History News Network

Nothing I learned as a historian over 45 years prepared me for this moment

This blog post was written by Rick Shenkman, the founder of George Washington University's History News Network, and the author of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books).

I spent the last 45 years studying the history of this country. But after the last 4 years I can truly say I didn't understand it, cynical though I often was about the ugly disfiguring patches that no Band-Aid could hide.

McCarthyism – sure. Racism – of course. Xenophobia – duh. Misogyny – hell yes. America had it all.

But a mass cult built around an old man known for lying and grifting who bronzes his face each day? Didn't see that happening. Nor did I anticipate that tens of millions would refuse a free vaccine that could save others' lives – and their own.

And cynical as I was I never thought that the politicians these millions elected would be so cowed by their chosen leader that almost every one of them would go along with his wild schemes and lies.

It's said that the past is a foreign country. But with each passing day I can't escape the feeling that it's the present I don't understand. Knowing our history hasn't made it easier to come to terms with the present. If anything, it's been a hindrance.

It's gotten in the way of me seeing what is in front of my own eyes. It's made me want to excuse what's happening or to downplay it.

Realizing that this country is not what I thought it was is disillusioning. Which is strange. I spent my whole career trying to see things clearly as they are and not as I'd wish them to be.

I wrote three books bursting the myths of American history. Then I wrote a book showing the unsavory lengths to which presidents went to gain power and keep it.

After George W. Bush, in order to justify the invasion of Iraq, convinced Americans that the leader of Iraq was connected somehow to 9-11, I wrote a book calling out Americans for their gullibility: Just How Stupid Are We?

Because I wanted to understand the underlying forces shaping Americans' support for Bush's war I spent the next seven years searching for answers in the scientific literature concerning human behavior.

In the course of my study I read books and papers on Evolutionary Psychology, social psychology, and even neuroscience. In the book I wrote summarizing my research – Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics – I devoted the bulk of the pages to a discussion of our susceptibility to lies.

The literature shows that human beings are capable, productive -- and often plain wrong. They think they are good at detecting lies but aren't. They believe they have empathy for others but often don't. They are confident they can read other people but often can't. This is true of human beings around the world living in vastly different environments.

And still nothing I learned prepared me for the country I find myself living in today. History had convinced me that Americans wouldn't elect a wild demagogue as president and wouldn't stand by him after it was proven (over and over again) that he lies to them. History was wrong.

It's heartbreaking.

I haven't felt the urge to write lately, but this piece needed to be written and so I wrote it. It concerns, at bottom, the debate historians have been having about Donald Trump: Is he sui generis or inevitable? As a historian I have always believed that everything has a history and that events don't just happen. Through careful analysis of the past we can demonstrate how the events that capture the headlines emerge from changes over time in a particular place.

Sometimes, to be sure, contingency is the cause. Nothing's inevitable, after all. Individual human beings acting in one way rather than another can affect the course of history, sometimes with positive outcomes (think FDR) and sometimes with bad outcomes (think Hitler).

But even taking into account the serendipity of events it always seemed clear to me that history seldom conjures up a genuine surprise. Things happen for a reason that can be fully accounted for after a careful review. Thus, even 9-11, though a shock, was not a surprise. Terrorists had been blowing up buildings and killing people for decades in the Middle East. On numerous occasions they had hijacked airplanes. That no one until Osama bin Laden had been brazen or daring enough to think of crashing a hijacked plane into a building until 9-11 hardly changed the calculus of history. So shocked as I was by 9-11 it didn't force me to rethink my views about the way history happens.

Donald Trump's presidency has.

While I can reassure myself that in his racist demagoguery Trump is like George Wallace, and in his prevaricating he's like Joe McCarthy, and that the GOP's exploitation of race runs like a strong thread through the history of the past half century (since the passage of the Voting Rights Act), and that on numerous occasions Americans have demonized outsiders from the Irish in the 1840s to Chinese in the 1880s to Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, nothing prepared me for the embrace and continuing adoration of Donald Trump by a major political party.

That still stumps me. So, for that matter, does the ongoing resistance to the Covid-19 vaccines.

Some historians, such as Heather Cox Richardson in How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, see strong parallels between the forces of oligarchy in the 19th century and those today in the 21st, noting the parallels between the ideology of southern slaveholders, western silver mine owners and Trumpie Republicans. These parallels are striking, no doubt. In the old South and the Wild West oligarchs celebrated rule by the rich. Who does that sound like? But it seems too simple to me to draw a straight line through American history from oligarchs in the past to those of the present. While I highly respect Richardson's work and am in awe of her research and broad knowledge I'm more impressed by the differences between then and now than the similarities. Something has changed.

Still, history is not irrelevant. It is helpful to know that our history is replete with instances of racism, xenophobia, and other signs of moral depravity. We'd really feel lost if we weren't aware of Jim Crow, Juan Crow, and McCarthyism. (Which is why it's vital that school children are exposed to the truth about American history, at least in the higher grades.) And while white people by and large haven't faced the assaults on democracy we are seeing now and can anticipate in the future, black Americans have, and familiarizing ourselves with their experience can teach us lessons about resistance and endurance. What history has taught white Americans is that the unfolding of history is the unfolding of human freedom, from the broadening of the suffrage to males without property to female suffrage and gay marriage. What black Americans have learned is that rights can be taken away. That is the lesson they learned when whites put an end to Reconstruction.

To those who think a coup couldn't happen here in America there's the unpleasant fact that we've already had one. In 1898 white Redeemers in Wilmington, North Carolina violently staged a coup against a coalition of blacks and white Populists who had managed to win an election to take control of city government. A knowledge of history is therefore not nothing.

But the present challenge requires us to look with fresh eyes on our country. As Lincoln said, writing in a different time but in one which resonates today, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Postscript 8/13/21

Rereading my own post several days after I wrote it I realized that I didn't fully address an obvious question. Did I really misread the past? Maybe I understood American history correctly. Maybe in the past a Donald Trump was impossible for a variety of reasons: the elite's control over our politics and media, the strength of the party gatekeepers, the absence of paths to power by people existing outside the normal political structures, the enduring assumption that each new generation will do better than the preceding generation, the self-confidence of white people, the absence of a grievance-based culture, etc.

Once the circumstances that shaped our politics changed -- once the gatekeepers lost control, once social media empowered the extreme ranks of voters, once the white majority concluded they live in a zero sum society and that every step forward for minorities is a step backward for the majority -- our society changed and with it our politics and our history. In other words, maybe I understood this country just fine but the country changed.

Our task is to learn to live in the country we actually live in. This won't be easy.

