Mike Pence’s Irresponsible Use of History

Ross

In case you missed it, Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal calling for Democratic Senators to show “courage” in the form of a willingness to “stand up” and “reject” the “partisan impeachment” of Donald Trump.

Pence invoked John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage.  In chapter six of that book, Kennedy praised the apparent courage of Senator Edmund Ross (R-Kansas).  During Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial 1868, Ross broke with the Republican Party and voted against removing Johnson from office.  Pence wrote, “Ross was determined to render a fair judgment, resisting his own party’s stampede.”

But there is a major problem with Pence’s historical analogy.  University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri explains at CNN:

[Pence’s] account is historically dishonest on every count and it reveals the contortions the White House is willing to perform to protect its power at all costs — precisely the attitude that helped to trigger impeachment in the first place. When a president and his closest advisers pathologically lie to the public, and Pence’s article is yet another example, how can the American people (and our allies) believe anything coming out of the White House? How can a president lead when he has violated all foundations for public trust?

n this op-ed, Pence has distorted basic American history and civics into Soviet-style propaganda, where the facts are intentionally turned upside down. Numerous historians have written about President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, and Senator Ross’ role in his trial — including Manisha SinhaBrenda Wineapple, David Greenberg and David Stewart. They all agree — and no serious historian disagrees — that Ross intended to vote for Johnson’s conviction, but suddenly changed his mind. Ross did not experience an epiphany of conscience or a surge of courage. Evidence suggests he was bribed.

Read the entire piece here.

This piece by David O. Stewart is also worth considering.

Who Presided Over Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment Trial?

Chase

On Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts began presiding over the Donald Trump impeachment trial.

Over at The Washington Post, Michael Rosenwald writes about Salmon P. Chase, the Chief Justice who presided over Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial in 1868.  Here is a taste of his piece, “The chief justice who presided over the first presidential impeachment trial thought it was political spectacle“:

Johnson was on trial for, among other things, violating the Tenure of Office Act in 1867, which said the president couldn’t fire important government officials unless he got the go-ahead from the Senate. Johnson had fired the secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, without consulting the Senate. Cue impeachment.

Chase thought the whole thing was much ado about nothing.

“Chase had profound misgivings about the trial,” Niven wrote. “He considered the articles more of partisan rhetoric than substantive evidence for a conviction.”

In a letter to Gerrit Smith, a fellow abolitionist and former congressman, Chase wrote that “the whole business seems wrong, and if I had any opinion, under the Constitution, I would not take part in it.”

Chase suspected the whole business would become a public spectacle.

Read the entire piece here.

Dan Larison of *The American Conservative” on the Trump Letter to Pelosi

Trump-Pelosi letterLast week we called your attention to Larison’s thoughts about impeachment.  Some of you may remember that he described the case for impeachment as “overwhelming.” (Larison, I might add, has a Ph.D in history from the University of Chicago).

Here is his take on the letter Trump wrote to Pelosi yesterday:

The president sent an unhinged letter to the Speaker of the House today to complain about his impending impeachment. The letter is an embarrassing display of insecurity, whining, and ignorance, and it serves only to underscore how unfit for the presidency Trump has always been. He stands accused of abuse of power, so like a petulant child he accuses everyone else of abusing their power.

The president condemns the House for impeaching him, which is to be expected, but his complaints are so excessive and ridiculous that it is fair to say that the president doth protest too much. He faults the House for its “unprecedented” action when the House has twice before impeached presidents and was very close to doing so on a third occasion before this. He whines that the House’s constitutional remedy for presidential wrongdoing is “unconstitutional.” When Trump declares something to be “unconstitutional,” he just means that it is something he doesn’t like. Impeachment is built into the Constitution, and it is there for occasions just such as these. His letter displays the same contempt for Congress that led him to refuse to cooperate with the House’s investigation.

Read the rest here.  You can read my take on the letter here.

Trump Sends Letter to Pelosi: “You are declaring open war on American Democracy”

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Read the 6-page letter here.

