Don't Know Much About History
March 8, 2020

If anybody else had tweeted a doctored photo of President Trump playing the fiddle as the new coronavirus spreads throughout the U.S. and wreaks havoc on the U.S. and global economies, the White House would probably protest vociferously. When White House social media director Dan Scavino tweeted out such a photo, saying Trump's next tune is "Nothing can stop what's coming," though, Trump retweeted it with the message: "Who knows what this means, but it sounds good to me!'"

Trump, of course, wasn't playing the violin over the weekend — he was playing golf at his private club in Florida. And since historical and cultural references to leaders fiddling are scarce, especially in times of disaster, lots of people on social media had no problem identifying what they believed the meme meant. Some were curious why Scavino tweeted it, however, or why Trump retweeted it.

Scavino is a federal employee — not a member of Trump's campaign, despite his normal posts — so maybe he's trying to warn Americans about the mood in the White House. Whatever it means, it sounds good to Trump. Which is another way of saying: Wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap, and try not to touch your face. Peter Weber

November 22, 2019

Ivanka Trump, daughter and White House adviser of President Trump, found a quote sure to please her father and cultural conservatives as the House wrapped up five grueling days of public impeachment hearings. So of course she shared it on Twitter: "A decline of public morals in the United States will probably be marked by the abuse of the power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office." — Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835

Unfortunately, this is not something Tocqueville, that astute French observer over American democracy, ever wrote.

In fact, the quote comes from a 1889 book, American Constitutional Law, Volume 1, by a judge named John Innes Clark Hare. And he was actually describing the necessity of impeachment, even as he argued it had been abused on President Andrew Johnson.

Hare wrote that since the framers of the Constitution decided that, unlike under English law, the executive would be independent of the legislature, there must be "means of removing or punishing an incapable or corrupt president," so they created a system wherein the president "might be brought to trial, and if need be, deposed." There is an unavoidable risk of partisan abuse, he added, but:

It was necessary to choose between leaving the executive wholly irresponsible during his term of office, and subjecting his conduct to the revision of a tribunal that might not be impartial; and the latter alternative was justly though preferable. It was long since remarked by de Tocqueville that a decline of public morals in the United States would probably be marked by the abuse of power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office. [John Innes Clark Hare, American Constitutional Law]

Impeachment, Hare wrote, "is one of many proofs that the framers of our Constitution ... intended that the traditional checks and balance-wheels of the monarchy should not be wanting in the republic." Peter Weber

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