An Expert on Civil War Predicts We Have Insurgency in Our Future

Wikipedia quotes this definition of ”insurgency”:

A violent, armed rebellion against authority waged by small, lightly armed bands who practice guerrilla warfare from primarily rural base areas. The key descriptive feature of insurgency is its asymmetric nature: small irregular forces face a large, well-equipped, regular military force state adversary.

This is part of an interview from March in The Washington Post:

Barbara F. Walter is a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego and the author of How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them….

We we actually know a lot about civil wars — how they start, how long they last, why they’re so hard to resolve, how you end them. And we know a lot because since 1946, there have been over 200 major armed conflicts. And for the last 30 years, people have been collecting a lot of data, analyzing the data, looking at patterns. I’ve been one of those people.

We went from thinking, even as late as the 1980s, that every one of these was unique. …Then methods and computers got better, and people like me came and could collect data and analyze it. And what we saw is that there are lots of patterns at the macro level.

In 1994, the [CIA] put together this Political Instability Task Force. They were interested in trying to predict what countries around the world were going to become unstable, potentially fall apart, experience political violence and civil war.

Originally, {our] model included over 30 different factors, like poverty, income inequality, how diverse religiously or ethnically a country was. But only two factors came out again and again as highly predictive. And it wasn’t what people were expecting, even on the task force. We were surprised.

The first was this variable called anocracy. There’s this nonprofit based in Virginia called the Center for Systemic Peace. And every year it measures all sorts of things [to decide] how autocratic or how democratic a country is…. Negative 10 is the most authoritarian, so think about North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. Positive 10 are the most democratic, [like]  Denmark, Switzerland, Canada. The U.S. was a positive 10 for many, many years…. The U.S. was briefly downgraded to a 5 and is now an 8.

And what scholars found was that this anocracy variable was really predictive of a risk for civil war. That full democracies almost never have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars. All of the instability and violence is happening in this middle zone. And there’s all sorts of theories why this middle zone is unstable, but one of the big ones is that these governments tend to be weaker. They’re transitioning — some of the authoritarian features are loosening up — so it’s easier to organize a challenge. Or, these are democracies that are backsliding, and there’s a sense that these governments are not that legitimate… Anyway, that turned out to be highly predictive.

The second factor was whether populations in these partial democracies began to organize politically, not around ideology — not based on whether you’re a communist or not, or you’re a liberal or a conservative — but where the parties themselves were based almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity. The quintessential example of this is what happened in the former Yugoslavia.

What was the moment you thought: Wait a minute, I see these patterns in my country right now?

My dad is from Germany. He was born in 1932 and lived through the war there… And starting in early 2016, my dad was so agitated. All he wanted to do was talk about T____ and what he was seeing happening. He was really nervous. He was just, like, “Please tell me T___’s not going to win…. I saw this once before. And I’m seeing it again, and the Republicans, they’re just falling in lockstep behind him.”

I remember saying: “Dad, what’s really different about America today from Germany in the 1930s is that our democracy is really strong. Our institutions are strong. So, even if you had a T____ come into power, the institutions would hold strong.” Of course, then T____ won. My dad would draw all these parallels. The brownshirts and the attacks on the media and the attacks on education and on books. And he’s just, like, “I’m seeing it all again here”. And that’s really what shook me out of my complacency…  And I was like, am I being naive to think that we’re different?

That’s when I started to follow the data. And then, watching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy…. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries…. These two factors [the status of the government and how people are organizing] are emerging here, and people don’t know.

… When people think about civil war, they think about the first civil war [and think] that’s what a second one would look like. And, of course, that’s not the case at all. People [need to] conceptualize what a 21st-century civil war against a really powerful government might look like.

After January 6th of last year, … I wasn’t surprised, right? People who study this, we’ve been seeing these groups have been around now for over 10 years. They’ve been growing. I know that they’re training. They’ve been in the shadows, but we know about them. I wasn’t surprised.

