Trump is a Combination of George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy and John C. Calhoun
Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015). A paperback edition is now available.
As this year moves on into the summer, just a few torturous months from the presidential election, Donald Trump is demonstrating for everyone to see that he is in the league of disgraceful historical figures including Alabama Democratic Governor George Wallace (1919-1998), Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), and South Carolina Democratic Senator John C. Calhoun (1782-1850). The horrifying thing to realize is that Wallace sought the Presidency in 1968 and won five states in the Electoral College and 46 electoral votes, the second most of any third party nominee in history; and that Calhoun was Vice President under two Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and was, therefore, a heartbeat away from the Presidency for nearly eight years. And there were supporters of Joseph McCarthy who, until his political downfall in 1954 due to his horrid performance in the Army-McCarthy hearings of that year, imagined him as a future candidate.
Now we have Donald Trump, who five years ago announced his presidential candidacy on June 16, 2015, with a vicious racist attack on people of Hispanic ancestry and later justified the white supremacist mobs at Charlottesville in 2017. Further actions and utterances on a multitude of matters have occurred since then, culminating in using force on peaceful demonstrators in Washington DC on June 1, 2020, and now choosing to hold a campaign rally in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially endangering all participants in Tulsa Oklahoma on June 19. The location—Tulsa, Oklahoma—is the site of the worst race riot in American history, and the date—June 19th or “Juneteenth”—celebrates the anniversary of the end of slavery announced by military leaders to the freed slaves of Texas in 1865. Could the president be any more tone deaf than this?
Trump’s actions and language echo George Wallace at his racist peak in 1968. Wallace’s own daughter a half century later has repudiated what Trump has been doing for the past five years. The nightmare of Wallace was averted by the fact that he was a third party candidate. Who would have thought that a mainstream political party would end up supporting such a candidate as their nominee in 2016, or that many of those who repudiated Trump then have now embraced him, and overlooked, or ignored, or justified his horrendous behavior, no matter how outrageous it is?
Another demagogue, Joseph McCarthy, stopped at nothing to divide, promoted instability and chaos, and demonstrated he had no ethics, morals, or scruples in destroying many lives in his quest to gain power and influence based on lies and deception. And McCarthy had as his chief aide a vicious opportunist named Roy Cohn, who ended up being an influence on Donald Trump, promoting his own worst traits on the young, impressionable publicity seeker. Trump has often said how important Roy Cohn was to his life story, and now, Trump has Stephen Miller, a vicious racist, who has become the new Roy Cohn in Trump’s life, out to promote racism and division.
And we see John C. Calhoun, often called the man who brought us the Civil War, even though he passed away a full decade before the war began. But Calhoun promoted slavery, states rights, white supremacy, and secession, all of which were embraced by the political and military leaders of the Confederate States of America. The nation has overlooked the fact of their violations of human rights and their treason and commemorated these figures by constructing monuments and statues, and naming ten military bases and innumerable streets, towns, and schools after them. This is now a new issue in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, and the recognition is growing that such high regard for these historical figures is totally inappropriate.
But what is Donald Trump’s reaction? It is to indicate that he opposes any change in the Confederate impact on American history, a century and a half after the war that killed two thirds of a million Americans, slaughtered over the issue of slavery and basic human rights of all people. One would think that Trump was from a Southern tradition, but he is from New York City, and yet embraces the worst traditions of the Old South.
In so doing, he has engendered opposition from many military and political leaders, including in the party that he has been hijacking from the traditions of its founders, including Abraham Lincoln, and 19th century Congressional leaders of the Republican Party, formed in opposition to the expansion of slavery, and including many abolitionists amongst them.
So the worst traditions and most despicable political figures of American history are joined together in one man, who has the potential to do further harm in the next few months to the election, and for the two and a half months after the election. But even more terrifying is what if Trump overcomes all of the polls showing him losing support, and somehow is declared the winner. What kind of America will we have from 2021-2025 with an emboldened, and much more unaccountable President, who will feel he can say or do anything even more outrageous than he has wrought in the past four years?
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