Plus, do petitions really work?
Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter that publishes views from across the political spectrum. If you found this online or someone forwarded you this email, consider supporting the newsletter by subscribing below:
Today’s read: 10 minutes.
The debate over Confederate monuments, a question about the effectiveness of petitions, the last day to take the Tangle poll and the Georgia elections story.
Hundreds of marchers rally at the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, in Richmond, Virginia on September 16, 2017. Photo: Mobilus In Mobili / Flickr
Last day for the poll!
Every few weeks, I try to run a new Tangle poll — then I share some of the data with my readers. If you want me to be able to reply to your feedback, be sure to fill out the *optional* section to leave your email. And please only take the poll once!
The people speak.
Yesterday, I wrote that I was going to move reader feedback from the top of the newsletter down to the bottom of it because of a few emails I got. In response, I got about ten more emails yesterday encouraging me to keep the reader feedback at the top of the newsletter. The people have spoken. And I will listen.
David from New Orleans had this to say about yesterday’s reader question and answer: “I appreciate you presenting a somewhat balanced view on Trump not leaving office after an election loss,” he wrote. “However, it does bear pointing out that it is the Democrats who have had an extreme inability to accept the election results of 2016, and who have concocted an amazing number of conspiracy theories to ‘explain’ Trump's win. Also, the exact opposite was predicted by pundits — that there would be rioting and violence in the streets if Trump lost, and that Democrats would be gracious in Hillary's defeat.”
I hear this. I wouldn’t necessarily call all of the reasons Democrats fought Trump’s election (or tried to impeach him) “conspiracy theories,” but I did note yesterday in my response that I don’t think enough is said about the reverse 2020 outcome — what happens if Trump wins by a close margin? Will Democrats really sit by and let him return to office, especially if it’s close with widespread reports of voter suppression? It’s a real question.
- In related news to yesterday’s reader question, last night Joe Biden told Trevor Noah he thought President Trump may try to “steal the election.” “It’s my greatest concern. My single greatest concern,” he said. He also added that if Trump tries to stay in office, Biden was “absolutely convinced” the military would “escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”
- Protesters in Seattle took over City Hall on Tuesday night, demanded the mayor’s resignation, and then declared an “autonomous zone” with no police in downtown Seattle. Demonstrators remained peaceful, without reports of violence, arrests or injuries, according to Fox News. The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) is still in place, with signs reading “THIS SPACE IS NOW PROPERTY OF THE SEATTLE PEOPLE.”
- A California deputy is in serious but stable condition after being shot while responding to a call for shots fired at the Paso Robles Police Department on Wednesday. A suspect began shooting at the police station around 3:45 a.m. and killed a homeless man before fleeing. The shooting comes after a Santa Cruz deputy and a federal police officer in Oakland were killed in the last two weeks.
- A court-appointed former judge issued a scathing rebuke of the Justice Department’s decision to drop charges against national security advisor Michael Flynn. He called it a “gross abuse of prosecutorial power” to protect an ally of President Trump, saying “everything about this is irregular,” calling the Justice Department’s updated assessment of its case “preposterous.” The 82-page filing is another twist in the trial of Flynn, who previously pled guilty to lying to federal agents about his contacts with a Russian ambassador prior to Trump taking office.
- Health experts are expressing fear and the stock market began to fall today after reports of COVID-19 outbreaks spread across the U.S. The United States surpassed two million confirmed cases, including 113,000 deaths and 533,000 recoveries yesterday. Cases are up in 21 states and decreasing in 23 (including New York and New Jersey, the epicenters of the virus).
What D.C. is talking about.
Renaming or removing Confederate monuments. On Tuesday, former CIA Director and retired U.S. Army general David Petraeus published an op-ed in The Atlantic calling for the renaming of Confederate monuments. The piece is a historical exploration both of Petraeus’s time in the Army and the way the Army bases were named.
Petraeus, reflecting on his time in the military, said he was “oblivious” to the fact that some of the bases where he trained were named after slavery enthusiasts and American traitors. “Like many aspects of the military, the forts themselves were so shrouded in tradition that everything about them seemed rock solid, time tested, immortal,” he wrote. “Their names had taken on new layers of meaning that allowed us to ignore the individuals for whom they were named.”
