The Body-Slamming of Jacobs vs. The Caning of Sumner

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

By now everybody knows that Montana Republican Greg Gianforte won comfortably against Democrat Rob Quist, after body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for asking a question about the CBO report on the AHCA. Shortly thereafter, The Atlantic — You remember The Atlantic? The magazine that turned David Frum into a liberal icon? — ran this piece by Adam Serwer, “The Lesser Part of Valor,” which analogizes Gianforte body-slamming Jacobs to South Carolina’s Preston Brooks caning Massachusetts’ Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate, before the Civil War. Serwer’s piece at the very least reinforces the “Bluexit” frame — that is, secession by Blue States — as proposed by Kevin Baker in the New Republic (see also Salon and Alternet, among others). But there are other reasons the piece is problematic. First, I’ll review the caning of Sumner, and then I’ll pick apart Serwer’s analogy.

From the United States Senate:

On May 22, 1856, the “world’s greatest deliberative body” became a combat zone. In one of the most dramatic and deeply ominous moments in the Senate’s entire history, a member of the House of Representatives entered the Senate chamber and savagely beat a senator into unconsciousness.

The inspiration for this clash came three days earlier when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. In his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. He characterized Douglas to his face as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator.” Andrew Butler, who was not present, received more elaborate treatment. Mocking the South Carolina senator’s stance as a man of chivalry, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking “a mistress[1] . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”

Representative Preston Brooks was Butler’s South Carolina kinsman. If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel. Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his “Crime Against Kansas” speech.

Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner’s head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.

Bleeding profusely, Sumner was carried away. Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.

The Civil War Podcast concludes:

One of the most shocking and provocative events in American history, the caning of Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks destroyed any pretense of civility between North and South. …. While Sumner eventually recovered after a lengthy convalescence, sectional compromise had suffered a mortal blow. Moderate voices were drowned out completely, extremist views became intractable, and both sides were locked on a tragic collision course.

That’s the caning of Sumner. Now let’s see what Serwer has to say:

Despite Brooks’s public bravado, many of his contemporaries understood that what he had done was an act of cowardice…. The antebellum South was a society built on the violent exploitation of defenseless people; it is in no sense strange or odd that slaveholders would see no incompatibility between their concept of freedom and valor, and ambushing and caning a man who said something that hurt their feelings. Brooks was a hopelessly craven bully who bludgeoned a man in ambush and then shrank from a fair duel with an equal once he realized he would lose….

I don’t mean to fetishize courage, which can be possessed by good and evil alike. I tell this story to show that in politics, one defends cruelty or cowardice by cloaking it in a delusion of valor….

Gianforte attacked a man professionally obligated not to fight back. He initially accused Jacobs of being the aggressor and justified the assault by describing him as a “liberal reporter.” He hid from reporters all through election day, and as Brian Beutler points out, apologized only after he had won the seat….

Physically attacking journalists for asking questions is cowardly. Every single person who defends it is engaging in an act of cowardice. The notion that Gianforte was merely channeling the rugged frontier culture of Western mountain men when he attacked someone who asked him a question is laughable and patronizing….

It is not 1856, but these are the politics of a false valor forged by fear…. It is the political logic of frightened people who need to tell themselves they are brave. This is not valor; it is the celebration of violence against those who cannot respond in kind….

[2]…Brooks is long dead, but the heirs to his peculiar notion of bravery govern America still.

The basic structure of Serwer’s analogy is this: Jacobs is to Gianforte as Sumner is to Brooks, except in today’s America, not pre-Civil War America; the connection between the two pairings is the cowardice cloaked in valor shown by both Gianforte and Brooks, and the victimhood of Jacobs and Sumner. Let’s pick that apart.

Trivially, Jacobs, unlike Sumner, wasn’t beaten bloody and unconscious, and didn’t undergo a lengthy convalesence, the latter unmentioned by Serwer (I say this not to minimize Gianforte’s assault, but to contrast the strength of feeling behind the two events, about which more in a minute.)

Less trivially, Serwer presents Jacobs as “a man professionally obligated not to fight back.” Literally, at the mano-a-mano level, Serwer is correct. Systemically, Serwer is not correct, in the sense that the institution backing Jacobs — the Guardian — has all sorts of ways to “fight back,” the pen being mightier than the body-slam. Again, I say this not to minimize Gianforte’s assault, but to resist the Serwer’s implicit metaphor that reporters are like referees — the key word is “professionally”MR SUBLIMINAL Paging Thomas Frank! which implies neutrality — who may not be tackled, as opposed to players on the field, who may be. But, as the Guardian’s coverage, or non-coverage, of Sanders[3] proves, as of 2016 the press are most definitely players. Now, it may be that the press are defenseless players who cannot be tackled, but players they are, and not referees[4].

Importantly, Serwer equivocates on the force of his analogy. True, he qualifies: “It is not 1856,” but then he immediately goes on to explain why it might as well be: “[T]hese are the politics of a false valor forged by fear.” So, if the politics are the same, we’re on the same path now as then, right? So maybe it’s not 1856, but we’re at the Compromise of 1850? The Nullification Crisis of 1832? Where? 18XX, I suppose. In any case, the whole tone of the piece leads me to speculate that the qualification was inserted by a careful editor; if you crossed it out, no one would notice.

More importantly, Serwer gets slavery wrong. Again he writes:

The antebellum South was a society built on the violent exploitation of defenseless people

No. The antebellum South was a society built on treating human beings as chattels who could be bought and sold. (Wage labor is also “[t]he violent exploitation of defenseless people,” although the nature of the violence and the nature of the exploitation are different.) Let me at this point quote Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, helpfully deleting the conceptual aspects of slavery that Serwer omits:

Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Most importantly, Serwer, by framing the caning of Sumner and the body-slamming of Jacobs in terms of the personal and ahistorical characteristics (“cowardice”) of Brooks and Gianforte — a liberal deformation professionelle — omits any mention of systemic causes, and the moral question at the heart of Sumner’s caning. In 1856, the country was divided over slavery — a great moral question, as well as a great economic question[5]. That accounts for the strength of feeling both Brooks (the slaver) and Sumner (the abolitionist) shared. If Serwer is going to reinforce today’s Civil War tropes, as he does, and identify with one side of that war, as he does, and with a protagonist on one side of that war, as he does, then it would behoove him to explain why he is on the side he sees as today’s version of the Civil War side he supports. Where is the moral issue on the scale of slavery? Is it racism? Not with Obama’s record on foreclosure in Black communities, or with the Clinton Dynasty’s carceral and welfare policies. Is it sexism? Not with Obama enshrining the Hyde Amendment into the ACA. Is it “give me your tired, your poor”? Not with Obama’s deportation record. Is it the rule of law? Not when you contrast Bush’s prosecution of criminal CEOs with Obama’s failure to do so. Is it the social contract? Not with real wages flat for a generation and income inequality increasing under Obama. Is it “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”? Not with thousands of excess “deaths from despair” as shown by Case-Deaton.

And so on. I’m sure readers can think of other examples. My point is that you can’t claim Charles Sumner for your own — identify, that is, with Sumner’s victimhood — without taking into account what made Summer who he was, as a man, as a politician, and as Brooks’s enemy: Abolition. Where is the equivalent cause for liberals today? I’m not seeing it. “Trump is a bad person” (as he is, as Buchanan was) doesn’t cut it. Nor does “Jacobs was a professional.” If you analogize A to B, and then leave out the most important aspect of A, then your analogy is no analogy at all. That is what Serwer has done; he has written Hamlet without the prince.


