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The 1828 election was nastier than anything you’ve ever seen.

People often think that the American political arena today is nastier and more irrational than it has ever been. This is not true. Once the Founding Fathers left the picture, practically all our elections have always been dirty, irrational, full of blatant lies, and in general batshit crazy.

I’ve previously talked about the 2004 election which used gay marriage as a wedge issue to re-elect an unpopular President leading an unpopular war, and the 1968 election where we had a pro-segregation racist win a bunch of states in the Deep South and Bobby Kennedy got fatally shot on the night he won the California primary. Today I’m gonna go waaaaay back and talk about the insane in the membrane tactics of the 1828 election.

This particular election is often noted in history as the first dirty campaign. Most of the previous 10 elections were pretty straightforward and involved mythical Founding Father heroes: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, etc. The exception was the 1824 election when John Q. Adams, son of our 2nd President John Adams, won against Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic Party. The 1824 election by itself was batshit crazy because although Jackson got more electoral votes, NEITHER candidate actually won the necessary number of electoral votes. So the decision of who would be President went to the House of Representatives (this is how the rules are laid out in the 12th amendment), and they picked John Q. Adams. The main reason this happened was that Henry Clay, who came in fourth place in that election, was Speaker of the House and he hated Jackson so he formed a coalition to make sure Adams would win even though Jackson had the higher electoral number.

Henry Clay became Adams’ Secretary of State shortly after.

Let me stop for a second to really drive this point home: Jackson WON the popular vote 43% to 30%. He had 15 MORE Electoral Votes. And the House picked Adams.

This dirty dealing came to be known as the “Corrupt Bargain” by Jackson supporters, and the brutal campaign for 1828 practically began before Adams even took office.

But in 1828, we had an EPIC rematch.

But first, let me tell you a little about Andrew Jackson because…woooo, child. He was a character. Jackson was a warrior, to the bone. He was a courier in the Revolutionary War at age thirteen. When he was taken prisoner by the Redcoats, a British officer demanded that young Mr. Jackson polish his boots. I imagine that Andrew, in the language of the time, said something along the lines of “kiss my pale white ass” (maybe a bit of revisionist history here but let’s go with it). The officer slashed young Andrew across the face, and he wore that scar proudly for the rest of his life.

As an adult, Jackson was a famed general and politician. But many people thought that Jackson was, quite frankly, an asshole. He had a famous temper and was quick to draw a gun. In 1806 he KILLED a man in a duel for insulting his wife and accusing him of cheating on a horse race. Dude was straight up gangsta.

But that’s also why a lot of politicians didn’t like him. Thus, his odd “loss” in the 1824 election even though he won by every reasonable metric. Even back then, “likeability” mattered.

But Jackson would not be stopped. He ran with a vengeance in 1828 against the then incumbent Adams. But Adams supporters bet that since Jackson was skilled but famously unpleasant, they could pretty much say anything about him and get away with it. So they did.

First, they attacked his wife.

See, waaaaay back in like 1789, Jackson met the love of his life, Rachel Donelson Robards. There was only one problem: Rachel was already married. She was separated from her husband Lewis due to what she claimed was essentially domestic abuse. Rachel ran off to live with her mother, and by the time Lewis found her she was dating Andrew. Lewis applied for divorce in 1790, claiming that Rachel had committed adultery with Andrew. Andrew and Rachel ran off and got married in 1791.

There was only one problem: due to some weird lazy ass paperwork filing, the divorce wasn’t finalized until 1793. So, under the law, Andrew Jackson was married to another man’s wife.

Andrew and Rachel found out about this and re-said their vows in 1794, and that was the end of the story for THREE GODDAMN DECADES until the 1828 election when Jackson’s political opponents decided to dredge this shit up. They labeled Jackson’s poor wife as an adulteress and a bigamist.

That alone would have been dirty as hell. But the Adams camp didn’t stop there. They next went after Jackson’s long-dead mother.

