Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Andrew and Donald Sitting in a Tree...

When George W. Bush was President, he was hardly a socially or politically polished individual on the surface. Despite coming from a very wealthy and elite background, and attending elite institutions of education his manner and appearance was that of a folksy gentlemen. The type of person you might want to BBQ with and share alcoholic beverages with, but maybe not have in charge of the United States of America. The US has had a variety of Presidents, all except one white, many of them lawyers, all men, most of them coming from a political background, meaning they had served in some capacity in government. Their demeanor could be quite different, in that their approach to how to interact with people or with their staff could range widely. But all, including those who might appear to be more "folksy" and "unpolished" nonetheless retain a seriousness. The weight of the office affects their personality. It drives them to be better, or at least appear to be better as a person then they might feel they truly are.

Most presidents are driven to this because of the responsibilities they must take on, but also because the shadows they inhabit made by those who came before. As Jon Meacham, a historian and presidential biographer has noted, Presidents constantly read up on the actions of previous presidents. They know on some level that the office is larger than their ego, their limits, their capabilities, and so that type of insight may prove essential. What happens then when the office is occupied by someone whose ego seems boundless and infinite in its selfishness and self-delusion? We find someone like Trump who can't even fake a good answer to his questions about previous presidents. When asked what should be simple and easy questions, he meanders into vague and barely formed generalities. In the case of the recent controversy over his almost inexcusably dumb comments about Andrew Jackson, it is most likely the ego at play again. When Trump describes what he thinks Andrew Jackson was, not only is he parroting what someone has told him, when he wasn't really paying attention. He is also imagining that since he has chosen Andrew Jackson to look up to, Jackson must be exactly like the image Trump has of himself.


"Why was there a civil war?" Here is your answer.
by James Loewen
Washington Post
May 2, 2017

President Trump yet again finds himself in possible Pinocchio land, this time for suggesting that Andrew Jackson could have — or would have — averted the Civil War. This claim is more complicated than the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, however. Trump has touched a controversy that has engaged historians and the public for more than a century.

Trump’s view on Jackson is unlikely but not absurd. Jackson famously faced down his vice president, John C. Calhoun, on the possibility of states rebelling against the federal government after Congress passed a tariff that hurt the Southern plantation economy. Jackson got Congress to authorize him to use military force following South Carolina’s attempt to “nullify” the tariff, but the crisis was averted when Congress passed a compromise tariff in 1833.

Still, Trump’s comment about Jackson was in the service of his wider discussion of the Civil War. “People don’t ask that question,” he said in an interview with the Washington Examiner, “but why was there the Civil War?”

This is truly an important question, and we can only wonder what the president would have said had his interviewer asked, “What do you think?” All too many Americans reply vaguely, “states’ rights,” even though Southern leaders, as they left the Union, made it clear that they opposed states’ rights and even named the states and rights that offended them. Americans are vague because their textbooks are vague; publishers don’t want to offend white school boards in Dixie.

Trump’s conclusion about Jackson places him in a camp of 1930s historians who called it a “needless war,” in the words of James G. Randall, brought about by a “blundering generation.” That view is a product of its time, and that time is now known as the Nadir of Race Relations. The Nadir began at the end of 1890 and began to ease around 1940. It was marked by lynchings, the eugenics movement and the spread of sundown towns across the North. Neo-Confederates put up triumphant Confederate monuments from Helena, Mont., to Key West, Fla., obfuscating why the Southern states seceded. They claimed it was about tariffs or states’ rights — anything but slavery.

Earlier, everyone knew better. In 1858, William Seward, a Republican senator from New York, gave a famous speech titled “The Irrepressible Conflict,” referring to the struggle between “slave labor” and “voluntary labor.” When Mississippi seceded, it emphasized the same point: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”

Simply to recognize this material interest renders improbable the “needless war” notion. Mississippi was right: Slavery was the greatest material interest in the United States, if not the world. Slaves made up an investment greater than all manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation. Never has an elite given up such a stake voluntarily. The North went to war to hold the nation together, not to emancipate anyone. But the Civil War did end slavery. When might that have happened otherwise?
Today, when slavery has no state sanction anywhere, it seems obvious that the institution could not have survived to the 21st century. But if the South had prevailed, cotton would have resumed its role as “the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth,” to quote Mississippi’s secession document. The Confederacy might have replaced France as the colonial ruler in Mexico and Spain in Cuba. Eyeing such a strong economic and military model, Brazil might never have abandoned slavery.

There is one more layer on this onion: The South did not quite secede for slavery, but for slavery as the mechanism to ensure white supremacy. On many occasions, its leaders made this clear. Trying to persuade fellow Texans to secede, John Marshall wrote in his Austin State Gazette in 1861: “It is essential to the honor and safety of every poor white man to keep the negro in his present state of subordination and discipline.” In 1863, William Thompson, founder of the Savannah Morning News, proposed a new, mostly white national flag for the Confederacy: “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.” The government agreed and adopted his flag. Late in the war, trying to persuade Confederates to persevere, the Richmond Daily Enquirer asked, “What are we fighting for? We are fighting for the idea of race.”