[1] See, e.g., the Civil War diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut, a “lady of society” in Charleston, South Carolina, as quoted in Charles Joyner’s Shared Traditions:

[2] I left out the Trump indictment in Serwer’s peroration, not because the claims are untrue, but because this post is not about Trump. In the previous paragraph, I’m omitting all mention that everything Serwer lists has also been enabled by liberals.

[3] Here’s an interesting compilation.

[4] Always excepting the small blogs, especially the family ones.

[5] The slave states developed a sophisticated ideology that slavery was a “positive good,” contrasting it to the ills of wage labor, and justifying it Biblically. Defeating the slave power entailed enormous capital destruction (that is, the slaves). McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom estimates that the 4 million slaves freed were “worth” $3.5 billion dollars, more than Northern rail and manufacturing combined.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. fresno dan

    I have a very tough time thinking about this other than as apropos of Moynihan’s defining deviancy down.
    The point that precipitated this was the reporter asking about CBO scoring of a health care bill, and the politician getting ANGRY about something that he (the political candidate) himself said he would address -the issue of the health care bill when it was scored by CBO. When the political candidate had failed to run out the clock as to disguise how he felt about doing his job as a representative – taking a stand on an issue – he (the political candidate) simply yelled “liberal media!!!” and a little bit more.

    The people of Montana for all I know may be totally unconcerned about health care. FINE. The reporter was asking about a public police question, and not whether the candidates wife was a prostit*te.
    Gianforte could simply have stated that he had changed his mind, or hadn’t had time to consider the CBO scoring, and that was that. Gianforte’s response shows that the issue is in fact of concern.

    Who gets to ask the questions? And more importantly, which questions get asked?
    By the way…anyone know where Gianforte stands on health care?

    1. Massinissa

      I don’t see it as making light of the incident, I see it more as trying to counter some of the “AHHHHHH CIVIL WAR OVER TRUMP” overreactions by the some of the media

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Serwer’s post fits neatly into a liberal Democrat secessionist narrative that’s been around at least since the JesusLand map of 2000:

        And that narrative has become more prominent in the years since; see the links at the start of the post.

        Is there really a decay path from our current state to a second Civil War? That would seem to be an important question to answer. One way to do that is to look at people who are advocating the idea or deploying its tropes (as Serwer does). To put this another way, if putting the Gianforte body-slam in the context of considering the possibility of a second Civil War is “making light” of it… It’s hard to know what to say in response.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > defining deviancy down.

      There’s a lot of that going around, on every level, in all systems that I can see. We saw that same effect in the 1860s: As the Civil War podcast says: “destroyed any pretense of civility.” But I don’t see that as a useful tool for comparing and contrasting the two events, which is the purpose of the post. Is the analogy good or bad? Useful, or not? That’s the question. (That’s also why Gianforte’s position on health care, which I’m 100% sure I don’t support, is at best not relevant and at worst attempted threadjacking. If you want everything forced into the frame of “Who won the day?” in politics, we have Kos for that. It’s that way.)

      1. JTMcPhee

        I wonder what the moment(s) of “sharpest contrast” will be, and what actions will be involved, when the current meta-stable “pretense of civility” is breached — and how many of those “systems we can see” will experience what kind of fractures. And what systems and structures will develop after all that… “butterfly wings, my dears…”

  2. George Phillies

    Not secession. Partition. Following state boundaries is also less than optimal

    The other choice is to find a majority that transfers things to the states, to eliminate these discrepancies in taxes paid and returned.

    1. Disturbed Voter

      Ah, but let’s apply that at the county level, then we can reconstruct the Golden Age of Greece. Who gets to play the Spartans?

      Isn’t this just about (in California in particular) the idea that all those free goodies we have already gotten, have to be payed for, and people actually want to secede from the Federal debt?

      1. Allegorio

        @Disturbed Voter”all those free goodies we have already gotten, have to be payed for”

        Paid to who? The owners of said goodies? Who gave title to said goodies? Who has title to said goodies?

        Paid to the creators of money? Where did they get the right to create money?

        1. Mark P.

          Paid to the creators of money? Where did they get the right to create money?

          There it is.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Not secession. Partition

      I don’t see how this works; it’s like “The Big Sort” on steroids. Start with the Clinton Archipelago vs. Trumpland

      Suppose we partitioned the Clinton Archipelago. Crudely approximating, the people of the Archipelago would have control of the ATM machines and the Internet. The people of the Land would have control of the water supply, pipelines, powerlines, and interstate transport by rail and road. They also have guns and (since it was that or Walmart) military training. Oh, and they also control a lot of nuclear silos. Who wins?

      It’s also not clear to me how granular the secession would be. Would it happen down to the neighborhood level, a la Neil Stephenson’s burbclaves in Snow Crash? I can see that working, actually, but it’s not a future I prefer. Also, if anything, that reinforces white supremacy (“White Columns” is one burbclave), and fighting white supremacy is at least one moral justification proferred by “Blue Secession” types.

      > The other choice is to find a majority that transfers things to the states, to eliminate these discrepancies in taxes paid and returned.

      First, no. Federal taxes do not fund Federal spending.

      Second, the discrepancy needs to be on a net basis, not merely taxes. For example, “our” landfill in Maine is being rapidly filled with out-of-state trash to maximize tipping fees. It’s certainly true that the check for Maine’s benefits is greater than the check for Maine’s Federal taxes. But if we’re going to “settle up,” then I’d want compensation for poisoning the Penobscot Watershed. So would the Tribes, I’m sure. Another example is the foreclosure crisis. Fraud and financial criminality probably bulk up the GDP numbers in the Clinton Archipelago, and that would need to net out properly as well, when calculating the terms of a divorce agreement.

      Third, there are programs that are just nutty to devolve to the states, single payer among them. You want that single payer to have maximum bargaining power, and you don’t get that on a state-by-state basis.

      1. JTMcPhee

        Hey, the partitioning is already well advanced, and has been going on since long before Mayor Daley the Worst did that “urban renewal” demolition-demarcation and fed the White Flight, and now his heirs and political acolytes continue, with the “Obachma Presidential On Top Of Formerly Public Space And Po’ Folks Slums Lie-berry” and the gentrification of all those formerly “Polish” and “German” etc. “neighborhoods,” and that Chicago Experience is, from what I can see, a microcosm-microeconomicism of a whole lot of the map boundary defined as “The United States (sic).” Which parts of the District of Columbia belong to which sets? San Fran?

        Seems to me it’s more a matter of when the imperceptible walls of distinction, “Boy, don’t you be goin’ down to Simi Valley,” and relative privilege, get demarcated with the rubble barriers and “checkpoints” gun-manned by enthusiastic and fundamentalist young males following the lead of “conservative elders.”

        And females want to get in on the act too, of course… we’ll see how that expression of feminism plays out, off the current enthusiasm for OO-rah Women In Combat! Opportunity to Get Another $119 A Month In Combat Pay! and what you can see in all those YouTube videos with a “redneck” theme, or the ones under “Girls With Guns…”

        Will there be anything like what resulted from, and in, the current divisions over there on the Indian Subcontinent? With the nice side dish of resource wars over necessities like land above sea level, potable water, soil that will grow food, stuff like that… The Great Adjustment… (The Demon rubs his paws and licks his chops in dreadful anticipation of truly wondrous horrors…)

  3. Tony Wikrent

    First, I want to note that Brooks did not act alone. He had two other Representatives with him–one brandished a knife and the other had a gun, and they prevented others on the Senate floor from intervening to stop the caning and tend to Sumner’s wounds.

    So, the attack on Senator Sumner was clearly premeditated, and there is no evidence that Gianforte attacked with premeditation. Though I would very much want him to be very thoroughly interrogated to discover if he had thought such action might prove popular to the Republican base.

