Consequences of a Failed Coup

If President Trump pulls off a win in 2020, there is going to be a great deal of soul searching, not to mention wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many will ask how, how could someone so disliked win another term?  I am not saying he is going to win. I have no idea. But, if he does, I am suggesting that history can give us a clue as to the event that helped him win. 

I recently wrote an article looking at the ideological ancestry of Progressives and one of the men I mentioned was Huey Long. As important as Long was in the 1930s, he is a character largely forgotten to time. Even with the 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King’s Men and the subsequent two movies of the same name (1949 and 2006) being loosely based on Long, he is lost to history.  Yet for some time, Long was the loudest voice of protest against President Roosevelt, and one of the most influential men in America.  His “Share Our Wealth” program hoped to do more to eliminate poverty than anything the New Deal considered.  Yet, before Long could become the champion of the people, first he had to endure government attacks and impeachment attempts. 

Long grew up poor in rural Louisiana but had well-educated parents for that time and place.  He was described as having a photographic memory and excelled in school, but not so much getting along with others, including teachers.  After being expelled, he later took some classes from Oklahoma Baptist University, as well as the University of Oklahoma. He did not finish either, but he did end up attending Tulane Law School for one year before passing the bar.  

Long worked as a lawyer for a few years, as he worked his way up through Louisiana state politics, until he ran for governor in 1928.  He was able to beat a powerful political machine by consolidating the rural poor vote with the minorities and Catholic votes.  He ran a Bernie-Sanders-small-donation type of campaign that he called “Every man a king, but no one wears a crown.”  He promised public works projects, free textbooks, and higher taxes on the wealthy.  Once in office, he lived up to his promises; he was the New Deal before there was such a thing. 

As Governor, Long ran Louisiana like a dictator.  He pushed all his opponents out of offices and replaced them with loyalists.  He took on big business, especially Standard Oil, and was able to impose his will over the legislature.  Because he had a demagogue-like hold over the people of his state, he also used shady finances and physical force to build his power. 

When Long tried to raise the tax rate on oil companies, they fought back.  Supported by the oil companies, the conservatives tried to impeach him for everything from blasphemy and corruption to attempted murder.   One opposition leader supposedly said that you can impeach for anything. Impeachment is political.  These may be the truest words ever said.  Long felt as if he was not being fairly treated in the press, who were connected and backed by big government.  He did not have Twitter, but in the 1920s, he did the next best thing.  To get his own message across to the public, he started his own paper and mounted speakers to a car to deliver his thoughts.  Most importantly, he utilized a new technology, 1920s social media, the radio.  A medium his future opponent, FDR, would also use to perfection.

In the end, the people rallied to Long’s side and he pulled in enough senators to pledge not to vote for any charges.  Long walked away stronger than before; he became the “Kingfish” and ruled his state with an iron fist.  He said something along the lines that he used to ask please of the government, but now he used dynamite.  Having survived impeachment, he gained complete control over Louisiana, and then turned his sights to the national stage.

As a democratic senator, Long championed the democratic candidate, FDR, in the 1932 election.  Long took credit for FDR’s wins in several states and felt he earned an unofficial advisor position to the new president.  Roosevelt saw things differently, saying, “He really is one of the two most dangerous men in the country.”  When Long began to speak for the administration and proposed his plan to limit income, FDR distanced himself from the Kingfish.  There is too much to write about here, but the two men quickly came to odds, leading Long to use his significant public influence to attack the New Deal.  The administration counterattack was in the form of the Treasury Department launching an investigation into Long’s tax returns (some things never go out of style), as well as a special senate investigation into election fraud in Louisiana.  Finally, with a possible weakening of the Kingfish, his Louisiana enemies saw the chance to take back the state and attempted to oust the Long-controlled state government. 

