All posts by bradfels



On March 22, 2016, terrorists affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) attacked public targets in Brussels, Belgium. Thirty-five people lost their lives. The American response was one of outrage of shock, and the major presidential candidates made public statements. While the responses of the two main Democratic contenders (former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders) as well as Republican John Kasich (governor of Ohio) were what would be traditionally expect of public officials, the same cannot be said of the other two main candidates for the GOP nomination – Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. This edition of The History Rhyme will examine their reactions to the tragedy and then offer cautionary thoughts on the way we fight our immediate foes and how that can have consequences that reach well beyond the battle of the day.

In the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, Donald Trump fell back to his now typical responses to a dangerous world (prevent Muslims from entering the United States and increase the use of torture to extract information about future attacks). He also questioned whether the United States should remain in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Ted Cruz responded to the attacks with a call to give law enforcement on all levels the ability to “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods to prevent future radicalization. He then accused those who oppose such tactics of “ostrich, head in the sand political correctness that refuses to acknowledge our enemy, the identify it, or do what’s necessary to defeat it.” In response, Commissioner Bill Bratton of the New York Police Department stated that his department does not target specific groups “nor will we use the police as an occupying force to intimidate a populace or religion to appease the provocative chatter of politicians seeking to exploit fear.”

During the week of the Brussels attacks, this History Rhymer was reading Kissinger’s Shadow – Greg Grandin’s examination of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his influence on American foreign policy and on the wider world. In a passing comment, Grandin mentioned a 1999 interview in the French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who had served as American President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser. During a discussion of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Brzezinski revealed that the United States had secretly started aiding the radically anti-Communist Mujaheddin six months before the December 1979 invasion. Brzezinski informed Carter, in the summer of 1979, that he felt such a move would help draw the USSR into the notoriously hard to control Central Asian country. The end result was a ten year occupation that killed many Soviet soldiers and countless more Afghans, drained the Soviet Union of resources, and played a role in its eventual end of the Cold War. The interviewer then asked Brzezinski if he regretted giving arms to Islamic fundamentalists as a means of drawing the USSR into their own version of the Vietnam War. With leading Republican presidential candidates in 2016 calling for extreme measures to prevent future terrorist attacks, Brzezinski’s response seventeen years earlier is quite interesting. He asked the interviewer: “what is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

To many modern eyes, there is no greater threat than global terrorist groups like ISIS. From such a perspective, the comments of Brzezinski may seem foolish and short-sighted. Yet, such a dismissive response by modern observers to his views is myopic as well. As with all things, we must consider the speaker’s background and the context of his decisions. Brzezinski was born in 1928 to an aristocratic Polish family whose ancestral home was in what was then southeast Poland. That area was taken from Poland (with the approval of the Americans and British at the Yalta conference) during World War II and given to the Soviet Union (and is now a part of Ukraine). Brzezinski’s father was a Polish diplomat who was stationed in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party, in Moscow during Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge, and in the West during World War II. His family was unable to return to Poland after the Red Army occupied Easter Europe after the war. He then spent his public career viewing the USSR as the greatest threat to world peace and (as we have seen) taking steps to contain and constrict Soviet power and influence. To someone like him, “some stirred-up Moslems” were definitely a minor price to pay.

The question we have to ask ourselves before taking the provocative actions suggested by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is whether those options are really best. What are the future issues that we may be facing because we were too focused on the threat at hand? We can only begin to guess at this point. Does that mean that we should do nothing to protect ourselves and others from groups like ISIS? No, but we also cannot let fear and hatred drive us to be something other than what many of us aspire to be – a people that defends freedom, peace, and the rights of the all. When we act, we must remember the advice of nineteenth century American philosopher and psychologist William James who urged us to “act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” Let us hope that we choose our actions and leaders wisely.

President Cyrus


In the process of choosing who should be the next president of the United States, each individual voter must decide what is most important to him or her. For some, the most important factor will be how much a candidate is committed to addressing problems in the area of civil rights, such as restrictions on voter access and the policing of African-American neighborhoods. For some, the most pressing issue of 2016 will be what should be done to address income inequality. For some, the only issue will be the legality and availability of abortions. This is especially true in light of the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who president Barack Obama will surely replace with someone who does not wish to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973). For some, the main factor will be a candidate’s view on the role of the United States in the wider world. Are we to remain an active player on the international stage? Should we draw back and not get involved in the kinds of foreign entanglements our first president, George Washington, warned of in his farewell address in 1796? For some, the main concern will be the nation’s borders and the status of undocumented immigrants. The available options run the gamut from a path to citizenship all the way to mass deportations and building a wall on the Mexican-American border. For some, the possibility of setting a new historical precedent will be of paramount importance. In 2016, it might be possible to elect the first female president, the first Latino president, or the first Jewish president. Finally, for a sizable portion of the Republican electorate, the most important deciding factor will be the religious convictions of a candidate and his or her willingness to govern accordingly. It is the considerations of this particular group that we will examine in this edition of the History Rhyme. We will look at the arguments that are being presented for the available candidates and then turn our gaze to the past to look for any possible correlations between the piety (or lack thereof) of a president and his (so far) effectiveness in office.

In the months, weeks, and days leading up the Iowa Caucuses, the people of the Hawkeye state were barraged with a steady volley of filers, billboards, robocalls, and commercials stating that one particular Republican or another was the most “godly” choice for America. The top recipients of such lofty praise were Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz. Although evangelical voters are not the only group in the Iowa Republican Party, they are a sizable and enthusiastic one – comprising 64% of 2016 caucus attendees. With such a crowded field of candidates seeking the conservative Christian vote, the endorsements of influential leaders such as radio talk show host Steve Deace, political activist Bob Vander Plaats (who was featured in an earlier History Rhyme – “The Will of the People”), and Representative Steve King, were highly treasured. In the end, all three men endorsed Ted Cruz and their support most likely played a role in the Texas senator’s victory on February 1, 2016.

Despite all of the weighty endorsement Ted Cruz received in Iowa, CNN’s Iowa Caucus exit polling showed that Cruz only received 34% of the evangelical vote. Gaining a plurality instead of a majority of this group’s votes should not be surprising in such a crowded field. The next highest vote total among evangelical candidate was for Ben Carson with only 12%. The striking result of this poll was that Dr. Carson received only the fourth highest percentage from conservative Christians. The second (225) and third (21%) most popular candidates with evangelicals were Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. While Senator Rubio emphasizes his religious convictions and does get some credit for that, this one-time Tea Party darling is considered more of a mainstream Republican choice now. Trump has demonstrated that he does not have a thorough knowledge of the bible but that does not seem to matter with some evangelicals. In fact, he won the evangelical vote in South Carolina. What is gong on?

If the twentieth-century American social psychologist Leon Festinger (1919-89) were still alive today, he would describe the fascinating rise in support of Donald Trump as a prime case of cognitive dissonance. This phenomenon, which Merriam-Webster defines as “psychological conflict resulting from simultaneously held incongruous beliefs and attitudes,” helps us to at least understand what is going on. However, it does not helps us to divine how those caught up in it are rationalizing their choices. One of the most interesting explanations this History Rhymer has encountered is that God sometimes uses ungodly men to help his people. In November 2015, Christian speaker and teacher Lance Wallnau deemed Donald Trump to be just such a man. In a video message to Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, Wallnau stated that “God has given this man an anointing for the mantle of government in the United States and he will prosper.” The basis for this belief is Isaiah 45:1, which Wallnau says will predict who will be the 45th president:

“This is what the Lord says to his anointed,

to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of

to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor,

to open doors before him

so that gates will not be shut.”

