Peace Of Westphalia Still Echoes From Tri-County Classroom As Russia’s Threat To Ukraine Mounts

Mrs. Marge Glad, the most wonderful of history teachers, and the indispensable instructor of my youth, might now say, “Well, I said the Peace of Westphalia was mighty important.”

She should know better than most as her family fled Europe for America during WWII.

What she had to say about that treaty filled lectures with the truism of what was designed after the Thirty Years War. It should be recalled now as the threat of Russia overtaking Ukraine increases. As the crisis now mounts the essential foundations of what was once viewed as a major demarcation in European history deserves a shout-out.

As does the teacher who allowed me to deepen my awareness and love for history.

The treaty is much noted for what seems stunningly simple ideas and concepts we take for granted today. At the top of the list was the concept of a state or nation being sovereign. Each state was allowed to set its own governing process be it kings or parliaments, and pray to its own religious beliefs. Placing officials within other states for ongoing diplomatic talks were seen as a way to bridge differences. What was designed created a system of balance so that power of a new type–accords with one another–could be used to counter military threats.

Much has changed since the 1600s and as we know wars consumed Europe and caused massive reactions worldwide. But there is no denying that the foundation of Westphalia still rings true.

Russian President Putin has designs on reviving a chapter of history that can not be remade. The old Soviet Union and the forced subjugation of peoples and cultures that had no reason, other than brute force, to be joined together will not be allowed again by the international community.

While Ukraine is a central part of the historical narrative for Russia the military moves by Putin to strangle the republic can not be accepted. There are those who will bend to the autocrat and claim the West is to blame for pushing the NATO umbrella.

But, I would argue it is Putin’s vision of grandeur about a region captured from the Ottomans during the reign of Catherin the Great that should not now be relitigated through the use of tanks and missiles. One can assert the West should have been more inclusive of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Or we could just say, as is proper with any madman, that it would be cheaper for Putin to just talk with a psychiatrist.

Putin prides himself on being a student of history. Until, that is, the collapse of the USSR. Then he seems to have stopped reading. It was very evident that all of the ethnic and culturally diverse people clamped down by Moscow for decades wanted their own state, their own government, their own say in their own affairs. When given the chance they bolted with the fall of the USSR.

Almost a modern Peace of Westphalia.

My favorite teacher, Mrs. Glad died many years ago. While she was still teaching I visited her late one afternoon in her classroom. I had worked in radio and then moved on to my time in the statehouse. She sat behind her desk and I was back in one of the desks that are a trademark in such rooms. I thanked her for making a difference in my life. She truly did make a difference.

Tonight, I wish Vladamir could have had her in his formative days as a student, too.

And so it goes.

New Doty Land Podcast: Compassion On The Battlefield

This is my second podcast this week!

When a German soldier in WWII acts with compassion to save the lives of Americans what does that tell us about humanity?  Those types of acts of compassion on the battlefield are explored in an upcoming documentary.  Stephanie Manesis, director and producer of the film talks not only about the multi-year project but also how creativity has manifested itself in her life.  Podcaster Gregory Humphrey notes it is a joy to have such a great conversationalist to interview. 

The podcaster at work.
My happy spot.

Happy Birthday Richard Nixon: What A Journey It Has Been

At the age of ten, I sat in the backseat of our family car as we drove to a  nighttime hair appointment for my mom in Plainfield, Wisconsin. My father had the car radio on, its soft glow radiating from the front dashboard. It was election night 1972. Perhaps I was somehow primed for that night due to my rural upbringing, having grandparents for neighbors, the family choice of not having a television in our home, and already loving books. Whatever had preceded that night surely made me more receptive to what I heard and sensed from the radio.

I still recall the authoritative voices of the news announcers, and the crowd noise from election night gatherings as Richard  Nixon’s name was repeated over and over. And I recall my father telling me it was election night, and that Nixon would be elected president.

Countless times over the decades of my life I have thought back to that night, and how Richard Nixon would come to mean a great deal to how my interests were formed.

As I grew into my teen years my fascination with politics, news, broadcasting, and journalism only grew.  As I think back over those years growing up in Hancock I recall the news accounts of  Watergate, the speeches by Nixon, and the final goodbye from the White  House as he talked to White House staff and aides.  

I recall the China trip, and how I would take out a large atlas book kept in the dining groom to follow the journey at the end of the school day. With the Stevens Point Journal spread out on the linoleum floor I located the maps and locations where Nixon had talks and visited sights.

By the time we had a  television in our home in the summer of 1976, I was a captive to the national party conventions. I found them most interesting and followed with enthusiasm the election of Jimmy Carter. In my high school years, I found myself debating issues with classmates while relishing taking history courses along with electives such as comparative political systems to further broaden my thinking and interests.  My most important teacher, and a real aid to my future, Mrs. Glad, continually stoked my interests and urged me to read more and think outside the traditional parameters.  Too few students have someone so remarkable to teach them when it matters.

Following high school, I entered broadcasting school and worked at a radio station in Door County before heeding my internal calling to enter into the political world.  I worked in the Wisconsin State Legislature as an Administrative Assistant and Committee Clerk and became involved in various campaigns and causes.

I mention all this on the 109th birthday of Richard Nixon because in large part my interests, but especially foreign policy and international relations, that were reported on a daily basis in my formative years by our daily newspaper, involved him. He lit a fire of interest within me to follow the news, read the paper (which I did each day while lying on our family couch following school classes), and better understand the rough and tumble of politics.

Much has been written and said over the decades about RN, and I too have difficulty with certain aspects of his campaigns and presidency. But I can honestly say I truly appreciate the better qualities that he possessed and helped instill in me. Read broadly and ponder how it all fits together is a great lesson to have taught a kid in rural Waushara County.

