ever heard of andrew jackson?

Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. He won the 1828 election by a wide margin in both aspects; he took the popular vote by 140,000 votes

(I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was 12% of the 1.15 million votes cast – the population of the USA was much smaller then.)

and got 178 of the 261 available electoral votes (68% of them).

Seeing as how Jackson beat the sitting one-term president, John Quincy Adams, we could call that a solid mandate from the masses. Not quite a landslide, but a decisive victory nonetheless.

(It should be noted here that in the 1824 election, Jackson won the electoral vote. JQAdams won the popular vote, but failed (obviously) to secure a majority of electoral votes. This set in motion a sequence of events that ended with the House of Representatives using the 12th Amendment to the Constitution to appoint JQAdams as the sixth president, the only time in US history that the HoR has acted to seat a president.)

(Another note, because it’s important: The dominant political party back then was the Democratic-Republican Party. They won six straight elections, but splintered into four factions for the 1824 election, each with its own candidate, which is why the electoral college was such a mess.)

Jackson went on to win the 1832 election as well, beating the well known politician Henry Clay by a wider margin than he had against JQAdams, well over 200,000 popular votes and 219-49 in the electoral college.

After the dissolution of the Democratic-Republican Party, Jackson was key in the birth of the Democratic Party (yes, THAT Democratic Party, though their ideology was more akin to what 21st century Republicans espouse); in reality, he was more what we would (in modern times) call a Populist. Clay, whom Jackson pretty much hated, led the largest opposing faction, the National Republican Party (which is NOT that Republican Party).

Andrew Jackson was born in the Carolina colony to recent immigrants. He was a veteran of the Revolutionary War (he served as a courier at just 13 years old) and, as a result of his commission as an officer in the Tennessee Militia, the War of 1812. He led a combined American and Indian force to victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans, which technically took place after the belligerents agreed to end hostilities.

After the War of 1812, Jackson got more involved in politics and became one of Tennessee’s senators by virtue of his reputation and ambition. His reputation not only included honorable service in the young nation’s two wars, but a victorious duel to defend his wife’s honor, his role in the First Seminole War and his involvement in moving Florida from Spanish to US control.

Due to his experiences in the Carolinas and Tennessee, Jackson talked a lot about how poorly Americans were treated by their federal government. Because of the shitshow that was the 1824 election, he banged the drum of corruption accusations ceaselessly, calling JQAdams’ ascent to the White House a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and the House.

He promised to go after corruption in Washington, to – if you’ll allow me a little leeway here – “drain the swamp.” He promised.

After winning the 1828 election, Jackson set about filling his Cabinet posts. He dutifully appointed political friends and rivals to fulfill promises exchanged for political favors during the election cycle. The thing was, Jackson didn’t particularly care for most of these folks. Instead of leaning on them for advice on how to run his government, he did something else.

He invited his buddies to the White House for bull sessions. This informal group of advisors was known as Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” and they often conducted business in the national interest right there in the kitchen over food, drink and cigars. When you think of backroom politicking, think of Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet.

Lest you think Jackson was reckless, though, he had a plan. For two years the Kitchen Cabinet ruled the Oval Office, annoying the shit out of the actual Cabinet secretaries as well as Congress and – to a smaller extent – the American people. When Jackson got his opening, he tore things wide open. That opening came in the form of Peggy Eaton, the wife of the Secretary of War.

It seems the genteel and/or proper ladies married to other Cabinet secretaries and the Vice President (John C. Calhoun, whom Jackson had a massive falling-out with) didn’t approve of young Peggy or her marriage to Eaton. Peggy was apparently flirty and liked the attention of the male patrons of her father’s bar, and she enjoyed regaling them with her fluency in French and ability to play the piano. She tried to elope with a dashing Army officer, but her father shut that down. Soon after, at just 17 years old, she married a Navy officer called John Timberlake (any relation to Justin?), who was 39 and a drunk. The Timberlakes were friends with John Eaton, a 28-year-old widower and senator from Tennessee. Eaton manipulated the system to help get Timberlake out of debt by getting him posted to a high-paying position with the US Mediterranean Fleet. Rumors of a torrid affair between Eaton and Peggy bubbled under the surface, and some say those rumors were what led Timberlake to kill himself while on station in the Med. The official story is that Timberlake died of pneumonia, but Timberlake was dead no matter what and Peggy was free to marry Eaton.