    Which of course brings us to the issue of what level of violence our fellow citizens are now willing (or, eager?) to see in our politics today? And I think that the fact that so many of the Republican base are approving Gianforte’ s violent attack indicates that we are, indeed, in a political situation very similar to that of the years just before the Civil War.

    I therefore believe it is entirely appropriate to compare Gianforte to Brooks. Even more–I think we should face the reality that the Republican Party today is as hostile to the idea of government for the General welfare, as intolerant of compromise, and as immune to reason, as was the slave holding oligarchy of the 1850s.

    1. Art Eclectic

      Thugs have always tended to gravitate towards entities that elevate thuggish behavior. Most of them find a home in the Republican Party at the moment (also note that two people were just murdered by a far-right Islamaphobe). When buildings are blow up, churches burned, people strung up from trees, it always goes back to a certain type of individual. Those people have been cultivated and groomed by right wing media and now stoked by alt-right media.

      A whole lot of people hold onto guns with the idea that they may need to protect themselves from their government or some rampaging minority. The reality is that they need to protect themselves from angry white dudes who are being whipped up by the truly evil right and alt-right media. When the violence eventually spreads, they’ll be the ones leading the charge.

    2. different clue

      Unfortunately, today’s Clintobamacratic Party is also hostile to the idea of government for the General welfare, immune to compromise, and immune to reason. So where does that leave us?

      1. Tony Wikrent

        Touche. Though I might quibble by pointing out that Obama et al were enthusiastic about achieving “bipartisanship” and were quite willing to compromise with Republicans to achieve it. Of course, compromise with the “fucking retards” of the left (as per Rahm Emanuel) was quite a different matter.

        It has been a struggle to escape depression after the 2016 election, and the mounting evidence that the Democratic Party has no grasp of the General Welfare concept, and is impervious to reason. I just crossed swords with DailyKos front pager Armando over the issue of free trade. He literally wrote “19th Century trade policy arguments are not that convincing to me as applied to the 21st Century,” making it obvious he was unfamiliar with the work of Henry Carey or Friedrich List, the most prominent proponents of the American School of political economy in the 19th century.

      2. Allegorio

        @different clue “Unfortunately, today’s Clintobamacratic Party is also hostile to the idea of government for the General welfare”

        Not to mention advocate for violence, they just outsource the violence to militarized police, drone assassinations, foreclosures, mandatory sentences, forfeiture laws. They have professionalized their violence as behooves the credentialed classes. Witness how the Occupy Wall Street movement was handled.

      3. Lambert Strether Post author

        Look, it’s not like tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair” is violence or anything. Let’s be reasonable, here.

        And, as we all know, liberal Democrats have resolutely been in the forefront of saving those lives, both by their support of Medicare for All and their industrial policies. Oh, wait…

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      > so many of the Republican base are approving Gianforte’s violent attack indicates that we are, indeed, in a political situation very similar to that of the years just before the Civil War.

      Thanks very much, Tony, for this thoughtful comment, with which I am about to take issue on a number of levels.

      First, if by “very similar”, you mean very similar now, as opposed to Serwer’s vaguely articulated 1856, then you have show that the Gianforte incident is of a similar scale to Bleeding Kansas (1854–59), which set the context for the 1856 Caning of Sumner (and John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry Raid as well).

      “Bleeding Kansas” became a fact with the Sack of Lawrence (May 21, 1856), in which a proslavery mob swarmed into the town of Lawrence and wrecked and burned the hotel and newspaper office in an effort to wipe out this “hotbed of abolitionism.” Three days later, an antislavery band led by John Brown retaliated in the Pottawatomie Massacre. Periodic bloodshed along the border followed as the two factions fought battles, captured towns, and set prisoners free.

      I’m not saying that can’t happen, but I’d like to see a decay path thought through, since Bleeding Kansas is a couple of orders of magnitude worse than the Portland incident, and makes the Gianforte incident look like a love tap. For example, you’d think that the Bundy loons would have already ignited any dry tinder lying about. Why didn’t that happen? (Not enough people care about land management issues?)

      Second, “very similar” has to include a systemic component (unless one works at a pre-political, ahistorical, archetypical level, a la (invented title) Bullies of The Ages). So where is today’s functional and above all moral equivalent of the conflict between Slaveholding and Abolition? And who has the standing to pursue it? Suppose that moral be cast as “white supremacy” (in this context, it’s amusing that Sanders is being blamed by Twitter bottom feeders for the Portland attacks, as the #BernieBros smear gets ratcheted up another notch). Grant that all Republicans are white supremacists. Do liberal Democrats really have standing to pursue a Civil War against them on that basis? (and so forth). See the post for why not. And so on for any another buzzword you see, including fascism.

      What’s the moral issue at the systemic level, and who has the standing to pursue it? To me, that’s the question for people making Civil War analogies.

      1. JTMcPhee

        Dare I ask what the “sufficient” moral issue was in the War Between The States/War of Northern Aggression/Plantation-vs-Imduistrial-Plant events? Perpetuation vel non of slavery, which in many forms continues to exist?

        I don;t have an answer — I’ve tried to puzzle it out over many years. There was a whole lot of gears in motion in that machinery. Including “war is good for business.” One example among many, if one searches “civil war profiteering”:

        Someone mentioned “the general welfare.” Too bad it is so easy to pen those words with a goose quill on parchment, and so difficult to get all us (let us be honest) self-interested mopes to pull on the ropes and move the levers that might first, identify the elements and contours of the beast, and then raise it up as a sumum bonum with the necessary mechanisms to effectuate it…

      2. PhilM

        Really honest words about the Civil War, refreshing, at a time when people think they can pistol-whip any argument with the butt-end of facile historical analogies. Actually, Lambert is completely right, it almost goes without saying, that the two events had absolutely nothing to do with each other, quantitatively, qualitatively, or contextually: it is just more press-babble to push an agenda.

        The moral question of the Civil War is fraught because the history was written by the winners, and because racism-justified slavery and racism-justified genocide seem incommensurable in many people’s minds with the other kinds of slavery and genocide, tribal, economic, religious, national, merely predatory, and so forth, examples of which are simply too many to cite.

        Viewed as an economic or public health transaction, the math can speak: between 600,000 and 800,000 healthy men of productive age, plus unnumbered women and children, lost their lives in a war to change the legal status of 4 million people. Now, slavery had become strong because of the cotton gin, and would have become utterly irrelevant in thirty years with the rise of the machines. Those forty years, both for the war dead and the enslaved, can be calculated as “quality-adjusted life years” lost (QUALY’s, in public-health terminology). It is therefore possible to calculate the gain or loss from the Civil War hedonically. I leave the exercise to those who can quantify slave-years versus not-being-alive-any-more years, which I certainly cannot do.

        In my current frame of mind, I don’t see the Civil War as being about slavery so much as an inevitable part of the growth of nation-state power that had been rolling for five hundred years. Slavery was certainly a good pretext, just as religion and race and class had been such pretexts for millennia. The Civil War was also a definitive test-to-destruction of the efficacy of the Second Amendment as a guarantor of states’ rights: that became truly irrelevant after 1865, as the US Army was thereafter both a standing army of occupation for the existing nation and a tool of genocidal imperial expansion on into the rest of the lands of the American Indians.

        Elites still use nation-state tropes to manipulate the populace (see “Russia is the enemy”–which Russians, exactly? is there even any such thing as “Russia”?) because of the way we grew up, but the new generation does not buy it. That demographic has, for all intents and purposes, globalized, as the wise elites likewise have. That whole shift makes for a more polite reception for Americans in Paris, I have noticed; but it also makes for the extinction of affordable good Bordeaux, affordable local maple syrup, and ultimately, all local and regional culture exposed to global markets. Thus the struggle between the Enlightenment and the Romantics continues.

