stopping oppression is the new oppression, the ghosts of The Scarlet Letter live on

Telegram to President Kennedy from South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond September 30, 1962

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The entire telegram is four pages – the rest are at the link. This is a transcription of most of page three see above,

The current situation in Mississippi illustrates clearly
the dangers of usurpation of power by the national government
and also the possibilities of oppression which exist for people
under the rule of a powerful central government.

I urge that you desist from further actions to impose, in
this case, unconstitutional will of the national courts
in the people of Mississippi.

Thurmond was a conservative. This portion of the telegram – written 49 years ago displays much of the same kind of reasoning ( a very generous interpretation of the term) still used by conservatives and libertarians today. It also displays either a remarkable lack of knowledge about Supreme Court and other legal precedents or Thurmond was intentionally making a dishonest argument. Marbury v. Madison (1803) was a supreme court case that obviously very early in the history of the union decided that the SCOTUS decided what was to be the supreme law of the nation, not individual state courts. In Texas v White it was decided that the U.S. was, among other implications of the ruling, a union, not a loose confederation of states. The Civil War itself also decided that state’s rights had limits. “Oppression” for who? Conservatives have most recently used this bizarre take on rights and freedoms regarding discrimination against female employees and access to contraception. Thurmond was arguing, just as the conservatives advocating unequal access to health care, that stopping them from infringing on the rights of others is an infringement on their right to oppress people., i.e. stopping oppression or stopping the oppressors is a form of tyranny.

Nathaniel Hawthorne as photographed by Mathew Brady. Mathew Brady Studio (active 1844–1883)
Albumen silver print. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. On March 16,1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel “The Scarlet Letter” was published. Hester Prynne is not the pure victim or the pure sinner. She is a complicated character that embodies much of human pride, ignorance, strength and longing. The way many people reacted to her is still a common form of petty spiteful judgement that does not accomplish much except to make the sanctimonious hypocrite have a false sense of superiority. Something we have seen recently in the “shaming” by conservatives of Sandra Fluke, or any woman who uses contraception for that matter. NPR has a very good and concise write-up of “The Scarlet Letter” in which we can recognize what might have seemed like old, dry and outdated social norms in our high school readings, is still very much alive,

Hester Prynne, protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterwork The Scarlet Letter, is among the first and most important female protagonists in American literature. She’s the embodiment of deep contradictions: bad and beautiful, holy and sinful, conventional and radical.

At first glance, Hester may seem more victim than heroine. The adultery she committed when her husband was thought lost at sea leads Boston’s Puritan authorities to brand her with the bright red “A” of the title. She’s forced to stand in shame before the mass of Puritan citizens, enduring their stares, their whispers and their contempt. In the self-righteous eyes of the townspeople, she is the ultimate example of sin.

Hester Prynne is also the object of a cruel and shadowy love triangle between herself, her minister lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, and her husband, now called Roger Chillingworth.

“The drama is really the drama of the patriarchial society’s need to control female sexuality in the most basic way,” says Evan Carton, literature professor at the University of Texas, Austin. “This classic male anxiety: How do you know for sure whether your baby is yours? If you don’t know if your woman and your child are actually yours, then you have no control over property, no control over social order, no control over anything — and that’s the deep radical challenge that Hester presents to this society.”

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