From Lincoln to Trump: a political transformation
Preface and Introduction
I started this book because it bothered me to see what had become of the Republican party, the "Grand Old Party," the GOP. I was one of many who felt Trump didn't have a chance of winning in 2016. Then I became one of a lesser number who thought he deserved a chance. Yeah, I also thought George W. Bush deserved a chance, and he got us into Iraq and collapsed the economy before his eight years were up.
But I thought maybe Trump was a closet Democrat and would start doing cool Democratic things, like protecting pro-choice. Newt Gingrich said Trump came out during the campaign as being against the Iraq War; he had expressed surprise at this liberal position. Newt also noted that the "left" vilifies the rich and Trump is rich. Trump spent his life "spreading an anti-Left worldview that being rich is good, success is earned, and that anyone who works hard enough can be wealthy." Trump also "instinctively" understood that he must fight "the Left's" desire to destroy religion's vital role in American civic culture."[i]
Aside from the shocked look on his face when he realized he'd won, power went to Trump's head fairly quickly. He appointed all the wrong people to his cabinet, people who weren't qualified. With his promise of draining the swamp of corrupt politicians, we now see he likes the swamp. Trump sees the presidency as his personal stage, rather than as a position for a trusted employee of the people to serve with honor.
The other reason that I started this book was that I had already been doing research on the politics of the 1960s and figured that this project will demonstrate how those three assassinations changed US politics. Answers emerged on the '60s that I did not expect.
In examining each of the Republican presidents starting with Lincoln, I attempted to remain objective, as I did in Civil War & Bloody Peace: Following Orders. I call the kind of history I write "journalistic history," because I follow the events as they happened and attempt to demonstrate why they happened -- without bias. We cannot get at the truth with bias; we cannot choose the answer before doing the research, because then we choose only what supports what we want to prove. But you will see commentary and analysis – and comparison – along the way.
You'll see me deviate from a typical historian's work here, because I do not include an index or bibliography. The endnotes will act as your source for further information, and indexes are often off-kilter. I wanted to get this out in time for people to make rational choices in November.
Expect some surprises.
My thanks to son Adam Reinhard for the cover; to Facebook friend JoAnn Scott Wade for the cover idea; and to my husband, Joe Reinhard, who helped with research and was my beta reader. To all my Facebook friends who were encouraging as I wrote this. I queried a thesis advisor on my master's in history for someone with a history degree to give it an early read but got no response. Thanks also to Beloit Library, and Katherine Clark for hosting a discussion on Ijeoma's book, encouraging me to read "So You Want to Talk About Race," which I highly recommend.
I am ready to sink or swim on this. I stand by my research. I wish I could have spent a little more time on each president but needed to stay focused on a few pivotal issues in this evolution and transformation of the GOP so that readers don't get bogged down. I also share some comparison information on Democratic presidents.
So many Trump supporters say that the Democrats are the enslavers. These people draw on past history to create present attitudes. That's one thing we cannot do, and yet people on both sides do this, every day. I hope they'll learn more about past attitude here. So I acknowledge them for the inspiration for this book.
This will show you why the two parties have flipped since the Civil War, so that you understand when, and how, that happened. No Republican should defend a racist attitude today by saying "they did it first."
There has never been a perfect government, because men have passions; and if they did not have passions, there would be no need for government. Voltaire (1694-1778)
Of course, if Voltaire were alive today, he would be including women. One of the primary issues we face today is how we are trying to impress today's attitude on the past. I hope we see here how everyone is a product of their environment and end up knowing that we can change our environment.
What inspired this book was a survey by historians that concludes with agreement that Lincoln was our best president, while Trump is the worst.[ii] I won't debate the survey but instead wondered, how did this happen? Under a first Republican president we had a house divided, and we'll follow that exploration with the march of presidents to see how, under Trump, we fear anarchy and a new civil war. You'll find a lot of passion in these presidents; they are all, after all, mortal men – and I can say that because we've not had a woman president. Yet.
One answer in this transformation lies in our treatment of minorities. Racism and white supremacy form the core of the book, but we'll also look at such issues as economics, war, assassinations, foreign affairs, political compromise, and immigration.
Today it seems that all laborers, those who need three jobs, and even us in the supposed middle class, are slaves of the rich. Did the Republicans under Lincoln have this vision of our country? Trump's tax cuts benefitted the rich, as did Reagan's. Did Lincoln free the slaves to form a cheap labor market for industry? This idea caused the draft riots in New York City in 1863, where the Irish attacked the blacks in protest of fighting to free them.[iii]
No one book can do this topic complete justice, but, in also taking summary note of Democratic presidents, too, on these same issues, you'll see attitudes that demonstrate the changes this country has gone through during and since the Civil War.
