History Podcasts

Why We Are Wise to Pay Heed to History in the Age of Trump

Why We Are Wise to Pay Heed to History in the Age of Trump

“Stick to history,” the anonymous of Twitter often tell me. I have always wanted the Our Site podcast to embrace the widest possible definition of history.

I have explored Stonehenge and Bronze Age settlements in the North Sea. I have veered from 2nd Century BC China to NASA veterans of the Apollo Missions.

History, it strikes me, is everything that has ever happened to anyone who has ever lived on this planet, and the stuff humans have got up to off it too. History is Henry VIII, Catherine the Great and Abraham Lincoln, but it is also happening now.

History is politics and politics is history

The Brexit process, the midterm elections in the US, and, yes, Donald Trump, are truly historic. Not only will they be poured over by historians of the future, but they are all rooted in deep historic traditions.

Brexit sees Britain wrestle with the ancient question of the exact nature of its relationship with its European neighbours, so near and yet so far.

Donald Trump’s election to the US Presidency in 2016 caused a political earthquake and represented a rejection of established order.

Trump appeals to history all the time. He talks about past greatness and promises to restore it. He defines himself as a nationalist, while his enemies brand him a fascist. Historians must weigh in and help the rest of us interpret what is going on.

The past explains the present

As it turns out, the anonymous critics are wrong on what the audience seem to want too. The podcasts about contemporary politics always have a historic element – like understanding what the 18th century Founding Fathers envisaged when they framed the constitution. They also always have people tuning in.

People want to know why hung parliaments, Trump, Brexit, the German far-right, Gaza riots and IS demolitions happen. They all have roots deep into the past, yet their historical dimension is too often ignored in the normal news cycle.

Dan talks to giant of journalism, Sy Hersh, about the many things he's covered in his long career, from Vietnam to Iraq to Trump.

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Trump and historical parallel

It has been an extraordinary privilege interviewing historians about Trump over the past two years, asking them to rise above the tweets and give us a considered view on what it all means.

From Sarah Churchwell explaining the genesis of the term ‘American Dream,’ to Ruth Ben-Ghiat on parallels with Mussolini and Joshua Matz on the development of impeachment in the US constitution, I have had some of the world’s best scholars sharing their insights and their fears.

They all agree that Trump is not literally a fascist. Fascism in Italy was a phenomenon particular to the time and society in which it was born.

However, there are fascinating similarities between the rhetoric, methods and even body language of Trump and Mussolini.

His certainty that he alone can fix society, he can protect it from the evils that stalk its margins, he can return it to a state of past glory, these are all tropes of dictators throughout history.

Dan Snow meets Calder Walton for a martini and an overview of Russia's history of interference in foreign elections.

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Likewise, his demonisation of the opposition, of the judiciary and the media. He identifies ethnic groups as threats and insists that he is, above all, a protector. He uses new technology to reach beyond traditional platforms for disseminating information and embraces conspiracy to undermine and obscure reality. He and his allies do what they can to suppress voting.

One of the most memorable recent podcasts was Calder Walton on Soviet attempts to influence American elections during the Cold War, by pushing misinformation, undermining trust and reinforcing division.

It was a terrifying conversation, yet a great example of why history is for all of us, right now. All this stuff has happened before, we would be wise to pay heed to it.


Why should we trust you? Clinton's big problem with young black Americans

In the 1990s, Democrats helped shift the national conversation away from systemic racism. If the country’s first black president could not disrupt the racial status quo, what can we expect Hillary Clinton to accomplish?

Last modified on Fri 14 Jul 2017 17.06 BST

You always know an election is near in the US when Democrats and Republicans start to discuss the plight of black Americans.

Most of the time, little is said about the high levels of poverty in black communities. Ditto with unemployment. Before the eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement, almost nothing was ever said about police violence. Until recently these issues were simply facts of life, so omnipresent that racial inequality passes for the norm for both Republicans and Democrats.

Two years ago, Republican leader Paul Ryan described the higher rates of black unemployment as attributable to a “tailspin of culture”. On the other side of the political spectrum, both Barack Obama and Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, have respectively blamed an absence of “role models” and “parenting” for violence in black neighborhoods. In effect, both parties have long been saying that what is needed is personal transformation – not the reform of ways that wealth and resources are distributed in our country.

Blaming black communities for their own problems is not new it’s been a staple of US politics for the last 50 years. But as Democrats anxiously try to rally their bases, the concern is that there is limited enthusiasm from black millennial voters – that is, African American voters roughly between the ages of 18 and 35.

There’s no question that black voters will support Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in large numbers, but the real question is whether they will actually come out and vote for her. Democrats believe they need a turnout of black voters on par with the numbers reached during the 2008 and 2012 election. Then, more than half of young black voters participated, outpacing their white and Latino peers in the process. More than 92% of them voted for Obama black millennial support for Clinton peaked at 60% this August.

After spending the winter and spring months describing black voters as a “firewall” against the surging Bernie Sanders campaign, Clinton surrogates now try to explain the reluctance to embrace Clinton as stemming from a lack of information about her campaign. In other words, if the campaign simply tweaks its messaging or if young black voters would only consult her website, they would see that Clinton has a robust platform to address their concerns.

While it is certainly true that Clinton has gone out of her way to use the language of the Black Lives Matter movement and to highlight the unquestioned racism of Donald Trump, she faces three problems that no campaign promise can adequately address.

The first problem for the Democrats is the dreadful continuation of police killing black men.

The police killings came so quickly in September that most people had forgotten that on 15 September, police in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed 13-year-old Tyre King. Described as 4ft 11in and 95lb, King was shot three times in the back, according to an autopsy. And in the last several weeks, there have been continued protests in El Cajon in southern California and in Charlotte, North Carolina, in response to two killings. There was also the video-recorded killing of unarmed Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Even where police killings of black men and boys do not receive national attention, they reverberate within the neighborhoods and wider communities for days, weeks and months afterward. Indeed, the crisis of police violence was identified by black millennials as their number one concern above all other issues. In a poll taken last August, 91% of black and 71% of Latino millennials described “police killing of Black people as a serious problem”. Seventy-seven per cent of black millennials said that they or someone they knew had been “harassed” by the police.

The Democratic party has appeared completely incapable of putting a stop to it.

It has now been 19 months since Obama’s commission on policing in the 21st century released its report and offered 58 recommendations for reform. The police have killed more than 1,000 people in that time. Furthermore, for all the publicity that some cases have received, it is more likely than not that the police officers will not even be charged, let alone punished.

In the absence of actual reform, Democrats led by Obama seem to stress the need for understanding on both sides – as if police violence were the product of misunderstanding as opposed to oppression at the hands of an armed appendage of the state.

Hillary Clinton’s platform is more substantive than that, as she calls for spending a billion dollars to better train police, legislation against racial profiling and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. While one can debate Clinton’s ability to actually follow through on these promises (and whether they would actually produce the kind of accountability the Black Lives Matter movement is demanding), the bigger problem for Clinton is one of credibility.

Supporters of Clinton have denounced the perception of her as untrustworthy, calling it ignorance or sexism. It is undeniable that some of the vitriol directed at Clinton has misogynistic undertones, especially when it comes from Trump and his supporters. But to reduce all criticism of Clinton to gender discrimination is both disingenuous and dishonest.


The Coronavirus Is the Worst Intelligence Failure in U.S. History

Last September, I met the vice president for risk for a Fortune 100 company in Washington, D.C. I asked the executive—who previously had a long career as an intelligence analyst—the question you would ask any risk officer: “What are you most worried about?” Without pausing, this person replied, “A highly contagious virus that begins somewhere in China and spreads rapidly.” This vice president, whose company has offices throughout East Asia, explained the preventative mitigating steps the company had subsequently adopted to counter this potential threat.

Last September, I met the vice president for risk for a Fortune 100 company in Washington, D.C. I asked the executive—who previously had a long career as an intelligence analyst—the question you would ask any risk officer: “What are you most worried about?” Without pausing, this person replied, “A highly contagious virus that begins somewhere in China and spreads rapidly.” This vice president, whose company has offices throughout East Asia, explained the preventative mitigating steps the company had subsequently adopted to counter this potential threat.

Since the novel coronavirus has swept the world, I have often thought about this person’s prescient risk calculus. Most leaders lack the discipline to do routine risk-based horizon scanning, and fewer still develop the requisite contingency plans. Even rarer is the leader who has the foresight to correctly identify the top threat far enough in advance to develop and implement those plans.

Suffice it to say, the Trump administration has cumulatively failed, both in taking seriously the specific, repeated intelligence community warnings about a coronavirus outbreak and in vigorously pursuing the nationwide response initiatives commensurate with the predicted threat. The federal government alone has the resources and authorities to lead the relevant public and private stakeholders to confront the foreseeable harms posed by the virus. Unfortunately, Trump officials made a series of judgments (minimizing the hazards of COVID-19) and decisions (refusing to act with the urgency required) that have needlessly made Americans far less safe.

In short, the Trump administration forced a catastrophic strategic surprise onto the American people. But unlike past strategic surprises—Pearl Harbor, the Iranian revolution of 1979, or especially 9/11—the current one was brought about by unprecedented indifference, even willful negligence. Whereas, for example, the 9/11 Commission Report assigned blame for the al Qaeda attacks on the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush, the unfolding coronavirus crisis is overwhelmingly the sole responsibility of the current White House.

[Mapping the Coronavirus Outbreak: Get daily updates on the pandemic and learn how it’s affecting countries around the world.]

Chapter 8 of the 9/11 Commission Report was titled, “The System Was Blinking Red.” The quote came from former CIA Director George Tenet, who was characterizing the summer of 2001, when the intelligence community’s multiple reporting streams indicated an imminent aviation terrorist attack inside the United States. Despite the warnings and frenzied efforts of some counterterrorism officials, the 9/11 Commission determined “We see little evidence that the progress of the plot was disturbed by any government action. … Time ran out.”

Last week, the Washington Post reported on the steady drumbeat of coronavirus warnings that the intelligence community presented to the White House in January and February. These alerts made little impact upon senior administration officials, who were undoubtedly influenced by President Donald Trump’s constant derision of the virus, which he began on Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

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Deadly diseases like Ebola and the avian flu are only one flight away. The U.S. government must start taking preparedness seriously.

By now, there are three painfully obvious observations about Trump’s leadership style that explain the worsening coronavirus pandemic that Americans now face. First, there is the fact that once he believes absolutely anything—no matter how poorly thought-out, ill-informed, or inaccurate—he remains completely anchored to that initial impression or judgment. Leaders are unusually hubristic and overconfident for many, the fact that they have risen to elevated levels of power is evidence of their inherent wisdom. But truly wise leaders authentically solicit feedback and criticism, are actively open thinkers, and are capable of changing their minds. By all accounts, Trump lacks these enabling competencies.

Second, Trump’s judgments are highly transmissible, infecting the thinking and behavior of nearly every official or advisor who comes in contact with the initial carrier. Unsurprisingly, the president surrounds himself with people who look, think, and act like he does. Yet, his inaccurate or disreputable comments also have the remarkable ability to become recycled by formerly honorable military, intelligence, and business leaders. And if somebody does not consistently parrot the president’s proclamations with adequate intensity, they are fired, or it is leaked that their firing could be imminent at any time—most notably the recent report of the president’s impatience with the indispensable Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

And, third, the poor judgments soon contaminate all the policymaking arms of the federal government with almost no resistance or even reasonable questioning. Usually, federal agencies are led by those officials whom the White House believes are best able to implement policy. These officials have usually enjoyed some degree of autonomy not under Trump. Even historically nonpartisan national security or intelligence leadership positions have been filled by people who are ideologically aligned with the White House, rather than endowed with the experience or expertise needed to push back or account for the concerns raised by career nonpolitical employees.

