What Might Founding Fathers Say About Trump’s Seditious Conspiracy?

Those who lived in the 1970s surely felt that Watergate was the granddaddy of all political scandals. After all, a vast array of illegal activity that led back to the White House and into the Oval Office resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Many people after following the 2-plus years of news reporting and committee hearings about Watergate understandably felt there was no way a more sinister and underhanded person could be president.

Over the past week, large segments of the nation have been watching the January 6th House Committee hearings. What we are witnessing being fleshed out with testimony and facts is nothing short of stunning. After all that we have endured over the past six years, it might seem impossible to be confronted with anything that sets one further back on their heels. Even though the framework of illegal and unconstitutional actions by Donald Trump and those around him has long been known, having a congressional committee detail the actions was still very hard to stomach.

The nation is learning about the insidious and seemingly ever-sprawling plot to commit a seditious conspiracy against the United States. A duly elected president was to be tossed aside like a burger wrapper and Trump was to be installed as an illegal one. James Patterson could not plot a more devastating drama.

But what struck me to my core was learning Trump was so desperate to retain power and authority that he stated Vice President Mike Pence deserved to be murdered by the bloodthirsty mob at our nation’s Capitol. The reason Trump felt that way, of course, was that Pence refused to go along with sedition.

There is no doubt when it comes to political chicanery and illegal activities Nixon was a mere piker compared to the outlandish and outrageous actions plotted and undertaken by Trump. It seems almost unfair to place Nixon and Trump into the same editorial cartoons, such as those now being published as we near the 50th anniversary of the famed break-in.

From the night of the November 2020 election, Trump knew that his hold on power was ebbing away, and when the final count from several states, including Wisconsin, was reported no question remained he had lost his bid for reelection.

But rather than accept the election returns from the balloting by his fellow citizens he instead chose to become the first president in the history of our country to dishonor the peaceful transfer of power.

I want to stay on that point for a minute. I wonder what the Founding Fathers would say if they could be made aware of these events and able to be interviewed?

What might President George Washington, a former general who relinquished his military command, and stepped away from an office he was twice elected to so a civilian could take the reins of power have to say? What might James Madison, who history calls the Father of the Constitution, have to say about the blatant power grab and attempted usurpation of what we know as Madisonian democracy?

Ben Franklin, a journalist and newspaper owner, would surely have another line of inquiry.

On the day of a Jan. 6th committee hearing, with much of the nation following events, Fox News spent 45 minutes detailing a surgical procedure for Ozzy Osborne. The dismantling of the very fabric of our democracy was being detailed by members of congress and a major news outlet felt there was no need to inform their viewers as to the dangers faced by the nation.

Franklin, doubtless with a pithy tone, would demand to know why a news operation would willingly deflect from a story that cuts to the essence of our democracy?

Much of our nation is discussing the damning headlines about the plots and attacks on the very foundation of our constitutional government. It is easy to get inundated with the latest breaking news about this story. As such, I would hope that at some point we can, as a nation, reflect on the ideals the Founders sought for the nation. It is glaringly clear why our constitutional guardrails can no longer just be taken for granted.

Happy Fourth Of July! (With George Washington)

Happy Fourth Of July!

This particular flag is flown only one day each year at our home. I placed it up late last night as the moon shone so brightly over Lake Monona and Madison. The flag was flown over Mount Vernon on 5-8-17.

I urge my readers to better know and understand our Founders through history books and biographies, as I know you will not be disappointed. Have a wonderful Holiday.

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Nation’s Lowest Moments, To Our Greatest Strengths

We forged a nation–and proved, over and over again the one truth at the core of both the Revolution and America itself: 

That in our lowest moments, we can find our greatest strengths.

That is the closing line from The First Conspiracy, a book about the plot to kill Geroge Washington during his time in New York City while leading the Continental Army.   The historical account from newspapers, official documents, and dairies showcases countless reasons why it would have been most reasonable to have doubted the ability of the colonials to upend the British military forces.

Authors Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch provide a fast-paced narrative about this formative chapter in our national story, along with an understanding of what allowed for the creation of an intelligence-gathering and spy operation in our country.  But what stands out from the story itself, is what the episode underscores for the time in which we live.

The past two weeks have been dramatic ones as the impeachment trial for Donald Trump was presented via television for the nation to absorb.  The troubling part was that while the nation watched and took in the facts presented, the Republican Party asserted their partisan role was more important than their oaths taken upon being sworn into office.

I happened to encounter at a grocery store two former neighbors who moved from our area but still reside in the city.  Our conversation quickly moved from fast personal updates to hearing them express pessimism about the future of this nation.  While Senate Republicans concern themselves with power plays and not being ‘primaried’ the married couple at the market spoke about our Constitution, national institutions, and norms of a nation that have been tossed aside.  They were not only sad but sincerely worried.

