What a Loss to the Collective Memory

According to HistoryNet.com, by late 1945 over 12 million Americans were in military service. This group represented approximately nine percent of the U.S. population at the time, while including none of the millions of Americans who contributed to the war effort in factories, resource collections, war bond drives, and many other capacities. The conflict is known as a “total war,” because its influence permeated into nearly all major aspects of shared society and individual daily life for those living in the participating countries. (And, as the term “world war” suggests, participating countries included most of those on Earth. Besides which, even the nominally neutral countries experienced dramatic effects as well.)

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century the U.S., and much of the Western world by extension, took for granted the basic assumptions and collective experiences the war etched into their populations. Never has this been more clear than now when, in the U.S. presidential election of 2016, Donald Trump found a large constituency responsive to withering critiques of fundamental aspects of the post-war/early Cold War international order. The necessity of U.S. global leadership – a phrase which here means the need for the U.S. to best approximate a world uber-authority in the anarchic global polity – is now a major question in U.S. politics. And around the world, resurgent nationalist parties and political movements are finding purchase in populations that doubt the value of supranational organizations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Some of the bafflement of world’s so-called elite leadership – meaning people who are rich, politically engaged and powerful, highly educated, and often aristocratic – at these changes is surely due to their lack of understanding that many people have not inherited the assumptions and collective experiences that were forged in the war and dominated the post-war political and economic landscape. The consequences of this lack of inheritance have been compounded by the astounding arrogance of the Liberal Democratic order – most apparent in numerous ill-conceived and poorly executed military engagements and the total lack of accountability or serious self-reflection following the catastrophic 2008 financial crisis.

Remembrance of the past never remains static. Instead, it changes with the moment and with the state of the world and with those doing the remembering. This is particularly true in large democracies with diffuse media to fracture the transmission of information to voters and politicians. It stands to reason that, with the deaths of those who experienced the trials of World War II and the deaths of those only one generation removed, the past will change as well.


Clinton/Trump Debate

21.05: Wow it’s so weird seeing them shake hands

21.06: Kudos to Lester the moderator from the beginning for talking well about the “two realities” of the 21st century American economy

21.07: Background looks like a Sunday show

21.08: Good work by Clinton talking about her granddaughter right off the bat. And she lays out the different positions she has to, each of which reaches a different interest group among those that comprise the Democratic Party

21.08: She seemed to stumble but recovered well

21.09: Trump’s trade/economic arguments are just true enough to be appealing

21.09: Trump going all in on jobs to start

21.10: Republicans are still faithfully in love with tax cuts

21.12: Clinton still can’t make a good case that tax cuts to the wealthy are not a good or popular idea

21.12: Breaks through a little when she hits Trump’s background in association with his desire to cut taxes

21.13: For instance, as referenced at 21:09, Trump’s right to stress how smart China is

21.16: Really glad Clinton’s willing and able to remind us how awfully the Republicans mismanaged the financial crisis, and oh yeah Donald’s a true-red Republican (he loves tax cuts). Also good that’s she’s effectively talking about his deficits and his craziness. She’s citing experts flagrantly (the establishment way to tell a lie) to support her, then she moves to the environment and talking about the astonishing R climate change denial and how we can create a shitload of jobs through clean energy

21.18: “I’ve tried to be really specific” says Hillary, good line for her

21.19: Here’s what Dems need to say about the deficit “Barack Obama walked into work for the first time as President and was handed a file that detailed the deficit – $1.5 trillion; he’s gotten it down to $300 billion, that’s a pretty big reduction.”

21.25: Hillary endured some vicious and effective attacks from Trump (he’s undoubtedly a Republican because he’s humping tax cuts all over the place), but she finally summoned a good defense of raising taxes on rich people

21.26: Trump just said something weird about ISIS

21.26: Thank you Lester for laying out a few facts. Trump just said the wealthy are going to create more jobs. Is that really what people want to hear?

21.28: Trump kind of has a good point. Why can’t a President just sit down with other powerful people and make a few deals? Has a lot of common sense to it. But the question is – why is Trump the guy who should do it for us?

21.29: Not a good comment from Trump – “why not” blame Hillary for everything. His supporters don’t want to be told they’re behind a candidate who’s running as a joke

21.30: Trump needs to stop being a dick. It works for awhile, but that’s his only setting


21.33: Thank you Lester, please remind him again that this auditing reason for not releasing his tax returns is BS. Please someone say something, what is Hillary doing?

