TRUMP AND ANDREW JACKSON

Donald Trump is a hero for millions of Americans as well as an enemy for millions of others. But who is a hero for Trump? It would seem to be Andrew Jackson as he has suggested: sturdy frontiersman, victorious general and seventh President of the U.S.

And a President like none before him and not many since. He put a personal stamp on the office that had been occupied with some restraint by its first occupants. From George Washington to John Quincy Adams, a genuine elite had governed.  That was the problem, said elite-defying Jackson. It’s time for the people to speak and rule, he insisted, and he led the movement to accomplish it.

“King Andrew!” cried his incredulous critics, and it’s true he parlayed the only U.S. military victory in the doleful 1812 U.S. war with Britain into a run for the U.S. Presidency. But in his majestic “History of the American People,” Paul Johnson writes that while Jackson was something of a military autocrat, he differed from the caudillos of Latin America or Bonaparte Europe in being a genuine democrat. “He was the first major figure in American politics to believe passionately and wholly in the popular will, and it is no accident that he created the great Democratic Party which is still with us.”

Trump might take issue with this accomplishment, but he, too, claims to have given voice to a portion of the population that had been underrepresented and indeed disparaged much like the alleged “riffraff” of Jackson’s day. Yet elections didn’t always go the way of either leader. Jackson’s outrage over his defeat in the 1824 presidential election is uncannily similar to Trump’s in 2020. Jackson won the popular vote, but since it was still a minority, the issue was decided in the House of Representatives where a backroom deal gave the Presidency to John Quincy Adams.

Like Trump today, Jackson carried his rage into the 1828 election. Writes Johnson: “Those who believe that present day American politics are becoming a dirty game cannot have read the history of the 1828 election.” Amid a mountain of pamphleteering Jackson forces spread the word that Adams, while U.S. ambassador to Russia, had procured a young American girl for the lustful czar. Adam’s campaign replied that Jackson’s mother was a foreign prostitute who had several illegitimate children of whom Jackson was one. A private detective claimed he had evidence Jackson and his wife Rachel had been living in adultery because of a false marriage, a slander that led to a fatal heart attack for Rachel and a permanently embittered Jackson. 

Like Trump, even as President Jackson found it hard to keep sex out of politics. He ordered his minister of war, Tom Eaton, to marry Peggy with whom he was living. Eaton complied, but other cabinet members and their wives weren’t satisfied and continued to complain about free living Peggy. Normal business came to a standstill until a frustrated Jackson presided over a lengthy debate about Peggy’s love life. 

In the meantime he was forced to assemble a small group of advisers called a kitchen cabinet to handle his more serious agenda: abolishing the national bank which he thought was the center of elite control over the U.S. economy, and suppressing the first stirrings of southern secession over slavery. “To the union,” he toasted southern leaders. “It must and shall be preserved.”

Trump is accused of inciting his supporters to scramble into the U.S. Capitol in protest of the 2020 election, defying police and causing damage. Jackson did the opposite. On Inaugural day he urged a large crowd of followers to join him in the White House. They happily obliged, destroying furniture and everything else in their way as they cheerfully drank to the new Jacksonian era. The President managed to escape out a window.

Some Jackson measures are not available to Trump. Quick to anger, Jackson fought several duels, which left two bullets in his body, adding to the constant pain from other afflictions. Trump must be content with flinging mere barbs at opponents, which can be deadly in their own way. By making a strong personality central to the Presidency, Jackson was the first to face an assassin who took personal offense and luckily misfired. Such has been the challenge to all subsequent Presidents, and one can only imagine the target provocative Trump presents.

Trump is spared two issues that compromised Jackson. He was in the forefront of those who expelled native Americans from their homeland as settlers expanded westward. This aggression, writes Jackson biographer Robert Remini, combined “inefficiency, confusion, stupidity and criminal disregard of the rights of human beings.” A man of his time and place, Jackson owned slaves and traded them. It’s worth noting that his arch enemy, ex- President John Quincy Adams, spent his last years in the U.S. Congress inveighing against slavery, suggesting that an elite of this kind has a role even in a burgeoning democracy.

Saving a Mexican journalist

It took him fifteen years, but Emilio Gutierrez Soto was finally granted asylum in the U.S. He needed it. Like other Mexican journalists, he was a special target of the drug cartels who murder a number of newspeople each year for just doing their job. Outside of war zones, more journalists are killed in Mexico than anywhere else on earth. 

Gutierrez Soto reported the every day news in Ascension, a small town in northern Mexico. Inevitably, that included crime which is ever day thanks to the drug cartels. On one occasion he noted that the criminals were outfitted in military uniform. That angered the military since it suggested military and criminals were one and the same, which is the case in Mexico. He was told he was in trouble.

Not heeding the warning, he continued to report and even filed a complaint with the police he had offended. Then  early one morning he and his young son Oscar were awakened by a loud thud on the door. In came a group of heavily armed soldiers who ordered the pair to lie on the floor while they searched the house. “It was a night of terror,” he recalls. 

He wrote up the event for the local newspaper but soon after fled with Oscar to the U.S., applying for asylum at a border  crossing in New Mexico. There began another unexpected ordeal. To attain asylum in the U.S. can be a long drawn out process, and most applications are rejected, though these days asylum seekers can secretly cross an overwhelmed border with the help of a cartel “coyote.” For the next several years, father and son were put on hold, awaiting a decision while living and working on a farm.  Would they be granted asylum or deported back to Mexico? It was a close call.

In 2017 Robert Hough, a federal immigration judge ruled that their story was filled with “inconsistencies, implausibilities and uncorroborated assertions.” He almost seemed to be confirming the cartel’s objection to journalism, though not – to be sure – its ominous warning. With a reputation for rejecting almost all asylum applications, he said the pair could avoid harm by relocating somewhere else in Mexico, apparently ignorant of the fact that the cartels control the whole country. No place would be safe for them.

Put under arrest, they were almost deported, but an appeal panel reversed Hough’s decision, concluding that their fears of persecution on returning were justified. Yes, there is a tight drug cartel control of Mexico. This month Gutierrez Soto was officially granted asylum.

Emilio Gutierrez Soto, Lawyer Beckett and Oscar after asylum announcement.

The National Press Club and others who helped him are pleased with the outcome. But their work is far from over. With an open border at their disposal the cartels are stronger than ever, pushing more drugs and people across for immense profits. Given the hazards of reporting in Mexico, more U.S. press coverage is needed, but is strangely lacking. We probably know more about Yemen and Somalia, with which, it is true, we are at war, than about neighboring Mexico. It’s routinely described in conventional terms when, in fact, it is a narco state, a criminal enterprise, that murders its reporters, some of whom, like Gutierrez Soto, we manage to save.

The Neocon Era

Hard as it is to construct a consistent U.S. foreign policy, considering all the pressures involved, Victoria Nuland managed to achieve it. As a solid member of the so-called neoconservatives whose husband Robert is a chief theorist, she had a clear plan and followed it to the letter. From her perch at the top of the State Department, she backed U.S. expansion into the Middle East, partly for the benefit of Israel, with the ultimate target Russia.

With the controversial wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria behind her she chose Ukraine as her first stop on the way to Russia. She aimed to replace a pro-Russian regime with a pro-American one. Her on-the-spot planning was meticulous down to the last Ukrainian to occupy a new office. “I think Yats is the guy,” she told the compliant U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in a telephone conversation later exposed by the Russians. She was referring to Akseney Yatsenyuk, who indeed became the prime minister after the successful coup. She contemptuously dismissed the doubts of the European Union.

It was a dramatic turnabout. A large country bordering Rusia was now pro-American much to Moscow’s distress. And there was still more. Testifying later before the U.S. Congress, Nuland somewhat reluctantly admitted that Ukraine has a number of biological weapons labs which should be kept out of the hands of the Russians. Their presence indicated a depth of U.S. involvement in the country beyond what was generally realized. The U.S. stake in Ukraine was serious.

