Wednesday, October 21, 2020
The OHA, on the other hand, is an enjoyable conference to attend. The main topics are social justice, how to advocate for oral history, and best practices for oral history. They rarely ever argue on the methodology of oral history; in fact, I don’t think I have ever seen an argument at the OHA. They are, by nature, a delightful group of people. Basically, if you are an asshole, you will not make a very good oral historian because you won’t have the people skills to conduct a good oral history interview. I have to admit that some of the social justice people are a little overboard at times because, for them, no one should be marginalized in history, and there is always a new cause for which to fight. (Museum professionals are the same way at their conferences.)
The other conference I try to attend since I became a member of the organization a few years ago is the Rural Women’s Studies Association (RWSA). You won’t meet a nicer group of women. I seem to be one of the few male members, and while some women’s historians don’t like for men to study women’s history, I was welcomed with open arms by the RWSA. If you read the Washington Post, you will often see historian Katherine Jellicoe interviewed for various historical subjects. She is the co-chair of the group, and she is so kind. She took me around the first night of the conference introducing me to nearly everyone. I had presented a different version of the paper I presented at the RWSA conference at a graduate student conference in Mississippi. Since it was about a community of female African American landowners, I was criticized for telling the African American community's history when I am white. It’s not a fair assessment as a good historian can write about anything as long as they are objective. I reworked the paper for the RWSA conference a few years ago, and it met with great applause and interest. I have an essay in a forthcoming cookbook being published by the RWSA. Their triennial meeting is next May, but they have already decided to make it virtual. It was supposed to be at the University of Guelph in Canada, which likely meant I would not be able to attend, but I will be able to participate since it is virtual, and I will be able to go to the virtual book launch.
Speaking of the RWSA conference being virtual, the OHA conference this year is also virtual. It was supposed to be held in Baltimore, and I was hoping to get to go. It wasn’t sure I would have been able to afford it or that the museum would have paid for me to go, so the fact that it is virtual allows me to attend this year. Monday, I had a pre-conference workshop, which went very well. I am not sure I learned anything new, but it was nice to discuss issues with people in the field. Yesterday was not as pleasant. The two sessions I attended were not exactly what they had advertised them as being and turned out to be quite dull. Had I been in Baltimore for this conference, I’d have likely snuck out the back and gone to my room or a café and gotten a coffee. I hope today’s sessions will be more enjoyable. There is one about the Human Rights Campaign, so I am looking forward to it.
Today is going to be a hectic day. I have my next COVID test today. (We are being tested every three weeks at the University.) At noon, I am introducing our first live virtual program with a speaker on warrior women in history. It should be interesting. After that, I have two different one and a half-hour sessions to attend virtually for the OHA conference. This evening, there is a welcoming reception, which I sincerely doubt I will participate in because, at the same time, is the annual Pritzker Gala in Chicago, which will also be virtual. Col. Jennifer Pritzker (the first transgender billionaire) owns the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, which hosts the Gala. Col. Pritzker is also a major benefactor of my museum. Today will be a busy day. It’s going to be a busy week too, as the conference doesn’t end until 5 pm on Friday.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
By Paul Verlaine - 1844-1896
Translated by Arthur Symons
When a sighing begins
In the violins
Of the autumn-song,
My heart is drowned
In the slow sound
Languorous and long
Pale as with pain,
Breath fails me when
The hours toll deep.
My thoughts recover
The days that are over,
And I weep.
And I go
Where the winds know,
Broken and brief,
To and fro,
As the winds blow
A dead leaf.
By Paul Verlaine - 1844-1896
Les saglots longs
Blessent mon coeur
Et blême, quand
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;
Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Pareil à la
About the Poem:
"Chanson d'automne" ("Autumn Song") is a poem by Paul Verlaine (1844–1896), one of the best known in the French language. It is included in Verlaine's first collection, Poèmes saturniens, published in 1866 (see 1866 in poetry). The poem forms part of the "Paysages tristes" ("Sad landscapes") section of the collection.