21.34: Hillary has to talk

21.36: Glad she said he didn’t have as much money as he says

21.36: Also glad she admitted making a mistake on the emails, it takes her too long to admit mistakes

21.45: Trump seemed to be making big plays, but Hillary stalled his momentum and took a long turn.

21.46: Good answer from Clinton on race

21.47: Trump is a weird patchwork of past Republican figures – law and order, tax cuts tax cuts tax cuts rollback regs rollback regs, with some Buchanan and Wallace thrown in; his contribution to the canon is TV savviness

21.48: Stop and frisk is a serious policy proposal, but great great follow up from Lester – it is unconstitutional

21.51: Glad Clinton is talking about how a lot of black people are pretty impressive and/or live dignified lives

21.53: Criminal justice reform is a good issue for her – and by all means let’s keep slamming private prisons, oh yeah gun safety is also an important thing – and thank you for finally stressing anti-terrorism as a serious reason for doing so

21.55: Trump agreeing with Clinton on anything makes him look weak

21.56: Can Clinton please remind him of all the terrible things he’s said?

21.57: Wish she had said that Bloomberg endorsed her

21.59: Glad Clinton got that line about preparing to be president in as a last word

22.00: Birther stuff! This explanation from Trump is taking too long. Once again, thank you Lester for asking some good follow up questions

22.03: Yes thank you Lord she’s calling him a liar for all the racist birther BS. I thought she should’ve dropped the l-bomb earlier but her waiting longer helped enhance it, then she tied it directly to the Justice Department investigation of his past housing discrimination

22.04: “They go low, we go high.” Great line. Plus Obama actually used to get high

22.05: Donald’s line about how her primary campaign in 2008 against Obama was bitter is lame

22.06: Congrats Donald, you opened an inclusive club in Florida. Really wish Clinton had made fun of him for thinking that that is something that qualifies you to be president

22.08: Cybersecurity is a good area for Hillary to talk and, more importantly, be tough on Russia. Also liked the probing line – good Signs reference. And good work to get the “Donald invited Russia to hack us” (paraphrase) line in.

21.21: Not sure that Sean Hannity is going to resonate as a character witness

22.23: She’s saved her laughing for the end. I like that she used it and I like that she waited until the end to do so. Now she’s doing well to talk about how supportive NATO was after 9/11

22.24: The context on the Iran sanctions is much appreciated. Also “that’s diplomacy” is a good line. “Without firing a shot” is another good point. And thank you God for pointing out that shooting down another country’s soldiers for taunting your soldiers is an idiotic, useless, and dangerous approach

22.25: Wait do you mean the person who wins this election has the power to deploy nukes?

22.26: Glad she repeated the good convention line about tweets and nuclear weapons. Also she finally interrupted him back!!

22.26: The US is the best-funded Mafia in the history of the world under Trump in 2018 – just one possible future

22.29: Trump’s criticism of Obama’s foreign policy – it didn’t solve every world problem and the Iran Deal has destroyed everything we hold dear

22.30: Hillary really trying to take the high road against Trump here

22.31: “Only secret is that he has no plan” is a good one near the finish

22.34: Hillary is on-point nailing him on the “stamina” BS. She has gone all over the world. And the applause is perfect

22.35: Hey and one last punch for his sexism!! Good for her for not letting him off the stage without answering to that. And his response is some nonsense about commercials and Rosie O’Donnell

22.37: Trump is now whining about negative ads. He’s so tough, so much stamina he has

22.58: Hillary was so well-prepared tonight. That is a cliche about her and it’s a cliche for a reason. Not only was she well-equipped with a good array of facts, which she utilized well, she also paced her speaking (and conversely his speaking) effectively. At first, I thought she let him go on for too long at a time and wasn’t challenging his falsities enough. But that extended talking early wore Donald out a bit (reminder: he’s 70) and got him breathless. From then on he was a little behind on his responses and a little more on edge. Eventually he got more and more incoherent. She saved her best lines for last. Nothing has been well-predicted in this election, but my sense is that she won this round.

The Age of Reason (Spoilers)

The Age of Reason is a 1947 novel by French writer Jean-Paul Sartre. It is the first of his Road to Freedom trilogy and takes place entirely in Paris over a short period in 1938. Sartre is considered one of the preeminent existentialist philosophers – a philosophical school of thought which here roughly means “being concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility” – and many critics see Age of Reason as the novel (he also wrote plays and non-fiction) of his that’s most emblematic of his philosophical thought.

The novel’s main character is Mathieu, a 34-year-old philosophy professor living in Paris who never spends much time at all reading, writing, teaching, or performing any other act common to professors. Instead, he wanders around Paris drinking and socializing and obsessing about being free. His circle includes Boris, his student acolyte, Ivich, Boris’ sister, Daniel, the perhaps sociopathic and constantly bemused gay man, and Marchelle, his long-time mistress.

