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.

The Somalian lesson

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has been harshly criticized for seeming to elevate her homeland Somalia over the U.S. in a recent speech she made in her Congressional district. If so, she is not the first politician to tout the glories of a country abroad, but she happened to pick one that demonstrates all the ambiguities of current U.S. foreign policy. Touching that third rail can hurt.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was emphatic. “She should be expelled from Congress, deprived of U. S. citizenship and deported back to Somalia. “ The object of his ire? U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a member of the controversial progressive “squad” in the House of Representatives who added to her controversy by apparently having more praise for her homeland Somalia than for the U.S. in a recent speech to her constituents. Others echoed the DeSantis outrage.

However her words are interpreted, they are not really out of line with American tradition. What country has not at one time or another been grandly touted as an example for America? There’s revolutionary France, mistreated Ireland, besieged Britain, even – let’s face it – communist Russia. All had their adherents, but Congresswoman Omar took a step too far and trod on a most questionable aspect of current U.S. foreign policy – whether we’re doing good of doing bad in our many military interventions in various parts of the world, specifically Africa.

After the 9/11 attack, the gloves as they say were off. The U.S would not just seek revenge but suppress terror and restore democracy around the world, a tall order. An early target was Somalia on the horn of Africa. Its dire poverty called for aid, its terrorist component for bombs. It got both in plentiful supply.  But it turned out bombs were not enough. So the U.S. backed an invasion of Somalia by neighboring Ethiopia which destroyed one violent Islamist group only to give rise to another, Al-Shabaad, that continues to make trouble today. Some five hundred U.S. troops are on hand and Somalia continues to be bombed.

Celebrating a Somalian festival

It is this that angers Congresswoman Omar and may explain any disappointment she expressed with the U.S. in her speech. She complains that the recurring air strikes simply increase support for the terrorists. “It is critical that we realize that we are not going to simply drone the Al-Shabaad problem to death.” She insists that reparation payments should be made to the families of civilians killed in the bombing. More generally, she notes: “Too often U.S policy makes plans for influencing or changing regimes without considering the likelihood of success or the humanitarian consequences.”

Others agree. The U.S. military interventions tend to be too long with rarely an acceptable outcome. There’s the example of the twenty- year Afghan war which ended in a U.S. defeat by the Taliban. Recently, The Intercept got hold of a 2007 U.S Government analysis of the Somalian war that showed there was no clear U.S. goal or coordination among various agencies with an over emphasis on military measures. “This could almost have been written yesterday,” says Elizabeth Shackelford, who served with the U.S State Department in Somalia. Lessons not learned.

One glaring contradiction stands out. While the U.S. purports to be bombing terrorists in Somalia, it may be letting them in across its open southern border. Why kill people over there when you’re welcoming them over here? Belatedly, the U.S. needs to get its Somalia policies together or better yet let Somalia handle its own affairs without intrusive, unsuccessful intervention.

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.

Drugs and Bananas

Things are seldom what they seem in the tumultuous illegal drug world. There’s so much money that nothing stays fixed that long. Take Honduras, a small nation nestled among other small nations in Central America on a direct route for drugs coming from South America to Mexico and then to the final destination: bountiful, drug-consuming America. This requires frequent readjustment for the riches therein.

So America probably shouldn’t have been surprised when one of its favored anti-drug warriors turned out to be the opposite. Even U. S. Presidents Obama and Trump feted Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez with millions in aid as he pledged to use an “iron fist” against the drug traffickers. “The party is over for criminals,” he announced.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández

Behind the scenes, he was doing something else – helping those same criminals to thrive. Famed drug lord El Chapo, who is now serving a life sentence in the U. S. for his criminal activities, was looking for a drug route through Honduras to expand the reach of his Mexican Sinaloa cartel. Ok, said Hernandez. A million will do it. El Chapo complied and handed a briefcase with a million dollars to the President’s brother. Said a pleased Hernandez: “You can stuff the drugs up the noses of the gringos.” 