When Long was finally brought to a hearing, the evidence against him was flimsy and unimportant.  It looked as if prosecutors were working out personal grudges.  It did not take long for the hearings to fall apart and the people to lose interest.  In the end, those who had attacked Long suffered greater than Long ever did.  Once again Long emerged stronger than before.  If was after the government attacks that Long proposed the “Share Our Wealth” program to redistribute wealth. He also began to prepare to take on FDR in the next election.  Before he could challenge the President, however, he was shot down by an assassin.  I am not saying that he could have defeated FDR, but his power and popularity had grown even more since being attacked by the Government and he was emerging victorious.  

I don’t know what the final outcome of the Mueller report will be and I am not here to weigh in on Trump’s impeachment chances.  But historically speaking, if after two years of investigating Trump and nothing comes from it and if Democrats continue to investigate, it starts to look like an abuse of power from the Democrats. As with Long, the constant attacks only strengthen his base and even draw in others.  If after the 2020 election, Trump is still in power and the left is scrambling again to figure out why, their answer may likely be the very investigation they started. 

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

Immigration

With the border wall becoming the Holy Grail for the Trump administration, there has been much debate about immigration in the United States. As before, I am not writing about modern immigration policy, but I want to comment on the often repeated phrase that America has always been open to immigrants and so what Trump is doing is un-American. Yes, America is a nation of immigrants, but that does not mean they were always welcomed. This piece is not meant to condone or condemn current immigration policy, only to clear up any misconceptions and give the historical truth.

In the nation’s first century, immigration was open and encouraged, not for any high multicultural ideals, but as human capital to increase American’s growing industrialization. But even then, not everyone was happy about the open immigration policy. Between the fall of the Whig Party and the creation of the Republicans in the 1840s and 1850s, one of the largest political parties in the nation was the American Party, better known as the Know-Nothing Party, which opposed immigration, especially from Catholics. The party received its name because it started as a secret society and, when asked about their organization, said, “I know nothing.” 

Congress got involved in restricting immigration in 1882, with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.  Chinese labor was replaced by Japanese and other Asian workers until 1917, when Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917, barring all Asians from entering the country. The Act also prevented Asians from obtaining citizenship. The 1917 Act officially banned the Japanese, but in 1907 President Teddy Roosevelt had already practically banned many Japanese with an executive order restricting any immigration from Hawaii. Yes, Obama and Trump were not the first to use executive orders for immigration. 

The 1917 Act was the most restrictive act to date. On top of preventing Asian immigrants, it also created literacy requirements as a way of excluding those from less educated areas of Eastern and Southern Europe. Lastly, it gave a list of those deemed undesirable, including criminals, diseased, and anarchists. It may seem natural to restrict categories like criminals, but surprisingly we had not been doing it before. The change by 1917 was that the nation no longer needed as many immigrants. Technological advances were more important than human capital. Henry Ford and the assembly line made it so we did not need as many workers. 

By 1924, the passage of the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act brought even more restrictive measures. Johnson-Reed established numerical limits on immigration based on race and nationality. It then ranked the immigrants based on desirability. The quota system was based on national and ethnic origins of those already in America and deemed that immigrants from those areas would better integrate into American culture. So countries like Great Britain received a quota of 65,721 and Germany 25,957 based on the census, while most nations received only 100 possible immigrants. However, while the 1924 Act allowed nations like China and Japan 100 each, Asians were not allowed citizenship so were denied entrance. 

With new immigration restrictions, the idea of illegal aliens was born, which gave rise to new deportation laws. Many critics felt that deportation laws were immoral, especially when it separated families. As I have said in previous columns, I am not condoning separating families, only that this is an argument that goes as far back as the 1920s.It did not start with the Trump presidency. 

Interestingly, not all nations fell under quota restrictions, including, most notably, Mexico and the Philippines. The 1924 Act did give quotas to countries in North America, meaning Mexicans were exempt. Many Mexicans already lived in the U.S. and under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, conquered Mexicans were given citizenship. Also under the 1924 Act, Mexicans were excluded from immigration based on race because they were officially considered white at the time. However, the real reason for Mexican immigration was that American farmers needed laborers.