The biggest emotion was just relief, oh my gosh, this is a gift. Because it’s bringing it out into the public eye in the most obvious way. And the result has to be that we can’t deny or ignore that we have a problem. Because it’s right there before us. And what has been surprising, actually, is how hard the Republican Party has worked to continue to deny it and to create this smokescreen — and in many respects, how effective that’s been, at least among their supporters.

Even the most public act of insurrection, probably a treasonous act that 10, 20 years ago would have just cut to the heart of every American, there are still real attempts to deny it. But it was a gift because it brought this cancer that those of us who have been studying it, have been watching it growing, it brought it out into the open.

Does it make you at all nervous when you think about the percentage of people who were at, say, January 6th who have some military or law enforcement connection?

Yes. The CIA also has a manual on insurgency…. It was written to help the U.S. government identify very, very early stages of insurgency… What are signs that we should be looking out for?

The manual talks about three stages. The first stage is pre-insurgency. That’s when you start to have groups beginning to mobilize around a particular grievance. It’s oftentimes just a handful of individuals who are just deeply unhappy about something. They begin to articulate those grievances [and] to try to grow their membership.

The second stage is called the incipient conflict stage. And that’s when these groups begin to build a military arm. Usually a militia. And they start to obtain weapons and get training. They’ll start to recruit from the ex-military or military and law enforcement….

When the CIA put together this manual, it’s about what they’ve observed … in other countries. It’s just shocking, the parallels. In the second stage, you start to have a few isolated attacks….The danger in this stage is that governments and citizens aren’t aware that this is happening. So when an attack occurs, it’s usually just dismissed as an isolated incident, and people are not connecting the dots.

And because they’re not connecting the dots, the movement is allowed to grow until you have open insurgency, when you start to have a series of consistent attacks, and it becomes impossible to ignore.

… Here in the United States, because we had a series of long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we’ve had more than 20 years of returning soldiers… This creates a ready-made subset of the population that you can recruit from.

What do you say to people who charge that this is all overblown?

… Groups — we’ll call them violence entrepreneurs, the violent extremists who want to tear everything down and want to institute their own radical vision of society — they benefit from the element of surprise, right? They want people to be confused when violence starts happening…. Which is why people who lived through the start of the violence in Sarajevo or Baghdad or Kyiv, they all say that they were surprised. And they were surprised in part because they didn’t know what the warning signs were.

But also because people had a vested interest in distracting them or denying it so that when an attack happened, or when you had paramilitary troops sleeping in the hills outside of Sarajevo, they would make up stories. You know, “We’re just doing training missions”…

I wish it were the case that by not talking about it we could prevent anything from happening. But the reality is, if we don’t talk about it, [violent extremists] are going to continue to organize, and they’re going to continue to train. There are definitely lots of groups on the far right who want war. They are preparing for war. And not talking about it does not make us safer.

What we’re heading toward is an insurgency, which is a form of a civil war. That is the 21st-century version of a civil war, especially in countries with powerful governments and powerful militaries, which is what the United States is. And it makes sense. An insurgency tends to be much more decentralized, often fought by multiple groups…. Sometimes they coordinate their behavior. They use unconventional tactics. They target infrastructure. They target civilians. They use domestic terror and guerrilla warfare. Hit-and-run raids and bombs.

We’ve already seen this in other countries with powerful militaries, right? The IRA took on the British government. Hamas has taken on the Israeli government. These are two of the most powerful militaries in the world….

Here it’s called leaderless resistance. That method of how to defeat a powerful government like the United States is outlined in what people are calling the bible of the far right: “The Turner Diaries,” which is this fictitious account of a civil war against the U.S. government. It lays out how you do this. And one of the things it says is, do not engage the U.S. military. You know, avoid it at all costs. Go directly to targets around the country that are difficult to defend and disperse yourselves so it’s hard for the government to identify you and infiltrate you and eliminate you entirely.

Are these the things that will be or just that may be?

I can’t say when it’s going to happen. I think it’s really important for people to understand that countries that have these two factors, who get put on this watch list, have a little bit less than a 4 percent annual risk of civil war. That seems really small, but it’s not. It means that, every year that those two factors continue, the risk increases.

