Live and Learn

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That is “Live” as rhymes with Hive or Dive and not Sieve or Give.

As in, how come you haven’t posted on Hot White Snow in, like, ages?

So yes, I am alive.

And always learning.

Three posts ago, which turns out to have been two entire months back (how time flies), I wrote a piece called “A Quick Ramble.” Since I rarely have the time to write short, the emphasis of that post was more on the ramble than the quick read. Last month I wrote a post on Lincolnian.org, the new website of the Lincoln Group of DC (aka, LGDC), that was sort of an introduction of me to my fellow Lincolnites (or maybe Lincolnians) when I became president of the organization. I had a follow up post on my own author website with more on the non-LGDC aspects of my goings-on.

So, first off, I’ve been doing a lot of writing even though it hasn’t necessarily been on Hot White Snow.

And no, I don’t know why I write for three separate blogs. Well, I do know, but I don’t necessarily understand how.

But it does explain why I haven’t been writing as much here. As the linked blog articles mention, I’ve obviously been focused primarily on finishing up the manuscript for the new book. Currently I’m working on the endnote organization, photo permissions, and never-ending editing (which I do more of in the manuscript than I ever do on these blog posts, I assure you). My deadline is this month so for the next few weeks my focus will continue to be on getting that book finished.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about this blog. My email in-box has dozens (okay, maybe hundreds) of emails to myself with ideas for posts to go here or the other two blogs. Then there are the ones for magazine articles or new books. Then there are the reminders to look at the older emails to see what has scrolled beyond the first page. Granted, it’s not a good system. But it’s me.

Given the topics I’ve tackled here in recent months/years, you can guess what some of the “post ideas” relate to. Things have gone from bad to ludicrous. Our democracy really is in danger. The scariest part is that it mimes what our history already went through in the past. We haven’t learned. But…I won’t go into that today. I’ll save those for tomorrow, because, well, tomorrow is another day. [Yes, the reference is intended] [N.B. By tomorrow I probably mean next month]

Once the manuscript is in I’ll be picking up the writing pace again on Hot White Snow (and my author website). I’ll be talking about topics related to the book, of course, but I also plan to revisit some of the intermittent series previously gracing these pages. Those related to travel, 50 Objects, small town life, writing, and a hodgepodge of other topics.

Time is up.

Back to editing.

David J. Kent is an avid traveler, scientist, and Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaTesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World as well as two specialty e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Honest Republicans Need to Step Forward to Save Their Party – and the Country

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Today, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, the Republican Party ousted the third most powerful leader of their party. Liz Cheney’s crime? She refuses to kowtow to the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

The election wasn’t stolen. Every election office in every state, including all the “Red” states, acknowledge that the 2020 election was the most secure in recent history. Recounts in several states demonstrated the accuracy of the counts. There was no significant fraud. Period. Proven.

But the Republican party has latched on to the lie. Why?

There are many reasons, but the main ones are:

  1. They can use it as an excuse to pass hundreds of voter suppression laws to block people from voting.
  2. They know they represent a shrinking minority of America.
  3. Rather than become more inclusive, they choose to lie to keep their base fearful of democracy.

It’s important to remember that today’s Republican party is the same as the party that was the Confederacy. They were the Southern Democrats (and their Northern Copperhead compatriots) in Lincoln’s time. They were the Jim Crow Southern Democrats early in the 20th Century. They were the Dixiecrats of 1948. They were the McCarthyites in the late 1940s-1950s. They were the Goldwater and William F. Buckley Movement Conservatives. They were the Reagan/Newt Gingrich Conservatives through to the present day.

The one common thread through all these labels and party changes is that they were all conservatives. When you hear people say something akin to “Democrats were the slave owners,” those Democrats were conservatives then. They are today’s Republicans. But always conservatives.

There is another common thread. Conservatives believe in, and demonstrate through actions, the fundamental principle called the “mud-sill theory” after a speech given by South Carolina Senator and plantation owner James Henry Hammond on March 4, 1858, the same speech in which he pronounced “Cotton is King.” I’ll delve into the mud-sill theory in more depth in a later post on my author website.