  4. Mark Anderlik

    Thanks for writing this. Maybe I could add some information that is helpful in understanding the Montana election.

    I’m a union organizer in the northern Rockies, including Montana, where I live. Gianforte had been rumored to have problems with anger management. More telling is his overwhelming sense of entitlement.

    Despite his election victory, many Republicans do not like him. He is an uber-wealthy carpetbagger who one time sued the state of Montana for putting the kibosh on his attempt to takeover some public waterway. Defending public lands and healthcare were the two big Dem issues, and rightly so. GG is of the Trump ilk who think their shit don’t smell.

    Quist had his problems too. He was chosen as the Party moderate candidate barely over progressive union teacher and State Rep. Amanda Curtis. She had run as an emergency candidate against Ryan Zinke. The first establishment Dem had to resign mid-campaign over a relatively mild scandal. She campaigned hard on single-payer and pro-labor and received slightly more votes than the establishment Dem Senate candidate.

    Quist had no political experience whatsoever. His campaign started out slowly, but as progressives began to get over the Curtis loss, they began to rally around Quist. Quist was especially articulate about health care as he told his own story. He also came out for single payer and ran his campaign very similarly to Bernie Sanders. Sanders came out and drew thousands of people the weekend before the election.

    What’s more the business press dailies in the state (almost all owed by one anti-union company Lee Enterprises) tore into Quist over his financial troubles over a botched gall bladder surgery and the lack of health insurance. They pulled out everything they could find, whether true or not. And left Gianforte untouched despite his apparent belief in creationism, his lies on his stand on healthcare, and his lack of constituent campaign funding. That is why they endorsed GG and then had to recant at the last minute.

    Gianforte’s real stand for healthcare coverage reform was leaked in a taped conversation a few days before the election, in which he contradicted his public stand and offered thanks that Trumpcare had passed the House. He stands to make millions in tax breaks from the bill.

    All that said, voter turnout was paltry by Montana standards (54%). However the fact remains that this was the closest that a Dem candidate (6% points) has run since the 1990’s with progressive Rep Pat Williams.

    To me this is both an embarrassment and a hopeful sign. Montana has a long and rich progressive history which is still very much alive today. I see many unhappy Repubs and Dems right now. If progressives can articulate a more serious vision, future votes have a chance to go our way.

    1. different clue

      Is it fair to say that an immune-to-reason Clintobamacratic Party leadership forced the Quist nomination upon the local Montanans who knew better and wanted better?

      1. Mark Anderlik

        It would be fairer to say that there is great tumult in the Democratic Party (as the Repubs), many people are unsure of the direction their party should take, and that enough of them fall back to how they won the last war, instead of taking the rather bold step of supporting a flaming progressive. I think in time this will work itself out into either a truly progressive Dem or a progressive third party.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      It’s great to have detail from the ground. Thanks so much.

      A comment on involvement from the national Dems. The Dems congratulated themselves on not spending money because of “hype,” and in fact only funded Quist at the end of the race.

      However, many say that early funding is crucial. (EMILY’S List: Early Money Is Like Yeast). Do you think that early money from the Dems would have made a difference?

      1. Mark Anderlik

        That’s a two edged sword as Clinton and the national Dems is seen by many as toxic. The outcome would maybe be different if the campaign was a bit longer, if early voters could retract their early votes, and/or if Curtis was the candidate. Quist was raising great gobs of campaign money – the $25 a pop kind- at the end so the Dems money would not made as much difference as the timing. Another few weeks and he might have had it.

  5. Loblolly

    Town Hall.

    I thought this article about the incident was well written and would imagine readers here would be unlikely to find it if I were not to provide the link. I would imagine that the readers here would also not have any perspective on how the other side is thinking about this issue for the same reasons.


    1. Massinissa

      As if the conservatives havn’t been hating the Liberals for years… This is just more partisan bloviating but from the other side. I don’t see anything in it that’s particularly enlightening. Just the conservatives trying to blame the liberals on this incident the same way the liberals are trying to blame the conservatives. Both sides have been acting like this since at least the 90s if not before, its almost surprising they don’t trade blows more commonly.

    2. clarky90

      Liberals Are Shocked To Find We’re Starting To Hate Them Right Back

      “I know it’s theoretically wrong for a Republican candidate to smack around an annoying liberal journalist, but that still doesn’t mean that I care. Our ability to care is a finite resource, and, in the vast scheme of things, millions of us have chosen to devote exactly none of it toward caring enough to engage in fussy self-flagellation because of what happened to Slappy La Brokenshades……..”

    3. johnnygl

      I’ll make two points…

      1) another example of elite/billionaire impunity. Gianforte wasn’t going to be punished, regardless of election results. It turns out the electorate didn’t bother to punish gianforte, either. Why? I’m not sure. Tribalism? He’s OUR hot-tempered [family blog]-hole!!!

      2) Reporters are still indulging infantile, hyperbolic fantasies of secession, rather than face up to trump’s election over their beloved ‘most qualified’ clinton.

      3) whoopsie….perhaps, reporters are starting to feel that they are as vulnerable as working class people?

      1. Carla

        A lot of the public had already voted. There’s a big problem with vote-by-mail and other early voting schemes.

    4. Lambert Strether Post author

      I think strategic hate management is a tool that any party can use. Further, the hate thereby generated doesn’t go away, but persists in the body politic for years. For example, the Obama online presence in 2008 took over many of the tropes deployed by Republicans in the Clinton Wars of the 90s. (Hate is almost like an asset class of some sort.) That’s why Putin Derangement Syndrome concerns me so much.

      I started to read it and gave up. It’s too screechy, like Kos seen through a fun house mirror. I don’t see much “thinking” involved. I know exactly how to write such a post, from the Democrat side. Started out doing it (though not all the time, thank a merciful heaven).

      1. Loblolly

        I started to read it and gave up. It’s too screechy, like Kos seen through a fun house mirror. I don’t see much “thinking” involved. I know exactly how to write such a post, from the Democrat side. Started out doing it (though not all the time, thank a merciful heaven).

        For starters it’s not a strategic writing exercise for extra credit, it is a pretty accurate take on how many people feel about the press right now. Not your people, who obviously think the press are the last bastion between civilization and barbarism. Despite their inability to rise above partisanship and what clearly seem to be marching orders.

        I stopped listening to NPR because I got sick of the Uniparty narrative, then I started listening again last year and they ran a media blackout against first Bernie Sanders and then Jill Stein. So I stopped again. I stopped trusting the NYT after the Iraq war, I stopped believing Paul Krugman and MIchael Moore when they started arguing against earlier positions which would risk their current financial security and social status. I don’t trust the AP after the Democratic primary and I don’t trust Reuters because of their blind promotion of globalism. Former progressive Markos Moulitsas ran off the Berners and Mother Jones endorsed Her Royal Higness. Strange times.

        I watched the Democratic National Convention on three monitors. TV news, YouTube, C-Span and various live streams and I watched the media distort what was happening in real time. Currently I watch the White House daily press briefing once or twice a week and an hour of live C-Span here and there and I see the press spin everything everyway but truthfully.

        When Ben Jacobs got beat by Greg Gianforte I laughed and thought it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Then I felt bad, then he won and I laughed again. I’m sure Gianforte is a giant prick but Ben Jacobs is a big part of the problem. The 90% press is complicit in the constant wealth transfer to the 5 multinationals that own them and subservient to their agents in government and banking. We see that and are highly attuned to to it and we don’t like it.