In World War II lines from the poem were used to send messages from Special Operations Executive (SOE) to the French Resistance about the timing of the forthcoming Invasion of Normandy. In preparation for Operation Overlord, the BBC's Radio Londres had signaled to the French Resistance with the opening lines of "Chanson d'Automne" were to indicate the start of D-Day operations under the command of the Special Operations Executive. The first three lines of the poem, "Les sanglots longs / des violons / de l'automne" ("Long sobs of autumn violins"), would mean that Operation Overlord was to start within two weeks. These lines were broadcast on June 1, 1944. The next set of lines, "Blessent mon coeur / d'une langueur / monotone" ("wound my heart with a monotonous languor"), meant that it would start within 48 hours and that the resistance should begin sabotage operations, especially on the French railroad system; these lines were broadcast on 5 June at 23:15.
In 1940 Charles Trenet made changes to the words of the poem in order to change it into a song. There has been speculation that it was the popularity of his version that led to the use of the poem by SOE.
Monday, October 19, 2020
Today is my first day at my new job. I’m very excited, and I’ve never been excited about a job before. I’ve always had jobs that were supposed to be temporary until a “real” job came along. (Little did I know that this job too was supposed to be temporary.) I went to graduate school, thinking I’d teach college. I’ve always loved teaching college, but I ended up teaching high school instead. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know the story.That was five years ago. I am now a professor at the university and a museum curator. I also earned my museum studies certification in the process. I would have never predicted any of that five years ago. I would have never thought that I’d be working from home on my five year anniversary. My how things have changed!
One thing though that I did when in graduate school was to diversify within the field of history. I covered military, Civil Rights, American, European, Women, and Native American history, as well as various research tools, such as language, oral history, public history, literary analysis, and art history. By doing so, I wanted to make myself marketable. While it has taken many more years than I expected for that strategy to pan out, it finally has. I landed a job in which I was uniquely qualified for because of my diversification, and while it is not a teaching job, it is a job that I am very happy with beginning.
So today is my first day. I’ll get the keys to my new office and get to work making this position mine and molding it as I see fit. I’ve basically been given free rein to make this position, and the program I’m taking over into what I know it can be. I Will Try to do my very best because that’s all we can do is try to do our very best.
Sunday, October 18, 2020
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
The 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, Senator George McGovern, once said, “Empathy is born out of the old biblical injunction ‘Love the neighbor as thyself.’” Empathy is woven throughout the Bible. Virtually every instruction God offers regarding the way we are to treat others begins with empathy. Empathy is becoming increasingly derided in the United States as being a characteristic of the weak, especially in the years since one of the most empathetic presidents in history was replaced by a man who has no empathy for anyone or anything. President Barack Obama is quoted as saying, “Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.”
First Peter 3:8 tells us, “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind.” The “tender heart and a humble mind” that Peter refers to in this passage is the mind of Christ, which is what all Christians aspire to have. But Peter’s call for unity among believers cannot be answered without empathy and understanding. To be one with other people, we must develop a deep understanding of:
- · who they are
- · how they became that person
- · what they know
- · how they learned it
- · what they hold dear
- · why they hold it dear
- · how they feel
- · why they feel that way.
According to Peter, oneness is created by treating one another with compassion, love, tenderness, and courtesy—four qualities that lie at the heart of empathy. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.’” A training of empathy is what Christianity is all about.
If we are empathetic, we can begin to understand others’ joys and sufferings, and we can either rejoice with their joys or comfort them in their sadness. Romans 12:15 commands us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Those who rejoice usually do so because good things are happening in their lives. If we are not careful, other people’s rejoicing can trigger feelings of competition or jealousy. The urge to “top” others with stories of our own successes—or to wallow in envy because we don’t have as much to rejoice over—can be hard to resist. Those who weep usually do so because they have suffered a devastating loss or misfortune. That can create some messy emotional landscapes. It’s nearly impossible to tread into the lives of hurting people without getting our hands dirty and pulled down into their despair. The urge to stay out of the mess—to send our thoughts and prayers from a safe distance—can be hard to resist. But that’s not what empathy is, and that’s not what God calls us to. Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.
John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible, and it shows Christ’s empathy more succinctly than anywhere else in the Bible. The verse simply says, “Jesus wept.” This verse occurs in John’s narrative of the death of Lazarus of Bethany, a follower of Jesus. Lazarus’s sisters—Mary and Martha—sent word to Jesus of their brother’s illness and impending death, but Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus died. Jesus, after talking to the grieving sisters and seeing Lazarus’s friends weeping, was deeply troubled and moved. After asking where Lazarus had been laid, and being invited to come see, Jesus wept. He then went to the tomb and told the people to remove the stone covering it, prayed aloud to his Father, and ordered Lazarus to come out, resuscitated.
Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. So technically speaking, He knew there was no reason for Lazarus’ loved ones to mourn. He knew that in a matter of minutes, their tears would turn to joy. So Jesus would have been excused for dismissing their grief over something that would prove to be temporary. Yet Jesus didn’t dismiss Lazarus’ mourners' grief. He didn’t try to talk them out of their grief. He didn’t rebuke them for their lack of faith. Jesus saw people who were hurting, and it made Him hurt, too. He empathized so strongly with those who were mourning that He wept. Jesus showed us there is a nobility in compassion, a beauty in empathy, and a grace in forgiveness. Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau asked, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” Jesus had looked into the eyes of the family and friends of Lazarus, and he felt their pain.
The book of Hebrews presents Jesus as a defense attorney of sorts. He represents His followers before God, the Judge. While Satan, the prosecuting attorney, levels charges against us, demanding that God punish our sins, Jesus contradicts his accusations by reminding God that His (Jesus’) blood covers our offenses. Hebrews 4:15 states, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” What makes Jesus an especially effective Counselor and Defender is His experience on earth. He expertly represents us before God because He empathizes with us. He knows what it is to be tempted and weak. He understands us because He experienced what we experience and endured what we endure. The author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, once said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view,” which is what God did by sending Jesus to live as a human on earth. When asked about how he would choose judges, Barack Obama responded, “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old - and that’s the criterion by which I’ll be selecting my judges.” God meets these criteria as our heavenly judge because he sent Jesus to live amongst humanity. Jesus and his followers understand that empathy and compassion make our world better.
When we look for leadership, I believe the most important quality is empathy. Oprah Winfrey summed this up with, “Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” With the dueling town halls Thursday night, we saw two opposing events that diverged dramatically in tone. In the words of Savannah Guthrie, Trump’s town hall was like your “crazy uncle” who rages about anyone different from him and has no empathy. In contrast, Biden’s town hall was compared to “watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood,” by Mercedes Schlapp, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, in a tweet. She also misspelled the late Fred Rogers’ last name. By the way, social media was quick to fire back at Schlapp for her attempt to insult Biden via the beloved children’s television host who famously promoted messages of kindness, patience, and friendship. Biden showed empathy for Americans while one guy described “watching Trump was like watching an episode of Twin Peaks.”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Republicans have shown again and again that they lack empathy for the average American. During this week’s Senate confirmation hearings for SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Kamala Harris pointed out the lack of empathy by Republicans for the American people:
…while tens of millions of Americans are struggling to pay their bills, the Senate should be prioritizing coronavirus relief and providing financial support to those families. The American people need to have help, to make rent or their mortgage payment. Senate Republicans have made it crystal clear that rushing a Supreme Court nomination is more important than helping and supporting the American people who are suffering from a deadly pandemic and a devastating economic crisis. Their priorities are not the American people’s priorities, but for the moment, Senate Republicans hold the majority in the Senate and determine the schedule, so here we are.
On November 3, 2020, we have the chance to elect empathetic leaders. Since January 20, 2017, we have struggled as a country because our leadership in the presidency and the Senate had no empathy. It’s time for empathy to reenter politics in the United States. Make sure that you vote and VOTE BLUE.
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Friday, October 16, 2020
In the last 30 years, Americans have become increasingly divided over politics. The gap between the policies endorsed by the Republican and Democratic Parties is growing, as is the animosity between people who identify with different parties. Partisan politics first came to a head in the election of 1800. The First Party System of the United States featured the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party (also called “Jeffersonian Republican”). The Federalist Party grew from the national network of Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who favored a strong united central government, close ties to Britain, a centralized banking system, and close links between the government and men of wealth. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who strongly opposed Hamilton’s agenda, founded the Democratic-Republican Party. The Jeffersonians came to power in 1800, and the Federalists were too elitist to compete effectively. The Federalists survived in the Northeast, but their refusal to support the War of 1812 verged on secession and was a devastating blow when the war ended well. The Era of Good Feelings under President James Monroe (1816–1824) marked the end of the First Party System and a brief period in which partisanship was minimal.
