funding was not revoked.

I never again enjoyed the favor, in an academic sense, I mean, of any of my professors. When I’d first arrived in the program, I’d been feted as if I were some kind of celebrity. All the professors welcomed me, commented favorably on my work, invited me to their homes, etc. Not after I had gone to the chair about Professor H., though. No one was openly hostile, the way Professor H. had been, but everyone was decidedly cool. I was grudgingly given passing grades (one of my papers from this period was later published, in the same form in which I had submitted it for a grade, and then reprinted both in English and in Chinese and Russian translations, in an anthology and a textbook). The same well-intentioned female professor again approached me privately, however, and explained to me that I should not solicit letters of recommendation from any of the faculty in my own program, that I would have to rely on what she knew was my growing list of professional contacts outside my program when it came time for me to look for a job.

Thanks to the practice of blind reviewing, which involves concealing the identity of the author of a scholarly paper when it is submitted to referees for judgment concerning whether it should be published, I was able to begin publishing scholarly articles while still a student and to build, gradually, a reputation that made it possible for me to obtain a Fulbright fellowship and then, finally, a tenure-track job.

It was a long, hard slog, though. The job market back then was no better than it is now. Philosophy is a notoriously sexist discipline and a job candidate, man or woman, who cannot present letters of recommendation from any of the faculty of their degree-granting institution is automatically thought of as suspect.

I labored mightily for years to become the best possible scholar, and amassed an impressive collection of publications, and yet I still regard it as something of a miracle that I was able to secure a tenure-track position, to get tenure, and finally, to be promoted to full “Professor.” I knew I would have to work as if my life depended on it, so I did. It seemed pointless to reflect on how unfair it was that I did not enjoy the patronage of a powerful professor that is more often than not the decisive factor in opening the door to a tenure-track position for a newly-minted Ph.D. in philosophy. That was my lot, so I tried to make the best of it.

I spent a great deal of time, however, trying to figure out how things could ever go so terribly wrong as they had for me. Why hadn’t Professor H. been read the riot act immediately after his first transgression? Why hadn’t the proverbial fear of God been placed in him by so that he would at least have been discreet, even if he’d been a victim of satyriasis and unable actually to stop himself?[1] Professor H. wasn’t the only professor in that department who abused his authority to initiate sexual liaisons with female graduate students. Not everyone did it, but many did, and those who didn’t, viewed the antics of the others as a spectator sport.

This all came rushing back to me when I read Jian Ghomeshi’s “Reflections from a Hashtag” in the New York Review of Books (October 11, 2018). Ghomeshi was a prominent Canadian broadcaster who lost his job and was publicly vilified after he was accused of sexual harassment and assault.

“When a well-known fellow broadcaster saw me with a twenty-something date at a film festival event in Toronto,” writes Jian Ghomeshi, who was then thirty-nine, “he left a voice mail saying, ‘Dude, you are the king!’ I basked in his praise,” Ghomeshi continues, “He’d never called me before and never mentioned my work; the real message was the women I was with were the true gauge of success” (p. 29).

That was the way Professor H. was viewed. He was “the king!” He eventually left the university in question and moved to another university where he continued to harass female students until one of them finally sued.

I haven’t mentioned Professor H.’s name because singling him out for blame is now pointless. You could figure out who he was, of course, if you wanted to do a little research. The purpose of my recounting these events, however, is to make clear that harassment and abuse of women is a systemic problem. It goes on for one very simple and straightforward reason: It is allowed to go on. This is partly because of what Ghomeshi correctly identifies as a “systemic culture of unhealthy masculinity” (p. 30) that leads many men not merely to derive pleasure from harassing and abusing women, but to derive pleasure from the spectacle of it.

There is more to the problem than that, though. There is what I call “the first-stone problem.” Ghomeshi writes that many male acquaintances furtively commiserated with him. “What happened to you,” they wrote, “could have been me.” People are naturally reluctant to point fingers at one another for fear of having fingers pointed back at them. Most people are not sexual predators, but there aren’t many people who don’t have something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of, something they don’t want paraded before the general public. This makes people naturally reluctant to call out the bad behavior of others.