        We have nothing and no power. We earn less than 30K, we had our houses stolen by Wall Street, our jobs stolen by multinationals and our voices stolen by an establishment that controls the press. You are a progressive writer and your career path depends on a careful detente between your progressive views and those of the establishment who control the disbursement of success.

        People are really, really angry and they are sick of being blamed for the harm being done to them. Maybe stretch yourself a bit and see what the other side is “thinking” even if it seems “too screechy”.

  6. clinical wasteman

    Maybe worth correcting ‘Summer’ to ‘Sumner’ in the title: would never normally quibble about a typo, but the historical reference almost passed me by at first glance. I assumed that ‘Summer’ must one more present-day Beltway nonentity, although I did wonder how, in that case, s/he came to be ‘caned’. But in a certain London dialect of the turn of the 20th/21st centuries, ‘to cane’/’cane it’ referred to the reckless and sustained ingestion of mostly illegal substances, usually in the presence of “repetitive beats” (the legislators who tried to ban those beats had clearly never heard jungle/drum & bass, much less breakcore or garage/2-step/grime), so a scandalously cane-happy Rep. Summer couldn’t be ruled out altogether. Actually, ‘the caning of summer‘ felt vaguely evocative…

    1. Yves Smith

      Gah, the worst is I reacted to the headline (not strongly) with “Who is Summer?” when I read the post much earlier in the day and missed the need to correct the headline. Fixed.

  7. clinical wasteman

    But much more importantly, thanks Lambert for drawing attention to quite how grotesque a piece of historical pettiness that analogy is.
    And especially:
    1. for such a succinct account of the difference and overlap between slavery and wage-labor — No. The antebellum South was a society built on treating human beings as chattels who could be bought and sold. (Wage labor is also “[t]he violent exploitation of defenseless people,” although the nature of the violence and the nature of the exploitation are different.) Let me at this point quote Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, helpfully deleting the conceptual aspects of slavery that Serwer omits:

    Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the [[bondsman’s]] two hundred and fifty years of [[unrequited]] toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” — anomalous-Marxist academics have been failing for decades to squeeze substantially sound but hardly more informative definitions into a couple of hundred pages, or maybe consecutive volumes — and:
    2. for the footnote on the destruction of capital brought about by the Civil War in general and abolition in particular. For anyone willing at least to consider ‘Marxist’ theories (actually dating from Adam Smith) of overcapitalization, falling rate of profit and social catastrophe as super-profit bonanza for the first ‘investors’ to claim the ruins, this is surely an underestimated factor in the looting/capital formation/zig-zagging ‘boom’ (three things, but related) of the subsequent decades. It’s also another reason to see the Civil War (rather than Crimea or France-Prussia, as is sometimes suggested) as the starting point of the historical cycle of industrialized war, and therefore to see that as more than a merely technological matter.

    1. reason

      This equating slavery with “capital” is simply a misunderstanding because of the ambiguity of the word capital. It wasn’t “capital” that was destroyed (the labor was still there and real assets still existed), it was the rights of the slave owners to control their output that was destroyed (i.e. the value of particular financial capital). There was simply a transfer, not destruction (apart of course from the actual destruction due to the war).

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Slavery, as a social relation, was destroyed. Hence the one-time slave-owners couldn’t use their slaves as collateral, for example. That’s destruction of capital, surely?

        1. JTMcPhee

          …then came Jim Crow and sharecropping, so a minor adjustment of the political-economic relations, accomplished at enormous cost?

          And Dick Gregory once observed the difference between North and South, from his black perspective, thus: “Down South, they don’t care how close you get, as long as you don’t get too big. Up North, they don’t care [so much?] how big you get, as long as you don’t get too close…”

          Then there’s still what some might call slavery in our Exdeceptional Great Nation to this very day:
          “US Admits Modern-Day Slavery Exists at Home,”

          and “Slavery and Prison – Understanding the Connections,”

          What a wonderful people we collectively are, us people that I somehow thought I was “protecting” as a soldier of the Empire back in the 60s…

  8. WeakenedSquire

    A quick glance at any journalist’s Twitter would reveal that most if not all journos cast themselves as players and apply many preconceived opinions to their work. Moreover, the idea that journos are “referees” is surely repugnant to the currently modish idea of populist democracy, where the people are the refs. Not surprised that many Montanans and others applauded Jacobs getting his comeuppance. Nobody voted for him to ask that impertinent question. Gianforte was “standing his ground,” as the NRA would say.

    1. makedoanmend

      Let me ask some “impertinent” questions. Who gets to decide what’s impertinent? And is violence now the standard response to impertinence? Does money give one these options over the relative waged paupers? (Was the reporter’s offense not so much in the question itself but that he dared to ask the question of a monied better. The deluded fool.)

      Noblesse oblige be damned, hey? The whip hand rules. Hmmm…maybe the cited article has a point (although heavy on the hyperbole or maybe false equivalency).

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > is violence now the standard response to impertinence?

        Surely. Look at what The Blob wants to do to Putin! (I’m not snarking… Well, not very much. I’m just pointing out that attention to violence is awfully selective. (For example, good liberal Neera Tanden, heroine of the Resistance, made sure Matt Bruenig lost his job. Was that violence? Probably not, since Bruenig has plenty of resources. For somebody else more on the edge, Tanden’s kicking down would have had material consequence.)

        That said, I don’t want to live in a world where reporters get beaten up for asking the wrong sort of question. I really don’t. My question is how to achieve that world.

        1. b1daly

          The world is never going to be some utopian, egalitarian, paradise.

          The way social progress is achieved is through civic engagement, a well functioning economy, political commitment, alliances, comprise, power plays, and, on rare occasions, violent actions.

          It’s easy to poke fun at clueless liberal pundits, as they grope for some narrative that points to a way forward, in the direction of humanistic values. The Atlantic author is, sensibly, returning to first principle of liberal thinking. Specifically, the notion that discussion of topics that are contentious is a superior method of resolving disagreement, versus surprising your opponent with a violent attack in a social context where violence is not expected.

          His analogy perhaps fails when it comes to matter of degree, but the point is so obvious, that to deny it in another attempt to belittle a clueless scribe,of liberal temperament, highlights why you are at loss for pointing towards a direction forward.

          There is a point at which moral purity crosses into nihilism, as all avenues of progress, attempted by flawed humans, fall short of the loftiest standards.

          “Liberals,” as a class, have been knocked off guard by the election of Trump, and are struggling to find a rhetorical stance from which to protest against the ugly social energies that Trump symbolizes.

          One is the exaltation of assholish behavior, towards people identified with opposing political points of view. Gianforte’s righteous belligerence, and the nods of approval from Right Wingers, are perfectly of a piece with this. It provides a clear example of what is wrong with the Republican party.

          It’s fascinating to me that Democrats continue to receive the brunt of your scorn, even though they seem no worse than the Republicans, at the least.

          The question I have for you is: who do you support, politically? Is there an actual politician, or political organization, that you think is at least heading in the right direction?

          The idea that political progress can be made without political activity is a fantasy. Politics is shockingly hard, as it turns out that there is nothing out there but a mess of interest groups with which to contend.

  9. Carolinian

    There’s a lot more detail on the incident here, some of it at odds with the description in the article.

    And the bully Brooks was punished for his act if the object was to defend slavery.

    Thousands attended rallies in support of Sumner in Boston, Albany, Cleveland, Detroit, New Haven, New York, and Providence. More than a million copies of Sumner’s speech were distributed. Two weeks after the caning, Ralph Waldo Emerson described the divide the incident represented: “I do not see how a barbarous community and a civilized community can constitute one state. I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom.”

