CRF Blog

What the Newspapers Said When Lincoln Was Killed

by Bill Hayes

In What the Newspapers Said When Lincoln Was Killed, Smithsonian magazine looks at the mixed reaction, even in the North.

Throughout his presidency — right up to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9 — Lincoln had attracted no shortage of bitter enemies, even in the North. Just six months earlier, he had been viewed as a partisan mortal: a much-pilloried politician running in a typically divisive national canvass for a second term as president. “The doom of Lincoln and black republicanism is sealed,” railed one of Lincoln’s own hometown newspapers after he had been renominated in June 1864. “Corruption and the bayonet are impotent to save them,” the Democratic Illinois State Register added. Not even the shock of his assassination could persuade some Northern Democrats that he didn’t deserve a tyrant’s death.

“They’ve shot Abe Lincoln,” one jubilant Massachusetts Copperhead shouted to his horrified Yankee neighbors when he heard the news. “He’s dead and I’m glad he’s dead.” On the other extreme of the political spectrum, George W. Julian, a Republican congressman from Indiana, acknowledged that his fellow Radicals’ “hostility towards Lincoln’s policy of conciliation and contempt for his weakness were undisguised; and the universal feeling among radical men here is that his death is a god-send.”

Perhaps nothing more vividly symbolized the seismic impact of the assassination than the scene of utter confusion that unfolded minutes after Booth fired his single shot. It did not go unrecorded. An artist named Carl Bersch happened to be sitting on a porch nearby, sketching a group of Union soldiers and musicians in an exuberant victory procession up Tenth Street in front of Ford’s Theatre. Suddenly Bersch noticed a commotion from the direction of the theater door. [more]

North Korea’s Missile Tests

Infographic: The Worrying Escalation Of North Korea's Missile Tests  | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City

by Bill Hayes

In Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City for the New York Times Magazine, Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses choosing a school in New York City, which, like most cities, has de facto segregation in its public schools.

In the spring of 2014, when our daughter, Najya, was turning 4, my husband and I found ourselves facing our toughest decision since becoming parents. We live in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a low-income, heavily black, rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of brownstones in central Brooklyn. The nearby public schools are named after people intended to evoke black uplift, like Marcus Garvey, a prominent black nationalist in the 1920s, and Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month, but the schools are a disturbing reflection of New York City’s stark racial and socioeconomic divisions. In one of the most diverse cities in the world, the children who attend these schools learn in classrooms where all of their classmates — and I mean, in most cases, every single one — are black and Latino, and nearly every student is poor. Not surprisingly, the test scores of most of Bed-Stuy’s schools reflect the marginalization of their students.

I didn’t know any of our middle-class neighbors, black or white, who sent their children to one of these schools. They had managed to secure seats in the more diverse and economically advantaged magnet schools or gifted-and-talented programs outside our area, or opted to pay hefty tuition to progressive but largely white private institutions. I knew this because from the moment we arrived in New York with our 1-year-old, we had many conversations about where we would, should and definitely should not send our daughter to school when the time came.

My husband, Faraji, and I wanted to send our daughter to public school. Faraji, the oldest child in a military family, went to public schools that served Army bases both in America and abroad. As a result, he had a highly unusual experience for a black American child: He never attended a segregated public school a day of his life. He can now walk into any room and instantly start a conversation with the people there, whether they are young mothers gathered at a housing-project tenants’ meeting or executives eating from small plates at a ritzy cocktail reception.

I grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, on the wrong side of the river that divided white from black, opportunity from struggle, and started my education in a low-income school that my mother says was distressingly chaotic. I don’t recall it being bad, but I do remember just one white child in my first-grade class, though there may have been more. That summer, my mom and dad enrolled my older sister and me in the school district’s voluntary desegregation program, which allowed some black kids to leave their neighborhood schools for whiter, more well off ones on the west side of town. This was 1982, nearly three decades after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate schools for black and white children were unconstitutional, and near the height of desegregation in this country. My parents chose one of the whitest, richest schools, thinking it would provide the best opportunities for us. Starting in second grade, I rode the bus an hour each morning across town to the “best” public school my town had to offer, Kingsley Elementary, where I was among the tiny number of working-class children and the even tinier number of black children. We did not walk to school or get dropped off by our parents on their way to work. We showed up in a yellow bus, visitors in someone else’s neighborhood, and were whisked back across the bridge each day as soon as the bell rang.

