Kamioner: We’ve Been Here Before

History has a way of coming around again.

Image Credit: WikiMedia Commons

Those who read my columns tell me that I lay the historical stuff on a bit thick. Well, I’m a believer in the Churchillian axiom that by studying history we can learn all the secrets of statecraft.¬† Mostly because it’s all been done before one way or another.

Looking at current events, it seems we can see some parallels to the past. Specifically, there are echoes of President Ulysses Grant in Trump, perhaps even some Richard III parallels. In the aspect of repeated history, a bit of the 17th century English Civil War, an event highly influential to our Founders, is apparent.

Grant, as some may know, was a successful general in that he put down the southern rebellion. The man was a fighter, a bruiser. His victories weren’t pretty. But he won. He wasn’t a great general like Lee, but he got the job done and Lee did not. However, his presidency was not wholly successful because he was gullible. He trusted many around him who used their office to enrich themselves.

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Trump, it must be admitted, was, up until November, a very successful political general. First, in his brilliant 2016 campaign for president. His political¬†expertise then shone bright for almost the remainder of his term. Those conservatives, like me, who abhor him now would be lying if we claimed that we didn’t cheer his every policy victory and especially cheered his political pugilism.

But where Grant had a gullible side, Trump lives by ego. He thrives on bombastic exaggerations and hyperbolic self-absorbed messaging. Like Grant and his cronies, it was bound to catch up with him. Two successful generals whose fatal flaws brought them low. Richard III? If you know the play the answer is obvious. Though granted, I don’t think any Bush grandsons are stashed in a White House closet.

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The English Civil War comes to mind as we see the political forces arrayed against each other in today’s America. In mid 17th century England it was an absolutist king, Charles I, versus the parliament and Oliver Cromwell. Yes, a simplification. But brevity is usually welcome in most situations. Parliament wanted limitations on royal power. The king would have none of it.

Those loyal to the king, and HRM himself, were stubborn to the point of delusion and the whole thing ended, after the king was defeated in war, with HRM losing his crown and his head. Actually, in an interesting parallel with the recent assault on the Capitol, the king and his men entered parliament in an attempt to arrest parliamentary ringleaders. The king himself actually took part in the effort. But the birds had flown the coop. The English Civil War had loud echoes in our Civil War, with the South in tone and culture very Cavalier (royalist) and the North very Roundhead (parliamentarian). Our current struggles, as evidenced with the man brandishing a rebel flag during the assault on the Capitol, have their own American Civil War resonance.

Two generals who came a cropper in the end. Two conflicts that pitted fanatical devotion to a strong leader versus parliamentary power. History moves in strange ebbs and flows. For one of those leaders the tide has ebbed. On this beach, it will likely never come back.

David Kamioner
meet the author

David Kamioner is a veteran of U.S. Army Intelligence and an honors graduate of the University of Maryland's European Division. He also served with the Pershing Nuclear Brigade and the First Infantry Division. Subsequent to that he worked for two decades as a political consultant, was part of the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort in Louisiana, ran a homeless shelter for veterans in Philadelphia, and taught as a college instructor. He serves as a Contributing Editor for LifeZette.

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