For those who are not familiar with this verse of prophesy or its significance in the bible, let me offer a quick summary. Isaiah’s prophecy predicted that God would bring forth a pagan ruler who would help the Jewish people in their hour of greatest need. According to biblical scholars, this occurred 150 years later when Cyrus the Great (who ruled the Achaemenid Empire but is sometimes labeled simply as a “Persian” king) defeated the Babylonian empire around 539 BC. Among those who were suddenly under Cyrus’ rule were the Jewish people, who the Babylonians sent into exile after they defeated Judea in 586 BC. In the book of Ezra, Cyrus later actively supported the efforts of Ezra and Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem by using the royal treasury to pay for building expenses. The temple had been in ruins since the sacking of Jerusalem. This had caused an existential crisis for the Jewish people since they were directed by God to offer sacrifices at the temple (in the seventeenth chapter of Leviticus).

Whether or not Donald Trump is being used by God to help evangelical Americans is a topic that none will be able to answer definitively. In any case, this blog is not about predicting the future or making theological judgments. It is all about looking at the present through the lens of the past. With that in mind, this month’s History Rhyme will take a brief look at how the United States has fared at times when it had especially religious leaders and how it did when its leaders were not especially religious. According to David Masci, who is a senior writer and editor focusing on religion at the Pew Research Center, almost all presidents of the United States have been avowed Christians. The largest number of presidents (11) were self-avowed Episcopalians. Yet, four of these – George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Tyler – were most likely actually Diests who did not believe in an active God. Instead, these men saw God as a cosmic clock maker who set the universe in motion and then left it alone. This is in direct opposition to the picture of God actively hearing and responding to prayers – even prayers for a particular candidate winning an election. Another sizable group of presidents (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Filmore, and William Howard Taft) were Unitarians who denied the existence of the Trinity. This would certainly be seen as heretical to modern conservative Christians.

What is especially interesting in Mr. Masci’s list of presidential religious affiliation is that two presidents had no Christian affiliations – Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Although Jefferson referred to a “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln made references to God on several occasions, it would be a stretch to say that either of these men’s views on religious would satisfy a modern evangelical voter’s desire for a godly leader. Yet, these two men are always listed at the pinnacle of what we consider great American presidents. Perhaps these two men would also be seen by Lance Wallnau as having had the “Cyrus anointing” and thus were great in spite of their lack of overt piety.

While all but two presidents avowed a Christian affiliation, we know that not all of these men were equally religious. Some, like Andrew Jackson, were far from the epitome of Christian kindness. However, there have been a few who have been generally regarded as particularly devoted men. For the sake of this article, I will use a short list created by J. J. Feinauer of the Deseret News of who he felt were the most religious – James Garfield, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush. Since James Garfield’s term in office was especially brief due to his assassination, we cannot say if his great piety would have helped him to be a great ruler or not. As far as the other two, their times in office were far from stellar. Carter came into office trying to demonstrate a humility and honesty that was in stark contrast to the behavior displayed by president Richard Nixon and his associates. Yet, his presidency is generally regarded as a failure (although he has been called a great ex-president by the New York Times in 2015).

Bush was another president why was not shy about how his Christian views affected his presidency and the justness of this actions but whose time in office was not one of the smoothest in the nation’s history. This is not to say that these men were the worst presidents ever. However, they certainly were not the most successful. Perhaps this was due to the times in which they ruled. Perhaps it was due to the interaction between their faith and the choices they had to make to rule. It is most likely that the intersection of many such factors played roles. I will leave the final decision on the cause of each man’s success or failure to you.

Should a person vote with their heart, or their head, or perhaps even their soul? These are questions that have to be left up to each individual voter. Should an evangelical voter choose a candidate that best matches their personal religious convictions or should they accept someone who may be more of a modern Cyrus who seems to have the best chance to defeat political enemies? Looking at the past, we can see that great Christian piety does not necessarily lead to great leadership. Then again, deficiencies in moral character (e.g. the paranoia of Richard Nixon or the extreme racism of Woodrow Wilson) can have their own drawbacks too. Which way will America go and what will be the result of that choice? Will we have a modern-day president Cyrus taking the oath of office on Friday, January 20, 2017? We shall see and let future historians decide the wisdom and repercussions of such a choice.

By All Appearances

Rubio Boots

On January 3, 2016, several candidates criss-crossed the small state of New Hampshire in an effort to gain enough supporters to win the crucial early February primary. These men and women discussed issues that were important to them, their party, and (from their perspective) the entire country. What this select group of Americans said that day may have convinced some to change their support from one candidate to another. Perhaps those new converts may then have persuaded others to vote for their new favorite. It is entirely possible that this day might have been seen by future historians as one that changed American history. After all, those standing before the various crowds that day were seeking the most powerful job in the world – the presidency of the United States. Yet, in this increasingly absurd election season, it is unlikely that anything said that Sunday will be remembered. Instead, the most important event of that day was Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida deciding to wear a pair of nice boots. In this edition of the History Rhyme, we will briefly look at the great distraction of “boot-gate” that followed and then at the evolution of what voters (especially Republican ones) see as the preferred appearance for their leader. We will then look back into twentieth century presidential history to see how our perceptions of the person holding such an important office have changed.

In a crowded presidential field (especially one that includes billionaire businessman Donald Trump), gaining the attention of the public can be difficult. This can be especially frustrating if you are someone who is struggling in the polls despite tremendous name recognition, numerous endorsements, and a huge campaign war chest. Such a man is former Florida governor Jeb Bush who, despite all his advantages, has fallen from “the clear Republican presidential frontrunner” at the end of 2014 to almost a political afterthought now. So, when Senator Rubio’s heeled boots were the object of ridicule on Twitter and by fellow Republican candidates such as Tennessee Senator Rand Paul and by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Governor Bush’s supporters (via the Right To Rise political action committee) saw their chance to attack the man who was Bush’s main rival for the “establishment” Republican vote. What ensued was one of the more creative and biting uses of satire I have seen in a while – a karaoke-style music video titled “Boots.” In the ad, which was available mainly via YouTube, attacks inconsistencies in Senator Rubio’s positions on various issues by showing someone dancing in boots similar to those of “young Marco” as a woman sings “these boots were made for flipping.” Although such a tactic does not seem to have helped Governor Bush much in New Hampshire polls, it has forced Senator Rubio to endure ribbing about his boots when he is a guest on shows like the Tonight Show.

Even though the political ad and the jokes by people like Jimmy Fallon have been clever and entertaining, we and future historians must ask: “what does this all mean?” Should we shake our heads at the absurdity of one man’s footwear becoming ever-so-briefly the most important political story in our 24-hour news cycle? What was wrong with a man wearing a pair of black boots with a heel? In a speech only a few days after his boots become so notorious, Senator Rubio expressed a view that is likely shared by those who shake their heads at our times when he said:

“Let me get this right. ISIS is cutting people’s heads off, setting people on fire in cages, Saudi Arabia and Iran of the verge of a war, the Chinese are landing airplanes on islands that they built and say belong to them in what are international waters and in some ways territorial waters, our economy is flat-lined, the stock market is falling apart, but boy are we getting a log of coverage about a pair of boots. This is craziness. People, have they lost their minds?”

Have we lost our minds? Is such interest in a candidates footwear something peculiarly odd to our modern world? For anyone who has followed this blog, this should seem like a great time to look back and see what a little perspective tells us about our interest in Rubio’s shoes.