Thus, an initial incorrect assumption or statement by Trump cascades into day-to-day policy implementation.

The same Post report featured the following stunning passage from an anonymous U.S. official: “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were—they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it. The system was blinking red.” That latter passage is an obvious reference to that aforementioned central finding of the 9/11 Commission Report.

Given that Trump concluded early on that the coronavirus simply could not present a threat to the United States, perhaps there is nothing that the intelligence community, medical experts employing epidemiological models, or public health officials could have told the White House that would have made any difference. Former National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger is reputed to have said after an intelligence community warning went unrecognized, “You warned me, but you didn’t convince me.” Yet, a presidential brain trust wholly closed off to contrarian, though accurate, viewpoints is incapable of being convinced.

The White House detachment and nonchalance during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak will be among the most costly decisions of any modern presidency. These officials were presented with a clear progression of warnings and crucial decision points far enough in advance that the country could have been far better prepared. But the way that they squandered the gifts of foresight and time should never be forgotten, nor should the reason they were squandered: Trump was initially wrong, so his inner circle promoted that wrongness rhetorically and with inadequate policies for far too long, and even today. Americans will now pay the price for decades.

Micah Zenko is the co-author of Clear and Present Safety: The World Has Never Been Better and Why That Matters to Americans.


Donald and Melania Trump's wedding was a lavish, star-studded affair

Melania and Donald Trump tied the knot in a $42 million-dollar ballroom at their Mar-a-Lago estate, which Donald had built from scratch. The compound is replete with 24-karat gold moldings, custom-made crystal chandeliers, and marble floors covering 11,000 square feet. Their guest list included Bill and Hillary Clinton, Billy Joel (who performed), Anna Wintour, Heidi Klum, Derek Jeter, and Shaquille O'Neal (via Today).

Melania, who was 34 at the time, wore a Christian Dior gown with a 13-foot train which reportedly cost $200,000. In fact, she graced the cover of Vogue wearing what the magazine called "the dress of the year." Melania's engagement ring, from Graff Jewelers, cost $75,000 (via The New York Times).

At the time, Donald was 58, and completely confident in his third union. As he told People, "If I didn't have a great woman, I would be much more nervous." When Larry King asked Melania if she was apprehensive on Larry King Live, she said that after being together for five years, she was confident. "We know what kind of relationship we have and I don't think I should be scared of anything," she shared.


Her Lesson Plan Was Junk

Fox News Gets a British Accent

America’s ‘Great Chief Justice’ Was an Unrepentant Slaveholder

Trump was a serial violator of his oath—as evidenced by his continual use of his office for personal financial gain—but focusing on three crucial ways in which he betrayed it helps clarify his singular historical status. First, he failed to put the national-security interests of the United States ahead of his own political needs. Second, in the face of a devastating pandemic, he was grossly derelict, unable or unwilling to marshal the requisite resources to save lives while actively encouraging public behavior that spread the disease. And third, held to account by voters for his failures, he refused to concede defeat and instead instigated an insurrection, stirring a mob that stormed the Capitol.

Many chief executives have failed, in one way or another, to live up to the demands of the job, or to competently discharge them. But historians now tend to agree that our worst presidents are those who fall short in the second part of their pledge, in some way endangering the Constitution. And if you want to understand why these three failures make Trump the worst of all our presidents, the place to begin is in the basement of the presidential rankings, where dwell his rivals for that singular dishonor.

For decades in the 20th century, many historians agreed that the title Trump has recently earned properly belonged to Warren G. Harding, a president they remembered. The journalist H. L. Mencken, master of the acidic bon mot, listened to Harding’s inaugural address and despaired. “No other such complete and dreadful nitwit is to be found in the pages of American history,” he wrote.

Poor Harding. Our 29th president popularized the word normalcy and self-deprecatingly described himself as a “bloviator,” before dying in office of natural causes in 1923. Although mourned by an entire nation—9 million people are said to have viewed his funeral train, many singing his favorite hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”—he was never respected by people of letters when he was alive. An avalanche of posthumous revelations about corruption in his administration made him an object of scorn among most historians. In 1948, Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. began the tradition of regularly ranking our presidents, which his son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. continued—for decades Harding consistently came in dead last, dominating a category entitled “failure.”

The scandal that prompted Harding’s descent to presidential hell involved the leasing of private drilling rights on federal lands in California and under a Wyoming rock resembling a teapot Teapot Dome would serve as the shorthand for a terrible presidential scandal until it was displaced by Watergate. In April 1922, the Republican-controlled Senate began an investigation of the Republican administration, with Harding promising cooperation. Public hearings began only after Harding’s death the next year. The secretary of the interior was ultimately found guilty of bribery, becoming the first person to go from the Cabinet to jail. Other scandals engulfed the director of the Veterans’ Bureau and the attorney general.

Although Harding had some warning of the corruption in his administration, no evidence suggests that he personally profited from it, or that he was guilty of more than incompetence. John W. Dean, the former White House counsel who pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in Watergate, later concluded that Harding’s reputation was unfairly tainted: “The fact that Harding had done nothing wrong and had not been involved in any criminal activities became irrelevant.” And, regardless of Harding’s role in the widespread corruption in his administration, he didn’t ever threaten our constitutional system.

On the other side of the ledger, Harding had a number of positive achievements: the Washington Naval Conference to discuss disarmament, the implementation of presidential authority over executive-branch budgeting, the commutation of Eugene V. Debs’s sentence. These, combined with his own lack of direct involvement in the scandals of his administration and the absence of any attack on our republic (which no positive administrative achievements could ever balance out), ought to allow him to be happily forgotten as a mediocre president.

Harding’s reputation has hardly improved, but in recent presidential surveys organized by C-SPAN, his tenure has been eclipsed by the failures of three men who were implicated in the breakup of the Union or who hindered the tortuous effort to reconstruct it.

The first two are Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. Pierce, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Buchanan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, abetted and at times amplified the forces that drove the Union asunder. Although neither was from the South, both men sympathized with southern slaveholders. They considered the rising tide of abolitionism an abomination, and sought ways to increase the power of slaveholders.

Pierce and Buchanan opposed the 1820 Missouri Compromise, which had calmed political tensions by prohibiting slavery above a certain line in the Louisiana Territory. As president, Pierce helped overturn it, adding the pernicious sentence to the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act that declared the Compromise “inoperative and void.” The Kansas-Nebraska Act not only allowed the people of the Kansas and Nebraska territories to determine themselves whether their respective states were to be slave or free but opened all unorganized territory to slavery.

Buchanan then used federal power in Kansas to ensure that slaveholders and their supporters, though a minority, would win. He authorized the granting of an $80,000 contract to a pro-slavery editor in the territory and “contracts, commissions, and in some cases cold cash” to northern Democrats in the House of Representatives to press them to admit Kansas as a slave state.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected to replace him in November 1860, and states began to secede, Buchanan effectively abdicated his responsibilities as president of the United States. He blamed Lincoln’s Republicans for causing all the problems he faced, and promised southerners a constitutional amendment protecting slavery forever if they returned. When secessionists in South Carolina set siege to a federal fort, Buchanan collapsed. “Like … Nixon in the summer of 1974 before his resignation,” wrote the Buchanan biographer Jean H. Baker, “Buchanan gave every indication of severe mental strain affecting both his health and his judgment.”

During the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, President George Washington had led the militia against the Pennsylvania rebels. Buchanan’s Cabinet didn’t expect him to personally lead U.S. troops to protect the federal forts and customhouses being seized by southern secessionists, but he shocked them by doing effectively nothing. When federal officeholders resigned in the South, Buchanan did not use his authority to replace them. He even had to be deterred by his Cabinet from simply surrendering Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and ultimately made only a feeble effort to defend the fort, sending an unarmed merchant ship as relief. Meanwhile, former President Pierce, who had been asked to speak in Alabama, instead wrote in a public letter, “If we cannot live together in peace, then in peace and on just terms let us separate.” After the Civil War ended, Pierce offered his services as a defense lawyer to his friend Jefferson Davis. (Pierce might not have been our worst president, but he’s in the running against John Tyler, who left office in 1845 and 16 years later joined the Confederacy, for leading the worst post-presidency.)

The next great presidential failure in U.S. history involved the management of the victory over the South. Enter the third of the three men who eclipsed Harding: Andrew Johnson. Lincoln had picked Johnson as his running mate in 1864 to forge a unity ticket for what he expected to be a tough reelection bid. A pro-Union Democrat, Johnson had been the sole southern senator in 1861 not to leave Congress when his state seceded.

But Johnson’s fidelity to Lincoln and to the nation ended with Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865. While Lincoln had not left detailed plans for how to “bind up the nation’s wounds” after the war, Johnson certainly violated the spirit of what Lincoln had envisioned. An unrepentant white supremacist, he opposed efforts to give freedmen the vote, and when Congress did so over his objections, Johnson impeded their enjoyment of that right. He wanted slavery by another name in the South, undermining the broad consensus in the victorious North. “What he had in mind all along for the south,” as his biographer Annette Gordon-Reed wrote, “was a restoration rather than reconstruction.”

Johnson used his pulpit to bully those who believed in equal rights for formerly enslaved people and to encourage a culture of grievance in the South, spreading myths about why the Civil War had occurred in the first place. Many people are responsible for the toxic views and policies that have so long denied Black Americans basic human rights, but Andrew Johnson was the first to use the office of the presidency to give that project national legitimacy and federal support. Having inherited Lincoln’s Cabinet, Johnson was forced to maneuver around Lincoln’s men to impose his own mean-spirited and racist vision of how to reintegrate the South. That got him impeached by the House. A Republican Senate then fell one vote short of removing him from office.

All three of these 19th-century presidents compiled awful records, but Buchanan stands apart because—besides undermining the Union, using his office to promote white supremacy, and demonstrating dereliction of duty in the decisive crisis of secession—he led an outrageously corrupt administration. He violated not just the second part of his oath, betraying the Constitution, but also the first part. Buchanan managed to be more corrupt than the low standard set by his contemporaries in Congress, which is saying something.

In 1858, members of Congress tried to curtail a routine source of graft, described by the historian Michael Holt as the “public printing rake-off.” At the time, there was no Government Printing Office, so contracts for printing the reams of congressional and executive-branch proceedings and statements went to private printers. In the 1820s, President Andrew Jackson had started steering these lucrative contracts to friends. By the 1850s, congressional investigators found that bribes were being extorted from would-be government printers, and that those who won contracts were kicking back a portion of their profits to the Democratic Party. Buchanan directly benefited from this system in the 1856 election. Although he signed reforms into law in 1858, he swiftly subverted them by permitting a subterfuge that allowed his key contributor—who owned a prominent pro-administration newspaper—to continue profiting from government printing.

Does Trump have any modern competitors for the title of worst president? Like Harding, a number of presidents were poor executors of the office. President Woodrow Wilson was an awful man who presided over an apartheid system in the nation’s capital, largely confined his support for democracy abroad to white nations, and then mishandled a pandemic. President Herbert Hoover helped drive the U.S. economy into the ground during the Great Depression, because the economics he learned as a young man proved fundamentally wrong.

