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McConnell flat-out tells Republicans to use Manchin and Sinema to obstruct Biden, Democrats

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While that was happening, McConnell was telling Republicans to make nice to Manchin and Sinema to co-opt them to his agenda by boosting their already healthy egos. In an interview with Politico, McConnell demonstrated the tactic. “What they’ve been very forthright about is protecting the institution against pressures from their own party. I know what that’s like,” McConnell said, recalling Trump’s constant pressure to make him nuke the filibuster. “Every time I said no. And it’s nice that there are Democrats left who respect the institution and don’t want to destroy the very essence of the Senate.”

Of course, McConnell didn’t get rid of the filibuster on legislation because he cared about the Senate, which he had already laid to waste. He kept it because it kept the truly bonkers stuff the Republican House and Trump were coming up with in the first two years of Trump’s term from being viable in the Senate. McConnell didn’t want to have to preserve the Republican majority on that record. The second reason was that all he really wanted coming out of the Trump years was a stranglehold on the judiciary, which he achieved by—nuking the filibuster on Supreme Court appointees. Oh, and tax cuts. Which he achieved by the same non-filibusterable budget reconciliation he’s condemning now. So much for his vaunted love for the institution.

Nonetheless, his team is going forward on his command to co-opt the two tools of the Democrats. “For me right now, they’re almost guardians of democracy because they’re trying to protect us from the loss of the legislative filibuster and everything that would come with that. They’re good people,” John Thune, McConnell’s number two, told Politico—which is always willing to help spread GOP gospel. “They want to do the right thing.” If by “democracy” you mean minority rule, which Thune clearly does. Because that’s what Sinema and Manchin are protecting here.

Manchin told Politico “I just hope [Republicans] help me a little bit in bipartisanship. […] That’s all.” Good luck with that, Joe. “He said he believes Republicans aren’t all talk and no give, that ‘they really want to work.'” Sure. Because here’s what’s really happening, and Republicans are happy to admit it: “When they can’t drive compromise directly through legislation that’s passed through budget reconciliation, GOP senators can influence the process by keeping close ties to Sinema and Manchin.”

For example, Manchin’s last-minute intervention that nearly blew up the American Rescue Plan—the critical COVID-19 relief bill passed last month—was so much string-pulling by his Republican “friend” Rob Portman of Ohio, to cut back unemployment benefits by $100 a week and to cut the federal boost in payments off in early September, instead of at the end of October.

Politico baldly lays out the machinations here: “No Republicans supported that legislation, but they were able to make their mark through Manchin.” In other words, he’s being used.

Manchin and Sinema’s influence has “been very helpful,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “Now, I don’t want to overstate that. I don’t think either one of them have fundamentally changed the direction of important Democratic legislation just yet. But they’ve certainly slowed down a lot of the more radical ideas.”

Like the radical notion of voting rights. Or the radical idea that $7.25 an hour is not enough to live on in almost every part of the country.

One of the “moderates” in the Democratic conference, the Maine Independent Angus King, basically endorsed Schumer’s approach. He said that he wants to see just how many Republicans are willing to cross over to help out before reforming the filibuster, but he is definitely putting the onus on them. “It’s up to them,” he told The Hill, citing a Washington Post op-ed he wrote last month: “What happens to the filibuster depends on how Republicans play their hand.”

Whether Manchin got that message isn’t entirely clear. “Chuck Schumer spoke more about bipartisan today than I’ve ever heard him speak about,” Manchin told reporters. “He wants—’Everything we’re doing, we’ll try to do bipartisan. Let’s work on bipartisan, reach out to your friends,'” is how Manchin interpreted it. It was probably more grammatically correct in the original.

Schumer’s deploying the only strategy that makes sense at this point, with Manchin and Sinema digging in their heels—put the onus on them to find Republicans to help. It would be satisfying if he took that a bit further and made Manchin, in particular, prove his assertion that there are 10 Republicans willing to work with him by getting public statements from them. But this will do for now.


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News Roundup: Pandemic relief in sight; Fox News has a body count; Ron DeSantis sucks up

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DeSantis is going to be awfully disappointed if a returning Trump squashes his own chances to be Republicanism’s Dear Leader

In the news today: While the hoped-for “herd immunity” is still in doubt, vaccinations are still expected to make serious headway against the COVID-19 pandemic within the next few months. But will Fox News let it happen? A U.S. Capitol police officer beaten severely by insurrectionists is still pleading with Republican lawmakers to stop downplaying the attack that led to at least five deaths. And Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis dispenses with the free press for a bill signing meant to curry Trump’s favor, because that’s the nation we live in now.