Why did the image of a well-dressed, attractive man running for president cause such rancor in the conservative world? Is it that he is wearing boots? Is it that the boots have a heel? Is it because he was dressed nicely? That all depends on the eye of the beholder. As David Levy notes in his article “Dress Code for Men In Politics,” there are several potential audiences for a candidate who needs to be wearing the correct attire for that situation. However, when a candidate’s appearance is taken out of context (as in the case we are discussing), the specter of a well-known American actor from the twentieth century molds the conservative view of how a man running for president should look. No, that person is not Ronald Reagan. He was merely a reflection of the image of rugged American masculinity that was the famous American actor John Wayne. If you are old enough to remember the “Duke,” you probably have an image of him wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. As Adam Howard noted in a January 20, 2016 story “Why John Wayne Remains An Icon of the Right,” the persona of this famous actor:

“… has come to represent so many facets of the American aesthetic that conservative voters find appealing. He is fondly remembered by fans as a “man’s man,” a hyper-masculine figure whose characters often had a contempt for due process, a kind of grim embrace of isolationism, a staunch preference for established gender roles, and some profound cultural insensitivity (to put it kindly) when it came to issues of race.”

The short answer to why Marco Rubio faced such ribbing for his boots is that he did not pass the “Duke” test. He did not fit the popular image of John Wayne and thus (by extension) did not meet the image of the politician who best co-opted the John Wayne look – Ronald Reagan.

My grandfather John was an age-mate to both John Wayne and Ronald Reagan. His appearance and theirs are linked in my memory. My grandfather was an intelligent yet uneducated working man (entered the coal mines at age 12) who loved reading Louis L’Amour novels, wearing cowboy boots, fishing, and smoking Marlboros. So, regardless of my political leanings, I can relate to why such an image would appeal to voters who are looking for traditional values in a complicated world. It also helps me to understand why Republican candidates are often seen across Iowa these days with rolled up sleeves, flannel shirts, and occasionally sporting orange hunting gear. Sometimes these efforts help a candidate connect with the people. Sometimes it makes the candidate a target for derision. Yet, this attempt to dress down to the common denominator was not always required for political success. Richard Nixon was more popular than our post-Watergate brains can appreciate and he was anything but casual. Prior to then, being well-dressed and having good shoes was not a hindrance for any aspiring candidate. Harry Truman may have been erasable and perhaps not always the best judge of when to keep his opinions to himself, but he was an impeccably well-dressed and had an amazing shoe collection. Yet, despite his stylish wardrobe, President Truman was not perceived as an elitist.

We are in a world where candidates for president are judged on many aspects – personality, policy, personal history, their voice, and their appearance. While some of these qualities are timeless (e.g. controversy is bad and likability is good), others can vary over time. In this current political season, there are so many candidates with very similar positions and thus any minor distinctions can make a huge difference. So, it is not surprising that Marco Rubio’s opponents jumped at the chance to mock him for wearing a pair of boots that were not within the current standard for Republican masculinity. He was no John Wayne. However, as we know from our past, such an image has not always been so powerful. Perhaps, as those who remember the Duke and Ronald Reagan are replaced by a new generation of Americans who like Senator Rubio’s choice of footwear, the definition of acceptable attire will change. Only time will tell.

Fill In The Blank

On the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the following words are inscribed:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

All my life, I have been taught and have believed that the words of “The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus embodied the spirit of the United States. Whether an immigrant came willingly to the United States through Ellis Island in the New York harbor or by some other path, the ethos of a new hope was still the same. My father’s Anabaptist ancestors came to America in the mid 19th century to flee religious persecution in what is now Germany. My mother’s ancestors came from poverty in England, Scotland, and Wales hoping for a better life. In essence, I am a byproduct of that tired and poor wretched refuse, and I strongly believe that others should have the same chances now that my ancestors did then. However, as anyone keeping track of American politics knows, this sentiment is not as widely shared as I might hope.

In many ways, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has become the rallying point for those who fear the influx of dangerous “foreigners” from Latin America or the Middle East, he is certainly not the originator of the hysteria. As can be seen from the July 2014 editor of this blog (“The Right Thing To Do”), there has been a rising concern about those crossing our borders. With the recent attacks in Paris and closer to home in San Bernardino, CA, the national focus of some has shifted to a panic about possible “radical Islamic terrorism.” Mr. Trump, who has turned into an amazing barometer for populist right-wing sentiment, has made his answer to the porous border with Mexico (i.e. build a wall and make Mexico pay for it), and fears of dangerous arrivals from the Middle East (i.e. ban all Muslim travel to the United States) into the basis of his appeal. Yet, for those who know American history, fear of “foreigners” is certainly not a new thing.

American history is filled with rhyming events to those we are experiencing now. To demonstrate this, let me present a part of a letter to the editor that was penned by a famous American from the past. In this letter, the author discusses a certain group of immigrants to the United States and why there were efforts to forbid these people from entering the country. In order to show how little some things change, I will replace a few key words with blanks. At the end, I will reveal who wrote the letter, when, and which group is his subject. Hopefully you will find this exercise as fascinating as I did.

Let us first examine that nightmare to many Americans, especially our friends in California, the growing population of _______ on the Pacific slope. It is undoubtedly true that in the past many thousands of _______ have legally or otherwise got into the United States, settled her and raised up children who became American citizens. Californians have properly objected on the sound basic ground that ________ immigrants are not capable of assimilation into the American population. If this had throughout the discussion been made the sole ground for the American attitude all would have been well, and the people of ______ would today understand and accept our decision.

Anyone who has traveled in the Far East knows that the mingling of ______ blood with European or American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results. There are throughout the ______ many thousands of so-called _____—men and women and children partly of ______ blood and partly of European or American blood. These ______ are, as a common thing, looked down on and despised, both by the European and American who reside there, and by the pure ______ who lives there.

The argument works both ways. I know a great many cultivated, highly educated and delightful ______. They have all told me that they would feel the same repugnance and objection to having thousands of Americans settle in _____ and intermarry with the ______ as I would feel in having large numbers of ______ come over here and intermarry with the American population.

In this question, then, of ______ exclusion from the United States, it is necessary only to advance the true reason—the undesirability of mixing the blood of the two peoples. This attitude would be fully understood in ______, as they would have the same objection to Americans migrating to ______ in large numbers.

Unfortunately, ______ exclusion has been urged for many other reasons—their ability to work for and live on much smaller wages than Americans—their willingness to work for longer hours, their driving out of native Americans from certain fruit growing or agricultural areas. The _____ themselves do not understand these arguments and are offended by them.

The author was none other than future president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The letter to the editor was printed in the Macon Telegraph on April 30, 1925. If we change 1925 to 2015 and fill in the the blanks from Japan/Japanese/Asian to Mexico/Mexican/Latino or ISIS/Islamic/Muslim, we would not notice a significant difference between this letter and more recent speeches, blogs, and letters to the editor.

Although history does not repeat itself and the future is unknown, this editorial (and especially who penned it) may give us a cautionary tale of a possible future. After all, it was written by the same man who penned these words who also placed Japanese-Americans into internments camps at the beginning of World War II. Hopefully, we will not head down that slippery slope – especially in regards to Muslims. At least one elected official has already suggested such a course of action so perhaps we are already starting to slide. If that is not the way we wish to go, we must use the lessons from the past to help make sense of these uncertain times. That is why the History Rhyme is here and why history is still important.