But back to today’s Republican Party. Liz Cheney is a scion with deep family roots in conservatism. Her father is much despised by liberals for his arrogance as much as his conservative beliefs (and getting us into Iraq on pretense). In any normal time she would be promoted, both politically and hierarchically in leadership positions.

And yet here we are.

Kevin McCarthy, the titular Republican party leader in the House, has gone full QAnon. Not that he believes that idiocy, but he recognizes that the Republican party has shrunk so tiny that it must embrace the most far right loonies living in an alternative reality that would make Sci-Fi writers envious. Literally nothing they believe in is true. Literally.

And the Republican party has purged their third-highest ranking leader because she refuses to buy into the lies.

Trump never reached 50% approval, and polls show that most of America disdains his continued dishonesty and attacks on democracy. Yet the Republican party knows it represents so few Americans that it must hug the loonies ever more tightly and count on their voting passion, combined with massive voter suppression, gerrymandering, and law changes that allow partisan zealots to overturn legitimate elections, to “win” them control of Congress in 2022.

The party is openly attacking democracy no less than the violent attack on the Capitol and members of Congress (and the sitting VP and VP-elect) on January 6, 2021. An attack that Trump instigated and his people planned and carried out with the willing participation of something like 150 sitting Republican members of Congress.

How ironic is it that the party that disdains government so much it constantly attacks democracy while trying every trick in the book to maintain control over government? Ironic, yes. But not unprecedented. It was the conservative plantation owners of the South who screamed “states’ rights” only after they lost their control of the federal government, a control they had only because of dishonesty, racism, and cheating the system. There really is no difference today.

So McCarthy is pushing out Cheney while supporting QAnon nutjob Marjorie Taylor Greene and hiding under the desk until the Matt Gaetz fiasco goes away quietly and hopefully soon without having to actually take any responsibility. Not to mention Mo Brooks, Madison Cawthorne, and a host of others who supported and encouraged insurrection, along with slightly less crazy-sounding Republicans who routinely mime anti-democracy dishonesty.

In 1860 the conservatives of the time pushed out long-time party leader Stephen A. Douglas, split along “establishment” vs “disunion” conservative lines, and almost succeeded in destroying democracy.

In 2020 the conservatives of our time attacked its long-time party leaders like past-presidential nominees John McCain’s wife and Mitt Romney, and now Liz Cheney, the daughter of a past vice president and a likely 2024 presidential candidate herself. Again, in an attempt to get democracy out of the way of minority rule. [There’s more on this I’ll cover in the mud-sill post]

This isn’t about the old versus the new. It’s about the near-reality versus psychopathic disregard for reality.

It’s about a real political party versus a cult.

The Republicans have chosen to be a cult.

David J. Kent is an avid traveler, scientist, and Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaTesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World as well as two specialty e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Don’t Let Republican Lies Kill You – Get Vaccinated!

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Recent polls have shown that well over 40% of self-identified Republicans claim they will refuse to get vaccinated. That will kill tens of thousands of more Americans, perhaps more. Don’t let Republican lies kill you – get vaccinated!

Dr. Deborah Birx, who was Trump’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator, admitted recently that while the first spike of COVID deaths was probably unavoidable once the pandemic got started, Trump’s continuing lies and hoaxing hoax most likely were responsible for most of the deaths since then. For those who haven’t seen the numbers, that means something like 500,000 unnecessary deaths due to Republican lies.

But I’ll keep this short and focus on the current and ongoing lies that are screwing Republican voters. Republicans have somehow managed to not see the disconnect between calls for giving Trump credit for creating a life-saving vaccine in record time and the simultaneous claims that COVID is a “socialist hoax” that Bill Gates somehow created to inject tracking devices in unsuspecting Americans. Not only is that idiotic, it ignores the very obvious fact that nearly 600,000 Americans and over 3.1 MILLION people worldwide have died from COVID, and those numbers are almost certainly undercounting severely the actual COVID-induced deaths (not to mention non-lethal, long-term effects). More importantly, refusing the vaccine will kill more Republicans AND keep screwing the economy for everyone.

