Donald Trump, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, and counterfactual speculation


A few days ago, Donald Trump whipped up a storm with remarks about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War:

In an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, Trump compared himself to President Andrew Jackson and said Jackson, if he was born later, could have helped avoid the Civil War.

And then, in comments that whipped Washington into frenzy Monday morning, Trump said he didn’t understand why the Civil War had to be fought.

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” he said. “He was a very tough person but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw with regard to the Civil War, he said ‘There’s no reason for this.'”

“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

This link is to the full Examiner report of the interview.

Later, Trump tweeted:

Journalists and historians are trying to make sense of these remarks, a fool’s errand in my opinion. The ones I’ve read begin with the premise that Trump had some sensible ideas in mind, but that he is inarticulate, leading to his typically garbled statements. My opinion, but I only know what I read about Trump and what I’ve seen watching the debates, is that Trump is invincibly ignorant and unjustifiably confident about his knowledge and thought. Thus the journalists’ and historians’ premise is likely wrong. Trump does not have coherent ideas, and his incoherent ones are confused, ignorant, or false. Or all three.

Trump’s idea that people don’t and haven’t thought and discussed the causes of the Civil War and considered if it might have been avoided is foolish and ignorant. Literally thousands of books and many more college lectures argue these matters. It does illustrate his habit of thought that if he doesn’t know something, then no one knows it, and when he learns something, no one knew it before.

This is from a March speech Trump gave at a Republican National Committee dinner:

“Great president. Most people don’t even know he was a Republican,” Trump said while addressing attendees at the National Republican Congressional Committee Dinner. “Does anyone know? Lot of people don’t know that.”

Trump then said Republicans need to spread the word that Lincoln was a Republican, appearing to be unaware of the fact that the GOP is commonly referred to as the “party of Lincoln.”

“Let’s take an ad, let’s use one of those PACs,” he said.

Trump says that Jackson, a slave-owner and slave trader, who was a key force in the United States successful effort to wipe out native American people east of the Mississippi, had “a big heart.” ???

As Trump says, let’s suppose that Jackson had been born later and died later and let’s imagine some counter-factual history.

Let’s suppose that the Democrat Andrew Jackson, a war hero and slave-owning Tennessee Democrat had won the presidential election of 1860 instead of Abraham Lincoln. In that case, I must say that Trump is correct. South Carolina, and the other deep south slave states would not have seceded. South Carolina militiamen would not have fired on Ft. Sumter. Voila! No Civil War.

Let’s suppose that Jackson had been president instead of Democrat James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election of 1860. In those days, the election was in November and the Inauguration in March. In those four months South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas declared that they had left the United States. Armed southern white men took control of United States forts and arsenals. Perhaps Trump has in mind that Andrew Jackson, a slave-owner himself, would have ordered United States forces to resist this treasonous attack on the United States.

In the Nullification Crisis of 1828, South Carolina, again, passed a law “nullifying” a federal tariff. Jackson credibly threatened to send troops, Congress modified the offending tariff, and South Carolina backed down. Does Trump think that this would have worked out the same way in the winter of 1860-61? It turns out that even though we are engaging in counter-factual history, we know what would have happened because President Buchanan sent supplies and the South Carolinians fired on the ships, driving them away. Presumably, if Jackson had ordered the same re-supply, the white southern militias would have done the same.

Then Abraham Lincoln, now in office, attempted to re-supply the besieged garrison of Ft. Sumter with unarmed ships (known to be unarmed by the Carolinians), South Carolina Gov. Pickering ordered now C. S. A. General P. T. G. Beauregard to open fire, the first shots of the Civil War. This led President Lincoln, in accord with his Constitutional oath of office, to call for soldiers to put down an armed rebellion against the United States. This led four more slave-owning states, Virginia (less its western counties), Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas seceded in response. Furthermore, during this time, both in the final months of the Buchanan administration and in the first months of Lincoln’s, frantic efforts to negotiate a solution took place.

The conflict between southern white plantation and slave owners and northerners had been a part of American history throughout the life of the United States and had produced intense, vicious fights, such as the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This last led to “Bleeding Kansas” a bloody guerrilla war between Free Soil men and pro-slavery forces. Not only is it hard to see what Jackson might have done that would have made a difference, given the election of Lincoln.

Trump, in his vague way, does not tell us what he thinks was the outcome of what he thinks was an unnecessary war. Modern scholars believe that slavery was the cause of the war, and the abolition of slavery and the preservation of the Union were its chief results. White southerners and modern neo-Confederates assert that state’s rights were the cause of the war, not the right to secede but the right to decide for themselves to keep slaves (but not the right of northern states to abolish slavery). According to this school of thought, Lost Cause thinking or the Dunning school, white Southerners only took up arms to defend themselves against a Northern invasion. If Trump is reasoning that Jackson solved the Nullification Crisis, so he could have solved the Secession Crisis, but if Jackson were president instead of Lincoln, he wouldn’t have been trying to limit the spread of slavery and the South wouldn’t have seceded. Slavery would not have come to an end.

How does Trump think Jackson could have brought an end to slavery? Would he have wanted to?

Trump is thinking of the strong man school of leadership. Strong leaders accomplish their goals through force of will. Thus, it seems to Trump, that Jackson could have forced something or other short of war because he was a dominant leader, as Trump aspires and admires. This is likely the muddle that underlies Trump’s interview answer. All these ideas about leadership, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, leadership, lie in a heap within Trump’s mind. None of the details logically correct, some are wrong, but Trump’s expression of these ideas reminds us that, to him, everything is about him. Andrew Jackson could have solved that terrible crisis, and today, “Only I can solve our problems.”

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Global Warming XIV – Florida Gov. Scott’s Beach House


In my Physics class at the University of Tampa, I show my students pictures of Florida Gov. Scott’s beach house in Naples, Florida. That is about 170 miles south of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf coast. These are photos I found with brief internet searches. On the mid-term exam that includes Climate Change I ask my students when the Governor’s house is likely to be flooded: next year, a few decades, a few centuries, a few thousands of years. A few decades is the correct answer, depending upon the vagaries of hurricanes and tides added to the inevitable sea level rise as Greenland and Antarctica melt and the ocean’s warm.

In the first picture, you see an aerial view of Florida Gov. Scott’s house. According to a real estate article it’s worth about $15 million. His house is the one with the black line.

You can just see a bit of the water in the lower left. The house is but a few feet above the high tide line, and the road on the inland side is also a bit lower than the house. You can’t see it, but it’s on a narrow barrier island, so there is water not far to the right too.

The second photo shows the house, water, and the road. The central house in the photo, larger than the governor’s is a ~$70 million one. That owner, I read, is in prison for some reason. Above the high tide line, barrier islands of this type often have a low, linear vegetation-covered dune. You can see it here. By the governor’s house, that is, because his neighbor seems to have removed the dune between his house and the Gulf. It’s not high, and the governor (and everyone else) has cut paths through the low dune. The lines of pilings are probably attempts to control beach erosion, as development cuts off new sources of sand and along-shore currents and storms remove the beach sand. Futile in the long run.

In this photo, probably taken by an amateur, hence the under exposure and imprecise focus, you get an idea of the high-water levels from tides, from the slight color changes in the beach sand, and you can see the height of the barrier dune. You can see the exit of one of the paths cut through the dune. The dune is a few feet high.

The governor’s house, to my eye, is lower than the top of the dune, and not much above the high-water marks.

The governor’s house is in trouble. Likely it will be wiped out the next time a hurricane or tropical storm brings a storm surge on a high tide, on top of whatever sea level rise will have occurred at the time.

Sea walls won’t work on dunes or anywhere else on peninsular Florida because the underlying rock is porous limestone.

The Governor is well-known as a global warming denier. Indeed, researchers and other employees at the state’s environmental agency say that the political leaders of that agency required them to remove any mention of global warming from official documents. The Governor and his staff deny this.


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Bret Stephens’s NY Times Op-Ed on Climate Change: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong


This April 28 Bret Stephens op-ed debut is way off the mark every inch of the way.

First, what Old Jew Of Galicia? Milocz wrote that epigraph and hundreds or thousands have cited it as if it’s ancient and real wisdom that transcends the folly of whomever you want to lambaste. But what Old Jew of central or western Europe would use precise figures like 55% as opposed to 60% to describe degrees of being sure that one is right? And right about what? Everything? It seems to me that’s the only possibility of the quote, given no other information than the “quote” itself. It seems to be about totalitarian regimes that rewrite truth and history to their liking and allow no dissent. But that’s a whole different world! Climate scientists are not claiming they’re 100% right about everything, only 97% right about something very important that they’ve looked at from dozens or hundreds of different angles and almost always come up with the same conclusion, which is that warming will with high likelihood accelerate and all of humanity with high likelihood will be in a peck of trouble therefrom.

Then he writes, “In the final stretch of last year’s presidential race, Hillary Clinton and her team thought they were, if not 100 percent right, then very close.” Polls and betting sites showed a consistent 70-85% likelihood of Clinton winning, with her likelihood increasing right at the end most likely due to Trump’s bizarre behavior and words in the last debate, together with some of the Comey stuff. I tracked these numbers myself for several months from multiple sources. Who is Stephens to claim that Clinton and company thought they were all but 100%? He cites no source. It’s mere supposition.

Citations of made-up quotes, and suppositions? We are to trust and believe this writer over hundreds or thousands of scientists and their experiments and analyses and peer reviews?

Scientists are 100% right about Bernoulli’s Law, and thank goodness, because if they were not 100% right then some planes would go down inexplicably. Humanity is 100% right that four colors suffice to color a planar map so that no two countries with a shared boundary that’s more than a single point will have the same color. Anything not proved or demonstrated correct through a combination of rigorous analysis and consistent results from thousands of experiments can be no more than an informed opinion. Stephens does not apply information to buttress his opinion. Therefore his opinion is all but worthless. He does not cite even one example of “much else that that passes as accepted fact [but] is really a matter of probabilities.” He does not cite even one example of “history … littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.” He seems not to understand that conviction is only “beyond a reasonable doubt” not “with absolute certainty.” He’s not worth listening to or reading.

And the New York Times has broken a contract with its readers by giving an imprimatur of believability and merit to him by publishing this op-ed.



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Global warming XIII – The Carbon Dioxide Control Knob


EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box on March 9. Here’s one question and answer:

JOE KERNEN (HOST): Let me ask you this, let me ask you one other thing, just to get to the nitty gritty. Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?

SCOTT PRUITT (EPA ADMINISTRATOR): No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So, no, I would not agree that’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet, as far as — we need to continue debate — continue the review and analysis.

The question is awkward, since no one asserts the premise of the first question. No one says that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate. What knowledgeable people believe is that of the various “control knobs” for the climate, humans are “turning up” the CO2 knob and warming the planet. Thus, by accident, Pruitt’s first word is correct: “No.” After another accidental correct claim, that measuring the effects of human activity on the climate is challenging, the rest of his answer is wrong.

Pruitt asserts that there is “tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” (of human activity on the climate). This is incorrect. There is general agreement that increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere due to people burning carbon fuels is warming the Earth. In the various models, as in all scientific endeavors, models and theories produce somewhat different predictions based upon different starting points, different methods, and different interpretations. All professional studies of the effect of the increasing CO2 agree that it will increase the Earth’s temperature. Some predict an increase of, say, 2 C, in 50 years given no changes in present fossil fuel use, others 4 C. None predict no effect. None predict that there will be a cooling. Pruitt says that because some scientists say 2 C and some 4 C, they have no idea what the warming will be. This is the claim of many opponents of scientific knowledge, that if scientists don’t know everything about a phenomenon to infinite precision, then they might as well know nothing.

All climate researchers would agree that neither they, nor anyone else, knows all there is to know about the climate. Contrary to Pruitt and to many other global warming deniers, the climate researchers know plenty, and, as it typical in research, they have sought the causes of the big effects first. Those are well-known and have been for decades, some more than a century.

Pruitt says that he does not agree “that’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” Now the contraction in this sentence is “that it is” where the “it” refers to the question: carbon dioxide. Filling this in, we see Pruitt’s meaning: “I would not agree that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” The question from Kernen: “Is CO2 the primary control knob for the climate?” The answer from Pruitt: “No. CO2 is not a primary contributor to global warming.” At least Pruitt says that the globe is warming.

That CO2 is not a primary contributor to global warming is false. The Earth’s climate arises, of course, from many factors. To understand it involves assessing the Earth’s energy balance in accordance with the 1st Law of Thermodynamics or the Conservation of Energy. This great law, known with increasing depth and precision, arose in scientific thought in the 1800s.

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Global Warming XII – cherry blossom bloom time in Kyoto


Climate change and global warming deniers darkly insinuate that the world’s climate researchers, in cahoots with radical pinko anti-capitalist environmentalists, are dishonest. Publishing pre-ordained conclusions backed by tendentiously selected data mis-interpreted, the scientists hope to justify increasing their, supposedly, lucrative grants. The deniers often accuse the scientists of manipulating their data, but if the scientists did not, for example, adjust their raw data for artifacts within the data, the deniers would, and do, accuse the scientists of ignoring important effects.

To come up with such an important piece of information as the global mean surface temperature is complicated, difficult, and involves an immense amount of work. For example, mid-ocean surface temperatures do not arise from continuously reporting weather stations but from ships’ logs. Someone must go through thousands of ship journeys, recording each day’s ocean temperature readings and the ship’s position at the time of the reading. Some ships measure ocean temperature with a thermometer fixed in the engine cooling water intake pipe. Others drop a canvas bucket over the side and report the temperature of the water in the bucket pulled back onto the deck. Do those give the same value? What is the relation between those two readings and the temperature of the air above the sea? These questions and others require answers, and the researchers must adjust their data before they begin averaging. What about the possible effects of changes to urbanization around airport weather stations, the heat island effect? What if the thermometer is changed from a mercury instrument, read each day or each hour by eye, to an electronic, automatically recorded one? All these and many more matters must be considered and adjusted. Complicated statistical methods applied to vast data sets require powerful computers, and the algorithms and programs must be checked and re-checked. Hand-testing is nearly impossible.

Interesting and powerful data that does not require such expert, detailed analysis is available, however. Indeed, no one type of evidence or result proves that global warming is real or that humans are causing it. What convinces the researchers is the range of data and evidence arriving at a consistent picture of nature, arriving from distinct lines of evidence.

Here’s one I like that, in my opinion, shows global warming is not the result of nefarious collusion among modern climate scientists. I found this from Jason Kottke’s blog, but his source is here, the Economist.

Here we have the date of the peak of cherry blossom season in Kyoto Japan recorded for 1200 years. Kyoto is Japan’s ancient capital, and this record extends nearly to the formation of that natural beauty loving nation. You can see the variation caused by the weather, but looking at the solid line, an average, I’d say that for a thousand years the peak was about April 15. Beginning in the early or mid-1800s you can see a dramatic change in the location of the scattered cherry blossom data points and in the average. To my eyes, peak cherry blossoms have shifted 10 or 12 days earlier. A day a decade? This tells us that temperatures in Kyoto, roughly the latitude of Atlanta, have been warmer in February and March than they had been during the 1000 years from 800 AD to 1800 AD.

Just this one charming graph doesn’t prove that Earth’s climate is warming or that humans’ burning fossil fuels have done it. There are, however, many similar lines of evidence. In biology, geography, geology, oceanography, and other areas of knowledge. Birds return to their northern summer homes earlier. Average last frost occurs earlier and first frost later. Ocean acidity is increasing. Droughts are becoming more likely. Shorelines are submerging as land ice melts and ocean waters warm. The Northwest passage now opens across northern Canada in summers, and ships sail from East Asia to Europe across Siberia’s northern coast. The EPA has an informative periodic publication about a few dozen climate indicators. It’s worth looking at. Lots of pictures and clear explanations.

