The Founding Fathers Have Their Say …

The Founding Fathers, as we call them, united 13 disparate colonies, fought for independence from Britain and penned a series of influential governing documents that steer the country to this day.  I’ve often wondered over the past three years what they would think if they were to drop back in now and see what has become of the nation they founded.

LO AND BEHOLD!  They have not only popped in for a quick visit, but they even made a video to tell us just what they think of the current occupant of the Oval Office!  Take a look … I think it will bring a smile to your face, if nothing else.

Very well done, don’t you think?

Nancy Pelosi Spoke Today-Loud and Clear

Our friend Jeff at On the Fence Voters has done it again! I wish I had his way with words. This post is an excellent summation of the events yesterday in the House of Representatives, and he reminds us why the impeachment process is not only justified, but essential to the principles of the Constitution. Thank you, Jeff!

On The Fence Voters

Nancy Pelosi spoke today, and Donald Trump’s day of reckoning fast approaches. For only the fourth time in the history of this republic, articles of impeachment were submitted against a sitting president of the United States of America. Two articles, one for abuse of power, the other for obstruction of Congress, were released by the House Judiciary Committee. You can read them here.

In all, the document consists of only eight pages, a nod towards an increasing attention-averse population. The entire inquiry proceeded in this manner. Just short of 80 days, we’ve seen the committee do its work in swift and sweeping fashion. The Republican Party is left with no other option than to whine and complain to whoever is within shouting distance. President Trump is about to be impeached. As Trump’s Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said in his press conference weeks back, “Get over it!”

There’s an…

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Why Impeachment? Because …

Ron-Chernow.pngRon Chernow is a presidential historian and biographer who has written excellent biographies of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and Ulysses S. Grant.  On Friday, Chernow wrote a piece for The Washington Post that gives some background and insight into the thought process behind the inclusion of impeachment in the U.S. Constitution.  I think you will be stunned by the prescience with which Alexander Hamilton predicted that Donald Trump would one day arrive on the scene.


Hamilton pushed for impeachment powers. Trump is what he had in mind.

He wanted a strong president — and a way to get rid of the demagogic ones.

By Ron Chernow

OCTOBER 18, 2019

Hamilton.jpgPresident Trump has described the impeachment proceedings as a “coup,” and his White House counsel has termed them “unconstitutional.” This would come as a surprise to Alexander Hamilton, who wrote not only the 11 essays in “The Federalist” outlining and defending the powers of the presidency, but also the two essays devoted to impeachment.

There seems little doubt, given his writings on the presidency, that Hamilton would have been aghast at Trump’s behavior and appalled by his invitation to foreign actors to meddle in our elections. As a result, he would most certainly have endorsed the current impeachment inquiry. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Trump embodies Hamilton’s worst fears about the kind of person who might someday head the government.

Among our founders, Hamilton’s views count heavily because he was the foremost proponent of a robust presidency, yet he also harbored an abiding fear that a brazen demagogue could seize the office. That worry helps to explain why he analyzed impeachment in such detail: He viewed it as a crucial instrument to curb possible abuses arising from the enlarged powers he otherwise championed.

Unlike Thomas Jefferson, with his sunny faith in the common sense of the people, Hamilton emphasized their “turbulent and changing” nature and worried about a “restless” and “daring usurper” who would excite the “jealousies and apprehensions” of his followers. He thought the country should be governed by wise and illustrious figures who would counter the fickle views of the electorate with reasoned judgments. He hoped that members of the electoral college, then expected to exercise independent judgment, would select “characters preeminent for ability and virtue.”

From the outset, Hamilton feared an unholy trinity of traits in a future president — ambition, avarice and vanity. “When avarice takes the lead in a State, it is commonly the forerunner of its fall,” he wrote as early as the Revolutionary War. He dreaded most the advent of a populist demagogue who would profess friendship for the people and pander to their prejudices while secretly betraying them. Such a false prophet would foment political frenzy and try to feed off the confusion.

So haunted was Hamilton by this specter that he conjured it up in “The Federalist” No. 1, warning that “a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that . . . of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”

Throughout history, despots have tended to be silent, crafty and secretive. Hamilton was more concerned with noisy, flamboyant figures, who would throw dust in voters’ eyes and veil their sinister designs behind it. These connoisseurs of chaos would employ a constant barrage of verbiage to cloud issues and blur moral lines. Such hobgoblins of Hamilton’s imagination bear an eerie resemblance to the current occupant of the White House, with his tweets, double talk and inflammatory rhetoric at rallies.

