What a YEAR this MONTH has been

What A Year This Month Has Been

All of these things happened in January 2018. No, seriously, they really did.


That’s a simple fact that seems hard to believe if you’ve been paying much attention to the news recently. It’s been… a lot. Did that crazy thing happen last week, or was that the week before? Did you completely forget about that major news event that actually happened only a few days ago? Can you believe that incredible story actually happened THIS MONTH?

HuffPost spoke with a number of sources closely associated with the news. Even they were bewildered that news events actually happened within the calendar month. They described January as “long.”

“What month are we in?” asked one.

Another wondered whether the government shutdown happened in December or January.

“That’s crazy,” said a third person, upon learning that the shutdown was still in effect JUST LAST WEEK.

Here, in reverse chronological order, is a list of just some of the things that actually happened in January 2018. (Did we miss any big political news? We probably did. Email us at scoops@huffpost.com.)

Jan. 30

― President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address to Congress.

Jan. 29

― FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe steps down after being targeted by  Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

― Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee vote to release a four-page memo their own staffers wrote that they’d been using to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

― The Trump administration signals it won’t impose new sanctions on Russia and releases a list of Russian “oligarchs” that was cribbed from Forbes.

― Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, becomes the 36th Republican member to announce he will not run for re-election.

Jan. 28

― The president of the United States tweets about Jay Z.

 Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!

Jan. 27

― Hotel magnate Steve Wynn steps down as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

― The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton kept an official on her 2008 presidential campaign even though he was accused of repeatedly harassing a young female aide.

Jan. 26

― A Trump administration pick reportedly wore a fake nose to help her daughter pass her driving test.

― Trump goes to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is praised for being “presidential” when he successfully reads from a teleprompter but is booed when he criticizes the media as “fake.”

Jan. 25

― Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) announces his retirement after it’s revealed that he settled a sexual harassment case brought by a former staffer whom he considered his “soul mate.”

― The New York Times reports that Trump tried to fire Robert Mueller back in July but backed off because his top White House lawyer threatened to quit.

― Fox News host Sean Hannity flip-flops: 

Sean Hannity: The New York Times is trying to distract you. They say Trump tried to fire Mueller, but our sources aren’t confirming that!

Sean Hannity, minutes later: Alright, yeah, maybe our sources confirm Trump wanted to fire Mueller. But so what? That’s his right. Anywho…

Jan. 24

― The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee says a report that Trump asked then-acting FBI Director Andy McCabe whom he voted for in the presidential election is no big deal.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on reports Trump asked then-acting FBI director Andrew McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election: “I think it is just a conversation … I ask people who they vote for sometimes.” http://cnn.it/2rAGcue 

― After floating a conspiracy theory that a “secret society” formed inside the FBI to take down Trump within hours of his 2016 election victory, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) tries to walk it back.

Jan. 23

― Islamophobic comments from a senior White House adviser emerge.

― Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) announces she’s pregnant. She would become the first senator to give birth while in office.

Jan. 22

― There’s a deal to reopen the government. Until Feb. 8, at least.

Jan. 21

― The government remains shut down, and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is wearing his comfy clothes on TV:

Sen. Lindsey Graham on shutdown: “Somebody’s got to lead. The White House staff has been pretty unreliable.”

Jan. 20

― Trump completes one-fourth of his first term in office. He missed his big party.

― The federal government shuts down.

― Women’s marches are held around the country to commemorate the first anniversary of the global event.

― Four months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, much of the island is still without power.

Jan. 19

― In Touch Weekly publishes its 2011 interview with porn star Stormy Daniels, in which she talked in detail about her alleged affair with Trump. Trump’s attorney reportedly paid her $130,000, huge money, to stay quiet about it just ahead of the 2016 election.

― Trump appointee resigns after bigoted comments.

― Trump becomes the first president to address the anti-abortion March for Life live.

Jan. 18

― Justice Department prosecutors drop felony rioting charges against 129 individuals swept up in a mass arrest on the day of Trump’s inauguration. But they say they will put 59 other defendants on trial.

Jan. 17

― Trump, who had earlier in the month said he’d issue “Fake News Awards,” tweets a link to a Republican National Committee page. It crashes.

― Most of a National Park Service advisory board resigns in frustration.

Jan. 16

― The Internet questions the results of Trump’s official medical exam, after which he was declared to be in excellent physical condition.

― The girther movement is born.

― Chris Christie is no longer governor of New Jersey.

― Democrats score an upset victory in a special election in a GOP-held district in Wisconsin.

― The Trump administration won’t deal with transgender student complaints.

― The Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security issue a controversial report on international terrorism that critics call misleading because it omits any acts of domestic terrorism and sensationalizes the issue of honor killings.

― Former White House adviser Steve Bannon testifies before the House Intelligence Committee.

Jan. 15

― Martin Luther King Day. Trump breaks with the presidential tradition of volunteering on this holiday to instead golf.

Jan. 14

― Trump’s Department of Homeland Security secretary is offended that people think Trump is a racist.

Jan. 13

― Hawaii accidentally sends a false ballistic missile alert, sending people into a panic.

Jan. 12

― Trump cancels a trip to London to dedicate a new U.S. embassy. He comes up with an excuse about why, but many people believe it is because he would have faced protests.

― The U.S. ambassador to Panama resigns, saying he can no longer work for Trump.

Jan. 11

― After watching Fox News, the president of the United States tweets this ahead of a House vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?

― Trump’s tweet sets off a scramble. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calls him. 101 minutes later, Trump tweets this:

With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!

― Later, the House votes to re-authorize FISA.

― Trump reportedly refers to Haiti and African nations as ”“shithole countries.”

― Ecuador grants citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Jan. 10

― Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a longtime member in a competitive district, says he will be resigning after this session.

― After a federal court temporarily rules against his decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections, Trump attacks the entire court system as “broken and unfair.”

Jan. 9

– Trump tweets about his support for law enforcement:

― Bannon steps down as executive chairman of the far-right site Breitbart News.

― Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announces that Florida will be exempted from the administration’s new policy allowing offshore drilling. The decision quickly raises questions about the political motivations behind the move.

Jan. 8

― The Trump administration announces the end of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran immigrants.

― The country goes nuts thinking Oprah Winfrey might run for president in 2020.

Jan. 7

― White House official Stephen Miller appears on CNN. It doesn’t go well.

“I think I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time” is an iconic way to end an interview

The president, however, says it went well and that Jake Tapper “got destroyed.”

Jan. 6

― Trump assures the country he is a “very stable genius.”

Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence…..

….Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star…..

….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!

Jan. 5

― Attorneys for an unnamed American whom the Trump administration held incommunicado for months tell a court that he’d like to challenge his detention.

― Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury book is released ahead of schedule following a Trump attorney’s cease-and-desist letter attempting to block its dissemination. The book sends the administration into a tailspin over its unflattering portrayal of Trump and his family.

― Mike Rogers of the National Security Agency announces his plan to retire.

Jan. 4

― Trump tweets this about his former chief White House strategist:

I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!

― A ceramic bowl gives Republicans control of the Virginia House of Delegates.

― Attorney General Jeff Sessions unleashes federal prosecutors to go after state-legal marijuana by revoking an Obama-era memo.