    He was also convicted of assault and had to pay a fine but was not imprisoned.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      And my question re Serwer’s example once more.

      Emerson, on the caning of Sumner:

      I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom.


      I think we must get rid of ______, or we must get rid of freedom.

      How is the blank to be filled in, and who has the standing to do it? That’s what needs to be done if Serwer’s analogy is to work.

      1. Steely Glint

        I think we must get rid of Naked Capitalism (not the site) or Capitalism Unchained. We know how to do it, the rules are still mostly still on the books. I even think “we the people” can agree on that (even in the red states). It’s just that we have almost been beaten into submission or divided into ineffectual/confused segments. I do, however, see glimmers of the victim waking up and pulling it’s body back together again.

      2. Keith Howard

        I think the framework of this discussion is too narrow. Although the Ds don’t really seem to know what they are about, the Rs know perfectly well. I would update Emerson’s summary as follows:

        Either we must get abandon the reckless exploitation of the Earth’s limited resources, or we must accept the end of civilization.

        Isn’t this really the underlying fault line? The maintenance of slavery required, as an essential intellectual foundation, that black people be defined as not human beings and hence liable to ownership/sale/etc. Maintenance of the capitalist economy requires dogmatic defense of mankind’s “dominion” over the natural world, a basically wrong perception of our species’ relation to the rest of the world.

        The Right deeply hates the notion that we are all in the same boat. If our politics is coming to a rolling boil, that hate is the source of the heat. I believe both sides came to believe that the American Civil War was necessary. The crux we are now facing now is at least as severe. The decay path probably leads not to a civil war, but to a new war of all against all.

        1. Steely Glint

          Agree about abandoning reckless exploitation.
          At for the Right hates the notion of all being in the same boat, I would say the Oligarchs hate being in the same boat, especially as it pertains to climate change; hence, building their own bunkers. I would also say that broad brushing the right with hatred, could be changed to a lack of empathy. Right wing orthodoxy has so stretched the fabric of personal responsibility that little empathy is left for the victims of life’s tragedies. Panic will be the salt that brings the water to a rapid boil.

          1. PhilM

            The left wing believes, wrongly, that it can solve everyone’s problems if it can hold a gun to the heads of people with money.

            The right wing believes, equally wrongly, that their is no need to hold a gun to people’s heads, when they can be induced by their humanity to try to solve other people’s problems of their own free will and generosity.

            But to paint the right as the vector of inhumanity is, well, wrong. It is in fact the right that believes the most in personal responsibility, and the left that believes that the state can supplant that as the modality of social support for the helpless. The Catholic Church, for a long time the model of charity, was similarly the model of conservatism in every regard.

            What is needed is to compare, at every step, the cost and risk of what is now taxation uncontrolled by representation–in effect predation by force–to the cost of the suffering that would result from, or be relieved by, the money spend if the taxed population were left to spend their own money as they pleased.

            Now, if you were talking about money that I had some say over, I might agree with just about any tax rate for a worthy aim. But what gets sent to Washington DC has nothing to do with humanitarian goals. It is simply funding to maintain the personnel of the Empire. Thus, I believe that anyone who supports increasing the power of the unconstrained centralized national militarized forces that thrive by continuously escalating taxation at every level, by targeted special-interest spending, and by punitive, targeted regulation, is in fact not working for humanity at all.

  10. Vatch

    More importantly, Serwer gets slavery wrong. Again he writes:

    The antebellum South was a society built on the violent exploitation of defenseless people

    No. The antebellum South was a society built on treating human beings as chattels who could be bought and sold.

    Those people could be bought and sold, because violence was used against them, and they lacked a legal means of defending themselves against that violence. Yes, there are other situations in which violence is used to oppress people, but that doesn’t change the fact that slavery is a violent institution.

      1. b1daly

        You are the one who implied the similarity of wage work and slavery, with your comment that:

        ‘…wage labor is also “the violent exploitation of defenseless people”…’

        Unless I’m misreading it.

        This is a rather tenuous leap to make. If this is really your view, it’s not surprising that you are at a loss as to how to proceed, politically.

        Are you a Marxist?

      2. Vatch

        I did not say that slavery and wage work are equivalent, because they are not. As b1daly point out, you are the one who said:

        “(Wage labor is also “[t]he violent exploitation of defenseless people,” although the nature of the violence and the nature of the exploitation are different.)”

        The violence inherent in slavery exists without interruption; not only is there a constant threat of violence, the violence actually occurs every day. The violence associated with wage labor usually does not occur, although it can break out. Violence against strikes, for example. Additionally, wage laborers are not defenseless. The employer had most of the power, but not all of it. People could quit their jobs, and yes I know that contract law was often abused to prevent this during the 19th century, but a person could move to another state. Slaves couldn’t do that, without the likelihood of slave catchers coming after them.

        I’m not sugarcoating wage labor during the 19th century; it was grim. But it was less violent than slavery, and the workers were not defenseless.

        1. PhilM

          Most of the factory work in the mills in the early nineteenth century was physically, intellectually, and morally just as bad as cotton farming.

          The workers in those mills had no unions. Their defense was to starve to death.

          Irish indentured servants in Barbados cane-fields; the proletariat in the Manchester mills in 1840; Greek slaves in Rome who could buy their freedom in 50 BCE; slaves whose race and legal status prevented them from buying their freedom, or ever even being freed, in Virginia households in 1840: there are so many legal and moral distinctions to be made; but the humanitarian elements of those lives varied enormously: and in many cases the quality of life of the slave on the one hand was far better than the legally “better-off free man.”

          There is no moral justification for any of those forms of labor. But then, there does not have to be, because the world is what it is, and not what it ought to be, and you can spin your wheels endlessly comparing to the utopia, instead of simply being kind and generous to your neighbors, and productive and strong on your own land, and trying to see that everyone has the same chance to do those things.

          1. Vatch

            I agree with much of what you say, but I think you overstate your case here:

            in many cases the quality of life of the slave on the one hand was far better than the legally “better-off free man.”

            Many cases? I don’t think so. Sure, for some house slaves that was true. But the great majority worked in the fields, and severe corporal punishment was routine.

  11. clinical wasteman

    All true in all respects, but at least as I read the post, Lambert was making the converse point that industrial-scale chattel slavery is a particular kind of institutional violence like no other, and that Serwer’s definition — and perhaps by extension his whole analogy between the two incidents — tends to wish that reality away.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author


      One can take a pre- or apolitical perspective on violence, bullying, etc., but if you want to do politics, you’ve got to take context* into account.

      * Just to pre-empt, “take context into account” doesn’t mean supporting or justifying Gianforte, any more than wanting to understand how the blitzkrieg works means supporting Hitler. Would have been very useful to the French generals!

      1. b1daly

        The distinction is that we no longer have legalized chattel slavery in the US. That is because there has been real social progress made.

        We have other problems, much less severe, to be confronted. But still substantial, and worthy of being addressed.

        It’s not that complicated of an analogy.

        Brooks was a polician who supported a negative social construct of the time: slavery. He was being challenged, with language, by Sumner, confronted on his position. Feeling threatened politically, he made a violent attack on his opponent.

        Gianforte is a politician aligned with backwards social views, an anti-progressive of his day, When challenged, verbally, by Jacob’s questions, he attacked him violently.

        An analogy does not have to be perfect, to hold. In Sewer’s view, whether Jacob was really a challenger, or simply a neutral journalist, is not significant. His point is that Gianforte felt like he was being challenged. He didn’t have a good answer, when confronted with his hard to defend political position, so he lashed out.

