Forbes Writer Gets a C- in American History

Seth Cohen half-remembers something he read online about the Civil War in order to bolster his argument that modern Americans are heading toward national conflict.

They say “C’s get degrees,” but what happens when an average student in American history grows up to write political columns for Forbes.com? Something like “Rush Limbaugh Predicts A ‘Veritable’ Civil War — Could He Be Right?” by Seth Cohen.

I’ve read hundreds of articles over the past few decades claiming another American Civil War is right around the corner every time we’re faced with a contentious issue. All of them, thankfully, have been wrong (so far…). But it’s not the premise of Cohen’s article I’m concerned with–it’s his distorted retelling of American history, particularly its Civil War history.

“There are some troubling parallels” Cohen claims, between America today and America 160 years ago.

“Back then, the fractious 1860 election was essentially a referendum on slavery and states’ rights, with the northern and southern states at deep odds over the future of the nation. Lincoln, the Republican candidate, claimed an electoral landslide over the three other candidates, yet only won 40% of the popular vote. The election results caused a national rupture, and before Lincoln could be inaugurated, 11 southern states had seceded from the Union. Within weeks, the confrontation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina sparked the Civil War, and the rest is history.”

Unfortunately, Cohen’s summery of these events is almost entirely wrong.

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Will 2020 be the ‘Darkest Winter in Modern History’?

The coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a tsunami of dire predictions, conspiracy theories, and fake news, but the worst example of hyperbole and fearmongering I’ve seen so far comes from someone we’re supposed to take seriously as a health expert. 

Multiple news outlets have reported that Richard Bright, a senior adviser at the National Institutes of Health and former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, planned to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health today that “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.”

Um… has he ever read a history book? I’ve written before about the pitfalls of using historical analogies. It makes you look foolish when you try to claim something in the present is “worse than” or analogous to something in the past when you have no idea what you’re talking about.

I guess it depends on what you define as “modern history.” Most historians define the modern period as 1500 to the present, with ‘late modern’ beginning in 1815. Most people probably define ‘modern’ as much more recent, so I’ll be generous and say 1918 to the present. A lot of horrible events have happened over the past century. The 1918 Influenza Pandemic, the Holocaust, the Ukrainian Famine, the Cambodian genocide, the Hutu massacre to just name a few. I’m sure there were a few horrible winters in there.

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War Flowers: Amateur Effort Makes this History Buff Cringe

A Southern belle waiting for her husband to come home falls for a wounded Union soldier in this silly Civil War drama.

Written and directed by Serge Rodnunsky, War Flowers (2012) is a vanity period film staring a surprising cast, including veteran actors Christina Ricci and Tom Berenger. A few charming performances save this otherwise meandering and strange take on American history from being too unbearable to watch, but history buffs will cringe.

Union general McIntire (Tom Berenger) lost two sons at the Battle of Antietam, so when his army invades an unnamed valley in North Carolina in 1863, he tries to send his third son, Louis (Jason Gedrick), back home before the war ends. Eager to get into the fight, Louis disobeys his father but gets wounded and seeks shelter in a farm house.

The house is owned by Sarabeth Ellis (Christina Ricci) and her daughter Melody (Gabrielle Popa), who are waiting for Sarabeth’s husband, John (Bren Foster), to return from the war. Sarabeth believes John has been killed, but Melody has faith. Short on food, they’re harassed by a local derelict, Rufus (Kurt Yaeger).

As the fortunes of war swirl around their farm, Sarabeth must decide whether to embrace her unwelcome Yankee visitor and perhaps move on with her life, or give up and succumb to the horrors of war. Things look bleak when Louis McIntire is captured by his own men, mistaken for a Confederate, and left in the stockade by his father. Will the two reunite and survive?

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Nancy Pelosi was Right about Impeachment

In hindsight, Speaker Pelosi should have stayed the course and not given into her worst instincts.

As the dust settles on our third presidential impeachment in U.S. history with President Donald Trump’s acquittal, we can finally look back and analyze what went wrong. Democrats went into the impeachment process confident President Trump would be convicted and removed from office. After all, that’s the goal of the whole process. With that effort defeated, it looks like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) original reservations about impeachment were correct.

If Pelosi succumbed to her worst political instincts by handing out commemorative pens after signing the authorization to transmit the Articles of Impeachment, she was at her best when trying to restrain the most militant members of her party. Pelosi knew that once impeachment left the House, she had no control over where it would lead. Trump was unlikely to be convicted and removed from office by a Republican majority in the Senate.

After Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives in November 2018, there were four failed attempts to launch an impeachment inquiry, on Jan. 3, March 27, May 22, and July 17, 2019, none of which had Speaker Pelosi’s support. Pelosi had publicly come out against impeachment, telling the Washington Post in March 2019: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country.”

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States Sue to Include Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Constitution

Three states have sued to force the federal government to recognize the Equal Rights Amendment as an adopted amendment to the Constitution, because denying reality is what we do now when we don’t get what we want.

This week, Virginia did not become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, as supporters claim, because the deadline to ratify the 1972 ERA expired on June 30, 1982–37 years ago. Additionally, five states that initially voted to ratify the ERA later rescinded their ratification prior to the deadline. In 2017, 2018, and 2020, Nevada, Illinois, and Virginia held symbolic votes to ratify the expired amendment.

Now Democratic state’s attorneys from those three states are suing to force the federal government to recognize the Equal Rights Amendment as an adopted amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Both the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have stated the 1972 ERA has not, and will not be adopted. According to NARA, “The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has concluded ‘that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA and, because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the States.'”

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CNN Can’t Help Fudging Facts in Impeachment Fact Check

Fact-checking is tricky business. In many cases, there is no mathematical certainty, especially when it comes to politics. Either side doesn’t necessarily want “the facts”, they want facts that cast their opinions and perspectives in the best possible light. In President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, both the congressional prosecutors and Trump’s defense team seek to twist facts to their advantage.

Enter CNN, an objective news source eager to parse their arguments so you can cut through the spin, or so it would have you believe. But the writers at CNN, of course, have their own perspective. And they can’t help themselves when it comes to trying to influence their readers with their own interpretation of events.

Yesterday, CNN put five writers on fact-checking Deputy White House Counsel Mike Purpura’s opening statement, and overall they did a decent job, actually admitting that many of Purpura’s claims were true (or mostly true). But there was one claim CNN’s fact checkers got wrong.

In his opening statement, Purpura claimed “not a single witness testified that the President himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else.”

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Pragmatism vs. Ideology in Lincoln (2012)

An intellectual debate between opposing philosophical approaches plays out in Steven Spielberg’s presidential biopic.

Director Steven Spielberg’s biopic of President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment during the closing months of the American Civil War was a critical success, with strong performances by Daniel Day Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones. Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of resolute and idealistic Thaddeus Stevens was the perfect foil to Lincoln’s more pragmatic and folksy personality.

Thaddeus Stevens

Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) was a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, who served from 1849 to 1853, and again from 1859 to his death in 1868. Stevens was a staunch abolitionist and leader of the Radical faction of the Republican Party, who sought total legal and social equality for African Americans, including redistribution of Southern lands to freed slaves.

President Lincoln and Congressman Stevens had the same goal. Both wanted the Thirteenth Amendment passed, which would forever outlaw slavery in the United States. That required a two-thirds majority vote, and Lincoln wanted the amendment passed in the House of Representatives before the Confederacy surrendered, which was not a matter of if but when. In order to get the necessary votes, Lincoln needed bipartisan support from conservative Democrats as well as Republicans. Stevens, however, refused to compromise and moderate his tone.

In one scene of dialog from Lincoln, Lincoln and Stevens meet in a smoke-filled kitchen to hash out their differences. Lincoln needs to get Stevens on his side, but Stevens seems uninterested in compromise. This conversation is a perfect contrast between ideology and pragmatism. Pragmatists are willing to meet their opponents halfway, while ideologues will only accept a total and complete triumph of their ideas.

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