Themes and commentary:

  • Trump calls his impeachment an “unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power by Democrat Lawmakers unequaled in nearly two and a half centuries of American legislative history.”  It is not unprecedented.  It has happened twice before.  It is not unconstitutional.  It is not an abuse of power.  It is fully within the power of the House to impeach.  And I should also add that the Constitution is less than 250 years old.
  • He says the “Articles of Impeachment” are “not recognizable under any standard of Constitutional theory, interpretation, or jurisprudence.”  More than 500 legal scholars and over 750 American historians disagree.
  • He says the “Articles of Impeachment” include no crimes, no misdemeanors, and no offenses whatsoever. You have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!”  Just to be clear, a president does not need to commit a crime to be impeached.  Impeachment is a political process.
  • Trump writes: “By proceeding with your invalid impeachment, you are violating your oaths of office, you are breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and you are declaring open war on American Democracy.”  Actually, by impeaching the president, the House is following the Constitution. I’m not sure what Trump means by “Democracy” here, but the last time I checked democracy has something to do with the will of the people.  Let’s remember that Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by 3 million votes and about half the country wants him impeached and removed from office.
  • Trump writes: “you [Pelosi] dare to invoke the Founding Fathers in pursuit of this election-nullification scheme–your spiteful actions display unfettered contempt for America’s founding and your egregious conduct threatens to destroy that which our Founders pledged their very lives to build.”  I think Trump is equating “election-nullification scheme” with the articles of impeachment.  If this is the case, then the House, by impeaching the president, is actually following what the founders laid out in the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers.  In other words, they are not showing “unfettered contempt” for the founders.
  • Trump writes: “Even worse than offending the Founding Fathers, you are offending Americans of faith by continually saying ‘I pray for the President,’ when you know this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense.  It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you will have to live with it, not I!”  First, Trump obviously does not understand prayer.  He cannot separate it from political partisanship.  He is incapable of understanding the concept of praying for one’s enemies.  Second, Trump is the one who must live this impeachment.  Tomorrow he will be the third POTUS impeached. This will be his legacy.
  • Trump continues to claim that he did not abuse power.  The Ukraine call was “perfect.”  He even appeals to Ukraine president Zelinsky as a witness.
  • Trump again claims that Joe Biden used his position at Vice President to fire the Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating his son’s company.  First, Biden has been cleared of all wrongdoing.  Second, Biden was going after a corrupt prosecutor–a prosecutor that most of America’s allies also wanted out of office.
  • Trump calls the House’s article of impeachment on “obstruction of Congress” “preposterous” and “dangerous.” Actually, Trump did obstruct Congress on numerous occasions.  Congress asked for witnesses and Trump did not allow them to testify.
  • Trump writes, “Speaker Pelosi, you admitted just last week at a public forum that your party’s impeachment effort has been going on for ‘two and a half years,’ long before you ever heard about a phone call with Ukraine.” Indeed, some of the more progressive Democrats did call for Trump’s impeachment early, but Pelosi and Adam Schiff did not support impeachment before Ukraine.  It was not until after the Ukraine call that most of the House members began taking impeachment seriously.
  • Trump writes, “You and your party are desperate to distract from America’s extraordinary economy, incredible jobs boom, record stock market, soaring confidence, and flourishing citizens.  Your party simply cannot compete with our record: 7 million new jobs, the lowest-ever unemployment for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans….”  Again, impeachment has nothing to do with the economy.  The economy was doing pretty well when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998. Trump is implying that he can do anything he wants as long as the economy is good.
  • Trump makes an appeal to family: “You do not know, nor do you care, the great damage and hurt you have inflicted upon wonderful and loving members of my family.”  I am sorry Trump’s family has to go through this, but I am having a hard time thinking about his family as “wonderful” and “loving.”
  • Trump says that “more due process” was “afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.”
  • Trump writes: “This is nothing more than an illegal, partisan attempted coup that will, based on recent sentiment, badly fail at the voting booth.  You are not just after me, as President, you are after the entire Republican Party.  But because of this colossal injustice, our party is more united than it has ever been before.  History will judge you harshly as you proceed with this impeachment charade.  Your legacy will be that of turning the House of Representatives from a revered legislative body into a Star Chamber of partisan persecution.”
  • Most of the letter is an undisciplined rant.  It is filled with Trumpisms–almost like an extended tweet.  It reads as if Trump wrote a first draft and then someone edited it. Read it for yourself.
  • Through the entire impeachment process Trump has said that he is not concerned about his legacy.  This letter suggests that he is clearly concerned about it.  It is written on White House letterhead. He wants future leaders to know he is innocent.  As always, he is trying to control the narrative.  The historians will sort it out.
  • The letter is a revealing glimpse into the mind of this POTUS. I can’t imagine that anyone in the White House beyond Trump thinks that writing and sending this letter was a good idea. This is a presidential tantrum.  Donald Trump continues to be unhinged.  If the Senate does not remove him we can expect more of this next year.

