Hey, Look, It’s Republicans Being Terrible About Presidents Day

History Facts
Hey, Look, It’s Republicans Being Terrible About Presidents Day

Monday, just a few hours before Vladimir Putin likely started World War III, the official GOP Twitter, run by unofficial adults, shared this Presidents Day image.



The tweet reads: “Happy Presidents Day To — Not You — Such Great US Presidents.” The “Not You” is current President Joe Biden, and the great presidents include (without apparent irony) Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment, and Trump was impeached twice, the second time after attempting to overturn the election he lost and inciting an attack on the US Capitol. The GOP also mocks Biden for wearing a mask during a pandemic that has killed almost one million Americans.

The other Republican presidents celebrated are George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Calvin Coolidge, and of course Abraham Lincoln. A political party that refuses to acknowledge duly elected presidents and keeps talking about secession has more in common with the former Confederacy than Lincoln.

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Coolidge is an interesting choice. He’s a northeast Republican who supported women’s suffrage and racial equality. As governor of Massachusetts, he stood up to striking police officers. It’s perhaps less surprising that the GOP doesn’t honor Theodore Roosevelt, who was an environmentalist and leader of the progressive movement. His “Square Deal” domestic program advanced conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection. Roosevelt denounced the “representatives of predatory wealth”; he also pissed off racist Southerners when he invited Booker T. Washington to dine with his family at the White House. We guess the current GOP doesn’t consider Roosevelt up to the standards of Nixon and Trump.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis singled out Washington in his holiday tribute: "George Washington guided the nation through revolution and the launching of a new ship of state under a written constitution. His great feats — especially his voluntary and repeated relinquishment of power — exemplify character and leadership traits that have never been matched.” It’s hard not to notice a little shade cast at Trump, who desperately clung to power like the presidency was his tattered blankie. DeSantis’s reference to “repeated relinquishment of power” might also express his own frustration that Trump is still considering yet another presidential campaign.

DeSantis observed that Presidents Day technically commemorates Washington’s birth. He was nicer about it, though, than fellow Floridian Marco Rubio. The senator tweeted a photo of George Washington with this message: “Presidents Day is a fake holiday, today is Washington’s Birthday.”

George Washington was born on February 22, which was not Monday. Rubio rambled on: “Many schools no longer teach real history, so make sure your children know George Washington was a great man, our greatest President and made life better for every American who ever lived."


Twitter


Presidents Day isn’t a “fake holiday,” because holidays aren’t organic entities. No one enjoying their long weekend declared, “I can’t believe it’s not a real holiday.” Presidents Day has existed since 1971, just like Marco Rubio, only with more distinction.

Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill in 1968. This moved several federal holidays to Mondays so that Americans could enjoy more long weekends throughout the year. Rubio is a taxpayer-funded Twitter troll, so every day’s a vacation for him. However, most normal people appreciate the change.

Also, the 317 people Washington literally enslaved might’ve disagreed that he made their lives better. Maybe Marco Rubio is the one who needs to take an actual history class. Owning human beings is a hell of an asterisk and deservedly so. No one’s saying you can’t recognize Washington’s significant achievements, but the simple-minded like Rubio demand that the descendants of Washington’s enslaved and Black people in general forget their own history.

During his final term in office, Washington placed newspaper ads looking for Oney Judge, who’d fled when she learned that Martha Washington intended to “give” her as a wedding present to her granddaughter. The ad’s copy is revealing: "Absconded from the household of the President of the United States, ONEY JUDGE, a light mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy black hair ... There was no suspicion of her going off, nor no provocation to do so, it is not easy to conjecture whither she has gone, or fully, what her design is.”

Oney Judge’s “provocation” to escape was obvious: Slavery sucks, and presumably Washington’s granddaughter was terrible. Judge's “design" was freedom. Washington and the other white male founders shared the same goal, but his inability to recognize Judge’s humanity, which he actively denied, is a part of American history. There’s no escaping this reality, no matter how shameful.

It’s interesting to watch Christopher Jackson, who played Washington in Hamilton, speak with more nuance about the former president than a sitting US senator. Keep the holiday but don’t lose the history.


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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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