Andrew Jackson vs. Donald Trump

I’ve been delaying this post because I felt uninspired to write about America’s seventh President – Andrew Jackson. Jackson is a big name in history for good and bad reasons. His face adorns the $20 bill and his name is often compared with our current President – Donald Trump. I am not going to write a dry list of all Jackson’s accolades, but instead, I just want to focus on three major components of his presidency. First, however, I must mention that the biography I read was American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by Jon Meacham. My lack of inspiration with Jackson may partly stem from Meacham’s style of biography which was disjointed and a little heavy on 19th-century gossip. I like biographies which start from birth and end at death – American Lion focuses primarily on Jackson’s presidency – making it difficult to follow a timeline.

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Upon the completion of a book, I always have a few key takeaways that stick in my mind. For Jackson, I have three major points that I want to discuss. First off, Jackson was easily caricatured by politicians but in reality, his personality was far from the public imaginings. Jackson is responsible for the powerful presidency we know of today and this shift in thinking made him appear as a despot. Behind the scenes, Jackson loved his country and wanted to protect it like a father – he was highly successful in this arena. My second takeaway was that Jackson was a stubborn man who had conflicting philosophies. This was most pronounced with his views towards Native Americans and slaves. Jackson is responsible for the Trail of Tears which forced Native Americans to move “yet again” from land in the South to the West. This policy was due to Jackson’s belief that different races of people could not cohabitate together – separation or subjugation were the only solutions. My third takeaway was that this erroneous philosophy did not apply to the States in the Union. During his tenure, Jackson prevented South Carolina from succeeding and held the States accountable to federal laws; preventing a civil war and strengthening the power of the Supreme Court.

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As one can see, Jackson was a complex man who had conflicting philosophies which resulted in policies with negative and positive outcomes. Is the country better off because of Andrew Jackson? Like most Presidents’ track record, this is a hard question to answer. I think overall, Jackson did benefit the country by keeping it together during a time when it was falling apart at the seams. His policies with the Native Americans were disastrous, and that is why I have a hard time liking Jackson. This brings me to my comparison between Jackson and Trump. Donald Trump is a complicated man who is easily caricatured. He is either vilified by the left or overly praised by the right. Jackson changed the strength of the Presidency and Trump is continuing that tradition. I believe just like Jackson, Trump loves his country. But I also think that just like Jackson, Trump has some philosophies which cause contradictions – both helping and hurting the nation.

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For a long time, I caricatured Trump in my mind. After reading Jackson’s biography, I have changed my mind about our current President. Trump is a very intelligent man and in my opinion a political mastermind. He knows exactly how to rally his base and precisely what to Tweet – ensuring his message is spread throughout the internet. Many on the left think he is an idiot for his comments just like intellectuals thought Jackson was mad for some of his statements. Trump and Jackson are strategists. Some of these strategies have good outcomes for the country while others do not. The point I want to make is that both Trump and Jackson have flaws, but they also have strengths. It is our job not to caricature and be petty but rather to be rationale and discerning. When we caricature we dehumanize. When we dehumanize we become a caricature ourselves. Does that mean I support Trump? Yes and no. Just like Jackson, I have my critiques, but just like Jackson, I think Trump’s biography will give us a more complete picture. At this point in time, however, I am unenthused to write about Trump.

PS – The more I read, the more I see myself as an Independent in the realms of politics. I think party politics close ourselves off from seeing the other side. Thoughts, comments, or questions on anything I said…please send me a message.