Let's think about 'thinking' before we teach 'critical thinking'

Advocates for the liberal arts often emphasize their role in fostering critical thinking. But how often do we think critically about how we hope to achieve that? Certain subjects obviously emphasize critical thinking very explicitly, but in other courses instructors often count on critical thinking to develop somewhat organically. And critical thinking does emerge fairly naturally in courses that are not about logic or statistics. However, many faculty can do more to consider the relationship between methods of teaching and the development of critical thinking.

The liberal arts tradition has drawn on critical thinking since its start. Socrates has long been an animating influence. But apart from the Socratic method, liberal arts professors sometimes struggle to explain the connections between their approach to teaching and the outcome of critical thinking. The paucity of terminology and explicit method does not mean that nothing is happening, but it does mean that it can be hard to identify what specifically needs improvement and very difficult to instruct others well in the arts of instruction.

A whole host of recent findings and books from psychology offer an opportunity to expand our vocabulary and approach to thinking about thinking in the classroom. In particular, the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, which has done so much to shake up economics, can also knock some dust off approaches to education. In particular, Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow identifies ways that humans think and the shortcuts we use in thinking (heuristics), which sometimes get us into trouble. Having a better sense of these heuristics and how judgment can be deceived can be very useful in the classroom. Thinking explicitly about the anchoring effect, which reflects our use of even irrelevant reference points, can make instructors more aware of what reference points we're providing and also give us the opportunity to teach students about other biases. Teaching students how to reason and judge well is enhanced by having a better understanding of how human judgment works.

Together Kahneman and Tversky have contributed a great deal to our understanding of human understanding. Professors from many different fields should be reading their work, because all of our fields involve understanding. Another introduction to their work and their working relationship is available in Michael Lewis' The Undoing Project, which offers a more narrative approach and also highlights the role of collaboration in the advancement of knowledge. Kahneman and Tversky's continuous experimentation and reflection is a helpful example.

Another recent work that has insights for the liberal arts project is Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by performance expert David Epstein. The book itself is a strong argument for the liberal arts. The "general education" of a liberal arts degree is, in a sense, the broad sampling period that so many high performers benefit from having and helps create the kind of generalists that can succeed in various fields. Range explicitly takes on the subject of thinking, emphasizing the importance of thinking with analogies and the ability to think outside of a single discipline. It also explicitly takes on the subject of student learning, drawing on various studies to emphasize the importance of student struggle in comprehension and the ways that teachers can accidently circumvent that struggle. A book like Range is not about teaching, but it can help us reinvigorate our approaches to sharing material in the classroom by reminding us what leads to excellence in outcomes.

Another way that new insights from psychology and performance studies can enhance our approach to education is through making us reconsider the contexts for learning that we create. Are our classrooms settings that truly encourage critical thinking or do they reward simple recall? Do our syllabi and assignments point people toward the outcomes we hope to achieve? A book like Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, can help us think through these things. Nudge borrows from the insights of Kahneman and Tversky to recommend use of heuristics and patterns in human judgment, like the availability bias, to "nudge" people in the right direction. The authors argue that things can be structured in such a way as to make people more likely to default to better choices. Professors already do some things like this—like requiring a first draft so that people turn in better final work—and we can all be encouraged to think more about how our coursework and classrooms already "nudge" people in certain directions. Once we identify more of what we are doing, we can make more conscious choices about where we want to go.

A very tangible way to integrate some of these insights from psychology and other fields is to consider something we almost all work with: learning outcomes. Learning outcomes help tell students what courses are about and they help satisfy accreditation requirements. They are also often quite dry. Students will learn how to "assess" something or "identify" or "distinguish" or "demonstrate competence," etc., and these outcomes will be measured through "quizzes, tests, written assignments, a presentation," etc. But learning outcomes are also an opportunity for us to engage and require critical thinking in more direct ways.

Learning outcomes are tied explicitly to subject matter, but they can also be used to integrate critical thinking goals which are implicitly associated with the liberal arts subjects. As faculty formulate the assignments that are used to measure learning outcomes, they can keep in mind aspects of critical thinking or even specific heuristics. For example, history students already need to be aware of hindsight bias in order to succeed in the discipline, but professors can do more to make that an aspect of assignments. Again, these things are already happening, but not often enough in ways that faculty openly describe and discuss. If faculty are more conscious and communicative of how we integrate critical thinking, we can improve our approaches.

Those who love the liberal arts are fully aware of their benefits outside specific knowledge, but we are not often specific enough about how those benefits are achieved in explaining our disciplines to the rest of the world. We know that classrooms are somewhat organic spaces and that critical thinking is not achieved through a formulaic set of learning outcomes. But failure to talk about method can lead to failure to think enough about method. Thinking through these things not only helps us communicate better with others, it helps us consider what it is we may want to integrate.

Thinking about what will be implicit in our teaching approaches is not about forwarding agendas, but about educating the whole person. In a 2011 New York Times op-ed, David Brooks wrote that the "unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place." In that essay, Brooks advocated a healthy reunion of reason and emotion, arguing that society had become over reliant on reason and therefore was often at the mercy of undereducated emotions. Instead, he suggested that we educate our emotions and integrate them well into decision-making, emphasizing qualities like attunement, equipoise, metis, sympathy, and limerence. These are also things worth considering. How do our classrooms portray the relationship between reason and emotion?

In truth, whatever ways we are teaching are already encouraging certain ways of thinking and discouraging others. Investigating new research about thinking and making our own approaches more intentional can be of great benefit. Have we crafted assignments that reward critical thinking or those that reward mimesis and recall? Have we created a classroom environment that fosters reasoning or one which fosters shallow thinking? If the liberal arts is, in part, about critical thinking, having a conscious approach to it is essential. We can all benefit from new ways to think about thinking when we're teaching.

Elizabeth Stice is Associate Professor of History at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Experts beware: America may be headed for a Scopes moment

In a recent debate over a law to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory, Tennessee legislator Justin Lafferty (R) explained to his colleagues that the 3/5th Compromise of 1787, used to determine a state's representation in Congress by counting enslaved people as "three fifths of all other Persons," was designed with "the purpose of ending slavery." Lafferty had his facts spectacularly wrong, but that did nothing to derail the law's passage.

Anti-Critical Race Theory laws like the one passed in Tennessee – as well Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Florida -- are not just aimed to push back against the heightened awareness of the nation's history of racial injustice in the wake of the popularity of the 1619 Project and last summer's massive protests over the murder of George Floyd. They are also attacks on educators -- and on expertise itself. As Christine Emba explained in a recent Washington Post article on conservatives' current obsession with Critical Race Theory, "disguising one's discomfort with racial reconsideration as an intellectual critique is still allowed." Not only is it allowed in these public debates, it is an effective strategy to curb movements for social change. It is also not new.