While scientists are human and subject to corruption, the same as anyone else, it is incredible that some politicians and others casually smear men and women working hard and skillfully to increase human knowledge and to benefit all of us. These scurrilous slanderers ignorantly suppose that there is a conspiracy among thousands of scientists that, evidently involves Japanese nature lovers.

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Global Warming XI – Trump Administration Statements


A few weeks ago the New York Times ran Climate Change Denialists in Charge. I used the quotations for a Science in the News item in my Univ. of Tampa Physics 125 class. Remember, our textbook is Physics and Technology for Future Presidents: What Every World Leader Needs to Know. I’d like to share some of these quotations and my remarks with you and our readers. You can find the full citations in the Times article.

In November 2012, Donald Trump tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U. S. manufacturing non-competitive.” At a 2015 rally in South Carolina he said “A lot of [climate change] is a hoax. It’s a hoax.”

Both assertions are blatant and outrageous falsehoods. Our president suffers from delusions, and this particular one will prove to be the most damaging to Americans and to the human race.

The claim that warnings about global warming are part of a world-wide conspiracy by climate scientists in cahoots with radical environmentalists out to destroy American capitalism is widely asserted from the political right. This claim is a pernicious and evil falsehood. Several of the others I cite below refer to this plot.

In a 2014 MSNBC interview, Mike Pence said:

It’s just a few years ago, we were talking about global warming, which is – we haven’t seen a lot of warming lately. I remember back in the ’70s when we were talking about the coming ice age. And, look, you know, we have – we’ve had a tough winter. And in the Midwest, we’re – we’re made of hardy stock. We’ve seen these kind of winters before. And we’ll shoulder through them. We’ll leave the scientific debates for the future.

In his first sentence, Pence is referring to the so-called global warming hiatus, a non-existent pause in global warming. 1998 was an unusually hot year because of a strong El Nino. Indeed, it set a record for the thermometric temperature record going back to the 1880s. For about 10 years, no year’s global average surface temperature exceeded it, and global warming deniers proclaimed a pause in global warming and even an apparent cooling. Yet the Earth continued to warm throughout those subsequent years as energy accumulated in the oceans, which is where most of it goes in any case. 2014’s temperature exceeded 1998, setting a new record high. Then 2015 exceeded 2014. 2016 exceeded 2015, smashing the previous record. I’m suspect that Mike Pence does not actually remember talking about a coming Ice Age back in the ’70s. He is an evangelical Christian who believes in an inerrant Bible and the Garden of Eden! No evolution for him. Astonishing, but apparently true. Then he mistakes weather for climate, as if global warming will produce warm winters. Finally, he falsely asserts that there are scientific debates about the reality and effects of global warming.

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Hillbilly Elegy and Section 8


On page 140 of Hillbilly Elegy J. D. Vance describes the section 8 resident of the rented house next door to his Mamaw’s house.

Those Section 8 recipients looked a lot like us. The matriarch of the first family to move in next door was born in Kentucky but moved north at a young age as her parents sought a better life. She’d gotten involved with a couple of men, each of whom had left her with a child but no support. She was nice, and so were her kids. But the drugs and the late-night fighting revealed troubles that too many hillbilly transplants knew too well. Confronted with such a realization of her own family’s struggle, Mamaw grew frustrated and angry.

From that anger sprang Bonnie Vance the social policy expert: “She’s a lazy whore, but she wouldn’t be if she was forced to get a job”; “I hate those fuckers for giving these people the money to move into our neighborhood.” She’d rant against the people we’d see at the grocery store: “I can’t understand why people who’ve worked all their lives scrape by while these deadbeats buy liquor and cell phone coverage with our tax money.”

Mamaw, Bonnie Vance, refers to J. D. Vance’s maternal grandmother. “[T]hose fuckers” refers to the civil servants at the county housing agency that implement Ohio’s version of the federally paid for housing program. The last sentence of the quotation reprises to material earlier in the book in which Vance describes people using food stamps subvert the government’s purposes by reselling goods to get cash and talking on their cell phones while paying for goods with food stamps. That description will provide material for another blog post. In this one, I’m writing about section 8 and its beneficiaries.

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