Taking History Whole (feathers and all)

John Fea, who has (near as I can tell) coined the phrase “Court evangelical” to designate President Trump’s born-again defenders, thinks astute an observation that defenders of Confederate monuments “in Trump’s America” have a flawed understanding of the past.

It is a curious charge to make since if Fea is against “Court evangelicals,” historically speaking that makes him a “Country evangelical,” the party of English politics that most closely foreshadowed the Tea Party (and I don’t think John wants to go there):

Public debt first became a political issue in late seventeenth century Britain, when policymakers started borrowing money on a massive scale to fund expensive trading wars with France. For the first time, owners of capital became major players in the economy and in government. To help pay the debt back reliably, Parliament created a national bank and extended the tax system, which in turn created a class of bureaucrat administrators. This was a major shift for a society where political power had rested with prosperous merchants, farmers, and artisans, and where tax collection had been managed from the provinces by the landed nobility. These groups’ response was, predictably, inflamed. Rallied by the polemicist Henry St John, the first Viscount Bolingbroke, they became vociferous critics of the new arrangements, identifying themselves as the “Country Party,” in opposition to what they called the “Court Party” of London financiers and politicians, which seemed corrupt, unrepresentative, and in thrall to financial interests. The Country Party identified itself as nonpartisan, separate from the formal political organizations of the Tories and the Whigs, but tended to support the more conservative Tories.

The quotation he seems to affirm is this one:

As with much else in Trump’s version of America, the protesters who lined up to defend the monument wish to maintain an à-la-carte relationship with history. They have cloaked their defense of the monuments by presenting it as a recognition of the valor of the men who fought for the Confederate cause.

The thing is, this failure to do justice to history cuts so many ways, not only as in the case of the Court vs. Country parties of English politics, but also with those critics of Trump who might want to tar and feather him for threatening the liberal international order over which the United States has ruled for the last 65 years. Andrew Bacevich shows how history is as much Trump’s friend as his enemy:

In Foreign Policy, Colin Kahl and Hal Brands embellish the point: Trump’s strategic vision “diverges significantly from—and intentionally subverts— the bipartisan consensus underpinning U.S. foreign policy since World War II.” Failing to “subscribe to the long-held belief that ‘American exceptionalism’ and U.S. leadership are intertwined,” Trump is hostile to the “open, rule-based international economy” that his predecessors nurtured and sustained….

You get the drift. Liberalism, along with norms, rules, openness, and internationalism: these ostensibly define the postwar and post-Cold War tradition of American statecraft. Allow Trump to scrap that tradition and you can say farewell to what Stewart Patrick refers to as “the global
community under the rule of law” that the United States has upheld for decades. But what does this heartwarming perspective exclude? We can answer that question with a single word: history.

Or, somewhat more expansively, among the items failing to qualify for mention in the liberal-internationalist, rules-based version of past U.S. policy are the following: meddling in foreign elections; coups and assassination plots in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Cuba, South Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, and elsewhere; indiscriminate aerial bombing campaigns in North Korea and throughout Southeast Asia; a nuclear arms race bringing the world to the brink of Armageddon; support for corrupt, authoritarian regimes in Iran, Turkey, Greece, South Korea, South Vietnam, the Philippines,
Brazil, Egypt, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere—many of them abandoned when deemed inconvenient; the shielding of illegal activities through the use of the Security Council veto; unlawful wars launched under false pretenses; “extraordinary rendition,” torture, and the indefinite imprisonment of persons without any semblance of due process. (The “Global Order” Myth, American Conservative, May/June 2017)

Odd the way that history comes back to bite and turns people from anti-establishmentarians into boosters of obscenely yuuuugggeee institutions that have little accountability to “the people.” The Trump Effect does not get old.

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14 thoughts on “Taking History Whole (feathers and all)

  1. Darryl: Very confused by this post. No link to my defending or not defending Confederate monuments. In fact, most of what I have written at my blog suggests that this is a complicated issue.

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  2. John, you quoted approvingly someone who said the defenders of Confederate monuments don’t understand the past in its fullness. So I wonder who does among those who history to criticize Trump. Can you really not understand the difference between the Court and Country parties, or the way the internationalists (perhaps yourself included) who criticize Trump use the past selectively?

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  3. John, this one “the protesters who lined up to defend the monument wish to maintain an à-la-carte relationship with history.”

    You and I also have an a la carte relationship with history even though we are licensed to practice historical science. But I also think you have more of an a la carte relationship when you are most NeverTrump.

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  4. Andrew Bacevich rightfully challenge Stewart Patrick’s contention. But there is more than one other alternative to take and Trump’s missile attack on Syria shows that he is not averse to intervening in other nations outside ways that are different from the past. Not only that, it seems that Trump is cementing at least one other friendship besides NATO through which to intervene in other places.

    If we follow the money, we find that Trump threatened the global face of neoliberalism which resounded with Country Party voters. But he fully embraced its domestic face in the our elites vs their elites political campaign against Hillary. Now whether one wants to say that such classifies Trump as a member of the Country rather than Court Party is irrelevant. For both parties embrace authoritarianism through elite-centered rule and those who pay the highest price for their decisions are those whose voices are relegated to the trash bin.

    So since Trump has very possibly shown himself to be an interventionists and that he is seeking a new partners with which to play, isn’t Trump offering us merely different kind of Court, rather than Country, Party policies?

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  5. D.G.,
    That is neat. But my closing question was:


    So since Trump has very possibly shown himself to be an interventionists and that he is seeking a new partners with which to play, isn’t Trump offering us merely different kind of Court, rather than Country, Party policies?

    Back to Jackson, if both the Court and Country Parties are only offering elite-centered rule, then isn’t choosing between them is like choosing between the Democratic Party Elites or the Republican Party Elites? In either case, you have less democracy, that is if you have it at all.

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  6. “And to the republic for which it stands…” Democracy blows. The whole “will of the people” thing didn’t work very well for the French in the 1790s, did it.

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  7. D.G.,
    Of course the founders didn’t want democracy, such would cost them in terms of wealth and power. In addition, The Constitution was written in response to Shays Rebellion and widespread dissent over the economy. Who were the founders? Most of them had places of power and wealth–that is most of them. And a couple of them wanted democracy, but the majority did not. But America consisted of more than just the founding fathers back then.

    BTW, I don’t see a contradiction between a representative democracy and the electoral college. You could say that such a a contradiction exists if we were talking about a direct democracy. But one thing that the electoral college does is that it protects the interests of rural Americans from being ignored because of the interests of those who live in the cities. It balances things out to a degree.

    So again, the qeustion is:


    So since Trump has very possibly shown himself to be an interventionists and that he is seeking a new partners with which to play, isn’t Trump offering us merely different kind of Court, rather than Country, Party policies?

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  8. D.G.,
    Still trying to dsitract and divert from points being made and questions asked? At what point do you need to repeat such responses until you become your cliche?

    So again, the question is:


    So since Trump has very possibly shown himself to be an interventionists and that he is seeking a new partners with which to play, isn’t Trump offering us merely different kind of Court, rather than Country, Party policies?

    Of course, I continually repeat asking the question believing that some day the answer will come.

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  9. Curt, I didn’t think the question was serious. I have a hard time thinking POTUS is not part of the Court. That’s what being the leader of the free world does.

    So what? I’m not a supporter of “Great” America. Keep up. People who go hysterical over Trump (or Clinton) amuse me.

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