A century ago a similar right-wing outrage campaign was launched against the teaching of evolution in public schools. The 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" remains a touchstone of this era of conservatism. When John Scopes, a substitute teacher in Dayton, Tennessee was charged with violating a new state law against teaching evolution, the case became an international story. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.

The Scopes Trial's legacy rests perhaps too comfortably on defense lawyer Clarence Darrow's skewering of the anti-evolution hero William Jennings Bryan in that hot Tennessee courtroom, memorialized in the play (and film) Inherit the Wind. Darrow's withering questioning made Bryan appear ignorant and incurious. In response to Darrow's questions about other religious and cultural traditions, Bryan acknowledged that he did not know about them, but added that he did not need to know since through his Christian faith, "I have all the information I need to live by and die by."

Bryan's responses were more clever than the popular legend of the trial might lead us to believe. By asserting that he did not need to know what Darrow and the scientists knew, Bryan was calling into question the social value of modern expertise itself. When Darrow asked if Bryan knew how many people there were in Egypt three thousand years ago, or in China five thousand years ago, Bryan answered simply, "No." Darrow pressed on, "Have you ever tried to find out?" Bryan: "No sir, you are the first man I ever heard of who was interested in it." Translation: experts studied subjects that no one needed to care about. When asked if he knew how old the earth was, Bryan again responded he did not, but added that he could "possibly come as near as the scientists do." Here Bryan rejected the premise that the experts really knew what they're talking about any more than he – presenting himself to the court and the public as a simple man of faith -- did.

The legacy of these tactics is on full display today. As David Theo Goldberg wrote in the Boston Review recently, Republican critics of Critical Race Theory "simply don't know what they're talking about." Goldberg is correct of course, but their ignorance is not a hole they are looking to fill anytime soon. It is rather both a shield and a weapon used to go on the offensive against the experts themselves. What the experts "know" about the 3/5th Compromise or the history of racial injustice generally (or climate change, or the dangers posed by COVID-19, or the outcome of the 2020 election) threatens their beliefs in how American society should look and function.

Similar to what we're seeing today, the attack on the teaching of evolution in the 1920s was an effective means by which to challenge all manner of troubling developments that always seemed to emanate from the latest pronouncement of some expert somewhere. Mordecai Ham, for example, was a popular Baptist preacher who first converted Billy Graham. In a 1924 sermon he moved seamlessly from attacking evolution as false to warning parents that having Darwinism taught to their children would assuredly lead to communism and sexual promiscuity. He thundered, "you will be in the grip of the Red Terror and your children will be taught free love by that damnable theory evolution." That Ham skipped effortlessly from the teaching of evolution to Bolshevism to free love makes sense only if one remembers that winning a debate over evolution was not the goal--condemning the modern day teaching of evolution was. Evolution then served as the entry point to attack educators and expertise in general as existential threats to their way of life.

After Bryan's death in 1925 sidelined the evolution debate, conservatives continued to connect expertise with unwelcome social change. When University of North Carolina (UNC) sociologists began to investigate the often-poor living conditions in nearby textile mill villages, David Clark, publisher of the Southern Textile Bulletin, the voice of the powerful textile industry, became irate. Clark was convinced that university sociologists were not "just" interested in research. In response he accused the school's experts of promoting "dangerous tendencies" and "meddling" in the business community's affairs. The university, he charged, "was never intended as a breeding place for socialism and communism." UNC's sociologists like Howard Odum, a fairly conservative, but well-respected expert, was taken aback by Clark's virulence. But, like Bryan and Ham, linking expertise with radicalism was central to Clark's strategy.

As Goldberg observed of today's critics of Critical Race Theory, David Clark actually knew very little about sociology or socialism. This became clear when UNC invited him to campus in 1931 to make his case before the faculty and students themselves. During the question and answer period an exasperated audience member asked Clark if he knew what socialism actually was. He responded: "I don't know, and I don't think anybody else does." A newspaper account recorded that "The audience fairly howled."

Clark's followers would not have been bothered by his concession on socialism -- and they would have not been surprised that the university audience laughed at him. Once again, the goal was not to win a debate over socialism; it was to stop social change they objected to. The experts represented a movement aimed at them, they believed -- a movement that also seemed to take delight in pointing out all that people like David Clark did not know. UNC, so proud of its accomplished faculty, was actually, in the conservatives' view, a "breeding ground for reformers" and "radicals."

The factual misstatements by today's Republicans can seem breathtaking to those who value living in an evidence-based reality. These include historical errors like Representative Lafferty's forehead-smacking error on the 3/5th Compromise or Congressman Madison Cawthorn's (R-NC) reference to James Madison signing the Declaration of Independence. And there is the ongoing misrepresentation, and even outright denial, of current day events that happened in plain sight – the January 6th insurrection, for example. But attempts by "the experts" to set the record straight will most likely be seen as more proof that the world is out to get them. For the rest, perhaps some comfort can be taken by remembering that facts, as John Adams once pointed out, "are stubborn things."

harles J. Holden is Professor of History at St. Mary's College (MD). He is the author of Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump's America (University of Virginia Press, 2019).

Historian says politics aside, Trump was an ineffective manager and leader

One of the most intriguing aspects of current politics is the fealty of the Republican Party to Donald Trump. Central to this loyalty is the view that Trump was an effective leader. As a candidate in 2016, the future president claimed that he was uniquely qualified to lead the country, unite the public, and overcome gridlock in Congress. To accomplish these goals would require successful persuasion. Was this talented self-promoter able to win public support for his initiatives? Was this experienced negotiator able to overcome polarization in Congress and obtain agreement on his proposals? Was Donald Trump an effective leader?

Did the public follow the president's lead?

At the core of Donald Trump's political success were his public relations skills. He possessed well-honed promotional talents sharpened over a lifetime of marketing himself and his brand. Once in office, the president wasted no time in conducting a permanent campaign to win the public's support. On the day of his inauguration, Trump filed for reelection with the Federal Election Commission. Less than a month afterwards, on February 18, 2017, he held the first of what were to be dozens of political rallies around the country.