        It’s not a great analogy, because the matter of degree of two essential elements is not the same. Gianforte’s attack was not as severe, and premeditated, as Brooks.

        And the specific social ill in question, the Republicans cynical political gamesmanship with real people’s health coverage, is not as bad as slavery.

        So rather than playing dumb about these differences of degree, the question is whether the psychological pattern of such violent behavior is similar enough in the two cases.

        I think the behavior if Gianforte is maybe just a cousin to that of Brooks. The similarity is that the two politicians were on the side of political actions that are essentially indefensible.

        1. fresno dan

          May 30, 2017 at 9:28 am

          I have to say, you are much, MUCH more articulate than me….
          I knew I was right….I just couldn’t say it right….

  12. VietnamVet

    I went to grad school in Oregon almost a half a century ago and I still follow things there the best I can. The stabbing of two men on a Portland MAX train for coming to the defense of young women is shocking. I’ve ridden it with no concerns. No more, you must be on the lookout on all public transportation in the USA. Also, the Montana congressional candidate floor slamming a reporter is unthinkable. Yes, there is a correlation between today and the era prior to the Civil War. But, I think, it is due to the collapse of the reigning economic social systems; slave plantations then and sovereign liberal democracies today. Unless, the New Deal is restored, a third American revolt is inevitable. The little people will fight to take back all that was once theirs. The chaos is spreading. The only thing that can prevent it is the Rule of Law enforced equally for every American, no matter their wealth, religion, or race.

    1. Allegorio

      Not so sure “the little people will fight to take back all that was once theirs.” The little people seem to have Stockholm syndrome, identifying with billionaires and the bullies. They are more worried about the undeserving poor taking what they have than the billionaire bullies taking everything they have. It’s like Lambert’s parable of the farmer and the genie: when asked by the genie what his wish was, the farmer asked for his neighbors cow to die. The ruling class has brainwashed the electorate in beggar thy neighbor politics. In a zero sum world, everyone becomes your enemy.

      1. VietnamVet

        Yes, a revolt will not be by the poor but the middle class.

        The percentage of American Families in the middle class has fallen from 62% in 1970 to 43% in 2015. Those in the 20% who failed to meet their family’s expectations, missed the Ivy League fast track and are not in the 10% credentialed upper class are the ones who will be driven to restore the rights that were stolen from them by the global elite.

        Corporate disinformation stops working when it no longer reflects reality.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > No more, you must be on the lookout on all public transportation in the USA

      I’m not so sure, and I don’t like the fearmongering. The Atlantic:

      That’s because racism has been entrenched in Oregon, maybe more than any state in the north, for nearly two centuries. When the state entered the union in 1859, for example, Oregon explicitly forbade black people from living in its borders, the only state to do so.

      That’s not to minimize the Portland incident. But if 2016 taught me one thing, it’s that the US is an enormous country, and not all that homogenous. So, or now, I think “all public transportation in the USA” is not correct. Or if, “Portland today, tomorrow the world!” I’d like to see the decay path.

      > Unless, the New Deal is restored, a third American revolt is inevitable.

      There I agree with you (modulo program details). The way out is the door: Universal direct material benefits. Unfortunately, both parties are trying to nail the door shut, in their different ways. “Rule or ruin….”

      1. VietnamVet

        Being born Seattle and going to school in Washington State and Oregon in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s it is hard to explain to Easterners the way it was. Our parents ended up out West and had nowhere to go except Alaska. In the suburbs we were not racists. We were urban and egalitarian with excellent public schools and universities. We were of European descent with a few Orientals. Natives had disappeared. Mexicans were across the mountains harvesting crops. We identified with western enlightenment. We were very naïve.

        My first contact with African-Americans was at Fort Lee Virginia when a rural Alabamian slugged me in the chest when I called him Black. Then, came the Vietnam War, immigration, outsourcing jobs, Microsoft and globalization. It is all gone. Housing prices are going through the roof in Seattle and Portland in part due to Chinese flight capital. Yes, as a result of anger and despair from being dumped in the trash, white racism and an American Taliban is emerging. Also, the USA has been at war for a quarter century in the Middle East with the resulting blowback here. Together with the fragility of old age, it is best to be careful nowadays.

  13. Knot Galt

    I think this event clearly signifies that we are in the Age of Intolerance.

    Bush birthed the movement; Obama built upon the foundation; and Trump is a manifestation of the Age.

  14. Wade Riddick

    Sumner and Gianforte both hail from the same American political fragment and they’re both deluded on their own self-righteousness. The comparison is well deserved. Trump’s attacks on the press have been premeditated – indeed, the entire right wing playbook for it runs back to the 1968 Nixon election. This is simply the latest escalation.

    Do you think it’s just a coincidence that when universal health insurance popped up under the first black President, Obama, the Republicans started foaming at the mouth about state’s rights, state sovereignty and nullification? They are the logical inheritors of the unrepentant, revanchist neoconfederate remnant that pines for the days of the Articles of Confederation, before the income tax, before universal public education, before the supremacy of Congress in commerce and certainly before the end of apartheid.

    If there’s someone still defending confederate statues and the confederate flag, it’s a Republican. When you look at the survey data on people opposed to Obamacare many of the attitudes about the flaws in the bill from the right amount to complaints that “those people” are getting helped. Yet the fate of the whites they’re supposed to care about is tied up with “those people” and the cognitive dissonance is unbearable. Wasn’t Sumner defending the prerogatives of the white race when he beat a white man?

    Both incidents illustrate political violence meant to intimidate opponents and undermine democracy by showing certain out groups that the justice process won’t protect them. The period we’re living through has many stark similarities to the 1850s (not to mention the 1890s too).

    1. Outis Philalithopoulos

      Sumner was the guy who was beaten up, not the one who was doing the beating.

    2. Outis Philalithopoulos

      On political violence, I find your one-sidedness astonishing. There have been quite a few incidents of political violence meant to intimidate opponents in the year 2017. Somewhat similar to Gianforte (but arguably more severe) were the carefully planned “punching of Richard Spencer” or the Middlebury College protest in which Allison Stanger received a concussion. Then there is Gavin McInnes getting pepper sprayed by activists while attempting to speak at NYU.

      Most impressive in scale was the Berkeley riot, featuring about 150 masked protesters throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails, and commercial-grade fireworks, as well as beating up some of the bystanders.

      For a window into the mindset of those organizing and advocating for this sort of political violence, see this thread.

      Erasing this part of recent history is particularly problematic because these incidents – and apologetics for them – have started to be used by some on the right precisely in order to argue for matching “Bash the Fash” in tactics. It is not universal – while one notable example can be seen here, there are also prominent voices, e.g. here and here, strongly condemning right wing participation in anything of this sort. But things are not moving in a good direction.

      1. Wade Riddick

        You’re right. It was Brooks, not Sumner. It was 3am. I was tired. Sorry.

        As to the spectrum of political violence, I think you’re forgetting the left has no money, no organization and no power. It doesn’t own any media conglomerates fostering hatred of reporters who ask questions about health insurance. Instead media companies have been all to happy to prop Sarah Palin up on her soapbox periodically to denounce sick people with preexisting conditions who want to buy affordable health insurance with their own money. We’re all out building death camps for old people, apparently.

        It’s not surprising that street punks might beat up people. It is bizarre that wealthy, powerful men like Brooks and Gianforte would perceive threats like this and overreact. It speaks not just to a pattern of conduct but to their perception of the world. The partisan defenses of that behavior are quite telling.

        1. Outis Philalithopoulos

          I didn’t mention “the left” in my comment. The natural complement to the part of the “right” susceptible to calls for violence is the liberal mainstream. It has money, organization, and power.