The Road To Pasadena

On December 6, 2015, the Rose Bowl selection committee announced that the Stanford Cardinal (representing the Pac-12 Conference) would face the Iowa Hawkeyes (representing the Big Ten Conference) in the 2016 edition of their New Years classic. While this may not be a significant event for many people, it was for my 75 year old father who is a lifelong Hawkeye fan. Even though he had broken his shoulder recently in a fall while recently attending the Iowa-Nebraska game in Lincoln, he is still planning to get into a car with some friends for the 24+ hour trip to Pasadena. While this might seem like an odd way to start a History Rhyme, there is a good historical reason why we are discussing the New Year’s plans of my father’s favorite team. It has to do with the way that nearly equal periods of time can seem so different depending on: 1) whether events occurred on one’s lifetime, 2) the age when the events occur, and 3) how personally memorable past events were to the observer. So, lets take a journey back in time to when the University of Iowa has gone to the Rose Bowl and how some of those events are remembered by me.

Prior to this upcoming trip to Pasadena, the Hawkeyes were last in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1991, when they were defeated 46-34 by the Washington Huskies. From the upcoming game to then is a period of 25 years. At that time, George H. W. Bush was president and both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democratic Party. The average price of gasoline was around $1.16 that year. In the month prior to that game, the newly reunited Germany had its first parliamentary elections that kept the center-right Christian Democratic Union (and its coalition partners) in power, South Africa was moving towards a post-apartheid world as Nelson Mandela met for discussions with president F. W. De Klerk; the Middle East moved toward war as the United States gave Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw from Kuwait; Lech Walesa was sworn in as Poland’s popularly elected president on December 22th; on the day before the Rose Bowl, the Sci-Fi Channel began transmitting. At that time, I was a twenty year old college student (majoring in Physics – although soon to become a history major) at Iowa State University. On the day of the game, I was working my holiday break job as a doorman at a small movie theater that no longer exists in a southside Des Moines, IA indoor mall that is now mostly an outdoor mall. I was not an Iowa fan (which is partially why I was attending Iowa State) so I did not pay much attention to the game. I do recall seeing the game playing on the little thirteen inch TV that my manager had in his office. I also recall that my 49 year old father did not attend that game. He recently told me that he did not go since Iowa had been to the Rose Bowl three times in ten years so he decided to wait until the next time they went. He did not expect it to take this long.

Prior to the 1991 game, Iowa had been to the Rose Bowl two previous times in the 1980s – 1982 and 1986. I will not discuss the 1986 game much other than to mention that, as a person who did not like the Hawkeyes, the mid-1980s was not an easy time. The team was coached by the legendary Hayden Fry and was consistently successful. I was fifteen years old and do not recall watching that game. While researching that game, I came across a story that I had forgotten but now can remember quite well. In that game, Iowa was favored over UCLA and was led by their sure-handed running back Ronnie Harmon who had only fumbled once in the whole year. On January 1, 1986, he had four fumbles in the first half and dropped what appeared to be an easy touchdown pass. Iowa ended up losing 48-24 and rumors stared swirling that Harmon had thrown the game. In 2002, HBO’s Real Sports program looked into the controversy, but nothing was ever conclusively proven.

The Rose Bowl game that I remember especially and the whole reason why I made this History Rhyme about the “granddaddy of them all,” occurred on January 1, 1982. At this time, Ronald Reagan was president and both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democratic Party. The average price of gasoline was $1.13 that year. In the month prior to the game, President Reagan signed an executive order that allowed the CIA to engage in domestic counter-intelligence, the Polish government declared martial law and arrested Solidarity leaders (including Lech Walesa), civilian governments in Ghana and Argentina are overthrown by military juntas, and the musical “Dreamgirls” first premiered in New York at the Imperial Theater. At that time, I was a ten year old suburban Iowa kid who had not seen much of the United States except for trips to Disney World in Florida by plane and a trip through South Dakota by car.

This was the first time the Iowa Hawkeyes were playing in Pasadena since 1959. In most of the 23 years between those games, Iowa football teams were consistently dreadful. The 1981 season was the first winning season for the Hawkeyes since 1961. During that period, they had endured one zero-win season and three one-win seasons. Yet, despite all the ineptitude on the field, there was still strong support in the stands. I have a memory of attending an Iowa game in the late 1970s (prior to Hayden Fry’s arrival in 1979) where the stands appeared pretty full – a resimiscence that my father has confirmed. So, as you might imagine, there was great excitement when Iowa won the Big Ten title and was headed off to play the Washington Huskies. This game occurred 35 years prior to the upcoming game yet I have some exceptionally clear memories of it due to the fact that my father decided that he (then age 40), his wife (age 38), and his two young sons (ages 11 and 8) should join what seemed like everyone else in Iowa (the joke being “would the last person leaving Iowa please shut off the lights”) was coming to California. So, right after Christmas 1991, we packed up our 1980 Pontiac LeMans station wagon (with the genuine fake wood trim) and headed down the road. On that trip, I passed through new states for me – Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. I distinctly remember on that trip spending the night at an old motel in Liberal, KS and staying up late to watch “Johnny Carson” (otherwise known as The Tonight Show). We went to Disneyland (I loved Tomorrowland) and Universal Studios (before they had any roller coasters). We stayed at a cousin’s town home (which I had never seen before, but which seem ubiquitous now). I remember the morning of the game being rainy and that I really was quite bored watching the Rose Bowl parade. By the time of the game, it was a nice day. We sat way up in one of the end zones and (along with about 100,000 people) watched Iowa lose to Washington 28-0.

Iowa has gone to the Rose Bowl two other times – in 1959 and 1957. In those cases, Iowa won. Obviously, I have no memories of those games because I was not yet born. Since these events occurred prior to my birth in 1970, they seem quite different to the game I attended in 1982 – even though there is only a 23 year span between the 1959 and 1982 games but a 34 year span between the 1982 game and the one which will occur soon. I do not know if this is true for other people, but events which occurred for a time when I can say “at that time I was X years old and I was doing Y” seem more understandable than those which occurred before I took my first breath. I have a memory of Richard Nixon resigning when I was four years old that seems much more relatable than the Kent State shootings which occurred only a month before my birth in June 1970. We have talked about historical telescoping in a previous History Rhyme (Impatiance Day) so we are familiar with the ways our perceptions can shape our views of the past. I do not know if there is a specific term for the type of perception shifting I describe, but it does shape the way I view things. I have to work harder to understand those who breathed air that I did not. Then again, trying to understand them is what makes history so interesting for me.

Soon, there will be a new piece of historical data to be placed onto the Rose Bowl page of There will be a winner and a loser, but more importantly, there will be new memories for many people (including perhaps future historians) who can say “I was there!” I extend my best wishes for safe travels and enjoyable experiences to the participants and observers. Finally, even though I still am not an Iowa fan, I will on behalf of my father say “Go Hawks!”

