Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War.” — President Donald J. Trump

American history is a grand sprawling canvas. Scholars spent their lives writing about the Civil War. But Trump has given us a whole new window on it. He clarified that we needed a tough Southern slave plantation owner to hold things together. President Jackson has become his north star in a sea of ignorance.

After visiting the National Archives on the National Mall, where Trump’s tweets will join the Emancipation Proclamation, my father asked me, “How many of these Smithsonian museums do you think he’s visited?”

Only a few, I said, in his hundred days. What a fresh out-of-towner’s question. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum hosted Trump during the Days of Remembrance in April. Good job, Mr. President.

The spring sun and wind fell on the sculpture garden as the Mall stretched out before us. Free culture, true stories, enlightenment, even the real Star-Spangled Banner a Baltimore woman made, for all. The new National Museum of African American History and Culture, made of bronze lattice, rises near the obelisk Washington Monument. It says: We were here on the American journey; make room in the national narrative.

The collection speaks of slavery, but not only slavery. It celebrates landmark moments in music, sports, the military, preaching, marching for freedom over lifetimes of oppression.

The gown which contralto Marian Anderson wore when she sang on Easter Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial, summons her spirit. She sang after the Daughters of the American Revolution snubbed her. That was a shimmering hour in 1939, a harbinger of the civil rights movement. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood in that same place and delivered his mighty “Dream” speech.

George Washington was a rich Virginia planter with many slaves; he freed them in his will. It’s fitting that the NMAAHC is located in dialogue with his monument. And Trump got there in February, Black History Month. Maybe to make up for praising the late great abolitionist Frederick Douglass as “somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more” that same month.

In conversation as the Civil War raged, Douglass appealed to Lincoln to bring black soldiers into the Union Army. Lincoln listened and did it.

The president’s generation has its own memory on the Mall. The Vietnam War Memorial is a somber reflective wall with 58,000 names etched into it. Easy to miss for Trump, because it lies low to the ground, without bombast. It is a healing place to grieve for the lost and mourn the nation’s only “lost” war, which never should have been fought. America’s innocence was lost because our leaders lied to us.

Trump, class of ’68, never served in Vietnam because he got five deferments for college and bone spurs. Maybe he’ll visit on Memorial Day, to pay his respects.

So many lessons to learn, within walking distance of the White House. If only the president would get out more and watch cable less. Right now, Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot, is staging an exuberant “Ragtime” which celebrates a nation of immigrants teeming with famous characters, class and racial tensions set a century ago.

Back to Jackson: beloved general, frontier lawyer and master of “The Hermitage.” To his credit, he was a true Union man. He left office in 1837 and died in 1845. Lincoln became president in March 1861. The nation went to war with itself in April.

The trouble started in South Carolina. Jackson’s vice president, John C. Calhoun, came from that rebellious state and set the stage for the Civil War. Calhoun authored doctrines such as states’ rights, secession and nullification, which asserted state power over the federal government. His lifework was defending slavery. And Jackson came to hate him. He later said he regretted not having Calhoun hanged.

Jackson was right, but not for the right reason. He cursed Calhoun’s defiance of the Union. But he championed slavery — and “Indian removal.” The Trail of Tears traces to him.

Trump’s hero was a Southern white supremacist with a common touch. As George Santayana said, those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.

 

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.