The Communist in All of Us

Sometimes I get embarrassed when I read certain books in public; one time while I was working at an Elementary school I was confronted by a little girl who asked the simple question – “Why are you reading?” That is a funny story, but I have also gotten unamusing looks from adults with titles like Pride and Prejudice (In a purple cover) and The Book of Mormon. Stares get even icier when I grow my beard out and my appearance resembles that of a homeless man. I just recently reached the epitome of glances with my newest classic – The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. I was reading this scary-sounding book on a park bench one day – my beard looked like a birds nest, and I had my hair up in a man bun. Suffice it to say; mothers walked hurriedly past me and phones were being primed for an Amber Alert. Books are compelling and in the wrong hands can cause a lot of problems; imagine seeing someone reading The ISIS Manifesto: A Guide to Being a Lonewolf. That is why 70 years ago it was hard finding books on Communism and why many libraries blacklisted specific titles. I have mixed feelings about this, but I do believe that it is essential to understand the logic of extreme political thought.

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The Communist Manifesto was a political pamphlet published in 1848 by the German Philosophers Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels (credited for editing). Europe at the time was in a post-French Revolution reordering; class struggle was preeminent and capitalism was taking over the world. The life of a poor laborer consisted of arduous factory work – think of the desperation experienced during the Dust Bowl but tinged with aristocratic barriers. Marx desired to rally the working class against the bourgeoisie (middle to upper class) just like the bourgeoise assembled to fight the aristocracy during the French Revolution. Below is a list of the Communist Parties’ objectives.

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. Heavy progressive or graduated tax.
  3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. 
  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
  8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

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As history has shown, Communism doesn’t work. The idea of “equality” is great but in the Soviet Union – as one example – there were just as many divisions in society – rich and poor, ruling class and working class. What I have taken away most from this book is the idea that we are all a little Communistic. We all think we are 100% right on certain occasions and we believe that our way is the right way – think Liberal and Conservative. In Communist countries, there is no party system – no room for opposing viewpoints – no way to balance out opponents. There are truths in this world and I am not arguing that everyone’s opinion is “correct;” my point is that no individual or group of individuals has all the answers. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party need each other – the extremes of each lead to Communism or Fascism. The flaw with Communism was not that it sought equality; its flaw was the belief that one viewpoint could obtain equality. When we listen to others and learn from the past, we realize that truth lies in the middle. Be wary of extremes and be wary of individuals that proclaim their way is the only way. Marx was a genius, but he forgot what happened to Robespierre in the French Revolution – both examples of government were far from the middle and ended in disaster. What do you think about extreme political beliefs? Do you tend to be in the middle or a staunch fan of one particular party? I would love your comments.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
 -Karl Marx

Cold Comfort Farm

“Well,’ said Mrs Smiling, ‘it sounds an appalling place, but in a different way from all the others. I mean, it does sound interesting and appalling, while the others just sound appalling.”

-Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

I once went through this weird phase where I wanted to be a gentleman farmer. I spent countless hours researching heirloom crops to grow and obscure breeds of animals to raise. I romanticized the agrarian lifestyle; always picturing myself leaning on a fence looking out at a pasture of sheep or goats. I thought there was no better life of freedom or satisfaction – at the end of the day I could kiss Christina, eat apple pie, and read the Bible to my 10 children. In an attempt to test the waters of farming, I convinced my parents to put a garden in the backyard. To make the long story short, I dreaded watering and weeding the stupid thing and when something did finally grow, a wild beast ate it before I could gain any tangible satisfaction.

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After that failed attempt at farming, I put my rural dreams to the side and took up a much more suitable occupation – reading books and writing obscure blog posts. Every now and again the dream resurfaces of eating pie while staring at my goats but Christina usually squashes them with an impersonation of myself during the aforementioned gardening days…”(in an old man voice) Oh, my backkkkk, I fricking hate bending over, I need a chair to sit down to get these things out.” This precarious relationship with agriculture framed my mindset while reading the 1932 classic Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – a parody of the rural novels from 19th century England. Suffice it to say it motivated new Google searches for “how to garden in a wheelchair.”