As for Filipinos, they were colonial subjects and so were also exempt from immigration restrictions. Americans justified colonizing the Philippines as a part of Manifest Destiny. We thought we could give them a better life if they copied us, but changed our tune when they immigrated to the U.S. and demanded better wages and danced with our women.

Mexican labor proved much more acceptable, with the idea that most would return home after growing seasons. It was not until the depression, when jobs became scarce, that problems arose between whites and Mexicans. With growing resentment, whites created labor contracts with Mexicans, called bracero programs, as well as Jim Crow type restrictions. 

Immigration arguments are as old as America. The John Adams’ administration saw restrictions in citizenship. When we needed the labor, we have always been open to immigration, but shut it down when it was seen as taking jobs from Americans. The arguments we are hearing now are not new, but immigrants are being used in our current political climate as political pawns. As always the answer is studying the past to see what has worked or not and then to make arguments about immigration, but being sure to make them accurately. 

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

Replacing a Sitting President

With the next presidential election only a short nineteen months away (ugh!), we are already seeing a crowded field of Democrats lining up to challenge, whom they see as a very beatable, Donald Trump. Yet, to my surprise, Republicans are not seeing the same blood in the water and pouncing on an opportunity to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination. As I have said before, I do not believe Trump ever intended to win the presidency, and I have questioned if he would run for reelection. My opinion is that the main reason for Trump’s re-election bid is because of the almost unprecedented criticism from the media and his prideful desire to prove them wrong. My assumption has been that, even if Trump did run for reelection, someone within the GOP would challenge him for the spot.

Challenging a sitting president is difficult, so difficult that only five men have ever succeeded in doing so and only one in the twentieth century. In some ways, I am surprised we do not ask for challengers each election. Giving the party the chance to reaffirm their candidate seems the more democratic option. If the party is happy, they can keep their candidate; but if there is a division in the party, then they can have a voice. The problem is the president tends to control the party and going into an election divided can hurt results. So why have five been able to challenge a sitting president? We will look quickly at the first four, but you will see what they all have in common. It is the fifth who will shed light on our next election. 

The first was in 1844, when John Tyler was not considered for a second term for the Whig Party. The problem for Tyler was that he was not really a Whig. When war hero William Henry Harrison was nominated for the presidency in 1840 instead of Henry Clay, the Clay faction was allowed to choose the VP. They chose Tyler, partly because he was a southerner and partly because as an ex-Democrat he would round out the ticket and bring in fence-sitters. The problem was Harrison died a month into his office and when Tyler took over he proved to be more a Democrat than a Whig. The party corrected their mistake in 1844.

In the next election, 1848, the Whigs ran the biggest hero from the Mexican War, Zachary Taylor, and won. The party continued their run of bad luck when Taylor died in office and Millard Fillmore took over. Fillmore did not do anything particularly wrong, but in 1852, the party decided to follow their winning strategy as before and ran another Mexican War hero: Winfield Scott.

 When the Whig Party died in the 1850s, most of the northern Whigs joined the Republican Party and brought their bad luck with them. In 1864, Lincoln ran for a second term and the party chose Andrew Johnson for his VP. This is a similar story, as Johnson was an ex-Democrat who was put on the ticket to balance it out and try to get votes. As everyone knows, Lincoln was assassinated in his second term and Johnson, who was never supposed to reach the highest office, ascended to the position. Johnson proved to still be a Democrat and fought with the Republican Party over reconstruction issues. Republicans followed suit in the next election and ran the war hero, Ulysses Grant. The Whigs/Republicans proved they were nothing if not predictable. 

Finally, in 1880, the Republicans ran, you guessed it, war hero James Garfield. His VP was Chester Arthur from New York, who was chosen to get the Empire State’s vote. When Garfield became the second assassinated president, Arthur moved into his position. Arthur had always been a Republican but fought with the party over the patronage system, rewarding supporters with government jobs, and was replaced in the 1884 election with someone more willing to play ball. 

From the first four examples, we learn that being a Whig/Republican president is dangerous and that if you replace a fallen president your chance of re-nomination is slim. The fifth example is similar in that the candidate replaced an assassinated president, but is different in that he was a Democrat and had already won an election outright. 

