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Trump, the media and democracy by Kathleen Burns

Published 01 Sep 2018

Draft of talk by Kathleen Burns for AIIA NSW. The address planned for this coming Tuesday evening, 4 September, has regretfully been cancelled due to the ill-health of the speaker.   

Washington was elected unanimously as the first president of the United States in 1788 and again, unanimously, in 1792.  When he agreed to come out of retirement, ”it was widely assumed that he would be elected. He did not select a running mate.” (Wikipedia/org) Nor were there any other federal political parties.

Politically, people were divided by opinion, either into favouring the Federalists—those who supported passage of the draft Constitution—or those favouring the Anti-Federalists, who did not favour the central government framework set up in the Constitution.

Prior to serving as President, Washington was the Commander of the American military forces during the Revolutionary War and was a major force in helping the Founding Fathers to create the framework for the Constitution.  The population dubbed him “The Father of the Country.”  Washington refused to be named king, though some of the colonists still favoured a British monarchical system—which the 13 colonies had forcefully broken away from through the Revolutionary War.

For the first US election for president, electors (in what is now called the Electoral College) cast all 69 electoral votes for Washington, coupled with a popular vote of 43,782—or 100%.  The outcome represented 10 states—but left out: North Carolina and Rhode Island, which had not yet ratified the Constitution; New York, where the legislature was in a deadlock; and Vermont, which was operating as a “de facto” unrecognized state.

According to various US historians, some of the words used to describe the first president include:

“strong, wise, creative, intelligent, courageous, intelligent, fair, polite, caring and a great leader.” (Answers. Com on Founding Fathers/George Washington/ Adjectives and Articles)

And what about Washington’s distant successor, Donald Trump, and his road to the White House from the Nov. 8, 2016 election?

His election campaign in 2015-16, was describe as one of the most divisive political campaigns in US history, and one of the most costly.  An estimated 91 million US voters skipped the polling both.  There was widespread voter suppression, organized by politicians in several state governments, to minimize voter turnout out among minorities, students, the elderly and those in rural areas, who lacked transportation to voting stations, or a birth certificate or a photo ID. There were deliberate shortages of voting machines and shortages of ballots. And then there was the influence of the Russian hackers on the federal elections —which has been documented by the 13 major US intelligence services.  And I’ll talk more about that in a minute.

Unlike Washington, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, by almost 2 million votes.

Trump is the 5th US candidate who was made president, not by voter choice, but through an anachronism of the Electoral College which is a relic from the original Constitution in 1787.

The same thing happened in 2000 election, when George Bush II beat Al Gore, not through the ballot box, but through the Electoral College.

Among US presidents, Trump is the only one who had no prior military, electoral or public service jobs.  When he graduated from university, his father (a wealthy real estate mogul) gave his son $10 million to start his career. He eventually inherited the business. He was autonomous and did not have to report to the usual board of directors and or have anyone overseeing his work.

A reality TV star, Trump is running the US government the same way he did the program “The Apprentice,” with people randomly hired and fired, and chosen for their “loyalty” to Trump rather than any proven track record for specific jobs, like heading federal agencies.

A group of neutral US historians, including author David McCullough who won Pulitzer Prizes for books on presidents John Adams and Harry Truman, told the New York Times that “he does not usually weigh in on contemporary political issues.” But, as a registered political Independent, he “felt compelled to speak out,” as to why Americans “would entrust Trump [in the presidency]” when he is someone who is “clearly unsuited” to be president.

Another historian, Vicki Lynn Ruiz of the University of California, Irvine, puts “Trump’s hateful rhetoric toward immigrants in the context of anti-immigrant attitudes of the 20th century.” She notes that the Klu Klux Klan targeted Catholics—who were seen as ‘foreign agents’— in the 1920s and how Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act, which imposed immigration quotas in 1924.”

A third member of this group of historians includes Ron Chernow, who wrote the biography and hit Broadway musical on Alexander Hamilton, said the Trump campaign disturbed him more than “any other presidential campaign in our history.” He questioned the words that were missing in the campaign, as well as in the actual presidency such as Liberty, Justice, Freedom and Tolerance.

“The only historical movement that Trump alludes to is a shameful one: America First,”which refers to Trumps foreign policy slogan, “which shares its name with an anti-Semitic group from the 1940s.
A fourth colleague, Robert Caro, who wrote extensively on strong-willed public figures like President Lyndon Johnson, calls Trump a “demagogue” who appeals to the ugliest parts of human nature.  Adds Caro, “History tells us we shouldn’t underestimate him. History is full of demagogues and sometimes rise to the very heights of power by appealing to things that are unfortunately a part of human nature [like] racism, which I think is a part of human nature not matter how hard we try, and excessive virulent patriotism, that goes by the name of xenophobia.” (https://www.huffington…8/21/2018. / /Title: “Here’s Why Donald Trump is Horrifying, According to Historians,” by Sam Levine, 14/07/2016

An editor’s note to the comments of the four historians notes that “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims—1.6 billion members of an entire religion—from entering the US.”