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The title of Cold Comfort Farm is named after the main farm in the book and paints the picture of natural beauty while simultaneously highlighting the backwardness of rural England. The main character, Flora, comes to the farm to essentially mooch off her relatives with free room and board. Her relatives, the Strakadders, are best described as Sussex hillbillies who are superstitious, uneducated, and set in their ways – even though their ways make zero sense. Flora spends the book, in a quite hilarious manner, fixing the Strakadders problems, and facilitating them to lead better lives. At first, it is slow going, but with finesse and humor, Flora helps each member to truly blossom to their full potential.

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This novel is meant to show that no person is irredeemable and that the countryside not only has beautiful landscape but also beautiful people. England at the time was still quite pretentious when it came to class differences and Cold Comfort Farm is a direct attack on the negative attributes of the “stiff upper lip.”  It is not that Flora tries to change the Strakadders into pompous-city folk but rather helps them see their skills in a new light – leading them in the first steps towards their lifelong dreams. Many times we judge others who live differently and we try to change them to be reflections of ourselves; like a farmer trying to coerce me to weed when I am just more suited for Wikipedia.  In a world rife with division – Republican/Democrat, Rural/City, North/South, Black/White – we need to be reminded of this more than ever.

 

Trump Economics?

Following the election of Trump, I became apolitical. My current view on politics is similar to my current view of the night sky – it is there but I only gaze up in wonder every now and again. I want Trump to do well because we should always root for our leaders to make the right decisions. However, it seems that whenever I do gaze up into the twinkling lights of Washington – I suddenly get a crick in my neck. In the past, I posted about Mike Rowe and his views on voting. Basically, he doesn’t think everyone should vote; only those individuals who are informed and educated enough to respect the privilege. In his article, he references a book that everyone should read to get a sound understanding of economic policy: Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. Hazlitt wrote this book in 1946 and it has sold over 1 million copies in the past 70 years. Suffice it to say, this book’s principles are solid and are still applicable to today’s economy. I say this because economics is many times a political subject.This book is not tainted by left or right wing media and it disproves many fallacies which are commonly used to wrongly steer our decisions. I’ll explain one of the biggest and most encompassing fallacies of all – putting America first at the expense of everyone else.

Imagine a little boy playing baseball and accidentally breaking a window. His friends all crowd around with their jaws gaping and they immediately start a philosophical conversation about the economic implications of the event. The first obvious line of thought is that a new window will have to be purchased. One boy exclaims that this will be beneficial to the window installer and hence stimulate the economy. All the boys agree and use this line of argument when confronted by the angry home owner. The home owner will have to spend 100 dollars to fix the window. The man listens to the boys but then says he was just about to use that 100 dollars to buy a new golf club. The boys learn an important economic lesson. Certain policies that appear to help, actually have a reciprocal effect of hurting others. Humans have a hard time with economics because we focus on the winners and not the losers. It is easy for us to see jobs being created but it is hard for us to imagine jobs or purchasing power being lost.

Let’s imagine that America put itself first in all trade deals. From the example above it is a fallacy to think this will benefit us because there is always another group which suffers. In this example, the domestic America manufactures may have better protection and hence better sales. But what about the American manufactures who export products to other countries? They no longer can profit from the open trade agreements and hence lose out on business. Countries around the world would have less reason to buy from America and thus would take their money elsewhere. Additionally, these policies promote greater inefficiencies which in the end reduce American purchasing power, real wages, and production potential. The negatives are overlooked because it is easy to see new manufacturing jobs, but hard to see the world economy shifting. To put it another way, policies which benefit 12.3 million American manufactures, in the long run, will hurt the other 140 million American workers.

Whats’s the win-win economic policy? The best economic policy in the long run is to have open trade. This will benefit the most efficient American manufacturers and allow Americans to have the greatest purchasing power. It will also allow other countries to buy more American products which will stimulate greater production and job growth. These policies are in fact usually trumpeted by Republicans. Ironically, Trump is pushing for more Democratic protectionist views. These aforementioned economic policies are proven effective and it only takes one to read about the sad history of protectionism to quickly understand their soundness. Hazlitt, in 1946 wrote this quote several times in the book.

“…those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Unfortunately, demagogues go for the policies that appear to be sound but usually only help specific groups in the short term. We are a globalized world and we need economic policies that benefit all sectors. We can do this in a responsible way that facilitates environmental projects, new job training, and stability in developing countries. There is no first place when it comes to economics. There is no benefit of putting America first – our strength comes from the strength of others.

The Top 3 Ways to Improve America’s Democracy

This past week was quite eventful. Donald Trump won the presidency and a lot people were either extremely happy or extremely sad. We are all losers when it comes to America’s election process. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or even Coreitarian I have some well thought out suggestions for all elections in the future.

  1. Pass a law that requires a small fee for all political posts/statuses on Facebook 

    Remember back in the 2000’s when your crazy uncle use to send you those chain emails that usually went like this …send this email to 5 more people if you love Jesus. If you don’t you will be cursed by an evil demon!!!! These emails usually got relegated to the junk folder immediately and most rational people ignored the all caps titles with the tabbed recipient list that went on for 100 lines. Fast forward to 2016 and those chain emails have evolved into the everyday posts that inundate Facebook. Over the past year I have probably seen over 1000 political posts that are churned out, most likely, from Dr. Evil as a plot to destroy all relationships and the world as a whole. These posts have no sources and usually include a grainy picture with a tag line like “Life’s a Bitch…Don’t Elect One,” or “Build a Wall Around Trump, I’ll Pay For It.” We all know these posts are stupid and don’t convince anyone to vote for the opposite candidate. In the end they only make us more divided through annoyance. To fix this I think there should be a five dollar charge for each post that is political –  this would exponentially decrease their frequency and make the election process much less miserable. The money will be used to help starving children in Africa. Eventually, we can just go back to what we use to do on Facebook: stalking people’s pictures, wishing we wouldn’t have accepted Grandma’s friend request, and laughing at stupid videos of cute animals.

  2. Everyone must take a “Test” to be eligible to vote***(See note on bottom) 

    At current, the only requirements to vote in the United States are your age (18) and that you have some sort of identification (in most states). This is an absolutely awful idea because a democracy depends on an educated populous. Back in the day, the electoral college was implemented because the Founding Fathers feared that an uneducated-demagogic population would elect someone unfit for the presidency. That is why they appointed the most sound-minded-well-respected individuals to the electoral college – being the only votes that really mattered. Today, the electoral college is more a symbolic gesture that is the worst of both worlds – it doesn’t allow appointed electors the ability to vote their will/conscious and it also doesn’t allow them to vote according the overall popular vote. To fix this problem I think we should first get rid of the electoral college and fix the problem of “uneducated” voters by requiring a test. We already take tests so we can drive, carry fire arms, and graduate High School. Why not take a test to decide the most powerful office in the world? The test would entail intermediate principles of government, economics, and history. It would also state the candidates’ policies and relevant facts about their efficacy. These facts can be compiled from a bipartisan panel – informing the test taker beyond mere Facebook posts. Of course, a lot of people will fail the test and a lot of people will be too lazy to take the test. Good. This country should be led by competent leaders who were elected by well-informed educated citizens.

  3. Require both candidates live in the White House together after the election 

    Trump and Hillary said a lot of nasty things about each other on the campaign trail. Now imagine that after they said those things, they would have to share the same bathroom for the next four years. Would they change their strategy? Maybe tone down the hate and focus more on policy? Moderate their comments to ensure their toothbrush doesn’t end up scrubbing the toilet? Of course candidates would stay in separate rooms but all meals and facilities would be shared; extra precautions would be taken to keep Bill from sneaking into Melania’s room. Overtime I believe both candidates would become closer, talk more policy, and reach more middle ground in their beliefs. A perfect example of this in real life is a college dorm. Roommates may come from different backgrounds, but when forced together they usually learn new things and grow from the experience. This idea is literally the antithesis of our current daily interactions which are usually through the computer and lack the empathy of face-to-face interactions. We could even extend this principle to congress and have some sort of Red/Blue bunk bed arrangement. I happily imagine conversations going late in the night about the pros and cons of building a wall and the economic theories of trade deals.

