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We went to church last night, in a quiet spot amidst the glitz and noise of the New York theater district. Bruce Springsteen seems to have the same goals for a performance as I do for a worship service: remind people of what really matters and give them the spark and courage to act; add some beauty to the world, restore hope, and have fun together.

You set out to do that, but you don’t always bring it. He brought it last night, all right.

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Catsitter is in place, redeye is behind me, and I’m in New York, where the public radio stations play classical music and the taxi drivers play the public radio stations. This one does, anyway. I’m grateful. I slept some on the plane, but my brain can’t take 1010 WINS even at the best of times. I normally enjoy chatting with taxi drivers, and I’d like to hear this one’s story–he came here from Russia, I think–but maybe a little more sleep before Brooklyn would be good.

Joy and Indigo are out of town for spring break, but I won’t follow them until Monday night, since I have an all-day training to go to on Monday. So I enjoyed a quiet morning at home alone today (Saturday), then went to the San Francisco March for Our Lives to end gun violence. When I joined the March, it extended as far as I could see in both directions. When I got to the Embarcadero I turned and walked back up Market Street a ways, and still the other marchers streamed by, no end in sight.

Seeing people’s signs was a highlight, as always. I counted three Hamilton quotes: “This is not a moment, it’s a movement,” “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us,” and “History has its eyes on you.” Several students’ signs noted the irony of their schools’ dress codes (especially for girls) being more restrictive than gun laws. There were many pleas to give teachers more resources to do their jobs instead of guns. I liked this one from a girl about Indigo’s age.

One man walked by with the sign “Arming teachers is like arming priests and rabbis.” I wasn’t sure what that meant (still am not) but I came up alongside him to tell him that I’m a minister, and although I know the chances are almost nil that anything would happen during a service, since the massacre in Sutherland Springs, I always keep my cell phone in the pulpit when I preach: charged, and on, and right where I can get at it. He shook his head. “You shouldn’t have to think about that kind of thing.” Yeah.

As is so often the case, the media exaggerates the role of white students and implies that few Parkland students or organizers are African-American, just as, when African-American teenagers have organized responses to violence in their communities they’ve been ignored (“no one addresses ‘black-on-black crime'”), and when they have peacefully protested violence by police, they’ve too often been portrayed not as promising leaders, but as thugs.

Not that the Parkland students have been consistently lionized; the NRA seems to be accusing them of loving the attention, and the media responses are mixed. Still, the dominant response has been admiring, supportive, and grateful–as it should be. Now if we could respond to the young leaders of Black Lives Matter and other, people-of-color-led anti-violence activism the same way . . .

For my part, since I’m so frustrated by the deceptive and self-deceptive narrative about how “good guys with guns” (whether teachers, armed guards, or individuals in their homes) are a viable solution to gun violence, the connection between the deaths of Stephon Clark and others at the hands of police, and that of my aunt at the hands of her (professional, middle-class, white) husband, is evident. Both are cases of those widely perceived as “the right people,” the “good guys,” becoming a deadly risk to those they are supposed to protect. That comes about when a “good guy” is laden with fear, uncontrolled anger, and an attitude of entitlement, but these are far more likely to be fatal when combined with guns.

So one side of my sandwich board memorialized my aunt,

and the other evoked, along with her name, the names of some African-American victims of the “good guy” myth.

Rest in peace, because we will not stop fighting the greed and injustice that killed you.

Today’s political misconception is the one about enslaved African-Americans being counted as three-fifths of a person in the United States constitution. It’s true; it was spelled out in Article 1 until repealed by the 14th Amendment after the Civil War. But the assertion that an African-American amounts to only 60% of a white person is only part of this law.

The complete meaning is worse than that. Much worse.

The question the delegates were wrestling with was: Since states are represented in the House of Representatives based on their population, how do enslaved people count toward that representation? The abolitionists’ answer was “They don’t,” which was logical, since slaves were not treated as human beings under the law and certainly weren’t permitted to vote, themselves. Why should their owners get more representation based on that enslavement? The southern answer, illogically but expediently, was “The same as free people.” A family of ten that owned 90 slaves would therefore have the representation in Congress due 100 people. (Of course, it was not the individual or family, but the state as a whole that got the representation.)

Slave states wouldn’t ratify the Constitution without getting to count slaves toward their Congressional representation, and two slave states were needed to reach the nine out of 13 needed for ratification. After much wrangling, the delegates reached the Three-Fifths Compromise.

