Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Trump and Andrew Jackson

Trump’s Republican worshipers are hostile toward immigrants—though they claim not to be; they welcome even Muslims, so long as they are from countries in which Trump has business investments. But Trump is himself a pure-white descendant of people who immigrated from Europe within the last two centuries. He is of pure immigrant ethnicity.

And then there are the Native Americans. I can just hear full-blood or mostly full-blood Native Americans telling Trump, “Get out of our land and go back home.”

White Americans have always considered themselves the true owners of North America. And none was more convinced of this than President Andrew Jackson. It was his direct action that took all of the tribal lands from the Cherokees, even though the Supreme Court ruled that he could not legally do so. He did it anyway. And he ordered the Army to force the Cherokees to move. General Winfield Scott obeyed Jackson’s orders, and rounded up the Cherokees by force and put them in a stockade, trapped with wastes and disease and malnourishment. Then he forced them to travel, many of them on foot, through the fierce winter of 1839 to what is now Oklahoma. That is how my great-great-great grandmother Elizabeth Hilderbrand Pettit (later Armstrong) and her little girl Minerva, my great-great grandmother, came to Oklahoma. General Scott hated to do this, and kept apologizing to the Cherokees, and they understood that he was simply following orders. I’m not sure that makes it right, but I do not hate General Scott. I do, however, hate Andrew Jackson, who broke the law in order to grab all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi.

Might Trump do anything like this? Might he believe that Native Americans, while not immigrants, are lesser citizens than whites? (Many Native tribes did not receive American citizenship until 1926, sixty years after black people did.) Might he decide to expropriate tribal lands today? Maybe the Supreme Court would stop him? It didn’t stop Jackson.

But, of course, Trump is not the same as Jackson. Or is he? In January, Trump ordered a portrait of Andrew Jackson to be hung in the Oval Office. Okay, okay, Trump, we get the message. I guess us Cherokees had better get ready to move…where? There’s no place left, unless France will take us. Okay, Chief Baker, start learning French, so you can ask the French government, “Est-ce que nous pourrions nous démenager en France?”

And I decided to let Trump know about this. Of course, nobody will ever read this message that I submitted to the White House website but here it is anyway.

“I am a member of the Cherokee tribe. Don’t scoff at me because I am not as white as you are. My tribal tradition reveres the Earth rather than treating it as a conquered mass of resources. And we Cherokees are a conquered nation. Even though the Supreme Court of the United States sided with us, President Andrew Jackson illegally captured our tribe and sent it on the Trail of Tears. Ever heard of this? Andrew Jackson defied the Constitution. But you chose his portrait to hang in the Oval Office. I assume you will be doing more of the same, taking control of our tribal lands today and giving them to your friends? How proud you must be of the genocide of Native American tribes, only one of which was my Cherokee tribe at the hands of your hero, Andrew Jackson.”

Just this past week, at a ceremony intended to honor the last surviving Navaho code-talkers from World War Two (they communicated in Navaho, which was more incomprehensible to our enemies than any code could be), Trump had to put in a little joke about Pocahontas. While he may not have intended offense, he obviously did not try to avoid giving offense. In the photo, you will see the portrait of Andrew Jackson just behind the honorees. What an ironic photo!

Trump celebrates an historical figure who is a hero only to white Americans.

Monday, November 20, 2017

And Now for Some Fake News, Part Two.

I also wrote this one on September 14, 2016.

Prominent Scholar Endorses Trump

Dr. Nikolai Smerdyakov, director of the Karamazov Institute of Scholarly Studies in Prague (a town in central Oklahoma), and one of the most famous scholars of scholarship, today endorsed Donald Trump for President.

“Never in my lifetime,” said Dr. Smerdyakov (who has a Ph.D. from Trump University), “has a presidential campaign been so focused on the factual assessment of important issues. And it is Donald Trump who has kept attention focused on these issues. In all previous campaigns, candidates have talked endlessly about things such as the economy, the environment, race relations, and international relations, which are clearly irrelevant to American national interests in any possible future scenario.

“Instead,” continued Smerdyakov, “Trump has kept America focused on the most important issue: building a wall all along the entire Mexican border. We already have a gigantic fence along the Mexican border, and it has not been very effective. To build a truly effective wall is a challenge for a new generation of engineers: to build a wall so tall and so sturdy, and with an abuttment so deep, that no human being could ever cross it. Not even sending a man to the moon entailed such a design challenge. You want investment in science and technology? Well, here it is!

“The main way that the wall will stop the flow of Mexicans into America,” continued Smerdyakov, “is to make them not want to come. We need another recession and we need it now. If nobody can hire them, then they won’t come. That’s what happened in 2008. No new houses or apartments being built, no jobs for Mexican roofers. Houses abandoned? No lawns to mow. And if spending a trillion American dollars on the wall, or spending a trillion dollars to force Mexico to pay for it, won’t bring on a recession, what will?

“The major result of Trump’s policies,” continued Smerdyakov, “Will be a massive brain drain from America into other countries of the world, so we need the wall to keep Americans in as well as to keep Mexicans out.” When reporters pointed out that most brainy Americans would flee to Canada, Smerdyakov admitted, “Then we will have to build a wall along the Canadian border too. I hadn’t thought of that.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already invited Americans to come to Canada if Trump is elected.

