Saturday, June 19, 2021

Our Massive Ignorance About American History

 American history, as taught in our schools, has always been distorted to make America look good. In the schools, America's ugly side is generally ignored. For example, it has taken 100 years for the horrible destruction of the black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma to emerge with any prominence. 

The American Revolution--the War of Independence announced by the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence--is generally thought of as a morally pure victory over British oppression. This is what Americans celebrate with fireworks every July 4th. The truth is quite different. I have tried to spread a truer version of this history and partially succeeded with my letter published in the Washington Post on July 8, 2018: "Ignoring an important part of the American Revolution."

Two days ago, my letter making the same point was published in the Boston Globe. This is the text of the letter:

 Few grasp how slavery united the colonies, sparked the American Revolution

Renée Graham is correct about the power of keeping people ignorant about slavery (“How white supremacy weaponizes ignorance,” Opinion, June 16). One of the most important books about the effect of slavery on America is “Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution,” by Alfred, Ruth, and Steven Blumrosen. This book documents that the Southern colonies joined the Northern colonies to engage in the War of Independence because the Southern colonies feared that Britain would abolish slavery in the colonies.

The cause of this fear was the decision in a British court case, Somerset v. Stewart, decided in 1772, four years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The British public interpreted that decision to mean that slavery was abolished in England. 

It is unlikely that the War of Independence would have been won without the support of the Southern colonies. Southerners’ fear of the impact of the Somerset decision was justified, because Britain abolished slavery in its colonies in 1833, more than 30 years before the end of the American Civil War.

Many educated friends and colleagues of mine knew nothing about this. This exemplifies the ignorance that white supremacy has created among us.

John L. Hodge

Jamaica Plain

Sunday, January 10, 2021



My letter below was published today in The Boston Globe. Here is a source of the data about the election results: .


The Boston Globe


Think we’re out of the woods regarding our democracy? Do the math

Trump paraphernalia stands for sale outside the US Capitol in Washington on Jan. 7.JOHN MOORE/GETTY

Joe Biden’s margin of victory of 7 million popular votes could cloud our awareness of the precariousness of our democracy.

Let’s do the math. Biden won Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin by a combined total of fewer than 43,000 votes. If half of that number had swung from Biden to Trump, Trump would have won the combined 37 electoral votes, creating a 269-vote tie in the Electoral College. The process of breaking that tie probably would have reelected Trump. An additional swing of one-half of fewer than 34,000 votes in Nevada would have added to the Trump column, giving him a majority of 275 electoral votes. Thus, a swing of fewer than 38,500 votes in total potentially could have made Trump the winner.

A different tally by this tiny number, representing only .025 percent of the total vote, could have elected Trump.

Renée Graham correctly calls Trump a “one-term president trying to crucify democracy” (“The last temptation of Mike Pence,” Ideas, Jan. 3). If we want to preserve democracy, we have a lot of work to do. Relatively few votes could give us another Trump-like president in 2024, if not Trump himself. Democracy itself is at stake.

John L. Hodge

Jamaica Plain

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Trump's Illegal Invasion

President Trump’s sending federal agents to suppress peaceful protests in Portland, Oregon is an invasion that violates the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The Tenth Amendment says, “The powers not delegated to the United States [i.e., the federal government] by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The importance of this Amendment is that it draws a line between the power of the federal government and the powers of state governments. The only power the federal government has is explicitly granted to it by the Constitution. There is no granting of power to the federal government to police the streets of any city or state without an explicit request from the governor of a state, and the process for doing this is set forth in legislation.

When President Donald Trump on his own initiative sent federal agents to police the streets of Portland, Oregon, and those agents apprehended people believed to be engaged in protesting various racist practices of local police forces, he crossed over the boundary set by the Tenth Amendment. Crossing that boundary constituted an invasion by one sovereign entity, the federal government, into another sovereign entity, the State of Oregon. Trump refused to withdraw these agents when the Mayor of Portland and the Governor of Oregon asked him to. In principle and as a matter of legality, this act by the federal government was no different from an invasion of one country by another. It is an act of war, even if no one violently responds to the invaders.