Hernandez applied the usual trappings of repression to his country. The media were paid or threatened to be silent as he went about his work. Extradited to the U.S. two years ago, he is now on trial in New York City with the prospect of an El Chapo style conviction.

But Honduras is known for more than drugs. It was the first “Banana Republic,” no offense intended. Keeping a close eye on the nations to its south, the U.S. made many forays into Honduras, but the most successful was privately conducted by Sam Zemurray, who had bananas on his mind and in his vision for Honduras. He cajoled a compliant government into letting him acquire a few thousand acres to grow his favorite crop, and the rest was history: banana sales around the world led to fabulous riches for the fruit companies who added railroads and banks to the landscape. The local population was less richly rewarded.

Keeping Honduras on the map, bananas gave way to guns. Concerned by communist penetration of Central America during the Cold War, the U.S decided to conduct military operations on? – you guessed it – a banana plantation in Honduras. The target was the Soviet-aided Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Writes David Vine in his book Base Nation, “Honduras was like a stationary, unsinkable aircraft carrier strategically anchored at the center of the war-torn region.” Stationed there were U.S.-backed Contras to overthrow the Sandinistas, resulting in a major scandal of the Reagan administration when it was disclosed that proceeds from U.S. arms sales to Iran were diverted to the Contras against a congressional prohibition.

Harvesting bananas in Honduras, 1952 (Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The Cold War is over, but Honduras is still busy with another war against drug traffickers. No rest for the geopolitically useful. The outcome awaits the future. But the present is not so bad. The Honduran economy is growing, and a government crackdown seems to be curbing crime, including the fearsome homicide rate. Honduras has not turned into a drug republic. Long live the Banana Republic.

Who is Putin?

The media is outraged that Tucker Carlson interviewed the enemy Putin and asked softball questions. None of the rough and tumble – “You said that.” ”No, I didn’t.” – that characterizes a real interview. But that was not the point. Carlson wanted the Russian leader to explain himself in ways that would be useful to an American and indeed global audience. With considerable candor that is what he did in over two hours. The gist of it? A plea for better relations with the U.S. Not exactly the voice of an enemy.

He had every reason to be triumphant. He was on the verge of victory in the war with Ukraine despite all the dire predictions of defeat in the American media. Though Russia had been slapped with myriad sanctions, its economy and its military had been strengthened during the war, and it possesses the world’s most advanced nuclear arsenal.

Tucker Carlson interviewing Putin

Putin noted the many Russian grievances against the U.S., above all, ever advancing NATO. The U.S. had pledged not to move the alliance one inch east toward Russia in return for Gorbachev’s allowing the reunification of Germany and thereby ending the Cold War (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” said Reagan). Yet year by year, President by President, NATO absorbed the East European nations formerly ruled by the Soviet Union until it reached the Russian border and then decided to include neighboring Ukraine. A red line had been crossed, and Russia invaded, as it said, to protect itself.

Did this make you bitter? asked Carlson. No, said Putin. It’s just the fact. Nor did he display any bitterness in the course of the interview toward any U.S, policy maker. He noted he had friendly relations with President George Bush, even though he expanded NATO. Intent on post-communist Russia joining the company of civilized nations, he asked President Clinton if it could become a member of NATO. The President thought that was a good idea but after consulting his staff changed his mind.

That’s the problem of dealing with the U.S., said Putin. There are so many levels of government – perhaps in contrast to his own autocratic rule – that it’s hard to know whom to talk to. Indeed, as a former intelligence officer, he should know to be aware of an American deep state where a small group of zealots known as neocons has been plotting his eventual overthrow.

The mindset of the elite, rather than particular personalities, is the key to behavior, said Putin. When Carlson asked him why he didn’t make a fuss in the press when it was disclosed that the U.S. had sabotaged the Nord Stream pipeline bringing natural gas from Russia to Germany, he replied there was no point. The press is in the hands of the western elite which would have ignored or downplayed the story.

Much of the western media, ever mindful of Hitler and Munich – one piece of history they have learned – say Putin’s next target is Poland with which he has had some difficulties. They cite his leadership in a growing bloc of nations called BRCCS that are forming an economic and political alliance in opposition to what they see as U.S. global hegemony. But Putin insisted with some emotion that Russia belongs to the West. It’s now the strongest economy in Europe with no desire of conquering it as in Stalinist times. Russia is big enough – the world’s largest nation. Who needs anything more?

Putin has not mollified his critics by his treatment of his main adversary in Russia, Alexai Navalny, who recently died in prison in the Arctic. He is now waging a determined, destructive war in Ukraine. But some perspective is in order. In the early 1930’s Stalin, driven by communism, starved millions in Ukraine to death as part of his rural collectivist program. The media that now condemns Putin went along with Soviet propaganda and denied there was a famine. Had Stalin been in charge the Ukraine war would have been over in a few weeks and the devastated country would resemble a larger version of today’s Gaza.

Unlike Stalin, Putin is impelled by no murderous ideology. He’s strictly a nationalist, Russia first, last and always. While autocratic he’s not dogmatic and therefore open to negotiation, minus the thought of conquering him or Russia.

Taylor of Troy

Is this the face that launched a thousand ships

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Such were the immortal words of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe as he recalled the epic Trojan war from the mist of fact and fantasy. It was a case of human beauty exerting its power for a doubtful end. Is there an equivalent beauty today that might launch ships in an opposite direction toward peace? An obvious contender is at hand: Taylor Swift, songwriter, singer, dancer, with a flair for improvisation and a following of 272 million combining concerts with social media. A recent NBC poll shows that she has a more favorable rating than just about anybody else in the public eye including all the current U.S. Presidential candidates.

For that reason she is currently embroiled in politics, especially among these less popular Presidential candidates. Since she tilts liberal, Democrats are urging her to come out in support of President Biden, while fearful Republicans are trying to prevent that from happening. Her impact is weighty indeed. Time reports that the tumult of 72,000 fans at a sold-out show in Seattle registered the equivalent of a 2.3 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. The economic impact is similar. Spending associated with her recent U.S. tour approximates five billion dollars. According to one admirer, “If Taylor Swift were an economy, she’d be bigger than fifty countries.” Seeing the gold that glitters in Taylor, the president of Chile, the mayor of Budapest and the Canadian prime minister have all invited her tour to their countries.

So far, despite the prompting, Taylor has not yet commented on the election. Hurry up, says Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsome, who would like be President someday himself. Your contribution would be “profoundly powerful.”  But she has hesitated, no launching of ships or making waves.  There’s no hurry at all, say wary Republicans who note that she posted a message on Instagram urging fans to register to vote on a particular website. They did, increasing registration by 35% over last year.

Taylor Swift at the 2019 American Music Awards

On Fox TV Jesse Watters said Taylor has been used in a Pentagon psyop to steer information in the right direction. “We are going to shake it off,” replied the Pentagon, referring to the popular Taylor song “Shake it off.” Sean Hannity of Fox takes comfort in the fact that she has criticized the business practices of far-left financier George Soros. Not to worry, advises close Trump ally Stephen Miller. The vast Taylor fandom is not “organic,” meaning it has been contrived by outsiders and not by the singer alone who is no superwoman.  

But as they say, image is reality and what an image. Is it ready for an antiwar campaign? So far Taylor has had nothing to say about the current incredibly destructive Israeli-Gaza war, but what if she used her immense soft power to urge a permanent ceasefire and her followers went along? The world would have to listen, politicians in particular. Songs of love betrayed by cruelty can shift to songs of humanity betrayed by war with the singer still conveying the simple joys and sorrows of everyday life, her soulfulness of song. Let all future wars beware her voice. Helen of Troy becomes Taylor of Nashville, the woman who launched a thousand ships of peace.