The American Project

You’ve probably heard of the “1619 Project”, even if you’ve never read it. I have a subscription to The New York Times but avoid the weekly magazine section. That’s where a series of articles was published last year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first Black slaves being brought to Virginia in August 1619. The Project’s other purpose was to show the many ways slavery has affected this country up to the present day.

The 1619 Project has been celebrated and criticized and used by Republicans for their usual nefarious purposes. The Washington Post has an interesting article called “How the 1619 Project Took Over 2020”. The title is an exaggeration but the article nicely summarizes how a series in the Times Sunday magazine became a big deal.

Americans, being citizens of a forward-looking country, are relatively ignorant of our history, so any significant effort to inform us about our nation’s proud but checkered past, like the 1619 Project, is a positive development. 

What went wrong in this case is that the Times writer, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who initiated the project and won a Pulitzer Price for her efforts, wrote this:

One of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery” [at a time when] “Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution.

A well-known Princeton historian, Sean Wilentz, strongly objected to this characterization. From the Washington Post article: 

This, Wilentz argues, is patently false: Other than a few lonely voices, England remained committed to the slave trade in 1776. The abolitionist movement didn’t take hold in London for more than a decade — and then it was inspired by anti-slavery opinions emerging from America.

Professor Wilentz and three other historians wrote a letter to the Times and the controversy took off from there, exacerbated as usual by right-wingers, including, of course, our Controversialist-In-Chief. The controversy could probably have been short-circuited early on except for the actions of an egotistical Times editor, who overreacted to the historians’ letter, viewing it as an attack on the entire project instead of acknowledging the error. (Egotism and refusal to admit error are defining characteristics of Times editors.)

The Times has a statement saying “the 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine . . . [that] aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative”. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of those consequences and contributions. I remember reading Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul On Ice in college and being shocked when he said the relationship between Black and White Americans was central to this country’s history. The more I’ve learned about America, the more I’ve agreed with him. (I wish I could find his exact words. Is it predictable that there is no Kindle edition of Soul On Ice?). 

Yet the language that upset the historians, including the statement that “we may never have revolted against Britain if some of the founders had not . . . believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue” remains. That’s odd for what the Times says is “an ongoing initiative” (see “egotism and refusal to admit error”).  Meanwhile, Republicans claim Democrats all believe the United States began in 1619, not 1776.

Reading about the 1619 Project today got me thinking about America’s founding. That led me to a site run by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, “an educational agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia”. Although Spanish explorers founded our longest lasting city, St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, it’s generally agreed that the arrival of the English in Virginia’s Jamestown marked the beginning of what became the United States. Here’s some of the chronology from the Jamestown-Yorktown site:

1570-1  Spanish Jesuits set up a mission on the York River . . . Within six months, the Spaniards were killed by local Indians.

1585-7  Three separate voyages sent English explorers and settlers to the coast of what is now North Carolina, then known as Virginia. John White, who . . . had gone back to England for supplies, returned in 1590 and found no trace of the settlers.

1607  On May 13, nearly five months after departing from England, an expedition of 104 colonists arrived at a site on the James River selected for settlement. . . . The group named their settlement for King James I.

1608  Captain Christopher Newport, . . . who had sailed back to England, returned to Virginia in January with settlers and goods. It was the first of a series of regular arrivals in the colony.

1613  Pocahontas, a daughter of Powhatan, powerful leader of 30-some Indian tribes in coastal Virginia, was kidnapped by the English.

1619  The first representative legislative assembly in British America met at Jamestown on July 30. The first documented people of African origin in Virginia arrived in late summer aboard an English ship flying Dutch colors.

Wow. Notice that last sentence? The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation is missing something, or maybe these “people of African origin” arrived in Virginia because they’d heard about the so-called “New World” and wanted to check it out for themselves.

Putting aside the racists in charge of the Jamestown chronology, or rather taking note of their attempt to whitewash history, I wondered how we should remember America’s founding. Although we tend to think it was an event, it was actually a process. In fact, we might say the process continues.

1607  An English expedition settled in Jamestown.

1619  The first African slaves were brought to America.

1620  The Plymouth colony was established in Massachusetts.

1763  The French and Indian War ended.

1776  The Declaration of Independence was adopted in Philadelphia.

1781  The British surrendered at Yorktown, ending the Revolutionary War 

1788  The Constitution was ratified, taking effect in 1789.

1791  The Bill of Rights was ratified.

1803  The United States and France agreed to the Louisiana Purchase.

1830  The Indian Removal Act became law (leading to, among other things, the Trail of Tears)

1865  The Civil War ended.

1868  The 14th Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship and equal protection under the law to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States”, was adopted.

1869  The transcontinental railroad was completed.

1920 The 19th Amendment, allowing women to vote, was adopted.

1924  The Indian Citizenship Act was passed (because the 14th Amendment wasn’t enough).

1933-1939  The New Deal was enacted.

