Donald Trump And The Second ‘Gettysburg Address’, Or Is He More Akin To James Buchanan?

I received my booster shot on Tuesday and am feeling great. The only thing noted about the past 24 hours that is a bit different is my raving hunger. Homemade chicken and rice at midnight (and pickles!) are not usual.

It was this morning as I was finishing the leftovers for breakfast–minus pickles–that I first heard a most outlandish news story.

In his new memoir, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows compared former Donald Trump’s post-COVID hospitalization speech to the Gettysburg Address.

Meadows, whose book “The Chief’s Chief” was released on Tuesday, attempted to illustrate how Trump’s brief speech urging Americans not to fear the coronavirus reminded him of former President Abraham Lincoln’s magnum opus.

“Although the prose wasn’t quite as polished as the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, it had the same compressed, forceful quality that had made President Lincoln’s words so effective at the time they were delivered,” Meadows wrote.

Had the news not been reported on NPR I would have thought the booster had caused a bit of mental confusion. When I did a quick online search I learned the booster was not the cause for my ‘hearing’ issue, as the information was, sadly, correct.

When one has no actual understanding of history, no grounding in substance and fact….well, this type of book happens. It was shockingly ignorant for Mark Meadows to have written such lines. And for an editor to let it slide. Or a publishing house to consent to roll it off the presses.

For those who do know history, the character and wisdom of President Abraham Lincoln, and the sacred nature of Gettysburg, will quickly grasp the utter insanity of what Meadows wrote. Likewise, we know that Meadows would have a far easier time connecting Trump to President James Buchanan.

Readers might say, ‘but was not it strongly rumored that Buchanan was gay’, while Trump is a known womanizer, even when married to his third wife? And we know from reading about the man who was in the office prior to Lincoln that he was always dignified. When was Trump ever accused of that?

So how, then, the comparisons?

The reason I consider it most fair to link these two is the air of sedition and treason that was rampant in both of their White Houses. Donald Trump was the center of the most dangerous attack on our nation’s foundation since the Civil War. We know from reading that Buchanan had fire-eaters in his cabinet who were fomenting succession. Trump had an array of wild-eyed and dangerous operatives pushing forward with undermining the results of a presidential election made by the people.

Had Meadows been, at any level, a reader of history he could have better found the analogy he was seeking for his book. James Buchanan.

Meanwhile for the bottom line.

“Donald Trump’s former chief of staff has been all over the news for all sorts of reasons, but his new book “The Chief’s Chief” is barely budging on the Amazon sales chart. At last check, the book is #1,436 on Amazon — a very disappointing start for a promising title that’s generating so much press” Per CNN’s Brain Stelter earlier this week.

And so it goes.

Traitors Do Not Get Praise, Robert E. Lee Statue Had To Come Down

Today, the only option that was acceptable was applied to a Confederate statue.

The Confederate statue of General Robert E. Lee was hoisted away from its place of prominence in Charlottesville on Saturday. While its placement for a very long time was one of deepest disappointment, the passionate call for its removal grew louder in the last few years following the 2017 white supremacist rally held in Charlottesville.

The statuary of those who worked to destroy our government, split the Union, and undermine our Constitution should never have been lionized. To have allowed their images to remain standing only served to further the Lost Cause charade that was meant to blunt the racist and hateful underpinning not only of the Civil War, but also the Jim Crow South.

It needs to be noted that many of these statues were placed not in the 1860s, but rather in the first years of the 1900s. The message they were intended to give was not lost on Blacks at the time.

Nor on those today who look back and grasp the meaning of that racial behavior.

The only way to view Confederates is the same way we look at any treasonous group. Call me old-fashioned but treason bothers me deeply.  The statues can stand in museums and be placed in historical context. But they must not be allowed to be placed in any public square.

To think that Robert Lee should sit, for instance, on any courthouse square when blacks of his time had no role whatsoever in any sense of the justice system, makes as much sense as placing a bust of Hitler into libraries in the international studies department. For him to been placed in a location of honor in Charlottesville was a slap to decency nationwide.

