Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: Farewell Addresses

In August of each year, the tradition is to take the month off by reposting past articles in this community and billing them as summer reruns. That will happen again this year, but the focus will be on past essays usually written at the end of a month to sum up what was learned from that month's topic, a sort of port mortem on the subject. Today we'll begin by reposting a journal entry written in January of 2017 (posted on January 31), just after President Obama's farewell address. The month's theme was in fact Farewell Addresses. Here's what was learned in the series.

It would be human nature for a president making his (or someday her) exit to use the occasion of a farewell address to boast about past successes, ignore or put a positive spin on past failures and blame the other party for the lack of opportunity or ability to do more. Certainly some have done this to some extent, but for the most part, Presidents have used the occasion of their valedictories not only to look to the past, but also to look toward the future. In examining a number of these farewells, two things seem clear: (1) Past presidents have had remarkable foresight into predicting the problems that the nation would face in coming years; and (2) For the most part, subsequent administrations have ignored those warnings. Perhaps that's just a part of the life of a nation, just as children ignore their parents advice and make the same mistakes that their parents made, only to hope that their children will break the cycle.

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Post-mortems of a president's past are often little more than self-congratulatory. They are red meat for supporters, and a poke in the eye to political opponents. While Americans can be proud that Osama Bin Laden was captured on the watch of the President Obama, or that the economy came back under Ronald Reagan, boasting of these feats by the presidents themselves does little to create a spirit of unity, and are more often interpreted as a back-handed criticism implying that they did something that the other guy failed to do. Similarly, little was served by President Clinton failing to acknowledge and express regret over his moral failures, or by President Bush refusing to acknowledge that the war in Iraq may have been based on faulty intelligence. A frank acknowledgement of mistakes does more to promote healing than understatement, ignoring the issue, or putting a phony spin on what has happened.

The real value of farewell addresses can be found in what presidents have learned in their time in office that is of value for the next generation and the next administration. Over the course of history, Presidents have warned Americans of coming trends with amazing foresight and accuracy. Perhaps no president's warning has withstood the test of time as much as George Washington. His warnings against foreign entanglements (not his words, but his sentiment) and unhealthy partisanship have come to pass. Other presidents have also left warnings that have been prescient and visionary, such as Dwight Eisenhower's warning to be on guard against "the military industrial complex", Bill Clinton's warning against deficit spending, George W. Bush's warning against isolationism and protectionism, and Barack Obama's call for political involvement in the face of toxic politics. Let's look at some of these.

1. Foreign Affairs: Washington warned that "permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded". He said that instead, the United States should cultivate "just and amicable feelings towards all". He said, "The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy." He warned that "The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim." In the time that Washington uttered those words, the nation has joined in two world wars as well as conflicts with Great Britain, Mexico, Spain, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. In many cases, that involvement was reasonably justified. George W. Bush reminded Americans in his farewell, that "But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere." Joining in the cause to stop Hitler's "final solution" is one that is hard to take issue, and in many of the other conflicts, principled stances can justify what followed. In some of these conflicts, reasonable persons can disagree whether the loss of life occasioned in many of the other wars were justified. While no clear consensus emerges, what is clear is that Washington could clearly see that this was an issue in which the nation would have to contend with in its future. This remains the case as nations like Korea, Iran and others will test the mettle of the nation's commanders-in-chief in years to come.

2. Partisanship: Washington saw political parties as a danger to the fragile union that he presided over. In his final address he wanted to warn Americans "in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally." He said, "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual, and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty." In spite of this, political parties have become a reality. At times the division was geographic moreso than philosophical. It was north vs. south, free state vs. slave state. Today it is seen in terms of liberal vs. conservative. There has always been an atmosphere of "the wealthy elite vs. the common man" though today each party would insist that it is the party of the latter. The influence of money in politics today is such that both will continue to cultivate the support of the former. Recent elections (and perhaps all elections) have been fought with a strategy of rallying the support of majorities against minorities show that what Washington has predicted has come to pass. Rather than candidates trying to unite all the people towards a common solution to problems, the candid observation that large percentages of voters will never vote for one party or the other is today's reality.

3. Military spending: In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower warned: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together." Previous presidents were alert to the danger of keeping large standing armies, but all presidents have similarly been alert to the need for a strong military defense as one of the most powerful motivators for peace. Over his watch, Eisenhower had reduced military spending from $402 billion to $344 billion, a modest decrease, but still admirable considering that a Cold War was taking place. Since then, military spending has peaked in 2010, with decreases since. In fiscal year 2017, total US government spending for defense (including military defense, veterans affairs, and foreign policy) is budgeted to be $853.6 billion. Eisenhower's warning remains relevant today, especially in light of rising deficit spending.

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4. Debt and Deficits: Ronald Reagan cited his greatest regret as the huge increase in the debt during his time in office. Bill Clinton, the president who was most successful in attacking government spending, left office with his last four budgets having "turned record deficits to record surpluses, and we've been able to pay down $600 billion of our national debt—on track to be debt-free by the end of the decade for the first time since 1835." He urged Americans to stay on that course and said that doing so would "bring lower interest rates, greater prosperity, and the opportunity to meet our big challenges." Regrettably, during the presidency of George W. Bush, the debt increased by $5.849, a 101 percent increase in the $5.8 trillion debt level at the end of Clinton's last budget. Barack Obama added $7.917 trillion, a 68 percent increase in the $11.657 trillion debt level at the end of the Bush presidency. It should be kept in mind that the President has no control over the mandatory budget or its deficit (including Social Security and Medicare benefits, the two biggest expenses any President has. The mandatory budget estimates what these programs will cost. The Constitution gives Congress, not the President, the power to control spending. The President’s budget is starting point. Each house of Congress prepares a discretionary spending budget. They combine them into the final budget that the President reviews and signs. Each President inherits many of his predecessors' policies. Presidents have had lower revenues since the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. Presidents who raise taxes quickly become unpopular. As a result, tax cuts rarely disappear. Each year's deficit adds to the debt. It will take the combined will of the President and Congress to attack the national debt.

5. Protectionism: As a new administration promises an "America First" policy, the lessons of past difficulties with protectionist policies come to mind. Protectionism is a policy that has resulted in negative economic consequences down the road, and may be even more risky at a time when the world has gotten smaller and national economies have become global ones. As President George W. Bush warned in his farewell address, "In the face of threats from abroad, it can be tempting to seek comfort by turning inward. But we must reject isolationism and its companion, protectionism. Retreating behind our borders would only invite danger. In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad." Protectionist policies and short-sighted economic policies have led to economic "panics" in 1837 and 1893. Every president who adopts protectionist policies will insist that these times are different. Is this true, or is this another example of what Einstein defined as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results"? Prepare to be part of another great economic experiment.

6. Toxic politics: In the aftermath of President Trump's election, there appears to be a higher level of toxicity and vitriol in the level of political debate. Protest of an incumbent president is nothing new, as history has shown us. Washington had his own "fake news" to contend with, and political vitriol and unfounded personal attack has been a constant in American Politics. But in his recent farewell, President Obama has recognized the real danger, when he warned: "For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there." Obama commented that too many good people were staying out of politics. He correctly observed:

"We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them."

Obama said that it was now more important than ever for citizens to become "anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours." The benefits of honest, civil and respectful political discourse are immense. The politics of malevolence and insult give rise to a "survival of the meanest". But like the alcoholic who fails to see the benefits of sobriety, many people use social media as means to cultivate mean-spiritedness, not to look for common solutions. Obama's warning and call for people to get involved and look for fact-based compassionate solutions to the problems facing the nation is a timely and important one. People will have to get past their belief that "liberal" is a dirty word, or that all Trump supporters are "racist". Generalizations must be set aside to look for common problems and common solutions.