― Under Sessions, federal prosecutors unseal terrorism-related charges against a white supremacist. They don’t tell anyone.

― A year after he claimed millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, Trump ends his voter fraud commission.

Jan. 3

― A Trump associate who testified before Mueller’s grand jury complains there were too many black people on it.

― Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announces that he will retire.

― Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, facing a variety of criminal charges, files a lawsuit challenging the appointment of special counsel Mueller.

― Trump writes a blistering statement going after his former top aide, Steve Bannon, for comments that appeared in a new book looking at the inner workings of the White House.

― Democrats Doug Jones (Ala.) and Tina Smith (Minn.) are sworn into the U.S. Senate.

Jan. 2

― Minnesota Democrat Al Franken resigns from the Senate over sexual harassment allegations.

― The president of the United States of America tweets this:

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!

Jan. 1

― California legalizes weed.

― The country quietly hopes this year will be less crazy than 2017.

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How Democracies Die.

I am currently reading the book, “How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt , two Harvard professors.  As a former history teacher I find this book compelling, terrifying and a bit depressing but I believe in the lessons of the past.

I read a quote once, “Democrats fall in love. Republicans fall in line”. History is going to be a harsh judge of the Republican Party during the Trump Years. They sold out their beliefs in order to keep their party in power. Their policy push seems to be “roll back everything Obama did.” The hypocrisy in Washington makes me crazy. When Clinton was president he was impeached for getting a blow job. Both democrats and republicans spoke out against his actions. In the year since Trump has been elected (has it ONLY been a year?!) Actors, politicians and corporate executives have lost their jobs due to sexual harassment. Yet the Republican party has continued to support a bully, serial sexual harasser, who paid off a porn star to keep their affair quiet.

Do I care about the presidents sexual life? NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT. I didn’t care when it was Clinton and I still don’t care with Trump. If it was consensual then it is their business. I just wish the politicians would stop acting so shocked by one presidents behavior while they continue to support another’s.

Even at the state level the GOP seems to be breaking all norms. Whether it is gerrymandering districts (The Dems have done this as well) to insure the people are NOT represented or by keeping people from taking ethics positions to oversee state elections (Wisconsin).

It is time someone within the Republican Party stands up. There have been many examples of political parties throwing their weight behind an opposing party because it is better to lose an election than lose our democracy.

Michael Steele recently called out Trump’s evangelical backers after they gave Trump a pass on his paying off the porn star.  Steele is no snowflake liberal. He is the former head of the Republican Party. Did any other republican (or anyone on FOX News) stand with him? NOPE .

On Monday, Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Christian nonprofit Family Research Council, said Trump gets “a mulligan” or “do-over” over allegations that he paid porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet over their reported affair.

Steele wasn’t having it.

“I have a very simple admonition at this point,” Steele said on “Hardball” on MSNBC. “Just shut the hell up and don’t ever preach to me about anything ever again. I don’t want to hear it.”

Steele added:

“After telling me how to live my life, who to love, what to believe, what not to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter? The grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter? The outright behavior and lies don’t matter? Just shut up.”

At least it is a start.

Earlier this week I was home cooking dinner listening to NPR   Dave Davies was filling in for Terry Gross and was interviewing Levitsky. The entire transcript is below.

If reading is not your thing, go give a listen to the podcast


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who’s off today. If watching President Trump and listening to American political discourse these days makes you feel something’s gone wrong, our guests today will tell you it’s not your imagination. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent years studying what makes democracies healthy and what leads to their collapse. And they see signs that American democracy is in trouble.

In a new book, they argue that Trump has shown authoritarian tendencies and that many players in American politics are discarding long-held norms that have kept our political rivalries in balance and prevented the kind of bitter conflict that can lead to a repressive state. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are both professors of government at Harvard University. Levitsky’s research focuses on Latin America and the developing world. Ziblatt studies Europe from the 19th century to the present. Their new book is called “How Democracies Die.”

Well, Stephen Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, you write that some democracies die in a hail of gunfire. There’s a military coup. The existing leaders are imprisoned or sometimes shot. Not – this is not the kind of death of a democracy that you think is most relevant to our purposes. What’s a more typical or meaningful scenario?

STEVEN LEVITSKY: Well, the kind of democratic breakdown that you mentioned was more typical of the Cold War era, of a good part of the 20th century. But military coups, although they occur occasionally today in the world, are much, much less common than they used to be. And, in fact, the primary way in which democracies have died since the end of the Cold War, over the last 30 years or so, is at the hands of elected leaders, at the hands of governments that were often freely or close to freely elected, who then use democratic institutions to weaken or destroy democracy. And we’re very hopeful that America’s democratic institutions will survive this process. But if we were to fall into some kind of crisis, surely it would take that form.

DAVIES: And it doesn’t typically happen the week or month after the elected leader takes power, right? It unfolds gradually.

DANIEL ZIBLATT: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, that’s one of the things that makes it so difficult, both to study and also as a citizen to recognize what’s happening. You know, military coups happen overnight. I mean, they’re sudden instances – sudden events. Electoral authoritarians come to power democratically. They often have democratic legitimacy as a result of being elected. And there’s a kind of gradual chipping away at democratic institutions, kind of tilting of the playing field to the advantage of the incumbent, so it becomes harder and harder to dislodge the incumbent through democratic means.

And, you know, when this goes through the whole process, you know, at the end of the process – this may take years, it may take a decade. You know, in some countries around the world, this has taken as long as a decade to happen. At the end of that process, the incumbent is firmly entrenched in power.

DAVIES: And just to define what we’re talking about, we’re talking – when we say a democracy dies, we mean there is a circumstance in which there are relatively freely elected leaders and, at the end, what?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so at the end of this process, it’s hard – it becomes harder and harder – it takes different forms in different countries. I mean, so what’s happened in Turkey over the last 10 years, essentially President Erdogan has entrenched himself in power, weakened the opposition, and so it’s become harder and harder to dislodge him. So there may continue to be elections, but the elections are tilted in favor of the incumbent. The elections are no longer fair.

Through a variety of mechanisms, the president’s able to stay in power and to withstand criticism, although public support may not fully be there. Media is – you know, there’s kind of a clampdown on media and sort of a variety of institutional mechanisms that an incumbent can use to kind of keep himself in power.

LEVISKY: Right. As Daniel said, very often these days, the kind of formal or constitutional architecture of democracy remains in place, but the actual substance of it is eviscerated.

DAVIES: And does that describe Russia today? Is its democracy essentially dead?

LEVISKY: Yeah, well, I…


LEVISKY: Russia was never really much of a democracy. If it was a democracy, it was one very, very briefly, so Russia’s really at the other end of the spectrum in terms of the strength of its democratic institutions. But yes, Russia has the trappings of democracy. They still hold elections. They’ve got a Parliament. But in practice, it’s an outright autocracy.

DAVIES: You have a chapter called “Fateful Alliances,” and it’s about circumstances – cases where a populist demagogue, who turns out to be an authoritarian, got help along the way from mainstream political figures or political parties. Do you want to give us an example of that?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so in our book, we recount a couple of these kinds of scenarios. And it turns out that often the way elected authorities get into power is not just through elections and appealing to the public but by allying themselves with establishment politicians. The most kind of recent example of this that we – and we have this – describe this in greater detail in the book – is the case of Venezuela where Hugo Chavez, kind of with the aid of President Caldera, who was a longstanding politician and establishment politician in Venezuela, was kind of aided along the way in some sense by being freed from jail by President Caldera and his – he kind of gained in legitimacy and then eventually was able to come into power.

A similar story can be told about the interwar years, as well – and interwar years in Europe. So these are the most prominent cases of Democratic collapse, really, in the 20th century – Italy, Germany in the – Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s. In both of these cases, you have Mussolini coming along, who didn’t really – you know, he had some support. But he was able to kind of increase his profile by being put on a party list by a leading liberal statesman Giovanni Giolitti, who included him on his party’s list. And he gained in legitimacy. And suddenly, you know, here he was, a leading statesman, Mussolini himself.

And a similar story – this – you know, Hitler came to power in a similar alliance with mainstream conservative politicians at the end of the 1920s and into the 1930s – was famously placed as chancellor of Germany by leading statesmen in Germany. In each instance, there’s a kind of Faustian bargain that’s being struck where the statesmen think that they’re going to tap into this popular appeal of the demagogue and think that they can control them. I mean, this is this incredible miscalculation. And this miscalculation happens over and over. And in each instance, the establishment statesmen are not able to control the demagogue.

DAVIES: And you note that there have been figures in American political history that could be regarded as dangerous demagogues and that they’ve been kept out of major positions of power because we’ve had gatekeepers – people who somehow controlled who got access to the top positions of power – presidential nominations, for example. You want to give us some examples of this?

LEVISKY: Sure. Henry Ford was an extremist, somebody who was actually written about favorably in “Mein Kampf.” He flirted with a presidential bid in 1923, thinking about the 1924 race, and had a lot of support, particularly in the Midwest. Huey Long obviously never had the chance to run for president. He was assassinated before that.

DAVIES: He was the governor of Louisiana, right?

LEVISKY: Governor of Louisiana, senator and a major national figure – probably rivaled really only by Roosevelt at the end of his life in terms of popularity. George Wallace in 1968, and again in 1972 before he was shot, had levels of public support and public approval that are not different – not much different from Donald Trump. So throughout the 20th century, we’ve had a number of figures who had 35, 38, 40 percent public support, who were demagogues, who didn’t have a strong commitment to democratic institutions, in some cases were quite antidemocratic, but who were kept out of mainstream politics by the parties themselves.

The parties never even came close to nominating any of these figures for president. What was different about 2016 was not that Trump was new or that he would get a lot of support but that he was nominated by major party. That’s what was new.

DAVIES: Right. And you say that there were effectively, for most of American history, gatekeepers at the top of the political party – a process that tended to exclude these people that were more extreme. Describe what that process was like.

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so you know, through the 20th century, even going back to the 19th century, the way presidential candidates were selected has – this has changed over time. And really, only beginning in 1972 have primaries, which we now are all so accustomed to – where candidates are selected by voters – that’s when that began is 1972 to be a really significant system. Before 1972, the system throughout the 20th century has often been described as dominated by smoke-filled back rooms where party leaders got together and tried to figure out who would be the best candidate to represent the party and who they thought could win.

You know, there’s a lot to be criticized about this pre-1972 system. It was very exclusive. It, you know – it’s often picked mediocre candidates. I mean, you can think of President Warren G. Harding, who looked like a presidential candidate but wasn’t much of a president. This was somebody who was selected through the smoke-filled backroom. But the virtue of this system – if there is a virtue of it – is that it kept out demagogues.

DAVIES: So in – starting in 1972, there are multiple primaries in states that lead to the party’s nomination. There are different state rules. But voters get some say in a lot of it. And you’re right that there – but there was always sort of the invisible primary. That is to say you tended to be taken seriously if the party leaders gave you their nod or at least their approval to get in the game. So take us to Donald Trump in 2016. How did this pave the way for Trump?

LEVISKY: Well, the belief among political scientists – and I think it was true for a while – was that winning primaries was hard. This was particularly before the days of social media, when you needed the support of local activists. You needed the support, maybe, of unions in the Democratic Party. You needed the support of local media on the ground in each state in order to actually win primaries. You couldn’t just get on CNN and expect to win a primary somewhere in the West because of what you – or what you tweeted.

You had to have some kind of an infrastructure on the ground. I’m talking about the 1970s, 1980s, even the 1990s. And so the belief among political scientists was you still needed the support of party insiders to win the primaries, to win – to cross the country and accumulate enough delegates, winning state by state by state. You really needed to build alliances with local Democratic or Republican Party leaders, committees, senators, congresspeople, mayors, et cetera.

That became less and less true over time in large part because the nature of media – the rise of social media and the ability of outsiders to make a name for themselves without going through that process, without going through that invisible primary. So Donald Trump demonstrated, you know, beyond any doubt in 2016 that at least if you have enough name recognition, you can avoid building alliances with anybody, really, at the state or local level. You can run on your own. You can be an outsider and win.

ZIBLATT: Yeah. I would add to that what’s an interesting – differences exist between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has superdelegates. And so there is built into the Democratic Party presidential selection process – continues to exist – this kind of element of gatekeeping. The Republican Party does not have superdelegates. And so one of the interesting kind of things to think about is, you know, had there been superdelegates in the Republican Party, would have Donald Trump actually won the nomination?

Would’ve he run? Would’ve he won? And so, you know, I think that’s kind of an interesting thing to think about. And, you know, superdelegates are now up for debate within the Democratic Party after the Bernie Sanders-Hillary showdown. And so there’s a lot of people who think superdelegates should be eliminated so that – this is kind of an ongoing issue of debate.

DAVIES: Right. And superdelegates are – they’re typically elected officials or very prominent leaders or fundraisers in the party. But in the Democratic Party, there are – what? – like, 15 percent of the total delegates of the convention – something like that.

LEVISKY: Right. It’s about 15 percent.


LEVISKY: It varies.

DAVIES: We’re speaking with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They are professors of government at Harvard University. Their new book is called “How Democracies Die.” We’ll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we’re speaking with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They are both professors of government at Harvard. They study democracies around the world. Their new book looks at how Democratic institutions can be undermined by authoritarian figures. And it raises the question of whether President Trump is a threat to American democracy. You note that we have a Constitution, which is widely praised and revered. It’s a set of rules, and it’s actually pretty short. But you note that a set of rules, however well-crafted, aren’t enough to ensure that democratic institutions prevail. You say there are norms of democracy that are just as important.

LEVISKY: The rules themselves, particularly in a very simple, short Constitution like that of the United States, can never get a – can never fully guide behavior. And so our behavior needs to be guided by informal rules, by norms. And we focus on two of them in particular – what we call mutual toleration, which is really, really fundamental in any democracy, which is simply that among the major parties, there’s an acceptance that their rivals are legitimate, that we may disagree with the other side. We may really dislike the other side. But at the end of the day, we recognize publicly – and we tell this to our followers – that the other side is equally patriotic, and that it can govern legitimately. That’s one.

