Every Presidential Election brings us concerns over what may happen. Will this new guy be the next (insert name of President you like here) or will he be the next (insert name of dictator here). The most recent election has many people concerned, if not about the man in the office, then by how politically divided the people are. This shouldn’t need much proof if you are reading this article around the time I am writing it, but just in case you are reading this at some point in the future, this is the cover of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year issue for 2016.
President of the Divided States of America. Donald Trump has certainly been divisive. The biggest issue I’ve had with Donald Trump is that we don’t know him very well. He’s a Dark Horse who came out of nowhere to win the nomination of a party he’s been a member of less than 3 years, and then defeated a candidate that had been running for President for 30 years. As a historian (or at the time of this writing a historian in training), it is my responsibility to find precedents for the situation we now find ourselves in. Even if it is just a vain attempt to learn from history.
In this attempt, I have found four historical precedents that I think could be informative about the time we are entering. From these precedents, I have developed scenarios based on American Political History, with modifications based on current political climate. These four scenarios are, in my educated opinion, the most likely scenarios we will see in the next 4+ years.
There is always the possibility that he will indeed end up like the dictator in waiting many make him out to be. However, people have been crying Hitler about every U.S. President since 1945. Because of this, I’m only looking at precedents from American History, rather than world history.
4. The John Tyler Scenario
John Tyler was the first Vice President to ascend to the office of President upon the death of a sitting President. William Henry Harrison had been nominated by the Whig Party in 1840. The Whig Party had been formed in opposition to President Andrew Jackson. They believed in a federal government that was dominated by the legislative branch, like Parliament was in the United Kingdom. They supported the creation of nationally funded infrastructure projects, such as roads, canals, rail. To pay for this they favored protectionist trade policies, placing tariffs on imported goods. This served the dual role of funding the federal government, and protecting domestic manufacturing from foreign competition. But at the top of their priority list was the establishment of a National Bank, after Jackson had vetoed the renewal of the Second Bank.
John Tyler had been a member of the Jeffersonian Republican Party until its breakup in the 1820s. At that time, he had followed Andrew Jackson into the Democratic Party, which favored States Rights, Free Trade, territorial expansion, and opposed central banking. To many, Andrew Jackson represented the common man, and the values of Jeffersonian Republicanism. Thomas Jefferson saw Andrew Jackson as a dangerous man, and John Tyler would eventually come to see the same. Under Jackson, the Democratic Party favored the power of the federal government be focused under the executive branch. Tyler had always considered himself a strict constructionist when it came to the constitution, and broke from the Democratic Party in the 1830s.
When 1840 rolled along, John Tyler had been a supporter of Kentucky Senator, Henry Clay, at the Whig Convention. Clay would not win the nomination, but Tyler would be selected as Harrison’s running mate, partly to appease Clay, but also to try and win over anti-Jacksonian Democrats. The plan worked, and in 1841, Harrison and Tyler took their respective oaths of office. Less than a month later, on April 4th, William Henry Harrison died, making John Tyler the 10th President of the United States. This transition was as smooth as could be expected. There was some resistance to him assuming the office, and there were those who did not see him as the legitimate president. Despite that, most eventually recognized him as the true President. Tyler’s real conflict would come not over his legitimacy, but over policy.
He had been elected as a Whig, and the leaders of the party (Harrison’s cabinet, and Henry Clay in Congress), assumed that he would go along with his predecessor’s platform and policies, but that would not be the case. Despite being a member of the Whig Party, Tyler was still a Democrat in terms of policy. What he opposed were the Jacksonians, not the Democratic Platform. Tyler still preferred state’s rights, low tariffs, and territorial expansion. What really brought him into conflict with the Whig Party was his opposition to the establishment of a new national bank, which he would veto twice. This lead to the leaders of the Whigs to expel Tyler from the party, leaving the President to fend for himself with no supporters.
This, I believe, is the fourth most likely scenario to happen to Donald Trump. Let’s look at the similarities between John Tyler and Donald Trump. Both had been members of the Democratic Party shortly before their nomination by the other major party. Many people within the party they joined did not see them as a true member of their party. Both held onto most of the positions that the Democratic Party held onto at the time.
