Dissent. Diversity. Unity.

The Power of Companies in the New Age of Citizenry

in Media and Society by

As you probably know, Bill O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox recently announced an end to their nearly twenty-year association, ironically just after agreeing to a lucrative multiyear contract. Although some might reasonably say that Fox News made O’Reilly, I think a good argument could be made for the opposite. In its twenty-year run, his show would easily become the most watched weekday primetime cable news program. O’Reilly would cement the network as a bulwark for a brash and new type of conservative, sowing the seeds for the election result we saw last November.

Bill O’Reilly (left) and Tomi Lahren (right) have come to represent the current and upcoming generations of popular conservative television personalities. Recent controversies from both have ended the career of one (O’Reilly) while endangering the career of the other (Lahren).

It was a format and style developed by conservative media maven Roger Ailes that would be quickly adopted by such conservative pundits such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and, more recently, newcomers Tomi Lahren and Alex Jones. Sadly, developments have turned the tables on these commentators in ways we could scarcely fathom just one year ago.

Roger Ailes is no longer chairman on Fox News, effectively bought off by Rupert Murdoch’s young heir-apparent sons after settling numerous sexual harassment charges levied on him and the network. Glenn Beck left Fox News after an acrimonious fallout between him and executives in 2012. Although his startup online organization known as The Blaze is seen as a viable alternative to Fox News, even Mr. Beck has professed shock and dismay at the ascendance of Donald Trump. Rush Limbaugh has seen his listenership steadily decline in the face of more able and congenial radio hosts such as Mark Levin and Charlie Sykes, while Tomi Lahren and Alex Jones have fallen from their own personal grace by either failing to toe the line (Lahren) or seeming to admit that their show is nothing but an act (Jones).

This all pales in comparison to the realization that accusations of harassment and victim shaming on the part of the network to protect their star host have been swirling around O’Reilly and Fox News for more than a decade now. That this new environment finally produced the necessary ingredients to force his ouster is a sad reminder of how far we have come and how far we still have left to go.

Recent accusations of sexual harassment from Fox News personalities such as Gretchen Carlson (left) have led to a rash of departures of key high-profile on-air talent such as Megyn Kelly (right) to more mainstream media networks such as NBC.

This article, however, is not about how prolific the conservative media landscape is or the concurrent dearth of mainstream progressive media sources (thankfully free of harassment!) but rather about how these titanic shifts in our media landscape came about. As you have all probably read, O’Reilly’s recent ouster was the result of over fifty high-dollar TV sponsors pulled their ads from the 9 p.m. O’Reilly Factor time slot. This tendency to only pull a controversial figure when sponsors begin to pull their money is not new in our recent history.

The recent spate of child and domestic abuse scandals in the NFL, the ouster of Don Imus from his radio show, and even President Trump’s rare moment of contrition (at least seeming to be) when the Hollywood Access tape was released were all the product of major advertisers making their dissatisfaction known after intense public pressure to do so. It is an alarming trend that seems to have become quite predictable once a scandal begins to gain traction. You can pretty much bank that once major sponsors like automobile and pharmaceutical companies, along with the added online company or two, begin to release statements of condemnation, it’s merely a matter of time before that host, issue, or scandal comes to a head.

But although these moments, such as the departure of Bill O’Reilly, stand as important reminders of the new world that has evolved over the past decade, it is wrong to credit that change simply to the fact that companies have simply dropped their advertising or sponsorship. Such narratives promote the false impression that Fortune 500 companies are the true guardians of civilization and decency rather than what they really are. At the end of the day companies such as Daimler-Chrysler, Amazon, and Viagra are just companies—entities and organizations created for the simple purpose of making money and little else. They cannot decry injustice any more than a simple plant or a park bench can read. They’re simply not set up for that. The idea that these companies have been imbued with such abilities to strip power from others is not only preposterous but dangerous as well.