I, along with numerous others, sounded the alarm with a succinct letter published today online by The Boston Globe:

What is going on in Portland, Ore., is an attempt by the federal government to take over the city. It is a precedent that, if not stopped, will be used across the rest of the country. Boston could be next.

John L. Hodge
Jamaica Plain

Note: The qualifier in the Tenth Amendment, “nor prohibited by it to the States,” means that a state’s sovereignty does not extend to violation of the Constitution—as occurred when many southern states refused to abide by the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Trump did not even allege that Oregon violated anything in the Constitution.

Personal Note: This is my first blog post in over a year and a half. I have been devoting my time to a book, the publication of which I hope to announce soon.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Massachusetts “moderate” Republican Governor Charlie Baker attacks conscientious judge

On December 2nd the Boston Globe published an article suggesting that a judge in the Massachusetts Newton District Court may have helped a defendant escape from a federal ICE official waiting to arrest the defendant. (Newton is a well-to-do liberal suburb neighboring Boston.) The Governor, viewed in this heavily Democratic state as a responsible moderate Republican who does not support the President, reacted to the article in a very Trump-like manner. He said that the judge should be removed from hearing criminal cases until a federal investigation of the judge was completed. The usually liberal Boston Globe published an editorial that essentially supported the Governor’s point of view. (However, the Globe also published two op-eds and letters supporting the judge.)

I decided to speak out in support of the judge. The Globe printed my letter online yesterday along with two other letters that also supported the judge:

This is my letter with the Globe’s headline:

Baker, Globe editorial tromp on due process for judge

Thanks to Adrian Walker for speaking out in support of Newton District Judge Shelley Joseph (“Judge deserves due process,” Globe Metro, Dec. 5). Governor Baker (“Baker seeks to penalize judge,” Page A1, Dec. 4) and, in its own way, even the Globe editorial (“A state judge courts trouble,” Dec. 5) found Joseph guilty until proven innocent. As Walker points out, the governor has advocated for a denial of due process. Such denial would be shameful.

Furthermore, we should support the judge even if she was guilty as charged. It would show only that she cares about the well-being of people in trouble and has a conscience that should be respected and admired.

John L. Hodge
Jamaica Plain

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Attaining Diversity in Higher Education

Below is my letter as published online today in the Boston Globe advocating for a different way to determine college admissions. (The paper version in the Sunday Ideas section has a different but similar title.) The foundation for this letter is Chapter 9 of my book Overcoming the Lie of Race: "Understanding Merit and the Need to Replace 'Affirmative Action.'"


While I applaud the revealing of the terrible impact of past racism and the eugenics movement on higher education, I disagree with the point, “The pursuit of diversity now can help universities make amends” (“Diversity in higher ed is about making amends for past sins,” Ideas, Aug. 12). The pursuit of diversity is needed not so much to amend for the past but to counteract current discrimination.

Current discrimination is contained in the tests that universities rely on to determine admissions. Test scores do not and cannot indicate who has the qualifications to make contributions to the well-being of society. The testing environment itself has no relevance to such qualifications. That environment requires each test-taker (1) to work alone and (2) to find the right answers (3) to isolated questions.
In the real world, people rarely accomplish anything without collaboration with others. Complex problems usually have more than one right answer. Real problems affect other problems, so an answer to one may impact the answers to others.
Diversity in university admissions is vital because, regardless of test scores, those who have succeeded in spite of discrimination may have more socially beneficial skills than those with less to overcome.
John L. Hodge
Jamaica Plain
John L. Hodge. a retired health care lawyer and a former professor of philosophy at California State University East Bay, writes frequently about democracy, ethics, and human rights.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Countering the accepted myth of America’s beginning

On July 4th, many Americans celebrated the idea that the Revolution, in freeing the American colonies from Britain, set forth a new nation dedicated to freedom, democracy and the proposition that “all men are created equal.” While the beginning words of the Declaration of Independence stating the concept of human equality are well worth celebrating, the reality of the American Revolution has a very different, sinister side.

