The Way We Were.

AuthorLueders, Bill
PositionBOOKS - American Midnight

Anyone who thinks that we are living in dark times is correct: The nativism and mass delusion Donald Trump has nurtured pose a real threat to our democracy. The point of Adam Hochschild's powerful new book is that we've been here before.

American Midnight catalogs the abuses that erupted on a mass scale between 1917 and 1921, a period that included the United States' participation in World War I, the Red Scare following the communist takeover of Russia, and inflamed racial tensions throughout the country.

"The toxic currents of racism, nativism, Red-baiting, and contempt for the rule of law have long flowed through American life," Hochschild, a journalist and historian, writes in his prologue. "My hope is that by examining closely an overlooked period in which they engulfed the country, we can understand them more deeply and better defend against them in the future."

Patriotism, during this time, was ruthlessly enforced. The American Protective League, a vigilante group sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, quickly grew to 250,000 members. They would swoop into movie theaters, vaudeville shows, restaurants, train stations, and even hit the beaches in search of draft-age men who could not produce draft cards.

In Maine, a schoolteacher was fired for taking driving lessons from a German citizen. An Iowa pastor and a friend were dragged through the streets with ropes tied around their necks until they agreed to buy a $1,000 war bond. In Berkeley, a mob of thousands, including University of California students, attacked and set fire to a pacifist church. An Indiana man who killed another for saying "To hell with the United States" was acquitted by a jury after only two minutes of deliberation.

The Espionage Act of 1917, parts of which are still on the books and in use, gave government officials a potent tool of repression. It led to wholesale union-busting, especially of the militant Industrial Workers of the World--known as the " Wobblies"--and the jailing of progressive activists including Emma Goldman, Kate Richards O'Hare, and Eugene V. Debs.

Then came the Sedition Act of 1918, which made it a crime to "utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States."

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, after his own home was bombed by an anarchist, went on a rampage of repression...

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