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LESSONS FROM “LINCOLN”–THE MOVIE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 22, 2021 at 12:10 am

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is more than a mesmerizing history lesson. It’s a timely reminder that racism and repression are not confined to any one period or political party.

At the heart of the film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. An amendment that will forever ban slavery.  

True, Lincoln, in 1862, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This—in theory—freed slaves held in the Confederate states that had seceded from the Union in 1861.  

But Lincoln regards this as a temporary wartime measure. He fears that once the war is over, the Supreme Court may rule the Proclamation unconstitutional. This might allow Southerners to continue practicing slavery, even after losing the war.

To prevent this, Congress must pass an anti-slavery amendment. But winning Congressional passage of such an amendment won’t be easy.

The Senate had ratified its passage in 1864. But the amendment must secure approval from the House of Representatives to become law.

And the House is filled with men—there are no women members during the 19th century—who seethe with hostility.

Some are hostile to Lincoln personally. One of them dubs him a dictator—“Abraham Africanus.” Another accuses him of shifting his positions for the sake of expediency.

Other members—white men all—are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.” To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage—especially marriage between black men and white women. 

Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks—or women—the the right to vote.

In fact, the possibility that blacks might win voting rights arises early in the movie.  Lincoln is speaking to a couple of black Union soldiers, and one of them is unafraid to voice his discontent. He’s upset that black soldiers are paid less than white ones—and that they’re led only by white officers.

He says that, in time, maybe this will change.  Maybe, in 100 years, he guesses, blacks will get the right to vote.

(To the shame of all Americans, that’s how long it will eventually take.  Not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will blacks be guaranteed legal protection against discriminatory voting practices.)

To understand the Congressional debate over the Thirteenth Amendment, it’s necessary to remember this: In Lincoln’s time, the Republicans were the party of progressives

The party was founded on an anti-slavery platform. Its members were thus reviled as “Black Republicans.” And until the 1960s, the South was solidly Democratic

Democrats were the ones defending the status quo—slavery—and opposing freed blacks in the South of Reconstruction and long afterward.

In short, in the 18th century, Democrats in the South acted as Republicans do now. The South went Republican only after a Democratic President—Lyndon B. Johnson—rammed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

Thus, the re-enactment of the 1865 debate in Lincoln casts an embarrassing light on the racial conflicts of our own time. The same mentalities are at work:

  • Those (in this case, slave-owners) who already have a great deal want to gain even more at the expense of others. 
  • Those (slaves and freed blacks) who have little strive to gain more or at least hang onto what they have. 
  • Those who defend the privileged wealthy refuse to allow their “social inferiors” to enjoy similar privileges (such as the right to vote). 

During the 2012 Presidential race, Republicans tried to bar those likely to vote for President Barack Obama from getting into the voting booth.  But their bogus “voter ID” restrictions were struck down in courts across the nation. 

Listening to those opposing the amendment, one is reminded of Mitt Romney’s infamous comments about the “47%”:

“Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what….

“Who are dependent upon government, who believe that—that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.  But that’s—it’s an entitlement.  And the government should give it to them.” 

Put another way: “Who says people have a right to obtain medical care, food and housing? If they can’t inherit unearned wealth the way I did, screw them.” 

In the end, it’s Abraham Lincoln who has the final word—and leaves his nation the better for it. Through diplomacy and backroom dealings (trading political offices for votes) he wins passage of the anti-slavery amendment. 

The ownership of human chattel is finally an ugly memory of the American past. 

The movie closes with a historically-correct tribute to Lincoln’s generosity toward those who opposed him—in Congress and on the battlefield. It occurs during Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all….To bind up the nation’s wounds. To care for him who shall have bourne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan….”  

This ending presents a vivid philosophical contrast with the increasingly mean-spirited rhetoric and policies of today’s Republican Presidential candidates—and  Presidents.  

Watching Lincoln, you realize how incredibly lucky America was as a nation to have had such leadership when it was most urgently needed.

REPUBLICANS PREFER TRUMP TO LINCOLN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 21, 2021 at 12:05 am

During the week of November 24 – 26, 2019, The Economist and YouGov conducted a poll of 1,500 American adults. The purpose of that poll: To compare President Donald Trump with President Abraham Lincoln—and find out who was more popular within the Republican party. 

