• Great Inaugural Addresses of Presidents Past
• Joe and Kamala's Infinite Playlist
• Trump Pardon List Is Long on Sleaze, Short on Risk
• Good News, Bad News for Trump on Impeachment Front
• Senate Takes Shape
• How Will History Remember Trump?
Since we've only mentioned it once or twice on this site, you might not be aware, but there will be a changing of the guard at noon today. Joe Biden, the former vice president and senator, will become President Biden. Meanwhile, President Trump will return to his past identity as reality TV star and not-terribly-successful businessman Donald Trump. Actually, that's not entirely true. Thanks to the past four years, he's picked up a new dimension to his identity, such that he will actually be reality TV star, not-terribly-successful businessman, and flight risk Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, their last full days as president-elect and vice-president-elect, Biden and Kamala Harris participated in a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial meant to honor the 400,000+ Americans who have died of COVID-19. "It's hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation," Biden said in his post-ceremony remarks. "Though we may be physically separated, we, the American people, are united in spirit and my abiding hope, my abiding prayer, is that we emerge from this ordeal with a new wisdom: to cherish simple moments, to imagine new possibilities and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another," added Harris, in hers.
The other major news of the day, as regards the incoming administration, was the commencement of hearings on some of Biden's cabinet nominees, namely Janet Yellen (Secretary of the Treasury), Avril Haines (Director of National Intelligence), Alejandro Mayorkas (Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security), Antony Blinken (Secretary of State), and Gen. Lloyd Austin (ret.; Secretary of Defense). The five would-be cabinet officials gave answers to many questions, of course, and in so doing gave a few clues about what's to come with Biden in the White House. Here's a list of the major themes, along with which candidates said those things:
- Intelligence must be depoliticized (Haines)
- The immediate focus will be on the pandemic and on America's workers (Yellen)
- Higher taxes are coming, but not immediately (Yellen)
- We need a stronger dollar, not a weaker one like Trump wanted (Yellen)
- Border wall construction will be paused, possibly canceled (Mayorkas)
- More must be done to combat domestic terror and conspiracy theorizing (Mayorkas, Haines)
- China is the biggest threat to America (Blinken, Haines, Austin, Yellen)
None of these folks will be confirmed by the time Biden is inaugurated at noon today, though there's a chance that some will be later this afternoon. There was a push to get Mayorkas confirmed by voice vote, since keeping the homeland secure is seen as extra important, particularly on a day when there might be riots or coup attempts. However, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) blocked the maneuver, despite knowing full well that Mayorkas will ultimately be confirmed. In other words, despite what happened on Jan. 6, Hawley is sticking with "I'll do whatever political posturing I want, regardless of the consequences, and if you don't like it then too bad."
There was also one more bit of news on the staffing front on Tuesday, as Biden announced Rachel Levine as his nominee for Asst. Secretary of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, she would be the first openly transgender person to serve in a Senate-confirmed post.
Overall, it would appear that Joe Biden is doing pretty well when it comes to his handling of the lead-up to inauguration. A new CNN poll says that 66% of Americans approve of how the President-elect has handled the transition period (compared to 70% who disapprove of Trump's handling of same). That means that pretty much everyone who is not part of Trump's hardcore base likes what they see so far. Not a bad place to start from, even if the honeymoon will eventually come to an end. (Z)
Today, Joe Biden will make his first speech—and one of his most important—as president. To put his inaugural address, and what he will attempt to accomplish with it, in context, we thought we'd take a quick look at some of the best inaugurals delivered by his predecessors. Note that these are in chronological order:
President: Thomas Jefferson
Context: The election of 1801 was one of the most fraught in American history, with the citizenry heavily divided by disagreements over its relationship with France, the Quasi-War that had been fought with that nation, and the harsh measures the John Adams administration took to keep citizens in line. Supporters of Adams attacked Jefferson as a heathen and a French double-agent, supporters of Jefferson attacked Adams as a tool of the British king who wanted to transform the presidency into a monarchy. If that were not enough, a flaw in the Electoral College produced a tie, and it took until just days before the inauguration that Jefferson's claim was sustained and Aaron Burr was officially relegated to the vice presidency.
Main Theme: Inasmuch as this was only the fourth presidential election (and only the second which was actively contested), and it nearly ripped the new nation apart, Jefferson wanted to persuade his fellow Americans that their differences were not so great as it might appear.