 I presented the sinister side in a letter published today by the Washington Post in its July 9th edition (posted online late July 8th). The message was necessarily constricted by the space limits allowed for published letters. Here is the letter as posted online:

Ignoring an important part of the American Revolution

The July 4 editorial “What ‘America First’ should really mean” portrayed the United States as “a nation that long ago set itself against tyranny.” But this ignored the elephant in the room: The American Revolution was motivated in part to preserve slavery.

In 1772, four years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the English court decision Somerset v. Stewart was generally interpreted to mean that slavery had no legal basis in England. In contrast, the laws of the southern American colonies defined slaves not as people but as property. The contrast between these laws and the public’s view of the Somerset decision could not be starker. The southern colonies feared that Somerset would eventually apply to them and abolish their way of life. In their view, the only way to preserve slavery was to become independent of Britain. Their support for independence was essential to the Revolution’s success.

The moral impact of Somerset eventually led Britain to abolish slavery in nearly all of its colonies. It did that in 1833, 32 years before slavery was abolished in the United States by the 13th Amendment. Had Britain succeeded in suppressing the Revolution, slaves in the United States might have been freed a lot sooner.

John L Hodge, Jamaica Plain, Mass.

The words of the Somerset decision call slavery “so odious” that it could only be established by “positive law,” which in England meant an Act of Parliament. Parliament never authorized slavery. While the precise holding of Somerset has been debated, the public in England and America understood it to mean that slavery had no legal basis in England. After Somerset, many slaves in England simply walked away from their masters. Many slaves in the American colonies who learned of this decision ran away to look for a way to get to England.

The words of the Somerset decision starkly contrasted with the slave laws of the American colonies that defined slaves not as people but as property. This excerpt from the 1740 slave law of South Carolina states the concept of slavery accepted by the southern colonies. The law provided

 that all Negroes and Indians . . .  mulattoes or mustizoes who now are, or shall hereafter be, in this Province, and all their issue and offspring, born or to be born, shall be, and they are hereby declared to be, and remain forever hereafter, absolute slaves, and shall follow the condition of the mother, and shall be deemed, held, taken, reputed and adjudged in law, to be chattels personal, in the hands of their owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever. . . .

Thus, for example, any person with any visible African ancestry was, by law, a slave and not a person. In these southern colonies, there was legally no such thing as a free black (though some blacks still managed to live as free). There was no such thing as a black as a legal person. A lawsuit like Somerset could not have occurred in these colonies, because a slave had no right to bring a case to court. The southern practice of slavery, and sometimes the northern practice, remained in accordance with such laws until the end of the Civil War.

The sinister side of the American Revolution is not simply that the southern colonies needed to preserve slavery to protect their economies and way of life. It is also that the northern colonies needed to unite with the southern colonies to wage the Revolution. The northern colonies knew quite well what the southern colonies wanted and joined with them nonetheless.

What is the purpose of recognizing the dark side of the American Revolution? First, it is important in general that people know the truth and not be governed by myths. Second, the mythical view of America prevents Americans from recognizing the extent to which the United States has not, historically or today, been the world’s leader in fulfilling the concept of human equality. Third, the mythical view of the American Revolution feeds a nationalistic mentality that underlies the Trumpian idea of “America First.”

The nationalistic mentality thrives under Trump, but it was not his original idea or just a Republican one. Former President Obama, for example, said in a speech at a Democratic National Committee dinner (Oct, 6, 2010), “this country is the greatest country on Earth,” and he expressed similar sentiments about America’s greatness in many of his major speeches as president. Other presidents, Republican and Democrat, have done the same.

The progressive task of advancing democracy in the United States requires a hard look at where the country has failed and where it is faltering. This hard look includes acknowledging that the origin of this country depended on the need to preserve slavery in total contradiction to the concept of human equality. In addition, the Declaration of Independence itself referred to “merciless Indian savages.” Many debilitating contradictions remain today. Myths about America’s greatness are blocking our view. We cannot change what we do not see.

Sources for the letter and this post:

Alfred & Ruth Blumrosen, Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution (2005)

A.  Leon Higginbotham, Jr., In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process: The Colonial Period (1978)

Slave laws


South Carolina:



North Carolina:

Selected Additional Resources:

David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1969)

J. Jean Hecht, Continental and Colonial Servants in Eighteenth Century England (1954)

Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black; American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (1969)

Betty Wood, The Origins of American Slavery (1997)

My books and letters seek to penetrate the walls of myth to see how things really are. Learn more about them from my website: .

Friday, December 15, 2017

Using the social construct, most people are "mixed-race"

     In the letter below that was published in the The Boston Globe, I propose that a way to undermine the ubiquitous false concept of "race" is to use that concept to reveal that most people, including "whites," are "mixed-race." In other words, they are "mixed-race" if we apply the social construct of "race." They are not "mixed-race" biologically, because biological "races" do not exist in any way resembling the generally accepted idea of "race." As I said in my New York Times response letter, "When you mix two myths, you get a third myth." So, since biological "races" do not exist, no one is biologically "mixed-race."
     The Globe editors removed some of my quotation marks around "racial" terms. My policy is to put all "racial" terms in quotation marks to indicate that these terms refer to generally accepted false concepts. Nonetheless, the letter as edited makes the point that I intended to make.

The factual underpinnings of this letter are contained in my book, Overcoming the Lie of "Race."

Friday, April 7, 2017

Racism is Real. “Race” is Not.

My book, Overcoming the Lie of “Race”: A Personal, Philosophical, and Political Perspective, is now available in its Second Edition. It contains a new Epilogue that addresses the current political situation and the alarming rise of bigotry. It also contains some additions and clarifications. You may order it from your local bookstore (from Ingram distributor) or from or

Overcoming the Lie of “Race” relies on history, genetic studies, and the author's personal experiences to expose the politically inspired false concepts, lies and deceit that underlie the idea of "race." It proposes how we should move forward in acknowledging that racism is real, “race” is not.

Here are a few selections from the book:

Prefatory quotations--

“The legacy of the past racism directed at blacks in the United States is more like a bacillus that we have failed to destroy, a live germ that not only continues to make some of us ill but retains the capacity to generate new strains of a disease for which we have no certain cure.”

“Racism is, and always has been, the way America has sorted and ranked its people in a bitterly divisive, humanity-robbing system.”

“’Race’ itself is a fiction, one that has no basis in biology or any long-standing, consistent usage in human culture.”

Quotation introducing the new Epilogue:

“The first American revolution protected slavery; the second—the Civil War—destroyed it, but exposed a racism that maintained the subordination of black people.”

From Chapter 11:

“Every solution to the problem of racism in our society must begin with the explicit realization that human ‘races’ do not exist. If we are to eliminate racism, we must rid ourselves of the very idea of ‘race.’”

To inform yourself about combating racism, you should read this book. Remember: Racism is real. “Race” is not.

For more information, go to

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Continuing the growth of democracy in spite of setbacks

     The growth of democracy is a zig-zag through history.  As a young teenager, I saw the devastation spread by Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. The country recovered with the help of a few courageous individuals. Please read:
     We are now at the beginning of a similar retreat from the values of democracy. The more we are passive observers, the longer the retreat will last, assuming we do in fact recover from it. As I stated in my book, How We Are Our Enemy--And How to Stop, "Democracy . . . is not something we delegate to a ruler or authority but is work that is up to each of us." Often this means resisting and confronting those in power, as the Vietnam anti-war movement did in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
     To keep a perspective and follow up from my previous letter and blog, I wrote the following letter published today, January 1, 2017, in The Boston Globe (in print, page K4, and online):

Democracy has grown from its infancy, but has far to go

HOPEFULLY, STEPHEN Kinzer’s obituary for democracy is premature (“The Enlightenment had a good run”).
Two hundred years ago, America was sustained by slaves. Married women were, in effect, the property of their husbands. Unmarried women usually fared worse.
One hundred years ago, women still did not have a constitutionally protected right to vote, a right that former slaves had but often were violently prevented from exercising. America’s apartheid, benignly called “Jim Crow,” was in full force throughout the nation. Black lives did not matter, and no one would have dared to proclaim otherwise.
Then we were living in a partial democracy in its infancy. Today, democracy has become an adolescent but not an adult. The lives of the poor and of those just above poverty do not matter, or matter too little. Many of them are rebelling with just cause, but in a desperate, self-defeating way, funded by others who will gain at their expense. There is a big problem to be solved.
Democracy is taking a pause but is not dead yet. We need to reflect on where it should go so that it can continue to grow. It will not grow until it eliminates the poverty that fails to treat everyone with the respect that all deserve.
John L. Hodge
Jamaica Plain

Monday, June 6, 2016

Poverty would not exist in a fully democratic society

My letter to the Boston Globe about poverty was printed online and in the Sunday printed edition on June 5, 2016. It is reprinted below. 

The letter (with its restricted word limit) is a reflection of the position I presented in my book, How We Are Our Enemy--And How to Stop. There I stated (p. 107):
A democratic society must provide sufficient food, clothing, shelter, transportation and health care to enable its members to live and participate as they choose and to the extent they are able. This is what it means to value each human life equally.
I pointed out that the U.S. official poverty line is too low to provide a healthy diet for urban dwellers, which means that actual poverty is significantly higher than the current official level of 14.8 percent (more than 1 in 7 Americans). 


Poverty persistent in ‘land of opportunity’

(Boston Globe, June 5, 2016, online and p. K2 of printed edition.)

JEFF JACOBY writes, “Affluence in America is dynamic, and our economic system is biased toward success” (“From the land of the Medicis to the land of opportunity,” Ideas, May 29). This blithe view ignores one of America’s greatest defects, its persistent poverty level that has increased over the past twenty-four years.
In 1990, the poverty rate was 13.5 percent. In 2000, it had briefly dropped to 11.3 percent, still quite high for a nation with so much wealth. In 2014, it had risen to 14.8 percent. In 2014, approximately 20 percent of school-aged children lived in families below the poverty level. These poverty levels are not the signs of an economic system “biased toward success.” Instead, it is an economic system that is persistently structured to maintain poverty, a system that guarantees that many cannot succeed.
I would agree with Jacoby’s implication that attacking the 1 percent is merely a popular focus that misses the point, but not because the wealthy members of the 1 percent will change, but because a more serious problem is that those in poverty suffer. Blaming poor individuals and welfare benefits for poverty is the callous route many take to avoid addressing America’s structural problem of increasing poverty.
John L. Hodge

Jamaica Plain

Copyright © 2016 by John L. Hodge. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What is the law?

Many think that law is simply a clearly written statement of what is or what is not allowed. Many children are brought up by parents who state the rules their children must follow, and that’s that. Their model for law is, perhaps, the Ten Commandments, where the rules are a matter of black and white, purportedly handed down from God. The child is not to question the rules themselves. They mean what the parents say they mean.

Laws in the real world are not like that. They contain words that are subject to interpretation. Even a simple word like “or” has at least two meanings. “A or B” can mean “A or B but not both” or “A or B or both.” When a logician was asked if the baby his wife had just had was a boy or a girl, he replied, correctly, “Yes.”

