#WWLD? Evoking Lincoln for Some Shutdown Shaming

A Lincoln Shutdown
Photo by Flickr user reivax (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Based on some lines from the Gettysburg Address, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) has concluded that there is no way “President Lincoln, the founder of the modern Republican Party, would have supported a government shutdown for a year, for a week, for a day, or for a minute.” Putting aside for the moment the question of how well Senator Kaine can know Lincoln’s mind, it’s a glaringly ahistorical statement. The government shutdown as we know it today wasn’t given its underlying conditions until an 1884 appropriations rider banning the government from using volunteers when appropriations weren’t forthcoming. This made it into law with the 1905 Anti-Deficiency Act. The tug of war between the executive and the Congress over the nation’s pursestrings has always been there, but the ban on volunteers gave it teeth by preventing the executive from asking for workers to carry on, thereby creating deficiencies that Congress would feel compelled to make up later. It made shutdowns hurt.

Highest ever, lowest ever, best ever, worst ever, and a series of historic firsts: Trump celebrates the new year with a ball drop of history-centered hyperbole

A series of generally unscripted appearances by the president has provided the Political Uses of the Past Project with a bevy of unusual history-centered claims. Apparently, Trump seems to be, according to Trump, “the only person in the history of our country that could really decimate ISIS,” and is the “most popular president in the history of the Republican party.

Such hyperbole is worth cataloging and considering but the more interesting claims in this batch are the ones that seem to bolster a policy (rather than just our president’s self-perception). His sense of a border crisis is fueled by the idea that we are living through a time of unprecedented human trafficking (even worse than the Atlantic slave trade?). His transactional view of international relations finds support in his idea that the Soviet Union was right to invade Afghanistan. And he can see himself as the savior of the economy more easily if he believes that high gasoline prices, pretty much on their own, can cause a depression.

This project hopes to illuminate our elected officials’ views of the present through their uses of the past, and Trump has, in these first few days of 2019, already given us much to consider. Moving forward, some of his statements will be sent out to historians for comment, others will join a catalog of political uses of the past in a database and in visualizations that will hunt for patterns and changes over time.

Congress has also gotten off to a roaring start with their uses of the past, and their statements will appear here soon.

Trump: Because of the Internet, the kidnapping and selling of persons is “the highest it's ever been in history”

Donald Trump The United States needs a physical barrier, needs a wall, to stop illegal immigration and to halt deadly inflow of drugs and crime. You have human traffickers. It’s a thing that’s horrible. Think of it: human trafficking. They kidnap people, they steal people, and they sell people. And because of the Internet, one of the bad things that happens with the Internet — one of the many bad things — but because of the Internet, it’s the highest it’s ever been in history.

–President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump in Cabinet Meeting, White House, January 3, 2019

Historians: Rate or comment

Trump: The Soviet Union was “right” to invade Afghanistan, but “it was a tough fight” and “they went bankrupt” as a result

Donald TrumpRussia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. So you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there; they should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting. The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot these places you’re reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan. But why isn’t Russia there? … Why are we there, and we’re 6,000 miles away?

–President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump in Cabinet Meeting, White House, January 3, 2019

Historians: Rate or comment

Trump: “They say I’m the most popular President in the history of the Republican Party”

Donald TrumpQ : Do you expect to get challenged from within the Republican Party in 2020?

Trump: I don’t see it. I think I have the highest rating in the history of — I was just looking at that poll. Yeah, I think — I mean, I don’t know why, but they like me. They say I’m the most popular President in the history of the Republican Party.

–President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump in Cabinet Meeting, White House, January 3, 2019

Historians: Rate or comment

Trump: My plans will give us “great border security for the first time in, really, the history of our country”

Donald TrumpAnd I think I’ll be even more proud if we can have great border security for the first time in, really, the history of our country. The southern border is a dangerous, horrible disaster. We’ve done a great job, but you can’t really do the kind of job we have to do unless you have a major, powerful barrier. And that’s what we’re going to have to have.

–President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump After Meeting with Congressional Leadership on Border Security, White House, January 4, 2019

Historians: Rate or comment

Trump: NAFTA is “probably the worst trade deal ever made, maybe”

Donald TrumpNAFTA has been one of the great disasters of all time. Probably the worst trade deal ever made, maybe.

–President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump After Meeting with Congressional Leadership on Border Security, White House, January 4, 2019

Historians: Rate or comment

Trump: If gas prices had risen to $100-$125 a barrel, “then you would’ve had a recession, depression, like we’ve had in the past when that happened”

Donald TrumpPeople see that gasoline is way down. And the reason it’s way down is because I called up some of the OPEC people. I say, “Don’t do it.” You know, if you look back a few months, gasoline was at $83 a barrel. That was going to be bad. And it was going to $100, and some people were saying $125. And I make calls. I said, “You better let that oil and that gasoline flow.” And they did. And now it’s down to $44. … I called up certain people, and I said, “Let that damn oil and gasoline — you let it flow — the oil.” It was going up to $125. If that would’ve happened, then you would’ve had a recession, depression, like we’ve had in the past when that happened.

–President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump in Cabinet Meeting, White House, January 3, 2019

Historians: Rate or comment

Trump: “I’m the only person in the history of our country that could really decimate ISIS”

Donald TrumpI mean, I’m the only person in the history of our country that could really decimate ISIS, say we’re bringing the troops back home over a period of time.

–President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump in Cabinet Meeting, White House, January 3, 2019

Historians: Rate or comment

Trump: “In the past, single adults have been the vast majority of illegal aliens”

Donald Trump To break it down, there are three categories of illegal aliens arriving at our border: single adults, family units, and unaccompanied children. In the past, single adults have been the vast majority of illegal aliens.

