George Wallace Has an Heir Apparent (For those of us old enough to remember Trump has always reminded us of George Wallace, both hateful racists.)
You’re reading the Jamelle Bouie newsletter, for Times subscribers only. Historical context for present-day events.
In a post for the new Opinion blog — which you should read! — I argued that there’s nothing mysterious or hard to grok about Donald Trump’s appeal to a large segment of American voters.
It is not hard to find, throughout American history, Trump-like demagogues with loyal followings. And these men tend to represent, most often, the popular expression of a certain will to power — the freedom to dominate. In practical terms, this means the freedom of the settler to seize the land around him and expel its original inhabitants, or it can mean the freedom of the master to expropriate the labor of others. Either way, these demagogues stand for a supposed right to exclude and exploit, always in defense of one hierarchy or another.
Beyond the obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about this freedom to dominate because I have been reading “Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power” by the historian Jefferson Cowie. The book, which won the Pulitzer Prize last year, is essentially a history of the freedom to dominate in the United States, told through the story of Barbour County, Ala., an unusually consequential place in the nation’s history.
I am just about done with the book, which is to say I am at the point where Cowie turns the focus to George Wallace, a native of Barbour County and one of the most repellent, politically gifted and, well, interesting Americans of the middle of the 20th century.
I have to admit I have been fascinated by Wallace since I read Dan T. Carter’s excellent biography, “The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism and the Transformation of American Politics.” Wallace was, without question, one of the most talented politicians of his generation, a man who could turn, as Cowie observes, defeat on the policy into victory on the politics. Unfortunately for the country, Wallace’s many talents were tethered to an amorality that led him over just a few years to drop the racial moderation of his early career and embrace the most virulently segregationist views imaginable.
In going through Cowie’s account of Wallace’s career, I was struck by how skillfully the demagogue articulated this freedom to dominate, weaving it into a narrative that leveraged the sacred symbols of American democracy. Specifically, here is Wallace confronting the deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach as federal authorities attempt to carry out a court order to integrate the University of Alabama. Wallace, Cowie writes,
began what amounted to a five-minute diatribe on states’ rights. “The unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted, and force-induced intrusion upon the campus of the University of Alabama today of the might of the Central Government offers frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of this state by officers of the federal government.” The “threat of force” from the feds lay outside of law and justice. He lectured everyone on the import of the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” It was only because he was there, Wallace claimed, that thousands of angry Alabamians were not there in his stead. He would not accept trampling on “the exercise of the heritage of freedom and liberty under the law.”
Reading this, it is not all that hard to see how Wallace was able to bring his message to the nation at large, blending anti-Black racism together with opposition to the federal state into a new, potent brew.
A final thought: Wallace was a smart, clever and intellectually agile man. We are probably lucky that our demagogue, dangerous as he is, lacks those particular attributes. Even so, if Wallace has a legacy in national politics, it is very clearly Trump.
What I Wrote
Because of the holiday, I had just one column this week, on the unfortunate truth that it is politics, and not facts, that will determine and shape the meaning of Jan. 6 for the broad public, not to mention the future:
The struggle for the meaning of Jan. 6 will, like the struggle over the significance of the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan, resolve itself only through politics. And in much the same way that the collapse of Reconstruction and the political victory of so-called Redeemers heralded the ideological victory of the Klan’s defenders, sympathizers and apologists, it is Trump’s ultimate fate that will shape and determine our lasting memory of what happened on Jan. 6.
I have also been active on the new Opinion blog with a few bite-size takes. I wrote about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and as I mentioned above, the reality of Donald Trump’s political record.
Sam Hoadley-Brill on Martin Luther King Jr. for The Nation.
Alex de Waal on starvation as a method of warfare for The London Review of Books.
Jelani Cobb on the Republican debate over slavery and insurrection for The New Yorker.
David Hudson on the late, great Tom Wilkinson for Current at the Criterion Collection.
Grace Segers on the state of child tax credit reform for The New Republic.
And this is something to watch, but I really enjoyed this recent documentary on the Negro Leagues.
I took this a few months ago while at the Appomattox, Va., location of the American Civil War Museum. There were re-enactors and they were happy to pose for pictures (as re-enactors tend to be, in my experience).
Now Eating: Cannellini Beans and Pasta
This is another recipe from the excellent “Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy,” which as I mentioned last week, my wife gave me for Christmas. It is, once again, incredibly simple and incredibly flavorful. I have no comments to add other than that you should be very generous with the grated Parmesan cheese. But that’s probably a given, you know?
¼ cup olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced small
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
5 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes with their juice
2 cups cooked cannellini or other white beans, drained
Pinch of red pepper flakes
8 ounces spaghetti or a combination of spaghetti, linguine, spaghettini, and/or bucatini, broken into thirds
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
In a medium saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta; sauté until the pancetta begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, basil and celery; cook about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the tomatoes and the beans, and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Add the red pepper flakes and stir well.
Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta; cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. The pasta will be very underdone. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water; add the reserved water and the pasta to the beans and pancetta.
Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente and the liquid has mostly been absorbed by the pasta, 5 to 7 minutes more. The bean-and-pasta mixture should be very thick. Serve with grated cheese.