Sounds scandalous, doesn’t it? Juicy, too! Whoo!

Young Peggy Eaton was by all accounts a forthright, even uppity woman, and her situation and demeanor did not sit well with the other important wives of DC. VP John Calhoun’s wife, Floride, led the ostracizing of Peggy by refusing to invite the Eatons to various parties and other functions as well as refusing invitations from the Eatons. Jackson, remembering the rumors and innuendo surrounding his beloved wife Rachel’s first marriage, took umbrage at this behavior and set about destroying the people treating his friend’s wife so poorly.

After Eaton became Secretary of War, things just got worse in this social situation known as the Petticoat Affair (or Eaton Affair). Martin Van Buren – then the Secretary of State – was so disappointed and humiliated by the whole thing that he offered to resign his position despite the fact that he was unmarried and had no wife to participate in the shunning of Peggy Eaton.

Jackson accepted Van Buren’s resignation, and immediately appointed him as the US ambassador to England. Calhoun, bitter about the unfolding events, conspired with the relevant Senate committees to deny Van Buren the ambassadorship. Remember that Calhoun was the Vice President of the United States at that time.

At that point, Jackson lost his mind (figuratively speaking) and demanded (and received) the resignations of every single one of his Cabinet members except for the Postmaster General, a guy called William Barry. The new Cabinet members owed their loyalties only to Jackson – and most certainly not to Congress – and functioned as a band of bootlicking yes men as “King Jackson” began to expand his reach and power over the nation.

King_Andrew_the_First_(political_cartoon_of_President_Andrew_Jackson).jpg

(Cartoon is in the public domain.)

As for Van Buren, he waited a couple of years and was Jackson’s running mate in the 1832 election (remember, Jackson won). Van Buren went on to win the 1836 election handily, perpetuating many of Jackson’s anti-establishment policies.

From a policy and practice standpoint, and maybe I’ll have to save this for another post some other time, Jackson was a mess. His hatred of the Second Bank of the United States drove him to destroy that financial institution, which compounded a recession that dated back to the Panic of 1825. Economically speaking, things were OK for the USA for a few years starting in 1830, and Jackson got a lot of credit for that, much of which he actually earned. However, his “Bank War” not only erased all the gains he made, but sent the US spiraling into its worst recession up to that point. That recession lasted from 1836 to 1843 and saw its peak with the Panic of 1837, which took place during the Van Buren administration but was a direct result of Jackson’s policies.

I realize this has gotten a bit long and you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all about Andrew Jackson, a guy that’s been dead since 1845. It’s because I’m not just telling you about Andrew Jackson, I’m warning you about Donald Trump.

Yeah, that’s right. Trump.

Like Jackson, Trump believes he is the alpha and omega of the decision-making process that will save the United States. They both surrounded themselves with fawning admirers that formed an echo chamber instead of providing meaningful guidance or any semblance of thoughtful opposition.

Jackson’s initial Cabinet secretaries weren’t bad at their jobs, but they didn’t always do what Jackson wanted them to, so he marginalized and ignored them. When he got the chance, he got rid of them all and brought on people that were willing to do his bidding almost without question. (Roger Taney, who served in multiple positions under Jackson, stood up to him a couple of times, but always managed to do what Jackson wanted done, and more or less in the fashion in which Jackson wanted it done.)

Jackson drained the swamp, as he promised, but once it was drained he filled it back up with an even more odious liquid than he drained out.

The people Trump is bringing on to run his transition team and the people who are being bandied about as possible Cabinet secretaries in a Trump administration are just the first wave. Trump is testing the water – not only for these people, but for Congress and the American people as well.

