Trump, Kavanaugh and the Path to Neoliberal Fascism

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Henry Giroux.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Salon

Even in the darkest of times we have the right to some illumination. —Hannah Arendt

The threads of a general political and ideological crisis run deep in American history, and with each tweet and policy decision Donald Trump pushes the United States closer to a full-fledged fascist state. His words sting, but his policies can kill people. Trump’s endless racist taunts, dehumanizing expressions of misogyny, relentless attacks on all provisions of the social state and ongoing contempt for the rule of law serve to normalize a creeping fascist politics. Moreover, his criminogenic disdain for any viable sense of civic and moral responsibility gives new meaning to an ethos of selfishness and a culture of cruelty, if not terror, that has run amok. Yet it is becoming more difficult for the mainstream media and pundits to talk about fascism as a looming threat in the United States in spite of the fact that, as Michelle Goldberg observes, for some groups, such as “undocumented immigrants, it’s already here.”

The smell of death is everywhere under this administration. The erosion of public values and the rule of law is now accompanied by a developing state of emergency with regards to a looming global environmental catastrophe. An ecological disaster due to human-caused climate change has accelerated under the Trump administration and appears imminent.Trump’s ongoing attempt to pollute the planet through his rollback of environmental protections will result in the deaths of thousands of children who suffer from asthma and other lung problems. Moreover, his privatized and punitive approach to health care will shorten the lives of millions of poor people, uninsured youth, undocumented immigrants, the unemployed and the elderly. His get-tough “law and order” policies will result in more police violence against blacks while his support for the arms industry, military budget and gun laws will accelerate the death of the marginalized both at home and abroad. Under the Trump regime all bets are off regarding the sustainability of democracy.

The appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, a right-wing ideologue, to the U.S. Supreme Court, in spite of allegations of sexually assaulting at least two women, further reveals both the dangerous politicization of the judicial nomination process and the authoritarian politics that now dominate American society. The control of the court by ideological fundamentalists has been a long-sought goal of Republican Party extremists. And now the American people, especially women, the poor and people of color, will pay a terrible price for Kavanaugh’s appointment. The Kavanaugh affair is a symptom of the deeper roots of a fascist politics at work in American society. Kavanaugh is not only a blatant symbol of a toxic masculinity, he is also emblematic of a boisterous and unchecked expression of ruling-class white privilege. This is especially true given the racist double standard that characterizes America’s justice system. As Amanda Klonsky put it in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Why does Judge Brett Kavanaugh, accused of sexual assault, feel entitled to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States, while my formerly incarcerated students — often jailed for crimes like battery from fistfights — are left unemployed, sometimes for life, banned from even the most entry-level work? That Kavanaugh is under consideration for appointment to the Supreme Court at all throws the racist double standard in our justice system into sharp relief. There is one standard of behavior for African-American and Latinx young people, who are harshly punished for crimes in adolescence, and quite another for wealthy white boys, who can be accused of sexual assault and still go on to be nominated to serve on the most important court in the world.

Kavanaugh perfectly aligns with Trump’s racism and his decisions on matters of civil rights and racial justice will more than likely further reproduce a long legacy of white racism and state violence in the United States. This is especially tragic and ominous given that Trump’s contempt for people of color appears boundless and legitimates the notion of whiteness as a site of terror. He slanders and humiliates black athletes, black women and any other person of color who calls him on his racism and white supremacist views. Moreover, his thuggery in support of police brutality and mass incarceration further accelerates the growth of a racialized carceral state.

Most recently, in a brutish and deeply troubling display of misogyny, Trump viciously mocked the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of a sexual assault. Drawing laughter and shouts from a crowd in Southaven, Mississippi, Trump went further, following up his vile remarks by stating that men were the real victims of the #MeToo movement because they were being unfairly accused of sexual harassment, and that many males would lose their jobs. It is hard to miss the irony of this statement coming from a man who has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 22 women and has been caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by the crotch. What is worth noting here is not only his indifference to the shocking levels violence waged against women but also the degree to which misogyny has always been endemic to fascist politics.

While it is easy for the mainstream press to go after those politicians who remain silent in the face of Trump’s sexism and racism, there is little interest in situating his misogyny and white supremacy within a neoliberal fascist politics that is aligned with neo-Nazis, white nationalists and other militant groups who argue for racial cleansing and increasingly commit violent acts against people of color who oppose their views. Trump’s politics are endlessly whitewashed in the mainstream media, which too often views his policy decisions more as the infantilized outbursts of an impetuous tweeting teenage bully rather than as a shock and threat to the laws and values that constitute a democracy currently in peril. The mainstream press argues that Trump’s rhetoric is divisive, humiliating and hateful, but rarely is it associated with the rhetoric of fascist politics or for that matter with the power of moneyed interests of the financial elite.

This evasion is all the more frightening since Trump, not to mention most of his critics, seem unaware of the accumulated terror unleashed by past fascists. Trump appears reckless when implementing policies that echo faintly the genocidal practices used by Nazis in their concentration camps, such as separating children from their undocumented parents and putting both in caged prisons. While Trump has not gassed tens of thousands of children as Hitler did, putting children in cages suggests crossing a moral and political line that opens the door to even more extreme forms of barbarism. –At the same time, his anti-democratic proclivities are on display almost every day. For instance, Trump’s open infatuation with demagogues such as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un is matched only by his consistent vilification of America’s democratic allies. One clear cut example is his ludicrous claim that trade wars with Canada are justified because Canada represents a threat to America’s national security. The latter is uttered at the same time that Trump calls Kim Jong-un terrific.

Trump has not only normalized racism in the United States and given new legitimacy to the hate filled rants and ideologies of neo-Nazis and white nationalists, he has deepened the crisis of democracy by elevating emotion over reason and turning civic illiteracy into a virtue. Ignorance turns deadly when embraced by the powerful and removed from any notion of the material consequences it has for those who have to suffer from a practices of abandonment, terminal exclusion, and state violence.

State-sanctioned ignorance is more than fodder for late night comedy shows, it also provides the psychological conditions for certain individuals and groups to associate “pollution” and disposability with what Richard A. Etlin calls “a biologically racialist worldview, which divides the human race according to the dichotomy of the pure and impure, the life-enhancing and the life-polluting.” This is a language mobilized by the energies of the ethically dead, and echoes strongly with the anti-Semitism that was at the center of the genocidal policies of the Third Reich. This poisonous anti-Semitic discourse has returned with a vengeance in Hungary, Poland and a number of other countries now moving towards fascism. It is also surfacing among alt-right and other neo-Nazi groups in the United States. Unsurprisingly, there are also coded hints of it in Trump’s language. Trump is more careful with his displays of anti-Semitism, especially given the uproar that followed his comments stating that there were decent people marching with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

One of the most revealingly ideological comments made by Trump during the Kavanaugh affair was contained in a tweet aimed at the women who had confronted Sen. Jeff Flake and other Republican senators over their support for Kavanaugh. Trump stated that “the very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it. Also, look at all the professional made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love.”

Trump exposed more than the level of political corruption and hatred of women that now defines American politics, he also appropriated an anti-Semitic discourse to discredit both the women to whom he is referring and dissent in general. Many conservative pundits and commentators have also followed Trump’s lead and claimed that protesters were paid by George Soros. This display of anti-Semitism directed at Soros is not new for Trump. As Greg Sargent pointed out in the Washington Post, this vile piece of anti-Semitism directed at Soros played a “starring role in Trump’s 2016 closing ad, which was the perfect expression of this type of exclusionary populist demagoguery.” Not only do Trump’s comments and the earlier ad mirror anti-Semitic propaganda from the 1930s, it also legitimates the vicious attacks on Soros in a number of Eastern European countries, including Poland, Romania and Serbia. But it is President Viktor Orbán of Hungary who is leading the pack in his attack on Soros as part of a larger attack on Jews.

Trump’s coded endorsement of Orbán’s attack on Jews, whom he appears to blame for all of Hungary’s problems, is particularly repellent given its viciousness and the horrors of the past it echoes. For instance, recalling the genocidal rhetoric aimed at Jews in the past by the Nazis, Orban commemorated the 170th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 by stating the following (without mentioning Jews directly):

They do not fight directly, but by stealth; they are not honorable, but unprincipled; they are not national, but international; they do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel the whole world is theirs. They are not generous but vengeful and always attack the heart — especially if it is red, white and green [the colors of the Hungarian flag].

Prior to the recent election in Hungary, Orbán plastered images of George Soros throughout the country. Soros is both a Hungarian citizen and a Jew, and was a perfect symbol for Orbán to vilify in his efforts to take over the country. Soros is dangerous to Orbán because of his promotion of the open society, open borders, cosmopolitanism, human rights and democracy. That he is Jewish made it easier for Orbán to attack him personally without having to openly express his hatred of democracy.

That Trump would use a reference taken out of the poisonous playbook of this fascist leader is both revealing and dangerous. Not only because such rhetoric indexes a fascist politics and the potential dangers that follow, but also because of the silence that surrounded Trump’s reference to Soros, with all of its toxic implications. Even if Trump is not consciously anti-Semitic, he should know better since, as journalist Ron Kampeas points out, his comments traffic “in conspiracies of control and destruction identified with classical anti-Semitism.” Trump’s consistently coded support for an ideology embraced by neo-Nazis and other white nationalists is not new. It is the discourse of blood and soil that propelled an emotionally charged language of hate, reification, dehumanization and eventually mass murder. Forgetting this history is less an act of historical ignorance than a complicitous practice of reviving the conditions that give birth to the horrors of the past.

Trump’s defenders might argue that Trump is not an anti-Semite because two of his former lawyers were Jewish — Roy Cohn and Michael Cohen. Moreover, his daughter converted to Judaism. This may be true, and Trump may just be so stupid to know and not to care when he is producing an anti-Semitic stereotype, and so ignorant of history that he can’t put together the threat of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the history of genocide that it produced. But if we are to believe writers such as Michael Wolff and Bob Woodward who have chronicled the post-2016 chaos in the White House that Trump has overt white supremacists such as Stephen Miller making decisions for him, the Kavanaugh hearings may signal a danger that far exceeds the misogyny and Vichy-type silence revealed by the spineless Republican Party and the Trump administration.

Mitch McConnell and the other gravediggers of democracy in the Congress could care less about Trump’s crude language, governing style, character or potential revelations of criminal acts. They have no qualms or reservations about supporting a fascist politics as long as they get what they want from their alliance with the racists, xenophobic ultra-nationalists and white nationalists. According to historian Christopher R. Browning, the Republican Party, in particular has received a big payoff in selling its soul to Trump’s worldview:

[H]uge tax cuts for the wealthy, financial and environmental deregulation, the nominations of two conservative Supreme Court justices (so far) and a host of other conservative judicial appointments, and a significant reduction in government-sponsored health care (though not yet the total abolition of Obamacare they hope for). Like Hitler’s conservative allies, McConnell and the Republicans have prided themselves on the early returns on their investment in Trump.

The Kavanaugh appointment exposes more than what commentators such as Robert Reich and historians such as Timothy Snyder view as alarming and frightening parallels between the United States and Hitler’s regime, or what the Yale historian Jason Stanley calls an accelerating fascist politics. Their analyses seem overly cautious. There is little doubt that Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court is an abomination not only because of his alleged sexual assaults, but his equally revealing and right-wing ideological rant against the left, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party during his Senate hearing. More ominous, when comprehended within the context of an emerging fascist politics, is the recognition that his appointment is part of a broader effort on the part of the Trump administration to radically modify the rule of law and individual rights, further depriving them of any meaning and cutting them off from any viable humanitarian standards.

We are in the midst of an American version of fascism, which is not to suggest a fascism modeled exclusively after Nazi Germany. Fascist rhetoric has become normalized in the United States, white terror is no longer coded, and ultra-nationalism has merged into a love affair between the U.S. and a host of ruthless dictators. Of course the U.S. has a long tradition of civil liberties but it also has a long tradition of lawlessness, and the latter is now winning out. It thrives under the guise of a neoliberalism that has fueled for the past 40 years vast inequalities in wealth and power, producing a level of political and economic corruption that signals not just a hatred of democracy, but a unique style of American fascism.

The Kavanaugh hearings should serve to remind us that we live in increasingly dangerous times. It is important to remember that fascism begins not with violence, police assaults or mass killings, but with language. Not only have we learned this from the rise of fascism in the 1930s in Europe but also in the current historical moment — a moment in which lawlessness, misogyny, white nationalism and racism are resurgent all over the globe. If fascism begins with language so does a strong resistance willing to challenge it.

This is all the more reason for individuals, institutions, labor unions, educators, young people and others not to be silent in the face of the current fascist turn in the United States and elsewhere. In the face of the hatred, racism, misogyny and deceit that have become part of a state-sanctioned public dialogue, no one can afford to look away, fail to speak out, and risk silence. This is especially true at a time when history is used to hide rather than illuminate the past, when it becomes difficult to translate private issues into larger systemic considerations and people willingly allow themselves to be both seduced and trapped into spectacles of violence, cruelty and authoritarian impulses. Under such circumstances, the terror of the unforeseen becomes all the more ominous.

Any viable notion of change will have to reject the notion that capitalism and democracy are synonymous and that participatory democracy begins and ends with elections. Doing so is crucial to undoing the myth that political power is separate from economic power — a myth that upholds the false assumption that whatever problems currently exist under the Trump administration are endemic to Trump’s alleged mental health, ignorance and other character flaws. In actuality, the fascist politics now shaping the United States have been in the making for decades and are systemic to neoliberal capitalism and deeply entwined with iniquitous relations of power. Rob Urie illuminates the issue, particularly in relation to class divisions. He writes:

The class relations of American political economy are antithetical to the notion of a unified public interest. The point isn’t to suggest that this or that authoritarian leader isn’t authoritarian, but rather to sketch in the political backdrop to argue that the lived experience of social, economic and political repression is lived experience, not academic theories or bourgeois fantasies. The circumstances of investment bankers stripping assets, industrialists relocating factories built by workers to low-wage locations and tech ‘pioneers’ using licenses and patents to extract economic rents is systemically ‘authoritarian’ in the sense that democratic consent to do so was neither sought nor given.

It is time for a broad-based social movement to reject finance capitalism, embrace education as central to a politics willing to fight to persuade people to reclaim their sense of agency and push at the frontiers of the ethical imagination, connect what they learn to addressing social issues, taking risks and challenging the destructive narratives that are seeping into the public realm and becoming normalized. Any dissatisfaction with injustice necessitates combining the demands of moral witnessing with the pedagogical power of persuasion and the call to address the tasks of emancipation. We need individuals and social movements willing to disturb the normalization of a fascist politics, and to oppose racist, sexist and neoliberal orthodoxy. As Robin D.G. Kelley observes, we cannot confuse catharsis and momentary outrage for revolution. In a time of increasing tyranny, resistance appears to have lost its usefulness as a call to action.

For instance, the novelist Teju Cole has argued that “‘resistance’ is back in vogue, and it describes something rather different now. The holy word has become unexceptional. Faced with a vulgar, manic and cruel regime, birds of many different feathers are eager to proclaim themselves members of the Resistance. It is the most popular game in town.” Cole’s critique appears to be borne out by the fact that the most unscrupulous of liberal and conservative politicians, such as Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton and even James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, are now claiming that they have joined the resistance against Trump fascist politics.

Even Michael Hayden, the former NSA chief and CIA director under George W. Bush, has joined the ranks of Albright and Clinton in condemning Trump as a proto-fascist. Writing in the New York Times,Hayden chastised Trump as a serial liar and in doing so quoted the renowned historian Timothy Snyder, who stated in reference to the Trump regime that “Post-Truth is pre-fascism.” The irony here is hard to miss. Not only did Hayden head Bush’s illegal National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping program while head of the NSA, he also lied repeatedly about his role in Bush’s sanction and implementation of state torture in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This tsunami of banal resistance was on full display when an anonymous member of the Trump’s inner circle published an op-ed in the New York Times claiming that he or she and other senior officials were part of “the resistance within the Trump administration.” The author was quick to qualify the statement by insisting such resistance had nothing to do with “the popular ‘resistance’ of the left.” To prove the point, it was noted by the author that the members of this insider resistance liked some of Trump’s policies such as “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.” Combining resistance with the endorsements of such reactionary policies reads like fodder for late-night comics.

The Democratic Party now defines itself as the most powerful political force opposing Trump’s fascist politics. What it has forgotten is the role it has played under the Clinton and Obama presidencies in creating the economic, political and social conditions for Trump’s election in 2016. Such historical and political amnesia allows them to make the specious claim that they are now the party of resistance. Resistance in these instances has little to do with civic courage, a defense of human dignity, and the willingness to not just bear witness to the current injustices but to struggle to overcome them. Of course, the issue is not to disavow resistance as much as to redefine it as inseparable from fundamental change that calls for the overthrow of capitalism itself.

While the call to resist neoliberal fascism is to be welcomed, it has to be interrogated and not aligned with individuals and ideological forces that helped put in place the racist, economic, religious and educational forces that helped produce it. What all of these calls to resistance have in common is a opposition to Trump rather than to the conditions that created him. Trump’s election and the Kavanaugh affair make clear that what is needed is not only a resistance to the established order of neoliberal capitalism but a radical restructuring of society itself. That is not about resisting oppression in its diverse forms but overcoming it — in short, changing it.

While it is crucial to condemn the Kavanaugh hearings for their blatant disregard for the Constitution, expressed hatred of women, and symbolic expression and embrace of white privilege and power, it is necessary to enlarge our criticism to include the system that made the Kavanaugh appointment possible. Kavanaugh represents not only the deep-seated rot of misogyny but also, as Grace Lee Boggs has stated, “a government of, by, and for corporate power.” We need to see beyond the white nationalists and neo-Nazis demonstrating in the streets in order to recognize the terror of the unforeseen, the terror that is state sanctioned, and hides in the shadows of power.

Such a struggle means more than engaging material relations of power or the economic architecture of neoliberal fascism, it also means taking on the challenge of producing the tools and tactics necessary to rethink and create the conditions for a new kind of subjectivity as the basis for a new kind of democratic socialist politics. We need a comprehensive politics that brings together various single-interest movements so that the threads that connect them become equally as important as the particular forms of oppression that define their singularity. In addition, we need intellectuals willing to combine intellectual complexity with clarity and accessibility, embrace the high-stakes investment in persuasion, and cross disciplinary borders in order to theorize and speak with what Rob Nixon calls the “cunning of lightness” and a “methodological promiscuity” that keeps language attuned to the pressing claims for justice.

Trump has surfaced the dire anti-democratic threats that have been expanding under an economic system stripped of any political, social and ethical responsibility. This is a form of neoliberal fascism that has redrawn and expanded the parameters of what after the genocidal practices and hate-filled politics of the 1930s and 40s in Europe was once thought impossible to happen again. The threat has returned and is now on our doorsteps, and it needs to be named, exposed, and overcome by those who believe that the stakes are much too high to look away and not engage in organized political and pedagogical struggles.

***

Hannah Arendt once wrote that terror was the essence of totalitarianism. She was right and we are now witnessing the dystopian visions of the new authoritarians who now trade in fear, hatred, demonization, violence and racism. This will be Trump’s legacy. It is easy to despair in times of tyranny, but it is much more productive to be politically and morally outraged and to draw upon such anger as a source of hope and action. Without hope even in the most dire of times, there is no possibility for resistance, dissent and struggle.

A critical consciousness is the prerequisite for informed agency and hope is the basis for individual and collective resistance. Moreover, when combined with collective action, hope translates into a dynamic sense of possibility, enabling one to join with others for the long haul of fighting systemic forms of domination. Courage in the face of tyranny is a necessity and not an option and we can learn both from the past and the present about resistance movements and the power of civic courage and collective struggle and how such modes of resistance are emerging among a number of groups across a wide variety of landscapes.

What is crucial is the necessity of not facing such struggles alone, allowing ourselves to feel defeated in our isolation or giving in to the crippling neoliberal survival-of-the-fittest ethos that dominates everyday relations. Radical politics begins when one refuses to face one’s fate alone, learns about the workings and mechanisms of power, and rejects the dominant mantra of social isolation.

There is strength in numbers. One of the most important things we can do to sustain a sense of courage and dignity is to imagine a new social order. That is, we must constantly work to revive a radical political imaginary by talking with others in order to rethink what a new politics and society would look like, one that is fundamentally anti-capitalist and dedicated to creating the conditions for new democratic political and social formations. This suggests creating new public spheres that make such a dialogue and notion of solidarity possible while simultaneously struggling against the forces that gave rise to Trump, particularly those that suggest that totalitarian forms are still with us.