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Is the end near? Will the ship of state run aground or hit the icebergs of unwise foreign policy, self-interested partisanship, subservience to the military industrial complex, rampant spending and toxic politics that causes good people to shun involvement in favor of the petty and the greedy? Or will the national resilience and collective wisdom steer the ship of state in a safe direction once more? Someday history will have those answers. As President Obama has recently observed, history is in the hands of the individual. As he said in his farewell:

"If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed."

Potus Geeks Book Review: Becoming Lady Washington by Bette Bolté

While her famous husband was off leading a revolution and becoming the father of his country, the former Martha Dandridge led a pretty interesting life herself, providing a different form of leadership from that of her famous spouse. In Becoming Lady Washington: A Novel, author Betty Bolté inhabits the body and mind of her subject, giving strong voice to the first First Lady, more than two centuries after her passing. Bolté writes exceptionally well in this well-researched narrative of Martha Washington, telling the reader, in the first person, of her subject's amazing but challenging life. The author uses poetic license sparingly, imagining what might have happened to lead to certain pivotal events in the life of her subject, but doing so in a manner that remains well within the realm of the plausible.


The book opens in 1802 as an aging Martha Washington is burning some of her correspondence with her famous husband for fear of misuse of their contents by those wanting to distort or sensationalize, as she looks back on her eventful life, beginning with meeting her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis in 1746 at a ball celebrating the King's birthday. The author recounts her subject's life, as if the reader was sitting down with Mrs. Washington, and listening to her first hand reminiscences. Bolté is especially gifted and talented in capturing the proper sense of empathy for her subject, enabling the reader to feel what it must have been like living in an age of high infant mortality, prevalence of infectious disease, lack of knowledge in medical care, tedious and sometimes dangerous travel, and of living in a time of fear of war against a superior foe. She also excels in capturing her subject's contemporary paternalistic views on slavery, the belief on the part of slaveholders that they acted with benevolence, views which clash with our modern moral understanding of just how outrageously wrong the "peculiar institution" was.

Bolté also captures the Washington's stiff sense of propriety and of keeping up appearances, along with the genuine affection between the couple that existed, as well as how the Washington's home of Mount Vernon was a social epicenter of their lives, even though duty called George Washington away from it for so much of his life.

Though a work of fiction, this book should not be dismissed as merely that by those with an interest in the history of the times. It is well-researched, and its speculation of some events and reconstruction of conversations are consistent with available historical records, even to the point where the author has been diligent in her study of contemporary vocabulary. Attention to detail, good writing and brilliant emotional intelligence about her characters, coupled with the ability to convey those emotions to the reader so well, combine to make for an enjoyable reading experience.

Remembering Andrew Johnson

On July 31, 1875 (145 years ago today) Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States, died at his home in Elizabethton, Tennessee at the age of 66, after suffering a stroke.


Andrew Johnson (his full name) was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was born into relative poverty. His father Jacob was the town constable of Raleigh, but died of an apparent heart attack when Andrew was three, while ringing the town bell, shortly after rescuing three drowning men. His mother Polly Johnson had worked as a washerwoman. She continued in that occupation in order to support her three children, of which Andrew was the youngest.

Johnson became a tailor and moved to Tennessee to embark on a political career. He was a self-educated man and reputed to be a good speaker. He married Eliza McCardle when both were teenagers. They had five children together. Johnson served as an alderman and as Mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee and then sat in both houses of the Tennessee legislature. He went on to spend five consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and two terms as Governor of Tennessee, all as a Democrat.

When Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, Johnson was a Democratic U.S. Senator from Tennessee. He was a staunch unionist who had campaigned against secession and was the only Southern senator not to resign his seat during the Civil War. Despite his strong union sentiments, he supported the institution of slavery. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of occupied Tennessee, where he was effective in fighting the rebellion and aiding the Union cause.

Johnson was nominated as the vice presidential candidate with Lincoln in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket. He and Lincoln were elected in 1864, and inaugurated in early 1865. According to many reports, Johnson was quite drunk when he was sworn in as Vice-President. A month later, Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson assumed the presidency. A co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth had chickened out of his part in the plan, which was to kill Johnson.

Johnson's presidency is perhaps best encapsulated in this summary of his biography in the American Presidents Series by Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reid:

Andrew Johnson never expected to be president. But just six weeks after becoming Abraham Lincoln's vice president, the events at Ford's Theatre thrust him into the nation's highest office.

Johnson faced a nearly impossible task to succeed America's greatest chief executive, to bind the nation's wounds after the Civil War, and to work with a Congress controlled by the so-called Radical Republicans. Johnson was ill-suited for this daunting task. His vision of reconciliation abandoned the millions of former slaves (for whom he felt undisguised contempt) and antagonized congressional leaders, who tried to limit his powers and eventually impeached him.

The climax of Johnson's presidency was his trial in the Senate and his acquittal by a single vote, amidst drama and palpable tension. Despite his victory, Johnson's term in office was a crucial missed opportunity; he failed the country at a pivotal moment, leaving America with problems that we are still trying to solve.

Johnson almost didn't become President. He was supposed to be assassinated on the same night as Lincoln, but he escaped attack when his would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, failed to go through with the plan and got drunk instead. Johnson had been nominated as the vice presidential candidate in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket as part of Lincoln's plan to show unity and to show that he was first and foremost concerned with preserving the union, even above ending slavery. Johnson was a pro-union man, and remained one even after the war began. But he was also in favor of slavery. He and Lincoln were elected in 1864, inaugurated in early 1865 (Johnson got drunk at his inauguration according to many reports) and a month later Johnson assumed the presidency upon Lincoln's assassination.

As president, Johnson implemented his own form of Presidential Reconstruction, a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to re-form their civil governments. It wasn't the reconstruction that Lincoln had articulated and certainly not the one the abolitionist "Radical Republicans" had in mind. These proclamations along with Johnson's rush to bring the former Confederate states back into the union without due regard for freedmen's rights and his vetoes of civil rights bills embroiled him in a bitter dispute with the Radical Republicans who became infuriated with Johnson's lenient policies. The Radicals in the House of Representatives impeached him in 1868 (a first for a U.S. president), charging him with violating the Tenure of Office Act, when he sought to remove his Secretary of War without Senate approval. His trial in the Senate ended in an acquittal by a single vote.

After his term as President ended, Johnson traveled extensively throughout the country to reiterate his views, especially on reconstruction. He campaigned for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1869, but lost by a narrow margin. In 1872 he ran for election to fill Tennessee's new at–large seat in the House of Representatives. He lost in this election as well. In 1873 Johnson contracted cholera during an epidemic but soon recovered. He also suffered financial losses of about half of his assets when the First National Bank went under. In 1874, the Tennessee legislature elected him over five other candidates to the U.S. Senate. In his first and last speech in the Senate, Johnson spoke eloquently in opposition to President Ulysses Ulysses Grant's military intervention between rival governments in Louisiana. He is the only former president to serve in the Senate after serving as president.

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During a Congressional recess, Johnson died from a stroke that he suffered near Elizabethton, Tennessee, on July 31, 1875. When he was buried, his body wrapped in an American flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution was placed under his head, according to his wishes.

The Unprecedented Presidency: Leadership in a Pandemic

In April of this year, this community looked at the history of Presidents during past pandemics and other national health emergencies. Though previous administrations have had to address pandemics, the current administration has been confronted by something of a magnitude unseen in over a century since the misnamed "Spanish Flu" pandemic of 1918-20. Addressing the current pandemic has been hampered by the Trump administration's May 2018 decision to end a global health security team that was part of the National Security Council, which had been tasked with overseeing pandemic readiness. Initially when asked why why his administration ended the team, President Trump said "I don't know anything about it."


Two months before the coronavirus outbreak in China, the administration ended a USAID project used to track and research diseases that move from animal to human hosts. The program had enjoyed support under both Bush and Obama, especially from President George W. Bush who was very concerned about pandemic readiness. On February 10, 2020, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, President Trump had proposed 2021 budget proposed cuts to global health programs in the magnitude of $3 billion, including substantial cuts to the CDC budget and US contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO).

