The political rivalry between Obama and Boehner pales in comparison to the animosity rampant among Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, and Adams
Many commentators say that today's vitriolic relations between the two major political parties are as bad as they have ever been. President Obama's jobs speech yesterday sets the stage for a bitter election year and yet another likely "no" from the Republicans on major elements of his program, despite the public's evident distaste for gridlock in Washington.
But this partisanship is surely no worse than the 1790s -- when the two-party system emerged out of the competing visions, and personal hatreds, of the Federalists led by Hamilton and the Republicans led by Jefferson and Madison. Indeed, the fundamental issues of America's first decade and the source of its vicious political divisiveness -- the balance between federal and state power, the tension between government action and personal liberty, and the ambiguities in the Constitution on these and other crucial issues -- remain a powerful source of contention today.
Most of us know that the creation of a national government under the Constitution, written in 1787, was spawned by the inability of the 13 newly freed colonies to act in concert under the Articles of Confederation adopted after victory over the British at Yorktown in 1781.
Yet few of us except keen students of history know that Madison, who in 1789 was along with Hamilton the most articulate advocate for ratification of the new Constitution and establishment of a new national government, reversed course in the 1790s. He and his mentor, Thomas Jefferson, had a dark vision of the new administration of George Washington.
At one level, they viewed it as a return of oppressive British rule, with strong central authority too far removed from the people and too similar to monarchy in its conception of the presidency and imposition of economic policies on the states. At another level, Madison and Jefferson were concerned about the transfer of power in a national government to a northeastern merchant class and away from southern planters -- and, according to historians, they feared at an even deeper level that a national government could someday abolish slavery (although until after 1808 the Constitution prohibited any governmental limitation on slavery).
Thus the political party of Jefferson and Madison was born, with its call for return to the Spirit of '76 concealing many complex reasons for its emergence. The main target of their growing partisanship was Hamilton, architect of the Washington administration's national economic policies. For his part, Hamilton, as leader of the Federalists, believed that Madison and Jefferson were equally dangerous in their inexplicable abandonment of Constitutional principles of nationalism and their dangerous and hypocritical populism (reflected in initial enthusiasm for the French Revolution). His loathing of them matched theirs of him.
Seeking to stand above the fray as bipartisan leaders of the whole nation were Washington and his successor, John Adams. They were bewildered by the political rancor and incapable of adapting to the divisive politics of the decade. For example, much of the political bitterness was played out in views of Britain and France. Both Washington and Adams believed deeply in neutrality for a young America as relations between the great European powers deteriorated into war. They sought mightily to negotiate peaceful terms with both nations when they threatened American commerce on the high seas.
However, to oversimplify complex diplomatic history, the Republicans bitterly attacked the Jay Treaty of 1796 resolving commercial disputes with Britain (and ending British hostilities on America's Northwest borders), and the Hamilton-led Federalists attacked Adams for seeking a similar treaty with France (which was accomplished in the last months of his presidency). Indeed, Washington was called a monarchist by republican critics simply for announcing a doctrine of neutrality.
The no-holds-barred rhetoric of the time was remarkable.Two Republican organs -- Philip Freneau's National Gazette succeeded by Benjamin Franklin Bache's Aurora -- make the talking heads of partisan cable TV look mild in comparison. The Aurora called Washington's Farewell Address the "loathings of a sick mind," asked whether he was "an imposter or an apostate" and accused him of being traitorous, like Benedict Arnold. Of Adams, it said he was but "old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled and toothless" and, during his re-election campaign, a worthless public figure who needed "like polluted water to be cast out the back door."For his part, Hamilton referred to the Republicans as Jacobins, ruthless purveyors of "peoples'" rights who would bring a reign of terror to America from France. Indeed, during the presidential election of 1800, Jefferson hired a "publicist," James Callender, to attack his opponent, John Adams ("a repulsive pedant...a gross hypocrite").
The fevered competition broke relationships among the Founders. Adams and Jefferson, who had been strong friends during the revolution and later as diplomats in Europe, split bitterly (only to be reconciled years later in their old age). Hamilton and Madison, co-authors of The Federalist Papers, became mortal enemies. And, in the service of their partisan passions, each took actions judged harshly by history. Jefferson was disloyal and duplicitous to Washington (when Secretary of State) and to Adams (when Vice-President). He and Madison supported the violent newspapers of the time. And Hamilton was not only grossly disloyal to Adams (who was not sufficiently anti-Republican) but was a driving force beyond The Alien and Sedition Acts (attempting to suppress Republican speech) and a hare-brained scheme to raise a standing army to protect against a non-existent French invasion.
In drafting the Constitution and seeing it ratified, the founding generation sought to control factions with faith that the many groups in a large nation would be forced work together in the national interest. As Joseph Ellis notes in American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic, "the creation of a two party system succeeded despite entrenched resistance by all the founders to its very existence." Yet emerge it did, in one of the most political fraught decades in our history, with resonance for the issues, divisions and rancor of today.
President Adams sought to stand above the political fray and moderate between the emerging parties, seeking principled national consensus. His archenemy, Thomas Jefferson, was instrumental in creating one of the first political parties and, behind his Olympian self-presentation, acting in a fiercely political way. John Adams was a one-term president. Thomas Jefferson served two terms.
Is there a message from this formative history for President Obama?
Ben Heineman Jr. is is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and at the Harvard Law School's Program on Corporate Governance. He is the author of High Performance With High Integrity.
If the president and his aides will tell easily disproven falsehoods about crowd sizes and speeches, what else will they be willing to dissemble about?
One of the many things that is remarkable about the Trump administration is its devotion, even in its first days, to a particular variety of pointless falsehood.
Mendacity among politicians and the spokespeople hired to spin for them runs across eras and aisles, though it is true that some are more honest than others, and Donald Trump was a historically dishonest presidential candidate. But the Trump administration has displayed a commitment to needlessly lying that is confounding to even the most cynical observers of American politics.
In his first official White House briefing, Sean Spicer blasted journalists for “deliberately false reporting,” and made categorical claims about crowd-size at odds with the available evidence.
In his first appearance in the White House briefing room since President Trump’s inauguration, Press Secretary Sean Spicer delivered an indignant statement Saturday night condemning the media’s coverage of the inauguration crowd size, and accusing the press of “deliberately false reporting.”
Standing next to a video screen that showed the crowd from President Trump’s vantage point, Spicer insisted that media outlets had “intentionally framed” their photographs to minimize its size. After attacking journalists for sharing unofficial crowd-size estimates—“no one had numbers,” he said—he proceeded to offer a categorical claim of his own. “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” he said, visibly outraged. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
Popular demonstrations can bring change and topple governments. They can also spark retaliation from those in power.
The signs were so clever.
“We shall overcomb.”
“Viva la vulva.”
“I MAKE THE BEST SIGNS I REALLY DO EVERYONE SAYS SO THEY’RE TERRIFIC.”
Someone even made a papier-mâché vagina dentata.
The people were so cheerful and happy to be with one another, forgetting the cold and enjoying what often seemed less like a protest and more like a block party. There were families there, with grandmas in wheelchairs and babies in strollers. They were ecstatic and in disbelief at the number of people. TheWashington Post reported that the organizers put the attendance at up to half a million. They had hoped for less than half that.
It was surreal how similar this all felt, and my Russian friends on social media confirmed it: “Totally Bolotnaya,” one of them wrote. Bolotnaya is the square in the center of Moscow, right across the river from the Kremlin, where on December 10, 2011 around 50,000 people came out to protest fraudulent parliamentary elections. They had expected 3,000 and were stunned by their success. It was cold and gray that day, too, and the feeling of being in that joyous crowd was unforgettable, which is why I remembered it so vividly today. It is the giddiness of watching people vent their political frustrations with a sense of humor and good cheer, and the euphoria of observing people discover that they are not alone, that there are thousands and thousands of people just like them.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
The new president’s first actions in office suggest his style from the trail isn’t going away soon.
Inaugurations are America’s modern equivalents of Roman triumphs. Flanked by military and police vehicles, clad in the pomp of tradition, presidents of the United States take their solemn oaths and parade between the classical facades and colonnades lining Pennsylvania Avenue. Crowds of thousands—sometimes millions—of citizens look on. It is meant to be a celebration of the nation in all her stately, martial honor, and of the vir triumphalis who has claimed the status of its moral leader and commander-in-chief. But inauguration is also a transition, not only between presidents, but from the combat of the campaign to the peacetime of governance.
For President Donald Trump, however, that transition has not yet taken place. On Inauguration Day, Trump did not take off the laurel wreath and transform into a governor, but rather extended his fiery campaign. The earliest hours of his presidency suggest that, dogged by unprecedented public disapproval, confronting questions of legitimacy, relying on a base fueled by partisan conflict, and facing extensive grassroots opposition, Trump’s campaign will be indefinite.
Images of today’s marches in Washington, New York, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and from other cities in England, Ghana, France, Canada, Serbia, Australia, Kenya, Germany, India, and many more.
In Washington, DC, today, hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets in a demonstration called the Women’s March on DC, while even more marched in cities across the United States and around the world, one day after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump. Larger-than-expected crowds of women and their allies raised their voices against the new administration, and in support of women's rights, health issues, equality, diversity and inclusion. Below are images of today’s marches in Washington, New York, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and from other cities in England, Ghana, France, Canada, Serbia, Australia, Kenya, Germany, India, and many more.
Driven by opportunism, pragmatism, or fear, many begin to forget that they used to think certain things were unacceptable.
In The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Milosz tells a story about a man who ventures out in the immediate aftermath of the fall of a regime. Papers full of state secrets lie in the streets, their knowledge less important for the moment than that of where to find something to eat. A little boy plays in a bombed-out street, whistling a song about the leader. “The song remains, but the leader of yesterday is already part of an extinct past.”
When authoritarians fall from power, even if they are secretly mourned, they must be publicly forgotten. Yet they remain as traces within the bodies of their people. The muscle memory to salute, to sing their songs, to fear their wrath, can be hard to shake. My years of studying Mussolini and his two-decade long regime have taught me not to underestimate the individual and collective work of disentanglement that comes with the ruler’s fall from power.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Most presidents view inaugural addresses as a rare opportunity to appeal beyond “the base.” This was base-only.
For my sins, I have read every U.S. presidential inaugural address ever given, and played a small part in writing one of them—Jimmy Carter’s, delivered 40 years ago today.
The first one I remember hearing, John F. Kennedy’s in 1961, I saw on a fuzzy black-and-white TV from my 7th-grade American history classroom in California. The arctic conditions that day in Washington practically radiated through the TV screen. I remember seeing the revered 87-year-old poet Robert Frost hunch against the wind and squint in the low-sun glare as he tried to read the special inaugural ode he had composed. Then Richard Nixon, just defeated by Kennedy in a hair’s-breadth race, reached across to block the glare with his top hat. Frost waved him off and began reciting from memory one of his best-known poems, “The Gift Outright.” [Update: Other images suggest it could have been VP Lyndon Johnson who was offering Frost the hat. I didn’t really notice at the time; whoever it was, the lasting image was of Frost’s struggling with his script and then beginning to recite.]
The Women’s March on Washington was a protest that also, in its own way, marked a peaceful transition of power.
WASHINGTON, D.C.— In the middle of the National Mall, on the same spot that had, the day before, hosted the revelers who had come out for the inauguration of Donald Trump, a crowd of people protesting the new presidency spontaneously formed themselves into a circle. They grasped hands. They invited others in. “Join our circle!” one woman shouted, merrily, to a small group of passersby. They obliged. The expanse—a small spot of emptiness in a space otherwise teeming with people—got steadily larger, until it spanned nearly 100 feet across. If you happened to be flying directly above the Mall during the early afternoon of January 21, as the Women’s March on Washington was in full swing, you would have seen a throng of people—about half a million of them, according to the most recent estimates—punctuated, in the middle, by an ad-hoc little bullseye.