I Want My GOP

This post originally appeared in early 2016. Cassandra award?

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A divided national party . . . voices of extreme rhetoric . . . an ugly, contentious primary season. Does this spell doom for two-party system?

Sounds modern, doesn’t it? But the year was 1860, and the party in question was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and shaped in the image of Andrew Jackson: The antebellum Democratic Party.

On the eve of Civil War, the future of the Union appeared in fatal doubt. Political leaders in the Deep South: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida had all but washed their hands of the centrally powerful United States. Adding to the precarious atmosphere, a faction of Democrats in the North promoted a policy to permit slavery into the western territories under the principle of Popular Sovereignty, or direct vote. Others voices in the northern branch of the Democratic Party believed the Southern States should depart the Union in peace. And these pro-secession advocates became the most worrisome threat for Senate leader, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the leading Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1860.

Douglas found himself in a hell of a spot. He fervently burned to lead his party to the White House and save his nation, dangerously poised on the verge of civil war. As the principal heir to Senate leadership, Douglas had spent over twenty years in Congress working to stave off Southern secession, taking over when Kentucky Senator, Henry Clay, the “Great Compromiser” died. Clay had also spent most of his earlier career drawing up one concession after another in a noble attempt to preserve the Union. Eventually the effort wore him out, and Senator Douglas pick up the cause.

As far as Douglas was concerned, slavery wasn’t a moral issue, merely a bump in the road. The issue could easily be decided by the good folks migrating west. Douglas believed if settlers didn’t want slavery, they would decline to establish laws necessary for supporting the “peculiar institution.” But the Senator was wrong—dead wrong. Slavery had, by 1860 become an issue impossible to fix. And it was this miscalculation, underestimating the power of the slave issue, that the Illinois Senator imploded both his party, and his career.

The new Republican Party had organized six years earlier in Wisconsin, founded on one central principle—slavery would not extend into the western territories, period. And this new party spread quickly. Composed of splinter groups, this now fully unified alliance insisted that free labor was an integral component to a flourishing free market economy. The presence of slavery in sprouting regions of the West would devalue free labor, and undermine future commercial growth.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these Republicans did not sing Kumbaya or braid their hair. These men did not believe in equality between the races—they were not abolitionists. Economic principles drove their political platform, (Emancipation came later with the transformation of President Lincoln through the caldron of war).

For Stephen Douglas the approaching 1860 election meant vindication for his support of popular sovereignty, and reward for his faithful political service. And Douglas was no political hack. He fully understood the solvency of the Union lay in the delicate art of sectional balance, and his ascendancy to the White House as a Democrat would go a long way to placate the Southern hotheads. But this Illinois Senator failed, once again, to fully comprehend the temper of the nation, or of his own party. The era of seeking middle ground had passed—America’s course had been set toward industrial modernity with no place for an antiquated, barbaric labor system.

Charleston, South Carolina, was selected as the site of the 1860 Democratic convention. Chaos immediately broke loose on the convention floor. While Southern Democrats demanded strict, precise language guaranteeing the extension of slavery into the territories, Northern Democrats and those from California and Oregon pushed for Douglas’ popular sovereignty. This tense deadlock forced the latter faction to walk out and reconvene in Baltimore where party business could function.

Southern Democrats moved on without Douglas or his faction. In a separate, Richmond, Virginia convention, Southern Democrats proceeded to nominate Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge.

Back in Baltimore, Senator Douglas indeed gained the Democratic nomination, preserving his precious principle of local voters determining the western migration of slavery. Meanwhile, the Democrats in Richmond took a step further, adding the absolute protection of slavery to their platform. Middle ground had vanished.

Though a long shot, a third faction of the Democratic Party broke ranks with both Douglas supporters, and the Richmond faction. Calling themselves the “Constitutional Union Party,” this coalition nominated John Bell of Tennessee.

So what can we make of this 1860 fiasco today, in 2016? If I could attempt a bit of divination I would suggest that the political party that can present the most united front will prevail in the general election. If current Republican candidates continue to employ such wide-ranging, and scorching tones to their rhetoric, and stubbornly defend the innocence of their loose talk, the party may run head long into oblivion, as did the Democrats of 1860. If the roaring factions, currently represented by each GOP aspirant goes too far, the fabric of unity will shred, crippling the Republican’s ability to field serious candidates in the future.

