Friday, August 12, 2022

A Liberal Dose, August 11, 2022 "Why I Am Not a Christian Nationalist"

 


A Liberal Dose

August 11, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“Why I am not a Christian Nationalist”

 

I’m going to start off this week by making a statement that would not have seemed the least bit controversial a few years ago, and in fact would have been considered self-evident (“duh,” as we used to say when I was a kid): Words matter, context matters, and history matters.

Now, though… a lot of people tend to disagree with those thoughts. Definitions of words, meanings behind phrases, actual historic events, and even the most basic scientific facts are routinely tossed aside if they conflict with what certain people “feel” is true. This makes it hard to reason with such folks (which is, I suspect, the point).

I’ve been trying for years to help people understand the real meaning of words like nationalism and fascism, and still meet resistance. And now a lot of people are proudly proclaiming themselves to be Christian Nationalists… without knowing what that actually means. “Well,” some folks seem to reason, “I’m Christian, and I’m proud to be a Christian… I’m American, and I’m proud to be an American… so I guess I’m a Christian Nationalist. And if you tell me Christian Nationalism is a bad thing, you must be saying I should be ashamed to be a Christian and an American.”

Let me tell you a couple of things about myself. First: I love my little hometown of Sparta, and am proud to be from here. I love Tennessee, and I love the United States of America. I am proud of what this country can be when it’s at its best, and of what it was meant to be and could be and should be. This is why I am willing to work hard to do my part to make it closer to that ideal. I get teary-eyed when I talk about what America is supposed to be, and of how we need to all make sure it is that. I am a patriot. But I am not a nationalist.

I have studied a lot about various religions and spiritual approaches -I respect them, and find things to learn from them. I will take a firm and unyielding stand on behalf of anyone in this country believing and worshipping in whatever way they choose. That said, I am a Christian. When I was the age my students are now, I was doing mission work in South Florida and in New York City, working with Haitian immigrants and serving in French-speaking congregations. Both places were very dangerous in the 1980s. I walked in on drug deals in Florida, I was working in Brooklyn neighborhoods torn by racial strife, crime, and riots. My life was (very credibly) threatened on many occasions, but I believed I was helping people and doing God’s work. For the last eleven years (since my return to Sparta) my family has attended the Sparta First United Methodist Church- come visit us, or listen to our service on the local radio station Sundays at 11. Point is: I am patriotic, and serious about it, and I am a Christian, and serious about that. But I am not a Christian Nationalist. 

Christian Nationalism is the belief that America is and was meant to be a Christian country, with other religions tolerated at best (and maybe not even that), as long as they understand their subordinate position. It is the belief that America is, in fact, God’s chosen country -and allowing other religions equal standing is therefore betraying God (and weakening the country). It is the belief America should be a theocracy, with the government enforcing that.

That is not democracy, it is not freedom, and it is not Christian. Such thinking is, in fact, condemned by most mainstream churches. It is, though, authoritarian hyper-nationalism. That is also, by the way, the definition of fascism.

It is also not historically accurate. Which is why its ardent supporters would rather you not learn actual history.

More to come.

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.


You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE  

Thursday, August 4, 2022

A Liberal Dose, August 4, 2022 "Leave Teachers Alone and Let Them Do Their Jobs"

 


A Liberal Dose

August 4, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“Leave teachers alone and let them do their jobs”

 

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about public education -in the U.S. overall, and Tennessee in particular. I addressed the fact people have, for the last several years, been feeling free to treat teachers like garbage, to control their every move while taking away more and more of what they need to do their jobs, and generally using them as a political punching bag -as evidenced by the Hillsdale College guy’s incredibly insulting comments, and the fact our governor Bill Lee sat quietly by while they were made and still has not said one word to condemn them.

Last week I talked about the Founding Fathers’ support of public education -supported by taxes, NOT by charitable individuals, so that everyone has a stake in educating our children. I pointed out that public schools were well established in the North in the early 1800s, but did not appear in the South until more than half-a-century later… and, ever since, the South has had a dismal record of investing in education. Or in education for everyone, anyhow.

Today, if you look at the numbers (money spent per student) in all 50 states plus DC, the bottom ten are all “red” states. Tennessee is #49 of #51. That is about where we have always been. And yet our government blames everything on the teachers.