“An added benefit of the wall,” concluded Smerdyakov, quickly recovering, “is that it would block the wind and put all those environmentalist wind generators out of commission. It would also make birds and monarch butterflies take alternative migration routes. But in my scholarly opinion, a good conservative America doesn’t need liberal birds and butterflies crossing our sacred territory.

“And the list goes on,” Smerdyakov continued. “The Apollo program gave us artificial orange juice with artificial pulp. The Mexican Wall program will undoubtedly be able to give us artificial tamales with artificial meat. The market for that will be huge!”

When asked to comment on how America could build the Mexican wall if the scientists and engineers flee to Canada, Europe, and Mexico, Smerdyakov declined to comment.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

And Now for Some Fake News, part one.

Well, now that last year’s campaign is over, there is nothing left to do but to laugh about it, I guess. Here is some of the campaign news you might have missed last year. I wrote this on September 14, 2016.

Candidate Clinton Releases Her Genome

Today presidential candidate Donald Trump demanded that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton release her genome to the public. Much to everyone’s surprise, Clinton agreed.

It turns out that Clinton’s genome is totally unlike any other of the thousands of human genomes that have ever been sequenced—in fact, totally different from the genome of any other species that has been studied on Planet Earth. “You and I have a closer similarity in DNA sequence to bacteria than Clinton has to you or me,” a visibly shaken Dr. Francis Collins admitted. Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, was one of the pioneers of the Human Genome Project. [Editorial note: at the beginning of the Trump Administration, Collins resigned and was replaced by the president of the Smoker’s Association of America.]

The only conclusion that can be reached, according to Collins, is that Secretary Clinton came from another planet. Said Collins, “It appears that Clinton’s genes come from some species of human-like creature that is nicer and more reasonable than any member of the species Homo sapiens.”

When asked about some of the specific differences between the Clinton and human genomes, Collins said, “Human DNA is built from adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. But Clinton’s genes are encoded in glucose and menthol.” When asked to describe glucose and menthol in layman’s terms, Collins said, “Sugar and spice.”

When asked why it was that Clinton sometimes shows human frailties, Collins speculated that Clinton must be faking it. “She is just pretending to have frailties in order to make people think she is one of us.”

When Candidate Trump was asked if he would release his genome, Trump responded, “Over my dead tax returns and medical records.” Then he grinned devilishly, started huffing and puffing, and laid an egg that was pure silicon, just like the eggs of the Horta on Star Trek.

When asked for comment, President Barack Obama said that the entire thing had been seriously overblown. “How silicon you get?” he asked during an interview.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Novel as Experiment in Whitehead's Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was one of the most famous novels of 2016. In this novel, a young slave Cora escapes from Georgia on the Underground Railroad, and eventually...does she make it? I won’t spoil the ending. But in this novel the Railroad is really a railroad, with railroad cars on tracks running through tunnels.

One impression is inescapable, and intentional. The amount of deliberate suffering inflicted by slave owners and slave hunters on the slaves, and even on other whites, is almost infinitely brutal. In this novel, slave hunters would kill and rape white abolitionists. Slave owners would put the eyes out of a slave who tried to learn to read. A white daughter turned in her parents to be hanged for hiding a fugitive slave (Cora), in return for an elevation of her social status. One slave hunter wore a necklace made out of human ears. One slave owner tortured his male slave by cutting off the slave’s manhood, stuffing it in the slave’s mouth, and sewing it shut.

Remember, this is fiction. Many of these things did not actually happen. For example, it makes no economic sense for slave owners to torture and kill their slaves for minor infractions; slaves were expensive to buy and maintain. Slave owners would, in the real South, treat slaves like animals, but not usually worse. But Whitehead achieves the novelist’s purpose, to make the reader hate slavery, and to see how it turns slave owners into devils.

And then I realized that this was the point. Most of these brutal things occurred at some point in history, but not all at once. During the lynchings after the Civil War, whites would indeed torture blacks. In doing so, they were not losing any money, the way slave owners would have. Whitehead took actual events from the lynching period and stuck them into the time of slavery. Whitehead also created a superficially nice-looking South Carolina, where black escapees were treated nicely, but it turns out that they were being sterilized in the name of scientific eugenics, and being used in scientific experiments. These things actually happened in the first half of the twentieth century. By placing the brutalities of fictional Georgia and North Carolina alongside the superficial niceness of the fictional South Carolina, Whitehead was inviting us to compare them. Were eugenics and scientific experimentation (as in the Tuskegee experiments), any less brutal than slavery? We usually don’t ask that question, because they occurred separately in history. Whitehead lines them all up during one brief time in Cora’s life. He performs an experiment with history. Hypothesis: eugenics is less brutal than slavery. Conclusion: No, they are both brutal.

I tried this kind of literary experiment when I was in junior high. I wrote a short story in which I divided England into two counties, Rupertshire and Spratleyshire, and I gave them two different forms of government. I set them side by side and allowed a traveler to directly compare them. That’s all I remember about this story, which might be in a box somewhere.

The Underground Railroad will certainly stir your fury. The young escaped slave Cora did not take every opportunity for revenge that came to her. I found myself wishing she had tortured and slowly killed the slave catcher in Indiana, rather than leaving him alive and tied up. That is, Whitehead stirred my desire for revenge then confronted me with mercy. This literary theme will never grow old.

Colson Whitehead broke up the timeline of history in a way that is forbidden in most historical fiction: he altered the historical context. But he made this broken timeline into parallel segments and compared them, as in a scientific experiment.