The Last Founding Father vs. Donald Trump

It seems to be another hectic week for our President – Donald Trump. A government shut down never looks good for the leader of the government. I heard this news from my Dad who was quite upset – not at Donald Trump – but at Democrats. See, my Dad is not an anomaly. Whenever our views are attacked, our elephant instincts kick in. We “react” first and “rationalize” later – usually, that rationalization is far from sensical. My Dad and I like to bump chests politically, but in the end, we always just sit on the couch and watch sports. However, our discussions about politics are not zero-sum gains. Trying to understand another person’s views takes time, patience, and empathy. My Dad and I have learned a lot from each other and our conversations keep getting more civil – our tandem elephants are becoming more docile.

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As an extension of last week’s post about James Madison, I am going to further question what it means to be “presidential.” Time will tell how Trump does over the next years but how can we truly judge his performance? We need to know how other Presidents have done in the past so we can have rationale conversations into the future. To achieve this goal, I am reading every US President’s biography and writing about them for your enjoyment – here is a list of all the previous posts: George Washington, John Adams (coming next week), Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover. This week I read about America’s fifth president – James Monroe – The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger.

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James Monroe was the last founding father to be President and was actually born shortly before the American Revolution in 1758. Monroe was raised in Virginia, but unlike Washington, Jefferson, or Madison he did not own substantial plantation property. He fought in the Revolutionary War and was actually with Washington in the Battle of Trenton when the famous crossing of the Deleware River occurred; he was wounded in the battle but eventually recovered. The military at the time had a glut of officers, so Monroe was never able to receive a position of command. Upon National Independence, he took up law to begin supporting himself and his wife, Elizabeth Monroe.

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Throughout this time, Monroe was mentored by a fellow Virginian – Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson pushed Monroe to join him in politics and Monroe initially split his time between law and the Virginian House of Delegates. He would go on to serve in the Congress of the Confederation and help ratify Virginia’s Constitution. His political career took off when he became Ambassador to France during the French Revolution, Ambassador to Britain and Minister to Spain – negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, land treaties, and peace negotiations while overseas. He would go on to be the Governor of Virgina for four terms, US Secretary of State, and US Secretary of War. While Secretary of War, he virtually ran the government because Madison was inept during that period of conflict. He would go on to be the most popular President since George Washington.

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Monroe committed over 40 years of his life to public service and served in more public posts than any American in history. While President, he pushed for Western expansion and acquired more land from the Spanish in modern-day Florida. He protected American interests at a time in history when European powers could quickly take advantage of the young country. The Monroe Doctrine was a masterpiece of diplomacy for the Western Hemisphere and allowed independence for myriad nations in Central and South America. Monroe was described by friends and foes alike as having plain and gentle manners. He was a bold and robust leader in times of war and peace and fought for the Bill of Rights and against secrecy rules in Congress – opening the halls of Government for the first time in history.

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Monroe established the first state-supported public schools and pushed the development of public roads and canals to further commerce. Monroe was secretly an excellent President who accomplished more than I had ever thought. He transformed a fragile nation into a glorious empire – by making the United States impregnable to attack and rich in natural resources. He allowed Americans to expand westward and gain a democratic vote through the ownership of land; his Presidency saw the largest redistribution of wealth in the annals of history. Monroe was so popular that there were no political parties during his presidency; he was able to bring people together and put his country first. James Monroe indeed achieved “presidential” status during his Presidency – unfortunately, Trump is nowhere close to his level at this point…but I’m hoping he will pull through.

The Problem with America

To be honest, I think most American’s are mindless sheep that are constantly shepherded around by media, consumer culture, and politicians. A poll by Newsweek found that among 1000 Americans… “Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar (Reference).” My opinions concerning Americans are harsh because I am an extremely patriotic American who wants his country to prosper and be the best it can be. I love American History and have pride in how far America has come in advancing her citizens and the world in general. When asked what my nationality is I usually say that I am “American.” My love for my country led me to read Glenn Beck’s book Common Sense: The Case Against An Out-Of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine. I am not political and Glenn Beck wrote this book trying to be non-partisan. Glenn is a very outspoken guy when it comes to government power and throughout the book he has a heart attack over federal debt, the confusing tax-code, corrupt politicians, and the “cancer” of progressivism. While reading the book, I felt a mix of approval and disgust with Beck’s views on how to fix America. I agree with his views on reducing the national debt, reforming the tax code, and shortening politicians’ careers. I disagree with his views that global warming is a hoax and that progressivism is a cancer. The progressive movement is essentially a push by Republicans and Democrats to have the government control more of our money and redistribute it to state funded programs. Think Obamacare for Democrats and the military for Republicans.

