Monday, November 28, 2016

On Trump's lack of experience

All of our founding fathers were inexperienced.   It is being tossed about that Trump will be the first president who hasn't either served in government or been a general.  But let us look at George Washington, our first president.  He was indeed a general.  He had charge of the continental army, but when whoever it was that created the above choice created it, I suspect he had Eisenhower in mind when they thought "general."  Eisenhower managed the Western Forces during the final defeat of Hitler.  He had a huge challenging job.  Washington on the other hand managed a small ill-equipped sometimes starving collection of farmers.  He was more like a guerilla leader than a general.  He was indeed challenged, but to keep his men alive during a cold winter, not to something like managing an invasion into France.  Trump building up a billion dollar empire probably has more useful experience than Washington had before he became president.  Of course there wasn't that much for Washington to do, relatively.  Still . . .

Our second president, John Adams had about as much experience as anyone back then, but he wasn't a big personality like Washington or Jefferson and became our first one-term president.   If we make allowances for the times, Adams could be said to have a lot more experience than Trump but because Trump has a Jefferson-type personality, if he pulls off the few things he promised to do, e.g., slow-down the influx of illegal aliens, slow-down the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries, fix or improve Obamacare, get a conservative judge appointed to the supreme court, the voters will probably appreciate his efforts and vote him in for a second term.  Adams was of the Federalist party and became the last Federalist president.  He was competent, some would argue more competent than Jefferson.  For example he wanted to build up an army and a navy and did get several warships built.  Jefferson when he became president didn't want an army and tried to get the warships put into a dry-dock.  Adams was right.  War at that time couldn't be avoided.  A well trained U.S. army would have been a big help in the War of 1812.  Jefferson was president from 1801 to 1809 and was directly responsible for the army and navy we had (or mostly didn't have) to face the British three years after Jefferson left office.

Jefferson wasn't a general but he was governor of Virginia for two years, America's first Secretary of State under Washington, and Adam's vice president.  However, we did not have a strong centralized government back then.  The individual states took care of their own problems.  The U.S. government took care of the big stuff like wars and international relations.  On paper it might look like Jefferson had a lot of experience but everything back then was new and in constant change.  He figured things out as he went along and he wasn't always right.

Jefferson along with Madison and a few others wrote political articles building up to the declaring of independence.   But theorist though he was, many of his ideas were naive.  He thought the union needed neither an army nor a navy.  He thought a few thousand soldiers to keep the Indians at bay was all we needed, certainly nothing on the order of a European army.  He thought by threatening to withhold goods needed by European nations he could keep them from threatening or invading the U.S.

As to Bush invading Iraq without knowing the difference between Sunni and Shia sects (although he had advisors who could have told him the difference), Jefferson did something similar.   Back in his day pirates made a good living by capturing ships, holding them and their passengers for ransom and only allowing a nation's shipping to proceed if it paid a price  At first Jefferson accepted that arrangement and paid, but the pirates increased their demands and being the frugal fellow he was (with the government's money, not his own), he sent one of the ships he inherited from Adam's administration out to do battle.  The ship's captain and its fighting force (Marines) exceeded expectations and defeated the Barbary pirates, a victory that redounded to Jefferson's credit.  Yes Jefferson's efforts were successful while Bush's were less so, but Jefferson had very little to do with this success.  A small fledgling naval force equipped with some fledgling Marines defeated some Barbary pirates.  Hurrah for Jefferson!  Bush wanted to retaliate for the bombing of the twin towers and went after everyone his intelligence people told him were "probably" involved.  Boo on Bush. 

Well, someone once said something like "success favors the prepared mind," and Jefferson's mind was more prepared than Bush's -- although "prepared" isn't probably an appropriate word.  Jefferson was highly educated for his time and place.  He was truly a deep thinker.  An example is the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon.  Napoleon had denied the American's the use of the harbor at New Orleans.  A lot of American shipping needed to use that harbor and a lot of Americans wanted to go to war to restore access.  Maybe if Bush had been president we would have gone to war.  But Jefferson delayed, put people off, kept delaying and finally told Livingston (ambassador to France I think) to offer to buy New Orleans.  He then sent James Monroe (another Virginian) to France to help Livingston.  Neither Jefferson nor any one else involved from the U.S. thought Napoleon would sell New Orleans.  This was just one more delaying tactic, but Napoleon had been having some problems.  The center for his colonial operations in the Americas was at St. Domingo.  The blacks living there were freed during the French revolution.  Napoleon ordered that they be re-enslaved and they revolted.  The French force trying to enslave them was mostly wiped out from disease.  When Napoleon finally faced the fact that St. Domingo was lost to him, he reasoned that if he couldn't use St. Domingo to manage Louisiana then he didn't need that territory.  Thus, when Livingston approached Napoleon's minister and asked to buy New Orleans, the minister said, "only if you buy all of the Louisiana territory as well."  If I remember right Livingston was authorized to pay about $8,000,000 for New Orleans.  The final payment for the Louisiana territory was $15,000,000.  At first Livingston argued, "can't we just buy New Orleans?"

Henry Adams thought that Livingston didn't get enough credit for the Louisiana Purchase.  If you look at the territory involved it is huge -- not as much territory as the states perhaps but nearly so:  American politicians were not initially pleased.  Livingston's career suffered, but eventually Jefferson,  Monroe but mostly Jefferson were credited with a brilliant coup.   We know they didn't really cause it, but Jefferson, perhaps because of who he was, put himself and his people in a position for this to happen.  They needed to be there when the mercurial Napoleon decided he wanted to sell the Louisiana territory. 

As a side note, the Louisiana territory wasn't really Napoleon's to sell.  He received it from Spain with the stipulation that he would not sell it.  The Spanish gave Talleyrand a bit of a bad time, but Spain was a long way from having the power to come to blows with Napoleon, so this illegal sale was allowed to stand.

I don't know if Trump will do good things or not.  I only started reading about him after the election.  I'm especially interested in what his intentions are with Russia.  I'm reminded of Samuel P. Huntington's thesis that each "civilization" (civilization as it is defined by some scientists he invokes) has a "core" leader.  The "core" leader of the Western Civilization is the U.S.  The "core" leader of the "Orthodox" [at least I think that was what he called it -- meaning the nations who adhere more or less to Orthodox Christianity] is Russia.  If indeed Trump as the leader of the West met with Putin as the leader the Orthodox, and if they did it in agreement with Huntington's theories, we might indeed have an interesting future.  I can imagine it taking a ruthless turn in Syria and perhaps some of Russia's border states.  Perhaps Putin won't feel a need to move his nuclear weapons closer to Europe. 

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