Berry Craig: “We’re Fighting the Last Battle of the Civil War”

berry-craig-mugshot-for-pam-plattHistory books say the Civil War effectively ended on April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va.

“We’re fighting the last battle of the Civil War,” Rob Reiner said the other night on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

The director, producer, “All in the Family” immortal and liberal political activist was speaking metaphorically of Donald Trump’s election.

Trump detractors, and at least one defender, have compared the president-elect to George Wallace, Alabama’s segregationist governor who carried five former Confederate states when he ran for president in 1968.

Trump, too, sounds like Democrat Franklin Pierce, who was elected president in 1852. Anti-slavery Republicans slammed Pierce, a New Hampshire Democrat, as a craven “Doughface,” a Northerner who happily carried water for the pro-slavery, white supremacist South.

Anyway, more than a few Confederate battle flags fluttered above Trump yard signs and flapped at Trump rallies in Dixie and in border states like Kentucky, where I was born, reared and still live.

Trump pandered to bigotry harder than any presidential hopeful since Wallace, who won a quintet of  Kentucky counties 48 years ago: Bullitt, Christian, Fulton, Hickman and Todd. They went for Trump, as did all but two of the Bluegrass State’s 120 counties–Jefferson (Louisville) and Fayette (Lexington).

Trump “is a classic American scaremonger tapping into recurrent white American anxieties,” wrote Slate’s Jamelle Bouie. “And while Trump has borrowed his ‘silent majority’ rhetoric from Richard Nixon, the man he most resembles is that era’s id, a demagogue who fed on the fear and anxiety of the 1960s and ’70s—George Wallace.”

Bouie added that Wallace-like, Trump “is an eruption of the ugliest forces in American life, at turns authoritarian, like the Louisiana populist Huey Long, or outright fascistic, like the Second Ku Klux Klan. And like all of the above, he’s brought the background prejudice of American life to the forefront of our politics, and opened the door to even worse rhetoric and action.”

A Wallace ally and a Wallace daughter also detect parallels between Wallace and Trump.

“It’s just a replay,” Charlie Snider, one of Wallace’s most trusted political aides, said to NPR’s Debbie Elliott. “We’re looking at a modern-day George Wallace.”

Snider backed Trump. Before the election, NPR reported that Peggy Wallace Kennedy, who supported Trump’s opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, believed that Trump “is exploiting voters’ worst instincts, the way her late father once did. ‘They both were able to adopt the notion that fear and hate are the two greatest motivators of voters that feel alienated from government.'”

“It is very disturbing to think that the first African American president is followed by someone who is supported by the Ku Klux Klan,” Reiner said.

Pro-Trump “white nationalists” are “hanging on for dear life,” he added. They are “threatened by the idea that the country is moving away from them and is becoming more diverse.”

John Hennen, a retired Morehead, Ky., State University history professor, agrees with Reiner. So does David Nickell, a sociology and philosophy professor at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah, where I taught history for two dozen years.

Hennen said the Fourth Estate, for whatever reason, largely downplayed racism as a significant factor in Trump’s appeal to whites. “The media mostly papered over it. ‘Oh, no, no,’ they said. ‘His supporters are misunderstood, they’re desperate—they’re not racists.’”

Not all Trump voters are racists, Hennen acknowledged. “But the people who were really serious about correcting what is structurally wrong with the economy supported Bernie Sanders,” who Clinton bested for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Nickell said the Trump movement mainly was fueled by “a backlash against changing demographics and cultural trends in society at large.”

That backlash was racially-tinged, according to Nickell. He said that the birther movement, which Trump eagerly embraced and promoted–plus claims that President Barack Obama is a secret Muslim–were “ways of saying he is an ‘other,’ and not one of us.”

Hennen agreed that the racist roots of the Trump campaign go “all the way back to when he helped lead the crusade to prove that Obama was a foreigner.”

Hennen, Nickell and Reiner recognize that many Americans believed—or wanted to believe—that Obama’s election meant white America had shed its racist roots, that the country was post-racial.

“If anything, [the Trump campaign] brought out what had been an undercurrent of racism all along,” Nickell said. “It brought it back to the surface.”

Trump denies he is a racist. “I’ve never met anybody who admitted he was a racist,” Nickell said. “I don’t really care if he is a racist personally, but racist groups embraced him,” Hennen said.

An official Ku Klux Klan newspaper backed Trump. Ex-Klan leader David Duke, who is still a pro-Nazi white supremacist, supported Trump’s candidacy. Duke called Trump’s election “one of the most exciting nights of my life.”

The white supremacists are still whooping it up –some giving Nazi-style salutes–over Trump’s win, though Trump has said he rejects them, the Klan, Duke and the whole hatemongering “alt-right.”