The analogy is smoking. If I started smoking today, my risk of dying of lung cancer or some smoking-related disease is very small. If I continue to smoke for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years, my risk eventually of dying of something related to smoking is going to be very high if I don’t change my behavior.

I think that’s one of the actually optimistic things: We know the warning signs. And we know that if we strengthen our democracy, and if the Republican Party decides it’s no longer going to be an ethnic faction that’s trying to exclude everybody else, then our risk of civil war will disappear. We know that. And we have time to do it. But you have to know those warning signs in order to feel an impetus to change them.

Hindsight on Afghanistan

From The Washington Post:

Twenty years ago, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still smoldering, there was a sense among America’s warrior and diplomatic class that history was starting anew for the people of Afghanistan and much of the Muslim world.

“Every nation has a choice to make,” President George W. Bush said on the day that bombs began falling on Oct. 7, 2001. In private, senior U.S. diplomats were even more explicit. “For you and us, history starts today,” then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage told his Pakistani counterparts.

Earlier this month, as the Taliban raced across Afghanistan, retired Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, a two-time veteran of the war, stumbled across Armitage’s words. To Dempsey, the sentiment was “the most American thing I’ve ever heard” and emblematic of the hubris and ignorance that he and so many others brought to the losing war.

“We assumed the rest of the world saw us as we saw ourselves,” he said. “And we believed that we could shape the world in our image using our guns and our money.” Both assumptions ignored Afghan culture, politics and history. Both, he said, were tragically wrong.

The near-collapse of the Afghan army in the space of just a few stunning weeks is prompting the military and Washington’s policymakers to reflect on their failures over the course of nearly two decades. To many, the roots of the disaster go back to the war’s earliest days, when the Taliban were first driven from power and the United States, still reeling from the shock of the 9/11 attacks, set about building a government in Kabul.

The Afghanistan Papers: Afghan security forces, despite years of training, were dogged by incompetence and corruption

Some two dozen prominent Afghans met in Bonn, Germany, with officials from the U.S. government, NATO and the United Nations to form a new Afghan government crafted in the image of the United States and its European allies.

“You look at the Afghan constitution that was created in Bonn and it was trying to create a Western democracy,” said Michèle Flournoy, one of the architects of President Barack Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan in 2010. “In retrospect, the United States and its allies got it really wrong from the very beginning. The bar was set based on our democratic ideals, not on what was sustainable or workable in an Afghan context.”

Flournoy acknowledged in hindsight that the mistake was compounded across Republican and Democratic administrations, which continued with almost equal fervor to pursue goals that ran counter to decades — if not centuries — of the Afghan experience.

By 2009, when Obama took office, it was clear to just about everyone that the United States was losing the war.

To reverse Taliban momentum and give U.S. officials a chance to build up the Afghan government and security forces, Obama signed off on a surge of troops that more than doubled the size of the American force in Afghanistan.

Flournoy said she was initially hopeful that the plan could work. On trips to Afghanistan, she met frequently with young Afghans, including women’s groups, who shared America’s vision for the country. They wanted to send their daughters to school, serve in government, start businesses and nonprofits. They wanted women to be full participants in society and craved a predictable political and legal system. “We found all kinds of allies,” she said.

But those individuals were no match for the rot that had permeated the Afghan government. She and other U.S. officials understood that with all the U.S. money floating around in Afghanistan, there would be “petty corruption,” she said. What U.S. officials discovered in 2010, after the surge was already underway, was a corruption that ran far deeper than they had previously understood and that jeopardized their strategy, which depended on building the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

“We realized that this is not going to work,” Flournoy said. “We had made a big bet only to learn that our local partner was rotten.”

Now, as Taliban fighters race toward Kabul and the Afghan military crumbles, Flournoy said her thoughts often turn to the Americans who sacrificed for the mission and to those “wonderful allies” who shared the U.S. hopes for a democratic Afghanistan. “That’s what makes me so sick to my stomach,” she said. “We invested in this whole generation that is about to suffer through this very horrible chapter.”