It speaks to a larger issue that we all must confront in the post–Citizens United era. Not only should we reassess what makes a citizen, but we must also seriously look at the emerging narrative that companies should be counted among those privileged few who influence elections and voting through their contributions and policies. This is not as academic a debate as some might rightly assume it to be. I for one do not consider myself to be the equal of McDonald’s or Sherman-Williams. They cannot think, they cannot reason, they cannot judge, and, most important of all, they do not breathe, sleep, eat, or talk.

The real credit for O’Reilly’s ouster should instead go to the thousands of people—like you and me—who pressured those advertisers to pull their funding. It was they who put the screws on such companies as Geico, Subaru, and Lumber Liquidators, which together accounted for $35 million dollars in losses to Fox News’s bottom line. The scandal also stood in the way of the Murdoch brothers’ plan to acquire SKY News, purportedly an $11 billion transaction, which the brothers are desperate to complete. In all, it was a combination of the money and bad PR that did O’Reilly in.

Calls for O’Reilly’s departure from Fox News had been steadily increasing after the first allegations came to light in 2004. In the end the loss of nearly $35 million in ad revenue is what did him in—despite numerous protests and petitions from ordinary citizens, as seen above.

Sadly, the work of those activists who pressured these companies has been ignored in this narrative. But I would like to salute them here, not only for their persistence and perseverance in making O’Reilly accountable for his actions but also for every time some controversy flares and requires our attention. If only our government could respond with the same speed and heft as companies as Credit Karma and Allstate (no offense).

Meanwhile, young progressive commentators continue to flourish both online and across various social media outlets. Here the Young Turks’ host Cenk Uygur (far left) and politics reporter Nomiki Konst (far right) are flanked by actress Rosario Dawson (center left) and immigrant-rights advocate Linda Sarsour (center right).

So next time a major scandal occurs on the airwaves, remember the secret ingredient to make the wheels of change happen. Once companies begin abandoning ship, the drumbeat for change will not be far behind. Although this is a practical reality to the way things work now, we must never forget that it is we the citizens, we the taxpayers, and, yes, we the people who are the real power behind our moral social order. It’s time we start reminding the politicians, CEOs and TV executives of that.

The Resistance Needs an Economic Message (Part 1)

in History by

“They want more for themselves and less for everybody else, but I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. That’s right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fuckin’ years ago. They don’t want that.”

— George Carlin, 2005

Since 1980:

  • The bottom 95 percent of income earners have gone from having 0.60 cents of debt per dollar of income to $1.40 in debt for every dollar — while the top 5 percent of income earners decreased their debt per dollar share from 80 cents to 65 cents on the dollar.
  • The portion of US economic activity devoted to the delivery of healthcare has gone from just under 9 percent to over 18 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Despite the massive increase in spending, millions are still uninsured and many more underinsured.
  • Private debt (credit extended to nongovernment borrowers) has grown from 2.9 trillion in 1980 to 27.6 trillion in 2016. The “boom” economy of the 1990s saw a near-doubling of private loans—from 7.4 trillion to 14.2 trillion—IN ADDITION to adding 2 trillion to the federal debt.
  • Per-person debt has grown from just over $1,500 per person in 1980 to $11,140 per person by the middle of 2016. Per-person consumer credit has grown from 7.3 percent of the 1980 average household income of $21,100 to 13.7 percent of average household income of $75,700. Debt “increased 70% faster than income from 1980 through 2014.”
  • The United States has been running consistent annual trade deficits—1975 was the last year on record the United States had a trade surplus. We have been running annual deficits in excess of $400 billion a year since 2002; the only exception being in 2008 in the midst of the financial crisis. The US trade deficit in 2016 was $502 billion.
  • Outstanding auto loans have grown from $112 billion to $1.1 TRILLION. The 2008 economic crisis brought on a decrease in outstanding loans, but since 2011 American consumers have taken on $400 billion in debt liabilities to purchase new vehicles.
  • College tuition “since 1980 has grown by 260%, compared to the 120% increase in all other consumer items.” At the same time enrollment is up 67 percent from 12.1 million students in 1980 to 20.2 million in 2015. States are covering an increasingly smaller share of college costs, from 72 percent to 35 percent since 2000.
  • The cost of a four-year college education has tripled from $8k a year to over $21,000 in 2013. The total student loan debt has grown from $250 billion to $1.34 trillion since 2003.
  • All outstanding mortgage debt in the United States has grown from $1.4 trillion to $14.2 trillion. The current level of mortgage debt is less than the $14.8 trillion that existed in 2008 before the financial crisis wiped out $1.5 trillion in mortgage debts.
  • Thirty-year fixed mortgage rates have gone from 15 percent in February 1981 to just over 4 percent in February of 2017. These historically low home rates make buying a home easier in theory, but all things being equal, more and more people are devoting a larger percentage of their incomes to housing costs.
  • Since 1980 “median rent has increased 33 percent. Median household income, however, has only increased 12 percent.” Average rents in the United States took up 23 percent of one’s income in 1980 and take up 30 percent today.
  • The US federal debt has grown from just under $1 trillion to $20 trillion. Federal debt was around 25 percent of GDP in 1980 and it has exceeded 100 percent of GDP since 2013.

Why Does All This Talk About Debt Matter?

Since the late 1970s the United States has used debt to spur economic activity and growth. From home loans to student debt, auto loans to trade deficits, credit card debt to massive increases in the federal debt, economic growth in the United States has come from individuals, groups, and institutions borrowing money from banks and essentially creating new money as a result. As consumers borrow more to afford the cost of their first home or a college education, the federal government put two major wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and prescription drug benefits on a credit card.

The total of public and private debt, based on the figures above, has gone from $3.8 trillion in 1980 to over $48 trillion today. It’s worth noting that the debt crisis really took off in the late 1970s.Why have debt levels grown considerably over the last forty years? Why should we be talking about debt at a time when we aren’t doing all we can to help the most vulnerable meet their basic needs? Is addressing the debt more important than climate change or any of the other very serious issues we face in 2017?

Rising federal debt has been used by elected officials as a reason to oppose any and all new spending programs. Our debts and deficits have been used to justify cuts to welfare programs. They’re used to end discussion over single-payer healthcare, tuition-free public colleges, and even infrastructure improvements. Airports, roads, sewers, bridges, and the electrical grid have gone into disrepair because we’re told we just don’t have the money to pay for the upkeep and repairs. Programs that help working people are cut over and over again while we lower tax rates for the wealthy and open tax loopholes for the biggest companies. Since 1980 we have been practicing a sort of “socialism” for the rich while imposing a sort of capitalism on everyone else.

We can debate the specific figures above, but what’s not up for debate is the considerable expansion of debt over the last forty years. The financial crisis we are facing today should be obvious and apparent to everyone. The 2008 housing/financial crisis was said to have come from out of nowhere. Regulators and most all people in positions of power offered no warning to the public. There were voices warning us of the impending crisis, but they were ignored until it was too late to do anything about the problem.

The resistance to Donald Trump, the far right, and the Trump agenda will not succeed unless it has an economic message. To shape that economic message, we need to understand what happened over the last forty years and what we are dealing with today as a result. Part 2 of this piece will be a survey of economic history and trends from the Great Depression through most of the 1990s. Part 3 will wrap up with the last twenty years and then present some proposals that could help us not only shape the economic message of the resistance but also address the dire situation our economy is in.

No one has a silver-bullet solution to the problems that come from exploding debt levels and dramatic changes to our economy, but if we start discussing some proposals already out there, we will be better suited to deal with the results of the next market crash.

Courage in a Time of Fear: Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War

in History/Political Thought by

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew he was taking a big gamble in making this speech. The year was 1967. April 4 was a damp and dreary Tuesday evening in New York City. Dr. King was to speak before a large and receptive crowd at New York’s famed Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Though no one knew it at the time, Dr. King would have exactly one year left to live; in 365 days he would be struck down by an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee. It was frightening and uncertain time.