Trump is in favor of protectionism. Although both parties have paid lip service to free-trade over the last few decades, there has been for quite some time a strong undercurrent of protectionism within the Democratic Party, for the sake of the workers if not for the business owners. Unlike most Republicans, he has no intentions of scaling back entitlements or any kind of government spending. He has spoken in favor of raising the minimum wage, and establishing single payer healthcare plan. These positions would make Donald Trump a standard Democrat today, but he chose to run as a Republican. Why?
Like Tyler, I think Trumps departure from the Democratic Party has less to do with ideological differences than it does with leadership. Tyler left the Democratic Party because he opposed Andrew Jackson, and his concentration of power in the executive branch. Donald Trump seems to have left the Democratic Party because he opposed its leadership under Obama and Clinton. Back in 2011 he had paid for an investigation of President Obama’s birth certificate, claiming that he had evidence that Obama was not constitutionally eligible to be President of the United States. Later that year Obama released the long form of his birth certificate, which most likely motivated Trump to permanently break with the Democratic Party. Just like Tyler had once supported Andrew Jackson, Trump had once supported Hillary Clinton, saying that she was highly qualified. He was even a donator to the Clinton Foundation. His opposition to the Democrats was most likely based on a conflict with its leaders, not its platform.
So, we now see that Clinton is very much like Tyler. Both support the platform of the party they were not elected to, and have supported that other party’s candidates in the past. However, there are some limitations to this scenario.
Like Tyler, I do see Trump coming into conflict with Republican Leaders in Congress. If Trump opposes to much of what the Republicans want to do, we could see a rift form between the executive and legislative branches in Trumps term. However, unlike Tyler, Trump was nominated for the Presidency, not the Vice Presidency. So right from the start, Trump has more legitimacy than Tyler ever had within the Whig Party. There is also the difference between the balance of power within the parties today and the parties in the mid-19th century.
In the Antebellum period, the balance of power within political parties in the United States rested on the state level. State leaders held more power than the federal government, and within the federal government, congressional party members held more sway than executive branch members. In the 21st century this balance has drastically shifted. Today, power within a political party, especially that of the party that controls the Presidency, is centered at the top. The sitting President is the de facto leader of their party. This resembles the power structure of the federal government. Over the last century, power within the federal government has been concentrated within the executive branch. The balance of power within both parties has evolved to reflect this reality. Because of this, I don’t see Donald Trump being kicked out of his party, regardless of how much he steps on the toes of Congressional Republicans.
However, there is a possible alternative. What I do see potentially happening is Donald Trump being challenged in the 2020 Republican Primary. If he angers the leaders of the party too much, they may give support, covertly or overtly, to a primary challenger. However, the more likely scenario is that if a challenger appears, the party leadership will simply let it play out, and not openly oppose a challenge to Donald Trump’s leadership.
But that’s just the 4th most likely scenario, the third most likely is one that most people aren’t expecting.
3. The Chester Arthur Scenario
Chester Arthur was the 4th Vice President to succeed to the Presidency upon the death of a President, doing so in 1881. He was not exactly popular with the American Public. During the Grant Administration, he was appointed as the Collector of the Port of New York, meaning that he oversaw collecting import duties from foreign imported goods. This was a politically powerful position, which was often suspect to corruption and graft.
The corruption of the Grant administration lead to a reform movement within American Politics for government workers to be hired based on merit, rather than political connections. There were dedicated factions within both parties that opposed this reform movement. Within the Democratic Party this was Tammany Hall, which controlled the Democratic Party in the state of New York, and held sway within politics of New York City and State. Within the Republican Party, it was the Stalwarts, led by Roscoe Conkling, that opposed reform. Chester Arthur was a supporter of Conkling, who wished to keep the Patronage system begun under Andrew Jackson alive.
In the 1880 Presidential Election, sitting President Rutherford B. Hayes was not running for a second term, this left three main candidates seeking the Republican nomination. Representing the Stalwarts was former President Ulysses S. Grant, seeking an unprecedented third term. Then there was Senator James G. Blaine, supported by a faction referred to as the Half-Breeds, who were moderates that supported Civil Service Reform. There was also John Sherman, a member of the Hayes Cabinet seeking a middle road between the two. Initially, Grant and the Stalwarts were winning. After 35 rounds, the Blaine and Sherman factions decided to throw their support behind James Garfield, Dark Horse candidate from Ohio. Garfield managed to win, but the Stalwarts were still a formidable faction that could cause problems for the party is their support wasn’t gained. To placate them, Garfield’s supporters offered the Vice-Presidential position to one of Conkling’s men; first to Levi Morton, who declined upon Conkling’s advice, and then to Chester Arthur, who went against Conkling’s advice and accepted the position.
