June 28, 2020

A 51-Star Flag

I have long been ambivalent about giving statehood to the District of Columbia. Clearly, the District is “different” from the existing 50 states, but the same sort of argument was made against statehood for Alaska and Hawaii. Whereas the last two states added to the Union were non-contiguous with the rest of the country, D.C. is special in other ways. Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution grants Congress the power to legislate for a district carved out from other states to be the seat of the government, a parcel “not exceeding ten Miles square.” (The actual area of the District of Columbia is just over 68 square miles, well under the 100 square mile stipulation of the Constitution.)

Residents of the District cannot vote for president and vice president, and they have neither senators nor voting representatives in the House. Yet, there are more than700,000 such souls, and they have long called for their being fully-enabled citizens of these United States. The population of the District exceeds that of Wyoming and Vermont. At this moment, when the country seems to be realizing that black lives do indeed matter, statehood has become especially pressing, as more than 45% of the residents of Washington are black. The Republican-led Senate will surely oppose statehood for the federal district, but a Democratic Senate, House, and White House, come 2021, almost certainly will enact it.

In fact, the House of Representatives passed a statehood bill, H.R. 51, on June 19. It would maintain a federal district mandated by the Constitution consisting only of federal buildings and monuments. The rest of the present District of Columbia would become Washington, Douglas Commonwealth, named for Frederick Douglass, the long-dead abolitionist whom Donald Trump opined has “done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more.” (Douglas spent the last 17 years of his life, which ended in 1895, in Washington.) It is unclear how we will speak of the federal government should the District be given statehood. “Washington” will refer to the current District of Columbia less government property.  Will be speak instead of “D.C”? “Columbia” refers, of course, to Columbus, whose star has lost its luster of late, so I don’t know how long “District of Columbia” is viable in a woke U.S. Time will tell.

The proposed name is a bit odd, of course, but needs to be distinguished from the other Washington on the Pacific coast. The proposed state would not be alone in having a long name. Rhode Island is technically the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, a name legislators are newly attempting to shorten. Whereas “the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” can easily and unambiguously become “Rhode Island,” Washington, Douglas Commonwealth, cannot so simply be abbreviated without ambiguity. However, we speak of “Washington” all the time, and context indicates which Washington is intended. “Washington, Douglas Commonwealth,” allows “Washington, D.C.,” to continue to be proper nomenclature, albeit not, technically, for the seat of government of the United States. Were that not an advantage of the House proposal, perhaps East Washington could have been the name of the new state, analogous to the names of the Carolinas and Dakotas.

Republicans, of course, are unconcerned with democracy or the proper treatment of downtrodden minorities. They are only concerned with the fact that Washington, D.C., is largely Democratic and that statehood will likely add two Democratic senators and a Democratic representative to Congress. Given that other features of the Constitution that help Republicans by giving unrepresentative power to rural domains are unlikely to be changed any time soon, the addition of Washington, Douglas Commonwealth, will go a little way toward making Congress and the White House more truly representative.

I have worried about the state of our flag should another state be added to the Union. Admittedly, although 48 stars seemed perfect, the 49-star flag is acceptable. Perhaps it is even improved aesthetically by being a little less regimented. I really had not considered how to fit 51 stars onto the flag, but others have. Here is the most promising design, one most in keeping with recent versions of the U.S. flag:

The above design is courtesy of the Flag Institute. It looks pretty good, no?

June 27, 2020

Shirley Jackson Day 2020

Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson
“The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.”

Thus begins the most famous story written by Shirley Hardie Jackson (1916–1965), “The Lottery.” The short story was published in the June 26, 1948, issue of The New Yorker and is infamous for the angry letters and canceled subscriptions it provoked.

“The Lottery” was my introduction to Jackson, who is known mostly for her horror and mystery works. Her well-crafted and shocking story led me to read her two best-known novels, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House. I’ve also read her humorous memoirs Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, the savages and demons in question being her four children. Jackson was a prolific writer, and I have many more of her works on my reading list.

