Posted by: David Offutt | February 28, 2017

Trump and the G.O.P.: “1984”

George Orwell, author of "1984," and President Donald J. Trump, who lost the popular election by nearly three million votes.

George Orwell, author of “1984,” and President Donald J. Trump, who lost the popular election by nearly three million votes but claims to have won by a landslide of historic proportions. (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)

 

With Donald J. Trump in the White House and Republican Party still in control of the U.S. Congress, we are constantly hearing and reading references to “1984” and about actions and statements that are “Orwellian”.

 

I’m reminded of Sen.  Frank Church (D-Idaho) who investigated many of Richard Nixon’s abuses of power that encompassed the vast Watergate scandals. He decided to run in the 1980 Democratic presidential primaries on the campaign slogan “He saved us from 1984.” A reporter for NBC, CBS, or ABC – I regrettably can’t recall who he was – went around the crowd at one of Church’s rallies asking everyone he came to what was meant by the slogan on Church’s campaign banner. He never found one person who knew. Church lost.

 

Idaho senator Frank Church: "He saved us from 1984."

Idaho senator Frank Church: “He saved us from 1984.” He was one of six highly effective Democratic senators who were targeted for defeat by the G.O.P. in 1980 – he was, in fact, defeated for re-election.

So, what is meant by “1984”? Today, there are enough who recognize the current “1984” similarities for Amazon.com to place the book on its bestseller list. An unchecked authoritarian in the White House is causing a rebirth of interest in George Orwell’s 1949 novel on totalitarianism, “1984”.

 

The book is often characterized as a satire, but that implies to me that it would approach a serious topic with a touch of humor, such as in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”. “1984” is terrifying and downright grim. Feature films and TV dramas of the book are hard to watch: they’re so depressing – especially Richard Burton’s final film, which was appropriately released in 1984.

 

Mr. Trump, on the campaign trail and in his inaugural address, identified the United States as a dystopian nation with rising crime rates, astronomical unemployment rates, and out-of-control immigration that threaten our very survival – and claimed that only he can save us.  The facts, of course, are verifiably the opposite.

 

1984-1Orwell created the even-more dystopian mega state of Oceania in which the citizens are controlled by the Party. Two-way telescreens are in every home and elsewhere so that “Big Brother is Watching You.” The telescreens also provide propaganda messages using the Big Lie and promoting mass hysteria. Your neighbors, friends, co-workers, and people whom you do business with day to day may be covert members of the Thought Police. Perpetual warfare is used to induce unquestioning patriotism and loyalty to the Party.

 

The main character in the novel is Winston Smith, who worked at the Ministry of Truth. He had mastered the art of writing “newspeak” – the official language of the Party. His job was to re-write records. The Party line was continually changing: the enemy they had been waging war with might become an ally against a new enemy; one dogma might be replaced by an opposite dogma. The people had to be made to accept each new position without thinking anything had changed. Winston Smith specialized in promoting “doublethink” and changed the “historical” records. Propaganda replaced information.

 

In the Orwellian Oceania, history had to match the wishes and aims of the Party. Likewise, in Trumpian USA, “alternative facts” rule the roost. Fake news that serves its agenda is okay, but anything that does not is “fake news” by a dishonest news media that is not controlled by the administration. Fox “News” was founded as a Republican propaganda network and should assist this administration nicely. Instantaneous, mindless tweets react to all unflattering reports and take on a “reality” of their own.

 

Orwell predicted "newspeak" and "doublethink" to control the masses. Trump uses "alternate facts."

Orwell predicted “newspeak” and “doublethink” to control the masses. Trump uses “alternative facts.”

 

Consider the following Trump appointees:  Supporter of government shutdowns and opponent of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid Mick Mulvaney to the White House Office of Management and Budget; Alabama senator and voting rights opponent Jeff Sessions to the Department of Justice; charter school promoter and Republican donor Betsy DuVos to Education; Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Social Security opponent Tom Price to Health and Human Services; longtime opponent of environmental protection and  climate-change denier Scott Pruitt to the E.P.A.; and Department of Energy opponent Rick Perry to Energy.

 

Keeping Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in mind, is it conceivable that these departments will be fulfilling the purposes of their existence under these leaders? When career members of the state department objected to Trump’s hasty immigration ban by executive order, Trump’s press secretary said that they need to get with the program or leave.

 

Utah congressman Jacob Chaffetz and his House Oversight Committee may be a good example of how words or titles can be used to mean the opposite of what they should mean. Orwell's Ministry of Truth was anything but.

Utah congressman Jacob Chaffetz and his House Oversight Committee may be a good example of how words or titles can be used to mean the opposite of what they should mean. Orwell’s Ministry of Truth was anything but.

A perfect example of an Orwellian committee for several years has been the House Oversight Committee headed by Republican partisan Jacob Chaffetz of Utah.  To create a negative public perception of Hillary Clinton, using various committees, Congressional Republicans held eight separate investigations of the secretary of state’s involvement in the Bengazi uprising – each investigation followed one, or coincided with another, that didn’t have the incriminating findings that were desired. Chaffetz was a chief cheer leader and couldn’t wait his turn. They succeeded only in getting many in America’s heartland to hate and/or mistrust Ms. Clinton and help elect Mr. Trump – but that was the whole point.

 

Now that there are multiple, legitimate concerns about Mr. Trump’s financial and political connections to Russia and his business conflicts of interest with his role as president, many Americans are demanding Congress to investigate. They are demanding that Chaffetz subpoena Trump’s tax records and hold investigations into Trump’s relationships with Putin, Russian intelligence, and the Russian economy – his staff’s, his businesses’, his campaign’s, and his administration’s. In typical Orwellian fashion, for the sake of the Party, Mr. Chaffetz refuses “to go on a fishing expedition.” Don’t you love it?

 

In the world of Winston Smith, there was a break in each workday for a two-minute hate period on the telescreens.  A picture of the enemy of the Party was displayed on the screen, and a government speaker would provide a voiceover firing up the viewers into fits of rage. We saw a variation of this in last year’s Republican campaigns and nominating convention. A mere mention of the name of Hillary Clinton would bring a reactionary chant of “Lock her up.”

 

Propaganda and telescreens rally the masses to support the Party and Big Brother in Orwell's totalitarian nation.

Propaganda and telescreens rally the masses to support the Party and Big Brother in Orwell’s totalitarian state.

 

When Winston Smith began to privately question the totalitarian state and violated Party laws by having an illegal, secret love affair with a like-thinking woman, he and she were turned in by a “friend” who was a member of the Thought Police. Winston, and she, was tortured for days until he “confessed” to his “crimes”.  President Trump has advocated restoring torture as acceptable intelligence-gathering procedure, but Sec. of Defense James Mattis, at least temporarily, has dissuaded him from authorizing it.

 

It’s easy to see why the reading public is once again fascinated by Orwell’s “1984”. It’s timely and has lessons that have been learned and forgotten and need to be learned again. But a word of warning – books that you really enjoy, like Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove”, are books that you don’t want to end. This one, you’ll be glad when you get there – and that may be true of the Trump administration, too.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published February 25, 2017, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | February 23, 2017

Trump and the G.O.P.: Gaslighting and the Keystone Cops

George Washington: The Indispensable Man on Mount Rushmore (Birthday: February 22) -Photo by David Offutt

George Washington: The Indispensable Man on Mount Rushmore (Birthday: February 22) -Photo by David Offutt

 

Here we are in a week that celebrates Presidents’ Day and George Washington’s Birthday. We are reminded that our nation began with a president who, according to Parson Weems, could not tell a lie and has fallen to having a president who cannot tell the truth.

 

Historically, the average life of a civilization is 200 years. The United States was founded 240 years ago, so we may be pushing our luck.

 

Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us bind up the nations wounds." (Photo by David Offutt)

Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us bind up the nations wounds.” Birthday: February 12) Photo by David Offutt

 

Thanks to President Donald Trump and the Republican majority controlling Congress we are constantly hearing such references as “They’re gaslighting us,” “We’re being gaslighted,” and “They’re like the Keystone Cops.”

 

Therefore, I thought it a good idea to identify the origins of those terms or references above. It’s quite likely that not everyone is aware of them or their current meanings and usage.

 

poster-gaslight-1944_11First, Gaslight is a classic film from 1944 for which Ingrid Bergman won her first of three Academy Awards. She plays the wife of a diabolical husband, incisively played by Charles Boyer, who is trying to drive her insane. Their home was lit with gas lamps, and whenever the husband would leave the house, he would sneak back in and decrease the power of the gas, then turn it back to normal before re-entering the front door later on.

 

When she would complain to him about the dim lights, he insisted that they were always at the proper level and that she was always imagining things. He had other ploys such as stealing something of hers, letting her think she lost it, and then telling her that she was always losing things. Nothing he said to her was true, but eventually she began to believe everything he said.

 

Charles Boyer gaslights Ingrid Bergman into thinking that she is going insane.

Charles Boyer gaslights Ingrid Bergman into thinking that she is going insane.

Here’s a quick test to see if you have been gaslighted: Do you think that Trump’s electoral vote was one the largest in history? Do you believe that Trump would have won the popular vote had it not been for illegal voters? Do you believe that Affordable Care Act has been a failure and cannot be fixed? Do you believe that Social Security is in crisis and must be privatized? Do you still believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya? If you answered yes to any of the above, you’ve been gaslighted.