Key Quote: "We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."
President: Abraham Lincoln
Context: Another nasty election, another time of crisis. The events of the 1850s had driven a very deep wedge between the North and the South, and by the time Lincoln arrived in Washington for his inauguration—having evaded more than one group of would-be assassins—seven Southern states had already seceded and declared themselves to be a new country. The President hoped to persuade them to return to the fold voluntarily, though there were limits to what he was willing to do. Specifically, he had been elected on a promise to halt the further spread of slavery, and he had no intention of abandoning that promise.
Main Theme: In an effort to persuade Southerners to return to the fold peacefully, Lincoln used a "velvet-covered fist" approach, as it is often described. He tried to coax them back with positive words about how things could still be worked out, while at the same time trying to intimidate them with warnings about what would happen if they stuck with their secessionist plans.
Key Quote: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
President: Abraham Lincoln
Context: By the time of Lincoln's second inaugural, the Civil War was all but over (Robert E. Lee would surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, the most important Confederate force, just over a month later). The 13th Amendment had also been passed by Congress, meaning that the death of slavery was nigh. And so, the president had to think about what the "New South" would look like, and how the reconstruction of that region would be undertaken, while integrating the defeated Confederates back into the nation.
Main Theme: Since the South was, in effect, at Lincoln's mercy, his primary message was to Northerners, urging them to be magnanimous in victory, and to brace themselves for the task ahead.
Key Quote: "With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
President: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Context: The Great Depression hit the U.S. (having already reached the rest of the world) in 1931, and it hit hard in 1932. President Herbert Hoover was overwhelmed by the challenge, and the perception that he was an out-of-touch, uncaring plutocrat was affirmed in the minds of many when he ordered the army to attack its own veterans, veterans who had marched on Washington seeking the Bonus Bill payment that had been promised to them. This provided the background for a very tough election, and there was certainly no love lost between Roosevelt and Hoover, especially once the former had officially vanquished the latter.
Main Theme: FDR, always a student of international politics, was horrified by what was going on in places like Spain, Italy, and Germany, and determined not to use demagoguery and scapegoating to unite the people behind him. Instead, he went with an aspirational speech, conceding that tough challenges lie ahead, but that Americans had the capacity to meet them head on.
Key Quote: "This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory."
President: John F. Kennedy
Context: The Kennedy-Nixon contest was, of course, one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history, and was full of nastiness on both sides, but particularly anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry aimed in Kennedy's direction. Further, the Cold War was at its height. While Korea and McCarthyism were in the rear-view mirror, and Vietnam was not on the radar of anyone outside of the Pentagon, both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. had spent the 1950s building more and bigger nukes, the worst of which had 1,500 times the destructive power of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the time of JFK's inaugural, many Americans did not wonder "if" they would have to "Duck and Cover," they only wondered "when."
Main Theme: Kennedy wanted Americans to re-commit themselves to the principles the country was founded on, and instead of worrying about how the world might end, to focus on what they could do to make it better.
Key Quote: "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."
We did not cook the books and select the inaugural addresses that best made our point; you will find all of these on pretty much every list of great inaugurals (see here, here, here for evidence). It is clear that great inaugurals are, in part, a product of circumstances—times of political strife and national crisis. And greatness comes when a president meets that with a message that is positive, uplifting, and persuasive, but also realistic and frank. The United States is clearly in the midst of yet another era of political strife and national crisis right now, so Joe Biden has certainly been given the backdrop. Today, we will find out how well he rises to the occasion. (Z)
When teaching the history of California, (Z) does an exercise with "We're Not Gonna Take It," the 1984 song by Twisted Sister. The point is that musicians use music, sometimes very effectively, as a tool for political messaging. And he walks the students through it, such that they eventually see that when Arnold Schwarzenegger chose "We're Not Gonna Take It" as his campaign theme song during his first gubernatorial run in 2003, he picked it because: (1) It communicated a specific message he wanted to communicate, (2) It also said that he is a "hip" rock 'n roll politician and not a stuffed shirt, and (3) he expected it to resonate with the age 30-40 voters he needed, who would have been in high school when the song was a hit.