Lincoln served as President from 1861 to 1865, steering the United States through the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

Mr. Lincoln goes to Hollywood (1 of 2) | rené milot

Abraham Lincoln

Trump, by contrast, has largely made the United States a pariah nation throughout the world—and is now presiding over a pandemic which has killed more than 25,000 Americans.

So what was the result of the poll? 

Fifty-three percent of Republicans believe that Trump is a better President than Lincoln.

This starkly contrasts with the verdict of both Democratic and independent voters. Ninety-four percent of Democrats preferred Lincoln—and so did 78% of independents.

Overall, 75% of poll respondents picked Lincoln; only 25% picked Trump.

Some Twitter users found this sardonically hilarious.

One of these was Billy Baldwin, the brother of Alec Baldwin, who portrays Trump as a befuddled tyrant on Saturday Night Live: “53% of Republicans apparently don’t even know who Abraham Lincoln was.” 

Baldwin also posted an animated photo of the Lincoln Memorial with the Great Emancipator giving The Finger to Trump and First Lady Melania.

Toddlers & Tiaras with Tom Hanks - YouTube

“Economist/YouGov Poll: 53% of Republicans believe Donald Trump is a better president than Abraham Lincoln was while 47% believe the president that got this country through the Civil War was better,” wrote Josh Jordan. “If you were wondering what segment of the population can not be swayed by facts.”

Political commentator Ashley Pratte took a more serious view of the matter.

Describing herself in a December 9, 2019 column as “a lifelong Republican before 2016,” she wrote: “According to a 2017 C-Span survey of the nation’s top presidential historians, Lincoln sits above all other presidents as the greatest of all time. 

“The Republican party has strayed far since the days of Lincoln; it’s shameful to see how Trumpism has hijacked it. It’s truly shocking how Republicans are allowing him to carry the mantle of conservatism too with little-to-no hesitation.

“Trump’s years in office have been full of nepotism, scandal, profiting from his position as President and now he is about to become the third-ever president to be impeached.”

Donald Trump

Specifically: 

  • He gave unprecedented access to the Oval Office to unqualified members of his family and personal friends.
  • When his son-in-law Jared Kushner was denied a security clearance, Trump pushed it through anyway.
  • Republicans refused to accept the conclusion of the Mueller Report that Trump campaign officials colluded with Russian Intelligence agents to win the Presidency in 2016.
  • They also acquitted him—against overwhelming evidence—of trying to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to run a smear campaign against former Vice President Joe Biden.
  • Trump personally profited from his role as President. At least 250 officials in the executive branch made 630 visits to Trump properties, and 90 members of Congress have made 180 visits. 

For Pratte, Trump’s worst offense is this: “Trump has also been the most divisive president in our nation’s history….. From his Twitter rants and off-color statements to his pursuit of a travel ban and destruction of Obamacare, he’s not even bothered to try to get support for his policies.

“Instead, he’s forged ahead, continually pressed to build an impossible wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement and threatened to withdraw from NAFTA as a way to negotiate a slightly new version of it.

“…Republican officials should be eager to uphold the ideals of accountability, no matter which political party controls the White House. The problem is that these so-called morals are just a sham, and abandoning them is the only way to defend the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

There are two major reasons why Republicans regard Trump more highly than Lincoln.

First: In 2002, Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott gave away the game at the 100th birthday party for racist South Carolina Republican Senator Strom Thurmond:

”I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

In short: If America had elected Thurmond—who ran ran for president in 1948 as the Dixiecrat candidate on a States Rights platform supporting racial segregation—we wouldn’t be having all these problems now with “uppity” blacks.

Thus, Lincoln—who freed blacks from slavery—is for Republican voters the root cause of “all these problems over all these years.”  

Second, Lincoln waged a civil war to restore the Union—which meant sending Federal armies into the rebellious South.

Under the banner of “States’ rights,” today’s Republicans openly court millions of voters in the South who still wish the Civil War had ended differently: With a triumphant South still running its slave empire—and millions of blacks still held in bondage.

While these voters secretly regret that those “good old days” will never return, they can at least show their support for “States’ rights” by backing Trump—whose racism toward non-whites is universally known and applauded by white supremacist groups.

WHAT MAKES A PRESIDENT BELOVED? HATED? FORGOTTEN?