–President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump in Cabinet Meeting, White House, January 3, 2019

Historians: Rate or comment

Trump: “Unemployment for black, Hispanic, Asian, is at the lowest it’s ever been in the history of our country”

Donald TrumpUnemployment for black, Hispanic, Asian, is at the lowest it’s ever been in the history of our country. … You know, when you have record low — in the history of our country — unemployment for African Americans, or for Asians, or for Hispanics, that’s tough to beat.

–President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump in Cabinet Meeting, White House, January 3, 2019

Historians: Rate or comment

Today’s summary: We will be hearing more about Clinton’s welfare reform, and soon

As the Political Uses of the Past project continues to divide time between improving the back end and updating the front, these posts have fallen slightly out of sync with the news cycle. Fortunately, the statements captured over the last week will continue to be relevant.

Most of the headlines today are about taxes, but the Trump administration also has its sights set on dismantling what remains of the nation’s safety net—especially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The coming debate will draw from the recent history of 1990s welfare reform, and we are already seeing references emerge in discussion of the now-failed attempt to block grant Medicaid. Continue reading Today’s summary: We will be hearing more about Clinton’s welfare reform, and soon

Trump administration seems doomed to repeat its historical talking points

This blog has been on an extended hiatus for maintenance and under-the-hood improvements, but as far as the current administration is concerned it didn’t miss much.

Some of the administration’s newish political uses of the past involve the centrality of human rights in the founding of the UN and seem deliberately focused on that audience; we are unlikely to hear these much now that Pence and Trump have paid their respects to that body, such as they are. Now Trump is committing to historical parallels between Iran and North Korea, with the stark claim that 25 years of diplomatic efforts “have done nothing.” His UN ambassador drew a line from this claim to his threats to abandon the Iran nuclear deal. The lesson of history they are drawing here seems to be that the diplomacy of previous administrations has absolutely no value. Continue reading Trump administration seems doomed to repeat its historical talking points

Daily Summary: Uses of the past from Trump’s UN speech, why do we vote on Tuesday, and more

While President Trump’s promise to destroy North Korea has grabbed most of the headlines, he also made pointed uses of the past during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday. Surprisingly for a president who is cutting foreign aid and folding USAID into the State Department, Trump touted the massive (and controversial at the time) Marshall Plan for Europe. Much less surprisingly, he was unequivocal in his statement on the history of communism and “true socialism.”

Trump closed with an extension of his “America first” ethos: he wants other nations to also be more patriotic and more nationalist. Continue reading Daily Summary: Uses of the past from Trump’s UN speech, why do we vote on Tuesday, and more

Daily summary: Immigration and the 1980s, the US and Asia after World War II, and Reagan’s medium-range missile treaty

Today’s summary of political uses of the past includes a series of statements about immigration that use the 1980s as a point of reference. A Democratic representative claimed on Friday that the issue of undocumented immigrants goes “back to the 1980s” and was largely sparked by refugees from El Salvador. From the other side of the aisle comes the claim that the gang MS-13 was imported to the United States from El Salvador. And another Congress member evokes episodes of church groups facing persecution for helping undocumented immigrants.

No surprise that the immigration issue would prompt a few glances in the rearview mirror–the debate is about who is an American, and that issue will always bring history to the fore. Continue reading Daily summary: Immigration and the 1980s, the US and Asia after World War II, and Reagan’s medium-range missile treaty

Mick Mulvaney: Reagan challenged “malaise” and “steered us to a boom”

Mick MulvaneyFor merely suggesting that we can get back to that level [3 percent annual growth], the administration has been criticized as unrealistic. That’s fine with us. We heard the same pessimism 40 years ago, when the country was mired in “stagflation” and “malaise.” But Ronald Reagan dared to challenge that thinking and steered us to a boom that many people thought unachievable. Continue reading Mick Mulvaney: Reagan challenged “malaise” and “steered us to a boom”

Rep. Liz Cheney: “Lessons of the past” support increased defense spending

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I want to read something that Ronald Reagan said back in 1982 on an issue when they were having similar issues and debates and discussions about defense spending.

He said: “Now, I realize that many well-meaning people deplore the expenditure of huge sums of money for military purposes at a time of economic hardship. Continue reading Rep. Liz Cheney: “Lessons of the past” support increased defense spending

Sen. Marco Rubio: “Democracies very rarely start wars”

Marco RubioWe look at the history of our hemisphere, here in the Western Hemisphere, and we see that up until about 25 years ago, most of the nations in the Western Hemisphere were governed by dictators and strongmen on both the left and the right, and few, if any, people in our hemisphere had a role to play in choosing their leaders.

Today, but for the exception of a handful of places–predominantly, Cuba and the Caribbean and some others–almost all of the people of the region get to choose their leaders, and that has been the story of Venezuela up until very recently.

Sometimes they choose leaders who agree with America, and sometimes they do not. But they choose their leaders.

In the end, we know that democracies very rarely start wars because their peoples do not tolerate it.

—Sen. Marco Rubio (R–FL)

Venezuela,  Senate Floor, July 11, 2017

Historians: Rate or comment

White House: “Clear parallel” between US-France WWI alliance and “what we’re doing today”

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let’s keep in mind what the, sort of, centerpiece of the trip is, which is the French National Day and its celebration of the 100th anniversary of US forces entering World War I — an entry which was really decisive, historically.

The French Army had sustained horrendous losses over three years of war; Russia had just fallen out of the war because of the Bolshevik Revolution, so a million German forces were being transferred to the Western Front. Continue reading White House: “Clear parallel” between US-France WWI alliance and “what we’re doing today”