Trump’s Narcissism is Again Revealed as the House Announces Articles of Impeachment

Image: US-MEXICO-CANADA-TRADE

This morning the leaders of the House of Representatives stood in front of a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 “Lansdowne portrait” of George Washington and announced, for only the fourth time in United States history, articles of impeachment against the President of the United States.

The President, of course, is tweeting about it:

 

These are the desperate cries of a man who has committed high crimes and misdemeanors against his country.  He has abused his power and obstructed the House impeachment investigation.  Trump’s tweets remind me of this scene from November 17, 1973:

Nixon understood the gravity of his impeachment in the larger context of American history.  So, it seems, does Bill Clinton.  They both admitted (eventually) that they had done something wrong.  Clinton even described his behavior as “sin.”

Trump, on the other hand, thinks he has done nothing wrong.   Some people believe that Trump knows he is guilty, but continues to tell the American people that he is innocent because he wants to remain in power and preserve his legacy.  There is a lot of evidence to support this theory.

But what if Trump believes he is innocent because he has absolutely no understanding of American history, the U.S. Constitution, or the meaning of impeachment?  Here, again, is what I wrote about the relationship between narcissism and American history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

But the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than uniting them.  His approach to history also reveals his narcissism.  When Trump says that he doesn’t care how “America first” was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of “law and order,” he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story.  As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of non-violent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.”  Gerson describes Trump’s behavior in this regard as the “essence of narcissism.”  The columnist is right:  Trump is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself.  Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies; but most of them have been humbled by the office.  Our best presidents thought about their four or eight years in power with historical continuity in mind.  This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it.  Trump, however, spits in the face of this kind of historical continuity….

Is Trump capable of understanding the gravity of what is happening to his presidency right now?

Expect Two Articles of Impeachment Tomorrow (Tuesday)

  1. Abuse of Power
  2. Obstructing Congress

Here is The Washington Post:

Democrats are expected to unveil two articles of impeachment against President Trump on Tuesday that will focus on abuse of power and obstructing Congress, and would be voted on by the full House next week, according to three officials familiar with the matter.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and other committee chairmen Monday night after a nine-hour hearing in which a Democratic counsel laid out the party’s case against Trump. The three officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks, cautioned that the plan had not been finalized.

Leaving a meeting with Pelosi, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) told reporters that he and the chairmen of other House committees would announce specific articles at a news conference at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Read the rest here.

Four Scholars Will Testify Before the House Judiciary Committee in Tomorrow’s Impeachment Hearing

Turley

Jonathan Turley will be testifying tomorrow before  the House Judiciary Committee

Tomorrow the Judiciary Committee will hear from four witnesses, all constitutional scholars.  They are:

Noah Feldman of Harvard University.  He is also a Bloomberg News columnist and the author of a biography of James Madison.

Pamela Karlan of Stanford University.  She was the U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Voting Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division during the Obama presidency.

Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina.  He is on record saying that the impeachment inquiry is “fully legitimate.” Gerhardt is Scholar in Residence at the National Constitution Center.

Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.  He is a prolific blogger.  He is probably the most familiar face among the four law professors testifying because he is often on television news programs.

Three of these witnesses were selected by Democrats, and one by Republicans.  Based on what I know about Turley, I am guessing that he was chosen by the Republicans.