I remember those years as emotionally and socially fraught, but also as academically stimulating and world-expanding. Aside from the rigorous classes and quality instruction I received, this was the first time I’d shared dinners in the homes of kids whose parents were doctors and lawyers and scientists. My mom was a probation officer, and my dad drove a bus, and most of my family members on both sides worked in factories or meatpacking plants or did other manual labor. I understood, even then, in a way both intuitive and defensive, that my school friends’ parents weren’t better than my neighborhood friends’ parents, who worked hard every day at hourly jobs. But this exposure helped me imagine possibilities, a course for myself that I had not considered before.

It’s hard to say where any one person would have ended up if a single circumstance were different; our life trajectories are shaped by so many external and internal factors. But I have no doubt my parents’ decision to pull me out of my segregated neighborhood school made the possibility of my getting from there to here — staff writer for The New York Times Magazine — more likely.

Integration was transformative for my husband and me. Yet the idea of placing our daughter in one of the small number of integrated schools troubled me. These schools are disproportionately white and serve the middle and upper middle classes, with a smattering of poor black and Latino students to create “diversity.”

In a city where white children are only 15 percent of the more than one million public-school students, half of them are clustered in just 11 percent of the schools, which not coincidentally include many of the city’s top performers. [more]

Recent Political Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

See Cagle’s collection of recent political cartoons.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

Censors at Work

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times Book Review reviews Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature by Robert Darnton.

But what exactly is censorship? This is the question with which Robert Darnton, the foremost historian of the book and the art of reading, begins his enthralling new volume, “Censors at Work.” “Rather than starting with a definition and then looking for examples that conform to it,” Darnton writes, “I have proceeded by interrogating censors themselves.” The censors Darnton has interrogated belong to three very different historical settings: the Old Regime in France, British rule in India and the Communist state that existed under the name of the German Democratic Republic from 1949 to 1990. Darnton spoke with the German censors in the flesh, and with the ghosts of the French and British ones through the vast archives they left behind. Thankfully for Darnton, thankfully for his readers, the one incontrovertible fact about censors is that they love paperwork. [more]

The Case for Immigration

by Bill Hayes

Writing in Vox, Matthew Yglesias makes The Case for Immigration.

George Washington set in motion a strategy so radical that it made this country the wealthiest and strongest on Earth — it made America great.

Immigration.

He embraced a vision for an open America that could almost be read today as a form of deep idealism or altruism. “America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions,” he told newly arrived Irishmen in 1783. He assured them they’d be “welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

But Washington’s vision wasn’t primarily about charity or helping others. It was about building the kind of country that he wanted the United States to become. Greatness would require great people. America would need more than it had.

The contemporary debate around immigration is often framed around an axis of selfishness versus generosity, with Donald Trump talking about the need to put “America first” while opponents tell heartbreaking stories of deportations and communities torn apart. A debate about how to enforce the existing law tends to supersede discussion of what the law ought to say.

All of this misses the core point. Immigration to the United States has not, historically, been an act of kindness toward strangers. It’s been a strategy for national growth and national greatness.

Washington and his fellow founders could have established America as a kind of exclusive club. The present-day United States undoubtedly would still be a prosperous and pleasant nation. But our cities would be smaller, our global influence would be reduced, and many fewer of the world’s cutting-edge companies would be based here. We would suffer, as small countries tend to, from our talented and ambitious young people seeking their fortunes in bigger places abroad. With many fewer people, it wouldn’t be the great nation it is today.

While a lot has changed since Washington’s time, two fundamentals have not. The United States is still a country with a mission and a desire for greatness on the world stage. And America’s openness to people who want to move here and make a better life for themselves is fuel for that greatness. [more]

Was Machiavelli really not Machiavellian?

by Bill Hayes

In Was Machiavelli really not Machiavellian?, the Guardian reviews Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli In His World by Erica Benner.

It was inevitable, then, that someone would come up with a book arguing that Machiavelli was not Machiavellian. In one sense, to be sure, we have known this all along. The renowned 16th-century diplomat and politician was a staunch republican and reformer who denounced corruption in high places and detested tyrants, which was not the best recipe for a quiet life in the Florence of the Medici family. As a humanist in the mould of Livy and Cicero, he urged his fellow citizens to question conventional wisdom and take nothing on authority. Rulers were not to be deceived by false glory, and high birth was by no means a guarantee of virtue. The public good took precedence over private interests and political sectarianism. You should treat your enemies justly, uphold the rule of law and show respect to others, if only to win them over to your side. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see Machiavelli and The Prince from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

Media in the Age of Trump

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times’ Room for Debate lets various knowledgeable contributors discuss news events and other timely issues. One recent debate covered: Media in the Age of Trump.

Donald J. Trump canceled campaign credentials for news organizations that wrote critically of him. He taunted one reporter so badly the Secret Service offered to escort her out of his furious rally. He said he would expand libel laws. His staff has called the media the “opposition party” and said they’d move journalists out of the White House. At his last news conference, his first in months, he refused to take questions from a reporter whose network ran an embarrassing story.

