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 president addressed the quadrennial gathering like a campaign rally—talking to a group devoted to service as if it valued self interest.
Donald Trump continued his ongoing tour of cherished American institutions on Monday night, delivering yet another jarringly partisan speech to an apolitical audience—this one, comprised of tens of thousands still too young to vote.
During the campaign, his performance at the Al Smith dinner—where presidential candidates roast their rivals and themselves every four years—devolved into overt attacks on his opponent. Shortly after his election, he stunned CIA employees by delivering a campaign-style stump speech before the agency’s Memorial Wall. On Saturday, he surprised the crowd of uniformed personnel at the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford by imploring them to lobby Congress in support of his agenda.
The internet’s favorite fact-checkers are caught in a messy dispute.
On Monday, the editorial staff of Snopes.com wrote a short plea for help. The post said that the site needed money to fund its operations because another company that Snopes had contracted with “continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com web site hostage.”
“Our legal team is fighting hard for us, but, having been cut off from all revenue, we are facing the prospect of having no financial means to continue operating the site and paying our staff (not to mention covering our legal fees) in the meanwhile,” the note continued.
It was a shocking message from a website that’s been around for more than 20 years—and that’s become a vital part of internet infrastructure in the #fakenews era. The site’s readers have responded. Already, more than $92,000 has been donated to a GoFundMe with a goal of $500,000.
There were numerous attempts to establish contact with the campaign and the transition team.
In trying to fend off suspicion of collusion with the Kremlin, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner have recently provided the public with two very interesting documents. Shoving responsibility for any outreach onto the Russian side, the two men have given us with a partial account of Russian methods in approaching the Trump camp in 2016.
If the accounts are true—and, given that their accounts have changed in the past, these latest accounts could change too—then, taken together, the Trump Jr. emails and Kushner’s statement show a Russian side that is experimenting with ways of getting the Trump team’s attention. They show a side that really is, as one former Obama administration official told me, “throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what would stick.”
Half a century ago, a senator battling a brain tumor took to the Senate floor, and secured his legacy.
None of us can choose how we are remembered. Most of us are not remembered at all. Senator John McCain knows that he will be remembered. He faces a choice about how his remarkable career will be noted in its autumnal phase.
McCain will of course be remembered most of all for his service, and sacrifice and bravery, as a naval aviator and then as prisoner of war in Vietnam. He should also be known for his efforts in his early days in politics to heal divisions within the United States over the Vietnam war, and then between Vietnam and the United States.
In the world of politics he is known and will probably be remembered as a steadfast personal friend, despite disagreements of party. Michael Lewis’s remarkable tale of McCain’s loyalty to the disabled and mostly forgotten one-time liberal champion Morris Udall is, well, an unforgettable example. More than most politicians, McCain has had dramatic moments of principle-above-party high-road stands, as when he told a Republican questioner that she should stop suggesting that his then-opponent for the presidency, Barack Obama, was “an Arab.” As Colin Powell later pointed out, McCain’s response fell an inch short of perfection, in that he answered the questioner by saying that Obama wasn’t “an Arab—he’s a decent family man.” Still, in real time and near the end of a bitter campaign it was brave, right, to his credit—and in character.
Thirty-one-year-old Ezra Cohen-Watnick holds the intelligence portfolio on the National Security Council—but almost everything about him is a mystery.
Just 24 days into his tenure as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael Flynn was forced to resign, having reportedly misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials. When Flynn departed, the men and women he’d appointed to the National Security Council grew nervous about their own jobs, and with good reason. The new national-security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, promptly began clearing out Flynn’s people, among them Dave Cattler, the deputy assistant to the president for regional affairs, Adam Lovinger, a strategic affairs analyst on loan from the Pentagon, and KT McFarland, Flynn’s deputy, who was eased out with the ambassadorship to Singapore. Even Steve Bannon, among the most powerful people in the White House, was removed from the meetings of the NSC Principal’s Committee, where he had been installed early on in the administration.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Stormborn,” the second episode of the seventh season.
Every week for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers will discuss new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
The rise in anti-Muslim violence under Modi suggests that the demons of the country’s past are very much alive.
One day in June, towards the end of Ramadan, two young Muslim brothers on a visit to Delhi to buy new clothes for Eid boarded a train to return home, three hours away. Soon, they became embroiled in a disagreement over seating with fellow passengers, which escalated into an argument over their religion. The other passengers taunted the boys, calling them “beef-eaters,” and pulling at their beards, one of the brothers later said. Eventually, the knives came out. By the time the train had passed the boys’ village, the assault was underway. Fifteen-year-old Junaid Khan was thrown out of the carriage one station past the boys’ stop; he had been stabbed multiple times, and was later declared dead at Civil Hospital in Palwal.
Terminating the special counsel would show recklessness, imply corruption, and irrevocably damage the country.
Last week, President Donald Trump fueled speculation that he might work to oust Robert Mueller, the former FBI director appointed to probe Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump could do so today, or tomorrow, or three months from now; the news could be announced in a televised speech, through a spokesperson, or even in a late night tweet sent on an impulse after his advisers have gone to bed.
If Trump fires Robert Mueller, few will be surprised. But if that happens, as the Department of Justice is thrown into chaos, as the American public sees its clearly expressed support for the special counsel disregarded, as the vital inquiry into the integrity of American elections stalls, as protesters take to the streets in a show of outrage at the affront to the rule of law, as the 2018 midterms morph into a referendum on the administration, and as American democracy reels into unknown territory, the House of Representatives should immediately impeach the president.
As Donald Trump’s troubles deepen, he keeps trying to shift attention to his old rival—but finds it no longer works like it used to.
Donald Trump’s brand-new communications director got a glimpse of the challenge he faces this weekend. As Anthony Scaramucci toured the Sunday shows, promising a new era of better relations and positive vibes, his boss was firing off his most active string of Twitter complaints in some time, taking shots at Democrats, Republicans, the press, James Comey, Robert Mueller, and—for the second time in less than a week—his own attorney general:
So why aren't the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?
The president’s choice of words to describe Attorney General Jeff Sessions is bizarre, though the condescending mockery matches the tone he often uses for adversaries. To paraphrase Trump, somebody’s doing the beleaguering, and that person is Trump himself, who railed at Sessions during an interview with The New York Times last week, saying he wished he hadn’t appointed him, and that Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation was unfair to Trump.
Partly, it’s simple rage. Mueller threatens Trump. And when Trump sees someone as a threat, he tries to discredit and destroy them—conventional norms of propriety, decency and legality be damned.
But there’s another, more calculated, reason. Trump and his advisors may genuinely believe that firing Mueller is a smart move. And if you put morality aside, and see the question in nakedly political terms, they may be right.
The chances that Mueller will uncover something damning seem very high. Trump has already admitted to firing former FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation. Donald Trump Jr. has already admitted to welcoming the opportunity to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from people he believed were representatives of the Russian government. Even if Mueller doesn’t accuse anyone of a crime, he’s likely to paint a brutal picture. And that’s just on the question of election collusion and obstruction of justice. If Mueller uses Russia to segue into Trump’s business dealings, who knows what he might find. An all-star team of legal and financial sleuths, with unlimited time and money, and the ability to subpoena documents and people, have been let loose on the affairs of a man whose own autobiographer called him a “sociopath.” No wonder Trump is scared.