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On The Mantle Of President

Didn’t realize this until recently, but Thomas Jefferson probably, though not exclusively, represents rather well the complicated beginnings of America, and the dichotomies.

In a documentary I watched last night that complication, at once trying to influence those early founding fathers, getting them to see the African’s they had enslaved as individuals, thus giving them the rights and freedoms of all those who had immigrated from elsewhere to those American shores, yet, on the other hand, owning slaves himself at Monticello. Today we would call him a hypocrite.

I’ve become familiar lately with this Jon Meacham from his appearances on MSNBC, on the many vids I have watched over the last number of months. Meacham is a historian, and as such he has that measured view of history that I admire, a person that through their own knowledge are able to offer us a long view on the American myth, and the facts behind the mirages set up over the centuries, able to cut through the dogma and rhetoric, offer a rare glimpse, a cross-section, of that past.

“Rendering moral judgements in retrospect can be hazardous. It is unfair to judge the past by the standards of the present. Yet we can assess a man’s views on a moral issue – which slavery unquestionably was – by what others in the same age and facing the same realities thought and did.” 

Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

I do believe this book is one I will need to acquire. I have become intrigued with Jefferson, and Meacham would seem to be just the writer to illuminate this complicated figure of American history. 

“After an early legal and legislative life attempting to abolish slavery, Jefferson, now at midlife, made a calculated decision that he would no longer risk his “usefulness” in the arena by pressing the issue.(There was a partial victory later: The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi rivers.) In all, though, for Jefferson public life was about compromise and an unending effort to balance competing interests. To have pursued abolition, even when coupled, as it was in Jefferson’s mind, with deportation, was politically lethal. And Jefferson was not going to risk all for what he believed was a cause whose time had not yet come.” 


Racism, division, prejudice, dichotomy, enslavement, enlightenment and the inevitable opposite, darkness, ignorance, and all of those, and more have defined the United States of America back into the misty beginnings when they were not so united, and merely a backwater colony of the British Empire. 

“Cherish therefore the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. —THOMAS JEFFERSON”

Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

America’s shtick has always been that grandiosity, their bragging rights, their idealism, but as well the intolerance of the Puritan mind, and the racial divides that enslaved one colour of person to the service of another colour of person, somehow the one deciding the fate of the other, and both still war with one another today.

Today we turn on the news, flip through the newspaper and glimpse the headlines, and again and again there is that 45th campaigning as if his life depended on it, and from day one never coming forth and embracing the role of President, but perhaps also not actually seeing himself as such, and so he remains defensive, always campaigning, always on the attack. In fact, we have rarely seen him in the role. 

While disliking his unabashed, unburdened with morality or values based on facts style, I guess many in the GOP believed that once he took up that mantle of the office he would naturally adjust and become somehow magically Presidential as if just elections make a President. Technically they do, but not always, as we’ve learned.

“In pursuit of his ends, Jefferson sought, acquired, and wielded power, which is the bending of the world to one’s will, the remaking of reality in one’s own image. Our greatest leaders are neither dreamers nor dictators: They are, like Jefferson, those who articulate national aspirations yet master the mechanics of influence and know when to depart from dogma. Jefferson had a remarkable capacity to marshal ideas and to move men, to balance the inspirational and the pragmatic. To realize his vision, he compromised and improvised. The willingness to do what he needed to do in a given moment makes him an elusive historical figure.” 


In truth, I don’t know if Trump even knows how to lead. Instead, he admires the pied pipers, the dictatorial, megalomaniacs that wield their power through an iron fist of hate and amorality.  He spouts his rhetoric and incites fear, and somehow sees no role or responsibility for the aftermath of his fear-mongering for political gain. He sees the loathing in his followers’ eyes, he knows full well he’s amping them up, knows he is speaking right to the heart of their fears. Play by plays of the dangerous aliens that make up that caravan over a thousand miles away full of desperate people, or the demons of the Democrats out to take away all the things they love to believe Democrats like to take away, like guns, and rights and freedoms, feeding the beasts of irrationality, radicalizing his base to win an election, with half the country believing in some alternate reality and he’s feeding right in to all their conspiracies, those lies devised by clever minds.

And I wonder, is he capable of dealing with a crisis, like straight up? I mean, here we have this guy who was trying to blow up almost 100 people, past presidents, government officials, movie actors, and he tells his minions its all a Democrat plot to get votes? Then, some guy walks into a synagogue, kills 11 people, gives a half-hearted speech, and he’s right back up there on the lectern spewing more misrepresentation of facts, and fear-mongering, and spraying the room with promises and bull shit. 

Domestic extremism is on the rise in America, and Trump actually cut funding to programs that dealt with the issue. Yep. Cut it out of the budget, less money, and here we are.

Trump officials would rather empower the police to arrest suspected terrorists than work with local communities to prevent people from becoming terrorists in the first place, as the Office of Community Partnerships did. Second, they believe the primary terrorist threat to Americans is jihadism, not white supremacy. The Office of Community Partnerships committed the sin of working on both.