The Civil War is unique in that the winning side did not punish the losing one. Though there was a discussion of charging Confederate leaders with treason, in the end, the Union decided that it was better to be lenient and focus on reuniting the country. It was an error in judgment that impacts us yet today.

An unexpected consequence of this can be demonstrated with the Confederate leadership living to write their own ‘glorious’ stories in an effort to rewrite history.  It should surprise no one that they attempted to make themselves seem as noble. The Lost Cause is a distortion that is so laughable, if it were not so painfully absurd. And dangerous.

But Lee and all those who worked to undermine the union were not noble.  They were traitors to the United States. The leaders and fighters in that effort to destroy the Union must not be regarded with an appraisal other than treasonous.  Their statues must be hauled down and carted away.

Today on Facebook when I posted the news from Charlottesville a friend commented with a tone-perfect summation to this matter. He stated statues such as the one removed today should be placed in an area with proper context. Then added the following.

Next to others who scored major military victories when taking up arms against the United States. Maybe the generals who attacked Pearl Harbor and the bin Laden who planned the September 11th attacks. Also large plaques with the original language from the Confederacy’s founding document, explicitly spelling out that the Confederacy fought first and foremost to preserve slavery. Draw direct lines from the states’ rights to enslave Black Americans to states’ rights to reject Brown v Board & Civil Rights Acts and Voting Rights Acts. Not a big leap to today’s disenfranchisement efforts. If Robert E Lee & company always stands next to fellow enemies of America, then the statues can stand. Maybe throw in a Derek Chauvin for good measure.

And so it goes.

Raft of Reads

Over the holiday month, I spent time with the Wisconsin Hospital for the Insane near Madison. Notice I didn’t write inside the facility! I ventured into the question of whether Lincoln belongs to the ages or to the angels. And I once again ventured with George Smiley where it all began on the printed pages. As the New Year starts I am in the heart of the Whiskey Rebellion.

In other words, our home is still abiding by the stay at home guidelines during the pandemic as Amazon continues to deliver books on the front stoop. From those boxes, James and I venture far and wide as we pick from the reading nooks here where James drinks tea, as I have my mug of coffee. One of my reading nooks is this window seat.

While I read The Best Specimen of a Tyrant because it had a Madison storyline, and the history of the Civil War is of interest, I was left wishing for a more compelling method of writing. Thomas Doherty did his research, which is not to be doubted. The first chapter swings hard and makes an impact as one can feel the mental health problems of a man, and the stresses placed on the family as they seek medical advice. But the Civil War writing in the book simply does not sparkle.

The story of Wisconsin soldiers in Louisiana and the methods of transport and illness suffered by them is a compelling story. I only wish it had been presented in a more entertaining narrative. But when it comes to portraying Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand there is no doubt Doherty allowed for a multi-faceted and accurate measure of the man. He became the superintendent of the state’s first hospital for the insane. There is no way not to utterly despise the man for his greedy actions.

A Wisconsin legislator from the early days of our state spent over 30 years in the state insane hospital In Madison. Page 154 is intriguing with this story, though I can not locate more information about him online.

Adam Gopnik, a noted and gifted writer in The New Yorker, wrote a series of essays for a slim but thought-provoking read about Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Angels And Ages was a book that required reading and reflection–at times in almost equal measure. He offers reflections about these essential men in the lives of mankind.

With richness in writing Gopnik offers a view about how freedom and democracy were presented by Lincoln and the grand design of life itself from Darwin. The way they spoke and wrote as they articulated their views to the masses is quite a story. With monosyllables and step-by-step logic building, we watch Lincoln make his case. Meanwhile, Darwin writes so anyone with an inclination can read his Origin Of Species and come to a comprehension of the complicated theory of evolution. What binds these men are not only that they were born on the same day but also the family ties that engaged them, and personal tragedies that befell them as men. And of course the massive footsteps they left for all of us over the ages.

