The holiday we think of as Presidents Day is really a bit of a misnomer. Celebrated on the third Monday in February, what we today know as Presidents’ Day was first established by Congress in 1879 in recognition of President George Washington, and is still called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. The holiday became Presidents’ Day in 1971 after Congress and the Nixon Administration moved to change it to the third Monday in February as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. While several states streamlined the celebration of Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (the other President born in February) into Presidents’ Day, many states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of both patriots (though Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, is not a federal holiday). The collective holiday unofficially named in 1971 is today referred to as President’s Day,—or Presidents’ Day,—or Presidents Day. The given name seems to depend on whether the celebration is of one president, presidents plural or just presidents in general, (sometimes Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy are folded in, too) and, also on how the opportunistic retail industry decides to name their holiday weekend car, mattress, or furniture sales event.
What’s more, though some states still celebrate Washington’s birthday on February 22, that’s not his real birthday. Though history books tell us he was born on February 22, 1732, Washington was actually born on February 11, 1731. But, because during his lifetime, Great Britain and her colonies switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, catching up with the rest of Europe which had made the change back in 1582, people born before 1752 had to add 11 days to their birth dates. Those individuals born between January 1 and March 25, as Washington was, also had to add a year to be in sync with the new calendar.
Interesting, how the thread of history will bow to opportunity and convenience, changing well-established truths into new truths or, alternative facts.
Since President’s/s’/s Day, or Washington’s Birthday is a federal holiday, federal employees get the entire week off and federal offices are closed. Congress takes the week off, too. The holiday is looked upon as a recess on the United States Congressional Schedule. On this, the first official recess of the year, congressional representatives put the process of governing “on hold,” going back ‘home’ to their respective states, taking respite from the grueling process of legislating in Washington. While at home, they customarily take this time to meet with their local constituents in what are historically referred to as town hall meetings. These “get to know one another events,” hallmarks of American democracy, are usually held at a local library, civic auditorium, or other gathering place big enough to accommodate a crowd, and are an opportunity for Senators and House Representatives to meet with voters, answer questions, and take the pulse of the communities they represent.
This year, however, the holiday recess proved more than a little chaotic and stressful for the homeward bound 115th Congress serving with the Donald Trump Administration. Almost unilaterally, Congressmen and Senators were met, upon arrival, by angry, frustrated crowds of constituents voicing their displeasure over critically pending issues like the uncertain future of health care access and The Affordable Care Act (ACA), antagonistic immigration policy and the building of a two-thousand mile wall along the country’s southern border, dwindling environmental protections, the fear of a future without Social Security, Russian interference in the 2016 election and—of course—the growing concern over the peculiar and erratic behavior of the 45th President.
One would have to be living on an alternate Earth not to know that these demonstrations are only the latest manifestations in the growing wave of resistance against the Donald Trump Administration. An administration that, at barely two months old, has not had a conflict or protest free day since it began.
An unofficial tally from the civic engagement website resistancerecess.com, a non-profit, public policy advocacy group, showed some 438 town hall meetings scheduled in cities across the United States for the week of February 18; some with, though most without, the attendance of the designated representative. Out of that number, only 19 Republican members of Congress were brave enough to schedule face-to-face town halls with their constituents. According to Town Hall Project, a grassroots effort out of Washington D.C. working to coordinate some of these meetings, some GOP Representatives were simply refusing to show up, and in a February 17, 2017 article, Salon reported that more than 200 Congressional Republicans “prepared to skip out” on previously scheduled town hall meetings rather than face their constituents. The web-based statistical platform Legistorm reported that most representatives’ offices wouldn’t even respond to requests for comment.
When Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois both declined to attend their town halls, constituents took matters into their own hands, erecting cardboard cutouts of each representative, respectively, in order to “speak at” their absent GOP leaders images.
Those brave few that did show up suffered derision and criticism.
South Carolina’s Senator Tim Scott at a town hall meeting in Mt. Pleasant so big it had to be moved outside, was asked, “Are you proud Trump is president?”
"Given the two choices I had,” Senator Scott responded, “I am thankful."
“You’re not proud!” a woman shouted back.
Entering through a back door to avoid the hundreds of outraged protesters outside, Kentucky Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell presided over a ticketed town hall meeting at the Marriott in Louisville. Those that were lucky enough to purchase advance tickets got to hear the Senator answer three questions before a ten-minute warning was issued saying that the senator would have to leave for another engagement.
“A town hall is something that is open to the public. It’s a place where constituents can access their elected officials,” said Dawn Cooley, co-founder of Indivisible KY, an organization dedicated to ‘resistance to the Trump agenda.’ “What McConnell is doing are pay-to-play events.”
Mark Condon another Kentuckian unable to attend the closed event said, “It’s a ticketed event; the fact that he has not had a town hall where people can voice their concerns indicates to me two things: One, either he doesn’t care. Or two, he already knows what our concerns are and doesn’t care. It’s a terrible situation for a democracy where a representative doesn’t represent you.”
At a press conference on February 22, Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer made it understood that the Administration did not consider the crowds representative of the members of each district. “There obviously are people that are upset,” said Spicer, “but when you look at things like this it is not a representation of a member’s district… it is a loud, small group of people disrupting something, in many cases for media attention…just because they’re loud doesn’t necessarily mean there are many.”
That same night the President tweeted, ‘The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!’