Giving Thanks


For the past several History Rhymes, we have looked at the current political situation in the United States and tried to use past events to help gain some perspective on the nuttiness of our times. This is the most bizarre and lengthy presidential campaign we have experienced for some time (perhaps since the early nineteenth century). We have see a great interest in conservative and progressive voters for candidates that would have been seen as unelectable in other elections (e.g. Donald Trump and Ben Carson on the right, and Bernie Sanders on the left). We have seen Trump rise in the polls every time he says something that normally would have proven fatal to his campaign. The same is true of Carson (e.g. saying that he believes that the pyramids were created by Joseph to store grain). Well, I do not know about any of the rest of you, but I need a break. I need a few days to remember the things that are good in the world and for which I am thankful. Fortunately, this personal need coincides with a beloved American holiday all about appreciation for what we have – Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is not strictly an American holiday. Seven other nations celebrate a holiday that centers on giving thanks. Germans celebrate the harvest-oriented Erntedanktfest on the first Sunday of October. The Japanese recognize “Labor Thanksgiving Day” on November 23rd when workers are celebrated. The Canadian Thanksgiving Day has similar origins to the American version, but is celebrated on the second Monday of October (which makes a lot more sense to this Midwesterner since travel at the end of November can be a bit dodgy at times). The Caribbean island nation of Granada holds a celebration of thanks on October 25th to remember the 1983 invasion by the United States to overthrow the communist government. The West African nation of Liberia was founded in the nineteenth century by freed American slaves and their form of Thanksgiving has its origins in the American form. The people of Leiden in the Netherlands celebrate those who once lived there, but moved to America as some of the earliest European settlers to what became the United States. Finally, the Australian island territory Norfolk Island holds a celebration on the last Wednesday of November. Their celebration owes its origins to contact with last nineteenth century American whaling ships.

In the United States, there are a variety of traditions (some more recent than others) that are associated with the Thanksgiving holiday of which there are a variety of options. For some people, there is a turkey dinner, but for others it is ham. For some people it is pumpkin pie, but for others it is sweet potato pie (both are delicious!). After the meal, some people have the tradition of watching a football game (especially for Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and Detroit Lions fans). For those who still receive a daily paper, they can look though the Thanksgiving edition with its enormous advertising circulars. Getting ready for Black Friday (which is now really “Black Thursday Night” for a lot of retailors) takes some planning if you want to get those great deals! For people like me, the time after the huge meal is a good chance to take a good turkey-inducing nap.

Since this blog is all about history, I will conclude with a brief summary of how Thanksgiving became an official holiday in the United States. As many of you may know, we have President Abraham Lincoln to thank for the official holiday. However, he was not the first president to officially give thanks. In 1789, President George Washington has issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation and this tradition was followed by his successor John Adams. However, with the ascension of Adams’ great rival Thomas Jefferson, the tradition (along with some other traditions Washington initiated such as a presidential address to congress) ceased. Jefferson felt that the republic should not have official holidays that gave thanks to a deity. So, with the exception of two proclamations by James Madison in 1814-15, there was no national holiday for decades. Instead, individual states had their own holidays over a variety of days in the autumn. It was not until October 1863 that Lincoln declared that fourth Thursday in November would be a national “day of thanksgiving and praise.” Considering the tumult and tragedy that the Union was undergoing in 1863 (battles such as Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga), it is not surprising that a holiday was considered appropriate and welcome.

This blog is about using the events and words of the past to give some perspective to the present in the hope that it will help us in the future. Right now, we are in a world that seems more and more dangerous and frightening. There is strife of all kinds – nationalist, sectarian, racial, economic… It can sometimes be hard to be optimistic or hopeful. Yet, if a man of great sorrows and melancholy such as Abraham Lincoln could find the desire to give thanks, then we should too. So, I will leave you with the closing parts of the 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation (which was written initially by Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward). I only ask that you put aside the specifics of what is said in the proclamation and see how well it applies to all times of trouble and how there is hope for healing when the time is right.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

Happy Thanksgiving

The American Party

Earlier in the year, a group calling themselves the American Party, met in Philadelphia in order to codify their political views and to organize for the upcoming presidential election. Those who attended this convention were formerly members of other existing political parties, but had come to believe that neither the opposition Republicans nor the incumbent Democrats would address their main concerns. With a presidential election looming on the horizon, they felt compelled to meet and approve a multi-part political platform. Some of the main issues addressed were:

  • The belief that following the Constitution was the best way to ensure the civil and religious liberties of American citizens
  • “Americans must rule America” meaning that only native-born citizens should be eligible for election or public office
  • That anyone (native-born or otherwise) who “recognizes any allegiance or obligation” to a foreign authority or “who refuses to recognize the Federal and State Constitutions” shall be excluded from public office
  • The call for “the non-interference by Congress with questions appertaining solely to the individual States, and non-intervention by each State with the affairs of any other State.”
  • The assertion that no United States state or territory can give the right to vote to non-citizens
  • A change in naturalization laws to require legal immigrants (with the exclusion of criminals and those receiving public support) to reside in the United States 21 years before they can become citizens.
  • The demand that the United States government not interfere with religious faith and worship
  • “Opposition to the reckless and unwise policy of the present Administration in the general management of our national affairs, and more especially as shown in removing ‘Americans’ (by designation) and Conservatives in principle, from office, and placing foreigners and Ultraists in their places; as shown in a truckling subserviency to the stronger, and an insolent and cowardly bravado toward the weaker powers; as shown in reopening sectional agitation… as shown in the corruptions which pervade some of the Departments of the Government… and as shown in the blundering mismanagement of our foreign relations.”

At the end of the convention, the American Party voted on who they would support for President. The main contenders were a man with political experience in Washington and at the state level and a wealthy businessman from New York. In the end, it was the politician who was selected.

You may now be scratching your heads and wondering why you did not see a story about this group and their provocative platform on any news website (all the way from Foxnews on the Right to MSNBC on the Left). If you have paid attention to American politics this year, then the parts of the party platform should seem familiar – whether or not you agree with them.

The reason why you saw nothing about this meeting, this party, and its platform, is because the American Party convention was held on February 18, 1856. The party’s selected candidate was former President Millard Fillmore (the New York businessman was George Law) and the party was better known by its unofficial name – the “Know-Nothings.”

Prior to the most recent presidential election season, the relevance of the views of the secretive Know-Nothings (who would say that they knew nothing about the party if pressed for information) might have been seen as limited to a study of the antebellum period. Their fears of waves of new types of immigrants (mainly Irish fleeing the famines of the 1840s) coming and changing their culture would have seemed excessive in our more multi-cultural times. Also, their fears that the Catholic Pope would have undue influence on America because of the arrival of so many of his churchmen would have seemed odd. Yet, as recent events have shown, concerns about foreign immigrants and their religious affiliations are not as “old-fashioned” as we might have hoped.

With a slew of controversial comments, several about Mexican immigrants, Republican front-runner Donald Trump has risen to the top of the polls and his antics have actually helped to make fears of immigrants a primary concern for the GOP electorate. Considering Trump’s theatrical nature tendency towards bombast, it may not be surprising that he has become a focal point of a campaign that would have aligned well with the Know-Nothings. However, it was perhaps the least outrageous candidate in the Republican field, Dr. Ben Carson, who has this History Rhymer seeing greater relevance in the 1856 American Party platform.

During a September 20, 2015 edition of the NBC news show Meet the Press, Dr. Carson asserted that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” The reason for his opposition was that he felt that Islam was “inconsistent with the values and principles of America.” While Carson’s comments were renounced by many, Carson has remained a strong contender for the nomination. Also, after the results of a late September 2015 USA Today/Suffolk University poll were released, it appears that his views are not as uncommon as some might have hoped. In that poll, it was revealed that 53% thought that a Muslim could not be elected president (and 40% said that they would not vote for a Muslim). Considering the continuing fears of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and the vehement assertions by people like Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz of the dangers of allowing Syrian refugees to come to America, perhaps it should not have been surprising that resistance to a Muslim president is so strong.

Although it is impossible to know with certainty how future Americans will feel about a Muslim president, another result of the aforementioned USA Today poll along with our look at the views of the Know-Nothings may give us a glimpse of how fears and prejudices can change over time. In the poll, it was revealed that 93% said that they would vote for a qualified Catholic candidate. This is a remarkable change from the strongly anti-Catholic view many Americans held through the nation’s history.