One of the saddest losses in 2020 was the death of John le Carré. To honor him and also take me back to a book I read decades ago I again picked up Call for the Dead. This is not only le Carré’s first novel, but it is also the start of the character the world came to love. George Smiley. The slim book is a fast-paced story about East German spies inside Great Britain.

As the New Year starts I am now reading for the first time a book by David Liss. Many have raved about his historical novels. With one-fifth of The Whiskey Rebels finished I can state his first-person writing for each of the two main characters is drawing me into the plot. I am enjoying not only the historical time frame of President Washington and his Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton but also the financial aspects of the overall plotting. The reader is dropped into the harsh society of western Pennsylvania at the same time the wealthy of Philadelphia are made part of the mystery and intrigue. The ‘two-halves’ are presented marvelously.

There is no better way to start another year of blogging than to write of books!

Night Two Of Republican National Convention 2020: Featuring Abraham Lincoln

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Each night of the Republican National Convention I will feature a Republican from the pages of history who acted in exactly the reverse of Donald Trump.   Tonight Abraham Lincoln is the man I showcase and the topic is leadership and empathy.  (Monday night I focused on the need for character, and shone a light on Gerald Ford.) Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War ran in sharp contrast to how Donald Trump has abdicated responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic.  What Trump calls ‘his war’.

Even the most jaded high school history student knows the first year of the Civil War was beset by failures from the Union Army to marshall their military might and demonstrate the capacity to engage the Confederates.  Bull Run is the most prominent battle in 1961 and it was not a success for Lincoln.

The generals of the North were not always known for aggressive behavior.  This led Lincoln to undertake a responsibility within the White House in waging the war.  He often changed generals and even championed a more forward-leaning engagement with the South in 1962.   But how he came to the point where he felt comfortable within his own skin to use his office in such a manner is due to one factor that speaks volumes about Lincoln.

Lincoln had limited military experience from his time with the Black Hawk War.  Earlier this year readers might recall my recommendation of  A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal where that period of Lincoln’s life is researched and written about in detail.  So to fill in the empty places of his education Lincon got his hands on each and every military text he could find.  He then read and studied them.  He then consulted with his military advisors and learned from experts.

All of that is diametrically opposite of how Trump has handled the pandemic, which as of this writing, has killed almost 178,000 Americans.  By not immersing himself in the science and data, or heeding the advice of professionals in this nation we have all paid a price. While having 4% of the world’s population we have 25% of the world’s COVID-19 cases.

What we have witnessed is not only Trump’s desire to take no responsibility in dealing competently with the virus but also to not show any empathy with a staggering loss of life among the citizenry.

Lincoln, on the other hand, wore empathy on his sleeve.  There could be a book on nothing other than Lincoln’s ability to put himself in the place of another, and the result would be a tome too heavy to lug around.  If you want to be moved emotionally read the accounts of mothers who met with Lincoln and urged that their sons not be sent to war and how it pained him so much.  Or read the words of his personal assistant, John Hay, regarding how Abe lingered long and hard over letters about those sentenced to die.

What we lack today in the White House is a reader, a thinker, or any semblance of empathy.  The end result, as we have witnessed, is a lack of leadership.

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Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley: Treasonous Confederates

A point I have made many times on this blog.   In fact, just again this week. 

I have made my views most clear on the need to remove Confederate statues, as the attempt to destroy a government and undo the Union was treasonous, and must not be honored in any way.  The revulsion of slavery is most clear, but the fact an effort was made to cause the destruction to the republic must never be found acceptable, either. 

And the words from the Joint Chiefs Chair.

Treason Is The Reason Confederate Statues Must Be Removed

Confederate monuments taken down in Baltimore overnight

Let us be honest and state up front the Confederate statues that are once again making news, following the death of George Floyd and the protests, should have been removed from parks, courthouses, town squares and any other governmental property a very long time ago.  That is a position I have long advocated.