If these transition leaders and possible appointees end up willing to do only what they’re instructed to do by their lord and master, they’ll no doubt keep their positions in the Trump administration. If they resist, choosing to serve the United States instead of Lord Trump, I have no doubts they’ll hear the words their master made famous – “You’re fired!”

If Congress accepts these transition leaders and possible appointees without comment or resistance, Trump won’t have to bother creating a Kitchen Cabinet. He’ll have one with his actual Cabinet.

If We The People accept these transition leaders and appointees, we’re only setting ourselves up for a bleak future in which Trump continues to force upon the population a string of racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, jingoistic unelected leaders whose ultimate goal – like that of their master – is to use their ideological poisons to pit us against each other so fiercely, to keep us fighting each other so intently, that we become so focused on our own survival that we are blinded to the destruction of our once-great nation.

There’s an ancient parable about frogs. If you take a frog and toss it into a pot of boiling water, it will do whatever it can to get out of the water and stay alive. However, if you put a frog into a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, by the time the frog realizes the water is too hot for survival, it’s too late to escape and it dies in agony.

We’re the frog, and the 2016 election put us in the lukewarm water. Trump is starting to turn up the heat, and unless we stand up to him, by the time Trump shows his hand it will be too late to save ourselves or our nation.

 

Right now I give us a 50/50 chance at surviving Trump’s ultimate reality show.

kobach and his muslim registry

Have you heard of a guy called Kris Kobach? He’s currently the Secretary of State for Kansas, and he’s most well known for a string of anti-immigration and anti-immigrant laws he’s written, supported and/or tried to get passed (sometimes successfully).

He’s one of the super racist guys that President Elect Donald Trump has named to his transition team – you know, the folks preparing the government for the ascension of The Donald.

Kobach wants very much to bring back the registry of Muslims he helped establish during the GWBush administration. Back then, it got some attention – but not as much as you might think, what with 9-11 and all. It’s called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS.

It requires men over the age of 16 from 25 countries – and no surprise here, most of the countries are majority Muslim nations – to register, be interviewed and check in with officials during their time in the USA, whether they were visiting or living here. Because the program was so highly criticized, it was allowed to lapse into disuse in 2011.

I guess this qualifies as the “extreme vetting” Trump wanted done on anybody that comes in from these countries. Paying attention to the people who visit the USA or want to move here for an extended period of time is, I think, important, but having a whole program or even a governmental institution dedicated to that … wait a second – wouldn’t those things fall under Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Ah, so we already have an institution dedicated to that.

OK then, well, adding NSEERS back into the mix and putting it under ICE would still cost a shitload of money, right?  All sorts of people to do the interviews, meet with the Musli- er, I mean registrants – on a regular basis, not to mention the researchers needed to delve into people’s backgrounds. That’s going to be REALLY expensive – anybody who runs a business knows it’s the people costs that get you.  I’m not really comfortable with the government spending that kind of money, especially when everybody running for president keeps promising to cut my taxes. Surely hiring a bunch of people and putting them to work for the government is going to INCREASE my taxes, not cut them.

Now I am not one to identify a problem without offering some kind of solution. In all seriousness, those kind of people really piss me off. I mean, seriously, you’re part of the problem if you don’t offer a way to fix the problem you’re bringing to light. Stop that, and be part of the solution!

Here’s my solution, then, and it’s way cheaper and easier to implement than a bunch of people restarting an old, discredited (and unconstitutional) program. PLUS MY SOLUTION CREATES JOBS! RIGHT HERE IN THE USA! That’s right!

1. Require every Muslim entering the country for any reason to wear at all times on the outside of all of their clothing a simple armband that identifies them as practitioners of Islam.  (Here’s an example I whipped up.)

muslim_armband

2. Make the penalty for not wearing the armband something severe – expulsion at the least, but to be truly effective, the punishment should be execution by firing squad. That will be sure to get their attention.