Here’s some of what you may have missed:


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What could be funnier than Trump refusing to pay Rudy when the poor sap needs him the most?

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Holy hell. Well, at least I don’t have to worry about being buried alive, because I’ll literally be laughing about this until my dying breath.

Wait: There’s more?

Mr. Giuliani led the effort to subvert the results of the 2020 race in a series of battleground states, but he was not paid for the work, according to people close to both Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump. His supporters now want the Trump campaign to tap into the $250 million it raised in the weeks after the election to pay Mr. Giuliani and absorb costs he has incurred in the defamation suits.

No … stop … I need to catch my breath!

Say, does anyone walk away from Donald Trump intact? Joining TrumpWorld is like storming Omaha Beach with a Little Mermaid towel and a bucket of lukewarm wine coolers. It won’t go as planned; that’s all I’m saying.

Rudy is in this mess because of Trump and his obsession with defaming Joe Biden … and with denying Biden’s victory. But now that Rudy needs Trump’s help more than ever, the big bouncing ball of buttocks is nowhere to be found.

Was any other outcome even possible?

According to The Times, Giuliani’s associate Maria Ryan emailed the Trump campaign asking for a $20,000-a-day fee for his legal work in challenging the election results, which admittedly seems pretty steep for an attorney who’s approximately 10% befuddled ignorance and 90% flop sweat. Further, “Mr. Trump later told his advisers he did not want Mr. Giuliani to receive any payment, according to people close to the former president with direct knowledge of the discussions.”

Granted, Rudy’s contribution was worth less than nothing, but so too were all of Trump’s casinos, in the end. Does that mean the contractors who built them deserved to be stiffed?

Meanwhile, Rudy’s son Andrew is speaking up for ol’ Pops: “I do think he should be indemnified,” Andrew said. “I think all those Americans that donated after Nov. 3, they were donating for the legal defense fund. My father ran the legal team at that point. So I think it’s very easy to make a very strong case for the fact that he and all the lawyers that worked on there should be indemnified.”

Correction: All those Americans thought they were donating to the legal defense fund. But most of them were actually donating to Trump’s “Save America” PAC and the RNC. 

Trump is a supremely skilled meta-grifter who expertly grifts grifters. It’s the one thing he’s good at. Giuliani should have known that.

Sorry, Rudes. No tears for you. You got in bed with this degenerate fool, and now you’re paying the piper.

It made comedian Sarah Silverman say “THIS IS FUCKING BRILLIANT” and prompted author Stephen King to shout “Pulitzer Prize!!!” (on Twitter, that is). What is it? The viral letter that launched four hilarious Trump-trolling books. Get them all, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Just $12.96 for the pack of 4! Or if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.


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How should living museums like Colonial Williamsburg depict Black history? It’s complicated

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Depicting the realities of Black history, which include many cruel chapters, clearly never crossed Rockefeller’s mind when he originally built this town. Yet it is a reality that museums across the U.S. still struggle with—especially living museums. The question of what history to present and how to present it is a challenge, and one that has, until relatively recently, been long ignored.

The challenge of integrating other people’s stories into the narrative, especially when those stories can be quite unpleasant, has led to different responses by different historical sites. 

Depiction of the arrival of the first slave ship at Fort Monroe, Virginia

Some have decided to only showcase positive stories of African Americans and other minorities, while ignoring the atrocities. Other museums, like the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, decided to focus on the atrocities. Still others simply try to avoid the controversy all together.

Fort Monroe, Virginia, had clearly chosen the path of avoidance. This decommissioned base featured plenty of Confederate history, such as Robert E. Lee’s quarters and Confederate president Jefferson Davis’ jail cell.

Yet besides a small historical marker, the Black history at this site was ignored, and that decision wasn’t at all insignificant: in 1619, this was the site where America’s first enslaved Africans arrived.

This history was downplayed for a long time; however, a new African American superintendent, Terry Brown, was determined to change this. He started programs featuring the site’s critical history, and pushed for a large, permanent memorial at Fort Monroe, which is now in the planning stages. He also led the drive for a new exhibit at the nearby Hampton History Museum featuring the 1619 Landing.

1619 Landing exhibit
1619 Arrival exhibit at the Hampton History Museum

Brown ensured some positive aspects of Black history at Ft. Monroe were also featured: Sergeant William Harvey Carney was stationed there, who became the first Black Medal of Honor recipient. The infamous Harriet Tubman, a trained nurse, treated wounded and sick African American soldiers at this historic site. (Tubman was also the first American female commander, of any race, to lead a U.S. military operation.)

