Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Unlikeliest President: Is Trump the Next Chester Arthur? (Part II)

Arthur held no political offices over his lifetime other than President and Vice President. However, Arthur was deeply involved in politics and helped many Stalwarts win office in New York. Arthur was rewarded for his allegiance and loyalty to Conkling and he appointed him to head up the powerful New York Customs House. Arthur gave up his successful lawyer business to be one of Conking’s yes men. During his time as a lawyer Arthur’s claim to fame was winning several important civil rights cases before the New York Supreme Court. However, Garfield did not chose or want Arthur as his running mate but Arthur was part of a compromise ticket with the Stalwarts: The goal was for the Vice Presidency to include a Stalwart from the important strategic state of New York. Conkling was too controversial and several other candidates declined the position. Hence, Arthur was chosen.

Many people feared that Arthur was just one person away from the White House. However, many did not think it was going to be a problem because Garfield was fit and still relatively young (49). However, the unthinkable happened just 4 months into the Garfield administration: he was shot by Charles Guiteau. Garfield would die from his wounds after a painful two month battle. Incidentally, Garfield’s injuries should not have been life threatening except for the fact that doctors and surgeons placed their germ laden fingers and instruments into the wound looking for the bullet. Hence, an infection took hold and of course there were no antibiotics to fight off the infection. Arthur was President! Arthur did not want the job. He lacked confidence to take over the Executive so much so he declined to run the office while Garfield was incapacitated for 2 months while he was fighting his wounds.

The strife between Stalwarts and Half-breeds was so deep that conspiracy theories began to gain traction that Guiteau was hired by Conkling and Arthur to assassinate Garfield. Guiteau had ties to Arthur and was quoted as saying “I am a Stalwart and Arthur is President now” after shooting Garfield. However, Guiteau had ties to many politicians because he was seeking an appointment to be the American Ambassador to France (he was not qualified). Guiteau even met with Garfield and Secretary of State Blaine.

Many thought the Arthur administration was doomed and it would be run by Conkling. However, to the surprise of many, the Arthur administration (although only 3.5 years long) was quite successful and highly underrated in American history. Arthur was able to get much more done than the overrated JFK administration did in 3 years. Part of the reason for Arthur’s success was the country united after the death of Garfield and the divisive politics that ravaged the political landscape ceased to exist. Arthur did not try to seek the Republican nomination in 1884 due to his failing health (he would die two years later in 1886). Many experts think Arthur would have defeated Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884 had he run for reelection, instead Cleveland defeated Blaine.

Arthur’s accomplishments include the long needed civil service reform. Ironically, Arthur was seen as benefiting from the corrupt civil service program when he was a politically appointee to head the New York Customs House. The reform called for civil service jobs to be appointed on merit instead of as political favors. Arthur rebuilt the old and outdated U.S. navy. Arthur worked hard to reform Southern disenfranchisement of blacks that continued long after the Civil War ended. Arthur gained Congressional monies used for the education of American-Indians (this was a huge change in political policy towards natives). He vetoed the unpopular and expensive Rivers and Harbors Act even though Congress overrode his veto. He signed into law popular protectionism tariffs. And Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act limiting Chinese immigration into the U.S.

Arthur’s accomplishments sound very similar to some of the key Trump platform goals in this presidential election. Trump wants to limit immigration from Muslim countries (temporarily until the immigration vetting process is improved). Trump wants to rebuild our Navy (as well as the entire military). Trump wants to reform the political quid pro quo system in Washington similar to the Arthur Civil Service Reform Act. Trump has been actively asking for the support of minorities since liberal policies over the past 50 to 60 years has failed them (Trump is reaching out to minorities in a similar way that Arthur did). And Trump is all for bringing back protectionism tariffs against countries that do not play “fairly” in free trade by doing things such as manipulating currency. Protectionism is also viewed as a mechanism to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States instead of moving them overseas to countries that have cheaper costs (by practicing unfair labor laws).

Trump, like Arthur, was a political outsider. Arthur was the least likely candidate to reform the Civil Service system which he previously took advantage of. Trump claims to want to reform the lobbying system which he openly admits to taking advantage of during his time as a real estate mogul. So, is Trump the next Chester Arthur to not only be an unlikely president but to be the effective and unlikely reformer?

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