This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Human Be-In-A Gathering of the Tribes, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 14 January 1967.
Human Be-In-A Gathering of the Tribes, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 14 January 1967.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From decolonizing Obama to moving beyond liberal internationalism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Decolonizing Obama

Aziz Rana

ON ELECTION NIGHT in 2008, Barack Obama declared to a crowd of nearly a quarter million people in Chicago, “This is your victory.” That was how countless Americans experienced his election. For those who were old enough to recall the era of Jim Crow, the elevation of a black man to the Presidency appeared to be the culmination of generations of arduous organizing and struggle. For students and young people newly activated by his campaign, it was an ecstatic entrance into political adulthood. The campaign itself had produced the feeling of a mass movement. At the time, Obama represented the cutting edge of American progressive politics — the very horizon of what seemed thinkable after three decades of triangulation, hawkishness, and conservative political dominance.

Now, as Obama prepares for the “peaceful transfer of power” to a white nationalist who came to prominence by questioning the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate, that night seems to belong to an alternate universe. Obama remains perhaps the most popular and respected politician in the country — certainly far more respected than those poised to control virtually every level and branch of government. But the failure of the Obama coalition to produce a durable Democratic majority suggests that night in 2008 was something of a mirage. Rather than a decisive victory for new progressive ideas, the Obama era feels increasingly like the last days of a now moribund centrism. [continue reading]

Kerry apologizes for State Department discrimination against LGBT employees

Theodore Schleifer and Laura Koran

The State Department on Monday formally apologized for what it describes as decades of discrimination against LGBT employees and job applicants, a rare statement meant to right wrongs that preceded current Secretary of State John Kerry.

“These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today,” Kerry said in a statement issued by the department in his name. “On behalf of the Department, I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past.”
While lauding what his State Department had done for its employees and around the globe, Kerry said the discriminatory practices had included requiring some LGBT employees to resign or not to hire job applicants because of their sexual orientation.
Kerry said the discrimination dated back to the 1940s, although he noted that the department was “among many public and private employers” that acted similarly.

All the Human Be-In Was Saying 50 Years Ago, Was Give Peace a Chance

Danny Goldberg

On Saturday January 14, it will be exactly a half-century since the Human Be-In at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1967. Even at the time there were radicals who thought that hippie energy was a distraction from “serious” political work. It is weird and striking that the Trump inauguration occurs six days before the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous public manifestations of hippie culture. Some of the same questions that were debated then seem oddly relevant today.

One need not disregard the uniquely disturbing elements overshadowing America in 2017 to also acknowledge the darkness we faced in other eras. Mystics who felt that love was indispensable to a better world in 1967 faced a violent, reactionary establishment. Ronald Reagan, outspokenly hostile to both hippies and protesters, had been elected Governor of California eight weeks earlier. Millions of young men were subject to the military draft. There was no such thing as legal pot. (Timothy Leary had a 30-year jail sentence hanging over him). Two Be-In speakers, playwright Michael McClure and poet Lenore Kandel, had been recently busted for obscenity. [continue reading]

Beyond Liberal Internationalism

Samuel Moyn

The foreign policy consequences of Donald Trump’s election are agonizingly unpredictable. As with any schoolyard braggart, Trump says so much that nobody can ever know which parts he might actually mean. Unlike the devil we knew, Trump defies any attempt to forecast his choices, and therefore to anticipate a response. But if progressives stick to a popular front strategy, uniting in a grand coalition allowing liberals and neoconservatives to define a more responsible approach to Trump’s foreign policy, they could miss the ripest opportunity they have had in a generation to indict the Democratic Party’s profound mistakes.

The temptation—who does not feel it?—is to hunker down into defense. It makes more sense to rely on a minimal baseline and inclusive coalition of opposition: to denounce the specter of torture that Trump has promised to return to American policy, for example, or to stand up for the defaults of long-standing alliances and the multilateral style that Trump has dismissed so cavalierly. But Democrats need to recognize that over the decades, including under Barack Obama, they have enhanced the president’s authority in international affairs, working mainly to put a human face on American national security imperatives. And after a president who invented a frightening new form of global warmaking so humane that it declined in visibility even as it expanded in reality, it is important not to romanticize where the liberal internationalism of the Democratic Party has led—or to fail to fight for a new foreign policy. [continue reading]