In 1960, the Democrats ran John F. Kennedy and, to balance the ticket and keep the south happy, put Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson on the ticket. With the death of JFK, Johnson took over as Commander-in-Chief. As opposed to the earlier examples, in 1964 Johnson won his party’s nomination and the presidency. In 1968, Johnson was poised to run one more time. The 22nd Amendment stipulates that no one can serve as president more than ten years. JFK died in November of 1963 and so LBJ would not have served over the limit if he had won in 1968. 

Term limits were not LBJ’s issue. That was the Vietnam War. Much of the nation had turned against the war by 1968 and Johnson was being accused of escalating the war and lying about it to the American people. Young people especially had turned on the war and Johnson. When another Democrat decided to challenge the president for the nomination and denounced the war, the students threw their support behind Eugene McCarthy.

With the unpopularity of Johnson, many hoped that Bobby Kennedy would join the race and take on the president. Kennedy had announced that he would not run if LBJ was in the race. The last thing a party wants is a division in the party going into the national election. We have seen Republicans challenge the president today. Several joined the Democrats lately against Trump’s decision to fund the border wall with a national emergency. Other Republicans and social media have accused those who opposed Trump as traitors.  Kennedy was hoping to avoid the same situation.

However, when McCarthy almost beat Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, Kennedy realized the President was prime for a defeat and entered the race. With Kennedy now in the running, Johnson saw the writing on the wall and pulled his nomination. With Johnson out, his VP, Hubert Humphrey, joined the race and ran on a pro-Vietnam platform. He eventually won the Democratic nomination only to lose to Richard Nixon in the general election.

We cannot know what would have happened if Kennedy had not been assassinated, but what we do see is that it is possible to challenge a sitting president. In the end, the LBJ wing of the party still won the nomination. In our current case, it seems like asking the Republican Party to reaffirm their candidate would not be a bad idea. If the party still wants President Trump, it would only make his national campaign stronger. If the party goes in a different direction, it could bring back those disillusioned with the president. The problem with going in a different direction is losing those who are passionate about Trump. However, in a democracy, it seems opening up nominations even with a sitting president is not a bad idea and should be embraced. Yet it is understandable that the Republicans do not want to kick out their current candidate. In the five times in history when that happened, that party lost every time.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium.  Follow Historically Speaking at http://www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

National Emergencies

President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency has caused a bit of a national emergency itself. The president has decided to make the Southern border wall his legacy and if the democratic congress will not give him the money needed, he plans to go around them with the use of a national emergency. A lot of information is flying around, and I am happy to see some of it is historical. Much of the focus is on past emergencies and if what Trump is doing is different. I have written several times on the issue of executive orders, and national emergencies are very similar. I believe most orders are against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution and separation of powers. However, the question is have we seen similar circumstances in the past. The answer is yes and no.


Recently we have all learned a great deal about national emergencies, and many have been surprised to learn they are in fact quite common. There have been 59 declared and, more surprising, 32 are still active. Republicans have focused on the twelve passed by President Obama. The Democrats have focused on the nature of Obama’s emergencies. None of which went against the wishes of Congress and were mostly sanctions against enemy nations, but they were still actions without congressional approval.

The most talked about national emergency is the failed attempt of President Truman to nationalize the striking steel industry during the Korean War. The President believed the strike would hurt the U.S. war effort, which constituted a national emergency. The Supreme Court disagreed.


During our current national crisis, the focus on Truman is obvious, but what about times when the president acted outside of Congress and the courts did not intervene. I will name two.


Most Americans saw a canal across Central America as essential to our naval success. When a French firm in Panama failed in its attempt to build the canal, President Theodore Roosevelt jumped at the chance to purchase the project and complete it. The only problem was that Columbia, who at the time controlled Panama, did not want to sell to the Americans. For the sake of space, I need to simplify this greatly, but basically Panama declared independence from Columbia at the same time the U.S.S. Nashville sailed to Columbia and the U.S. recognized Panama’s independence. To no one’s surprise, the new Panamanian government turned around and offered America the canal project.