Over many centuries judges have had to interpret the meaning of laws full of words subject to interpretation. Some of these laws are lengthy statutes consisting of thousands of words. The courts have developed rules of construction to help them in their tasks. These rules themselves are subject to interpretation, but the rules can be applied to themselves to understand what they mean. This world of interpretation, thus, is not black and white but varying shades of grey. Those raised in the artificial environment of black and white rules are uncomfortable with the more difficult reality of grey.

While I know nothing of the child rearing of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, his recent editorial criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that effectively upheld a key component of what is popularly known as “Obamacare” reflects this desire to live in the artificial world of black and white. He stated in his editorial, “Since the law explicitly restricts subsidies to ‘an exchange established by the state,’ the answer should be obvious. . . . [Justice Roberts] turned the straightforward meaning on its head. ‘An exchange established by the state,' he wrote, also means an exchange not established by the state.” Jacoby concluded, “The rule of law . . . is corroded by judges who act like superlegislators — never more so than when torturing the plain words of the law, forcing them to say what they don’t mean.”

In response, I wrote a letter to the editor which was published by the Globe (online on July 8, 2015, and in print the following day). This is the letter:

Courts must look at statute as a whole

JEFF JACOBY ignored one of the fundamental principles of statutory interpretation when he concluded that the Supreme Court distorted the law in the Obamacare subsidy case, King v. Burwell (“Torturing the law,” Opinion, July 2). This principle, often repeated, is that courts must interpret or construe statutes by looking at the statute as a whole and not in isolated parts. The principle, also known as a rule of construction, empowers courts to disregard single sentences if they conflict with the purpose and intent of the whole statute.

The purpose of this rule is to give effect to legislation, not to override it. It is Jacoby who ignores this rule when he simplistically concludes that it is the Supreme Court that ignored the law.

John L. Hodge, Jamaica Plain
The writer is a retired lawyer.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Do Non-American Lives Matter?

In April we learned three months after the event that an American drone strike in Pakistan inadvertently killed Warren Weinstein, an American held as a hostage in Pakistan. President Obama made a public apology, stating “I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”  (“American killed by US drone in Pakistan,”, April 24, 2015.)
Unfortunately this was not the only innocent person killed by drone strikes. An Associated Press article by Sebastian Abbot attempted to make the case that few civilians have been killed by U.S. drones (e.g., “Most killed by US drones are militants, study finds,” Boston Globe, Feb. 26, 2012, p. A3). The article establishes that 30%, meaning “only” 30%, of those killed by drones in Pakistan were civilians or other non-militants. That 30% at that time—over three years ago—amounted to about 56 civilians or other non-militants killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan. The killed included children. Later, on July 22, 2013, the London-based non-profit The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that a Pakistani document revealed that “of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes . . . at least 147 of the dead . . . are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.” This is not counting civilians killed by drone strikes in other countries.
The killed civilians were not in a war zone. They were not on a battlefield. They were killed similar to the way Warren Weinstein was killed, inadvertently in an attempt to kill the active perpetrators of violence.
There was no public official apology from President Obama for the death of those innocent Pakistanis.   The reports of these deaths of innocents, when such reports existed at all, were mostly hidden in small articles in back pages, often under reassuring headlines like the one above.
The only conclusion I can draw from this sequence of events is that the United States regards the life of an innocent American far more highly than that of an innocent Pakistani. (Did you make the distinction in your own mind: “Oh, those were not Americans, they were Pakistanis?”)
There has been a persistent national preference for preserving American lives over other innocent lives. The 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath cost several hundred thousands of Iraqi civilian lives, all in the name of advancing democracy and perhaps civilization. Iraqi civilians, including children, were pawns in a global contest for power. Their lives apparently did not matter—
at least not enough to warrant the kind of official regret expressed by the President about Mr. Weinstein.
It should not surprise us, then, that there are people in Pakistan and the Middle East who hate the United States and are resorting to terrorism in an attempt to destroy it. Unfortunately, the behavior of our country towards innocent lives is creating its own enemies. This behavior and the reactions to it cannot but help lead us down the road towards greater conflict and more war, increasing the threat of involvement of those with or developing nuclear weapons.
It should be clear from these events that reflect relative indifference to non-American civilian deaths that we as a nation continue to be headed in the wrong direction.
What can we do to turn our nation around and make it a force for lasting peace? Killing innocent civilians of any nationality in any country is not the way to do it. Regarding civilian deaths as merely collateral damage is not the way to do it. Treating American lives as more important than the lives of non-Americans is not the way to do it.
             What this indifference to non-American civilian lives reveals is a rejection of the values underlying democracy, values that maintain that all people are of equal worth.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Former President Richard M. Nixon: Documented Racist

