Why Biden is right to wave the bloody shirt about the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill
The provenance of the taboo, which the GOP is invoking implicitly, makes you realize that to wave a bloody shirt is a very good thing.
I attended high school in the early 1970s in California, whose system of public education at that time was the envy of the nation, at a school that was consistently ranked among the ten best in the country. Even so, they were still teaching the Civil War and its aftermath in a manner that was absurdly deferential to the South. Everybody was back then. My otherwise excellent high school textbook, The National Experience, written by some of the most eminent American historians of that time—John M. Blum, Edmund S. Morgan, Arthur M. Schlesinger, C. Van Woodward, etc.—still contained silly subheadings like “Two nations prepare for war” and “The dilemma of Reconstruction.” I don’t remember learning much about the concentrated campaign of terror undertaken by white southerners to keep Blacks as close to the condition of slavery as possible.
Perhaps that explains why I learned only yesterday the origins of the phrase “waving the bloody shirt.” In my latest New Republic piece, I explain that just as Reconstruction was misunderstood until Eric Foner came along, so, too, is the taboo against waving the bloody shirt. It’s perfectly fine, even necessary, to wave a bloody shirt when an injustice remains unaddressed!
The taboo’s origins turn out to lie in a brutal Klan beating of a white Yankee superintendent of schools in Mississippi named Allen P. Huggins who had the temerity to educate the children of former slaves. You can read his account of the experience here. That’s the subject of my latest New Republic piece, which after fumbling a bit to identify the rhetorical origins of “It’s worse to name Sin X than to commit Sin X” (with the help of some very game scholars of classical rhetoric), concludes that the GOP’s fury against Democratic commemorations of the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill is a kind of neoconfederate denialism. Which among other things is a great historical irony, given that back when the phrase was invented it was righteous Republicans who were being criticized by racist Democrats.
Also posted today on the New Republic website is my first piece for the print magazine, about Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel of the NLRB. That doesn’t sound like an important job but in fact it’s arguably the most powerful position from which to implement President Joe Biden’s pro-labor agenda. I think Abruzzo is off to an excellent start by urging athletic teams to unionize.
PS In searching for art for this post, I discover that David Neiwert wrote a similar piece last year on Daily Kos. It’s very good, more thorough than mine on the history, and is well worth reading.