President George W. Bush’s impulse after 9/11 to weaken American civil liberties in the name of protecting them, and his blanket approval of interrogation techniques universally considered torture, left Americans disillusioned and impeded the struggle to deradicalize Islamists. His invasion of Iraq in 2003, like Thomas Jefferson’s embargo on foreign trade during the Napoleonic Wars, had disastrous consequences for American power, and undermined unity at home and abroad.

These presidents were each deeply flawed, but not in the same league as their predecessors who steered the country into Civil War or did their utmost to deprive formerly enslaved people of their hard-won rights while rewarding those who betrayed their country.

And then there’s Richard Nixon.

Before Trump, Nixon set the standard for modern presidential failure as the first president forced from office, who resigned ahead of impeachment. And in many ways, their presidencies have been eerily parallel. But the comparison to Nixon reveals the ways in which Trump’s presidency has been not merely bad, but the very worst we have ever seen.

Like the 45th president, Nixon ascended to office by committing an original sin. As the Republican presidential nominee, Nixon intervened indirectly to scuttle peace negotiations in Paris over the Vietnam War. He was worried that a diplomatic breakthrough in the 11th hour of the campaign would help his Democratic rival, Hubert Humphrey. For Nixon, it set the pattern for future presidential lies and cover-ups.

Trump, too, put his political prospects ahead of any sense of duty. As a candidate, Trump openly appealed to Russia to steal his opponent’s emails. Then, as Russia dumped hacked emails from her campaign chair, he seized on the pilfered materials to suggest wrongdoing and amplified Russian disinformation efforts. Extensive investigations during his administration by then–Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee didn’t produce any evidence suggesting that he directly abetted Russian hacking, but those investigations were impeded by a pattern of obstructive conduct that Mueller carefully outlined in his report.

Trump’s heartless and incompetent approach to immigration, his use of tax policy to punish states that didn’t vote for him, his diversion of public funds to properties owned by him and his family, his impulsive and self-defeating approach to trade, and his petulance toward traditional allies assured on their own that he would not be seen as a successful modern president. But those failures have more to do with the first part of his oath. The case that Trump is not just the worst of our modern presidents but the worst of them all rests on three other pillars, not all of which have a Nixonian parallel.

Trump is the first president since America became a superpower to subordinate national-security interests to his political needs. Nixon’s mishandling of renewed peace negotiations with Hanoi in the 1972 election campaign led to the commission of a war crime, the unnecessary “Christmas bombing” at the end of that year. But it cannot compare, in terms of the harm to U.S. national interests, to Trump’s serial subservience to foreign strongmen such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and, of course, Russia’s Vladimir Putin—none of whom act out of a sense of shared interests with the United States. Trump’s effort to squeeze the Ukrainians to get dirt on his likely opponent in 2020, the cause of his first impeachment, was just the best-documented instance of a form of corruption that characterized his entire foreign policy.

The second pillar is Trump’s dereliction of duty during the COVID-19 pandemic, which will have killed at least 400,000 Americans by the time he leaves office. In his inaugural address, Trump vowed an end to “American carnage,” but in office, he presided over needless death and suffering. Trump’s failure to anticipate and then respond to the pandemic has no equivalent in Nixon’s tenure when Nixon wasn’t plotting political subversion and revenge against his perceived enemies, he could be a good administrator.

Trump, of course, is not the first president to have been surprised by a threat to our country. Franklin D. Roosevelt was caught off guard by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Trump, like FDR, could have tried to redeem himself by his management of the response. But Trump lacked FDR’s intellectual and leadership skills. Instead of adapting, he dug in, denying the severity of the challenge and the importance of mask wearing and social distancing while bemoaning the likely damage to his beloved economy.

Trump continued to insist that he was in charge of America’s coronavirus response, but when being in charge required him to actively oversee plans—or at least to read and approve them—he punted on the tough issues of ramping up testing, and was painfully slow to secure sufficient protective equipment and ventilators. FDR didn’t directly manage the Liberty ship program, but he grasped its necessity and understood how to empower subordinates. Trump, instead, ignored his own experts and advisers, searching constantly for some silver bullet that would relieve him of the necessity of making hard choices. He threw money at pharmaceutical and biotech firms to accelerate work on vaccines, with good results, but went AWOL on the massive logistical effort administering those vaccines requires.

In doubling down on his opposition to basic public-health measures, the president crossed a new line of awfulness. Three of Trump’s tweets on April 17, 2020—“LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!,” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”—moved him into Pierce and Buchanan territory for the first time: The president was promoting disunity. The “liberation” he was advocating was civil disobedience against stay-at-home rules put in place by governors who were listening to public-health experts. Trump then organized a series of in-person rallies that sickened audience members and encouraged a wider public to put themselves at risk.

Trump channeled the same divisive spirit that Pierce and Buchanan had tapped by turning requests from the governors of the states that had been the hardest hit by the coronavirus into opportunities for partisan and sectarian attack.

Fifty-eight thousand Americans had already died of the virus when Trump signaled that ignoring or actively violating public-health mandates was a patriotic act. Over the summer, even as the death toll from COVID mounted, Trump never stopped bullying civic leaders who promoted mask wearing, and continued to hold large in-person rallies, despite the risk of spreading the virus. When the president himself became sick in the fall, rather than being sobered by his personal brush with serious illness, the president chose to turn a potential teachable moment for many Americans into a grotesque carnival. He used his presidential access to experimental treatment to argue that ordinary Americans need not fear the disease. He even took a joyride around Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in his closed, armored SUV to bask in the glow of his supporters’ adulation while endangering the health of his Secret Service detail.

American presidents have a mixed record with epidemics. For every Barack Obama, whose administration professionally managed the threats from Ebola and the H1N1 virus, or George W. Bush, who tackled AIDS in Africa, there’s been a Woodrow Wilson, who mishandled the influenza pandemic, or a Ronald Reagan, who was derelict in the face of AIDS. But neither Reagan nor Wilson actively promoted risky behavior for political purposes, nor did they personally obstruct federal-state partnerships that had been intended to control the spread of disease. On those points, Trump stands alone.

The third pillar of the case against Trump is his role as the chief instigator of the attempted insurrection of January 6. Although racism and violent nativism preceded Trump, the seeds of what happened on January 6 were planted by his use of the presidential bully pulpit. No president since Andrew Johnson had so publicly sympathized with the sense of victimhood among racists. In important ways, Nixon prefigured Trump by conspiring with his top lieutenants to use race, covertly, to bring about a realignment in U.S. politics. Nixon’s goal was to lure racists away from the Democratic Party and so transform the Republican Party into a governing majority. Trump has gone much further. From his remarks after the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to his effort to set the U.S. military against the Black Lives Matter movement, Trump has openly used race in an effort to transform the Republican Party into an agitated, cult-like, white-supremacist minority movement that could win elections only through fear, disenfranchisement, and disinformation.

Both Trump and Nixon sought to subvert any serious efforts to deny them reelection. Nixon approved a dirty-tricks campaign, and his chief of staff Bob Haldeman approved the details of an illegal espionage program against the eventual Democratic nominee. Nixon won his election but ultimately left office in the middle of his second term because the press, the Department of Justice, and Congress uncovered his efforts to hide his role in this subversion. They were helped in large part by Nixon’s absentminded taping of his own conversations.

Trump never won reelection. Instead, he mounted the first effort by a defeated incumbent to use the power of his office to overturn a presidential election. Both men looked for weaknesses in the system to retain power. But Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election put him in a class of awfulness all by himself.

Holding a national election during a pandemic was a test of the resilience of American democracy. State and local election officials looked for ways to boost participation without boosting the virus’s spread. In practical terms, this meant taking the pressure off same-day voting—limiting crowds at booths—by encouraging voting by mail and advance voting. Every candidate in the 2020 elections understood that tallying ballots would be slow in states that started counting only on Election Day. Even before voting began, Trump planted poisonous seeds of doubt about the fairness of this COVID-19 election. When the numbers didn’t go his way, Trump accelerated his disinformation campaign, alleging fraud in states that he had won in 2016 but lost four years later. The campaign was vigorous and widespread. Trump’s allies sought court injunctions and relief from Republican state officials. Lacking any actual evidence of widespread fraud, they lost in the courts. Despite having exploited every constitutional option, Trump refused to give up.

It was at this point that Trump went far beyond Nixon, or any of his other predecessors. In 1974, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in U.S. v. Nixon that Nixon had to turn over his White House tapes to a special prosecutor, Nixon also ran out of constitutional options. He knew that the tapes proved his guilt, and would likely lead to his impeachment and then to his conviction in the Senate. On July 24, Nixon said he would comply with the order from a coequal branch of our government, and ultimately accepted his political fate. In the end, even our most awful presidents before 2017 believed in the continuation of the system they had taken an oath to defend.

But not Trump. Heading into January 6, 2021, when Congress would ritually certify the election, Trump knew that he lacked the Electoral College votes to win or the congressional votes to prevent certification. He had only two cards left to play—neither one of which was consistent with his oath. He pushed Vice President Mike Pence to use his formal constitutional role as the play-by-play announcer of the count to unconstitutionally obstruct it, sending it back to the states for recertification. Meanwhile, to maintain pressure on Pence and Republicans in Congress, he gathered some of his most radicalized followers on the Mall and pointed the way to the Capitol, where the electoral count was about to begin. When Pence refused to exceed his constitutional authority, Trump unleashed his mob. He clearly wanted the count to be disrupted.

On January 6, Trump’s legacy was on a knife’s edge. Trump likely knew Pence’s intentions when he began to speak to the mob. He knew that the vice president would disappoint his hopes. In riling up the mob and sending it down Pennsylvania Avenue, he was imperiling the safety of his vice president and members of Congress. If there was any doubt that he was willing to countenance violence to get his way, it disappeared in the face of the president’s long inaction, as he sat in the White House watching live footage of the spreading assault.

And he may do still more damage before he departs.

Andrew Johnson left a political time bomb behind him in the nation’s capital. After the Democratic Party refused to nominate Johnson for a second term and Ulysses S. Grant won the election as a Republican, Johnson issued a broad political amnesty for many Confederates, including leaders who were under indictment such as the former president of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis.

So much of the pain and suffering this country experienced in the Trump years started with that amnesty. Had Davis and top Confederate generals been tried and convicted, polite society in the South could not have viewed these traitors as heroes. Now Trump is hinting that he wishes to pardon those who aided and abetted him in office, and perhaps even pardon himself—similarly attempting to escape accountability, and to delay a reckoning.

As Trump prepares to leave Washington, the capital is more agitated than during any previous presidential transition since 1861, with thousands of National Guard troops deployed around the city. There have been serious threats to previous inaugurations. But for the first time in the modern era, those threats are internal. An incumbent president is being asked to discourage terrorism by supporters acting in his name.

There are many verdicts on Donald Trump still to come, from the Senate, from juries of private citizens, from scholars and historians. But as a result of his subversion of national security, his reckless endangerment of every American in the pandemic, and his failed insurrection on January 6, one thing seems abundantly clear: Trump is the worst president in the 232-year history of the United States.

So, why does this matter? If we have experienced an unprecedented political trauma, we should be prepared to act to prevent any recurrence. Nixon’s fall introduced an era of government reform—expanded privacy rights, overhauled campaign-finance rules, presidential-records preservation, and enhanced congressional oversight of covert operations.

Managing the pandemic must be the incoming Biden administration’s principal focus, but it needn’t be its only focus. Steps can be taken to ensure that the worst president ever is held to account, and to forestall a man like Trump ever abusing his power in this way again.

