President-elect Joe Biden just announced his picks for his advisors and people are already complaining. They are not happy that he chose known pols, people who were in the Obama government. Americans are moaning about the swamp being recreated. Honey, (sorry, now that I have white hair everyone calls me honey, just returning the favor) we have been to the swamp and these people weren’t there. Anyway, when the Democrats decided to stay at the moderate end of the spectrum clearly we were going to see folks who knew what our government used to look like and could help resurrect it.
Biden already has a far less friendly Congress than we could have wished for. He cannot really afford to pull people out of either the Senate or the House unless he is sure they are in a safe district. It is also possible that once things are right side up again these people will be able to move left, or Biden can adopt a fluid style that will allow him to plug in the right people as needed. He knows that he must govern as far to the left of moderate as he can because of the pressing concerns about climate change and education, the pandemic and the economy. He also knows that you don’t lock up the bank just when money needs to flow.
Suddenly everyone is worried about China, and Russia, and Iran and even Israel because of Trump’s interesting and passive-aggressive transactions occurring at this very moment. Isn’t it better to trust a career foreign relations guy than Trump’s ‘burgerific’ gut. Can’t we at least wait until we see if the inauguration goes off without a hitch? Can’t we take a moment and breathe, outdoors in an isolated space, at how far we have come already. We are faced with an existential need to spend money and our own soulful desire to tamp down consumerism, along with empty pockets. Can we give the economy the lift it needs in this quarter? It looks like the economy is in our hands right now, those hands that have been washed raw. Will an artificial act like turning the page on a calendar change our reality?
This may be our chance to see if the Democrats are just the Republicans Lite, as so many say they are, or if they can pave a path to a future that looks nothing like the last four years. The obstructionism may be still make it too difficult to accomplish very much at all. This is why Georgia is the center of the political universe right now. So, I am willing to shut up about Biden’s cabinet/advisor picks until after those first 100 days at least. In terms of the economy I’m afraid I will not be of much use in rescuing it. I like Capitalism that isn’t rapacious, that doesn’t insist on keeping toxic politicians in office so that money can continue to roll in from fossil fuels to line the pockets of the wealthy. Kamala is certainly a comforting presence. Our new government has so much work to do.
Ron Chernow has written biographies of historical figures such as Hamilton, Grant, and now George Washington, in Washington: A Life. Of course there are many biographies of these men, but his biographies are particularly valuable because Chernow has access to such a complete library of Washington papers and letters. Chernow has a talent for making material that could be dense and pedantic interesting and engrossing. He does not keep himself out of his writing. Whatever he concludes about these great men as he studies their documents informs his opinion of who they are and he shares that view with readers. Lucky is the age that has a chief biographer like Ron Chernow, although, of course, he has his critics.
In these days when we are so immersed in the roots of our nation, and whether we should try to be originalists and channel what the founders meant when they wrote our Constitution, in particular, and the Federalist papers which followed, or whether we should deal with the Constitution as we have lived with it and changed it, it seems appropriate to go back and study the roots of our nation. Although this book tells the story of our beginnings it does not necessarily help with our twenty-first century dilemmas regarding the Constitution. We do learn that political parties were not a part of our founders republic but they developed almost as soon as the government first convened under George Washington’s guidance as our first President.
The George Washington that Chernow presents us with is both heroic and human, with all his own flaws, often overshadowed by his assets. He paints a picture of a man with passions that he keep firmly under control. Washington is ambitious but not aggressively so, he is vain and often oversteps his finances to keep up his style. He is a Southerner who keeps slaves although he also professes to hate the practice. He loves owning property and he has a number of farms, or plantations. He has 200 slaves of his own and some as a dower from his wife, Martha. He could downsize his farming operations, which suffer terrible loses from his long absences and from bad soil and bad weather, but he could never imagine changing the lifestyle that he feels offers him privilege and social standing. He’s not comfortable with owning slaves but he cannot see a way to maintain a life without them. He does free them in his will but he cannot free the slaves that belong to Martha. Abolition was already an issue and Washington only scraped by without much pushback because he lead the Revolutionary War and we won it. He became a hero, recognized and celebrated everywhere, which is apparently not as much fun as it sounds. After the war people stopped in at Mount Vernon all the time and he extended hospitality and often feed and provided beds for favored guests. Washington worried constantly about money but he lived like a wealthy man.
