Precedents for Hating BarackFeeling overworked, I decided to relax today with a copy I unearthed of United States Diplomatic History, Volume I, edited by Gerard Clarfield
Any history book is bound to have revealing details about the past. For instance, in the Chapter on the Jay Treaty with the British Empire (or Treaty of London of 1794), I learned that John Jay (who was already the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), lacking instructions otherwise, decide to not demand payment to American slavers for their slaves that were freed by the British Army during the Revolutionary War.
But what struck me most was the hatred unleashed on President George Washington because of the treaty. The background is complex, but at that time the two major political factions in the U.S. were pro-French (and the French Revolution) or pro-British (and more conservative). The problem was the U.S. really needed a new treaty with the Empire because of unresolved issues from the Revolutionary War. President Washington did not particularly like the new treaty, but he needed it to keep the young nation out of war and with some chance to prosper economically.
One more detail before the main point: the U.S. Senate discussed the treaty in secret, and agreed that it would not be published. But anti-British Senators eventually made it available to the press.
How vitriolic was the hatred for Washington? There were riots against the treaty in Boston. The pro-French press said the President "had completed the destruction of American freedom." A series of articles accusing George Washington of theft was published. A common toast was "A speedy death to George Washington."
I certainly don't condone hatred of President Barack Obama. But I am not shocked that it exists. He is not my favorite President, but I would not slip from criticism (with occasional agreement or even praise) to hatred. But for many Americans, the vitriol of the 2008 campaign just rolled on into hatred of the man in office.
I think there is a racial component to Obama hating, but I don't think it is the main issue. Every President before Obama inspired hatred, at times, among certain people. The more famous an American President is now, the easier it is to find out why he was hated. Jefferson was hated for being pro-French and an atheist. Jackson was hated by the East Coast establishment. Lincoln was hated by the South, and so on down the line. Liberals have hated Conservative Presidents, and Conservatives have hated Liberal Presidents.
Several Presidents have been hated to the point of being assassinated, and attempts have been made on many more.
The political parties, of course, have been responsible for the whipping up of hatred. The Democrats hated Reagan and Bush. The fury unleashed by Republicans at Bill and Hillary Clinton was probably not unprecedented, but odd given that liberal Democrats considered them to be too conservative. Nor was Hillary the first First Lady to be hated. Many prior first ladies had their detractors (notably Eleanor Roosevelt). It probably started with Martha Washington, but that I have not read about, so far.
The President I hated the most was Richard Nixon. He was the President of my teen years, when I started rebelling against authority. I volunteered to campaign for George McGovern in 1972 (something Hillary and I have in common). My college roommate and I clipped pictures of Nixon and recaptioned them in nasty ways and attached them to our dorm door.
Now I see Nixon differently. He was a war criminal, sure, but I doubt he would have committed war crimes if Lyndon Johnson hadn't started the Vietnamese War. He was conservative, sure, but he accepted most of the New Deal. By today's standards he was to the left of Bernie Sanders. As Vice-President in the 1950s he had done much to advance civil rights. I could criticize him all day long, but I can no longer hate him.
Some people are just filled with hate, a few may not hate at all, but most of us live in the gray zone. We learn, over time, that most people are complicated. We can hate one thing they do, and love another. We can even disagree, or strongly disagree, without hating.
I hope Hillary becomes President, but I expect her to be the most hated President ... since Obama. I don't think she hates anyone, though I suspect she is not fond of Republicans or right-wing radio. She is the only candidate still standing who thrives on understanding complexity. And it's a complex world, so we want a President who can make decisions, understanding that the results can be complicated and even unexpected.