During the revolutionary period, every colony besides Pennsylvania had anti-Catholic laws and founding father and future first Chief Justice, John Jay, asserted that his home state of New York should tolerate every religious group “except the professor of the religion of the Church of Rome, who out not to hold lands, in, or be admitted to a participation of the civil rights enjoyed by the members of this state.” After the Civil War, fears of Catholics and the influence of the Pope continued to be a main issues of presidential campaigns. For example, in 1884, the Republican presidential nominee James G. Blaine labeled the Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” This label, in a modified form, was still useful in the 1928 election when the Democrats were called the party of “rum, Romanism, and ruin.” It was not until the 1960 election when John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic president.

Now, five Catholics are seeking the presidency – Republicans Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal and Democrat Martin O’Malley – and there is not great outcry about the potential power Pope Francis might have over America. Time will tell whether the current sentiments against immigrants and a Muslim president will remain strong or will decline as past fears about Irish immigrants and Catholics have. As the United States continues on its path to becoming a much less caucasian nation, it seems certain that a change in perspective is likely.

Those Minds

For anyone who reads this blog, it will be no surprise that I have an interest in American presidents, their actions, their families, and pretty much anything associated with what is arguably the most powerful job in the world. So, it should also come as no surprise that I have been fascinated with the surprising and seemingly unprecedented twists and turns of the current race to succeed Barack Obama. On the right and on the left, the most unlikely candidates have been getting most of the attention. On the left, a self-declared socialist (Bernie Sanders) is leading in the polls in conservative New Hampshire. On the right, the political oxygen all 17 candidates need to survive (a.k.a. publicity) is being sucked up by billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star, Donald Trump. It might be tempting to think that this election, with all of the drama of a reality show, is unprecedented. While some of the specifics of the race are uncommon, it is not the only time the unexpected candidates have risen to the top. However, that is not what I wish to chronicle this month. After all, there are many months left to go before the end of this circus. Instead, this month’s History Rhyme will look at something that every president since Washington has had to do and every presidential candidate has had to consider – the selection of the men and women that will surround the president offering advice and helping to enact the president’s policies.

In an interview that aired on August 11-12 on the Sean Hannity Show on Fox News, Donald Trump explained his positions on various issues and to give a view of what a Trump administration would look like. One aspect of this was a few thoughts on the kind of people that he would want in his cabinet. After saying that he would not “use names” he proceeded to mention some of the “great minds” of the American business world and asserted that while other candidates would not “use those minds,” he would. First on his list is the extremely successful “Oracle of Omaha,” Warren Buffet, who Trump called “a terrific guy and a very common-sense person.” He also mentioned other possible cabinet members like Henry Kravis (co-founder of the extremely successful private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.), Jack Welch (former CEO of General Electric), and Carl Icahn (business magnate and philanthropist). Beyond that, in his typically self-assured style, Trump asserted that “I know the best negotiators. I know the ones that are no good that people think are good. I know people that you’ve never heard of that are better than all of them.”

While it is one thing to hypothetically throw out a list of the most successful businessmen in America, it is another thing altogether to convince them to serve in his administration (assuming that he is elected in November 2016). It is an impressive list of names and it is tempting to think that such a talented roster would be unprecedented in presidential history. There have been well know figures in previous cabinets, such as Robert McNamara who was the president of the Ford Motor Company before becoming John F. Kennedy’s (and later Lyndon Johnson’s) Secretary of Defense or retired four-star General Colin Powell who served as George W. Bush’s Secretary of State after having been the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the administration of the presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. However, there were often surrounded by other cabinet members who were former elected officials or were not known to the general public. Yet, there is one cabinet that might be close to this cabinet version of an all-star team and it was put together by a president that is not often associated with success or astute selections of associates – Warren Gamaliel Harding.

When Presidents of the United States are ranked, the United States’ 29th president is usually within the bottom five (although some have a much higher opinion of him). A recent example is the 2009 CSPAN survey which had Harding only rated above William Henry Harrison (who died a month after taking office), Franklin Pierce (who suffered from depression and alcoholism), Andrew Johnson (who, along with Bill Clinton, were the only presidents to be impeached by the House of Representatives), and James Buchanan (whose inactivity as the southern states left the Union made a civil war a near certainty). Although Harding was a popular president during his term, after his death in office in 1923, his reputation was tarnished by revelations about his personal life (which continue today) and notable corruption scandals by some members of his administration. The most notable was the “Teapot Dome Scandal” in which Harding’s Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall (Harding’s personal friend) transferred naval oil reserves to his department. Then, without seeking competitive bids, sold drilling rights to the Mammoth Oil Company and the Pan-American Petroleum Company – the latter being owned by a personal friend of Secretary Fall. Fall was forced to resign and eventually was imprisoned for nine months.

Another noteworthy scandal occurred at the newly created Veterans Administration where Colonel Charles R. Forbes (who was an acquaintance of President Harding) was appointed to head the bureau. While in office, Forbes, had a series of corrupt arrangements with hospital contractors and who sold government property well below its actual value in return for kickbacks in return. In total, Forbes’s actions cost the United States government $200 million (which is roughly $2.6 million in 2015 dollars). For his crimes, Colonel Forbes served two years in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

A third scandal occurred at the Justice Department where Harry Daugherty, Harding’s personal friend and political benefactor (who was most responsible for Harding being selected as the surprise choice of the Republican convention in 1920), was accused of graft in regards to areas such as the Alien Property Custodian office and in his sporadic enforcement of the newly enacted Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution which stated that:

… the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Although never convicted of any crimes, Daugherty too was forced to resign. It is little wonder that President Harding is known for having exclaimed to the well-known editor of the Emporia (KS) Gazette, William, Allen White, “I have no trouble with my enemies. But my goddamn friends, White, they are the ones who keep me walking the floors at night.”

While all of the details about Harding’s personal life and the illegal activities of his closest friends have shaped how his reign is remembered, the remainder of this edition of The History Rhyme will focus on a mostly forgotten part of his time in office that was actually quite good – his selection of some other remarkable men to be in his cabinet who generally followed non-traditional paths to their posts. Perhaps it will offer some context and insight into what Donald Trump would hope to accomplish by employing “those minds” to help him to govern the United States. The first of these officials is Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. Although Hughes had been governor of New York (1907-1910), his more recent path to the cabinet had been quite unusual. In 1910, President William Howard Taft appointed Hughes to the United States Supreme Court where he served as an Associate Justice until 1916 when he became the Republican nominee for the presidency. Hughes was defeated by incumbent president Woodrow Wilson by only 23 electoral votes and by less than 600,000 votes of the 17.67 million cast. While Secretary of State, Hughes helped the United States to improve relations with Latin America, directed the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22 which sought to prevent an expensive naval arms race, and worked to improve the quality of people entering the Foreign Service by supporting the 1924 Foreign Service Act. After he left office in 1925, Hughes served on the Court of International Justice at The Hague (1928-1930) and later served as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1930-1941).

Another prominent member of the Harding Administration whose contributions have been generally forgotten (but whose name survives as part of the bank BNY Mellon) is Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. Prior to joining the Treasury Department, Mellon was a prominent financial figure in the Trans-Allegheny region where he invested in the coal, steel, and aluminum industries. When he arrived in Washington, he was one of the wealthiest men in America. As secretary, he advocated the “Mellon Plan” which sounds strikingly like a modern Republican economic strategy – debt reduction, tax reduction, and a balanced budget. In fact, in a comment on his views, Mellon even used the phrase “trickle down” to describe the benefits of giving tax breaks to corporations. During most of his tenure as Treasury Secretary (1921-1932), the United States experienced a period of economic growth and Mellon was credited for helping that. Conversely, with the arrival of the Great Depression in 1929, Mellon’s reputation was diminished.