The Vice Presidency was the first publicly elected office that Arthur ever held, and after Garfield was assassinated by a disgruntled office seeker, Arthur was thrust into a position no one thought he would see. He had asked Garfield’s cabinet to stay until Congress reconvened in December, but some left immediately. He replaced most of the resigning members with Stalwarts, which led many to believe that he would be a puppet for Conkling.
Arthur surprised everyone when he continued the support for Civil Service Reform that Garfield had given. He continued to support the investigations of government officials who were under investigation, and even had prominent Democratic Lawyers added to the investigation teams to show that he was serious about corruption. In 1883 he would sign the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law, stunning the Stalwarts and everyone who believed Arthur was just their puppet.
Like any Republican of his era, he was a supporter of Tariffs, and supported the construction of internal improvement projects. He also supported the lowering of excise taxes. In the realm of foreign policy, the Arthur Administration sought to stay out of the affairs of other warring nations. When it came to immigration, the Arthur administration supported the passage of laws that restricted it. In 1882, laws were passed that charged a tax on immigrants coming into the country, along with provisions that banned the immigration of those who were ill, mentally disabled, or unemployable. Under his administration, a Chinese Exclusion Act was passed that ban the immigration of Chinese to the United States, and blocked citizenship for any Chinese living in the United States, for ten years. He would not win the Republican nomination in 1884, and died less than two years after leaving office.
So, what makes Chester Arthur similar to Donald Trump? Well, we can check the “from New York City” box right off the bat. There is also the similarity in the policies of the Arthur Administration and the promises of the Trump campaign. Arthur’s administration signed into the immigration restrictions, which is one of the Trump campaigns biggest attention grabbers, the Wall he has proposed to be built along the Southern Border. The construction of the wall can also fall under internal infrastructure projects, as was standard Republican policy in the 19th century. The exclusion of Chinese immigrants by the Arthur administration dovetails nicely with Donald Trump’s obsession with China, but instead of immigrants driving down the value of American Labor, Trump is concerned with Chinese imports driving down the wages of American workers. There is also, of course, both Trump and Arthur’s support of Tariffs, which is the one thing they are consistent on.
One of the biggest, and most surprising possibilities of a Trump administration may be financial and lobbying reform. During the campaign, Trump bragged about having bought political favors from those who he gave money to. And so far, many in the media have had a problem with his choice of cabinet members, many of whom are said to have conflicts of interest with their potential cabinet appointments. Trump is seen by many as a puppet of Russia, or of Wall Street and the Wealthy. These are all very similar to what Chester Arthur experienced. Arthur appointed many Stalwarts to his administration, and was seen as the last person who would possibly go for Civil Service Reform. But Arthur surprised everyone by becoming one of the biggest supporters of reform, and Trump could do the same.
Although he bragged about buying politicians during the election, he also said that he was the best person to stop that from occurring, and there is a logic this. Trump, or at least his lawyers and accountants, know how to use the tax code to avoid paying taxes on financial losses. He knows how to get around rules and regulations that restrict lobbyists. Like Chester Arthur, who knew how patronage worked on the ground level, Trump if familiar with how the wealthy use the loopholes in laws to buy political favors. He would certainly know how to curtail their actions, and if not end them, at least make it far more expensive for these kinds of actions to take place. During his campaign, he mentioned how he can stop the lobbyists, and that he would. Of course, promises from politicians are by rule always suspect, but I, and most everyone else has been wrong about Donald Trump so far, and so perhaps we will be wrong about this as well.
2. The Herbert Hoover Scenario
Herbert Hoover is probably one of the most unfortunate people to win a presidential election. He was elected at a time when an unavoidable economic calamity was about to hit, and was in the driver’s seat when blame was to be assigned.
He spent most of his life before the presidency in the private sector as a mining engineer. It was during the First World War that Hoover would begin his public career. During the war, he led relief efforts in Belgium, and after the war he lead relief efforts in Eastern Europe during the Russian Civil War. This, plus his background in engineering, landed him a job as Secretary of Commerce during the Harding and Coolidge Administrations. In 1928 he would win the Republican Party nomination, despite personal apprehensions from President Coolidge, and go on to win the general election.
