Books postsWednesday November 14, 2018
U.S. to Mexicans 100 Years Ago: Come In, Don't Stay
From the “The past isn't dead, it isn't even past” dept., via Jill Lepore's “These Truths: A History of the United States”:
After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, large growers had turned to Japanese laborers, but a so-called gentleman's agreement between Japan and the United States ended their migration in 1908, after which growers began sending employment agents over the border and into Mexico to recruit workers. In an era when the regime of scientific management maligned Hungarians, Italians, and Jews as near-animals who needed to be ruled not by the lash but by the stopwatch, business owners and policymakers tended to describe Mexican immigrants—desperately poor political refugees—as ideal workers. In 1908, U.S. government economist Victor S. Clark claimed that Mexican immigrants were “docile, patient, usually orderly in camp, fairly intelligent under competent supervision, obedient and cheap,” and, in 1911, a U.S. congressional panel reported that while Mexicans “are not easily assimilated, this is not of very great importance as long as most of them return to their native land after a short time”...
This did not quiet nativists, the American Eugenics Society warning: “Our great Southwest is rapidly creating for itself a new racial problem, as our old South did when it imported slave labor from Africa. The Mexican birth rate is high, and every Mexican child born on American soil is an American citizen, who, on attaining his or her majority, will have a vote. This is not a question of pocketbook or of the ‘need of labor’ or of economics. It is a question of the character of future races. It is eugenics, not economics.” Congress, pressured by eugenicists and southern and western agriculturalists, in the end exempted Mexicans from the new immigration restriction regime, while also requiring not only passports but also visas for anyone entering the United States. Thus it erected hurdles that allowed Mexicans to cross the border to work temporarily but denied access to citizenship.
Vote As If Your Country Depends on It, Cont.
It often seems that what I'm reading in Jill Lepore's “These Truths: A History of the United States” mirrors what's going on in the national discussion.
I'm in the post-Civil War/Reconstruction/Populist-Nativist era now, and read the following this morning:
In the age of popular politics, Election Day was a day of drinking and brawls. Party thugs stationed themselves at the polls and bought votes by doling out cash, called “soap,” and handing voters pre-printed party tickets. Buying votes cost anything from $2.50, in San Francisco, to $20, in Connecticut. In Indiana, men sold their suffrages for no more than the cost of a sandwich. ... In 1871, after the New York Times began publishing the results of an investigation into the gross corruption of elections in New York City under Democratic Party boss William Magear Tweed, [progressive journalist Henry] George, who had spent considerable time in Australia and had married an Australian woman, proposed a reform that had been introduced in Australia in 1856. Under the terms of Australia's ballot law, no campaigning could take place within a certain distance of the polls, and election officials were required to print ballots and either to build booths or hire rooms, to be divided into compartments, where voters could mark their ballots in secret. Without such reforms, George wrote, “we might almost think soberly of the propriety of putting up our offices at auction.” To promote the Australian ballot, George created a new party, the Union Labor Party.
So thank an Australian today.
But as with every step forward there was a step back:
Many of the reforms proposed by populists had the effect of diminishing the political power of blacks and immigrants. Chief among them was the Australian ballot, more usually known as the secret ballot, which, by serving as a de facto literacy test, disenfranchised both black men in the rural South and new immigrants in northern cities.
And then the bastards really got going:
In 1890, Mississippi held a constitutional convention and adopted a new state constitution that included an “Understanding Clause”: voters were required to pass oral examination on the Constitution, on the grounds that “very few Negroes understood the clauses of the Constitution.” (Nor, of course, did most whites, though white men were not tested.) In the South, the secret ballot was adopted in this same spirit. Both by law and by brute force, southern legislators, state by state, and poll workers, precinct by precinct, denied black men the right to vote. In Louisiana, black voter registration dropped from 130,000 in 1898 to 5,300 in 1908, and to 730 in 1910.
Don't let the bastards win. Let's bring some accountability to this sumbitch.
The One Way Trump is Jeffersonian
“In 1806, [Pres.] Jefferson secured the passage of a Non-Importation Act, banning certain British imports and, in 1807, an Embargo Act, banning all American exports. During the ongoing war between Britain and France, the British had been seizing American ships and impressing American seamen. Jefferson believed that banning all trade was the only way to remain neutral. No Americans ships were to sail to foreign ports. He insisted that all the goods Americans needed they could produce in their own homes. ...