This is an actual, verbatim, quote from a pro-Adams newspaper, the Cincinnati Gazette:

“General Jackson’s mother was a COMMON PROSTITUTE brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a MULATTO MAN, with whom she had several children, of which number General JACKSON IS ONE!!!”

Yes, exclamation points and caps and everything. That is not a Facebook post. That is not a YouTube comment. That is not a tweet. That is not from InfoWars or Breitbart. That is an actual quote from a publication printed almost 200 years ago.

A newspaper called Andrew Jackson’s dead mother a whore.

Of course, Jackson and his supporters fought back with their own claims. Some of them said that President John Q. Adams had lived in sin with his wife before they got married, and that she was born out of wedlock. It was bad, man. Really bad.

Long story made slightly shorter: Jackson won in 1828. And this time it was a landslide. But the cost was high. His wife Rachel died just weeks after the election. The doctors said it was a heart attack, but Jackson blamed Adams and his crew for putting her through a nightmare. When Jackson arrived in Washington, D.C. to claim his new position, he refused to meet outgoing President Adams. Adams had left town anyway, which was probably a good thing because Jackson probably would have shot him had he seen him.

So, before you think an election has gotten crazy and out of hand, ask yourself this: has anyone accused anyone’s mother of being a whore?

Side-note: I’m sending a treatment to Lin-Manuel Miranda for an Andrew Jackson play because Hamilton ain’t got nothin’ on this.

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We all look past what others focus on

Sunday thoughts again. No analysis, just pondering. This time, what’s on my mind is the concept of “I’m willing to look past that.”

I think one of the most interesting traits you can learn about a person is what they’re willing to look past as long as the subject in question fulfills other needs.

No area exemplifies this more in today’s world than our politics. Trump voters who are not extremists (and there are many) were willing to look past his prejudice (“He’s Mexican!”), his pandering to the extremists, his thin skin, and his complete lack of actual political experience. Those voters looked past all that to achieve some other personal goal. For some it was simply a protest vote, for others it was a “We need SOMETHING different” vote, and for many it was simply not caring because they didn’t fit in one of the groups targeted by Trump’s rhetoric.

But, regardless of the exact reason, they were willing to look past the worst of him.

This was true for Hillary voters too, and I think it’s important for Democrats to understand this and come to terms with it. As someone who once had Top Secret clearance, I knew Hillary’s email scandals were going to grind a lot of gears within governmental circles and make her vulnerable to attacks, both fair and otherwise. We can’t deny the truth: she screwed up and should have known better.

But I was willing to look past it.

I knew that Bill Clinton’s “coincidental” meeting with Attorney General Lynch was bad optics at best, and complete corrupt cronyism at worst. I was willing to look past it. I knew that Hillary’s campaign slogan, “I’m with Her”, was characteristic of the unbridled ambition and hubris of the Clinton machine and her inability to connect with the needs and desires of the people she supposedly wanted to serve. I knew Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” comment was insensitive, and un-Presidential. I remembered Hillary’s infuriating (to me) support for the Iraq War and her insufficient explanations for it. I was willing to look past all that.

I knew that people who knew her, and endorsed her publicly, despised her privately (just read those leaked emails, Colin Powell’s in particular). I still filled in her bubble on the ballot. I did not do it with the glee and confidence I felt when I voted for Obama in 2008. Instead, I felt I’d made the responsible choice, albeit an imperfect one.

But disappointing Democrat turnout on Election Day showed that millions of Obama voters couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary, and while I am disappointed in them for putting principles over practicality, I can’t fault their reasons for feeling that way. I just wish, perhaps selfishly, that they could have compromised in the same way we all do every day.

Human beings are complex, and no one is perfect. We are all criminals and liars. If you’ve ever fibbed on your taxes, or bought an illegal drug, or driven too fast, or pirated a movie, or gotten behind the wheel when you knew you’d probably had a bit too much to drink, you have consciously broken the law. If you’ve ever believed something about a person simply because of a group they’re in, you are guilty of prejudice. None of us is innocent.

