Monday, January 8, 2018

Trump is not a new Phenomenon


"He who promises more than he is able to perform, is false to himself; and he who does not perform what he has promised is a traitor to his friend."

George Shelley


Each day, a new revelation emerges from this wretched, insufferable White House, a mélange of snake infested rooms, a weak Indiana Jones vignette of frightful serpents emerging from every crevice.  Reporters, staffers, secretaries, aides, assistants, interns, junior and senior officials, all attempting to navigate the labyrinthine halls of influence, deception and vainglorious sycophancy.

Motivated by a wish not to be indicted, prosecuted, or called as a witness, they muddle about, the specter of the Mueller investigation hanging in the fetid air, wondering what the special counsel will do next.  Bobby three sticks, a sphinx, keeps counsel only with the tight lipped, professional white collar prosecutors, whom he has engaged to follow his lead and perhaps chase Caligula from his cave.    The man who would be king writhes, stews, and fulminates in a hopeless situation of his own creation, transfixed by large screen TVs.    Never wanting really to be President, and ill equipped for the purpose did not realize that his brand building expedition would get him where he is: Under microscopic public scrutiny, a ravenous, blood-thirsty retinue of reporters, each seeking to break the next story and which, to now, have not had much travail in discerning. 

The stories, falling into their laps like so much manna from the feckless President, who says he is "really a genius, very smart, who went to the best schools," helps them along their path to potential Pulitzer prizes, much like a reincarnation of Richard Nixon, only with half the brain of the latter.  His Joseph Goebbels, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, re-channels all the delusional tweets, into semi-retractions.  Her countenance resonates with the evasive, half truth, and "I'll get back to you," (which she never does) when she does not have the answer to a question that clearly does not fall into the easy spin category.  After Trump leaves, I do not imagine she will be replacing Lesley Stahl on 60 minutes.

This gruesome episode of an unfit President reminds us of the unfit Andrew Johnson, who succeeded to the Presidency upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.   In those days, Vice Presidents, not necessarily of the same party as the President, allowed Johnson, a southern Democrat, the antithesis of Lincoln, to assume office.  Congressional Radical Republicans wished to guarantee the rights of freed slaves and blacks by passage of the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution to guarantee black suffrage, and Johnson, although loyal to the Union, was an unabashed racist, sympathized with those who wished to keep blacks in involuntary or indentured servitude. Post war, Federal military districts created by Congress, deployed federal troops under the command of Phil Sheridan to ensure that local white supremacists could not endanger the black vote.  Congress passed a law called the Tenure of Office act providing that the President could not fire cabinet members without the consent of congress.  This law was intended partially to protect Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's gruff, but highly capable Secretary of War, who was fervidly enforcing the reconstruction acts passed by Congress.  The acts, lumped together, meant to bring order to a disjointed South, still infested with violent racial hatred.   A threat of a new rebellion loomed.  Although loyal to the Union, Johnson exemplified a callous indifference for blacks and for those who would protect them.  He supported the infamous "Black Codes," enacted by southern states to deprive African-Americans of their suffrage and wished prematurely to reinstate local state governments antithetical to blacks.  Johnson lied and misstated his positions repeatedly to different audiences, including on a country wide speaking tour.

At the time all this was happening Ulysses S. Grant, the great hero of the Union, reacting to Johnson's vituperation and vitriol, stated, "I would impeach Johnson because he is such an infernal liar."   Johnson had had a falling out with Grant, over reconstruction policies.  Grant, a fourteenth amendment advocate, wished that the former Confederacy be under military supervision for some time to ensure that blacks be protected from hateful former confederates, and that there be no renewal of the insurrection.  Johnson was his own worst enemy, but at least had consistent beliefs on how to reconstruct the South.  Johnson attempted to manipulate those around him, both in the cabinet and especially those who disagreed with his ideas of returning the Southern states to the Union and disagreed with the fourteenth amendment, guaranteeing black suffrage and full citizenship.  He employed deceit and vitriol toward this end.  He created havoc in his cabinet and uncertainty in the nation over the result of a horrifying war, which had cost 755,000 American dead and delayed reconciliation between the South and the North. This, the radical Republicans in congress, could not bear.  (For those readers not familiar with the Republican party of the time should understand that it was the polar opposite of today's Republicans.)
With the benefit of 150 years of historical analysis, the bet is that had Lincoln lived to promote "malice toward none and charity for all,” civil rights may have been an easier battle and emerged into broad sunlight sooner.

Congress impeached Johnson but he was not convicted in the Senate, saved by one vote, after he had disingenuously promised to adhere to the rules set down by the Senate that he would pursue with vigor the reconstruction acts, and the military districts set up in the South.  With only nine months left in his term, and his torpidity toward equal rights, opposition to the 14th Amendment, was not nominated by his own party, leaving office in 1869, and died in 1875.   Johnson, regarded by historians as one of the worst presidents in American History exhibited many of the characteristics and temperament of Donald Trump, and although he was known to have been perverse in his racism but, at least, had been literate.

Johnson was the first President to be impeached, and if being an "infernal liar" is the criterion for impeachment, the present occupant of Oval Office, certainly qualifies.