“Professor H. didn’t mean to harass you,” the chair explained to me. “He didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable or threatened, or to coerce you into a sexual relationship.” (I’m paraphrasing now, of course, because the conversation took place many years ago and only his first words remain indelibly marked on my memory.) “He’s just emotionally immature. He reacts badly when things don’t go the way he wants them to.”

I think that was a pretty accurate depiction of Professor H.’s character. He wasn’t a bad guy. He just had an unfortunate habit of behaving badly, very badly under certain circumstances. Philosophers distinguish, however, between explanation and justification. Professor H.’s emotional immaturity explained his bad behavior, but it didn’t justify it. Bad behavior should never be tolerated just because the person engaging it isn’t normally a bad person. People need to be called on their behavior, and judgment about their character, reserved for a higher power. Unless, of course, they are being considered for a position of such authority that the question of their character, however ultimately undecidable, becomes crucially relevant.

People are so social that they tend to respond more or less appropriately to censure, even private censure, to say nothing of public censure, by someone in a position of authority. If people are called on their inappropriate behavior, unless they are serious sociopaths, they will usually, at least eventually, stop engaging in it.

Aristotle figured this out long ago (if Plato hadn’t actually figured it out before him). If you want people to behave in certain ways, he wrote in the Nicomachean Ethics (Books I and II), then the culture needs to reinforce that kind of behavior. And if there are ways you don’t want them to behave, then the culture needs to send a clear message to that effect as well.

We need, without exception, to hold individuals responsible for behaviors that violate norms of what we, as a culture, collectively feel is right. We are deluding ourselves, however, if we think that by targeting individuals in this way we are dealing effectively with what is clearly a systemic problem. It may give the impression we are doing something about the problem, but all the while, the problem waxes and thrives.

 

[1] Discretion is actually very important. One of the problems of the conspicuous abuse of authority to initiate sexual relationships with students is that it makes other students feel vulnerable. Not only does it create anxiety. It can lead students to think that they would be well advised to initiate such relationships themselves simply to make sure that they have a protector.

(An earlier version of this piece appeared in the 1 October 2018 issue of the online political journal Counterpunch.

On Speaking Small Truths to Power

Scan 4I inherited my father’s papers after his death. I’ve been going through them, slowly, in an attempt to put them into some kind of order. My father was a journalist for most of his professional life, so his papers consist mainly of old newspaper pieces, news articles, examples from a column he had for a while called Humble Pie, and then masses of editorials from late in his career when he had become an editorial writer.

I think my father always wanted to be an editorial writer. He had to work his way up to that, though. He actually began his journalistic career as a sports writer. I haven’t found any of those articles, but I did come across a mysterious letter from 1962 that referred to one of them. The letter was from the city clerk of the city of Madison, IL. “Your column in the March 19th issue of the Evening Journal,” it reads

left a profound effect upon the officials of the City of Madison, Illinois and all loyal Madison High Basketball fans. Newspapers are generally inclined, like so many of us, to soft pedal certain controversial issues. Such was not, however, the way in which your article was written. Its frankness, while it did not give Madison a victory against Belleville, certainly brought to light the handicap to which our team was subjected.

It is therefore with the utmost sincerity and humility that I, as City Clerk, extend to you on behalf of the City Officials and citizens of the City of Madison, Illinois a thank you for a fine job of honest reporting and impartial journalism.

Very truly yours,

Percy Lux

City Clerk

Madison, Illinois

What, I wondered could have prompted such a letter? What was the “controversial issue”? Articles on the sports page don’t generally have a “profound effect” on readers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate the article among my father’s papers. Fortunately, I had the date and the name of the newspaper in which it appeared, so, with the help of Debbie Ross and Teri Barnett, of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, IL, I was able to get a copy.

“The Illinois High School Association has been accused of high-handed and autocratic conduct many times,” my father’s article begins. “But its incredible blunder in assigning Fred Gibson of Centralia as one of the officials in the Granite City Sectional Tournament last week will long rank in the minds of many area basketball fans as the rankest kind of injustice to Madison High School.”