After the election, Trump told a group of New York Times editors and reporters, “I don’t want to energize the [alt-right], and I disavow the group,” wrote The Washington Post’s Olivia Nuzzi.

She added that “when Clinton delivered her speech about the alt-right in August, Trump responded not by disavowing the movement but by labeling her a bigot. And outside his post-election comments to the Times, Trump hasn’t specifically addressed the alt-right. He has never asked its members to stop photoshopping Jewish journalists into gas chambers in his honor.

“What’s more, he has often seemed to wink in their direction by deploying their rhetoric, with his talk of opposing ‘globalism,’ his repeated retweets of alt-right Twitter accounts and his use of imagery — such as a Star of David illustration — that originated on Nazi websites.”

Meanwhile, this retired reporter-turned-history prof is still hoping some TV talking head or newspaper scribe will yet ask Trump why he thinks so many racists–sexists, misogynists, anti-Semites and nativists, too–were attracted to his candidacy. If a journalist has popped that question, I missed it.

Berry Craig is the webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, and also services on the state AFL-CIO Executive Board and serves as recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. He is a charter member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360.

Berry Craig: Some thoughts to warm Democrats as our winter of discontent approaches

berry-craig-mugshot-for-pam-plattKevin Wheatley of cn2 reported that Kentucky Democratic Party bigwigs did “a lot of soul-searching” at their election post-mortem in Frankfort Saturday.

Time will tell if the KDP Executive Committee and other party leaders find anything that might dull the Bluegrass State’s brighter-than-ever Republican Red hue.

Like most Kentuckians who belong to a union, I’m a Democrat. I’ve never missed an election since my first one in 1968, when I voted for Hubert H. Humphrey for president. I voted for every Democratic White House hopeful since, right through to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I’ve never voted for a Republican at any level. Yep, I’m one of a vanishing breed in the Bluegrass State: a “yellow dog” Democrat.

I was born, reared and still live in Mayfield, about as far west as Kentucky goes. I belong to another endangered species: my politics lean decidedly left.

I am not a party insider; almost none of the party brass know me from Adam. I’m as far from KDP leadership as Mayfield is from Frankfort—261.4 miles, according to Google. But nobody is rooting harder for a Democratic comeback in Frankfort and Washington than I am.

Meanwhile, here’s a quote that might make KDP HQ a little less gloomy as the days shorten and the winter of our discontent approaches: “It is just at this point, when things look darkest for the Democrats, that you can count on the Republicans to do something that will save the day–that is, it will save the day for us.”

President Harry S. Truman said that in a speech in 1948, the year he was elected to his own term.

Anyway, I’m ready to wager that a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump will be sorry by the time the red buds bloom in Kentucky. I’m betting King Leer will prove to be the colossal fraud we tried to warn John and Jane Q Citizen that he is.

The country just might be awash in a tsunami of buyer’s remorse. Some of the flood might even inundate Kentucky, which he of the Tang-hued mane won “bigly.”

Besides smashing unions, Gov. Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s Trump, and his right-wing Republican legislature are all set to take a meat axe to public education and turn state government from a watchdog on behalf of workers, consumers and the environment, into a lapdog for polluters, sharpies and other well-heeled folks of “the public be damned” persuasion.

Kentuckians might not take kindly to any of that.

Anyway, HST also mused that “the Republicans think they have been so successful with their campaign of smears and character assassination that they have the Democrats on the run.”

Here’s where it really starts to get good: “We are getting a lot of suggestions to the effect that we ought to water down our platform and abandon parts of our program. These, my friends, are Trojan horse suggestions. I have been in politics for over 30 years, and I know what I am talking about, and I believe I know something about the business. One thing I am sure of: never, never throw away a winning program. This is so elementary that I suspect the people handing out this advice are not really well-wishers of the Democratic Party.”

Give ‘em Hell Harry was really on a roll: “Now, we can always rely on the Republicans to help us in an election year, but we can’t count on them to do the whole job for us. We have got to go out and do some of it ourselves, if we expect to win. The first rule in my book is that we have to stick by the liberal principles of the Democratic Party. We are not going to get anywhere by trimming or appeasing. And we don’t need to try it.”

He warned: “I’ve seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the Fair Deal, and says he really doesn’t believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign. [Italics mine].

No doubt if Truman were alive, he would take Trump to task for shamefully pandering to prejudice: racism, sexism, misogyny, nativism and religious bigotry. “There is another thing we must stand firm on,” Truman said. “That is our pledge on the issue of civil rights. No citizen of this great country ought to be discriminated against because of his race, religion, or national origin. That is the essence of the American ideal and the American Constitution.”