Historians have examined the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany and asked, “How did this happen?” We must now examine the rise to power of Richard M. Nixon, former President of the United States, and also ask, “How did this happen?”                               

Fortunately the U.S. Constitution, the balance of powers in the U.S. government, and Nixon’s demise for other reasons prevented Nixon from doing as much harm as Hitler. Otherwise Nixon might have fulfilled his stated desire to end the Vietnam war by bombing Southeast Asia into oblivion.
But why, after the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, was a racist elected President of the United States twice, in 1968 and 1972?
The racism of Nixon is now documented, using Nixon’s own words from his secret tapes, in this YouTube series produced by Harry Shearer, “Nixon’s the One.” Boston Globe staff writer Matthew Gilbert nicely summed up this series in his review, “Nixon,word for word” (Boston Globe, November 23, 2014, N16).
Nixon’s racist comments are shocking. His words are what we could expect from a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He blames Jews for the nation’s ills, insults blacks and Latinos, and thinks homosexuality caused the decline of ancient empires.
Probably most people who voted for Nixon did not know of his racism. Why, and how, were Nixon’s racist views kept from the public? Surely he must have expressed them before his election to President. He had been Vice-President for eight years, and before that a senator from California.
Just as many Germans alive in the 1940s said that they did not know that Jews were being exterminated, now Americans who voted for Nixon may say that they did not know that Nixon was a racist.
Perhaps they are correct. But why didn’t the public know?
In response to Gilbert’s review, I wrote the following letter that was published in the Boston Globe, Sunday, November 30, 2014, N20 (“Feedback” in the SundayArts section)(not online):

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Racism certainly exists, but there is no “white America” and there is no “black America.”

Although I usually agree with Derrick Z. Jackson’s piercing op-eds in the Boston Globe, I objected when he turned the police state in Ferguson, Missouri into an indictment against “white America” (“White America’s racial blinders,” Boston Globe, August 20, 2014.) Today the Globe published my response, reproduced below, with the Globe's title. It also publish another letter that I thought was particularly insightful, “How have we come to accept shoot-to-kill approach as normal?” by Paul Czerny (link).

WHILE I share Derrick Z. Jackson’s outrage about the shooting of black men by white police officers, I disagree with his accusation against “white America” (“White America’s racial blinders”). Referring to “white America” lumps all whites together into one stereotype.
He reports, for example, that 37 percent of white respondents agreed that the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., raises important issues about race, while 80 percent — and only 80 percent — of blacks agreed that this was so.
Those in the significant minority of that 37 percent should not be disregarded and treated as though they are the same as the remaining 63 percent.
Just as I do not want to be lumped together with all “African-Americans” as though we all think alike, I will not lump together all whites as though they all think alike. They clearly do not.
There is no “white America” and there is no “black America.”
But there is racism.

Jamaica Plain

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Human Rights and Culture Review*: Three Key Books on Democracy

The Founders would not recognize American society today. While some of them would applaud where we are today, others would be appalled and join the Republican Tea Party.