The Hillsdale fiasco MAY prevent Governor Lee from fulfilling his dream of tax-supported charter schools, not answerable to state and federal education laws, sucking all the funds out of our public schools and punishing working class families… but that doesn’t change the fact our state legislature has already passed laws designed to prevent public school teachers from talking about uncomfortable “divisive concepts” like slavery, racism, the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, and so forth. Well, technically, you can talk about them -you just can’t explain what they were, why they happened, or what the results were. Or say anything about anything that might make a student feel uncomfortable. The state legislature has even tried to extend that classroom control into our public universities, and would have you believe they succeeded -but it was only a partial victory. The recently passed “divisive concepts” bill is going to have a huge impact on what college administrations can do so far as promoting diversity or training non-teaching staff, but doesn’t reach as far as they wanted (or claimed).

The original bill had a long list of things professors were not allowed to talk about, and requirements for them to be written up on a first offense and fired on a second if they did so. When it seemed this was almost surely going to pass, I looked into what was being done in other states and started making plans. I lined up support from multiple education and civil rights organizations around the state, and from professors all across Tennessee, to coordinate with the ACLU and sue the state the minute that law passed. It didn’t come to that, because literally a day or two before the final vote some of the university lawyers were finally able to explain to the legislature that the courts guarantee academic freedom in higher education, that governments are not allowed to tell professors what topics they can discuss or how they do it when it is within that professor’s area of expertise and relevant to the class subject matter, and that they would successfully be sued if they tried (which is what is happening in other states). Right before the bill passed, all the language about restricting classroom activity and discussion was dropped from it. They are still counting, though, on college teachers being too scared to broach those topics now.

Well, I’m not scared to do my job, and neither is any other teacher in White County or Tennessee that I know, liberal or conservative.

Why are politicians so scared to LET us?

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.



You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE  

Saturday, July 30, 2022

A Liberal Dose, July 28, 2022 "A Very Brief History of Public Education in America"

 


A Liberal Dose

July 28, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“A very brief history of public education in America”

 

This week I want to talk a little more about public education in general, and give you some historical context. Let’s say “American history”, in the sense of the U.S., started in the early 1600s with the establishment of English colonies in Jamestown, Virginia (1607) and Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620). Looking at it that way, for the entire first half of American history there was little to no public education at all. If you wanted your child educated, you had three options: teach them yourself (which means you had to be able to do that), hire a tutor, or pay to send them to a private school. If you were poor, or even poor-ish, you lacked the resources for the latter two options, and it is entirely possible that no one in your family history had ever had the resources to equip them to get an education and “pass it down.” In colonial America, and for the first half-century of the republic, only upper middle-class and wealthy people had a good education. A large number of poor people were illiterate; a surprising number, though, had what we would today call a third-or-fourth grade education -but very few went beyond that, unless (like Alexander Hamilton) there were wealthy people in their community who saw their potential and helped pay for their education. The result was predictable: only wealthy people had good educations, and only wealthy people ran the country, from the local to the national level. Of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, more than 50% had a college education; in America overall, only 0.1% of citizens had one.

That situation meant that working class people were a lot easier to fool, and a lot easier to control.

Many of the Founding Fathers wanted things to be different. John Adams said: “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

From Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” He said to “educate and inform the whole mass of the people,” for “They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” How? By establishing elementary schools, and taking from those schools students “of the most promising genius, whose parents are too poor to give them further education, to be carried at public expense through the college and university.” He called such poor students a “mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country.”

I could never have afforded an education on my own. Without public K-12 schools, a public state university, and government grants and loans, I would still be mopping floors instead of being a university professor.

The first local public schools were established in Boston in the 1600s. The first state-supported public schools were established in Massachusetts in 1820, and made mandatory by 1852. Other northern states followed suit.

Know when the first public schools opened in the South? After the Civil War, during Reconstruction. The South has a long, shameful history of reluctance to invest in education for EVERYONE. A cynic might think that politicians and elites in the Southern past wanted to keep voters from becoming too sophisticated, to make them easier to control. Maybe I should have said “a realist.”