A third remarkable member of the Harding cabinet was his Commerce Secretary, Herbert Hoover. Prior to serving in the cabinet, Hoover has become world famous for his work in aiding war refugees during and after the First World War. He first served as head of the privately-run Committee for the Relief of Belgium. In 1917 President Wilson made him head of the United States Food Administration, and after the war named him as head of the European Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. At that time, his name became synonymous with the national effort of rationing for the war effort (“to Hooverize”). As the 1920 election approached, he was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate by both the Republican and Democratic parties (much like General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Colin Powell were in later years). While Commerce Secretary, Hoover advocated improved commercial relationships with Latin America to replace the militaristic approach taken by previous administrations. He also (in line with his Quaker upbringing) tried to guide American loans away from the armaments industry and other risky investments. By the time that he left office in 1928, he was the overwhelming favorite to win the presidency. Today, Herbert Hoover is known as a failure because of his inability to end the Great Depression. Although there have been many biographers who have tried to defend him, it is still the dominant social memory much as scandal has shaped the popular portrait of Warren Harding. Regardless of what occurred after his time in the Harding administration, he was still considered quite a remarkable and wise choice to join Warren Harding’s cabinet.

So what can be gleamed from our look at the prominent members of the Harding cabinet in regards to what Donald Trump would want in his dream cabinet? First, we can see that Trump’s wish list is not as unprecedented when looking at the full history of American cabinets. In the early 1920s, the executive branch of the United States government was led by some men who had remarkable non-elected aspects to their resume. It could happen again today. Second, we learned that these remarkable men with a generally non-political background had a more stable and well-defined view of what should be accomplished that was shaped by past experiences. The diplomacy of Secretary of State Hughes as framed by his great experience in the law, the economic policies of Secretary of the Treasury Mellon was shaped by his experiences in the world of finance and investment, and the commercial policies of Commerce Secretary Hoover were shaped by his religious upbringing and his humanitarian views. Third, and most importantly, we learned that none of this matters if the administration is led by a person with questionable morals and an inability to keep scandals away. Only a few know of the accomplishments of the “those minds” mentioned today. However, names like Teapot Dome or the naughty details of a long-dead president continue to be perpetuated to this day. Hopefully such a cautionary tale will not be repeated any time soon.

In the meantime, keep looking for those links to the past. Knowing what has occurred can help us to understand what is possible and perhaps even likely to happen after the first Tuesday in November 2016 – the point at which the 45th President of the United States has to begin deciding who will help him or her govern.

Impatience Day

This blog entry is about patience in American policies – or rather the lack thereof. So, let’s get to it. I know you don’t have all day! But first… if you could spare me some of your time… I want to talk about… time.

In classical Newtonian physics, time is a measurable quantity that it is always moving forward. The English astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington referred to this as the “arrow of time”. This makes it a reliable part of the equations that help us determine distance, acceleration, velocity… However, in quantum physics, time is not such a solid thing but rather is a matter of your perspective relative to something else. A classic example of this is Albert Einstein’s “twin paradox” (which is explained pretty well with cartoons in a link here – warning, it is five minutes long… Sorry!) where the twin, traveling at close to the speed of light in a cool spaceship, ages much more slowly than the twin left to wait in line to get his weekly latte back on Earth. In the realm of our everyday lives, we also understand that time is not a fixed thing. When there is not enough to do or you are stuck doing something you don’t like, time can drag. Conversely, when you have a deadline in two hours, time can move too quickly. It is all perception and it is all relative.

There have been a flurry of articles on the Internet, noting that the tendency of our modern society is to see time moving too slowly. This tendency to be in a hurry and impatient with things that take too long has led to consequences ranging from the relatively trivial to the increasingly serious. A trivial example (as long as you do not own a golf course) is the decline in the number of golf courses because people have so little time for a game that can take hours. As one course owner says in the Economist story “Handicapped,”I sometimes believe that I could give golf away, and they still wouldn’t come.” On the more serious side, an “Impatient Society” leaves us unable to focus long enough to stay on task politically or economically without demanding immediate gratification or results. So, something with more long-term ramifications such as climate change, global terrorism, or debt reduction tend to garner as much attention as the latest poll numbers or the latest “outrage” committed by one’s ideological foes. As Terry Newell noted back in 2010 (like, that was AGES ago…), if the American people had been as impatient in the past, there would have been no Marshall Plan that helped to stabilize Europe after the war, no moon landing program (which had a tragic setback along the way) no interstate highway system to help us travel to places more quickly. Is it irony that we would have been in too big of a hurry to take the years to make a system that helps us travel to places in a hurry?

Can we explain all of this impatience easily? Probably not. As with many societal developments, it has many causes. Some, such as President Barack Obama, have blamed the pressures of the 24-hour news cycle. Tara Sonenshine, in her article “The Age of American Impatience,” lists her top three causes as technology (“Technology brings real benefits. Patience just happens not to be one of them.”), economics (“It is hard to feel patient when you are fighting a daily struggle to find work or feed your family.”) and politics (“impatience is not a partisan issue). While the History Rhymer thinks these factors probably have played the most important roles in our culture of impatience, there is one more to mention – the telescoping of events. To demonstrate this, I will compare current American political developments to those which led to the holiday we are celebrating today in the United States – Independence Day.

Before we examine our example of how telescoping and impatience have come together on this page, we need to take the time to define what exactly we mean by the term and to see if there are variations on the phenomenon. In a quick glance, the meaning of the term “telescoping” seems rather obvious – making objects that are far away seem closer. In most cases, that is exactly what is meant, such as when the term is used to criticize a particular movie about historical occurrences or a network such as The History Channel. However, a telescope like that used by Galileo to observe the moons of Jupiter has two ends. Vicki Morwitz, in a 1997 edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, notes that “people have a systematic tendency to recall that recent events occurred farther back in time (backward telescoping) and distant events occurred more recently (forward telescoping).” I would also include in the definition of forward telescoping the tendency to see events as having occurred in a shorter period of time. The events we will now compare (the American Revolution and the rise of the Tea Party) have elements of both types of history. Perhaps that explains why there is so much impatience surrounding the topic of the Tea Party and its goals.

According to the modern Tea Party movement’s history, it was founded on September 2, 2004. However, for many, the first awareness of the movement occurred on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on February 19, 2009 when CNBC reporter Rick Santelli spoke out against a proposal by the Obama Administration to help homeowners facing foreclosure to refinance their mortgages. Santelli asked on live TV, “Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages? This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?” By the time of the 2010 election cycle, the Tea Party movement was having an impact on the Republican party when an official Tea Party caucus was founded in the United States House of Representatives and in national elections when Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rand Paul (R-KY), were elected to the Senate.

While the movement seemed to have a lot of momentum, the Tea Party faced mixed electoral results afterwards. As we would expect after looking into America’s impatience problem, those who supported the party began demanding more vigorous efforts, while those opposed to them saw the beginning of its end. If you do a search for “Tea Party decline” on the Internet, a variety of articles will appear. Some of these articles are of more recent origin such as the March 2014 report from the Washington Post called “10 Signs The Tea Party Is In Decline,” or the January 2015 report from MediaMatters.orgSarah Palin and the Demise of the Tea Party Media.” However, stories like these started to emerge as early as 2011 (e.g. the November 2011 US News & World Report story “The Decline and Fade of the Tea Party”). Considering that the Tea Party had only been a political force since essentially late 2009, this rush to write its obituary seems hasty. However, the idea of backwards telescoping is helpful here. In that model, events of only a few years end up magnified into a much longer period. After all, the Tea Party seemed on the news all the time (especially on Fox). It would be understandable that it seemed like they had existed longer than they had. The rises and falls of any political movement would be magnified under that lens.