Looking at the past as prelude much is at stake for the unity of the GOP. In 1860 party divisions nearly destroyed the Democrats, propelling the nation into a bloody civil war. And though Republicans at that time elected our greatest Chief Executive, Abraham Lincoln, the Democrats suffered for decades, marginalized as the party of rebellion. And even the best lessons left by the past are still forgotten in the heat of passion, by those who know better. (The Democrats shattered their party unity once again a hundred years later, splintered by the Vietnam War.) This is truly a cautionary tale for today’s turbulent Republican Party.

Zealots do not compromise, and leading GOP candidates are spouting some pretty divisive vitriol. Southern Democrats self righteously rejected their national party, certain it no longer represented them, and ultimately silenced the party of Jefferson and Jackson for decades. The lesson is clear for today’s Republicans. By tolerating demagoguery, extremism, and reckless fear-mongering in their field of contenders, the RNC may indeed face a similar demise.

Though it is true that no party can be all things to all citizens, malignant splinter groups should not run away with the party.

The American public demands measured and thoughtful candidates—and both parties are expected to field candidates of merit and substance.

We deserve leaders worth following.

As Senator Stephen Douglas refused to recognize that the political skies were falling around him, and his party, the modern Republican Party must not.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight a two-part memoir. Available on Kindle

Punishment

District of Columbia, 2017

In 2017 American women and their supporters, to the tune of a half-million, marched to protest the unfit, incoming president. This joyous mass of participating citizens lent a true sense of history in the making; we marched that day as one.

In the days following that massive protest women returned home, energized, running for office, working for candidates, and witnessing our first elected female Vice President. This change was as breathtaking as it was exciting. So it comes as no surprise women would pay a steep price for our audacity.

At this writing American women stand on the precipice of losing fifty years of reproductive rights. And this retribution is especially nasty, a vicious retaliation on our medical and political autonomy. No quarter is given for rape, incest, or domestic violence. American women are, once again, fair game, relegated as second-class-citizens under the law.

In that light the striking down of Roe isn’t about abortion. Few women seek such a procedure, and even those numbers have continued to decline. The thrust is to punish and marginalize women standing up for equal protection under the law. There is clarity in this moment of looming suppression, and we have no choice but to double-down to protect ourselves, our daughters, and granddaughters.

Other select groups also feel that same oppressive heat. Americans of color, and non-binary sexual orientation, endure similar reactionary treatment, because, they too, have demanded justice. Today’s GOP serves only white, male, reactionaries.

Gail Chumbley is a history educator and author.

Why We Try

2017 Women’s March

When I first began this essay it ripened to nearly five hundred words to share one idea. Why I am a life-long Democrat. 

The original essay discussed the New Deal, the creation of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the GI Bill, and how strengthening Labor Unions evoked a sense of common purpose; how the economy boomed, and the middle class flourished.

Now all I want to impart is that Ronald Reagan was wrong. Big government is not the problem. Big government checked by regulations works remarkably well. 

I am a Democrat because with all its flaws, we stand equal in the eyes of Constitutional Law.* People made the Constitution, and we must preserve it. In general, States’ Rights is no more than a distraction perpetrated by selfish insiders who legislate their own interests. Residents are convinced through a wink and a nod, that the enemy (Big Government) must be defied, using catch phrases like “our values,” and “real conservative.”

In truth, the Federal Government can do more for all of us than any individual state, or any individual citizen can do for themselves. As I write, Idaho’s governor has asked for, and been granted federal funds for drought aid. Talk about biting the hand that feeds the State.

I am a Democrat because I’m inspired by the nobility of America’s past champions; the persistence of General George Washington, the compassion of Abraham Lincoln, the purpose of Alice Paul, and the articulate vision of Barack Obama. I am a Democrat because James Madison instructed us to create “A More Perfect Union.” Without that persistence, compassion, purpose, and vision America cannot continue as “the world’s last best hope,” as Lincoln also described us.

At bottom I am a Democrat because I know not one of us is perfect. We just keep trying. 

*Just heard the headline regarding the reversing of the Roe decision. Time to gather 4,600,00 of my best friends (2017 Women’s March) and organize.