Last week, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris released a playlist of 46 songs for supporters to listen to in honor of the inauguration. It's not clear exactly how much input they had into the list, but they certainly had some input. Further, they definitely approved the final product. Anyhow, we thought it might be interesting to take a look at the 46 songs on the playlist, in the order they are included, and note any messaging we detect:
|"Lupita's Interlude"||KOTA The Friend||2020||"Lupita" is Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong'o, who is heard speaking on the track. Kenya and Mexico are, just coincidentally, among the countries that Donald Trump specifically slurred during his presidency."|
|"Come Together"||The Internet||2018||Not a cover of the Beatles song of the same name, unfortunately|
|"Pick Up the Pieces"||Average White Band||1974||We'd be willing to bet good money that a much younger Joe Biden, then in his first full year as a U.S. senator, danced to this song at more than one disco. In any event, the list is very heavy on danceable tracks.|
|"We Take Care of Our Own"||Bruce Springsteen||2012||Given Biden's blue-collar identity, there is no way the list would not include at least one Springsteen song|
|"Now Or Never"||Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige||2012||By virtue of her guest appearance on this song, Blige is one of two artists to make the playlist twice|
|"You Make My Dreams"||Hall & Oates||1980||Another song with a significant disco vibe. We suspect Biden's influence, since Harris was approximately 10 years old at the height of the disco era.|
|"Free"||Sault||2020||The song, and the album it is on, are regarded as a response to the killing of George Floyd.|
|"What You Need"||KAYTRANADA ft. Charlotte Day Wilson||2019||Still another song with disco elements; clearly, someone expects a lot of inauguration-inspired dancing|
|"Give the People What They Want"||The O'Jays||1975||The messaging here is not too subtle. It's also a nod to Barack Obama, who used the song regularly during his 2008 campaign.|
|"Blue World"||Mac Miller||2020||One of three songs on the playlist with explicit lyrics, according to Spotify|
|"The Groove Line"||Heatwave||1978||Yet another disco tune|
|"Award Tour"||A Tribe Called Quest||1993||Among the small handful of songs that specifically mention the state of Delaware, this is surely the best known (sorry, Perry Como)|
|"Could You Be Loved"||Bob Marley||1980||If you had to pick one song on the list that was definitely added by Harris, this is it, since she's a well-known Bob Marley fan|
|"Run To The Sun"||N.E.R.D.||2001||Not a cover of the Erasure song of the same name. It's a funk song with significant nerdcore elements, which is an unusual combo.|
|"Whatta Man"||Salt-N-Pepa||1993||On the other hand, this one is a cover (original by Linda Lyndell). Presumably this refers to Biden, unless Harris has some very big news she has yet to reveal.|
|"Coffin Nails"||MF DOOM||2003||Biden and Harris better hope that North Carolina voters aren't offended by a song with an anti-tobacco title (though no anti-tobacco lyrics, since it's an instrumental)|
|"California Soul"||Marlena Shaw||1969||In contrast to Delaware, it's pretty easy to find songs that mention Harris' home state of California. Better this than something obvious like "Hotel California" or "California Dreamin'"|
|"Eternal Light"||Free Nationals and Chronixx||2019||This sounds like what Bob Marley might be doing today if he was still alive; we suspect Harris' influence here|
|"Destiny"||Burna Boy||2019||Burna Boy is Nigerian, and is one of Africa's biggest musical stars. The none-too-subtle message: "Not all presidents think Africa is full of sh**hole countries."|
|"Fool in the Rain"||Led Zeppelin||1979||A 1970s heavy metal song with a Latin beat, thus connecting with two demographics for the price of one|
|"Levitating"||Dua Lipa||2020||Something for the kiddies. This is the second-newest song on the list, and was performed on "Saturday Night Live" just a few weeks ago.|
|"Optimistic"||Sounds Of Blackness||1991||This is a contemporary gospel song, and a small reminder that when Harris and Biden have a Bible in their hands, they hold it right side up|
|"Work That"||Mary J. Blige||2007||This was Harris' campaign theme song while she was still a presidential candidate|
|"Let It Happen"||Tame Impala||2015||At 7:48, the longest song on the list. And one of the trippiest; the latter part is gibberish lyrics and is meant to replicate the sound of a scratched CD skipping.|
|"What a Fool Believes"||The Doobie Brothers||1979||Putting the Tame Impala song back-to-back with a Doobie Brothers song says: "If you're going to light up during your inaugural celebration, now's the time."|
|"Lovely Day"||Bill Withers||1977||For some of the songs on the list, the inauguration-related message isn't too subtle. This is one of those.|
|"Mirage"||Toro y Moi||2017||Some psychedelic pop for those who decided to accept the invitation to fire up the bong|
|"Move On Up"||Curtis Mayfield||1970||Another one with an unsubtle message, albeit one Mayfield meant primarily for the Black community. Biden's campaign has often played this after speeches.|
|"We're A Winner"||The Impressions||1968||This makes Curtis Mayfield the other artist to make the list twice. And another not-too-subtle message; if you prefer to honor Donald Trump at this point in the playlist, you can substitute The Beatles' "I'm a Loser," which is the exact same length.|
|"Golden"||Jill Scott||2004||Scott released seven versions of this song; the one on the playlist is the West Coast Mix, presumably a tip of the hat to Harris|
|"Still the One"||Orleans||1976||The only song on the list co-written by a former congressman (Rep. John Hall, D-NY). It's rather popular with baby boomer presidential candidates; George W. Bush and John McCain also used it (to Hall's annoyance).|
|"I'll Be Good To You"||The Brothers Johnson||1976||This is a song about committing to one woman and not indulging in affairs. One suspects a bit of shade being thrown in the direction of a certain notorious philanderer.|
|"That's Love"||Oddisee||2015||Another song about remaining faithful. Oh, and Oddisee is Muslim and is the son of African immigrant parents. Again, our shade detector is going off.|
|"Make It Hot"||Major Lazer and Anitta||2015||Major Lazer's record label is called Secretly Canadian. Regular readers of this site know that is cause for significant concern.|
|"We the People"||The Staple Singers||1972||A lesser-known track from a Civil Rights era-inspired album that also contained the megahits "I'll Take You There" and "Respect Yourself." "We the People" is another song that the Biden campaign has frequently utilized.|
|"Do It Again"||Steely Dan||1972||"It" could be many things, but we'll note that the playlist already proposes plenty of dancing and pot smoking, and the band's name comes from a...marital aid mentioned in the book The Naked Lunch. We will leave it to readers to ponder exactly what "it" might be.|
|"Higher Love"||Kygo, Whitney Houston||2019||This song was played right after Joe Biden's victory speech when he won the election. In response, Billboard critic Katie Hain wrote: "Indeed, after Biden shared his vision of 'a nation united, a nation strengthened. A nation healed,' 'Higher Love' backed up the message, particularly for those who know all the words."|
|"You Get What You Give"||New Radicals||1998||Shades of JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you," perhaps?|
|"That's the Way of the World"||Earth, Wind & Fire||1975||Another one with Kamala Harris' fingerprints all over it; she's a big Earth, Wind & Fire fan|
|"Uptight (Everything's Alright)"||Stevie Wonder||1965||The oldest song on the list. Are the inclusion of Wonder (blind) and Curtis Mayfield (quadriplegic) a tip of the cap to disability advocates? Possible.|
|"Unbelievers"||Vampire Weekend||2013||Band member Rostam Batmanglij is both Iranian and gay. Our shade detector is once again going off.|
|"Find Your Way Back"||Beyoncé||2019||Another one for the kiddies; Beyoncé is the most popular artist in America among people under 30, and this song appears on the "Lion King" companion album she curated|
|"Higher & Higher"||Jackie Wilson||1967||Either this is a statement of Biden-Harris' aspirations for the country in the next four years, or else a command to take another hit off the bong. Maybe both.|
|"Got To Give It Up"||Marvin Gaye||1977||Another dance song, this one about a guy who learns to be confident and assertive through dancing. Given how heavy the playlist is on classic soul and R&B, the odds of a Marvin Gaye tune being included eventually were roughly 100.0%|
|"Good Days"||SZA||2020||The newest song on the list; it was released less than a month ago (on Christmas), though the holiday did not stop SZA from including explicit lyrics. Consistent with the previous song on the list, SZA says the tune is about "rejoicing carefreely."|
|"Steps 8 & 9: Nature vs. Nurture"||Sylvan LaCue||2018||As the title suggests, the song explores the "nature vs. nurture" debate, albeit without taking a side. An odd finale (and one of the three songs on the list with explicit lyrics), but maybe the point is to leave listeners with something to ponder.|
Obviously, readers may pick up on different messages than we detected. Should you care to listen to the playlist yourself, you can access Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music, and YouTube versions here. (Z)
Late Tuesday, the White House finally released the list of last-minute pardons it's been promising for a week. Whether the lateness was to reduce scrutiny, or was because Donald Trump was dithering on some of the pardons, we do not know.