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 20, 2021 at 12:08 am

Why are some Presidents remembered with affection, while others are detested—or forgotten altogether?

Generally, Presidents who are warmly remembered are seen as making positive contributions to the lives of their fellow Americans and being “people-oriented.”

Among these:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy

Among the reasons they are held in such high regard:

  • Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and restored the Union. Although he ruthlessly prosecuted the Civil War, his humanity remains engraved in stories such as his pardoning a soldier condemned to be shot for cowardice: “If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln

  • Theodore Roosevelt championed an era of reform, such as creating the Food and Drug Administration and five National Parks. Popularly known as “Teddy,” he even had a toy bear—the teddy bear—named after him.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully led America through the Great Depression and World War II. He was the first President to insist that government existed to directly better the lives of its citizens: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

FDR 1944 Color Portrait.tif

Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • John F. Kennedy supported civil rights and called for an end to the Cold War. He challenged Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” and made government service respectable, even chic. His youth, charisma, intelligence and handsomeness led millions to mourn for “what might have been” had he lived to win a second term.

John F. Kennedy - Students | Britannica Kids | Homework Help

John F. Kennedy

Presidents who remain unpopular among Americans are seen as unlikable and responsible (directly or not) for mass suffering.

Among these:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Richard M. Nixon

Among the reasons they are held in such low regard:

  • Herbert Hoover is still blamed for the 1929 Great Depression. He didn’t create it, but his conservative, “small-government” philosophy led him to refuse to aid its victims. An engineer by profession, he saw the Depression as a machine that needed repair, not as a catastrophe for human beings. This lack of “emotional intelligence” cost him heavily with voters.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson is still blamed as the President “who got us into Vietnam.” John F. Kennedy had laid the groundwork by placing 16,000 American troops there by the time he died in 1963. But it was Johnson who greatly expanded the war in 1965 and kept it going—with hugely expanding casualties—for the next three years. Unlike Kennedy, whom he followed, he looked and sounded terrible on TV. Voters compared LBJ’s Texas drawl and false piety with JFK’s wit and good looks—and found him wanting.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

  • Richard M. Nixon will be remembered foremost as the President who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment and removal from office. Like Herbert Hoover, he was not a “people person” and seemed remote to even his closest associates. Although he took office on a pledge to “bring us together” and end the Vietnam war, he attacked war protesters as traitors and kept the war going another four years. His paranoid fears of losing the 1972 election led to his creating an illegal “Plumbers” unit which bugged the Democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel. And his attempted cover-up of their illegal actions led to his being forced to resign from office in disgrace.

Richard M. Nixon, ca. 1935 - 1982 - NARA - 530679.jpg

Richard M. Nixon

Which brings us to the question: How is President Donald J. Trump likely to be remembered?

Historian Joachim C. Fest offers an unintended answer to this question in his 1973 bestselling biography Hitler:

“An ancient tenet of aesthetics holds that one who for all his remarkable traits is a repulsive human being, is unfit to be a hero.”

Among the reasons for Hitler’s being “a repulsive human being,” Fest cites the Fuhrer’s

  • “intolerance and vindictiveness”;
  • “lack of generosity”; and
  • “banal and naked materialism—power was the only motive he would recognize.”

Fest then quotes German chancellor Otto von Bismarck on what constitutes greatness: “Impressiveness in this world is always akin to the fallen angel who is beautiful but without peace, great in his plans and efforts, but without success, proud but sad.”

And Fest concludes: “If this is true greatness, Hitler’s distance from it is immeasurable.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to Donald Trump.

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Donald Trump

He has:

  • Boasted about the politicians he’s bought and the women he’s bedded—and forced himself on.
  • Slandered entire segments of Americans—blacks, Hispanics, women, journalists, Asians, the disabled.
  • Attacked the FBI and CIA for accurately reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had intervened in the 2016 Presidential election to ensure Trump’s victory.
  • Refused to effectively attack the Coronavirus pandemic, leaving 400,000 dead by the end of his Presidency.
  • Refused to accept that Democratic nominee Joseph Biden legitimately won the 2020 Presidential election.
  • Ordered a mob of his Fascistic followers to attack the Capitol Building and stop the certifying of Biden as the winner of Electoral College votes.

At this stage, it’s hard to imagine Trump joining that select number of Presidents Americans remember with awe and reverence.

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