First Teacher

Chief Joseph

The front door opened and promptly slammed. The timing was expected, as the kids were getting home from school. Trooping through the door didn’t seem unusual-but that slamming of the front door sounded emotional. In the hallway I encountered my little fourth grader, my girl, who wouldn’t catch my eye or respond to “how was your day.”  She stomped into her bedroom, pushing her door closed. And then the crying began.

I waited a moment, finally tapping and entering her room. She didn’t want to explain, didn’t want to talk to me at all. Concerned, I sat on her bed and rubbed her back while she sobbed. After a while my girl composed herself and began her story.

In Idaho schools Fourth Grade Social Studies covers state history. From memorizing all the names of counties, to mapping locations, to learning “Here We Have Idaho,” the state song; 9-years-olds learned it all. On that day the lesson covered Native American tribes in the state. 

The teacher read Chief Joseph’s “I Will Fight No More Forever,” speech, the one Joseph declared when his people, the Nez Perce, surrendered to the Army just short of the Canadian border. 

My little girl understood, perhaps for the first time, the power of compassion and of tragedy. Watching as her heart absorbed a tough, American injustice, my heart filled as well. This kid sensed something deep, an empathy that still alludes many. In that moment we shared a thoughtful, teachable chapter in American History.

I didn’t accost the principal, nor complain to the school board. To those who do, railing to  ban books, or challenge curriculum, remember that your children are watching. Honest concerns are one matter, but raising hell in public meetings frightens your grade schoolers, confuses your middle schoolers, and mortifies your high schoolers.

Besides, as a child’s first teacher, parents are demonstrating that raging and bullying in public is acceptable as a means to solve disagreements.

Leave schools alone, leave libraries alone. Get to know the teachers, volunteer in the classroom. You’ll find American schools do a tremendous job, much better than we could do ourselves. 

As for Chief Joseph, my daughter grew from that experience. Maybe parents should do likewise.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley has also written two plays, “Clay,” about the life of Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” examining the beginnings of American slavery.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Without Justice

So many students had dropped the class, the professor had us meet in his office. The course, (a 300 level?) concerned the history of Eastern Europe, and though challenging, I sucked it up and remained.

Exotic names such as Moldova, Herzegovina, and Macedonia evoked mystical places barely touched by the Renaissance or Enlightenment. The prof tossed around these names as an American would with Oklahoma or Nevada. 

He spent a great deal of time lecturing on the Balkan region. This mountainous peninsula is situated south of both Slavic Ukraine, and the Magyars of Hungary. This area, I learned, suffered an especially turbulent past, and for that matter still does today. One book on the course list, “Land Without Justice,” by Montenegrin, Milovan Djilas starkly described and reiterated that point. 

Seated around a small table, our teacher introduced the Slavic folk who embraced the Orthodox faith of Byzantium. while the Croats to the northwest remained Catholic. For good measure, the Ottoman Turks rode hard northward, flashing scimitars of enforced conversion or butchery through remote pockets of alpine settlement. 

Violence tinted the region red, scarring the inhabitants through generations of fierce reprisals.

The people of South-Central Europe appeared to have been dragged pillar to post in the religious chaos of competing Kings and Sultans.

In the wake of Turkish conquest, the youngest boys were systematically abducted from Orthodox villages up and down the rugged terrain. Raised in the Islamic faith, these children grew into fearsome warriors, eventually unleashed back on their former homes. These Janissaries coldly delivered Ottoman violence upon their own kinsmen. 

Mired in blood, rulers like Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula eliminated his many enemies by impaling victims on wooden stakes. Most were Muslim.

I don’t recall my grade in that course, but I was mesmerized. Enough remained with me to pass on to my history students. For example, as America fought their Civil War, a Medieval system still restrained Eastern European society. Blood feuds raged through the mountain terrain pitting Croats against Serbs, against Albanians, against Bulgars, and on and on. By the end of the 19th Century the Balkans acquired a new moniker, “the powder keg of Europe.”

The ignition of World War One began in Sarajevo, the center of Bosnia Herzegovina. As the Ottoman Empire eventually receded southward, the Austro-Hungarian Empire aimed to absorb Bosnia as their own. Hapsburg Emperor, Franz Joseph sent his nephew on a good will mission to picturesque Sarajevo. For the nephew, Franz Ferdinand, this would be his last royal duty. A Serb teenager waiting on the processional route shot the Hapsburg heir, and his wife, too. From that incident came “The War to End All Wars.”

