Thanks to social media and 24/7 news broadcasts, Donald Trump’s presidency stands out for its apparent unprecedented scandals. However, while Trump has perhaps intentionally stirred the political pot more than most, he is not the first Commander in Chief marred by controversy. Even Abraham Lincoln endured his fair share of political discord.
Like Trump, good old honest Abe battled a hostile, partisan press. In fact, during the Civil War, Lincoln encountered what can only be called “19th century fake news.” At that time, anti-Lincoln reporters propagated the false story that President Lincoln planned to draft 400,000 more men into the Union Army. Additionally, The New York World newspaper capitalized on racial tension and claimed, if the Union won the war, the President would encourage interracial marriage. In response, Lincoln imprisoned reporters and shut down several newspapers.
Presidential scandal did not end with President Lincoln’s assassination. In 1868, Lincoln’s successor, Vice President Andrew Johnson, became the first president to face charges of abuse of presidential powers when he was impeached (and acquitted) for violating the Tenure of Office Act by attempting to replace Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, while Congress was not in session.
The 1872 campaign of President Ulysses Grant was complicated by a massive bribery scandal that implicated Grant’s vice presidential nominee, Henry Wilson. In 1884, Democratic nominee, Grover Cleveland, was accused of fathering a child with an unmarried woman. Fortunately for Grant and Cleveland, the alleged unflattering conduct of the candidates had little negative impact upon the presidential race. President Ulysses Grant won a second term in the White House. Grover Cleveland became the first Democrat elected after the Civil War.
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Contemporary political scandals are perhaps more recognizable: vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon’s alleged “Secret Rich Men’s Trust Fund”; former Democratic Senator Gary Hart and his affair with a young model; Bill Clinton’s alleged dalliance with Jennifer Flowers. There’s more, of course, but suffice to say the presidency does not guarantee sainthood. All people are subject to error. Some candidates exercise discretion; some do not. Some political misdeeds are uncovered; others are not. Bottom line: politics is a sordid business, and no candidate is perfect.
As citizens, then, it’s best to proactively research the candidates, study the issues, turn off the television, whether it’s CNN or Fox News, and think for oneself. As the 2020 election draws near, consider all “breaking news” regarding each campaign as suspect. From here on in, any stunning revelations, proven or not, connected to either party’s campaign are more political propaganda than anything else. Hunter Biden’s computer, Rudy Giuliani’s on-screen antics in Borat 2, Trump’s claims that Joe Biden is the head of a crime family, Mitch McConnell’s mysterious blue hands…all propaganda. While there may be a seed of truth in all things, at this stage in the political game, manipulation usurps truth.
Be vigilant, folks. We’re approaching the final round. At this point, political adversaries are likely to seize any hint of the opposition’s impropriety to influence voters. While history proves the White House swamp will never be drained, we can’t be complacent. Conduct due diligence. Think. Study. Protect democracy. Vote!