The people closest to us are flawed too. Your parents may have cringe-worthy views, but you still love them. Your spouse or your kids or your best friend may have that one really bad trait or done that really bad thing that truly tested your relationship. You may despise the people who run the place where you work, but you still show up to work and put money in their pockets. You look past it. You choose the lens you want to view a person through, and everything else falls out of focus.

In my mind, the biggest factor in this election was this: generally speaking, one group could look past a lot of shit, and one group couldn’t. I can’t say that one is better than the other, or smarter than the other, or more righteous. I can only say that one group’s willingness to look the other way won them the day. Only time will tell if putting party, or politics, over principle was a good move for them.

But it’s also important to keep in mind that we just had an election with the two most hated candidates in history. As we navigate this latest fork in our path and try to keep the heavy wheels of progress moving forward, our collective challenge as Americans may be to demand more of our representatives, so that we can all see our future clearly without blurring the parts we want to ignore.

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2016 ain’t got nothin’ on 1968

To all my friends who are stressing about this election:

Our country has been through worse in relatively recent times.

I know it seems like the gates to hell are opening and the barbarians are storming the castle. I know it seems like our institutions, and even our fellow citizens, have failed us. I know it seems like ignorance and fear are winning out.

But the key word in all that is “seems”.

History has many lessons to teach us, and it is often said that the affairs of humankind are cyclical. If you think this is the worst election ever, or if you think our politics have never been so divisive, or if you think things have never looked so bleak, allow me to point out a very important bit of history: the 1968 Presidential election.

The vast majority of people reading this (myself included) were not alive during the election of ’68, and the few who were alive were too young to really understand the politics involved. But let’s go back and reflect on how BATSHIT CRAZY that election was, and I’m sure you’ll see that 2016 pales in comparison.

’68 was a tumultuous time in US and world history. A brief summary of events.

The War:

The US was embroiled in the Vietnam War, a bloody, incredibly unpopular, extremely expensive military movement that served as a dark cloud over everything going on domestically in the US.

Keep in mind that the US Military draft was still in effect. If you were a young man, you had to worry about getting pulled into this awful conflict against your will. During this year, the Johnson administration called for a ceiling of 549,500 American soldiers in Vietnam. Let me put that in perspective: The most troops we ever had in Iraq in 2003 was around 145,000.

The War was so unpopular that the Democrat party was fracturing. Lyndon Johnson, President at the time, announced in March that he would not run for re-election. This was on MARCH 31, just over 7 months out from the freaking election. The race for President got way more interesting (in other words, chaos).

The Candidates:

LBJ stepped out because people were tired of the damn war, but also because he worried he might actually die in office if he won (ironically he did die just 2 days after his 2nd elected term would have ended). His departure opened the door for other Democrats to step up. Two heavy hitters emerged from the fracturing party: LBJ’s Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy’s brother, Attorney General/Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Humphrey was in the lead early but a decisive Kennedy win in the California primary made the race much closer.

On the Republican side you had Richard Nixon, who used the Civil Rights strife to run on a “law and order” platform (sound familiar?)

And, running as an Independent, Alabama Governor George C. Wallace. He LITERALLY ran on a racist platform. In his 1963 Inaugural Address as Governor he said that he stood for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace wanted to pull out of Vietnam within 90 days of taking office and said foreign aid was money “poured down a rat hole” and demanded that European and Asian allies pay more for their defense.

Wallace chose a former general as his VP running mate, and here’s an awesome quote from him regarding NUCLEAR WEAPONS: “I think most military men think it’s just another weapon in the arsenal… I think there are many times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. … I don’t believe the world would end if we exploded a nuclear weapon.”

Sound familiar? I mean, the similarities to Trump stuff are uncanny, right? But wait…there’s more. A crapton more.

The Civil Rights movement:

It wasn’t just the War that influenced the election, it was the huge Civil Rights movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Black citizens were fighting for their right to vote, fighting to end segregation, fighting to have a fair place in American life in general. And it was causing a huge rift in the nation, particularly between the North and the South. This was also the point that racist Southern Democrats left the party (George Wallace himself was a Democrat before he went Indie).

If you think Black Lives Matter is a big deal, it doesn’t even hold a candle to what was going on in ’68.

Europe was batshit crazy in ’68 too:

In March of ’68 in Czechoslovakia (yes, that used to be a country), Antonin Novotny, a communist of the Stalinist variety, resigns the Czech presidency, setting off a crisis as a reformer takes over and the Soviet Union (and its allies) try to stop it. There are rumblings of war, and then there’s actual war. The Soviets and their allies send 200,000 troops to end the “Prague Spring”.

In France, student and worker revolts lead to chaos in the country. As many as ELEVEN MILLION workers go on strike. People seriously wonder if the country is about to head to civil war.

Everybody gets shot:

In April, Martin Luther King is assassinated: one of the most pivotal points of American History.

In June, Andy Warhol is shot (but lives) by Valerie Solanis, a struggling actress, and writer (who was also batshit crazy).

TWO DAYS LATER, Robert F. Kennedy is shot while doing press for his California victory. He dies.

Let that sink in: one of the leading Democrat candidates, the hope of millions of people, who just won the primary of the largest state in the country, killed just five months before the election.

The effect was particularly crushing for African Americans. Their two greatest champions were both violently killed in rapid succession. Tensions ran high.

Democrat turmoil continues (and there were still issues with police):

The Progressive Left looked about ready to split wide open. The Democratic National Convention was in Chicago that year. On that Monday night, demonstrations and anti-war protests were widespread, but generally peaceful. The next two days, however, brought increasing tension and violence to the situation.

By most accounts, on Wednesday evening Chicago police took action against crowds of demonstrators without provocation. The police beat some marchers unconscious and sent at least 100 to emergency rooms while arresting 175.

The Election:

Yes, America voted for Nixon that year. But keep in mind that he wasn’t that particularly scary at the time, and with the unpopularity of the war, Democrats were not looked upon fondly, and reasonable people weren’t going to vote for Wallace so that left Nixon as the only option. Some people even speculated that outgoing President Johnson actually preferred Nixon over his Democrat challenger (who was Johnson’s own VP, though the two did have disagreements about the war). It was only later that Nixon proved to be batshit crazy.

The bigger takeaway from that election was this: racist ass, crazy ass George Wallace only won 13.5% of the popular vote in a time that was pretty racist and pretty crazy overall. Now, to be fair, he did win five states (all in the Deep South), and proved that racist tactics could get votes – but not ENOUGH votes. He couldn’t even win all of the South (Wallace even lost South Carolina). And it’s been 50 years since we’ve had someone run on a platform as openly racist as his and get all the way to Election Day (hello Mr. Trump).

If 1968 showed us anything, it was this: a lot of good things can happen after a short period of unadulterated shit. The year after ’68, we put human beings on the moon and had Woodstock, starting the weird cultural revolution of the 70s. We had the excess of the 80s, the irreverent, colorful 90s, the technology boom of the 2000s. We’ve had our first black President and probably almost had our first woman President too. Europe settled down, communism turned out to be nothing to worry about, the Soviet Union fell apart and the Cold War ended. We still have much to do, but we’ve accomplished a lot too.


So guys, really. REALLY. Calm your nerves a bit. This year is bad, yes, but it isn’t THAT bad. Don’t let one odd year distract you from the more important work of making progress.

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Ramsey Isler Video Blog #1

It was recently my birthday! And, as I look back upon my life, I realize I don’t have a lot of videos of myself. Also, I wanted to find a multimedia to connect with my readers/fans. To kill two birds with one stone, I decided to start video blogging, and here’s the first episode!

