Monday, March 14, 2016

Party Like It's 1852

The parallels between the 1852 and the 2016 U.S. presidential elections are getting more obvious as we head toward November.  Not only are the Democrats in danger of going the way of the Whigs should they lose, they're playing out the same script that the Whigs did in 1852, dividing themselves over Bernie Sanders, a principled candidate who sticks to core party values, and an establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton who runs on a record of past accomplishments.  The dynamic is somewhat different for 2016, though, as the establishment Whig candidate in 1852 was an incumbent President - Millard  Fillmore - and the candidate representing Whig purists was General Winfield Scott, hardly an outsider as a career soldier but still a strong adherent to the Whig principle of supporting a strong national domestic agenda at a time when the party's identity was being blurred by President Fillmore's attempts to compromise with the opposition over slavery and other issues.  My point, as always, remains this: The Democrats are at an ebb in terms of the number of elective offices they hold, no one really knows what they stand for apart from some fuzzy idea that we should all get along and work for a better tomorrow, and internecine squabbles over the direction of the party.  In short, they are in the same position the Whigs were going into the 1852 presidential election.  Principle in the Whig Party won out in 1852 when it nominated General Scott for President, but he was the wrong man at the wrong time.  If the principled Sanders is nominated by the Democrats in 2016, he may still lose, and the party may still disintegrate, but at least the Democrats would go down with dignity.  If  the squishy centrist establishment wins out and makes Hillary the nominee, though, a party-killing loss is all but assured, as the Democrats would be torn apart by a lack of direction and purpose.
And the Republicans?  If they win the 2016 election, they will go on, like the Democrats did after Franklin Pierce (below) won the White House in 1852, but, given the GOP's own intraparty faction warfare, their disintegration - or at least a period of decades-long irrelevance - is assured.  If Donald Trump becomes President, his polices will tear the party and perhaps the country apart and cause the GOP trouble going into the 2020s - starting with the 2020 election.  

You know how I compared both the Donald and the Hillary to Pierce, who served as President from 1853 to 1857, in my last post?  Let me expand on that.  Pierce was a President who tried to hold a shaky truce between the free states and the slave states and made a tactical error by supporting the possible extension of slavery in the northern Great Plains territories; he created a crisis situation that he could not contain when civil war broke out on the Kansas prairie.  Donald Trump shows all the signs of sowing discord and anarchy with his own reckless agenda, both with regard to domestic and foreign policy, while Hillary Clinton would pursue a hawkish foreign policy agenda not unlike Pierce's - he pressured the British to surrender its interests in Central America and tried to bully Spain into ceding Cuba to the U.S. - and be utterly clueless, given her ties to banks and corporations, over how to deal with the growing unrest at home.
History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.  Neither a Trump Presidency nor a Hillary Presidency would follow the script of the Pierce administration to the letter - Donald Trump is no more likely to buy a piece of Mexico for a railroad any more than Hillary Clinton is likely to advocate building one (Google "Gadsden Purchase") - but either one would allow events and animosities to spiral out of control to the point where the nation ends up on a path to self-destruction.  Only we likely won't have an Abraham Lincoln to save us this time.

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