The manner that Beck goes about explaining his common sense is by misrepresenting history and saying “Wake Up People” several times. First, he talks about the founding fathers and how they wanted small government and respected the constitution. In truth, Washington wanted a more powerful government and he was regularly accused of trying to become a king by wig wearing versions of Beck’s early ancestors. Also, he took several measures of executive action with the idea that the constitution didn’t have all the answers. Secondly, he bashes on my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt, as an evil progressive-constitution hating man who set the country on the course of its current destruction. Roosevelt was president in a time when corporate greed was destroying America’s workers, environment, and political system. Without his progressive reforms we would not have any national parks, workplace safety, or corporate regulations. 

Beck doesn’t have it all wrong and besides him bashing Teddy I think he has the best intentions in trying to help America. The thing is, his approach is all wrong. Common sense is not to blame the government or corrupt politicians. Common sense is to blame the Americans who elected those politicians. Americans who think that political parties are out to help so they vote straight ticket. Americans who constantly reelect the same politicians who are a part of a congress that gets nothing done. Americans who don’t read or seek out information other then the nightly news and Facebook. Americans who think that one political party is completely wrong and that one political party is completely right. Americans who would choose material possessions and status over a healthy waist line and a critically thinking brain. Our screwed up government is just an extension of our complacency in this country for sloth and avarice at the individual level. The only thing you can control is yourself and by fixing yourself you can then extend help to others in your life. Ghandi said it best, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That is my common sense and I think that we first need to have a foundation of morals, ethics, and wisdom before we can expect the same in our government. Don’t be a sheep, use your brain, and care for your country. 

America’s Most Popular Show: Headhunting-Dog-Eating-Igorrotes

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The circuses of today are far different compared to the circuses of 100 years ago. Today, if you go to a circus, there are usually acrobats, animals, clowns, food, and almost everyone could qualify as the “fattest” man/woman on earth. Back in the day, the attractions were much more grandiose and had no regard for human dignity; obvious in the freak shows where deformities were exploited for profits. The biggest and best place for amusing entertainment was Coney Island. The boardwalk we know of today use to be a cornucopia of parks that would be visited by millions of people each year. If you had the right show, you could make a crap ton of money in a very short time span. Enter Truman Hunt and the book that profiles his side show, The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice. Hunt was a doctor who served in the Philippians soon after they were acquired by the US in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Hunt thought it would be a great idea to bring native Fillipinos, known is Igorrotes (E-go-row-tays), to the US for display at Luna Park in Coney Island. The Igorrotes were a group of primitive tribes’ people who enjoyed simplicity, fellowship, hard work, and the occasional feast. Originally, they were brought to the US during the 1904 St. Louis Exposition and were the most popular attraction; they performed native practices and displayed their culture to a fascinated public. The success at St. Louis is what motivated Hunt to recruit 50 Igorrotes for a full year US trip in 1905. Hunt, made it clear that the tribes people would each be paid 15 dollars a month and could keep all money from homemade souvenirs they sold during shows.

The group was soon jettisoned (the journey took over 6 months) to Coney Island where they would build a replica of their village in the famous Luna Park. Hunt, being the showman he was, exaggerated the customs of the Igorrotes and fed the newspapers with several exaggerations of their “barbaric behavior.” The Igorrotes had the tradition of eating dogs during special occasions because it made them stronger and fiercer warriors. Hunt took this practice and made them eat dogs on a regular basis for the disgusted crowds. Additionally, Hunt exaggerated the headhunting rituals that young warriors had to perform before they were married-making people think the savages were apt to attack anyone at a whim. Hunt was a backstabber and he soon broke his agreement with Luna Park and took the tribes people to the rival park for more money. This would be the start of several months of moving the Igorrotes around the US and having them perform in conditions which were far from ideal. Eventually, Truman was pursued by the government for mistreatment of the tribe and was prosecuted for withholding all the Igorrotes pay, souvenir money, and personal belongings. Instead of a year in America, most the Igorrotes were forced to stay over two years performing against their will. In the end, Hunt was prosecuted by the government for stealing wages but was never sentenced because of corrupt courts that were racist (the trials took place in Memphis, Tennessee). The Igorrotes returned to the Phillipines with no money and a complete disdain for the greed of America. 

