"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

From Root to Fruit: Jim Jatras Makes the Inevitable John Brown Reference

See, I told you so.

In my last post (June 14), I expressed apprehension that someone would respond to the recent Alexandria shootings by the anti-Trump reactionary, James Hodgkinson, with a comparison to John Brown.  In fact, the unfortunate reference to Brown was posted online only two days later, by Jim Jatras, "a former US diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership," on the conservative website, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

In his piece, "Waiting for John Brown" (Jun. 16), Jatras argues that if an incident of gross insult or even an assault upon the Democrats had taken place at the hands of a Republican, the Republicans would "be dunned mercilessly by media and their Democratic colleagues demanding they own up to 'the climate of hate' they’d created."  This is the gist of Jatras' complaint, that there is a double standard that allows the Democrats and a largely liberal media to blame the Republicans for a climate of violence, such as they did when former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011, and both Sarah Palin and the Tea Party were insinuated as having responsibility.
Jim Jatras (Chronicles)

In the short run, Jatras may have a point, although I'm not interested so much in arguing the contemporary issue.  My concern, as usual, is to protect the real legacy of John Brown from the abuses of bigots, snobs, and agenda-driven or ignorant narratives.   Jatras is concerned about what he believes (whether true or imagined) is a growing, hostile, and possibly violent movement arising against conservatives.  He fears that there is a evidence  of a "planned calculated armed assaults on ordinary, decent Americans who have been demonized as 'white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen along with other provocateurs from the so-called "alt-right."'"  He fears another civil war may even arise if things don't "calm down on their own," and that good citizens will "just meekly" permit themselves to be deprived of their rights by leftwing reactionaries.  Jatras fears the worst.

Apart from the shoe being on the other foot (liberals have long had similar apprehensions about a rightwing uprising), it is most unfortunate that Jatras would drag John Brown into this mess with his alarmist prediction of civil war and the loss of rights by conservatives.  Jatras fears that conservative citizens who are so deprived will "begin to respond in kind," and then he cites the civil war in Spain in the 1930s.  In contrast, he then invokes Brown and the Harper's Ferry raid in speaking of the Democrats.  Apart from the title, however, Brown is not mentioned in his piece until the end, when he writes:
At this writing we don’t know if the Alexandria shooter simply sought to kill as many people as possible, or whether he hoped to spark something bigger. We have an example of how that happens too, at Harper’s Ferry in 1859. 
It’s not clear whether James Hodgkinson intended to be a new John Brown. But the way things are going, one will show up sooner than later. 
So, on one hand, Jatras seems to be predicting that Republicans, weary of being deprived of their rights, will take up arms to "respond in kind."  On the other hand, he connects James Hodgkinson to John Brown--alleged proof that Democratic fanaticism is attempting something bigger than just a few wounded Republicans.  Hodgkinson may or may not be the "new John Brown," Jatras concludes, but he expects one to arise.  John Brown as the liberal antichrist?
James Hodgkinson

Apart from the obvious alarmism of his propaganda, Jatras makes a supreme category error in historical terms. To be sure, he is not the only one announcing the possibility of civil war.  But so far, Jatras is the only Republican to invoke John Brown following the Alexandria incident.  In doing so, he reflects partisan bias and ignorance regarding the historical John Brown.   The question is why Jatras associates Brown with the liberal repression that he fears?  Why doesn't he consider that Brown is actually representative of US citizens opposing tyranny and fascism in the antebellum era?

Certainly, Hodgkinson was no John Brown type.  According to an assessment of the FBI reported in USA Today (Jun. 21), he had an "anger management problem,'' had abruptly exited a strained marriage, and had been living alone in his van for a month with his weapons in the vicinity of the nation's capital.  Hodgkinson certainly hated Trump, and had carried a list with the names of six lawmakers that perhaps he wanted to kill.  But he "was struggling in all kinds of different ways,'' concluded the assistant director of the FBI.  According to the Bureau, Hodgkinson had acted alone.  None of this corresponds well with John Brown's profile as a man or as an activist.  Even when Brown did lead a group in a preemptive strike in 1856 Kansas territory, the five men that died were conspirators in a terrorist plan, not hapless victims of a fanatic with a predisposition to homicide.

Hodgkinson was a troubled man with inclinations that made him a social misfit and dropout.  In contrast, John Brown was well respected in his own community, even by people who thought his antislavery views were extreme.  His family life was intact and he had the love and support of his wife and children, and the respect of his larger circles of family and friends.  The attempt by his friends to argue for his "monomania"in 1859 was unfounded and intended only to save him from the death penalty.   No one who knew Brown believed he was unbalanced, and everyone knew he was a man of principle whose only design was to undermine slavery and liberate the oppressed. Hodgkinson will not be celebrated now that he's dead.  Brown was widely celebrated and long upheld with respect for his egalitarian prescience, devotion, and self-sacrifice in the antislavery arena.   For Jatras to reduce Brown to a kind of miscreant, leftwing messiah figure is completely uncalled for and unfair.

In 2015, ABC News reported that Jatras "desperately" wanted to run for Vice-President under the Republican banner, and he went so far as to issue a press release announcing his intentions to get on the GOP ticket.  In an interview, he stated his intention to stand up "for the principles of the Republican party." The question is, which Republican party?   In 1860, there was a leftwing faction of the Republican party that advocated immediate emancipation and upheld the example and principles of John Brown.  There was also a rightwing faction that was conservative and willing to compromise with slaveholders in order to save the Union--even if it meant keeping black people enslaved.

Evidently, when Jim Jatras identifies himself with the Republican party, he is putting himself squarely in the tradition of Republican compromisers who saw slavery as tolerable for nationalist priorities.  This will explain why he is fundamentally disconnected from John Brown, and why he equates him with the enemy instead of crediting him as a liberator and leader in the struggle for justice.

"You shall know them by their fruits"--and their fruits will reveal their roots.--LD



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