Tag Archives: #elections

President Cyrus

Cyrys

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.

Those Minds

http://www.poorwilliam.net/al-032413.html

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.

The Laboratory of Human Experience

NigeriaDecides2015

In 1999, Bill Gates said “the Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” Many things happen in a town square on a daily basis – commerce, leisure, entertainment, and the sharing of news. Since Mr. Gates made his observation, the world of social media has taken our village in new directions that he was unlikely to have foreseen. This edition of the History Rhyme will briefly focus on the news gathering and disseminating part of this role and then look at why historians are so important in helping us to make sense of what we have heard in Mr. Gates’ town square.

Up until recently, news and opinion on the events of the world have been available mainly through websites created by traditional print and broadcast media (e.g. the Wall Street Journal or CNN). In the past couple of years, the contribution by social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn has started to be gain significance in the global village. The news and information that are available through these channels may lack some of the polish of those offered from more traditional media, but they allow a variety of persons to help readers to better understand our world. Examples of this can been seen both locally and internationally. In the United States, events in Ferguson, Missouri were brought to a more personal level through the comments and pictures of the people who were eye witnesses to the various protests and riots that occurred throughout the year. On the international level, information about events such as the Russian occupation of Crimea were enhanced by the words and pictures of eyewitnesses. Although access to such information makes people more aware of events (if they choose to look) it does not necessarily help them to understand what is going on – more on that later…

Today (this blog was written on March 28, 2015), there was another example of how the Internet village spreads news through social media – the election of a president in Nigeria (which was covered extensively on Twitter under the hashtag #NigeriaDecides). From my viewpoint in the United States, the election appeared to be between a sitting president, Goodluck Jonathan, who had been accused of corruption and incompetence, and his primary opponent, Muhammadu Buhari, who took power in Nigeria in a bloodless coup in 1984 and then was deposed in another coup in 1985. Without context, it would appear to be a choice of the lesser of two evils (incompetent civilian or military dictator). Thankfully, the Internet village has offered me the chance to at least try to understand better what is happening through the help of Nigerian and fellow historian – Adejoke Rafiat Adetoro (found on Twitter @lyabadan). Her activity on Twitter and that of others she follows has kept me informed and updated on the voting that occurred today. These Nigerians gave me a feel of what it was like to discuss the issues of the campaign, know what it was like to stand in the long lines at polling stations, read the election results, and consider what Nigeria will be like after the elections. I am grateful for her help in offering this American a window into how the election has been perceived and experienced by those it affected the most – the Nigerian people.

A couple of weeks ago while discussing the upcoming election with my fellow historian, Ms. Adetoro made a comment that is the real focus of this month’s blog – the need for historians in our world. She mentioned to me that “politicians are busy re-writing history to suit their campaign.” Although acknowledging that this is not a new development, she felt that the example in Nigeria was especially troubling since the study of history is disappearing from Nigerian curriculum and that history departments in Nigerian universities are focused on Nigerian diplomacy. This leaves the Nigerian people vulnerable to a twisting of the past to justify anything. As a fellow historian, I certainly could not argue with her view that the study of the past has great value to understanding the present. As stated many times before, that is the reason for the History Rhyme to exist. I know that we are not the only ones who feel that way. Hopefully, if you are reading this blog, you feel the same way too.

To close this month’s blog, I will bring to our attention a short essay entitled “Why Study History?” that was written in 1998 by Dr. Peter Stearns of George Mason University. It offers good ammunition for us historians to use when someone starts saying that there is no value in the study of history (which Stearns says gives us “access to the laboratory of human experience”) or in the training of historians in our modern world. Stearns makes some excellent assertions on the value of historical study for society (e.g. “history offers a storehouse of information about how people and societies behave,” and that “history provides data about the emergence of national institutions, problems, and values – it’s the only significant storehouse of such data available.”). He also makes very valid points on the types of “soft skills” learned studying history that makes the student valuable to the corporate world – the ability to assess evidence, the ability to assess conflicting interpretations, and experience in assessing past examples of change. Sterns’ general conclusion, which mirrors the comments of my source for Nigerian news these last few weeks, is simply that “historical study, in sum, is crucial to the promotion of the elusive creature, the well-informed citizen.”

Keep learning from others and let them learn from you. Until next month…