In 1790, a year after the U.S. Constitution became effective, slave holding was legal in all states including northern ones (except Vermont, which made slave holding illegal in 1777); women and free blacks could not vote; white men who did not own property could not vote; those accused of non-federal crimes had no right to a lawyer; and states were not bound by the Bill of Rights. 

There was no Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. There were no national laws against discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, religion or nationality. There were no labor unions or minimum wage laws. Gay marriage would have been an absurd idea. 

In the 224 years since then, our democracy has grown considerably and come closer to embracing the idea of human equality.

This process of growing could end and even retreat. Many issues still face us, including, among many other things, extreme poverty and hunger, loss of privacy, contraction of women’s rights, the distortion of electoral politics due to lack of reform of campaign financing, and the increasing power of the executive branch to define our “enemies,” domestic and foreign, and confine, torture or assassinate them.

 Lack of awareness of what democracy means and complacency are the primary enemies of preserving democracy and furthering its growth. (I have explained these dangers and the mentality behind them in my book, HowWe Are Our Enemy—And How to Stop: Our Unfinished Task of Fulfilling the Valuesof Democracy.)

I have picked three books that provide critical parts of the basic understanding that we all need to understand the human rights that are the foundation of democracy. By no means are these the only books worth reading on the subject. There are too many to name. But I have picked these three books, because they (1) elucidate essential ingredients of a democratic society, (2) are quite interesting, enjoyable and even fascinating to read, and (3) will whet our appetite for more reading, thinking and discussion about what kind of society we want to live in and how to attain it. Those who have already read them can encourage others to do so too and add their favorites to their own lists.

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, Stateand the Birth of Liberty, by John M. Barry

This book helps us to understand why and how democratic ideas took hold in America.

The Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts from England in the early seventeenth century to escape from oppression were not seeking democracy. Instead, they replicated the very oppression from which they were escaping. Their vision of a perfect community required conformity not only of actions but also of thought. Anyone who insisted on not agreeing with them could be banished or executed, and many were. 

Roger Williams, banished from Massachusetts in 1635, escaped on foot through a life-threatening blizzard with the critical help of Native Americans, to a place he called Providence in an area that was to become a part of Rhode Island. Providence became a refuge for others banished or fleeing from nearby intolerant settlements. There, unlike any place known then to England or Europe, he guided this new community to accept total freedom of conscience, full separation of church and state, and the radical idea that the power of government comes not from some higher divine authority but from the people treated as equals. These concepts were not widely accepted in America until a century and a half later. 

This book tells the fascinating story of America’s early beginnings in exquisite and often shocking detail, giving full credit to concepts of liberty and science that were nascent in England during Williams’ youth.

Freedom for the Thought That We Hate, by Anthony Lewis
The title speaks for itself. Democracy requires the freedom to think freely and speak freely. In clear and easy to read language, this book describes the struggles this freedom has had to survive and grow. We have come a long way since the Puritans’ arrival on these shores. Yet, this freedom is still not safely secured.

Gideon’s Trumpet, by Anthony Lewis

It is easy to overlook the importance of the right of a defendant to have an attorney in a criminal trial when the defendant cannot afford to pay for one. Without legal assistance, people in poor communities were defenseless against local police and prosecutors and often subject to their racial and ethnic prejudices. Clarence Earl Gideon, white, poor and poorly educated, led the way to changing the law of the United States--remarkably, not until 1963--to require provision of legal counsel to indigent defendants. 

That an ordinary and impoverished citizen could change the law of the nation is itself a fascinating story. While this book focuses on Mr. Gideon’s mission, it also provides an extensive and clearly stated education on constitutional law and the critical role of the judiciary.

If you read (or have read) these three books, you will know more about human rights and American democracy than you were taught in college or even in law school.


* Human Rights and Culture Review is a new series on this blog, starting today. The previous series on Corporations (which has not closed) can be located on the “Contents by Topic” page of this blog.