As I have stressed, rethinking politics anew also suggests the possibility of building broad-based alliances in order to create a robust economic and political agenda that connects democracy with a serious effort to interrogate the sources and structures of inequality, racism and authoritarianism that now plague the United States. This points to opening up new lines of understanding, dialogue and radical empathy. It means, as the philosopher George Yancy suggests, learning “how to love with courage.”

A nonviolent movement for democratic socialism does not need vanguards, political purity or the seductions of ideological orthodoxy. On the contrary, it needs an informed and energized politics without guarantees, one that is open to new ideas, self-reflection and understanding. Instead of ideologies of certainty, unchecked moralism and a politics of shaming, we need to understand the conditions that make it possible for people to internalize forms of domination, and that means interrogating forgotten histories and existing pedagogies of oppression. Recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Americans say this is the lowest point in American politics that they can recall. Such despair offers the possibility of a pedagogical intervention, one that provides a political opening to create a massive movement for organized struggle in the United States.

Rebecca Solnit has rightly argued that while we live in an age of despair, hope is a gift we that we cannot surrender because it amplifies the power of alternative visions, offers up stories in which we can imagine the unimaginable, enables people to “move from depression to outrage,” and positions people to take seriously what they are for and what they are against. This suggests trying to understand how the very processes of learning constitute the political mechanisms through which identities — individual and collective — are shaped, desired, mobilized and take on the worldly practices of autonomy, self-reflection and self-determination as part of a larger struggle for economic and social justice.

First, it is crucial to develop a language in which it becomes possible to imagine a future much different from the present, one that refuses to privatize hope with a crude individualism. Second, it is crucial to develop a discourse of critique and possibility that rejects the ongoing normalizing of existing relations of domination and control while simultaneously repudiating the notion that capitalism and democracy are synonymous. It would be wise to heed the words of the late science-fiction visionary Ursula K. Le Guin when she wrote, “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Nay, human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

Third, it is imperative to reject the notion that all problems are individual issues and can only be solved as a matter of individual action and responsibility. This is one of neoliberalism’s most powerful ideological tenets, working to make the personal the only politics that matters while detaching private troubles from the wider world. All three of these assumptions serve to depoliticize people and erase both what it means to make power visible and to organize collectively to address such problem. Fourth, there is a need, I believe, for a discourse that is both historical, relational and comprehensive. Memory matters both in terms of reclaiming lost narratives of struggle and for assessing visions, strategies and tactics that still hold enormous possibilities in the present.

Developing a relational discourse means connecting the dots around issues that are often viewed in isolated terms. For instance, one cannot study the attack on public schools and higher education as sutured internal issues that focus exclusively on the teaching methods and strategies. What is needed are analyses that link such attacks to the broader issue of inequality, the dynamics of casino capitalism and the pervasive racism active in promoting new forms of segregation both within and outside of schools.

A comprehensive politics is one that does at least two things. On the one hand, it tries to understand a plethora of problems from massive poverty to the despoiling of the planet within a broader understanding of politics. That is, it connects the dots among diverse forms of oppression. In this instance, the focus is on the totality of politics, one that focuses on the power relations of global capitalism, the rise of illiberal democracy, the archives of authoritarianism and the rise of financial capital. A totalizing view of oppression allows the development of a language that is capable of making visible the ideological and structural forces of the new forms of domination at work in the United States and across the globe. On the other hand, such a comprehensive understanding of politics makes it possible to bring together a range of crucial issues and movements so as to expand the range of oppressions while at the same time providing a common ground for these diverse groups to be able to work together in the interest of the common good and a broad struggle for democratic socialism.

Finally, any viable language of emancipation needs to develop a discourse of what Ron Aronson calls social hope. He writes:

Social hope, the disposition to act collectively to change a situation, entails that we act not blindly but with a sense of possibility. The cold stream demands that we prepare ourselves and assess the conditions under which we are operating. The hope of social movements calls for objective, clearheaded organization and action, and an appreciation of the circumstances in which we may be successful. This realistic stream of hope mingles with the visionary stream that motivates us; without both, there is no hope. Hope uniquely combines our longing, our own real intention, and our sense of potency with real possibility, the subjective and the objective.

Aronson is right in arguing that naming what is wrong in a society is important but it is not enough, because such criticism can sometimes be overpowering and lead to a paralyzing despair or, even worse, a crippling cynicism. Hope speaks to imagining a life beyond capitalism, and combines a realistic sense of limits with a lofty vision of demanding the impossible. As Ariel Dorfman has argued, progressives need a language that is missing from our political vocabulary, one that insists that “alternative worlds are possible, that they are within reach if we’re courageous enough, and smart enough, and daring enough to take control of our own lives.” Reason, justice, and change cannot blossom without hope because educated hope taps into our deepest experiences and longing for a life of dignity with others, a life in which it becomes possible to imagine a future that does not mimic the present.

I am not referring to a romanticized and empty notion of hope, but to a notion of informed social hope that faces the concrete obstacles and realities of domination but continues the ongoing task of realizing a future in which matters of justice, equality, freedom and joy matter. Casino capitalism is a toxin that has created a predatory class of unethical zombies who are producing dead zones of the imagination and massive ecologies of immiseration that even George Orwell could not have envisioned, while waging a fierce fight against the possibilities of a democratic future.

The time has come to develop a political language in which civic values, social responsibility and the institutions that support them become central to invigorating and fortifying a new era of civic imagination, a renewed sense of social agency and an impassioned international social movement with a vision, organization and set of strategies to challenge the neoliberal nightmare engulfing the planet. Such a strategy would have to revive the radical imagination and the task of thinking about a future without capitalism and oppression; launch a comprehensive education program to provide alternative narratives, memories and histories that enable the capacities for informed judgment, ethical responsibilities and civic courage; and last but not least create those alternative public spheres where a new conversation can be opened up about the creation of a new progressive and socialist political formation. As Karl Marx said, there is nothing to lose but our chains.

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Chicago Will Burn if Laquan McDonald’s Killer Walks

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

My earliest memories of growing up in Chicago are steeped in racial tension and political violence: a street covered with Chicago police cars because Malcolm X was speaking under threat of assassination at a local mosque; Martin Luther King meeting a hail of rocks and bottles in a white-ethnic neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side; and much of the city’s black West Side erupting in flames, with Mayor Richard J. Daley telling police to “shoot to kill” rioters in the wake of King’s assassination.

That was seven Chicago mayors and 11 U.S. presidents ago. In the intervening decades, Chicago has moved along with the rest of urban America into a neoliberal, post-civil rights era, in which persistent racial hypersegregation and inequality are cloaked, to a degree, by the rise of a black middle class and by the presence of black faces in high and visible places, be they among television news teams or state and federal officials.

Along the way, Chicago emerged as a global city—a prominent center of national and international finance, trade, real estate, tourism, culture and information technology. A corporate and financial growth machine steered the city past the postindustrial decline that plagued other Rust Belt cities.

Beneath the shine of a monied downtown (the Loop) and its ever-expanding zones of professional-class gentrification, however, the city remains militantly separate and unequal. Chicago is the most segregated city in the nation, with a black-white “residential dissimilarity index” of 82.5 (a rate of zero indicates complete integration and 100 means complete segregation) and a black-Latinx measure of 82.2.

The majority of the city’s black children grow up in poor neighborhoods that are 90 percent or more black. These community areas are shockingly bereft of basic opportunities, services and amenities, from job networks to good public schools, full-service grocery stores, doctors’ offices, green space and nonfast-food restaurants. They are deprived of public and private investment by a metropolitan order that grants massive tax breaks and other subsidies to rich and powerful commercial real estate developers in the more affluent, whiter parts of town.

“There’s been a huge depopulation of [blacks] south of the West Side,” Chicago anti-war and anti-racist activist Andy Thayer tells me. The city’s neoliberal mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has “made black neighborhoods unlivable,” Thayer says, by “starving them of public resources, closing public schools and mental health clinics.”

The results are not pretty. A University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) report last year found racial and ethnic inequality in the city so “pervasive, persistent, and consequential” as to make life for white, black and Latino Chicagoans “a tale of three cities.” Combing through census and other data, the UIC’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy found that Chicago has “fail[ed] to address the long-term consequences of decades of formal and widespread private and public discrimination along with continuing forms of entrenched … institutional and interpersonal forms of discrimination.” Among its findings:

● At 18 percent, Chicago’s black unemployment rate is more than four times the city’s white unemployment rate (4 percent) and double the Latinx rate (9 percent).

● Nearly a third of Chicago’s black families, but less than a tenth of the city’s white families, live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty line.

● In 1960, the typical white Chicago family earned 1.6 times more than the typical black family. Today, the typical white family earns 2.2 times more than typical black families.

● Black and Latino households experience rampant mortgage interest rate and payment schedule discrimination.

● Home foreclosures are drastically overconcentrated in black and Latino communities, with as much as 25 percent of the housing stock abandoned in some all-black South Side neighborhoods.

● Nine in ten black and Latino students attend schools where 75 percent or more of the student population is eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches.

● Black students are suspended at four times the rate of Latinos and 23 times the rate of whites.

● While crime is down in Chicago, incarceration rates have skyrocketed due to policy shifts, including aggressive policing strategies and mandatory-minimum sentencing. Illinois’ disproportionately (60 percent) black prisons are operating at 150 percent of maximum capacity, fueled largely by racially discriminatory policing and sentencing practices.

● Chicagoans of color are subject to far more police surveillance and intervention than whites. “Although blacks and Latinos have their vehicle searched at four times the rate of their white counterparts,” UIC researchers find, “they are half as likely to be in possession of illegal contraband or a controlled substance.”

● Blacks experience heart disease, stroke, infant mortality, low birth weight and mortality in general at far higher rates than whites.

Violence looms around every corner in much of black Chicago, and not just the violence of inner-city gangs. The “biggest gang of all,” many black residents will tell you, is the Chicago Police Department (CPD), a leading enforcer of the city’s durable and interrelated barriers of race, class and place. In a report on the CPD by the Department of Justice in the final days of the Obama administration, federal investigators painted an ugly picture of a major metropolitan gendarme force out of control in black and Latino neighborhoods:

<blockquote>Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable. … Officers engage in … unnecessary foot pursuits … [that] too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone—including unarmed individuals. … Officers shoot at vehicles without justification. … Officers exhibit poor discipline when discharging their weapons …[and often] fail … to await backup when they safely could and should. … CPD officers shot at suspects who presented no immediate threat … and us[e] unreasonable retaliatory force and unreasonable force against children. …

CPD’s pattern or practice of unreasonable force … fall[s] heaviest on the predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of Chicago, which are also experiencing higher crime. … CPD uses force almost ten times more often against blacks than against whites.</blockquote>

Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority received no less than 10,000 excessive-force complaints between 2008 and 2015, resulting in the dismissal of just four officers.

One of the many black people killed by Chicago police in recent years was Harith Augustus. A respected barber and dedicated father of a little girl, Augustus was gunned down by a white officer who shot him at least five times in the back as he ran away. The police initiated the incident by trying to apprehend him as he walked peacefully down a street in the black South Side neighborhood of South Shore.

The department absurdly justified the shooting by claiming that Augustus, 37, was “exhibiting the characteristics of an armed person.”

As the officer who killed Augustus was whisked away in a patrol car, protesters gathered at the scene, charging “murder.” A melee ensued between black community residents and 80 to 100 officers. By Chicago Sun-Times reporter Nader Issa’s account, “Dozens of officers were called to help control a tense scene as more than 100 people crowded around, chanting at police, ‘Who do you serve? Who do you protect?’&nbsp;”

Could the city explode in racial violence again, on a larger, 1968-level, in response to police violence and repression?

Yes, it could, thanks to how the case of Laquan McDonald and Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who killed him four years ago, is being handled by the authorities. Van Dyke is currently on trial for the shooting.

You can see the Oct. 20, 2014, incident online. The police dashcam video of the killing has been viewed millions of times since the public demanded its release in late 2015.

You watch the young victim walking away from his killer. You see 17-year-old Laquan’s body lying on the ground, curled up in a fetal position and jolted as Van Dyke pumps multiple bullets into him. Van Dyke drilled McDonald 16 times in 15 seconds, with the suspect on the ground for 13 of those seconds.

What sets Van Dyke’s shooting apart from the broad run of incidents in which black people are killed by police is its palpable and widely viewed heinousness, to say nothing of the outrage it elicited in Chicago’s black community and around the world.

The Van Dyke-McDonald shooting tape is certainly the most inflammatory and widely observed film evidence of racist police brutality to make its way into the mass media since the video that showed a large group Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King nearly three decades ago.

Chicago was roiled by protests that became national-headline news after the video came out in late 2015. But for those protests, Van Dyke would never have been charged with murder.

Nobody grasped the historic nature of the shooting when it occurred. “The McDonald killing,” Thayer recalls, “was just another blip.” But for an inside tip from an anonymous police officer to prominent Chicago activist Jamie Kalven, nobody would have learned about the horrific nature of Laquan’s shooting or the existence of the videotape. And but for the dedicated Freedom of Information activism of an Uber-driving, independent journalist named Brandon Smith, the tape would never been released. The city produced the tape only because it was legally compelled to by a county judge ruling in a lawsuit filed by Smith.

It wasn’t the tape alone tape that brought thousands into the streets and raised demands for Emanuel’s exit from City Hall. Emanuel added fuel to the fire by keeping the tape under wraps because he feared it would deep-six his chance of winning the black votes he needed after years of alienating the community by closing dozens of public schools in their neighborhoods and stonewalling on racist police abuse and misconduct (including the operation of a “black site” detention center on the city’s West Side).

Emanuel, it was ultimately revealed, had offered McDonald’s family a $5 million settlement to keep it quiet prior to the mayor’s re-election bid in the spring of 2015.

Emanuel claimed that he’d never seen the video prior to its release on Nov. 24, 2015—a preposterous story, given his approval of the settlement prior to the election.

Van Dyke, Laquan’s killer, was allowed to stay on the force, at full pay, for 13 months after conducting an extrajudicial killing that was clearly captured on tape.

Journalists later discovered that other Chicago officers on the scene threatened eyewitnesses with arrest and deleted more than an hour of footage from a fast-food restaurant near the shooting site. Numerous Chicago police officers who witnessed the killing protected Van Dyke (in accordance with “blue code”) by making abjectly counterfeit reports claiming that McDonald posed an imminent threat to his killer.

In a meeting with black ministers before the video’s release, Emanuel arrogantly warned them that he would withhold money for jobs programs in black neighborhoods if civil unrest ensued.

Emanuel has recently announced that he will not run for a third term in 2019, recognizing that his handling of the killing likely doomed him among black voters.

Emmanuel, the school privatization champion, “can’t even visit one of his inner-city charter schools,” Thayer reports, “without the kids all chanting ‘Sixteen Shots and a Cover-Up! Sixteen Shots and a Cover-Up!’&nbsp;”

Both the trial and its runup have been disquieting. Chicago media helped Van Dyke’s lawyer try to pollute the jury pool prior to jury selection by publishing interviews in which Van Dyke said, “You don’t ever want to shoot your gun. I never would have fired my gun if I didn’t think my life was in jeopardy or another citizen’s life was.”

A local television station broadcast a pre-jury-selection interview in which Van Dyke’s wife tearfully told viewers that she is “petrified” over the prospect of her husband going to prison for “doing the job for which he was trained.”

Van Dyke’s defense attorney, Daniel Herbert, failed to get the trial moved out of Chicago’s Cook County but succeeded in securing a 12-person jury composed of just one black person, seven white people and a Latina who is applying to be a Chicago Police Department officer. Chicago is 32.9 percent black.

At trial, the opening statement by Van Dyke’s attorney was equally provocative. As the Chicago Tribune reported, “Herbert said Van Dyke paused to reassess after firing 14 of the 16 shots. He didn’t know if they were lethal gunshots. He didn’t know if Laquan McDonald had the ability to get back up and attack him,” he said. ‘McDonald holds on to his knife the whole time he’s on the ground. Despite being shot 14 times, he starts making movements.’&nbsp;”

In what bizarre universe was McDonald a threat to the gun-wielding Van Dyke as the bullet-riddled teenager lay dying?

On the second day of the trial, Herbert rolled out Van Dyke’s former partner, Officer Joe Walsh, who claimed that McDonald “raised [his] knife to shoulder height and swung it moments before Van Dyke opened fire.” The video shows Walsh’s testimony to be a bald-faced lie.

The defense has brought out an expert witness to perversely claim that the large number of shots Van Dyke pumped into Laquan didn’t matter because the 17-year-old was killed by an early bullet; presented a Cook County detention officer with stories of McDonald’s past “agitation,” as though that were justification for his killing; had a Chicago Police Department officer testify that McDonald “looked deranged” before he was killed; and presented evidence that the victim had taken PCP, a drug that can give users a feeling of “omnipotence.”

On Tuesday, Van Dyke’s attorney put him on the stand. “His [Laquan’s] face had no expression, his eyes were just bugging out of his head,” Van Dyke said. “He had these huge white eyes, just staring right through me,” he told the jury.

“Huge white eyes” that were “bugging out of his head”? At best, Van Dyke’s language is highly racialized. At worst, it’s overtly racist.

The irony is that Van Dyke, not McDonald, was the attacker, wielding a deadly, rapid-fire pistol. What kind of expression did Van Dyke have on his face while he launched a fusillade of bullets into the stricken youth?

A veteran black activist tells me he’s heard that “Van Dyke will be thrown to the mob” as “a kind of token” to pacify the city’s black population and take the heat off a racist police state.

Closing arguments are due no later than Friday, and a verdict could be handed down as early as next week. A rally is planned outside City Hall one hour after the decision, whatever its outcome.

Could Chicago explode if Van Dyke walks? Every activist and observer I’ve spoken to here says the chances of mass protest and disturbances are high, because the city’s black neighborhoods are full of young people fed up with brutal and racist policing and the savage inequality and segregation that it enforces.

That Emanuel, widely hated in the black community, is leaving could temper things. At the same time the fact that “Mayor Rhambo”—a great lover of the militarized police state—no longer has to worry about losing black votes could help entice him to order a harsh crackdown on protests.

My prediction: guilty on second- but not first-degree murder. If it’s “not guilty,” there will be hell to pay.

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American History for Truthdiggers: Reconstruction, a Failed Experiment

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Maj. Danny Sjursen.

Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the 18th installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His war experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.

Part 18 of “American History for Truthdiggers.”

See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10; Part 11; Part 12; Part 13; Part 14; Part 15; Part 16; Part 17.

* * *

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—…
Or does it explode?

—Langston Hughes (1951)

It was, perhaps, the greatest betrayal, the ultimate lost opportunity, in all of American history. The failure of Reconstruction (1865-77)—the reunion and reorganization undertaken after the Civil War—was a dark, yet briefly vibrant, moment in our collective past. This was a time of promises made but not kept, mainly promises to the newly freed slaves. The results of this lost opportunity for genuine civil rights and racial equality resonate in the present day.

Most Americans know something about our great civil war. Lay enthusiasts, historical re-enactors and even otherwise disengaged citizens can recount the basic contours of great battles, horrific casualties and the sudden freedom granted the slaves. Well, it makes sense: War, when it is not actually unfolding around you, is exciting. Conversely, the process of picking up the pieces, rebuilding a nation and creating new social structures for a forever changed country, the stuff of Reconstruction, is far less well known.

It should be otherwise. The dozen or so years after the American Civil War (1861-65) are among the most consequential in our history and have far more relevance to contemporary affairs than almost any other era. Nearly every issue Americans grapple with today—citizenship, race, terrorism, affirmative action, the scope of federal power, and reparations payments—all have strong roots in the period of Reconstruction. It was in these years that the U.S. government would briefly triumph and ultimately fail in a grand experiment to achieve the twin goals of postwar Reconstruction: justice and reconciliation.

The historiography (the history of historians) of Reconstruction has a long, sordid history. Readers of a certain age, in fact, may recognize some of the older interpretations of this period. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, historians such as William A. Dunning and his many students at Columbia University—the so-called Dunning school of scholars—dominated this field. According to this highly biased, Southern-influenced interpretation, the problem with Reconstruction was that it went too far. The story went something like this: President Abraham Lincoln had a plan for leniency toward the former Confederates, and his successor, Andrew Johnson, attempted to follow the Lincoln vision. He was thwarted, however, by Radical Republicans in Congress who pushed too far too fast and were overly punitive with the former rebels. They sent “carpetbaggers” (outsiders) from the North who worked with “scalawags” (or collaborators) to force racial equality and Northern capitalist dominance on the poverty-stricken South. In this view, former slaves simply weren’t ready for the vote and other civil rights, and the Reconstruction-era governments in the South were massive, corrupt failures. Luckily, by 1877, a compromise was reached, the federal troops left, and heroic former Confederates in the newly formed Ku Klux Klan drove out the Yankee carpetbaggers and restored “home rule” to their governments.

If that interpretation seems shocking by modern standards, well, it should. What’s most disturbing is that some version of the Dunning interpretation remained mainstream (and in students’ textbooks) well into the 1950s; until, that is, the civil rights era. That this vision prevailed so long reflects a culture of white supremacy that existed long after the Civil War and, some argue, still exists today. The whole edifice was premised on the notion that blacks, as former slaves, were incapable of self-government and required the steady, paternalist hand of their white Southern superiors. After the civil rights era (1954-68), a new generation of historians took a fresh look at Reconstruction and rehabilitated the efforts of Radical Republicans, lauding their ultimately unsuccessful attempt to guarantee basic civil rights to newly freed blacks.

What, then, can now be said about Reconstruction? Perhaps this: It was a remarkably idealistic attempt to bring freedom and equality to 4 million souls only recently held in bondage. Some of the brief achievements of this period (such as blacks voting, holding office and serving in Congress) would not again occur on a broad scale for a century. The failure of these attempts was not due to corruption or the unpreparedness of blacks; rather, the racism and apathy of white Americans—both south and north of the Mason-Dixon Line—doomed black Americans to generations of slavery by another name: Jim Crow.

An Enormous Challenge: Reconstruction Begins

“If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to blacks, what will peace among the whites bring?” —Frederick Douglass (1875)

Americans began arguing about how best to reconstruct the Union before even winning the war. In fact, various generals and politicians experimented with several methods of reunion and racial reconciliation. Some Union generals treated escaped slaves like lowly laborers, either paying low wages for hard jobs or returning them to the plantations they had fled. This approach was common in the occupied Mississippi Valley and parts of Louisiana during the war. On the Carolina coast, however, the planters fled the approaching Union forces during the war and left behind some 10,000 slaves. Union generals granted land to the slaves and created a remarkable, if brief, experiment in black self-rule. White New Englanders flocked to the Carolina Sea Islands to teach blacks to read, treat them medically and train them in farming techniques. In another remarkable turn, Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ own plantation, Davis Bend, in Mississippi was seized and turned into a “negro paradise,” as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant declared it should be. The plantations were settled and worked by the slaves as a collective, and Davis Bend proved remarkably profitable for the rest of the war.

Such experiments, however, dealt only with the relatively few slaves left behind in the face of Union armies. After the South’s surrender, the U.S. government confronted a much larger challenge: What to do with some 4 million former slaves made free by the war? The size of the task was staggering. Six percent of all Northern white males had died as a result of the conflict, along with 18 percent of Confederate men. The freeing of the slaves was, by some counts, the largest confiscation of wealth (and “property”) in world history. The South was in ruins—it needed to be rebuilt and its surrendered rebels somehow reintegrated into the Union. It would have been a daunting task even if everything had gone right.

Besides, the South may have been beaten on the battlefield, but it was less clear that Southerners considered themselves truly defeated. Union Gen. James S. Brisbin wrote to a congressman in December 1865, “These people are not loyal; they are only conquered. I tell you there is not as much loyalty in the South today as there was the day Lee surrendered to Grant. The moment they lost their cause in the field they set about to gain by politics what they had failed to obtain by force of arms.” The average Confederate soldier may well have turned over his rifle (though often the soldiers kept their firearms) and taken off the uniform, and he may even have accepted the freeing of the slaves; however, he fully expected to maintain the edifice of white supremacy and return to the ways of the antebellum South.

The Worst President in History? Andrew Johnson and the Failure of Presidential Reconstruction

Johnson lacked all the qualities that made Lincoln a great president. He was combative, had no charisma, failed to compromise and was wickedly racist. When Johnson showed up drunk and gave a rambling, inebriated inaugural address, he was acting completely in character. Johnson was from Tennessee but had remained loyal to the Union, the only Southern senator to do so. He hated the planter aristocracy and the secessionists, but he was even less tolerant of blacks he considered uppity and Northern abolitionists. Johnson planned Reconstruction on his own terms. He lavished pardons on any Confederate official who wrote to him or visited Washington, and insisted that the leadership of the Southern states remain in place and that these states should quickly re-enter the Union. He had no love for famed abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, of whom he said at the conclusion of a meeting: “He’s just like any nigger, and he would sooner cut a white man’s throat than not.”

Few Confederates, even high-ranking ones, were severely punished. There were no war crimes trials, military tribunals for treason, or mass hangings. Even Confederate President Jefferson Davis spent but two years in prison. The Confederacy’s vice president, Alexander Stephens, would even rejoin the U.S. Congress within a decade of the war’s end, and end his career as governor of Georgia. As soon as white Southerners were back in charge of local government, the Deep South states quickly enacted “black codes,” or laws, controlling every aspect of the freedmen’s public lives. As an example, the Louisiana Black Codes read, in part:

Section 1. … [N]o negro or freedman shall be allowed to come within the city limits … without special permission.

Section 2. … [E]very negro freedman who shall be found on the streets after 10 o’clock without a writ-ten pass … shall be imprisoned and compelled to work five days on the streets.

Section 5. No public meetings … of negroes shall be allowed. …

Section 7. [N]o freedman who is not in the military service shall be allowed to carry firearms. …

Indeed, the Southern states, with the planter class back in charge, had largely negated the North’s achievements of the war and crafted a new version of slavery. All-white police forces and judiciaries, often composed of Confederate veterans still wearing their gray uniforms, enforced the black codes. Union veterans and Radical (meaning more liberal) Republicans in Congress began to wonder, if there was to be no punishment for the Confederates or meaningful freedom for the slaves, what the war had even been for.

The Radical Moment: Congressional Reconstruction

Johnson and his Southern compatriots would later argue that “radical” Reconstruction was despotic and unnecessary. Nevertheless, the record demonstrates the opposite. Through presidential vetoes and white Southern intransigence, the South brought radical Reconstruction upon itself. When Congress passed the remarkable Civil Rights Act of 1866, Johnson quickly vetoed it. This legislation provided for equality before the law (but not the vote) for the freedmen. Congress overrode his veto with a two-thirds majority—the first time a major bill was passed over a presidential veto in U.S. history. To solidify black rights, the Congress even passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which stated:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

And, taking matters a step further, the Republican Congress also passed the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the vote to black men (but not women). In a remarkable turn of events, black men had gained civil and political rights in just three years and over the objections of the president. The Republican Party—which hadn’t existed in the South before the war—began winning elections and even placing blacks (often former slaves) in elected offices. Eight hundred black men would serve in state legislatures from 1868 through 1877; a black man was briefly governor of Louisiana; more than a dozen blacks served in the U.S. House, and one in the Senate. White Southerners called this “Negro Rule,” but in reality it was the first ever attempt at democracy in the South. After all, in a few Deep South states, former slaves constituted an actual majority of the population.

Johnson was appalled by both the 14th and 15th amendments and the radical changes unfolding in Southern society. And by suddenly removing the Radical Republican Edwin Stanton from his position as secretary of war, he violated the recently passed Tenure of Office Act (which required congressional approval of such moves). That was the last straw for an already frustrated Congress. The House voted to impeach President Johnson, and the Senate came within one vote of the two-thirds majority required to remove him from office. Even though he remained president, Johnson had been politically castrated and wouldn’t run for re-election in 1868. He would be succeeded by the great Union war hero Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Grant’s Democratic opponents, Horatio Seymour and Francis P. Blair, would play the race card—actually, the racist card—in their failed 1868 campaign. Blair claimed that the Republicans had placed the South under the rule of “a semi-barbarous race of blacks who are worshippers of fetishes and polygamists” and who long to “subject the white women to their unbridled lust.”

Though blacks had won remarkable political power in a few short years, they generally lacked any true economic clout. There were early efforts, though, spearheaded by the likes of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, to offer 40 acres and in some cases supposedly a mule to freedmen along the Southeast coast. In January 1865, before the war had ended, Sherman enacted Special Field Order 15 from Savannah, Ga., thereby setting aside such confiscated land for thousands of freedmen. Unfortunately, by September 1865, after the war’s end, President Johnson rescinded Sherman’s order and mandated the land be restored to the Confederate owners. Some Union generals publicly opposed the president’s decision. Gen. O.O. Howard—head of the new Federal Freedmen’s Bureau, designed to support the newly emancipated slaves—was nearly fired and court-martialed after writing to his superiors: “The lands which have been taken possession were solemnly pledged to the freedman. Thousands of them are already located on tracts of forty acres each. The love of the soil and desire to own farms [is] the dearest hope of their lives.”

The language of this 1866 political cartoon says, in part, “The Freedman’s Bureau! An agency to keep the Negro in idleness at the expense of the white man. … Support Congress & you support the Negro. Sustain the President & you protect the white man.”

Howard’s Freedmen’s Bureau was itself a remarkable institution. Though always small (never having more than 900 employees in the entire South), the bureau worked toward the education and betterment of the former slaves in what was the earliest known federal welfare program of any size. Still, opposition cartoons in the South depicted the bureau—which was remarkably successful in most cases—as a haven for freeloaders and lazy black men. (This language rings as remarkably similar to 20th-century complaints against modern welfare programs.)

Some Radical Republicans—to their immense credit, given the times—wanted to go a step further. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, unsuccessful fought for the confiscation of 400 million acres of Confederate land and its redistribution to the freedmen. Stevens, in opposition to Johnson’s view, believed the federal government ought to treat the Southerners as a “conquered people” and reform “the foundation of their institutions, both political, municipal and social,” so that “all our blood and treasure [were not] spent in vain.” Given the century of Jim Crow laws, lynching and political disenfranchisement that followed Reconstruction, it appears that men like Stevens were ultimately right and exceptionally ahead of their times. Such a redistribution of land would be radical even today and carry the tainted labels of “socialism,” “affirmative action” and “reparations.” Still, in hindsight, the denial of land ownership to most freedmen doomed them to labor in the fields and on the plantations of the onetime slaveholders. The terms of work and the social caste system remained remarkably consistent with the pre-war “Old” South.

Domestic Terror: The KKK Counterrevolution

It was a time of great terror. Though pitched battles between armies became a thing of the past, the South was far from pacified and remained an extraordinarily violent place. The federal Army—which after the war never counted more than 30,000 men across the entire South—did what it could to stanch the violence and protect victims, who were almost always former slaves. The most infamous group of revisionist former rebels was known as the Ku Klux Klan, or the KKK for short.

The members of the Ku Klux Klan, formed in Pulaski, Tenn., by Confederate veterans, wore white sheets over their heads in order to appear “as the ghosts of the Confederate dead.” In reality, of course, the Klan was merely a resurrection of the old militias and slave patrols that had enforced white supremacy for centuries. Its tactic was violence; its goal, counterrevolution; its method, terrorism. The Klan was extraordinarily violent, probably killing more innocent black men, women and children during Reconstruction than the number of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks of 2001. After all, in Texas alone, in just 1865-1868, over 1,000 blacks were murdered by whites.

Other statistics and events are equally shocking. In October 1870, bands of whites in South Carolina’s Piedmont region drove 150 freedmen from their homes and committed 13 murders. In Louisiana in 1873 a legally organized and accredited black militia tried to defend the parish courthouse in Colfax against a superior white force of former Confederates armed with rifles and a small cannon. The black militia held out for a time but was ultimately overwhelmed. At least 50 were summarily executed under a white flag of truce.

Furthermore, after Northern troops pulled out of the South and turned government over to white locals, the reign of terror continued. Some 3,000 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1930.

Among the reasons given for these murders: “[a black man] didn’t remove his hat”; an African-American “wouldn’t call [a white man] master.” In yet another case, a white killer simply had “wanted to thin out the niggers a little.”

It’s not as though the Klan could not be controlled, even though it would be fair to characterize the U.S. Army campaign of 1866-77 as a form of what we would now call counterinsurgency. In fact, whenever the Army had the will, leadership and capacity to suppress the Klan, it did so. After the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 was passed at the request of President Grant, the law proved remarkably successful in stymying the power of the KKK throughout much of the South; for the first time ever, a certain class of crimes was brought under federal jurisdiction. Ultimately, it was a question of will, not ability. The simple fact was that Northerners had little stomach for more fighting and complained of the expense—in blood and treasure—of continued occupation. In the end, the Northern public lacked the will necessary to win the peace as it had won the war.

The Lost Cause: Southern ‘Redemption’

“There was a right side and a wrong side in the late war, which no sentiment ought to cause us to forget. … [The South] has suffered to be sure, but she has been the author of her own suffering.”  —Frederick Douglass (remarks at Madison Square in New York City, Decoration Day of 1878)

The former Confederates never really accepted defeat or the reorganization of their social system. In reality, they bided their time, waged secret violence and, perhaps most importantly, crafted an alternative “Lost Cause” narrative. According to this (remarkably resilient) yarn, the South had actually outfought the North and was beaten only because it was overwhelmed by Northern superiority in numbers and resources. The South hadn’t really fought for slavery, but rather for states’ rights and Southern honor. In reality, soldiers on both sides—blue and gray—had more in common than they realized when they were killing each other in massive numbers. According to the Lost Cause myth—which still exists—“reconciliation” between the sections was more important than “justice” for blacks or “punishment” for rebels.

Southern generals were rarely punished and rose to prominence rather quickly as Reconstruction wound down in the 1870s. They gave popular speeches, both in the North and South, speaking of the need for “reconciliation” and “reunion,” words that tended to serve as code for abandonment of the former slaves to the will of their old masters. In 1877, in Brooklyn, N.Y., former Confederate Gen. Roger Pryor told a crowd that applauded him:

The Union is re-established … over the hearts of people. …
But slavery was not the cause of secession. For the cause you must look … to that irrepressible conflict between the principles of state sovereignty and federal supremacy. … Impartial history will record that slavery fell not by effort of man’s will, but by an act of Almighty God, and so, fellow citizens, the soldiers of the late war are brought today to fraternize over the graves of their departed comrades, and renew their vows of fealty to the Constitution.

Such sentiments were remarkably common and accepted on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. As violence, and the slow removal of federal troops from the South, began to keep blacks from the polls, Southern Democrats began winning statewide elections. By 1875, former Confederate Gen. James L. Kemper, who had been in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, was governor of Virginia and gave a speech to unveil a statue of Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson in Richmond. On the occasion, Gov. Kemper revealed not only a new heroic statue but his own version of the rhetoric of Lost Cause and reconciliation. He exclaimed:

Not for the Southern people only, but for every citizen of whatever section … this tribute … is to be cherished, with national pride. … Stonewall Jackson’s career of unconscious heroism will go down as an inspiration. … It speaks with equal voice to every portion of the reunited common country … to inspire our children with patriotic fervor. … Let Virginia demand and resume [its] ancient place in the sisterhood of States. …

Considering that “Stonewall” was a traitor who resigned his U.S. Army commission to fight for a treasonous Southern slaveholding secessionist republic just 14 years earlier, this was remarkable rhetoric. That it resonated among some Northerners as well as Southerners is more peculiar. But so it was.

A poster for D.W. Griffith’s 1915 movie “The Birth of a Nation.” The highly popular film, shown in Woodrow Wilson’s White House, depicted the Ku Klux Klan as heroic.

The Lost Cause myth took on a life of its own and, eventually, drafted a Reconstruction chapter as well. According to this version, it was actually the KKK that was heroic during Reconstruction, protecting rightfully white leadership and the honor of Southern white women. As late as the early 20th century, this was somehow a mainstream interpretation. It was in 1915 that D.W. Griffith’s incredibly successful silent film “The Birth of a Nation” depicted the Klan as the heroic savior of the white South from venal Northern carpetbaggers and insufferable, lustful black savages. How mainstream was the film? Well, it was a favorite of President Woodrow Wilson (a Virginian) and received a private screening at the White House.

The South may have lost the war, but it most certainly won the peace.

Betrayal: The Retreat From Reconstruction

“The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” —W.E.B. Du Bois (1913)

The abandonment of Southern blacks shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, what did it truly mean to remake the South in the North’s image when the North itself was so virulently racist in the mid-19th century? Most Northerners had signed up for the Army to save the Union and cared little for the slaves. Soon after the war, The Cincinnati Enquirer announced, “Slavery is dead, the negro is not, there is the misfortune.”

Most Northerners were tired of Reconstruction by the mid-1870s. The commitment of troops and money to protect what many saw as corrupt and inefficient “black” administrations just didn’t seem worth it. Besides, the economic mismanagement—the Panic of 1873 was the worst financial disaster in 40 years—and staggering corruption that plagued the Grant administration only further alienated the Northern populace from what seemed a distant and futile task down South. The tragedy of it all, of course, is that when the U.S. government stuck with it, used the Army and enforced the law, the Reconstruction governments achieved remarkable successes—political wins for blacks that most Southern states wouldn’t see again until the 1980s! Unfortunately, most of the white North was fickle and bigoted.

Besides, even if the Republican president and Congress stood by the goals of Reconstruction, the Southern-dominated Supreme Court soon eviscerated much of the congressional legislation protecting black civil rights. Indeed, it would take a century for the courts to begin appropriately applying the 14th and 15th amendments to Southern blacks. In 1883, the court would rule that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional. And, after all, it was the Supreme Court of the United States that would later, in 1896, rule in Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation was legal!

A lackluster candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, ran on the Republican ticket for president in 1876. The party was seen as tainted by corruption in the Grant administration and mismanagement of the economy and had lost control of the Congress two years earlier, in 1874. It was almost amazing that the little-known Hayes, a former governor of Ohio, managed to keep the vote close in what turned out to be a disputed election with many abnormalities. It was unclear who had won a few Southern states. It appeared, however, that Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic nominee, had the majority of both the popular and electoral vote. It was at this moment that the Republican Party—for which Reconstruction and justice had become a political liability—struck a nefarious deal.

For the sake of party and power, “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes, as he was subsequently called, sold out the millions of Southern blacks who had loyally supported the Republicans for years. The candidate who had lost the popular vote would become president in exchange for his promise to remove the U.S. Army from the South. And so he did. Ironically, he also turned the South over to Democratic one-party rule for a century to come. Hayes was obviously lacking as a political tactician. The truth is, however, that by the time of the 1876 election the majority of Northern whites had tired of Reconstruction. More concerned with economic depression than black civil rights, Northerners were ready to throw in the towel and turn the South back over to its traditional white leaders, come what may. The Compromise of 1877 only reinforced what was by then inevitable: the abandonment of the South’s blacks. Looking back, a dozen years after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, one could plausibly wonder: What had all those men died for in the Civil War?

* * *

Justice and reconciliation. These were, ultimately, the twin goals of postwar Reconstruction. A century and a half on, though, the keen observer wonders if the two goals were ever compatible. To seek justice and equality for the freedmen seemed to inevitably make reconciliation with white former Confederates ever less likely. To prioritize reconciliation with the former rebels seemed to sentence black people to a prolonged bondage of sorts, under the segregationist regime of Jim Crow.

Still, this author sees Reconstruction as an admirable attempt—however far ahead of its time it might have proved to be—at true social and political equality in the United States. It is remarkable that Reconstruction was even attempted in America of the 1860s and ’70s. If only the U.S. Army had stayed longer, enforced the law more stringently, redistributed land and wealth more equitably; if, in other words, the nation had stuck with the Radical Republican approach. Perhaps, then, the civil rights movement of the 1960s could have begun a century earlier, thousands of lynchings been avoided, and the riots, violence and racial upheaval of our own day dodged.

Seen in that albeit provocative light, the real hero of Reconstruction was the congressional “radical” Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, the man who called for free land and civil equity for Southern blacks, at the point of the bayonet if necessary. He would die before Reconstruction truly got underway, and upon his death in August 1866 Stevens, a white man, for the last time challenged his countrymen to “rise above their prejudices.” As he wished, he was buried in an integrated cemetery, an action taken, in the words of his self-composed epitaph, “to illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life: Equality of Man before his Creator.”

Alas, there would be no such equality in the lives of his countrymen. The American experiment was, at it always seems to be, a step behind its egalitarian rhetoric. The United States, it turns out, was not ready for true Reconstruction—and more’s the pity. Many thousands of Northerners died during the American Civil War, and it would have been highly satisfying to imagine they had died for something more than a century of Jim Crow and slavery by another name. But that is the real America, warts and all. And that, in the end, was the failed experiment in Reconstruction.

Still, Reconstruction achieved much and demonstrated what was possible if, someday, Americans had the moral and political will to see it through. The brief Republican governments of the South brought the region its first-ever public school system. It brought more hospitals, more asylums for orphans and the insane. South Carolina in this period would fund medical care for the poor. Alabama would provide free legal counsel for indigent defendants. These were social gains the South wouldn’t see again in most cases until the 1970s or even in some cases until today.