Did he succeed in winning support for himself and his policies? I have shown in great detail, he did not. Instead, he consistently failed to win the public's backing for either his policies or his own handling of them. Indeed, he seemed to turn the public in the opposite direction. He made the Affordable Care Act, which had been unpopular, popular, and the health care policies he backed unpopular. Similarly, in the face of a general desire to control our borders and protect the country from terrorists, Trump managed to alienate the public from his immigration policies. Perhaps most remarkably, his tax cut for nearly all taxpayers and businesses was unpopular. In addition, the public remained supportive of free trade and critical of his handling of trade policy.

Capping Trump's failure to win public support was his earning the lowest average level of general job approval of any president in the history of polling. Moreover, this approval was also the most polarized, with the difference among members of the two major parties averaging 81 percentage points.

As president, Trump dominated the news, but his impulsive, undisciplined, and divisive communications created distractions from his core message and alienated the public. His discourse was characterized by ad hominem attacks aimed at branding and delegitimizing critics and opponents, exaggerated threats and inappropriate offers of reassurance, blurred distinctions between fact and fiction, encouragement of cultural divisions and racial and ethnic tensions, and challenges to the rule of law. The public was not persuaded by this inflammatory rhetoric and concluded that he was an untrustworthy source of information.

The president Trump more successful in solidifying his core supporters—those who already agreed with him. Although we cannot know for certain, it appears that his rallies, tweets, and other communications—along with affective polarization and motivated reasoning—kept Republicans in the public in his camp, making it more difficult for congressional Republicans to challenge him.

Most significantly, it appears that Trump's efforts to influence the public were detrimental to the polity. His rhetoric encouraged incivility in public discourse, accelerated the use of disinformation, legitimized the expression of prejudice, increased the salience of cultural divisions and racial and ethnic tensions, and undermined democratic accountability. For the Republicans who followed him, he distorted their knowledge about politics and policy, warped their understanding of policy challenges, and chipped away at their respect for the rule of law.

Did the president succeed in leading Congress?

Donald Trump claimed a unique proficiency in negotiating deals. Announcing his candidacy for the presidency on June 16, 2015, he proclaimed, "If you can't make a good deal with a politician, then there's something wrong with you. . . . We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal." Was he able to exploit his experience to win congressional approval for his policies?

He was not. Once in office, he floundered. His passivity, vagueness, inconsistency, and lack of command of policy made him an unskilled, unreliable, and untrustworthy negotiator. He often adopted a reactive posture and easily lost focus. He was not successful in closing deals and convincing wavering members, principally Republicans, to support him. His shifting positions, inconsistent behavior, exclusion of Democrats in developing policies, and use of threats and ridicule squandered whatever potential for compromise might have existed. As a result, he received historically low levels of support from Democratic senators and representatives. His high levels of support from Republicans in both chambers of Congress were largely the product of agreement on policy and party leaders keeping votes he might lose off the agenda. When they were resistant, the president could not convince Republicans to defer to him, and his customary tools of threats and disparagement gained him little.

Trump was successful in preventing bills he opposed from passing, as are most presidents, but Congress passed little significant legislation at his behest. He was even less successful after Democrats gained control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. He could not win support for new health care policy, immigration reform, or infrastructure spending. By 2020, he had virtually no legislative agenda. Congress took the lead on pandemic-related bills. Government shutdowns and symbolic slaps at his foreign policies characterized his tenure, even when Republicans were in control of the legislature.

Abandoning Leadership

Donald Trump wrote off the majority of the public and much of Congress. His genius for politics focused on playing to his base, with all its attendant detriments for the success of his presidency and the health of the polity. Governing by grievance may have met his personal needs but it did little to enhance his effectiveness as a leader. In the end, his response to his failure to persuade was to push the boundaries of presidential power and violate the norms of the presidency.

George C. Edwards III is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Jordan Chair in Presidential Studies Emeritus at Texas A&M University. He is also Distinguished Fellow at the University of Oxford, editor of Presidential Studies Quarterly, and general editor of the Oxford Handbook of American Politics series. His most recent book is Changing Their Minds? Donald Trump and Presidential Leadership (University of Chicago Press, 2021).

Historian: How MAGA's 'culture of resentment' has a lot in common with Nazi Germany

William A. Galston's recent essay "The Bitter Heartland" begins, "We are living in an age of resentment . . . [that] shapes today's politics." The more I read of it (and more about it later), the more the great resentments of Hitler's followers came to mind. They resented rich Jews, the victorious Allies who in 1919 had imposed the "unfair" postwar Versailles Treaty upon them, civilian German politicians who had signed the treaty, communists, who had taken over in Russia and were a rising force in Germany, and the "decadent" godless ways of Berlin, as hinted at in the play and film Cabaret.

The Versailles Treaty forced Germany to give up land to their west and east and also their overseas empire. It also imposed strict limits on its armed forces and weapons. But perhaps most bothersome of all to the average German was the imposition of war reparations, which many Germans believed contributed to their great financial agonies. This was especially true during the great inflation of 1923 – by then a loaf of bread could cost billions of Reichsmarks – and the Great Depression. Historian Peter Fritzsche notes that "between 1929 and 1932, one in three Germans lost their livelihoods. At the same time, young people had no prospect of entering the labor force . . . German farmers suffered terribly as commodity prices slumped."

Fritzsche also relates some of Hitler's early tactics like boycotts that "relied on entrenched resentments against allegedly wealthy, rapacious, or tricky Jews," and he writes that "the Nazi leader appealed to popular fears and resentments and transformed them into final judgments and the promise of direct remedial action." Moreover, Hitler used a we-versus-they approach, "pitting patriotic Germans against subversive Communists, Aryans against Jews, the healthy against the sick, the Third Reich against the rest of the world."

Almost a century after Hitler came to power in 1933, some of Donald Trump's followers remind us of Hitler's crowds. On at least one occasion, after Hitler ranted about the "November criminals" (German politicians who negotiated the war-ending armistice of 1918), the audience cried out, "Hang them up! Bust their ass!" In both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns, Trump crowds (in response to their hero's words about Hillary Clinton) shouted "lock her up."

Already during the 2016 campaigning, writer George Saunders observed some of the resentments of Trump supporters. Many believed "they'd been let down by their government . . . and [were] sensitive to "any infringement whatsoever on their freedom." Many suffered from what Saunders labeled "usurpation anxiety syndrome," which he defined as "the feeling that one is, or is about to be, scooped, overrun, or taken advantage of by some Other with questionable intentions."

In Galston's 2021 essay "The Bitter Heartland" he cites a 2016 poll that indicated that 65 percent of whites without college degrees "believed that America's culture and way of life had changed for the worse since the 1950s." But more than that poll, his essay dissects the continuing Trumpites' resentments much more thoroughly.