3. Require that all armbands used for this program be Made in the USA!

See how clean, quick and easy that is? No big bureaucracy required, and everybody will know which visitors or immigrants need to be watched carefully. Maybe we could add a 1-800 number so people that see something can say something.

If anybody know’s Kobach’s phone number or email address, send me that info so I can get in touch with him. I’m 100% certain he’ll be excited by my idea to save the government a ton of money.

I’m pretty sure a program like this existed somewhere else a while back, but I’m not sure how well it worked out. If anybody can point me to a resource that gives some information on how it turned out for the folks that implemented the identification program I’m thinking about, let me know.

gnashing of teeth, rending of hair: trump and the electoral college

There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth over this election, and it’s not likely to end any time soon. I’m hoping it won’t, because our whole system needs an overhaul. We need term limits, we need election reform, we need so much more.

Having said that, people are losing sight of why the Electoral College exists in the first place.

Think about Congress, the way it’s set up.

Members of the House of Representatives are allocated proportionally by population, and that allocation is readdressed every 10 years following the national census. Right now, the House has 435 members. Every state gets at least one rep, but the more populous your state is, the more reps you get. Wyoming has 1, California has 55. By its size and frequent turnover, the House is meant to represent the will of the people.

The Senate was originally meant to represent not the will of the people, but the interests of the States. Each state gets the same number of members – two each – and all laws passed (or repealed) must succeed in both parts of Congress. This was done explicitly to put a check on the power of the people, and if you know anything about our government, you know it’s filled with checks and balances intended to prevent any one component from holding too much power.

When they set up the election process, then, the Founding Fathers did so in such a way as to mimic the setup of Congress. The popular vote represents the will of the people. The electoral vote represents the interests of the states – to a certain extent. There was a huge debate by the Founding Fathers as to how the president should be selected. A good number of them wanted the president chosen by a popular vote; a similarly significant portion wanted Congress to select the president, which is similar to how England’s (and many other countries’) prime ministers are selected.

As with many things in our Constitution, the fighting led to a compromise, and that compromise was to include both things in the process. This compromise was fine at the outset of our representative republic, but it’s come under fire a lot lately. About 80% of Americans wanted to abolish the Electoral College in the late 1960s, and the desire to do so still polls in the 70% range on a regular basis.

In the 21st century, the Electoral College gives a voice to the people living in the flyover states. The United States is heavily urbanized, which puts a ton of people into a small number of states. Urban populations tend to skew left, while rural populations skew right. Because of this demographic distribution, the Democrats enjoy domination in most – if not all – of our urban areas like New York City and Los Angeles.

Clearly, it is possible to win the popular vote and lose the electoral vote, and as a result, five times in our history as a nation we’ve seen electoral victories without a popular vote win. Two of them have happened in my lifetime; George Bush beat Al Gore in 2000, and of course we all know Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Clinton’s mistake, perhaps, was failing to make a serious appeal to those so-called flyover states. Wyoming has but 3 electoral votes, but you put Wyoming together with the other flyovers and you’ve got a large block of electoral votes. That made it straightforward for Trump – all he had to do was focus on the states that could have gone either way, make Clinton look bad there, and ride the media’s wave of publicity and horror right into the White House thanks to the Electoral College.

We in this country tend to have an messianic view of the Founding Fathers, but we should always remember that the majority of them (if not all of them) were members of the 18th century elite. They were overwhelmingly wealthy and owned – in some cases – considerable amounts of land. Every last one of them was white, and every last one of them was male.

I often talk about social contract theory and its importance in the development of the ideologies that led to the formation of the United States. One of the themes running through social contract theory in the 18th century was a hearty distrust and even fear of the masses – the mob, many social contract theoreticians felt, was too dangerous to be allowed to hold any real power.

It is for this reason that the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College – to put a check on the will of the people by creating an institution that can put the brakes on a close election and sway things in favor of the established elite if and when necessary. State governments (especially in the 18th century) were not made up of everymen, and they were not made up of any women or people of color. They were made up of the elite, and it’s where our entrenched oligarchy got its start.

As the tool of the will of the states, then, the Electoral College became the tool of the wealthy elite and enables the ongoing manipulation of election results by the entrenched oligarchical elite we have come to know and love. It functions on fear and loathing, not equality and justice.

You may think I’m crazy, and that’s fine, but when elections are as close as this one and the one in 2000, the wealthy elite of this country can rely on the Electoral College to do their will and overcome the will of the people. At its heart, the Electoral College shows the distrust of the masses that the Founding Fathers held close, and you should never forget that.

The next four years are going to be pretty great for straight, nominally Christian white men and pretty bad for basically everybody else. White women might think they’re safe – hey, Trump loves white people, right? – but we’ll see if his racial ideas outweigh his gender ideas. When the post-Trump anti-white-male backlash descends, however, we’ll see just how hard he grabbed our collective pussy and what kind of damage he managed to do while he was down there.

Fist

it’s time to stop pre-ing everything

We all have pet peeves. I have a friend who gets unreasonably annoyed at people that wear mismatched outfits. Seriously, it bothers him in a way I don’t pretend to understand.

I feel that way about the use of the prefix pre-. It’s being abused and it has to stop.

Pre- has its important uses, so don’t think I’m coming down on the prefix itself. We need precautions and the ability to preclude things. We need to know our predecessors, and of course without the prefix pre- there would be no word for prefix! Without it we couldn’t have premonitions or premeditated anything, and we certainly couldn’t establish prerequisites.

Having said that, we need to stop preheating. An oven cannot be preheated. It can only be heated or unheated.  If it’s unheated, you need to heat it, and if you’re following a recipe, you need to heat it to a specific temperature.  You should do that ahead of time, which is why we say preheat, but step 1 in any recipe requiring the oven should just say “Heat oven to 350 degrees” (or whatever temperature you need) and stop involving pre-.

You cannot pre-board an aircraft. You are either on the aircraft, getting on the aircraft, or not on the aircraft.  If people with special needs are to be allowed on the aircraft ahead of people without special needs, that should be “boarding first,” not pre-boarding.

There is no such thing as a pre-made meal. It’s either ingredients to make a meal or a meal. If you have a friend who has been in the hospital and you make something for them to stick in the freezer as a way to help them out, that’s a meal. When you buy a meal in a box at the supermarket, it’s not pre-made. It’s made. It’s already a meal, you just have to heat it up.

Similarly, you cannot pre-adapt anything. If you adapt something ahead of somebody else needing to use that thing, it’s been adapted. You haven’t pre-adapted. You’ve adapted.

There is no pre-purchasing, only purchasing. No pre-admission, because you’re either in or you’re out. I’ll give a little leeway on preamplify, but I’m standing strong on pre-allocate. There is no pre-arranging, pre-assigning, pre-booking or pre-focusing.

You might believe in predestination, but you need to let go of prefabricating. Seriously, what you’re making either exists or it doesn’t. If it does, it’s fabricated. If it doesn’t, it needs to be fabricated.

Drop your willingness to preformat, prehire and prejudge. Get rid of premanufacturing, premodification and premoistening. These are binary concepts! Something is either dry or wet. If it is wet, it is moist. If it is not wet, it is dry. Period. Just because somebody else moistened your towelette does not mean it is premoistened – it is moist! MOIST I TELL YOU!

You can be preoccupied, but you cannot preoccupy a building. You’re either occupying the building or you’re not. There are no pre-packaged goods. They’re either packaged on unpackaged. You don’t look at a single cigarette and say, “Oh, that’s prepackaged” because it’s not – it’s a loosie. Unpackaged. Again, just because somebody else does it for you does not mean we should be using pre- to define something’s state of being.