There is not an Era of Good Feelings today. Donald Trump has made sure of that. He has polarized this nation more than ever. The Republican Party, which can be traced back to the Federalists, and Democrats, whose origins are in the Democratic-Republican Party, are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is more profound and more extensive – than at any point in the last three decades. It could be the most polarized the United States has ever been except for the Civil War. These trends manifest in myriad ways, both in politics and in everyday life. Partisan animosity has increased considerably since the beginning of the Clinton presidency in 1992. In each party, the political polarization has more than doubled since the “Republican Revolution” of 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”
We have been so ingrained to think about polarization: black and white, Republican or Democrat, Christian and Atheist, gay and straight, etc. Politics like sexuality is a spectrum, but when people in a political party are afraid of having their ability to compromise and come to a mutually agreed solution becomes a weapon against them, we become so polarized that we can’t see the truth of what needs to be done. Republicans couldn’t even vote for the impeachment of a president who clearly committed treason, bribery, and election fraud because they were too scared of that the president and voters would turn on them. They simply couldn’t do the right thing for this country because of political affiliation. Joe Biden said last night in the ABC town hall that the political parties in America need to come together and not be afraid of retribution from the president. He talked about getting people together and working out solutions instead of temper tantrums and stalled legislation. The polarization of American politics is nothing new.
If we look back at the contentious election of 1800, we see that the Federalist incumbent John Adams ran against the rising Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. The extremely partisan and outright nasty campaign failed to provide a clear winner because of a constitutional quirk. Presidential electors were required to vote for two people for the offices of president and vice-president. The individual receiving the highest number of votes would become president. Unfortunately, Jefferson and his vice-presidential running mate Aaron Burr both received an equal number of electoral votes, and the House of Representatives voted to break the tie. When Adams’s Federalists attempted to keep Jefferson from the presidency, Adams set the stage for the first critical constitutional crisis of the new American federal republic. However, rationality prevailed, and the first peaceful transition of political power between opposing parties in U.S. history occurred. The election had far-reaching significance and resulted in the 12th Amendment. Jefferson appreciated the momentous change, and his inaugural address called for reconciliation by declaring that, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”
However, before Jefferson was inaugurated, there was a lot of uncertainty and political divide. On January 25, 1800, there occurred an impressive exchange on Washington politics. Abigail Adams, the president’s wife, and one of the contenders for John Adam’s replacement offered their impressions of a partisan in a “curious conversation” over supper that night. The give-and-take was frank and unrestrained. Jefferson said he avoided attending the House of Representatives, writing, “I am sure there are persons there who would take a pleasure in saying something, purposely to affront me.” He complained and worried about a partisan Congress, adding that he found “more candor and liberality upon one side than there is upon the other.” Abigail Adams was equally candid, noting prophetically, “Some are mere Brutes, others are Gentlemen— but party Spirit, is a blind spirit.”
The problems with parties are now the worst it has ever been as opponents deride politicians for even attempting to compromise. Today’s increase in partisanship in the U.S. also has significant harmful effects. Most importantly, polarization and partisan conflict lead to inaction, as “my way or the highway,” ideologically rigid mentalities lower the probability of achieving the compromise that should be at the heart of legislative functioning. We saw this “destroy the village in order to save it” mentality with the shutdown of the U.S. government, which has occurred five times since 1990. Partisans on both sides increasingly see institutions in the U.S. not as beneficial and necessary but as part of an effort by the other side to gain advantage and to perpetuate its power and philosophical positions. Liberals and Democrats today, for example, have lower trust in “traditional” family and religious institutions. They question the problems of the current economic system that intensifies inequality in the United States. Republicans have lower trust in the scientific process, higher education, the mass media, and the role of the government. These skeptical views of institutions and social structures skew us toward distrust, anger, and internal infighting -- not actionable efforts to fix problems and address threats.
