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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

American History 201, NPR Thank-Yous, Donald Trump's Schooling and a Middle East Review


Amendments and Political Parties

Those that believe we should live by the words in the Constitution approved back in 1789 tend to forget that that document provided for change through Amendments.  Those who wrote the Constitution knew there would be need for changes in the future.  The requirements were rigorous, but through the years several Amendments have passed which have had a significant effect on elections.  Here is a brief summary of Amendments to the Constitution which have affected election results.

12th Amendment (1804) – Clarified how Electoral College Selected the President and Vice President. (a majority of electoral votes needed for each office; otherwise decision to be resolved in House for the Presidency … one vote per state … and in the Senate for Vice President).  Before that, the Vice-President was the one who came in second after the Presidential winner, resulting in Presidents and Vice-Presidents who disagreed with each other. Example: President John Adams barely spoke to Thomas Jefferson, his Vice-President.

15th Amendment (1870) – Gave former slaves right to vote.

17th Amendment (1913) – Senators popularly elected rather than selected by State legislatures.

19th Amendment (1920) – Gave women the right to vote.

26th Amendment (1971) – Lowered voting age to 18.

Although George Washington did not want to see political parties develop in the United States, preventing them forever was impossible.  In the early years of the country, the Electoral College voted on candidates as individuals, who were not identified as members of a political party, because at that time, there were no official parties.  But here's how they eventually came to be.

Washington and Adams believed in a strong central government and were identified as “Federalists,” which was a philosophy rather than a party.  Their successors (Jefferson, Madison and Monroe) considered themselves “Democratic Republicans” and preferred a weaker central government and greater states’ rights.  John Quincy Adams, a “Federalist,” became President in 1824 in an election decided in the House when none of the candidates received a majority of the Electoral College as required by the 12th Amendment, after significant bargaining with the  “Democratic Republican" candidates, to the disadvantage of the popular choice, Andrew Jackson. By this time, the Electoral College was elected popularly in most States whereas in earlier days, it was appointed by State legislatures.  This made quite a difference, particularly to a candidate like Jackson who appealed to the working men and farmers with mud on their boots..

Andrew Jackson

A bitter Andrew Jackson and his supporters then broke off from the “Democratic Republicans” and began calling themselves simply “Democrats,” a proudly perjorative term at the time, starting the party we still know today by that name. They came back to win the Presidency for three straight elections, using tough campaign techniques recognizable today, far less scrupulous and polite than those of their less organized opponents who still followed the gentlemanly rules of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. 

The remaining “Democratic Republicans” called themselves “National Republicans” and banded together with along with other opponents of Andrew Jackson.  These groups had many different agendas (pro-slavery, anti-slavery, states’ rights, abolitionists, congressional supremacy, high tariffs, no tariffs, a central bank, no central bank, internal improvements), hatred of “King” Andrew Jackson being the glue that held them together.  They called themselves Whigs, after a party in England who fought the King's having political power.  Behind all of this was the two-ton gorilla in the room that no one wanted to deal with: what would be the rules for the expansion of slavery as the country grew?  

Although never elected President, Henry Clay was the heart of the Whig Party

The Whigs were the first party to hold a convention, as we know it today.  The only Presidents they elected, William Henry Harrison (1840) and Zachary Taylor (1848) died in office.  The Whigs broke up, their states’ right pro-slavery wing eventually joining with the Democrats who were swinging away from support of a Jackson-style strong executive branch to a states’ rights orientation.

What was left of the Whigs formed the basis for the present Republican Party which first ran a Presidential candidate in 1856.  They became the party of a strong executive branch and a strong central government, no longer willing to
compromise about slavery and states’ rights under       
Lincoln, Grant and their successors while the Democrats became states’ rights advocates after the Civil War.  This orientation existed until it was reversed during 

the Democratic administration of Woodrow Wilson (1912) 

when the Democrats became the party of a strong central government, which is where its stands today, with the Republicans standing more for reserving more power to the states and less to the Federal government.  This 20th Century shift in roles of our two major parties resulted in states' rights supporters, particularly in the South, abandoning their Democratic affiliations and becoming Republicans.

