« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

History tells us Donald Trump’s presidency is over

State governments have gone through similar crises — usually with a predictable end.

 

This story originally appeared on Trahant Reports and is republished here with permission. 

The Trump presidency ended yesterday.

“… Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee,” Donald J. Trump said.  “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned, totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”

The press is unfair to people who march at a neo-Nazi, white-supremacists event?

Republicans, Democrats, corporate leaders, religious leaders, world leaders, you name it, a broad coalition of humanity said the same thing. Hell. No.

“No, not the same,” tweeted Mitt Romney. “One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.”

Trump lost what was left of his ability to govern. An example of that was the topic that the New York City press conference was supposed to be about: infrastructure spending. This is an idea that ought to have broad support. Not any more. Few words about the plan were reported and anything that has a Trump label is now politically toxic.

The question now is how fast will the Trump administration crumble? When will people resign in good conscience? How quickly will Congress act to limit or remove some executive powers?

Donald Trump speaks with supporters at a campaign rally in Prescott Valley, Arizona in 2016.
Gage Skidmore/Flickr

There are clues. And the record is mixed. Many state governments over the years have reached that point of chaos.

One of the most controversial examples is Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage, R for Racist as well as Republican. He has continued his term in office despite calling people of color and of Hispanic origin as “the enemy.” And the tribes in Maine have often been targets of the governor. The Bangor Daily News asked: “What has gone so wrong?”

“Given colonial-era history between Maine’s Native Americans and European settlers, it would be reckless to say that relations between the tribes and the state are at an all-time low but there’s no question that problems of historic proportions exist,” wrote Christopher Cousins. “In May 2015, two of Maine’s four tribes withdrew their representatives from the Legislature after years of clashes, culminating with Gov. Paul LePage’s cancellation of his own four-year-old executive order in April 2015 that said the tribes would be consulted on state decisions that affect them … ‘We have gotten on our knees for the last time,’ Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Nation, said on that historic day. ‘From here on out, we are a self-governing organization focused on a self-determining path.’”

In Arizona, Evan Mecham who ran for governor four times before hitting the winning combination, lasted a little more than a year before being impeached. He said working women are responsible for divorce, there was nothing wrong with calling black children “pickaninnies,” and said Martin Luther King Jr. “didn’t deserve” a holiday. And his critics were a few dissident Democrats and a band of homosexuals. Mecham sort of ran up the score: Six felony indictments by a grand jury and impeachment proceedings, a recall, impeachment by the state House followed by a conviction in the Senate in April 1988.

Another governor who was tossed out over racial divisions was Oklahoma’s John Calloway Walton. A 1956 book called Walton’s election “a revolution.” He was a socialist and his primary target was the Ku Klux Klan.

John Calloway Walton
Library of Congress

“Within a few months, the State House in such an imbroglio that the word “revolution” is indeed an excellent choice,” according to The Chronicles of Oklahoma. “The capitol building became an armed fortress; and in fact, it had the outward semblance of a military strong point. The test of power between the Chief Executive and the Legislative Branch that ensued would seem incredible if it were not within the memory of many of us.”

Walton kept the legislature from meeting, declaring martial law, but that did not work. “Knowing he was in dire straits, the governor called a special session to create an anti-Klan bill, but the legislature claimed they would consider that after investigating the governor,” the Oklahoma Historical Society said. “Walton offered to resign in exchange for strong laws against the invisible empire, but again the legislators rebuffed him.”

There is an interesting connection between Walton and yesterday’s election in Alabama. Oklahoma legislators wanted to prevent a candidate from winning a crowded primary (as Walton had done) and so required a majority. That’s why there will be another primary between former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore and Sen. Luther Strange. Ten states have such a system.

Another fallout from Trump’s press conference is that the removal of civil war memorials will move to the top of the debate.

Members of the American Indian Caucus in the Montana Legislature called for the removal of a Confederate memorial in Helena. “Today, we must recognize the fact that the Confederacy and its symbolism has stood for segregation, secession, and slavery,” said a letter from state lawmakers Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula; Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Rocky Boy; Rep. Bridget Smith, D-Wolf Point; Rep. George Kipp III, D-Heart Butte; Rep. Susan Webber, D-Browning; Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, D-Crow Agency; Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer, and Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby. “The Confederate flag was even used by the Dixiecrats, a segregationist political party of the 1940s. The flag continues to serve as an emblem for racism and racial inequality for domestic terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other white nationalist organizations.”

The Southern Law Poverty Center reports there are at least 1,503 symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces, and at least 109 public schools named for prominent Confederates. “There is nothing remotely comparable in the North to honor the winning side of the Civil War,” the Southern Law Poverty Center said. One proof of that: How many schools (or monuments) are standing for Ely Parker?

Parker, a Seneca, drafted the documents that spelled out the surrender to be signed by General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865. “I am glad to see one real American here,” Lee said while shaking his hand. Lt. Col. Parker responded: “We are all Americans.”

Lt. Col. Ely Parker and General U.S. Grant’s staff.
Library of Congress

Parker had another concern at the time, compassion. He wrote: “Generals Grant and Lee talked over the surrender, then Lee rose and said, “General Grant I want to ask you something. If our positions were reversed I would grant it to you. My men are starving and I would ask if you would give them rations.” Grant asked, “How many men have you got?” “About twenty thousand,” said General Lee. General Grant came over to me then and told me to make out an order for rations for thirty thousand. He knew – he did not propose to have anyone suffer.”

Then Parker represents the complexity of the Native American experience in America. He became an officer because he could not practice law because only white men were admitted to the bar. So he became an engineer, later a military officer and a general, and still later, the first American Indian to represent the United States as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In that post he took on corruption. And basically lost. Congress held hearings, blamed him for every problem at the BIA, and took away much of his authority making him a figurehead. As historian James Ring Adams wrote in American Indian Magazine: “He was an architect of Grant’s ‘Peace Policy,’ which ended Red Cloud’s War by accepting all of the Oglala Lakota’s terms. But Parker ran afoul of philanthropists who wanted to control Indian policy through their domination of the Board of Indian Commissioners. His enemies provoked a wearing Congressional hearing into his work. Even though he was exonerated of any criminality, Parker resigned in 1871. In later years, he expressed hurt that Grant had not supported him.”

Of course the BIA is an agency that Donald Trump still hasn’t picked anyone to lead. Then, why should anyone take that job now? This presidency is over.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports