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Another Voice: Today's political chaos is nothing new

By Tom Chambers

The latest installment of the reality show, “Trump: White House Apprentice,” appears every time we glance at our phones, open a newspaper, watch TV news or listen to the radio.

“What has he done today?” we ask each other, eager to hear how the show’s star, cast as the president of the United States, has either poked the establishment in the eye or threatened the nation’s very existence – depending on your political position.

Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” and the recent anonymously authored New York Times op-ed, written by a senior White House staffer claiming to attempt to thwart the president, might lead us to think that this a turning point in the Trump administration and a critical moment for the U.S.

But, if we look to history, this moment is just another example of political confusion, chaos, and infighting that is as old as the republic itself.

A nation that won its independence by defeating the world’s greatest superpower, killed each other by the hundreds of thousands during the Civil War, and emerged from the Great Depression’s 25 percent unemployment rate, can weather the storm of a president seemingly more determined to grab the headlines than to master the nuances of federal policy.

We’ve seen worse.

Consider March 30, 1981, when in the chaos surrounding the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, Secretary of State Alexander Haig, proclaimed, “I am in control here …” He was fourth in line to the presidency. Yet, at that moment, from the podium in the White House briefing room, Haig determined that he, an unelected cabinet secretary, could ignore the constitutional order of succession. Once Vice President George H.W. Bush arrived in Washington, order was restored. 

Before political parties were fully formed, the top two vote-getters in the presidential election became president and vice president, respectively. In 1796 Federalist John Adams won the most electoral votes and Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson came in second.

The bitter political rivals, who also possessed far different personalities, physical appearances, economic backgrounds and social skills, were forced to work together. Imagine Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as president and veep!  

Adams excluded Jefferson from his administration’s inner circle and ruled with the help of Congress. The two men faced each other again in a grudge match, otherwise known as the 1800 presidential election. Jefferson won, but only after each side hurled political slime in one of the nastiest campaigns in American history.  

Such calamities and political intrigue have been a part of American life for centuries. The daily outrage we feel — whether as conservatives assailing “fake news” or as liberals lamenting assaults on political decency— will fade just as certainly as the oppressive heat of a Buffalo summer recedes into brisk lake-effect winds. It’s not about Trump, it’s about the republic. Having enduring crises and conflicts far more serious than a Twitter beef, one man cannot make our nation fall.

Tom Chambers, Ph.D., is a professor of history at Niagara University.

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