He Is Writing This Because . . .
Retelling the history wasn’t the point of the book, anyway. “I realize that, as a military historian, I am an outsider to the subject of American civil rights,” Ricks wrote in the preface.
The military excuse comes off as just his ticket in the door. The author had some historical and contemporary points he wanted to score.
“The same antidemocratic faction of American life that opposed the Movement in the 1960s has been resurgent lately, not only seeking to restrict access to the vote but actually storming the Capitol building on January 6, 2021,” wrote Ricks, explaining some of his motive for writing the book.
There is indeed a sore loser faction loose in America, denying and seeking to smear the results of legitimate elections. President Donald Trump joined that sorry cast after the 2020 contest, and the witless, disorganized mob that ransacked the Capitol on January 6 was an ugly example of it.
But what of the highly organized effort to deny and overturn the results of the 2016 election?
The FBI, acting on conspiracies cooked up by the Hillary Clinton campaign, embroiled the nation and the Congress in a three-year terror-fantasy claim that the then duly elected president was a tool of the Kremlin. Among the FBI’s many misdeeds in this fiasco, it serially misled (and that’s the charitable interpretation) a federal judge to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against one-time Trump advisor Carter Page.
That too is all part of our national sore loser syndrome. Left unaddressed, it’s arguably a far worse problem than a mob of nuts rioting in the Capitol for a few hours. Those inside the Capitol that day had reason to fear the friends of the loony invader wearing the bison horns; the rest of the nation did not.
But a politicized and runaway FBI is a potential and currently active threat to the civil liberties of every American.
In Waging a Good War, Ricks addressed the problem this way: “When stated clearly, this simple fact is stunning and scandalous: a federal agency secretly declared war on a peaceable domestic political figure and campaigned zealously against him for years.”
Alas, that quote was not a reference to the FBI’s horrid mistreatment of Carter Page and others who were merely practicing politics without the bureau’s blessing a few years ago. That reference was to the FBI’s also horrid mistreatment and similarly corrupt surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr.
The book is silent on the Trump-Russia collusion hoax.
Intellectual consistency was not a strong point when Ricks tried to make his book seem relevant for today.
“All the methods by which minority voters are disenfranchised nowadays bear a strong resemblance to the tools employed by the white supremacist South a lifetime ago,” he wrote.
And this from the epilogue, after Ricks has accurately recounted severe violence and threats of same repeatedly inflicted on those seeking the right to vote during the civil rights era:
“All the methods by which minority voters are disenfranchised nowadays bear a strong resemblance to the tools employed by the white supremacist South a lifetime ago.”
According to the US Elections Project, using U.S. Census data, black voter turnout for the 2020 election was 65.6 percent—the third highest total in the database going back to 1986. The only two elections with higher percentages of black turnout were 2008 (69.1 percent) and 2012 (67.4 percent), respectively the election and re-election of President Barack Obama. In those elections, black voter turnout exceeded white turnout and was the highest among all demographics measured by the US Elections Project.
And black voter turnout in 2020 was higher than white voter turnout in every presidential election since at least 1986.
To write that violations of voting rights in 2020 bear any resemblance, let alone a “strong” one, to the violence that occurred in the American South prior to the civil rights era is just deeply unserious, offensive, incendiary hyperbole. It ranks right there with the worst things former President Trump has justifiably been criticized for saying.
It’s difficult to take a historian seriously who cannot grasp recent history or a journalist who so clearly doesn’t follow the news. In the effort to make his book relevant for today, Ricks instead turned it into an extended effort to rival the worst of Trump on Twitter.
In the next installment, Ricks deploys more clumsy military clichés and analogies.