It would be bad enough if the article meant what it is often misunderstood to mean: that each free person is 100% of a citizen and each enslaved person is 60% of a citizen. But in fact, enslaved people didn’t count at all, except in order to benefit those who enslaved them. (Important aside: Indians were explicitly placed outside the count entirely; I don’t know to what extent that was a recognition that they were citizens of their own nations living among the citizens of the U.S., and to what extent it was an assertion that they were personae non gratae, though I can hazard a guess. Free blacks were counted the same as whites, but their numbers in the slave states were negligible at the time.) Slaveowners among the delegates had the chutzpah to argue that “blacks ought to stand on an equality with whites” (Charles Pinckney, SC), although they certainly weren’t arguing for racial equality in any other context. Not to put too fine a point on it, they wanted to count pieces of their property towards their representation, exploiting the fact that that property resembled a human being, though in their view “it” was not.

The Three-Fifths Compromised enshrined one of the most despicable facts of the U.S. slavery system: enslaved people were regarded as people when it benefited the enslavers, livestock when it didn’t. Thus, on the one hand, an enslaved woman had no rights her owner was bound to respect, as if she were a cow or sheep. On the other hand, the owner could have sex with her, something that would have been both taboo and illegal for him to do with non-human property, and their offspring would be considered human children (and, of course, the owner’s property). Likewise, bounty hunters and hunters of runaway slaves delighted in the opportunity to have prey that were so intelligent. Human escapees offered them a challenge that deer, bears, and wild pigs did not. But like the animals, they could be caught, tortured and killed with impunity.

The three-fifths rule was another means by which white supremacist governments had things both ways. People who were enslaved could not vote, nor had any rights that distinguished them from livestock, but whereas having more sheep did not entitle a state to more representation, having human livestock did. Every person brought from abroad to the auction block in New Orleans or Richmond gave Louisiana or Virginia that much more power to maintain that enslavement. Each enslaved woman who, raped by an owner, gave birth to a child, was by compulsion strengthening the chains holding them all.

That’s what’s meant by “three-fifths of a person.”

Next post: Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting about “adoption”

I’ve been mentally collecting common political misconceptions, some of which I’ve held myself. Some have been debunked repeatedly, such as the myth that Al Gore claimed credit for inventing the internet (he clearly didn’t), though even as one crumbles, another takes shape before our eyes, such as the claim that Sarah Palin said “I can see Russia from my house!” (It was Tina Fey, playing Palin on Saturday Night Live. Millions of us heard her say it on live television, and her tone was clearly satirical, not one of literally quoting her target, and yet people still say Palin said it.) But other, more substantive misconceptions keep cropping up, so herewith a few posts taking a close look at them.

Up today: the idea that federalism, and the Federalist Party of the early United States, advocate a loose confederation of states with a weak federal government. Federalism’s modern version, in this thinking, is “states’ rights.” In fact, the opposite is true: federalism argues for a strong central government and, while not discarding states’ jurisdiction over many functions of government, tilts towards empowering the federal government to supersede the states’.

I thought federalism equalled states’ rights for years, for the simple reason that the Federalist Society, the conservative legal organization, strongly advocates states’ rights and weak federal powers. And if one looks to the authors of the Federalist Papers, there are mixed messages; one was James Madison, a founding member of the Democratic-Republican (also known as the Republican) Party, which decisively took leave of the Federalist Party. However, during the writing of the Federalist Papers, Madison was a Federalist, or perhaps federalist is a better way to put it: he thought the Articles of Confederation were too weak (the Federalist Papers were written with the express object of getting the Constitution ratified to replace the Articles of Confederation) and that a stronger central government was needed to bind the states together.

The Federalist Society, according to Wikipedia, is primarily concerned with the concept of judicial restraint, which is outlined in Federalist Paper No. 78. That was indeed written by someone who remained a Federalist all his life, Alexander Hamilton. But in many (most?) of its stances, the Federalist Society sides not with Hamilton but with the later Madison, who parted from the principle of a strong central government, and in doing so, shed the name Federalist and began a new party–the first political party and the beginning of party factionalism in the United States.

I’m sure my understanding of these parties’ positions is far from complete, and probably anachronistic; who knows where Hamilton, Madison, and other early Federalists and Anti-Federalists would stand on the issues of 2018? But it’s undoubtedly true that the term “federalism” is repeatedly used to mean its opposite.

The Federalist website, for example, though not connected to The Federalist Society, shares its general worldview, and like it, is an inheritor not of the Federalists’ political philosophy, but their opponents’.

And just last week, the Washington Post used the term “federalism” to describe pushback by the nations’ governors against Trump’s teacher-arming plan (“Trump gets a seminar on federalism as governors push back on arming teachers,” February 27). “The session quickly became a seminar on federalism — and a reminder that states really remain the laboratories of democracy,” the author, James Hohman wrote, but that is far more a Democratic-Republican article of faith than a Federalist one.

Political philosophers, government majors, members of the Federalist Society, Ron Chernow, David McCullough (biographers of Federalists Hamilton and Adams, respectively): if you have light to shed on this issue, please do.

Next post: 3/5.

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