Tag Archives: #DonaldTrump



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.

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 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.