Watch the second video in the series here Ramsey Isler Video Blog #2 – Write with your heart open, edit with your heart closed

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Birthday Sale! Get two of my novels cheap

It’s the weekend before my birthday (thirty-something). Instead of clamoring for gifts, I want to spread the love to you, my wonderful reader. So two of my books are on Kindle Countdown sale. That means the longer you wait, the more it’ll cost. So get in there now!

Clockworkers is starting at 99 cents on Kindle. Click here to get it in your hot little hands.

Ghosts of ARCADIA is starting at 99 cents on Kindle too! Click here to snatch it up.

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Next year’s Oscars will probably be pretty white again

Oscars 2016 is wrapped, and it was a night of surprises (both thrilling and disappointing). Of course, the topic of the night, which host Chris Rock hammered into oblivion, was the lack of diversity shown in the acting categories. In the red carpet interviews before the show, most of the black actors were asked about the issue of diversity. It’s a hot button topic.

And we’re probably going to be talking about it again next year.

Is it too early to start predicting the next Oscars? Not really. We already know what the slate for this year’s movies will be. Many of them have already wrapped filming. We know the films by the most likely suspects, and we can take some educated guesses. One guess that’s pretty solid is that we won’t see a lot of diversity at the awards simply because there won’t be that many movies with non-white lead casts.

There are a number of movies already getting some light Oscar buzz. I’m sure you haven’t heard about them yet, but they are anticipated movies with big name directors, writers, and actors. They are also pretty much all white: Sully, The Founder (Michael Keaton taking another shot at Oscar gold), War Machine, The Light Between Oceans, The BFG, Manchester By the Sea, Nocturnal Animals, La La Land, Passengers, Florence Foster Jenkins (maybe another win for Meryl), and Story of Your Life (although it has a potentially strong African-American role played by Forest Whitaker, it’s most likely not gonna set him up for another Oscar).

There are two films that are getting the most Oscar buzz at this early stage. Martin Scorsese, that giant of film, has Silence coming out this year and it’s already an Oscar favorite. It stars Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield as Jesuit Portuguese Catholic priests looking for their mentor (Liam Neeson) in Japan and spreading the teachings of Christianity along the way, despite being met with violent opposition.

Although the novel the movie is based on was written by a Japanese man (who was Catholic), the lead stars of the film are all white. The “ancillary” cast of Japanese actors are mostly in roles without any character names (“Interpreter”, “Christian Villager”, “Buddhist Priest”, etc.). There’s a good chance this movie will put up a lot of Oscar candidates in multiple categories, but none of them will be Asian.

Still shot from Silence

Still shot from Silence

Oscar winner Ang Lee will have a chance to add to his collection with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a dramedy about an infantryman who recounts the final hours before he and his fellow soldiers return to Iraq. It stars Vin Diesel, taking a shot at a more serious role. Vin identifies as a person of color. His (white) mom says that through his bio-dad he has “connections to many different cultures” so…I guess we can claim him if he gets nominated? But that nomination might prove tricky; we’ve yet to see if Mr. Diesel can act at the Oscar level.

But, besides Ang Lee (who has been the lone standard bearer for Asians at the Oscars for a while) and a movie that takes place in Japan but won’t feature any prominent Japanese roles, East Asians won’t have much visibility in Oscar type films this year.

But we might have a shot at an Indian actor nom. Lion stars our Slumdog Millionaire hero Dev Patel. The movie is produced by The Weinstein Co., one of the most powerful forces in Hollywood, and also stars Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara. If Dev can break out and own this movie, it might get him some attention.

How about our Hispanic brothers and sisters? Alejandro Iñárritu has represented Mexico very well for the past couple of years but he doesn’t have a film out this year. Benicio del Toro is in Weightless (another early Oscar fave), a film chock full of white Oscar winners and nominees (Fassbender, Bale, Mara, Blanchett, Portman). But it’s not clear that his role will have any punch in an ensemble cast that noteworthy. Javier Bardem may have an outside chance at a nom with The Last Face but it’s certainly not drumming up Oscar buzz at the moment.