The first is to ensure that we preserve the record of what has taken place. As was done after the Nixon administration, Congress should pass a law establishing guidelines for the preservation of and access to the materials of the Trump presidency. Those guidelines should also protect nonpartisan public history at any public facility associated with the Trump era. The Presidential Records Act already puts those documents under the control of the archivist of the United States, but Congress should mandate that they be held in the D.C. area and that the National Archives should not partner with the Trump Foundation in any public-history efforts. Disentangling the federal Nixon Presidential Library from Nixon’s poisonous myths about Watergate took an enormous effort. The pressure on the National Archives to, in some way, enable and legitimate Trump’s own Lost Cause is likely to be even greater.

Trump’s documented relationship with the truth also ensures that his presidential records will necessarily be incomplete. His presidency has revealed gaping loopholes in the process of public disclosure, which the president deftly exploited. Congress should mandate that future candidates and presidents release their tax returns. Congress should also seek to tightly constrict the definition of privacy regarding presidential medical records. It should also require presidents to fully disclose their own business activities, and those of members of their immediate family, conducted while in office. Congress should also claim, as public records, the transition materials of 2016–17 and 2020–21 and those of future transitions.

Finally, Congress must tend to American memory. It should establish a Joint Congressional Committee to study January 6 and the events and activities leading up to it, have public hearings, and issue a report. And it should bar the naming of federal buildings, installations, and vessels after Trump his presidency should be remembered, but not commemorated.

Because this, ultimately, is the point of this entire exercise. If Trump is now the worst president we have ever had, it’s up to every American to ensure that no future chief executive ever exceeds him.


Contents

Constitutional Convention Edit

No mention of an office of vice president was made at the 1787 Constitutional Convention until near the end, when an eleven-member committee on "Leftover Business" proposed a method of electing the chief executive (president). [13] Delegates had previously considered the selection of the Senate's presiding officer, deciding that "the Senate shall choose its own President," and had agreed that this official would be designated the executive's immediate successor. They had also considered the mode of election of the executive but had not reached consensus. This all changed on September 4, when the committee recommended that the nation's chief executive be elected by an Electoral College, with each state having a number of presidential electors equal to the sum of that state's allocation of representatives and senators. [10] [14]

Recognizing that loyalty to one's individual state outweighed loyalty to the new federation, the Constitution's framers assumed individual electors would be inclined to choose a candidate from their own state (a so-called "favorite son" candidate) over one from another state. So they created the office of vice president and required the electors to vote for two candidates, at least one of whom must be from outside the elector's state, believing that the second vote would be cast for a candidate of national character. [14] [15] Additionally, to guard against the possibility that electors might strategically waste their second votes, it was specified that the first runner-up would become vice president. [14]

The resultant method of electing the president and vice president, spelled out in Article II, Section 1, Clause 3, allocated to each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of its Senate and House of Representatives membership. Each elector was allowed to vote for two people for president (rather than for both president and vice president), but could not differentiate between their first and second choice for the presidency. The person receiving the greatest number of votes (provided it was an absolute majority of the whole number of electors) would be president, while the individual who received the next largest number of votes became vice president. If there were a tie for first or for second place, or if no one won a majority of votes, the president and vice president would be selected by means of contingent elections protocols stated in the clause. [16] [17]

Early vice presidents and Twelfth Amendment Edit

The first two vice presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom gained the office by virtue of being runners-up in presidential contests, presided regularly over Senate proceedings and did much to shape the role of Senate president. [18] [19] Several 19th-century vice presidents—such as George Dallas, Levi Morton, and Garret Hobart—followed their example and led effectively, while others were rarely present. [18]

The emergence of political parties and nationally coordinated election campaigns during the 1790s (which the Constitution's framers had not contemplated) quickly frustrated the election plan in the original Constitution. In the election of 1796, Federalist John Adams won the presidency, but his bitter rival, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson came second and became vice president. Thus, the president and vice president were from opposing parties and Jefferson used the vice presidency to frustrate the president's policies. Then, four years later, in the election of 1800, Jefferson, and fellow Democratic-Republican Aaron Burr each received 73 electoral votes. In the contingent election that followed, Jefferson finally won on the 36th ballot, and Burr became vice president. Afterward, the system was overhauled through the Twelfth Amendment in time to be used in the 1804 election. [20]

19th and early 20th centuries Edit

For much of its existence, the office of vice president was seen as little more than a minor position. John Adams, the first vice president, was the first of many frustrated by the "complete insignificance" of the office. To his wife Abigail Adams he wrote, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man . or his imagination contrived or his imagination conceived and as I can do neither good nor evil, I must be borne away by others and met the common fate." [21] John Nance Garner, who served as vice president from 1933 to 1941 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, claimed that the vice presidency "isn't worth a pitcher of warm piss". [22] Harry Truman, who also served as vice president under Roosevelt, said the office was as "useful as a cow's fifth teat". [23] Walter Bagehot remarked in The English Constitution that "[t]he framers of the Constitution expected that the vice-president would be elected by the Electoral College as the second wisest man in the country. The vice-presidentship being a sinecure, a second-rate man agreeable to the wire-pullers is always smuggled in. The chance of succession to the presidentship is too distant to be thought of." [24]

When the Whig Party asked Daniel Webster to run for the vice presidency on Zachary Taylor's ticket, he replied "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin." [25] This was the second time Webster declined the office, which William Henry Harrison had first offered to him. Ironically, both the presidents making the offer to Webster died in office, meaning the three-time candidate would have become president had he accepted either. Since presidents rarely die in office, however, the better preparation for the presidency was considered to be the office of Secretary of State, in which Webster served under Harrison, Tyler, and later, Taylor's successor, Fillmore.

In the first hundred years of the United States' existence no fewer than seven proposals to abolish the office of vice president were advanced. [26] The first such constitutional amendment was presented by Samuel W. Dana in 1800 it was defeated by a vote of 27 to 85 in the United States House of Representatives. [26] The second, introduced by United States Senator James Hillhouse in 1808, was also defeated. [26] During the late 1860s and 1870s, five additional amendments were proposed. [26] One advocate, James Mitchell Ashley, opined that the office of vice president was "superfluous" and dangerous. [26]

Garret Hobart, the first vice president under William McKinley, was one of the very few vice presidents at this time who played an important role in the administration. A close confidant and adviser of the president, Hobart was called "Assistant President". [27] However, until 1919, vice presidents were not included in meetings of the President's Cabinet. This precedent was broken by President Woodrow Wilson when he asked Thomas R. Marshall to preside over Cabinet meetings while Wilson was in France negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. [28] President Warren G. Harding also invited his vice president, Calvin Coolidge, to meetings. The next vice president, Charles G. Dawes, did not seek to attend Cabinet meetings under President Coolidge, declaring that "the precedent might prove injurious to the country." [29] Vice President Charles Curtis was also precluded from attending by President Herbert Hoover.

Thomas R. Marshall, the 28th vice president, lamented: "Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea the other was elected Vice President of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again." [30] His successor, Calvin Coolidge, was so obscure that Major League Baseball sent him free passes that misspelled his name, and a fire marshal failed to recognize him when Coolidge's Washington residence was evacuated. [31]

Emergence of the modern vice presidency Edit

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt raised the stature of the office by renewing the practice of inviting the vice president to cabinet meetings, which every president since has maintained. Roosevelt's first vice president, John Nance Garner, broke with him over the "court-packing" issue early in his second term, and became Roosevelt's leading critic. At the start of that term, on January 20, 1937, Garner had been the first vice president to be sworn into office on the Capitol steps in the same ceremony with the president a tradition that continues. Prior to that time, vice presidents were traditionally inaugurated at a separate ceremony in the Senate chamber. Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller, who were each appointed to the office under the terms of the 25th amendment, were inaugurated in the House and Senate chambers respectively.

Henry Wallace, Roosevelt's vice president during his third term (1941–1945), was given major responsibilities during World War II. However, after numerous policy disputes between Wallace and other Roosevelt Administration and Democratic Party officials, he was denied renomination to office at the 1944 Democratic National Convention. Harry Truman was selected instead. During his 82-day vice presidency, Truman was not informed about any war or post-war plans, including the Manhattan Project, leading Truman to remark, wryly, that the job of the vice president was to "go to weddings and funerals". As a result of this experience, Truman, after succeeding to the presidency upon Roosevelt's death, recognized the need to keep the vice president informed on national security issues. Congress made the vice president one of four statutory members of the National Security Council in 1949.

The stature of the vice presidency grew again while Richard Nixon was in office (1953–1961). He attracted the attention of the media and the Republican Party, when Dwight Eisenhower authorized him to preside at Cabinet meetings in his absence. Nixon was also the first vice president to formally assume temporary control of the executive branch, which he did after Eisenhower suffered a heart attack on September 24, 1955, ileitis in June 1956, and a stroke in November 1957.

Until 1961, vice presidents had their offices on Capitol Hill, a formal office in the Capitol itself and a working office in the Russell Senate Office Building. Lyndon B. Johnson was the first vice president to be given an office in the White House complex, in the Old Executive Office Building. The former Navy Secretary's office in the OEOB has since been designated the "Ceremonial Office of the Vice President" and is today used for formal events and press interviews. President Jimmy Carter was the first president to give his vice president, Walter Mondale, an office in the West Wing of the White House, which all vice presidents have since retained. Because of their function as Presidents of the Senate, vice presidents still maintain offices and staff members on Capitol Hill.

Though Walter Mondale's tenure was the beginning of the modern-day power of the vice presidency, the tenure of Dick Cheney saw a rapid growth in the office of the vice president. Vice President Cheney held a tremendous amount of power and frequently made policy decisions on his own, without the knowledge of the president. [32] During the 2008 presidential campaign, both vice presidential candidates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, said the office had expanded too much under Cheney's tenure both said they would reduce the role to simply being an adviser to the president. [33] This rapid growth has led to calls for abolition of the vice presidency from various constitutional scholars and political commentators such as Matthew Yglesias and Bruce Ackerman. [34] [35]

Stepping stone to the presidency Edit

In addition to the nine vice presidents who succeeded to the presidency intra-term—four of whom subsequently won election to a full term—six became president after serving one or more full terms as vice president, namely: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, and Joe Biden. Of these, two—Adams and Jefferson—were the first holders of the office in the pre-Twelfth Amendment era when vice presidents were the runners-up in the presidential election, and three—Nixon, Bush and Biden—are from the modern era of growing vice presidential power. All but Nixon and Biden went directly from one office to the other. All totaled, 15 VPs would go on to become president.

In recent decades, the vice presidency has frequently been used as a platform to launch bids for the presidency. The transition of the office to its modern stature occurred primarily as a result of Franklin Roosevelt's 1940 presidential nomination, when he captured the ability to nominate his running mate instead of leaving the nomination to the convention. Prior to that, party bosses often used the vice presidential nomination as a consolation prize for the party's minority faction. A further factor potentially contributing to the rise in prestige of the office was the adoption of presidential preference primaries in the early 20th century. By adopting primary voting, the field of candidates for vice president was expanded by both the increased quantity and quality of presidential candidates successful in some primaries, yet who ultimately failed to capture the presidential nomination at the convention.

Of the 13 presidential elections from 1956 to 2004, nine featured the incumbent president and the other four featured the incumbent vice president as a presidential candidate: 1960 (Richard Nixon) 1968 (Hubert Humphrey) 1988 (George H. W. Bush) 2000 (Al Gore). Three presidential elections since the 1960s have featured a former vice president as a presidential candidate: 1968 (Richard Nixon) 1984 (Walter Mondale) 2020 (Joe Biden).

Although delegates to the constitutional convention approved establishing the office, with both its executive and senatorial functions, not many understood the office, and so they gave the vice president few duties and little power. [18] Only a few states had an analogous position. Among those that did, New York's constitution provided that "the lieutenant-governor shall, by virtue of his office, be president of the Senate, and, upon an equal division, have a casting voice in their decisions, but not vote on any other occasion." [36] As a result, the vice presidency originally had authority in only a few areas, although constitutional amendments have added or clarified some matters.

President of the United States Senate Edit

Article I, Section 3, Clause 4 confers upon the vice president the title president of the Senate and authorizes them to preside over Senate meetings. In this capacity, the vice president is responsible for maintaining order and decorum, recognizing members to speak, and interpreting the Senate's rules, practices, and precedent. With this position also comes the authority to cast a tie-breaking vote. In practice, the number of times vice presidents have exercised this right has varied greatly. John C. Calhoun holds the record at 31 votes, followed closely by John Adams with 29. [18] During his first year in office (through January 24, 2018), Mike Pence cast eight tie-breaking votes his predecessor, Joe Biden, did not cast any during his eight years in office. [37]

As the framers of the Constitution anticipated that the vice president would not always be available to fulfill this responsibility, the Constitution provides that the Senate may elect a president pro tempore (or "president for a time") in order to maintain the proper ordering of the legislative process. In practice, since the early 20th century, the president of the Senate rarely presides, nor does the President pro tempore. Instead, the president pro tempore regularly delegates the task to other Senate members. [38] Rule XIX, which governs debate, does not authorize the vice president to participate in debate, and grants only to members of the Senate (and, upon appropriate notice, former presidents of the United States) the privilege of addressing the Senate, without granting a similar privilege to the sitting vice president. Thus, Time magazine wrote in 1925, during the tenure of Vice President Charles G. Dawes, "once in four years the Vice President can make a little speech, and then he is done. For four years he then has to sit in the seat of the silent, attending to speeches ponderous or otherwise, of deliberation or humor." [39]

President of impeachment trials Edit

In their capacity as president of the Senate, the vice president may preside over most impeachment trials of federal officers, although the Constitution does not specifically require it. However, whenever the president of the United States is on trial, the Constitution requires that the Chief Justice of the United States must preside. This stipulation was designed to avoid the possible conflict of interest in having the vice president preside over the trial for the removal of the one official standing between them and the presidency. [40] In contrast, it is not stipulated which federal official presides when the vice president is tried [11] thus leaving it unclear whether an impeached vice president could, as President of the Senate, preside at his or her own impeachment trial. The Constitution is silent on the issue. [41]

President of electoral vote counts Edit

The Twelfth Amendment provides that the vice president, in their capacity as President of the Senate, receives the Electoral College votes, and then, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, opens the sealed votes. [16] The votes are counted during a joint session of Congress as prescribed by the Electoral Count Act, which also specifies that the president of the Senate presides over the joint session. [42] The next such joint session will next take place following the 2024 presidential election, on January 6, 2025 (unless Congress sets a different date by law). [17]

In this capacity, four vice presidents have been able to announce their own election to the presidency: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and George H. W. Bush. [18] Conversely, John C. Breckinridge, in 1861, [43] Richard Nixon, in 1961, [44] and Al Gore, in 2001, [45] all had to announce their opponent's election. In 1969, Vice President Hubert Humphrey would have done so as well, following his 1968 loss to Richard Nixon however, on the date of the Congressional joint session, Humphrey was in Norway attending the funeral of Trygve Lie, the first elected Secretary-General of the United Nations. The president pro tempore, Richard Russell, presided in his absence. [44] On February 8, 1933, Vice President Charles Curtis announced the election of his successor, House Speaker John Nance Garner, while Garner was seated next to him on the House dais. [46] Most recently, on January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence announced the election of his successor, Kamala Harris.

Successor to the U.S. president Edit

Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 stipulates that the vice president takes over the "powers and duties" of the presidency in the event of a president's removal, death, resignation, or inability. [47] Even so, it does not clearly state whether the vice president became President of the United States or simply acted as president in a case of succession. Debate records from the 1787 Constitutional Convention, along with various participants' later writings on the subject, show that the framers of the Constitution intended that the vice president would temporarily exercise the powers and duties of the office in the event of a president's death, disability or removal, but not actually become President of the United States in their own right. [48] [49]

This understanding was first tested in 1841, following the death of President William Henry Harrison, only 31 days into his term. Harrison's vice president, John Tyler, asserted that he had succeeded to the office of president, not just to its powers and duties. He took the presidential oath of office, and declined to acknowledge documents referring to him as "Acting President". [50] Although some in Congress denounced Tyler's claim as a violation of the Constitution, [47] he adhered to his position. Tyler's view ultimately prevailed when the Senate and House voted to acknowledge him as president, [51] setting a momentous precedent for an orderly transfer of presidential power following a president's death, [50] one made explicit by Section 1 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1967. [52] In total, nine vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency intra-term. In addition to Tyler, they are Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Gerald Ford. [48]

Temporary successor for presidential disabilities Edit

Sections 3 and 4 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment provide for situations where the president is temporarily unable to lead, such as if the president has a surgical procedure, becomes seriously ill or injured, or is otherwise unable to discharge the powers or duties of the presidency. Section 3 deals with self-declared incapacity, and Section 4 addresses incapacity declared by the joint action of the vice president and of a majority of the Cabinet. [53] While Section 4 has never been invoked, Section 3 has been invoked on three occasions by two presidents. President Ronald Reagan did so once, on July 13, 1985, before undergoing surgery—Vice President George H. W. Bush was acting president for approximately eight hours. President George W. Bush did so twice, on June 29, 2002, and July 21, 2007, prior to undergoing medical procedures, which were done under sedation—Vice President Dick Cheney was acting president for approximately two hours on each occasion. [54]

Sections 3 and 4 were added because there was ambiguity in the Article II succession clause regarding a disabled president, including what constituted an "inability", who determined the existence of an inability, and if a vice president became president for the rest of the presidential term in the case of an inability or became merely "acting president". During the 19th and first half of the 20th century several presidents experienced periods of severe illness, physical disability or injury, some lasting for weeks or months. During these times, even though the nation needed effective presidential leadership, no vice president wanted to seem like a usurper, and so power was never transferred. After President Dwight D. Eisenhower openly addressed his health issues and made it a point to enter into an agreement with Vice President Richard Nixon that provided for Nixon to act on his behalf in the event that Eisenhower became unable to provide effective presidential leadership (Nixon did informally assume some of the president's duties for several weeks on each of three occasions when Eisenhower was ill), discussions began in Congress about clearing up the Constitution's ambiguity on the subject. [47] [53]

The present-day power of the office flows primarily from formal and informal delegations of authority from the president and Congress. [11] These delegations can vary in significance for example, the vice president is a statutory member of both the National Security Council and the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. [9] The extent of the roles and functions of the vice president depend on the specific relationship between the president and the vice president, but often include tasks such as drafter and spokesperson for the administration's policies, adviser to the president, and being a symbol of American concern or support. The influence of the vice president in these roles depends almost entirely on the characteristics of the particular administration.

Presidential advisor Edit

Most recent vice presidents have been viewed as important presidential advisors. Walter Mondale wrote President Jimmy Carter a memo following the 1976 election stating his belief that his most important role would be as a "general adviser" to the president. [55] Al Gore was an important adviser to President Bill Clinton on matters of foreign policy and the environment. Dick Cheney was widely regarded as one of President George W. Bush's closest confidants. Joe Biden asked President Barack Obama to let him always be the "last person in the room" when a big decision was made and to have a weekly lunch with the president later, as president himself, Biden would adopt this model with his own vice president, Kamala Harris. [56] [57]

Governing partner Edit

Recent vice presidents have been delegated authority by Presidents to handle significant issue areas independently. Joe Biden, who both held the office himself and selected a candidate for it as his running mate, has observed that the presidency is "too big anymore for any one man or woman". [58] Dick Cheney was considered to hold a tremendous amount of power and frequently made policy decisions on his own, without the knowledge of the president. [32] Biden was assigned by Barack Obama to oversee Iraq policy: Obama was said to have said, "Joe, you do Iraq." [59] In 2020, Mike Pence was assigned by President Donald Trump to oversee the task force responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congressional liaison Edit

The vice president is often an important liaison between the administration and Congress, especially in situations where the president has not previously served in Congress or served only briefly. Vice presidents are often selected as running mates in part due to their legislative relationships, notably including Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Walter Mondale, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, and Mike Pence among others. In recent years, Dick Cheney held weekly meetings in the Vice President's Room at the United States Capitol, Joe Biden played a key role in bipartisan budget negotiations, and Mike Pence often met with House and Senate Republicans. Kamala Harris, the current Vice President, presides over a 50–50 split Senate, potentially providing her with a key role in passing bills.

Representative at events Edit

Under the American system of government the president is both head of state and head of government, [60] and the ceremonial duties of the former position are often delegated to the vice president. The vice president will on occasion represent the president and the U.S. government at state funerals abroad, or at various events in the United States. This often is the most visible role of the vice president. The vice president may also meet with other heads of state at times when the administration wishes to demonstrate concern or support but cannot send the president personally.

National Security Council member Edit

Since 1949, the vice president has legally been a member of the National Security Council. Harry Truman, having not been told about any war or post-war plans during his vice presidency (notably the Manhattan Project), recognized that upon assuming the presidency a vice president needed to be already informed on such issues. Modern vice presidents have also been included in the president's daily intelligence briefings [56] and frequently participate in meetings in the Situation Room with the president.

Eligibility Edit

To be constitutionally eligible to serve as the nation's vice president, a person must, according to the Twelfth Amendment, meet the eligibility requirements to become president (which are stated in Article II, Section 1, Clause 5). Thus, to serve as vice president, an individual must:

A person who meets the above qualifications is still disqualified from holding the office of vice president under the following conditions:

  • Under Article I, Section 3, Clause 7, upon conviction in impeachment cases, the Senate has the option of disqualifying convicted individuals from holding federal office, including that of vice president
  • Under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, no person who has sworn an oath to support the Constitution, who has later gone to war against the United States, or given aid and comfort to the nation's enemies can serve in a state or federal office—including as vice president. This disqualification, originally aimed at former supporters of the Confederacy, may be removed by a two-thirds vote of each house of the Congress. [62]
  • Under the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ". no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice President of the United States." [61]

Nomination Edit

The vice presidential candidates of the major national political parties are formally selected by each party's quadrennial nominating convention, following the selection of the party's presidential candidate. The official process is identical to the one by which the presidential candidates are chosen, with delegates placing the names of candidates into nomination, followed by a ballot in which candidates must receive a majority to secure the party's nomination.