Some Trump partisans are clearly still fighting for that idea. Unfortunately, the Civil War settled only the issue of slavery — not white supremacy. Getting the Civil War wrong was part of the program of white supremacy during the Nadir. Today, getting it right is not just Trump’s responsibility — it’s all of ours.

 James W. Loewen is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Vermont and the author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader.”


"Trump's woefully ignorant beliefs about the Civil War and Andrew Jackson"
by Jonathan Capeheart
Washington Post
May 1, 2017

President Trump always ends his self-reverential rallies with the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Kinda fitting since, 102 days in, he has proved that point over and over. But after Trump’s intellectually deficient interview with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, Sam Cooke’s “What a Wonderful World (This Would Be)” could also apply. The first five words say it all: “Don’t know much about history.”

As is his wont, Trump heaped praise on Andrew Jackson, the slave-owning seventh president of the United States whose Indian Removal Act led to the “trail of tears and death.” But then Trump slipped the surly bonds of fact and truth to utter a word salad of nonsense.
TRUMP: [Jackson] was a swashbuckler. But when his wife died, did you know he visited her grave every day? I visited her grave actually because I was in Tennessee.
ZITO: That’s right. You were in Tennessee.
TRUMP: And it was amazing. The people of Tennessee are amazing people. They love Andrew Jackson. They love Andrew Jackson in Tennessee.
ZITO: He’s fascinating.
TRUMP: I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War — if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?
Let’s diagram, shall we? First, “He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, ‘There’s no reason for this.’” That’s pretty incredible since the Civil War started 24 years after the end of the “swashbuckler’s” term and 16 years after his death.

Then, “People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” That an estimated 750,000 died in the four-year bloodbath is proof enough that “that one [could] not have been worked out.” But, come on. Everyone knows why there was a Civil War.

Forget the “War Between the States,” “War of Northern Aggression” or “The Lost Cause.” They are euphemisms to make a war about maintaining the evil of slavery and the economy it built seem like a noble effort by a noble people. Hardly. As Daina Ramey Berry told me in an interview on my podcast “Cape Up,” they were fighting to keep a system where “the average enslaved person was sold about four or five times in a lifetime,” where “a woman’s value [in slavery] was wrapped in her fertility” and where “even in death and beyond [slaves] are still being commodified.”

When he saw a slave auction block while touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump reportedly said, “Boy, that is just not good. That is not good.” True. And the same can be said of the woeful lack of knowledge and understanding by the president of the United States about the complicated and nuanced history of the United States. It’s “sad.”


What's up with Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson
by Louis Jacobson, Sarah Waychoff
May 2, 2017

If it were possible to have a bromance across the centuries, Presidents Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump would almost certainly qualify.

Repeatedly over the past year, Trump has invoked and praised his predecessor in the White House, who served from 1829 to 1837. In addition to various mentions in remarks and on Twitter, Trump placed a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office and made a pilgrimage to the late president’s tomb in Nashville less than two months after being sworn in.

"Trump is the first president to so openly admire and point to Jackson as a model, and to borrow so clearly and explicitly from the language of Jacksonian ‘democracy,’ " said J.M. Opal, a historian at McGill University and author of Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation. "It has been more common for 20th century presidents to model themselves on recent leaders whom they personally knew."

For instance, Lyndon Johnson admired Franklin Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton made his childhood meeting with John F. Kennedy a touchstone of his career.

Trump’s affection for Jackson drew new attention on May 1, 2017, when, during an interview on Sirius XM’s P.O.T.U.S. channel, the president told the Washington Examiner's Salena Zito, "I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later you wouldn't have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, 'There's no reason for this.' "

Almost immediately, critics took issue with Trump’s historical accuracy. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake called Trump’s grasp of history "totally bizarre," noting, among other things, that Jackson died a decade and a half before the Civil War.

Trump responded with a tweet on the evening of May 1, writing, "President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War started, saw it coming and was angry. Would never have let it happen!"

At times, Jackson was a popular figure and considered one of the nation’s greatest presidents.
For generations, many state and local Democratic parties held "Jefferson-Jackson dinners" to celebrate two of the biggest names in their party’s history, and some still do.

"Patrician historians of the late 19th century saw Jackson as ignorant and destructive, but praised him as a strong supporter of the Union," Harry L. Watson, a historian at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and author of Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. "Progressives of the early 20th century saw him as a popular hero who fought special interests. New Dealers praised him as a strong president and a champion of working-class democracy."

