Beinstein column: Trumps and Kennedys show America’s ill-fated relationship with royalty
One thing that most certainly runs through the DNA of American politics is its rejection of royalty.
Constitutional law scholar Akhil Amar contends this sentiment shaped our very beginning. The requirement that the president be at least 35 years old, for example, stemmed from our country not wanting to reward any young prince with the ultimate crown. Queen Victoria, it should be noted, became England’s monarch at age 18.
We also wanted to ensure anyone, if qualified, could serve in Congress. That is why unlike our counterpart in England, no property qualifications were required to serve, and anybody serving would receive pay. And our rejection of royalty shaped our elections as well — Amar claims George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were trusted by the voters much more than John Adams was because those two, unlike Adams, had no sons.
The Trumps and the Kennedys heed not our constitutional heritage. Let’s start with the present example of President Donald J. Trump. Despite the press analogizing Ivanka Trump to Princess Diana and the whole family to the Romanovs, Russia’s last dynasty before Lenin’s revolution, the Trump clan continues to reinforce its regal aspirations.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, arrogates an increasing amount of power for himself. Presently, his portfolio includes relations with China, the Middle East, revamping the entire federal government, opioid abuse and veterans affairs. Kushner and Trump, evidently, have no respect for the legacy of George Washington.
Despite his bravery and valor during the French and Indian War, Mr. Washington was not commissioned into the British Army. The honor was denied merely for not having been born into the right British family. This, according to historian John Rhodehamel, would be the impetus behind George Washington’s zealous advocacy for our Revolutionary War against Great Britain. In this new world, Rhodehamel says, men would still fight for rank and distinction but all, unlike those in Europe, would be given an equal chance.
Clearly, Ivanka and Jared are given unfair advantages based on their birth, not their respective talents. As Vanity Fair documented, when Jared Kushner failed to write a good speech for Trump during the campaign, he explained, “I’m not a … speechwriter. I am a real-estate guy.”
The Kennedys, meanwhile, ran roughshod over our republican ideals as well. Despite the instincts of his own son, John F. Kennedy, father Joseph P. Kennedy tried to impose European royalty over this country as well. President Kennedy wanted to reward his former House colleague Abraham Ribicoff with the post of attorney general; his father coerced him into choosing his much less experienced brother Bobby for the position.
Today under certain anti-nepotism laws, such a Cabinet pick would be illegal; family members cannot be chosen for such positions. Based on his (correct) reading of American history, President Kennedy thought it would be inappropriate for any of his brothers to also hold the office of the presidency.
Again, his father had different ideas and, at one point, dreamed of 24 consecutive years of Kennedy rule — from Jack to Bobby to Ted. And even more recently, at John F. Kennedy Jr.’s funeral, Caroline Kennedy read lines from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” The play, fittingly for a Kennedy mindset, is about a royal family unfairly removed from power that wants it back. There is a reason why Americans are generally suspicious of families from New York’s Upper East Side: They don’t understand America.
The one man who did understand America far better than anyone else was Abraham Lincoln. In a famous address at the Agricultural Society of Wisconsin, he warned against not only “crowned-kings” but also “money-kings and land-kings.”
America was never supposed to be built on the backs of the many for the few. The dream, instead, was for all of us to live humbly together.
Trump might represent a bastard understanding of the American dream; he is in fact the living symbol of a property baron. But Lincoln had other ideas for the New World. It was as he outlined in that Wisconsin speech, that we would all engage in meaningful labor without outside agitators seizing upon the wealth of our communities. And it’s this idea, much more than the Trump idea, that we Americans should aspire to.
These weren’t just words or a theory for Lincoln. Visit Springfield, Illinois, and his humility will become real and tangible. He worked in a two-person law-firm, his house was 3,000 square feet (and it was much smaller until 1856, when his aristocratic wife made it a two-story home), and he ran his 1860 campaign out of a small office in the Old Capitol.
More than anybody else imaginable, Lincoln really did reject royalty and, more importantly, lived out the true meaning of the Scriptures, “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
Alex Beinstein of Carbondale was a Republican primary congressional candidate in 2016 challenging incumbent Scott Tipton. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.
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