It still came as shock, even though it was often talked about over the past years. Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 and there is now a new monarch in Britain. Only earlier this week the Queen had continued her constitutional duty and invited Liz Truss to form a new government. Even with health problems and aging concerns, there was always Queen Elizabeth who kept the long line of history very much intact on the British throne, acting with quiet resolve for decades.
I have thought about how to best reflect her life as seen through the eyes of this American home, and have settled on a series of photos of her interactions with our top leaders. (The Queen never met President Lyndon Johnson.) President Harry Truman was her first president to meet even though Elizabeth was not yet queen when, at the age of 25, she filled in for her very ailing father.
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.
To honor the greatest showman and entertainer I present photos, with Elvis and President Nixon, President Carter and Rosalyn, and from 1971 Elvis with Congressman George H.W. Bush.
It should be noted that each year it can be said, as it was in this quote from 2015…”Of all the millions of historical photographs held by the US National Archives, the photo (the formal posing of EP and RN ) is the single most requested. It was captured in the Oval Office on December 21, 1970, and shows Elvis Presley meeting then US President Richard Nixon.”
The music lives on, and it is best turned up high on the stereo! Over the many years…decades, actually…the Graceland Sessions have truly provided for me the professional range and diversity of Elvis from the 1970’s. In the recent past the raw recordings from the Jungle Room (at the mansion) with various takes, and banter of EP and the band was released. Truly awesome material.
The news of the death of Donald Rumsfeld will doubtless bring back a plethora of stories and memories dating back to the time when Richard Nixon was living in the White House. The Republican power broker, highly controversial defense secretary and architect of the failed Iraq War – died Tuesday, days before his 89th birthday.
I am currently on chapter 34 of John Meacham’s terrific read about President George Herbert Walker Bush. Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush is one of the books I am juggling this summer, reading topics and subjects as the mood strikes. The death of Rumsfeld today occurs with this book providing an honest appraisal of the man which Bush noted was an “arrogant fellow.”
Speaking of Rumsfeld, who served as Secretary of Defense for President George Bush (43), the elder member of the family did not let anyone guess what he truly meant when speaking about Rumsfeld in hours of conversation with Meacham.
“I think he served the president badly,” Bush said. “I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything. I’ve never been that close to him anyway. There’s a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He’s more kick ass and take names, take numbers. I think he paid a price for that.”
He was particularly critical of Rumsfeld, which stands out from the usual respectful tone that is practiced with words from Bush. He added that, “Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow and self-assured, swagger.”
From a political perspective, the fractures in their relationship can be summed up this way.
The quick version starts with the years Gerald Ford was president. Rumsfeld was Ford’s chief of staff, and Bush was appointed envoy to China. The resignations of Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew had left the vice presidency open, and Bush was a top candidate for the post.
But then the intrigues gains steam as Rumsfeld went all out to ensure Nelson Rockefeller was named. One of the reasons long associated with the deeds of Rumsfeld was, during the VP selection process news emerging of potential campaign-finance irregularities during Bush’s unsuccessful 1970 Texas campaign for Senate. Most accounts clearly point to Rumsfeld leaking the news in an effort to hurt Bush’s VP chances. The scandal kept popping back up to hurt Bush throughout the rest of his political career.
At times like this, when less than honorable men pass away, the stories and inside accounts of the history they made, or tried to make, allows for a wider understanding of their lives, and the consequences of their actions.
Upon waking this morning I heard the news of Donald Trump spending 50 minutes in a nasty rage this weekend while in front of top-tier donors of the Republican Party. He threw Vice-President Mike Pence under the bus, cursed out Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and even verbally went after the leader’s wife, Elaine Chao.
This morning The New York Times summed up the bombastic behavior with, “Trump used the final night of the retreat to talk about himself, his grievances and how he plans to enact retribution against those who voted to impeach him.”
As I read those words my mind flashed to the writings about President George Herbert Walker Bush on the night that he lost reelection in 1992. While recalling a lot of the stories and facts I have read over the years I admit to having difficulty remembering from which source I obtained the information. So I spent several minutes locating online where the antithesis to Trump’s behavior was discovered. It was located in Jon Meacham’s ‘Destiny and Power’, a biography about Bush.
In the Houstonian Hotel’s suite 271 on the evening he lost his bid for a second term as president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush climbed out of bed and slipped into an adjoining wood-paneled living room. Weary but restless, he settled on a small sofa.
It was there he spoke for his tape-recorded diary.
For now, though, Bush needed a way forward through the shadows of defeat, and he returned to a few core truths that had always guided him. “Be strong,” he told himself in his living room musings, “be kind, be generous of spirit, be understanding, let people know how grateful you are, don’t get even, comfort the ones I’ve hurt and let down, say your prayers and ask for God’s understanding and strength, finish with a smile and with some gusto, do what’s right and finish strong.”With that, the forty-first president of the United States retired for the night, rejoining the sleeping Barbara. Now he had a plan. Now he could rest. He told himself something else, too, in the days after the de- feat. “It’ll change,” he dictated. “It’ll change.”
Over the years I have been able to see in real-time how a concession is handled, while more often reading or watching such a happening through the media. But in each case, a concession following a hard-fought campaign shows the mettle of a person perhaps better than any other facet of seeking office.
I deeply respect the handshakes and quick banter that two professional tennis players allow each other following a mentally and physically punishing game. It is an honorable way to conclude the contest regardless of the outcome. When it comes to the end of a political campaign I also desire to see the best of one’s character shine.
The gracious nature of Vice-President Al Gore following the grueling legal wars of a recount in 2000 demonstrates the reasons character matters when it comes to our elections. The same rules of the road apply in local elections, too. Being graceful with concessions makes for a strong mark of character.
Bush was a classy man in many ways, both in politics, and out. His lack of vindictiveness has long been known. That his name came so easily to mind when reading about Trump proves the high road that he took in life.
It was a Saturday, Halloween, and the last weekend of a presidential campaign. But not 2020, but rather 1992.
October 31, 1992, was a cold and blustery day across Wisconsin. Light snow flurries swirled through the air as many thousands stood for hours at the old train depot in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The presidential campaign that year was winding down, and even though President Bush was campaigning with David McCullough’s latest book Truman in his hand while reminding voters that he too could win the election as Harry did in 1948, the polls were all indicating the opposite. In later news accounts and books, all would discover that it was that frigid day in Wisconsin when President Bush was told of his fate by his internal pollsters. In spite of that, there were still campaign stops to be made, as Bush was traveling Wisconsin by train while working over-time at trying to making his Truman moment come true.
A Republican friend of mine at the Capitol had secured tickets for my mom and dad along with most of my immediate family, including nieces and nephews who wished to attend what turned out to be the most incredible campaign rally I have ever witnessed. We had arrived very early which allowed us to stand in the very front near the podium allowing the young ones in my family to have a moment they will never forget. I have been lucky to be up front at many of these election moments over the years, but nothing compares to the sights and sounds of President H. W. Bush arriving on the train to greet the people. Being a lover of history this was a moment that made time seem to move backward as the loud engine and sharp whistle brought a President to that little depot. I had at times wondered if my folks thought my involvement in politics was worth the time and energy which I had put into it. But that day as I watched their faces I had my answer. This had impressed them!
At about 5:00 P.M. off in the distance, the lonesome sound of the train was heard and the crowd exploded with cheers. As the big locomotive brought the long line of train cars into the depot the President and his family were waving and ready to embrace the folks who were friendly in spite of the national mood. The crowd was highly partisan, as it should be, for such an occasion. I was mesmerized by the historical and grand moment that this old-fashioned campaign rally had generated. Nothing will ever surpass that event.
While my nephew Troy and I had actually shaken hands with both President Bush and Barbara in Waukesha that summer at another rally at the rope line up front (where Bush was also talking of winning like Truman) we were not so lucky in Plover. But it did not matter as we all walked away after that wonderful afternoon to find a small restaurant to eat and un-thaw at for a while. We had all witnessed something that is left to the history books, and nostalgic memories of those who lived the 1948 campaign and saw trains used in national campaigns.
I suspect my readers with children, or perhaps even with memories of their own early driving experiences, know the rationale for teaching others the reason to adhere to stop signs when behind the wheel. There are reasons to know the limits of our actions, and the dreadful consequences which can follow if laws and rules are discarded.
Such as what is now happening in this nation as Donald Trump is deploying federal law enforcement to cities. As if the constitutional nature of such action was not bad enough on its face, he has doubled down to make it worse by sending in these forces to major cities with Democratic mayors—in an election year. We have knowledge of federal agents in Portland having snatched protesters off the streets and throwing them into unmarked vehicles, without being aware of who the agents were or what happened to the ones trucked off.
If you recall the history of Chili, with General Pinochet, all which occurred in my lifetime and I suspect the same for many of my readers, you will grasp why this matter taking place now in our nation is most alarming.
The desire to look tough and act autocratically has long been the default for Trump. That he hungers and slavishly seeks the favorable nods and ‘love letters’ from dictators worldwide has not been lost on a swath of the nation over the past years. As with this blog, there has been constant attention to the autocratic nature of Trump. Those conservatives in the Republican base, who refuse to stand up for the better interests of the nation, in light of the facts, is something historians will need to explain.
Each presidential election year the GOP has spasms and urgings to show how tough they are and how patriotic they can be. George H.W. Bush, who often gets respect for international policy on this blog, was nonetheless going for the gutter when he used the flag for his bid for the Oval Office, just as Richard Nixon is to be harangued for stoking the middle-class angst over cultural discord in the 1968 election.
But what Trump is doing is far, far worse. It should be clear to everyone by now that he has no allegiance to, or appreciation of, our republic. With his desire to move into cities with federal troops he is clearly demonstrating a goonish attempt to use federal power for his narrow and personal aims.
The reason I started this column out with the needs of our youth being mindful of laws while driving, is that the same is needed when as adults we also need to be mindful of the actions of our leaders. When someone like Trump blows past the guardrails of our federal government they need to be yanked back and reprimanded.
Just a few weeks ago we all shared in watching the shocking display of federal over-reach from the Trump Administration at Lafayette Park. With the creation of daily chaos from this White House, which is a calculated attempt to keep a boiling pot in the nation, nothing was done to underscore for Trump that what he did at the park was not to be allowed. The Trump administration authorized the use of “pepper balls,” a projectile munition that lofts irritant powder into the air, and “smoke canisters” to scatter the peaceful crowd then assembled so Trump could stand with a bible, just another book he does not read, in front of a church.
We have seen what he will do in the light of day, as evidenced by that episode. So there should be no real surprise that the current targets of Trump’s autocratic reign are the states and cities in which he is overwhelmingly unpopular. Ask yourself, where does this power grab from Trump end?
It is vital that cities and states stand firm, and send a powerful message that this autocratic move will not be allowed. Trump is striving to foment a crisis and have it balloon to one that will ‘become necessary’ for him to declare martial law and negate the election results. Do not laugh. Who would have ever thought our nation would be kneeling as we are today.
History shows us how this happens when a paranoid, corrupt, and soulless autocrat sends in a secret police force to beat, abuse, and intimidate citizens.