There was an antebellum exception: “The Five Civilized Tribes” of the South. Tribal governments paid the tuition of all children, and paid for the smartest ones to go to college. This is why Cherokees in the 1830s had a higher literacy rate than their white Southern neighbors. This is NOT the same, by the way, as the system in place in the U.S. from the late 1800s to just a few short decades ago, when the U.S. government forced Native children into residential schools where an attempt was made to hammer their culture out of them- that is a story for a different day, probably soon.

But what does all this mean for today? Stay tuned.

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

 

You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE  

 

 


Thursday, July 21, 2022

A Liberal Dose, July 21, 2022 "Stop Treating Our Teachers Like Dirt"

 


A Liberal Dose

July 21, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“Stop Treating Our Teachers Like Dirt”

 

I’m going to take a break from chronicling the Trump investigation saga, at least until the next shoe drops. Instead, this week, let’s talk about teachers.

Throughout the 20th century, teachers were among the most admired and respected figures in America. These were people who made real sacrifices (most of them could make more money doing something else) out of a sense of principle: on the micro level, inspiring and nurturing individual children to achieve and have a firm basis to go out into the world, and on the macro level, helping produce good, knowledgeable, capable citizens to help our republic run more smoothly.

My 1st (and 3rd) grade teacher, Mrs. Geneva Cotten, passed away this week in her 90s. Until the end, she clipped out every newspaper article I was mentioned in and mailed it to me, saying how proud she was. Almost 50 years later. I learned she did that for many of her former students.

I would never in my wildest dreams have thought I’d see the day teachers were maligned, cursed, insulted, and mistreated the way they have been the last 10 or 15 years. It makes me sick.

I’m sure you’ve heard about Governor Lee’s love affair with Hillsdale schools in Michigan. He wants their private college to be the template for our state universities, and to start 50 K12 charter schools in Tennessee through their company that would be privately run, and therefore not subject to most laws and regulations that apply to public schools, and yet be taxpayer funded. And I’m sure you heard how he appeared on a stage with that company’s founder as he said that you don’t need to be smart or have a particular type of education to teach, that anyone can do it, and that public teachers are “trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges.” That they want nothing but to indoctrinate your children.

And Bill Lee did not say one word -then or since -to defend Tennessee’s public teachers or to condemn that guy’s insults. He has just doubled down -because he wants his privatized education, and he wants it publicly paid for. I hope you all realize that, if that happens, it will be taking money out of our public schools and giving them even less to work with than they have now, which is below the bare minimum. And all because of some conservatives’ paranoia about public education and how the liberals are coming to get your kids. This is why our own state legislature has passed laws mandating what public teachers are allowed to talk about, and how they’re allowed to talk about it. I feel obligated to point out that very few of our legislators are trained in the field of education, and many barely have one themselves.

If the public teachers at White County High School are trying to indoctrinate your kids into leftist guerrillas, they’re doing a darn poor job of it. The fact is, of course, they are doing no such thing; they are trying to educate them by teaching basic reality instead of some politicized version of it. Which is what your kids would get at Governor Lee’s charter schools.

I can’t even begin to list the White County public school teachers who had a profound effect on my life, for fear I’d leave someone out because there are so many. And I can’t begin to list how many colleagues I have in the TTU college of education, who train teachers, that are tirelessly dedicated to producing the finest educators possible.

Do you know what would improve education? If you politicians left teachers alone and let them do their jobs. Stop trying to tell them how to do it, because you don’t know. Stop taking away their funding. Stop blaming them for all your imaginary problems.

Our teachers are heroes. And we will remember them longer, and much more fondly, than we do you.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

.

You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE  


Thursday, July 14, 2022

A Liberal Dose, July 14, 2022 "A Republic, If We Can Keep It: Democracy in the Balance"

 


A Liberal Dose

July 14, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“A Republic, If We Can Keep It: Democracy in the Balance”

 

Last week I gave my opinion that Trump will probably not be indicted for any crimes because the Justice Department and the Democratic Party would judge such an action to be too dangerous, as it would without a doubt unleash an even greater surge of violence from his most zealous supporters. I hope I am wrong, because that is not the outcome I hope for, just the one I realistically expect.