While I was able to commiserate about the place we are now at due to the machinations of Republicans I am not one to stay in a place of despair.  My DNA is constructed to see light even if only a flicker beckons from a great distance.  I have experience with hope being somewhere down the road.

When age 18, and following the suicide of my best friend after years of his being bullied, and with my then not having further educational plans, not being employed, nor having a driver’s license, along with no one I could talk to in my rural conservative community, I slipped into what would be termed a state of depression.

During that time I recalled reading the accounts of Theodore Roosevelt losing his wife and mother on the same day in 1884.   While his Mom passed away from typhoid fever, his wife would die just a few hours later from Bright’s disease.   It was following this double tragedy that the future President retreated to the Dakota territories to find himself and start anew. I knew there was a lesson to be found in his life.  Rough times can be fierce, but there is always a new chapter to be written. The moral of Roosevelt’s story seemed logical and rational to me in my Hancock home.  TR came into his own, as did I.

But there is also a lesson, in all that, for our times, too.  The dark days of this impeached president must pass along for a brighter one so the country can emerge stronger.  One doesn’t fight only when one is optimistic.  One fights when the days are gritty and because it is the right thing to do.  We fight now for this nation because America remains, as Lincoln said, “the last best hope of earth.”

There is no way not to feel troubled and deeply saddened by the actions of Senate Republicans, and the ones across the nation who defend and rationalize those actions.  It is now that we must grasp the fact we still have our freedom, and so we must use it.  We need to be the light of our time just as George Washington and his army knew they carried the torch of their time.  They did not accept that tyranny would be their destiny, nor should we think these dark times are what we must accept. 

History repeatedly shows that when it looks the darkest is when we find the road that is required we travel to reach a place we were meant to stand.  That is true in our individual lives, and also most true for our nation.

Now lets us make it so.

Three Years From Inauguration To Impeachment Trial

Three years ago today (1-20-20) Donald Trump took the oath of office and then proceeded to give an inaugural address that was the most caustic and bizarre from any of the ones given by his predecessors.  Starting in less than 24 hours of this post being written his impeachment trial begins in the United States Senate.

For all the constitutional strains that our nation has confronted, along with the attempted destruction of our institutional norms, we can say with some confidence that the checks and balances of our federal system is working.  The removal of Trump from office by the means afforded to congress through the Founders will not take place.   But the harsh unrelenting attention from the press and the voters does create tension for Trump and those who do his bidding by letting them know we are not going to ease off the gas pedal of oversight.  

Part of the reason so much chaos and confusion has been created by Trump is to make the sky hazy and less clear for the light of oversight to do its job.  Keeping his base under the illusion that what he says is accurate, and all that is presented as facts and reason by everyone else is nothing but ‘fake news’ is an awful way to operate from the White House.  The demographics of his base, however, show as to why this strategy has actually worked.

But for the rest of us, there are those pesky facts.  The actual statements that Trump has made either on a stage, press release, tweet, or when speaking off-the-cuff in front of a reporter.  The statements are on tape, in print, and not able to be refuted.

Trump has used lies and false statements more than any other person who has sat in the White House.  In 2017, Trump made 1,999 false or misleading claims. In 2018, he added 5,689 more, for a total of 7,688. And in 2019, he made 8,155 suspect claims.

In other words, in a single year, the president said more than total number of false or misleading claims he had made in the previous two years. Put another way: He averaged six such claims a day in 2017, nearly 16 a day in 2018 and more than 22 a day in 2019.

As of Jan. 19, his 1,095th day in office, Trump had made 16,241 false or misleading claims. Only 366 days to go — at least in this term.

The president added to his total on Sunday evening with more than 20 Trumpian claims — many old favorites — during a triumphant speech at the annual conference of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He incorrectly described trade agreements — suggesting Canadian dairy tariffs were eliminated and an agreement with Japan to reduce tariffs on $7 billion of farm products was “a $40 billion deal” — and also falsely asserted that “tough” farmers and ranchers were crying as he signed a repeal of Obama-era regulations. A video of the event shows no one crying.

As with so much that happens on a daily basis from Trump’s White House there is always a way to reach back into history to find a lesson.

I am reading a book about George Washington’s efforts to ready his army to fight the British in New York in 1776.  Over and over he stresses he wants men of character and wishes for virtue to be leading them as they conduct themselves in a large city–far different than the places most of the men hail from.  He knows the temptations they face, and in many cases, the lack of training they have for the mission to be faced.  But he wishes to see them have their internal character lead them onwards. 

How far different a man Washington was compared to Trump, an ego-driven shallow man, who now faces a trial in the United States Senate for abusing his office.  How far adrift we are from the men whose names are on the streets in my  Madison isthmus neighborhood, the signers of the Constitution.  Being a life-long history buff, at times talking about the Founding Fathers by their first names, and deeply wedded to a process in governing that demands for transparency and fairness, means what has happened over the past three years due to Trump is deeply troubling.

Walking my neighborhood each day with reminders of the people who gave so much to create a nation, and a way of making government operate is no small thing.  It may seem old-fashioned to convey such thoughts as we prepare for an impeachment trial.  Or it may be that we are at this place in our nation as we have forsaken virtue in those we elect to lead us.

And so it goes.

(WSJ) Phil Hands And George Washington

Tonight I was reading about one of my favorite periods of American history, and one of the leading characters who framed the nation on strong ideals and foundations.  George Washington.  The book is The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer (who has earned my praise on this blog in earlier posts) and Josh Mensch.

I am always mindful of the desire of our Founding Fathers to have people with virtue to lead the nation in the highest offices of the land.  Washington had a personal driving ambition to be a man of honor.  Not coming from a family of wealth or nobility he knew that character mattered and personal integrity would never let a person down.

When the Second Continental Congress was to make a selection for the commander of the newly formed Continental Army, Washington will slip from the room so as not to look as if he is seeking the position or to gain it due to vanity or arrogance.  Over the decades of reading history, this same series of facts about Washington emerges in books from all manner of historians.

The code of conduct by which Washington lived his life does not mean he did not have dreams or ambitions or felt able to do a job.  But he always placed his calm, reasoned, and measured character in front of him leaving boastful and unbecoming moments to others in a room.

After reading well into the night I came downstairs to shut off the computer.  But before doing so I checked to see what was making news on Twitter.  That is when I saw the latest from Phil Hands. the editorial cartoonist and letters editor for the Wisconsin State Journal.  It was stunning to look at his creation after reading about the exact opposite character of Washington.

A few years ago I traveled to Mount Vernon, and to say I was moved to my central core would not be too strong a summation.  It is a place I long to see again, and sit and stay awhile just thinking as I feel the warm humid air and gaze off over the Potomac.  It was there I learned that in a schoolbook Washington had copied, as a teenager, a list of “101 Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.”  Many were mundane and trite.  But the first one was not, and it made an impression. Thinking about the tone of our current president, the Hand’s drawing, and the book about Washington the exact words need to be posted here again at this late hour.

“Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”

Some might view that line as old-fashioned when considering ways to behave.  But given where we are in the nation might it be possible that a line from history can be used as a way for our going forward?

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Donald Trump Embarrasses Nation At Mount Vernon

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Where I wanted to drink a cup of coffee and watch the sun set…

What Donald Trump does not know about American history continues to make news, and further underscores why he is such a national embarrassment.

Long time readers to this blog are fully aware of my love of history.  While I never assert everyone needs to have an in-depth background on all parts of our story, I do strongly contend there needs to be a firm grasp of the themes of our history and a friendliness with the narrative of our time as a republic.  That is what I believe each person and voter should have to be a good citizen.  But when it comes to a president I want a full and rich grasp of what came before so to steady the current hand of leadership.  Call me old-fashioned, but I think my view to be most reasonable.

Which then leads me to the story about Donald Trump visiting Mount Vernon. Today it is being reported that when Trump had a guided tour of Mount Vernon last April with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trump proved to be a simpleton.  I call it as I see it.

For the record I was able to visit Mount Vernon two years ago–just about this time of year.  It was a thrill that went to my inner core as it resonated so much with what I read and think about concerning the formative days of our nation.  I spent several minutes just standing on his lawn in reflective thought looking over the Potomac.  I would have so loved to been able to sit with a cup of coffee and watch the sun lower over the home and water while sensing more fully what Washington would have viewed so often.   James and I visited on one of those hot days when the humidity was very high, but that suited me just fine so to experience the conditions that often confronted those who lived and worked on this large farm.

I was so moved with this slice of history we brought back a flag which was flown at Mount Vernon.  We have only flown it at our home on July 4th.   It comes down the evening of that holiday and stored in a special container for the following year.

Trump never once came close to any such observations or sentiments as he visited Mount Vernon.  What is worse to know is that he has no curiosity about our national story or the people who made the nation great.

The president’s disinterest in Washington made it tough for tour guide Bradburn to sustain Trump’s interest during a deluxe 45-minute tour of the property which he later described to associates as “truly bizarre.” The Macrons, Bradburn has told several people, were far more knowledgeable about the history of the property than the president.

A former history professor with a PhD, Bradburn “was desperately trying to get [Trump] interested in” Washington’s house, said a source familiar with the visit, so he spoke in terms Trump understands best — telling the president that Washington was an 18th century real-estate titan who had acquired property throughout Virginia and what would come to be known as Washington, D.C.

Trump asked whether Washington was “really rich,” according to a second person familiar with the visit. In fact, Washington was either the wealthiest or among the wealthiest Americans of his time, thanks largely to his mini real estate empire.

“That is what Trump was really the most excited about,” this person said.

If Trump was impressed with Washington’s real estate instincts, he was less taken by Mount Vernon itself, which the first president personally expanded from a modest one-and-a-half story home into an 11,000 square foot mansion. The rooms, Trump said, were too small, the staircases too narrow, and he even spotted some unevenness in the floorboards, according to four sources briefed on his comments. He could have built the place better, he said, and for less money.

America’s 45th president is open about the fact that he doesn’t read much history. Trump said in July 2016 that he had never read a presidential biography — and had no plans to do so. Though he is an avid fan of George Patton, the flashy, tough-talking World War II general, he has shown less interest in learning about his presidential predecessors or about the office he now occupies. Former White House aides say Trump initially did not know the history of the Resolute Desk, which has been used by presidents since Rutherford B. Hayes, though he now enjoys showing it off to visitors to the Oval Office.

Trump’s lack of interest in presidential history, said the historian Jon Meacham, means that he has “basically thrown out the one data set available to him. We don’t have anything else to study. It’s all you got.” It also stands in contrast to the fascination of other presidents with their predecessors. Even former President George W. Bush — not known as a tweedy intellectual — consumed several presidential biographies while in office.

Recalling When Today Was About George Washington And Abe Lincoln

As a boy the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were important days. Now there is the generic term Presidents’ Day. The catch all name does not have gravitas. To combat that, just a bit, I wish to call attention to a few books which I recommend regarding each of these men I came to admire over my lifetime.

When it comes to Washington the volume, which is on the bookshelves over my head, The Return of George Washington by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edward Larson, is my first recommendation. I bought it two years ago at Mount Vernon, but what makes the book unique is that it deals with the time period after Washington stepped down as head and of the Continental Army. He had retired. Those years were not written about in detail before this volume.

As Washington watched how the Articles of Confederation were weak and not working he, along with Alexander Hamilton and other forward thinkers, knew what had to be done. While some worked under the flawed pretext that the Articles could be revamped, others like Washington knew the states needed to be brought into a union with law and order asserting itself from the top.  Wayward states were creating havoc, such as not paying off the war debt.  Washington in large part saved the United States by coming out of retirement to lead the Constitutional Convention and serve as our first president. We think of this today as events that ‘just happened’. That is a wrong way to view our history. Each step was perilous and the outcomes never inevitable.

On my bookshelves for decades has been Pulitzer Prize–winning author David Herbert Donald’s book Lincoln. It is a brilliant work which showcases the role that strong leadership plays in our national story, along with the need to keep principles front and center. It pounds these issues home with a robust narrative. When President Clinton was asked in one of his last interviews prior to leaving the White House which book he would recommend George Bush read, it was the classic by Donald.

The life and times of Abe Lincoln has been a constant source of confirmation that bold and decisive leadership, an abundant source of humor, and a natural curiosity are the essential ingredients to being a successful President. Time and again, in books both thin and those that stretch into volumes, it is clear that Abe Lincoln was a man of his times, and as noted at his death, now a man that belongs to the ages.

I also wish to mention the classic Lincoln by William Herndon, Abe’s law partner. My copy, though not an original, still is an old copy that I much treasure and it sits near me as I type this post. As I think about Lincoln, and how he grew up in truly poor conditions, and had few reading materials in his youth, I am sure he would be amazed at the many volumes, some more scholarly than others, that have been penned about his life and the impact he had on the nation. He loved to read, and as such I think the best way to honor Lincoln on his birthday is to consider books that might better illuminate his life.

So pick up a book and pour a cup of coffee and step back into history. Without knowing our past there is no way to understand current events, or plan where the nation should head.

Meet Hercules, Slave To George Washington, And One of America’s Early Celebrity Chefs

As we celebrate Black History Month we need to again turn the pages of history to encounter a most amazing man.

It’s a testament to both Hercules’s charisma and culinary skills that historians remain as enchanted with him today as his peers in the 18th century were. In recent years, a renewed focus on early African-American cuisine has revived interest in the story of a man who, while enslaved by the Washington family between 1770 and 1797, bested cruel, capricious treatment to become one of the most famous chefs in the early American republic.

Hercules seems to have run an orderly, sanitary kitchen. Though mild-mannered outside the workplace, he quickly rebuked anyone in the executive mansion who failed to meet his exacting standards. “Under his iron discipline,” Custis wrote, “wo[e] to his underlings if speck or spot could be discovered on the tables or dressers, or if the utensils did not shine like polished silver.”

According to Custis, Hercules especially shone during the dinners Washington hosted for members of Congress. These events were crowded and often hectic, but under Hercules, “it was surprising the order and discipline that was observed in such bustling a scene,” he wrote. “[Hercules’s] underlings flew in all directions to execute his orders, while he, the great master-spirit, seemed to possess the power of ubiquity, and to be everywhere at the same moment.”