          As I illustrated a little with the sources I provided, the more institutional right tends not to justify political violence; the same is true for more institutional liberal voices, e.g. the NYT. Once one moves out into intellectual domains that are less institutionally embedded, and more susceptible to “outbidding” competitors in proof of one’s authenticity, partisan defenses of political violence abound. It is bizarre that wealthy, powerful liberals like former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau have thought that it is helpful and/or hilarious to encourage this sort of violence.

          Your statement that “it’s not surprising that street punks might beat up people” obscures central elements of the problem. The antifa protesters do not see themselves as “street punks,” but as courageous activists willing to fight against a threat that “everyone” recognizes but few are willing to confront boldly. They are affirmed in this perspective by huge media campaigns (remember all of the articles explaining how Trump was literally like Hitler?) and enthusiastic posts on completely mainstream Facebook pages. In some cases (e.g. Berkeley) they tried to act as well-organized paramilitaries.

          If you are arguing that Gianforte’s incident is so extraordinary and outside of normality that the only reasonable comparison is Brooks, the only evidence you provide is the fact that a political candidate (as opposed to an ordinary person) manhandled someone. But it would make just as much sense to compare Gianforte to, say, Truman threatening (in writing!) to severely beat up the Washington Post’s music critic. More recent, and a less loaded comparison than Brooks.

  15. Tomonthebeach

    While the metaphor about the Sumner caning might be a little tortured, the notion of online caning is a growing fact of daily life. Sure, some of it comes from trolls who hear voices telling them to defend the honor of the president, bikers, UFOs, or whatever. But I am beginning to see a pattern that online caning seems to be increasingly motivated by what the late Hunter Thompson called fear and loathing.

    Stalwart defenders of the new autocracy, online caners seem to be motivated by a characterization of Trump as the fictional Obi Wan Kenobi who is their only hope. He must succeed, or they are doomed. Comments highlighting Administration failures to achieve even marginal changes only heightens the specter of doom. Threats to the envisioned new world order with its drained swamps and benign kleptocratic rulers must be blunted. If well-reasoned, civil argument is beyond their ken, then hit em with your best shot – ad homenem caning.

    I have observed a steep up-tic in online caning of late. Instead of responding to a post, caners just react. I need to be reminded that there is a new world order, and I better watch my step. I need to get over that my candidate lost even if my comment had nothing to do with politics. My characterizations of Kushner and Trump as demonstrably unqualified for their roles is clear evidence that I “hate rich people.” Opposing a ban on Muslim air travel is not only traitorous, it is anti-Semitic as well.

    Far more troubling than the growth in online caning, is the growth in actual caning. Gianforte is a recent example. He’s going to win, so why does have have to answer this embarrassing questions? The reckless calls to violence by our current president seem to have emboldened violent behaviors. We have people invading pizza joints for being alleged hotbeds of librel corruption. Two men were recently murdered while trying to defend Muslim women from assault. Hatred and rage led a man to slaughter African-American strangers in their church. Were these acts borne out of fear of an unknowable future and loathing of a system that seems to have abandoned them? It would seem so.

  16. WorkerPleb

    I’m sorry, but did this incident with Gianforte actually happen?
    I have searched and have not found any video of this incident, just an audio recording. and I am absolutely not willing to accept the press at its word these days.

    “Body slam”? He picked him up and threw him on the floor? Threw him against the wall? Hit him? “Slam”?

    No-one took a picture? Really? I’m sorry but this boy has cried wolf too many times. I wouldn’t put it past the present US political class, but these claims are still extraordinary enough to require evidence.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I don’t have time to research now, but the story originally came from FOX News (!), of all places. It seems well-attested. There are multiple sources, generally at odds with one another.

      1. Vatch

        Additionally, Gianforte has a court date. Maybe he’s innocent, but there are people who were present at the scene who believe he committed an act of violence. Further, after hiding for a day, Gianforte gave a half hearted apology. Something happened.

  17. Stephen Douglas

    There is only one thing wrong with your account: Gianforte did not body slam the reporter.
    The video clearly shows a kind of wrestling hold where the reporter is being held with head down and then both Gianforte and the reporter go on their knees. At no point does the reporter’s face or fuill body touch the ground. At no point is his body slammed (as in wrestling shows where the body is picked up and slammed to the ground).

    This over-inflation of what happened is being repeated incessantly in the press and you have also repeated it. It makes a difference. He didn’t punch him. He didn’t body slam him. He grabbed him and pulled him down as he went down.

    This over-inflation is an indication of propaganda and nonsense. It also makes crystal clear that the Sumner incident has absolutely no correlation to this Gianforte incident.

    This is truly a tempest in a teapot. And it’s dangerous propaganda that should neither be played into as you have nor dithered over except to immediatley debunk and then ignore it.

    1. Vatch

      Gianforte committed a violent crime. There is disagreement about the precise nature of that crime, and yes, it’s clear that what Brooks did to Sumner is worse that what Gianforte did to Jacobs. But that doesn’t change the essential fact that Gianforte is a violent thug, and that he should not be in the legislature of a civilized country.

    1. different clue

      Clinton supported and still supports Free Trade Agreements. That makes her an avowed enemy of the United States. Every single person who supported her supported her Free Trade Treason from the top against the United States. That makes every person who supported her a Traitor. Most of all the liberals today.

      Poor Clinton. The dog ate her homework. The Putin ate her election.

  18. marym

    Slavery was state-sanctioned violence against defenseless people. It was socially justified by race, perpetrated by the state and private individuals, and portrayed as valor. Though the Gianforte incident isn’t a consistent example, there are parallels today. Ethnicity, immigration status, religion, and non-violent dissent tactics are also part of the justification.

    The Republican establishment, Trump (himself, his appointees, a segment of his followers), actively promote this violence. Democrats, despite a veneer of identity politics and the somewhat-lesser-evil-ism of some domestic policy, are part of the problem. I agree with Lambert that the D’s aren’t the “other side” in addressing the problem.

    However, it is a real, material problem (getting shot by a cop, or attacked by a self-styled vigilante), not just a problem of identity politics or victimhood. If the left is to be the other side, the problem and some universal, materially beneficial solutions, like de-militarizing the police, need to be identified.

    Unless we reclaim and expand the concept and the institutional structures of the common good, we lose everything.

    1. marym

      adding that I have found Adam Serwer’s twitter comments and links on race to be very thoughtful and informative.

  19. Phil In Kansas City

    There is an equivalence between Brooks/Sumner and Gianforte/Jacobs. Gianforte obviously thinks of journalists as something different and apart from most human beings–“you guys.” And when those kind of people of act up, you don’t treat them like you would treat your fellow billionaires. You just lash out at them, as if they were a rabid dog. Brooks considered fighting a duel with Sumner, but in the thinking of his social class, duels could only be fought between equals. Brooks did not consider Sumner a gentleman, and hence, was not his equal, and thus a caning, not a duel, was in order. Both Gianforte and Brooks considered their victims as inferiors. And that is something significant.

    I recall reading that from the 1830’s onward, Northern journalists were not very welcome in the South, nor were copies of Northern newspapers, unless sympathetic to Southern concerns. This parallels today’s divide between liberal and conservative media.

    What is the divide between liberals and conservatives? To me, on a crude level, it seems conservatives trust free markets, big business, and have a general dislike of big government. Liberals, on the other hand, distrust markets and corporations, and trust government more. And there seems to be a cultural divide as well, but one not so easily marked by geography.

    Sumner is easily made a martyr for the Abolitionist cause. At this point, hard to identify Jacobs as much more than a victim of a bully, but that may change. Consider that both spoke truth to power.

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