Washington lost a lot of income during the eight years of the war. He started the war with rough men who were ragged troops. But he came to feel for his men and they for him. He knew that they suffered without proper uniforms or even proper clothing for the weather, without enough food, in winter shelters they had to build themselves and he often suffered with them, although not to the same extent. The colonies never sent enough money to support the soldiers and they had high expectations of the outcomes. These soldiers eventually became a regimented army. There were both black and white soldiers. Washington took no pay as Commander of the Revolutionary Army. He had to appoint relatives to oversee his farms and he always longed to go home but he felt so strongly about the need to be a free country that he persevered although often criticized as lacking in military strategy. Considering the trials of his army it is a wonder that America happened at all.
After Washington was persuaded to be the first President things were at first productive but soon the split between North and South became apparent. The Northerners were known as the Federalists, led by Hamilton, and the Southerners as the Republicans, led by John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. Although Washington was from the South, the programs designed by Hamilton for financing the new nation made sense to Washington even as they alienated the Republicans. The Republicans did not want strong central government because they were frightened that it would become a monarchy. Washington did want strong central government because he worried about fights between the colonies/states. Republicans did not like the idea of a central bank, but Washington feared that the new nation would always be in arrears without it. This did not just amount to squabbles in the legislature. There arose a press that was vehemently opposed to Washington. He served a second term when implored to do so, but it was a rough one.
It will be hard to leave the Father of our Nation and move on as I have spent so much time with him. Usually after I read such a long book I like to choose a few lighter books, some amuse bouche. What will serve as a chaser to Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life I have not yet decided, but here I have only scratched the surface of the Washington depicted in Chernow’s book. Washington did not help much with the writing of the Constitution but he had clear ideas about how he felt it should be implemented. How different our nation might be now if Thomas Jefferson had been our first president we will never know. Washington set up the practical, everyday working bones of our government with his first Congress and Cabinet and that got the government off to a sound beginning.
We wait. America holds its collective breath while ballots are counted – with a few exceptions. The President, as usual, cannot sit still. He doesn’t believe in breaks unless he is golfing. He is trying to stop states from counting mail-in votes. This typically sinister move could be backed up by courts stuffed full of right-wing judges. In this one way I am like Trump. I could not pass the marshmallow test either most likely. But this time I can wait.
And I notice Trump’s troops have a new assignment. Instead of insisting that states open up, they now are insisting that states stop counting votes, as per Trump’s order. They are insinuating themselves into the premises where votes are being counted and intimidating workers. This cannot be considered a legal protest. How much more serious will this situation get? Regardless of who wins, America is not done with our reactionary/progressive split.
Another demonstration insists that we count every vote. Which group seems to be on the side of our constitutional government? Hint: your choice should not be a matter of ideology.
Mitch McConnell lives to serve another 6 years in the Senate. Why? That Mitch McConnell is like a cat, a mean hissy cat with nine lives. I can only hope that he ends up as the leader of the minority. We may have to work around the government if it is still deadlocked. We may have to each pick an organization with a goal that we think is important and put all our energies there this year.
Lindsay Graham does not deserve his seat either but his backers must be very powerful indeed. And wealthy. America is still for sale to the highest bidder. Considering the subtle trolling I have been getting on Linkedin.com, of all places, after reading Blowout by Rachel Maddow, an exposé of the oil and gas business, fossil fuel barons are very, very worried. They have been throwing engineers and oil men at me, pretending to flirt. When one leaves another asks to join my network. What they would do if I agreed, I do not know. But it may just be a sign of why these ancient and horrible men keep getting elected.