1964 The Civil Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, became law.

1965 The Voting Rights Act was passed (although Republicans on the Supreme Court improperly declared it unnecessary in 2013)

2016 A Black American was elected president.

Other milestones along our path to becoming the United States of America are yet to occur. (It’s 19 days until the first Tuesday in November.)

Tomorrow’s Front Page

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Quote:

Numbers alone cannot possibly measure the impact of the coronavirus on America… As the country nears a grim milestone of 100,000 deaths attributed to the virus, the New York Times scoured obituaries and death notices of the victims. The 1,000 people here reflect just one percent of the toll. None were mere numbers.

Patricia Dowd, 57, San Jose, Calif., auditor in Silicon Valley.
Marion Krueger, 83, Kirkland, Wash., great-grandmother with an easy laugh.
Jermaine Farrow, 77, Lee County, Fla., wife with little time to enjoy a new marriage….

From Joe Biden:

36,000 Americans could be alive today if President T—– had acted sooner.

The hard truth is D—– T—– ignored the warnings of health experts and intelligence agencies, downplayed the threat COVID-19 posed, and failed to take the action needed to combat the outbreak. It’s one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in our history.

We all need to vote for every Democrat in November and damage that other party for decades to come.

A Few Brief and Blunt Answers

Christiane Amanpour is a journalist at CNN. Donald McNeil Jr. is a science writer for The New York Times. She asks him questions about the virus. He gives informed yet blunt answers.

Three minutes on how our federal government screwed this up.

Less than three minutes on our testing shortfall (Warning: our president says words during the first thirty seconds, so be careful).

Even less on the difference between medicine and public health (Mr. McNeil doesn’t discuss how the president and his minions sabotaged our preparedness by cutting budgets and firing qualified people; it would have been good to hear McNeil speak bluntly about that).

Update:

The Times issued a statement saying Mr. McNeil “went too far in expressing his personal views”. His editors discussed the issue with him and reminded him that “his job is to report the facts and not to offer his own opinions”. There are some things corporate journalists are not supposed to say in public, even though they say such things in private and what they say is true. 

Experts Urge Caution?

From the NY Times:

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?” he asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

After the president’s comments, searches soared for cleaning products like colored laundry detergent capsules, or Tide Pods, leading the Washington State emergency management division to tell people, “don’t eat tide pods or inject yourself with any kind of disinfectant.”

The maker of the disinfectants Lysol and Dettol also issued a statement on Friday warning against the improper use of their products.

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” the company said. The words “under no circumstance” were highlighted in bold.

Unquote.

Times editors want to be so balanced and calm in their headlines that they put this under:

Trump extols the powers of sunlight and household disinfectants. Experts urge caution. 

A reasonable alternative would have been:

Trump extols the powers of sunlight and household disinfectants. Experts and normal people cite injury and likely death.

Update:

A member of the cult said the president was merely being “inquisitive”, but would anybody outside the cult disagree that the president of the United States should not be bringing up absurd, extremely dangerous treatments on national TV, unless it’s to strongly warn the public against them? It’s not a subject to be “inquisitive” about, certainly not in public. He made it seem plausible and nobody there disagreed.

Meanwhile: 

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The owners of The Onion saw the phrase “some experts” and decided to close up shop, finally accepting that they can’t compete.

Update #2:

It took them several hours, but they finally offered a correction. The comments are excellent.

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The New York Times Receives a Little Feedback

I’ve still got a digital subscription to The New York Times but am limiting myself to the International section, the Arts section and Paul Krugman’s column. Our president is in England, so the International section wasn’t safe today. 

The Times headline says: 

Trump, on His Best Behavior, Heaps Praise on May as ‘Tough’ and ‘Capable’

I was moved to submit the following comment (with inflation, it might be worth two cents to somebody):

“Trump on his best behavior” suggests the White House Press Office is writing headlines for The Times. One British paper, The Guardian, describes Trump’s presence as “the visit from hell” and refers to “Trump’s oily and obnoxious personality” and “towering lies”.

Regarding today’s press conference with Prime Minister Theresa May, a British journalist writes:

Then he went into overdrive. Sure, Boris Johnson would make a great prime minister. Why not? He was a great guy who had said some nice things about him. May looked as if she might throw up at that point. It was a while since a prime minister had been publicly insulted in her own back garden. Even when Trump went out of his way to praise her – “She’s doing a great job. The greatest job” – he somehow managed to sound patronising and condescending.

No, he wouldn’t take a question from CNN because they were more fake reporting. But, hell, he knew about nukes because his uncle had been a professor of nukes. He was now full-on delusional, repeating lies about events and meetings that had never happened. A masterclass in uncontrolled narcissism made orange flesh.

Perhaps the reference to the president’s “best behavior” was a moment of sarcasm? I doubt it, because the American establishment continues to treat this monster with undeserved respect.