This essay barely scratches the full history of Eastern Europe. Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Kosovo, all hold eons of collective history, enough to study a lifetime. 

Still much like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle with scattered and missing pieces, an incomplete picture of the region remains. World War Two, the frigid tension of the Cold War, and the Balkan Wars of the mid-1990’s all continue to pull the world in, as if a black hole.  

I stuck with that college class, in that professor’s office, and as a result understand why NATO, including US peace-keeping forces, still must remain in the “Land Without Justice.”  

Gail Chumbley is an author, and history educator. Her two books, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” both available on Kindle. In addition Gail has composed two plays, “Clay” and “Wolf By The Ears.”

Speculators

*A former student, Todd Christiansen, works as a Wellsite Geologist in oil. Reprinted with his permission.

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I’ve seen lots of people posting about oil and gas and the prices thereof, and there’s a tremendous amount of bullshit flying around. So allow me, a scientist working in Oil, to say a few things:

1.) Gas prices are largely determined by speculators. Supply and Demand has almost nothing to do with them. Things like “international uncertainty,” and “these idiots don’t have any other choice because half the country thinks public transportation is for liberal pussies,” drive prices up and there’s no real way to force them to come down. No matter what Newsmax or MSNBC is telling you, Joe Biden can’t flip the “Lower Gas Prices,” switch without an act of socialism on a scale that would make Reagan’s corpse reanimate and storm the capital more effectively than they did on January 6th.

2.) Access to more or less oil doesn’t really effect gas prices. Rather, it’s what that more or less access to oil causes the speculators to think that drives prices one way or the other. To put it another way, if the US were to stop buying Russian oil, gas prices would go up, not because there would be a shortage of oil or anything but because the speculators would think “this should drive prices up.” It’s really as simple as that.

3.) The Keystone XL pipeline is for Canadian oil. While the US certainly buys it’s fair share, and the pipeline might lower costs, it isn’t going to realistically change gas prices. Unless you own stock in Canadian oil companies, or you just REALLY HATE environmentalists, the pipeline isn’t the answer to anything. It’s just a red herring. Like Communism.

4.) We are drilling and producing oil all over America, including in the Bakken in North Dakota. I saw some ridiculous shit yesterday about how liberals have shut down drilling in North Dakota, and I can’t explain thoroughly enough how absolutely not true that is. I’ve got coworkers up there as we speak. And Liberals or Democrats or whoever have never really had any sort of impact on domestic drilling(outside of Alaska, but Seward’s Folly is a whole different kettle of fish) since I got into the industry in 2010. There is only one factor that I’ve seen that changes the amount of drilling we do: oil prices. Anyone who points the finger at anyone other than oil companies is selling you a bridge, dude.

King of the Hill

General Washington had not yet been appointed commander of the Continental Army. Nonetheless, the conflict against Great Britain, though running hot after Lexington and Concord, remained an informal, isolated brushfire in the eyes of the Crown. Still, the very presence of soldiers grated Bostonians, enough that outraged patriots plotted retaliation.

June 16th, after dark, these Sons of Liberty acted, digging in on Breeds Hill located near Bunker Hill, north of the city in Charles Town. All that night these newly minted Minutemen stacked preloaded-muskets, entrenched, and waited for sunrise. At first light, the startled Redcoats scrambled to form lines and launch an offensive against the rebels. Though holding the line through three assaults, the Bostonians, low on gunpowder, were forced to melt away into the surrounding area. The shocked Brits decided to call the contest a victory.

But as one royal officer candidly admitted, “if we win anymore like this, we’ll lose this war.”

That is the lesson of Bunker Hill, hold the high ground, and draw the fight uphill to a well-defended position.

General George Washington arrived in Boston the next month, taking command of the motley Continental Army. Positioning his inexperienced troops on the heights surrounding the city, Washington bluffed his military strengths. When actual heavy guns finally reached Washington, the Redcoats had had enough, and on March 17, 1776, all the King’s men evacuated to Canada.

Two philosophers on warfare, China’s Sun Tzu, and Prussian, Carl von Clauswitz had committed to paper their respective views on the value of the high ground. Sun Tzu in the 6th Century, and Clausewitz in the early 19th Century argued its significance. Much like that game, “King of the Hill,” we played as kids, the advantage belongs to the person on top. That essentially defines both tacticians principles.

Yet, physically holding a hill doesn’t go far enough. Both philosophers argued that a moral high ground is equally essential, an armed force must be clad with a virtuous cause. 

A higher moral purpose fills the sails to victory.

In 1860, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, becoming America’s 16th President. That moment weighed with foreboding, as Southern States, one by one, chose to secede from the United States. The new President viewed this idea as impossible–statehood was not a revolving door. In his inaugural address. Lincoln spoke plainly, “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.”

Then Lincoln, and the the rest of the nation watched and waited. On April 12, 1861 guns thundered from Charleston, South Carolina, smashing into Fort Sumter, a federal installation in the harbor.

Boom, done and done.

The Rebs drew first blood, and Lincoln, by default, seized the moral high ground. After a duration of four long, bloody years, the rebellion collapsed, and slavery ended.

Both the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, elevated America’s retaliation as morally justified, drawing the nation into both World War Two, and the War on Terror.

Everyone around the world is watching the Ukrainian people standing tall against a mystifying invasion by Russia. Ukrainian President Zelensky has brilliantly executed the lessons of Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz. His articulate, moral leadership, and courage has more than won the moral high ground test. In contrast, Vladimir Putin has proven his lack of preparation, and barbarity, assuring the Russian President an international pariah.

These principles are timeless and universal, not only in America, but in past conflicts like Thermopylae in the 5th Century, and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1940.

Whether the Ukrainian President, is aware or not, he has benefitted from the teachings of Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz, and this is Ukraine’s finest hour.

The possession of high ground may decide a battle, war or the fate of a nation.

Carl von Clausewitz

Gail Chumbley is a history educator, and writer.

gailchumbley@chumbleg

Rebellions

The Republican Party emerged in 1854 as a voice for liberty, and of opportunity. Forged in sectional controversy, members dedicated themselves to one overriding priority, no slavery in America’s western territories. On that point the fledgling party stood firm.

A lawyer in Springfield, Abraham Lincoln, joined the growing party early, concerned, as were others, with escalating tensions between the North and South.

In 1860, Lincoln threw his very tall hat into the ring, and declared his candidacy for President. Defying considerable odds, Lincoln prevailed over other, more prominent Republicans at the GOP Convention in Chicago. Lincoln grasped the nomination. 

The South responded as one. If Lincoln won the Presidency, they would bolt the Union. He did win, and tried to reason with Southern States through his inaugural address. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.”

The sticking point of course, slavery. 

By the time Lincoln took the oath of office, eight Southern States had voted to secede from the Union. This president understood the fears of the South, and knew what drove the secessionists. He didn’t hate them, he did not want them punished. During the last year of the war Lincoln, in his second inaugural address gently offered an olive branch stating, “With malice toward none; with charity for all.”

Lincoln’s lasting legacy held that the Civil War meant more than reunification of the states. His  “new birth of freedom” implied a higher ideal, the turmoil meant something more honorable, and timeless: the cause of humanity. The Emancipation Proclamation came first, then the 13th Amendment, forever freeing those held in bondage. This president took no credit for prevailing over the Rebels, hoping only to heal the divisions that fueled the rage.

His martyrdom on April 15,1865 left the GOP imprinted with Lincoln’s goodness, modesty, and nobility. This first Republican President endured four years of national hell, and never forgot his mission.

Lincoln met the Rebellion, and vanquished it.

America today hears no soaring rhetoric from the GOP, nor elegant prose, only hate speech and bellyaching. The GOP has severed the cords of duty to country, replacing patriotic obligation with an unapologetic lust for power, and self interest. 

For four years the taxpayers have been fleeced, and minorities targeted, the kind of intolerance Lincoln abhorred. Long standing alliances were cast aside as a self-serving dunce cozied up to America’s enemies. The Republican members of Congress have forsaken their obligation to country first, pretending and excusing that all was normal in the turbulent White House. 

The greatest harm perpetrated by, and enabled by the current GOP, is the violent attack on the heart of our democracy: the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The irony is rich. As the Republican Party grew from a rebellion, it will now perish from another.