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Weekly Reader: A baker’s dozen, second edition

Over the last two weeks, the backlog of articles I’d like to share has reached the point where I’m using the old baker’s dozen approach to point you toward works you may find of interest. With 13 articles in the mix, I hope you can work your way through the full list. To help, I’ve placed them in groups with similar themes or issues.

As always, this Weekly Reader features links to recent articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.

Why we get history so wrong

One of the best reads of the week came from Michael Harriot at The Root. He went looking for the history textbooks used by the (virtually all white) Senators opposing the teaching of Black history in the 1619 Project when they were in school and suddenly everything makes sense.

The Textbooks Used By Senators Who Oppose ‘The 1619 Project’ outlines some points of view of the textbooks that these senators pine for. This will be the one article where I spend some time with the quotes, as I want us to look at one of those involved: Senator Marsha Blackburn from my home state of Tennessee (who is NO Albert Gore…Senior or Junior!)

What she read: Although she represents Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn attended elementary and high school in Laurel, Miss. In 1959, the year Sen. Marsha Blackburn would have entered kindergarten in Mississippi, the state legislature handed control of choosing textbooks to Gov. Ross Barnett. At the request of the Mississippi State Society of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), the state had already mandated a ninth-grade course in Mississippi history, which means Blackburn learned the history of her state from John K. Bettersworth’s textbook Mississippi: a History.

The New York Times wrote in 1975 that Bettersworth’s catalogs “treat blacks of old as complacent darkies or as a problem to whites.” When The Root reviewed the text, we noticed that the entire history of the 250-year institution of slavery was reduced to five pages. Bettersworth’s book was based on UDC propaganda that taught children that the slave master treated his slaves ‘as his own,’ but noted that most of the human chattel were so lazy that ‘it took two to help; one to do nothing.’ However, Bettersworth was sure to point out the kindness of the masters who educated the enslaved ‘as they taught their own children.

Mississippi: A History also treats the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education case as a travesty, insisting that Mississippians were largely satisfied with segregated schools. ‘Incidents had been extremely rare,’ it explained. ‘[F]or by and large, each race—its parents, its pupils and their teachers, had found it advantageous to remain in an ‘equal but separate’ status.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy play an outsized role in the way we learn history. Formed in the late 19th century, the group is not only responsible for most of the Confederate monuments in America but perhaps their biggest memorial to the white supremacist utopia known as the Confederacy is how they instilled their beliefs in schools across America. By turning Southern housewives into lobbyists for the Lost Cause ideology, they transformed history into a fictional version of the past, complete with happy slaves and brave, honorable white men who just wanted low taxes. By the early 1920s, they had become so powerful that a history book didn’t stand a chance of being approved if it contained a negative portrayal of the Antebellum South or the Civil War.

How the media portrays civic life and the fight for democracy

Why were progressives were so fooled by President Joe Biden’s agenda? Anand Giridharadas in The Atlantic says progressives thought they knew what a Biden presidency would look like, but they were wrong, in his article Joe Biden and the New Progressive Era.

But for now, a capital that has been defined in recent years by the absence of useful action bubbles with generative possibility. And many of us who thought we knew what a Biden presidency would look like, and didn’t expect much from it, are suddenly asking ourselves: How did we get him so wrong?

And while the media may still be focused on the old emphasis on bipartisanship and outreach, that has been “displaced in Joe Biden’s Washington with an emphasis on coalition — attending first and foremost to your own side, everyone balancing the holding of their own with the holding of their nose, so as to get the good-enough thing done now instead of waiting for what might never come. ‘

When I first saw the piece in the New York Times that looked down upon President Biden for being deliberative and pushing his staff to bring their “A” game, I was upset. But clearly not as upset as long-time blogger Oliver Willis who wrote NY Times Very Mad Joe Biden Is Not A F*%$#&^g Idiot Like Trump.

“’Aides say he demands hours of debate from scores of policy experts,’ the Times notes, as if that wasn’t what over 81 million people voted for in November 2020.

Discussing Biden‘s attitude when aides don’t bring him clear and precise answers, the Times drops this shocker: ‘Let’s talk plain English here, he will often snap.

