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.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Without the financial support that many white families can provide, minority young people have to continually make sacrifices that set them back.
The year after my father died, I graduated from grad school, got a new job, and looked forward to saving for a down payment on my first home, a dream I had always had, but found lofty. I pulled up a blank spreadsheet and made a line item called “House Fund.”
That same week I got a call from my mom—she was struggling to pay off my dad’s funeral expenses. I looked at my “House Fund” and sighed. Then I deleted it and typed the words “Funeral Fund” instead.
My father’s passing was unexpected. And so was the financial burden that came with it.
For many Millennials of color, these sorts of trade-offs aren’t an anomaly. During key times in their lives when they should be building assets, they’re spending money on basic necessities and often helping out family. Their financial future is a rocky one, and much of it comes down to how much—or how little—assistance they receive.
Maya Arulpragasam is a famous rapper, singer, designer, producer, and refugee. When she was 9, her mother and siblings fled violence in Sri Lanka and came to London, and the experience was formative for her art. As she explained to The Guardian in 2005 after the release of her debut Arular, “I was a refugee because of war and now I have a voice in a time when war is the most invested thing on the planet. What I thought I should do with this record is make every refugee kid that came over after me have something to feel good about. Take everybody’s bad bits and say, ‘Actually, they’re good bits. Now whatcha gonna do?’”
That goal—to glorify people and practices that the developed world marginalizes—has been a constant in her career. Her new music video tackles it in a particularly literal and urgent way, not only by showing solidarity with refugees at a moment when they’re extremely controversial in the West, but also by posing a simple question to listeners: Whose lives do you value?
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and other presidential contenders appease Donald Trump at their own peril.
Give Donald Trump this: He has taught Americans something about the candidates he’s running against. He has exposed many of them as political cowards.
In August, after Trump called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and vowed to build a wall along America’s southern border, Jeb Bush traveled to South Texas to respond. Bush’s wife is Mexican American; he has said he’s “immersed in the immigrant experience”; he has even claimed to be Hispanic himself. Yet he didn’t call Trump’s proposals immoral or bigoted, since that might offend Trump’s nativist base. Instead, Bush declared: “Mr. Trump’s plans are not grounded in conservative principles. His proposal is unrealistic. It would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.” In other words, demonizing and rounding up undocumented Mexican immigrants is fine, so long as it’s done cheap.
To solve climate change, we need to reimagine our entire relationship to the nonhuman world.
Humans were once a fairly average species of large mammals, living off the land with little effect on it. But in recent millennia, our relationship with the natural world has changed as dramatically as our perception of it.
There are now more than 7 billion people on this planet, drinking its water, eating its plants and animals, and mining its raw materials to build and power our tools. These everyday activities might seem trivial from the perspective of any one individual, but aggregated together they promise to leave lasting imprints on the Earth. Human power is now geological in scope—and if we are to avoid making a mess of this, our only home, our politics must catch up.
Making this shift will require a radical change in how we think about our relationship to the natural world. That may sound like cause for despair. After all, many people refuse to admit that environmental crises like climate change exist at all. But as Jedediah Purdy reminds us in his dazzling new book, After Nature, our relationship with the nonhuman world has proved flexible over time. People have imagined nature in a great many ways across history.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
What I learned from attending a town-hall meeting and listening to students’ concerns
Sometimes it takes a group of young people to set you straight.
For months now, I’ve been reading about college students who’ve been seeking “safe spaces.” They’ve often been met by derision—even the highest ranked Urban Dictionary definition is mired in sarcasm, describing them as having “pillows” and “soothing music” that “allows them to recover from the trauma... of exposure to ideas that conflict with their leftist professors.”
I also had some mid-life skepticism about teenage hyperbole, that is, until I attended a town hall meeting at Duke University (my alma mater) earlier this month. The “community conversation,” as it was called, had been hastily convened to discuss the rash of racist and homophobic incidents on campus. Listening to those students—and watching their expressions—I realized that what’s been happening at Duke is serious, and no amount of sarcasm can disguise the pain and anger on campus, or cover up the real dangers lurking there.
Places like St. Louis and New York City were once similarly prosperous. Then, 30 years ago, the United States turned its back on the policies that had been encouraging parity.
Despite all the attention focused these days on the fortunes of the “1 percent,” debates over inequality still tend to ignore one of its most politically destabilizing and economically destructive forms. This is the growing, and historically unprecedented, economic divide that has emerged in recent decades among the different regions of the United States.
Until the early 1980s, a long-running feature of American history was the gradual convergence of income across regions. The trend goes back to at least the 1840s, but grew particularly strong during the middle decades of the 20th century. This was, in part, a result of the South catching up with the North in its economic development. As late as 1940, per-capita income in Mississippi, for example, was still less than one-quarter that of Connecticut. Over the next 40 years, Mississippians saw their incomes rise much faster than did residents of Connecticut, until by 1980 the gap in income had shrunk to 58 percent.
The generation has been called lazy, entitled, and narcissistic. Their bosses beg to differ.
Yes, many Millennials are still crashing on their parent’s couches. And there’s data to support the claim that they generally want more perks but less face time, and that they hope to rise quickly but don’t stick around for very long. Millennials have also been pretty vocal about their desire to have more flexible jobs and more leave time.
But does all of this mean that all Millennials are actually worse workers?
Laura Olin, a digital campaigner who ran social-media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, says that’s not been her experience. “You always hear about Millennials supposedly being entitled and needing coddling, but the ones I’ve encountered have been incredibly hard-working and recognize that they need to pay their dues.”