A healthy skepticism of the way things operate in society is often warranted. But our society must continue to function, and that functioning requires an underlying agreement in the legitimacy of societal institutions. This is particularly true today when there are increasing external threats to our society and way of life from all sides, ranging from rogue states to terrorists to changes in weather and climate patterns to shifting world economies and massively unstable populations. At some point, the United States must balance the partisan conflicts resulting from differences in views of the world with a broader agreement on how we, as a society, adapt to external threats and achieve societal objectives. What will it take to do that? Presumably, we need leaders who don’t focus as much on taking advantage of and stoking partisan differences as they do looking at the larger picture. That’s a difficult challenge, but one to which the American public may well be quite receptive. Bipartisan cooperation is a perspective that Joe Biden has long advocated.
While it is usually easier to criticize than to make efforts to agree on solutions, we are going to need more emphasis on cooperation in the years ahead if our society is to thrive and survive. If Donald Trump is elected for another four years, the divide may be so great when he leaves the White House that it can never be salvaged. We are at a crossroads. I hope that Joe Biden can heal the wounds of partisan politics, but I do not doubt that Donald Trump will widen the divide and the work to destroy our most sacred institutions of democracy. Nikki commented yesterday, “I’m so tired of thinking about Trump every day! And worrying worrying worrying. His Supreme Court pick is horrendous for gay rights and women’s rights. Exhausting.” I couldn’t agree more. I think we will have a collective case of PTSD by the time Trump leaves the Oval Office. We just have to hope there is an United States to salvage when he finally leaves office.
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Many people forget what it was like to have a somewhat normal person as president, someone who you could find something within them to admire. Trump has distorted the truth so much with his thousands of lies that we no longer expect him to speak the truth. His lies have become so routine that when he announced that he and Melania had contracted COVID-19, people across America wondered if it was true and what was his personal and political motivation behind the announcement. We quickly found out that while he appears to have really had COVID-19 and through recklessness spread it to dozens of others, he has now downplayed the seriousness of the virus. While he gasped for breath on the White House balcony imitating Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, he was defiant in his proclamation that he was back in perfect health, not mentioning that he had received experimental treatments not available to the average person with COVID-19.
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are: Equality of opportunity for youth and for others. Jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it. The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all.Later in the speech, FDR said:
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance. We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care. We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.Let us not forget that even in the 1940s, the Republican Party was fighting against the basic needs of Americans. We are at even greater risk today from Donald Trump and his cronies.
The Republican party is literally letting poor people starve, just as Herbert Hoover did in the early years of the Great Depression. In a recent debate with his opponent Amy McGrath, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell pointed out he had helped pass the first rounds of relief in the spring and suggested the lack of action was the fault of the Democrats who wanted to spend money on things unrelated to the crisis. McGrath was aggressive in her response, saying, “The House passed a bill in May, and the Senate went on vacation. I mean, you just don’t do that. You negotiate. Senator, it is a national crisis.” And, do you know how McConnell reacted? He laughed. He is laughing at the suffering of the American people and showing full-on contempt for the needy.
Sadly, the pretend attempts at action by Republican in the Senate with pitifully insufficient aid is pay off for McConnell in one crucial way. A majority of Americans believe both parties should share blame for the impasse. They think it is the fault of both parties that people cannot receive the help they desperately need. McConnell’s laugh gives lie to that belief, demonstrating the heartlessness and cruelty at the heart of the Republican project. It’s been a 40-year effort by the Republican Party to tear down the framework of the New Deal and return the United States to a meaner, nastier country where individual citizens are left to fend for themselves, even as the wealthiest Americans and largest businesses receive tax breaks and regulatory relief that leaves us all poorer. And now McConnell is so confident that his plans will succeed, he couldn’t even be bothered to fake empathy onstage for a few hours on Monday night. His knowing laugh makes it clear what a continued Republican majority in the Senate means: that Americans will continue to get treated with contempt by politicians who claim to be acting on their behalf.
Trump has departed from nearly every convention of the office of the president over the past four years, but perhaps none has been more visible than his keeping of a personal Twitter account. He has used it to announce policy, move markets, attack the press, dispute reports, insult enemies, and energize his base — all unvarnished by a journalist’s interpretation. One of the reasons Trump remains politically competitive is that many Americans are delusional enough to credit him with being authentic, even if he goes too far. Too many people take this farce of a president seriously, especially when it comes to believing his thousands of lies. He’s tweeted the term “fake news” more than 800 times since his inauguration to discredit any information that is not flattering him.