I hope I am wrong because it is never a good idea to knuckle under to bullies. When there are no consequences for bullies, they are emboldened to be even worse. Trying to keep them mollified to keep the peace is a recipe for disaster. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

And make no mistake, with the mountain of evidence we have, failure to act would be a sacrifice of liberty. No one individual is above the law. As Thomas Paine put it, in England the king is law but in America the law will be king. Donald Trump is the very essence of the tyrant the framers of the Constitution wanted to avoid. As Alexander Hamilton wrote to George Washington in 1792:

“When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits — despotic in his ordinary demeanour — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day — It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’ … No popular government was ever without its Catilines and its Caesars. These are its true enemies.”

When Franklin was asked by a woman in the crowd as he left the Constitutional Convention what kind of government had been decided on, he told her a republic- IF WE CAN KEEP IT.

There’s a reason I keep quoting that generation. They knew that democracy was not guaranteed, and that it could fall.

If we allow a lifelong crook and con artist, in the capacity of president, to corrupt justice repeatedly, try to undermine the will of the people expressed in a legitimate election, abuse his power, collude with racist terrorists to incite an insurrection to overthrow that election, attack the halls of the Capitol and literally try to get his vice-president killed for not playing along 100%... and, further, leave it open for him to run again and to do it all over, probably with more success… if we allow all that and make no effort to bring him to justice, we are betraying everything our forefathers held dear and the hopes and safety of our descendants. We are gravely endangering the future of our democracy and our republic.

The framers did not account for political parties, and never dreamed that one day there would be a party willing to kowtow to a demagogue and throw away democracy just so they could stay in power. It is heartening to see that most of the people who have testified against Trump have been Republicans who drew a line -but they should have drawn it a lot sooner, and so should have we all. At the very least, we all need to draw it now.

Liz Cheney said “Republicans cannot be both loyal to Donald Trump and loyal to the Constitution.” None of us can put loyalty to our own desired policy outcomes, or to one person, above our loyalty to everything this nation was founded on.

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

 

 

You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE   

Thursday, July 7, 2022

A Liberal Dose, July 7, 2022 "What Will Be the Legacy of Donald Trump?"

 


A Liberal Dose

July 7, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“What Will Be the Legacy of Donald Trump?”

 

On January 6, 2021, a frenzied crowd of Trump supporters wanted to kill Mike Pence and various Democratic legislators. Donald Trump not only wanted to let them, he stirred them up to do it and wanted desperately to be there to see it happen. We now know he threw a fit when the secret service wouldn’t let him. Why? A desperate attempt to circumvent the will of the voters and stay in power.

I oppose the politics of people like Mike Pence, Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, and others. I think their goals are not what is best for most Americans. But despite all my disagreements with them, they and several Republicans in the Trump administration have been willing to draw a line, to sacrifice their careers and in some cases risk their lives to defend the Constitution and the democratic process. If not for Republicans like them, January 6 would have been much worse. It could have been a bloodbath had it gone the way Trump wanted, and could have dealt a mortal blow to democracy. Those folks have put their country ahead of their party and of one individual who demanded loyalty to himself instead of to America.

And yet.

30% of the citizens of this country apparently swear their allegiance to Trump, still. They weave ridiculous conspiracy theories about alleged crimes by Clinton, Obama, and Biden, while this man’s actual, undeniable crimes stare them in the face. A man, by the way, who has been known all his life as a crook and a con man. They will say this is all a witch hunt, just like the Russia investigation and two impeachments, all of which vindicated their idol.

Except they didn’t. The conclusion of the first investigation was that there is no evidence Trump’s people colluded with Russia in Russia’s very real attempt to cheat in the 2016 election in his favor. There are indications they wanted to, but were too incompetent to do so, which in some cases has been all that has saved us from even worse damage by Trump. Donald Trump is like if they made a movie about Mussolini but cast Benny Hill in the title role. The investigation DID point to several instances of obstruction of justice, but Muller believed the Justice Department was not able to indict a sitting president and only impeachment was viable. That is not vindication. Those two impeachments were a joke in a way, but only because of the obstructionism of Republicans in Congress who tried to keep the truth from being told and refused to vote with the evidence.

Why? For some it was a desire to keep using Trump to further their political agenda. For most, it was a fear of their own voters, who loved Trump no matter what he did. Fear of losing their votes, yes, but by the second impeachment fear of being objects of their violence.