 

Gaslighting is a new variation of the Big Lie technique that has been a staple of the Republican Party since the end of World War II. Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis) used it to claim the state department was full of communists in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Richard Nixon built his career on it – into Congress, the vice presidency, the White House, and Watergate – always impugning the patriotism of his opponents, and he never completely shook his “Tricky Dick” moniker. Bush-Cheney used 950 documented lies to convince Congress and the American people that we needed to invade Iraq and convinced many people that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. .

 

Gaslighting and The Big Lie mean the same – repeat the lie over and over until enough people believe it to be the truth. All evidence to the contrary will be ignored. We all know that the truth rarely, if ever, catches up to the lie.

 

Next, who are the Keystone Cops (or Kops)? From 1912 to 1917, Mack Sennett produced a series of silent films that featured a team of seven or more incompetent policemen who never knew what they were doing.

 

51yakmmzvel-_sy445_As my mother said, “They ran around like chickens with their heads cut off.” It was difficult to devote a whole feature film to them, so they quickly became supporting players to the likes of Charlie Chaplin or Fatty Arbuckle. I first saw them when they were resurrected for a lengthy chase scene in 1955’s Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Keystone Kops.

 

The Urban Dictionary has this fine definition for the popular use of the term Keystone Cops: It’s a term that’s “used to criticize a group for its mistakes, particularly if the mistakes happened after a great deal of energy and activity, or if there was a lack of coordination among the members of the group.

 

Everyone remembers the incompetence and confusion of the Department of Homeland Security, led by Michael Chertoff, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, headed by Michael Brown, in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. Sen. Joe Lieberman compared the performances of those agencies to the Keystone Cops.

 

2014-06-14-keystonekopsMore recently, in January, one day before the new Congress was to convene, House Republicans got together and voted to dismantle the powers of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. I must admit that I burst out laughing as soon as I learned of this. Not because it was funny, but because it was exactly the kind of stunt I expected from them. Both Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and president-elect Trump were caught off guard. Both realized how bad this looked, and Mr. Trump – although the most ethically-challenged man ever elected president – persuaded them to retract the vote, at least for now, but bring it up later if they still want to.

 

Under President Obama, the House Republican majority voted over 60 times to repeal or weaken the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has made it possible for 30 million Americans to become insured. They never offered a comparable or better replacement for it. They never offered a way to improve it. Now that they have a president who also wants to get rid of the ACA, they don’t know what to do. What are they? The Keystone Cops?

 

stoogesslapstick1

 

Did anyone on President Trump’s staff have a clue what he or she was doing when the executive order was issued to temporarily ban immigration from 7 primarily Muslim countries, in which not one has business interests with the Trump family?

 

The public protests, the personal agony, and chaos at airports could have been avoided with a competent staff. Unlike Barack Obama, Mr. Trump is not a constitutional lawyer and will require much more expert assistance in these matters – not the Keystone Cops.

 

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich agreed to work together to defeat Trump for the Republican nomination: Bob MacDonald wrote "Cruz-Kasich Deal is Reincarnation of the Keystone Cops " April 29, 2016. http://bobmaconbusiness.com/?p=7927

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich agreed to work together to defeat Trump for the Republican nomination: Bob MacDonald wrote “Cruz-Kasich Deal is Reincarnation of the Keystone Cops ” April 29, 2016. http://bobmaconbusiness.com/?p=7927

From the Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1972 that mapped out a plan for the plutocracy to regain control of the government to the G.O.P. takeover of Congress in 1995, constructive traits were systematically excised from the Republican Party’s DNA.

 

From the 1995 ascendency of Newt Gingrich “Khan” as Speaker of the House to the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, their goal has been “obstruct and sabotage” whenever a Democrat occupies the White House. A Republican president gets a free pass. Their primary characteristics have been, and continue to be, incompetence, irresponsibility, and maliciousness. We need them to relearn positive skills as soon as possible.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published February 23, 2017, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | January 21, 2017

Trump/Putin: What Sort of Person Is Our New President?

President Donald J. Trump is the most blatantly authoritarian figure ever elected and will probably dwarf the authoritarian administrations of Nixon and Bush/Cheney. But his primary goal may be to restore the Gilded Age to a much greater extent than Hoover, Reagan, and W. Bush only dreamed of. (Photo: somalilandpress.com)

President Donald J. Trump is the most blatantly authoritarian figure ever elected and will probably dwarf the authoritarian administrations of Nixon and Bush/Cheney. But his primary goal may be to restore the Gilded Age to a much greater extent than Hoover, Reagan, and W. Bush only dreamed of. (Photo: somalilandpress.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After being the most repulsive candidate ever nominated by one of our major political parties and after being the most vindictive and obnoxious president-elect, we are about to see whether Donald J. Trump can master the art of being President of the United States. His refusal to even pretend to be interested in uniting the American people and his infatuation with the dictator of Russia require us to take a look at what manner of man we now have in the White House.

 

Thanks to an unverified dossier published by BuzzFeed, the biggest question right now is whether or not Mr. Trump is a puppet of Vladimir Putin.  He certainly appears to be, but let’s get one thing straight. The Donald is not being blackmailed by Mr. Putin. The Russian dictator may have a video of our new president cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room, but who cares? Not Trump and certainly not the minority of Americans who voted for him.

 

As a candidate in the Republican primaries, The Donald boasted that he could shoot someone in Times Square, and it wouldn’t cost him any votes – and he was absolutely correct. He saw anger in the land and decided to appeal to the absolute worst instinct of every voter who held at least one pet peeve. He used no political correctness (no civility or dignity) and continuously appealed to anyone who wanted to return to the “good ol’ days.”

 

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump seemed to have formed a mutual admiration society. They are kindred spirits who each love power and money. (Photo: Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg)

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump seemed to have formed a mutual admiration society. They are kindred spirits who each love power and money. (Photo: Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg)

I previously wrote that “We’ve come to know (Trump) as all the following: a pathological liar, a sociopath, a bully, a cheat, a bigot, a misogynist, a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, a con artist, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a white supremacist, an ostentatious plutocrat, and a supporter of violence and/or threats against his critics.” Trump has been upfront on all these things and has never tried to hide any of them. If enough voters could relate to any one of these traits and ignore the others, with all the free media attention, he knew he could win.

 

What could Vladimir Putin have on Trump that we don’t already know – or presume anyway? Trump, of course, denies that Putin has anything on him. That’s irrelevant because we all witnessed throughout the campaign that the man is a chronic liar – he can’t help himself. We’ll never know when he’s telling the truth. It doesn’t matter. Those who supported him before the election will support him now. Even Republican congressmen who were embarrassed by him before the election now abide him.

 

Richard Nixon is best remembered for the dirty tricks of his 1972 re-election campaign, the Watergate investigations, and his resignation from office. Forgotten is that LBJ accused him of treason when his 1968 campaign sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks.

Richard Nixon is best remembered for the dirty tricks of his 1972 re-election campaign, the Watergate investigations, and his resignation from office. Forgotten is that LBJ accused him of treason when his 1968 campaign sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks. (Photo by David Offutt: a detail of the 1968 Norman Rockwell painting in the National Art Gallery, Washington, DC

The other issue publicized by BuzzFeed is this: Did the Trump campaign work with the Russians to introduce information into the election campaign that would increase the public’s negative perception of Hillary Clinton? The Republicans have been targeting Ms. Clinton since 1993, so the answer is probably yes.  Trump even publicly asked Russia to hack her emails. Also, Republican campaigns have been working with foreign powers to affect U. S. presidential elections for years, so this would be no surprise.

 

Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign learned that President Lyndon Johnson was about to end the Vietnam War through negotiations at the Paris Peace Talks. Nixon’s people worked with the government of South Vietnam and got it to refuse to cooperate with the settlement and wait for him to take office. This prevented V.P. Hubert H. Humphrey, whom historians have ranked as one of the three greatest senators in U.S. history, from getting elected. (Henry Clay and Daniel Webster were the other two “greatest senators.”)

 

Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign learned that Iran was in such dire need of cash due to President Jimmy Carter’s freezing of Iranian assets in the U.S. that Iran was about to release the 52 American hostages held in Tehran. Agents from Iran claim they met with agents from Reagan and agreed to hold the hostages until after the election in return for a better deal. After Reagan’s inauguration, we immediately began flying badly needed supplies to Iran; eventually, the Reagan administration began selling missiles to Iran so as to get funds, prohibited by Congress, to purchase Soviet weapons for Contra rebels to help them overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

 

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-AL) was rejected by the Senate when Ronald Reagan tried to appoint him to a federal judgeship. His record as Alabama's attorney general was deemed too racist oriented. (Photo: Andrew Harrier/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-AL) was rejected by the Senate when Ronald Reagan tried to appoint him to a federal judgeship in 1983. His record as Alabama’s attorney general was deemed too racist oriented. (Photo: Andrew Harrier/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Putin would relish having a kindred spirit in the White House. Human rights issues have always been a thorny issue between the West and the old Soviet Union and present-day Russia. Trump plainly cares nothing about human rights at home, so why would be care about them in Russia. Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general tells you all you need to know. A fellow authoritarian ruler like Trump will be a breath of fresh air for Putin.