In practice, the presidential nominee has considerable influence on the decision, and in the 20th century it became customary for that person to select a preferred running mate, who is then nominated and accepted by the convention. In recent years, with the presidential nomination usually being a foregone conclusion as the result of the primary process, the selection of a vice presidential candidate is often announced prior to the actual balloting for the presidential candidate, and sometimes before the beginning of the convention itself. The first presidential candidate to choose his vice presidential candidate was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. [63] The last not to name a vice presidential choice, leaving the matter up to the convention, was Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1956. The convention chose Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver over Massachusetts Senator (and later president) John F. Kennedy. At the tumultuous 1972 Democratic convention, presidential nominee George McGovern selected Senator Thomas Eagleton as his running mate, but numerous other candidates were either nominated from the floor or received votes during the balloting. Eagleton nevertheless received a majority of the votes and the nomination, though he later resigned from the ticket, resulting in Sargent Shriver becoming McGovern's final running mate both lost to the Nixon–Agnew ticket by a wide margin, carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

During times in a presidential election cycle before the identity of the presidential nominee is clear, including cases where the presidential nomination is still in doubt as the convention approaches, campaigns for the two positions may become intertwined. In 1976, Ronald Reagan, who was trailing President Gerald R. Ford in the presidential delegate count, announced prior to the Republican National Convention that, if nominated, he would select Senator Richard Schweiker as his running mate. Reagan was the first presidential aspirant to announce his selection for vice president before the beginning of the convention. Reagan's supporters then unsuccessfully sought to amend the convention rules so that Gerald R. Ford would be required to name his vice presidential running mate in advance as well. This move backfired to a degree, as Schweiker's relatively liberal voting record alienated many of the more conservative delegates who were considering a challenge to party delegate selection rules to improve Reagan's chances. In the end, Ford narrowly won the presidential nomination and Reagan's selection of Schweiker became moot.

In the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries which pitted Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama, Clinton suggested a Clinton–Obama ticket with Obama in the vice president slot as it would be "unstoppable" against the presumptive Republican nominee. Obama rejected the offer outright saying "I want everybody to be absolutely clear. I'm not running for vice president. I'm running for president of the United States of America" while noting "With all due respect. I won twice as many states as Senator Clinton. I've won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton. I have more delegates than Senator Clinton. So, I don't know how somebody who's in second place is offering vice presidency to the person who's in first place." Obama said the nomination process would have to be a choice between himself and Clinton, saying "I don't want anybody here thinking that 'Somehow, maybe I can get both,'" by nominating Clinton and assuming he would be her running mate. [64] [65] Some suggested that it was a ploy by the Clinton campaign to denigrate Obama as less qualified for the presidency. [66] Later, when Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee, former president Jimmy Carter cautioned against Clinton being picked for the vice president slot on the ticket, saying "I think it would be the worst mistake that could be made. That would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates," citing opinion polls showing 50% of US voters with a negative view of Hillary Clinton. [67]

Selection criteria Edit

Though the vice president does not need to have any political experience, most major-party vice presidential nominees are current or former United States senators or representatives, with the occasional nominee being a current or former governor, a high-ranking military officer, or a holder of a major post within the Executive Department. In addition, the vice presidential nominee has always been an official resident of a different state than the presidential nominee. While nothing in the Constitution prohibits a presidential candidate and his or her running mate being from the same state, the "inhabitant clause" of the Twelfth Amendment does mandate that every presidential elector must cast a ballot for at least one candidate who is not from their own state. Prior to the 2000 election, both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney lived in and voted in Texas. To avoid creating a potential problem for Texas's electors, Cheney changed his residency back to Wyoming prior to the campaign. [61]

Often, the presidential nominee will name a vice presidential candidate who will bring geographic or ideological balance to the ticket or appeal to a particular constituency. The vice presidential candidate might also be chosen on the basis of traits the presidential candidate is perceived to lack, or on the basis of name recognition. To foster party unity, popular runners-up in the presidential nomination process are commonly considered. While this selection process may enhance the chances of success for a national ticket, in the past it often insured that the vice presidential nominee represented regions, constituencies, or ideologies at odds with those of the presidential candidate. As a result, vice presidents were often excluded from the policy-making process of the new administration. Many times their relationships with the president and his staff were aloof, non-existent, or even adversarial.

Historically, the focus was on geographic and ideological balance, widening a presidential candidate's appeal to voters from outside their regional base or wing of the party. Candidates from electoral-vote rich states were usually preferred. However, in 1992, moderate Democrat Bill Clinton (of Arkansas) chose moderate Democrat Al Gore (of Tennessee) as his running mate. Despite the two candidates' near-identical ideological and regional backgrounds, Gore's extensive experience in national affairs enhanced the appeal of a ticket headed by Clinton, whose political career had been spent entirely at the state level of government. In 2000, George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney of Wyoming, a reliably Republican state with only three electoral votes, and in 2008, Barack Obama mirrored Bush's strategy when he chose Joe Biden of Delaware, a reliably Democratic state, likewise one with only three electoral votes. Cheney and Biden were each chosen for their experience in national politics (experience lacked by both Bush and Obama) rather than the ideological balance or electoral vote advantage they would provide.

The ultimate goal of vice presidential candidate selection is to help and not hurt the party's chances of getting elected nonetheless, several vice presidential selections have been controversial. In 1984, Democratic nominee Walter Mondale's groundbreaking choice of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate (the first woman in U.S. history nominated for vice president by a major political party), became a drag on the ticket due to repeated questions about her husband's finances. A selection whose positive traits make the presidential candidate look less favorable in comparison or which can cause the presidential candidate's judgment to be questioned often backfire, such as in 1988 when Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis chose experienced Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen Bentsen was considered a more seasoned statesman in federal politics and somewhat overshadowed Dukakis. Questions about Dan Quayle's experience were raised in the 1988 presidential campaign of George H. W. Bush, but the Bush–Quayle ticket still won handily. James Stockdale, the choice of third-party candidate Ross Perot in 1992, was seen as unqualified by many and Stockdale had little preparation for the vice presidential debate, but the Perot–Stockdale ticket still won about 19% of the vote. In 2008, Republican John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate over his primary rivals and/or campaign surrogates such as Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge. This surprise move would, it was hoped, draw women voters disappointed by Hillary Clinton's defeat in the Democratic presidential primaries into the McCain camp. Palin's selection soon came to be seen as a negative for McCain, due to her several controversies during her gubernatorial tenure which were highlighted by the press, and her feuding with McCain campaign chairman Steve Schmidt. This perception continued to grow throughout the campaign, especially after her interviews with Katie Couric led to concerns about her fitness for the presidency. [68]

Election Edit

The vice president is elected indirectly by the voters of each state and the District of Columbia through the Electoral College, a body of electors formed every four years for the sole purpose of electing the president and vice president to concurrent four-year terms. Each state is entitled to a number of electors equal to the size of its total delegation in both houses of Congress. Additionally, the Twenty-third Amendment provides that the District of Columbia is entitled to the number it would have if it were a state, but in no case more than that of the least populous state. [69] Currently, all states and D.C. select their electors based on a popular election held on Election Day. [17] In all but two states, the party whose presidential-vice presidential ticket receives a plurality of popular votes in the state has its entire slate of elector nominees chosen as the state's electors. [70] Maine and Nebraska deviate from this winner-take-all practice, awarding two electors to the statewide winner and one to the winner in each congressional district. [71] [72]

On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, about six weeks after the election, the electors convene in their respective states (and in Washington D.C.) to vote for president and, on a separate ballot, for vice president. The certified results are opened and counted during a joint session of Congress, held in the first week of January. A candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes for vice president (currently 270 of 538) is declared the winner. If no candidate has a majority, the Senate must meet to elect a vice president using a contingent election procedure in which senators, casting votes individually, choose between the two candidates who received the most electoral votes for vice president. For a candidate to win the contingent election, they must receive votes from an absolute majority of senators (currently 51 of 100). [17] [73]

There has been only one vice presidential contingent election since the process was created by the Twelfth Amendment. It occurred on February 8, 1837, after no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes cast for vice president in the 1836 election. By a 33–17 vote, Richard M. Johnson (Martin Van Buren's running mate) was elected the nation's ninth vice president over Francis Granger. [74]

Inauguration Edit

Pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment, the vice president's term of office begins at noon on January 20, as does the president's. [75] The first presidential and vice presidential terms to begin on this date, known as Inauguration Day, were the second terms of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Vice President John Nance Garner in 1937. [76] Previously, Inauguration Day was on March 4. As a result of the date change, both men's first terms (1933–37) were short of four years by 43 days. [77]

Also in 1937, the vice president's swearing-in ceremony was held on the Inaugural platform on the Capitol's east front immediately before the president's swearing in. Up until then, most vice presidents took the oath of office in the Senate chamber, prior to the president's swearing-in ceremony. [78] Although the Constitution contains the specific wording of the presidential oath, it contains only a general requirement, in Article VI, that the vice president and other government officers shall take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution. The current form, which has been used since 1884 reads:

I, (first name last name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God. [79]

Term of office Edit

The term of office for both the vice president and the president is four years. While the Twenty-Second Amendment sets a limit on the number of times an individual can be elected to the presidency (two), [80] there is no such limitation on the office of vice president, meaning an eligible person could hold the office as long as voters continued to vote for electors who in turn would reelect the person to the office one could even serve under different presidents. This has happened twice: George Clinton (1805–1812) served under both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and John C. Calhoun (1825–1832) served under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. [18] Additionally, neither the Constitution's eligibility provisions nor the Twenty-second Amendment's presidential term limit explicitly disqualify a twice-elected president from serving as vice president, though it is arguably prohibited by the last sentence of the Twelfth Amendment: "But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States." [81] As of the 2020 election cycle however, no former president has tested the amendment's legal restrictions or meaning by running for the vice presidency. [82] [83]

Impeachment Edit

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution allows for the removal of federal officials, including the vice president, from office for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors". No vice president has ever been impeached.

Vacancies Edit

Prior to the ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1967, no constitutional provision existed for filling an intra-term vacancy in the vice presidency.

As a result, when one occurred, the office was left vacant until filled through the next ensuing election and inauguration. Between 1812 and 1965, the vice presidency was vacant on sixteen occasions, as a result of seven deaths, one resignation, and eight cases of the vice president succeeding to the presidency. With the vacancy that followed the succession of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963, the nation had been without a vice president for a cumulative total of 37 years. [84] [85]

Section 2 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment provides that "whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress." [4] This procedure has been implemented twice since the amendment came into force: the first instance occurred in 1973 following the October 10 resignation of Spiro Agnew, when Gerald Ford was nominated by President Richard Nixon and confirmed by Congress. The second occurred ten months later on August 9, 1974, on Ford's accession to the presidency upon Nixon's resignation, when Nelson Rockefeller was nominated by President Ford and confirmed by Congress. [47] [85]

Had it not been for this new constitutional mechanism, the vice presidency would have remained vacant after Agnew's resignation the Speaker of the House, Carl Albert, would have become Acting President when Nixon resigned under the terms of the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. [86]

