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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Reflections on Capitol Hill During Impeachment

After weeks of pointless delay, the House of Representatives finally voted on Wednesday to deliver the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, which they did a little after 5:30pm. With solemn ceremony, a procession marched from one wing of Congress to the other, where Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) laid out the ground rules for the impeachment trial of President Trump.

I watched live news coverage as the House procession wound its way through corridors and the Capitol rotunda, where I had been just yesterday. My mother-in-law was visiting, so my wife and I took her to Washington, DC, where she had scored us a tour of the White House and the Capitol Building. Tuesday’s weather was gloomy, but today was bright, sunny, and unseasonably warm.

There couldn’t have been a greater contrast between the mood inside the Capitol and the mood outside. Outside, tourists went about their usual business, laughing, having fun, jogging, walking dogs, and snapping pictures. We even saw a troupe of Buddhist monks taking selfies at the Lincoln Memorial. Our Uber drivers were chatty and talked about how long they had lived in DC.

Aside from one young woman wearing a pro-impeachment t-shirt, there was nothing to indicate a momentous event was underway in the Capitol. No one was arguing, looked sad or somber, protesting, or fighting in the streets. Just a bunch of people enjoying beautiful weather in our nation’s Capitol, like it was any other day.

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That Time Antonio Banderas Starred in a Movie Romanticizing Benito Mussolini

Spanish-born actor Antonio Banderas was hot in the mid-1990s, starring in Hollywood films like Philadelphia (1993), Interview with the Vampire (1994), Desperado (1995), Evita, (1996), and The Mask of Zorro (1998). Before his career in the United States took off, however, he starred in a little known Italian miniseries later released as a film about a young, handsome and idealistic Italian socialist who became an influential Italian leader. That Italian leader was Benito Mussolini.

Wait… what?

Written by Vincenzo Cerami, et al, and directed by Gianluigi Calderone, Benito (1993) was a 307-minute Italian made-for-TV movie starring then 32-year-old Antonio Banderas in the titular role. It was later released as a film in the U.S. by Lions Gate Entertainment. The movie charts Mussolini’s rise from young laborer to socialist revolutionary leader, ending prior to his creation of the National Fascist Party. The topic of pre-World War I Italian socialism is a little too esoteric for American audiences, so Lions Gate probably released this in the U.S. to capitalize on Antonio Banderas’ popularity.

It seems strange to think of 20th Century Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini as a left-wing political figure, but if it wasn’t for World War I, that may have been his claim to fame. Mussolini’s father, Alessandro Mussolini, was a socialist who named his son Benito Amilcare Andrea after Mexican president Benito Juárez and Italian socialists Andrea Costa and Amilcare Cipriani. As a young man, Mussolini avoided military service by hiding in Switzerland, where he studied Marxist philosophy, became active in labor unions, and wrote for the socialist newspaper L’Avvenire del Lavoratore. Back in Italy, he joined the Socialist Party and became editor of its newspaper, Avanti.

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Unfortunately, Just Mercy Was Based on a True Story

This film about one of the most egregious modern cases of racism and injustice mostly sticks to the facts.

One thing I didn’t like about Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018) was that it invented events to make its antagonists more menacing than they really were. It’s a habit in Hollywood to insert or amplify racism in historical films, which is weird because there are plenty of actual historical examples of racism to make movies about.

Case in point: Just Mercy (2019), written by Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham and directed by Cretton, based on the book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Just Mercy follows the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was wrongly convicted of the 1986 murder of a white woman in Monroeville, Alabama and sent to death row. Years later, attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) successfully appealed McMillian’s conviction and won his freedom.

McMillian, who was having a very public affair with a white woman named Karen Kelly, was hosting a fish fry at his home with his wife, Minnie (Karan Kendrick), surrounded by about a dozen witnesses, when the murder occurred. Despite this, Sheriff Tom Tate (Michael Harding) arrested him for the crime. And despite not yet being convicted, he was sent to death row while awaiting trial.

