So who was the original Cassius Clay? The simple answer is that he was a prominent abolitionist politician in the mid-1800s. He served in the Kentucky House of Representatives and was appointed ambassador to Russia by Abraham Lincoln.
But that’s not the whole story. Known as the Lion of White Hall – Cassius Clay was named after the estate and plantation he owned and grew up on – he was also one of the toughest politicians ever to walk the halls of Congress. He won duel after duel, and his physical exploits are legendary. Not only that, but he was also an open and vocal advocate for the abolition of slavery in the 1840s, in Kentucky of all places.
President Donald Trump’s tumultuous past week has widened rifts in his party, between those who vocally support the president’s combative style and others who bridle at it ..
.. After a week that included the president attacking his attorney general, the collapse of a GOP health bill, a surprise effort to bar transgender people in the military and a White House staff shakeup, divisions that were largely set aside at the start of 2017 have emerged anew... Signs are emerging that the intraparty battle could threaten the party’s standing in the 2018 elections and the president’s beyond that. Mr. Jolly, the former Florida congressman, said he is part of a group discussing how to put together a primary challenge to Mr. Trump in 2020... Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman and lieutenant governor of Maryland, said “the president is in his element when in front of a crowd of 40,000 instead of behind his desk dealing with the minutiae of governing. That’s not governing, that’s theater, a reality TV presidency.”
You wouldn’t say that Preston Brooks sucker-punched Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber in 1856—but only because he used a cane. Brooks, a South Carolina congressman, began bludgeoning Sumner, the anti-slavery Massachusetts senator, while Sumner wasn’t looking, and beat him unconscious as Sumner was still bent under his desk trying to stand up.
.. Brooks and his supporters in the South saw the incident as an act of great valor, as the historian Manisha Sinha writes. Brooks bragged that “for the first five or six licks he offered to make fight but I plied him so rapidly that he did not touch me. Towards the last he bellowed like a calf.” The pro-slavery Richmond Enquirer wrote that it considered the act “good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequence.” Other “southern defenders of Brooks,” Sinha writes, praised Brooks for his “manly spirit” and mocked Sumner for his “unmanly submission.” It would have been manlier for the unarmed Sumner not to have been ambushed... Sumner gave a speech accusing Butler of having chosen “the harlot, slavery,” as his “mistress.” Brooks’s defense of Southern honor was to ambush an unarmed man reaching under his desk. As Sinha writes, Brooks later said that attacking Sumner with a cane, rather than challenging him to a duel, was an attempt to humiliate Sumner for his abolitionism by treating him like a slave... Northern papers rightly saw Brooks’s act of violence against Sumner as an attack on free speech.. Despite Brooks’s public bravado, many of his contemporaries understood that what he had done was an act of cowardice... Anson Burlingame, a representative from Massachusetts, denounced Brooks on the House floor... The Times reported at the time that the proprietor of the shooting gallery “had witnessed, in his time, some accurate shooting, but nothing that equaled this.”.. Brooks’s headstone would later say that heaven itself never opened its arms to a “manlier spirit.”.. The antebellum South was a society built on the violent exploitation of defenseless people; it is in no sense strange or odd that slaveholders would see no incompatibility between their concept of freedom and valor, and ambushing and caning a man who said something that hurt their feelings... Gianforte attacked a man professionally obligated not to fight back. He initially accused Jacobs of being the aggressor and justified the assault by describing him as a “liberal reporter.” He hid from reporters all through election day, and as Brian Beutler points out, apologized only after he had won the seat... Physically attacking journalists for asking questions is cowardly. Every single person who defends it is engaging in an act of cowardice. The notion that Gianforte was merely channeling the rugged frontier culture of Western mountain men when he attacked someone who asked him a question is laughable and patronizing... It is not 1856, but these are the politics of a false valor forged by fear. It is the undercurrent of a politics that defends grown men who stalk black teenagers in the night and then gun them down when they raise their hands in their own defense; it is the politics that rationalizes Ohio police shooting a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun without so much as a chance to surrender; it is the politics of mass deportation and Muslim bans and Blue Lives Matter bills. It is the political logic of frightened people who need to tell themselves they are brave. This is not valor; it is the celebration of violence against those who cannot respond in kind.
.. That logic is properly realized in the avatar of a president who mocks those who served and suffered while having avoided service himself; who brags about sexual assault behind closed doors and threatens to silence the women who say he assaulted them; who ridicules disabled people then denies doing so; who calls the press the “enemy of the people” when reporters write stories that upset him; who attacks religious fundamentalism from the safety of a podium in this country and then genuflects before its most powerful representatives abroad. Brooks is long dead, but the heirs to his peculiar notion of bravery govern America still.