With that in mind Nuland and her allies forged ahead, threatening to link Ukraine to NATO in violation of an earlier U.S. pledge not to expand the alliance toward Russia. For Putin a red line had been crossed, and he invaded, starting a war that is still with us. But the neocon goal has not been met. The Russian regime has not been replaced like the Ukrainian. Contrary to expectations, Russia has emerged from the conflict with a stronger military and economy and a ruler more secure than ever. Someone had to take the fall for this, and apparently it was Nuland.

Neocon policy had demonstrated the ample military power of the U.S., but it did not come to a successful conclusion. It will be up to Trump, presuming he’s elected, to fashion a new policy based on his plans for improved relations with Russia and less military action. But his first term leaves some doubt since he appointed two neocons to top positions who promptly turned on him. What has he learned in the meantime? As for departing Nuland, she will be out of sight but probably not out of mind. We will continue to hear from the woman who left an indelible mark on U.S. foreign policy.

Freud Today – Does He Still Matter?

Freud is food for indigestion. Indigestion! What a mistake. That’s not what I meant to say, which was “food for thought.” Are you sure about that? asks Freud. In fact, you have committed a Freudian slip, whereby you unintentionally reveal your true thoughts through a slip of the tongue. And you are not alone. Everyone does this sooner or later. It can’t be helped. In his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud catalogues the instances. It makes amusing if discomfiting reading – the stumbles of the mind.

Sigmund Freud c. 1935

Not even the Washington elite are immune from such stumbles. At a lavish dinner party, Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush, started to talk about a recent encounter with her boss. “As I was telling my husb…as I was telling the President.” The slip, suggestive of an affection beyond the political, was the talk of the cocktail circuit for many days.

Yet speaking of Freud in terms of indigestion is not wide of the mark. That’s how many people feel when they first read him. His unsparing search of the unconscious turns up many items you would just as soon not know about. That’s his method. By removing the repressions that conceal your thoughts and desires, he lets you live more comfortably with yourself, no longer burdened with memories of past abuse, particularly from childhood. Freudian psychoanalysis is liberating, not only for the individual but also for society. After the trauma of the First World War, people were ready for the emotional release that Freud offered. His theories caught on in America more than anywhere else.

In fact, he didn’t much care for America – too egalitarian. He had a lofty view of his own role as leading humanity to the promised land of psychoanalysis much as Moses led the Jewish people from Egypt to Canaan. In fact, defying tradition, he identified Moses not as Jewish but as a gentile Egyptian, which was one iconoclastic act too many for his once adoring public. Enough of his theories of psychosexual development. They didn’t pan out and were scientifically invalid. He was overly concerned with self, said critics, especially the sexual self. And psychoanalysis didn’t seem to be of more help to the mentally disturbed than other kinds of treatment. Freudianism was a fad. Its time was up.

Moses by Michelangelo

Yet Freud persevered. He was aways open to change and refinement of theory. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he acknowledged that pleasure or happiness is not necessarily the main goal in life as he had once thought. He struggled to describe what he termed the death instinct in human beings, made all too vivid by the carnage of the First World War. He abhorred the resulting communism and was imperiled by Nazism.

There is something inherently aggressive in human life, he decided, regardless of circumstance or system. Love is not a solution since love for one group implies enmity toward another. Reality is a permanent “struggle between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction as it works itself out in the human species.” Freud says he is no prophet and cannot offer the consolation that everyone demands from the “wildest revolutionaries no less passionately than the most virtuous believers.” It’s not the stuff of lullaby. The warring instincts are within us all and we must choose. It’s not easy, but then neither is life. Civilization and its Discontents is Freud’s last disturbing word. With that he is finished …oops, a slip… he is forever.