But Trump’s seeming fondness for Jackson comes at something of a low reputational ebb -- a historical moment when many Americans have begun to focus on the darker side of Jackson’s record.
High on this list are his personal history as a slaveholder and his implementation, as president, of a policy of "Indian removal" from eastern lands that culminated in the "Trail of Tears," which led to the deaths of an estimated 5,000 Cherokees.

In recent years, "Jackson's offenses against Indians and blacks and his propensity for personal gun violence have overshadowed his economic policies among liberals and progressives," Watson said.
H. Lee Cheek, Jr., a historian at East Georgia State College who has written about early 19th century American history, said Trump has not paid enough attention to the more problematic sides of Jackson’s legacy.

"The Trump endorsement of Jackson follows from his very limited understanding of Jackson as a man of action," Cheek said. "He has no knowledge of the misdeeds of Jackson that are central to a complete understanding of his political career."

Emblematic of this modern-day discontent with Jackson is the move by Barack Obama’s Treasury Department in 2016 to take Jackson off the front of the $20 bill, making way for a portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. (Jackson was to appear in a less conspicuous spot on the back of the bill.)

The move drew criticism from Trump, then a presidential candidate, who saw it as an example of political correctness.

"Well, Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it's very rough when you take somebody off the bill," he said on NBC’s Today show. "I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic, but I would love to leave Andrew Jackson or see if we can maybe come up with another denomination."

This wasn’t the first time Trump had cited Jackson. He did so in passing in a July 10, 2013, tweet.

But the $20 bill redesign seemed to kick off a period in which Trump and his circle increasingly associated the candidate with the former president.

After Trump’s election, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump adviser, compared Trump favorably with Jackson. "This is like Andrew Jackson's victory," Giuliani said. "This is the people beating the establishment. And that's how he (Donald Trump) posited right from the beginning."

Another top Trump adviser, Steve Bannon, also compared Trump to Jackson on two occasions.
The New York Times’ Peter Baker offered a side-by-side comparison of the two presidents, including seemingly strong similarities in their "man of the people" stylings, their pugnaciousness and even their eccentric hairstyles.

"President Trump seems to like the tough-guy persona of Andrew Jackson," said H. W. Brands, a historian at the University of Texas-Austin and author of Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times. "There is no question that Jackson was decisive, and that he cared nothing for political propriety."
Some historians also see an intriguing shared dichotomy: Both Jackson and Trump professed to care about the ordinary man, and both came from great wealth. They each railed against political elites, but were less outspoken in their criticism against other types of rich and powerful Americans.
"Jackson had been a large import-export merchant, a lawyer and judge, and was as of the 1820s one of the largest slave-owners in central Tennessee, a man of immense power over the days and hours and even the lives of about 100 enslaved blacks, not to mention dozens of white debtors," Opal said. "Yet in his idea of ‘the people,’ he was an ordinary fella, a regular Joe. That is a strange kind of populism."

Still, several historians cautioned against going overboard in comparing Jackson and Trump.
For instance, Trump, a real estate developer, never served in the military and never served in elected office until he won the presidency. Jackson, by contrast, was a celebrated general, a member of both chambers of Congress, and a justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court.

"Jackson was a true egalitarian with a passion for democratic equality that you just don’t see in Trump," said David Greenberg, a presidential historian who teaches at Rutgers University.


Historian on Donald Trump's Civil War Comments: "God Help Us"
by Tim Murphy
Mother Jones
May 1, 2017

President Donald Trump said in an interview on SiriusXM's "Main Street Meets the Beltway" show Monday that if Andrew Jackson had been president in 1860, the Civil War would have been averted. "Had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War," he stated, and he asked, "Why could that one not have been worked out?"

I asked David Blight, a Yale University historian whose work has focused on slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, what he thought of Trump's remarks. Here's his response:
"Worked out?"  God!...
Well, I just read these postings?  So he really said this about Jackson and the Civil War? All I can say to you is that from day one I have believed that Donald Trump's greatest threat to our society and to our democracy is not necessarily his authoritarianism, but his essential ignorance—of history, of policy, of political process, of the Constitution. Saying that if Jackson had been around we might not have had the Civil War is like saying that one strong, aggressive leader can shape, prevent, move history however he wishes. This is simply 5th grade understanding of history or worse.  And this comes from the President of the United States! Under normal circumstances if a real estate tycoon weighed in on the nature of American history from such ignorance and twisted understanding we would simply ignore or laugh at him. But since this man lives in the historic White House and wields the constitutional powers of the presidency and the commander in chief we have to pay attention. Trump's "learning" of American history must have stopped even before the 5th grade.  I wish I could say this is funny and not deeply disturbing. My profession should petition the President to take a one or two month leave of absence, VP Pence steps in for that interim, and Trump goes on a retreat in one of his resorts for forced re-education. It could be a new tradition called the presidential education leave. Or perhaps in New Deal tradition, an "ignorance relief" period.  This alone might gain the United States again some confidence and respect around the world.
Hope this helps.  God help us.

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