So here’s this rank-and-filer’s plea to the KDP powers-that-be: It’s time to resurrect the party of FDR, HST and Lyndon B. Johnson–and Alben Barkley, Carl Perkins, Ned Breathitt and Wilson Wyatt.

Okay, charge me with living in the past. I am a retired community college history prof who writes books about Kentucky history.

But I’m ready for the KDP to return to its liberal–there, I said it–roots.

I’m ready for the leaders of my party to shout from the rooftops that nothing has done more for working stiffs and the least among us than activist social democratic government — as mirrored in FDR’s New Deal, HST’s Fair Deal and LBJ’s Great Society—in tandem with strong, free trade unions.

It’s time for Democrats to brag on Democratic successes like:

–Social Security and Medicare. GOP claims that they’re going broke are baloney and just an excuse to privatize or get rid of both programs, which most Republicans have fought tooth-and-nail all along.

— laws that guarantee workers the right to have a union, that establish a minimum wage and that provide unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. The Republicans claimed all such was “creeping communism” and undermined the “free enterprise system”—meaning free of unions and of government stepping in to protect us from those FDR called “the malefactors of great wealth.”

— laws that mandate equal pay for equal work, protect the environment and protect worker safety and health on the job– more “radical” stuff, according to the GOP. (“What is right has always been called radical by those with a stake in what is wrong,” said an old McGovern for president poster of mine.)

— laws that prevent discrimination based on race, age, gender and sexual orientation. The Republicans long ago surrendered to the Democrats their historic role as the party of Lincoln, liberty and civil rights. The GOP is, especially in Kentucky and states farther south, what the Democrats in Dixie and the borderland used to be: mostly the white folks’ party.

In short, FDR, HST, LBJ, The Veep, Perkins, Breathitt and Wyatt were my kind of Democrats–Democrats who had faith in the notion that “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves.” The quote is often attributed to FDR, but Abraham Lincoln–he and FDR are my two favorite presidents–said it first.

Go ahead. Argue that Democrats who think like I do are unelectable beyond “liberal Louisville” and maybe parts of Lexington. (Jefferson and Fayette were the only counties that Clinton won.) But in Kentucky, Nov. 8 was more proof, as if proof were needed, that trying to out-Republican the Republicans, notably on the social issues, doesn’t work.

In another ’48 speech, Truman said,  “Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home — but not for housing. They are strong for labor — but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor a minimum wage — the smaller the minimum wage the better.

“They endorse educational opportunity for all — but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine — for people who can afford them.  They approve of Social Security benefits — so much so that they took them away from almost a million people….They consider electric power a great blessing — but only when the private power companies get their rake-off.

“They say TVA is wonderful — but we ought never to try it again….They think the American standard of living is a fine thing — so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.

“Now, my friends, that is the Wall Street Republican way of life. But there is another way — there is another way — the Democratic way, the way of the Democratic Party.”

in 2018, I’d love to hear more Kentucky Democrats sound more like the Man from Missouri on the stump from Sassafras Ridge to the banks of the Big Sandy and from Covington to the Black Jack Jog. Think it won’t fly outside the Falls City and the capital of the Big Blue Nation? Why not give it a try anyway? After all, where has Republican Lite gotten the Democrats in our state?

Berry Craig is the webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, and also services on the state AFL-CIO Executive Board and serves as recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. He is a charter member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360.

Greg Harris: Uniter in Chief?

Greg HarrisThe opportunity for Donald Trump to espouse a vision for a largely post-partisan right-of-center new politics is his to claim.  He is not ideological to his core, which can potentially be an asset. For Trump to truly succeed at unifying (most of) the nation, he must triangulate—i.e. prioritize an action agenda that seeks to solve our most pressing problems as a nation over a partisan agenda that takes sides and leads to ongoing policy stalemate.

Here are some ideas on how Trump can change business as usual in Washington and win the admiration of most Americans regardless of political affiliation:

Foreign Policy

As a primary candidate, Trump was actually the least hawkish of the GOP field (with the possible exception of Rand Paul). Trump’s critiques of the Iraq war, for example, were heartfelt as he espoused the most realistic albeit unorthodox (for Republicans) views on foreign policy, correctly faulting our military adventurism in Iraq as creating the conditions that gave rise to ISIS. Similarly, he challenged our targeting of dictators in Syria, Libya and Iraq as creating more human suffering and instability, not less.

A more humble policy where nation building is prioritized less, and aligning NATO-level with street-level intelligence is prioritized more, would create a more resourceful and targeted way to defeat not nations but, rather, nation-less terrorist cells.