The other one is what we call forbearance, which is restraint in the exercise of power. And that’s a little bit counterintuitive. We don’t usually think about forbearance in politics, but it’s absolutely central. Think about what the president can do under the Constitution. The president can pardon anybody he wants at any time. The president can pack the Supreme Court. If the president has a majority in Congress – which many presidents do – and the president doesn’t like the makeup of the Supreme Court, he could pass a law expanding the court to 11 or 13 and fill with allies – again, he needs a legislative majority – but can do it. FDR tried.

The president can, in many respects, rule by decree. If Congress is blocking his agenda, he can use a series of proclamations or executive orders to make policy at the margins of Congress. What it takes for those institutions to work properly is restraint on the part of politicians. Politicians have to underutilize their power. And most of our politicians – most of our leaders have done exactly that. That’s not written down in the Constitution.

DAVIES: You know, it’s interesting. I think one of the things that people say when people warn that Donald Trump or someone else could undermine American democracy and lead us to an authoritarian state is we’re different from other countries in the strength of our commitment to democratic institutions. And I’m interested to what extent you think that’s true.

ZIBLATT: Yeah. Well, so, you know, there’s certainly this notion of an American creed where Americans have a long-standing commitment to principles of freedom and equality. And I think that’s very real. And American democracy’s older than any democracy in the world. The constitutional regime has been in place for hundreds of years. And this is – should be a source of some solace to us, that democracy’s a – the older a democracy is, lots of political science research shows, the less likely it is to break down. And one of the reasons is a commitment of citizens to democratic norms. One thing, though, that kind of gives us kind of pause, and I think that, you know, there is a sub-current – and Steve mentioned this earlier – there is a sub-current in American political culture, and just even in the 20th century, you know, beginning with Henry Ford, you know, as we mentioned, Huey Long, Joe McCarthy, you know, all the way – George Wallace – all the way through Trump, there’s a sub-current around 30 – you know, Gallup polls going back to the 1930s – around 30 percent of the electorate supporting candidates who often seem to have a questionable commitment to democratic norms.

LEVISKY: The creed to which Daniel refers and the initial establishment of strong democratic norms in this country was founded in a homogeneous society, a racially and culturally homogeneous society. It was founded in an era of racial exclusion. And the challenge is that we have now become a much more ethnically, culturally diverse society, taken major steps towards racial equality, and the challenge is making those norms stick in this new context.

DAVIES: And you do note in the book that the resolution of the conflicts around the Civil War and a restoration of kind of normal democratic institutions was accompanied by denial of voting rights and basic citizenship privileges to African-Americans in the South. So this hasn’t exactly been a laudable course all the time.

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so this is this great paradox – tragic paradox, really – that we recount in the book, which is that the consolidation of these norms, which we think are so important to democratic life of mutual toleration and forbearance, were re-established, really, at the price of racial exclusion. I mean, there was a way in which the end of Reconstruction – when Reconstruction was a great democratic effort and experiment – and it was a moment of democratic breakthrough for the United States where voting rights were extended to African-Americans. At the end of Reconstruction throughout the U.S. South, states implemented a variety of reforms to reduce the right to vote – essentially, to eliminate the right to vote for African-Americans. And so after the 1870s, American democracy was by no means actually really a full democracy. And we really think that American democracy came – really, it was a consolidated democracy really only after 1965. I mean, that’s a bit of a controversial view or unusual view for some. But really, it’s clear that with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, that’s at the point at which American democracy became fully consolidated.

DAVIES: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are professors of government at Harvard University. Their new book is called “How Democracies Die.” After a break, they’ll discuss their concerns about President Trump and his regard for critical norms of American democracy. Also rock critic Ken Tucker reviews British performer Charli XCX’s new album, and Maureen Corrigan reviews the new book “The Perfect Nanny,” based on a tragic, real event. I’m Dave Davies. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who’s off today. We’re speaking with Harvard professors of government Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They’ve studied the demise of elected democracies around the world. In a new book, they argue that too many American politicians, including President Trump, are violating long-held norms of American democracy, including a respect for the legitimacy of political rivals and a commitment to some restraint in political combat. Their book is called “How Democracies Die.”

You know, you write that the erosion of these norms of democracy, these unwritten rules, which provide – the guardrails of democracy, in a way, that kind of protects us and keeps us on track – that they began to erode well before Donald Trump became president or was a candidate. When did it start?

LEVISKY: It’s difficult to find a precise date. But we look at the 1990s and, particularly, the rise of the Gingrich Republicans. Newt Gingrich really advocated and taught his fellow Republicans how to use language that begins to sort of call into question mutual toleration, using language like betrayal and sick and pathetic and antifamily and anti-American to describe their rivals.

And Gingrich also introduced an era or helped introduce – it was not just Newt Gingrich – an era of unprecedented, at least during that period in the century, hardball politics. So you saw a couple of major government shutdowns for the first time in the 1990s and, of course, the partisan impeachment of Bill Clinton, which was one of the first major acts – I mean, that is not forbearance. That is the failure to use restraint.

DAVIES: And did Democrats react in ways that accelerated the erosion of the norms?

LEVISKY: Sure. In Congress, there was a sort of tit-for-tat escalation in which, you know, one party begins to employ the filibuster. For decades, the filibuster was a very, very little-used tool. It was almost never used. It was used, on average, one or two times per Congressional session, per Congressional period – two-year period – so once a year. And then it gradually increased in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s.

It was both parties. So one party starts to play by new rules, and the other party response. So it’s a spiraling effect, an escalation in which each party became more and more obstructionist in Congress. Each party did – took additional steps either to block legislation, because it could, or to block appointments, particularly judicial appointments. You know, Harry Reid and the Democrats played a role in this in George W. Bush’s presidency – really sort of stepped up obstructionism.

DAVIES: Did the executive orders that President Obama issued when the Republican Congress clearly was not going to cooperate with his agenda – do you think that that was, you know, a violation of the norm of forbearance?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so this is exactly a part of the same process that Steve just described. So there’s this kind of spiral, you know, which is really ominous, where one side plays hardball by holding up nominations, holding up legislation in Congress, and there’s a kind of stalemate. And so the other side feels justified in using executive orders and presidential memos and so on. These also are – you know, have been utilized by Barack Obama. So there’s a way in which politicians, on both sides, are confronted with a real dilemma, which is, you know, if one side seems to be breaking the rules, and so why shouldn’t we? If we don’t, we’re kind of being the sucker here.

DAVIES: You know, you do seem to say that the Republican Party led the way and was more willing to violate these norms of democracy. Is that the case? And is there something about the Republican Party that makes it different in this respect?

LEVISKY: Yeah, we do think that’s true. We think that the most egregious sort of pushing of the envelope began with Republicans, particularly in the 1990s and that the most egregious acts of hardball have taken place at the hands of Republicans. I’ll just list four – the partisan impeachment of Bill Clinton, the 2003 mid-district redistricting in Texas, which was pushed by Tom DeLay, the denial – essentially, the theft of a Supreme Court seat with the refusal to even take up the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 and the so-called legislative coup pulled off by the Republican-controlled legislature in North Carolina in 2016. Those are among the most egregious acts of constitutional hardball that we see in the last generation, and they’re all carried out by Republicans.

Yes, we believe the Republicans have become a more extremist party. For us, the most persuasive explanation has to do with the way our parties have been polarized along racial and cultural lines. And the way that our parties have lined up, with the Democrats being a party, essentially, of secular, educated whites and a diversity of ethnic minorities and the Republicans being a fairly homogeneous white, Protestant party, or white Christian party, the Republicans have basically come to represent a former ethnic majority in decline. You have many – certainly not all – but many Republican voters who feel like the country that they grew up with, or grew up in, is being taken away from them. And that can lead to pretty extremist views and voting patterns.

DAVIES: We’re speaking with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. Both are professors of government at Harvard. They study democracies around the world. And their new book looks at how Democratic institutions can be undermined by authoritarian figures, and it raises the question of whether President Trump is a threat to American democracy.

So let’s talk about Donald Trump as president. To what extent do you believe he has violated the norms that protect and preserve American democracy?

LEVISKY: Well, he has clearly violated norms. If there’s one thing that Donald Trump does with consistency in politics, it’s violate norms. But I should say, I mean, he has not violated Democratic rules much. I mean, our democracy remains intact. Donald Trump is very much – is a pretty authoritarian figure. But we’ve got real democratic institutions, and the rule of law has largely worked. The judicial system has largely worked. The media has been pretty effective. And so Trump hasn’t been able to – has not crossed very many lines in terms of actual authoritarianism.

He’s clearly violated norms. I think he’s accelerated the process of norm erosion that we’ve just been talking about – that Daniel was talking about. And that’s almost certainly going to be consequential in the future. But thus far, luckily, our system’s been strong enough to prevent him from breaking any democratic rules.

DAVIES: But clearly, you argue that his, you know, his attempts to demonize the media and undermine its credibility to, you know, treat his opponents of all stripe as sort of not legitimate represents dangerous trends in democracy. Where do you think we’re headed?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so there’s two real things that Donald – President Trump has done that make us worry. One is his politicization of the rule of law or of law enforcement intelligence. And so you know, we – in a democracy, law enforcement intelligence have to be neutral. And what he has tried to do with the FBI, with the attorney general’s office is to try to turn law enforcement into a kind of shield to protect him and a weapon to go after his opponents. And this is something that authoritarians always do. They try to transform neutral institutions into their favor. And you know, he’s had some success of it. There’s been lots of resistance as well, though, from – you know, from Congress and from society and media reporting on this and so on. But this is one worrying thing.

A second worrying thing is – that you just described as well is his effort to – his continued effort to delegitimize media and the election process. So he – so one of the things that we worried about a lot in the book was the setting up – and we describe how – the process by which this happened – the setting-up of electoral commission to investigate election fraud.

And so it’s – you know, the idea – he set this commission up to investigate a problem that really all evidence suggests does not exist. I mean, there’s been this myth of election fraud in the United States for the last 15 years that’s been pushed by all sorts of different groups. And he has taken the – he took on this mantle and set up this Federal Election Commission to try to collect evidence of election fraud, you know, voter ID fraud and so on. And really, again, no social scientific evidence supports that this is happening at all.

And many worried that this was really an effort to target voters, to disenfranchise voters who would be voting against Donald Trump and voting against Republicans. And so he kind of joined forces with people who’ve been working on this already. The stated goal was to clean up elections, which sounds like a wonderful thing. But the actual goal was to disenfranchise voters who would vote against Republicans.

So it turns out now in the last several months, this commission’s been disbanded because of the – one of the major factors that led to the – to elimination of this election commission was that the states refused to cooperate. So here’s where we see American federalism in action, and I think the checks and balances have worked well. And this has been now transferred over to the Department of Homeland Security. And so you know, in general, this is I think a good news stories. But we don’t know what’s going to happen next, and this continues to be a major risk, I think.

LEVISKY: We often get the response to our book that, well, you know, Donald Trump has been much more bluster than action. He’s mostly been talk. But in practice, he hasn’t done very much. And to a degree, that is true. But there are a lot of consequences to his talk and his words. And let me just point to two – the undermining of the credibility of our electoral process and of the free press, right? There are two – it’s hard to think of two institutions that are more core, more fundamental to democracy than our elections and our free press.

And what Donald Trump has done by over and over again saying that – lying, saying that our elections are fraudulent, that the election was fraudulent, that 11 million illegal immigrants voted, that the election was not truly fair, free and fair is to convince a very large number of voters, a very large number of Republicans that our elections actually are fraudulent – and the same thing with the media.

He has convinced a fairly large segment of our society that the mainstream media – that the establishment media is conspiring to bring his government down, is purposefully lying and making stuff up such that a fairly large number of Americans no longer believe anything but Fox News. In the long term, it’s hard to imagine how that’s healthy for a democracy.

DAVIES: Well, Daniel Ziblatt, Steven Levitsky, thank you so much for speaking with us.

LEVISKY: Thanks for having us.

ZIBLATT: Thank you.

DAVIES: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are professors of government at Harvard University. Their new book is called “How Democracies Die.” Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews “Pop 2,” the latest album from British performer Charli XCX. This is FRESH AIR.j


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1/15/2017 Dolores O’Riordan, the singer of the 1990s Irish band The Cranberries, died Monday in London, according to media reports. She was 46.

The cause of death was not immediately made public.

These were songs my wife and I played (probably too loudly) in our first house. Breaks my heart to lose such talent.

O’Riordan lived in Ireland but was in London for a short recording session, according to the BBC.

The Cranberries formed in 1989 and rose to international fame in 1993 with the release of their debut album, “Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We,” and its accompanying hit single, “Linger.”

The followup album, “No Need To Argue,” kept up the momentum thanks to the worldwide smash “Zombie.”

The band went on hiatus in 2003, and O’Riordan launched a solo career in 2007. The Cranberries reformed in 2009 and toured North America and Europe.

Although The Cranberries had scheduled a European tour last year, they were forced to cancel it because of O’Riordan’s ongoing back problem, according to CBS News.

O’Riordan posted on Facebook in December, saying she was “feeling good.”




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Finding a Pond to Skate on

Finding A Pond to Skate On

The rain and warm temperatures over the weekend followed by cold weather has made for some excellent skating conditions.


Here in New England, the right combination of penetrating cold and precipitation creates a brief, memorable season for pond skating. It will most likely be gone by the end of the week as snow moves in.

I have always enjoyed pond skating. The frozen plain of the lake turning pewter-gray in the afternoon light. The way the lake emits booming noises as the ice shifts and groans. Growing up in New York pond skating was something I didn’t know about until I was in college and my parents moved to a lake in New Hampshire. The first time I was out on the lake I enjoyed the wind at my back as I cruised effortlessly across the ice only to realize too late that my trip back had the wind in my face. My brothers and I along with our neighbors would skate as much as possible. Morning hockey games, evening slow skates as we talked, nighttime games of tag. Now as a father and an uncle I look forward to passing on the love of pond skating and the love of improvised adventure to my children and nieces and nephews.


Having a year round cabin on a lake makes me the “cool uncle” but when it comes to pond skating SAFETY COMES FIRST. If you are headed out  always plan carefully. Bringing along a hand auger to drill small holes in the ice in several spots is a good idea; 4 to 6 inches thickness is typically quite safe. The presence of snowmobiles and ice fishing shacks means the ice is pretty thick. A hockey stick is a must, serving as a probe to test discolored patches of ice as well as a necessary piece of pond hockey equipment. If you’re far from home, in your backpack you should carry a spare hat, gloves, a puck or two, water bottle, some dried fruit or nuts, and a few energy bars. Although I skate with “normal”  socks,  kids wear fleece ones, and on subzero days, I slip little chemical warming packets inside their skates. They also don helmets with face masks and their hockey gloves, elbow pads, and shin pads for protection against falls.

It’s rare that conditions are just right for open-ice skating. Either the lake has frozen solid early in the season, without a snowfall, or  like this last weekends  unexpected thaw and rain is followed by frigid weather. Perfection is acres of smooth, hard ice, with a backdrop of forested hills.

Do you have a favorite pond or lake to skate on? Let us know.

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Sorry GOP, Trickle Down Economics has NEVER really worked. 

After watching the news this morning I Googled: Does Trickle Down Economics Work? I was a teenager in the1980’s and I remember Reagan’s Tax plan along with Government Spending getting us out of the recession. It helped end the cold war at the time because the USSR simply could not keep up. BUT- It also left us in dept.

Why Trickle Down Economic Works in Theory But Not in Fact

shoppers-homeless trickledown
The benefits of tax cuts for high income earners and businesses are supposed to trickle down to everyone. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Definition: Trickle-down economics is a theory that says benefits for the wealthy trickle down to everyone else. These benefits are usually tax cuts on businesses, high-income earners, capital gains and dividends.

Trickle-down economics assumes investors, savers and company owners are the real drivers of growth. It assumes they’ll use any extra cash from tax cuts to expand businesses. Investors will buy more companies or stocks.

Banks will increase business lending. Owners will invest in their operations and hire workers. The theory says these workers will spend their wages, driving demand and economic growth.

Trickle-Down Economic Theory

Trickle-down economic theory is similar to supply-side economics. That theory states that all tax cuts, whether for businesses or workers, spur economic growth. Trickle-down theory is more specific. It says targeted tax cuts work better than general ones. It advocates cuts to corporations, capital gains and savings taxes. It doesn’t promote across-the-board tax cuts. Instead, the tax cuts go to the wealthy.

Both trickle-down and supply-side economists use the Laffer Curve to prove their theories. Arthur Laffer showed how tax cuts provide a powerful multiplication effect. Over time, they create enough growth to replace the government revenue lost from the cuts. That’s because the expanded, prosperous economy provides a larger tax base.

But Laffer warned that this effect works best when taxes are in the “Prohibitive Range.” This range goes from a 100 percent tax rate down to some hypothetical rate somewhere in the middle. If the tax rate falls below this range, then further cuts will only lower government revenue without stimulating economic growth.

Did It Work?

During the Reagan Administration, it seemed like trickle-down economics worked. His policies, known as Reaganomics, helped end the 1980 recession.

Reagan cut taxes significantly. The top tax rate fell from 70 percent (for those earning $108,000+) to 28 percent (for anyone with an income of $18,500 or more). Reagan also cut the corporate tax rate from 46-40 percent.

Trickle-down economics was not the only reason for the recovery, though. Reagan also increased government spending by 2.5 percent a year.

That almost tripled the federal debt. It grew from $997 billion in 1981 to $2.85 trillion in 1989. Most of the new spending went to defense. It supported Reagan’s successful efforts to end the Cold War and bring down the Soviet Union. Trickle-down economics, in its pure form, was never tested. It’s just as likely that massive government spending ended the recession. (Source: William A. Niskanen, “Reaganomics,” Library of Economics and Liberty.)

President George W. Bush used trickle-down theory to address the 2001 recession. He cut income taxes with EGTRRA. That ended the recession by November of that year.

But unemployment rose to 6 percent. That often occurs, because unemployment is a lagging indicator.

It takes time for companies to start hiring again, even after a recession has ended. Nevertheless, Bush cut business taxes with JGTRRA in 2003.

It appeared that the tax cuts worked. But, at the same time, the Federal Reserve lowered the fed funds rate. It fell from 6 percent to 1 percent.  It’s unclear whether tax cuts or another monetary policy caused the recovery.

Trickle-down economics says that Reagan’s lower tax rates should have helped people in all income levels. In fact, the opposite occurred. Income inequality worsened. Between 1979 and 2005, after-tax household income rose 6 percent for the bottom fifth. That sounds great until you see what happened for the top fifth. Their income increased by 80 percent. The top 1 percent saw their income triple. Instead of trickling down, it appears that prosperity trickled up.

(Source: Steven Greenhouse, The Big Squeeze, pp.6-9.)

Why Trickle-Down Economics Is Relevant Today

Despite its shortcomings, Republicans use trickle-down economic theory to guide policy. In 2017, Republican President Donald Trump proposed cutting taxes for the wealthy. He also wants to end taxes on capital gains and dividends for everyone making less than $50,000 a year. Trump’s tax plan would reduce the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. He said it would boost growth enough to make up for the debt increase.

In 2010, the Tea Party movement rode into power during the midterm elections. They wanted to cut government spending and taxes. As a result, Congress extended the Bush tax cuts, even for those making $250,000 or more.

Today the GOP led senate will try to pass a bill that will largly benefit big corporations and the already rich (like Trump). I believe it was Senator Lindsey Graham who said that his donors said, “Pass this or do not come back looking for any more contributions”. 

I do not know how this tax plan will effect me and my business. Largely because the plan has not been open to debate or overview. This is not how things should be. 

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A short course on the history of 8 Thanksgiving foods

Reading the Washington Post Thanksgiving morning I came across this article by Amanda Moniz.

(Read original article here- WASHINGTON POST)

I love two things- Food and History. This made me happy.

A short course on the history of 8 Thanksgiving foods

Ask the people around the table on Thursday about the history of Thanksgiving, and most will say something about the Pilgrims. If any Floridians or Southwesterners are present, you might find yourself in a debate about whether the first feast was held at Plymouth, St. Augustine or El Paso. Only a few might mention the Civil War.

This has been a big year for 150th anniversaries in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1. Gettysburg in early July. The Gettysburg Address just a few days ago. And coming up on Thursday, Thanksgiving.

True, settlers in English and Spanish colonies celebrated thanksgivings in their earliest years. And throughout the 1800s, New Englanders held such observances with their families and friends. But as a national event, the holiday dates to 1863. That year, President Lincoln proclaimed “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise” for the nation’s blessings in the face of the Civil War that was raging.

Why, then, do we associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims? In the late 1800s, with immigrants — Jews, Italians, Chinese, other outsiders — pouring in, America’s cultural leaders took two bits of shaky historic evidence from the early 1600s and embraced a story of a Pilgrim Thanksgiving in an effort to Americanize an increasingly diverse population.

The myth of our holiday’s Pilgrim origins took hold. But the dishes we eat at Thanksgiving? They capture other stories about the making of the American nation.


Cider was once the national beverage. Later, unfermented, sweet cider would become more common on American tables, but before the mid-1800s, the hard stuff was the drink of choice for Americans — New Englanders most of all. Introduced to North America from Europe, apple trees grew well in the temperate climate, with many New England families pressing cider from their own orchards.

Production was so successful that in 1767, Massachusetts colonists drank an estimated average of 35 gallons of cider per person. Many believed it was more healthful and safer to drink than water. Cider was much more than a substitute for clean water, however. The good life, a young John Adams wrote in 1765, consisted of having “Bacon, and Cyder, and Books and Girl and Friend.” Adams and his fellow New Englanders had their ancestors’ ancient foes and New Englanders’ traditional menace — the French — to thank for their favorite drink. Medieval Normans had brought cider with them across the English Channel. The people they conquered in 1066 would grow to love it and eventually took it across the Atlantic on their own quest for new lands.


The bird on many Americans’ Thanksgiving tables today might be about the only thing that connects our national holiday with the romanticized meal in 1621 shared by Pilgrims and Indians and studied by so many generations of American schoolchildren.

William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Plantation, tells us in his account of the colony’s early years that settlers’ diets that fall included wild turkey along with venison, cod, bass, waterfowl and corn. The turkeys might have been quite welcome to the newcomers in their harsh and unfamiliar new surroundings. Thanks to their Spanish imperial rivals, the English had been enjoying the meaty bird for decades. Spaniards had encountered turkeys in their early forays in the New World and had brought the fowl back home.

Turkey became popular across Western Europe and around the Mediterranean and was one of the first American foods to be widely eaten in Europe. So well established in England was the New World bird that English settlers brought domesticated turkeys to America in the colonies’ first years.


Although certain varieties of cranberry grow in parts of Europe, the turkey’s most popular dinner companion tells a story of New World cultural exchange. The fruit’s name is a legacy of 17th century German settlers in America. Called in medieval England “moss-berry” and other similar terms that allude to the fruit’s boggy habitat, English-speakers borrowed their German neighbors’ term “kranberee,” which refers to the long, cranelike stamens of the plant.

The fruit’s use draws on native food culture. Indigenous peoples had long raised and eaten the berries. A 1672 account of the colonies reported that “Indians and English use it much, boyling them with Sugar for a Sauce to eat with their Meat.” Cranberry sauce has been paired with turkey, in particular, since at least the 18th century. Amelia Simmons, author of “American Cookery,” published in 1796, suggested serving roast turkey with “boiled onions and cranberry-sauce.” But, she added, the turkey might also be paired with pickled mangoes, which in the 1790s were imported from India and sold in American cities. How differently might we taste and think about Thanksgiving had the tropical fruit become the typical accompaniment instead.


Americans have been stuffing turkeys with oysters for centuries. Now a treat, oysters were once plentiful and for centuries were the most commonly eaten shellfish in America. At home, cooks filled turkeys and other birds with oysters to stretch the pricier fowl. They also made loaves, sauces, pies, soups and stews with the inexpensive protein.

Eaten as cooked food at home, oysters were often consumed raw from street carts, typically run by African Americans who found grueling but independent work in the oyster trade. Americans also ate their favorite shellfish at the oyster saloons that proliferated in the 19th century as stagecoaches, canals and railroads made it possible to distribute the bivalves, which had been shipped inland in the 1700s, even more readily. Although special dishes — such as oyster stuffing in New England, Oysters Rockefeller in New Orleans or Hangtown Fry in San Francisco — distinguished particular regions, by the mid-1800s, the expanding country had a national oyster market and was united in a national oyster craze.


For many, the Thanksgiving meal must include sweet potatoes with marshmallows (I personally think this is GROSS). The happy marriage of the tuber with caramelized, gooey goodness owes itself to two developments of the 1800s. In the late part of the century, in the decades when the national Thanksgiving holiday took hold, Northerners discovered sweet potatoes — long eaten in the South — and incorporated them into the special meal.

Meanwhile, marshmallows had been recently invented by those culinary trendsetters, the French, who beat the roots of the marshmallow plant with egg whites and sugar to make a chewy treat. Handmade and something of a luxury at first, marshmallows became more affordable after entrepreneurs substituted more widely available gelatin for marshmallow root and, in an era that was developing mass production techniques more generally, figured out how to manufacture an affordable product on a grand scale. In 1917, the Angelus Marshmallows company distributed a recipe booklet that taught Americans how they might use marshmallows. With that, the classic pairing had arrived.


Relatively new to the Thanksgiving meal, tamales are one of the oldest American foods.

A Mesoamerican dish that dates back millenniums, tamales in their simplest form are masa (maize dough) wrapped in either corn husks or banana or plantain leaves, steamed and then unwrapped to be eaten. The masa can also be filled with beans, meat, vegetables or cheese.

Tamales are an everyday food but also have special places on holiday tables in Mexico and Central America. In Mexico, they are eaten at Day of the Dead celebrations in early November. In the U.S. Southwest, a region where culinary traditions have long been shaped by ties to what is now Mexico, special tamales filled with beef and red chilies are made for Christmas. Thanks to recent Latin American immigration to the United States, tamales are increasingly showing up on Thanksgiving tables as well. With a name derived from the Nahuatl word “tamalli,” this hearty newcomer to our national meal highlights the fact that Latin American immigrants often have Indian ancestry. Mexican-American Indians are now the fourth-largest native group in the United States.


Whether it’s served with beans, in risotto or pilaf, as a stuffing or simply steamed, rice has a leading place at our national meal. It also has always had a leading place as an American export crop. In the British American colonies, rice farming began in the 1600s and relied on enslaved Africans who supplied not only the brutally hard labor but also the knowledge of rice cultivation that made the crop succeed.

By the 1800s, South Carolina, the heart of the early American rice industry, exported millions of pounds of rice to the West Indies and Europe. After the Civil War, the Carolina rice industry declined and rice production shifted southwestward. Today, the United States is the third-largest rice-exporting nation in the world, with the rice industry now centered in Arkansas. On Thursday, as millions of us sit down to meals that feature rice, so, too, will millions around the world enjoy the grain, thanks to American farmers.


The quintessential pie marries an indigenous American food already familiar to English colonists, thanks to the vegetable’s introduction to Europe in the 1500s, with an economical English culinary tradition of filling crust with meat, vegetable or fruit. Colonists cultivated pumpkin from their earliest years in the New World, and English cookbooks featured pumpkin pie recipes from the 1600s.

The dessert did not often show up on Thanksgiving tables until the early 1800s, but by later in the century, pumpkin pies were so closely associated with the holiday that in 1869, the (Hartford) Connecticut Courant referred to the pie, along with turkey, as the “inevitable” Thanksgiving dishes. Lately this classic has been showing up in a new guise, thanks to one of the newest movements in American cuisine: Pumpkin pie has gone vegan. Vegan cookbooks, mainstream food magazines and grocery stores feature pies made with pumpkin, tofu (for structure) and the traditional spices, but no eggs, butter or milk: Influenced, often unknowingly, by the Buddhist religion’s compassion for animals, vegans eschew eating animal products. English piemaking, a Central American vegetable, and an Asian religion meet in this new twist on an old American dessert.

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Cranberry For All Seasons


I have 2 passions. History and Cooking. I think in my next career I will be a food historian. Maybe put together a cook book (with a much better cook than myself- DAN KLUGER– any interest?) and have the history of main ingredients.
SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE posted this article (see original article here) My apologies for not posting the link originally. It was as unfortunate oversight and I am embarrassed by the mistake.

Is there a food in North America more intrinsically linked with the landscape of the past and nostalgically intertwined with a holiday feast than the cranberry? From Cranberry Lakes in Nova Scotia, Cranberry River of West Virginia, Cranberry Pond in Sunderland, Massachusetts, the Cranberry Isles of Maine, Cranberry Mountain in New York, Cranberry Meadow in New Jersey, and many a Cranberry Bog dotting coastal areas, the plant deserves the appellation of First or Founding Fruit. It is one of the indigenous foods in North America widely cultivated today. The narratives of the places where the berries once grew wild and of the loss of these habitats can be recovered from historical sources.


Long before colonists landed on the shores of New England, Native Americans harvested cranberries from peaty bogs and marshes. In the present day, the Aquinnah Wampanoags of Martha’s Vineyard celebrate their most important holiday, Cranberry Day, on the second Tuesday of October. Called sasemineash by the Narragansett and sassamenesh by the Algonquin and Wampanoag tribes, the tart berries were an important food source, as early European settlers came to discover. To make pemmican, the fruit (or another berry) was incorporated with pulverized dried fish or meat and melted tallow, and formed into cakes baked by the sun. An endurance athlete of today knows that a proper combination of fat and carbohydrates is necessary to fuel the body. Pemmican was the original power food as this provision provided energy, lasted for months, and was easily portable on long journeys. Following the Pilgrims reliance on the fruit, cranberries became vital for North American fur traders and explorers during the long winter months.

We proceeded to Cranberry Lake, so called from the great quantities of cranberries growing in the swamps … this was one inducement for settling here which was increased by the prospect of a plentiful supply of fish, rice and cranberries … —  John Long in Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader (London: Printed for the Author, 1791)

Native Americans also made the first cranberry sauce. Poet, lawyer and chronicler of the French exploration of Acadia (Maine and the Maritimes in Canada) Marc Lescarbot (c. 1570-1641) observed natives eating cranberry sauce with meats in the early 17th century. He also came to the conclusion that cranberry jelly was excellent for dessert.

Everywhere there is life, spreading mats of crowberry and the beautiful coast juniper where they are deluged by the ocean spray in winter storms; clothing wind-swept granite heights, wherever there is crack or cranny soil can gather in, with partridge-berry, blueberry, and mountain cranberry; penetrating the forest shade and profiting by the dense northern covering of leafy humus that it finds there; and rich, wherever nature has not been disturbed, in infinite variety—of mosses, fungus growths and ferns as well as flowering plants. Few forests in the world, indeed, outside the rainy tropics, clothe themselves with such abundant life, and there are none that bring one more directly into touch with nature, its wildness and its charm. Histoire de Nouvelle-France, 1609 (Purchase translation link here)



However, cranberry sauce was likely not shared between the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag Nation, who had been harvesting cranberries for 12,000 years.

There is a cousin to the red cranberry in England (Vaccinium oxycoccos), and sour fruit sauces or relishes there were traditionally served with meat. Colonists soon adapted the acidic, native cranberry to a familiar cuisine where fruits were often used in both sweet and savory dishes. One of the earliest references of meat being eaten with cranberries is in John Josselyn’s New-Englands Rarities Discovered (printed in London in 1672). This is a charming narrative of the author’s long stays and a catalog of what he saw and learned in the New World in 1638 and, returning, in 1663.

The Indians and English use them [cranberries] much, boyling them with Sugar for Sauce to eat with their Meate, and it is a delicate sauce, especially for Roast Mutton. Some make tarts with Them as with Goose Berries. — New-Englands Rarities Discovered


By the mid-17th century, with the growth of the slave trade from the West Indies (Barbados, Jamaica and the Leeward Islands), sugar became widely available in New England and cranberries were used more frequently in pies and tarts. In honor of present-day Thanksgiving traditions we will mention that Josselyn also observed “pompions” (pumpkin) pie and for the first time in print fully describes the wild turkey.



The plant was named “craneberry” by Europeans for the resemblance of the berry flowers in June to the sandhill crane; how the flowers bend to the ground, arcing like the crane; or, perhaps, how the birds favored the berries. Mossberry and fenberries were other names (fen, along with swamps, another spongy place), as was bounce berries (as you can imagine). And, from the reliable, observant Josselyn:

Cran Berry or Bear Berry, because Bears use much to feed upon them, is a small trayling Plant, that grows in Marshes, that are overgrown with moss; the tender Branches (which  are reddish) run out in great length, lying flat on the ground, when at distances they take root, overspreading half a score of acres … — New-Englands Rarities Discovered

The English author was interested in the healing properties of organic materials as applied by Native Americans (whom he admired) and settlers (he was not so fond of the Bay Colony Puritans). So Josselyn relays the information that cranberries “are excellent for the Scurvey. They are also good to allay the furvour of hot Diseases.” Apart from fevers, other medicinal uses of cranberries by the indigenous populations included poultice for wounds, and treatment for indigestion, swelling, blood poisoning, and seasickness.

Cranberries have loads of vitamin C and benzoic acid, a natural preservative, so they made a perfect ship’s provision stored in barrels. Thus, they became a desired commodity in the Atlantic World.

When carefully gathered in the Fall, in dry weather, and as carefully packed in casks with moist sugar, they will keep for years, and are annually sent to England in considerable quantities as presents, where they are much esteemed. When the ships have remained in the Bay so late that the Cranberries are ripe, some of the Captains have carried them home in water with great success. – Samuel Hearne, A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay, to the Northern Ocean (London: Printed for A. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1795)



Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon), wild in only certain parts of the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, are not an easy plant to grow commercially. Uncultivated stands of cranberry are now rare but Native Americans once had large ranges to harvest and no need to cultivate the berries as a source for the food. The cranberry plant is particular to its environment, with a short Fall season, needing acidic soil, coarse sand, abundant water, and lack of frost while growing. But beginning in 1816, Revolutionary War veteran Henry Hall, captain of the schooner Viana, began successfully to cultivate vines in Massachusetts. By then, the wild environment was quickly receding in America, along with the naturally growing indigenous fruit and the native inhabitants.

Thus, there are layers to the story before cranberries became a major commercial crop. Early writings found in the Smithsonian Libraries help to recover and inform an early cultural history of the native cranberry—along with the blueberry and Concord grape—the most American of fruits.



Sarah Whitman-Salkin, “Cranberries, a Thanksgiving Staple, Were a Native American Superfood,” for National Geographic, November 28, 2013 (link here).

“Cranberries: The Most Intriguing North American Fruit,” The American Phytopathological Society site.

“A Brief History of Cranberries,” Smithsonian.com

“When New England was New” (link)

Stephen A. Cole and Linda S. Gifford. The Cranberry: Hard Work and Holiday Sauce. Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House Publishers, 2009.

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