 

We definitely need to be concerned about the probable reason that Trump envies, respects, and wants to emulate the dictator Putin. Putin is conceivably the richest man in the world. Bill Gates has assets of 75 billion dollars. Putin’s wealth has been estimated at equal that amount, 10 billion dollars more, or even twice Gates’ wealth. How did a former member of the KGB spy network get all that money? He used his government positions as president and prime minister to rig elections, silence opposition, influence policy, and invest in property and hedge funds.

 

Mr. Trump can certainly relate to that. Just think about all the wealth that being president can bring to himself and his family. What other reason would a man like he want to be president? He knows nothing about government, the U.S. Constitution, U.S. history, or essential issues like climate change and nuclear proliferation.

 

He never released his tax records before the election, so there’s no reason for him to ever release them – his supporters clearly don’t care where his money is invested. He never planned to divest himself of his businesses – that would defeat his whole reason for being president. He says he will let his family manage his enterprises – and they promise to never discuss them with hm. Right. It might be safer if we not ask about his family business either.

 

Ronald Reagan's administration holds the record for the most felony convictions in U.S. history. Of the 31 convictions, only 14 were for the Iran-Contra affair, while 17 were financial scandals in his executive agencies. (Photo by David Offutt of a portrait that hangs in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

Ronald Reagan’s administration holds the record for the most felony convictions in U.S. history. Of the 31 convictions, only 14 were for the Iran-Contra affair, while 17 were financial scandals in his executive agencies. (Photo by David Offutt of a portrait that hangs in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

Also, Trump’s creation of a plutocratic cabinet of millionaires and billionaires doesn’t bode well. His example of denying conflicts of interest will no doubt be contagious – no matter what his nominees say in their confirmation hearings. The “greed is good” mentality of the Gilded Age and Reagan Era will be back with a vengeance. The vast financial scandals that characterized the Grant, Harding, and Reagan administrations may well pale in comparison with what’s to come.

 

To appraise the president, as well as his cabinet, we can do no better than combine the assessments of New York Times columnist Charles Blow and Truthout.org editor William Rivers Pitt: Each cabinet meeting will be a “Monsters’ Ball,” where they are served “some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published January 21, 2017, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | January 8, 2017

The Electoral College Blew It: Now What?

Thanks to the Electoral College, real estate developer and former professional wrestler and reality TV performer Donald J. Trump will be our 45th president. His electoral vote margin places him at number 46 out of 58 presidential elections. He also lost the popular vote by a greater margin than any other similar president: Hillary Clinton beat him by 2,900,000 votes. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flicker)

Thanks to the Electoral College, real estate developer and former professional wrestler and reality TV performer Donald J. Trump will be our 45th president. His electoral vote margin places him at number 46 out of 58 presidential elections. He also lost the popular vote by a greater margin than any other similar president: Hillary Clinton beat him by 2,900,000 votes. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flicker)

 

Prior to December 19, the big question was whether or not the Electoral College would justify its existence, do its job, and save the nation from having an unqualified demagogue as our next president. Well, the day came and the electors did exactly what we knew they would do – they blew it.

 

Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, believed the Electoral College would protect the presidency from being occupied by a demagogue, but he never anticipated political parties, which he helped create. (Photo: John Trumbull's painting that hangs in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, believed the Electoral College would protect the presidency from being occupied by a demagogue, but he never anticipated political parties, which he helped create. (Photo: John Trumbull’s painting that hangs in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

Now, the question is whether or not anything can be done to prevent another disaster like this one. The answer is probably no, but we need to look at the possibilities – one of which may work.

 

The prevailing defense of preserving the Electoral College is that it gives the voters in less-densely-populated states greater voices than the individual voters in the more-densely-populated states. This, of course, doesn’t sound like a very noble defense – especially in a nation that prides itself on being a “democracy” and believing in “one person, one vote.”

 

Unfortunately, each elector does not represent the same number of people. In California, each elector represents 713,637 residents. However, in Wyoming, each elector represents only 195,167 residents. In other words, your vote in Wyoming is worth 3 to 4 votes, while your vote in California is worth exactly 1 vote. This is the closest thing we have to “voter fraud” in the USA, but it’s constitutionally sanctioned – so much for our myths of “democracy” and “justice for all.”

 

The number of electors for each state is based on 2 senators plus the number of seats a state has in the House of Representatives. So you can see why few if any small states, population-wise, would ever agree to a constitutional amendment that would end the Electoral College or change its membership to be based solely on each state’s population. It takes three fourths of state legislatures to ratify an amendment.  Self-interest will “trump” the good of the nation just about every time.

 

Republican party bosses knew Harrison would lose the popular vote in 1888 to incumbent Grover Cleveland. They paid as much as $20 a vote in states like Pennsylvania to eke out an electoral vote win. Harrison was disgusted to learn that he couldn't pick his own cabinet! He said, "They sold out every place to pay for election expenses."

Republican party bosses and businessmen knew Harrison would lose the popular vote in 1888 to incumbent Grover Cleveland. They paid as much as $20 a vote in states like Pennsylvania to eke out an electoral vote win. Harrison was disgusted to learn that he couldn’t pick his own cabinet! He said, “They sold out every place to pay for election expenses.” His cabinet became known as the “Businessmen’s Cabinet.”

The worst defense I’ve heard or read for preserving the Electoral College came in an editorial from my own statewide newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: It’s in the U.S. Constitution, so leave it there. That would make sense if it were not a flaw in the Constitution, but it is a flaw, an embarrassing one, and it needs to be changed. There are precedents for this. The Constitution recognized slavery and counted a slave as three fifths of a man, but we changed that with the 13th and 14th amendments. The Constitution, while a great document, was never perceived, even by its Founders, as being perfect.

 

The Election of 1800 made it clear that there was a problem with the Electoral College, and it should have been done away with at that time.  The problem was that the Founding Fathers did not anticipate the formation of political parties, which nullified any future chance for the Electoral College to function as intended – to protect the nation from a demagogue who seeks power by appealing to people’s emotions and prejudices.

 

In 1800, the electors were faced, for the second time, with presidential candidates who had vice-presidential running mates, but they were still listed separately. Consequently, to prevent the error of 1796 when the two with the most votes were from opposite parties (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson), this time they gave the same number of votes to Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr. Unfortunately, this made it an official tie for president, thus throwing the election into the House of Representatives. The House was temporarily still controlled by the Federalist Party, which strongly hated Jefferson.

 

 Republican "Rutherfraud" B. Hayes benefited from last minute, panicky ballot count shenanigans in three southern states. An Electoral Commission of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats had to pick the winner of those states electoral votes. "Old 8 to 7" Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden. (Photo: Eliphalet Andrew's painting that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery)

Republican “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes benefited from last minute, panicky ballot count shenanigans in three southern states. An Electoral Commission of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats had to pick the winner of those states’ electoral votes. “Old 8 to 7” Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden. (Photo: Eliphalet Andrew’s 1881 painting that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery)

The House Federalists ignored the good of the nation and planned to pick Burr so as to sabotage Jefferson’s party, which was a forerunner to today’s Democratic Party. This horrified Alexander Hamilton, a political opponent of Jefferson. Nevertheless, he respected Jefferson and knew that he would do whatever was needed to make the nation succeed. On the other hand, he considered Burr to be a demagogue and “voluptuary,” a person addicted to luxury and pleasures of the senses. Hamilton eventually succeeded in persuading just enough Federalists to abandon party loyalty and vote for Jefferson.

 

The 12th Amendment resolved the problem of the intentions of the electors: each elector now casts two separate votes – one specifically for president and one specifically for vice president. But nothing was done concerning electors or members of the House casting their votes based on party loyalty rather than the good of the republic. The problem was obvious in 1800 – as it was in 1876, 1888, and 2000 – and even more so today. Remember, there’s no Hamilton around to restore sense and sensibility.

 

A good solution to the potentially recurring problem of having a president elected by fewer votes than his nearest opponent is the National Popular Vote bill that can be passed on the state level. Here’s the way it works: According to the Constitution, each state determines how its electors are chosen and what directives are given to them; therefore each state can require its electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, and that’s what this bill does.

 

As soon as the bill passes in enough states to equal 270 electoral votes, the bill will go into effect in all those states. It’s already been passed in 10 states and the District of Columbia with 165 electoral votes. That leaves an additional 105 votes needed, and half the legislative bodies in 12 other states have approved the bill. In the United States of America, it should be embarrassing for any state legislator to admit that he doesn’t believe that the candidate with the most votes should win.