On October 29th, the Stock Market crashed, and Hoover was in the middle of it. Up until that point he had been continuing the free market policies of the Harding and Coolidge Administrations, but after that point he abandoned those policies, and began the largest federal intervention into the economy up to that point. His administration passed works projects such as the Hoover Dam to create jobs. He also encouraged businesses to keep wages up. Up till that point, it was deemed the economically prudent solution to cut wages when the economy slowed down. This way, more workers kept their jobs. During the Roaring 20s, American workers saw a rise in pay and a decrease in the price of consumer goods. Hoover wanted to keep this standard of living going to coercing businesses to keep employee wages up. The businesses that agreed to do this ended up firing a large number of workers to make up for losses in sales.
The crash triggered a recession, but it did not become a full-blown depression until 1930, when the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was passed, which increased taxes on imported goods. During the First World War the countries of Europe couldn’t manufacture enough arms and other supplies to feed their war efforts, so they imported large quantities of U.S. goods, and although this died down after the war, the post war sales were still higher than the pre-war sales. When the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was passed, the nations of Europe retaliated with their own tariffs, creating a trade war. The loss of sales to Europe harmed the U.S. economy even more, causing more factories to shut down, and more people lose their jobs.
The Hoover administration did everything they believed to be within their power to keep the pre-crash economy going, but it did not work. In the 1932 Presidential Election, Democratic candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt, referred to Herbert Hoover as a socialist, who’s policies were ruining the country. He promised to balance the budget, increase spending, and cut down the debt, all at once. Roosevelt would go on to perform one of the greatest expansions of the federal government ever seen, dwarfing the policies of the Hoover administration that at the time were also seen as the biggest expansion of the federal government ever seen.
Some of the similarities between Hoover and Trump were probably jumping out at your while reading this. Both men have spent most of their lives in the private sector, and for both, the Presidency is their first publicly elected office. And like most Republicans before the 1930s, Hoover supported Protectionism, which was a big theme of the Trump campaign.
The biggest potential similarity for both is an oncoming economic calamity. The 1920s had been a big era of economic expansion, but much of it was based on credit from an expansionary monetary policy from the Federal Reserve. In 1928 a new Chairman was selected for the Federal Reserve, and he believed in reigning in monetary expansion before it resulted in commodities inflation. This action, though a necessity, also made a crash inevitable. The crash occurred, and it was bigger than anyone at the time could handle. Whoever was in office, was going to lose to the opposition party.
Trump is most likely going to face the same thing. 2008 was the last major economic crisis the world faced, and it has been nearly a decade since then. Your standard economic cycle goes in cycles of about 8 to 12 years, meaning that we are due for another crash at some time in the next 4 years. This crash will probably be bigger than the 2008 crash because the problems from that crash were not resolved. Some economists argue that we still haven’t recovered from that previous crash, and say we are in a prolonged depression. If they are true, then we are about to hit a double dip depression. And even if we are not in a prolonged depression, a crash is still most likely coming, and it will be bigger than 2008, and there are numerous options. A stock market crash triggered by an increase in interest rates; a Sovereign Debt Crisis in China; a domino effect of nations leaving the E.U.; any number of things could set it off, and just like with Hoover, Trump (Or whoever could have inhabited the White House) was not going to survive.
Just like Hoover, President Trump will probably respond with what at the time will be the newest biggest federal intervention into the economy. Trump has not shown himself to be a free market guy. When talking about businesses that have moved manufacturing outside the United States, his solution is punish them instead of addressing the reasons why they left. He will most likely respond a crisis with protectionist measures, and perhaps a major construction project like the Hoover Dam. Many are now under the impression that Trump will most likely not build a wall on the southern border like he promised in the campaign. But if things go bad, building a wall would be a handy infrastructure project for him to pull up.
1. The Era of Bad Feelings
This last scenario I propose is unlike the others. While the previous scenarios were based on previous presidencies, this last scenario is modeled as the reverse of a previous administration. It is the Presidency of James Monroe.
James Monroe was the 5th President of the United States. He succeeded James Madison, who left office with high approval, having “defeated” the British in the War of 1812. At this time, the United States was a virtual one party state. The Jeffersonian Republicans (whom modern historians like to call the Democratic-Republicans) became overwhelmingly dominant in national politics. It was during this time that the Federalist Party became defunct. In the United States, there was a sense of hope and optimism, and a national pride coming from defeating their former colonial masters in a war. The economy was growing, people were moving out west, and families were having more children.