Let me set the scene. Madison High School’s basketball team was scheduled to face off against Belleville High School’s team in the Granite City Sectional, part of the first round of the Illinois State High School Basketball Championships. Centralia, which had long had one of the best high school basketball teams in Illinois, was favored win its sectional game and hence to face off against the winner of the Granite City Sectional. Centralia thus had an obvious interest in the outcome of the latter game. Madison was unbeaten, but Belleville was not. So they would naturally rather face Belleville than Madison, which means they must have hoped the long-shot Belleville would win.

Fred Gibson, the man referred to in my father’s article, was, again, from Centralia. Moreover, Gibson was known to be hard on the type of “aggressive, pressing defense” employed by Madison.

“Coaches of teams involved in tournament play,” my father wrote “each list a number of officials who might be assigned to work that tournament. As nearly as possible the IHSA tries to assign to a particular tournament the two officials who received the highest ranking.” Madison’s coach had understandably rated Gibson “as low as possible” on his list of officials for the Granite City Sectional. According to the article, the assistant to the executive secretary of the IHSA had assured the coach, Madison’s principal, and a Madison High School board member, that Gibson “would not work on any game involving Madison.”

Despite these assurances, however, Gibson was selected to officiate at the Granite City Sectional, the game that would determine who his own home team would face in the next round of the state high school basketball championship.

The game did not go well for Madison. Gibson, true to form, was hard on them, with the result that their all-stater Don Freeman was “out nearly half of the game.” Madison couldn’t overcome this handicap and eventually lost.

The reaction of Centralia’s players, when they received the news of Madison’s defeat, was reportedly euphoric. According to one observer “[t]hose kids cheered like they had won the state championship.” And, indeed, they did go on to beat Belleville in the next round of the tournament.

There is no accusation in the article of foul play on the part of Referee Gibson. The charge is rather that because of Gibson’s obvious conflict of interest, the IHSA had behaved badly in picking him to officiate that game.

“Officials,” my father wrote, “like Caesar’s wife, must avoid the appearance of evil, and Gibson, a Centralia official, is not the proper man to assign to a tournament where Centralia has a consuming interest in the outcome of the tournament.”

High School basketball is to Illinois almost what high school football is to Texas. And nowhere, it appears, is it more important than at Centralia. “For nearly 70 years,” observes Robert Bittner in an article from 2004, “the Centralia Orphans have been the ‘winningest’ high school boys basketball team in the United States.” Predominantly-white Centralia had been on a more than 30-year-long winning streak by 1962 when it feared facing off against the more racially-mixed Madison. Fortunately for Centralia, the IHSA helped to ensure that those fears were not realized.

So what was the controversial issue? Was it simply that the IHSA may have been biased in favor of Centralia and may have allowed that bias to influence its selection of Gibson to officiate at the Granite City Sectional? Or could it have been even more sinister? Could the bias have stemmed from racial prejudice? I doubt there is anyone around anymore who could answer that question.

What is clear is that Madison felt cheated, and its city officials were moved that someone had the courage to make their case in print. They weren’t just moved. They were “profound[ly]” affected.

It is a small thing, a basketball game. It isn’t a small thing, though, to feel one has been cheated. Such feelings can fester for years, souring a person’s view of human nature and society. Enough such injustices, or perceived injustices, small though they may be, can eventually make it impossible for a person to be truly happy. People are profoundly social and cannot realize their full potential for happiness except as individual elements in a web of relationships that form a harmonious and mutually supportive community. A persistent lack of faith and trust in others makes for an unhappy life.

I think my father understood that, and that’s why he kept the letter from Madison’s City Officials. He went on to speak larger truths to larger powers and was often in trouble with his editors, first because of his involvement in the civil rights movement, and later because of his views on the conflict in the Middle East. I think he understood, however, that no injustice is so small that it doesn’t rankle, doesn’t pollute the psyche of its victim.

Who would have thought that an article about a high school basketball game could be so important?

 

(I would like to thank Debbie Ross and Teri Barnett of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, IL, both for helping me to locate my father’s article and for sending me a copy it. An earlier version of this article appeared in the 20 June 2018 issue of Counterpunch.)