CULTURE AND TOWN: It's time for Abraham Lincoln to go!


But also, it happened at Smith: Is it possible that there are some basic failings with the culture currently on display here in the streets of Our Town?

We can see the lunacy Over There, in the streets of the various towns where The Others live. We can see the remarkable dumbness—the widespread lack of basic discernment routinely put on display. 

That much is blindingly obvious, especially to us Over Here. But is it possible that some such shortfalls in discernment, however tiny and well-intentioned, might also exist Over Here? 

Also, is it possible that these admittedly tiny flaws could be contributing to the widespread political / cultural divide now wracking our failing nation? Could any such thing be possible?

Needless to say, it's hard to believe that we could actually at fault in any real way in Our Town. Our intentions are so noble! You can tell that by the things we constantly say, by the inspiring ways we perform.

In a ridiculous excess of caution, we have suggested, at this site, than any such misperceived shortfalls in Our Town's admittedly wonderful culture are likely to involve matters of gender and race. 

In those areas, our behaviors are so pure—so far above the national norm—that they're frequently misunderstood, and they are of course misdescribed. 

No one could seriously think that there are real flaws in Our Town. That said, the misperceptions fly thick and fast. 

In a recent column in the New York Times, Ezra Klein described one such incident. That widely misunderstood incident concerns the belief among some in Our Town that it's time for Lincoln to go.

Klein's column began as shown below. Having said that, let us also say this—long before this column appeared, the jackals had seized upon the principled conduct described in this opening passage:

KLEIN (2/12/21): You may have heard that San Francisco’s Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to rename 44 schools, stripping ancient racists of their laurels, but also Abraham Lincoln and Senator Dianne Feinstein. The history upon which these decisions were made was dodgy, and the results occasionally bizarre. Paul Revere, for instance, was canceled for participating in a raid on Indigenous Americans that was actually a raid on a British fort.

In normal times, bemusement would be the right response to a story like this. Cities should have idiosyncratic, out-there politics. You need to earn your “Keep X weird” bumper stickers. And for all the Fox News hosts who’ve collapsed onto their fainting couches, America isn’t suffering from a national shortage of schools named for Abraham Lincoln.

But San Francisco’s public schools remain closed, no matter the name on the front. “What I cannot understand is why the School Board is advancing a plan to have all these schools renamed by April, when there isn’t a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. I do not want to dismiss the fears of teachers (or parents), many living in crowded homes, who fear returning to classrooms during a pandemic. But the strongest evidence we have suggests school openings do not pose major risks when proper precautions are followed, and their continued closure does terrible harm to students, with the worst consequences falling on the neediest children. And that’s where this goes from wacky local news story to a reflection of a deeper problem.

San Francisco is about 48 percent white, but that falls to 15 percent for children enrolled in its public schools. For all the city’s vaunted progressivism, it has some of the highest private school enrollment numbers in the country—and many of those private schools have remained open. It looks, finally, like a deal with the teachers’ union is near that could bring kids back to the classroom, contingent on coronavirus cases continuing to fall citywide, but much damage has been done. This is why the school renamings were so galling to so many in San Francisco, including the mayor. It felt like an attack on symbols was being prioritized over the policies needed to narrow racial inequality.

Should an American public school be named for Abraham Lincoln? Not necessarily, no.

In our view, it isn't obvious that public schools should be named for Lincoln. In San Francisco—exalted columnist Herb Caen dubbed it "Baghdad by the Bay"— the school board voted, 6 to 1, that it was time for his name to go.

Behaving a bit like a running dog, Klein chose to present "both sides" of the issue. As he did, he quickly betrayed his own need for re-education, plainly suggesting, as he began, that Lincoln isn't an "ancient racist" himself!

Klein found a way to justify pushback against the board's decision, suggesting the pushback was motivated by concern for the welfare  of San Francisco's "black" kids. He even mentioned the bungled research which went into some renaming decisions.

With regard to the Frisco Kids, the names on their schools were being changed even though their schools aren't open! Apparently, Klein would have sent them back into schools still bearing names like "Lincoln!"

Last week, the New York Times reported a somewhat similar incident, this time in Chicago. Hard-copy headline included, that news report started like this:

 In ‘Land of Lincoln,’ Monuments Are Under Review

A Chicago committee has listed five statues of Abraham Lincoln among dozens of monuments that it said needed to be reviewed as part of a project to reconsider symbols that have become “a focal point for conversation, protest and activism,” the city said Wednesday.

The city created the committee in response to last summer’s protests, some of which centered on statues of historical figures, to review Chicago’s collection of monuments and “recommend solutions.”

Even in The Land of Lincoln, it's finally time to craft a solution to the statues in which he appears! Can those license plates be far behind? Should they be thrown in the harbor?

Is there something wrong with removing Lincoln's name from an American school? Not necessarily, no. 

That said, evildoers in Their Towns will seize upon utterly pointless, minor points when such actions occur.

They'll say it's silly to spend oodles of time renaming schools when you haven't spent enough time to get the schools reopened. Defiantly, they'll fail to acknowledge the moral greatness in the various high-minded things we Townies say and do.

This is the way The Others will act; they'll do it every time! For that reason, we Townies need to be especially careful when dealing with gender and race.

Our consciousness-raising in these areas will persistently be misdescribed by those we might call "the lesser breed." (We borrow from Chekhov, admittedly in translation.)  For that reason, we need to proceed with caution in these areas, which are of course enormously important.

We need to proceed with great caution. That said, our conduct will be misdescribed, no matter what we do.

Is it possible that something is wrong with the culture here in Our Town? Is it possible that some tiny, understandable flaw may exist, however well-intentioned?

Anthropologists insist that the answer is no—that it isn't possible that anything could ever be wrong in Our Town. Our brains are wired to give us that answer, these disconsolate experts all say.

Still and all, it's in these areas that Our Town will often come to ruin. This leads us to a truly remarkable news report on the front page of this morning's New York Times.

In print editions, the headline says this: "Tensions Simmer Over Race and Class at Smith." Online, this dual headline gives a fuller picture of the lay of the land within the deeply instructive report:

Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College
A student said she was racially profiled while eating in a college dorm. An investigation found no evidence of bias. But the incident will not fade away.
The report concerns a series of incidents at one of Our Town's "elite" schools. We don't think we've ever seen a news report which offered such a teachable moment concerning the way of life on wide display in Our Town. 

Tomorrow, we'll scan some major points in this front-page report. There will be a great deal left to say.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we just aren't "all that" in Our Town. Long ago and far away, Joni Mitchell reported it best:

I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

Putting it a slightly different way, we're often remarkably unimpressive here in the streets of Our Town. We're deeply flawed Over Here too. We just aren't especially sharp, nor are we able to see this.

We memorize our standard scripts, then go on TV and recite them. We're never too tired to perform our famous performative virtue. 

We also tend to be very dumb, even deeply immoral—and quite a few Others can see this. It's even possible that this helps explain the major breakdown which has our flailing nation sliding towards the sea

The Crazy is running wild in Their Towns. With that pleasing point established, how solid are things Over Here?

Tomorrow:  A remarkable portrait of life as it's increasingly lived in Our Town


  1. "But is it possible that some such shortfalls in discernment, however tiny and well-intentioned, might also exist Over Here?

    Also, is it possible that these admittedly tiny flaws could be contributing to the widespread political / cultural divide now wracking our failing nation? Could any such thing be possible?"

    Do tiny and well-intentioned flaws lead to widespread divides capable of wracking a nation? How would they?

    Somerby asks if such a thing is possible. The better question is whether it is likely. Somerby often says that "anything is possible" which makes his question useless, incapable of being answered any way but yes, and thus not a question at all. But anything is not possible because there are many impossible things and also many highly unlikely to the point of impossibility. But Somerby refuses to consider likelihoods or probabilities for his suppositions. Why should he when he can declare them certainties via slippery language?

    We should have no interest in playing Somerby's stupid game. It is a waste of effort.

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  2. "Is it possible that there are some basic failings with the culture currently on display here in the streets of Our Town?"

    How cute, dear Bob: is it possible, the question mark.

    But of course it's not possible, dear Bob, as long as you're a card-carrying liberal. The question mark won't save you.

