Step #8. Stand Out
“Someone has to. It is easy to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. Remember Rosa Parks. The moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.” - Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny
“It is a mistake - as events since September 11 have shown - to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues.” --Wendell Berry
“The latest attacks against the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests ― no party’s, no President’s, only (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s…If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.” - Senator John McCain (R-AZ), 2/02/18
“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.” – George Orwell
While I admire Senator Mitch Romney (R-UT) for voting, with fellow Democratic Senators, to convict and expel Donald Trump from the Presidency for one of two impeachment offenses of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” it was only one good day, compared to a Republican Senator from North Dakota (1940-1959) who showed that same kind of courage every day of his life. Seventy years ago [September 23, 1950] Senator William Langer collapsed in a diabetic coma on the floor of the U.S. Senate while filibustering in support of President Harry Truman’s veto of the McCarran [D-NV]-Mundt [R-SD-Nixon [R-CA] Internal Security Act. Langer called that precursor to even worse laws in the future: “one of the most vicious, most dangerous pieces of legislation against the people that has ever been passed by any Senate.”
Now that even white men of privilege are discovering what black and brown folks, and many women, have always known about police state tendencies in America, it is a good time to reintroduce Senator Langer to the rest of the country. William “Wild Bill” Langer was one of the founding fathers of the Nonpartisan League (NPL)’s Bank of North Dakota, America’s only State owned public interest bank, and the legal reason why socialism has been constitutional in the United States for 100 years, due to a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court [Green vs. Frasier, 253 U.S. 233 (1920)]. In ratifying the common sense of North Dakota farmers and their NPL leadership, the highest court in our country was, in the words of historian Michael Lansing (Insurgent Democracy, U. of Chicago Press), endorsing an alternative capitalist vision that was part of the League’s “unique significant contribution to American political life.”
At the suggestion of a college classmate from New York who did not hold my Mandan, ND zip code against me, I submitted a brief summation of a “Republican Senator With A Spine,” a few months ago to the discerning Opinion Page editors of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic Monthly. I was under the naïve impression that they might wish to savor such a rare political animal in the Washington menagerie. Their replies, while respectful, indicated that my musings were “not fit to print” at that time.
Perhaps my prose was neither elegant nor cogent enough. More likely, they knew the current invertebrate Republican Senators (John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer), and could not imagine that North Dakota Republicans could ever come up with a courageous politician like Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who could still get re-elected. So I took my wounded journalistic ego to the friendly confines of a more discerning political menagerie in my KGB friends.
High Plains Reader: Can you believe that the New York Times doesn’t want to know about a courageous Republican Senator in a Red State other than Utah?
Putin: Of course we can. East Coast journals, like Wall Street, haven’t recovered from the shock of realizing that North Dakota citizens have owned their own Bank for a hundred years. A politician who pissed off Republicans, Democrats, and Independents his entire life, and still got elected, is simply beyond their comprehension.
HPR: I’ll admit that I have trouble believing it myself. How did he do it?
Rasputin: Courage is a lonely business, but coupled with tenacity, it can work wonders. Beginning in 1914, the Republican Party of North Dakota never wanted Langer, so he just beat them in the primaries, along with fellow founders of the Nonpartisan League, Lynn Frasier, A.C. Townley and Bill Lemke. Their rallying cry, “people are more important than profits,” was a 3rd Party way of thinking that was compatible with progressives in the Republican and Democratic Parties of 1912, and among Democrats in the New Deal and beyond. Langer’s political mascot was the NPL goat, “the only animal that uses its head,” not an elephant or a donkey.
Lena: Bill Langer didn’t just speak the truth to power, he lived it, beginning with support for Superintendent of Public Education Minnie Nielsen and empowerment of women in 1918, and the right of German speaking North Dakotans to publish and worship in their mother tongue in an America at war with Germany during World War I, a civil libertarian position that predated the founding of the A.C.L.U.
HPR: Of course! Forty percent of the North Dakota voter base is German ethnic in origin. Those folks could care less what else he voted for, since Langer had stood up for them when it mattered. Together with women who voted against their husbands, and faithful NPL believers, he had a political base that could not be broken, despite all the efforts of the rich and powerful.
Chicago Dog: When it came to human and civil rights, Bill Langer was pro-everybody, not just German Americans and female North Dakotans who were of Scandinavian descent. His advocacy of Native American rights was early and often, beginning as a defense lawyer in 1928. He broke into the Ft. Yates jail, after winning a fistfight with a drunken janitor who didn’t respect his legal authority from the Deputy Sherriff of Sioux County, in order to represent four clients accused of murder. He got them acquitted. The next time he visited that jail was in 1954, as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Senator Estes Kefauver (D-TN). They were investigating federal prison conditions all over the country, and documenting the historic and contemporary wrongs against the Indian nations in North Dakota.
Lena: When the North Dakota Republican Party stopped even faking progressive ideas by the 1950s, Langer’s progressive spirit continued in the Democratic/NPL of North Dakota and in the Farmers Union. Former Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), in addition to confounding Wall Street, has continued Langer’s advocacy for Native Americans in his recent book, The Girl in the Photograph: The True Story of a Native American Child, Lost and Found in America.
Mr. Swamp Fox: Advocating against Jim Crow laws and in favor of full civil rights for African Americans in the Senate as early as 1942, Statehood for Puerto Rico in 1947, chain migration for refugees from the Middle East as well as German Eastern Europe after World War II, Bill Langer was also a fierce opponent of anti-Semitism in the 1940s, McCarthyism in the 1950s, and Imperialism at all times, casting the lone vote in Congress in 1954 against authorizing the CIA overthrow of a democratic government in Guatemala.
Señor Perro: His statement at the time was amazing for its foresight:
“…the true nature of the conflict in Guatemala is not yet clear. (Consequently) I do not think we ought to jump into the Guatemalan situation, a sensitive, and very grave threat to world peace, with such elephant indelicacy.”
Putin: Funding of dictators, and other forms of gangster government in Central and South America and the Caribbean by the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Administrations, as well as the Oliver North cabal of “Iran-Contra” fame under President Reagan, is what set the stage for President Trump’s pathological Mexican wall fixation and crimes against humanity that Nazi war criminals were arraigned for at Nuremberg in 1945.
HPR: Langer took on the Military Industrial Complex?
Rasputin: Sure, but he was only one voice, albeit the correct one.
Chicago Dog: Langer had been able to fight abuse of federal and corporate power from a North Dakota power base, just like the current New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, is sticking it to Trump and his would be Police State Empire under Attorney General William Barr.
Señor Perro: Langer spoke up for Guatemalans, because they did not have Statehood like North Dakota, supported by the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As Attorney General and Governor of North Dakota, he had survived the full force of political enemies, who used the full prosecutorial powers of the Federal Government. In fact, he thrived, combining combative altruism with trial lawyer skills, an acute understanding of political jiu jitsu, and backed by a loyal electorate who knew damn well that his enemies were theirs as well.
HPR: Like many Republicans of his day, Bill Langer kept a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in his U.S. Senate office. But unlike many Republican colleagues at that time, and virtually ALL of them nowadays, Senator Langer lived Abe Lincoln’s spirit in his heart and mind, and wove it into his spine.
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