 

Republican George W. Bush was awarded the presidency in the first "stolen" election in 112 years (since 1888). Last minute vote counting chicaneries in his brother's (Gov. Jeb Bush) state of Florida threw that state's electoral vote winner into the Supreme Court consisting of 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. As president, 5-to-4 Bush ruled like a dictator or absolute monarch as if he had won the popular vote by a landslide. (Photo: Robert Anderson's 2008 painting that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery)

Republican George W. Bush was awarded the presidency in 2000 in the first “stolen” election in 112 years (since 1888). Last minute vote-counting chicaneries in his brother’s (Gov. Jeb Bush) state of Florida threw that state’s electoral vote-winner into the U.S. Supreme Court consisting of 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. As president, 5-to-4 Bush ruled like a dictator or absolute monarch as if he had won the popular vote in a landslide instead of losing it. (Photo: detail of Robert Anderson’s 2008 painting that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery)

 

The Electoral College’s votes in 2000 and 2016 were not just undemocratic – they were also contradictory to what we claim to stand for in foreign policy. I was amused at how proudly President George W. Bush bragged about how Iraqis were finally able to vote after the fall of Saddam Hussein. I’m sure the irony was not missed by Mr. Bush himself. The majority vote in his own ascendency to the presidency in 2000 had gone to his opponent Al Gore. The U. S. Supreme Court even ordered the vote count to stop in Florida. He was a product of how democracy can go wrong, but I’m sure he didn’t want the Iraqi voters to know that.

 

Whoever the electors are, they made it abundantly clear in mid-December that they are as equally wise or unwise, informed or uninformed as the voters who unwittingly elected them. They are merely apparatchiks who care more for their party than the nation. The Electoral College, for the second time in 16 years, has proved itself nothing more than a bad joke on democracy. It can be reformed by the National Popular Vote bill, which needs to go into effect before the next presidential election.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published January 7, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | December 10, 2016

The Electoral College: Why Does It Exist and Will It Do Its Job?

Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, defended the Electoral College as being necessary to prevent a demagogue from ever being elected president. (Photo by David Offutt: detail of portrait by John Trumbull - Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR)

Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, defended the Electoral College as being necessary to prevent a demagogue from ever being elected president. (Photo by David Offutt: detail of portrait by John Trumbull – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR)

Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 2,900,000 popular votes and led him by 48% to 46%. However, Mr. Trump defeated Mrs. Clinton by 74 electoral votes, and those votes decide the presidency. Therein lies the dilemma of our second election crisis in sixteen years.  It looks as though the will of the people will be thwarted for the fifth time in our history by a bizarre creation of our Founding Fathers that should have been dispensed with years ago – the Electoral College.

 

The main reason for the Founding Fathers’ creation of electors to pick the president was their fear of democracy. They were all students of ancient Greece and Rome, and it was the Roman Republic from which they based our constitutional system. They all understood from history how easily the masses could be influenced by a demagogue who is motivated by the acquisition of personal power and who appeals to popular passions and prejudices.

 

George W. Bush was the 4th candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the 3rd to benefit from a majority of electoral votes, and he was the lst to be essentially proclaimed president by the U.S. Supreme Court.

George W. Bush was the 4th candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the 3rd to benefit from a majority of electoral votes, and he was the only one to be essentially proclaimed president by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo by David Offutt – The National Presidential Wax Museum, Keystone, SD)

None of the Greek democracies survived. Athens achieved greatness for awhile until Alcibiades persuaded the populace to invade Sicily – it was a disaster, and the Athenians never recovered their previous stature. The ancient Romans replaced their monarchy with representative rule. The Roman Republic lasted 500 years until it was replaced by the Roman Empire, which lasted another 500 years. You can see why our founders liked the Romans so much.

 

Under the Roman name of Publius, Alexander Hamilton defended the Electoral College in Federalist #68: the people should only vote for local, rational, and well-informed electors whom they personally know and let them vote for the most qualified candidate – someone who is not a demagogue and someone who is experienced in public service. Today, there are obvious problems: how many voters know who their electors are, what do the electors really know, and are they more faithful to their party than to the nation?

 

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 2nd candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the only one to be awarded the electoral vote majority by a special Election Commission, which consisted of a majority of his own party. (Photo by David Offutt - National Presidential Wax Museum)

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 2nd candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the only one to be awarded the electoral vote majority by a special Election Commission, which consisted of a majority of his own party. (Photo by David Offutt – National Presidential Wax Museum)

This whole grand scheme collapsed as soon as political parties formed during George Washington’s first administration. Eventually, most electors were required by state laws to vote for the candidate of their own party regardless of who was the best candidate. Fortunately, in most elections, the electoral votes have by coincidence reflected the overall popular votes. The problem occurs whenever the people vote for one candidate and the electors vote for another.

 

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore received 500,000 more votes than Republican George W. Bush.  Forget the infamous Supreme Court ruling in which five Republican-appointed justices stopped the vote count in Florida. The electors knew the main reason that Mr. Bush got as many votes as he did was that he was more personable than Mr. Gore: his voters would rather have a beer with George at the end of the day than with Al. That’s not what the Founding Fathers considered a qualification for president. It was “party first, nation second.”

 

Benjamin Harrison was the 3rd candidate to lose the popular vote but the 2nd to win the presidency anyway by means of winning a majority of electoral votes. Even though his Republican Party bought votes in key states for as much as $20 a vote, the electoral vote was uncontested. (Photo by David Offutt, The National Presidential Wax Museum)

Benjamin Harrison was the 3rd candidate to lose the popular vote but the 2nd to win the presidency  by means of winning a majority of electoral votes. Even though his Republican Party bought votes in key states for as much as $20 a vote, the electoral vote was uncontested. (Photo by David Offutt – National Presidential Wax Museum)

Earlier, in the Election of 1876, the outgoing Republican administration of Ulysses S. Grant had been the most corrupt in American history up to that time and the ongoing impact of the Panic of 1873 was depressing wages and jobs, so the Democrat’s Samuel Tilden was expected to win. He did, in fact, win the popular vote, and it’s the historical consensus that he should have won the electoral vote as well.  However, Republicans challenged the electoral votes of three states hoping to secure victory for their candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. An electoral commission was established to determine which sets of electoral votes to count and Hayes won. There were 8 Republican commissioners and 7 Democratic.  It was “party first, nation second.”

 

Our Founding Fathers created a “Frankenstein’s Monster.” Historically, as with Tilden and Gore, our popular votes have made the democracy they feared actually look pretty good. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in 1824 but didn’t win the electoral vote as well until 1828 and 1832. Grover Cleveland won the popular vote in 1884, 1888, and 1892, but lost the electoral vote in 1888. On the other hand, in spite of Hamilton’s assurances, at no time has the Electoral College ever served its purpose and come to our rescue.

 

John Quincy Adams was the only candidate to lose both the popular and electoral votes and still become president. Andrew Jackson won the most of both votes but not a majority of either. The House of Representatives chose Adams in what Jackson called "a corrupt bargain." (Photo by David Offutt - wax museum)

John Quincy Adams was the only candidate to lose both the popular and electoral votes and still become president. In 1824 Andrew Jackson won the most of both votes but not a majority of either. The House of Representatives chose Adams in what Jackson called “a corrupt bargain.” (Photo by David Offutt – wax museum)

And now in 2016, we have the clearest test ever of whether the Electoral College can do what it was created to do.  Donald J. Trump is the most blatant demagogue ever nominated by a major American political party. Even prominent members of his own party realize he’s not fit to be president.

 

We know he’s a professional wrestler, a reality-TV performer, and a real estate developer; but what else is The Donald? We’ve come to know him as all the following: a pathological liar, a sociopath, a bully, a cheat, a bigot, a misogynist, a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, a con artist, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a white supremacist, an ostentatious plutocrat, and a supporter of violence and/or threats against his critics.

 

Since Mr. Trump has 306 electoral votes and Mrs. Clinton has only 232, it would require 38 Republican electors to jump ship to give her the necessary 270 votes to win. That’s 38 “profiles in courage” that we’re probably not going to see. If we do see it, that would redeem the existence of the Electoral College – at least this one time.

 

There are some other solutions being bandied about as to how the electors can save the nation from the embarrassment and devastation of a Trump presidency, but none are good:

 

  • Persuade 37 Republican electors to vote for Clinton, thus giving each candidate 269 votes. A tie would throw the election into the House of Representatives. The House had to decide the winners in 1800 and 1824 and made such a mess of it each time that we never want it to happen again. Can you imagine the “obstruct and sabotage” Republican House that we’ve had since the Elections of 2010 doing anything commendable for the nation? It would still be “party first, nation second.”
  • Get all of Hillary’s electors and 38 of The Donald’s electors to vote for Mitt Romney as a compromise choice. However, Mitt Romney was soundly rejected by the voters in 2012, so they don’t want him. He even stayed out of this year’s primaries, and Trump supporters don’t like him because of his negative assessment of Trump. Also, if you disenfranchise all those who gave Hillary a 2 percent advantage over The Donald and give the presidency to someone none of the voters want, what’s that going to tell the people about the importance of their future votes?

 

Donald J.Trump campaigned as an authoritarian demagogue and lost the popular vote by the highest percentage ever while at the same time winning the electoral vote. The 1st victor to have never served in public office or in the military service.

Donald J.Trump campaigned as an authoritarian demagogue and lost the popular vote by the highest percentage ever while at the same time winning the electoral vote. He’s the 1st victor to have never served in public office or in military service. “Hail Trump.” (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The voters spoke on November 8. On December 19, the electors will speak. Will the electors do what Alexander Hamilton assured us and vote for the most qualified candidate? It matters. This must be someone who can be trusted with the future of life on earth: vigilant action against climate change and rational control of the nuclear codes and nuclear proliferation – issues Hamilton never could have imagined.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published December 10, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | November 28, 2016

A Few Good Things Could Come from Trump’s Victory

The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini got the trains in Italy running on time. Maybe The Donald can get his congressional Republicans to support infrastructure and health care improvements.