Dr. King speaking at his Birmingham’s Sixteenth St. Baptist Church in 1963. An Atlanta native, Dr. King would come to be a thorn in the side of populist and racist Alabama Governor George C. Wallace. In fact, in the early stages of the investigation, the FBI looked into whether Governor Wallace played a part in King’s assassination.

For Dr. King this had been a time of severe uncertainty too. He was adrift, without rudder or compass, in search of a new direction for his efforts to speak for the dispossessed. His time of wandering in the wilderness had begun at the climax of his success, the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by then-President Lyndon Johnson (D-TX).

The Act, passed by a southern politician no less, signified the capstone of the Civil Rights Movement. For the first time since reconstruction, racial bias and voter suppression would face serious and sustained judicial action and review through the federal courts. The federal government now had the legal as well as moral tools to prosecute any person, business, or government for racial prejudice and discrimination.

President Johnson perhaps spoke more than he knew when he was said to have uttered sullenly after signing the historic Act: “I have just lost the South for a generation.” But that all lay ahead in the future.

Dr. King busily making last-minute corrections to his remarks on his way to the podium at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967. A consummate writer, King would later claim this speech was the most difficult he ever wrote—even more than his “I Have a Dream” speech that he is remembered for today.

For Dr. King the struggle now shifted gears from the blatant racism and bigotry that existed in the Jim Crow South to the fight for equality and rights in the urban cities of the North. Dr. King would soon find, however, that the last three years of his life would be years of surprising failure and disappointment, as cities, officials, and allies once sympathetic to him and his cause now slowly abandoned him—and the movement altogether. The great marches and rallies that had marked the movement’s highpoints from 1961 to 1964 had slowly eroded away in the face of the two new factors King now had to contend with.

The first was the rise of a new, young, and militant group of civil rights activists such as Mohammed Ali, Stokely Carmichael, and Malcolm X. They represented a growing and ever more vocal group of black Americans who no longer supported the nonviolent, gradual, and organized methods preached by men such as Ralph Abernathy, A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin, of whom King counted himself an ally.

These men of the old guard faced a growing discontent and resentment from fellow African Americans for the suffering and indignities they continued to endure despite the tremendous gains from recent legislation. As for the young militants, their views would soon come to have a creed and image associated with their calls for black separatism and power, in the famed (or infamous) Black Panther Party.

Dr. King (left) and Stokely Carmichael (right) when both were on better terms with each other. The two were a study in contrasts: they diverged on where the next steps of the movement should go. Carmichael believed in militant activism in the streets with no quarter to those in power, whereas King believed in conciliation and continued outreach to all disaffected communities.

The other factor was Vietnam. By now over 450,000 American servicemen were in that tiny corner of Southeast Asia, well on its way to having more bombs dropped on it (roughly 2.5 million tons of explosive munitions) than in the entire European theater of World War II. It is estimated that over 1.3 million casualties (those killed, injured, captured, or missing) would be sustained in America’s longest armed conflict up to that time (the War in Afghanistan/War on Terror now bears that dubious distinction). But all that still lay in the future. On this day King would speak for the first time on Vietnam.

For a man who had been so outspoken throughout his short and remarkable life, up to now King been glaringly reticent about the war. His reasons for silence were understandable, as explained through the age-old maxim “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Dr. King knew that these great bills, acts, and laws of the Civil Rights Movement would have been relegated to the obscurity and death of some Washington committee had it not been for the towering force and strength of President Johnson. King, out of deference and respect for the president and his commitment to civil rights, had held his tongue.

Initially Dr. King had even once been a strong supporter of the war. Like many Americans of the late 1950s, it was patriotic to support a nation fighting against communist invasion. The stance also lent King and his early followers an air of respectability that made up for the constant and persistent rumors that they themselves represented a Communist fifth column in the United States.

Slowly, however, King began to learn of the real cost of mounting such a war—both in dollars and in lives. Precious tax-payer funds that would have gone to desegregate schools and housing were instead spent to sustain massive armies and bomb enemy sanctuaries. The draft that sent many a young man to Vietnam tended to send more African Americans and poor boys of all colors, young men who could not seek or win deferment from their service. Even the justification for increased hostility, the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident, gave Dr. King cause for concern.

President Johnson (left) in a closed-door meeting with Dr. King (right). Although the two had been on friendly terms throughout the early 1960s, their relationship would turn cold as King became less willing to back the president’s agenda and more strident in his opposition to Vietnam.

Still Dr. King felt he knew his place and did not wish to tarnish his reputation or that of the greater struggle by speaking out against the growing controversy of the war. As draft boards began taking middle- and upper-class college students, resistance to the war inexorably moved higher and higher up the social ladder. By the time 1967 rolled around Dr. King knew he faced a choice: he could sidestep no longer. The title of his address went to the heart of his new thinking on the conflict: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

It would come to be known as King’s most controversial speech as well as the one he toiled the most to perfect and craft. Although his “I Have a Dream” speech carries with it the timelessness and beauty of his style and prose, “Beyond Vietnam” would show a different side of his oratory skills. He began by addressing his need to speak out by posing a series of questions asked of him:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

For King, being outspoken was a matter of moral principle and courage, not of political calculation or strategy. He continued by highlighting the vulnerability that antipoverty programs felt under the constraints of a major military action in the federal budget, saying,

I watched this [antipoverty] program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. 

Dr. King speaking at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967. With the exception of sympathetic religious clergymen, most of King’s major and powerful allies would withdraw their support after his comments on Vietnam. Although it made the final year of his life that much more difficult, it freed him from the burden of having to tailor his remarks; he could now speak candidly from his heart.

From here Dr. King highlighted six more reasons, from the glaring racial and economic bias in draft rolls, to dissonance in fighting enemies abroad while failing to protect the vulnerable here at home, to his advocacy for peace in all fields, and to America’s ambiguous role in helping the Vietnamese people achieve self-determination. He culminated his reasons by citing the terrible consequences that total war had brought upon the women, children, and aged of that poor beleaguered nation with poisoned rivers, killed crops, great deforestation, and mass famine.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon, the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

From a man of such deep compassion and conviction, such statements as these could be expected from a Nobel Peace Prize winner. But given the restraint he had previously had on the subject, saying such things must have been a welcome liberation for him as well as a true shock and surprise to many of his allies. Dr. King knew he would pay for his remarks—his complimentary visits to the White House and his favorable coverage by the press would be over. Still, he could now speak his mind freely, uninhibited by his fears of reprisals.

For President Johnson the real and hard break with his administration by the “voice of black America” would be a blow he knew would be hard to recover from. Within the year more and more people would re-examine their own views of the conflict, and opposition to the war would only intensify. President Johnson would recuse himself from re-election on March 31, 1968, four days before King’s death.

In many ways the Vietnam War would serve as a prism from which to view so many other causes, such as the war on poverty, women’s liberation, civil rights (much to King’s regret), and many others. It would be a war that would divide a nation more than any bombing raid, political season, or social movement. And it would take generations to heal.

Despite his specific address toward the Vietnam War specifically, Dr. King addressed history itself when he spoke of the need for a revolution of minds rather than a revolution of guns by saying,

It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause, emphasis added] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. [applause]

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This was the real Martin Luther King Jr. No matter how much we may learn and remember of his life, no matter how we may recite his “I Have a Dream” speech, no matter what we may know about his life, his triumphs, his failures, his joys, his pains, his family, his passions, even his prejudices, this we do know: His compassion knew no bounds. He saw his struggle as the essence of the American dogma—that no person should be deprived of their dignity and no price was too small to secure it.

This Black History Month and in future Martin Luther King Jr. Days ahead, remember the King of his last year. Remember his struggle, and remind yourself that it is the struggle of America itself. Dr. King could take comfort should he have lived that he stands in good company today. History has a way of doing that.

Does the Progressive Resistance Need Our Own (Not the Tea Party’s) Tactical Playbook?

in Resistance by

They tell us we are a democracy. They tell us that we elected representatives who then advocate for the interests and well-being of their constituents, the voters—the people.