There are a number of Republican history books on the market. How is this one any different?
"To Make Men Free" by Heather Cox Richardson was published in 2014 and demonstrates how the politics of Ronald Reagan changed the issues the Republicans stood for. This book will demonstrate that the first real conservative change to our politics came under Reagan, but the roots of that go back to Eisenhower, and even before.
"The Republicans: A History of the Grand Old Party" by Lewis Gould, also published in 2014, shows an evolution of the party; he updates to show GW Bush and the party's response to Obama. His slant is different, and here you'll see how Trump is a response to Obama.
"A History of the Republican Party" by George Washington Platt, published in 2011, sounds like it tells readers what they want to hear. Here's a review quote that bothers me: "But the subject matter of slavery is CRUCIAL to everything that follows because the history of the Republican party in the nineteenth century is the history of the fight against slavery." Here you'll learn where, how and why the Republicans dropped the ball on this fight against slavery and why long it took for the Democrats to recognize the need to change.
"American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Civil War and the Rise of President Trump" by Tim Alberta in 2019 had some good recent material. Here's a review by The Guardian: "Alberta has written a compelling, alarming and scoop-heavy history of the fall of the party of Lincoln." His chapter one starts in 2008 and takes a dedicated look at pivotal moments forward. He implores us to understand Trump by understanding the national makeover of the past ten years. Since mine covers the period of time starting in 1860, I reduce coverage to only those things that are illuminative for the purpose of following the transformation, particularly in terms of racist attitude. I believe we cannot take people out of context of their time and apply today's attitude to theirs.
I use a lot of historians' work to develop this but focus on events and what happened under each president. You will recognize my own bias from time to time, but I will not allow my opinion to be mirrored as truth.
A number of issues caught me by surprise. I never considered myself a scholar of the 1900s until I began this project. Here's one of many comments that surprised me:
It would be grossly unfair and inaccurate to say that every one of Trump's supporters have prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities, but it would be equally inaccurate to say that few do. The Republican party, going at least as far back to Richard Nixon's "southern strategy," has historically used tactics that appealed to bigotry, such as lacing speeches with "dog whistles" — code words that signaled prejudice toward minorities that were designed to be heard by racists but no one else."[iv]
I did not expect to see racism emerge as an issue with Nixon.
Since I did not do any primary research on this (or very little; the only travel was to a library) the facts are as accurate as the sources. Toward the end you'll see more emphasis on web links, which is probably not surprising since more current material has yet to appear in books; at least, not in an objective fashion.
The need to get this out before the November election is to help us understand the issues and what's at stake when we vote. I hope this informs a more enlightened electorate.
The chapters are set up by the Presidents. Chapter 1 is Lincoln, where we'll see his feelings about war, slaves, and westward migration. We'll understand how this first Republican president, under whom more people in the USA died either before or since (until the current virus), favored business, even while struggling to keep this country united.
Chapter 2 will be a look at Andrew Johnson, who was Lincoln's vice president. There's an interesting little event that led to his impeachment that many may not realize, and a fact of his presidency I've not seen explored elsewhere.
Chapter 3 is Grant, and here we'll get quite detailed, much taken from my published book because few historians got his presidency right or address his presidency at all.
Chapter 4 is the fiasco that got Hayes elected and ended Reconstruction. You'll see how Republicans were willing to end Reconstruction to prevent a Democratic presidency.
Chapter 5 is on Garfield, and after he's assassinated, on Arthur. We learn who shot Garfield, and why, and how the accidental president coped with this controversy.
Chapter 6 will take a brief look at why Cleveland won before getting into Harrison; both of Cleveland's terms will be discussed as to why he was able to win twice, and why Harrison failed to get a second term.
Chapter 7 is on McKinley and the remaking of the USA as a modern power. Why does he take Theodore Roosevelt as vice president in his second term, and why was McKinley shot?
Chapter 8 devotes a good chunk to one of the more popular Republicans. Why was Theodore (TR) popular? Probably because he was a moderate. He was, however, still a product of his time, in terms of dealing with blacks, native Indians, and immigrants. Confused as to why they'd take his statue down? You'll understand here.
Chapter 9 will look Taft, briefly at Wilson and then in-depth on Harding and Coolidge. You'll begin to see the results of in-fighting in the Republican Party.
Chapter 10 will take us to Hoover, through the Depression, and includes a look at FDR with Republican reactions. We'll see a move to the Conservative Right come out during this time.
Chapter 11 is on Eisenhower, his use of the CIA, and his warnings for the future. Why did he say. "Beware the Military Industrial Complex?" Was he the one who created it? Why did he further embrace the religious right?
In Chapter 12 we look at Republican responses around John F. Kennedy (JFK) to his death and through Johnson's administration. Why was JFK killed? Where the killings of Martin Luther King (MLK) and Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) related? In all three cases, conspiracies have been uncovered; none were killed by lone gunman.
Conspiracy theories have gotten a bum rap. If you say you believe in a particular conspiracy people look at you like you're nuts. Here's why:
While the conspiracy theory crowd — who predominantly support Donald Trump and crackpot allies like Alex Jones and the shadowy QAnon — may appear to just be an odd quirk of modern society, some of them may suffer from psychological illnesses that involve paranoia and delusions, such as schizophrenia, or are at least vulnerable to them, like those with schizotypy personalities.
The link between schizotypy and belief in conspiracy theories is well-established, and a recent study published in the journal Psychiatry Research has demonstrated that it is still very prevalent in the population. The researchers found that those who were more likely to believe in outlandish conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the U.S. government created the AIDS epidemic, consistently scored high on measures of "odd beliefs and magical thinking."[v]
In its simplest definition, however, conspiracy means "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful." One author called the connection of the assassinations in the '60s a "superconspiracy," where multiple conspiracies are linked together. Conspiracy theorists, according to this article, are people who cannot accept what is considered common knowledge. It traces conspiracy theories back to 1870, related to the Civil War, although in an indistinct way.
What is most striking in this article is that it confirms my suspicion, that "conspiracy" became a pejorative after JFK's assassination when so many refused to accept the Warren Commission's report. "In 20th Century Words, John Ayto claims the term was originally neutral, and that it didn't become a pejorative [disapproving] until the mid-1960s. Lance deHaven-Smith, in his book Conspiracy Theory in America, expands upon this, claiming that during this period of time, the CIA began using this term to discredit JFK conspiracy theorists."[vi]
Chapter 12, then, covers the so-called lone-gun assassin deaths of MLK, RFK, and Malcolm X, along with JFK. We'll look at Republican responses to these deaths, up to and including Nixon's election. We'll also look at Johnson's challenges to continue Kennedy's civil rights, and witness the beginning of real political change.
Chapter 13 will get into the Nixon administration; what made Nixon paranoid? He had a lot of good going for him, but that was outweighed by his own negative thoughts, and the fact that he had to record everything that happened in his White House. He claimed to only be doing what other presidents did; but his taping of everything demonstrates he stepped far over that line.
Chapter 14 will look at Ford and how he became president after serving on the Warren Commission. We'll dig into why Carter won against him, and how racism went underground.
Chapter 15 is on Reagan and opens up the white supremacist idea under the man most Republicans revere yet today. Reagan marks the worst and most obvious turn to bad Republican Right government. You will recognize how we got there.
Chapter 16 is on Bush 1 to Clinton, and why this "charming" Democrat had two terms. We'll understand by this point how hard Democratic presidents have had it since FDR.
Chapter 17 is Bush 2 and the lies that led to the Iraq war, while ignoring Afghanistan.
Chapter 18 shows why Obama won, and delves deeply into racial profiling. We'll also learn why McCain and Romney lost.
Chapter 19 is on Trump's win and today's Republicans. I will dare you to try looping that back around to Lincoln. And you will succeed if you've been following along.
I'll end with my analysis, and three appendices of issues for further reading.
Hang on. This will be one bumpy ride.
[i] Newt Gingrich, Understanding Trump (New York: Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2017), 24-25.
[ii] Brennan Weiss, "Ranked: The Greatest US Presidents, according to Political Scientists," Business Insider, February 18, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/greatest-us-presidents-ranked-by-political-scientists-2018-2.
[iii] See Civil War & Bloody Peace: Following Orders, by author.
[iv] Bobby Azarian, Ph.D., "A complete psychoanalysis of Trump's support," first Published in Raw Story; Psychology Today, December 27, 2018 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201812/complete-psychological-analysis-trumps-support.
[v] Azarian, "A complete psychoanalysis," Psychology Today.
[vi] Darcie Nadel, "A brief history of conspiracy theories," April 25, 2017, Owlcation, https://owlcation.com/social-sciences/A-Brief-History-of-Conspiracy-Theories. She sounds like a nut, but apparently had done some research for this article.
Created to show how the GOP got from Lincoln to Trump by following issues of all the presidents, issues that are important to us yet today. Expect some surprises!