On February 24, the Trump administration asked Congress for $2.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the international coronavirus pandemic. Two days later, on February 26, President Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The President declared that the "risk to the American people remains very low". Congress appropriated $8.3 billion in emergency funding, which President Trump signed into law on March 6.

The U.S. government was quick to develop a diagnostic test for the coronavirus, but testing efforts in the United States from mid-January to late-February failed to keep pace with the rest of the world. Many of the test kits which the CDC had produced were defective and as a result, fewer than 4,000 tests were done in the U.S. by February 27. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged on March 12 that it was "a failing" of the U.S. system that demand for coronavirus tests were not being met, adding that he believed the private sector should have been brought in sooner. When President Trump was asked by the media if he would take responsibility for the lack of tests, he declared: "No, I don't take responsibility at all". He gave his administration's overall coronavirus response a score of 10/10.

From January 2020 to mid-March 2020, President Trump tried to downplay the threat posed by the coronavirus in the United States. He initially said he had no worries about the coronavirus becoming a pandemic and assured the nation that the situation was "under control". He accused Democrats and media outlets of exaggerating the seriousness of the situation, describing Democrats' criticism of his administration's response as a "hoax". But on March 16, he acknowledged that the coronavirus was "not under control", the situation was "bad" with months of impending disruption to daily lives, and added that a recession might occur. Earlier, on March 11, he announced a travel ban between Europe and the United States. As Americans abroad scrambled to get flights back to the United States, the administration clarified that the travel ban applied only to foreigners. Previously, in late January 2020, the administration banned travel to the US from China, however major U.S. carriers had already announced that they would no longer fly to and from China. On March 13, President Trump designated the coronavirus pandemic as a national emergency.

On March 26, the U.S. became the country with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections, with over 82,000 cases. By April 11, the U.S. became the country with the highest official death toll for COVID-19, with over 20,000 deaths. Severe shortages of test supplies in hospitals and extended waits for results, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and other strained resources were reported.

The Trump administration replaced Christi Grimm as Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services after she produced a report documenting severe shortages of medical supplies in U.S. hospitals as COVID-19 cases increased. In June 2020, amid surges in coronavirus case numbers, Trump administration officials claimed that the steep rise was due to increased testing. As of July 29, 2020, there are 4,535,577 coronavirus cases reported and 153,100 deaths from the virus.

From the earliest times, George Washington and other founding fathers had to confront smallpox and yellow fever with primitive vaccination techniques. The 19th century had outbreaks of typhoid fever and cholera that may have even taken the lives of three presidents. These and other diseases such as tuberculosis, and diphtheria also spread throughout the nation at various times, bringing death and devastation to families, including first families, with a number of children of Presidents claimed by these illnesses over the years.

In the early part of the 20th century, while much of the world was at war, the most devastating pandemic since the plagues of medieval times struck, a strain of influenza which unfairly became known as the Spanish Flu. Significant lessons were learned, including the importance of social distancing and other healthy practices that could be employed to restrain the spread of the disease. The importance of the distribution of public notice about the spread of these viruses and the folly of attempting to hush up any bad news was a lesson learned, and often learned the hard way. The influenza was misnamed the Spanish Flu because only the King of Spain had the good sense to publicly tell the world that the virus was claiming the lives of his citizens (and which he personally experienced), while other world leaders operated under the misguided notion that this was somehow an important state secret. We have since learned that covering up such news only empowers the ability of the virus to be spread among an ignorant populace and is one of the worst possible strategies for the problem.

In the latter part of the 20th century and the early part of this century, new diseases and viruses would have to be confronted. Poliomyelitis, malaria, rubella, HIV/aids, swine flu, Zika, SARS, MERS and other challenging medical emergencies would confront Presidents and their citizens. One president, Franklin Roosevelt, would excel in leading his nation through difficult times, while suffering from what was believed to have been polio (though this may have been a misdiagnosis). That he had to hide his condition from the public is a shameful testament to the power of groundless prejudice.

Sometimes Presidents were slow learners, though eventually the message would get through. Dwight Eisenhower was reluctant to get vaccinated for the so-called "Asian Flu" until it was pointed out to him that as a senior citizen with a history of heart problems, he was in a high risk demographic, and perhaps his example of getting vaccinated might save the lives of others in similar positions. George W. Bush transitioned from initially being unconcerned about the challenge of pandemics until a book about the 1918-20 pandemic opened his eyes and led him to become perhaps the most enlightened president of our lifetime when it came to appreciating the need for proper planning for the pandemic that was yet to come.

Other times in history, presidents have been too quick to react, as may have been the case when the Gerald Ford administration pressed for release of a vaccine for Swine Flu that was not properly tested and may have led to an increase in cases of another disease, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a condition which can cause paralysis, respiratory arrest, and death. Over 25% of the population received the deficient vaccine before the error was corrected, sowing the seeds of an anti-vaccination movement that still exists today.


Throughout history there have been many occasions when science has saved the day for those ravaged by pandemics, by development of safe and effective vaccines. This was the case as early as the 18th century when Edward Jenner developed a smallpox vaccine that saved many from an early death. Vaccines for polio, developed by Jonas Salk and later by Albert Sabin, have practically eliminated a condition that frightened many 20th century parents, and it was the development of a vaccine that put an end to concerns about the "Spanish Flu" and many subsequent viruses. It is the hope and expectation of many people that the development of a vaccine for Covid-19 will be the last chapter in what has become one of the strangest times in our lives.

The Unprecedented Presidency: Climate Change

If you ask most people to explain the science behind climate change, they are unable to do so. This doesn't prevent many people from having strong opinions on the subject, and it is an issue which has become politicized in recent times, especially after former Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore championed the issue in the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006. Those who forecast dire consequences if the issue is not properly addressed rely on global records of surface temperature (kept since the mid-late 19th century), data from ice cores, records of sea level change, arctic sea ice decline, cloud cover, measurement of solar radiation received by the Earth, and other geological data. Supporters for action on climate change identify a number of human activities as contributing to climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists had interpreted past and current date and rely on theoretical models to predict the future effects of climate change. This includes geological evidence from borehole temperature profiles (cores removed from deep accumulations of ice) and records of past sea levels.


The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty on climate change that commits its signature nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a timetable set out in the agreement. It was adopted in Kyoto, Japan on December 11, 1997 and entered came into force on February 16, 2005. The United States was a signatory to the agreement, but the treaty has never been ratified in the United States.

As a Republican presidential candidate in 2000, George W. Bush pledged to work towards reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In a speech on September 29, 2000, Bush pledged to commit two billion dollars to the funding of clean coal technology research and in that same speech, he also promised to work with Congress, environmental groups, and the energy industry to reduce the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide into the environment. He later reversed his position on that pledge in March 2001, stating that carbon dioxide was not considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. He was concerned that restricting carbon dioxide emissions would cause energy prices to increase significantly.

In March 2001, the Bush administration announced that it would not implement the Kyoto Protocol. Bush took the position that that ratifying the treaty would restrict U.S. growth while unsuccessfully limiting emissions from developing nations. In February 2002, President Bush announced his alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, by bringing forth a plan to reduce the intensity of greenhouse gases by 18% over 10 years. Under this plan, emissions would continued to grow, but at a slower pace. Bush stated that this plan would prevent the release of 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, which is about the equivalent of removing 70 million cars on the road. He proposed to achieve this target by providing tax credits to businesses that use renewable energy sources.

President Bush stated that he believed global warming to be a genuine concern and a serious problem, but he conceded that there existed a "debate over whether it's man-made or naturally caused".

In contrast, President Barack Obama called global warming the greatest long-term threat facing the world. In spite of this, he was unable to bring about passage of a major bill addressing the issue, in part because many Republicans and even some Democrats questioned the science behind global warming and whether human activity was a significant contributing factor to its occurrence. Following his inauguration, President Obama asked Congress to pass a bill to put a cap on domestic carbon emissions. After the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009, Obama tried to convince the Senate to pass the bill as well. The legislation would have required the US to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and by 83 percent by the middle of the 21st century. The bill was strongly opposed by Republicans. It failed to be brought for a vote in the Senate and neither did a separate proposed bipartisan compromise bill.

In 2013, President Obama announced that he would bypass Congress by ordering the EPA to implement new carbon emissions limits. His "Clean Power Plan" was announced in 2015. It sought to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. He also imposed regulations on soot, sulfur, and mercury that encouraged a transition from coal as an energy source. This, along with the falling price of wind, solar, and natural gas energy sources led to a decline in the use of coal energy. President Obama encouraged this successful transition away from coal in large part due to the fact that coal emits more carbon than other sources of power, including natural gas.

Obama's campaign to fight global warming was more popular at the international level than in Congress. Obama attended the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which drafted the non-binding Copenhagen Accord as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. That accord provided for the monitoring of carbon emissions among developing countries, but did not include Obama's proposal for nations to commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050.

In 2014, President Obama reached an agreement with China in which China pledged to reach peak carbon emission levels by 2030, while the US pledged to cut its emissions by 26-28 percent compared to its 2005 levels. Many believed that the deal might lead to a potential multilateral global warming agreement among the world's largest carbon emitting nations. At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, nearly every country in the world agreed to a landmark climate deal in which each nation committed lowering their greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement created a universal accounting system for emissions. It required each signatory country to monitor its emissions, and required each country to create a plan to reduce its emissions.

President Obama also took several measures to raise vehicle fuel efficiency in the United States. In 2009, he announced plans to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy to 35 miles per gallon. In 2012, he set even higher standards, mandating an average fuel efficiency of 54.5 mpg. Obama also signed the "cash-for-clunkers" bill, which provided incentives to consumers to trade in older, less fuel-efficient cars for more efficient cars. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $54 billion in funds to encourage domestic renewable energy production, make federal buildings more energy-efficient, improve the electricity grid, and repair public housing. He promoted the use of plug-in electric vehicles, and 400,000 electric cars had been sold by the end of 2015. The measures appeared to have some success. A recent report by The American Lung Association concludes there was a “major improvement” in air quality by the end of President Obama's administration.


In contrast, President Donald Trump does not share President Obama's beliefs on the significance of the problem of climate chance. He has repeatedly called scientific consensus on climate a "hoax". By May of this year, his administration overturned or was in process of overturning 98 environmental regulations. His appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environment Protection Agency was a controversial one, opposed by many environmental groups. Pruitt resigned in July of 2018 following a number of allegations of ethical violations. Pruitt was criticized for his pro-business attitude. The Washington Post said of Pruitt's leadership of the EPA, "In legal maneuvers and executive actions, in public speeches and closed-door meetings with industry groups, he has moved to shrink the agency's reach, alter its focus, and pause or reverse numerous environmental rules. The effect has been to steer the EPA in the direction sought by those being regulated. Along the way, Pruitt has begun to dismantle former president Barack Obama's environmental legacy, halting the agency's efforts to combat climate change and to shift the nation away from its reliance on fossil fuels."

In December 2017, the New York Times accused the Trump administration of adopting a far more lenient approach to enforcing federal pollution laws than the Obama and Bush administrations. The Trump administration has brought fewer prosecutions of polluters, and made fewer requests of companies to retrofit facilities to curb pollution. The Times attributes this to directions from Pruitt based on lobbying from oil and gas industry executives.

Moments after President Trump's inauguration, the White House website removed all references to climate change, other than to mentioning President Trump's intention to eliminate the Obama administration's climate change policies. By April, the EPA had removed climate change material on its website, including climate data and scientific information. The administration instituted a temporary media blackout for the EPA, but by late February 2017, the media blackout was partially lifted. The EPA hired a research firm to investigate EPA employees who had expressed criticism of the management of the EPA under Pruitt's tenure. A leaked March 2018 memo directs EPA employees to use climate change denial talking points in official communications about climate change. Last month, in October 2018, the EPA disbanded a 20-expert panel on pollution which advised the EPA on the appropriate threshold levels to set for air quality standards.

President Trump has issued an executive order reversing a number of Obama administration policies on climate change. President Trump has said that he is "putting an end to the war on coal", justifying this and other moves in order to create jobs in the industry. He ended the moratorium on federal coal leasing, and revoked several of President Obama's executive orders including the Presidential Climate Action Plan. He also ordered reviews of a number of Obama initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan, the estimate for the "social cost of carbon" emissions, carbon dioxide emission standards for new coal plants, methane emissions standards from oil and natural gas extraction, as well as any regulations inhibiting domestic energy production.

In June 2017, President Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement that President Obama had joined in on in 2015. The administration also suspended a number of large research programs on climate change issues. It has also been critical of NASA's climate science program. It has modified regulations requiring the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure.

The administration has enacted 30% tariffs on solar panels. The American solar energy industry is highly reliant on foreign parts and as a result, the tariffs will raise the costs of solar energy. In 2017 the solar energy industry had employed nearly four times as many American workers as the coal industry.


The debate on climate change is not so much one of whether or not the climate is changing. This has been the case throughout the history of the world, once subject to an Ice Age. The debate is about whether or not the changes will be as rapid as many predict and whether or not they justify the significant economic consequences that many are calling for. The previous administration considered the issue to be a priority, accepting that addressing the property would bring with it an economic consequence. For the current administration, the more immediate priority is the job creation and recovering from the adverse affects on the average American's income as a consequence of globalization, free trade, the economic damage caused by the pandemic, and the climate change strategies adopted by past administrations.

The Unprecedented Presidency: Supreme Court Nominees

When George Washington selected John Jay of his appointment as the first justice (Chief Justice) of the United States Supreme Court, Jay was notified by letter and when it came to appointments to the court, Congress largely relied on the recommendation of the President. Jay was unanimously confirmed by the Senate two days after his nomination was submitted. Today, 230 years after Jay's confirmation, candidates for appointment to the court undergo severe scrutiny of not only their judicial record, but also of their personal life and their actions as teenagers. This point was illustrated when President Donald Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was the subject of controversy over allegations that, as a 17 year old high school student, Kavanaugh had attempted to force himself on a younger female student while intoxicated. Kavanaugh vigorously denied the allegations as Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings became a public spectacle.

On June 27, 2018, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Court, after having sat as a member of the court for over 30 years. His resignation took effect on July 31, 2018. Kennedy was considered to be a moderate or "swing" vote on the court and speculation was that he would be replaced by a member with a conservative ideological bent, tipping the balance on the court.

From 1993 to 1994, Kavanaugh served as a law clerk for Justice Kennedy. He previously served as a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and as a staff lawyer for various offices of the U.S. government. Kavanaugh graduated from Yale University with a degree in American history. He obtained his law degree from that institution in 1990. After graduating from Yale Law School, he began his career as a law clerk working under Judge Ken Starr. He worked under Starr at the Office of Independent Counsel, and worked on various investigations concerning President Bill Clinton, including the drafting of the Starr Report, which called for Clinton's impeachment. After the 2000 U.S. presidential election he worked for the George W. Bush campaign in the Florida recount. He worked as a White House Staff Secretary and one of his jobs was to identify and confirm judicial nominees.

Kavanaugh was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2003. His confirmation hearings were contentious. They were held up for three years over charges of partisanship. He was ultimately confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in May 2006 after a series of negotiations between Democratic and Republican U.S. Senators.

Kavanaugh was officially announced as President Donald Trump's nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States on July 9, 2018. President Trump touted Kavanaugh's "impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications, and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law". President Trump said, "what matters is not a judge's political views, but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require."