But our elected officials are following a radical agenda that would dismantle the government, depriving millions upon millions of Americans of needed services and safeguards, including healthcare. Furthermore, the administration of the 45th US president is enacting a white supremacist agenda while consolidating power into a fascist stronghold.

And the people are voicing their discontent like they have not done in generations.

All elected officials have a duty to listen to their constituents. This is called representative democracy, what they tell us we have. Instead, they are trying to silence constituents’ voices and words by portraying us as bullies, as radicals, as crazy—essentially, gaslighting us. They are attempting to discredit us because we are alarmed by what’s happening. They are portraying us as unreasonable and beyond the pale of public opinion.

This is what they say when they take part in town halls or allow their staff to answer their office phones—as many GOP elected officials are now refusing to take part in town halls and have stopped answering calls from their constituents.

Disparaging protestors for exercising their First Amendment rights and taking an active part in our own democracy speaks only to the truth of our criticisms. But it is also a form of abuse—refusing to listen to the people they have sworn to represent and instead disparaging them is an abuse of power.

And as usual, the GOP memory is short: these tactics of speaking directly and passionately to one’s elected officials have been taken straight from the Tea Party playbook. If it’s good for the goose, then it’s good for the gander, right?

Perhaps not.

Tea Party tactics are aggressive and encourage what is essentially intimidation. They got the attention of the GOP because (1) their forcefulness eclipsed all other voices, which also means that many people who deserved to be heard were drowned out and their needs ignored, and (2) they were advocating for elected officials to go further down a path that many of those officials were already on; they were not demanding their representative completely change course and veer far afield of their party’s agenda.

Are these tactics really what we want to do? Is this our most effective means to, at minimum, halting the white supremacist, fascist, relentless agenda of 45 and the GOP?

(I don’t have answers to these questions, by the way.)

The Tea Party of ten years ago is different from today’s progressive resistance movement. Ten years ago was a very different cultural and political climate from today’s sensationalistic, mud-spewing, struggling-to-woke-the-masses movement. Our relationship to the elected officials we’re trying to influence is different from the Tea Party’s relationship to the elected officials of their heyday.

Should we be creating our own tactical playbook not only to win these political battles (or at least score a draw) but also to change the narrative about the power of the people, the potential of building a truly compassionate society, reinforced by a government that enacts principles of empathy and communal growth?

The Mexican-American War (First of a Series)

in History by

Part 1: The Occupation

Tuesday, September 14, 1847, dawned beautifully and crisply over the spires and domes of Mexico City. The high altitude of the place (7,382 feet/2,250 meters above sea level) gave the weather the feel of an early autumn morning in the sleepy Central American highlands. In the city of roughly 200,000 souls, the day could have been like any other, but events around the federal city over the past month had caused this to be no ordinary day for the history of the town—or for that of the nation as well. For today U.S. Expeditionary Forces under the command of General Winfield Scott would begin their year-long occupation of Mexico City, beginning in a grand military parade into the central square to take place three days later.

 

A highly idealized version of the grand revue of the US Expeditionary Forces entry into the Central Square of Mexico City on September 17. Most foot soldiers at this point of the expedition were walking barefoot and starving from forced marches and meager provisions. This wood engraving would be the composite of many artistic renderings of the event.

For three days the expeditionary forces fought their way through the small and winding streets of the centuries-old city (founded in 1325 by the long-gone Aztecs) in dense and bloody urban combat, fending off Mexican sharpshooters, fortified gun emplacements, and ordinary roused citizens in defense of their families and homes. The Americans—and their hired mercenaries—would fight just as tenaciously, demolishing walls to move within homes, clearing opposition in their way. Though backbreaking as using picks and axes were, it made for a better prospect than having to face the withering enemy fire from outside. The nearly decimated Mexican Army, led by the beleaguered General/Dictator President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, could only watch in the hills north of the city as their country’s capitol slowly fell under enemy control.

When it was all over, over five thousand American and Mexican soldiers along with countless Mexican civilians (the city had not been prudently evacuated) lay dead, wounded, captured, or missing along the streets of the ancient City.

After a hastily arranged surrender in the dead of night from the highest-ranking Mexican officer still alive within the city, the expeditionary force of over six thousand Americans marched wearily into the center of town, facing sporadic fire from the surrounding hills and some abusive taunts from the demoralized citizenry. Most residents of Mexico City, however, kept their doors and windows closed tight, lending the scene a remarkable stillness and eerie silence in the air, punctuated by the snap of arms, the shout of command, the clack of hooves, or the whistle of a stray enemy bullet or mortar shell.

 

Generals Winfield “Ol’ Fuss and Feathers” Scott and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (‘The Napoleon of the West’), rendered as they would have appeared during the Mexican War. Both were fierce generals who faced each other during the closing phases of the war. General Scott had presidential ambitions, but his outsized personality earned him many political enemies as well as a reputation of a regal commander. Santa Anna would hold the title of President/Dictator of Mexico a record eleven times over a span of twenty-three years but would not hold the position for more than two years at the longest for any one period of time.

Despite being outnumbered by most estimates at least three to one, despite fighting in a terrain wholly alien to them, despite suffering more casualties though diseases such as dysentery or yellow fever (from ravenous mosquitoes), and despite major defections from several Irish battalions (their main reason for laying down arms was their unwillingness to fight against fellow Catholics), in six months US forces had crossed half a hostile continent and now occupied a foreign capital for the first time in its history. It was a welcome change for a restless country, boldly on the move.

It had only been thirty-three years before when the British had laid the same humiliation on the United States with the occupation, sacking, and burning of Washington, DC, during the War of 1812. And save for sporadic wars against Native Americans (the Black Hawk War) and a short skirmish against Spanish Florida in 1821, the United States had been in need of a well-earned victory against a worthy foe.

As the occupation came to an end in the summer of 1848, various officials, aristocrats, scholars, and writers of Mexico began informal discussions in the occupied capital. They had no official agenda other than to tell a story—their side of the story—in the conflict they had lost. The result of their work was a voluminous book called Apuntes: Notes for the War Between Mexico and the United States.

The book was a valedictory of sorts, for though they were a conquered nation, they refused to be a conquered people. From this defeat they would take the hard-earned lessons to build a new nation and forge a unified people as well. The same could also be said of the United States in its victory, although its new identity would be forged in a conflict much longer and from a victory more ambiguous and costlier than the war in Mexico had been.

The results of the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) can be seen here. Over a third of Mexican territory was lost to the war, although the “real” price of this land would only become apparent in 1848, when land in California was discovered to have rich ores of Gold in the Sierra-Nevada mountains. In all, the Mexican state lost potentially trillions of dollars in gold bullion and other precious minerals (silver, platinum, uranium, etc.) because of ineffective military organization and corrupt government management. America, some said, was simply “the instrument of the devil” to exact justice on Mexico’s unscrupulous leaders.

For now the two nations would share a new border stretching from Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. And although the two nations would share this border for over two centuries, both would act less as brotherly neighbors but instead would treat one another more as silent, unknowing strangers. Sometimes it would appear their only common interest lay between their shared frontiers.

Since that conflict the United States of America and the Republic of Mexico have shared a strained and unique relationship, as compelling as a modern-day telenovela or soap opera. From border disputes, differing cultures, and values, down to the meaning of human and national identity and race itself. The United States and Mexico carry with them the embodiment and challenge of two New World countries with the legacy of Old World sensibilities and customs. To this day the interaction between the two shows a mark of suspicion and disdain rather than friendliness or mutual respect.

This series will cover that relationship, from its very first awakening in the colonial era, through both nations’ internal and external strifes, to the one each has with the other today. It is a tale of generals and politicians, farmers and soldiers, honest leaders and downright scoundrels. It is a story of love and hate, war and peace, drugs and crime, money and commerce.

But above all it is about people—ordinary everyday people—on both sides of the Rio Grande, who collectively make the countries of the United States and Mexico.

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