Thirty minutes away from Ft. Monroe is Colonial Williamsburg. This living museum was emblematic of most historical sites that tended to paint prominent historical figures as unblemished heroes while whitewashing the past. By the 1990s, African American and American Indian historians were hired to give lectures and display exhibits on Black and Native American history during this time period. This helped to give a more honest and accurate portrayal of the full American story.

Very recently, Colonial Williamsburg also created a committee to explore the area’s queer history, since there were documented cases of prominent colonists who might have lived outside the norm of the time. There’s even a performance about a researched case of a relationship between two female colonists, although it isn’t featured on the museum’s website.

It’s relatively easy to do re-enactments depicting positive or neutral aspects of the history of people of color. For example, visitors can talk with free Black business owners of the time period, like Edith Cumbo.

Edith Cumbo historical interpreter Emily James
Edith Cumbo, portrayed by historical interpreter Emily James

Visitors can also learn about Black heroic figures, like James Armistead Lafayette, the Black spy for George Washington who discovered that British Army General Cornwallis was at nearby Yorktown. This led to the Battle of Yorktown, which literally ended the Revolutionary War. Or they could listen to a re-enactment featuring Gowan Pamphlet, a Black preacher who risked everything to found one of America’s oldest Black churches.

However, it becomes more problematic depicting the more painful—and common—stories of enslaved people. Even Lafayette’s heroic story is greatly complicated by the fact that he was still a slave.

Daryl Dupree and Raven Ford were two of the few African American visitors touring the area, and they told me they were not interested at all in seeing representations of slavery. Dupree said he had no intention of watching re-enactments involving enslaved people because he didn’t need to be reminded of the horrors. “Racism is still alive and well.” Ford, his companion, didn’t object to the programming, but said she didn’t believe any performance could properly interpret the cruelty of slavery in a 30-minute play.

One of the maintenance workers who overheard our conversation had a very strong opinion against portrayals of slavery, although he declined to be named for this story since he was contracted to work for Colonial Williamsburg. He said he feared the portrayal of slavery might traumatize Black children, and added that he didn’t think that was worth the cost of “educating white children about racism.” Although he opposed most slavery re-enactments, he also said he wanted to see re-enactments of what he called “fighting Blacks,” like Nat Turner, Charles Deslondes, and others who literally fought for their freedom.

Stephen Seals, the senior manager of Colonial Williamsburg’s African American history program, explained how he would respond to what seemed to be a common sentiment against slavery re-enactments by African Americans. “First, I understand. I used to feel exactly the same way. Yet the plight of our ancestors is not about suffering, it’s about survival. These performances humanize people like me, and that helps … so I don’t get shot!

Stephen Seals, Senior Manager of Colonial Williamsburg’s African-American History program
Stephen Seals, senior manager of Colonial Williamsburg’s African American history program: “These stories are about our resiliency.”

“The legacy of slavery is racism, until we understand what happened, we can’t fix what is happening.”

Seals admits it can be hard to find Black actors willing to play roles that depict slavery. Some leave, but others, like him, view it as a duty. “Why would we expect others to care about our history if we don’t care about our own history? These stories are about our resiliency, and we show why enslaving people was so very wrong.”

These kinds of re-enactments, however, can take a heavy toll on the actors. As a result, living museums like Colonial Williamsburg pay for therapy for their interpreters. Although the actors say most of their experiences are positive and help clear up some ridiculous misperceptions, and at least one has found success with a comedic web series that highlights the ignorance of some of the guests, there are hostile and downright bigoted interactions they must sometimes deal with. Cheyney McKnight, a historical interpreter and founder of Not Your Momma’s History, recounts being in tears over rude guests.

Black actors depicting slaves will get uncomfortable questions, sometimes coming from children. They are asked if they are whipped, why they get punished, or how much they cost. Although one Black actor said when he asked a child why she wanted to know about the price of a slave, the answer wasn’t what he thought. “She wanted to know so she could tell her parents to buy my freedom.”

Weatherburn
Wetherburn’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. In 1994, this was the site of the re-enactment of a slave auction. Real slave auctions were held here in the late 18th century. 

