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

Infinity Clause

In the fall of 1789 recently inaugurated President, George Washington called for a National day of Thanksgiving. Under the previous frame of government, the unworkable Articles of Confederation, such proclamations had customarily been sent to the governors of each state. However, Washington abandoned that practice. As the first US President, Washington instead issued the proclamation to the American People.

This President deliberately bypassed state governments.

The new Constitution, practically wet with ink, had been intentionally addressed to “We The People,” and Washington aimed through his administration to join every citizen, regardless of state, to the national government. This proclamation, seemingly banal, clearly signaled a dramatic reset of power in the new Republic.

Two years prior, in Philadelphia, the framers turned attention to composing a Preamble, otherwise understood as a mission statement. Preambles were not unusual, each state government began with them, but in that hot, humid chamber of Constitution Hall work commenced to define America’s mission. Gouverneur Morris, a delegate from New York, most probably authored the statement, and it was Morris who set out the language.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The heart of these guiding principles begin with the phrase “The People,” followed by the active verb, “To Form.”

The Preamble rests upon this infinitive clause, implying America is a work in constant progress. This mission is a founding legacy fixed upon enduring bedrock.

Susan B Anthony sought justice voting in the Election of 1872. Arrested for casting her ballot, Anthony faced a Federal judge, and received a verdict of guilty. The 19th Amendment, ratified nearly fifty years later extended the vote to women. Hounded by settlers from the 17th Century onward, Native Americans sought survival and the tranquility to peacefully co-exist with whites. It’s ironic that indigenous Americans were not citizens until 1924.The United States in 1860, teetered on a knife point of dissolution. President, Abraham Lincoln, could not stand by and watch democracy die under the threat of secession. Preparing for the common defense Lincoln mobilized northern forces to defend the Union. From Jane Addam’s Hull House, a Chicago settlement center for immigrants, promoting the general welfare, to Dred Scott, and Homer Plessy’s struggle to reap the blessings of liberty, each generation stood tall in their historic moments.

To honor the principles of the document, and as heirs of Constitutional law, our charge, like those before, is weightier than our private comfort. We The People have no choice but to continue Gouverneur Morris, and President Washington’s wishes To Form A More Perfect Union.

Modern America’s mini tyrants must not prevail. Make your voice heard at the ballot box on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. Chumbley has written two historical plays, “Clay” regarding the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an exploring the roots of slavery and racism.

Fight Club

A biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, (by Robert A. Caro) presents an in-depth look at LBJ’s Senate career. Aptly titled “Master of the Senate,” Caro describes the future president’s considerable ability to push bills he championed through the US Senate.

Using his boundless energy to cajole, intimidate, and hound opponents, Senator Johnson proved remarkably effective. When candidate John F Kennedy selected LBJ to serve as his running mate, Johnson’s reputation as a political wheeler dealer sealed his selection. 

A look at the backgrounds of all 46 American Presidents, only one-third rose from Congress’s upper chamber. From 1900 to today only seven Chief Executives began in the Senate. Perhaps as candidates, these politicians carry controversial voting records, or personal foibles leaving too much baggage for a successful run. In spite of inherent liabilities, most modern Senators-turned-President, bring an effective array of skills to the White House.

For both Truman with his Fair Deal, and John F Kennedy’s New Frontier, legislative wins were scarce. Truman did enjoy a moment with passage of the Marshall Plan to rebuilt war-torn Europe, and Kennedy with the ratification of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

Following JFK’s murder Lyndon Johnson seized that tragic moment initiating his Great Society program, and then showed America how to get things done. Public Television, highway beautification, Medicare, Medicaid, and both the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson’s achievements were many, and important. 

Richard Nixon served in the Senate, as well. Once President, Nixon promoted the Environmental Protection Agency, and the passage of Title IX for women in sports. It wasn’t all evil in that White House, the guy had skills.

In 2010, single-term Senator from Illinois, turned President, Barack Obama signed into law The Affordable Care Act. Standing near, watching was Obama’s Vice-President, Joe Biden, himself a 36 year veteran of the Senate. 

The thing is Mitch McConnell lobbed every counterpunch in the rules to stop Obamacare. But he failed in the face of three wily tacticians, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi in the House, and, of course, Joe Biden.

Now Joe has entered the White House in his own right.

The supposition that legislative cunning ensures a successful presidency is only an interesting thought. But Truman did see reelection, while LBJ collapsed under the weight of Vietnam, not his legislative magic. Nixon sabotaged himself, but the Biden presidency appears to be chugging along on a steady course. 

In the Senate since 1973, this 46th President cut his political teeth on Capitol Hill. Senate rules, cloture, floor privileges, and more are some of the lethal weapons in his political arsenal. For example, when Senator Manchin suddenly came on board with the Inflation Reduction Act, Mitch McConnell, another sly dog, staggered, blindsided.