Many of those statues were erected during the Jim Crow era, and during times when those fighting for civil rights were demanding justice.  While slavery was this nation’s original sin, and the issue of slavery was the cause for the war regardless of Southern efforts to spin it with softer tones, the reason these statues must come down is that treasonous efforts to destabilize and destroy the Union must not be honored in any way.

While I understand, and feel the revulsion felt by those who protest against the statues which were erected to portray the slave-holding Confederate cause with warm sentimentality, I differ about the prime reason they should fall.  Slavery was abhorrent but the fact remains those who took up arms against our national government acted in treasonous ways which must not be honored, or washed aside.

The moral victory of ending slavery in the Civil War remains a shining moment in this nation, but equally important is the lesson about the durability of our national government.  It is that last point which President Lincoln fully understood needed to be addressed.  He could not allow those who sought to destroy our government and nation to prevail. The act of the Confederacy taking up arms against the United States and its Constitution, the supreme law of the land, was not just rebellion, but an act of treason.

Lincoln’s main motive for the war was to preserve the Constitution and not alter the founding father’s intentions about our central government.  Lincoln knew that toughness had to be employed if the Union was to be maintained.  And the bulk of society has been forever grateful.

John Hay, Lincoln’s White House secretary during the war, wrote that in Lincoln’s mind it was a necessity to prove that popular government was not an absurdity.  While the war was very much centered on the question of slavery, the need to not allow a split Union was forefront to all the actions that Lincoln would take.   The fact that Lincoln never had a desire to be a dictator, and relaxed the necessary steps he used at times during the war, is proof of his sound intentions.  The need for preserving the Union was paramount.

Men such as Vice-President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens told Lincoln directly the south would never allow slavery to be ended based on public opinion.  Men such as Stephens were not delivering empty threats.  Slavery was seen by a powerful segment of Southern society as a way of life and a right.  The Confederacy was determined to strike at the soul of this nation–at the very heart of our central governemnt–in order to preserve the immortality of defining a person as personal property.

Call me old-fashioned but treason bothers me deeply.  The statues can stand in museums and be placed in context so that what some now desire—that they be educational—can be undertaken.  To think that Robert Lee should sit on any courthouse square when blacks of his time had no role whatsoever in any sense of the justice system, and the placement of such statues was designed to further limit the rights of blacks over the decades, means those statues make as much sense as placing a bust of Hitler into libraries in the international studies department.

The Civil War is unique in that the winning side did not punish the losing one. Though there was discussion of charging Confederate leaders with treason, in the end the Union decided that it was better to be lenient and focus on reuniting the country. It was an error in judgment that impacts us yet today.

An unexpected consequence of this can be demonstrated with the Confederate leadership living to write their own ‘glorious’ stories in an effort to rewrite history.  It should surprise no one that they attempted to make themselves seem as noble..

But they were not noble.  They were traitors to the United States.  The leaders and fighters in that effort to destroy the Union must not be regarded with an appraisal other than treasonous.  Their statues must be hauled down and carted away.

Now is the time.

100,000

I recall as a teenager reading about the high numbers of battlefield casualties in some of the fighting during the Civil War.  Reading for the first time about the piles of bodies at Gettysburg is a memory that sticks with me.  Reading of the stench and the burial trenches and trying to process the enormity of it is something that we all came to terms with during our history classes.

I thought of those classes and that battle today as I mowed the lawn.  I was to learn when back inside from the outdoor projects that our nation had officially passed 100,000 deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We knew this news was coming, and yet it hits hard.

Gettysburg was a place James and I visited almost 3 years ago to the day.  Over 50,000 Americans were killed in those massive battles that spanned for days.  Over the decades the war, and the cause for it, have become better understood with many books and lectures.  But even as I have lived and watched the COVID-19 crisis (seemingly hour-by-hour) over the past three months it seems harder to grasp as to why it happened than that war from the 1860s.

The reason for my unsettled feelings about the mass deaths in our nation is that it did not have to happen.  We did not have the federal leadership that was interested enough to think ahead of the curve, no president able to apply the mental bandwidth required to create policy, no one in the White House who wanted to handle COVID-19 other than as a mere PR problem.