While under siege from opponents as treasury secretary, Hamilton sketched out the type of charlatan who would most threaten the republic: “When a man unprincipled in private life[,] desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper . . . despotic in his ordinary demeanour — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day — It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’ ” Given the way Trump has broadcast suspicions about the CIA, the FBI, the diplomatic corps, senior civil servants and the “deep state,” Hamilton’s warning about those who would seek to discredit the government as prelude to a possible autocracy seems prophetic.

At the time of the Constitutional Convention, foreign powers, notably Britain and Spain, still hovered on America’s borders, generating fear of foreign interventions in our elections. Hamilton supported the electoral college as a way to forestall these nations from seeking “to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?” He prophesied that competing countries would try to clip the wings by which America “might soar to a dangerous greatness.” That Trump was so cavalier about Russian meddling in the 2016 election and then invited Ukraine to furnish defamatory material about his political rival Joe Biden would have shocked Hamilton and the other founders, all of whom were wary of “the insidious wiles of foreign influence,” as George Washington phrased it in his farewell address.

In defending impeachment in two “Federalist” essays, one might have expected Hamilton to engage in close textual analysis, parsing the exact meaning of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Instead he couched his defense in broad political language, stating that impeachment should “proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” In short, the president didn’t need to commit a crime per se. “If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers,” the people must “take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.” Trump’s telephone call with the Ukrainian president would seem to suggest a clear abuse of power and possibly a campaign finance violation, although we will need a fair and impartial inquiry to confirm this. As Hamilton wrote, “Caution and investigation are a necessary armor against error and imposition.”

Knowing that impeachment would be divisive, arousing violent party agitation, Hamilton never wanted it used lightly or capriciously, but neither did he want it relegated to mere window-dressing. It was a tool intended for use as conditions warranted. “If there be no penalty annexed to disobedience, the resolutions or commands which pretend to be laws will, in fact, amount to nothing more than advice or recommendation,” he wrote. For Hamilton, each branch of government required a mechanism to check encroachment by the others. He discerned a perfect symmetry between the president’s veto over legislation, constraining congressional overreach, and presidential impeachment, curbing executive excess. In his notes for the New York state convention to ratify the Constitution, he jotted down: “Legislative in the Congress, yet checked by negative of the Executive. Executive in the President, yet checked by impeachment of Congress.”

Throughout his “Federalist” essays, Hamilton foresaw impeachment as a possible two-step process and noted multiple times that after removal from office, an impeached president would “be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law.” He was adamant that the Senate should hold a trial, with the chief justice presiding, and pointed out that other Supreme Court justices should be excluded in case the ousted president then became a defendant for his misdeeds in the regular court system.

Our constitutional system, with its separation of powers, is an exquisitely calibrated mechanism. James Madison, one of Hamilton’s “Federalist” co-authors, noted that no single branch of government “can pretend to an exclusive or superior right of settling the boundaries between their respective powers.” But that is exactly what the president is doing by trying to shut down Congress’s powers of executive oversight.

In the last analysis, democracy isn’t just a set of institutions or shared principles, but a culture of mutual respect and civility. People must be willing to play by the rules or the best-crafted system becomes null and void, a travesty of its former self. We are now seeing on a daily basis presidential behavior that would have been unimaginable during more than two centuries of the American experiment. Not only is Trump himself on trial, but he is also testing our constitutional system to the breaking point. In his worst imaginings, however, Hamilton anticipated — at least in its general outline — the chaos and demagoguery now on display in Washington. He also helped design and defend the remedy: impeachment.

Hate Talk

“These are the times that try men’s [and women’s] souls”, said Thomas Paine on 23 December 1776. What makes the times today so trying to our souls is, of course, the government that no longer represents the people, but even more disturbing is the way the head of said government is pitting us against each other. Our friend Hugh has written a piece that is well worth reading and thinking about. Are we falling for the rhetoric coming out of Washington to the extent that we are sacrificing our future? Thank you, Hugh, for your thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

hughcurtler

It has always been so: using emotive language to describe those people we detest reduces them to things. Such is the case with people we don’t happen to like — or want to kill in violent confrontations called “war.” Not long ago the Japanese were called “Japs,” and the Germans were called “Krauts.” We devise hateful names to describe those we hate and want to kill in the name of God and all that is good. It seems to work: it reduces human beings, as noted, to things to be dispensed with.