Please forgive the broad and possibly erroneous generalizations which this highly oversimplified history lesson includes, but it is the backdrop for the very violent Presidential campaign upon which we are embarking, comparable to what happened in 1824, 1828 and in 1840 when an observer commented that the best way to lose an election was to concentrate on issues.


The Education of Donald Trump

For those who weren't aware of it, Mr. Trump first attended a private school in Queens, NY,  but completed his secondary education at New York Military Academy. 
Trump at N.Y.M.A., the only time he wore a uniform

His higher education continued at Fordham University in the Bronx for two years after which he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania where his older brother had matriculated.  He majored in business there and while he certainly benefited from the courses provided by the University’s Wharton School of Business to the University’s undergraduate business majors, he did not participate in the Wharton’s School’s prestigious graduate programs. After graduation, he went into his family’s business.  Information as to where he stood in his class was not available to researchers, although Mr. Trump has claimed he graduated first in his class.


I Am Waiting for the Day

Those of you who listen to National Public Radio might appreciate this.  Those who don’t, just skip it. 

Frequently, at the conclusion of an interview on an NPR program when the host wraps it up by thanking the guest for being there for the interview, the interviewee usually responds with the words, “Thank you for having me.”  It must be on a card they give to them.  They always say that.

I always chuckle when I hear that because I  am waiting for the day when a prostitute is interviewed on an NPR program and responds to the interviewer in that manner.

What the Next President (and maybe you too) Should Know About the Middle East

The next President of the United States will have to deal with the Middle East, an area which has vexed the past two administrations.   But other than Hillary Clinton, what do the other candidates know about the Middle East?  What do you know about the Middle East?

Let’s look at it.  What have we there?  Well, there are some “real” countries there, nations that promise to be able to continue to stand on their own two feet permanently and have thus far managed to survive.  These include Egypt, Turkey and Iran.  We should try to be friendly with the first two.  Someday, with a growth in trust, real friendship with Iran might also be possible.

Look in the history books.  Give these three countries credit for having been around quite a while.  Israel, also fits into this category.  Syria and Lebanon might also belong with them if they ever become capable of controlling their own destinies, which for many centuries, they have not.

But what about the rest of the Middle East?  What about Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and those rich little places around the Persian Gulf like Bahrein, Abu Dhabi, Qatar or Kuwait? Are they really countries?  Most of their borders are artificial, drawn by Europeans after the centuries-old Ottoman Empire collapsed.  Without the oil underneath them, would they even exist?  Are their governments really anything more, as it has been said, than tribes with a flag?  The terrorist Islamic State is an attempt to violently join these places into one united Sunni Islamic theocracy (a caliphate, they call it), getting rid of the countries now occupying this sandy waste.  They even hope to extend their “realm” to places outside of the Middle East like Somalia and Libya which present the same kinds of opportunities.

I mentioned Iran as a more permanent nation.  They too are a theocracy, a Shia nation, but somewhat more open to ideas than the Sunni Islamic State.  They are militaristic and try to influence and ultimately absorb other contiguous Shia-populated areas currently found in parts of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.  

The history of the Middle East over the next century will be a consolidation of these two groups into two nations, divided along sectarian lines, one Sunni and one Shia.  This will not happen peacefully.  Peripherally involved in this is nearby Russia just to the north, into which some of this Islamic sectarian nationalism creeps.  They are interested in keeping it beyond their borders.  Right now, they are siding more or less with the Iranians.  The United States, and Israel to some extent, attempt to work with those Sunni countries opposed to the Islamic State.  This is a viable position but only so long as their oil reserves exist, without which they would disappear off of the map.

It gets more complicated.  Sunni Pakistan, to the east of Shia Iran, was part of India until that country split into two, dividing itself into Islamic and Hindu dominated nations.  Unconquerable Afghanistan is tucked in between Pakistan and Russia. 

In that part of the world, politics and religion are inseparable, as are nationalism and sectarianism.  I hope all of the Presidential candidates understand this and recognize that it was not all caused by George Bush or Barack Obama. It's just the way the Middle East is.