We still live with Reconstruction’s incomplete mission, with its failed promises. Reconstruction remains; its weight presses upon a divided American body politic, sundered yet by class, race and gender. We are reconstructing still, and remain fixed in the midst of our unfinished revolution.

  * * *

To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:
• David W. Blight, “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” (2001).
• James West Davidson, Brian DeLay, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle and Michael B. Stoff, “Experience History: Interpreting America’s Past,” Chapter 17: “Reconstructing the Union, 1865-1877” (2011).
• Eric Foner, “A Short History of Reconstruction” (1990).
• Jill Lepore, “These Truths: A History of the United States” (2018).
• Richard White, “The Republic for Which it Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896” (2017).

Maj. Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast, “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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American History for Truthdiggers: Reconstruction, a Failed Experiment

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Maj. Danny Sjursen.

Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the 18th installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His war experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.

Part 18 of “American History for Truthdiggers.”

See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10; Part 11; Part 12; Part 13; Part 14; Part 15; Part 16; Part 17.

* * *

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—…
Or does it explode?

—Langston Hughes (1951)

It was, perhaps, the greatest betrayal, the ultimate lost opportunity, in all of American history. The failure of Reconstruction (1865-77)—the reunion and reorganization undertaken after the Civil War—was a dark, yet briefly vibrant, moment in our collective past. This was a time of promises made but not kept, mainly promises to the newly freed slaves. The results of this lost opportunity for genuine civil rights and racial equality resonate in the present day.

Most Americans know something about our great civil war. Lay enthusiasts, historical re-enactors and even otherwise disengaged citizens can recount the basic contours of great battles, horrific casualties and the sudden freedom granted the slaves. Well, it makes sense: War, when it is not actually unfolding around you, is exciting. Conversely, the process of picking up the pieces, rebuilding a nation and creating new social structures for a forever changed country, the stuff of Reconstruction, is far less well known.

It should be otherwise. The dozen or so years after the American Civil War (1861-65) are among the most consequential in our history and have far more relevance to contemporary affairs than almost any other era. Nearly every issue Americans grapple with today—citizenship, race, terrorism, affirmative action, the scope of federal power, and reparations payments—all have strong roots in the period of Reconstruction. It was in these years that the U.S. government would briefly triumph and ultimately fail in a grand experiment to achieve the twin goals of postwar Reconstruction: justice and reconciliation.

The historiography (the history of historians) of Reconstruction has a long, sordid history. Readers of a certain age, in fact, may recognize some of the older interpretations of this period. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, historians such as William A. Dunning and his many students at Columbia University—the so-called Dunning school of scholars—dominated this field. According to this highly biased, Southern-influenced interpretation, the problem with Reconstruction was that it went too far. The story went something like this: President Abraham Lincoln had a plan for leniency toward the former Confederates, and his successor, Andrew Johnson, attempted to follow the Lincoln vision. He was thwarted, however, by Radical Republicans in Congress who pushed too far too fast and were overly punitive with the former rebels. They sent “carpetbaggers” (outsiders) from the North who worked with “scalawags” (or collaborators) to force racial equality and Northern capitalist dominance on the poverty-stricken South. In this view, former slaves simply weren’t ready for the vote and other civil rights, and the Reconstruction-era governments in the South were massive, corrupt failures. Luckily, by 1877, a compromise was reached, the federal troops left, and heroic former Confederates in the newly formed Ku Klux Klan drove out the Yankee carpetbaggers and restored “home rule” to their governments.

If that interpretation seems shocking by modern standards, well, it should. What’s most disturbing is that some version of the Dunning interpretation remained mainstream (and in students’ textbooks) well into the 1950s; until, that is, the civil rights era. That this vision prevailed so long reflects a culture of white supremacy that existed long after the Civil War and, some argue, still exists today. The whole edifice was premised on the notion that blacks, as former slaves, were incapable of self-government and required the steady, paternalist hand of their white Southern superiors. After the civil rights era (1954-68), a new generation of historians took a fresh look at Reconstruction and rehabilitated the efforts of Radical Republicans, lauding their ultimately unsuccessful attempt to guarantee basic civil rights to newly freed blacks.

What, then, can now be said about Reconstruction? Perhaps this: It was a remarkably idealistic attempt to bring freedom and equality to 4 million souls only recently held in bondage. Some of the brief achievements of this period (such as blacks voting, holding office and serving in Congress) would not again occur on a broad scale for a century. The failure of these attempts was not due to corruption or the unpreparedness of blacks; rather, the racism and apathy of white Americans—both south and north of the Mason-Dixon Line—doomed black Americans to generations of slavery by another name: Jim Crow.

An Enormous Challenge: Reconstruction Begins

“If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to blacks, what will peace among the whites bring?” —Frederick Douglass (1875)

Americans began arguing about how best to reconstruct the Union before even winning the war. In fact, various generals and politicians experimented with several methods of reunion and racial reconciliation. Some Union generals treated escaped slaves like lowly laborers, either paying low wages for hard jobs or returning them to the plantations they had fled. This approach was common in the occupied Mississippi Valley and parts of Louisiana during the war. On the Carolina coast, however, the planters fled the approaching Union forces during the war and left behind some 10,000 slaves. Union generals granted land to the slaves and created a remarkable, if brief, experiment in black self-rule. White New Englanders flocked to the Carolina Sea Islands to teach blacks to read, treat them medically and train them in farming techniques. In another remarkable turn, Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ own plantation, Davis Bend, in Mississippi was seized and turned into a “negro paradise,” as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant declared it should be. The plantations were settled and worked by the slaves as a collective, and Davis Bend proved remarkably profitable for the rest of the war.

Such experiments, however, dealt only with the relatively few slaves left behind in the face of Union armies. After the South’s surrender, the U.S. government confronted a much larger challenge: What to do with some 4 million former slaves made free by the war? The size of the task was staggering. Six percent of all Northern white males had died as a result of the conflict, along with 18 percent of Confederate men. The freeing of the slaves was, by some counts, the largest confiscation of wealth (and “property”) in world history. The South was in ruins—it needed to be rebuilt and its surrendered rebels somehow reintegrated into the Union. It would have been a daunting task even if everything had gone right.

Besides, the South may have been beaten on the battlefield, but it was less clear that Southerners considered themselves truly defeated. Union Gen. James S. Brisbin wrote to a congressman in December 1865, “These people are not loyal; they are only conquered. I tell you there is not as much loyalty in the South today as there was the day Lee surrendered to Grant. The moment they lost their cause in the field they set about to gain by politics what they had failed to obtain by force of arms.” The average Confederate soldier may well have turned over his rifle (though often the soldiers kept their firearms) and taken off the uniform, and he may even have accepted the freeing of the slaves; however, he fully expected to maintain the edifice of white supremacy and return to the ways of the antebellum South.

The Worst President in History? Andrew Johnson and the Failure of Presidential Reconstruction

Johnson lacked all the qualities that made Lincoln a great president. He was combative, had no charisma, failed to compromise and was wickedly racist. When Johnson showed up drunk and gave a rambling, inebriated inaugural address, he was acting completely in character. Johnson was from Tennessee but had remained loyal to the Union, the only Southern senator to do so. He hated the planter aristocracy and the secessionists, but he was even less tolerant of blacks he considered uppity and Northern abolitionists. Johnson planned Reconstruction on his own terms. He lavished pardons on any Confederate official who wrote to him or visited Washington, and insisted that the leadership of the Southern states remain in place and that these states should quickly re-enter the Union. He had no love for famed abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, of whom he said at the conclusion of a meeting: “He’s just like any nigger, and he would sooner cut a white man’s throat than not.”

Few Confederates, even high-ranking ones, were severely punished. There were no war crimes trials, military tribunals for treason, or mass hangings. Even Confederate President Jefferson Davis spent but two years in prison. The Confederacy’s vice president, Alexander Stephens, would even rejoin the U.S. Congress within a decade of the war’s end, and end his career as governor of Georgia. As soon as white Southerners were back in charge of local government, the Deep South states quickly enacted “black codes,” or laws, controlling every aspect of the freedmen’s public lives. As an example, the Louisiana Black Codes read, in part:

Section 1. … [N]o negro or freedman shall be allowed to come within the city limits … without special permission.

Section 2. … [E]very negro freedman who shall be found on the streets after 10 o’clock without a writ-ten pass … shall be imprisoned and compelled to work five days on the streets.

Section 5. No public meetings … of negroes shall be allowed. …

Section 7. [N]o freedman who is not in the military service shall be allowed to carry firearms. …

Indeed, the Southern states, with the planter class back in charge, had largely negated the North’s achievements of the war and crafted a new version of slavery. All-white police forces and judiciaries, often composed of Confederate veterans still wearing their gray uniforms, enforced the black codes. Union veterans and Radical (meaning more liberal) Republicans in Congress began to wonder, if there was to be no punishment for the Confederates or meaningful freedom for the slaves, what the war had even been for.

The Radical Moment: Congressional Reconstruction

Johnson and his Southern compatriots would later argue that “radical” Reconstruction was despotic and unnecessary. Nevertheless, the record demonstrates the opposite. Through presidential vetoes and white Southern intransigence, the South brought radical Reconstruction upon itself. When Congress passed the remarkable Civil Rights Act of 1866, Johnson quickly vetoed it. This legislation provided for equality before the law (but not the vote) for the freedmen. Congress overrode his veto with a two-thirds majority—the first time a major bill was passed over a presidential veto in U.S. history. To solidify black rights, the Congress even passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which stated:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

And, taking matters a step further, the Republican Congress also passed the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the vote to black men (but not women). In a remarkable turn of events, black men had gained civil and political rights in just three years and over the objections of the president. The Republican Party—which hadn’t existed in the South before the war—began winning elections and even placing blacks (often former slaves) in elected offices. Eight hundred black men would serve in state legislatures from 1868 through 1877; a black man was briefly governor of Louisiana; more than a dozen blacks served in the U.S. House, and one in the Senate. White Southerners called this “Negro Rule,” but in reality it was the first ever attempt at democracy in the South. After all, in a few Deep South states, former slaves constituted an actual majority of the population.

Johnson was appalled by both the 14th and 15th amendments and the radical changes unfolding in Southern society. And by suddenly removing the Radical Republican Edwin Stanton from his position as secretary of war, he violated the recently passed Tenure of Office Act (which required congressional approval of such moves). That was the last straw for an already frustrated Congress. The House voted to impeach President Johnson, and the Senate came within one vote of the two-thirds majority required to remove him from office. Even though he remained president, Johnson had been politically castrated and wouldn’t run for re-election in 1868. He would be succeeded by the great Union war hero Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Grant’s Democratic opponents, Horatio Seymour and Francis P. Blair, would play the race card—actually, the racist card—in their failed 1868 campaign. Blair claimed that the Republicans had placed the South under the rule of “a semi-barbarous race of blacks who are worshippers of fetishes and polygamists” and who long to “subject the white women to their unbridled lust.”

Though blacks had won remarkable political power in a few short years, they generally lacked any true economic clout. There were early efforts, though, spearheaded by the likes of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, to offer 40 acres and in some cases supposedly a mule to freedmen along the Southeast coast. In January 1865, before the war had ended, Sherman enacted Special Field Order 15 from Savannah, Ga., thereby setting aside such confiscated land for thousands of freedmen. Unfortunately, by September 1865, after the war’s end, President Johnson rescinded Sherman’s order and mandated the land be restored to the Confederate owners. Some Union generals publicly opposed the president’s decision. Gen. O.O. Howard—head of the new Federal Freedmen’s Bureau, designed to support the newly emancipated slaves—was nearly fired and court-martialed after writing to his superiors: “The lands which have been taken possession were solemnly pledged to the freedman. Thousands of them are already located on tracts of forty acres each. The love of the soil and desire to own farms [is] the dearest hope of their lives.”

The language of this 1866 political cartoon says, in part, “The Freedman’s Bureau! An agency to keep the Negro in idleness at the expense of the white man. … Support Congress & you support the Negro. Sustain the President & you protect the white man.”

Howard’s Freedmen’s Bureau was itself a remarkable institution. Though always small (never having more than 900 employees in the entire South), the bureau worked toward the education and betterment of the former slaves in what was the earliest known federal welfare program of any size. Still, opposition cartoons in the South depicted the bureau—which was remarkably successful in most cases—as a haven for freeloaders and lazy black men. (This language rings as remarkably similar to 20th-century complaints against modern welfare programs.)

Some Radical Republicans—to their immense credit, given the times—wanted to go a step further. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, unsuccessful fought for the confiscation of 400 million acres of Confederate land and its redistribution to the freedmen. Stevens, in opposition to Johnson’s view, believed the federal government ought to treat the Southerners as a “conquered people” and reform “the foundation of their institutions, both political, municipal and social,” so that “all our blood and treasure [were not] spent in vain.” Given the century of Jim Crow laws, lynching and political disenfranchisement that followed Reconstruction, it appears that men like Stevens were ultimately right and exceptionally ahead of their times. Such a redistribution of land would be radical even today and carry the tainted labels of “socialism,” “affirmative action” and “reparations.” Still, in hindsight, the denial of land ownership to most freedmen doomed them to labor in the fields and on the plantations of the onetime slaveholders. The terms of work and the social caste system remained remarkably consistent with the pre-war “Old” South.

Domestic Terror: The KKK Counterrevolution

It was a time of great terror. Though pitched battles between armies became a thing of the past, the South was far from pacified and remained an extraordinarily violent place. The federal Army—which after the war never counted more than 30,000 men across the entire South—did what it could to stanch the violence and protect victims, who were almost always former slaves. The most infamous group of revisionist former rebels was known as the Ku Klux Klan, or the KKK for short.

The members of the Ku Klux Klan, formed in Pulaski, Tenn., by Confederate veterans, wore white sheets over their heads in order to appear “as the ghosts of the Confederate dead.” In reality, of course, the Klan was merely a resurrection of the old militias and slave patrols that had enforced white supremacy for centuries. Its tactic was violence; its goal, counterrevolution; its method, terrorism. The Klan was extraordinarily violent, probably killing more innocent black men, women and children during Reconstruction than the number of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks of 2001. After all, in Texas alone, in just 1865-1868, over 1,000 blacks were murdered by whites.

Other statistics and events are equally shocking. In October 1870, bands of whites in South Carolina’s Piedmont region drove 150 freedmen from their homes and committed 13 murders. In Louisiana in 1873 a legally organized and accredited black militia tried to defend the parish courthouse in Colfax against a superior white force of former Confederates armed with rifles and a small cannon. The black militia held out for a time but was ultimately overwhelmed. At least 50 were summarily executed under a white flag of truce.

Furthermore, after Northern troops pulled out of the South and turned government over to white locals, the reign of terror continued. Some 3,000 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1930.

Among the reasons given for these murders: “[a black man] didn’t remove his hat”; an African-American “wouldn’t call [a white man] master.” In yet another case, a white killer simply had “wanted to thin out the niggers a little.”

It’s not as though the Klan could not be controlled, even though it would be fair to characterize the U.S. Army campaign of 1866-77 as a form of what we would now call counterinsurgency. In fact, whenever the Army had the will, leadership and capacity to suppress the Klan, it did so. After the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 was passed at the request of President Grant, the law proved remarkably successful in stymying the power of the KKK throughout much of the South; for the first time ever, a certain class of crimes was brought under federal jurisdiction. Ultimately, it was a question of will, not ability. The simple fact was that Northerners had little stomach for more fighting and complained of the expense—in blood and treasure—of continued occupation. In the end, the Northern public lacked the will necessary to win the peace as it had won the war.

The Lost Cause: Southern ‘Redemption’

“There was a right side and a wrong side in the late war, which no sentiment ought to cause us to forget. … [The South] has suffered to be sure, but she has been the author of her own suffering.”  —Frederick Douglass (remarks at Madison Square in New York City, Decoration Day of 1878)

The former Confederates never really accepted defeat or the reorganization of their social system. In reality, they bided their time, waged secret violence and, perhaps most importantly, crafted an alternative “Lost Cause” narrative. According to this (remarkably resilient) yarn, the South had actually outfought the North and was beaten only because it was overwhelmed by Northern superiority in numbers and resources. The South hadn’t really fought for slavery, but rather for states’ rights and Southern honor. In reality, soldiers on both sides—blue and gray—had more in common than they realized when they were killing each other in massive numbers. According to the Lost Cause myth—which still exists—“reconciliation” between the sections was more important than “justice” for blacks or “punishment” for rebels.

Southern generals were rarely punished and rose to prominence rather quickly as Reconstruction wound down in the 1870s. They gave popular speeches, both in the North and South, speaking of the need for “reconciliation” and “reunion,” words that tended to serve as code for abandonment of the former slaves to the will of their old masters. In 1877, in Brooklyn, N.Y., former Confederate Gen. Roger Pryor told a crowd that applauded him:

The Union is re-established … over the hearts of people. …
But slavery was not the cause of secession. For the cause you must look … to that irrepressible conflict between the principles of state sovereignty and federal supremacy. … Impartial history will record that slavery fell not by effort of man’s will, but by an act of Almighty God, and so, fellow citizens, the soldiers of the late war are brought today to fraternize over the graves of their departed comrades, and renew their vows of fealty to the Constitution.

Such sentiments were remarkably common and accepted on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. As violence, and the slow removal of federal troops from the South, began to keep blacks from the polls, Southern Democrats began winning statewide elections. By 1875, former Confederate Gen. James L. Kemper, who had been in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, was governor of Virginia and gave a speech to unveil a statue of Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson in Richmond. On the occasion, Gov. Kemper revealed not only a new heroic statue but his own version of the rhetoric of Lost Cause and reconciliation. He exclaimed:

Not for the Southern people only, but for every citizen of whatever section … this tribute … is to be cherished, with national pride. … Stonewall Jackson’s career of unconscious heroism will go down as an inspiration. … It speaks with equal voice to every portion of the reunited common country … to inspire our children with patriotic fervor. … Let Virginia demand and resume [its] ancient place in the sisterhood of States. …

Considering that “Stonewall” was a traitor who resigned his U.S. Army commission to fight for a treasonous Southern slaveholding secessionist republic just 14 years earlier, this was remarkable rhetoric. That it resonated among some Northerners as well as Southerners is more peculiar. But so it was.

A poster for D.W. Griffith’s 1915 movie “The Birth of a Nation.” The highly popular film, shown in Woodrow Wilson’s White House, depicted the Ku Klux Klan as heroic.

The Lost Cause myth took on a life of its own and, eventually, drafted a Reconstruction chapter as well. According to this version, it was actually the KKK that was heroic during Reconstruction, protecting rightfully white leadership and the honor of Southern white women. As late as the early 20th century, this was somehow a mainstream interpretation. It was in 1915 that D.W. Griffith’s incredibly successful silent film “The Birth of a Nation” depicted the Klan as the heroic savior of the white South from venal Northern carpetbaggers and insufferable, lustful black savages. How mainstream was the film? Well, it was a favorite of President Woodrow Wilson (a Virginian) and received a private screening at the White House.

The South may have lost the war, but it most certainly won the peace.

Betrayal: The Retreat From Reconstruction

“The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” —W.E.B. Du Bois (1913)

The abandonment of Southern blacks shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, what did it truly mean to remake the South in the North’s image when the North itself was so virulently racist in the mid-19th century? Most Northerners had signed up for the Army to save the Union and cared little for the slaves. Soon after the war, The Cincinnati Enquirer announced, “Slavery is dead, the negro is not, there is the misfortune.”

Most Northerners were tired of Reconstruction by the mid-1870s. The commitment of troops and money to protect what many saw as corrupt and inefficient “black” administrations just didn’t seem worth it. Besides, the economic mismanagement—the Panic of 1873 was the worst financial disaster in 40 years—and staggering corruption that plagued the Grant administration only further alienated the Northern populace from what seemed a distant and futile task down South. The tragedy of it all, of course, is that when the U.S. government stuck with it, used the Army and enforced the law, the Reconstruction governments achieved remarkable successes—political wins for blacks that most Southern states wouldn’t see again until the 1980s! Unfortunately, most of the white North was fickle and bigoted.

Besides, even if the Republican president and Congress stood by the goals of Reconstruction, the Southern-dominated Supreme Court soon eviscerated much of the congressional legislation protecting black civil rights. Indeed, it would take a century for the courts to begin appropriately applying the 14th and 15th amendments to Southern blacks. In 1883, the court would rule that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional. And, after all, it was the Supreme Court of the United States that would later, in 1896, rule in Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation was legal!