It’s really simple. To those who scream for “herd immunity,” there are two ways to achieve it.

  1. Naturally. Let people get the virus. The result. Years of economic turmoil and millions (MILLIONS) of dead Americans. None of whom have to die.
  2. Vaccine. By getting vaccinated we can quickly achieve herd immunity without people dying.

This isn’t hard.

Letting people naturally achieve herd immunity takes time and will kill millions of Americans.

Getting vaccinated achieves herd immunity quickly without unnecessary deaths.

There is a reason we don’t have polio and a dozen other deadly diseases. We get vaccinated.

Get vaccinated.

Getting vaccinated saves lives, including those of your family, friends, fellow church-goers, schoolmates, Aunt Bea, and Cousin Itt.

Not getting vaccinated guarantees more people will die. And some of those people will by your loved ones. Or you.

AND IT’S FREE!

Seriously. It doesn’t even cost you anything.

There are currently three vaccines approved in the United States. All three have gone through clinical trials to demonstrate their efficacy (i.e., that they work) and their safety. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require getting two shots several weeks apart. The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine uses a different process and only requires one shot. All have been shown to be effective and safe.

Getting vaccinated will enable all of us to resume more normal interactions. Getting vaccinated will enable the economy to more fully open. Getting vaccinated will save lives.

And it’s free.

Stop letting Republican lies kill Americans and screw the enonomy.

Get vaccinated.

David J. Kent is an avid traveler, scientist, and Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaTesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World as well as two specialty e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

A Quick Ramble

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Somehow it’s been three weeks since my last confession, I mean, post. These days I lose track of time a lot. In fact, I constantly have to check the calendar to see what day it is, and even, sometimes, what month. To be honest, my life has become rather a blur. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is still before the jury.

Yeah, I know. Everyone else is busy, so I should stop whining. I can’t even imagine what life would be like if I had a normal 9 to 5 job on top of everything else. I know my definition of swamped might not match up with others’ definition. But still. Well, you get it. A quick ramble of what I’ve been up to when I’m not writing for this blog.

I’m writing a book. The book I’ve been researching and writing in my mind for years is finally getting typed onto paper, or at least the computer screen. As of this morning I’ve finished Chapters 1 through 11 and a little way into 12, of what will be 14 chapters plus a still unwritten Introduction and Epilogue. And a few photos that I still need to dig up. The manuscript is due to the publisher by June 1st. My intention had been to finish the draft by May 1st to give me time to revise, rewrite, and reconsider why I took this project on, but I’m a bit behind.

There are four other books (or is it five) in various stages of writing. Which ones I finish, and in what order, remains to be seen. Once the book under contract (above) is finished, I’ll kick over into trying to finish one of the books in progress. Oh, and get the marketing campaign for (above) book off the ground for an expected February 2022 release.

And start researching the next book I want to write.

Somehow, I’m still reading. I had been reading 100+ books a year but cut that back to 75 in both 2019 and 2020 (both of which I exceeded). My goal for 2021 is to read only 50 books because, well, see “writing” above. So far I’m on track.

Combining the reading and writing is book reviews. I write two book reviews per quarter for the Lincoln Group of DC. I’ve written three book reviews for the Lincoln Herald. I occasionally write book reviews for other venues, although I’m holding back until the book (above) is finished. Yesterday I received a request to read a new Lincoln book, which they will send me, and write a review for the aforementioned Herald. Another publisher says they are sending me a book to review for The Lincolnian newsletter, although I haven’t received it yet.

I’m on the book award committee of the Abraham Lincoln Institute. Sometime by the summer I’ll start receiving books to read and evaluate for our annual award. Last year I received around 18 books; the previous year it was only a dozen, so I’m not sure how many I’ll receive this year.