This should be fun, but why won’t any historians be testifying?

Impeachment Report: The Executive Summary

Congress

Read the entire impeachment report here.

The “Executive Summary”:

The impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, uncovered a months-long effort by President Trump to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election. As described in this executive summary and the report that follows, President Trump’s scheme subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign. The President demanded that the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, publicly announce investigations into a political rival that he apparently feared the most, former Vice President Joe Biden, and into a discredited theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election. To compel the Ukrainian President to do his political bidding, President Trump conditioned two official acts on the public announcement of the investigations: a coveted White House visit and critical U.S. military assistance Ukraine needed to fight its Russian adversary.

During a July 25, 2019, call between President Trump and President Zelensky, President Zelensky expressed gratitude for U.S. military assistance. President Trump immediately responded by asking President Zelensky to “do us a favor though” and openly pressed for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden and the 2016 conspiracy theory. In turn, President Zelensky assured President Trump that he would pursue the investigation and reiterated his interest in the White House meeting. Although President Trump’s scheme intentionally bypassed many career personnel, it was undertaken with  the knowledge and approval of senior Administration officials, including the President’s  Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of  Energy Rick Perry. In fact, at a press conference weeks after public revelations about the  scheme, Mr. Mulvaney publicly acknowledged that the President directly tied the hold on military aid to his desire to get Ukraine to conduct a political investigation, telling Americans to “get over it.

President Trump and his senior officials may see nothing wrong with using the power of the Office of the President to pressure a foreign country to help the President’s reelection campaign. Indeed, President Trump continues to encourage Ukraine and other foreign countries to engage in the same kind of election interference today. However, the Founding Fathers prescribed a remedy for a chief executive who places his personal interests above those of the country: impeachment. Accordingly, as part of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in coordination with the Committees on Oversight and Reform and Foreign Affairs, were compelled to undertake a serious, sober, and expeditious investigation into whether the President’s misconduct warrants that remedy.

In response, President Trump engaged in an unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry. Nevertheless, due in large measure to patriotic and courageous public servants who provided the Committees with direct evidence of the President’s actions, the Committees uncovered significant misconduct on the part of the President of the United States. As required under House Resolution 660, the Intelligence  Committee, in consultation with the Committees on Oversight and Reform and Foreign Affairs, has prepared this report to detail the evidence uncovered to date, which will now be transmitted to the Judiciary Committee for its consideration.

American History Finds Its Way Into the Impeachment Report

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 Alexander Hamilton

Read it the entire impeachment report here. A taste (in bold):

The Framers of the Constitution well understood that an individual could one day occupy the Office of the President who would place his personal or political interests above those of the nation. Having just won hard-fought independence from a King with unbridled authority, they were attuned to the dangers of an executive who lacked fealty to the law and the Constitution. 

Here is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 75:

But a man raised from the station of a private citizen to the rank of chief magistrate, possessed of a moderate or slender fortune, and looking forward to a period not very remote when he may probably be obliged to return to the station from which he was taken, might sometimes be under temptations to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand. An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents. 

In response, the Framers adopted a tool used by the British Parliament for several hundred years to constrain the Crown—the power of impeachment. Unlike in Britain, where impeachment was typically reserved for inferior officers but not the King himself, impeachment in our untested democracy was specifically intended to serve as the ultimate form of accountability for a duly-elected President. Rather than a mechanism to overturn an election, impeachment was explicitly contemplated as a remedy of last resort for a president who fails to faithfully execute his oath of office “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Accordingly, the Constitution confers the power to impeach the president on Congress, stating that the president shall be removed from office upon conviction for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” While the Constitutional standard for removal from office is justly a high one, it is nonetheless an essential check and balance on the authority of the occupant of the Office of the President, particularly when that occupant represents a continuing threat to our fundamental democratic norms, values, and laws.

Alexander Hamilton explained that impeachment was not designed to cover only criminal violations, but also crimes against the American people. “The subjects of its jurisdiction,” Hamilton wrote, “are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

This comes from Federalist 65.  Read it here.

Similarly, future Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court James Wilson, a delegate from Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention, distinguished impeachable offenses from those that reside “within the sphere of ordinary jurisprudence.” As he noted, “impeachments are confined to political characters, to political crimes and misdemeanors, and to political punishments.”

This paragraph comes from James Wilson‘s “Lectures on Law.”

Wilson James

James Wilson

 

Trump’s Narcissism

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Trump’s narcissism is unlike others.   Northwestern University psychology professor Dan McAdams explains in The Atlantic:

Trump’s biggest fans have a parasocial bond with an icon—whereas his advisers and staff must work through a real-life social bond with a difficult human being. Trump’s biggest fans believe that they have an up-close-and-personal relationship with Trump—but they never actually see the man up close.

Other charismatic presidents, such as Ronald Reagan and Obama, probably established parasocial bonds with their supporters, too. The relationship between Trump fans and Trump may be more resilient, however, because of the peculiar nature of the president’s narcissism.

Generally speaking, politicians work hard to present themselves to the American people as regular human beings whose emotional lives and personal stories may resonate with their fellow citizens. Trump is strangely different, and he revels in that. He is a stable genius who admits to no faults. He has no inner doubts. He has never made a mistake. He has never failed. As one of the countless examples of Trump setting himself apart from every other human being on the planet, consider this statement he made on The Tonight Show in 2015: “I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.”

The fact that Trump will not admit to error sets him apart from most narcissists. Research shows that highly narcissistic people often create heroic stories of their own lives wherein they have triumphed over their limitations and failures, against all odds, to become the awesome people that they believe they are. Trump has never talked about himself in that way, even when urged to do so. Instead, he suggests that he has always been perfect, like the flawless image of Narcissus in the pool.

“I am the chosen one,” Trump told reporters in August, in response to questions about obtaining a trade deal with China. In claiming this almost superhuman status, Trump may somewhat inoculate himself against critical press. His supporters adore him as something like a larger-than-life force, a beautiful persona reflected in the pool. Should they encounter new negative information about the president, they may judge it against the “evidence” of their acquaintance with the president’s persona—and discount it. The contrast is simply too great between what the “fake news” claims, and the infallible presence onscreen.

The president’s raging narcissism has created chaos in the White House, and it has driven away scores of advisers, staff members, and others who had hoped to serve productively in his administration. As is usually the case with narcissists, Trump has worn out his welcome. He has disappointed and alienated many of the people with whom he has worked closely, as narcissists eventually do.

But Trump’s unusual brand of narcissism has simultaneously worked to solidify his loyal base of support in the American public at large. Those who admire him from afar may enjoy an extraordinarily durable parasocial relationship with a reflected persona that is deeply familiar to them. They know in their heart who Donald Trump is. They continue to admire his wonderful and unchanging essence, beautiful like the boy in the pool, even if they know very little about what it is like to encounter Donald Trump as a real human being.   

Read the entire piece here.

Today’s Quote from the Federalist Papers

From Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 75:

However proper or safe it may be in governments where the executive magistrate is an hereditary monarch, to commit to him the entire power of making treaties, it would be utterly unsafe and improper to intrust that power to an elective magistrate of four years’ duration. It has been remarked, upon another occasion, and the remark is unquestionably just, that an hereditary monarch, though often the oppressor of his people, has personally too much stake in the government to be in any material danger of being corrupted by foreign powers. But a man raised from the station of a private citizen to the rank of chief magistrate, possessed of a moderate or slender fortune, and looking forward to a period not very remote when he may probably be obliged to return to the station from which he was taken, might sometimes be under temptations to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand. An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents. The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a President of the United States

The Faith of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDROver at Religion & Politics, Eric C. Miller interviews James Bratt about John Woolverton’s A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  When Woolverton died in 2014, Bratt finished the book.  Here is a taste of the interview:

Religion & Politics: Your work on this book was somewhat atypical. How did you end up finishing it? What was your process?

James D. Bratt: The editing process was actually kind of fun. Professor Woolverton had done such an excellent job of research in the archives and secondary literature that I didn’t have to worry about correcting or supplementing things. Only one addition was required—the brief chapter on FDR’s death, funeral, and burial rites. The folks at Eerdmans said that readers expect biographies to end with this sort of wrap, and so I supplied it.

For the rest, the job involved trimming and reorganizing the manuscript so as to bring out the main theme of each chapter in clear focus and efficient development. It’s probably easier to do this with someone else’s writing than with your own because you’re looking down at a landscape from some height rather than having hacked out a path thru the thicket in the first place. So I just ploughed along, chapter by chapter.

My copy editors were sharp and kind and saved a number of errors. The most difficult part here was tracking down quotations that had come untethered from footnotes in my editing process. (A couple different word-processing programs had been involved along the way, and weren’t always compatible with the new system into which I integrated everything.) This did set me off sleuthing through FDR’s published speeches and personal correspondence, which is a very revealing road into the nuts and bolts of a person’s life and mind. I managed to track down every reference but one, which felt like quite an achievement, and I got in better touch with FDR as a person along the way.

R&P: Readers are likely familiar with Roosevelt the Democrat. What kind of a Christian was he?

JDB: Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a lifelong Episcopalian. He was taken to St. James’ Church in Hyde Park, [New York], as a lad, even though he didn’t much care for it at the time. His father was on the vestry, and Franklin himself became a member of the vestry in adulthood. He was loyal to his church, he knew the liturgy and revered the music, and he cared much more about the ceremonial aspects than about the theology. He loved the social ethics most of all.

His attachment to the liberal branch of Episcopalianism was solidified during the years that he spent studying at the Groton School in Massachusetts, under the famous headmaster Endicott Peabody. Groton at that time was one of the heartlands of the Social Gospel movement. So I think you could say that he was a liturgical Episcopalian and a Social Gospel Christian.

Read the rest here.

*Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House*

PenceJournalist Tom LoBianco has published a religious biography of Vice President Mike Pence.  I have not read the book, so I cannot endorse it.  But I can say that I spent significant time on the phone with LoBianco as he conducted research for the book.

He writes:

As part of my general research for this book, I relied on a handful of insightful books (and highly recommend them for anyone interested in understanding Mike Pence better).  I’ll start with Pence’s two favorite books: the Bible, and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind.  Additionally, I relied on John Fea’s tour of evangelical history and the Trump campaign, Believe Me; The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, as well as Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson’s review of the start and disbanding of the Moral Majority, Blinded by Might.  And for all Hoosier-philes, I highly recommend James Madison’s The Indiana Way.  I also feel like I found my own  bible in this process, Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story.

Obama’s Legacy?

white-house-staff-obama-speech

Is it healthcare? The Paris Climate Agreement?  His election as the first black president?  Something else?  Over at Dissent, Corey Robin reviews eight books on the Obama legacy.  Many of these books are written by Obama staffers.  Robin’s calls them the “Obamanauts” and suggests that they may be Obama’s legacy.

Here is a taste:

Since the 2016 election, many members of the Obama administration have written their memoirs in the hope of defining that legacy. In addition, more than a hundred men and women who worked in and around the White House have given their reminiscences to Brian Abrams, who has composed a remarkably fluid oral history of the Obama years. We’ve not yet heard from the man himself. While it’s not unprecedented for the president’s men and women to get the first word, the effect of his silence and their volubility is to decenter a presidency that, more than most, was centered on one man and his words. Obama had an uncanny ability to make sense of his place in history, to narrate what it was that he was doing. His politics had its limits, but they were often, and often knowingly, self-imposed. No matter how circumscribed the view, Obama managed to conjure a sense of what lay beyond it. With one exception, none of his people has that sense of time or place. They’re bound by a perimeter that is not of their making and that lies beyond their ken.

At the same time, not only do the Obamanauts wish to salvage Obama’s legacy from Donald Trump; they also believe Obama’s legacy can save us from Donald Trump. “My hope in writing this book,” says Dan Pfeiffer, who ran communications in the White House, is that “if we learn the right lessons” from Obama, “we can ensure that Donald Trump is an aberration.” That puts Obama’s legacy at a double disadvantage: defended by some of its least persuasive advocates and defined by what it is not. Burdened by a future he had a hand in making but no intention of creating, Obama gets reimagined in these memoirs and reminiscenses in light of everything he sought to avoid: the destructiveness of the president who came after him, and the irresponsibility of the Republicans who came before him and dogged him throughout his time in office. Instead of a clear outline of the man, we get the shadow of his enemies. That’s not fair to Obama, but as he’s the one who chose these people to speak for him while he was in office, they are the ones who’ve chosen to speak for him when he’s out. So it will remain, until he writes his memoirs.

The Obamanauts have an argument that they think can be used to defeat the Republicans. It is an argument that sets out what liberals and Democrats should be saying, and how they should be saying it, in the next election and beyond. It is part sense—about economic policy, foreign policy, and so on—and part sensibility: about norms, the presidency, and how our public life should be conducted. Because the sense is so thin in these memoirs, the sensibility winds up mattering more. Which is probably for the best. For it’s that sensibility that gives us the clearest view of what Obamaism, beneath and beyond Obama, was all about. It’s the style of leading sectors in the Democratic Party, currently embattled against the left, though we hear little mention of that battle here. But most of all, it’s that style that answers the question: What is Obama’s legacy? For better or worse, and at least for now, it’s the Obamanauts themselves.

Read the entire piece here.

When France Meddled in American Elections

 

Over at The Washington Post, historian Jordan Taylor reminds us that “the founding fathers knew first-hand that foreign interference in U.S. elections was dangerous.”  He points to French ambassadors Edmond-Charles Genet, Jean Antoine Joseph Fauchet, and Pierre-Auguste Adet in the 1790s.

Here is a taste:

 

Throughout the 1790s, France’s ambassadors repeatedly sought to influence the results of American elections, hoping to sway policy in their favor.

Even after this meddling ended, fear of foreign influence persisted, ultimately making subsequent untainted elections seem illegitimate. Public faith in the democratic process had eroded. The entire experience convinced the founding generation that democracies live or die based on the integrity of their elections — a lesson we must remember today.

In 1793, a quirky and energetic man named Edmond-Charles Genêt arrived in the United States to assume his position as the new ambassador of France. Many Americans responded enthusiastically to Genêt at political gatherings and social engagements as he integrated himself with the Francophile Democratic-Republican party that opposed the Federalist Washington administration.

Unsurprisingly, relations between Genêt and the Washington administration quickly soured. George Washington’s repeated refusal to align American interests with France angered Genêt. According to some accounts, he warned that if the president continued to rebuff him, he would “appeal to the people” themselves. This threat earned him immediate infamy, because it suggested that Genêt might seek to influence the American elections in 1794 to build support for policies friendly to France. To prevent him from taking such actions, the Washington administration demanded that France recall Genêt.

The new French ambassador, a sulking, stubborn man named Jean Antoine Joseph Fauchet, practiced greater discretion in advancing French interests. But though he was not as flamboyant as Genêt, Fauchet nonetheless paid small subsidies to Democratic-Republicans as they fought against the adoption of the looming Anglo-American “Jay Treaty” that would harm France’s interests.

Read the entire piece here.

The Benefits of Impeachment: Some Lessons from Andrew Johnson

Johnson

Historian Gregory Downs thinks that Trump should be impeached even if the Senate keeps him office. There is a good chance that the time between the impeachment in the House and the trial in the Senate might “curtail Trump’s worst behaviors” and neutralize him politically.

Downs uses the impeachment of Andrew Johnson to make his point.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:

Johnson’s adept attorneys succeeded in protecting his tenure in office in two ways. First, they sought to delay the Senate trial. Then, they used that delay to persuade Johnson to keep his hands off Reconstruction. As the trial hung over him and then dragged on through April and May, a chastened Johnson pledged to appoint a moderate secretary of war, stop shuffling generals in the Southern states, and let the Army and African American Republicans complete their work in the South. By April, a half-dozen former Confederate states had ratified their new constitutions and asked Congress for readmission. Only then, in mid-May, did the Senate finally vote on Johnson’s fate.