The AtlanticTrump Shut Programs to Counter Violent Extremism, by Peter Beinart, 

So, yes, let’s ignore domestic extremism, concentrate our efforts instead on some invisible monster lurching its way up through Mexico. I’ve watched him at some of those rallies, and he acts like there’s this hoard of some heathen evildoers on their way North to storm their borders any minute and we need to be prepared. Seriously, like, em, how long has the U.S. been doing this now? Stopping folks at the border and seeing whether or not you get to enter, I mean, they got this dude, seriously, they got this, call off the soldiers.

As I see it, Trump is like an inexperienced rider on this horse running full tilt, with barely half the reins in his hands, just barely managing to keep himself in the saddle, cause he wouldn’t listen to anyone show him how to put the damn thing on correctly, and wouldn’t hear of them showing him what to do because, you know, he knows everything. How on earth he stays on I have no idea, but I wonder at his longevity to maintain this.

Dear god man,  even the Mayor of Pittsburgh, he is like, naw, we’re good, thanks. 

Many in the Jewish community in Pittsburgh cited what they saw as the president’s divisive rhetoric, which they feel had a role in enabling the violence here, as well as other recent episodes including the mail bombs sent from Florida to prominent Democratic figures and what appears to be the racial killing of two black shoppers near Louisville, Ky. Interviews in Florida reflected a similar urgency and unease about the intersection of violence in American life and the looming midterm elections.

New York Times – Reeling From Tragedy, Many in Pittsburgh Say Trump Should Not VisitBy Trip Gabriel

To say Trump is completely to blame is to misunderstand his appeal. He REACTS to what he sees, he plays the role those minions want him to play, he says the words they want to hear, does the things they want him to do, all to have their favour; that’s not leadership, that a popularity contest, a cult of personality.

The bomber and these new murderous acts at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, all of them are due to the words, unsaid and said, and inaction, with the pandering of this one-party government that seems to think they have no responsibility, have no reason to show constraint, no reason to have empathy, or to make the difficult decisions, make the compromises. Instead, they just think they can say whatever they want, and completely ignore everything,  as long as they’re getting that pay cheque.

“Under Small’s influence Jefferson came to share Immanuel Kant’s 1784 definition of the spirit of the era: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity,” Kant wrote. “Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another.” 

Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

As I see it, as that ignorant man rants and raves at those dangerous alien monsters soon to be at the door, he is oblivious to the monsters within his own borders that his rhetoric incites. Oh, but fear of the other is much easier to incite the masses with.

No, he has never taken upon himself the mantle of President, not really, and therefore believes himself immune to the ultimate responsibility every other President has taken on, as there is always burdens of office.

“There is usually a moment in the life of a new president when he begins to see himself not as an aspirant desperate to win but as a statesman above the squalor and sweat of actual vote getting. Rising men do not like to be reminded of the smell of the stables; dignitaries dislike recollections of the dust through which they have come.” 


It can be said that Jefferson in his time was just as controversial and thought of in just as complicated a way as Trump, yet in an opposing fashion, as Jefferson was striving to drag his country forward towards a new enlightened world, whereas Trump is trying to drag everyone back into some imaginary past.

Certainly, each has their controversies. Even to this day are argued over, as just in the last few years it was finally proven through DNA that Jefferson indeed carried on a liaison with the half-sister of his wife, Martha, but who was also a slave he inherited from her father’s estate. The story goes that this liaison took place over the course of almost 30 years,  and how do you describe such a thing that is defined by the role of master and slave, and that it happened after the death of his much-beloved wife, and, with a half-sister? That the many and opposing views could debate forever, but still it would remain as complicated.

True strength, I believe, comes with our ability to show our flaws we all carry, those racist ideas that have never been looked at in depth, or the prejudices we may have towards things we don’t understand, examine them, compromise. Yet, how can we ever move past them until we have brought them out, into the light of day?  Maybe it is our ignorance, our naive views, our sheltered minds and lives, but whatever, it is only through our acknowledgement that we may overcome them.

We should stop, in truth, perhaps looking towards these larger than life characters, these caricatures of leadership that don’t lead to point the way forward. Well, and given that the current one down yonder is such a hot mess and incites such chaos that anyone who follows his lead should be wary of where he leads them.

No, far better I think, have always believed,  instead we should look to our communities, our city streets, our groups of friends, our cashiers at the grocery store, them, all of them, to concentrate our efforts towards making those stronger through the diversity of ideas and experiences from far off places, traditions looked at as opportunities for sharing, and not as opportunities to distance ourselves from each other. It is more difficult to fight with a person who one has broken bread with, far more difficult to turn away from someone who has smiled and laughed with you, shared a sidewalk with you, said hi to you when you first moved to the neighbourhood. We should not expect someone else to do what we can be day to day doing ourselves.

“A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” 

Desmond Tutu
[ Featured Photo by Gerd Altmann on ]

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