Books

George Washington Tag

Juneteenth--also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Emancipation Day--is now a formal holiday nationwide, celebrating the emancipation of people formally enslaved in the United States. It's been a long time comin'.

In the last four years, partisan politics have reached a new low in our nation. Everyone deplores this, but the American people made their preference clear in the last presidential election, with a landslide vote for Biden and the Democrats, against Trump and his party (whatever that is, the Republican Party or some nightmare of a Trumpist party). Agonies in the Republican Party become more evident every day. Is it time for a new party? A third major party? The revamping of the GOP? For that matter, united as they seem to be, Democrats also have internal fault lines—progressive versus conservative—within their fold. Since the 1850s, the Democratic Party—center left and liberal—and the Republican Party—center right and conservative—have formed our two-party system, with variations. (Third parties do operate in the United States and sometimes elect candidates to local offices, but have not made inroads per se nationally. The largest third party since...

Let me note at the outset that if any readers are devoutly religious, please understand that no individual offense is felt or intended by my following remarks. I respect your spirituality, if not always your belief system. But I do feel strongly that the United States was founded as a secular country and must remain so.

Laid low last week by an acute case of food poisoning, I swam in and out of cognitive ratiocination in a fog of rolling nausea. But I had some insights on race, precipitated probably by news of the reliably unchangeable British family–which of late is happily more changeable. These insights, such as they were, are on whiteness—and on families. But the American version, with two major characters. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), draftsman of the Declaration of Independence, the nation’s first secretary of state (1789–94), second vice president (1797–1801) and, as the third president (1801–09), the statesman responsible for the Louisiana Purchase. An early advocate of total separation of church and state, he also was founder and architect of the University of Virginia and the most eloquent proponent of individual freedom as the meaning of the American Revolution. Sallie Hemings (1773-1835) came to Jefferson's Virginia estate, Monticello, as an enslaved infant, part of...

The greatest deliberative body in the world. That's how the United States Senate has been described, a group portrait that's an exercise in aspirational hyperbole, to my mind.

The census?! Who cares? Boring! Well, if you think you know all about the census, you haven’t been paying attention. Enshrining this particular political tool in our Constitution marked a turning point in world history. Previously, censuses had been used to tax, confiscate property, or conscript male youth into military service. The visionary genius of our Founders lay in making this tool of government into a tool of political empowerment for the governed over their government. The plan was to count every person living in the newly created United States of America, and to use that count to determine representation in the Congress. Right now, it’s being manipulated to do just the opposite. But unlike the Postal Service, another fundamental American institution under siege, it isn’t garnering public support, although this is the first time the census has been conducted since the rise of social media, and the first time...

For the first time, a spacecraft has sent back pictures of the sky from so far away that some stars appear to be in different positions than we would see them from Earth. More than 4 billion miles from home and speeding toward interstellar space, NASA's New Horizons has traveled so far that it now has a unique view of the nearest stars, but it looks like an alien sky. The difference is due to parallax, the same effect you see if you hold up a finger and close one eye, then the other. It’s a shift in perspective, caused by New Horizons’ great distance from Earth. I love the concept of parallax. My latest novel is named for it. A shift in perspective changes . . . everything. But once you've dared experience it you might mourn the time you lost believing your previous perspective was the only one....

I became so incandescent yet inarticulate with rage on hearing Trump say flat-out, whether from arrogance or ignorance or both, that of course he would accept foreign interference in U.S. elections if that would permit him to retain power, that rather than stammer any comment in tongue-tied fury I thought it preferable to rely on my betters. Here are two startlingly applicable examples of my betters holding forth with their highly relevant views. The first is George Washington. The Framers were particularly and justifiably worried about foreign intervention into the fledgling nation, so that was not only the subject of the now-famous-because-so-violated-by-Trump Emoluments Clause in the Constitution but it also took up a substantial proportion of Washington’s great Farewell Address. Here is a small excerpt: As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, . . . attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do...