With a president so antagonistic to them, and disdainful of the truth, American journalism faces one of its greatest challenges. How should it respond? [more]

I watched a populist leader rise in my country

by Bill Hayes

In I watched a populist leader rise in my country for the Washington Post, the author and director of research on human rights Miklos Haraszti recounts what he learned from watching Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in power.

A first vital lesson from my Hungarian experience: Do not be distracted by a delusion of impending normalization. Do not ascribe a rectifying force to statutes, logic, necessities or fiascoes. Remember the frequently reset and always failed illusions attached to an eventual normalization of Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Orban.

Call me a typical Hungarian pessimist, but I think hope can be damaging when dealing with populists. For instance, hoping that unprincipled populism is unable to govern. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Putin’s Illiberal Democracy.” It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

Teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English

by Bill Hayes

Quartz reports that Teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English.

Nine- and 10-year-old children in England who participated in a philosophy class once a week over the course of a year significantly boosted their math and literacy skills, with disadvantaged students showing the most significant gains, according to a large and well-designed study …. [more]

Can Customs and Border Officials Search Your Phone?

by Bill Hayes

As part of its ongoing series on immigration, ProPublica answers questions surrounding the issue: Can Customs and Border Officials Search Your Phone?

Doesn’t the Fourth Amendment protect us from “unreasonable searches and seizures”?

Yes. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution articulates the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” However, those protections are lessened when entering the country at international terminals at airports, other ports of entry and subsequently any location that falls within 100 air miles of an external U.S. boundary.

How broad is Customs and Border Protection’s search authority?

According to federal statutes, regulations and court decisions, CBP officers have the authority to inspect, without a warrant, any person trying to gain entry into the country and their belongings. CBP can also question individuals about their citizenship or immigration status and ask for documents that prove admissibility into the country.

This blanket authority for warrantless, routine searches at a port of entry ends when CBP decides to undertake a more invasive procedure, such as a body cavity search. For these kinds of actions, the CBP official needs to have some level of suspicion that a particular person is engaged in illicit activity, not simply that the individual is trying to enter the U.S. [more]

The Downfall of ISIS

by Bill Hayes

In The Downfall of ISIS for Foreign Affairs magazine, Vera Mironova and Mohammed Hussein explain how ISIS’s foreign fighters have become a major problem for the terror group.

Over the last few years, one aspect of the Islamic State (ISIS) has loomed large in the public’s imagination: the group’s ability to attract foreign fighters. The attention makes sense; there is something particularly terrifying about the idea of merciless terrorists mobilizing from all corners of the world to decimate civilian populations in Iraq and Syria to help ISIS rapidly gain territory. Foreign fighters also preoccupied Western governments, which were faced with the prospect of battle-hardened jihadists returning home. But now, three years into ISIS’ war, its once mighty weapon is now threatening to cut off the hand that feeds it; foreign fighters are quickly becoming one of ISIS’ biggest liabilities. [more]

America: the failed state

by Bill Hayes

In America: the failed state for Prospect Magazine, Francis Fukuyama argues that the United States has declined and the liberal world order is at risk.

Donald Trump’s evolution from a buffoonish fringe candidate taken seriously by no one to the President … is one of the most unexpected and traumatic events in recent US history. The effects are uncertain, but — in the worst case — they could lead to the US giving up entirely on global leadership, and the unravelling of the liberal world order it has done much to build since the 1950s.

The triumph of the Trump brand of nationalism is arguably of a piece with authoritarian advances in disparate countries, from Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey to Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. Together these developments constitute an even more fundamental problem to cherished western ideas, by making populist democracy an active threat to individual liberty. A great deal remains up in the air, but with indignant nationalists riding the tide in so many places, we cannot preclude the possibility that we are living through a political disruption that will in time bear comparison with the collapse of Communism a generation ago.

There will be endless post-mortems in the US on how Trump’s win could possibly have come about; much of the media attention will continue to focus on short-term issues like the intervention by FBI Director James Comey 11 days before the election, or on the stream of reportedly Russian-sourced leaks from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Such considerations are valid and may have had a bearing on the outcome. But it is important to recognise that the result had roots which run deep into American society. As both the Republican and Democratic parties reassess their positions, they would do well to think about how the political map has changed in the four short years since 2012, and how this reflects not only campaign dramas, but changes within America itself — concerns over the state of the economy and a profound sense of unease over its role in world affairs. [more]

The Disaster of Richard Nixon

by Bill Hayes

In The Disaster of Richard Nixon for the New York Review of Books, Robert G. Kaiser reviews the following books: Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas; Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection by Ken Hughes; Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War by William Burr and Jeffrey P. Kimball; and One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon by Tim Weiner.