As long as we’re talking about the Abraham Lincoln Institute (aka, ALI), I just became Treasurer for the organization, which also means becoming part of the Executive Committee that makes most of the decisions. Following the “trial by fire” method of acclimation, this happened literally the same week we started our annual symposium series (virtual again this year), which means I’ll immediately have to write checks out to eight separate speakers. Since it’s tax season, I also have to file nonprofit organization tax exemption forms. And pay the website vendor. And open a new account for a new scholarship fund we’re about to start. And figure out where to store the files in my house.

The storage thing is no small matter. My house already would not qualify for any of these “minimalist” magazine spreads, especially when it comes to books. Yesterday added to that in a big way. Two long-time members of the Lincoln Group of DC (aka, LGDC) are offloading their hoards of LGDC books and miscellany. One of them dropped by yesterday with a car full of books (which was fairly accurately described as “approximately 4′ x 4′ x 4′”), which I recall from my railsplitter days as half a cord. They are now in my garage. My car is relegated to the driveway. The other member is still cataloging their stash (plus some large portion of another 100 in their personal book collection to be donated to LGDC), so that will join the stack. Maybe I’ll have a full cord! The member yesterday said they had been storing books, which are continually augmented with new donations, for 20 years. No way these are clogging up my garage for 20 years; the goal is to get them sold off and/or donated to schools or wherever they can meet our educational goals rather than simply take up space. Which means I’ll have to figure out how to do that.

Okay, deep breath. We’re barely getting started.

ALI isn’t the only organization where I’m taking on executive duties. The same week I picked up the checkbook I find out that the current LGDC President is moving out of the area, which means I’ll be taking on the presidential duties a year before I expected. I’ve been the Vice President for Outreach and Education for a while and highly active in the group, so this will be on top of my normal duties. Part of those “normal” duties has been to develop a long-term outreach plan that we’ve only barely begun to solidify and implement. Next year is also the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Memorial, so we’ll be heavily involved in related activities. And now that will fall to me and the LGDC Board.

I’ve also been highly active providing content for the new LGDC website, Lincolnian.org. The site itself is still a work in progress. The outgoing president has indicated he wants to stay involved in the group in whatever way is possible from two time zones away; one way is to keep working with the web designer to get it fully functional, a problem exacerbated by the old provider. Our newsletter editor is now also the website editor-in-chief and there is a small (three-person) team of writers (jncluding me), which should help spread out the work.

Oh, then there is this Hot White Snow blog and the blog on my author website, http://www.davidjkent-writer.com.

Let’s see, anything else?

Oh right. Three LGDC members (yes, including myself), and organized by another LGDC member, are teaming up with the Illinois State Society for a panel on “why we honor Abraham Lincoln.” The panel is designed to inform the discussion on Chicago’s recent decision to evaluate the appropriateness of 41 historical statues, including 5 Lincoln statues. The two issues most often mentioned to question honoring Lincoln are treatment of Native Americans and the adequateness of emancipation. I’ll be handling the Native American question, which I’ve had to become conversant enough on to discuss, reminiscent of my consulting days where we became experts overnight, only to have to be expert on something totally different overnight the next week. In any case, the program will be recorded and made available to the Chicago Statue Commission, as well as relevant organizations and educational institutions.

We’re also in discussions to develop a four-part course on Lincoln for SCORE in the fall.

Okay, that’s enough. There’s more, but this has been a long enough ramble.

Plus I need to rush to the post office to ship copies of my previous Lincoln book I sold on eBay, then come back home to do the ALI tax forms and write checks, then work on Chapter 12, then….

Why does Emerson, Lake & Palmer and “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends” spring to mind?

Next….

David J. Kent is an avid traveler, scientist, and Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaTesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World as well as two specialty e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

To My Fellow White People re: Anti-Asian Violence

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I am white. Male. Raised Catholic. We must take responsibility for our actions.

Much of the news coverage over the last few days has been on the most recent Anti-Asian violence. A white male (and yes, it’s almost always a white male) murdered eight people in the Atlanta area. Most of the people killed were Asian women.