The essay set off an immediate debate across D.C. and in political circles. The Defense Secretary and Army Secretary said they were open to “bipartisan discussions” about renaming the bases. Then, President Trump tweeted a rejection of the idea on Wednesday.
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” he said. “The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”
I also received a question from Hailey in Texas, who wrote in asking about the removal of some of the roughly 1,700 Confederate statues across the U.S. “What is your take on this?” she asked. “If the country were to rid itself of any monument recognizing a slave owner or racist, there may not be many statues left. Our history is founded on the horrid use of slavery, and the repercussions of that time are still prevalent today. Should we remove the positive remembrances of the people that shaped our history due to their advocacy and support of racism, slavery and/or discrimination? Or should these bits of history be left standing for preservation’s sake?”
What the right is saying.
It’s a mixed bag. Some conservatives argue that renaming the Confederate monuments amounts to a pointless historical erasure — one that could remove the lessons of the past in an effort to create safer emotional spaces for the American left. They also argue it’s a precursor to more historical tear-downs. Dominic Green notes that the “war of the statues” is no longer just about the Confederacy — iconic statues of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Christopher Columbus have all been petitioned, decapitated, defaced or toppled in recent weeks.
“Monuments are part of the historical evidence,” Green argues. “This is why erasing even the loathsome statues of Confederate generals is an error. Slavery was more than a system of laws, and its legacies endured beyond plantation house museums … If we wreck [the statues] or hide [them], we remove the evidence of this wickedness from our children’s sight.”
Instead of tearing them down, Green suggests “enriching” them — add plaques, counter-statues, history. Change these statues and names from “assertions of racial power to evidence of a crime.”
In 2017, The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson published one of the most read articles ever about preserving the confederate monuments. “Something as central to American history as the war between North and South should impose on us and demand our attention—not so that we can honor the principles of the Confederacy, but so we can understand and remember who we were and all we suffered to survive the Civil War and remain one nation,” he said.
But these opinions are not alone. The Washington Examiner’s Quin Hillyer wrote that it “has never, ever made sense” for U.S. military bases to be named after people who fought against the United States. He called it “outlandish” for Trump to make the blanket assertion that renaming these bases is off the table. “A reasoned and decent respect for black Americans should absolutely require that renamings be considered,” Hillyer said.
In Hot Air, Allahpundit blasted Trump for the political self-destruction of the moment, saying there were only two options. Option one was “a gesture of conciliation towards Americans who are worried about racism,” he wrote. Option two was “do nothing and keep quiet… Option three was do what he did.”
What the left is saying.
There’s very little dissent on the left: the names and statues must go. The president’s reasoning — that the statues preserve an American history of winning, victory and freedom — is absurd on its face, Aaron Blake wrote in The Washington Post. Fort Bragg, Fort Hood and Fort Benning are all named after “Confederate generals who, after all, lost the Civil War.”
“Are Fort Bragg or Fort Benning really great because of the names they carry, or because of the people who lead them and the soldiers they produce?” he asked. “Do people who come from these bases really believe that changing their names would somehow diminish their important experiences there or the preparation they went through?”
George Shepherd argued in CNN that the Confederate monuments were a post-Civil War tool for Southern whites to reassert their dominance over former slaves. During the 80 years after the Civil War, the statues and monuments were erected as a way to suppress African American growth. Most appeared in the early 1900s.
“The goal was not to preserve ‘Southern heritage,’ as the monuments' defenders now claim,” Shepherd wrote. “Instead, the goal was to install white-supremacist icons that would intimidate African Americans and enforce whites' supremacy.” Take the giant carvings on Stone Mountain, near Atlanta. Funding for those monuments came from the KKK, which ritually met atop the mountain to burn crosses.
Even more recently, in the 1950s, Confederate monuments went up in the south as a symbol of “massive resistance” to the Supreme Court outlawing segregation. These monuments, much like the names of the military bases, were “a middle finger to both African Americans and to the federal government that was trying to end discrimination,” Shepherd says.
