I want to write down some large themes or general points to make in the book, Rhetoric of Infamy. I’ll just write kernels here. These points count as advice to fellow researchers, people I don’t even know!
- First, don’t privilege the government’s account. You can’t ignore it, but don’t become obsessed with it. Approach the project as if they government account did not exist. Also, don’t look to the government for credibility or resources in round two. An independent investigation means no government involvement, period.
- Engage in collaborative research. This point can go in a lot of directions. Explain why projects of this type require collaboration. You may want to refer to Sunstein’s essay in connection with this point.
- Tell a story that appeals to people’s love of country. Follow the Harriet Beecher Stowe model: tell a story that appeals to people’s reason and emotions. For the reason part: do what a courtroom attorney would do for a jury. Connect people and motivations with events. Do it convincingly and include the right details. Mahoney is a good example of that, and of course Douglass is, too.
- Don’t go further than your evidence can take you. Be conservative. Know what you are talking about. That’s the John Boyd point: when you’re in the minority and people in the establishment want to shoot you down, your use of evidence and the conclusions you draw have to be unassailable. Commit no errors that skeptics can call out. They will do it, and then you’re done.
- The last point: be patient, and remember what’s at stake. Our republic and our freedom are at stake. The truth may be slow in coming out, but it will come out eventually. Each of us can have a small hand in that process. Yes, the need for truth feels urgent, but other big changes have been urgent and still took decades to come about. Consider the abolition of slavery. The immediate goal here is more limited, and does not require action by armies or governments: make citizens realize that people who claim authority have not told the truth. They have lied big time.
These themes take the form of advice: I’ve offered some ideas about how to carry on this work. Each of the points above has potential for worthwhile elaboration. Each of these points speaks to the rhetoric of infamy.