The new problem for TR was that Congress had not approved any of this, including building the canal. Roosevelt saw the canal as a national emergency and knew that involving Congress would only slow things down, so he acted alone. Roosevelt said that if he acted properly, Congress would give many excellent speeches, but the project would be delayed fifty years, so instead TR said, “Fortunately the crisis came at a period when I could act unhampered. Accordingly I took the Isthmus, started the canal and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me.”


A second example comes from the man considered American’s greatest president: Abraham Lincoln. In 1860, Lincoln ran his campaign on stopping the expansion of slavery, not outlawing slavery where it was. In his inaugural address, he claimed that not only did he have no desire to free the slaves, but he did not have the constitutional right to do so. Yet, two years later he had a change of heart. In 1862, Lincoln came to the conclusion that the best way to win the war was to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the rebellious states. Taking away the south’s work force would damage its war effort.


As popular as Lincoln is today, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation was extremely unpopular. The Democrats in Congress were outraged at what they saw as tyranny. Lincoln was even attacked as a usurper of power, and that was from his own party. Even members of his cabinet saw his decision as unwise and tried to talk him out of it. Yet Lincoln went against his cabinet, the conservative members of his party, and the Congress and issued the Proclamation. Before the Courts could take up his decision, he pushed through the 13th Amendment, making the court’s decision on the Proclamation moot.


The examples of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Truman clearly show that Trump is not the first to make decisions based on what they saw as emergencies. You can claim that Lincoln and Truman acted during a time a war and thus their actions were emergencies, but not Roosevelt. So if the answer is Trump is not the first. The no is because everything changed after 1976 and the passage of the National Emergency Act.


Coming off the Vietnam War and the Nixon years, congress wanted to rein in the power of the president with the 1976 Act. With the Act, presidents need to justify the emergency to Congress and Congress can reverse an emergency with a joint resolution and an override of a veto if necessary. Congress is also supposed to review the emergency every six months, something that is rarely done.


So how does all this answer our question? Is Trump the first president to use emergency powers to act against the wishes of Congress? No. Is he the first to act when many do not see a perceived emergency? No. Is he the first to do so since the 1976Aact? Possibly. Yet this Act does not say he can’t, just that Congress can stop him if they have the numbers. I am not saying Trump is right to divert money to build the wall. The precedent does seem dangerous. So make your arguments for or against the wall, but make sure your argument is correct.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at http://www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

Legitimacy of Political Parties

With the government shutdown now over, it is historically intriguing that one of the central players, President Donald Trump, with plenty of help from the Democrats, is helping to destroy the political reality that his hero, Andrew Jackson, helped create–legitimate political parties. 

The Founding Fathers all abhorred the idea of parties.  George Washington made parties the subject of his farewell address, as he left office.  Yet, as Washington preached against them, they were forming around him.  The way the president was chosen in the original Constitution demonstrates that the Founders hoped to avoid parties.  For the first four elections, the winner of the Electoral College became president while second place became Vice-President.  Under this system Trump would be president and Hillary Clinton would have been his vice-president. 

One reason the Founders detested parties is that parties are more concerned with the party’s welfare than the nation.  A great example of this is that our current parties were more interested in claiming a political “win” over a border wall than they are at compromising and helping government workers get back on the job.  Democrats are now claiming “victory,” and the media can report that Trump lost.  Turning this into a win or lose situation will not help either side when it comes to the next big issue.  

Another issue for the Founders was parties were not seen as legitimate.  In other words, the opposing party was not seen as acceptable and their policies would destroy the experiment called “America.”  Those calling themselves Republicans (while believing parties were wrong) believed the Federalists wanted to turn America into a monarchy, while the Federalists believed the Republicans wanted to start a “Reign of Terror” similar to France.