The American Bar Association (ABA) gave Kavanaugh a unanimous "well qualified" rating for his nomination. After Kavanaugh was accused of sexual impropriety, the president of the ABA issued a statement asking that the nomination should not be voted on until the allegations have been investigated by the FBI. On October 5, 2018, the chairman of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary announced that the committee had reopened its evaluation "regarding temperament" and that reassessment and re-vote would not be completed before the Senate vote. After Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the standing committee discontinued the re-evaluation because the issue was then moot.

Yale Law School's professor Akhil Reed Amar, a leading expert on Constitutional Law, called the nomination of Kavanaugh Trump's "finest hour, his classiest move". Amar said that Kavanaugh "commands wide and deep respect among scholars, lawyers, and jurists". Robert S. Bennett, who represented President Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal (opposite Kavanaugh), stated that he supported Kavanaugh's confirmation.

The American Civil Liberties Union complained that Kavanaugh's record "demonstrates hostility to international law as a constraint on government action as well as an unwillingness to hold the government to account when it violates the constitutional and human rights of U.S. citizens and noncitizens". Further opposition came from many groups mainly on the left of the political spectrum.

Kavanaugh's nomination was officially sent to the Senate on July 10, 2018. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced on August 10 that the hearings would occur prior to the November midterm elections, from September 4 through September 8. The Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings began at 9:30 AM, September 4, 2018, in the Hart Senate Office Building with the first hearing chaired by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). The hearing was interrupted by protesters. Senator Kamala Harris also interrupted Senator Grassley's opening statement.

The second day of the hearing began with the Senators asking direct questions at Kavanaugh about his personal position on cases and on his record. Of interest were his judicial philosophy, Roe v. Wade, and his role in programs implemented after 9/11 by the Bush administration. Interruptions from protestors continued.

The third day of the hearing saw Kavanaugh answering questions about President Trump's attacks on the federal judiciary. On the fourth day, outside witnesses in support or dissent of Judge Kavanaugh being appointed to the Supreme Court gave testimony to the committee on their position.

On September 12, 2018, days after the end of four days of confirmation hearings, the existence of a complaint against Kavanaugh, by a "woman, who has asked not to be identified", was made public. The as-yet unnamed complainant accused Kavanaugh of trying to force himself on her when they were both in high school. She said the incident happened in 1982, when he was 17 and a student at Georgetown Preparatory School, and she was a 15-year-old high school student. The woman stated that she later required treatment for psychological distress. Kavanaugh issued a statement in which he said, "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time."

On September 16, the complainant's identity became known. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, was named by The Washington Post as the person making these allegations against Kavanaugh. She told the Post that in the early 1980s, when she and Kavanaugh were teenagers, Kavanaugh and his classmate Mark Judge "corralled" her in a bedroom at a party in Maryland. According to Ford, Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed, groped her, ground against her, and tried to pull off her clothes. She said that he covered her mouth when she tried to scream, and that she was afraid that Kavanaugh "might inadvertently kill me" during the incident. She said that she got away when Judge jumped on the bed, knocking them all over.

Ford said she later discussed the incident during couples counseling with her husband in 2012. She consented to having the therapist's notes released on September 16, 2018. They state that said told her therapist that she had stated that she was assaulted by students "from an elitist boys' school", who eventually became "highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington". The notes do not name Kavanaugh.

An additional hearing was held on the subject of the sexual abuse allegations. Only two witnesses testfied: Kavanaugh and Ford. Republican members of the committee decided not to question the witnesses directly and yielded their allotted time to Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix, where she heads the Special Victims Division, which covers sex crimes and family violence. Mitchell questioned Ford in five-minute segments, alternating with five-minute segments from the Democratic members of the committee.She did not question Kavanaugh, as most of the Republicans took back their time and used it to defend Kavanaugh.

Ford gave an opening statement about the accusations and the events that transpired during and after the alleged sexual assault. She later told Mitchell that she was "100 percent certain" that it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her. Kavanaugh repeated his earlier denials of the accusations against him and angrily blamed them on partisanship. Senator Lindsey Graham delivered a "prolonged attack" on the Democratic members of the committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee had been scheduled to vote on the confirmation on September 20 to determine whether the nomination would go to the full Senate for a vote. The White House said it would not withdraw its nomination. Ford and Kavanaugh testified before the Committee on September 24. At the conclusion of that hearing the Republican leadership of the committee indicated that they planned to hold a committee vote on the nomination the next day, September 28, with a procedural vote on the Senate floor on September 29. On September 28, the committee voted along party lines to advance the nomination to the full senate, but Senator Jeff Flake's vote in support was conditional on a proposal that the vote be delayed for a week to allow investigation of the current claims by the FBI. Senators Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski also said they would not vote to confirm without an FBI investigation. On September 28, the Senate Judiciary Committee said there would be a "supplemental FBI background investigation" to be limited to the current allegations and had to be completed within one week. President Trump then ordered the FBI to conduct such the supplemental background investigation. On October 1, The New York Times reported that the White House had authorized the FBI to interview "anybody they want within reason".

Kavanaugh published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he said that he might have been too emotional at times in part due to his overwhelming frustration at being wrongly accused, but that going forward he would be an independent, impartial judge.

For Kavanaugh to be confirmed, he needed to receive a majority vote in favor of confirmation from the full Senate. On October 5, the Senate voted 51–49 for cloture, advancing the nomination to a final floor vote on October 6. The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with the exception of Democrat Joe Manchin voting yes and Republican Lisa Murkowski voting no.

President Trump commented on the initial sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh for the first time on September 17, 2018, saying, "Judge Kavanaugh is one of the finest people that I've ever known. He's an outstanding intellect, an outstanding judge, respected by everybody. Never had even a little blemish on his record. The FBI has, I think, gone through a process six times with him over the years, where he went to higher and higher positions. He is somebody very special." On September 20, at a Las Vegas rally, Trump again strongly endorsed Kavanaugh, telling his audience: "Brett Kavanaugh is one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting."

Politico reported that former Democratic staffer Ricki Seidman was serving as an adviser to Ford; Seidman had previously assisted in prepping Anita Hill in her testimony against Clarence Thomas. Her involvement was criticized by the Republican National Committee who stated in a press release. "If you're concerned about an appearance of partisanship, hiring a Democratic operative with a history of smearing conservative judges doesn't exactly mitigate that."

Senator Lindsey Graham called Kavanaugh the victim of "the most unethical sham" he had seen in his time in politics, claiming that if Kavanaugh was looking for fair process, he "came to the wrong town at the wrong time".

Hours after his Senate confirmation, Kavanaugh was sworn in at a private ceremony, followed by a public ceremony in the White House on October 7. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the constitutional oath and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy administered the judicial oath. Also in attendance were Kavanaugh's wife, children and parents and four of the sitting Judges. Three were unable to attend due to previous engagements. President Trump apologized to Kavanaugh and his family for "the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure", calling the Senate hearing "a campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception." Kavanaugh thanked his family, friends, and those that had supported his nomination. He thanked President Trump for his "steadfast and unwavering support". He also thanked the only Democrat who voted for him, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. He closed saying, "As a Justice on the Supreme Court, I will always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law."

The controversy surrounding Kavanaugh's nomination was compared to an earlier nomination, that of current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas by President George H. W. Bush in 1991. Bush nominated Thomas to succeed Thurgood Marshall, a long-time reliable liberal vote. Thomas, the former head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), faced heavy opposition in the Senate, as well as from pro-choice groups and the NAACP. His nomination faced another difficulty when Anita Hill accused Thomas of having sexually harassed her during his time as the chair of EEOC. Thomas won confirmation in a narrow 52-48 vote. 43 Republicans and 9 Democrats voted to confirm Thomas's nomination, while 46 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted against confirmation. Thomas went on to become one of the most conservative justices of his era.