Eliminate prepayment, preplanning and prepreparing (that one especially galls me – how the hell do you get ready before you get ready? PREPARE ALREADY HAS THE PREFIX PRE- IN IT FOR THE LOVE OF PETE!! There’s no preprinting, preprocessing or preprogramming. No such thing as prepunched anything, prequalifying for anything (I heard this a LOT during the home-buying process and it rankled me every time – “Are you prequalified for a mortgage?”  “No, I am qualified for a mortgage, I have the qualification paperwork right here. Sell me the damn house already!”) and you certainly cannot prerecord.

Think about how utterly stupid that word – prerecord – is for a second.  When you see something on TV, it is either happening right now (a live broadcast) or it is not happening right now (in some way the event – whatever it is, a sitcom or game show). If it’s not happening right now, you’re watching a recording of it.  We have to stop calling it prerecording because the recording took place before the broadcasting. WE KNOW THAT – THAT’S WHY WE CALL IT A RECORDING IN THE FIRST PLACE!

If your kid goes to school, it’s not preschool – it’s school. Oh sure, they may be four years old and not in kindergarten, but it’s not preschool. I realize fighting this one is a losing battle, but I’m a proponent of prekindergarten over preschool.  Seriously, if the kid is AT SCHOOL it is not preschool.  It’s school!

No prescreening, no preselecting, and no preselling. You can’t presettle, preshrink or preslice. No presoaking, prestamping or presweetening. Absolutely no pretaping (see prerecord, above), pretesting or pretraining. Forget about pretreating, pretrimming and prewarming (see: preheating).

Prewash? Nope, nope, nope. Forget it. If it’s clean, it’s washed. If it’s dirty, it’s dirty. If somebody else washes it for you, that doesn’t make it prewashed – that makes it washed!

I feel much better now and am putting my dictionary – and my high horse – back on the bookshelf, right next to the CD that has the George Carlin routine that inspired this little rant.

your senate at work on gun control

In the wake of the horrifying loss of life at the hands of a coward with a rifle in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Congress has once again failed to accomplish any meaningful change.  Mostly this is because our poorly-chosen “leaders” cannot see past their own agendas to find centrist compromises that make sense and help people.

We all know that an outright gun ban is never going to happen.  The government is never going to come and take your guns.  The whole reason we have gun ownership embedded in our Constitution is precisely so the government cannot ban gun ownership or take guns away from the citizens.  If you don’t understand why this was important in the 18th century when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, stop.  Do not pass Go. Immediately take a US History course at your nearest institution of higher education.

Yesterday, four gun purchase restriction bills failed in the Senate.  Here’s some info on them and why they failed.

What they wanted: Improve background check system
Who wanted it: Republicans (Chuck Grasssley, R-Iowa)
Why it failed: Doesn’t expand background checks, which is what Democrats want. It seeks to improve the existing background check system by defining what “mentally incompetent” means and use that as a data point to deny gun sales to individuals. Also requires the attorney general to conduct a study on the causes of mass shootings. Provides no funding for either initiative.

What they wanted: Expand background check system
Who wanted it: Democrats (Chris Murphy, D-Conn.)
Why it failed: Requires federal background check before any gun sale can take place – private or commercial. Republicans don’t support expanding background checks to include private sales. The bill provides no funding for the expansion.

What they wanted: Prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns
Who wanted it: Republicans (John Cornyn, R-Tex.)
Why it failed: Requires 72-hour waiting period for anybody on the “no fly” and other terrorist watch lists trying to buy a gun, the idea being it would give authorities more time to do an in-depth background check on a prospective gun buyer – or even an opportunity to ask a judge to get off whatever list the buyer is on. Opponents (i.e. Democrats) say 72 hours isn’t enough time to do the required in-depth background check, so they say it will only slow down (and not prevent) the gun purchase. Provides no funding for the in-depth background checks.

What they wanted: Prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns
Who wanted it: Democrats (Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.)
Why it failed: Bans anybody on any of the terrorist watch lists from buying a gun. Allows appeals of placement on those lists in court. Provides no funding for the appeals.