To wrap it up, this election made me depressed. I am however staying optimistic and giving Trump the benefit of the doubt. He is my President and one day I will write a blog post about his time in office. I pray that it is one commending a job well done. Who knows, he may implement some of my election policies.

***After writing this it was pointed out to me that this sounds like the days of Jim Crow. I do see the similarities but I didn’t intend it to disenfranchise any minority groups. In a perfect world, where everyone received an equal education and rights, the test would probably work. Since we don’t live in a perfect world my realistic alternative to the test is making election day a national holiday – so everyone can take some time and study up before they go to the polls. 

Abraham Lincoln vs. Donald Trump

The wise old owl lived in a oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why aren’t we all like that old bird?

What do Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump have in common? Almost nothing besides them being white-male republicans. Lincoln grew up in poverty, Trump grew up in wealth. Lincoln was self educated, Trump was ivy-league educated. Lincoln became a lawyer and politician, Trump became a real-estate investor. Lincoln took moderate stances on issues, Trump currently takes extreme stances on issues.Lincoln took great efforts to avoid political hostilities, Trump takes great pride in politic incorrectness. My mind has been comparing these two men because I just finished the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Lincoln by David Herbert Donald. Throughout this read, I marveled at how Abraham Lincoln was able to walk the precarious tight rope of politics to achieve extraordinary goals. Lincoln had to appeal to Radical Republicans, Conservative Republicans, War Democrats, and Peace Democrats all while orchestrating a Civil War. He was elected in 1860 on a platform that supported the institution of slavery but not its expansion. Between 1861-1865 he slowly implemented policies that eventually abolished slavery through the ratification of the thirteenth amendment. Lincoln never made decisions lightly and would contemplate every outcome with the utmost detail. Many times, Lincoln would sit back and listen instead of jumping in and making a rash decision. Lincoln’s talents of compromise and patience are what I most admire about our 16th president. People don’t realize that Lincoln was not always popular throughout his presidency and at some points had lower approval ratings than George W. Bush. He was constantly racked with stress and by the end of war he looked as though he aged 20 years. He had to deal with a divided country, a war that resulted in 600,000 fatalities, the reconstruction of the devastated south, mounting federal debt, political rivals, and a crazy wife. Through all of this, he still managed to make great decisions that were moderate and in the end brought the country back together. The United States would not be the same without Abraham Lincoln and I am so grateful that I was able to learn about him in a in-depth manner.

So what about Trump?  Trump is currently the front runner for the Republican Party which ironically Lincoln helped found back in 1854. The Republican Party is quite different today than it was in Lincoln’s time but United States politics is not. As in Lincoln’s time, there are rival parties and a lot of bickering over how best to run the country. Trump unfortunately is far from one to compromise and is very quick to respond to opponents via the media. He spouts hate and reminds me of a bully with a lot of money. Lincoln never ostracized and downgraded members of his own party; Lincoln especially never offended others publicly with the intent to draw publicity. These contrasts make me sad because I want the next president to be like Abraham Lincoln and I want Americans to remember what works and what does not work in politics. Politics requires compromise and nothing can be accomplished without careful consideration of all perspectives. We should not base our vote on whether a candidate is a Republican or a Democrat but rather on their character and their ability to work with others. Can anyone honestly tell me that Donald Trump will unite our country and make it better through his graceful character? Lincoln was one in a trillion but we can at least look for a candidate that mirrors him in at least some manner. Let’s learn from the past and remember that great leaders are those who are humble, not those who hold themselves higher than everyone else…Trump Tower anyone?