Is Nixon’s historical reputation doomed forever? These books suggest that it is. Evan Thomas’s highly readable Being Nixon is, inadvertently, the most persuasive. Thomas set out to write a sympathetic account of Nixon’s life. He is persistently empathetic to his subject, but he is also a fine reporter and biographer (of Robert F. Kennedy, Edward Bennett Williams, John Paul Jones, and others). The good reporter gives his readers so many details of Nixon’s bad behavior that Thomas’s intention to write a sympathetic account collapses under the weight of its own facts. You can feel sorry for Nixon as a human being after reading Thomas’s book, but it is much harder to excuse his repeated transgressions — of ethical standards, of the law, of democratic values — and his quite abject reliance on alcohol and drugs. Thomas bends over too far in his effort to forgive Nixon’s misdeeds, particularly his Vietnam disaster and his ugly racial politics.

The other books in this collection of recent works are openly hostile to Nixon (Tim Weiner and Ken Hughes) or subtly devastating (William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball). Weiner, a former New York Times reporter and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, focuses on Vietnam and Watergate; he uses many of the most recently released tape transcripts and documents to give his version of these familiar stories new energy and salience, but his well-paced narratives of both stories don’t break much new ground. Hughes, a good researcher but inelegant writer who has been studying the Nixon tapes since 2000 at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, doesn’t hide his personal anger at Nixon and Kissinger for prolonging the Vietnam War when, according to the evidence of the tapes, they realized it couldn’t be won. He indicts them for sacrificing tens of thousands of American lives and over a million Asian ones to a lost cause. But Hughes oversimplifies when he claims that, almost entirely owing to political calculations, the war had to continue beyond November 1972, or Nixon could not win reelection. Burr and Kimball make more nuanced use of the same material.

Vietnam was the defining issue of Nixon’s presidency, as he knew it would be. Months before he became president, Nixon assured H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, his closest aide, that “I’m not going to end up like LBJ, Bob, holed up in the White House, afraid to show my face on the street. I’m going to stop that war. Fast.” Antiwar protesters had driven Lyndon Johnson into early retirement, which allowed Nixon to become president. Nixon played to the country’s war weariness in his 1968 campaign, implying that he had a plan to end the war.

But he had no plan. Ironically, even before he took office Nixon personally sabotaged an opportunity he might have had to avoid Johnson’s fate. The books under review suggest that this is one of the stories that will continue to stain Nixon’s reputation. [more]

Northern Lights

by Bill Hayes

In Northern Lights for the New Yorker, Nathan Heller reviews The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth.

Some say that the American Dream is not what it once was: wages are low, retirement is not a parachute glide but a plunge, and those chosen to fix such problems labor at undoing one another’s laws. For these doubters, there are the Swedes. On any given day, a Swedish man — call him Viggo — might be reclining on a sofa underneath a Danish lamp shaped like an artichoke. He is an artist, and he has a pension. He is wearing boldly colored pants. His young wife, Ebba, is a neurosurgeon, though she has never paid a krona in tuition, and her schedule runs between the operating table and the laboratory. Things are busy. She and Viggo have small kids (the government gives them a combined four hundred and eighty days of maternity and paternity leave for every child), and when the younger ran a fever yesterday he needed to be whisked from day care to the doctor (both charged mostly to the state). Now it’s the weekend. They are in their country house. It’s nothing fancy, just a little place among the birches near the Øresund, but Viggo spiffed it up with some IKEA deckware, and their friends drop by for oysters and beer. As dawn comes, he brews coffee. He is listening to a radio report on the Prime Minister, who brokered a budget agreement among six parties, and then Stieg Larsson, who is being memorialized on-air. He turns the dial to the multiethnic band Icona Pop, which has soared across the global charts. Icona Pop sings, “We’re just living life, and we never stop,” and that is what Sweden now means to Viggo. Freedom to follow your talents. Community and coalition-building all around. American life promises liberty, cultural power, and creative opportunity, but by many measures it’s the Swedes who turned this smorgasbord of concepts into a sustaining meal.

And not only the Swedes. Look to the south, and there is Denmark, where wind power is ascendant and the gorgeous armchairs are as plentiful as herring. Norway has been No. 1 on the Legatum Prosperity Index for years. What unifies the Scandinavians is at once specific (social-democratic government, mutually intelligible languages, a love of sauna) and ineffable (something to do with modesty, a naturalistic cast of mind, and candles). If trivial things are vital to the French, as Mark Twain once suggested, Nordic culture runs to the soft power of a hard settee.

The global pull of Scandinavian life, never weak, continues to strengthen. [more]