Although I grew up in a predominantly white town and worked in predominantly white businesses, some of those most dear to me are Asian, either as immigrants, as native born U.S. with Asian heritage, or as continued residents in their home Asian nations. I see their pain, even if I’m not the target of what causes their pain. In fact, I fit the demographic that is most likely to contribute to, rather than alleviate, that pain.

Some of my Asian friends (see note) have felt the discrimination directly, others less so. One friend’s parent still living overseas calls more frequently to “check up,” feeling more anxious for the safety of their Asian American child. Another friend lives in constant anxiety. They had taken their parents out of an assisted living arrangement soon after the COVID pandemic began, fearful that they might become exposed to the virus that has taken so many in that system. Those parents recently got vaccinated, but still fear going out in public because of the attacks on Asian Americans, especially the elderly. Another friend moved back to Asia because of the heightened bigotry in the U.S. Yet another friend is the child of an Asian mother and White American father on military assignment, literally abandoned on the streets in their native country, and, after being adopted into a loving family, faced years of bigotry here in America. Psychological strain is evident even when there is no physical attack.

A conservative-leaning (as opposed to “conservative”) friend, who also happens to be of Asian descent, correctly pointed out to me that Anti-Asian violence is not new, nor is it exclusively perpetrated by white people. That is true. There has been a history of Asian-African American conflict in the U.S. for a long time, with both sides guilty of bigotry. Some of it may be home-grown, but some of it is a reflection of historical European/American interactions with Asia (much of which has not been positive) and pressure to secure a place in the white-dominant caste system in the U.S.

That conservative friend also got it right when they pointed out that bigotry against Asians in this country has been common in our history. Chinese immigrants, for example, came to the U.S. in the mid-1800s seeking their fortunes in the gold rush. Some were conned, kidnapped, and/or forced into exploitive arrangements, then and continuing today under “modern” trafficking crimes. When gold riches didn’t pan out for them, as with many Americans moving westward, the Chinese labored for the railroad companies, again in a largely exploitative arrangement. Later the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Acts. In World War II there were the Japanese internment camps. More violence against Asians followed the U.S. involvement in the Korean and Vietnam “conflicts” as refuges made their way to the United States. Anti-Japanese violence occurred in the 1970s as American factory workers felt competition from “cheap Japanese radios.” Clearly this isn’t a new phenomenon. Even the mythology of the “model minority” is bigoted and exploitative.

As with so many mass murders, there is a tendency to dehumanize the victims when the murderer is a white male. The Georgia Sheriff updating reporters on the murders, when asked about the perpetrator, noted: “They got that impression that yes, he understood the gravity of it. He was pretty much fed up, and kind of at [the] end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” You would think that the eight people murdered also had a bad day. So did millions of other people who didn’t murder eight people, and he apparently intended to continue his bad day by driving to Florida to murder other people. The sheriff also noted the perpetrator indicated he was trying to remove “the temptation” of the women’s presence. Language is powerful. By writing off the heinousness of the act, and putting the onus on those who were killed for why the murderer killed them, the sheriff is dehumanizing the victims of that act.

Dehumanizing the victims is a standard fallback. White people who vote against their interests are said to be experiencing “economic uncertainty” even though their votes exacerbate that uncertainty. In reality, the system favors whites; it always has. Voting differently would actually better address any of their valid concerns. So what is being covered up by this phrase? The same as it always has been. In our national history we quickly found that diminishing leaders of Native American civilizations as “savages” while setting up a system to cheat them gave us rationalization for pushing them further and further, and farther and farther, into untenable positions. We dehumanized African Americans through slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, criminalization policy, and more. We dehumanize “Mexicans,” who are mostly Central American refugees seeking escape from chronically corrupt regimes, along with migrant workers. We dehumanize Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and any other “other” we identify, simply to “keep them in their place,” that is, not interfere with our white privilege. We’ve done it throughout our history, and we continue to do it today.

