June 17, 2024

defiance of history

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective                                                                     
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
In defiance of history
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — Voters beware, Donald Trump is running against history. Several time-honored reforms and institutions came into being through the demands of history and are unlike entities created through political processes rooted in the sentiments and majorities of current moments in time.
          “Its time has come,” is the operative phrase so applicable to such special entities and laws. The West Point phrase, “Intuitively obvious to the casual observer,” is even more definitive.
          The 19th Amendment comes to mind: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This was more than 100 years in the making, but today is so patently obvious as to engender one word: “Duh.”
          But fear not. Even Trump has not challenged this one.
          No, he has other targets. To pick just two illustrations, his vow to revamp civil service protections and to significantly cripple and/or end U.S. involvement in NATO, the Western alliance that has kept peace in Europe for the last 75 years.
          He stresses loyalty above all else, and says, when [not if] elected he will re-impose by executive order a “Schedule F” reform to be put in place that would allow the president to fire government bureaucrats at will, trampling over civil-service protections that were first put in place in the 1880’s.
          Trump wants to bring back what was called “the spoils system,” where politicians rewarded their friends and punished their enemies without regard to credentials or ability or performance, and corruption ran rampant. The long, historical road to reform began following the scandal-ridden Ulysses S. Grant administration and took root with the 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur, himself an earlier product of the spoils system, and enhanced by President Grover Cleveland, the first Democrat elected since before the Civil War. President Jimmy Carter, who ran on a pledge to make the government as good as its people, made civil service reform a centerpiece of his administration, enforcing a value that exists today, ensuring that civil servants could not be fired without cause. This is a portion of history Trump would undo.
           Next on his hit list of history is NATO, the 32-nation treaty that has kept the peace in Europe since 1949. True, the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Ukraine, both non-NATO members, erupted, but these did not compare to the continent-wide conflagrations that slaughtered millions of people. In fact, the 75 years since NATO was founded provided the longest period of continent-wide peace in Europe in 2,000 years, accomplishing what the League of Nations and United Nations could not do.
          Article 5 of the treaty states: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” The deterrence effect has resulted in the implementation of Article 5 only once, which occurred following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks against the United States.
          Here again, Trump would defy history and undermine the treaty. Why? There has long been an isolationist wing in the Republican Party, and that provides him some incentive. However, he also has an ongoing affinity for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin for reasons suspected but unknown, and he has signaled that the U.S. might not come to the aid of NATO-member Baltic nations should Russia pose a threat. He notes that many NATO countries are not living up to the idea that they will spend two percent of GDP on national defense.
          And while there may be various but difficult means around civil service reform, undermining NATO is fully within a president’s purview as commander-in-chief of U.S. Armed Forces. He could simply pull the U.S. forces out of Europe.
          Civil service reform, the backbone for the honest and efficient operation of U.S. government agencies, and NATO, the greatest deterrent to major warfare humankind has seen, evolved through the demands of history, and history demands their continuity.
          Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2024 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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