This is not like today’s rhetoric, such as, “If Trump wins, I am moving to Canada” and then no one actually leaves because they know America will survive until the next election.  We know that parties are legitimate.  They did not.  I have written about the 1800 election and why I think it’s the most important ever–this was the first election we see some legitimacy in the opposing party.

We really do not see full legitimacy until the Jacksonian Era.  During this time leaders, such as Jackson, argued that parties are not only legitimate, but positive.  The man who deserves the most credit for this change is the brains behind Jackson, his second VP and eventual presidential replacement, Martin Van Buren.  Van Buren began by building his own party, the Bucktails, in New York and eventually turned it into the Democratic Party.  The new party organization helped Jackson win two elections and solidify his strength.  The Democrats were so successful that the Whig Party was forced to follow suit if they ever hoped to win.

Van Buren believed parties benefitted Americans by having a side to choose on issues and the parties could contend against each other in an orderly manner.  He also saw parties as the glue that would hold the nation together.  As long as there were northern and southern Democrats and Whigs, he thought, America would not have a Civil War.  But none of this was possible unless everyone saw parties as legitimate.

Today we are losing the idea of legitimate discord.  Parties have always fought each other but, except on a few occasions, they have always been able to work out compromises.  Recently, it seems that Democrats attack any proposal from the Republicans for the sole reason that Republicans proposed it, and vice versa for Republicans against Democrats.  Past Democratic leaders made statements and speeches about border safety similar to our current president.   So why are Democrats now suddenly against it?

With the Democrats in control of the House both parties chose “the wall” to make a stand on.  Instead of truly working together to find a solution, they delegitimized the other party, and refused to budge an inch in order to claim victory.  Yesterday was the wall, who knows what it will be tomorrow.  Yet whatever it is, the parties will not care about the issues half as much as who will “win” the fight and hold the upper hand going into the next election.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium.   Follow Historically Speaking at http://www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

Midterm Election

With the midterms approaching, it is finally time for the American people to voice their opinion of the Trump presidency, or so we are being told.  Since Trump’s victory, with every special election we are bombarded with how this one election is the touchstone of America’s approval of the president.  I have two statement about the midterm elections.  First, I predict the Republicans will lose seats.  Secondly, all the chatter is wrong.  This election will not predict the future of Trump in the 2020 election.  How do I know this?  Because I study history.

To understand my statements, we have to go back, and Franklin Roosevelt seems as good a place to start as any.  1932 was a historical election.  Up to that point, Republicans had dominated the White House since Lincoln, but 1932 ushered in Roosevelt and a Democratic dominance to 1968.  The year was also in the heart of the Great Depression and quickly FDR became beloved with his New Deal policies to relieve the nation’s pain.  It should be no surprise that in the 1934 midterm elections the Democrats picked up nine seats in the House and nine in the Senate.  Based off that election, FDR cruised to an easy win in the 1936 election, 523-8 in the Electoral College.

What may be more surprising is that was the last midterm election win for the Democrats for some time, even though FDR retained his popularity.  In 1938, the Democrats lost 72 seats in the House and seven in the Senate, yet FDR won the 1940 election 449 to 82.  In 1942, the Democrats lost 45 seats in the House and eight in the senate, with FDR winning the 1944 election 432 to 99. 

For the rest of the story, because of size restraints, we will only look at midterm elections before a successful reelection of a president.  The next full two-term president was Eisenhower.  During his first midterms, his party lost two seats in the Senate and 18 in the House, yet he won reelection in 1956, 457 to 73.  Both Kennedy and Johnson were one-term presidents.  Nixon became president in 1968 and for his first midterm election, his party did pick up two Senate seats, but lost 12 in the House.  People today forget how popular Nixon was before Watergate, as seen by his 520-17 victory in 1972.

Ford and Carter were both one-term presidents, with the next two-termer being Ronald Reagan.  Reagan was extremely popular in the 1980s, but during his first midterm election, he lost 27 seats in the House but picked up one in the Senate.  Yet even with the House losses, he crushed his opponent in 1984, 525 to 13.  George H.W. Bush was a one-termer, followed by the very popular two-term President Bill Clinton.  No matter how popular he was, in his first midterm election his party lost a staggering 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate.  Even with this blow, he still won his reelection in 1996, 379-159.