That is a pretty grand thing to be able to say about anyone.

When I was a teenager while growing up in Hancock it was Richard Nixon who showed me the excitement and importance of politics–what a journey it has been and remains every day.

And so it goes.

Ronald Reagan’s Patriotism No Longer Part Of Republican Party

As we approach the first anniversary of the insurrection and rioting at the United States Capitol, which was fomented by Donald Trump and his strategists and carried out by his thuggish supporters, I thought about another political event from the Republican Party.

Though it occurred in 1980 and was vastly different from the January 6, 2021 events of death, bloodshed, and attacks on law enforcement shown on national television, it does lend itself to better understanding the gravity of the situation today. Our democracy is under attack.

I recall the excitement from July 1980 when CBS’ Walter Cronkite interviewed former President Gerald Ford. There was an electrifying buzz that reached from the convention hall to the home in Hancock where I was thrilled by the unfolding political drama. It was broadly speculated that Ronald Reagan had selected Ford as his vice-presidential running mate. The constitutional questions were talked about among correspondents and guests concerning Ford reportedly wanting more authority than any other vice president had ever been given.

That episode remains the most exciting convention moment of my life, which also underscores the diminishing role such gatherings play in the presidential nomination process.

That memory, however, also serves as a reminder of what the Republican Party once was, the timber of the people center stage who wished to serve and be elected. No one doubted the patriotic mindset of Reagan, the moderate and process-minded character of Ford. So much since then has changed in the Republican Party that it now can be reported with a vivid image of what that party now represents.

This is how The Economist framed the issue.

The Republican Party has been consumed by grievance politics–recall how conservatives once used that term on liberals and swore to be above such behavior? The modern GOP also has proven to have a stunning degree of swallowing capacity for conspiracy theories.

True to form they have continued to attack Jews, be it George Soros or an outlandish notion of space lasers used by Jews to start forest fires. In the process, the party has catered to a base of voters not concerned with institutional norms, and let’s be frank, not the ones completing the reading assignments in civics or history classes.

The issue at hand, the survival of our democracy, should not be a partisan contest. Tax policy, education funding, and transportation infrastructure can and should create partisan coalitions. But the procedure for counting Electoral College votes, the availability of places to cast a ballot without undue burdens, the need for an end to gerrymandered political districts, and not placing in statutes undemocratic restrictions to fundamental rights should all be broadly accepted.

But, as we sadly are all too aware, they are not.

The Big Lie about a ‘stolen election’ that Trump spawned and continues to repeat has found a wide range of converts within the GOP. The threat of more violence in the years ahead from those who might lose an election is a very plausible possibility. Especially, if the laws and penalties for taking such actions, like that occurring almost a year ago, are not put into effect.

There was plenty of room to argue with Reagan in the 1980s over policy moves regarding unions, tax cuts, and massive defense spending. But no one doubted for a nanosecond that Reagan was not immersed in the love of country and abiding faith in democracy. When was the first time anyone accused Trump of being like-minded?

Today, the Republican Party has reversed course on many philosophical underpinnings that were at their core (free trade and international alliances), and instead openly and deeply embraces an autocrat who shuns morals and openly cheats and lies. How far removed the Republican Party is from the days of Ronald Reagan.

Let us be honest, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford would find it hard to even be elected delegates to a national Republican convention today. Much less be national nominees.

And so it goes.

How Many Hands Are You Shaking On New Year’s Day?

As COVID spreads like the wind at the start of this New Year, and most people have no desire for anyone to pass through the front door, much less shake their hand, here then is something to consider from the pages of history.

We have all read or heard of the handshaking with the public that President Abraham Lincoln did on January 1, 1863, leaving his hand sore and cramped. For three hours the president had conducted the then-annual event of greeting the public who wished to come to the White House so to start the New Year.

Later that day Lincoln goes down in history for signing the Emancipation Proclamation. He was concerned with a hand that was aching to not have his signature viewed as somewhat distorted or shaky and then to be construed as uncertain about the enormity of his decision. We know that once the ink was on the document it was completed with a steady hand.

But how did it start that hordes of people would converge on the White House at the start of each year?

President George Washington instituted the open house reception on the 4th of July, even when he was operating government in New York. When President John Adams moved into the newly constructed White House, the ‘people’s house”, for the 1801 New Year’s event it became a tradition in Washington for the doors to be opened to the public.

I started looking for pictures of this event and while there are many drawings and later photos with the advent of the camera, there is one that clearly demonstrates the size of the crowds better than any other I could locate.

The line for the New Year’s reception in 1922 reached down the White House sidewalk, wound out beyond the gates, and continued around the block bordering the old State, War, and Navy Building (now known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building). Thanks to the Library of Congress for the grand picture.

The last New Year’s Day Reception was held in 1932. By 1933 who really wanted to warmly greet outgoing President Herbert Hoover?

Happy New Year!

And so it goes.

Writings From President Harry Truman On New Year’s Day

There are some interesting letters and events from January 1st pertaining to our former presidents and their moments in history. Today on Caffeinated Politics I feature three of them that intrigue me, including George H. W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln.

Here is a diary entry from Truman, in his own writing, from New Year’s Day 1952.

The

New Year’s Eve Letter From President George H.W. Bush

Slices of history from former presidents as they entered a new year make for a couple of interesting posts on this blog as we enter 2022. History never fails to strike a chord for me, and this letter is evidence as to why that is true.

The following letter was typewritten by President George H.W. Bush on New Year’s Eve in 1990 and addressed to his five children – George, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Doro. In the letter, he writes about the family time spent at Camp David over Christmas and his feelings about going to war with Iraq.

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.