Even with his acquiescence to Reconstruction, Johnson survived only by a single vote in that Senate tally. Although the 14th Amendment was not ratified until July 1868, the impeachment trial that put Johnson’s fate into question allowed freedpeople, white Southern Republicans and the Army to freely engage in the crucial work of making what some scholars call a “Second Constitution,” a refashioning of the federal government’s role in protecting individual rights through the 14th Amendment’s pledges of equal protection and due process. Most significantly, those reconstructed states provided the votes to ratify the proposed amendment, which has subsequently shaped Supreme Court decisions on desegregation, voting rights, same-sex marriage, freedom of speech and assembly, and many other basic rights we enjoy today.

Impeachment also did play a role in Johnson leaving office by weakening him politically. In 1866, Johnson had explored the creation of a new party that combined Democrats and conservative Republicans. When that collapsed, he spent part of 1867 trying to engineer nomination by the Democratic Party, his old home. But the trial helped make him untouchable, and the Democrats turned to a different candidate, New York’s Horatio Seymour, leaving Johnson off the ballot.

Analogies are never perfect. We are not now in a period of Reconstruction, or a moment when Congress and the president are primarily at war over such a specific set of laws. Nonetheless, as Johnson did, Trump threatens the nation’s stability by attacking our faith in elections and the rule of law, as well as our global alliances. His tweets and incendiary rhetoric are dangerous, and although no one can say how he would respond to a looming trial, one possibility is that he, like Johnson, might tone down his behavior to avoid removal. And this possibility makes it worth taking the political risk posed by impeachment.

Trying to judge the worthiness of impeachment solely by whether it ends in conviction and removal would be a mistake. If the presence of a trial disciplines Trump to stop encouraging foreign interference in U.S. elections and to start curtailing his destabilizing rhetoric, impeachment will have been worth it, whether it ends in conviction or acquittal, in 2020 reelection or defeat. While many will call for a speedy impeachment trial if the House votes to impeach, senators might look to the Johnson case to ask whether a deliberate process will sustain pressure on the White House to behave more responsibly, and give the president the opportunity to save — or destroy — his tenure in office.

Read the rest here.

Four Historians of Presidential Foreign Policy: “We’ve never seen anything like this”

Trump on mall

Here are the four historians:

Elizabeth A. Cobbs : Melbern Glasscock Chair in American history at Texas A&M University and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Kyle Longley: Snell Family Dean’s distinguished professor of history and political science at Arizona State University.

Kenneth Osgood: Professor of History at the Colorado School of Mines.

Jeremi Suri: Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Here is a taste of their piece at CNN:

It is rare to get such a real-time look at presidential conversations with foreign leaders. As historians of US foreign relations, collectively we have read many thousands of similar documents from past presidents. We have also listened to audio tapes of conversations between presidents and their international counterparts. In our numerous books on presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama, we have examined how American leaders conduct US foreign policy — the good, bad, and ugly. Nothing really surprises us anymore.

Until now.

Trump’s documentary record differs dramatically from his predecessors. A worrisome thread runs through each conversation. Trump appears laser-focused on his own fortunes to the exclusion of the national security of the United States. Unfortunately, this is part of a larger and startling pattern of Trump promoting his personal agenda ahead of the nation’s interests.

Read the entire piece here.

If Not For Abraham Lincoln’s Hat, Trump Would be the “Most Presidential” President in American History

Lincoln cartoon

In addition to suggesting that the whistleblower should be executed, announcing that Congressman Adam Schiff has a thick neck, stating Joe Biden is “dumb as a rock,” and calling the press “animals,” Trump also made another Abe Lincoln reference in his recent closed-door meeting with U.S. diplomats.  Here is Yahoo News:

At one point, Trump said his only predecessor to appear more presidential than he was Abraham Lincoln.

“I’m the most presidential except for possibly Abe Lincoln when he wore the hat. That was tough to beat,” Trump said. But he added: “I have better hair than him.”

Read the entire Yahoo piece here.