    By the way, what is your (as a world-class expert on mental issues) opinion on liberal media refusing to discuss the visibly diminished mental capacity of our great brand-new shiny president?

    When will they finally take up the subject?!!
    Are you outraged? If not, why not?

    1. "I know you are, but what am I?", right back at ya.

  3. "In those areas, our behaviors are so pure—so far above the national norm—that they're frequently misunderstood, and they are of course misdescribed."

    If our behaviors are being misunderstood and wrongly described by others, isn't that their flaw instead of ours?

  4. Somerby and Klein describe a false dichotomy. If that school board were not spending time on renaming schools, children still wouldn't be back in the classroom because the latter depends on covid prevalence and access to vaccines, not time spent by the school board.

    Klein (and whoever has been criticizing the school board) is at fault here, Somerby is at fault too, not the school board, which apparently has too much time on its hands and is dealing with trivialities until things change on the ground for teachers and students.

    Why should a school attended by mostly Indian immigrant children be named for Abraham Lincoln, someone who has little relevance to the State of California and San Francisco in particular? What is the harm in updating the name to something more welcoming or familiar to such children, or someone with local prominence and specific relevance to that area of San Francisco?

    I don't see the harm in this decision by a local school board. Portraying a common sense decision as some sort of PC run amok is the problem here, not what the school board did.

    1. The harm is that almost everyone in the country thinks what the school board did is ridiculous, and it supports the widely held belief that liberals have gone nuts - with the apparent result that dems lose votes. If they can't name schools after George Washington due to his owning slaves, for example, it's hard to see how we can name a state and the nation's capital after him, or have his picture on dollar bills. Read what happened at Smith.

    2. It is being portrayed as something ridiculous by conservatives but that doesn't mean "everyone in the country" agrees with them. Notice that the reason given for changing the name wasn't that Lincoln owned slaves -- he didn't.

      I can't read what happened at Smith because it is behind a paywall and I will not buy a NY Times subscription.

      Abraham Lincoln left a long time ago, 1865 if I recall. He has little relevance to children in San Francisco, especially those of Indian heritage (which is what "little Bombay" means).

      The right is making a fuss about nothing. And then you change the subject to George Washington, who is also largely irrelevant these days, whether he owned slaves or not.

      Local school districts can name their schools after whoever they want. I went to schools name Le Conte and Muir, after people important in the state of California. It didn't stop me from knowing who George Washington is. This is just empty noise and the Republicans sure know how to play people like you.

    3. anon 12:42 - you don't seem to know what happened in SF at all. The names of dozens of schools were changed, all for Woke type reasons (not all ridiculous), including schools named after Diane Feinstein, Washington, Jefferson (and Muir and Theodore Roosevelt I believe). It's not just conservatives who derided this, lots of libs also including the mayor of SF and lots of SF citizens did too. If you google smith college and discrimination complaint you should be able to get the gist about the Smith situation, but that the Times published the story is somewhat extraordinary, not coming from just conservative sites with axes to grind. If I was "played" it was by the NY Times article, not conservatives. Believe me, lots of liberals are appalled where cancel culture, Wokeness, etc have taken us; it's what's right or wrong, not whose propaganda someone wants to believe.

    4. AC/MA, you make the same mistake that Somerby does by assuming that everyone at the NY Times is liberal. There are plenty of conservative writers and staff there, especially during Trump's term when they were deliberately recruited in order to make the paper more appealing to Trump supporters (unlikely as that may seem).

      You are also labeling the reasons of those changing the school names as "woke" when they most likely had a variety of reasons not at all related to a desire to avoid that slave-owning fiend Diane Feinstein. You are aware of the desire on the right to name things after Trump, aren't you? Is that woke too or is that a term that is only used when liberals want to rename something?

      The term "woke" has lost its original meaning in the mouths of conservatives, Somerby, and you apparently. PC and cancel culture are also terms used by the right to denigrate the left. Since so many liberals are appalled by so-called cancel culture, why attribute it to the left and not just leave it where it belongs, with a bunch of idiots on Twitter? When you join in blaming liberals for the flaws identified by conservatives, you are engaging in propaganda yourself. If you are not a Republican, stop buying Somerby's idiocies and think about what is happening with this labeling.