Tax Reform

If Trump is sincere about cleansing Washington and serving the people over the powerful, there is no better place to start than tax reform. One key area is replacing the income tax with a national sales tax. Such reforms could be progressive by exempting the first $10,000 in worker earnings from payroll tax (as two-thirds of Americans pay more in payroll tax than income tax) and applying the VAT to financial transactions and capital gains (hence, not sparing the one percent who make most their income off stocks versus salary). It would also reduce waste by addressing the hundreds of billions in uncollected taxes in our current system, while drastically downsizing the scope of the IRS.

More exciting still, such tax reform would serve Trump’s stated priority of cleaning “the swamp” and cleansing democratic institutions hijacked by powerful interests and lobbyists that currently manipulate the tax code to the advantage of elites that pay for their services.


Infrastructure & Energy

Infrastructure is one area where Trump has signaled a willingness to go big, and there is no other area that spells more opportunity for our nation to remake our economy while making a middle class life a reality again for millions of “forgotten” Americans. His proposed $1 trillion would be sufficient to fund thousands of projects in queue to fix crumbling bridges and sewer systems, expand congested highways, bolster flood prevention, fix an antiquated energy grid, and so on.   In light of estimates that with “every billion dollars that you spend on infrastructure, you create 18,000 to 25,000 jobs,” millions of new jobs would be created.

If President Trump complemented investment in transportation with a goal of energy independence, he should look to make wind a primary energy supplier for the East and West coast states, plains states (from Kansas to Texas following the wind corridor) and regions along the Great Lakes; similarly, solar power could be a primary energy source for our Western and Southwestern states, perhaps combined with investment in desalination technology and distribution channels to make California and Southwestern states less vulnerable to drought.  These types of investments would be 21st century equivalents to Hoover Dam.

Furthermore, if Trump did like Eisenhower–who oversaw the construction of the modern highway system with the coming of the age of the automobile–and declared the coming of the age of advanced transit linking all of America by high speed rail and intra-linking communities by spokes that feed of that rail (street cars, etc.), we would surpass the high rail and transit networks of advanced European and Asian nations while opening up massive new economic opportunity for our nation (e.g. connecting the working poor to job centers).

These investments would help America largely run on its own energy sources.  And it would also shift geopolitical power away from oppressive regimes that feed on oil money, and end our days spending trillions on wars fought over foreign oil. In so doing, Trump could really create an America First energy policy and foreign policy.



Unlike candidate Trump, President-elect Trump has signaled a willingness to maintain some key features of Obamacare—including allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance policies, and prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Trump might also consider a reform proposed from John Kerry’s 2004 campaign and allow federal subsidy for catastrophic care, and lower the age for Medicare eligibility (paid for my lifting the payroll tax cap). Such action would stabilize and even lower health insurance premium costs. Additional proposals like allowing insurance company completion across state lines (hence, curbing regional monopolies) would also help to keep premiums on par with inflation. In this way, a conservative alternative to Obamacare would also be compassionate, efficient and effective.


Immigration Reform

Contrary to his campaign rhetoric, President-elect Trump has signaled that he would pursue a more refined focus on illegals that have committed crimes, versus illegals in general. Trump should go further by rewarding good behavior and – consistent with his law and order views – reward with amnesty those illegals that have paid taxes, committed no crimes and demonstrated through their actions that they are very much an asset to America. Such an approach would be well received by most Americans, and win over in particular the support of many Latinos.


Rewarding Work

America is a generous country that pretty much guarantees a pathway to success for those who take advantage of the free education that is offered them, stay out of trouble, and work hard. But government cannot cure personal and moral issues. What government can do, in targeted ways, is reward positive behavior like hard work and continuing education.

For example, Ronald Reagan conceived of the earned income tax credit as a means to reward work by supplementing modest wages. Trump can build on such policies by expanding the EIC. He can also support small businesses (like mine) that are the leading employers in our nation. Small business owners are especially good at vetting and cultivating reliable workers, and could offer such worker more hours and more income if we were to get some relief in areas like payroll tax (perhaps by waving the employer match for the first $5000 in income), which deeply cut against our bottom lines.


Social Issues

Stay moderate. Young liberal and conservative minded folks alike increasingly could care less if a Gay couple gets married. But they do care about issues like crushing student debt, or spending trillions on foreign wars while we cannot afford to repair our nation’s antiquated infrastructure, or adequately care for our heroic veterans. Trump can be a leading voice for criminal justice reforms (now strongly advocated by many conservatives, including the Koch Brothers), including more cost effective policies to deal with the drug epidemic, including expanding addiction and mental health treatment that costs far less than prison.

Should Trump forge a new conservatism that applies serious and cost effective solutions to the pressing issues in out time – from quelling military adventurism to building a 21st century infrastructure and energy policy that would create millions of new – he would ironically evolve from a divisive candidacy to a unifying presidency. Here’s hoping the President-elect defeats ideologically driven Washington gridlock by ruling from a radical, activist center that shuns partisanship in favor of progress.

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