There were also foreign policy successes during the Monroe administration. Due to some unauthorized actions from Andrew Jackson, the United States ended up annexing Florida from Spain, finally gaining complete control of North America east of the Mississippi. There was also the introduction of the Monroe Doctrine, which signified a strengthening relationship with Britain, who were the real enforces of the policy until after the American Civil War.
There were some domestic disputes during the Monroe Presidency. Slavery started to become a big issue. The balance between slave and free states was in question, and was temporarily resolved by the Missouri Compromise, which set the standard that for every free state or slave state admitted, there would need to be one of the other admitted. This issue, for the time being, resolved without violence, but many, including former President Thomas Jefferson said that the Missouri Compromise was “the knell of the Union.”
Overall, the Presidency of James Monroe was peaceful, and quiet, and is referred to by historians, and people living at the time, as the “Era of Good Feelings.”
But that’s not what we are facing today.
As shown on the Times Man of the Year cover, Donald Trump is coming into office of a country that this the most divided it has been since the civil war, and although I don’t think we will devolve into a civil war like was had in the 1860s, we are certainly heading into unprecedented territory, at least within living human memory.
Trust between citizens is at an all-time low. People are more likely to see their neighbors as enemies than foreign leaders. We can see this in protests across the country. As of writing this, Donald Trump hasn’t even taken office yet, but we are seeing violence committed in the name of opposing him. We are seeing marches to protest things that have not yet happened. Political discourse is at an all-time low, and people are failing to see other as human beings. We are more pessimistic and skeptical than in any point in our history (that is, American History). These divisions did not start with Trump (as a future article will explain), but he will bear the brunt of the blame.
In contrast to Monroe’s presidency, which was a virtual one party state, we are now going to see a virtual multi-party state. We will continue to see Democrats and Republicans dominate party politics, but factions within each party will begin to act on their own. The Republicans were divided during the entirety of the election. The Establishment Republicans have embraced Trump for winning the election, but the opposition that began with the Tea Party Revolution are still a factor, and many of them are still not on board with Donald Trump. Within the Democratic Party we see similar divisions. The Clintonites who have dominated the party for the past quarter century are now at odds with the more progressive-socialist faction of the party, led by Senator Sanders and Senator Warren. Although these factions will nominally remain under their party banners, I predict that we will see them begin to act more independently.
In terms of foreign policy, unlike the Monroe Administration, which was riding off a post war high, the United States today is still resting off a power war low. The world, which was relatively peaceful after the Napoleonic Wars, is currently ratcheting up tension in a post-post-Cold War world. The Middle East is an obvious example of where things have only gotten worse in the last 25 years. Eastern Europe is also sketchy at this time. With Russia in Ukraine, and the U.S. now sending troops to Poland, we are seeing a much less stable international scene from what we have been used to since the fall of the Soviet Union.
And what about the Missouri Compromise? Is there any issue that is an equivalent of that? It’s hard to say. In a video, I made for my YouTube Channel, I argue that there isn’t one, but I am starting to think that I am wrong. But, for this issue to be comparable to slavery, it must be something that has significant social, moral, and economic impact, and depending on who you are, that could be multiple things. Abortion and contraception are one that both sides can moralize, but we don’t have an entire economic system based on either, and that is the case with most issues.
If we do enter this period that I am calling “The Era of Bad Feelings”, I predict that we are going to see two or three consecutive one term presidents, and that political division is not going to get any better. We don’t trust each other, and are willing to use the power of government to punish our enemies when it’s our turn to run things. And this will mark back and forth reprisals. I’m usually an optimist, but I go by the mantra of “things get worse before they get better.” Our society has a lot of negative energy that we haven’t been able to get rid of, and a Trump presidency will not relieve it. Neither would have a Hillary Presidency. The only thing that could possibly end this Era of Bad Feelings is an existential threat on the scale of September 11th, or a World War. I don’t know if things will come to that, but short of it, I don’t see how we release all this negative energy in a positive way.
Before I end this article, I would like to add that this final scenario can be combined with any of the previous ones. These scenarios are not mutually exclusive. They are just what I feel to be the most likely.
Let’s just remember to treat each other with basic human decency, and maybe, just maybe, well get out of this in one piece.