Vice presidential vacancies [18] [48]
Period of vacancy Cause of vacancy Length Vacancy filled by
0 1 • April 20, 1812 –
March 4, 1813
Death of George Clinton 318 days Election of 1812
0 2 • November 23, 1814 –
March 4, 1817
Death of Elbridge Gerry 2 years, 101 days Election of 1816
0 3 • December 28, 1832 –
March 4, 1833
Resignation of John C. Calhoun 66 days Election of 1832
0 4 • April 4, 1841 –
March 4, 1845
Accession of John Tyler as president 3 years, 334 days Election of 1844
0 5 • July 9, 1850 –
March 4, 1853
Accession of Millard Fillmore as president 2 years, 238 days Election of 1852
0 6 • April 18, 1853 –
March 4, 1857
Death of William R. King 3 years, 320 days Election of 1856
0 7 • April 15, 1865 –
March 4, 1869
Accession of Andrew Johnson as president 3 years, 323 days Election of 1868
0 8 • November 22, 1875 –
March 4, 1877
Death of Henry Wilson 1 year, 102 days Election of 1876
0 9 • September 19, 1881 –
March 4, 1885
Accession of Chester A. Arthur as president 3 years, 166 days Election of 1884
10 • November 25, 1885 –
March 4, 1889
Death of Thomas A. Hendricks 3 years, 99 days Election of 1888
11 • November 21, 1899 –
March 4, 1901
Death of Garret Hobart 1 year, 103 days Election of 1900
12 • September 14, 1901 –
March 4, 1905
Accession of Theodore Roosevelt as president 3 years, 171 days Election of 1904
13 • October 30, 1912 –
March 4, 1913
Death of James S. Sherman 125 days Election of 1912
14 • August 2, 1923 –
March 4, 1925
Accession of Calvin Coolidge as president 1 year, 214 days Election of 1924
15 • April 12, 1945 –
January 20, 1949
Accession of Harry S. Truman as president 3 years, 283 days Election of 1948
16 • November 22, 1963 –
January 20, 1965
Accession of Lyndon B. Johnson as president 1 year, 59 days Election of 1964
17 • October 10, 1973 –
December 6, 1973
Resignation of Spiro Agnew 57 days Confirmation of successor
18 • August 9, 1974 –
December 19, 1974
Accession of Gerald Ford as president 132 days Confirmation of successor

Salary Edit

The vice president's salary is $235,100. [87] The salary was set by the 1989 Government Salary Reform Act, which also provides an automatic cost of living adjustment for federal employees. The vice president does not automatically receive a pension based on that office, but instead receives the same pension as other members of Congress based on their position as president of the Senate. [88] The vice president must serve a minimum of two years to qualify for a pension. [89]

Residence Edit

The home of the vice president was designated in 1974, when Congress established Number One Observatory Circle as the official temporary residence of the vice president of the United States. In 1966 Congress, concerned about safety and security and mindful of the increasing responsibilities of the office, allotted money ($75,000) to fund construction of a residence for the vice president, but implementation stalled and after eight years the decision was revised, and One Observatory Circle was then designated for the vice president. [90] Up until the change, vice presidents lived in homes, apartments, or hotels, and were compensated more like cabinet members and members of Congress, receiving only a housing allowance.

The three-story Queen Anne style mansion was built in 1893 on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., to serve as residence for the superintendent of the Observatory. In 1923, the residence was reassigned to be the home of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), which it was until it was turned over to the office of the vice president fifty years later.

Staff Edit

The vice president is supported by personnel in the Office of the Vice President of the United States. The Office was created in the Reorganization Act of 1939, which included an "office of the Vice President" under the Executive Office of the President. Salary for the staff is provided by both legislative and executive branch appropriations, in light of the vice president's roles in each branch.

Office spaces Edit

In the modern era, the vice president makes use of at least four different office spaces. These include an office in the West Wing, a ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near where most of the vice president's staff works, the Vice President's Room on the Senate side of the United States Capitol for meetings with members of Congress, and an office at the vice president's residence.

As of April 2021 [update] , there are five living former vice presidents. [91] The most recent former vice president to die was Walter Mondale (1977–1981), on April 19, 2021. The living former vice presidents, in order of service are:


Socrates in the Age of Trump

ATHENS — When Socrates was condemned to death by a court of his fellow Athenians in 399 B.C., his friends arranged his escape. They had the money to bribe the prison’s guards and understood that the authorities would be quite happy to see the troublesome philosopher flee into exile.

All that was needed was that Socrates agree. He refused, arguing that he had lived by the law and would not violate it now.

My father told me this story when I was too young to understand. All I remembered — maybe it was all that mattered — was that a famous man chose to die because obeying the law was more important than living. Reading Socrates in the age of Trump adds another dimension to the story: our responsibility for the personal choices that affect society.

President Trump is roughly the same age as Socrates when he died (70) and is just as stubborn. There ends any resemblance between the American president and the Athenian gadfly.

Socrates lived his life as an endless examination of what is good and true and right, seeking neither office nor wealth Mr. Trump is a know-it-all demagogue who treats the highest office as his right. Socrates served his city as a soldier in war when called upon Mr. Trump played the system — avoiding military service, exploiting legal loopholes and connections, amassing riches. Socrates said he pursued knowledge because he knew nothing, and that people had to learn from experts, not follow the crowd. Mr. Trump proclaims himself the best at everything and gives the crowd what it wants, in order to make it his. He belittles experts, even his own country’s foreign service. “I’m the only one that matters,” he declares.

In arguing for his life before a jury of 501 of his fellow citizens, Socrates rejected the charges of corrupting Athens’s youth and of creating new gods. But he refused to make a plea for exile, saying that rather than punish him the city should reward him for asking questions. When the death sentence was handed down, he accepted his fate calmly. He had chosen to live in Athens and this meant that he would respect its laws even when they worked against him, he said.

The United States president calls his country’s judiciary “a laughingstock.” He rails against any check on his authority, disagreeing with investigations into his associates, demanding the prosecution of political rivals. His lack of interest in the Constitution that he is sworn to uphold is breathtaking.

Socrates’ rational arguments should have easily refuted the charges against him, but to him this was secondary to the fact that he had been tried and sentenced according to the law. The process did not allow for an appeal.

“Both in war and in courts and everywhere else, one must obey the commands of one’s city and country, or persuade it as to the nature of justice,” Socrates tells his friend Crito, in a dialogue written by Plato, another of his friends and pupils. The law, Socrates argues, provides two alternatives: Citizens can either use persuasion to change it, or they must do as it says.

Agreeing with laws only when they suit us is not an option. By choosing to live in Athens and to raise children there, Socrates had shown in both words and deeds that he agreed to live in accordance with its laws. Violating them now would be a rejection of all that he had said and done throughout his life. Clinging to life, in other words, would make living worthless.

Unable to best Socrates’ arguments, his friends are obliged to agree with him. All they can do is be with him in the hours before he is given the poison that will kill him. Socrates uses the time to discuss how one should live, because, as he said at his trial, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

At the time of Socrates’ trial, Athens was a dangerous place for principled citizens. Just five years earlier, the city lost an almost three-decade war with its great rival, Sparta, and a harsh oligarchy had been imposed. During their reign of terror, the oligarchs ordered Socrates and four others to arrest a fellow citizen so that he might be executed. The philosopher refused, and escaped death only because the oligarchy collapsed when exiled democrats rebelled.

The democracy that followed was unsettled, vindictive and suspicious of new ideas. Socrates had been a figure for debate for decades. In 423 B.C., in “The Clouds,” the comic playwright Aristophanes lampooned him as making wrong appear right — inspiring the later charges that cost him his life. Furthermore, Socrates had also once taught a younger man, Critias, who became one of the oligarchy’s leaders, and some saw this as a reason to prosecute him. Socrates’ trial and execution would prove an indelible blot on democracy’s legacy, but other leading intellectuals, too, were prosecuted, including the natural philosopher Anaxagoras, who left the city after being accused of “impiety.”

Directing his most probing and provocative questions against the pompous and self-righteous, sharing his thoughts with rich and poor, Socrates was the quintessential anti-populist. This was bound to gain him enemies from all quarters. He knew the risks. But having seen no reason to bow to the oligarchs, he would not compromise with the many, either.

“No man will survive who genuinely opposes you or any other crowd and prevents the occurrence of many unjust and illegal happenings in the city,” he told his prosecutors and jury. “It is not difficult to avoid death, gentlemen it is much more difficult to avoid wickedness, for it runs much faster than death.”

In 406 B.C., after a naval battle that was the last Athenian victory in the war with Sparta, the Athenians tried their own generals for not picking up survivors and their sailors’ corpses (a violent storm had prevented this). Socrates, who was serving on the citizens assembly presiding committee, was the only member to vote against trying all the men as a body. Of the generals, all six who had chosen to return to Athens were executed in a verdict that, along with Socrates’, was later seen as regrettable.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, rode a wave of nationalistic populism to power. He presented himself as a man of the people not through shared struggles but in a communion of simplistic denunciations of anyone outside his supporters’ circle. His common touch was not humility, but pandering to prejudice.

Choosing death before dishonor is not unique to one person, one era or one society. But when a person responsible to no one but himself sees the law as more important than himself, even when it has been unjust, we must ask: Should not the leader of the world’s most powerful nation hold himself to a similar standard?

Ephemeral tweet storms and voracious news cycles may cause us to forget that history judges its protagonists on what they contributed to their society. Socrates’ shameful murder is eclipsed by the majesty of his devotion to the institutions of the city that sentenced him to death. This, in turn, reflects well on his city — that it should have such a citizen. Donald Trump’s disdain for truth and institutions, his chaotic words and deeds, do not augur well for his country or his legacy. What will parents tell their children about him?


How Washington's Farewell Address Inspired Future Presidents

Hyper-partisanship. Excessive debt. Foreign influence in our elections. Sounds like a litany of some of America’s greatest challenges.

But some threats never end and these topped the list of what kept George Washington up at night, fearing for the future of the nation he helped found.

They were cautionary touchstones of Washington’s final revolutionary act: a Farewell Address in which the nation’s first president voluntarily stepped down from power, establishing the two-term tradition. Instead of delivering the message to Congress, Washington instead delivered it directly to the American people in the pages of a Philadelphia newspaper on September 19, 1796. It quickly became the most famous address in the nation, more widely reprinted than the Declaration of Independence for the first 100 years of our republic.

No valedictory victory lap, Washington’s farewell warning was a prescient document, full of durable wisdom that inspired and informed presidents from Lincoln to Eisenhower to Reagan and Obama, to name just a few. Below, are examples of how great statesmen have studied and applied the lessons of history, providing a conversation across the ages:

George Washington’s Farewell Address, written in his own hand, on display at the New York State Museum. (Credit: Mike Groll/AP Photo)

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Civil War was the revolutionary generation’s greatest fear, preoccupying George Washington’s presidency. But two generations later, war loomed. And during the 1860 presidential campaign, the nominee of the newly formed Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, cited the Farewell Address repeatedly in his stump speech, calling out the divisiveness that had led the nation to the brink:

“Some of you delight to flaunt in our faces the warning against sectional parties given by Washington in his Farewell Address,” Lincoln said. 𠇌ould Washington himself speak, would he cast the blame of that sectionalism upon us, who sustain his policy, or upon you who repudiate it? We respect that warning of Washington, and we commend it to you, together with his example pointing to the right application of it.”

In the heat of the presidential campaign, Lincoln presented himself as Washington’s heir, defending his legacy against the secession-threatening southern Democrats. Lincoln nailed the hypocrisy of men who tried to twist history to their advantage while ignoring original intentions, �lling not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance…imploring men to undo what Washington did.”

One month after Lincoln was inaugurated, the southern states launched the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Washington’s worst fear had come to pass.

President Lincoln meets with soldiers and military officers of the Union Army on the battlefield of Antietam, Maryland, 1862. (Credit: Corbis/Getty Images)

But the Farewell Address remained a means of rallying what was left of the Union. With the war raging, citizens of Philadelphia, to commemorate Washington’s first birthday celebration since the rebellion’s outbreak, petitioned Congress to read “that immortal Farewell Address which even in the pages of British history is pronounced ‘unequaled by any composition of uninspired wisdom.’ ”

In response, Lincoln issued a presidential directive that Washington’s birthday be commemorated in 1862 with readings of the Farewell Address nationwide, including 𠇊t every military post and at the head of the several regiments and corps of the Army.”