Judge Robert E. Lee Key, Jr. (yes, that was actually his name) moved the trial to a different county where it would have a majority white jury. The judge overrode the jury’s decision of life imprisonment and imposed the death penalty. McMillian sat on Alabama’s death row from 1988 to 1993, when the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled he had been wrongfully convicted.

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CNN Lawyers Admit Charges of Racism are a Smear

“CNN filed a motion to dismiss the suit in May on the grounds that accusations of racism are not actionable in defamation cases because the allegation can’t be proven true or false.”

A few days ago, CNN settled with Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann, who was suing for defamation over CNN’s coverage of the incident in January in which Sandmann and his classmates were accused of confronting and harassing a Native American man–until full video showed otherwise.

I used a quote from this National Review article as a subheading because it’s so important: Not only did CNN settle with Sandmann, tacitly admitting the news company was wrong, but its lawyers tried to argue Sandmann had no case because charges of racism are not meant to be defended against.

When someone accuses you of a real crime, it’s able to be proven true or false. Was a crime committed? Did you commit the crime or not? But what about when someone is accused of being racist or acting in a racist manner? Is that more opinion than fact? Most of the time, it’s litigated in the court of public opinion, and the accused have little recourse but to apologize for the perceived offense and hope things blow over.

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CNN: It’s Not News, But What is It?

Chris Cillizza’s political “analysis” is a prime example of CNN’s fall from grace.

What is a news organization? Is it a public service designed to inform the public about significant events? Or is it just a business making money off sensationalism? I’m not sure what CNN considers itself, but in the Trump Era, its become a sad shadow of its former self; a parody of Fox News at its worst in the Obama years.

CNN has become nothing more than an outlet for clickbait, with Chris Cillizza offering probing analysis of “The 65 most outrageous lines from Donald Trump’s longest campaign speech ever”. What’s so outrageous, you wonder? Apparently Trump saying things like: “Remember when I first started this beautiful trip, this beautiful journey, I just said to the first lady, ‘You’re so lucky I took you on this fantastic journey.'”

“I wonder if Melania Trump would describe herself as ‘so lucky,'” Chris speculates. Well, she went from being born in Yugoslavia under communism, to Paris fashion model, to first lady of the United States of America, so yeah, she probably would. The list is literally just Chris Cillizza pulling random quotes from Trump’s rally and making sarcastic comments about them. Such probing journalism! Does he get paid per click, I wonder?

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Top Fake News Stories of 2019

The national news media loves to tout itself as an arbiter of truth, even teaming up with social media giants like Facebook to fact check viral articles and memes. But journalists aren’t immune to publishing and promoting fake news of their own, and boy, have we seen some whoppers this year. The following is a short list of some of the most egregious examples. Is there anything I missed?

Regretful Trump voter turns out not to have voted at all

In October, New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel wrote a story about Democrats who voted for Trump in 2016, only to regret their decision. Enter Mark Graham, a real estate appraiser in Erie, Pennsylvania. “He had voted for Barack Obama, but in 2016 he took a gamble on Donald Trump,” the article claimed. Now, Graham said, reelecting Trump would be like “throwing gasoline on a fire.” Except Graham never voted in 2016. A local news station looked into his voting record after a Democratic political action committee called American Bridge put him in their ad campaign. The New York Times later verified his voting record and added a correction.

Boys in MAGA hats harass Native American elder

In January, news outlets leaped on a viral video purporting to show a young man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and a crowd of white kids confronting a Native American man beating a drum. “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March,” The New York Times headline proclaimed. As more facts emerged however, it turned out the situation wasn’t so black and white. The Native American man, Nathan Phillips, was neither a Vietnam veteran nor a tribal elder as originally reported. The crowd of students from Covington Catholic High School did not confront Phillips, rather, he approached them. In October, a federal judge allowed part of Nick Sandmann’s libel lawsuit against the Washington Post to go forward, after the Post claimed Sandmann, one of the students in question, had “blocked” Phillips and ‘would not allow him to retreat.’

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