Oscar Isaac (yes, he’s Guatemalan! His real last name is Hernandez) stars with Christian Bale in The Promise which is a historical love triangle written and directed by an Oscar winner. All those factors could add up to Oscar bait, and perhaps the best chance we have of a Latino nomination in the acting category (Oscar is a fantastic actor who is seemingly in everything these days and he should be).

That leaves us with the African American possible nominees. Here, things get a little controversial. The early buzz is going to The Birth of a Nation, a film about the Nat Turner slave uprising. At the Sundance Film Festival, it won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, and Fox Searchlight bought worldwide rights to the film for $17.5 million (a Sundance record).

But Sundance success doesn’t often lead to Oscar Gold, and the topic of race both helps and hurts this movie. It is at times a violent film and, as a slave uprising, much of that violence is black people killing white people in some war-movie type scenes. Add to that the very purposeful link to the 1915 KKK propaganda film that has the same title, and this is a heavily political film in a heavily political time. Politics aside, there may also be some execution issues. While the movie is enjoying critical acclaim (95% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), even favorable reviews describe it as sometimes “heavy-handed” and “uneven”. Still, with all the hype (both commercial and critical) if this film doesn’t at the very least get a Best Picture nom, things will get ugly.

The 2016 Birth of a Nation will be a hot topic this year.

The 2016 Birth of a Nation will be a hot topic this year.

One wild card is Richard Pryor: Is it Something I Said?: a Richard Pryor biopic directed by Lee Daniels (executive producer of Empire and director of Precious and The Butler). It stars Oprah, Eddie Murphy, Kate Hudson, and….Mike Epps?!? Yes, Epps is taking on the heavy responsibility of bringing Richard Pryor to life in film. Mike is a capable comedian and I don’t want to doubt him, but he’ll have a lot to prove here. If he can do it, he would have earned an Oscar nom.

But it might be more likely that Eddie Murphy outshines him as Richard’s intense father, or even Oprah as Richard’s beloved grandmother. Regardless, Richard Pryor’s off color comedy and his history of abusing everything could make this another controversial film that might be too divisive.

Personally, I’m favoring two films at the other end of the spectrum: Hidden Figures and Queen of Katwe. Hidden Figures tells the true story of a group of African-American women who provided NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. It portrays minority women owning math and putting people into space. And it’s true. It happened, but it’s in nobody’s history books. It’s a story I’m dying to see.

Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer are already slated to star, and other big names have been rumored like Viola Davis and, of course, Oprah. The script (adapted from the book of the same name) was written by a woman, and the film has a female cinematographer. It would be an amazing Oscar pick for so many reasons (assuming it’s actually good, which remains to be seen).

But there’s a problem: it’s slated for a January 2017 wide release and hasn’t even finished casting yet, let alone started filming. While the wide release can be solved with a limited release in late December (just like American Sniper pulled off), if there are any production snafus this might get pushed back and miss the Oscar eligibility period.

I also like Queen of Katwe starring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. And it’s directed by an Indian woman! (Mira Nair). It tells the (true but Hollywood-ized) story of a young girl from Uganda who trains to become a national chess champion. It is the perfect underdog story and has a talented cast and crew behind it, but it is still a chess movie, and it’ll be difficult to make that interesting (we haven’t had a big chess movie since Searching for Bobby Fischer at the ’94 Oscars for Best Cinematography).

With all that said, these movies aren’t out to general audiences yet (some of them aren’t even finished yet) and their Oscar worthiness is still unknown. But hopefully you’re interested in these movies now, and you’ll look out for them and maybe even watch them, and possibly even like (or love) them and spread the word so that others can find them as well. Oscar movies tend to be small films with tiny marketing budgets so if we really want diversity in that field, we as viewers need to go seek out the films that are out there. History has repeatedly shown that nobody (especially not the Academy) is going to do that work for us.