But these protesters are not paid activists. These protesters are the citizens of The United States of America, deeply concerned about losing their health insurance, property rights, civil rights, and water quality. These people are middle class sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, students, teachers, healthcare workers, office clerks, customer service representatives, truck drivers, coal miners, farmers, you, and me. Their concern for their future, and their children’s future, and their passion is real. They are organizing and protesting because what they hear their representatives saying is not matching up with what they are doing. In fact, what the American people, now paying close attention see, is the growing ambivalence of elected officials towards the nation’s overall wellbeing and prosperity. And, of equal importance, and concern, is the widening gulf of unanswered questions regarding the deceitful, increasingly divisive, delusional speeches and behaviors of the President of the United States.
It must be understood that the confluence of events that has led us, as a nation, to this point in history is a shared responsibility. However, the more the Republican Party continues to indulge the President’s unorthodox behavior, excusing his senseless diatribes, smoothing over racist remarks, covering up obvious lies and possible corruption, the greater the probability that their future as a coherent party will be in question.
Howard Dean, Former DNC Chairman in an MSNBC interview with Lawrence O’Donnell said, “These are the things that eat politicians alive, and the Republicans are really in significant danger of looking like they don’t give a damn about the American people.”
It is certainly understandable, that the Republican Party, with majorities in both House and Senate, feels unfettered now, but in their zeal to get their conservative policies passed through Congress before a centrist public takes notice, they are irresponsibly putting aside the basic needs of the American people.
President Trump’s new preliminary budget “blueprint” favors a $54 billion increase in public safety and national security. He has said it will include a “historic increase” in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military. “This defense increase will be offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the federal government,” Trump says. “We’re going to do more with less.” Such an increase in military spending and homeland security will most likely be paid for with cuts to the State Department, foreign aid, and the Environmental Protection Agency, and it can also potentially mean cuts in discretionary spending across other federal agencies already at very low levels, including domestic entitlement programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Unemployment, and Social Security, traditional safety nets for all Americans. Real facts, devoid of Trump Administration alternative interpretations now show the majority of Americans disapprove of Republicans’ intent to repeal the ACA without a replacement. In fact, a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll from February 22, shows an almost even split between voter approval/disapproval of ObamaCare. One must question, if, as the Republican Party would have the people of the United States believe, ObamaCare “doesn’t work” and as the President of the United States is fond of saying, “it is a disaster,” why almost half of ACA recipients do not seem to think so.
And, what about the President’s reckless attacks on the media? Trump’s nonstop, baseless attacks on the fourth estate undermine the institution of a free and independent press, part of the fundamental underpinnings of our unique democracy and the First Amendment. Presidents have traditionally had difficulties with the media, but, as John F. Kennedy put it, “Even though we wish they didn’t write it…there isn’t any doubt at all that we couldn’t do the job in a free society without a very active press.”
It is time the Republican Party, and the rest of Congress stop gas lighting the republic and begin speaking honestly about their agenda, and about the state of mind of the President of the United States. The American people are patient, but they are not stupid. They feel the flux of disorientation and disorder at virtually every level in their government and they recognize the very real probability that there is no one leading the country right now.
President George Washington in his 1796 Farewell Address dedicated to “Friends and Citizens,” warned that the forces of geographical sectionalism and interference by foreign powers in the nation’s domestic affairs threatened the stability of the Republic. Warning against the influence of political factions, he said this:
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”
We cannot continue to be the successful democratic experiment of liberty and union envisioned by our forefathers while the backbiting, vindictive partisanship of our present leaders continues controlling their decisions, taking precedence over the welfare of the American people. We now need entirely new leaders willing to put self-interest and revenge aside. The American people are beginning to see this, standing, speaking up, stopping the habitual patterns of being what journalist Walter Lippmann characterized as the bewildered herd, the real silent majority that watches from the sidelines but seldom takes action. It is evident that the continued protests and demonstrations organically sprouting across the nation are indicative of an American people no longer willing to be a silent majority.
On February 22, 1862, in the midst of the dark days of the Civil War, Congress adopted a tradition that has steadfastly remained: the annual reading of President Washington’s Farewell Address on his birthday. The official website of the United States Senate tells us that Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson, later 17th President of the United States, introduced the petition into the Senate, saying, “In view of the perilous condition of the country, I think the time has arrived when we should recur back to the days, the times, and the doings of Washington and the patriots of the Revolution, who founded the government under which we live.”
Though a tradition to this day, it is no longer mandatory that Senators attend this yearly ceremonial reading of Washington’s Farewell Address and indeed, many opt out of the yearly event’s attendance. Perhaps, given the present state of leadership in the United States, a mandatory attendance should be required.
It is a real fact that 46.6% of the American population, almost half, disappointed in government and unable to decide between two candidates they did not like, did not vote in the 2016 election. Now, as a country, we are at a crossroads, demanding change, renewing ideals, and redefining what it means to be American in the 21st century.
There has never been a presidency so unpopular, nor an administration so wrought with conflict and the earmarks of corruption so early into its leadership than the Administration of President Donald J. Trump. As tensions continue to escalate, the body of Congress will be faced with making the following crucial decisions very soon: how to respond to its constituents’ rising demands and immediate need for real answers; how to deal with implementing the bulk of conservative policies to the ocean of moderate constituents who currently make up the majority of the American people; and, perhaps most importantly, whether to continue allowing a Commander-in-Chief who obfuscates truth for the lurid fantasies of his own reality, the continued indulgence of dangerously tampering with the governing of the most powerful nation on earth.
“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government,” President Washington further stated in his Farewell Address.
It is becoming increasingly evident that, though the end game is still unclear, the American people are mobilizing as a unified force, toward this same conclusion.