Reporter Michael Shear put an exclamation point on the Times’ framing by tweeting out the story with ‘SHORT FUSE’ in caps to make it clear what the paper is trying to do here.

Because Trump’s most trusted policy advisors were Fox & Friends (notorious for roasting marshmallows with plastic spoons) and Tucker Carlson (who keeps his Klan robes just slightly to the left of the camera angle), America suffered. Hundreds of thousands of people who did not have to die, died. Because of Trump, children were stolen from their families and multibillionaires got tax cuts while judges who don’t want to see Blacks and Latinos vote were enshrined on the bench.

But the New York Times got lots of access.

This story is ridiculous, and the Times should be ashamed of itself.

As Max Boot writes in There are no Marjorie Taylor Greenes in the Democratic Party for The Washington Post, “let’s avoid any false moral equivalency between the two parties. There is no comparison between the likes of AOC and MTG. One is a progressive who engages in civil, rational discourse. The other is a fanatic who has left civility and reason far behind.”

While Boot wasn’t singling out anyone in particular, the Times, the Post, the WSJ, and CNN — among many others — need to learn basic journalism. It took forever for those outlets to call Donald Trump’s lies a lie. Faux News, of course, is in a whole different category filed under propaganda.

The Bulwark is a conservative site that nonetheless stands up to Donald Trump and the Big Lie. Three of their recent articles include How the GOP Absorbed Far-Right Extremists, Did We Forget Our Democracy Is Still Under Threat?, and The GOP’s Telltale Signs of Authoritarianism. All are excellent and worth the read.

Voting rights are the biggest challenge to keeping democracy in America

Democracy Docket is a website focused on the the fight to maintain voting rights. Two recent articles there are especially informative reading: How the Courts Failed Us and The Big Lie is a Pillar of the State. I especially recommend the second one if you only want to look at one of the two.

And in thinking about democracy and voting, I suggest you read Nick Troiano‘s recent article in The Atlantic, Party Primaries Must Go.

And the run to the pole

Janisse Ray has an article in The Bitter Southerner about a project that I worked on when I was with the National Trust: A New National Park in Central Georgia.

Macon is a power spot. Not only is it located on the banks of Ocmulgee’s boiling waters, it’s also where the Muscogee (Creek) people built a civilization with a history that reaches back at least 17,000 years. They established towns, including one of the largest Mississippian mound complexes in North America, which is estimated to have had a population of at least 1,000 in its heyday. By the 1730s, the town at Ocmulgee was abandoned, although it continued to be a sacred site for the Muscogee (Creek), who returned for ceremony and trade. 

Beyond that, you know what happened to the Native people of North America. Crushed, almost destroyed, by European viruses and bacteria, they were pressured off their lands. In 1830, when President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, most of the Creeks and Cherokees who remained in Georgia were marched to Oklahoma on a weeping walk, leaving behind life as they had known it for tens, hundreds, thousands of years.

Let’s end with a look at the 100-day marker that pundits like to use to quickly handicap the success (or lack thereof) in a presidency. Writing in The Washington Post, Robin Givhan looks at President Joe Biden’s late April speech to Congress on the eve of his 100th day in History writ large and small.

The night was full of history. There was that singular, dramatic moment that announced the future. The presence of two women in these dazzlingly high positions of power — one of them Black and Asian American — is a reminder to keep pressing forward. The sight of Harris and Pelosi together is an image of inspiration for generations of strivers whose hopes are rooted in what they can see rather than what they can imagine.

And Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky, writing in The Hill, says “enough already” in 100 days is a ridiculous way to judge a presidency. Based on the first 100 days of FDR’s first term, in 1933, she notes the marker is a historical aberration. For example, on March 4, the Senate unanimously confirmed FDR’s entire Cabinet without hearings on the day of his inauguration. 

While pundits might focus on the first 100 days, voters should not apply this historic, but unrealistic standard to the 21st century. Instead, they should evaluate the accomplishments of the first 18 months of the Biden administration when they go to the polls in November 2022.


Enjoy your reading.

More to come…


This entry was posted in: The Times We Live In, Weekly Reader


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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