I believe the attorney general will not charge Trump with crimes, and Democratic politicians will not push for it, out of fear of the violence it would unleash.

That is the legacy of Donald Trump. Thuggery and hatred of actual democracy.

All those people in Trump’s administration who finally drew a line? They knew who he was when they agreed to work for him. Everyone who voted for him knew who he was, they just chose to pretend they didn’t -either to get the things they wanted politically, or because they already felt the anger inside at the changes taking place in society and wanted someone who would do something about it. They knew what he would do, he told them from Day One.

I wish my friends and relatives that I love would be able to stand back and let the truth sink in. At the very least, I wish that trying to violently overthrow democracy would be enough to get them to.

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.


You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE   

Friday, July 1, 2022

A Liberal Dose, June 30, 2022 "This Insurrection Was Carefully Planned, and Cold-Blooded"



A Liberal Dose

June 30, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“This Insurrection Was Carefully Planned, and Cold-Blooded”

 

Today I am going to wrap up the facts we know so far due to the committee investigating the insurrection.

Trump was told repeatedly by top DOJ officials that the conspiracy theories he and allies such as Rudy Giuliani were broadcasting constantly had no basis in fact. Each one was investigated and found to be, according to Attorney General Bill Barr, bull (or a word to that effect). There was no evidence of massive fraud in the election, and Trump lost fair and square. Unsurprisingly, Trump’s efforts to claim election fraud were thrown out by over 60 judges, and neither he, Giuliani, the academic John Eastman, or for that matter the pillow guy ever produced the evidence they claimed to have.

Eastman persuaded Trump (inaccurately) he could stay in office if VP Pence, as president of the Senate, threw out the electors from states Trump claimed were fraudulent and simply declared Trump the winner during the official vote count. Barring that, Pence could throw out the official electors and throw it back to those states, where Trump supporters had drawn up fake electors. Turns out Eastman didn’t think that ploy in itself would work; the goal was to disrupt the vote count so it did not take place by midnight as the constitution required.  Pence unequivocally refused, and Trump knew he refused.

Therefore, Trump tried to pressure Pence into changing his mind by stirring up the protesters outside the Capitol that day. However, we now know that the resulting mayhem was NOT spontaneous, as viewers at home assumed. It had been carefully planned. Members of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys had coordinated their activities the previous day, and showed up at the Capitol police line at 10:30 a.m. -90 minutes before Trump’s speech even started -and began the havoc. That way, when the larger mob -many of whom probably WERE spontaneously stirred up by Trump -arrived, the attack was already underway. The two groups led the way in a carefully directed assault, and over 2,000 swarmed inside.

Trump was informed of the violence and was begged to say something to calm down his followers. Instead, he tweeted that Pence did not have the courage to do the right thing. Immediately, cries were heard from among the mob that Pence had caved and was a traitor. The attacking mob began chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” and quickly built a gallows outside the Capitol. When Trump was informed the crowd was threatening to kill Pence, Trump said, “Maybe he deserves it.” Proud Boys who were arrested said that they would have killed Pence or Nancy Pelosi if they had found them.

For hours, Trump ignored pleas to mobilize the national guard to suppress the assault and rescue the people in the Capitol building. Instead, he watched the riot on TV at the White House and cheered the crowd on. Six people died as a result of the assault -and insurrectionists came within 40 feet of finding Pence. The committee has implied there may be evidence Trump’s campaign was in communication with the Proud Boys leading up to the fateful day -which makes the whole thing a conspiracy. Not a conspiracy THEORY -an actual conspiracy to commit sedition, which the Proud Boys are charged with.

The Oath Keepers / Proud Boys had a small armory stashed in a nearby motel room. Why did they not bring it? Because the weapons were to be used in the event Trump declared martial law as a result of the riot… or the murder of the VP or other leaders. [we’ve learned since I wrote this that many of them were armed, and that Trump insisted the metal detectors be turned off] This would be an excuse to stay in power. The implication is that Trump may have INTENDED Pence and others to be killed, and held back on sending help for that reason. At the very least, the votes would not be counted and the election result would not be official.

This is looking bad, folks.

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.


You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE