These are a few of the columns and essays I’m willing to be known by, for better or worse.
How both political parties’ establishments seeded Trump’s rise, Salon, March 16, 2016. This essay, written as Trump was soaring through the Republican primaries, was picked up by several other sites, including AlterNet, and History News Network, and it prompted this interview with me on WNYC, New York City’s NPR station.
Why free speech is on not one but two slippery slopes, Salon, August 3, 2018. This post summarizes arguments I’ve made in two more substantive essays — “Speech Defects,” in The Baffller, June 2018, and “How Hollow Speech Enables Hate Speech,” in The Los Angeles Review of Books, October, 2018
This isn’t only a constitutional crisis; it’s a civic-republican implosion. Written a few months after Trump’s inauguration, Moyers & Co., May 11, 2017. Also posted by AlterNet.
Donnie Bone Spurs, our demander-in-chief, Moyers & Co., Sept. 27, 2017
My ‘Holocaust’ story — and yours. The Washington Monthly, June 2018
Puritans and Hebrews: American Brethren? New England’s Puritans Hebraized their Christianity to emphasize a covenant of law and social obligation that has inflected American self-understandings (and self-criticisms) every since World Affairs Journal, April 2009.
“Smarter and Tougher,” National Public Radio, September 13, 2001. This 3-minute radio commentary on “All Things Considered” was delivered two days after 9/11. How well have these thoughts of that moment held up? The NPR commentary was adapted from a version I wrote on 9/11 and published in the Yale Daily News on September 12.
How Rudy Giuliani went from being authoritative to being authoritarian, and then just nuts. Foreign Policy, Nov, 2016
Posted originally in 2007, when former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was still popular because of his performance on 9/11 and when his campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination was getting underway, this column changed celebratory perceptions of him among opinion makers. By 2016, when Giuliani was being considered for Secretary of State or Attorney General, I re-published and updated the column for Foreign Policy Magazine. It explains why some of us who’d been impressed by him as a U.S. Attorney and, for a few years, as mayor, had begun to learn that he wasn’t entirely what he seemed. His embrace of Trump, whom he’d regarded warily, at best, when he was mayor, confirmed my understandings of why he’d “changed.”
Above the Battle: The Price We Pay, The Harvard Crimson, January 28, 1976. This account of how I brought white working-class military veterans to hear James Baldwin speak at Harvard was written a year before I began a decade of immersion in black politics and community life in Brooklyn. Forty years later, white-ethnic men like those I described here would vote for Donald Trump, for reasons I encountered in 1976. If you have trouble reading the pdf, linked above, of the original as it looked in The Crimson), click this digital version .
Photos of Jim Sleeper, immersed in Brooklyn in 1979-80. Here, also, are two never-before published photos, one of me in 1980 with the staff of my small weekly newspaper, The North Brooklyn Mercury (I’m the one wearing the tie). The other, taken by our staffer Joel Gallob, is of me conducting a 1979 interview with a Satmar Hasidic man whose leaders supported the congressman.
“Duty Bound,” The American Prospect, 2006. This is one of my typically counter-cyclical essays (See “Looking for America,” the lead essay at right): In the summer of 2006, as everyone followed Ned Lamont ‘s anti-Iraq War bid to unseat Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, I went to Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library to look up Lamont-family history and found striking accounts of a long-forgotten, would-have-been uncle who’d given his life at 21 in a submarine off Japan in World War II. I portrayed the young Thomas W. Lamont II as a fata morgana of the American republic, a fading mirage of our civic virtue, “his sacrifice a requiem for the kind of citizen we’re losing not at the terrorists’ hands but our own.” The essay was posted in The American Prospect, and I spun off some of it into a New York Times op-ed column that’s linked in it.
Ronald Reagan’s hold on the American imagination reflects but distorts a sobering truth: His “Morning in America” administered “a glorious euthanasia to the civic-republican spirit.” It’s one thing to romanticize the republic, as I did in “Duty Bound,” above; it was something else for Ronald Reagan to devote so much his presidency to stage-managing such romances in lieu of public deliberation about his policies.
“Manufactured Consent,” The Washington Monthly, 2001
Written just after the Supreme Court ruled for George W. Bush in the 2000 election, this remonstrance contemplated civil disobedience against what seemed a creeping coup d’etat. It’s one of my finest — or, at any rate, most impassioned — invocations of American civic-republicanism.
“Bush and the Bad-Boy Vote,” Los Angeles Times, 2004.
Written during the 2004 presidential campaign, this column sketched the “macho” current in Bush’s campaign. I’d discovered a photo of him making an illegal play in a rugby game while a student at Yale; no journalist had found the photo previously because it had appeared only in the yearbook of my Yale Class of 1969, a year after Bush had graduated. Some wondered if I’d doctored the photo and its amusing yearbook caption: To confirm its authenticity, a Japanese television crew taped me holding and opening the yearbook to the page with the photo and caption. The column itself raced around the net, not least on rugby websites, and was re-published in other newspapers. Especially predictable was the reaction of the Boston Herald, a Murdoch paper, which ran the photo with only a passing reference to my column, in a winking, faux-populist gesture to the Herald’s “bad boy,” Reagan-Democrat readers.
“What’s Really Wrong With Fred Richmond?” The Village Voice, 1982.
An idealistic young weekly newspaper editor recalls his delicate interactions with a wealthy, corrupt Brooklyn congressman in the early 1980s, revealing my own political premises at the time. After many twists and turns, I still find most of the moral and political coordinates of this piece useful, if painful.
“Boodling, Bigotry, and Cosmopolitanism,” Dissent, 1987, reprinted in two anthologies, In Search of New York (Jim Sleeper, ed.) and Empire City: New York Through the Centuries (Kenneth Jackson and David Dunbar, eds.) an anthology of 400 years of writing about New York City.
New York City’s white-ethnic and Jewish “New Deal” political culture was expiring in late 1980s with the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch, amid scandals and demographic upheavals that presaged the 1989 election of the city’s first non-white mayor, David Dinkins. This was my assessment of a city in transition. Subsequent developments were reported in New York Daily News columns and The New Republic, linked elsewhere on this site.
“Lessons From Lorena Bobbitt” New York Daily News, 1993. About the dangers of vigilantism by the abused and about the comparative merits of civil disobedience when it’s possible.
“Orwell’s ‘Smelly Little Orthodoxies’ and Ours,” in George Orwell: Into the Twenty-First Century, (Thomas Cushman and John Rodden, editors), 2004. What George Orwell and Alexis de Tocqueville helped me to learn from my sorry sojourn in American journalism. Prepared originally for the Centenary Conference on Orwell at Wellesley College, May, 2003.
. Tales of a Teenage Guru”, The Boston Phoenix, 1973One of my first published essays, in a Boston “alternative” weekly, this was a lament for progressive “movement” politics after I’d watched a mass gathering of young followers of the teen Guru Maharaj-Ji. The allure of his “perfect wisdom” signaled decay in this country’s civic-republican synapses.