Like some before him, he indicates or hints at where the Trump resentful are mostly found: in small towns and rural areas, and among older people, non-college graduates, groups once dependent on manufacturing and mining jobs, and "social conservatives and white Christians." The resentful are more provincial and traditional and many of them "lack access to high-speed broadband."

"They have a sense of displacement in a country they once dominated. Immigrants, minorities, non-Christians, even atheists have taken center stage, forcing them to the margins of American life." They believe that the big-city elites, the professionals, and the government—before Trump came along—all failed to help them achieve their share of the American Dream. They resent professionals and liberals telling them how to live, calling them racists, or limiting their freedoms—e.g. to buy multiple guns or go about maskless during our present pandemic. "President Trump was at his best, they say, when he ignored the experts and went his own way."

Like Saunders earlier, Galston thinks that many of the resentful feel they are "being treated unjustly, unfairly, or disrespectfully." The appearance of Trump and discovery of like-minded people—via the Internet and the person-to-person contacts of smaller towns—help overcome feelings of powerlessness. Feeling more powerful, some "people merely want a remedy for the injustice they have experienced. But others—typically those who experience disrespect—want more than redress; they want revenge."

Galston closes his essay with some suggestions for dealing with Trumpite resentments, but they are less compelling than his analysis of them. Partly this is because, while some are legitimate, others—like the reluctance of many white Christians to grant equal rights to all ethnic and religious minorities—are not. As we learned from examining the supporters of Hitler, understanding the difficulties of people and even sympathizing with their plight (e.g., being jobless) does not mean condoning resentments that lead to hateful behavior like victimizing Jews.

The preceding comparison between two phenomena of group resentment, separated by almost a century, in two different countries and political cultures, omits many contrasts and nuances. In addition, we know how Hitler and German Nazism ended. The ending of the Trumpite culture of resentment is still unknown. Will it gradually decline? Will the Biden administration successfully address many of the Trumpite grievances? Will Republicans continue to stoke them? Will Trump run again in 2024? None of us know for sure. But thanks to the writings of Galston and others--he mentions Katherine Cramer and Arlie Hochschild--we better understand the resentments, and that's a start.

Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University, a Contributing Editor of HNN, and author of A History of Russia. 2 Vols. For a list of his recent books and online publications click here.

'Fox & Friends' host mocks a 6th grade student for saying Biden is doing a better job than Trump

"Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed three young students Wednesday morning about virtual learning while pushing his agenda that children should return to in-person learning immediately regardless of any potential consequences.

Kilmeade, as Mediate reports, told on California student, eighth-grader Lilly Rauzon, "Your numbers are the lowest in the country. You should be back in school right now. The danger's infinitesimal."

Politicizing his conversation with her even further, Kilmeade told her to blame "your politicians and your unions" after she said she had not learned anything since March of 2020.

Philadelphia sixth-grade student Mason Seder praised his teachers for doing a "great job," but added, "its not what it could be if you're in person."

When Kilmeade asked him what he misses most about in-person learning, Seder offered a positive assessment, one that clearly angered the Fox News co-host and disrupted his attempts to indoctrinate the children.

"I miss, most obviously, seeing my friends and all the after-school activities that I have done," Seder told Kilmeade. "I think we are very, very close getting back to school. And I think that the way that our new president is handling things is a very good way, and we would not have gone to this if it were still the last president."

One of the other students appeared to nod in agreement as Seder offered support to President Biden.

Kilmeade responded angrily to the sixth grader.

"Really? That's hard to believe because the last president was saying 'I want every kid back in school.'"


FDR's court packing plan backfired in the south. Will Biden repeat the error?

In assessing recent moves by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats pointing to possible expansion of the Supreme Court, it helps to recall the immediate and long-term consequences of an earlier Democratic attempt to alter the makeup of that body. Over a roughly two-year span beginning in May 1935, a majority-Republican Court had almost systematically eviscerated a succession of key New Deal measures, including the National Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. By February 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had finally had his fill of sitting by while the Court made war on his recovery program. Accordingly, he unveiled a plan that would enable him to appoint up to six additional, (and presumably more liberal) justices, based on the number of sitting members who were 70 or older.

In reality, Roosevelt's aggressive move did not stem entirely from his fear of an extended reign of judicial terror at that point. It also reflected his anger at mounting pushback against his entire New Deal legislative agenda, not only from House and Senate Republicans but from some key representatives of his own party as well. A number of these Democrats made no secret of their distaste for his Court plan, rendering it dead even before its arrival on Capitol Hill. This blatant display of ingratitude infuriated Roosevelt, whose historic landslide re-election victory just three months earlier had also swept a dozen new Democrats into the House and five more into the Senate, leaving the party with overwhelming majorities in both.

Still, for too many congressional Democrats, FDR's "court-packing plan" amounted to playing Russian Roulette with the constitutional balance of powers. It was particularly disquieting for the southerners among them who saw it paving the way for a judicial assault on the legal underpinnings of racial segregation in their region. In other circumstances, FDR might have recognized his attempt to dramatically remake the Supreme Court as the ultimate political longshot from the beginning, and, as he had done before, simply cut his losses and moved on.

In this case, though, his judgment was likely impaired by his exaggerated sense of the political loyalty and latitude that should be his due by virtue of the stunning tribute to his personal popularity recently rendered at the polls. This sense, in turn, only stoked his outrage at the congressional rebuff, leading him to compound the effects of one egregious political miscalculation with another. The latter lay in attempting what his critics deemed a Stalinesque "purge" of some of the Democrats who had the temerity not only to oppose his Court measure, but express reservations about some of his programmatic New Deal initiatives besides.

Having persuaded himself that his overwhelming personal popularity with the Democratic faithful put their votes in other political contests at his disposal, Roosevelt moved in 1938 to recruit and emphatically endorse primary challengers to several of what he saw as his most consistently obstructionist Democratic adversaries in Congress. These included Ellison D. "Cotton Ed" Smith of South Carolina, who had been in the Senate since 1909, and Walter F. George of Georgia, who had joined him there in 1923. As southerners, both Smith and George likened Roosevelt's move against them to a second Yankee invasion, while other objects of his ire cited his interference as a violation of the sovereignty of their respective states. With but one exception, all of FDR's designated enemies bested their anointed primary challengers, typically by comfortable margins. Divided and worn down by all the primary in-fighting, and saddled with a slumping economy to boot, the Democrats would go on to lose 71 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate in the November general election.