What is new is the specific reason for this current wave of Anti-Asian violence. While the numbers are a moving target, there have been statistics like “there has been a 150% increase” or “3000 violent attacks” over the last few months. Let’s not kid ourselves. This is entirely due to the racist, Anti-Asian rhetoric spewed by Donald Trump and the Republican party. There is a reason Trump intentionally and repeatedly referred to the coronavirus that causes COVID as the “Chinese Virus,” ignominiously using his infamous black Sharpie to emphasize the point. He, and his Republican co-conspirators, intentionally used bigotry as a weapon to ignite the flames of passion in their followers. Because for the Republican party, bigotry works.

This isn’t new. “Conservatives” (again, as opposed to conservatives) have used bigotry to keep white workers in line against the “others” throughout our history, knowing that it distracted poorer whites from focusing on the oligarchy that manipulates the economic system in their favor. “Conservatives,” i.e., plantation slaveowners, argued that free states were attacking their right to enslave others, playing it up to the white farmers left destitute by the slave system as “northern aggression.” “Conservatives” screamed “socialism” in the 1860s and 1870s during Reconstruction, using the exact arguments that are used by today’s “conservatives.” John C. Calhoun’s mantra lives on in today’s oligarchs. Every time “others” manage to get a little bit more of the Constitution to apply to all Americans, not just the wealthy white ones, “conservative” forces pushed back. When Reconstruction threatened to give equality to former slaves, “conservatives” created Jim Crow laws and the KKK, and erected statues as intimidation. When the Supreme Court deemed segregation in schools unconstitutional and the civil rights movement was gaining steam, “movement conservatives” fought back by naming schools after slaveowners and instituting redlining to block equality of opportunity for African Americans. As soon as it became clear that Barack Obama could become president, “conservative” oligarchs invented the backronym “TEA Party” to provide cover for racist attacks (birtherism, Anti-Muslim, etc.). In other words, they did what they have done over and over again through our history. Want to know why Fox News has spent so much time lying about Dr. Seuss, and Mr. Potato Head? Because it is a tried-and-true culture war distraction from reality to rile up the bigotries of “conservatives.” And it keeps working.

Which gets me back to the beginning. While everyone must do their part, there is an extra responsibility for us white people. We have controlled the government, the airwaves, the economics, the public sentiment for the entire history of our nation. Often we’ve exploited our minority partners in this great experiment in self-government we call democracy (yes, technically we’re a republic, let’s not get distracted here). Whether white males like it or not, we’re slowly becoming inclusive. There’s a reason for that. It’s because the ideal of our nation requires it. That ideal is what has attracted immigrants from around the world. It’s what we should all be striving for.

The bottom line is that this is a nation of immigrants. Like most white Americans, I take pride in my English, Irish, and Portuguese heritage. My Asian friends, LatinX friends, African American friends, friends of all stripes and identities, all take pride in their heritages as well. But like me and virtually all of us, they also take pride in being American. We want America to be worth striving for. In allegorical terms, Abraham Lincoln’s statement that “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free” applies to today. We are all freer when we ensure our Constitution applies to all Americans.

Lincoln also said: “We are not enemies, but friends.” He called for us to be “again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Those better angels require us to take responsibility for our history, and our present. To quote another historical figure, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We are the power to be the change we need to be, if only we are brave enough to be it.

[Note: I’m being intentionally vague here for both privacy and safety reasons. For any given friend, Asian can mean Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Southeast Asian, South Asian, and other Asians. Of course, violence isn’t restricted to that against Asians, and these views, and our responsibility, applies to all of us.]

[Photo credit from https://www.glamour.com/story/anti-asian-hate-crimes-are-on-the-rise-heres-what-you-can-do-about-it%5D

David J. Kent is an avid traveler, scientist, and Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaTesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World as well as two specialty e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

The United States of Ignorance

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A few days ago someone posted on social media a proposal to tutor immigrants studying to pass the citizenship test required to become American citizens. It struck me that most native-born Americans, who have lived here their entire lives, couldn’t pass the test to become citizens of their own country.

Depending on which study you look at, only between 36 to 40 percent of Americans can pass the test. Vermont was the only state that achieved more than a simple majority with passing grades, barely 53%. Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, and Virginia were among the small number of states that at least came close to 50%. Less surprising were the worst states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and worst of all, Louisiana. Almost three-quarters of Louisianans would fail a citizenship test.

For a year we’ve dealt with the coronavirus. We’ve also seen a huge increase in violence against Asian-Americans, almost exclusively because the Trump family, Republican representatives, and conservative media banged a steady drumbeat of anti-Asian bigotry. COVID was both a “Democrat Party” hoax and a deadly disease purposely released upon us by the Chinese. This fervent belief in two opposing, and mutually exclusive, concepts is standard for the Republican propaganda machine.

Of course, not all anti-Asian violence is attributable to right wing bigotry. But there is a certain irony to the fact that a nation in which anti-immigrant bigotry is close to mainstreamed would not be able to pass the citizenship test that immigrants do pass when they become citizens. The ignorance of basic civics – how our government is structured and works – is now within the halls of government itself. As rioters attacked the Capitol and threatened the life of his own Vice President, Trump tried several times to get newly-elected Republican Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville to violate his oath of office. Tuberville, a college football coach with no political experience but, like Trump, plenty of accusations of fraud in business dealings, demonstrated he couldn’t name the three branches of the federal government when asked by reporters. Two newly elected Republican Representatives also demonstrated they didn’t know enough basic civics to do the jobs they were just elected to do. They aren’t the only ones. Indeed, the call is coming from inside the House.

Why don’t Americans know the most fundamental structure of our government, which immigrants working hard to learn a second (or third or fourth) language need to know?

The obvious answer is that we have a poor education system. That’s probably too pat an answer, and clearly some people have access to top-notch education while others don’t. The states with the worst scores on the citizenship test are, not surprisingly, those that also are near (or at) the bottom of measures of academic access, literacy, poverty, income, and health care. Again not surprisingly, they are usually red states.

But blue states can’t pass the test either. While my home state and my adopted state both score high in lists of “best states for education,” neither state could muster a majority of its citizens passing the test of citizenship. So it isn’t just education. Perhaps it’s that we no longer teach something that should be basic knowledge? I mean, there are three branches of the federal government. We have the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There is the Bill of Rights. We have 27 amendments (despite Members of Congress seeming to think that the Constitution has never been touched). It’s not like the test asks you to list the amendments in order, or name off the top of your head what the 3rd or 21st amendments do.

The test is multiple choice, people.

Sometime in my long-ago childhood I’m pretty sure I took something called “civics” or “government” or a more creatively named class. Or maybe it was just part of a basic “social studies” course. It was one semester at most, but most likely a single class or a week or two. There really isn’t that much to it. Do they not do teach even that bit any more?

Every high school graduate should have to take the standard U.S. Citizenship test before they can get their diploma. Once you learn it, you learn it. Sure, maybe you can brush up on some of the more obscure questions, like “Name one responsibility only for U.S. Citizens.” [Remember, this is a multiple choice test, so you can guess from the choices provided, one of which is guaranteed to be right] But other than an occasional practice test to jog the memory, this isn’t stuff that changes with time. The last amendment was ratified in 1992. The one before that was 1971. They don’t even ask you what they do, just how many there are. Seriously, this isn’t a “gotcha” kind of test. It’s basic. There is no “but that wasn’t in the book.” They literally give you the questions and answers beforehand to memorize.

Unless you can pass the citizenship test for your own country, you forfeit your right to complain about people from other countries who want to be citizens – and DO pass the test.

Anti-immigrant bigotry in a land of immigrants isn’t the only problem. We saw this culminate on January 6th. Americans are so grossly ignorant of their own country that they could be led by their Viking horns and MAGA hats to attack the Capitol, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, all Members of Congress in both House and Senate in an effort to “stop the steal” of an election they were tricked into, or willingly wanted to, stealing themselves.

Ignorance by the public is dangerous. Ignorance, or intentional dishonesty, by sitting Members of Congress is Anti-American.

[Image Credit: Cartoon by Scott Adams. And yes, I see the irony of using a Scott Adams cartoon in a post on ignorance.]

David J. Kent is an avid traveler, scientist, and Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaTesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World as well as two specialty e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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