The point remains. There is a lot more to Joe Biden than meets the eye. This is not a President to dismiss for superficial reasons, like his grandpa appearance, and folksy demeanor. If anything, Biden’s Senate career has forged him into a political shark. The Infrastructure package, Covid Relief, and College Debt Forgiveness have largely passed, allowing his opponents no time to breathe.

And Joe’s VP? She’s a former Senator, too.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are on Kindle. Chumbley has written two historical plays, “Clay” regarding the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an exploration of American racism and slavery.

Only Good News

I attended college in the mid-1970’s, starting around the end of the Vietnam War, and Nixon’s resignation. A restless atmosphere permeated campus as antiwar radicalism faded, leaving time to address other pressing dangers.

Newspaper headlines told the story. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River had caught fire, the blaze feeding upon nothing more than sewage laced with flammable sludge. Developers in upstate New York broke ground for a planned community over a topsoil-covered chemical waste dump. Later the “Love Canal” housing project reported residents dying from leukemia in alarming numbers. A nuclear plant chemist in Oklahoma, Karen Silkwood, turned whistleblower, testifying before the Atomic Energy Commission, regarding the dangerous levels and exposure of radiation at the facility.

Silkwood later died in a suspicious car accident.

As Americans focused on ending the war in Southeast Asia, sustainable life visibly deteriorated in America. As we protested the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, we missed the incessant dumping of chemical runoff into Florida’s Everglades. Car exhaust, and acid rain doused the “Rust Belt” region surrounding the Great Lakes. 

Some politicians stepped up to the moment, like Georgia Governor, Jimmy Carter. Carter, a Democrat, ran for and won the 1976 Presidential Election. For many, Carter presented a serious, intelligent and incorruptible problem-solver. Grasping the petroleum bull by the horns, President Carter prioritized America’s need to conserve energy. He pointed out that domestic transportation literally depended on the whims of Middle Eastern cartels who bore no love for the United States. Addressing the crisis, Carter appeared on prime time, wearing a sweater, imploring the country to turn down the heat to 65 degrees, and cut back on driving.

Though he was right, Carter served only one turbulent term, replaced by smiling Ronald Reagan. The Reagan campaign understood Americans wanted to hear only good news, and how exceptional Americans inherently were.

This changing guard had no love for Federal bureaucracy, quickly dispensing with environmental restrictions. James Watt served as Interior Secretary, and Anne Buford Gorsuch at the EPA. Both ignored Congressional environmental statutes, slashing budgets, cutting staff, and relaxing regulations on private logging rights and clean water standards.   

In the 1990’s another voice rose to school Americans on the reality of environmental decay; former Vice President, Al Gore. In his 2006 film, “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore presented a compelling case highlighting the ravages of climate change, and global warming. At the end of the film the Vice President adopted an encouraging tone. Now that American’s understood this impending threat, we would act as one to save our home planet.

For his stance, George H.W. Bush anointed Al Gore “Captain Ozone.” Pappy Bush was, after all, an oil man from Texas.

The kicker is that we knew in the 1970’s which way this story would end. 

Today Lake Mead hosts more dead bodies than boaters, while vast catastrophic fires incinerate the Red Woods. Endless 100 degree-plus days extend longer every summer, and floods flow through the arroyos of the Desert Southwest. In the highest latitudes polar ice shelves calve mountains of glaciers raising the ocean levels globally. 

If the purpose of politics is to nurture dim, aggrieved consumers, the GOP has accomplished that, in spades. But the crisis is real, and the GOP is not helping.

In point of fact, the Trump Administration referred to global warming as a hoax. The US formally withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, ratified during the Obama years. According to the Washington Post, under Trump’s watch, over 125 Obama era protections were reversed, loosening regulations on endangered species and oil spills.

For those of us of a certain age, we have watched this crisis evolve over fifty years. Buck passing, unfettered capitalism, combined with political postering renders this moment impossible to fix. If pursuit of wealth and hubris outweighs preservation, greed is our undoing.

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” deals with the life of Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, and “Wolf By The Ears,” explores the beginnings of racism and slavery.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

A Renaissance Man

Nothing short of brilliant, Dale Olson could expound on almost any topic. His knowledge of sports, history, and literature rendered him as a true Renaissance man. He also loved the Simpsons. 

Dale Curtis Olson joined the planet on February 10, 1954. 

Born and raised in Spokane he attended public schools and graduated from Joel E. Ferris in 1972. A graduate of the University of Washington in History and Political Science, he pursued jobs that carried him around the globe. With positions from Antarctica and to Johnson Island, Dale found the world his finishing school. He did not simply tour destinations, Dale relished them, as food for his soul.

His children were his books, and those surrounded him. Still news of his grandnephews and niece arrived welcome to his home. 

Throughout Dale’s long trials with illness he persevered, aided in large part by our brother David. Our gratitude is heartfelt.