All of these measures have been defeated before, and they were defeated again yesterday in what amounted to party line votes (meaning Republicans voted for their measures and against the Democrat measures, and vice-versa).

What they’re all missing is the clear middle path.

1. Anybody placed on any of the terrorist watch lists in the last X amount of time (2 years, 3 years, 5 years, whatever) cannot immediately buy a gun. They must be approved by *local* law enforcement within X amount of time (3 days, 5 days, 10 days). Create a funding channel to support the background check/investigation.  This is similar to the approval process in many states for the issuance of concealed carry permits.  Yes, this creates additional burden on local law enforcement agencies, but the funding channel should/would provide for additional employees to complete the investigations.

2. Anybody who believes they should not be on the terrorist watch lists is allowed to appeal their placement on the list(s). Create a funding channel to support the appeal process.  This might require the establishment of a special federal court, but again, the funding channel would provide that opportunity.

This is an important issue, but until Congress engages their common sense subroutines and embeds funding into these bills, they will never pass.

Fist

on history

If you only know me casually or are one of my Facebook friends, there’s a solid chance that other than myself, Ken Burns is the only historian you’ve ever heard of. He’s way more famous than I am 🙂
 
Read the commencement speech he delivered to the graduating class of 2016 at Stanford University. (opens in new tab) Take away what you take away, but I promise if you read it, you *will* take something away and be a more thoughtful person for it.
 
We’ve all heard that old cliché about those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. While humanity certainly exists in a cyclical fashion, I don’t believe we are doomed to repeat events about which we do not learn.
 
What we are, however, is doomed to never learning the lessons of those who went before us. If we remain ignorant of history, we lose the opportunity to learn what didn’t work before. No matter what transpires next, be it similar to previous events or a completely new event, we have prevented ourselves from advancement, from improvement.
 
French social contract theoretician Jean-Jacques Rousseau warned us that society is the corruptor of man; he said this because he believed that mankind is naturally good – even virtuous.  (I disagree with him, but that’s a topic for another time.)  The problem, Rousseau said, is that a bad upbringing and a poor (or nonexistent) education make people more susceptible to corruption, and when they get into positions of authority, the institutions which they staff then become corrupt, creating a cycle of nightmares that destroys society.

It stands to reason, then, that good people create good institutions, good institutions create good societies, and good societies create good governments – which in turn help create good people.  It’s a utopian cycle, to be sure, and one at which we have singularly failed to achieve.

Listen (or read) to Ken Burns, though, and breathe deep his words of wisdom.  We can learn from history, and in doing so, we can absorb the lessons of our ancestors. We may make some of the same mistakes they made, but they will be mistakes of choice, not ignorance, and we can always improve on our choices.

*Commencement speech transcript: http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/

Fist

trump’s foreign policy speech

Today Donald Trump gave a speech in which he laid out his foreign policy plan for if/when he becomes president.  You can find a transcript of it on his website easily enough – I recommend you read it and interpret it for yourself.

I will tell you this, though: He’s good about telling us what his goals are.  He sucks at telling us how he’s going to achieve those goals.  In this, he is the consummate politician.  He seeks to soothe us with one hand, stroke us with the other and seeks to quiet us with his placations and platitudes.  In reality, he’s no better (or worse) than any of the other people vying for the highest elected office in this country.

I found I actually agreed with him on some things he said, but it’s hard not to.  He speaks in such broad generalities that it’s basically impossible not to agree with him sometimes.

Anyway, on with my take on his speech.

America First: bad news for our allies who don’t do exactly what we say.

We saved the world (in the 1940s): Nevermind the British or Russians, I guess, who apparently barely showed up. I said it would take him 8 minutes to say something that offended Americans.  He beat me by a long shot by implying that only the USA had anything to do with the victory in WW2.  451,000 UK citizens died in WW2, about 1% of their population at the time.  While nearly 420,000 US citizens died in the same war, proportionally speaking the UK death rate (per capita) was three times that of the US.  I’m not from the UK, but if I was, I’d be pretty pissed at this snub… not to mention the years-long bombing and guided missile campaign the Germans waged against England’s cities.