While immersing myself in the arguments to preserve these historical sites, and the names of these revered military bases, I found myself sympathetic to certain arguments: the fear of “what gets torn down next?”, the idea that our history — however ugly — should not be hidden, the historical complexity of “decent” men who lived during indecent times. But the sympathy is hard to maintain, even when I tried my best to step onto the side of “preservation.”
Unsurprisingly, Petraeus’s argument that reignited this entire debate is still the most compelling. His essay is worth five minutes of your time. President Trump’s blanket rejection seemed to expose his own historical ignorance and his inability to navigate choppy political waters, as I doubt his blanket call for preserving the bases will earn him any new support. First, let’s consider the history.
Bragg was short-tempered and totally incompetent as a leader. General Lee was a distinguished tactician and skilled on the battlefield. He was also a traitor who committed treason and chose to fight for Virginia against the United States. Benning was courageous in battle often to a fault, once leading his men to their own slaughter. But he was seemingly more enthusiastic about slavery than any other ambition he had. The same can be said for each of the Confederate generals — they fought to end the United States, defend slavery, and they lost. That’s their honest legacy: Treason, slavery and defeat.
As Petreaus notes, the fact that some of them agonized over their decision on which side to fight for is not something to erase from history. There are great lessons in the stories of those men, important lessons that can guide us today, and there are certainly aspects of each of them worth learning from or even admiring. But to venerate them with military bases and statues? Any honest look at it now leaves me flummoxed.
Being Jewish, I also consider how similar monuments might impact my own psyche. I won’t dive into the absurdity of comparing General Lee to Hitler, but I imagine if I had to walk by a statue or hear about a military base venerating a leader who lost a great battle aimed at keeping the Jews enslaved and preventing the development of a unified Jewish democracy, it’d be pretty upsetting. Yes, the Civil War was more complex than just a battle over slavery. But the contours of this historical time are obvious and pronounced to anyone willing to look at them.
Regardless, renaming the bases or tearing down the Confederate monuments doesn’t actually do any of the things people who are worried about it seem to think it does. It’s not historical erasure. We’re not removing their names from textbooks or museums. The answer is so obvious it’s painful: Take the monuments down and put them in a museum, then rename the military bases after the American leaders who actually won and preserved the United States. Let it happen on a case by case basis and do it in a democratic fashion.
I’ll close with Petraeus’s words:
“What distinguishes democracies is their capacity to debate even the most contentious issues vigorously and in informed, respectful, deliberate ways and to learn from the errors of the past. But remembering Lee’s strengths and weaknesses, his military and personal successes and failures, is different from venerating him.”
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. If you have something you want to see in the newsletter, simply reply to this email and write in. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can.
Q: What is the legitimacy of online petitions? What about "text Floyd" to "this number" to "sign this petition" to "get the guys arrested"? Where do these petitions go, and who are the people behind them? Do they actually make a difference, do politicians ever see them, or are they just data collections masked as activism?
— Cara, Los Angeles, CA
Tangle: This is an awesome question, and one I’ve received in different forms from a number of readers (so consider this a wholesale answer!).
The answer, like most questions in Tangle, is not simple. First and foremost I should say that it’s really a case-by-case basis. I can’t say “all petitions are good” or “all petitions are bad,” and I certainly can’t tell you where the petitions or texts you’re signing go. However, your question about whether “they are just data collections masked as activism” is actually — in part — the answer.
Online petitions are, as we speak, being researched, studied, and written about in books and scholarly articles by sociologists and other researchers. The consensus on whether they work as a whole is split because some do effect change and others don’t. However, what we do know is that petitions serve as a ground floor for more activism — and in that sense, they’re incredibly effective.
Think of it this way: putting 100,000 signatures on a Change.org petition doesn’t just send a message to a legislator, corporation or body of other sort — it also collects 100,000 names and email addresses unified for a cause. That means the organizers of those petitions can (and do!) reach out to those 100,000 people and try to inspire them to another form of activism. They can be leveraged to raise money, join in-person protests, or apply maximum pressure on politicians in their local areas.
The classic example of a successful online petition campaign was the pressure to stop the Keystone Pipeline during President Obama’s term. Millions of signatures turned into hundreds of thousands of protesters which turned into thousands of activists on the ground opposing the pipeline locally. But the petition was effective because it had a clear strategy and goal: President Obama’s signature was needed to approve the pipeline, the petition could stop him with political pressure.