Dale was predeceased by our father, David E. Olson, and survived by our mother, Rita Olson. Also his sister Gail Chumbley(Chad) of Garden Valley, Idaho, brothers Stephen (Elizabeth), and David Olson of Spokane. He is remembered by all his nieces and nephews residing from Spokane to Portland, to Salt Lake City.

We will have no service, and in lieu of flowers donations to American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org are suggested.

Oh to live on Sugar Mountain

With the barkers and the colored balloons

You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain

Though you’re thank that you are leaving there too soon.

Neil Young

Symmetry

This is one of my favorite twists in American history.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley has penned two plays, as well. “Clay” on the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” exploring the beginnings of racism and slavery.

The Worst White Man

This is an image from a college history text. The visual illustrates Southern society in years prior to the Civil War. There are plenty of inferences to derive from this chart; the most revealing being how little America has changed.

Although the election of Barack Obama in 2008 marked a high note in the story of America, our coming of age, so to speak, the violent reaction has exposed an old low.

In the aftermath of the Obama years, ugly ghosts have been summoned and let loose. Specifically, as in the years prior to the Civil War, the Southern aristocracy has, once again, activated yeoman, and lower class whites to fight their battles. How? Reinforcing the idea that a black president was one too many for today’s white aristocracy.

The depth of modern racism honestly feels surprising, proving that America actually hasn’t grown at all. In fact, a new civil war is underway, unleashing a fresh wave of fury from the most dangerous creature of all–an armed underclass white man. Planter society still reigns, and has incited those who believed they’ve been shortchanged by a complex, and changing country.

The link tying the 1860’s to the 21st Century? Convincing poor whites that the worst white man is still a better president than the best black man. (And I don’t mean Joe Biden.)

This needed to be said, so I said it.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January; Figure Eight.”

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Catch Up

A radical change in imperial policy between Great Britain and her American Colonies marked the beginning of the Revolutionary Era.

Well before the American Revolution an amiable, and profitable arrangement existed between the Colonials and Parliament. This mutually profitable connection quickly terminated after the French and Indian War, 1754-1763. That conflict, though a victory for the British, had cost the Royal Treasury plenty, and the Crown abandoned friendly relations by coercing Americans to share in settling that war debt .

Parliament began by imposing a number of taxes, all designed to force Americans to pay up. The Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Townshend Duties, among other measures, had been designed to force Americans to cover the royal debt. Once proud to be British, Colonials were shocked to realize the Crown viewed them as a source of revenue, and nothing more.

Colonials had a long running smuggling network, importing cheaper commodities from the French islands, thus evading British tariffs. Those caught and arrested found fast acquittal by colonial juries of their peers, as locals were also customers of the accused. In Boston, tensions soon turned to bloodshed, followed later with tea spilled into the Harbor. The Crown, not amused, soon forbade traditional trials, and transported accused Americans to military courts, in particular to Nova Scotia. Next, British Red Coats were deployed to the New England colonies to impose martial law, and Parliament decreed American’s had to house and feed their own oppressors.  

These matters were met with vehement dissent, Colonials protesting they had no representative in Parliament, and would not tolerate taxation without their consent. “No Taxation Without Representation” and “Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God,” rang throughout Colonial America.

Tensions ripened, finally coming to a bloody confrontation in April of 1775, and the rest we mostly remember from school. 

Tasked with scribing a Declaration of Independence at the Second Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson vented American grievances through his quill. Working alone, Jefferson defended the violent actions carried out by Americans, and took pains to explain the radicalism. . . . “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” And for six years the Continental Army persevered.

In 1787, the subsequent creation and ratification of the U.S. Constitution set an enduring national blueprint of settled law. The Framers designed a government derived from the people, meaning we all are equal, and guaranteed representation in shaping law.

That brings this story to today. 

The election of a president from an opposing party is not a radical, nor sudden change of policy. Rather, this cyclic American ritual is as normal as the singing the Star Spangled Banner before a game. American voters have chosen our leaders in this manner since George Washington’s name first appeared on the ballot. 

To all of you who attacked our Capitol, it’s well past time for you to catch up. Put away those symbols of rebellion; of coiled snakes, hangmen gallows, and Viking horns. The Revolution ended two and a half centuries ago. The story of America is well underway.

In point of fact, those January 6th insurrectionists themselves attempted a radical change in American tradition. In pursuit of violence and chaos, these terrorists attempted a savage disruption of our deepest democratic traditions. Now that is unAmerican. In point of fact, we all have political representatives, and a right to a jury of our peers, and nary a soldier is found lounging on the couch.

Grow up and stand down.  

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.”

Chumbley has also penned two plays, “Clay” exploring the life of Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an examination of American slavery and racism.

chumbleg.blog

A Scandalous Life

And I didn’t include GW Bush

A video blog. Forgive the quality, but the point is clear.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle. In addition Chumbley has complete two plays, “Clay,” on the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears” exploring the beginnings of racism and slavery.