Tonight as we wind down it is reported that Donald Trump has not spoken to the nation about the 100,000 death marker.  We are told by conservatives that to talk of the 100,000 deaths, as the New York Times did this weekend with a stark front page, only promotes a “partisan pandemic”.  What a wretched place America finds itself.

Like so many others I am totally frustrated by what this administration has done to our nation.  They want us to accept their sordid behavior by tempering our outrage at the needless deaths of 100,000 of our fellow citizens.  And then they offer no attempts at empathy to the nation which needs to have a national hug at this moment.

I often harken back to slices of history to either find a lesson for a current situation or to find some comfort or even a smile.  Since Trump did not even try to comfort the nation today I end this post with a letter from President Abraham Lincoln.  My favorite of the actual leaders who have sat in the White House.

One of Lincoln’s dearest friends, William McCullough, was killed during a night charge in Mississippi.  His daughter, Fanny, received a letter from Abe.   Part of that letter is posted below.

In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. 

The arm of the president around a nation is something that has long been a part of the connection the citizenry has had with the person in the White House.  When there is a complete lack of compassion, empathy, and any sense of normalcy from the holder of the nation’s highest office we then have months like which we have lived through this year.  We end up on days like this without a leader.

Trump had time to golf this weekend but had no time to address the nation about the mass loss of life of fellow Americans.

First Union Officer To Be Killed In Civil War

Hat Tip to Solly.

As we observe Memorial Day weekend, and always having a fondness for history, I post this story about the first Union officer to be killed in the Civil War.

Col. Elmer Ellsworth was a dashing young infantry commander and a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln. On May 24, 1861, he became the first Union officer to be killed in the Civil War, during h

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The image was taken around 1861 by an unknown portraitist in the New York studio of Mathew Brady, the photographer who would become indelibly associated with Civil War images. The photograph is a print from an original glass negative purchased by the NPG in 1981.

Ellsworth was a man with large military ambitions, but his meteoric fame came in a way he could not have hoped for: posthumously. At the age of 24, as commander of the 11th New York Volunteers, also known as the First Fire Zouaves, Ellsworth became the first Union officer killed in the war.

He was not just any Union officer. After working as a patent agent in Rockford, Illinois, in 1854, Ellsworth studied law in Chicago, where he also served as a colonel commanding National Guard cadets. In 1860, Ellsworth took a job in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield law office. The young clerk and Lincoln became friends, and when the president-elect moved to Washington in 1861, Ellsworth accompanied him. A student of military history and tactics, Ellsworth admired the Zouaves, Algerian troops fighting with the French Army in North Africa, and had employed their training methods with his cadets. He even designed a uniform with baggy trousers in the Zouave style.

On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia voters ratified the state convention’s decision to secede from the Union, Ellsworth and his troops entered Alexandria, Virginia, to assist in the occupation of the city. As it happened, an 8- by 14-foot Confederate flag—large enough to be seen by spyglass from the White House—had been visible in Alexandria for weeks, flown from the roof of an inn, the Marshall House.

The regiment, organized only six weeks earlier, encoun­tered no resistance as it moved through the city. Barber notes, however, that “the Zouaves were an unruly bunch, spoiling for a fight, and when they got into Alexandria they may have felt they were already in the thick of it. So Ellsworth may have wanted to get that flag down quickly to prevent trouble.”

At the Marshall House, Barber adds, “Colonel Ellsworth just happened to meet the one person he didn’t want to meet”—innkeeper James Jackson, a zealous defender of slavery (and, says Barber, a notorious slave abuser) with a penchant for violence.

Ellsworth approached the inn with only four troopers. Finding no resistance, he took down the flag, but as he descended to the main floor, Jackson fired on Ellsworth at point-blank range with a shotgun, killing him instantly. One of Ellsworth’s men, Cpl. Francis Brownell, then fatally shot Jackson.