The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini got the trains in Italy running on time. Maybe The Donald can get his congressional Republicans to support infrastructure and health care improvements.

 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to suggest three good things that may or will come from the surprising election of Donald J. Trump. This is important because many are scared that America is flirting with fascism: the merging of corporatism and government, led by an authoritarian, and sustained by violence. They are fearful for the future of our human rights and environment.

 

  1. Long-needed spending on our national infrastructure: Ever since the Reagan Era introduced huge tax cuts on the wealthy and less spending on domestic needs, our infrastructure has been in decline due to neglect. We’re talking about everything from clean water in our homes to our national parks: sewage systems, electric grid, highway maintenance, highway widening, new highways, bridges, mass transit, railroads, high-speed rail systems, dams, levees, airports, and clean energy.

 

Franklin Roosevelt's multiple New Deal agencies like the WPA, PWA, and CCC provided infrastructure projects throughout the USA putting millions of unemployed back to work during the Great Depression. The same should have been done during the Great Depression, but the stimulus bill of 2009 needed to be on a larger scale than it was.

Franklin Roosevelt’s multiple New Deal agencies like the WPA, PWA, and CCC provided infrastructure projects throughout the USA putting millions of unemployed back to work during the Great Depression. The same should have been done during the Great Recession, but the stimulus bill of 2009 needed to be on a larger scale than it was. (Photo by David Offutt: Detail of the 1945 FDR portrait by Douglas Chandor in the National Portrait Gallery)

The Great Recession that hit in 2008 and nearly destroyed our economy opened the possibility of making progress. People needed to be put back to work, interest rates were low (and still are), the long-delayed projects were there, and the need to spend was obvious.

 

There was a problem: On Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day in January 2009, Republican leaders met at the Caucus Room Restaurant in Washington, DC, and pledged to destroy Obama’s presidency by opposing everything he proposed. Most importantly, they had to prevent Obama from jump starting the economy with major spending projects that would create new jobs and save old jobs, as well as resurrect the dying middle class with good-paying jobs. They knew how productive FDR’s New Deal was during the Great Depression, and they were not going to let Obama become as popular as FDR.

 

Consequently, Obama’s stimulus bill was too limited in its scope due to compromises to get Republican support, but once the bill was watered down, the G.O.P. didn’t vote for it anyway. The bill saved many jobs, stopped the bleeding of more jobs lost, and got many “shovel-ready” projects completed, and ended the recession. Nevertheless, the spending was less than half what was needed to have a strong continuing recovery. We certainly did better than Europe, which insisted on ignoring the lessons of history and focusing on austerity instead.

 

President-elect Donald Trump pledged support for infrastructure projects. With their own president in office, the congressional Republicans may be willing to do what they should have done eight years ago. If they adopt this Democratic issue, they can improve the nation physically, put the working class back into full employment, and many voters will finally have a commendable reason to keep voting for them.

(An infrastructure/jobs bill should involve public investment instead of privatization of public assets, which will lead to cronyism, profiteering, and accompanied unlimited corruption and tax credits for the wealthy. As bad as we need these projects, we need to beware the method they are financed.)

 

  1. Repeal AND Replace the Affordable Care Act: President Obama’s health care program was combination of the Koch brother’s Heritage Foundation plan that was implemented successfully in Massachusetts by Gov. Mitt Romney and the popular Democratic additions pertaining to pre-existing conditions and allowing sons and daughters to stay on their parents’ health plan. Far from perfect, it nevertheless has been quite successful regardless of Republican propaganda to the contrary.

 

Republicans were in a minority and couldn’t prevent the bill from passing, but once they gained control of the House and later the Senate, they have wasted time and energy – over 60 times – trying to weaken it or repeal it. Never did they try to work with Democrats to improve it or offer a better alternative. A loyal opposition who cared about the working class would have done both.

 

Mr. Trump has pledged to repeal and replace “Obamacare” while keeping those Democratic additions. It’s hard to imagine how they can get rid of the Republican aspects of the program and keep the Democratic ones. As loathsome as the mandate to require coverage is, it’s the only affordable way to do it.

 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a devotee of anti-government Ayn Rand. The Donald has advocated allowing Medicare negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. Will Trump attempt to get a hostile Republican Congress to pass Medicare for everyone?

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a devotee of anti-government Ayn Rand. But The Donald agreed with Hillary that Medicare should be allowed to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices! Will Trump attempt to get a hostile Republican Congress to pass Medicare for everyone?

However, unlike the Republican congressional leadership, Mr. Trump has also pledged not to mess with Social Security and Medicare. Maybe he will demand Medicare for everyone. It’s efficient, affordable, popular, and already up and running.

 

Of course, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is planning to privatize Social Security and replace Medicare with vouchers. Maybe The Donald can persuade him that getting credit for enacting universal health care could be a good vote-getter for years to come. Ryan may respond by saying that the G.O.P. has been getting elected to control Congress for six years by doing absolutely nothing other than obstruct and sabotage, so why bother.  Anyway, we can still hope.

(Because of reforms in the Affordable Care Act, Medicare has become financially stable for years to come. If they get rid of the A.C.A., they will then have to make additional changes to Medicare. That’s how Ryan hopes to be able to sabotage Medicare. Trump’s pledge to not mess with Medicare may be the only hope to save it.)

 

  1. Avoidance of another attempt to replace our constitutional system with a parliamentary system: I never understood why Hillary Clinton wanted to be president, other than being the first woman elected to that office. She would never be able to function as president as long as the House of Representatives is under Republican control.
Bill Clinton was a victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" to submarine his presidency as soon as he entered office in 1993. When the Republicans gained of control of Congress in 1995, Speaker Newt Gingrich proclaimed the President to be "irrelevant."

Bill Clinton was a victim of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to submarine his presidency as soon as he entered office in 1993. When the Republicans gained of control of Congress in 1995, Speaker Newt Gingrich proclaimed President Clinton to be “irrelevant.” (Photo by David Offutt: The National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, SD)

 

The G.O.P. hasn’t recognized the legitimacy of any Democratic president in 24 years, and that situation was going to get worse if that woman were elected. Bill Clinton, elected in 1992, was a hick from Arkansas, raised by a single mom with little money, and a life-long public servant who had never been a millionaire beforehand – all of which made him unqualified to be president. Barack Obama, elected in 2008, was a black man of mixed race; was born in Hawaii – which many apparently believe is located in Kenya, Africa; was raised by grandparents who were not millionaires; was a life-long public servant including being a community organizer in Chicago – all of which disqualified him from being president. (Obama had become a millionaire before entering the presidency, but it was from book sales for “Dreams from My Father,” not from entrepreneurship or inheritance.)

 

Barack Obama, as was Bill Clinton, was victimized immediately by the Republican Caucus Room Conspiracy to destroy his presidency. While Bill and Barack began their terms with a Democratic Congress, Hillary would have fared worse by beginning with a Republican Congress.

Barack Obama was victimized immediately by the Republican Caucus Room Conspiracy to destroy his presidency. While Bill and Barack began their terms with a Democratic Congress, Hillary would have fared worse by beginning with a Republican Congress. [Photo: Chuck Burton (AP)]

If we had the British parliamentary system instead of our constitutional system, for purely political reasons, the G.O.P. would have simply voted “No Confidence” and removed each of them from office. The fact that both were re-elected changed nothing. Bill Clinton was hated so much that they spent 60-70 million tax dollars trying to find an excuse to impeach him. They concocted one screwball scandal after another and couldn’t find anything until they turned up Monica Lewinsky. Barack Obama was so squeaky clean, all they could do was obstruct and sabotage.

 

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) admired and respected each other when they worked together in the Senate (2001-2009). However, if she became president, he planned to prevent her from doing her job.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) admired and respected each other when they worked together in the Senate (2001-2009). However, if she became president, he planned to prevent her from doing her job. (Photo: Reuters)

Because Hillary did not win the electoral vote, we will be spared a repetition.  Sen. John McCain, Republican from Arizona and a reliable “party first” man, was already making plans to never approve anyone Hillary nominated to the Supreme Court. There was also talk of opening impeachment proceedings as soon as she took office. They want her to be guilty of something – they just haven’t been able to find it yet.

 

With The Donald being labeled a Republican, the congressional Republicans will have to actually govern for a change. Although voters never held them accountable for their maliciousness, incompetence, and irresponsibility during the Obama or Clinton years, that may not be the case now.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published November 27, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

David Offutt at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Ten Thousand Japanese-Americans were held prisoner here 1942-1945.

David Offutt at the Manzanar National Historic Site (2016). Ten Thousand Japanese-Americans were held prisoner here 1942-1945.

 

Last month, we celebrated Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. At that time I recommended five historic sites to visit that represent the difficulty of achieving our ideal of equal rights for all Americans. Next month will be Election Day, and it will be a test as to what kind of people we really are and what kind of image we project to the rest of the world. Do we really concur with Thomas Jefferson that we all have an equal right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Here are three more historic sites that can help you appreciate the challenges of being who we say we are:

 

1.Manzanar National Historic Site, Independence, Calif.: This is a World War II Japanese-American war relocation center ironically located a few miles south of a town called Independence. Although FDR’s New Deal did so much for so many during the Great Depression, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, he gave in to the fears of those living on the West Coast. In probably the darkest personal act of his presidency, he signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942.