We now find ourselves living in a society in which our feckless leader has labelled his enemies in order to generate hatred of those things or people he has determined are his enemies — and therefore the enemies of us all. Thus are the Democrats now called “the party of crime. . .  too extreme and dangerous to…

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Harriet Tubman to Grace $20 Bill

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U.S. currency may seem a small issue to write about … when I dig in my pocket, it certainly seems like a small thing … but today it is a BIG thing.  Today, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that the image of Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 will be replaced by none other than one of America’s most noble abolitionist heroes, Harriet Tubman!  This is big for two reasons:  it is the first time since 1900 (Martha Washington and Pocahontas both appeared briefly during the 1800s) that a woman has been on U.S. paper currency, and the first time ever that an African-American has graced the currency. I taught a Black History course for many years, and Harriet Tubman was always one of my favourite people to talk about. Frankly, I am glad she is going to be on the $20 where I may see her occasionally, rather than on the $100 where I would not.

Initially, the idea was to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, but as a result of the euphoria surrounding the Broadway hit “Hamilton” last year, there was a public outcry when word got out that it was being considered. Not to mention that Hamilton was both a founding father and the first Treasury Secretary, thus it was decided to leave him on the currency.

jacksonDetractors have been lobbying to remove Andrew Jackson from the $20 for some time.  It is funny how time can alter  perceptions.  Jackson, the 7th president of the United States, was once hailed as a hero. No man (or woman) is all hero or all villain.  Jackson was known for a number of positive things, and is now denounced by some for the fact that he was a slave owner, and for being the president who signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 that forced a number of southern Indian tribes from their ancestral homelands, leading to the infamous Trail of Tears.  I do not believe that the less glorious things should detract from the good he did.  While I abhor slavery, one must remember that Jackson died nearly 20 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, so in being a slave owner, he was no better nor worse than most other men of his time.  As a major-general in the War of 1812, he was hailed the greatest hero since George Washington. For a brief bio of Jackson, click here.

tubman4Harriet Tubman is also a subject of some controversy, and there are those who are less than thrilled with seeing her on the $20.  Ms. Tubman was arguably the most famous of the Underground Railroad conductors, having made 19 trips into the south during a ten-year period and rescued more than 300 slaves, escorting them safely to the north.  By 1856, there was a $40,000 reward on her head, approximately the equivalent of $1.2 million today!  The esteemed Frederick Douglass once said of her “Excepting John Brown — of sacred memory — I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman].”  Tubman served in the U.S. Army during the war, and even led an armed raid that freed hundreds of slaves.  For a brief bio of Ms. Tubman, click  here.

 

The announcement was met with good tidings by most, including President Obama, Hillary and Bernie, and most everyone else.  However, there are some who are not happy:

  • I absolutely HATE it that our coins and bills have transitioned to commemorations of personages of our past rather than representations of our national ideals. I really HATE it, but to remove important personages, like Andrew Jackson, the founder of one of our two modern political parties, for someone like Harriet Tubman, who was a truly minor figure in our history, is really absurd and constitutes racial and gender pandering of the most objectionable sort. (name withheld)
  • This country was founded on the idea that all white men are created equal and no one else. As such, Andrew Jackson—slave owner, seventh president of the United States and current face on the $20 bill—represents exactly the values and ethics upon which this country was founded. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig—the pig in this case being a capitalist structure hell-bent on the expansion, maintenance and protection of white supremacy at any costs. (Savali, The Root).  The Root is an African-American publication
  • And even Dr. Ben Carson, former GOP candidate for president of the U.S., had an objection: “Well I think Andrew Jackson was a tremendous secretary. I mean a tremendous president. I mean, Andrew Jackson was the last president who actually balanced the federal budget*, where we had no national debt. I love Harriet Tubman; I love what she did. But we can find another way to honor her. Maybe a $2 bill.”**

 

As Jim Wright pointed out in his post, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and like-minded conservatives are likely to have a field day with this, and if so, I will be writing an update in a few days.  Meanwhile, there is one more tiny detail I may have forgotten to mention:  the new $20 with the visage of Harriet Tubman is unlikely to be in circulation until circa 2030, about 14 years from now, at which time it will be worth $16-$17 in terms of today’s currency.  Apparently major changes to U.S. currency requires a lengthy process “convened by the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence steering committee, which includes representatives from the U.S. Secret Service, the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve.”

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* (Note:  Jackson was not the last president to balance the budget. Bill Clinton balanced the budget in 1998 and recorded budget surpluses every year until he left office in 2001.)

** (Note:  the $2 was last issued in 2003. Thomas Jefferson currently resides on the $2 bill, which is seldom used in circulation. Carson didn’t discuss what should be done with the existing design of the $2 bill. )