Jackson spent much of her life in North Bennington, Vermont, a town that she reputedly had in mind when writing “The Lottery.” Nevertheless, North Bennington has celebrated Shirley Jackson Day in recent years every June 27. As a result of the current pandemic, Shirley Jackson Day is to be a virtual event in 2020. For those of us who do not live in Vermont, this is an unexpected blessing, as we can experience readings from her works on the Internet. Details of the event can be found here. The celebration begins at 7 pm EDT.

June 15, 2020

Our Honored Confederate Generals

President Trump has been adamant in his opposition to renaming military installations carrying the names of generals of the Confederate States of America. He justified the continued memorialization of these traitors to the American Republic via Twitter:
It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc. These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom. The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations. Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!
As usual, our president is tone-deaf and obsessed with displaying his manhood.

Sign at Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Bases were named after Confederate generals as a sop to the South. More than a century and a half after the conclusion of the Civil War, however, it is time to celebrate the Union and to consign the Confederacy and its champions to the graveyard of morally corrupt ideas. If a base is renamed, its history, however storied, does not disappear, but only its association with the cause of slavery

Some will assert that base names don’t matter. I freely admit that, during my brief Army career, it never occurred to me to ask after whom the bases to which I was assigned were named. Having recently become an issue brought to light through the continuing racism revealed in police murders of black citizens, racism clearly not obliterated by Union victory in the Civil War, the celebration of military traitors can no longer be ignored. Among the bases named for those who led troops against the United States are some very substantial installations. The bases are:
  • Fort Hood, Texas, named for General John Bell Hood
  • Fort Lee, Virginia, named for General Robert E. Lee
  • Fort Bragg, North Carolina, named for General Braxton Bragg
  • Fort A.P. Hill, named for Lieutenant General A.P. Hill
  • Fort Pickett, Virginia, named for the hapless Major General George Pickett
  • Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, named for General P.G.T. Beauregard
  • Fort Gordon, Georgia, named for Major General John Brown Gordon
  • Fort Polk, Louisiana, named for Major General Leonidas Polk, a former Episcopal bishop
  • Fort Rucker, Alabama, named for General Edmund Rucker
  • Fort Benning, Georgia, named for Brigadier General Henry L. Benning
Naming installations after enemies of the nation is ridiculous on its face. Apparently, it seemed to make sense at one time. If we are to accept this self-flagellatory process, why stop at celebrating Confederate generals? Here is a short list of names for President Trump to consider:
  • Fort Benedict Arnold
  • Fort Aaron Burr
  • Port Aldrish Ames
  • Julius & Ethel Rosenberg National Laboratory
  • Camp John Brown (admittedly somewhat ambiguous)
Of course, the president will neither use these names nor assent to changing the names of bases named for Confederate generals. The military or Congress may do the job for him, if not soon, then once a new president is in office. Perhaps a promise to do so should be in the Democratic platform this year.

June 4, 2020

Trump Really Doesn’t Seek to Divide Americans

It is often said that Donald Trump seeks to divide Americans rather than unite them. His actions certainly have that effect. Nevertheless, I don’t think that division of Americans is really Trump’s objective.

Donald J. Trump
Donald Trump knows in his heart that he is a minority president, that most people dislike him and everything he stands for. But he is who he is, and Mr. Trump is not about to pander to the majority, which frankly hates his guts. Instead, everything he does is intended to please his base, those folks who think like him and, in most cases, adore him. He is terrified of losing any of these people because he has no talent or inclination to win over Americans who are not already devoted to him.

Dividing Americans is not really a good political strategy, either for winning elections or for governing. But Donald Trump has discovered, probably much to his surprise, that, with a devoted following and substantial help from our undemocratic electoral system, he can win a national election. In 2020, however, the voters disdained by the president are more strongly motivated than they were in 2016.

Let us hope that Mr. Trump’s perverse strategy doesn’t work twice.