A lackluster candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, ran on the Republican ticket for president in 1876. The party was seen as tainted by corruption in the Grant administration and mismanagement of the economy and had lost control of the Congress two years earlier, in 1874. It was almost amazing that the little-known Hayes, a former governor of Ohio, managed to keep the vote close in what turned out to be a disputed election with many abnormalities. It was unclear who had won a few Southern states. It appeared, however, that Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic nominee, had the majority of both the popular and electoral vote. It was at this moment that the Republican Party—for which Reconstruction and justice had become a political liability—struck a nefarious deal.

For the sake of party and power, “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes, as he was subsequently called, sold out the millions of Southern blacks who had loyally supported the Republicans for years. The candidate who had lost the popular vote would become president in exchange for his promise to remove the U.S. Army from the South. And so he did. Ironically, he also turned the South over to Democratic one-party rule for a century to come. Hayes was obviously lacking as a political tactician. The truth is, however, that by the time of the 1876 election the majority of Northern whites had tired of Reconstruction. More concerned with economic depression than black civil rights, Northerners were ready to throw in the towel and turn the South back over to its traditional white leaders, come what may. The Compromise of 1877 only reinforced what was by then inevitable: the abandonment of the South’s blacks. Looking back, a dozen years after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, one could plausibly wonder: What had all those men died for in the Civil War?

* * *

Justice and reconciliation. These were, ultimately, the twin goals of postwar Reconstruction. A century and a half on, though, the keen observer wonders if the two goals were ever compatible. To seek justice and equality for the freedmen seemed to inevitably make reconciliation with white former Confederates ever less likely. To prioritize reconciliation with the former rebels seemed to sentence black people to a prolonged bondage of sorts, under the segregationist regime of Jim Crow.

Still, this author sees Reconstruction as an admirable attempt—however far ahead of its time it might have proved to be—at true social and political equality in the United States. It is remarkable that Reconstruction was even attempted in America of the 1860s and ’70s. If only the U.S. Army had stayed longer, enforced the law more stringently, redistributed land and wealth more equitably; if, in other words, the nation had stuck with the Radical Republican approach. Perhaps, then, the civil rights movement of the 1960s could have begun a century earlier, thousands of lynchings been avoided, and the riots, violence and racial upheaval of our own day dodged.

Seen in that albeit provocative light, the real hero of Reconstruction was the congressional “radical” Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, the man who called for free land and civil equity for Southern blacks, at the point of the bayonet if necessary. He would die before Reconstruction truly got underway, and upon his death in August 1866 Stevens, a white man, for the last time challenged his countrymen to “rise above their prejudices.” As he wished, he was buried in an integrated cemetery, an action taken, in the words of his self-composed epitaph, “to illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life: Equality of Man before his Creator.”

Alas, there would be no such equality in the lives of his countrymen. The American experiment was, at it always seems to be, a step behind its egalitarian rhetoric. The United States, it turns out, was not ready for true Reconstruction—and more’s the pity. Many thousands of Northerners died during the American Civil War, and it would have been highly satisfying to imagine they had died for something more than a century of Jim Crow and slavery by another name. But that is the real America, warts and all. And that, in the end, was the failed experiment in Reconstruction.

Still, Reconstruction achieved much and demonstrated what was possible if, someday, Americans had the moral and political will to see it through. The brief Republican governments of the South brought the region its first-ever public school system. It brought more hospitals, more asylums for orphans and the insane. South Carolina in this period would fund medical care for the poor. Alabama would provide free legal counsel for indigent defendants. These were social gains the South wouldn’t see again in most cases until the 1970s or even in some cases until today.

We still live with Reconstruction’s incomplete mission, with its failed promises. Reconstruction remains; its weight presses upon a divided American body politic, sundered yet by class, race and gender. We are reconstructing still, and remain fixed in the midst of our unfinished revolution.

  * * *

To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:
• David W. Blight, “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” (2001).
• James West Davidson, Brian DeLay, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle and Michael B. Stoff, “Experience History: Interpreting America’s Past,” Chapter 17: “Reconstructing the Union, 1865-1877” (2011).
• Eric Foner, “A Short History of Reconstruction” (1990).
• Jill Lepore, “These Truths: A History of the United States” (2018).
• Richard White, “The Republic for Which it Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896” (2017).

Maj. Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast, “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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How America Came to Have the World’s Biggest Prison Population

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Robert Scheer.

In this week’s “Scheer Intelligence,” elected Public Defender of San Francisco Jeff Adachi, whose parents were confined in an Arkansas internment camp during World War II, recalls how he knew that his parents were “in jail” for being Japanese-American and describes how that understanding affected his life. “That experience—that they didn’t have a trial, that there was never any Japanese-American who was charged with espionage—really ingrained in me the notion that you have to fight for your rights,” he says. “It’s not something that you can take for granted.”

Adachi kicks off the conversation by discussing the new bail law in California, which was purportedly designed to make the existing system more fair. But he and other initial backers decided to drop their support when California Gov. Jerry Brown and judicial advisers made substantive changes to it.

For Adachi, the old system offered a way to “buy your freedom,” which seems to run counter to the vaunted ideal of liberty and justice for all, especially since, as he puts it, “85 percent of the people who are behind bars are there because they cannot post bail.” He opposes the new bill because, he says, it “gives all the power to the judges” to use preventive detention, which precludes the possibility of posting bail and can result in a person sitting in jail indefinitely, even in misdemeanor cases. That strategy is particularly onerous if the person in question is innocent.

Over the course of his career, Adachi has fought for basic constitutional rights and against police and prosecutorial misconduct. “In the immigration court,” he says, “you don’t have the right to a lawyer, even if you’re a child,” so he’s established an immigration unit in the public defender’s office to provide representation to any immigrant who is detained or in custody, including the undocumented and green-card holders.

The discussion takes a lively turn when Adachi suggests that “America at its best is a place where everyone is welcome … [in which] everyone who wants to be part of this great society is able to do that.”

Catch the full episode below:

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Sen. Warren’s New Bill Could ‘Redress a Century of Housing Discrimination’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Aaron Glantz and Emmanuel Martinez / Reveal.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday unveiled a bill that one racial justice advocate said would be the first law since 1968 “to redress a century of housing discrimination.”

The Massachusetts Democrat who helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has railed against modern-day redlining since a February expose by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Reveal found 61 cities where people of color were more likely to be denied a home mortgage than their white counterparts, even when they had the same income, sought the same size loan or wanted to buy in the same neighborhood.

“Housing discrimination is illegal. It’s illegal right now. But (Reveal’s) data show it happens even so,” Warren said in an interview Tuesday. “That means we need more aggressive programs to address it and it’s not enough simply to say we are going to try to get people to enforce current law. We need structural change if we are really going to have housing equality in this country.”

Anti-redlining provisions are part of a much larger bill Warren called the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act. It aims to ease access to owning or renting a home through a combination of government regulation, zoning reform and billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for poor and working-class families.

The bill is likely to receive a hostile reaction from the banking industry. In a statement, a spokesperson from the American Bankers Association said the trade group is still reviewing the 67-page bill but is “keenly interested in the nation’s housing policy.” Another trade group, the Mortgage Bankers Association, did not respond to a request for comment.

The reforms in the proposed legislation would be funded by dramatically increasing the estate tax to levels not seen since the 1990s. Because of this, Warren’s bill is essentially dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate. Even if Democrats retake control of Congress in November, it’s unlikely the bill would be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

But the effort is being taken seriously by political observers, in part because Warren is a potential presidential candidate, and it also provides a populist vision for an economic future that may be embraced by Democrat voters.

“A decade after the housing crash and financial crisis, the nation is still suffering from a housing crisis,” Zandi said. “Today, it is a mounting lack of affordable housing.”Warren commissioned an independent analysis of the legislation, which found the bill would lead to the construction or rehabilitation of 3 million housing units over the next decade, close the gap between demand and supply of housing, create 1.5 million new jobs and lower rents for lower and middle-class families by an average of $100 a month. The analysis was performed by Mark Zandi, chief economist of the non-partisan Moody’s Analytics.

The bill “would go a long way toward addressing this mounting housing crisis,” Zandi said.

Earlier this year, Warren took to the floor of the Senate, calling the findings of Reveal’s investigation “disgraceful” and saying they “should make us all sick to our stomachs.” She sent letters to federal banking regulators and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson asking what they were doing to solve the problem. She also grilled Carson in a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill.

Warren spent months crafting the legislation, consulting with civil rights groups, academics and industry groups. Her goal was to deliver more affordable housing to lower-income residents while providing a path to homeownership for people of color living in communities where banks and other mortgage lenders have long failed to lend.

Her office worked with leaders of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the National Housing Law Project and Matt Desmond, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Evicted.”

At the center of the bill are massive new government investments in housing targeted at groups left behind by the economic recovery.

Among the proposed new federal programs is down payment assistance on home loans for long-time residents of neighborhoods that were “redlined” from the 1930s to the 1960s, when the federal government discouraged banks from lending in communities with large numbers of immigrants and African Americans. As a result of those policies, people of color were largely cut out of the New Deal programs like the GI Bill which propelled millions of lower and working-class whites into the middle class.

“Housing wealth has a huge generational component to it,” Warren told Reveal. “Grandma and Grandpa buy a house. …. House values go up over time. They take money out of the house to start a small business or if they want to send a kid to school. If they’re wealthy enough to be able to live in the house until they die, they pass that wealth onto the next generation, and the next generation does better, buying a nicer house.

“When an entire community is (denied) an opportunity, then that means the opportunity to build wealth has been taken away from them,” she said. “This bill addresses that problem head on.”

The bill would also extend $2 billion in support to borrowers who, a decade after the housing bust, still owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Many are in minority communities where banks made a higher percentage of high-interest loans during the boom, which critics said were “designed to fail”

The proposed legislation also restructures the Community Reinvestment Act to include credit unions and independent mortgage companies. The 1977 federal law was designed to fight  redlining by requiring banks to lend to all communities, particularly poor and working-class ones. Currently the law only applies to banks and only in areas where they have a branch that takes deposits.

“If passed, this would be the first act of legislation since the 1968 Fair Housing Act to redress a century of housing discrimination,” Mehrsa Baradaran, a professor at the University of Georgia and author of the book “The Color of Money,” wrote in a letter to Warren.

“By focusing on down payment assistance, CRA reform, and non-discriminatory housing vouchers, this legislation will not only help families buy affordable homes, but it will also build community wealth,” she wrote.

Consumer groups say extending the Community Reinvestment Act to non-bank lenders is particularly important because these institutions make up an increasing share of the mortgage market.

Earlier this year, Reveal exposed that a group of mortgage companies controlled by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway made the overwhelming majority of their loans to white borrowers in white neighborhoods in ethnically diverse metro areas including Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. The companies helped nearly 6,000 families buy homes in those cities in 2015 and 2016, but escaped regulation under the Community Reinvestment Act because they are not banks.

Reveal reported that America’s largest bank, JP Morgan Chase, in Washington, D.C., was not regulated under the Community Reinvestment Act because its only lending office in the city was a “private bank” office that serves wealthy clients rather than a deposit-taking branch for the public. The bank turned away 26 percent of African Americans and 18 percent of Latinos who sought conventional home purchase loans in the DC area in 2015 and 2016. It denied 7 percent of applications from white homebuyers. Chase has since announced a major expansion of branches in the nation’s capital.

Reveal reported on loopholes in the Community Reinvestment Act in February. Among them, the law is race-neutral. That means banks can claim credit for lending to poor and working-class neighborhoods of color by focusing their lending on wealthy white newcomers who drive gentrification and displace long-time residents who the law was designed to help.

The bill does not add race as a factor under the Community Reinvestment Act. But the down-payment subsidies would only be available to residents who had lived in a formerly redlined neighborhood for at least five years.

Credit unions, which also would be forced to lend to the poor, oppose the bill.

“Credit unions have not and do not engage in the discriminatory lending activity,” Jim Nussle, the president and CEO of the  Credit Union National Association said in a statement. “Therefore, it makes no sense to subject them to the type of punitive requirements that banks with a history of redlining must follow.”

Ryan Donovan, the association’s chief advocacy officer, said credit unions are already meeting the needs of their communities so any added regulation would make it more expensive for them and their customers.

“At its core, it’s a good bill. We have a lot of interest in there being more affordable housing for Americans,” Donovan said. “We just think that adding regulatory burdens to credit unions is a really poor way of doing it.”

The Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction, seeking to weaken provisions of the Community Reinvestment Act. Last month, the nation’s top bank cop, the Comptroller of the Currency, proposed new rules that would give banks flexibility in how they meet their obligations under the 40-year-old law. Housing advocates have said these changes to the Community Reinvestment Act would come at the expense of poor and working-class neighborhoods because they would allow banks to choose which communities to serve. A spokesman for the federal banking regulator declined to comment on the bill.

The American Bankers Association has supported the Trump administration’s plan. In its statement to Reveal, the group said it remained interested in “modernizing” the Community Reinvestment Act.

In addition, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, under the leadership of Carson, has been trying to jettison a tool called “disparate impact,” which the government has used to file fair lending cases.

The standard, used during the Obama administration and upheld in a 2015 Supreme Court decision, allows prosecutors and civil rights groups to use statistical analysis to prove patterns of discrimination. Reveal used these techniques, which have also been deployed by the Justice Department, in its February investigation.

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American Anomie

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

The French sociologist Emile Durkheim in his classic book “On Suicide” examined the disintegration of social bonds that drive individuals and societies to personal and collective acts of self-destruction. He found that when social bonds are strong, individuals achieve a healthy balance between individual initiative and communal solidarity, which he called a “life-sustaining equilibrium.” These individuals and communities have the lowest rates of suicide. The individuals and societies most susceptible to self-destruction, he wrote, are those for whom these bonds, this equilibrium, have been shattered.

Societies are held together by a web of social bonds that give individuals a sense of being part of a collective and engaged in a project larger than the self. This collective expresses itself through rituals, such as elections and democratic participation or an appeal to patriotism, and shared national beliefs. The bonds provide meaning, a sense of purpose, status and dignity. They offer psychological protection from impending mortality and the meaninglessness that comes with being isolated and alone. The shattering of these bonds plunges individuals into deep psychological distress that leads ultimately to acts of self-annihilation. Durkheim called this state of hopelessness and despair anomie, which he defined as “ruleless-ness.”

Ruleless-ness means the norms that govern a society and create a sense of organic solidarity no longer function. The belief, for example, that if we work hard, obey the law and get a good education we can achieve stable employment, social status and mobility along with financial security becomes a lie. The old rules, imperfect and often untrue for poor people of color, nevertheless were not a complete fiction in the United States. They offered some Americans—especially those from the white working and middle class—modest social and economic advancement.

But the capture of political and economic power by the corporate elites, along with the redirecting of all institutions toward the further consolidation of their power and wealth, has broken the social bonds that held the American society together. This rupture has unleashed a widespread malaise Durkheim would have recognized.

“When society is strongly integrated,” he wrote, “it keeps individuals in a state of dependency, holding them to be in its service and consequently not permitting them to dispose of themselves as they wish. Society is thus opposed to them escaping from their obligations towards it through death. … The bond that attaches them to their common purpose attaches them to life; and, in any case, the high goal towards which their gaze is turned alleviates the suffering that they feel from life’s troubles. Finally, in a coherent and vital community, there is a continual exchange of ideas and feelings from all to each and from each to all which is like mutual moral support, so that the individual, instead of being reduced to his resources only, participates in the collective energy and draws on it when his own is exhausted.”

The reconfiguring of American society into an oligarchy and the collapse of our democratic institutions have left most of the population disempowered. The elites, predatory by nature, have discarded all restraint. “The state of disorganization, or anomie, is thus reinforced by the fact that passions are less disciplined at the very time when they need stronger discipline,” Durkheim noted of the avarice of the rich.

“It is not for nothing that so many religions have celebrated the benefits and the moral value of poverty,” Durkheim wrote. “This is because, of all schools, it is the one that best teaches man to restrain himself. By obliging us to exercise constant discipline over ourselves, it prepares us to accept collective discipline with docility, while wealth, by exalting the individual, constantly risks awakening the spirit of rebellion that is the very fount of immortality.”

The political process, as the research by professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page underscores, no longer advances the interests of the average citizen. It has turned the consent of the governed into a cruel joke. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” This facade of democratic process eviscerates one of the primary social bonds in a democratic state and abolishes the vital shared belief that citizens have the power to govern themselves, that government exists to promote and protect their rights and interests.

The economic structures, like the political structures, have been reconfigured to mock the belief in a meritocracy and that hard work leads to a productive and valued role in society. American productivity, as The New York Times pointed out, has increased 77 percent since 1973 but hourly pay has grown only 12 percent. If the federal minimum wage was attached to productivity, the newspaper wrote, it would be more than $20 an hour now, not $7.25. Some 41.7 million workers, a third of the workforce, earn less than $12 an hour, and most of them do not have access to employer-sponsored health insurance. A decade after the 2008 financial meltdown, the Times wrote, the average middle class family’s net worth is more than $40,000 below what it was in 2007. The net worth of black families is down 40 percent, and for Latino families the figure has dropped 46 percent.

The economic disparity and political dysfunction have been exacerbated by the collapse of the judicial system, as Matt Taibbi writes in his book “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.” There is aggressive criminalization of the poor while the ruling elites are protected by high-priced lawyers and non-enforcement or rewriting of laws. Amid selective enforcement of laws in the ruleless society, the high rollers on Wall Street and in wealthy enclaves are not prosecuted for possessing and ingesting illegal drugs but the poor are thrown into prison and must forfeit all their property for being caught with small amounts of the same drugs. HSBC, the world’s seventh largest bank by total assets, after admitting to laundering $800 million for Central and South American drug cartels, was slapped with largely symbolic fines and a deferred prosecution agreement, which is the legal equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card. The poor, meanwhile, are hounded, arrested and fined for absurdly criminalized activities such as not mowing their lawns, loitering, selling loose cigarettes, carrying open containers of alcohol or “obstructing pedestrian traffic”—which means standing on a sidewalk. These fines are used to fill state and county budget shortfalls resulting from corporations and the wealthy fixing the rules to avoid paying meaningful taxes, if they pay taxes at all. This virtual tax boycott by the rich has broken yet another social bond, the idea that everyone contributes a significant portion of his or her income to make the society function.

The elites, who sacrifice nothing for society and are not held accountable for their criminal behavior, live in what Taibbi calls a “stateless archipelago.” They are empowered to pillage the nation, amass obscene wealth and wield unchecked political and legal control. The result has been the obliteration of the primary social bonds that, however biased in favor of the white majority, held the nation together.

The shattering of these bonds has left tens of millions of Americans adrift. Society, Durkheim wrote, is no longer “sufficiently present for individuals.” Those cast aside can participate in the society, as Durkheim wrote, only “through sadness.” The self-destructive pathologies that plague the United States—opioid addiction, morbid obesity, gambling, suicide, sexual sadism, hate groups and mass shootings—rise out of this anomie. My new book, “America: The Farewell Tour,” is an examination of these pathologies and the anomie that fuels these self-destructive behaviors.

Durkheim noted that the poor have lower rates of suicide. The poor know the rules are rigged against them. James Baldwin made much the same point when he wrote that African-American men are less prone to a midlife crisis than white men because they are less susceptible to the myth of the American Dream. Most African-Americans learn very early in life that there are two sets of rules. But white Americans, because of white supremacy, are more susceptible to the myth, and therefore more infuriated when that myth is exposed as a con. This, I suspect, is why nearly all mass shooters and members of right-wing hate groups, along with a majority of supporters of Donald Trump, are white men.

Capitalism, Durkheim wrote, is antithetical to creating and sustaining the relationships that are vital to social bonds. Capitalism rewards those for whom relationships are transactional and temporary. Relationships under capitalism are mercenary. They are part of the scheme for personal self-advancement and require the oily manipulation of others. To advance in a capitalist system it is necessary to build and then discard a series of ultimately hollow relationships. These empty relationships—and you can see them on display at any business gathering—contribute to the collective anomie and disintegration of social bonds.

Capitalism may cater to a natural desire among many for self-enrichment, but you don’t want this belief system to dominate society. Capitalism rewards single-minded narcissists and often con artists devoid of empathy and incapable of remorse. It rewards those focused exclusively on personal gain and self-aggrandizement. These dedicated capitalists often lack the capacity to form meaningful bonds, seeing in other people tools for commodification and exploitation. Once a capitalist class achieves complete control, as it has in the United States, it dismantles the structures that make social bonds possible, seeing in them an impediment to profit. The more concentrated wealth becomes, as with corporate capitalism, the more damage it inflicts on society, sending jobs to overseas sweatshops and leaving American workers underemployed or unemployed.