In the end, Roosevelt had squandered an enormous amount of political capital, shattered his own image of invincibility and further widened the ideological and regional divisions within his own party. This additional stress on the potent but increasingly tenuous "New Deal Coalition" of southern whites, northern blacks and organized labor turned up the heat on the simmering tensions that finally boiled over with the Dixiecrat revolt in 1948. Beyond that, these southern Democrats now had additional incentive to join right-wing northern Republicans in resisting further expansion of not just presidential but federal prerogatives in general. In this, FDR's attempt to bring the Supreme Court to heel may have sown the seeds of the knee-jerk animus toward Washington that propelled Donald J. Trump to victory in 2016.

In fact, it was this very hostility that spurred former president Trump and former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to pursue their own ideological realignment of the Court, aimed at skewing it in precisely the opposite direction envisioned by FDR. Their success in ramming through three decidedly conservative new appointments in rapid succession has prompted President Biden to create a thirty-six-member bipartisan commission of constitutional experts charged with exploring the pros and cons of Supreme Court reform. Meanwhile, on the heels of Biden's action, congressional Democrats have announced their own plans to introduce a bill that would expand the membership of the Court from 9 to 13.

Whether we may soon be looking at "deja vu all over again" remains to be seen, of course, but there is reason to think not. Ultimately Biden seems too much the political realist to believe that any plan to alter the composition of the Supreme Court has much better prospect of winning the requisite backing on either side of the aisle at this juncture than Roosevelt's did in 1937. Some have already ventured that, in assembling so cumbersome and diverse a commission with such an open-ended mandate, the President's initiative is a largely perfunctory attempt to fulfill a campaign pledge to the more liberal-minded cohort within his party.

The largely positive popular response to the relative moderation of the new Democratic administration to date also begs the question of why the Democrats would choose to go all-in for so polarizing a measure at the risk of lending traction to GOP charges that Biden is engineering a radical leftist takeover of our government. Joe Biden has made no secret of his admiration for Franklin Roosevelt, and it may well be that he could do with some of Roosevelt's charisma and elan. Yet, insofar as the circumstances and options he now confronts may compare to those facing his aspirational model some eighty-four Aprils ago, he enjoys at least one potential advantage. As a veteran of untold Senate skirmishes over White House initiatives, Biden should have entered the Oval Office fully aware of something that had apparently eluded FDR prior to the Court-packing debacle. Even in times less fiercely partisan than these, it is the ultimate ahistorical folly for any President to mistake even the most resounding personal triumph in winning the hearts of the voters for gaining sway over their choices of who represents them in Congress and elsewhere, much less for commanding the allegiance of those whom they select.

Black Monday: What caused the Stock Market crash of 1987?

In the days between October 14 and October 19, 1987, major indexes of market valuation in the United States dropped 30 percent or more. On October 19, 1987, a date that subsequently became known as"Black Monday," the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 508 points, losing 22.6% of its total value. The S&P 500 dropped 20.4%, falling from 282.7 to 225.06. This was the greatest loss Wall Street had ever suffered on a single day.

According to Facts on File, an authoritative source of current-events information for professional research and education, the 1987 crash"marked the end of a five-year 'bull' market that had seen the Dow rise from 776 points in August 1982 to a high of 2,722.42 points in August 1987." Unlike what hapopened in 1929, however, the market rallied immediately after the crash, posting a record one-day gain of 102.27 the very next day and 186.64 points on Thursday October 22. It took only two years for the Dow to recover completely; by September of 1989, the market had regained all of the value it had lost in the '87 crash.2

Many feared that the crash would trigger a recession. Instead, the fallout from the crash turned out to be surprisingly small. This phenomenon was due, in part, to the intervention of the Federal Reserve. According to Facts on File,"The worst economic losses occurred on Wall Street itself, where 15,000 jobs were lost in the financial industry."3

A number of explanations have been offered as to the cause of the crash, although none may be said to have been the sole determinant. Among these are computer trading and derivative securities, illiquidity, trade and budget deficits, and overvaluation. Below we have quoted representative analyses.


Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas:

Initial blame for the 1987 crash centered on the interplay between stock markets and index options and futures markets. In the former people buy actual shares of stock; in the latter they are only purchasing rights to buy or sell stocks at particular prices. Thus options and futures are known as derivatives, because their value derives from changes in stock prices even though no actual shares are owned. The Brady Commission [also known as the Presidential Task Force on Market Mechanisms, which was appointed to investigate the causes of the crash], concluded that the failure of stock markets and derivatives markets to operate in sync was the major factor behind the crash.


Website, University of Melbourne:

In searching for the cause of the crash, many analysts blame the use of computer trading (also known as program trading) by large institutional investing companies. In program trading, computers were programmed to automatically order large stock trades when certain market trends prevailed. However, studies show that during the 1987 U.S. Crash, other stock markets which did not use program trading also crashed, some with losses even more severe than the U.S. market.


Website, University of Melbourne:

During the Crash, trading mechanisms in financial markets were not able to deal with such a large flow of sell orders. Many common stocks in the New York Stock Exchange were not traded until late in the morning of October 19 because the specialists could not find enough buyers to purchase the amount of stocks that sellers wanted to get rid of at certain prices. As a result, trading was terminated in many listed stocks. This insufficient liquidity may have had a significant effect on the size of the price drop, since investors had overestimated the amount of liquidity. However, negative news to investors about the liquidity of stock, option and futures markets cannot explain why so many people decided to sell stock at the same time.

Bruce Bartlett:

While structural problems within markets may have played a role in the magnitude of the market crash, they could not have caused it. That would require some action outside the market that caused traders to dramatically lower their estimates of stock market values. The main culprit here seems to have been legislation that passed the House Ways & Means Committee on October 15 eliminating the deductibility of interest on debt used for corporate takeovers.

Two economists from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mark Mitchell and Jeffry Netter, published a study in 1989 concluding that the anti-takeover legislation did trigger the crash. They note that as the legislation began to move through Congress, the market reacted almost instantaneously to news of its progress. Between Tuesday, October 13, when the legislation was first introduced, and Friday, October 16, when the market closed for the weekend, stock prices fell more than 10 percent -- the largest 3-day drop in almost 50 years. In addition, those stocks that led the market downward were precisely those most affected by the legislation. [Ultimately, the legislation was stripped of the provisions that concerned the stock market before being enacted into law.]4


Bruce Bartlett:

Another important trigger in the market crash was the announcement of a large U.S. trade deficit on October 14, which led Treasury Secretary James Baker to suggest the need for a fall in the dollar on foreign exchange markets. Fears of a lower dollar led foreigners to pull out of dollar-denominated assets, causing a sharp rise in interest rates.

Website, University of Melbourne:

One belief is that the large trade and budget deficits during the third quarter of 1987 might have led investors into thinking that these deficits would cause a fall of the U.S. stocks compared with foreign securities (this was the largest U.S. trade deficit since 1960). However, if the large U.S. budget deficit was the cause, why did stock markets in other countries crash as well? Presumably if unexpected changes in the trade deficit were bad news for one country, it would be good news for its trading partner.



Long-term bond yields that had started 1987 at 7.6% climbed to approximately 10% [the summer before the crash]. This offered a lucrative alternative to stocks for investors looking for yield.


Website, University of Melbourne:

Many analysts agree that stock prices were overvalued in September, 1987. Price/Earning ratio and Price/Dividend ratios were too high [Historically, the P/E ratio is about 15 to 1; in October 1987 the P/E for the S&P 500 had risen to about 20 to 1]. Does that imply that overvaluation caused the 1987 Crash? While these ratios were at historically high levels, similar Price/Earning and Price/Dividends values had been seen for most of the 1960-72 period. Since no crash happened during that period, we can assume that overvaluation did not trigger crashes every time.


Bruce Bartlett:

What the 1987 crash ultimately accomplished was to teach politicians that markets heed their words and actions carefully, reacting immediately when threatened. Thus the crash initiated a new era of market discipline on bad economic policy.

1"The 1987 Stock Market Crash." http://www.arts.unimelb.edu.au/amu/ucr/student/1997/Yee/1987.htm 23 July 2002.
2"Key Event: 'Black Monday'Crash of 1987 Rocks Stock Markets." Facts on File World News CD-ROM. Facts on File News Services. http://www.facts.com/cd/v00066.htm 23 July 2002.
3 Ibid.
4"Triggering the 1987 Stock Market Crash: Antitakeover Provisions in the Proposed House Ways and Means Tax Bill?" Journal of Financial Economics, vol. 24, no. 1 (September 1989), pp. 37-68.

Ms. Itskevich is a student at Rutgers University and an intern at HNN.

Historian: The real patriots invaded the nation’s capital fifty years ago

They called their trip to Washington, D.C., an "invasion." Vowing not be "deterred or intimidated by police, government agents, [or] U.S. marshals," they arrived outfitted for war in fatigues and jungle boots with weapons and gas masks firmly in hand. Calling themselves "concerned citizens" and "patriots," they announced their intention to "protect the flag" by "stop[ing] all business as usual, until the government recognizes and responds positively to our demands."

No, these were not the self-professed patriots who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.

This was back in 1971 when President Richard Nixon claimed to be fulfilling his campaign promise of "peace with honor" by lowering the number of American ground troops in Vietnam. Much to the horror of thousands of recently returned GIs, the civilian branch of the most vocal and sustained antiwar movement in American history took the bait and stopped protesting.

And thus, on the evening before Patriots' Day, twelve hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War ("VVAW") arrived in Washington from around the country for what they called Operation Dewey Canyon III in a pointed rebuke of the recent American expansion of the air war into Laos under code names Operation Dewey Canyon I and II.

At first the public was confused. The men who descended on the nation's capital in olive drab, some with bandoliers strapped across their chests, did not look anything like the closely clipped GIs featured in the military recruiting posters plastering America's post offices. These guys had beards and long hair.

"Son, I don't think what you're doing is good for the troops," a Daughter of the American Revolution complained to one them, as the veterans marched past the DAR's Memorial Hall.

"Lady, we are the troops," was the ready reply.

After four days spent in such peaceable pursuits as lobbying their congresspeople, laying funeral wreaths at Arlington National Ceremony for both the American and the Vietnamese dead, holding a candlelight vigil at the White House, and testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the veterans announced their plan to descend on the Capitol Building, which the Nixon administration decided to surround, preemptively, with a version of the same kind of barrier fence that encircles it now.

The nation held its collective breath.

But rather than storm the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. government, the veterans set about assembling a makeshift platform on the west side of the Capitol, which they equipped with a powerful sound system. At the appointed time, those who were not confined to wheelchairs walked up to the microphone one-by-one. Holding up their medals, ribbons, and citations, each man told the assembled crowd of veterans and journalists what the nation's highest honors meant to him.

"A symbol of dishonor, shame, and inhumanity," said one veteran as he hurled his medals over the barrier fence.

"Worthless," said another as the pile of discarded honors grew.

Many of the veterans called out the American government for being racist towards South Asians and others.

"I symbolically return my Vietnam medals and other service medals given me by the power structure that has genocidal policies against the nonwhite peoples of the world."

"Our hearts," many of the veterans declared, "are broken," and their copious tears proved it.

In taking a stand against the war in front of the Capitol Building, the veterans were following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., who addressed the American people in 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as a means of asking them to measure the distance between the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and the reality of Jim Crow. VVAW was similarly asking the country to note the difference between the promise of an inclusive and transparent government, as represented by the welcoming façade and the usually open doors of the Capitol Building, and the secret air war the Nixon administration was conducting.

These first veterans to protest a war in which they had served won their countrymen's respect. Noting that the day they began their protest was the "anniversary of the day the 'shot heard round the world' was fired at Concord Bridge," one Boston newspaper asked any readers who might be reluctant to recognize the veterans as patriots to remember that "in 1775 the colonial forces were also unruly and young."

After being photographed and filmed by all of the major news outlets throwing away their medals and discarding what turned out to be Mattel-manufactured toy M16s, the veterans packed up their gear and policed their campsite on the National Mall. Just to be sure they left it in better shape than they had found it, they planted a tree. Then they went home to their local VVAW chapters where they continued to work to end the war by mobilizing other sacred symbols. The New England chapter marched Paul Revere's route in reverse, stopping at the famed Revolutionary War battlefields in Concord, Lexington, and Charlestown to perform mock search-and-destroy missions in a demonstration of the difference between fighting against an imperialist regime and becoming one. On another occasion, antiwar veterans signaled their distress about the ongoing war in Southeast Asia by hanging an upside-down American flag from the crown of the Statue of Liberty. And when the war was finally over in 1975, VVAW set to work advocating for better mental health care for those American servicemen who had been traumatized by being asked to do the most un-American thing imaginable: deny another country its own April 19, 1775.

On this Patriots' Day, fifty years after a battalion of Vietnam veterans brought their anguish and their outrage to the Capitol Building, the nation owes its thanks not only to the colonial militiamen who lost their lives along the famed Battle Road, but also to their direct descendants, the antiwar veterans who, in reminding a nation of its foundational values, sought to reset its course.

Elise Lemire is the author of the just released Battle Green Vietnam: The 1971 March on Concord, Lexington, and Boston (University of Pennsylvania Press) and other titles. She is Professor of Literature at Purchase College, SUNY.

Ammon Bundy has amassed an army of over 50,000 as he looks for his next battle in a religious war

Ammon Bundy, right-wing malcontent behind the 2016 armed takeover of Oregon's Malheur Wildlife Refuge and now a western anti-mask movement, believes he's doing God's work.

Coming from a long line of religiously inspired men who have been "called" to defend the US Constitution, Bundy has varied in his focus, from rebelling against public land ranching regulations to protesting COVID-19 safety protocols. But in his view, these are all forms of government tyranny and affronts to constitutional rights. Arrested for the fourth time on March 15, 2021, Bundy was taken into custody for failing to appear at his hearing on past trespassing charges. Because he refused to wear a mask into the courtroom, thereby missing his trial, he was apprehended outside amid of a throng of other protesters.

Bundy's crusade has been a long time in the making, but in the last year he successfully established a coalition of supporters that is broad, diverse, and a serious threat to federal law. His group is called the People's Rights Network. Like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, it includes members who see the current government as a threat to perceived rights and are committed to defend their ideas of personal liberty, by force if necessary.

So what has taken Ammon Bundy, who first came to prominence during the 2014 armed standoff in Nevada over his father's unpaid grazing fees and trespassing cattle, into a life of an anti-government militant? The answer is a libertarian worldview and his take on Mormonism. Bundy's ideology parallels the thinking of certain leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who've had a history of government cynicism. He also shares with them a tradition of theo-constitutionalism--venerating the Constitution as a sacred document. The paradox here is that Bundy believes he is upholding the Constitution and fulfilling his religious duties in his acts of lawlessness.

His impetus has roots in the early Church. After the founder and first prophet of Mormonism, Joseph Smith (1805-1844) was murdered, Brigham Young (1801-1877) assumed the reins of the Church and brought the Latter-day Saints into the Great Basin. By that point, Young and his brethren were disgusted with the US government after the years of mistreatment and bigotry they had faced. But the Mormon people kept great faith in the Constitution. While still an apostle of Smith, Young said "I find no fault with the Constitution or laws of our country; they are good enough. It is the abuse of those laws which I despise, and which God, good men and angels abhor." He later avowed " Corrupt men cannot walk these streets with impunity, and if that is alienism to the Government, amen to it. The Constitution of the United States we sustain all the day long, and it will sustain and shield us, while the men who say we are aliens, and cry out 'Mormon disturbance,' will go to hell….But to proceed; the principal evil is in the rulers, or those who profess to be rulers, and in the dispensers of the law…"

Young was not just the leader of the Church; like Smith, he was a prophet. Although he was not as prolific in his revelations as other Mormon prophet/presidents, these statements are memorialized in the Journal of Discourses and the History of the Church, texts not part of official Church doctrine, but significant, especially to those with radical leanings. Over the years, many Church prophets echoed Young's sentiments, from Wilford Woodruff (1807-1898) to Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994), reinforcing the idea that the Constitution is good, but not those who govern under it. Benson took that idea further, declaring that the Mormon people had a religious obligation to protect the Constitution, even if this meant violence. In 1979 he declared, "I say to you with all the fervor of my soul that God intended men to be free. Rebellion against tyranny is a righteous cause. It is an enormous evil for any man to be enslaved to any system contrary to his own will. For that reason men, 200 years ago, pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. No nation which has kept the commandments of God has ever perished, but I say to you that once freedom is lost, only blood – human blood – will win it back."

So this is where things get treacherous. If the Constitution is sacred, but those overseeing it are evil, then who determines and upholds the law of the land? Bundy has come to think that this is his duty—a chilling certainty that is likely to escalate during this current administration. As vaccines are more widely administered and mask mandates therefore become less of a concern, Bundy's focus will return to his original cause. The new Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, is now charged with overseeing public lands, including the place where Ammon's Bundy's father, Cliven, continues to illegally graze his cows. The patriarch Bundy and his most infamous son share the conviction that the federal government has no constitutional right or power to own land; hence the land belongs to those white people who have occupied and used it, and the requirement of grazing fees paid to the Bureau of Land Management is unconstitutional. Although Cliven has repeatedly lost his appeals in federal court, and currently owes over a million dollars in fines and fees, the old rancher's cows still roam the same BLM land, years after the Nevada armed standoff. To Ammon, mask mandates and grazing regulations are the same thing—affronts to constitutional rights. Law and common good be damned—he sees both as tyranny. He is determined to protect the Constitution, even by unconstitutional means. Where the next action is again taken—Nevada, Oregon, or somewhere else on the 600,000,000 acres of American public lands—remains to be seen.

In 2018, Bundy talked before an audience in South Jordan, UT during an event advertised as a "power packed four hours, with an LDS [Latter-day Saints] perspective, but practical info for all true friends of liberty." He told them about his father's dream, in which people approached a large building. Inside the building sat a golden calf, a biblical reference to a false idol, that Cliven understood to symbolize the American court of law. Ammon explained that the dream meant people are putting their faith in judges who do not have their best interests at hearts. "You can't worship the golden calf, you have to have faith in God," he told the audience. "When you know for certain that those are your own rights, you do not allow them to be questioned. And I know that's a strong thing I'm saying. But when you do that, then your friends need to come and protect you also. And it's a duty of ours to do that." Four months later, PeoplesRights.org was registered, a year and two months before pandemic brought America to a screeching halt. COVID-19 gave him a cause that fit a long ongoing narrative. The pandemic swelled the ranks of People's Rights because of conspiracy theory and righteous anger, but it wasn't invented in response to it.

Ammon Bundy has been looking for a next battle since the takeover of Malheur, when he led a group of heavily armed militia to occupy government buildings in Harney County, Oregon. During that takeover, one man, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by police. Ammon now has his own militia, the People's Rights Network, an army of over 50,000 members in 50 states, according to the organization's website. He recently finished a recruitment tour in Utah, talking God, liberty, and the need for vigilante action—antidotes to golden calves. His campaign is part of a long drawn arc and we shouldn't expect his rebellion to end with a die-down of COVID-19. Bundy's attention will return to public land battles, where the first insurgencies began. It wasn't COVID-19 that spurred the formation of the People's Rights Network and inspired Bundy's mission, it was a deeply rooted sense of righteousness, Cliven's dream, and a version of Mormon ideology.

Betsy Gaines Quammen, PhD is the author of American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God and Public Lands in the West.


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