The extensive excerpts selected by Lincoln focused, logically enough, on the need to maintain a strong national union. Washington’s words took on renewed urgency against the backdrop of civil war:

“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad of your safety of your prosperity of that very liberty which you so highly prize…it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest.”

Government unity was now existentially threatened—in fact rather than theory. Now its fate would be determined on battlefields, as soldiers confronted the ultimate attempt to 𠇊lienate any portion of our country from the rest.” While Union soldiers gathered to listen to the Farewell read by their commanders in the field, a grand procession was occurring beneath the U.S. Capitol dome, which was still under construction. Lincoln ordered members of the House and Senate, as well as cabinet officials and justices of the Supreme Court, to witness a reading of the Farewell Address on Saturday, February 22, at noon.

It remains a Senate custom that continues to this day.

President Dwight Eisenhower and his press secretary, James Hagerty, make a final check of the chief executive’’s farewell address, 1961. (Credit: Bill Allen/AP Photo)

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

The second-most-famous farewell address in presidential history was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s wise warning against the rise of the military-industrial complex.

In May 1959, he pulled aside his chief speechwriter, Malcolm Moos, and said, “I want to say something when I leave here.” He envisioned a 10-minute farewell address to the American people. Moos recalled, “I think the statement was prompted by a book…that Alexander Hamilton drafted Washington’s Farewell Address.”

This spark of insight was relit by White House speechwriter Frederic Fox in a memo to Moos, dated April 5, 1960:

As the time for the president’s retirement draws near, I recommend your re-reading the �rewell Address” of George Washington. It is a beautifully wise and modest piece by a faithful public servant who loved his country.”

He went on to say: “I was struck by its relevance to our day: the call for Constitutional obedience the warnings about sectionalism the dangers of ‘overgrown military establishments’ but the necessity of maintaining a ‘respectable defensive posture’ the realistic attitude towards ‘that love of power and proneness to abuse it which predominate in the human heart’ the unhappy tendency of mankind ‘to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual’ the necessity for an enlightened public opinion the ungenerous habit of one generation to spend beyond its means and to throw ‘upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear’ the broad diplomatic advice. And much more.”

Eisenhower’s farewell address offered a defiant coda to his own presidency, with numerous parallels to the founding father, from highlighting his own instinctive political independence and disdain for partisan politics to speaking to the American people directly, rather than through the filter of an address to Congress. But what he most borrowed from Washington was the frame of the farewell as a warning to future generations.

Eisenhower wanted to caution his fellow Americans about the growing strength of what he first called “the military-industrial-congressional complex,” defining a new trend in American government. But the outgoing president identified the emerging issues of our era long before the advent of the internet or the time when the number of Washington lobbyists would outnumber members of Congress.

A draft of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address found in 2010. (Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)

“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” Ike said from the Oval Office on the night of January 17, his gray suit flickering on the black-and-white TV sets of the time. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

Eisenhower’s farewell address especially echoed Washington’s one-time warning against “those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.”

The fact that two of our most famous generals-turned-presidents took time to warn about the military establishment’s instinct to increase its power is a sobering commentary on the culture they knew so well. They were in unique positions to offer an honest critique: No serious politician could credibly accuse Washington or Eisenhower of being weak on national defense.

Ultimately, the overarching prescription from President Eisenhower was similar to what Washington had counseled as the ultimate check and balance: vigorous citizenship.

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” Ike advised, �n compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Ike’s advancement of the Farewell Address gave it renewed relevance in an atomic age.

Eisenhower also sounded the clarion call for generational fiscal responsibility: 𠇊s we peer into society’s future, we—you and I, and our government—must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come.”

More than a century and a half later, Washington’s Farewell Address was still inspiring successors to follow its precedent𠅊 presidential warning to future generations about the forces poised to derail our democratic republic.

President Ronald Reagan at Moscow State University, Russia. (Credit: Corbis/Getty Images)

RONALD REAGAN

Ronald Reagan found inspiration in Washington’s Farewell from a specific section: the importance of morality and virtue to a self-governing people, most often secured through religion.

Reagan quoted the Farewell Address on religion frequently, often when arguing for a constitutional amendment to allow prayer in schools. But Reagan’s most eloquent invocation of the Farewell came during his speech at Moscow State University in 1988.

It was a moment loaded with high drama: the conservative Cold Warrior speaking to students in the heart of the Soviet Union about his hopes for lasting peace amid the reforms of perestroika and a thawing Cold War𠅎ven as America and Russia kept nuclear weapons trained on each other’s cities.

𠇏reedom, it has been said, makes people selfish and materialistic, but Americans are one of the most religious peoples on earth,” Reagan said.

�use they know that liberty, just as life itself, is not earned, but a gift from God, they seek to share that gift with the world. ‘Reason and experience,’ said George Washington in his Farewell Address, 𠆋oth forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. And it is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.’ ”

�mocracy is less a system of government than it is a system to keep government limited, un-intrusive,” he continued, 𠇊 system of constraints on power to keep politics and government secondary to the important things in life, the true sources of value found only in family and faith.”

For Republicans spreading the gospel of freedom to an officially atheist state, Washington’s counsel about the role of faith and morality in a democracy took on new relevance.

President Barack Obama delivering his farewell speech at McCormick Place on January 10, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Credit: Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

BARACK OBAMA

On January 10th, 2017, President Barack Obama carried forward the tradition begun by Washington’s Farewell, warning his fellow citizens about threats to our democracy. In front of an adoring crowd of thousands that packed Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, Obama connected with Washington’s wisdom directly by quoting the first Farewell Address at length, giving it new prominence for a new generation:

“In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but 𠆏rom different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth’ that we should preserve it with ‘jealous anxiety’ that we should reject ‘the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties’ that make us one.”

Obama explained the continued relevance of the quote from Washington’s Farewell, saying: “We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others…

It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen.”

Over multiple drafts of the speech President Obama wrote with his chief speechwriter Cody Keenan, the core quote from Washington’s Farewell remained intact:

“It was in his consciousness, especially given the Washington Farewell’s focus about warning against hyper partisanship and the importance of national unity,” Keenan later explained to me, explaining the president’s reverence for the office confronting his concern about candidate Trump’s record of trolling in Birtherism and tearing down democratic norms and institutions. “The reason we used that Washington line was because a lot of times we all fall prey to this: We just accept people trying to divide us and tear us apart and convince us that one aspect of American society is inevitably corrupt or not to be trusted. And it is entirely up to us to believe that or not.”

Across the span of two and a half centuries, our country’s slave-owning first president and his African-American successor found considerable common ground and continuity of purpose.

Confronting the dangers of division to democracy, both Washington and Obama understood the same transcendent truth: Our independence as a nation is inseparable from our interdependence as a people.

Washington’s Farewell Address echoes on across the ages, perhaps now more relevant than ever before.

John Avlon is the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of The Daily Beast and a CNN political analyst. He is the author of such books as Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America, and Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnAvlon.

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Ronald Reagan's Age

Though Donald Trump is the oldest person to become president, Ronald Reagan was (so far) the oldest president in office, completing his second term in 1989 a few weeks shy of his 78th birthday. His age was often discussed in the media, particularly during the latter days of his final term, when there was speculation about his mental fitness. (Reagan was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, though a few close associates claim that he showed symptoms much earlier.)

But was Reagan really that much older than all the other presidents? It depends on how you look at the question. When he entered the White House, Reagan was less than two years older than William Henry Harrison, four years older than James Buchanan, and five years older than George H.W. Bush, who succeeded Reagan as president. However, the gaps grow wider when you look at the ages of these presidents when they left office. Reagan was a two-term president and left office at the age of 77. Harrison served only 1 month in office, and both Buchanan and Bush left office after serving only a single term.


Why We Pay Taxes

Since 1950, individual income taxes have been the primary source of revenue for the U.S. federal government. Together with payroll taxes (used to fund social programs like Social Security and Medicare), income taxes amount to roughly 80 percent of all federal revenue, and are the essential fuel on which our government runs.

The history of income taxes in the United States goes back to the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln signed into law the nation’s first-ever tax on personal income to help pay for the Union war effort. After it was repealed a decade later, Congress tried again in 1894, enacting a flat rate federal income tax. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the tax unconstitutional the following year, because it didn’t take into account the population of each state.

Then in 1909, Congress passed the 16th Amendment, which allowed the federal government to tax individual personal income regardless of state population. The required number of states ratified the amendment in 1913, and Americans have been required to pay federal income taxes ever since.

Who pays taxes, and when?
By law, any American whose gross income is over $10,000 (or $25,000 for married couples filing jointly) or who earned more than $400 from self-employment must file a federal income tax return. There are also a number of other circumstances that might require you to file, including selling your home or owing taxes on money you withdrew from your retirement account. In Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, residents aren’t required to pay federal income tax if their income is only from sources within Puerto Rico, but they do pay Social Security, Medicare, import, expert and commodity taxes, for a total federal tax bill of more than $3 billion per year, according to the New York Times.

Back in 1913, Congress chose March 1 as the official due date for paying taxes, but a few years later they moved it to March 15 (for no apparent reason). In 1955, another tax overhaul pushed back the deadline an entire month, to April 15, giving the government more time to hold on to tax dollars before paying any refunds it might owe. In the case that April 15 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday, Tax Day becomes the first succeeding business day after that date.

How are taxes calculated?
The federal income tax system is designed to be progressive, which means the more taxable income you make, the higher the tax rate. Taxpayers can often reduce the amount of tax they owe by using various tax credits, deductions and exclusions (or loopholes).

Tax rates have varied widely over the years, especially for the nation’s highest earners, ranging from an initial low of around 7 percent in 1913 to a top rate of 91 percent in the early 1960s. In 2016, taxpayers in the top tax bracket (income level) paid a tax rate of 39.6 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center they included some 860,000, or 0.5 percent of the total number of U.S. households. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. households were in the 15 percent bracket or lower, including those Americans with no taxable income and those who don’t file tax returns.

Because the United States has a marginal tax rate system, not all of an individual’s income may be taxed at the same rate. When you earn enough income to put you into a higher tax bracket, only the extra income in that bracket is taxed at the higher rate, not all of your income. For individuals in the highest tax bracket, their first dollars of income are taxed in the lowest bracket, and they go up from there.

U.S. Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 1040 Individual Income Tax forms for the 2017 tax year. (Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images

How are refunds decided?
Most Americans pay their taxes as they go through the year, rather than in one lump sum on Tax Day. Employees often have their income tax deducted from each paycheck and sent directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), while self-employed workers are required to pay estimated taxes quarterly. At the end of the year, if you’ve paid more than what you owe, the federal government will issue you a tax refund. The IRS typically sends out refunds within 21 days of receiving tax returns, but in some cases it can take as long as eight weeks.

What has changed in the recent tax law?
In late 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which represented the most significant change to the tax code in more than 30 years. The bill lowered tax rates in five out of the seven tax brackets, starting in 2018 and going through 2025. While it increased the standard deduction for both individuals and married couples filing jointly, the new law eliminated the personal exemption, which every individual had been entitled to claim on their tax return (provided they weren’t someone else’s dependent).

Among various other changes, the new tax law raised amounts that workers can contribute to retirement savings accounts, doubled the existing Child Tax Credit to $2,000 for every child in a household under 17 and expanded the use of funds in specialized college savings accounts (called 529s) to include other levels of education, like private K-12 schooling. In a benefit that applies only to a small percentage of wealthy Americans, the new law also doubled the estate tax exemption to $11.2 million per individual and $22.4 million per couple, greatly reducing the amount of families subject to the estate tax.

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