”The embargo devastated the American economy. Jeffersonian agrarianism was not only backward-looking but also largely a fantasy.“
from Jill Lepore's ”These Truths: A History of the United States"
What's Missing from ‘Fear’
I should probably write more about Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” because at this point I doubt I‘ll finish it. I’m about halfway through but I'm not a fan.
I don't doubt a lot of what happens in it. But I know I'm getting a skewed perspective that is being presented by Woodward as the perspective.
Woodward uses sources on deep background—as he did with Deep Throat during the Watergate investigations—but writes the book in the third-person omniscient. Everything is presented as fact, as “this is how it happened,” but it‘s, at best, a few people’s perspective, and at worst one person's perspective. It should be, “According to Steve Bannon...” etc. etc., but it isn‘t. Woodward seems to be putting us in the room where it happens but he’s actually putting us in Bannon's idea of that room—and without telling us. That's actually dangerous.
BTW: Between Bannon being a source for Woodward, and being a source for Michael Wolff in “Fire and Fury,” it's a wonder he gets anything done.
You know when I had to put the book down? It was post-Charlottesville, when Trump's tepid response to Nazis marching in America led to the resignation of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, an African American, from Trump's American Manufacturing Council. Here's what Frazier said about why he resigned:
America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy. . . . As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.
The presidential response?
Within an hour, Trump attacked Frazier on Twitter. Now that Frazier had resigned, Trump wrote, “he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” The CEOs of Under Armour and Intel followed Frazier, resigning from the council as well. Still stewing, in a second Twitter swipe at Frazier, Trump wrote that Merck should “Bring jobs back & LOWER PRICES!” On Tuesday, August 15, Trump tweeted, “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place.” He called those who had resigned “grandstanders.”
And my reaction to that? “Oh right, he's an asshole.”
That's actually what's missing from the book: Trump's horrible voice. He's an idiot, sure, he doesn't know what he's doing, yes, he has no real structure to decision-making in the presidency, OK, and god he watches way too much fucking TV—and propaganda TV at that—but we don't hear what an awful bombastic bully he truly is. And that's the thing we hear every day. In a way, through all of these sources telling Woodward their story, and via Woodward's own toneless prose, Trump is insulated. He's muted. As awful as he comes across in the book, he comes across much worse in our daily lives.
Best Trump Book Title (Thus Far)
The winner for the best title of a tell-all Trump book (thus far) goes to Greg Miller of The Washington Post, who, next month, will publish: “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy.” An excerpt is available today on the Post site.
The article is mostly about Trump's visit to CIA headquarters on Jan. 21, 2017, his first full day in office, and how, in front of a marble wall with 117 hand-carved stars, each for an agent/contractor killed in the line of duty, Trump began to brag and lie about: 1) the size of the crowds in the final days of the campaign; 2) the size of the inauguration crowd the day before; 3) the new bigger room he would build so every CIA officer who wanted to see him, could. One CIA vet called it “one of the more disconcerting speeches I‘ve seen”; another said it was a “freewheeling narcissistic diatribe.”
The second part of the article, about Trump’s love for Putin and seeming intolerance for our allies, is even more disturbing. But thus far, none of it is news.
Here's the excerpt that connects the dots on the title:
In the reality show that had propelled him to great fame, Trump was depicted as a business titan with peerless instincts — a consummate negotiator, a fearless dealmaker, and an unflinching evaluator of talent. Week after week, contestants competed for the chance to learn from a boardroom master — to be, as the show's title put it, his apprentice.
In the reality that commenced with his inauguration, Trump seemed incapable of basic executive aspects of the job. His White House was consumed by dysfunction, with warring factions waiting for direction — or at least a coherent decision-making process — from the president.
His outbursts sent waves of panic through the West Wing, with aides scrambling to contain the president's anger or divine some broader mandate from the latest 140-character blast. He made rash hiring decisions, installing Cabinet officials who seemed unfamiliar with the functions of their agencies, let alone their ethical and administrative requirements.
Decorated public servants were subjected to tirades in the Oval Office and humiliating dress-downs in public. White House documents were littered with typos and obvious mistakes. Senior aides showed up at meetings without the requisite security clearances — and sometimes stayed anyway.
Trump refused to read intelligence reports, and he grew so visibly bored during briefings that analysts took to reducing the world's complexities to a collection of bullet points.
The supposedly accomplished mogul was the opposite of how he'd been presented on prime-time television. Now he was the one who was inexperienced, utterly unprepared, in dire need of a steadying hand. Now he was the apprentice.