As Taliban widens its grip, Afghans reckon with life under militant rule

Meanwhile, current and former U.S. officials are trying to make sense of why a government and security forces built over two decades at a cost of more than $100 billion dollars are collapsing so quickly.

Carter Malkasian, a longtime adviser to U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, has pegged the weakness of the Afghan forces on their lack of a unifying cause that resonates with Afghans, as well as their heavy dependence on the United States. By contrast, the Taliban were fighting for their culture and Islam. They “exemplified something that inspired, something that made them powerful in battle, something closely tied to what it meant to be an Afghan,” Malkasian writes in his new book, “The American War in Afghanistan.”

It’s an observation that speaks to the limits of American power and raises the broader question of how the catastrophic and embarrassing failure in Afghanistan might constrain U.S. foreign policy moving forward.

“We know what happens when we fall to imperial hubris. What does one do with imperial heartbreak?” asked John Gans, who served as a civilian in the Pentagon during the Obama administration.

So many of today’s rising military commanders and foreign policy experts were drawn into government service by the 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan. After the relatively low-stakes peacekeeping missions of the 1990s, America and U.S. foreign policy suddenly seemed to be at the center of the world in the years after 2001. A whole generation of leaders driven “by ambition, ego and a desire to shape world events” ran toward the action, Gans said. . . .

It seems certain that in coming years the use of military force will be informed by this searing experience. U.S. foreign policy will be guided by more modest ambitions, especially when weighing the use of military power. Flournoy imagines a future in which military force is limited to more sharply defined objectives and informed by far greater humility when it comes to spreading democracy or changing societies.

In many cases, it’s a vision in which force is used to manage chronic problems, rather than solve them.

Another possibility is a U.S. foreign policy that is increasingly focused more on issues such as pandemics or climate change, which require U.S. leadership and a global response. Gans noted that more than 600,000 Americans have died of covid-19, far more than the number of U.S. lives lost to terrorism and war over the past 20 years.

For now, though, it seems unlikely that these threats will take center stage in U.S. foreign policy. The Pentagon, with its $740 billion budget, still sucks up a larger share of discretionary spending than any other government agency. Meanwhile, the foreign policy establishment has shifted its focus increasingly to the competition with the likes of Russia and China.

“After 9/11 everyone raced to become a Middle East or counterterrorism expert,” said Gans. “After covid, you don’t see many foreign policy people racing to become global health experts.”

On one subject most foreign policy experts agree: America needs to temper its faith in its armed forces. “We had so much faith in our military that we were inevitably going to overstep,” said Dempsey, the Afghanistan veteran. “A military bureaucracy unchecked never yields good outcomes.”

Too Long in Afghanistan

A Twitter thread about the U.S. and Afghanistan from David Rothkopf, a political scientist, etc.:

US policy in Afghanistan has been 20 yrs of bad decisions & bad execution in the face of an insoluble challenge. Our local allies were very flawed, our enemy was resolute & the last 3 US presidents have wanted out & knew what’s happening now would happen. But sure, it’s on Biden. 

The original sin and greatest blame goes to George W. Bush who got us involved in a protracted mission when the only right mission was to go in, get Al Qaeda & leave. That was compounded by the catastrophic decision to enter Iraq–an enormous distraction. 

Obama and T____ compounded the problem by failing to find a way to exit. Why didn’t they? Because their advisors knew that the center (the Afghan gov’t and forces) couldn’t hold and that ultimately collapse would follow the exit. Those advisors were right. 

Those who recommended staying indefinitely did so in the full knowledge that 20 years of massive expense and effort could not produce a stable central government or a secure Afghanistan. There is zero evidence any outside force ever could do that. None ever has. 

There are profound human rights issues–particularly women’s rights issues–that should be of great concern and a priority for the international community. But the answer is not a costly U.S. & allied military Band-Aid. 

The military is not the only tool in what Madeleine Albright would call our diplomatic toolbox. Moreover it is one that has proven wholly ineffective to produce lasting change in Afghanistan. We must shift to other tools–at the top of the list being multilateral diplomacy. 

Bringing together all the major powers with a stake in Afghanistan and institutions to communicate to the effective leaders of the country that if they respect the rights of women they will benefit and if they do not they will be severely penalized. 

Letting them know that they will be subject to military strikes if they harbor terrorists is also fair. The notion that the only path is continuing to do what hasn’t worked to date is ridiculous. And the costs & pitfalls of alternative paths aren’t worse than what hasn’t worked. 

Some suggest that Biden could have planned this better. First, Bush, Obama and T____ could have and should have planned and executed this better. Next, there is plenty to suggest that whenever the US decided to leave, what is happening would happen. 

The Taliban want to embarrass us and claim victory. They have known all along they would not get much resistance in most of the country from the central government. This was so predictable everyone predicted it–and no one, no one offered a viable alternative solution. 

Only one president has had the courage to do the right thing in Afghanistan. It is the same man who advised we do this in 2009 when he was Vice President. It takes courage because he knows that he will receive the critiques his opponents are heaping on him now. 

But doing the right thing even when it is likely to be politically controversial and even when it reveals uncomfortable realities is what strong leadership is about. 

Biden & his team have already committed to using other means to advance US interests in Afghanistan-as we should have done long, long ago. It’s fascinating that so many who opposed nation building, who do not believe the US should be the world’s sheriff are now criticizing Biden. 

America’s war in Afghanistan will rank alongside Vietnam as one of our great modern failures of strategy and execution. Many are to blame for that. Whatever arguments might be made that the US departure could have been better executed, one thing is absolutely clear. 

The bulk of the responsibility for that failure lies with past administrations and with the leadership in Kabul (and to some extent with Taliban enablers beyond the country’s borders). Biden is doing what is right and what must be done. It is time to turn the page. 

American Hero: Why They Gave Him a Giant Tomb

You might not want to read a 1,000 page biography of one of your heroes. After months of reading Ron Chernow’s Grant, I’m more aware of Ulysses S. Grant’s mistakes. But I’m more appreciative of his accomplishments.

A low-ranked graduate of West Point, he served in the Mexican War while later condemning it as “one of the more unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation”. He left the military under a cloud, failed at farming and ended up working as a clerk in his father’s store. When the Civil War began, he took command of some Illinois volunteers and was made a colonel. After a series of victories, Abraham Lincoln made him General of the Army, the army’s senior officer, responsible for directing the Union’s entire war effort. In his final campaign, he outmaneuvered Robert E. Lee and respectfully accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

In 1868, the Republican Party, back when they were the liberals, chose him as their presidential candidate. He served two terms, rare for presidents in the 19th century. His administration was plagued by scandals, but none involved him personally. As president, he oversaw the South’s re-entry into the union while protecting the rights of former slaves. He overcame political resistance in order to suppress horribly violent groups like the Ku Klux Klan. He sought peace with the Indians, admitting that white settlers were often the source of conflict in the West. He was the president who most attempted to reform the South in the process known as Reconstruction (which ended when he left office). As the victor in the Civil War and a popular former president, he took a triumphal tour around the world, was the naïve victim of a serious financial scandal, and wrote one of history’s best memoirs while suffering for months from throat cancer.


These are some of the final pages of that very long biography. They show what the people who knew him best thought of him:

Characteristically, the dying Grant was stoically concerned with his family’s well-being after he was gone, saying, “I hope no one will be distressed on my account.” . .  At 8:08 a.m. on July 23, 1885, Grant died so gently that nobody was quite certain at first that his spirit had stolen away. . . .