Karl Marx saw alienation as a positive force, one that estranged workers from the means of production and moved them to question the structures of power, educate themselves about their exploitation, and revolt. But for Durkheim this alienation, or anomie, is debilitating. It is, he wrote, “a collective asthenia” that drains us of energy and will. It manifests itself in self-loathing. We may indeed understand what is happening around us, Durkheim argued, but we lack the ability to free ourselves from the despair, frustration and rage that cripple our lives.

“Our actions require an object outside of themselves,” Durkheim wrote. “It is not because we need to sustain the illusion of some impossible immortality: it is because it is implicit in our moral being and it cannot be lost, even partially, without that moral being losing its reason for existence. There is no need to demonstrate that in such a state of collapse the slightest cause for depression can easily give rise to desperate acts. When life is not worth living, everything becomes a pretext for ridding ourselves of it.”

“For individuals are too closely involved in the life of society for it to be sick without their being affected,” Durkheim added. “Its suffering inevitably becomes theirs.”

President Trump is not a product of the theft of the Podesta emails, James Comey or racism—although he and many who support him are racists—or Russian bots. Demagogues arise from failed democracies plagued by ruleless-ness and anomie. They tell an enraged population what it wants to hear and crudely, to the delight of the betrayed, ridicule the elites who sold them out.

Removing Trump from office without confronting the ruleless-ness and anomie that define the lives of tens of millions of Americans would do nothing to restore democracy. In fact, it would probably consolidate the power of a Christianized fascism that cloaks itself in a cloying piety and false morality. Vice President Mike Pence, because he is a creature of the Christian right and has ingested its protofascist ideology, would probably be worse than Trump if he gained the presidency.

The left, like most critics of Trump, personalizes our decay. It focuses myopically on Trump, who is the symptom, not the disease. It spits back the thought-terminating clichés about the Russians stealing our elections while it refuses to examine the deep wounds within the society, wounds exacerbated when the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton sold out working men and women. If we do not heal these wounds, if we do not restore the social bonds shattered by predatory corporate capitalism, when the next financial crisis arrives—and it will arrive—this collective anomie will explode. Frightening demons, harnessing these dark, self-destructive pathologies, will rise from the depths of the ruleless morass.

 * * *

See part one of Hugh Hamilton interviewing Chris Hedges about his new book, “America: The Farewell Tour” (via YouTube).

See part two of the interview in the panel below, also via YouTube.

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The Disappeared: MS-13 Violence

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by By Hannah Dreier / ProPublica.

The string of text messages that would come to haunt Carlota Moran seemed like just an annoyance at first — an interruption to what was supposed to be a special outing for her and her son. It was the school break after Presidents Day in 2016, and Carlota had taken 15-year-old Miguel to the mall for a long-promised lunch at the Chinese buffet. Miguel walked with his arm slung around his mother’s shoulders as they returned a pair of pants at American Eagle.

Every few minutes, Miguel’s phone pinged with messages, distracting him. Carlota asked who kept texting him and he answered, with teenage vagueness, “Just a boy from school.”

Carlota was just over 5 feet, with thick black hair that fell midway down her back. At 5-foot-10, Miguel towered over her. As he tried on clothes in the dressing room, he teased her, “Why did you make me so handsome?”

The messages kept coming. They were from Alexander, a classmate of Miguel’s at Brentwood High on Long Island, and promised a taste of cool on a dull and frigid February afternoon. “Hey, let’s smoke up today,” Alexander wrote on Facebook Messenger.

“No way. You’re so bad — what did you do?” Miguel responded.

Miguel eventually agreed to join him, but not until later, and he wanted to bring a friend. “No, only us,” came the response. “We’ll get the blunts. That man Jairo is going to treat you. But just you, dog. I can pick you up and bring you here with us. But just us.”

After lunch, Carlota dropped Miguel at a neighbor’s to play video games, calling out to be careful as he jumped out of the car and ran across the quiet street. A man had recently been found dead in the woods, and she was worried.

Miguel and Alexander switched to Facebook voice messages. “Should I wait for you in the woods?” said Alexander, whose Facebook handle was Alexander Lokote, Spanish slang for “Homeboy.”

“No, better at my house — I don’t like to go out there in the trees,” Miguel said, pressing the phone close to his mouth to be heard over the video game music.

As night fell, Miguel and Alexander argued about whether to meet at Miguel’s house or in the woods that stretch like connective tissue through the small towns of Long Island. Around 7 p.m., Miguel agreed to go to the patch of trees nearest his home, by the high school. He said he couldn’t stay long.

“Where are you? I’m here with Jairo. Should we pick you up?” Alexander said.

“Wait by the school,” Miguel replied.

“OK, come over. We’re just getting here now, by the fluorescent lights.”

Miguel walked off toward the woods wearing a pair of black sweatpants and vanished into the darkness. The only clue his family would have to where he had gone and what awaited him there were the 84 Facebook messages he had exchanged that day with Alexander. They were discovered, weeks later, by his teenage sister — not the police.

Miguel was the first of 11 high schoolers to go missing in a single Long Island county in 2016 and 2017, as the street gang MS-13 preyed with increasing brutality on the Latino community. As student after student disappeared, often lured out with the promise of smoking blunts in the woods, their immigrant families were stymied by the inaction and inadequate procedures of the Suffolk County police, according to more than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of police reports, court records and documents obtained through freedom-of-information requests.

Many of the families came from countries where officials have historically looked the other way as gangs and death squads disappear young people. Now they felt the same pattern was playing out again, in the woods of Long Island. The officers they asked for help dismissed their children as runaways instead of crime victims, and they repeatedly failed to provide interpreters for witnesses and parents who only spoke Spanish. Their experience points to a larger breakdown between the Police Department and Latino immigrants. Too often, Suffolk detectives acknowledge, police have stereotyped young immigrants as gang members and minimized violence against them as “misdemeanor murder.”

Today, Suffolk police and the FBI are cracking down on MS-13. They’ve charged dozens of MS-13 members with felonies, and the disappearances have mostly stopped. President Donald Trump visited Long Island and praised Suffolk County police for doing a “spectacular job” against the gang, which he has made a national security priority. The Police Department says it took the disappearances seriously and has improved relations with the Latino community. But Suffolk police gang squad head Lt. Tom Zagajeski acknowledged that, before the surge of national attention, the department’s efforts to fight MS-13 and understand its connection to the wave of disappearances fell short. “I think we’re a little more aware of things we didn’t pay that much attention to,” he said in an interview.

For Miguel’s family and many others terrorized by MS-13, the police response came too late, and remains too little.

Carlota had been trying to protect Miguel since before he was born. When doctors in Ecuador said there was a problem with her placenta, she lay in bed for months. When her tiny baby arrived at 29 weeks, she slept next to his incubator. Once he learned to walk, Miguel’s favorite game was to stand outside the front door and wait for Carlota to come looking for him. Then he’d tear down the street, giggling, glancing over his shoulder to make sure she was following. For a while, Carlota indulged him. She didn’t want him to be scared of going outside. But when he turned 4, she put up a chicken wire fence.

She felt the pressure of being his sole defender; his father had left after he was born. As he grew older, her family chided her for sheltering him. Kids teased Miguel for being chubby, for his slight stutter and for holding his mother’s hand long into elementary school. Carlota married an Ecuadorian who lived part of the year on Long Island and then got green cards for Miguel and his big sister, Lady, in 2014. The marriage didn’t last, but she made ends meet with her assembly line job at an envelope factory. She and her kids lived in a two-bedroom apartment in the majority-Latino town of Brentwood, midway between Manhattan and the Hamptons. It felt to Carlota like both were almost within reach.

By 2016, Miguel and Lady were both enrolled at Brentwood High, and once again, Miguel was being teased. Carlota could see how desperate he was to fit in. He bleached his hair blond; she made him dye it brown again. He tried to pierce his ears; Carlota put a stop to it. She scolded him when he got her name tattooed on his arm, but also felt flattered.

Lady, a year ahead of Miguel, brushed up against the gangs first. Boys wearing the blue plastic rosaries favored by MS-13 had pestered Lady to sit with them at lunch and smoke marijuana after class. When she turned down MS-13’s invitation, members bullied her and knocked her down in the halls. But Lady, who has long, thick hair like Carlota and a habit of narrowing her eyes when she talks, was a natural loner and determined to become a nurse. After a few months, the gang gave up. She worried that her soft little brother, a mama’s boy who still collected Beanie Babies and watched Disney cartoons, would be an easier target. In a special education evaluation, a Brentwood administrator described Miguel as “eager to please” and in need of more “positive peer interactions.” Lady warned him that there could be consequences for acknowledging the wrong people, or spending too much time in the “papi hallway,” where immigrant students hung out. “I told him, ‘This is how you survive high school: Do not make friends with anyone,’” Lady said.

Carlota had heard about the gang problems at Brentwood High. She made a habit of smelling Miguel’s clothes for marijuana. But when he mentioned that some classmates were hassling him, she gave standard parent advice to ignore the bullies. She was happy when Miguel started going to meet friends by the high school. She loved how confident he was becoming. He was lifting weights and was supposed to start speech therapy for his stutter. He had a girlfriend and got along well with Carlota’s boyfriend, Abraham Chaparro, who he called his stepfather. On the Friday he went missing, he had put in an application to work with Brentwood’s volunteer fire department.

Carlota knew it was good for Miguel to become more independent, but still she was pleased that he wanted to spend part of his winter break with her. After she dropped him off to play video games, she picked up chicken and rice for the family’s dinner. When she got home, she texted Miguel to ask where he was. An hour passed and she texted again. She sent a third, a fourth, a fifth message, each time telling herself that he hadn’t heard the first few dings. “Miguel, where are you?” “Miguel, please come home. Nothing will happen.”

By midnight, her stomach was clenched with dread. Miguel never went more than a few hours without calling her. He never missed his 10 o’clock curfew. By 2 a.m., she couldn’t wait any longer. She got in the car and started driving, to the high school, the public soccer fields, to bars that Miguel was too young to get into. Her mind ran wild with visions of him dangling out of a crumpled car or lying unconscious at a party. “I was looking and looking, and the hours were passing so slowly. I was all alone in the dark out there, and it felt like my world was ending. I was so scared I would never see my boy again,” she told me.

When she ran out of places to look, Carlota came home and paced in front of the house, peering into the darkness. Then, she sat fully clothed on her bed, waiting for the sun to come up so she could go to the police station and report Miguel missing.

The door to the station was locked, so Carlota rang to be buzzed in. Sleigh bells taped to the door jingled as she opened it. Officers sat on an elevated platform next to a glass case of vintage toy police cars. An officer drinking coffee greeted Carlota and asked what he could do for her.

Responsible for half of Long Island, Suffolk County’s Police Department is the 11th largest in the country but has struggled to adjust to an influx of Latino immigrants. The station faced a Latino storefront church, a Central American grocery and a pupusa restaurant, but few detectives there spoke Spanish, and none were certified as bilingual.

Carlota didn’t know much English, so she brought along her boyfriend, Abraham. She gave the basic details for the police report — Miguel had brown eyes, weighed 235 pounds, was 15 years old — and tried to explain that her son would never run off like this; he was so attached to her, he couldn’t even handle sleepovers. The officer told Abraham there was no reason to panic. Most likely, Miguel was still with his new high school friends. “They’re probably hanging out in New York City,” Abraham remembers the officer saying. They should go home and wait for Miguel to come back.

There’s a truism in law enforcement that the first 24 hours are the only 24 hours. The New York City Police Department has a checklist of dozens of things officers must do right away if a minor goes missing, including speaking with the kid’s friends, checking their social media accounts and putting out a press release. Nassau County, which borders Suffolk, has an even more extensive protocol that includes alerting state officials within two hours of taking a report. The Suffolk County police handbook requires just one step if a child is reported missing: Search the area.

When they got home, Carlota was beside herself. Lady and Abraham spent the day inventing scenarios to reassure her, and themselves. They went to talk with Miguel’s friends, but no one knew anything. If police thought Miguel had been abducted and was in danger, they could have asked for a statewide alert that would have notified people through text messages and social media to look out for him. That evening, Carlota and Lady waited for their phones to ding with an alert. But state records show the Police Department never made the request.

The next day was Sunday. Lady and a friend searched the woods, with a pet dog for protection. Venturing deep among the bare trees, they found dirty clothes and mattresses surrounded by condom wrappers, but no sign of Miguel. Carlota went through his things, looking for some clue and instead finding his notepad filled with drawings he had made of their family. She talked in circles about where Miguel might have gone, always coming back to the conclusion that someone must have kidnapped him. As worried about Carlota as about Miguel, Abraham did not leave her side.

A Spanish-speaking detective was assigned to the case. A bodybuilder with a full sleeve of tattoos, Detective Luis Perez had served in the Air Force before joining the Police Department in the 1990s. He led other officers in searching the area around the house under the low winter sky. Officers also looked through Miguel’s room and talked to a neighbor who said that he had seen Miguel walk off toward the high school, but they didn’t know anything more. Perez told Carlota not to worry, Miguel would be back soon.

When classes started again on Monday, Lady worried about leaving her mother alone, but Carlota insisted she go to school. Carlota stayed home and made a list of places in Brentwood and neighboring towns where Miguel might be. When Abraham got off work, they drove around together, scanning the streets.

Three days had passed since Miguel went missing, and police now sent out a press release. It said, “Detectives do not believe there is foul play involved.” The department listed Miguel as a runaway in the state missing person database, even though a spokesman said department policy is to assume missing children are in danger unless they have been thrown out by their parents or have a history of leaving home. Police generally spend less time and resources looking for teenagers who leave home voluntarily. “As soon as you use the word ‘runaway,’ it’s a non-incident. It’s a non-crime,” said Vernon Geberth, a former New York City homicide detective who wrote a widely used police investigative textbook.

On Tuesday, someone started responding to the text messages Lady had been sending to Miguel’s phone.

“Who are you?” the message said.

“I’m Miguel’s sister. Why do you have his phone?” Lady wrote back, shaken but also relieved that someone might finally know where Miguel was.

“Send me a photo of you to see if I know you,” came the response. Lady wondered if her brother’s captor was playing with her. But she still sent a photo of herself with Miguel. She says she went to the station and told Perez about the strange request, but he didn’t ask for her phone, and then the messages stopped.

Perez and the Police Department declined to comment on Miguel’s case. The department also declined to provide the missing person report to me or Miguel’s family, citing an open investigation. The department said that it conducts every missing-person investigation thoroughly and follows up on all leads.

“Our response to a reported missing person does not differ based on nationality,” it said, later adding, “Suffolk County Police officers are among the finest in the country and treat everyone with professionalism and compassion.”

Carlota started watching the news obsessively, and MS-13 kept coming up. Founded in Los Angeles by Central American refugees in the 1980s, MS-13 is relatively small nationwide but has been active for years on Long Island. The gang had killed two people around Brentwood during the first two months of 2016 and staged a shootout at the town library.

After five days of no apparent progress from the police, Carlota decided she needed a new strategy. She got a local Spanish-language TV reporter to film a segment about the case. Her face shiny with tears, she confessed the possibility she had begun playing and replaying in her mind: “There’s so much you can never be sure of in this country. What I fear most is, it could be the gangs.” Reporter Alex Roland nodded sympathetically but later told me he thought Miguel had probably run away. After all, he explained, that’s what the police said.

The department hadn’t made a missing poster for Miguel, so Carlota photocopied his freshman ID and wrote next to it in Spanish, “If anyone sees this boy, please call his mother.” She posted the flyer at delis, churches and Miguel’s favorite clothing stores. Tips started to flow in: Miguel was eating empanadas, walking on the beach, begging outside the 7-11, getting a haircut at the barbershop. Each tip spurred an agonizing cycle of emotions: hurt and confusion that Miguel hadn’t let her know he was safe, then desperate hope, and finally, crashing despair as the leads turned out to be false.

Lady kept going to class and tried to keep it together for Carlota’s sake. But she really missed her brother. At night, she would replay his old messages to her, just to hear his low, hesitating voice. Then, in early April 2016, almost two months after he went missing, Lady discovered Miguel had left his Facebook account logged in on Abraham’s phone.

She started going systematically through messages from the past year. In one conversation, Miguel talked about saving up for Nike Cortez sneakers, but he abandoned the idea after a friend warned him that they were a sign of MS-13 membership. Most of his messages were failed attempts to talk to high school girls. Then, on the day he went missing, just one conversation — the 84 text and voice messages with Alexander. Lady said she recognized Alexander as a gang member from the language he used and the pictures on his Facebook page of grim reapers and laughing clowns — favorite memes of MS-13. There were strings of messages from anxious family and friends in the weeks that followed, but Alexander never sent another message after that night.

Carlota and Abraham say they went to Perez with the phone immediately. He kept it for a few days, and then he called and invited them to the high school to speak with Alexander. Experts on police procedure say a step like this is unusual and risky, because this kind of contact between a witness and a victim’s family could invalidate evidence in court. If Perez suspected foul play, they said, he should have gotten a warrant to search Alexander’s phone.

Assistant principal Lisa Rodriguez called Lady out of class over the intercom and had her wait outside the principal’s office as the adults talked to the student who had coaxed Miguel out. Alexander was dressed like an MS-13 member, with a blue plastic rosary and a long white T-shirt, but he looked like a child to Abraham, scared and “too weak to break a plate.”

Carlota and Abraham recall Alexander saying he and his friends had planned to go with Miguel to some train tracks, but Miguel never showed up. Carlota started crying. She demanded to be told where her son was. Alexander said he didn’t know. After half an hour, Perez dismissed him. “I knew right away this was something key, and I was begging Perez to press for more,” Carlota said. “I was telling them, ‘He has to know where my baby is.’” After they dismissed Alexander, Perez and the assistant principal told Carlota they thought he knew more than he let on, but there was not much officials could do about it.

A spokesman for the Brentwood schools declined to discuss the meeting but said the district fully cooperates with police. Rodriguez said she couldn’t remember who Alexander was. “I work with a lot of kids, it’s a large building, so I can’t even tell you,” she said.

After this meeting, Lady stopped seeing Alexander in school. The gang problem was getting worse. There were frequent fights in the hallways, and teachers shut themselves inside their classrooms. “These groups of students would all crowd around. It was scary,” bilingual education teacher Will Cuba said. Lady tried to ask around about Miguel without drawing attention. Students told her that MS-13 might have targeted him because one of his friends dressed in black, a sign of belonging to its chief rival, the 18th Street gang. But the friend told Lady he wasn’t affiliated with gang.

At the end of April, police asked the state for a missing person poster. It said, “Miguel is a runaway.”

Carlota stopped working at the envelope factory and fell into a routine of watching the news, paging through mystery thrillers at the library, asking Perez for updates and making the rounds of places where she had already searched for Miguel more times than she could count. Unable to sleep at night or sit still during the day, she began taking strong pain pills. She thought about counseling but dreaded the likely advice: that she needed to accept that Miguel might be gone.

It was the height of spring — three months since Miguel had gone missing — when Carlota saw something on TV that brought her up short: Another mother, crying over a missing son. Oscar Acosta was weeks away from graduating high school when he left home to play soccer on a Friday afternoon and never came back. He had told his mother a gang was bothering him because he had refused to join. “Something is terribly wrong. He didn’t take any clothes or money or anything,” the woman said. Carlota needed to talk to her.

A nephew of Abraham’s recognized the mother’s house on TV; it was just around the corner from the Applebee’s. Carlota knocked on the door that night, heart hammering.

The mother, Maria Arias, didn’t speak English. She told Carlota a familiar story: Detectives had reassured her that her son was hanging out with friends and would return after the weekend. Since then, Carlota recalled, Maria said she had been going to the police station for updates and leaving without information because of the language barrier. Maria later told me that she had to enlist a woman from church to help her report Oscar missing.

It was a frustration immigrants in Suffolk County have grappled with for years. Most Brentwood residents speak Spanish as their first language. But in 2016, only three people in the entire 3,800-person Suffolk County Police Department had passed a language test to interpret for Spanish speakers. One lawyer, Ala Amoachi, told me that she represented a Spanish-speaking Suffolk County woman who called police to report that her husband had been hitting her. When police came to the home, they used the abusive husband to interpret for his wife. The department declined to comment on this case, but it said it now has 10 certified interpreters. The New York City Police Department — 14 times as big as Suffolk’s — has 250 times as many certified interpreters. The Suffolk Police Department is one of the best paid in the country. Most detectives, including Perez, make more than $200,000 a year. But unlike a majority of big U.S. police departments, Suffolk does not give officers any extra pay for knowing a second language.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been supervising the Police Department since 2011, after white teenagers went “beaner-hopping” — their term for beating up immigrants — and killed a man from Ecuador. Police had failed to follow up on earlier reports that this group of teenagers was attacking immigrants, which the Justice Department said was part of a pattern of discrimination. It said Suffolk officers were both over- and under-policing Latino residents — stopping them more frequently than white people for minor violations, while also failing to fully look into the crimes they reported. This past March, the Justice Department found that Suffolk County officers, after seven years, are still not consistently using professional interpreters.

