From Our Future
The new year had barely started when the world got new grist for the "Trump-is-crazy" mill, one of the few American industries to experience a boom since Trump became president.
Michael Wolff's profile of the current White House, "Fire and Fury," is filled with rumors and backbiting. But the book, and the president's unhinged reaction to it, provide new evidence that Trump is cognitively and emotionally unfit for office.
Wolff got headlines, even in the august New York Times, for saying Trump has "less credibility" than anyone who has ever walked on earth." Hard news becomes indistinguishable from hyperbole and high school gossip. That's understandably irresistible for a lot of people. And a person's sanity becomes existentially important when they hold a nuclear button, regardless of its size.
But the deeper forces of history move on, and we ignore them at our peril. While the nation obsesses about Trump, he and his fellow Republicans are radically rewiring our political and economic order. The tax bill they passed at the end of last year proves it.
Years are arbitrary divisions, of course, but they're a useful reminder to note our individual and collective progress -- or lack thereof.
There are always end-of-year retrospectives. But how does the Trump era look from a centuries-long perspective on our nation?
200 years ago, at the start of 1818, President James Monroe was about to claim the continent for American military expansion. General (and future president) Andrew Jackson invaded Florida during the so-called "Seminole Wars," a military incursion against indigenous people and the Spanish colonial government there.
There was a growing belief in the federal government's ability to accomplish things. Close to my own childhood home, a major infrastructure project was kicked off in 1817 when construction of the Erie Canal began in Rome, N.Y. (I was born in nearby Utica, where the canal has long since been paved over.)
Monroe began promoting his own brand of national unity, based on a political consensus that supposedly transcended party divisions. In some ways, it foreshadowed the "centrist" bipartisanship promoted by Democrats like Barack Obama and the Clintons.
This period came to be known as the "Era of Good Feelings," a name that could hardly be applied to our own. But then, it undoubtedly didn't feel good for the slaves, women, native peoples, and poor whites who struggled to survive every day.The Progressive Era
A century later, 1917 had just ended. It was an eventful year. The country entered World War I after a German terror attack blew up a naval ship docked in Lyndhurst, N.J. Germans, not Muslims, were the country's most hated and feared immigrant group in those days, as we noted back in 2016. The Alien Enemy Act was passed, placing immigrants like Trump's father under the watchful eye of the authorities.
The National Archives tell of German-language newspapers shut down or forced out of business. Bilingual churches were pressured to stop conducting services in German. German-language societies and even choral groups were disbanded as "volunteer watchdog societies reported on "German American gatherings and activities to federal authorities."
In an echo of Monroe's wars of expansion, General John "Black Jack" Pershing launched another one of his "punitive expeditions" into Mexico.
In 1917, racism's structural violence led to African-American uprisings -- often called "riots" -- in East St. Louis, Houston, and elsewhere.