 

David Offutt at a reconstructed guard tower at the Manzanar concentration camp. Officially, the prisoners here were being protected from fearful West Coast citizens, but the guards faced those behind the barbed wire.

David Offutt at a reconstructed guard tower at the Manzanar concentration camp. Officially, the prisoners here were being protected from fearful West Coast citizens, but the guards faced those behind the barbed wire.

 

Ten concentration camps were established to imprison 110,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. About 80,000 were second generation citizens, and the others were either naturalized citizens or qualified to seek naturalization. These “internment camps” were not Nazi slave labor and extermination camps, but their occupants lost their freedom, homes, professions, businesses, jobs, and their privacy. Each victim’s only “crime” was to have been born of Japanese ancestry – and this happened in the United States of America.

 

In 1980, Pres. Jimmy Carter appointed a Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to investigate the justification of the camps. In 1988, a Democratic-controlled Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act based on the commission’s findings: there being little evidence of disloyalty, the government’s actions were based on “racism, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” A Republican president, Ronald Reagan, signed the bill that authorized $20,000 and a presidential letter of apology to each internment survivor.

 

Sadly, Donald J. Trump has raised the specter again. Taking advantage of American resentments and fears of terrorism and job loss, he is promising irrational and malicious solutions and fomenting further hatred of Mexicans and Muslims. So far, he hasn’t publicly recommended concentration camps, but he’s come close to it. We know that it can indeed happen here.

 

David Offutt with FDR at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (2012)

David Offutt with FDR at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (2012)

 

  1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, D.C.: A lone statue of FDR in a wheelchair was added after the 1997-opening of his national memorial. Such a statue was omitted from the original design because, for reasons of electability to public office, FDR had attempted to hide his reliance on a wheelchair (he had lost the use of his legs from polio in 1921 – 12 years before running for the presidency). A public outcry from historians and those with disabilities led to this addition to the park in 2001.

 

FDR’s Social Security Act of 1935 included aid to blind persons and crippled children.  In 1938 he founded a non-profit organization, the March of Dimes Foundation, to fight polio – the Roosevelt dime began being issued in 1946 after his death.

 

When I was growing up in El Dorado, Ark., a frequent patron of the Rialto movie theater was a large man in a wheelchair who somehow got to and from the theater, but he had to stay at the back and at the end of one of the aisles. I always wondered why the management didn’t provide a special accommodation for him. He was one of our forgotten citizens; most others were invisible – unable to get out in public because of all the obstacles: sidewalks, steps, doors, and restrooms were unfriendly.

 

David Offutt at a reconstructed barrack at Manzanar NHS (2016): This internment camp consisted of 36 blocks; each block had 14 barracks, a mess hall, a laundry room, and shared latrines and showers. About 300 people lived on each block. Notice the added wheelchair accesses to this exhibit, courtesy of the American Disabilities Act of 1990.

David Offutt at a reconstructed barrack at Manzanar NHS (2016): This internment camp consisted of 36 blocks; each block had 14 barracks, a mess hall, a laundry room, and shared latrines and showers. About 300 people lived on each block. Notice the added wheelchair accesses to this exhibit, courtesy of the American Disabilities Act of 1990.

 

A Democratic-controlled Congress passed the American Disabilities Act of 1990. Republicans are known for opposing federal spending or regulations that require states or businesses to provide safe working conditions or essential services for the public. Nevertheless, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) got a Republican president, George H. W. Bush, to sign that bill! (Mr. Dole lost the use of his right arm in World War II and found a surprising ally in the former WWII pilot, Mr. Bush – they had fought a bitter primary contest in 1988.)

 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was inspired by our 1990 act and went into effect in 2008 in the 20 nations that ratified it. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama signed it, but in spite of encouragement by former senator Dole, Senate Republicans have prevented the 2/3 vote needed for the U. S .to support it.

 

Mr. Trump insults people based on their appearance, gender, and disabilities. During the primary campaign, he publicly made fun of a disabled journalist. We were lucky to have had that one window of opportunity in 1990.  Would a party that rejects the democratic necessity of compromise and also nominates a person like the Donald support a disabilities act today?

 

David Offutt at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, New York City (2015)

David Offutt at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, New York City (2015)

 

  1. Stonewall Inn National Monument, New York, N.Y.: This is the gay bar that was raided by the NYPD on June 28, 1969, and is the birthplace of the modern Gay Rights Movement. Years before Paddy Chayefsky wrote the screenplay for “Network” (1976) and had Howard Beale say, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore,” the targets of the police raid responded to their harassment vocally and violently. This was the Stonewall “Riot,” “Uprising,” or “Rebellion.” After Stonewall, movies, television, relatives, and friends began to recognize the existence of homosexuality and same-sex relationships.
David Offutt at the Stonewall Inn: President Barrack Obama designated it a National Monument on June 24, 2016. It is across from Christopher Street Park in the West Village neighborhood of Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan.

David Offutt at the Stonewall Inn: President Barack Obama designated it a National Monument on June 24, 2016. It is across from Christopher Street Park in the West Village neighborhood of Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan.

 

LGBT citizens demanded equal rights, but blatant discrimination still advanced in the U.S. Congress and on the state level until public awareness and acceptance began to change: The Pentagon ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act; and the Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) ruling recognized same-sex marriage, upending many state constitutional amendments. Once these people who had lived in “closets” for centuries – invisible citizens – decided to come out, they made a lot of progress in a relatively short time.

 

Unfortunately, opponents of LGBT rights have now created another phantom issue. This one targets transgender citizens. North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature and governor discriminated against them with a “bathroom bill,” resulting in a well-deserved boycott of their state, costing the state and its occupants millions. Regrettably, the Republican-dominated legislature in my home state of Arkansas is promising to embarrass and jeopardize us as well with its own needless discriminatory bathroom bill in 2017.

 

Excerpt from President Obama's 2013 Inaugural Address, which had been placed on the front window of the Stonewall Inn.

Excerpt from President Obama’s 2013 Inaugural Address, which had been placed on the front window of the Stonewall Inn.

 

In fact, in 2015, the Arkansas legislature passed a state law preventing local ordinances that ban discrimination against lesbians, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. Apparently, they don’t want cities like Fayetteville, Ark., or Eureka Springs, Ark., to set a good example. Republican governor Asa Hutchinson allowed the bill to become law without his signature. Also, in 2015, Mike Pence, the running mate of Donald Trump, signed Indiana’s deceitfully-named anti-gay Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowing discrimination against LGBT people based on religious beliefs.

 

Note: Although we profess a belief in “liberty and justice for all,” it’s our actions that matter. However, the social and cultural changes necessary to attain these goals are often difficult for some Americans to accept. Anne Frank, who was murdered in a Nazi death camp, wrote that “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” American voters have a chance to reflect that sentiment on November 8. The results of the Elections of 2016 will tell our neighbors, at home and abroad, what kind of people we really are.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published October 23, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Paul Gauguin's "Where Do We Come From?What Are We? Where Are We Going?" (1897-98) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.

Paul Gauguin’s “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (1897-98) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.

September 17 is both Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. It’s usually overlooked, but it’s what we are all about. Before going ashore near present-day Salem, Mass., in 1630, John Winthrop gave a sermon urging his followers to always conduct themselves as if the entire world were watching their “city on a hill.” Ever since then, America and Americans have been a work in progress. We like to think that being a U.S. citizen means that everyone has guaranteed equal rights like voting and employment, but that’s rarely been true. Those rights have been hard fought for, have taken a long time, and are constantly being challenged to have them taken away again. Here are a few historic sites that I encourage your visiting. Each of them represents our continuing evolution as a nation. Each of them helps to answer the questions asked by Paul Gauguin in his famous painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

 

  1. Independence Hall in Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia, PA
David Offutt at Independence Hall (2016)

David Offutt at Independence Hall (2016)

This is where the 2nd Continental Congress voted in 1776 for Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. It proclaimed “that all men are created equal” and they possess unalienable rights that include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Of course, this was understood to refer to only white males who owned property. Our Founding Fathers met here in 1787 and put together a bundle of compromises known as the Constitution of the United States. One of our two major political parties today considers “compromise” to be a dirty word, but a democratic-republic can’t exist without it.

 

The Preamble explains the purposes of our government. Everyone agrees on two of the purposes: “insure domestic tranquility” and “provide for the common defense.” There are four other purposes that many actively oppose or ignore: “to form a more perfect union,” “establish justice,” “promote the general welfare,” and “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”

 

  1. Jackson Square in New Orleans, LA:  
David Offutt and Jackson Square (2016)

David Offutt and Jackson Square (2016)

The equestrian statue of Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson dominates the square and honors the hero of the battle that defeated a supposedly superior British army. A hero of the “common” people, Jackson was also the first U.S. president to be elected by them. Yes, the Electoral College officially elected him in 1828, but voting rights in virtually all states had recently been expanded to include free, white males who did not own a specific amount of property.

Although known for Jacksonian Democracy, Jackson's association with slavery and the Trail of Tears has cost him his prominence on the future $20 bill.

Although known for Jacksonian Democracy, Jackson’s association with slavery and the Trail of Tears has cost his prominence on the future $20 bill.