Mistakes in the Middle East, the region is in chaos: Yes, true. Tough to blame it all on the USA, though.

Spreading democracy: Agreed, not every culture or nation needs, wants or can handle democracy.

Our resources are overextended: agreed.

“I am the only person running for the presidency who understands this problem and knows how to fix it.” 1) Bullshit. 2) So what are the solutions? It’s not enough to just identify the problems, you have to give us a path to success. This is typical Trump; he identifies a problem, then comes up with a ludicrous solution (build a wall! Mexicans will pay for it!) or no solution at all.

Our allies are not paying their fare share: agreed, partially. Many of our allies lack the economic power to pay the bills that we say they should be paying.

“The whole world will be safer if our allies do their part.” Agreed.

Our friends think they can’t depend on us: pretty much just a bunch of Obama-bashing, the usual anti-Iran deal rhetoric used by the right. He might be right, but it’s in no way his idea, and again, he gives no solutions.

Obama is anti-Israel: possibly, but just because Obama hasn’t spent his administration kissing Israel’s ass doesn’t mean he’s anti-Israel.

Our rivals no longer respect us: Who cares if they respect us as long as they fear us? More Obama bashing that does nothing to offer solutions, only highlights problems.

The USA has no clear understanding of its foreign policy goals: probably, but the USA is a selfish, corrupt nation, so why should it? Obama and Clinton bashing – the identification of problems, but again, no solutions.

“This will change when I am president.” I ask – how?
“America is going to be strong again.”
“America is going to be a reliable friend and ally again.”
“We are getting out of the nation-building business.” – the closest thing he says that’s any kind of solution, but he doesn’t say how we’re going to do this.

Ah, now we’re getting to his plans for the future.

“We need a long-term plan to halt the spread and reach of radical Islam.”
Yes, “we” do. The world does. Other than ending the importation of “extremism through senseless immigration policies,” he has no solutions – and he doesn’t say what his immigration policies will be except for previous statements about refusing entry to all Muslims.

“I have a simple message for [ISIS]. Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how.” Sounds like a good plan.

“We have to rebuild our military and our economy.”
Name-checks Russia, China, nuclear weapons, the Navy and the Air Force – but, other than blaming Obama for all our problems yet again, he gives no solutions beyond “we will spend what we need to rebuild our military.” None.

He wants to put Americans first and thus rebuild our economy. Great idea, he gives no plans as to how he’ll do that.

“We must develop a foreign policy based on American interests.”
Sure! Let’s do that!
Goals: base foreign policy on our core national security interests, defeat terrorists, promote stability in the Middle East, be generous only to our friends, live peacefully with China and Russia as long as it’s done from a position of strength.

I FOUND A SOLID PLAN OF HIS TO FIX SOMETHING: “After I am elected president, I will also call for a summit with our NATO allies, and a separate summit with our Asian allies. We will not only discuss a rebalancing of financial commitments, but take a fresh look at how we can adopt new strategies.”

Not much of a plan – more talking – but at least it’s something concrete.

More dick-waving: “If America fights, it must fight to win.”

“Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction.” Good idea, but this is not how Trump has approached his campaign, which has been all about war and destruction. Not to mention that he gives no solutions or path to achieving this goal.

More dick-waving: “If I draw a line in the sand, I will enforce it.”

“That is why I will also look for talented experts with new approaches, and practical ideas.” Because that’s what he’s known for, relying on other people with ideas that aren’t in lock-step with his own.

The rest of it is a lot of flag- and dick-waving designed to appeal to the self-identified marginalized majority, with nationalistic goals but no solutions or plans or even hints of plans.

In other words, a typical bullshit politician spewing typical politician bullshit. It’s all hot air. Sound and fury signifying nothing other than he promises us he can play with the big boys and walk away from negotiations that aren’t going his way.

Fist