As we celebrate the Declaration of Independence (although it probably should have been on July 2nd), we should be thankful that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin… did not try to break away from the British Empire in a world like ours. It probably would not have been given the time to occur. As was mentioned before, the modern Tea Party movement faces an impatience that comes from backward telescoping (seeing recent events occurring father back in time). It is also plagued with the dilemma that the revolution after which they take their lead is an example of forward telescoping (historical events occurring in a shorter period of time). If you ask a typical American about the events that led up to the founding of the nation, you probably would have someone mention the Declaration of Independence. They will probably even know the date we celebrate. If the respondent knows a little more, he/she may know about the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Yorktown. What they probably would not realize is that the events that led to the revolution essentially began about 25 years before the Treaty of Paris ended the war in 1783. According to the “Timeline of the Revolutionary War” on, the early events that started making men like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin were often separated by years: the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), the Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (1773), and the “Intolerable Acts” (1774). Even after the Declaration of Independence, the pace of events was often slow and drawn out: American victory at the Battle of Saratoga (1777), American alliance with France (1778), British surrender at Yorktown (1781). In the meantime, there were many setbacks: Washington’s retreat from New York City (1776), the British capture of Charleston, South Carolina (1780), and the mutiny of unpaid Pennsylvania soldiers (1781). Fortunately for those of us who live in the United States, the late eighteenth century was a more patient time. Perhaps that is something to consider when we look at current events and the pace at which they happen. All it takes is a little time and a dose of patience.

Everyone Their Own Historian


If you are reading these words, would it be safe to assume that you like history? After all, to reach the point of seeing these very words it might be fair to guess that you went looking for something history related. Perhaps you specifically were looking for The History Rhyme (if so, thank you). Perhaps you had heard about this blog second-hand and it sounded interesting (in that case, thank your friend for me). Perhaps you merely were, like a surprising numbers who have ended up here, searching online for the phrase “history does not repeat itself but it does rhyme” (if so, thank you Mark Twain – or perhaps whoever first attributed those words to him). Perhaps you are a professional historian who has a research trip to some archive planned for next month. Perhaps you were trained as a historian (doctorate and all), but are not working in academia now. Yet, even if you neither have a doctorate or are make your living delving into the past, you probably share with me a strong intellectual curiosity for the past and how that can affect our present and future. In short, you like history. If so, then you are well aware that we are not in the majority. This edition of The History Rhyme will address our minority status, the main reason why I think so many feel so poorly about “history” as a subject and some thoughts on why those history-haters do not really understand what history is and thus don’t understand that they are mistaken in their opposition.

I may be taking some liberties, but I imagine that everyone reading this essay will have met someone who said something like “Ugh! I hated history in school. It was so boring and useless. I was glad when I didn’t have to take that again.” There are blogs on the Internet devoted to a loathing of what most people perceive as “history” – the rote memorization of dates, people, and events. Of course, we know that history is much more than memorization of dead American presidents (or vice-presidents if you are into that sort of thing – I am). We also know that the way history is presented in many schools is not ideal for fostering the love we share for the past. It is formulated for mass consumption in an assembly line fashion that would make Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor proud. It is often taught by men and women who are urged to teach so students pass mandated tests (that are used to determine school funding) instead of teaching for comprehension and appreciation of the links between the past and present. Of course, there are good history teachers out there who are doing the best that they can – please do not think I am putting all teachers into one category. Yet, even with the best teachers, many students end up learning a history that focuses on the who, what, where, and when of the past in order to pass multiple choice tests. From my experience, the first exposure by most people to what they are told is “history” is so negative, it turns many off from the subject entirely. This is a pity since it is not the who, what, where, and when that is what makes history so fascinating, but rather the why and how that many never get the chance to know.

The realization that many people dislike what they think of as “history” is not new. The answer on how to help people understand that they like history more than they think is also not new. While researching the history or people not liking history, I came across as fascinating speech that was delivered on December 29, 1931 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to the American Historical Association by its then-president, Dr. Carl L. Becker. In this speech, which he called “Everyman His Own Historian,” Dr. Becker offers his thoughts on the role of history in the lives of everyday men and women, and the role that professional historians need to take in making the past more relevant to the people of today. Becker asserts that, at its core, “history is the memory of things said and done” which he says “is a definition that reduces history to its lowest terms, and yet includes everything that is essential to understanding what it really is.” It is not necessarily the memorization of when the Magna Carta was signed and by whom (although it can include those things). History, in the broader sense, includes for all of us the events we did yesterday as we recall them today for use in planning our tomorrows. Dr. Becker is far more eloquent so I will quote him in length:

“… the memory of Mr. Everyman, when he awakens in the morning, reaches out into the country of the past and of distant places and instantaneously recreates his little world of endeavor, pulls together as it were things said and done in his yesterdays, and coordinates them with his present perceptions and with things to be said and and done in his to-morrows. Without this historical knowledge, this memory of things said and done, his to-day would be aimless and his to-morrow without significance.”

It is the job of the historian to help others to understand what history is at its basic form so they can then begin to appreciate how things further away from the day-to-day events of a person are also of value. However, while doing this, historians must appreciate that history is a topic for everyone and must meet the needs of Becker’s “Mr. Everyman” because, as Becker notes, “otherwise he will leave us to our own devices, leave us it be me to cultivate a special of dry professional arrogance growing out of the thin soil of antiquarian research” because “the history that lies inert in unread books does no work in the world.” In other words, boring and pedantic is not cool!

Reading the admonitions made by Dr. Becker over 80 years ago, it made me think about how my memories are a type of history. Perhaps it is not the history that will make it into books, but it is my history and it has some significance even if I did not know it until now. A specific example concerns the events around the holiday Americans will celebrate this weekend to honor those who served in the military – Memorial Day. Many people have specific rituals associated with this holiday and I am one of them. Specifically, I always watch the Indianapolis 500. I have done so as long as I can remember. So does my younger brother. At some point, I stopped and wondered why I did this every year. As a Mr. Everyman (or to bring it up to date, Everyperson) historian that Dr. Becker described in his speech, I did a little research and asked my mother when I started watching the race. She told me that I did so because my maternal grandfather, John Lee, liked to watch that race. My parents always took us to see him and my grandmother Juanita in Centerville, Iowa over Memorial Day. I do not remember watching the race with him since he died when I was only nine years old. However, I do recall visiting them and always going to visit the various graveyards in the area. I have memories of looking at the gravestones and seeing the various special markers placed for veterans of past wars. There were many that had “GAR” listed on them. I eventually found out that this stood for “Grand Army of the Republic” which was the name of the Union Army in the Civil War. From that spawned an interest in that part of the distant past that had a concrete impact on people that my ancestors had known.

So what do all of these memories of my past mean to my present and my future? Well, that is easy. On Sunday, I will continue the tradition of watching the race to which my grandfather introduced to me with my children. Then, on Monday, I will go with my mother and my son down to Centerville to see the graves of my grandparents as I tell my son of what I remember of them. History is alive, relevant, and never ending – as long as we truly understand what it is. Have a great holiday!