The Die was Cast

The threat of disunion appeared long before either the Civil War, or the insurrection on January 6, 2021. The architects laying the chaotic cornerstone? President John Adams, and his Vice President, Thomas Jefferson.

David McCullough in his celebrated biography, John Adams, portrayed this Founding Father as a brilliant man, and that is true. However, his self righteous streak succeeded in undercutting his talent and better judgement. As the second president of the United States, John Adams, proved to be a prickly, and thin-skinned chief executive. A dour Yankee, Adams could not tolerate public criticism, and as many later presidents, came to view the press as an adversary—enemies of the government.

In a rage over newspapers excoriating his administration, Adams shepherded the Sedition Act through Congress in 1798. Opposition editors soon found themselves in the President’s cross hairs, and some were actually jailed. The Alien Act, also passed in 1798, aimed to delay new voters, by lengthening time for naturalization, as immigrants were certain to vote against Adams and his Federalist Party. (Hmm. The press, immigrants, and voting rights. Imagine that).

Jefferson, (still Adams’ Vice President), promptly took action to counter Adams’ wrong-headed legislation.

Launching a full out, but anonymous denunciation of the Adams Administration, Vice President Jefferson published tracts vilifying Adams, and emphasized the sovereignty of the states guaranteed under 10th Amendment.

Returning from France, where he had served as American ambassador, Jefferson had been appalled by the powerful Federal Constitution created in his absence. As a ‘natural aristocrat,’ and slave master, Jefferson was unwilling to cede power to any higher authority than himself, and his fellow patricians. Instead the “Sage of Monticello,” asserted the right of states not to obey laws they didn’t like.

Two state legislatures agreed to debate Jefferson’s counter measures, Virginia and Kentucky. Penned secretly by Jefferson, and Madison, these resolutions insisted the states were the final arbiters of what was legally binding. A new term emerged from this controversy—Nullification.

The die was cast, the seeds of disunion sown. In the years following, nullification intensified, fertilized particularly in 1832 by John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina Senator. That that state became the first to secede in 1861, sparking the US Civil War, is no coincidence.

The traitors who invaded the halls of Congress last January took their cue from Jefferson, as if they, too battled the evils of John Adams. Scapegoating the media, immigrants and the Federal government has left a long, bloody stain on American history. As I write, the States of Georgia, and Texas among others, are attempting to limit voting rights once again. Texas has also taken a nullifying stance, limiting a woman’s right to her own body, despite Federal protections.                        

No government has a self-destruct button, none. John Adam’s pique, and Thomas Jefferson’s reaction stamped an incompatibility that still, today, inflames American politics. 

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

It’s Only Fair

Recognizing the power of radio and the new technology of television, Congress, in 1949 codified equal time when programming concerned public policy. The Fairness Doctrine the second of its kind (the first governed radio programming) was enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandating stations present equal sides of an issue. And that doctrine governed news coverage until killed by the Reagan Administration in 1987.

Televised debates between party candidates gained popularity with the 1960 Presidential campaign between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Though the views spoken varied little, one from another, Kennedy looked a helluva lot better than sweaty Dick Nixon appearing haggard with his famous five o’clock shadow.

Nationally, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite was called “The most trusted man in America.” 

When Cronkite publicly judged Vietnam a losing cause, and that Woodward and Bernstein were on to something with Watergate, the end of the war in Southeast Asia, and of the Nixon Administration followed. 

Now that’s real power. 

Vice President Spiro Agnew did not mince words concerning television news, and the press in general. “Nattering Nabobs of Negativity,” was the verdict of the later disgraced VP. Now I’m not trying to imply that the Reagan Administration retired the Fairness Doctrine in order to kneecap the “Liberal” media, but then again, maybe they did. 

The central problem with losing equal coverage is Americans still assume news coverage is fair. Across countless cable channels, rife with unregulated news sites, viewers never have to hear journalists present opinions contrary to those they already hold.

In turn, mainstream networks are today compelled to cover lightweight bubbleheads like Elise Stefanik, and Marjorie whatshername as serious public figures. And as TV personalities Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz understand, outrage is the point

So this brings us to The Apprentice. Through the magic of producers, writers, and directors a wannabe strongman rose to the highest office in the land. His supporters/viewers bought the business tycoon image hook line and sinker, even with confessed “alternative facts.” The blowhard, himself was gratified, and intoxicated with the television character he contrived.

Now this story would be funny, except that it is deadly serious. On January 6, 2021 a fired-up  mob attacked and vandalized the United States Capitol, on the word of this frightened, undisciplined man. Without a blush, the aforementioned wannabe and his political cronies told Americans it wasn’t as it looked. Just an ordinary day of ordinary tourists, a dodge known as “alternative facts.”

Dutifully, partisan networks chimed in verifying that characterization.

Compromised media outlets with their repetitious distractions have numbed us through an endless sliding scale of reality. The Fairness Doctrine forced Americans to measure information with gravity. 

Perhaps before 1987 Americans worked harder to make America work.

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.