The Justice Department has also faulted Suffolk police for not doing enough to protect Latino teenagers from gangs. The Police Department pulled back from a joint Long Island FBI gang task force in 2012 amid a political squabble. Current and former Suffolk detectives told me they didn’t see MS-13 as a public safety threat, because its victims are usually at least on the fringe of gang life. They have a phrase for these killings: “misdemeanor murder.”

“When we see a missing Hispanic kid, we tend to assume it’s a gang-involved thing,” said Ken Bombace, who investigated MS-13 murders as a Suffolk County detective before leaving the department three years ago. “The sense is that these kids are killing each other.”

In June 2016, a third immigrant teenager went missing. His mother, Sara Hernandez, said she had pulled him out of Brentwood High because MS-13 was bullying him there. One afternoon, a group of boys came to the house looking for him, and he hid in his room. Then another afternoon, he did go, and didn’t return. Because nobody spoke Spanish at the police station, Sara had to pay her cab driver to interpret. He kept the clock running and charged her $70. She said police told her that her son could be hanging out with friends and would soon return, the same assurance they had given Oscar’s mother and Carlota.

Through the summer, Carlota struggled to maintain her belief that Miguel was alive but just couldn’t call home. The rare moments when she let herself imagine that he might be dead felt like a betrayal, as if she was killing him. Hoping to find a piece of his clothing or some other hint, she took to walking at dusk through an area of shaggy oak and pine trees that police called “the killing fields” because it was an MS-13 hangout and dumping ground for bodies. She saw old couches and television sets and a discarded speedboat. At the heart of these woods loomed a boarded up brick building. An abandoned psychiatric hospital. Carlota was spooked by the empty spray paint cans and candy wrappers in the brush and wondered who had left them there. But she found the loud crickets, the earthy smell and the murmur of traffic soothing, even hypnotic. “It was as if I was pulled in by some desperation. There was one night that Abraham called out to me because I was getting lost in there. But I wanted to just keep going deeper and deeper. It was like the forest was calling to me,” she said.

She was always sure to leave by nightfall. “For the first time in my life, I was afraid of the dark.”

Carlotta continued to check in with Perez weekly. One day, he invited the whole family to the station. As she walked through the lobby, Carlota did not see any safety advisories or missing person posters. At the front desk, police had laid out packets in English and Spanish to help people prepare flyers for lost pets.

The three of them sat down in a windowless detective room. Carlota hoped Perez was going to give them some news, but she also feared what it might be. Instead, the family said, he adopted a new attitude that caught them off guard. He accused them of knowing more than they were letting on. He spoke to Abraham in English, saying it was the language of the U.S., and had him interpret.

A different immigrant family that met with police in 2016 about gang threats toward their daughter secretly recorded their interaction with Perez after he was brought in to interpret between them and another detective. Perez is not a certified interpreter, and in the video, instead of speaking in Spanish, Perez asks the daughter if she is bilingual and, even as her father protests that he can’t understand, begins interrogating her in English. “You think we’re as dumb as the kids you hang out with? You think this is all a joke?” Perez says.

In their conversation with Perez, Carlota and Lady insisted that they didn’t know anything more. Carlota couldn’t understand why he would think she would keep anything back from the police that might help them find Miguel. What the detective said next stands out in the memories of all three family members. Perez turned to Carlota and told her, “If you’re so worried, go pay a fortune teller to find Miguel.”

After that, the department replaced Perez with a succession of three officers who seemed more compassionate but no more effective. Perez didn’t respond to the two dozen questions I emailed him. When I called him, he hung up. When I knocked on the door of his home in a gated community a few towns away from Brentwood, he told me to get off his property.

In August 2016, an 18-year-old immigrant was found dead in a park with machete marks all over his body. Carlota had always encouraged her children to spend time outside. Now, when Lady made plans to see friends or go to church, Carlota pleaded with her to stay home. Struggling to function on her own, she moved into Abraham’s basement apartment and brought Lady with her. “She was in so much pain because she didn’t know anything and the police never called her,” Abraham said. “I thought Miguelito must be lying dead somewhere, but of course I would never have suggested that to her.”

By September, Carlota rarely left home. Some days she was relieved there was nothing on the news about Miguel’s case, and other days she felt desperate for any resolution, no matter what. Lady sent Facebook messages to Miguel every few weeks. “We love you.” “Please come back, mami is really suffering.” “Baby brother, I miss you.” MS-13 members were again targeting Lady at school, threatening that if she didn’t join them, she could be next to disappear. She urged her mother to do something to pull police attention back to the case. So Carlota tracked down a new Univision reporter.

He agreed to tape a segment outside the high school. He asked Carlota where she thought her son might be, but as she was answering, the producer cut in. Two girls from Brentwood High, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, had been attacked as they walked near their homes. Nisa had been killed in the street. Kayla ran into a patch of woods and was missing overnight. Police told state officials she was a runaway. Now her body had been found.

Carlota followed the reporter to the crime scene. Police cars with flashing lights blocked the street. Carlota saw a woman crying in the middle of the road. “I was like, ‘First Miguel, and now these two girls? What is happening in this town?’ I felt this panic rising up and I tried to make myself stop thinking,” Carlota said.

This case was different than the ones before. The victims were native-born U.S. citizens, girls, and the gang hadn’t even tried to hide their bodies. Their parents had nice homes and professional jobs, and spoke English. “Two high school girls killed by MS-13?” said Suffolk County lawmaker and former gang detective Rob Trotta. “That’s not misdemeanor murder.”

The murders made national news. Trump hailed the girls’ parents and invited them to his State of the Union speech. The Suffolk County Police Department came under intense pressure to solve the case. It posted signs offering a $15,000 reward for help catching the killers. Officers went door-to-door asking for tips. Over the summer, Suffolk officials had rejected an offer to start an anti-gang program for immigrant teenagers in Brentwood, according to two people familiar with the episode. Now, they called the organizer back and asked how soon she could get it running. Police arrested dozens of suspected MS-13 members and mapped out the local cliques. Within days, they were searching the woods with German Shepherds and shovels.

Zagajeski, the Suffolk gang squad head, said the girls’ murders spurred police to pay more attention to reports of missing Latino teenagers. “Where in the past we may have been like, ‘Oh, a missing girl, we hear this all the time,’ now it’s like, ‘Oh, a missing girl in Brentwood? There’s a lot of gang members over there, let’s take a ride over and see what it is,’” he told me.

In the days after the double murder, Carlota and Abraham returned to the crime scene and spoke to the woman they had seen crying in the street, Kayla Cuevas’ mother. They told her about Miguel, and she gave Carlota a rosary as a gesture of solidarity. A detective working with the FBI gang task force came to see Carlota at home. He vowed to quit his job if he couldn’t find Miguel, now missing for seven months. He took a swab of her DNA and showed Lady a photo of a teenager whom she identified as Alexander, the boy from the Facebook messages.

On Sept. 21, 2016, one week after the girls were murdered, Lady was watching coverage of the hunt for their killers when an alert flashed. Police were identifying a body found days earlier in the woods as missing high school student Oscar Acosta. Carlota raced in from her bedroom and saw footage of police walking along the edge of the same killing fields she had searched with Abraham. Then the announcer said a second body had been discovered. Carlota noticed two men in suits walking down the stairs to her door. Her legs began to wobble. They were from the FBI and had brought an interpreter to tell Carlota what she had already figured out from the TV: The second body was Miguel’s.

She fell to the floor, raking the tiles with her hands. Then she saw Abraham coming back from a job installing insulation and ran out of the apartment toward him. But she fell again and tumbled down the stairs. Abraham hesitated to cradle her, because his work clothes were covered in fiberglass. Two days later, Carlota woke up in a hospital bed. The trauma staff had written on her chart, “Altered mental state. Unable to answer questions. Patient repeatedly stating ‘Just kill me. My son, my son.’”

She spent the days in the hospital cursing herself for bringing Miguel to a place where he could be targeted by gangs. She remembered telling him to ignore the kids bothering him at school. Had she been too dismissive? A mantra looped in her head, “I want to die.”

Perez called Abraham to say he was sorry for the family’s loss. Soon after Carlota was released from the hospital, the body of the third missing Brentwood High student was found. He, too, had been buried in the killing fields.

In all the months of uncertainty, Miguel’s clothes and stuffed animals had comforted Carlota. They smelled like him and seemed like a vital connection to someone still alive. Now she packed them into five trash bags and put them on the street next to piles of fall leaves.

The coroner listed the cause of Miguel’s death as a blow to the head and his place of death as an unidentified road. He had likely been killed the night he went missing, although it was hard to tell because his body had been decomposing so long only his bones remained. Carlota had wanted to bury him in a casket and give him a Catholic funeral. But police returned Miguel’s cremated remains in a small cardboard box. Abraham chose not to translate the forensic report that said the bones were crisscrossed with long machete marks.

The police were paying more attention now, but the slaughter continued. The discovery of Miguel’s bones brought the MS-13 body count in Suffolk County to 10. In October, another 15-year-old, Javier Castillo, vanished and was listed with the state as a runaway, only to be found buried in the woods a year later. A man beaten until his face was pulverized was left in the street. A bystander was shot at a deli. And still no one was charged with any of the murders. At the peak of the violence, MS-13 murders accounted for 40 percent of all Suffolk County homicides. Latino residents began avoiding the streets after dark.

In April 2017, the gang left four boys in a gruesome tableau in the woods, bringing the murder count to 18. The bodies were found by one of the victims’ families, who said they had flagged down a passing police officer and asked for help with the search, only to be told to file a report at the station.

Of the Suffolk County families who lost children to the gang during the rampage, nine have told me they felt ignored and disrespected at times by police. Most say they had to look for their kids themselves and struggled to communicate with police. At least four saw their children listed as runaways before their bodies were found.

“The police treated me like I just had some rebellious kid on my hands, and meanwhile I was living the worst year of my life,” said Santos Castillo, Javier’s father.

As the head of the Suffolk County Police Department from January 2016 until early this year, Timothy Sini was ultimately responsible for handling the crisis. But when I asked him about Miguel and the other teenagers who went missing in 2016, he got confused. He initially said that the boys had disappeared in 2015 — before he became commissioner. He also said that even though police had listed Miguel as a runaway, detectives had immediately suspected a homicide. Law enforcement experts told me that if police believed immigrant high school students were being targeted, they should have warned the community.

Sini acknowledged that police increased their efforts after the two girls were killed, seven months after Miguel disappeared. “If you want to criticize the Suffolk County Police Department for not doing enough against MS-13” before then, Sini said, “I suppose you can do that.”

He called the phrase “misdemeanor murder” offensive. “We need to do as much as possible to eradicate MS-13 and will continue to do that. Any victim that has been murdered or injured, that is a tragedy,” he said.

An ascendant Democrat in Trump country, Sini has now moved on to become Suffolk district attorney. He ran for the position on the slogan, “The man who took MS-13 down.” Sini said it has taken time to change the Police Department’s culture. The man who ran the department before Sini is in prison for beating up a suspect who stole a bag of dildos and porn from his unmarked police car.

One of Sini’s most important accomplishments as commissioner was reconciling with the FBI and sending detectives to its Long Island gang task force. With the task force in the lead, investigators began making progress against MS-13, and federal prosecutors have now indicted suspects in more than half of the murders. A majority of the people charged with masterminding the violence belonged to the MS-13 Sailors clique, the most powerful gang at Brentwood High. Some were 15- and 16-year-olds.

The wave of MS-13 violence has largely subsided. But Miguel’s case has stumped police. Even though Sini said police immediately suspected a homicide, his murder remains unsolved two and a half years later. Asked why, Sini said: “Are you seriously asking me that question? Law enforcement has done a tremendous job. They’ve put MS-13 on the run in Suffolk County. I mean, this is a ridiculous question.”

Carlota and Abraham no longer haunt the killing fields, but they’re still looking for clues. I tagged along this past winter when they dropped in on a hearing at the Long Island federal courthouse where all the Suffolk County MS-13 murders have been consolidated into one case.

In the wood-paneled courtroom, parents of victims greeted each other like old friends at church. Kayla’s parents waved Carlota over. When the accused killers were led in, Carlota was surprised by how childish they looked, with their sparse goatees and lanky limbs stretched by still-unfinished growth spurts. A woman in the audience lifted up a toddler in a pink coat, catching the eye of a defendant who grinned and waved back with handcuffed hands.

Kayla’s mother pointed out the leaders of the Sailors. One was 19-year-old Jairo Saenz. Prosecutors have charged him with six homicides, including the murders of the two girls and Oscar Acosta, whose body was found next to Miguel’s. Jairo has pleaded not guilty. The indictment says he marked his victims for death because he suspected them of associating with rival gangs. The method he is accused of using to kill Oscar mirrors what likely happened to Miguel. Accomplices invited Oscar to the woods by a school to smoke blunts. Then, according to the indictment, the Sailors attacked him, loaded him into a trunk, drove to the killing fields, slashed him to death and buried him in a shallow grave.

Carlota remembered Alexander’s messages to Miguel. He had kept talking about “Jairo.” Jairo was the one who was going to hook them up with blunts. Who wanted Miguel to come alone. The only one who got the teenage honorific “that man Jairo.” Squeezing Abraham’s hand in the gallery, Carlota sat up straight to see. Jairo looked more muscular than the other defendants, with long eyelashes. A row of girls mouthed messages of support as the prosecutor detailed his crimes. Jairo showed no reaction when the prosecutor said the government would be seeking the death penalty, but the girls gasped and murmured. A baby squeezed too hard by one of them started crying.

After the hearing, the parents talked among themselves in an empty hall. Picture windows looked out from the 10th floor onto the spreading Long Island woods where most of the violence had taken place. Another mother confided that police had refused to let her see her son’s body because it was too disfigured. Carlota urged Abraham to approach the prosecutors.

“I am the stepfather of Miguel, who was missing,” he said to one of them.

The prosecutor asked who Miguel was, and how long he had been gone. Then he left and returned with his chief, who led Carlota and Abraham into a small room. When they came out, they said the chief told them that Miguel’s case had been difficult to crack and was still under investigation. Prosecutors were waiting for someone to talk. As we left, a member of the FBI task force chimed in, telling Abraham to call his local police.

That isn’t always as easy as it sounds. One afternoon this summer, Abraham shuffled through his collection of worn business cards, trying the numbers of different detectives. The apartment remained a shrine to Miguel. Carlota kept the urn of his ashes on Lady’s nightstand, nestled among some of his beanie babies, several Bibles open to passages about fiery justice and a now-deflated Mylar balloon he bought for her for Valentine’s Day the week he disappeared. In the corner sat a fat folder of papers for her citizenship application; she couldn’t decide whether she wanted to become a citizen or return to Ecuador for good.

After half an hour, Abraham got through to the Suffolk County homicide detective who now has Miguel’s case and asked for an update. He put the call on speaker phone so I could hear.

“We’re still working on it, us and the FBI. We are still trying to find out what happened,” the detective said.

Abraham asked about Alexander. What was his full name? Had he gotten away?

“That was one of the kids who was spoken to. I’d have to look in the folder and see what his name is,” the detective answered. “Everybody that we had a name of, we spoke to, and they didn’t really provide any usable information. Unfortunately, sometimes these things take a long time.”

I decided to look for usable information myself. For months, I didn’t make much headway. Nobody I talked to could tell me Alexander’s full name, and he never came back to Brentwood High. I eventually spoke with two teenagers who said they had not been questioned about Miguel but knew who had killed him. They said it was “that man Jairo.”

Jairo, they and others told me, had come from El Salvador as a teenager. He worked construction jobs and lived in a large house with his mother, brother, three sisters and a pit bull. He hung out in the halls of Brentwood High but rarely went to class. Friendly and charming, he earned his gang nickname, “Funny.” Girls liked his dimples and strong cologne. He filled his social media accounts with selfies and photos of his infant daughter. In early 2016, he changed, telling gang underlings that he had to show he was hard or others would disrespect him. Jairo’s lawyers declined to make him available for an interview.

Henry, a Brentwood High MS-13 member who has given information to the police, told me the gang saw Miguel as overly friendly and effeminate. He also confused the Sailors. He didn’t seem to have gang friends, but he sometimes came to school wearing the red bandanna of the Bloods, the rosary of MS-13 or the head-to-toe black of the 18th Street Gang. Henry thought Miguel was just a nerd trying to look cool, but MS-13 members started circulating photos of him on a group text.

Henry said that at Jairo’s order, he grilled Miguel about how he dressed. Jairo listened in on speaker phone as Miguel said he didn’t owe anyone an explanation. And that was it. Miguel was marked for death because the Sailors felt he was disrespecting MS-13 by wearing the clothes of rival gangs. Henry said that after the Sailors killed Miguel, some members went back, unearthed the body, cut apart his limbs and swung a machete into his face. Around the time the gang was re-butchering Miguel’s body, Carlota was pleading on TV that her son was not a runaway.

Jairo’s ex-girlfriend, nicknamed Chinita, also linked him to the murder. A 14-year-old freshman when she started dating Jairo in 2015, Chinita at first thought he was sweet and liked that he could drive her to the movies and mall. Then he started becoming more possessive and sending her strange messages, and she took out a restraining order against him. Chinita said that, soon after Miguel disappeared, Jairo texted her that he was in the woods playing with human teeth. He sent her a photo of a dirty pair of black sweatpants like the ones Miguel wore the night he vanished.

In September 2016, right after Miguel’s body was found, police arrested Jairo for driving without a license. Officers let him go with a notice to appear in court, which he blew off. Less than two weeks later, Chinita’s parents filed a missing person report saying Jairo had taken her and stashed her at his house. Nevertheless, police listed her as a runaway. Her parents say they asked officers to search Jairo’s house, but they never did. Chinita escaped after two months and called her mother. Chinita says police refused to send a squad car and told her to take a taxi home. The FBI would later find the clique’s cache of guns, bats and machetes buried in the backyard.

By the fall of 2016, Jairo was the subject of a restraining order, had skipped a court appearance for the driving violation and had allegedly kidnapped a minor. And then, having already killed three people, not counting Miguel, he went on to kill at least three more, according to federal prosecutors.

The last time I went to see Carlota, she and Abraham were in the middle of looking for a new apartment. She had decided to stay on Long Island until someone was charged with Miguel’s murder, but she was hoping to move to Nassau County, which she calls the “American side” of Long Island. Carlota is feeling especially scared these days. Another immigrant teenager was murdered in Suffolk County over the summer. Kayla Cuevas’ mother was struck and killed earlier this month by an SUV at a memorial service for her daughter after getting into an argument with the driver.

When I told Carlota what I’d learned about Jairo, she shook her head and spoke angrily. How could a group of teenagers have committed so many murders, essentially becoming serial killers in the space of a year, when the clues were right there in those messages sent to her son during winter break?

“You get the sense that the police here have this attitude that we Latinos are just killing each other, and this is their country,” she said. “If Miguel was an American, they might have found him right away. If they’d investigated then and there, maybe all these other children wouldn’t have had to die.”

Even though they haven’t found a place yet, Carlota has packed up most of the apartment into boxes. She finally got rid of the bed Miguel slept on. The detectives’ cards she kept safe in a drawer, to avoid losing them in the mess of the move. When she’s ready to leave, she’ll pack them up last, just in case.

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TUSD sup’t Gabriel Trujillo continues to allow harassment in TUSD from the “Fisher Plaintiff”: Whistleblowers

TUSD sup’t Gabriel Trujillo continues to allow harassment in TUSD from the “Fisher Plaintiff”: Whistleblowers

Our permission is granted to media, bloggers, and others to publish our letter. We are the sole authors of our letters.

76th Open Letter to the Community:

ShEEE’s BACK! Gloria Copeland Back at Sahuaro High School Interfering with its Operation and the Board and Superintendent Do Absolutely Nothing

From: TUSD Whistleblowers– Comprised of a Large Group of Extremely Concerned TUSD Administrators, Teachers, Former Students/Class of 2018, Retired Administrators, Parents, & Grandparents

ShEEE’s Back! read more

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American History for Truthdiggers: The Slow, Perilous Shift to Emancipation

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Maj. Danny Sjursen.

Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the 17th installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His war experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.

Part 17 of “American History for Truthdiggers.”

