What we see of history ain’t the whole story

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Senator William Mahone was one of the most maligned political leaders in post-Civil War America. He was also one of the most capable. Compared to the Roman traitor Cataline (by Virginia Democrats), to Moses (by African American congressman John Mercer Langston), and to Napoleon (by himself), Mahone organized and led the most successful interracial political alliance in the post-emancipation South.

pub. 08/2017

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A short meditation on US propaganda and politics in the 20th century

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“Democracy is never a thing done,” MacLeish said. “Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing.”…

…Critics called MacLeish naïve: winning a war requires deception. F.D.R., to some degree, agreed. In June, 1942, he replaced the Office of Facts and Figures with the Office of War Information.

pub. 06/2017

Published in the paper edition as “The Strategy of Truth”; audio version here.

An easy-to-digest listicle version of smart guy Umberto Eco’s “Ur-Fascism”

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6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.

That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

Excerpts pub. 11/1995, orig. pub. 06/1995

That whole “finger on the button” thing

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It’s clear that we’re on the threshold of a new nuclear era: a time when the actual use of atomic weapons is being accorded greater plausibility by military and political leaders globally, while war plans are being revised to allow the use of such weapons at an earlier stage in future armed clashes.

As a result, the next president will have to grapple with nuclear weapons issues—and possible nuclear crises—in a way unknown since the Cold War era. Above all else, this will require both a cool head and a sufficient command of nuclear matters to navigate competing pressures from allies, the military, politicians, pundits, and the foreign policy establishment without precipitating a nuclear conflagration. On the face of it, that should disqualify Donald Trump.

pub. 11/2016

Everything we’re seeing is connected

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We should be asking ourselves what our Archduke Ferdinand moment will be. How will an apparently small event trigger another period of massive destruction. We see Brexit, Trump, Putin in isolation. The world does not work that way — all things are connected and affecting each other. I have pro-Brexit friends who say ‘oh, you’re going to blame that on Brexit too??’ But they don’t realise that actually, yes, historians will trace neat lines from apparently unrelated events back to major political and social shifts like Brexit.

pub. 07/2016