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Politics

Commentary: Present at The Creation

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August 13 has come and gone and Donald Trump remains at Mar-a-Lago, or wherever not in D.C. he is now. Article Eight of the Constitution, the Reinstatement Article, was not invoked. Wait – there is no Article Eight. There is no reinstatement provision in the Constitution. What?! Are you sure? Just last night I watched this guy on the Internet . . . .

I digress. Actually this commentary is about a book I read recently. Here is a direct quote from it:

  • [He] was often and erroneously compared to Hitler, but he lacked the ambition, the toughness, the demonic drive to become a villain on a grand scale.  . . .  Flattered, built up and sustained by . . . the Republican right, and their accomplice, the press, printing what was not news and not fit to print, he served their various purposes.  After the election . . . they no longer had any use for him, but, encouraged by the fear of the timorous in high places, he was not shrewd enough to see that his day was over.  For a year his own momentum carried him on. 

And a second quote:

  •  The continued seepage of his poison . . . had a highly toxic effect on the American public.  [It] was skillfully used by the Republican right and had an effect on undermining confidence in the very institution of government in areas far wider than those where such slanderous nonsense was believed.  Like air pollution, one did not have to believe in it to be poisoned by it. 

These words were written in 1969 by Dean Acheson in his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Present at the Creation. They describe, in order, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the early 1950s, who, in different ways, challenged America’s democratic institutions. Wise men and brave leaders like Acheson and presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower had the courage, skill and patience to ride out the storm. While McCarthy’s demagoguery and MacArthur’s insubordination damaged the country, they did not pose existential threats.

Along come the Internet and social media. Times have changed. Who knows what trouble McCarthy and MacArthur and their minions could have stirred up on Twitter and Facebook?

One more quote from the memoir. Remember, Acheson is writing about the 1952 election:

  • It seems both illogical and dangerous that a party that had shown ineptitude in politics and recklessness in destroying popular faith in government itself should be reclaimed to a sense of responsibility by a recall to power.   This, however, seems to be necessary to the working of a democratic system, which Sir Winston Churchill has observed is the worst form of government, except for the alternatives.  

Actually, we may not have to wait until 2024 to see how prescient Acheson was. In the Trump Land fantasy world, now that reinstatement has not happened, there are calls to make Trump Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives after Republicans regain control of the House in 2022, which is an article of faith among Republicans and a big worry for Democrats.
The Constitution says: “The House shall choose their Speaker.” Period. It doesn’t say “from among its members.” You and I could be chosen Speaker. So could Donald Trump.

Just sayin’.

Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.