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Friday Night Lights (Spoilers)


Friday Night Lights is a 2004 movie directed by Peter Berg, produced by Brian Grazer, and written by Berg and David Aaron Cohen. It’s based on a non-fiction book of the same name, by H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger. It stars Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Britton, Lucas Black, and Derek Luke.

The entire movie takes place in the small, rural town of Odessa, Texas. It chronicles a highly anticipated season of the town’s high school football team – the Permian Panthers, which the townsfolk follow with a reverence more devout than some religious cults. Thornton plays the coach and Britton, his wife. Black plays Mike Winchell, the team’s quarterback, and Luke, James “Booby” Miles, the team’s transcendent talent who seems to be a gift from God to the game of football and the town of Odessa. Tim McGraw also takes a startlingly good turn as the asshole father of one of the boys on the team.

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Sad Stories of the Death of Kings

And nothing can we call our own but death
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!                                                                                                 –Richard II

There are many things to say as we watch the collapse of one of the world’s great political parties play out in real time. Let’s begin by going back to the last time the U.S. of A. experienced a party realignment comparable to this one. The realignment, like most other relatively recent big social changes in this country, took place in the 1960s.

In the year 1960, the presidential election pitted the incumbent Republican Vice President – Richard Nixon – against a young, handsome, articulate son of one of the nation’s wealthiest families. This particular son was not supposed to be the family’s political standard-bearer (that role belonged to the eldest), but World War II changed a lot of things for a lot of families. The Kennedy’s, even with their great wealth and prestige, were no different.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was optimistic, energetic, and beautiful on screen. Richard Milhous Nixon was unattractive, somewhat creepy, but highly qualified. The result of the contest was one of the closest and most controversial presidential elections in U.S. history. Kennedy won, barely, and to this day many are convinced that votes, especially in Chicago, were bought or stolen.

Kennedy’s presidency is a strange one to describe. The beautiful man with his beautiful wife and beautiful children captivated the sentiments of many, but accomplished little tangible domestic reform. Abroad, there was the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but also the Bay of Pigs debacle. His administration is remembered more for its captivating rhetoric and great dreams deferred than any legislative or diplomatic accomplishment.

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What a Week It Has Been

Most of the time changes happens slowly. It’s only by looking back at a long stretch of time and reflecting that we recognize substantial differences in our reality. However, there are some weeks, like these past two, when so much seems to happen all at once.

After an outrageous and distinctly American act of terrorism, huge momentum has emerged to remove symbols of treachery and hatred from prominent places in the South. The highest court in the land affirmed President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, ensuring millions continued access to affordable healthcare. And, as the best sequel since Godfather Part II, the same court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Much of what this means for our country and the legacy of President Obama remains to be understood. But, if anything, it should put to rest forever any ideas that his presidency has been a minor one. Quite the opposite is the case. For too long, too many have been quick to think that the president has failed to deliver. He promised change they say, but too much remains the same. This, quite simply, ignores objective reality. It’s one thing to disagree with what he’s done; it’s lunacy to suggest that he hasn’t done much. That has never been more obvious in any week during his presidency as this one.

Yet for all his tangible actions while in office, his greatest achievement is and always will be the fact of his election. He is, and always will be, the first black president this nation has ever known. That fact is inescapable and never more apparent than it was on Friday when he delivered the eulogy for the slain Reverend Clementa Pinckney. He spoke as only he could. In his oration, he articulated the astonishing and gut-wrenching flaws of our country, baked into it from the founding. But his words did far more than that. They went above and beyond the filler text politicians and leaders too often mumble to pay lip-service to the “conversation about race.” They were real. They were personal. They spoke to his own experience, to the experience of his audience. They lamented the dead. He made us remember what we too often forget and ignore or never even learned. He helped us decipher a small section of the American story, with tales of the past and present. As one of our greatest once wrote, “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

Our president has failed in countless ways, but Friday he was there for all of us, carrying the light onward. Leading us with grace and song.

More reactions from James FallowsDavid Remnick, and Greg Howard.

Gangs of New York, Mild Spoilers


Gangs of New York is a 2002 action movie directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cameron Diaz. The entire film is set in 19th-century New York’s infamous Five Points neighborhood. The story focuses on Amsterdam Vallon’s (DiCaprio) quest for revenge following the murder of his father (Liam Neeson[s]) at the hands of Bill “the Butcher” Cutter (Day-Lewis).

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