Seals said that as a Black kid, he didn’t get any of his own history. He grew up in a nearby area, but admitted he never visited Colonial Williamsburg until he was hired here. Perhaps not surprisingly, Black families make up a very small percentage of the visitors. Many see it as a museum for the American mythology of our history, but Seals said one of the reasons he came here was to try and change that by integrating Black history. The one takeaway, he told me, was that he wants people like the ones I interviewed to see these performances, which always includes a question and answer session afterward. ”I want them to leave feeling a strong sense of pride about their heritage, rather than shame.”  

Some of the plays tackling the topic of slavery are metaphorical, like Thomas Jefferson having a discussion with Jupiter, his enslaved servant, over a chess game in a performance called “White Goes First.” Others, however, are much more intense. One that Seals wrote, based on a researched true story, is called “What Holds the Future?” It dramatizes the very real story of 50 African Americans who were abandoned by the last British royal governor and then sold as property by the new Patriot government.

In addition to uncomfortable interactions with the public, the actors also have to learn about the awful social dynamics of portraying their characters, such as averting their eyes when their overseers enter a room. Seals said it’s not for everyone. “We’re taught to be detached from your character. Doing these roles really tests that hypothesis.”  

Storyteller Chetter Galloway
Chetter Galloway, a storyteller of African and African American stories

Chetter Galloway was at the controversial slave auction back in 1994. He said the storytelling at Colonial Williamsburg helped inspire him to become a professional storyteller. He has worked as an historical interpreter at living museums such as nearby Carter’s Grove Plantation, which has had its own controversy when they rebuilt 18th-century slave quarters in the 1990s. Galloway said he also understands the uncomfortable nature of portraying enslaved individuals, but supports it if they rise to the challenge of being accurate and respectful. “The lives about the people who were enslaved are important to tell because their voices will be silenced and left unheard if no one shares their stories.”

However, people like Seals and Galloway still have their work cut out for them in changing minds. A longtime African American friend of mine, who declines to be named, still refuses to go to Colonial Williamsburg or the other nearby sites of Jamestown and Yorktown. Even after reading the passionate arguments for historical re-enactment and watching a play online, she remained unconvinced. “There is no one arguing you need to re-enact the Holocaust” she told me. She noted that the crowd in the video she watched seemed to primarily be white, bringing up the question of who these reenactments are really for.

Yet depicting slavery is just one challenge. Another point of contention among many African Americans is the fact that so much emphasis is put on slavery. Most people think of Black history as being composed of a few major events, like slavery and the 1960s civil rights movement. However, African American history is a rich tapestry that has influenced every major event in our nation’s history and every facet of American culture.

The Harlem Renaissance marked the first time that mainstream publishers and critics turned their attention seriously to African American literature, music, art, and politics. There are beautiful exhibits at several museums, like this one at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, but unfortunately, they are normally showcased only during Black History month in February.

Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street

There were great historic successes, such as Black Wall Street in the early 20th century, which featured an affluent Black community with hundreds of businesses. It was destroyed by a two-day race riot from an angry white mob. It has a small memorial in Tulsa, and many people weren’t even aware that this community existed until HBO’s Watchmen series debuted in 2019.

There are multiple Black heroes in every single American war that most people haven’t heard of, including Colonel Tye, Abraham Galloway, Henry Johnson, Doris Miller, and my hometown Medal of Honor hero, Alwyn Cashe, just to name a few. Most people couldn’t name several prominent African Americans, such as the cardiologist who performed the first successful open heart surgery (Daniel Hale Williams); or the first female millionaire of any race in the U.S. (Madame C.J. Walker); or Robert Smalls, who is just awesome:

Robert Smalls
How is this not a movie yet?  There’s a movement to do just that.

One teacher, Nikki Clarke, said after her elementary students tell her what they know about Black history, which is usually slavery and civil rights, she passes out potato chips (invented by renowned chef George Crum) and lets them play with super-soakers (invented by NASA engineer Lonnie G. Johnson) so they can associate Black history with things they love.

One of the big issues discussed with Seals is the fact that Black history is treated as just that: Black history. For centuries, history has been Eurocentric, and when movements started to include other kinds of histories, they were pigeonholed as separate. There will be a month, or a chapter in a book, or a separate event that showcases “other” history. Yet in reality, all history is integrated. The African American spy who ended the Revolutionary War is an American hero story, not just a Black hero story. There might hopefully be a time soon when historical events are treated that way.

Museums have to do a lot of soul-searching. One positive example comes from a different kind of museum: an art museum. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, has 60,000 square feet of art; almost all of it was composed of stodgy paintings or sculptures of old, white Europeans.

Wadsworth Antheneum Museum of Art
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut

The local community, now largely people of color, weren’t visiting. William R. Peelle Jr., chairman of the board of trustees, did something pretty radical. He made it his mission to connect with the local, minority residents, and he did this by replacing the entire board of the museum to be more reflective of the local community. He decided he couldn’t change the museum to connect with the locals without people of color on the board.

He said that decision came after a lot of his own “soul-searching”:

What do we need to do to be a better board? That’s not a negative. It’s an opportunity to look at governance and what we should be in our role in Hartford. Museums have to begin to have that discussion.

I wish all museums would. People want to go to places that represent them, and museums can’t connect visitors to the past if they ignore their past. Putting people of color on museum boards is critical and very beneficial.

In Richmond, Virginia, I used to visit the Museum of the Confederacy. This museum celebrated the Confederate States, which shouldn’t have been too surprising as Richmond used to be the Confederate capitol. That museum went through an entire transformation thanks to its first Black and first female CEO, Christy Coleman, who was named by Time magazine one of “31 People Changing the South.”

Christy Coleman
Christy Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and former president and CEO of the American Civil War Center

She started at Colonial Williamsburg as an historical interpreter when she was only 17 years old, portraying a young slave named Rebecca. After completing her graduate degree in museum studies at Hampton University, she returned to Colonial Williamsburg as director for Interpretive Programs Development. She was later named CEO of the American Civil War Center in 2008 after six years as CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. 

At the American Civil War Center, Coleman integrated the exhibits to tell a more complete story of the Civil War from all sides: Union and Confederate, soldiers and civilians, enslaved and free African Americans. It’s a more comprehensive experience, and one that has proven very popular with the local community.  

She admitted to being exasperated at times at people who wouldn’t acknowledge historical fact. “Coming into this job, I don’t think I fully appreciated just how much heritage memory had usurped forensic history. I mean the records are right there!” Although she said she makes herself stop and take a less exasperated approach in order to try and “help people where they are.”

Coleman was so successful she was asked to take over the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation, which is one of the most prominent historical foundations in Virginia. She oversees both the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Coleman has promised to do for these museums what she did in Richmond, and tell a more complete story about our nation’s early beginnings.

Many of America’s stories are painful and difficult, but so is our history. Unfortunately, there are those who don’t want these stories to be told. Many Republican lawmakers are determined to keep whitewashing Black history. In fact, conservative southern states have enacted legislation that punish schools that focus on slavery and the legacy of white supremacism, such as presented in the “1619 Project,” claiming efforts to teach that history is “racially divisive.”

Trump responded to the 1619 Project by appointing an 18-member commission of conservativesnone of whom were historiansto present a fictional, alternative history that painted the Founding Fathers as heroes for setting “the stage for abolition.” Their report also criticized current efforts to address racial discrimination because that somehow “hurts” equality and our social fabric.

This kind of willful ignorance is why a Republican legislator fiercely defended the Three-Fifths Compromise using a completely inaccurate alternate history that it was really about ending slavery. It’s also why this legislator in Louisiana wondered out loud why schools can’t teach the “good” of slavery: 

Martha Huckabay, a Republican official in New Orleans who served as a Trump delegate, responded to this by doubling-down on the fiction of “good slavery” and fiercely defended the institution by falsely declaring “many of the slaves loved their masters.” This false mindset is not uncommon, and proves the need for another difficult and necessary discussion on what to do with education beyond museums. We must integrate the resilient histories of minority populations into America’s school curriculums.

Most public schools aren’t even mandated to teach Native American history at all. Japanese internment camps aren’t covered in history classes. Slavery is taught, but there are textbooks being used right now that encourage children to come up with “positive” aspects of slavery. A Colorado school board taken over by conservatives wants to focus on “patriotism” while curtailing teaching about the civil rights movement because it condones ”civil disorder.” This is why school board elections are so important. 

It is possible to learn to appreciate the American experiment without the bizarre hero-worship of our founders, just as it’s possible to learn about America’s mistakes without succumbing to cynicism. Giving the complete story isn’t just good history, and it isn’t just a popular idea, it also gives people a foundation to forge a shared historical inheritance that can inspire civic responsibility. To put it another way: it makes for a better society.

I don’t pretend to know the answer of how to best engage with some of these difficult narratives, but I do know they deserve to be told; and making that effort would be better for everyone. Having minority representation on museum boards is a good step toward doing that, and better integration of their history will bring in much-needed new visitors from communities whose heritage we have ignored for far too long.

I know these changes are painful, but the hard work and emotional labor of telling these stories are already being done by people of color. The very least the rest of us could do is listen.


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