It has been an interesting week. If you follow the news and are interested in
- the key role of archivists and librarians in protecting our democracy,
- the real history of debt relief (and how student loan relief fits right in with what governments have been doing for centuries), and
- President Biden’s speech calling out the very clear fascism of today’s Republicans,
then read on to see what a number of historians and legal commentators have been saying.
Also, scroll to the end to see a short video that gives hope for our future, through engagement. It may be the best four minutes you’ll spend today.
Librarians and archivists don’t mess around
As historian Heather Cox Richardson and a host of others have pointed out, you don’t mess with archivists and librarians.
The former president missed the day in high school civics class when so many learned that “(w)ithout the preservation of the records of government, and without access to them, you can’t have an informed population, and without an informed population, you lack one of the basic tools to preserving democracy.” The former president and his supporters have attacked the National Archives and its staff as part of the “partisan witch hunt” against him. Nothing could be further from the truth. A Washington Post story on August 27th looked at the unprecedent attacks on this national treasure.
Trump’s recent actions have whipped his followers into a fervor against the Archives, and he has empowered some of his most politically combative allies to represent him in negotiations with the agency. Former presidents’ representatives have typically been lawyers, historians or family members without clear political agendas. The representatives usually deal with issues such as negotiating privilege claims, setting up presidential libraries or researching presidential memoirs.…But this was yet another norm that Trump broke.
The affidavit showed very clearly, even in redacted form, that the former President was stonewalling the requests stretching over seven months from the National Archives to return highly sensitive materials and all the materials that belong to the U.S. government. As Richardson wrote in her August 26th Letters from an American,
On February 9, 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration (what did I say about archivists?) told the DOJ that after seven months of negotiations, on January 18 it had received 15 boxes of material that former president Trump had held at Mar-a-Lago. Those boxes contained “highly classified documents,” including some at the very most secret level of our intelligence: those involving our spies and informants.
In those initial 15 boxes, FBI personnel found 184 classified documents. Sixty-seven were labeled CONFIDENTIAL, 92 were SECRET, 25 were TOP SECRET. Some were marked SCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN, and SI, the very highest levels of security, involving human intelligence, foreign surveillance, intelligence that cannot be shared with foreign governments, and intelligence that is compartmented to make sure no one has full knowledge of what is in it. The former president had made notes on “several” of the documents.
Trump is in serious trouble, writes Richardson, “…and so are the rest of us.”
When one fake meltdown doesn’t work, try another (the Fauci and debt editions)
But if one faux outrage doesn’t end the focus on Trump’s troubles, then Republicans have plenty of others they will call upon.
When someone you know says that student loan debt forgiveness is unconstitutional or some similar malarky, just point them to the history
President Biden’s decision to forgive student loan debts was a special favorite of the right-wing noise machine, and one brimming with hypocrisy and bad history. Unfortunately, many in the media went along with the Republican talking points.
Zachary D. Carter, writing in Slate, has an excellent article on the long history of loan forgiveness in the U.S., for those looking for the history.
In 1920, the world’s most famous economist, John Maynard Keynes, was digging through old books on the economy of the ancient world, when he discovered something startling. All his life he had been taught that civilization depended on ironclad financial certainty. Without a stable currency and dependable debt contracts, commerce could not exist. Governments that meddled in such matters were thought to be asking for social chaos.
But the documents he perused on Ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon, Assyria, and Persia showed him something else entirely. Throughout history, political leaders had abolished debts and managed the value of their currencies—another way to revise debts—as routine matters of government policy. Keynes was electrified.
And Carter ends with the following:
Biden’s student debt relief initiative is no wild, unprecedented idea. Governments pay for education and eliminate unsustainable debts. That is how the world has worked for centuries.
Robert Hubbell wrote on his August 25th Today’s Edition newsletter about what’s missing in those attacks.
The Editorial Board of the Washington Post seemed to take personal offense over the plan in an editorial entitled, Biden’s student loan forgiveness is an expensive, regressive mistake….
While the Post’s objection is technically true, it is also true for the following subsidies and credits: Trump’s 2017 tax cut for millionaires, oil company subsidies, export subsidies for US manufacturers, auto industry subsidies, lower tax rates for hedge fund managers (“carried interest deduction”), 100% deductibility for yachts purchased for “business purposes,” and deduction for 100% of the future depreciation for private jets in their first year of service.
All of the above subsidies, credits, and deductions are regressive because—as the Post notes—“the broader tax base is mostly made up of workers” who are not millionaires, who do not manage hedge funds, who do not own oil wells, and who do not purchase yachts or private jets. And yet, the Post and others reserve peevish indignation for a program that helps middle- and lower-income earners who took a chance by investing in their futures and themselves.
A friend of mine emailed me about this New York Times article by Jonathan Weisman and Maggie Astor. He was furious that it made the glib assumption that people in “roles that do not require college degrees” represent a constituency opposed to student loan relief.
Those roles “are filled with people who have college degrees or, more to the point, began attending college, racked up debt, and had to drop out to work to pay off their loans,” my friend wrote.
The article cited two prominent labor unions, but my friend noted that it “didn’t mention whether the union has a position on the bill.”
So I did some digging. And lo and behold:
Looking for Democratic constituencies who oppose student loan relief, the Times reporters “namecheck two unions…who strongly support it.” Whoops!
In her August 27th Letters from an American, Richardson wrote that
Biden’s calling out of today’s radical Republicans mirrors the moment on June 21, 1856, when Representative Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts, a member of the newly formed Republican Party, stood up in Congress to announce that northerners were willing to take to the battlefield to defend their way of life against the southerners who were trying to destroy it. Less than a month before, Burlingame’s Massachusetts colleague Senator Charles Sumner had been brutally beaten by a southern representative for disparaging slavery, and Burlingame was sick and tired of buying sectional peace by letting southerners abuse the North. Enough, he said, was enough. The North was superior to the South in its morality, loyalty to the government, fidelity to the Constitution, and economy, and northerners were willing to defend their system, if necessary, with guns.
Richardson ended her letter by noting that although Burlingame’s speech is now forgotten, it “was once widely considered one of the most important speeches in American history. It marked the moment when northerners shocked southerners by calling them out for what they were, and northerners rallied to Burlingame’s call.”
I know from experience that when I went to college (one year at a private university, the other three at a public institution), the government covered much more of the cost of higher education than is the case today. Where we once all supported education through our taxes as a value to the country as a whole, now — thanks to the anti-tax fervor of the billionaire-backed Republican party — the financial burden falls directly on the student, even though we still benefit as a country from having an educated populace.
Winter is coming (for authoritarians)
Things appear to be changing across several fronts. And don’t forget that the January 6th committee will reconvene in September.
Finally, I encourage you to take the time to watch this beer commercial. Yes, I said beer commercial. It may be the best four minutes you’ll spend this week.
Have a good Labor Day weekend.
More to come…
This Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.
Image: Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., credit National Archives.