Still, not everyone benefitted from Jacksonian Democracy. Although he did nothing to end slavery and was a slaveholder himself, he did refuse to allow the South to secede on his watch. However, he placated his fellow southerners in another way. During his 2 terms, 94 treaties were signed under coercion to extinguish Indian land titles in the states and forced their removal so that whites could take their property.

 

  1. The M’Clintock House in Waterloo, NY, in the Women’s Rights National Historic Site:
David Offutt at the M'Clintock House (2016)

David Offutt at the M’Clintock House (2016)

It was here that Elizabeth Cady Stanton met with other activists and composed the Declaration of Sentiments. They then took it two miles down the road to the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls where it was voted on in the First Convention for Women’s Rights, 1848. Whereas Jefferson’s Declaration indicted King George III, the women’s rights declaration indicted American society. The demand for the right to vote was only one of many included, and it wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th Amendment finally granted suffrage in all states.

 

Equal pay for equal work has remained elusive: The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is chock- full of exceptions and qualifications; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 at least makes filing a grievance more feasible. The Equal Rights Amendment that would have prohibited gender discrimination was proposed in 1972 but was never ratified. A woman’s right to health care and control over her own body was improved by Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood (founded in 1921 as the American Birth Control League by Margaret Sanger and received federal funding in 1970 in a bipartisan bill signed by Republican Richard Nixon), but congressional Republicans and states with G.O.P.  governors and state legislatures continue to attempt to restrict those rights.

 

  1. The Armory Fire Engine and Guard House in Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park, WV, VA, and MD:
David Offutt and John Brown's Fort (1979)

David Offutt and John Brown’s Fort (1979)

This became known as John Brown’s Fort when he led the 1859 raid on the federal arsenal to capture weapons to arm a slave rebellion.  The slave issue extended into a civil war two years later and ultimately led to African-Americans officially gaining basic citizens’ rights: the 13th Amendment (1865) ended slavery in the U.S.; the 14th Amendment (1868) made anyone born in the U.S. a citizen and prevented any state from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. (1954) ruled against segregated and unequal schools; and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

 

  1. The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL:
David Offutt and the Edmund Pettus Bridge (2016)

David Offutt and the Edmund Pettus Bridge (2016)

This is the site of the”Bloody Sunday” attack on March 7, 1965, that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The 15th Amendment (1870) guaranteed that a citizen’s right to vote could not be denied on account of race or color. Regardless, when Reconstruction ended in 1877, Southern states began enacting Jim Crow laws to segregate the races and deny blacks the right to vote, using devices such as terror, poll taxes, and literacy tests. The Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and early ‘60s publicized these injustices.  The 24th Amendment (1964) ended the use of the poll tax, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 suspended the use of literacy tests.

 

Incredibly, in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) the five Republican appointees on U.S. Supreme Court rejected Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required that states with a history of voter discrimination obtain Justice Department approval before making changes in election laws. Consequently, congressional Republicans are blocking a Voting Rights Amendment, and states with Republican governors and state legislatures eagerly pass voter restriction laws.

 

Note: Whenever anyone gains rights, those who already had those rights may feel threatened. As women and blacks gained the power of the vote and the ability to compete in the workplace, some white males have feared losing their superior advantage and their freedom to discriminate against whomever they wish. One constant human trait is the need to always have someone else to look down on. Having a black president for two terms, and now a female candidate for president, has been traumatic for some voters. The desire to restore white, male dominance may help explain why the 50-year incremental Southern strategy of the Republican Party has finally descended to the nomination of someone like Donald Trump.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published September 17, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

David Offutt at Zion National Park, Utah, 1987: This was on the same trip that I took my bicycle on a scenic ride west of Grand Canyon Village. As I recall, that road was closed to automobile traffic, allowing only bicycles and buses.

David Offutt at Zion National Park, Utah, 1987: This was the same bicycle that I rode four years earlier on a scenic ride west of Grand Canyon Village . As I recall, that road was closed to automobile traffic, allowing only pedestrians, bicycles, and buses.

 

On August 25 we celebrated the 100th birthday of “America’s Best Idea,” our National Park Service. Other than the Buffalo National River, the park that I’ve visited most often is the Grand Canyon. Of course, the first time was that teaser with my uncle back in 1968 when we had a buffet lunch somewhere in Grand Canyon Village and then took the Desert View Scenic Drive and exited at the eastern boundary – Uncle Harper reluctantly stopped on occasion to let me peer off into the canyon. Since then, I’ve been to the bottom of the canyon five times.

 

My first return was July 1983, and, once again, it was to the South Rim. I set up camp and then rode my bicycle from the campground and village to a snack bar at the end of the western scenic road. Since the road was decidedly on a slightly upward slope most of the way, I was really looking forward to an easy and fun ride back. However, it seemed that my return trip was similarly uphill – how could that be? When I got back to camp, I pulled my air mattress from my hot tent, threw it on my shaded picnic table, and crashed out.

 

Heading down the 7-mile Bright Angel Trail. The only thing missing was Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite."

Heading down the 7-mile Bright Angel Trail. The only thing missing was Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite.” (Photo by David Offutt)

 

The next day, I began a 7-mile mule ride to Phantom Ranch and stayed overnight in a cabin near the Colorado River – a tour I reserved months in advance. Ben Benton, the lead guide and wrangler, judged all of us with an experienced eye, assigning this mule to that person and placing him or her to a specific place in the line. I was the last one, being given the honorable and dubious role of bringing up the rear on a fine mule named Judy.

 

Ben Benton, the lead guide and wrangler, pauses our descent to give instructions on the importance of keeping the mules close together: nose to tail. Although, he may have been telling a tall-tell about my mule Judy. (Hikers had to keep their backs to the wall and face the mule train so as not to spook our mules.)

Ben Benton, the lead guide and wrangler, pauses our descent to give instructions on the importance of keeping the mules close together: nose to tail. Although, he may have been telling a tall-tale about my mule Judy at the end of the line. (Hikers had to keep their backs to the wall and face the mule train so as not to spook our mules.) [Photo by David Offutt]

To break the monotony of  our mule nose-to-tail descent, our guide held us up at one of the switchbacks to tell us a story about my mule Judy. “I want you to know why there’s no swimming pool or a piano any more at Phantom Ranch. It’s all because of Betty – that’s the original name of that mule at the end of the line.” I pointed to Judy to be sure. He said, “That’s right. Didn’t you see her ears perk up when I said “Betty”? He had our attention. “Every time someone would start playing the piano, Betty would sing her rendition of an old Gene Autry song, ‘I Have a Saddle on My Back Again.’ Everyone working at and visiting Phantom Ranch enjoyed it for a long time until one day she began to sing off-key. Everyone decided that the only thing to silence Betty’s noise was to get rid of the piano by burying it. The only hole big enough to hold the piano was the swimming pool.” Our guide eventually gave each of us his business card, which stated he had a master’s degree in B.S.

 

David Offutt at Cabin 3 at Phantom Ranch: The water cooler was so efficient that I got too cold and had to turn it off - those in another cabin had to be rescued from a scorpion, and another cabin was infiltrated by a skunk.

David Offutt in front of Cabin 3 at Phantom Ranch (Summer 1983): The water cooler was so efficient that I got too cold and had to turn it off – those in another cabin had to be rescued from a scorpion, and another cabin was infiltrated by a skunk.

 

As we approached the Colorado River, we came to a tunnel that preceded the bridge which led to Phantom Ranch and our cabins. Our guide, who really knew his job, told us we had to use our switches to make our mules go through the tunnel. We all mumbled an unwillingness to do so. The other guide, behind me, put it another way: “If you get your mules through the tunnel, there are cold beers waiting for you at Phantom Ranch.” We used our switches.

 

 

Two times (1987 & 1996) I descended from the North Rim, and the North Kaibab Trail is twice the length. The first time was a torturous one-day hike to the bottom, a night at Bright Angel Campground, and a next-day ordeal to the top. It just about killed me!

David Offutt at Cottonwood Campground, stopping briefly half way down the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (summer 1987): Day 1 of 2; this was the only time I carried a rolled up, thin, foam pad to use as a mattress - a piece of junk that I gave away the next morning to someone at Bright Angel Campground who was desperate.

David Offutt at Cottonwood Campground, stopping briefly half way down the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (summer 1987): Day 1 of 2; this was the only time I carried a rolled up, thin, foam pad to use as a mattress – a piece of junk that I gave away the next morning to someone at Bright Angel Campground who was desperate.

 

This is a good time to interject a reminder that the National Park Service says that it has 6,700 miles of trails that Congress has not provided funds for maintaining. This miserliness and negligence has continued since the Reagan Era of the ’80s. If the Civilian Conservation Corps could lay the infrastructures for our national and state park systems during the Great Depression, there’s no reason today this country can’t maintain the lands that you and I own .

 

The second time I hiked down from the North Rim I did it right. At the back country ranger’s office, I got a three-night permit that I attached to my backpack.  The first day, I hiked the first 7 miles down the switchback trail to the Cottonwood Campground. The second day, I strolled another 7, but straighter, miles paralleling Bright Angel Creek to Phantom Ranch and to the Bright Angel Campground. The third day, I hiked back to the halfway point; and on the fourth day, I plodded onward and upward out of the canyon.