With flags lowered to half-mast across America and mourning symbols swathing the White House, the Grant family conducted a private funeral . . . on August 4. Two days later Grant’s casket began a journey southward from Albany to New York City, where three hundred thousand people filed past the open coffin as it lay in state at City Hall. People descended on Manhattan in record numbers for the public funeral on August 8. They poured on foot across the Brooklyn Bridge, descended from elevated railroad stations, and slipped into the city through Grand Central Depot. The 1.5 million people flooding the city would make it the grandest funeral in New York history. At 8:30 a.m. on August 8, Civil War veterans hoisted Grant’s coffin to a waiting catafalque that had black plumes sprouting at each corner. Twenty-four black stallions, arranged in twelve pairs and attended by black grooms, stood ready to pull the hearse. Twenty generals preceded the horses . . .  Every protocol for a military funeral was followed, including the riderless horse with boots facing backward in the stirrups. The funeral was a vast, elaborate affair, befitting a monarch or head of state, in marked contrast to the essential simplicity of the man honored.

The grandeur emphasized the central place that Grant had occupied in the Civil War and its aftermath. “Out of all the hubbub of the war,” wrote Walt Whitman, “Lincoln and Grant emerge, the towering majestic figures.” Whitman thought they had lived exemplary lives that vindicated the American spirit, showing how people lifted from the lower ranks of society could attain greatness. “I think this the greatest lesson of our national existence so far.”

The procession streamed up Broadway until it reached the Fifth Avenue Hotel on Madison Square, where it took on a veritable army of dignitaries, including all the members of the Grant family except for [his wife] Julia, who remained secluded . . . President Cleveland headed an eminent escort that included Vice President Thomas Hendricks, the entire cabinet, and Supreme Court justices. Both surviving ex-presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur, attended. Congress and statehouses across the country emptied out to pay homage, sending fifteen U.S. senators, twelve congressmen, eighteen governors, and ten mayors to pay their respects. From city halls across America, eight thousand civil and municipal officers converged to participate in the march.

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Nobody doubted that William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan would serve as honorary pallbearers, but Julia Grant knew her husband would have wanted two Confederate generals to balance their northern counterparts, so Joseph Johnston and Simon Buckner represented the South. Predictably, northern military units predominated, but the presence of Confederate soldiers touched onlookers. . . . Contingents of black veterans were liberally represented among the sixty thousand soldiers, supplemented by eighteen thousand veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic. Rabbi E. B. M. Browne acted as an honorary pallbearer . . . At Grant’s death, Philadelphia’s Jewish Record observed, “None will mourn his loss more sincerely than the Hebrew, and . . . in every Jewish synagogue and temple in the land the sad event will be solemnly commemorated with fitting eulogy and prayer.”

Southern reaction to Grant’s death signified a posthumous triumph. His onetime image as a fierce warrior of the Civil War had been replaced by that of a more pacific figure. As the News and Courier of South Carolina editorialized, “Had his life ended but a few years since, the mourning for the great leader would have been more or less sectional in its manifestation. Dying as he now dies, the grief is as widespread as the Union.” Grant had won over unlikely southern converts. When John Singleton Mosby learned of his death, he was bereft: “I felt I had lost my best friend.” In Gainesville, Georgia, a white-bewhiskered James Longstreet emerged in a dressing gown to tell a reporter emotionally that Grant “was the truest as well as the bravest man that ever lived.” In southern towns and border states, veterans from North and South linked arms as they paid tribute to Grant’s passage.

Black churches held “meetings of sorrow” that eulogized Grant as a champion of the Fifteenth Amendment and the fight to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan. Summing up Grant’s career, Frederick Douglass wrote: “In him the Negro found a protector, the Indian a friend, a vanquished foe a brother, an imperiled nation a savior.”

Church bells tolled and muffled drums resounded as the funeral procession glided past buildings shrouded in black, The New York Times likening the uninterrupted flow of humanity to a giant “river into which many tributaries were poured.” The honor guard of mourners stretched for miles, taking five hours to reach the burial site. . . . 

By midafternoon, in bright sunshine, the funeral cortege reached the small temporary brick tomb at Riverside Drive and 122nd Street. Warships floating in the Hudson River let loose a cannonade in tribute to Grant. A lone bugler blew taps at the vault—the same tune that had floated over Grant’s army camps during the war. As the notes drifted over the crowd, Sherman stood ramrod straight, his body shaking with tears. It was a memorable sight: the bête noire of the South, seemingly impervious to softer feelings, overcome with profound emotion.

A dozen years later, on a cool spring day, with more than a million people in attendance, President William McKinley presided over the dedication of the General Grant National Memorial—“Grant’s Tomb” in popular parlance—financed by public contributions. Leading the fund-raising drive had been the lawyer Richard T. Greener, the first black graduate of Harvard College, which would have pleased Grant. An opulent domed affair of granite and marble, Grant’s Tomb was the largest mausoleum in North America. When Julia Grant died of heart failure in 1902 at age seventy-six . . . she and Ulysses were entombed together. They lay encased in red granite sarcophagi housed in an open structure much too monumental for these two simple midwestern souls. The mausoleum’s spectacular scale testified to Grant’s exalted place in the nineteenth-century American mind, perhaps rivaling that of Lincoln, and the site soon evolved into New York’s number one tourist destination, drawing half a million people annually.

Perhaps nobody had watched the funeral procession on August 8, 1885, with a wider range of emotions than Mark Twain, who stared down for five hours on the somber pageantry from the windows of his publishing office at Union Square. He would always be indescribably proud to have published Grant’s Personal Memoirs . . .  At the end of the funeral, when the crowds had dispersed, he and William Tecumseh Sherman retreated to the Lotos Club, where they sat down over liquor and cigars to wrestle anew with the mystery of Grant’s personality—a source of never-ending wonder to both men. Sherman always insisted that Grant was a mystery even to himself, a unique intermingling of strength and weakness such as he had never encountered before.



It’s Still the Union, the Confederacy and the Wild West. And Yet . . .

Assuming that the last few projections hold, Joe Biden won twenty-five states (plus the District of Columbia) and lost twenty-five. Our fifty states are split down the middle.

Back in the 19th century, however, at the start of the Civil War, the United States had only thirty-five states. They were all in the eastern half of the country, except for California, Nevada and Oregon in the far west.

Nineteen of those states didn’t allow slavery and stayed in the Union. They voted for Joe Biden this week fourteen to five.

There were also five “border” states that allowed slavery but didn’t want to or weren’t able to leave the Union (Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware). They split as evenly as possible this week, two for Biden and three for his opponent.

Eleven southern states left the Union in 1861, starting a civil war in order to protect (and expand) slavery. Two of them voted for Biden, while nine voted for the racist.

After the Civil War, the US added fifteen more states. Most of them were part of the “Wild West” — the home of assorted rugged individuals. Five voted for Biden, ten for the sociopath. 

Thus, of the twenty-four states that stayed in the Union in the 1860s (the northern, border and Far West states), Biden won nineteen and lost five.

Of the twenty-six states that left the Union or weren’t fully part of the country in the 1861, Biden won seven and lost nineteen.

In some ways, we haven’t progressed much from the 19th century. Divisions between the North, the South and the Wild West remain.

And yet . . . 

From Robin Givhan of The Washington Post:

As the country waited for ballots to be counted, it was Biden — not the occupant of the Oval Office — who was reassuring people that this democracy was intact, that the system was working and that the center would hold. He was the voice of calm optimism in the midst of tumultuous times.

When he became president-elect late Saturday morning, he did something far more herculean than accepting responsibility for a worsening pandemic and a struggling economy. He removed a terrible, suffocating weight from the back of this nation. . . .

His simple dignity and empathy are ballasts for a country that has been teetering between an openhearted, just future and a self-righteous, narrow-minded past. And when he addressed the nation Saturday night, he put his full heft as a statesman and a man of good will to that task.

“What is the will of the people? What is our mandate? I believe it’s this: America called upon us to marshal the forces of decency, the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time. The battle to control the virus. The battle to build prosperity. The battle to secure your family’s health care. The battle to achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism in this country. The battle to save our planet by getting climate under control. The battle to restore decency, defend democracy and give everybody in this country a fair shot,” Biden said. “That’s all they’re asking for. A fair shot.”