The Last Supper and a Touch of Venice

As you pass along a main street in the border town of Douglas, you see a sign in a window: “The Last Supper.” You assume it’s telling you that this is the last time you will eat in Douglas or maybe that it’s the last time you will want to eat in Douglas. But neither is the case. It refers to the Biblical Last Supper when Christ and the twelve apostles dined together. Behind the window is an array of paintings and sculptures – 2,500 altogether – that depict that last gathering before the next day’s crucifixion and the birth of Christianity. The event is portrayed in astonishing variety by artists, plain and grand, from all over the world.

What is all this doing in dusty, sleepy Douglas? It was a momentary impulse, says collector Eric Braverman: “My gift to Douglas and the border, which get a bad rap.” True enough since so much attention is focused on drugs and immigration. This is a diversion and then some. Get your mind on the eternal. It was also an impulse – an epiphany – that started the collection in the first place. As a youngster, Braverman saw a life-like model of the Last Supper and couldn’t get it out of his mind – for decades as it turned out. Today he gets daily offers to add to his collection. There seems to be an inexhaustible supply.

Eric Braverman and several items of his vast collection

He’s not religious but there’s nothing unseemly or satirical about any of the works on hand. They are all properly devout in their own special ways. There’s a hint of motivation. Jewish himself, Braverman notes with a touch of pride that the figures in the depictions are Jewish about to abet the astounding creation of Christianity here on display in Douglas.

This is one of two main attractions in the town, a reason to make a perfectly safe trip there. Right across the street is the Gadsden Hotel, which looks as if it belongs In Venice. Within is an Italian marble staircase fit for a king or at least for famed guerrilla fighter Pancho Villa, who is said to have ridden his horse part way up. On either side are soaring marble columns reaching a ceiling of spectacular stained glass depicting desert scenes beyond. No one has to go to Europe to experience Old World Beauty.

Marble stairway where Pancho Villa rode part way up on his horse

What is it doing in Douglas? It was built in 1907 during the copper mining boom that brought wealth, fame and some notoriety to the town. Who says we can’t be as good as the snooty Europeans? The Gadsden Hotel will show them, and indeed it does. A series of managements has been struggling to be worthy of the beautiful building they occupy. Gadsden remains an awkward standout in a town of many empty buildings with little sign of renewal. A former Gadsden owner, Anel Lopez, says that can soon change. Out-of-state investors are showing an interest in the area and buying property. Now Parks and Recreation Manager, she and others are fashioning a tourist route that links Douglas with other nearby towns of western vintage and color that can spark a revival. There will be more to Douglas than even Gadsden and The Last Supper.

School children performing the Wizard of Oz in lobby of Gadsden hotel

Another Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., wants to be U.S. President. Aside from his famous family name, his career has been that of an environmentalist. If there were an Environmental President, he would be favored, a shoo-in. He has targeted polluters far and wide, on land and sea, saving rivers, parks, whales and drinking water with a blizzard of lawsuits, books and speeches. He spent a month in a Puerto Rican jail while protesting U.S. Naval weapons testing on the island of Vieques that killed protected species and hurt the local economy.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (photo by Gage Skidmore)

Fair enough, but does that qualify him for the give and take, the rough and tumble of politics? Protected species don’t vote. What a question! Politics is bred into the Kennedys. There’s no avoiding it. In many respects RFK, Jr., fits nicely into current Democratic Party politics. He’s alarmed by climate change. He wants fossil fuels replaced by renewable energy though natural gas can do for the interim. He opposes finding more oil by fracking. As an environmentalist, he is particularly concerned with the effects of pollution on the less privileged. He says that “polluters always choose the easy target of poverty.” He found that most hazardous waste dumps are in black communities with the largest in the south side of Chicago.

But on two major issues RFK stands athwart the current Democratic party. While President Biden urges on the Ukraine war to weaken Russia, RFK says as President he will end the war with a compromise acceptable to both sides. U.S. policy is too militarized in too many parts of the world, he says. Diplomacy and statecraft are needed to contend with today’s challenges. “We will bring the troops home. We will start the process of unwinding empire. We will stop racking up unpayable debt to fight one war after another. The military will return to its proper role of defending our country.”

United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy

In his book “The Real Anthony Fauci,” Kennedy attacks an icon of the Democrats who he claims has misled and impaired the health of Americans from his prominent U.S. Gov’t. perch. In collusion with the pharmaceutical companies he is supposed to regulate Fauci has imposed lockdowns for Covid that have proved more deadly than the disease and disparaged inexpensive treatment for Covid in favor of a highly profitable and dubious vaccine. With an annual five billion dollar budget Fauci can reward those who agree with him and punish those who do not. Kennedy’s passionately written, exhaustively documented book has been met with outrage by defenders of Fauci who dismiss the author as a conspiratorial anti-vaxxer.

President John F. Kennedy (photo by Cecil Stoughton, White House)

If RFK, Jr., should come closer to the Presidency or achieve it, he will have to come to terms with the assassination of the two Kennedys before him. Unlike the assassination of three previous U.S. Presidents whose killers and motives were not in doubt, the death of John Kennedy remains as contentious today as ever. Thousands of books and articles have charged one or another group with responsibility for the assassination, dismissing the conventional view of a lone gunman. About to emerge as the Democratic nominee in 1968 with a clear shot at the Presidency, Bobby knew he would finally have access to White House papers shedding light on the matter. It was not to be.

In turn, RFK, Jr., would face the same challenge – elements of a Deep State determined that he fail in his quest and not carry on any Kennedy agenda of transparency. This country owes the Kennedys – two leaders cut down in the prime of life and power to the detriment of the country they served. It’s not just a Kennedy who is being tested in the coming months. It’s also the country.

The U.S. – Warrior Nation

The U. S. has not been a particularly peaceful country. Aside from a devastating Civil War, it has been caught up In a number of others that almost always ended in victories with mission accomplished: freedom from British rule, westward and then overseas expansion at the expense of Mexico and Spain, overcoming German militarism in the First World War and Nazism in the Second, containing Stalinist Russian aggression in the Cold War leading to the regime’s ultimate collapse with only the Vietnam War a serious loss. It was always clear why we were fighting and what constituted victory.

Charlamagne

Not so since 9/11. The U.S has been involved in one war after another, more than any other nation during this period with unclear goals and dismal outcomes. Some 900,000 people have been killed with immense damage to the Middle East and North Africa and 38 million refugees clamoring for admission to a weakened Europe. With the current prolonged war in Ukraine there’s no end in sight.  It’s time for an overdue review of these conflicts.

Every country – monarchist, autocratic, totalitarian, democratic – relies on a chosen few, a clique – to guide it through a crisis, e.g., war. That’s the way the world works at least since the Roman Republic tried two-man rule. The leader of the group in charge may be good – Augustus, Charlemagne, Bismarck, Lincoln – or not so good, even terrible – Nero, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin. In that case it’s up to the aggrieved country to remove him, which is not always easily done. There was no attempt to remove Stalin since he had killed almost everybody around him.

Emperor Nero

On a less draconian level, the so-called neoconservatives have dominated U.S foreign policy since 9/11. Capable, well organized with an instinct for the jugular, they have a special aim in view – the pre-eminence, not to say supremacy of the U.S. in world affairs. That requires a lot of military activity. Hence, the series of wars. But is that really in the U.S interest?  The U.S. was once considered a republic that would be true unto itself whatever the rest of the world may be doing – attentive to world affairs but not always  militarily involved in them.

The post- 9/11 wars got off to a bad start with the 2003 invasion of Iraq based completely on fabrications. Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein was said to have weapons of mass destruction and a role in the 9/ll attack neither of which was true. But in the resulting debacle no one was called to account. In fact, the neocons went on to promote and extend other wars – Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia – backed by kindred spirits in the media. Because of close ties to Israel, neocons are accused of wanting to destroy its enemies. But how does Israel or anybody benefit from a region in chaos?

It’s time for a replacement. There are competent strategists throughout the U.S. with no ax to grind who are currently walled out of influence by ideology. Let’s break down the barrier and let them in.