 

David Offutt on the North Kaibab Trail between Cottonwood Campground and Phantom Ranch (summer 1996)

David Offutt on the North Kaibab Trail between Cottonwood Campground and Phantom Ranch (summer 1996): Day 2 of 4

On the fourth day, one time when I stopped to catch my breath – as I often did after a switchback – a young couple, maybe in their early twenties, came bouncing down the trail enthusiastically announcing they were going all the way to Roaring Springs with no water. I responded, “Do what?” as we say in the South. They naively bragged again. These people were about to hike 10 miles round trip, taking 6-8 hours! I told them, “No, no. You just passed a water stop back up the trail, and what you need to do is get back to it, drink up, and then get out of this canyon. If you keep going to Roaring Springs, someone is going to have to share his or her water with you, and that person, like I am, is already going to be looking forward to that water stop. I’m low on water now, and what I have is hot as a firecracker.” When I got to the water stop, they were waiting for me to thank me for turning them back. Only then did they continue their escape from the canyon.

My two other Grand Canyon backpacking treks were to the Havasupai Reservation (1988 & 1997). That’s where three waterfalls exist. Havasu Falls is the most beautiful, most accessible, best swimming hole, and nearest to the Havasu Campground. This is one of the reasons I always backpack with a strong beach float instead of a thin air mattress. It not only keeps me from sleeping “on the ground” but allows me to enjoy a good swim – also its weight and space are only negligibly more than a backpacking mattress.

David Offutt at the Havasu Campground on the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon (July 1997)

David Offutt at the Havasu Campground on the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon (July 1997): I always packed a tent but never used it in the canyon, preferring a sleeping bag on a good beach float on a picnic table – worked fine

I did things on each visit to the reservation that probably would never occur if it were operated by our National Park Service and its concessionaires. Many other visitors and their backpacks were picked up at the parking area and led to the bottom on horses. So I figured that the hike out would actually be enjoyable if I didn’t have my backpack. So I talked to the Havasupai guide who would lead the horse train out on the morning of my departure. He told me to leave early and he would catch up with me outside the village of Supai, away from his boss’s eyes. For a $20-bribe, my backpack was waiting for me in the parking lot when I got to the top.

Havasu Falls in the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon, July 1997 (Photo: David Offutt)

Havasu Falls in the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon, July 1997 (Photo by David Offutt)

On my second visit, my backpack broke about a mile before I reached Supai, which was 2 miles from Havasu Campground! The frame was stabbing me in my back. In Supai, I stopped at the campground office and reserved two horses for the day of my departure: one for me and one for my backpack. That time, my backpack didn’t get better treatment than I. Two days later, I was packed and ready to go. One of the wranglers brought my horses to me at the campground, loaded my pack on one, and took it with him. He told me they were waiting for some other people and that I should just ride on ahead. If they didn’t catch up with me, I was to wait for them at the top. It was a pleasant solo ride all the way. A hike that began disastrously two days earlier ended perfectly.

Even on this 100th anniversary, we need to realize that not all is secure with the people’s heritage. The 2016 Republican platform, as approved in July in Cleveland, calls for our “public lands” – which types are unspecified – to be removed from the protection of the National Park Service. Republican congressmen have proposed bills to repeal the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to save national treasures as national monuments – as Theodore Roosevelt did to save the Grand Canyon. Also, virtually all of our parks are being negatively impacted by climate change, which the Fox-Trump-TEA Party (A.K.A. G.O.P.) won’t even acknowledge. It will be up to the voters in November to determine the fate of “America’s Best Idea” and what we leave for future generations.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published August 15, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

 

Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park (Photo: David Offutt 2015)

Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park (Photo: David Offutt 2015)

August 25 is the 100th birthday of our National Park Service, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. There are more than 400 national treasures included in the system owned by the American public so that generations to come will be able to enjoy them by either being able to visit them and/or being confident that they are secure from destruction.

 

I’ve been to our first national park, Yellowstone, three times – most recently in June 2015. I was looking forward to finally seeing the Roosevelt Arch, dedicated by TR in 1903, only to find it unapproachable. All around it was a huge construction site, so I had to settle on a distant view. They were sprucing up the northern entrance to the park to be ready for a ceremony this August 25. Engraved on the arch are the words “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” I was really glad to see its surroundings being refurbished.

 

The Roosevelt Arch, June 2015, with construction taking place to improve the appearance of Yellowstone's northern entrance (Photo: David Offutt)

The Roosevelt Arch, June 2015, with construction taking place to improve the appearance of Yellowstone’s northern entrance (Photo: David Offutt)

In the late ‘70s when I began visiting a lot of national sites, I had been impressed at what a great job the park service did. That was before the Reagan Administration initiated major budget, personnel, and maintenance cuts that have been ongoing for 35 years. Throughout the ‘80s, I was always seeing embarrassing signs like those in park restrooms apologizing for not keeping them clean due to the lack of funds.  Slough Creek Campground, where I had camped on my first visit to Yellowstone in 1980, had to be closed for a while in the ‘80s because of insufficient personnel. I don’t know when it reopened. I planned to camp there last summer, but it was full-up. I had to settle on a national forest campground outside the park, which was fine.

 

David Offutt at Slough Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park, June 1980

David Offutt at Slough Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park, June 1980: Due to funding and personnel cuts, this campground was closed for a while during the Reagan Era.

All of our parks are essentially showplaces for who we are and what we stand for, and we need to fund them properly. The “greatest” and “richest” country in the world can do it if it has the moral will to do so. Every dollar spent by the federal government on the park service generates ten dollars in revenue on the state and local levels: visitor spending, job creation, taxes paid. Even Congress’s birthday appropriations for our parks this year left the parks with $12 billion of unfunded backlog maintenance, and there’s no excuse for this. Our parks must be included in future major funding for renovations to our national infrastructure that’s been neglected for 35 years.

 

We all get interested in our parks for different reasons. My father, an electrical contractor, never wanted to be away from work, so my first real vacation was during the summer of 1968 after my sophomore year at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. My Uncle Harper asked me to go with him on a trip to California. His wife had recently died, and some old friends in Los Angeles had asked him to come for a visit. He needed someone to share the driving and expenses – my father agreed to pay my share. To entice me, he mapped out two great routes from El Dorado to L.A. and back. Using Interstate 10 on the way out and Interstate 40 coming back, he planned many side trips including Tombstone, Ariz., and the Grand Canyon.

 

Harper Nixon, summer 1968, at a rest stop near El Paso, Tex. My uncle was one of my mother's (Foster Nixon Offutt) older brothers. On the way home from Los Angeles, he suggested that since the Grand Canyon was so far out of the way that we should skip our plans to see it. I reminded him that we were also going to visit Old Oraibi, one of the oldest continually inhabited villages in the U.S, in the Hopi Reservation to the east of the canyon. (Photo: David Offutt)

Harper Nixon, summer 1968, at a rest stop near El Paso, Tex. My uncle was one of my mother’s (Foster Nixon Offutt) older brothers. On the way home from Los Angeles, he suggested that since the Grand Canyon was so far out of the way that we should skip our plans to see it. I reminded him that we were also going to visit Old Oraibi, Ariz., one of the oldest continually inhabited villages in the U.S, in the Hopi Reservation  east of the national park. (Photo: David Offutt)

Our first side trip was to Carlsbad Caverns, and that’s when I discovered what kind of vacation this was going to be. Driving into the parking area, he said that we didn’t want to stay very long: “We just want to be able to say ‘I’ve been there.’” I couldn’t believe he didn’t want to tour the caverns. He even offered to wait on me if I insisted. Not wanting him to wait, I consented to leave. And that was the way it was for the rest of the trip, although there were times I made him wait, like at the replica of Independence Hall at Knott’s Berry Farm.

 

Nobody believed that we went to so many places in such a short time! It became known in the family as the “notorious ten-day trip.” We even got stopped for speeding by a park ranger in the Petrified Forest. Harper was trying to not stop at all the scenic turnoffs and, if he drove fast enough, was hoping I might miss some of the signs. My brother John once said that he always felt sorry for Harper because he was the only one in the family with money, but he never knew how to enjoy it.

 

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, summer 1968: My uncle paid these boys 25 cents each to pose beside this oven. (Photo: David Offutt)

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, summer 1968: My uncle paid these boys 25 cents each to pose beside this oven. Ever distrustful of native Americans, when Harper saw two older Zuni men on the bridge coming our way, he said, “Hurry up, David, we’ve got to go.” (Photo: David Offutt)

Nevertheless, that was the trip that got me hooked on wanting to see this beautiful country. I was later inspired by Alistair Cooke’s 1974 13-part TV series “America”, which was an early 200th birthday present to the United States. I began taking annual summer trips in the mid-1970s and have never stopped. And I eventually returned to all the places my uncle and I sped through.

 

There are national monuments, historic sites, battlefields, wildlife refuges, forests, lakeshores, rivers, and recreational areas; but only 59 are specifically designated as national parks. It would take a lot of effort to count how many of the others I’ve been to, but I know I’ve been to 38 national parks. Using Kodachrome slide film on most of my 20th century travels, I shared my photos with my students whenever appropriate. My American history students used to say that there was nothing we could study that I couldn’t show them.  That was an exaggeration, but not because I didn’t try.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published August 13, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

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