The Unprecedented Presidency: Issues Concerning Race

One of the low points of the Trump presidency occurred on August 13, 2017, following what was called the "Unite the Right Rally" which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, from August 11 to 12, 2017. Protesters who identified with a number of far-right groups, including self-identified members of the alt-right, neo-Confederates groups, Klansmen, and right-wing militias. The protesters were heard to chant racist and antisemitic slogans, carried weapons, displayed Nazi and neo-Nazi symbols, Confederate flags, Deus Vult crosses, flags and other symbols of anti-Muslim and antisemitic groups. The organizers' stated goals included showing opposition to removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville's former Lee Park. The rally occurred amidst controversy generated by the removal of a number of Confederate monuments by local governments throughout the country, which in turn occurred in response to the Charleston church shooting in 2015, by a self-proclaimed white supremacist

The Unite the Right Rally turned violent after protesters clashed with counter-protesters. Over 30 people were injured, causing Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency. The Governor stated that public safety called for additional powers and on August 12 at 11:22 a.m., the Virginia State Police declared the rally to be an unlawful assembly. At around 1:45 p.m., self-identified white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. deliberately drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people. Fields fled the scene in his car but was later arrested. He was tried and convicted in Virginia state court of first-degree murder, malicious wounding, and other crimes in 2018. The following year, Fields pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crimes in a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said that Fields' action met the definition of domestic terrorism.

On August 13, 2017, President Donald Trump made a statement about on the rally, in which he "condemned hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides". During the rally there had been other violence. Some of the counter-protesters charged at the white nationalists with swinging clubs and mace, throwing bottles, rocks, and paint and this was later referenced as justification for the President's criticism of "both sides". While Trump condemned both neo-Nazis and white nationalists, he also referred to "very fine people on both sides". The remark attracted widespread criticism for implying moral equivalence between the white supremacist marchers and those who protested against them. His remarks were seen as sympathetic to the white supremacists.

On August 14, President Trump specifically denounced white supremacists, condemning "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups". But the next day (August 15), he once again blamed "both sides". He was heavily criticized for his remarks in the media, on social media, by world leaders, politicians, religious groups and anti-hate organizations. No friend of the President's, the New York Times reported that he was "the only national political figure to spread blame for the 'hatred, bigotry and violence' that resulted in the death of one person to 'many sides'", adding that he had "buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations".

Racism, both deliberate and systemic has been a part of American history, beginning with the abhorrent practice of slavery, the post-bellum atrocities of the Reconstruction period, the history of lynchings and Jim Crow laws, and many other sad examples on the landscape of the nation's past. Some Presidents have been blatant racists, such as Andrew Johnson, who infamously said, "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men." In 1868 Democratic candidate Horatio Seymour campaigned on the slogan "This is a white man's country, let white men rule" and at the 1924 Democratic Party Nominating Convention, banners welcomed the KKK.

Racism in the United States has been a persistent problem throughout the nation's history. For decades, legally sanctioned privileges and rights were given to white Americans but denied to all other races. This included discrimination in matters of education, immigration, voting rights, citizenship, land acquisition, and criminal procedure. Prejudice wasn't exclusively applied to African-Americans. Non-Protestant immigrants from Europe, especially Irish people, Poles, and Italians, were often the target of exclusion and discrimination as well. Middle Eastern American groups have also faced continuous discrimination in the United States, and have East and South Asians.

Discriminatory institutions include slavery, segregation, Native American relocation and reservations, Native American boarding schools, and internment camps. Although these have been abolished for the most part, socioeconomic inequality has been statistically shown to be imbalanced based on race and ethnicity and racial stratification continues to occur in employment, housing, education, and lending. A United Nations

A 2010 submission to the United Nations by the U.S. Human Rights Network concluded that "discrimination in the United States permeates all aspects of life and extends to all communities of color." While tolerance of racism has declined significantly over the past several decades, discriminatory viewpoints among a segment of the population remain. A 2018 YouGov/Economist poll found that 17% of Americans still oppose interracial marriage

Many Americans believed that the candidacy of Barack Obama, and his election in 2008 as the first African-American president of the United States, was a sign that the nation had entered a new, post-racial era. But racist attitudes remained, even within Obama's own party. For example, Democratic Senate Majority Leader apologized on January 9, 2010, for a comment he had made when Obama was campaigning for president. Reid had remarked that Obama could win the Presidency because be beleved that the country would vote for a black presidential candidate if the candidate was "light-skinned" and "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one", referring to Obama. When these comments were revealed by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in their book about the 2008 election entitled Game Change, Reid called Obama to apologize. Obama graciously accepted the apology.

In March 2008, a controversy arose concerning Obama's 20-year relationship to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright. ABC News played clips of racially and politically charged sermons by Rev. Wright, including his assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own terrorism and his assertion that "the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." After experiencing a drop in the polls, Obama responded by condemning Wright's remarks, ending his relationship with the campaign and delivering a speech entitled "A More Perfect Union" at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the speech, Obama rejected some of Wright's comments, but refused to disown the man himself, noting his lifelong ministry to the poor and past service as a US Marine. The speech sought to place Wright's anger in a larger historical context

In late April of 2008, Rev. Wright spoke to the NAACP in Detroit, reiterating his earlier views on terrorism, HIV, and other issues. Obama held a press conference on April 29 in which he was personally critical of Wright as well as Wright's controversial remarks. Obama said he was "outraged" and "saddened" by Wright's comments, calling them "divisive and destructive." He said of Wright, "the man I saw yesterday was not the man I met 20 years ago." Obama stated, "Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this."

Following Obama's election, although many pundits claimed the existence of a "postracial America", racial tensions soon became apparent. Many African-Americans complained about "racial venom" directed at Obama's presidency. In July 2009, prominent African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home by a local police officer. Controversy soon followed after Obama stated that the police acted "stupidly" in handling the incident. Later, Obama invited Gates and the police officer to the White House in what became known as the "Beer Summit".

Other incidents during Obama's presidency concerned outrage in the African-American community with the law enforcement community. These included the acquittal of George Zimmerman following the shooting death of an African-American youth named Trayvon Martin. In a subsequent speech, Obama saId that "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." The shooting of Michael Brown, an African-American man, in Ferguson, Missouri by a white Police Officer, sparked a wave of protests. These and other events led to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people.

Members of the law enforcement community criticized Obama's condemnation of racial bias after incidents in which police action led to the death of African-American men. Conversely, some racial justice activists criticized Obama's expressions of empathy for the police. A March 2016 Gallup poll, nearly one third of Americans said they worried "a great deal" about race relations, a higher figure than in any previous Gallup poll since 2001.

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Many portrayed the election of President Donald Trump as a racist backlash against the election of Barack Obama. In his 2018 book Right Here Right Now, author (and former Canadian Prime Minister) Stephen Harper rejects this theory, noting that many of those who voted for Trump were the same voters who had voted for Obama in the past two elections. Harper makes the case that Trump's victory was more properly attributable to voters in counties adversely affected by free trade and globalization leaving the Democratic party to vote for Trump, especially in industrialized states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.

During the past decade, many examples remain in American society that suggest that high levels of racism and discrimination remain. An example is the rise of the "alt-right" movement: a white nationalist coalition that seeks the expulsion of racial minorities from the United States, involved in the Unite the Right Rally.

More recently, rioting and looting occurred amid nationwide protests against racism and police brutality after a Minneapolis a police officer killed an African American man named George Floyd. In response, President Trump tweeted a 1967 quote, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts", a phrase coined by a former Miami police chief. He later addressed protestors outside the White House by saying they "would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen" if they breached the White House fence.

On June 1, 2020, hundreds of police officers, members of the National Guard and other forces, in riot gear used smoke canisters, rubber bullets, batons and shields to disperse a crowd of protesters outside of St. John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House. Clergy on the church's porch suffered effects of the tear gas and were dispersed. President Trump, accompanied by other officials including the Secretary of Defense, then walked across Lafayette Square and posed for pictures holding a Bible up for the cameras, next to where the church which had suffered some damage from a fire started by arsonists the night before. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said she was "outraged" by the President's actions, while the reaction from the religious right and evangelicals generally praised the visit.

The Unprecedented Presidency: The Appeal for Union Support

In recent times, unions have generally been staunch supporters of Democratic presidential candidates, certainly since the time of the Great Depression. There have been exceptions to this rule. Union members, upset with Harry Truman's response to a steel strike, crossed the road to vote for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan also attracted strong union support. And in 2016, Donald Trump was able to steal supposed loyal blue states from the Democratic Party's "blue wall", winning in the traditional blue states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. While his opponent promised that she was "going to put a lot of coal miners out of work", Trump lamented the loss of American jobs due to outsourcing and complained that a lot of Americans workers were being hurt by free trade. Many blue collar workers took notice and sat up and listened, accounting for why many of those who had voted for Barack Obama in two elections marked their X elsewhere in 2016.

In mirroring what had previously been done over three decades ago when Ronald Reagan was able to reach this same block of voters, Donald Trump moved states which had voted for the Democratic candidate in recent elections onto his side of the ledger. This included states like Michigan, where the auto industry was once very strong, as well as Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. He also captured almost every "swing state" including the large electoral prizes of Ohio and Florida. Many of the post mortems of the 2016 presidential campaign have concluded that President Trump was able to achieve what none of his recent predecessor GOP candidates were able to do, because he embraced and championed many of the issues that were of vital importance to organized labor. First and foremost among these were his strong opposition to the practice of outsourcing jobs out of the country to nations were cheaper labor is available. He also expressed his dissatisfaction and opposition to international trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). During the election campaign he also promised tariff increases and increased infrastructure spending to create more and better American jobs and to decrease the importation of products from Mexico.

As President, Trump has targeted his appeal to a number of unions, including carpenters, coal miners and autoworkers. He recently invited the president of the United Auto Workers to meet with him to discuss how to invigorate the American automobile manufacturing industry. In his discussions with those in the industry, he has promoted an “America First” message, one that has appealed to voters within many blue-collar industries. The approach is not only in keeping with the President's message throughout the campaign, but is also intended to erode the support that these groups normally give to Democratic candidates, in effect shoring up some of the support that he received in 2016 for his re-election campaign in 2020. In a recent interview with the New York Times, F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center told the times, "Trump is working to be the blue-collar president. You’re already seeing that in his outreach to unions. Some unions are warming up to Trump because labor leaders are following their members. They saw that in some states a majority of union members voted for Trump."

On January 23, 2017, three days after his inauguration, the president met with the heads of several building trades unions in the Oval Office (shown in the photograph above). Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, was quoted by the Times as saying "It is Finally Beginning to Feel Like a New Day for America’s Working Class."

Unions have also been supportive of President Trump’s plans to proceed with the construction of the Keystone Pipeline and other projects, which promise the creation of over 100,000 new jobs. But he has also incurred some disapproval from some union officials who are unhappy about the President's push to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as well as his elimination of some worker safety regulations.

Today labor union membership has declined in size and in political influence. It is estimated that 10.7 percent of American workers belong to unions. This is a significant reduction from the Kennedy administration when union membership was almost triple that percentage. Labor leaders were shocked when Hillary Clinton narrowly lost in three longtime union stronghold states, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Some were openly critical of Clinton for taking those states for granted and not campaigning aggressively there. In Wisconsin, union membership had declined from 15 percent of all workers in 2009 to 8 percent today, largely due to measures taken by Governor Scott Walker to reduce the size of Wisconsin’s public-sector unions.


President Trump's strategy to win union support has been almost exclusively focused on private-sector unions and workers, such as miners in Kentucky and steelworkers in Pennsylvania. This is similar to the strategy employed by Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. According to reporter Steve Greenhouse of the New York Times, Trump's support among unions breaks down as follows:

1. Construction trades are the ones in which the President enjoys his strongest union support.

2. Greenhouse says that the strongest anti-Trump unions are includes the Service Employees International Union, the National Education Association and several federal, state and municipal employees’ unions. These unions remain opposes to the federal hiring freeze, the proposed budget cuts and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Teachers unions are especially opposed to what they perceive as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s antagonism toward traditional public schools. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers is quoted as saying: “The budget they’ve put forward is horrible, and DeVos is on a path to destroy public education.”

3. The middle camp includes autoworkers, steelworkers and machinists unions. These groups apparently support the President's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and his vows to bring back factory jobs and renegotiate NAFTA. Unions like the United Auto Workers endorse his tough stance on Mexican trade. But some of these unions have expressed skepticism about whether any gains will be offset by the cost of health care and other erosion of benefits and wages. The main areas of concern expressed by these groups stem from the President's stance on the minimum wage and on right to work legislation. During the campaign, the President said in a televised interview, "Having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country." He has also said that increasing the minimum wage would hurt America's economic competitiveness. However on May 5, 2016, Trump said in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he was considering raising the minimum wage. He has since stated that this is really a matter for the states to consider. These unions are also concerned about statements the President has made supporting right to work legislation. The President has stated, "My position on right to work is 100 percent." Finally, they are concerned that the President has promised to oversee an Occupational Safety and Health Administration that conducts "less enforcement and practically no rulemaking" on issues of workplace safety and health.

President Trump's selection Rene Alexander Acosta as Secretary of Labor was generally viewed to be a positive selection. Acosta was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Labor Relations Board and later served as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and federal prosecutor for the Southern District of Florida. He is the former dean of Florida International University College of Law. But Acosta later resigned in 2019, due to criticism for his part in negotiating a plea bargain in 2008 with notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. His replacement, lawyer Eugene Scalia has recently been the subject of controversy over his statement that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no role in managing the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

In September of 2017, the President said, in one of his famous tweets, "We are building our future with American hands, American labor, American iron, aluminum and steel. Happy LaborDay!" It remains to be seen whether or not President Trump will have the same level of success as Ronald Reagan had in capturing traditional Democratic Party voters from the labor movement and whether the political clout of labor unions will increase or decrease on his watch. It appears to be a new era, or at least a new direction in the history of the relationship between the Presidency and the labor movement. Time will tell whether the shift in the loyalties of traditional labor voters in 2016 was an aberration or the beginning of a change in the direction of the pendulum of the politics of labor in the United States.

Remembering Martin Van Buren

On July 24, 1862 (158 years ago today), Martin Van Buren, the 8th President of the United States and the first President from New York, died in the same community where he was born, Kinderhook, New York, at the age of 79.

Kinderhook is about 23 miles south of Albany, New York. Martin's father Abraham Van Buren was a farmer who was also a slaveholder. He had six slaves. Abraham was also a tavern-keeper in Kinderhook and supported the American Revolution and later the Jeffersonian Republicans. Martin Van Buren's mother was Maria Van Alen (née Hoes) Van Buren.

Van Buren was the first president born as a citizen of the United States, as all previous presidents were born before the American Revolution. His great-great-great-grandfather Cornelis Maessen van Buren had come to America in 1631 from the small city of Buren, Dutch Republic, in present day Netherlands. Van Buren grew up in a Dutch-speaking community. His native language was Dutch, and he was the only President who spoke English as a second language.

Martin Van Buren became involved in politics at the age of 17, and was a supporter of Aaron Burr. He became a lawyer and served as Attorney General of New York from 1815 to 1819, a US Senator from New York from 1821 to 1828 and Governor of New York for 3 months in 1829 before being selected by President Andrew Jackson as his Secretary of State. He earned a reputation as a good politician and political organizer. His prowess and skill earned him the nickname "the Little Magician".

Van Buren won Jackson's approval by his courtesy to Peggy Eaton, wife of Secretary of War John H. Eaton, with whom the wives of the cabinet officers (led by Vice President John C. Calhoun's wife, Floride Calhoun) had refused to associate, in what was known as "the Petticoat Affair." Jackson picked Van Buren as his Vice-President for his second term and then chose him as his successor in the election of 1836.

As President, Van Buren did not want the United States to annex Texas. His administration was mostly remembered for the severe economic recession of his time, known as "the Panic of 1837". Van Buren paid the price for his predecessor's war with the Bank of the United States and Jackson's decision to rescind the Bank's Charter. He was unfairly scapegoated for the depression and was pejoratively called "Martin Van Ruin" by his political opponents. He is also remembered by historian unfavorably for his carrying out the Indian removal policies of his predecessor Jackson. The actual sad march of displaced members of First Nations known as the "Trail of Tears" happened on Van Buren's watch.

In the election of 1840 Van Buren lost his bid for reelection to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison, in a campaign in which the spin doctors of the day portrayed Harrison as a poor cider-drinking man born in a log cabin, while Van Buren was spun as being fancy and rich.

Upon leaving the White House, Van Buren returned to his estate, Lindenwald in Kinderhook, where he planned on a return to the White House. When the Democratic convention began in 1844, Van Buren was at first considered to be the front runner. But he sunk his chances with a famous letter of April 27, 1844, in which he opposed the immediate annexation of Texas. At the Democratic convention in Baltimore, he had a majority of the votes, but not the two-thirds which the convention required, and after eight ballots his name was withdrawn. James K. Polk received the nomination instead.

In 1848, Van Buren was nominated by two minor parties, first by the "Barnburner" faction of the Democrats, then by the Free Soilers, with whom the "Barnburners" later merged. He didn't win any electoral votes, but took enough votes in New York to give the state — and perhaps the election — to Zachary Taylor. In the election of 1860, he voted for the fusion ticket in New York which was opposed to Abraham Lincoln, but he was critical of President Buchanan's course in dealing with secession and eventually supported Lincoln.

Van Buren then retired to his home in Kinderhook. After being bedridden with a case of pneumonia during the fall of 1861, Martin Van Buren died of bronchial asthma and heart failure at his Lindenwald estate in Kinderhook at 2:00 a.m. on July 24, 1862. He is buried in the Kinderhook Cemetery along with his wife Hannah, his parents, and his son Martin Van Buren, Jr. Van Buren outlived his four immediate successors as President (William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor).

Remembering Ulysses Grant

On July 23, 1885 (135 years ago today) Ulysses Grant, the 18th President of the United States, died at Mount McGregor, New York, at the age of 63. His love of cigars had caught up with him and throat cancer had claimed another victim.

He was born with the name Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822 at Point Pleasant, Ohio. When he was 17, Grant was nominated by Congressman Thomas L. Hamer for a position at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Hamer mistakenly nominated him as "Ulysses S. Grant of Ohio." At West Point, he adopted this name with a middle initial only. His nickname became "Sam" among army colleagues at the academy, since the initials "U.S." stood for "Uncle Sam". The "S", according to Grant, did not "stand for anything", though Hamer had used it to abbreviate Grant's mother's maiden name.

Grant fought in the Mexican War as a Lieutenant, but left the army in 1854 with the rank of Captain after given an ultimatum concerning his drinking. He experienced a series of business failures and reluctantly went to work for his father. When the Civil War began, he accepted a position offered by Illinois Governor Richard Yates to recruit and train volunteer units, but what Grant really wanted was a field command in the regular Army. He made multiple efforts to acquire such a position including seeking a meeting with his Mexican War Colleague George McClellan (now commander of the Union Army - McClellan refused to meet with Grant). He had no success.

Grant was promoted to Colonel by Governor Yates on June 14, 1861, and put in charge of the unruly Twenty-first Illinois Volunteer Regiment. A victory at the capture of Fort Donelson enhanced Grant's military reputation and he was ultimately put in command of the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln, who said of Grant "I like this man, he fights." Under Grant, the Union Army defeated the Confederate army and effectively ended the war with the surrender of Robert E. Lee's army at Appomattox. Grant became a close friend of President Lincoln and was also admired by his fellow northerners. He likely literally "dodged a bullet" when he declined an invitation to join the Lincolns at Ford's Theater on the night of Lincoln's assassination because his wife did not like Mrs. Lincoln. During the term of Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, Grant briefly and reluctantly served as Acting Secretary of War.

It was widely expected that the popular Grant would be elected president, and this occurred in 1868. Grant supported the Radical Republicans in their effort to eliminate all vestiges of slavery. He waged a successful suppression of the Ku Klux Klan in 1871. As president, he supported Reconstruction by enforcing civil rights laws and fighting Klan violence. Grant was President as the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment occurred. It gave constitutional protection for African American voting rights. He used the army to build the Republican Party in the South by protecting the rights of freedmen. As a result, African Americans were represented in the U.S. Congress for the first time in American history in 1870.

Grant's reputation as president by 1873 was at an all time high. But his reputation was marred by his repeated defense of corrupt appointees, and by the deep economic depression (called the "Panic of 1873") that dominated his second term. Although his Republican Party split in 1872 with reformers denouncing him, Grant was easily reelected. By 1874 the opposition was gaining strength and when he left the White House in March 1877, his successor Rutherford Hayes ordered federal troops to be withdrawn from the south, as white southerners regained control of every state in the south and reconstruction ended on a note of failure with the civil rights of African-Americans left unprotected.

After leaving office, Grant embarked on a two-year world tour that included many enthusiastic royal receptions. In 1880, he made an unsuccessful bid for a third presidential term. The trip around the world, although successful, was costly. When Grant returned to America, he had depleted most of his savings from the long trip and needed to earn money. He became a principal in the establishment of the new Mexican Southern Railroad Co., which failed. In 1881, Grant purchased a house in New York City and at the suggestion of his son Buck, and he placed almost all of his financial assets into Grant & Ward, the investment banking partnership which his son had established with Ferdinand Ward. In 1884, Ward swindled Grant and other investors who had been encouraged by Grant, bankrupted the company, and fled. Although he was short on funds himself, Grant was compelled by a sense of personal honor and with a personal loan of $150,000 from William H. Vanderbilt, he repaid those swindled by Ward, and repaid the loan by selling his Civil War mementos. Although the market value did not completely cover the loan, Vanderbilt insisted the loan was paid in full. The matter left Grant financially destitute.

Grant learned in 1884 that he was suffering from throat cancer. He had forfeited his military pension when he assumed the Presidency, but Congress subsequently restored Grant to the rank of General of the Army with full retirement pay. At the suggestion of Robert Johnson, Grant wrote several articles on his Civil War campaigns for The Century Magazine at $500 each. The articles were well received by critics, and Johnson suggested Grant write a book of memoirs, as Sherman and others had successfully done. Grant took up the project. Century offered Grant a book contract, including a 10% royalty. When Grant shared this information with his friend Mark Twain, Twain suggested that Grant counter with a request for double the royalty; at the same time, he made his own offer to Grant for his memoirs, talking of a 75% royalty. Grant ultimately decided on Twain's company, Charles L. Webster and Co., as his publisher. His son Fred assisted primarily with references and proofing. Grant finished his memoir just a few days before his death. They sold 350,000 two-volume sets at prices from $3.50 to $12 (depending on the binding). Each copy contained what looked like a handwritten note from Grant himself. In the end, Grant's widow Julia received about $450,000.

Grant died of throat cancer at the age of 63 in Mount McGregor. His last words were, "I hope that nobody will be distressed on my account." After lying in state, Grant's body was placed on a funeral train and traveled via West Point to New York City. His body lies in New York City's Riverside Park, beside that of his wife, in Grant's Tomb, the largest mausoleum in North America. Grant is also honored by the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial at the base of Capitol Hill in Washington.