In any event, the list contains 143 names, the biggest of which is Steve Bannon, who will no longer have to deal with federal charges that he helped defraud "build the wall" donors. State-level charges, of course, are still a very real possibility. Beyond Bannon, the list is well-stocked with sleazy folks whose "qualification" for receiving a pardon appears to be that they knew the correct person, or they could afford to write a large enough check, or both. Among those folks:
- Former rep. Rick Renzi (R) of Arizona, who was busted for money laundering, extortion, and other crimes
- Former rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham of California, who got popped for bribery, fraud, and tax evasion
- Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D), who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice
- Rapper Lil Wayne, convicted of carrying a firearm onto a (private) plane, despite being on probation
- Rapper Kodak Black, convicted of various weapons charges
- Robert Zangrillo, a real estate developer who tried to buy his kids' way into USC
- Paul Erickson, former beau of Russian operative Maria Butina, and in prison for wire fraud and money laundering
- Elliott Broidy, GOP/Trump megadonor, who was busted for being an unregistered foreign agent
- Salomon Melgen, West Palm Beach physician accused of defrauding the government of $73 million
- Ken Kurson, former employee of Jared Kushner, convicted of cyberstalking his ex-wife
- Sholam Weiss, convicted in a $450 million mortgage/insurance fraud scheme and sentenced to 835 years in prison
Definitely a sizable number of shady characters. "Even Nixon didn't pardon his cronies on the way out," observed Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Amazingly, in his final 24 hours in office, Donald Trump found one more way to fail to live up to the ethical standard of Richard Nixon."
That said, the big news is who was not on the list, namely Trump himself, his family members, and his friends who are currently serving in Congress. Reportedly, White House counsel Pat Cipollone spent the weekend convincing Trump that: (1) a self-pardon would not stand up in court; (2) pardoning his family members would look very bad, would encourage state-level prosecutions, and also might not stand up in court; and (3) pardoning any of the lawmakers involved in the insurrection would aggravate Senate Republicans, and make conviction in the impeachment trial a near certainty.
It is possible that Trump issued some secret pardons but, as we noted yesterday, it would be hard to hide those from ProPublica (and others), and if they did come to light, the PR effect would be all the worse. So, the odds are against it. On the other hand, the odds are very high that Trump's use of the pardon power (along with the even more sleazy possibilities that did not come to pass) will cause Congress to take a long look at the issue. It would take a constitutional amendment to make significant changes, but given that "the wealthy and well-connected should be able to get away with serious crimes without punishment" is not exactly a popular position with the voting public, it's plausible that such an amendment might pass, especially during a Democratic presidency when Republican state legislatures might want to rein in the president. (Z)
There were a couple of big pieces of news on the impeachment front Tuesday, besides the fact that folks like Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) will not be getting a presidential pardon. We'll start with the good news for the members of Team Trump (well, at least the ones who have never been mayor of New York): Rudy Giuliani will not represent the President when the Senate considers the article of impeachment.
The official reason given for Giuliani's withdrawal is that, after working all weekend on the case, he concluded that it would be unethical to represent Trump, since he (Giuliani) is a material witness to what happened. If you believe this, please head to a doctor immediately for treatment, because your recent fall off the turnip truck appears to have left you concussed. It would be extremely unusual for Giuliani, after filing dozens of meritless lawsuits in the last few months, to suddenly decide he cares about legal ethics. Similarly, it did not take him a full weekend's worth of work before he smacked his forehead and said, "Wait a minute! You know what? I was a witness to all of this; I can't be defense counsel as well."
No, Giuliani was taken off the case because he was preparing a "we were just trying to un-steal the election" defense, which would have infuriated at least a few dozen Republican senators (some of them because they actually believe in democracy, others who have noticed that financial and other support are getting yanked away from insurrection supporters). We also suspect that Giuliani did not fight that hard to remain on the job, since he knows full well he's going to get stiffed by Trump on his legal fees.
And now we move on to the bad news for Team Trump. On his (probable) last day as Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), speaking in a manner that is considerably more frank than usual, declared: "The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government." Put another way, the impeachment trial hasn't even begun, and McConnell already agrees with the central contention that the Democrats will make.
It's possible that McConnell will eventually back off that position; if so, it wouldn't be the first time he said one thing and did another. That said, he was extremely direct and not at all ambiguous, leaving himself with very little wiggle room. Given that the Senator is Congress' foremost guru of wiggle room, our guess is that he did not want to leave himself with wiggle room. That statement sure seems like a signal of which way he plans to vote, and a message to his caucus that they should follow along. Given the supposition, from us and from others, that there is a bunch of senators (enough to convict) who are going to follow McConnell's lead, this should make Trump very nervous. (Z)
Today, in theory, the Democrats will finally fill all 50 of the Senate seats they are currently entitled to. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) certified the victories of Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock (both D) and gave them their credentials. In California, Sen. Alex Padilla (D) was given his credentials as Kamala Harris' replacement.
All three newly minted senators will promptly travel to Washington, present their credentials to the Secretary of the Senate, and then will be sworn in. In Padilla's case, the job will be performed by Harris herself, immediately after the inauguration. Fortunately for her, the inauguration takes place about 200 feet from where the swearings-in will take place. She might also stick around and swear in Ossoff and Warnock as well. Barring any unexpected difficulties (like a delayed plane flight from Atlanta), the Democratic Senate caucus will be fully in place by 3:00 ET or so today, and in position to formally choose Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as majority leader. So, a new era dawns today at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. (Z)
In the Saturday Q&As, we've answered a few questions about how Donald Trump will be remembered by history. The executive summary is that we think he's dug such a deep hole for himself, and that his accomplishments are so limited (especially since former presidents aren't generally credited for judicial picks/the strength of the economy), that it will be very hard for him to avoid a spot in the bottom two or three.
Today, what with it being the final day of Trump's presidency, we thought we might do a roundup of what some other scholarly types think. And so:
- Matthew Continetti, fellow, American Enterprise Institute:
"Donald Trump will be remembered as the first president to be impeached twice...When historians write about his
presidency, they will do so through the lens of the riot. They will focus on Trump's tortured relationship with the
alt-right, his atrocious handling of the deadly Charlottesville protest in 2017, the rise in violent right-wing
extremism during his tenure in office, and the viral spread of malevolent conspiracy theories that he encouraged."
- Laura Belmonte, professor of history, Virginia Tech:
"The moment I found jaw-dropping was the press conference he had with Vladimir Putin in 2018 in Helsinki, where he took
Putin's side over US intelligence in regard to Russian interference in the election. I can't think of another episode of
a president siding full force with a non-democratic society adversary."
- Kathryn Brownell, professor of history, Purdue University:
"Donald Trump, and his enablers in the Republican Party and conservative media, have put American democracy to the test
in an unprecedented way. As a historian who studies the intersection of media and the presidency, it is truly striking
the ways in which he has convinced millions of people that his fabricated version of events is true. What happened on 6
January at the US Capitol is a culmination of over four years during which President Trump actively advanced
"Just as Watergate and the impeachment inquiry dominated historical interpretations of Richard Nixon's legacy for decades, I do think that this particular post-election moment will be at the forefront of historical assessments of his presidency."
- Joseph J. Ellis, historian and author:
"On several occasions, Trump has suggested that he expects to take his place on the list of former presidents aside
Abraham Lincoln, presumably knocking George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and all the others in the top rank down a tick.
To put it politely, he needs to adjust his expectations...Donald Trump is quite likely to assume the title as the worst
president in American history."
- Douglas Brinkley, professor of history, Rice University:
"He is going to be as an asterisk president, a one-termer who did more damage than good."
- Leah Wright-Rigueur, professor of history, Brandeis University:
"[Trump's presidency has been a case study in the] naked, unadulterated pursuit of power and self-interest, at the cost of
400,000 lives and at the cost of the American union."
- Kevin Kruse, professor of history, Princeton University:
"This country has had a few [bad presidents]. There are the ones who are simply bad at the job and incompetent, and a
lot of bad things happen on their watch. There are those who are corrupt and engaged in criminality, and have scandals
that plagued their administration. And there are those who actively do the country harm through their action or their
inaction. Trump checks all of those boxes."
- Alvin Felzenberg, historian and author:
"I don't think anything will change with this president. He's the first president to declare war on the country. He's
had a scorched earth policy since his loss. Americans forgive a lot, but I don't think that's happening here."
- Richard N. Haass, president, Council on Foreign Relations:
"While the world was already in growing disarray, and while U.S. influence was already declining, Trump dramatically
accelerated both trends. The bottom line is that he is handing off a country and a world in far worse condition than he
inherited. That is his distressing legacy."
- Timothy Naftali, professor of public service, NYU:
"The Trump legacy is an exhausted, divided, bruised country with strained institutions."
- Lindsay Chervinsky, senior fellow, Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies:
"The loss of trust both domestically and internationally for the United States, for our institutions and our elections
will probably be the most significant legacy, because that kind of thing takes so many decades to get back. Our
international standing has really suffered."
- David Greenberg, professor of history and journalism, Rutgers University: "As a card-carrying historian, I realize it's premature to try to pinpoint Trump's place in the sweep of history. What comes next will be as important as what has come so far. But having studied the presidency, past and present, for most of my adult life, I can't help thinking that chaos—or, more precisely, the deliberate breakdown of rules—is what Trump's presidency was all about."
In short, few scholars think that Trump's reputation is headed anywhere other than the gutter. And, for what it's worth, the majority of Americans agree, with the latest Suffolk University/USA Today poll revealing that 58% think history will assess the Donald as a "failed president." That said, we could have compiled an item full of negative assessments (albeit not this negative) from historians at the end Harry S. Truman's presidency, and he's now consistently in the Top 10, so you can never be sure. (Z)
If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.
- firstname.lastname@example.org For questions about politics, civics, history, etc. to be answered on a Saturday
- email@example.com For "letters to the editor" for possible publication on a Sunday
- firstname.lastname@example.org To tell us about typos or factual errors we should fix
- email@example.com For general suggestions, ideas, etc.
To download a poster about the site to hang up, please click here.
Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan19 I Beg Your Pardon?
Jan19 Schumer, McConnell Close to a Deal on Power Sharing
Jan19 Biden Embraces Some Progressive Priorities
Jan19 Fox News in Decline
Jan19 Parler Is "Back"
Jan19 Cohen Implicates Boebert
Jan18 Biden Plans a Dozen Executive Actions on Day 1
Jan18 Biden Will Tackle Immigration Early on
Jan18 Atlanta D.A. Is Looking Into Trump's Call to Raffensperger
Jan18 Karl Rove: If Giuliani Represents Trump at Senate Trial, Trump Runs Risk of Conviction
Jan18 Riots Changed Public Opinion
Jan18 Running the Senate Won't Be Easy
Jan18 Republicans Are at Each Other's Throats
Jan18 Trump Blows Up the Arizona Republican Party on His Way Out
Jan18 Pardon Me?
Jan18 Harris Will Resign Today
Jan18 Love in the Time of Rioting
Jan17 Sunday Mailbag
Jan16 Saturday Q&A
Jan15 Much Is Murky about the Impeachment Trial
Jan15 Biden Explains His Economic Plan
Jan15 Biden Will Have a Prime-Time Inauguration Program
Jan15 It's Cheney v. McCarthy
Jan15 House to Fine Members Who Refuse to Go Through Security Screening
Jan15 It's Nightmare Time for Republicans
Jan15 Koch Brother Not Happy with Republicans
Jan15 Business Sucks
Jan15 Biden Is Already Worried about the Midterms
Jan15 Republican Governor Tries to End Gerrymandering--by Democrats
Jan13 Ghosts of Republicans Past
Jan13 Sheldon Adelson Dies
Jan13 Biden Likely to Pick Gary Gensler to Chair the SEC
Jan13 SCOTUS Issues First Abortion Decision of the Barrett Era
Jan13 And Now It Is Three
Jan13 YouTube Joins Facebook, Twitter in Banning Donald Trump
Jan13 Michael Madigan Is Out as Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives
Jan12 Insurrection, the Next Chapter: The Impeachment
Jan12 Insurrection, the Next Chapter: The Rioters
Jan12 Insurrection, the Next Chapter: COVID-19
Jan12 Conventional Republicans Push Back Against Trump...
Jan12 ...So Does the Sports World
Jan12 Wolf Is Out at DHS
Jan12 Biden Completes His Cabinet
Jan12 Trump Administration Tries to Stymie Biden, but Success May Be Elusive
Jan12 Trump Was Warned Not to Self-Pardon
Jan12 Parler Sues Amazon
Jan11 Poll: Trump Must Go Now
Jan11 To Impeach or Not to Impeach, That Is the Question