See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10; Part 11; Part 12; Part 13; Part 14; Part 15; Part 16.

* * *

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.” —President Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to the abolitionist Horace Greeley (Aug. 22, 1862)

It is nearly impossible to illustrate the magnitude of the American ordeal of civil war. It is not just the hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, but the fact that this war—perhaps more than any other—utterly transformed the United States. The bookshelves simply overflow with fascinating military histories of the conflict, and I’ll leave that part of the story to their distinguished authors. Rather, let us here examine how, in the course of just four years, the war moved from being dedicated solely to the preservation of the Union to becoming a war of liberation to emancipate slaves.

How, in other words, did President Lincoln move from his above quote—declaring he would do nearly anything with the slaves (including leaving them in bondage) in order to preserve the Union—to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and, eventually, the 13th Amendment constitutionally abolishing slavery (1865)? What’s certain is that Lincoln himself may have transformed—for both tactical and moral reasons—as a brutal war moved him squarely into the abolitionist camp. This is perhaps the most profound tale of this horrific war: the one with the most transformative impacts.

The Myth of Union Invincibility

It’s often said that the North held all the strong economic, political and military cards at the start of this war. And, indeed, it did—on paper. The Union states had the vast majority of the (white) population, nine-tenths of the manufactured goods, seven-tenths of the miles of railroad tracks, nine-tenths of the merchant ships and seven-tenths of the grain production. The North also received most of the country’s annual immigration and had eight-tenths of the nation’s banking flow. By these measures, it seemed the South didn’t stand a chance.

But a closer look narrows the gap between the two belligerents. The North had essentially no army—its paltry regiments were mostly spread across the vast western interior fighting Indians. Furthermore, some of the most able U.S. Army officers—one thinks of Robert E. Lee, T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson and James Longstreet—quickly resigned their commissions and joined the new Confederate army. That army, of course, was mobilized rather quickly because it had a head start. After John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, spooked Southerners from Virginia to Texas formed militias to stave off perceived threats of slave rebellion. Many of these local militiamen would form the core of the future Confederate armies.

Perhaps the biggest equalizer, however, was the matter of opposing war aims. The Union could win only if it conquered and occupied much of the South. A win for the South, on the other hand, meant simply not losing. This is a much easier, and defensive, task. The Union could count on long supply lines (which had to be guarded) and frequent guerrilla attacks by the Confederates at its rear. The South fought on familiar turf and with much shorter supply lines. And the population numbers were themselves deceptive. Though the North counted seven-tenths of the white population, the South counted nearly 4 million slaves. These laborers kept the Southern agrarian economy churning and freed up millions of potential soldiers for the Confederacy. Conversely, Northerners, out of fear of crippling their economy, couldn’t mobilize nearly so high a percentage of the workforce.

Many Southerners also argued that its rural population was more martial and effective than the supposedly effete Yankees. Some even claimed that just a single Southerner could “whoop 10 Yankees!” Though the South met early battlefield success and was generally better led during the war’s early campaigns, such conceited proclamations would be proved wrong. It turned out that there was enough (often foolhardy) valor on both sides, as men killed and died with a discipline that is shocking to the modern reader. In the end, nothing was inevitable, neither Union victory nor Southern defeat, but by 1862 one thing seemed certain: It was to be a long, hard war.

For Union!: Lincoln Walks the High Wire (1861-62)

President Lincoln was obsessed with Kentucky. Well, he had been born there. But there was far more to it. After all, not every slave state had seceded. Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware stayed in the Union—in some cases only just. Lincoln knew he needed to keep the so-called border states on the Union side, or at least neutral. Many lateral (east/west) railroad lines ran through the western border states and would be vital to shifting troops from theater to theater. Maryland and Delaware, along with already seceded Virginia, surrounded the Union capital, Washington, D.C. The president’s very safety was at stake.

So it was that Lincoln’s desire to keep the border states in the Union informed the president’s strategic thinking in the war’s first year. Lincoln had to downplay the abolitionist sentiments of his Republican Party and reassure Northern Americans—most of them wildly racist—that this war was for union, not a crusade against slavery. In keeping with this strategy, in the war’s early months most Union commanders were ordered to return runaway slaves and enforce the Southerners’ rights to their “property.”

Lincoln didn’t want and, he thought, couldn’t afford a crusade. What was needed was a quick victory, and a limited war that didn’t too badly damage Southern property or increase border state sympathy for the Confederacy. Initially, Lincoln called for only 75,000 three-month volunteers, and this is telling. One grand victory and the seizure of the Confederate capital in nearby Richmond, Va., might just end the war in one fell swoop. Of course, it was not to be. The green Union Army was out-led and, ultimately, outfought at the July 1861 Battle of Bull Run, near Manassas Junction, Va., and fled back to the District of Columbia in disarray.

In Tennessee and Mississippi, an unknown, disheveled general named Ulysses S. Grant—who had failed in most of life’s endeavors and been cashiered from the regular Army years before for drunkenness—met with more success (he would eventually lead all Union armies). Still, the rebels had generally acquitted themselves well in the war’s early years. It was to be a long war. Union strategy would have to change. As Lincoln wrote, “We must change tactics or lose the game.” It was time to strike the economic and cultural heart of the Confederacy: the institution of slavery.

‘As He Died to Make Men Holy, Let Us Die to Set Men Free’: Emancipation Comes at Last

Lincoln was stuck between political forces. The opposition Democrats in the North were decidedly against emancipation of the slaves, as was much of the Northern population (especially Irish immigrants). His own Republicans—especially the “radical wing”—on the other hand, were becoming frustrated with Union military defeats and Lincoln’s unwillingness to attack slavery. But Lincoln was personally edging ever closer to the “radical” position, for reasons of “military necessity.” Congress, in July of that year, had passed the Confiscation Act of 1862, which held that Union military officers were no longer obliged to return runaways to Southern slaveholders. Congress knew, as did Lincoln and his commanders, that slavery was the core of the Southern war machine. Slaves dug trenches, built forts, raised crops and enabled millions of white men to head to the battle front. Something had to be done to strike a blow to the South’s war-making capacity. An attack on slavery seemed to be just the thing.

Unfortunately, Lincoln felt he first needed a battlefield victory before issuing an Emancipation Proclamation. And, for a year, his armies in the vital Eastern theater had known nothing but defeat: at Bull Run (1861), the Peninsula Campaign (1862), the Shenandoah Valley (1862) and Second Bull Run (1862). Then, in September 1862, the effective, victorious Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee took his Army of Northern Virginia northward and invaded Maryland. He hoped to turn Maryland into a rebel state, gain international recognition for the Confederacy and, perhaps, end the war. On Sept. 17, 1862, at Antietam Creek, Lee was (just barely) defeated and forced back into Virginia. Though the ever-cautious Union Gen. George B. McClellan had failed to trap and destroy or at least meaningfully pursue Lee’s army (despite having found a misplaced copy of the Confederate battle plan!), Lincoln had the “victory” he needed.

Soon afterward, he issued probably one of the most profound, questionably legal and consequential executive edicts of all time: the Emancipation Proclamation. It declared that on Jan. 1, 1863, all slaves held in the rebellious states were “then, thenceforward, and forever free!” So, how many slaves did Lincoln free in January 1863? Zero. The edict didn’t touch the slaves in border states (Lincoln still needed to keep these states in the Union) and applied only to slaves in regions actively in rebellion. Of course, the Confederates reigned in these areas and weren’t about to free their slaves. In the end, the proclamation was a war measure, not a humanitarian decree. But it did change one thing. The Union Army would transform overnight into an army of liberation wherever it marched.

This much, too, is certain: There would have been no Emancipation Proclamation had the war not lasted so long and turned so bloody. It was the death of whites by the tens of thousands that convinced the Union to free the blacks. The irony, of course, was that if the Union had won at Bull Run, or if the Union’s commander during 1862, Gen. McClellan, would have seized Richmond in July 1862 (as he nearly did), then the war might have ended with slavery intact. After all, emancipation was not yet a stated war aim, and it is likely that a coalition of Southerners, border staters and Northern Democrats would have negotiated reunion without emancipation. Who knows how long slavery might then have persevered in the American South.

Who (Really) Freed the Slaves?

“The Emancipation of Negroes” (1863), by the influential artist and cartoonist Thomas Nast, offers an aspirational depiction of a prospering black family, at center. The drawing, published in Harper’s Weekly, commemorates President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on the first day of January in 1863.

Ask an American on the street today “Who freed the slaves?” and nine times out of 10 the answer will be “Abe Lincoln, of course.” But that’s not strictly true. Lincoln did, it must be said, generally abhor the institution of slavery, but he was extraordinarily cautious in its abolition. His Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free a single slave on the day it took effect, Jan. 1, 1863. And it wasn’t just “military necessity” that had provoked the decision. From the earliest days of the war, the slaves, if not the Northern whites, were totally sure this was a war for abolition. By the tens of thousands they risked their lives to escape to Union lines. They placed the question of emancipation—of what exactly was to be done with these “contrabands” of war, as the slaves were termed—on the agenda of the Union Army and, by extension, the U.S. government.

“Near Andersonville” (1866) by Winslow Homer, one of the foremost painters of 19th-century America. It shows a slave watching as Union troops are led into captivity by Confederates. More than 10,000 Northerners died at the Andersonville Prison in Georgia during the Civil War.

How this process worked can be made clear with a simple vignette, undoubtedly repeated thousands of times during the war. A family of runaway slaves—man, woman and child—escapes a plantation and enters Union-held territory. They meet a lowly private on guard duty. The soldier is no abolitionist; heck, he has probably never met many black people. He certainly doesn’t see them as his equal. Still, he catches the look in the poor child’s eyes and doesn’t want to be responsible for turning these slaves away. So he asks his lieutenant what to do, who asks the captain, who asks the colonel, who asks the general, who … eventually asks President Lincoln. What exactly is the policy of the U.S. government toward these human “contrabands”? The question becomes public, is debated in Congress, on the streets, in countless taverns.

Most standard histories ignore this facet of the war and deny agency to the millions of black slaves, most of whom are portrayed as victims and then grateful benefactors. Only they were so much more. Seen in this light, it was the slaves, through their many thousands of dangerous escapes, who freed themselves, by flooding the Union Army lines both before and after the famed Emancipation Proclamation.

Whither Civil Liberties?

The Civil War probably did more to expand federal and presidential power than any other war in American history. Although both the Union and Confederacy were republics and ostensible democracies, each soon found that exigencies of war would force them to curtail civil liberties and centralize governance. The latter was particularly ironic in the “states rights”-obsessed South. Lincoln, in response to anti-conscription and anti-war riots, called out the Army in more than a few cities, suspended habeas corpus and imprisoned many anti-war figures. He even banished one Ohio politician to the South! Some of these measures have been, rightfully, criticized by later scholars.

But context matters. Lincoln had a war to win, political enemies at his rear and an Army that had known mostly defeat for two full years. Furthermore, the draft riots were a genuine threat and a reflection of Northern racism (and unhappiness about fighting for black freedom), especially among the Irish. For example, in the New York riots of July 1863, angry mobs attacked blacks throughout the city, killing over 100 and prompting Lincoln to call in federal troops fresh from the Battle of Gettysburg to suppress the five-day melee. Lincoln’s critics, who took to calling him “King Abraham,” “a caesar” and a tyrant remained angry throughout the war. They resented the implementation of a military draft (the first of its type), his transformation of the war into one of emancipation, declarations of martial law and his suspension of civil liberties. However, the American people, by and large, stood by Lincoln and gave him (a surprising) victory in his bid for re-election in 1864.

“The Miscegenation Ball,” an 1864 political attack on Lincoln, attempted to inflame racist passions by portraying white men cavorting with black women.

The actions of Confederate President Jefferson Davis were even more ironic. His was a republic supposedly founded on states’ rights and in opposition to centralized control. And yet it was the Confederacy that first passed a conscription law and drafted its white population into military service.

Interestingly, a “Twenty-Negro Law” exempted substantial slaveholders from conscription, resulting in opposition by some to what was called a “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight.” The government in Richmond could temporarily commandeer slaves for war labor. Furthermore, high taxation (which the Southern Democrats supposedly abhorred) combined with food shortages to cause notorious “bread riots” in Richmond and mass desertions from the South’s armies. In some regions, deserters and draft dodgers formed armed militias that essentially ruled certain counties as independent nations.

The story was the same, North and South, as it often is: “Military necessity” and a long, bloody war curtailed individual freedom.

Carnage: Waging the Civil War

It was a bloodbath. From start to finish, thousands upon thousands of Americans—clad in blue or gray—fell dead or maimed on the field of battle. Few had predicted such a massive bloodletting; after all, this was to be a 90-day war. Instead it lasted more than four years. The American Civil War was by far the costliest in American history. Some 600,000 died, if not more—equivalent to more than the American fatalities of the two world wars taken together. On a single day at the Battle of Antietam (Sept. 17, 1862), more men were killed and wounded on both sides than in all previous American wars. More Union men became casualties that day than the number that would fall on D-Day in 1944.

The primary cause of all this death and destruction (besides the devotion of both sides) was the rifled musket. In previous wars, the United States and other belligerents generally used smoothbore muskets, which were far less accurate. Rifling a musket increased its range and accuracy fourfold and made the defense the far stronger tactical position. The rifle also decreased the offensive value of artillery, as gunners could now be picked off when the cannons were brought forward. Furthermore, traditional cavalry charges became a thing of the past, since bullets took down horses and riders long before they could reach the infantrymen’s lines.

Still, there was more to it than mere technology. The tactics of this war had not yet caught up with the technological advances. Most officers on both sides, trained in Napoleonic tactics at West Point, preferred the offensive to the defensive. They were taught to be aggressive and to seek out and destroy the enemy’s main force. Few recognized the transformational power of the rifle soon enough to stray from the “close-order column” tactics of the Napoleonic Wars, and they marched their men straight into the deadly maelstrom of enemy fire. Though often misguided, these officers were brave; there is no question. Colonels and generals led from the front, and in the Civil War a general was more likely to be killed than a private. The inverse has tended to be true ever since. By war’s end, after years of failure to recognize the tactical revolution that had been unleashed, both sides had shifted to entrenchments and defensive fortifications. Unfortunately, by then hundreds of thousands had fallen in foolish close-order charges.

We Are Men: Black Soldiers in the Civil War

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters US, let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.” —A speech by abolitionist and former runaway slave Frederick Douglass at National Hall in Philadelphia (July 6, 1863)

Few could have imagined it. Most Southerners and plenty of Northerners couldn’t have foreseen the mass arming of blacks and their service in the armies of the federal republic! But this is exactly what occurred, as early as 1862, when Congress gave its approval. The decision was driven by two main forces: one, military necessity, and, two, the clamoring of blacks and runaway slaves themselves to serve the Union. And enlist they did, in record numbers. Though just 1 percent of the prewar Northern population, blacks eventually constituted 10 percent of Union Army volunteers. Furthermore, 85 percent of the North’s of-age black population enlisted.

All told, by war’s end, 180,000 blacks would serve the Union. They were paid less than white soldiers, treated poorly by many white troopers, served under white officers and were initially kept behind the lines for humiliating menial labor. Still, the valor of the black troops cannot be overestimated. By 1865, 20 percent of the 180,000 black soldiers had died, a casualty rate much higher than among their white brothers in arms. Many black soldiers came from the border states, for enlisting in the Army was the only sure way to freedom in regions where slavery remained legal after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Tens of thousands of others were runaways, only recently held in bondage.

“And Not This Man?” (August 1865) by Thomas Nast shows the nation in the guise of Columbia appealing for civil rights for a soldier who lost a leg in the recently ended Civil War. Nearly 200,000 blacks fought for the Union.

These men knew exactly what they were fighting for. The war was no abstraction for a runaway slave. In the Army they could contribute to a victory they hoped would bring their permanent salvation. They also found many other things in the Army: the dignity of service; a transformation of their self-image; and, among some at least, a new respect in the collective national opinion. Still, serving in a black regiment was dangerous for soldier and officer alike. The Confederates were appalled by the sight of blacks armed and in uniform. Some Confederate units refused to take black prisoners and had a policy of shooting captured black soldiers and their hated white officers. Besides, with much to prove on the field of battle, combat could be extraordinarily perilous.

One of the first and most famous black regiments formed was the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Its colonel was the 26-year-old Robert Gould Shaw, the son of prominent abolitionist parents in Boston. As a Massachusetts regiment, raised partly at the behest of Frederick Douglass and other famous local abolitionists, the 54th was the North’s “showcase black regiment.” In July 1863, the regiment volunteered to lead the assault on the formidable Fort Wagner in South Carolina. In the heroic, and ultimately unsuccessful, attack, nearly half the regiment became casualties and Shaw was killed charging the fort’s parapet. Though the attack failed, the exploits of the 54th resonated across the North. The Atlantic Monthly declared, “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night [at Fort Wagner], the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.”

The Confederates threw the body of Col. Shaw into the pit of a mass grave along with hundreds of his enlisted men. When a Confederate officer supposedly replied to a request for Shaw’s body with the taunt “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s proud father replied, “We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.” Col. Shaw still lies with his men in that pit on a South Carolina island.

Lincoln’s Final Act: The 13th Amendment

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” —Section I, 13th Amendment to the Constitution (1865)

By January 1865, the war was finally nearing its end. More than half a million soldiers were dead, and nearly 200,000 blacks wore the uniform of the Union. Still, President Lincoln felt there remained work to be done aside from achieving victory in the war. During a lame-duck session of Congress, he fought hard and pushed the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives on its way to ratification. He was advised not to do so. Some thought it would motivate the South to fight on; others, that it would alienate Lincoln’s supporters in the slave-laden border states; plenty just plain disagreed with the final abolition of slavery.

Nevertheless, Lincoln proceeded. He did so, mainly, because he feared the war would end before slavery was on its way to abolishment. His Emancipation Proclamation, after all, was an executive war measure, sanctioned not by Congress but by presidential fiat. Though the proclamation declared the slaves were “forever free,” might not the courts determine after the war that the edict was unconstitutional or no longer in effect? Might then, as Lincoln feared most, the runaway slaves that donned the Union blue be rendered slaves once again at war’s end? Here Lincoln demonstrated his true mettle. He and his supporters lobbied for the necessary votes, probably bribed their way to some, and eventually won passage of the amendment. Thus ended slavery everywhere. And, ironically, it was in loyal border states such as Delaware that it ended last—long after the Union Army had liberated the slaves of Alabama.

Emancipation and the 13th Amendment that followed constituted, by some economic measurements, the largest and quickest forced confiscation of property in world history and were, by their very nature, a major and complex undertaking. The achievement was profound, if unexpected. A war undertaken, by Lincoln’s own declaration, for preservation of the Union—regardless of the outcome for the slaves—had within four short years morphed into a conflict that abolished slavery once and for all. It was now the law of the land: “Neither slavery, nor indentured servitude … shall exist within the United States.” It was a long, hard road, but after half a century of effort, the once mocked abolitionists had achieved freedom for the slaves.

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On April 14, 1865, just days after Robert E. Lee surrendered his army, Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., by the actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. In a tragedy truer than fiction, Lincoln would not see the Union to final victory. Nonetheless, by April 1865, Lincoln knew that victory was near—though it was not the sort of victory he had initially envisioned. He had hoped to quickly re-establish and preserve the Union without resorting to total war.

Instead, the carnage of Bull Run, the Peninsula campaign, Shiloh and other battles led him to see the bitter truth. Victory demanded that the old Union and the old South be destroyed and a new union reconstructed on its ashes. This would be the task at hand when the Confederacy surrendered. The nation had changed by 1865. The role and scope of federal power had forever increased; notions of race and citizenship had been reformulated. And, lastly, a new nationalism formed as Americans started to think of the federal Union as the paramount law of the land. Before the war, most Americans referred to these United States. After the conflict, almost all labeled this country the United States!

The war appeared to solve many things: the question of union, the legality of secession, even the existence of slavery. Yet so much more, so many unanswered questions, lay before Lincoln’s untested successor and the nation as a whole. How shall the Union be pieced together, and how would (or should) 4 million souls—recently held in bondage—be integrated into American society? The nation would have to be reconstructed, to be sure, but few knew quite what to do with the freed slaves. In the aftermath of civil war there existed an opportunity, a first chance, to legislate and enforce racial equality once and for all. Americans had only to seize the chance. Tragically, they would not.

* * *

To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:

• James West Davidson, Brian DeLay, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle, and Michael B. Stoff, “Experience History: Interpreting America’s Past,” Chapter 16: “Total War and the Republic, 1861-1865” (2011).
• James M. McPherson, “The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era” (1998).

Maj. Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast, “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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