George W. Bush was the exception to all of his fellow two-term presidents.  In his first midterm election, he picked up two seats in the Senate and eight in the House.  He went on to win reelection in 2004, 286 to 251.  This brings us to Obama.  In his first midterms, he lost six seats in both the Senate and the House, yet his party’s defeat did not stop him from winning in 2012, 332 to 206.

What we learn from history is that the party controlling the White House loses seats in the midterm.  If this election follows suit, Republicans can expect the same.  Secondly, every president who won reelection since 1936 has lost party seats in their midterm, except for W.  Does this mean that when Republicans lose seats this November that Trump will win reelection?  Of course not.  Yet it also means that midterm elections hold no bearing on presidential reelections.  National issues are important in midterms and Trump will have some influence on these elections, but it also means that local and state issues carry weight. 

So consider the issues, examine the candidates, and please vote.  It is an important election because all elections are.  However, after the elections are over, just turn off your TVs and Internet feeds when you start to hear about what this will mean for Trump’s reelection.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.  

Presidential Retaliation

One of the big stories last week was President Trump revoking John Brennan’s security clearance.  Let me start by admitting my ignorance, I assumed everyone lost their clearance when they left the job, and I am not sure why he still needs it.  Obviously, I am wrong in my assumptions because stripping Brennan of his clearance has set off a firestorm.  As always, I am not commenting on the correctness of Trump’s actions, but, historically, criticizing the president has often led to similar consequences.  In fact, criticizing the president publicly has had even larger significances.

                Coming out of WW II there were few men with the public stature of General Douglas MacArthur.  In 1941, with tensions rising around the globe, MacArthur took command of U.S. forces in the Pacific.  MacArthur built up troop strength in the Philippines in preparation for a possible Japanese attack.  On December 7, 1941, the same day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they also attacked the Philippines.  Not willing to lose MacArthur, Roosevelt ordered the General off the Island, leaving his men to a horrific fate.  Upon his exit, MacArthur publicly vowed to return.

                After two years of hard fighting in the Pacific, MacArthur, true to his word, triumphantly liberated the Philippines.  Cameras captured the large-than-life general as he waded ashore with his iconic hat, sunglasses, and pipe announcing “I have returned by the grace of the Almighty Lord.” 

MacArthur went on to win the war in the Pacific, become Supreme Allied Commander, and accept the surrender of the Japanese in September 1945.  For the next six years, he remained in Japan overseeing military operations.  He was such a large personality and so successful that his name was batted around as a possible presidential candidate.

In 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea, MacArthur took command of the U.N. forces with the intent of containing the communist threat in North Korea.  Not only did the General stop the North Koreans with a stunning amphibious attack, he got behind the enemy forces and invaded the North.  What he did not expect was Chinese forces entering the conflict, forcing him to retreat back across the thirty-eighth parallel. 

MacArthur believed the only course the U.S. had was to take the war to China.  However, President Harry Truman disagreed.  Truman believed a war with China would lead to a possible WWIII not only with the Chinese but also with their ally, the Soviet Union.  When MacArthur went public with his ideas and criticized the president’s policies, even having a letter read in Congress, Truman relieved him of his command.  Truman later said, “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President.”

The general’s firing was incredibly unpopular.  Many even questioned the constitutionality of the action.  Truman’s approval rating dropped so low that it was one reason for his decision not to seek reelection (he was grandfathered in for the 22nd Amendment and so could run).  Later investigations agreed that Truman had legal authority to fire the popular general and eventually public sentiment came around to his side.  However, by that time the damage had already been done.

I am not saying that stripping an ex-CIA director of his security clearance is not a big deal, but when compared to removing the general in charge in the middle of a war for criticizing the president, Trump’s actions do not seem as bad.  That being said, the president may want to look at the consequences of presidents like Truman or Nixon, who fired subordinates for personal slights. 

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma