As we say goodbye to the Trump years and begin the Biden presidency, some people are talking about a return to normality. This talk is premised on the notion that the Trump years, particularly the past few months, are an anomaly. But what exactly is normal for our country?
True, we’ve never had an armed mob storm the U.S. Capitol in a desperate attempt to block the results of an election. But our country has always had demagogues, con artists, opportunists, and sleazy provocateurs looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. Without wishing to diminish the magnitude of the threat the current bunch pose, it is instructive to look at what was normal in the past.
Long before Trump’s tweets supporting white supremacists, Woodrow Wilson openly supported Jim Crow laws because he believed whites were superior to blacks. In 1924, a purported one million Klansmen descended on the Washington, DC mall in their white robes and hoods to spout their hatred of blacks, Catholics, Jews and immigrants. President Calvin Coolidge didn’t condemn them or their rhetoric.
Before social media platforms amplified the white power movement, a Catholic priest named Father Coughlin hid behind the label of “Christian” while spewing anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi garbage. He was the country’s most popular talk radio host in the 1930’s until some of his supporters were arrested on suspicion of trying to overthrow the U.S. government.
Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz aren’t the first politicians to endanger the country in the cynical pursuit of their personal ambitions. John C. Calhoun announced his national ambitions by whipping up an anti-British mob that pushed the country into the War of 1812. That’s the war we don’t talk about because the British burned down the White House. Calhoun became a prominent pro-slavery southerner who developed the legally dubious “nullification” theory which Tennessee’s less-gifted politicians periodically drag out of the trashcan of history.
Hawley and Cruz are also not the first politicians whose cynical ploy backfired on them. In 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were fading into the political sunset when they decided that fighting a duel would draw attention to resurrect their careers. Instead, Hamilton was gut-shot and died in agony days later while Burr had to go on the lam to escape a murder charge.
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln traveled to his first inauguration by train. His travel schedule was supposed to be kept secret and security was increased due to the number of death threats he received. Several last-minute route changes ensured he arrived at the U.S. Capitol on time to be sworn in as president.
This year, Joe Biden had planned to travel to his inauguration by train. But last week a brief announcement said that Biden’s travel plans had changed due to the level of violent threats made against him (and V.P.-elect Kamala Harris). Unfortunately, and depressingly, our new normal looks a lot like the old normal.
About Norma Shirk
My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy. To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).
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