Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Speech by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on monuments to Confederate leaders

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Seeing beyond categories #OpenYourWorld

It's an ad. They want to sell you beer. But it also speaks to the importance of engaging with others as people. We have differences. Sometimes rather significantly. But it helps to be able to recognize and respect the other as much as possible so we can work through those differences.



Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wendell Berry's Questionnaire

Questionnaire

How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security;
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
"Questionnaire" by Wendell Berry from Leavings. © Counterpoint, 2010. (buy now)

Friday, January 20, 2017

In the midst of a new community in the Big Red Barn with Obama

Cornell University's Big Red Barn
In January 2009, I had just started my PhD program at Cornell University. In December 2008, I completed my MPA degree at the University of Dayton and made a winter move to Ithaca, New York. As someone starting an academic program mid-year, I was out of sync with most people. I didn't know others in my program well at that point. Like most of us have experienced some point in our lives, I had a sense of being in the midst of the unknown.

The inauguration of President Obama was a big event. The university had a watch party in the Big Red Barn (BRB), an old carriage house for the university president turned into a graduate student center. It's a great place for various events like the ever-popular T.G.I.F. (Tell Grads It's Friday) with $1 beer and snacks. So, just a few weeks after moving to a new place I was standing in a very crowded BRB watching President Obama be sworn into office for his first term. Many people were emotional. The gravity of the setting and situation spoke to what I recall being a very diverse crowd. What typically was a loud and lively space was celebratory yet solemn that day. I think people realized how significant the moment was for our history and for our future.

I was excited for my own new adventure at Cornell and beyond in the academy, but I was also excited and inspired by the possibility and promise of a democratic life that was/is engaging, meaningful, and inclusive of people from all walks of life and backgrounds. I saw a bit of that diverse America standing in that wonderful gathering place known as the BRB. We would walk out later in our varied directions via snow-worn paths to return to labs, offices, and classrooms. We had a charge and I feel that many people saw themselves as part of something larger that day.

President Obama's inaugural speech acknowledged the many crises we faced at that moment--terror networks, economic catastrophe, rising costs of health care--but he asked us to grow up a bit and choose a better path. In his words:
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
And what might be more a historical footnote from that day in 2009 is the poem offered by Elizabeth Alexander, entitled Praise Song for the Day. It remains, to me, the most beautiful poem I know. I include it here as people amass in Washington, DC for the inauguration as well as the march to follow the next day. Alexander spoke of possibility and love. We need that more than ever.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Yes We Can: People Share Their Most Memorable Moments from the Obama Presidency

As President Obama completes his second term, it is helpful to be reminded of the authentic and genuine commitment and compassion that shaped his politics. I don't think the White House will be this warm for a while.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Normalizing the Abnormal, Then and Now

Normalizing fascists

John Broich, Case Western Reserve University

How to report on a fascist?

How to cover the rise of a political leader who’s left a paper trail of anti-constitutionalism, racism and the encouragement of violence? Does the press take the position that its subject acts outside the norms of society? Or does it take the position that someone who wins a fair election is by definition “normal,” because his leadership reflects the will of the people?

These are the questions that confronted the U.S. press after the ascendance of fascist leaders in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

A leader for life

Benito Mussolini secured Italy’s premiership by marching on Rome with 30,000 blackshirts in 1922. By 1925 he had declared himself leader for life. While this hardly reflected American values, Mussolini was a darling of the American press, appearing in at least 150 articles from 1925-1932, most neutral, bemused or positive in tone.

Benito Mussolini speaks at the dedication ceremonies of Sabaudia on Sept. 24, 1934. AP Photo

The Saturday Evening Post even serialized Il Duce’s autobiography in 1928. Acknowledging that the new “Fascisti movement” was a bit “rough in its methods,” papers ranging from the New York Tribune to the Cleveland Plain Dealer to the Chicago Tribune credited it with saving Italy from the far left and revitalizing its economy. From their perspective, the post-WWI surge of anti-capitalism in Europe was a vastly worse threat than Fascism.

Ironically, while the media acknowledged that Fascism was a new “experiment,” papers like The New York Times commonly credited it with returning turbulent Italy to what it called “normalcy.”

Yet some journalists like Hemingway and journals like the New Yorker rejected the normalization of anti-democratic Mussolini. John Gunther of Harper’s, meanwhile, wrote a razor-sharp account of Mussolini’s masterful manipulation of a U.S. press that couldn’t resist him.

The ‘German Mussolini’

Mussolini’s success in Italy normalized Hitler’s success in the eyes of the American press who, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, routinely called him “the German Mussolini.” Given Mussolini’s positive press reception in that period, it was a good place from which to start. Hitler also had the advantage that his Nazi party enjoyed stunning leaps at the polls from the mid ‘20’s to early ‘30’s, going from a fringe party to winning a dominant share of parliamentary seats in free elections in 1932.

But the main way that the press defanged Hitler was by portraying him as something of a joke. He was a “nonsensical” screecher of “wild words” whose appearance, according to Newsweek, “suggests Charlie Chaplin.” His “countenance is a caricature.” He was as “voluble” as he was “insecure,” stated Cosmopolitan.

German youth study the newspaper on May 18, 1931. AP Photo

When Hitler’s party won influence in Parliament, and even after he was made chancellor of Germany in 1933 – about a year and a half before seizing dictatorial power – many American press outlets judged that he would either be outplayed by more traditional politicians or that he would have to become more moderate. Sure, he had a following, but his followers were “impressionable voters” duped by “radical doctrines and quack remedies,” claimed the Washington Post. Now that Hitler actually had to operate within a government the “sober” politicians would “submerge” this movement, according to The New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. A “keen sense of dramatic instinct” was not enough. When it came to time to govern, his lack of “gravity” and “profundity of thought” would be exposed.

In fact, The New York Times wrote after Hitler’s appointment to the chancellorship that success would only “let him expose to the German public his own futility.” Journalists wondered whether Hitler now regretted leaving the rally for the cabinet meeting, where he would have to assume some responsibility.

Yes, the American press tended to condemn Hitler’s well-documented anti-Semitism in the early 1930s. But there were plenty of exceptions. Some papers downplayed reports of violence against Germany’s Jewish citizens as propaganda like that which proliferated during the foregoing World War. Many, even those who categorically condemned the violence, repeatedly declared it to be at an end, showing a tendency to look for a return to normalcy.

Journalists were aware that they could only criticize the German regime so much and maintain their access. When a CBS broadcaster’s son was beaten up by brownshirts for not saluting the F├╝hrer, he didn’t report it. When the Chicago Daily News’ Edgar Mowrer wrote that Germany was becoming “an insane asylum” in 1933, the Germans pressured the State Department to rein in American reporters. Allen Dulles, who eventually became director of the CIA, told Mowrer he was “taking the German situation too seriously.” Mowrer’s publisher then transferred him out of Germany in fear of his life.

By the later 1930s, most U.S. journalists realized their mistake in underestimating Hitler or failing to imagine just how bad things could get. (Though there remained infamous exceptions, like Douglas Chandler, who wrote a loving paean to “Changing Berlin” for National Geographic in 1937.) Dorothy Thompson, who judged Hitler a man of “startling insignificance” in 1928, realized her mistake by mid-decade when she, like Mowrer, began raising the alarm.

“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance,” she reflected in 1935. “He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will.” Applying the lesson to the U.S., she wrote, “When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”

The Conversation

John Broich, Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.