History Rhymes

May 4, 2019

Several months ago, on this blog, I posted an article entitled “Why is this man President?” in which I confessed and lamented my confusion as to why anyone would vote for such a man.  My conclusion is that the people who voted for him were mad at Washington, D.C.


Okay, that’s a little flip.  And, in the interest of full disclosure, I will readily admit that my record as a prognosticator is pretty dismal, so the confusion continues and the conclusion remains out of reach.


It all stems from my serious reluctance to simply say that I regard those who voted for Mr. Trump as ignorant and if James Carville is right and it’s all about the economy, stupid, then I’m the one who’s stupid because it appears our 100 months of an improving economy is set to continue.  (I don’t think being President is all about the economy, so I don’t think Mr. Carville is entirely correct.)


So, if I can’t take the easy way out, then I have to do some better thinking about why anyone would vote for Mr. Trump and I’ve tried.   I’ve read some books (the best, in my opinion are Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America and Bob Woodward’s FEAR, and am still working my way through Major Garrett’s Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride and Steve Kornaki’s The Red and the Blue is sitting on top of the pile beside my chair waiting to illuminate me.  I try to stay away from the “Tell All” books of former staffers because I suspect most of them would only reinforce my biases and who has time for that?


You might wonder, then, why I am assaulting you with Yet Another Diatribe, but this time I think I’ve come pretty close to figuring it all out, thanks to Mr. Roger Cohen and Wikipedia, which is really good at making lists of things no one else I know makes lists of.


It’s because we Americans like to rebel!  We simply like to rebel against the established government of our country when we feel our interests are threatened.   How else do you explain the history of mid-term Congressional elections that usually go against the Executive branch?   If that doesn’t convince you, let me list the violent “rebellions” that have occurred in our nation since its founding:


  1. American Revolution
  2. Shays’ Rebellion
  3. Whiskey Rebellion
  4. Fries’s Rebellion
  5. German Coast Uprising
  6. Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion
  7. Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation
  8. Anti-Rent War
  9. Taos Revolt
  10. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry
  11. American Civil War
  12. Battle of Liberty Place
  13. Election Riot of 1874
  14. Wilmington Insurrection of 1898
  15. Green Corn Rebellion
  16. Coal Wars
  17. Battle of Athens, 1946
  18. San Juan Nationalist Revolt
  19. Black Power Movement
  20. Red Power Movement
  21. Attica Prison Riot
  22. Occupation of the Mallheur National Wildlife Refuge


Clearly, some “rebellions,” to use the definition loosely, are not on Wikipedia’s list.   How about John Marshall’s decision in Marbury v. Madison?   He claimed that the Supreme Court, which is fairly limited in the Constitution, had the right to determine what the Constitution and our laws under it really mean, known as the principle of “judicial review.”  (Goldstone, 2008)


How about the anti-trust laws under Teddy Roosevelt?  Or the New Deal under his cousin?  Or the Civil Rights laws under Johnson or the #metoomovement of the present?


These, and so many more, are rebellions against the establishment and resulted or may result in seminal change.  As Roger Cohen puts it, Mr. Trump is the highly visible figurehead of the current rebellion of those who feel disposed and invisible.  The hopeful thing is that change does occur, most often peacefully, if certainly not always.


“If people (feel) like nobodies, (feel) abandoned, (feel) like there (is) not only growing inequality in wealth but inequality in recognition, (feel) their very  language (has) been anesthetized by all-knowing elites…then somebody…(has to) speak for them.”   Roger Cohen, NYTimes, May 4, 2019


The conundrum is whether the result of this rebellion is constructive, in that those in rebellion are either placated by the establishment to the extent their grievances have merit, or that the establishment embraces those grievances, legitimate or not, and does damage to the values of the majority and threatens our democracy, or ignores those grievances and does damage to our democracy.  The jury is still out and an impatient and exhausted nation is waiting until 2020 to learn the outcome.

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