Tea With Chris: Lincoln Smiled

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: No tea from Margaux this week – it’s just C+C. I’ve long been fascinated by the American Civil War and Reconstruction, by their nascent industrialism, their centrality in the country’s racial agonies, the brutal drama of the conflict, but my interest didn’t begin so academically. As a kid I was briefly a member/sucker of the Science Fiction Book Club, and I once ordered a couple of novels from Southern Victory, Harry Turtledove’s inventively stupid alternate-history series. Here’s a representative passage from the first book:

Lincoln held up both hands. Slowly, slowly, quiet crawled back. Into it, he said, “I do not advocate revolution. I pray it shall not be necessary. But if the old order will not yield to justice, it shall be swept aside. I do not threaten, any more than a man who says he sees a tornado coming. Folks can take shelter from it, or they can run out and play in it. That is up to them. You, friends, you are a tornado. What happens next is up to the capitalists.” He stepped away from the podium.

Joe McMahan pumped his hand. “That was powerful stuff, Mr. Lincoln,” he said. “Powerful stuff, yes indeed.”

“For which I thank you,” Lincoln said, raising his voice to be heard through the storm of noise that went on and on.

“Ask you something, Mr. Lincoln?” McMahan said. Lincoln nodded. McMahan leaned closer, so only the former president would hear. “You ever come across the writings of a fellow named Marx, Mr. Lincoln? Karl Marx?”

Lincoln smiled. “As a matter of fact, I have.”

Thanks to the magic of Wikipedia, I just found out that Turtledove’s literary climax was a flipped-script World War II against Confederate Hitler. This is a very tangential way of saying you should check out Disunion, a series of New York Times blog posts revisiting the Civil War 150 years after it began. They’re focusing on the broader social context of the era rather than yet another summation of its battles, and my favourite entry so far is a sketch of early Japanese envoys who happened to be visiting. “Several kept diaries of their journey; it is clear from these that despite linguistic and cultural differences, they quickly grasped certain peculiarities of local politics. One diarist noted perplexedly that in the United States, ‘anyone of good character except a Negro may be elected president.’” How perplexed would they be by a country where Obama’s motorcade might travel down Jefferson Davis Highway?


Of course, you’ve seen and debated all the “It Gets Better” videos. But you know what the original project to help outcast teens get by was? Rock’n’roll. Perhaps desiring to sidestep some of the controversy that arises when straight people bring their experiences into Dan Savage’s project to reach out to gay teens on video and help discourage suicides, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats hasn’t articulated any explicit link. But as a former psychiatric nurse in a home for troubled youth, and someone who’s sung and written in the past about his own history of childhood abuse and related issues, he knows the territory. And in this song, leaked with Darnielle’s tweeted blessing this week, he remembers an unappreciated kid in spiked heels clattering across concrete high-school floors, getting shit from everybody.

He wishes that he’d said then that he thought that kid was cool. He hopes he or she loves their life now, “the way I love mine” – with the unspoken undertow of hoping they’ve made it this far, because it doesn’t always get better as fast as it should. And he hopes the pain left behind by that time only gets overwhelming “a little of the time,” because you can’t expect traumas to go away completely. And more than most of the too-anodyne “It Gets Better” messages, he reserves the right to catharsis: “We held on to the hope of better days coming/ And when we did, we were right./ I hope the people who did you wrong/ Have trouble sleeping at night.” That might not be a nice thing to think. But it’s a pretty satisfying thing to sing, to let ring out in the air, echo and fade.

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