The government originally agreed to have Hunt bring the Igorrotes to the US because they wanted people to see the barbaric state of the native Filipinos and thus justify the US control of the islands. The argument at the time for the US controlling the Philippines was that Filipinos could not govern themselves and imperialism was America’s destiny. This quote sums up one of the major problems with displaying the Igorrotes-“giving the people of the United States the idea that the majority of the people of the Philippines are similar to the Igorrotes…, in the same way as I would rather deprecate the idea of having Apachee Indians travelling around to represent Americans.” Sadly, many Americans believed the sideshow display was culturally accurate and hence propagated racism, scorn, and a general superiority towards Filipinos. The US eventually released control of the Philippines in 1946. This 48 year relationship is a main reason why millions of Filipinos live in the US today-one of them being my beautiful wife :). The story of the Igorrotes reminds us how far our society has come in respecting human dignity and the dangers of stereotyping whole groups of people.

America’s First Father-Celebrity-President-Extraordinar

-“Alright class can someone tell me who the first president was?”

-Martin Luther King!…

-“No, children, Martin Luther King freed the slaves. Our first president was George Washington. Mr. Washington is the president on the one dollar bill and he cut down a cherry tree with his wooden teeth. That’s all for history, lets move on to finishing your paper machete projects of Kim Kardashian.”

This dialogue, albeit a joke, is close to the extent kids are taught about George Washington and history in general. In honor of President’s Day tomorrow, and my insatiable desire to build upon my poor-formal education, I decided to read Washinton: A Life by Ron Chernow. George Washington was raised by his widowed mother who was very strict and spartan-like. His mother was hypercritical and was probably the main source of Washington’s stoic personality that was prone to intermittent displays of anger. By age 20 he had inherited 2,315 acres and countless slaves after the death of his older brother. His quick rise to prosperity on the back of family deaths propelled him into the upper society of Virginian planters. This pseudo-aristocracy allowed him to meet the right people which lead to a recommendation for military-leadership in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Washington would be commended for his courage and valor in combat; in one battle he had four bullets go through his jacket and two horses shot from beneath him-all while recovering from a severe bout of hemorrhoids brought upon by dysentery. It seemed Washington was never fazed by the possibility of death and was protected by divine providence. Overall, his tour in the French and Indian War was short lived and he began to experience the inequalities laid upon colonists by the British. He was not given an equal rank or pay compared to his “purebred” compatriots across the Atlantic. Following his duty in the war, he married the widow Martha Custis and inherited even more property. This windfall of new wealth is what allowed him the flexibility and social rank needed in part to become the Commander of the Continental Army.

In subsequent years, animosity towards the British began to grow in Washington for many reasons: British restriction of claiming land past the Allegheny mountains, unfair taxes, and lack of political power held by the colonists. The 2nd continental congress made George Washington the Commander of the Army due to his experience in the French and Indian War, aura of leadership, and aforementioned connections with southern society. The Continental Army was a ragtag group of civilians who had limited weapons, food, clothing, and especially military experience. Washington was not a military genius but his strengths lied in planning, communicating, and building an effective leadership team. He would have many blunders in military strategy and had just as many defeats as victories in the war. Actually, during most of the war his army in the northern colonies saw far less action compared to the southern theater. Primarily, during the revolution, he had to endure countless winters of begging a weak congress to provide money for his starving, sick, unclothed, and haggard soldiers-creating his future political desire for a strong central government. Thanks to the French, the Battle of Yorktown was the defining end to the war and would concrete George Washington’s national celebrity.

Washington wanted to retire from the public life but he reluctantly became the first president and subsequently the Father of the United States. While president he …”restored American credit and assumed state debt; introduced the first accounting tax, and budgetary procedures; maintained peace at home and abroad; inaugurated a navy, bolstered the army, and shored up coastal defenses and infrastructures; proved that the country could regulate commerce and negotiate binding treaties; protected frontier settlers, subdued Indian uprisings, and established law and order amid rebellion, scrupulously adhering all the while to the letter of the constitution (pg 770 para 4).”  Holy Crap! George Washington was the only president unanimously voted into office and without his leadership, patience, and desire to always to be a gentlemen (even against his foes) the United States may never have matured past its republican infancy. In the end, I appreciate my country more then ever and how far we have come because of the sacrifices of our forefathers. This President’s Day read a biography of one of our past leaders-the knowledge gleaned will give you beneficial wisdom now and into the future.

“We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.”

-George Washington