Signing a petition to “end climate change” is a pointless act of “slacktivism.” Signing a petition to oppose the Keystone Pipeline is a far more effective way to build political pressure. In the latter case, the number of signatures on the petition was a news story itself — so the campaign turned into a media craze because we had direct evidence so many people cared about stopping this pipeline from being built.
Texts are sort of the next step in this model. If you’re getting a text message on your phone, it’s because your data or information is already in the hands of someone who wants to leverage your political leanings. If you’re sending a text message, you’re handing that data over. And if the issue is something you care about, it’s probably a calculated risk — or an intentional act — to stay involved in an issue.
Here’s another good example: when Cecil the lion was killed by an American dentist in Zimbabwe, petitions erupted across the U.S. Some of the petitions basically said “this is awful, this dentist sucks.” Hundreds of thousands of people signed them. That’s an example of a bad, pointless petition. But many of those signatories were then targeted for another petition, this one calling on airlines to ban the transportation of endangered animals. This was a targeted policy change with a specific objective. And it worked. Several airlines updated their policies. When Delta Airlines was slow to act, those same signees were targeted for a petition specifically about Delta — and that worked, too.
If you’re presented with a petition or text campaign, I’d take some time to make sure it’s something you want to support — and coming from a group you trust. There’s no harm in taking 10 minutes to research the people behind the petition or text campaign, and you’ll probably end up learning more about the cause on the way. Ask yourself if there’s a clear objective, if the people behind it seem trustworthy, if you think change could be effected, and do it all with the understanding you will probably be added to a list and contacted for money, more support, etc.
All told, petitions and online campaigns have a long history of being effective. But it’s not because of the petition in a vacuum — it’s because they lead to media coverage, more activism, fundraising, and more organized protesting.
A story that matters.
The election mess unfolding in Georgia has huge implications for November, The New York Times reports. Hours-long waits, a new voting system collapsing and absentee ballots never being delivered have sent fear and shock across the U.S. with just five months until the 2020 presidential election. Multiple investigations have been launched into what went wrong, but Democrats are describing scenes of voter suppression across the most populated urban areas of Georgia. Democratic officials in Atlanta say the worst of the problems took place in predominantly black neighborhoods while issues in rural white counties were non-existent. Republicans are blaming liberal leaders in Atlanta for bungling the roll-out of a $107 million voting system. The election itself was a low-stakes primary battle, but the outcome has raised new fears about what’s coming. Click.
- 17%. The increase in support amongst Americans for the Black Lives Matter movement over the last two weeks.
- 39%. Donald Trump’s approval rating, according to the latest Gallup poll. It’s the first time his approval rating has slipped below 40% since October.
- 6.5%. The percentage the U.S. economy is expected to shrink this year, according to a new Federal Reserve projection.
- $50. The average amount an insurance company is charged for a COVID-19 test.
- 28%. The percentage of Americans who think that race relations in the U.S. are generally good.
- 65%. The percentage of Americans who think race relations in their community are generally good.
- 58%. The percentage of Americans who think race relations in the U.S. have stayed the same or gotten worse since the 1960s.
- 56%. The percentage of Americans who say the slogan “All Lives Matter” carries a positive association to them.
Spread the word!
If you enjoyed this newsletter, or found it useful, please consider sharing it. I’m dedicated to elevating the best arguments from both sides of the political spectrum while being transparent about my own biases. It’s a new kind of nuanced political journalism for thinking Americans, and I rely on my readers to spread the word.
You can share this link: /about
You can forward this email to 10 friends.
You can click the button below.
Have a nice day.
In 1984, Kathy Sullivan made history as America’s first female spacewalker. She boarded the International Space Station and then eventually left the vessel and walked in space for the first time. On Monday, Sullivan went in the opposite direction. She became the first woman to dive to the bottom of the Challenger Deep safely and return in her submersible vessel. She is now the eighth person to reach the depth, which is the lowest point in the Marianas Trench, 35,853 feet under the Western Pacific Ocean surface. This is, without question, the most badass news I’ve read this week (and also terrifying, as I had no idea the ocean got that deep). Click.