    5. If this Smith college incident occurred in 2018, why is it being revived and discussed now?

  5. Who exactly does Somerby consider to be selfish in this situation? Is it the cities trying to defuse racial conflict by removing symbols that have become contentious? I don't think so.

    The right will portray anything the left attempts to do in its least flattering light. They are opposed to us. They are trying to undermine support. There is no correct way to do such things that will prevent right-wing complaints. Urging us to stop doing things because the right complains is Somerby's solution and it is extremely foolish.

    On other blogs, they are describing the way the right is hauling out its 2009 playbook, reviving the obstructionist techniques used to prevent Obama from making progress. This is more of the same, except Somerby has allied himself with the right, urging us to stop trying to solve social problems involving race and gender. He pretends that he finds such efforts "trivial, well-intentioned flaws" but he is on the wrong side when he tells us to stop working toward social justice and civil rights.

    Somerby is too easily embarrassed when the right raises such claims. He needs to reevaluate his own principles and stand up for change, not bend so quickly when Republicans point and laugh. He needs to grow a spine.

  6. "We also tend to be very dumb, even deeply immoral"

    And yet the examples Somerby offers are of small things, like changing the name of a school. I don't see anything dumb or immoral in any of the examples Somerby provides today. Does he no longer feel he has to justify this name-calling? His formula is: (1) write some drivel, (2) call us dumb and unlikeable, (3) promise topics he will never return to.

    Of course Somerby quotes Ezra Klein. They are both in the business of attacking liberals these days.

    1. In this thread, liberals are deeply immoral, but in the next one about gun deaths, liberals are "drunk on morality". Which is it? Is it now immoral to be moral? Sounds like a Catch-22 to me.

    2. Right-wingers argue opposite sides of arguments all the time. It's because none of their arguments are ever made in good faith.

  7. "I'm so hard to handle
    I'm selfish and I'm sad"

    Women are not something to be "handled". Women are people.

    Somerby has given no thought to these lyrics. He has fastened onto one or another word that he thinks is important, perhaps the idea that liberals will lose everything if we continue to press our own issues (e.g., are hard to handle) and that will make us sad because we'll lose the "best baby" by asserting our own agenda. As if our progress depends on the good will of another person whose pleasure will ensure our happiness. This is an inappropriate dynamic, even between two people, much less describing how a political party should go about achieving its aims.

    And why is renaming schools or removing statues automatically something liberals are doing and not a non-sectarian or bi-partisan effort in local cities or school districts? Why is this anything we liberals, collectively, have done, especially when Lincoln is not being removed for being Lincoln?

    This makes no sense at all.

  8. Somerby keeps saying that no one likes the Democrats, but this poll shows otherwise:

    1. They wasted no time in firing up the old war machine. That's the military industrial complex's reward for paying for Biden's election. So great to be back to murdering children!!!

    2. Glenn Greenwald at 11;28,
      Do you not mention Trump's HUGE expansion of the use of drones, because it would get in the way of his bigotry?

    3. Yes, both sides bow to the war machine. You're right. "Both sides".

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. It was breathlessly reported in The Atlantic, the New Yorker, the New York Times, NBC, CNN. What was it? A terrorist attack? A 9.0 earthquake?

    No, it was the discussion by the San Francisco school board about possibly renaming some schools.

    Meanwhile, Republicans continue diligently drawing up bills to suppress votes, or to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, as they did here in Arkansas.

    The biggest story here is that there is so much performative outrage about the names of schools, a matter that really ought to be up to local entities. And Somerby plays it up, because he thinks that renaming schools is deeply immoral, or some such shit.

    As long as there are people in the media willing to overdramatize these things and inappropriately head to their fainting couches, acting as if no other issue matters, the conservatives win.

  11. "which has our flailing nation sliding towards the sea"

    You don't know what sliding toward the sea is until you're living in Los Angeles and waiting for The Big One that will detach us all from the main continent!

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  13. Thought Bob should know that one of the self appointed critics of Our Town, Glenn Greenwald has come out as a pathetic transphobe and biphobe, calling such designations a trendy hip phase. Will the Daily Howler ever condemn this part of the culture war or just keep pretending the critics of liberalism have it all under control?

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