Why Politicians Matter

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton

A “doughface” politician, back in the pre-Civil War years, was a Northern Democrat who often sympathized with the South and slaveholders. The term connoted lack of principle and a willingness to say anything to earn political support. Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, was one such Democrat. Campaigning against him in 1852, a Whig politician charged that Pierce, despite his Southern sympathies, was also pretending to be a champion for the antislavery cause. He pointed out that the Pierce had expressed opposition to the pro-South Fugitive Slave Law and had been assiduously courting members of the antislavery Free Soil movement. And then, after quoting from a book with a sailor’s chantey about a mixed-race woman named Sally Brown, this Whig speaker quipped that a President Pierce “will, politically speaking, not only be a mulatto; but he will be a good deal darker one than Sally Brown.”

Sacred Tales of Appalachia

Blackwater canyon in Thomas, W.V. / Flickr user Jon Dawson

In the middle of the eighteenth century, residents of Ulster, the northeast region of Ireland, set sail across the Atlantic. Many were actually from Scotland, having originally immigrated across the Irish Sea to Ireland at the insistence of Britain’s King James I, who wanted to plant a contingent of loyal Protestant followers in the traditionally Catholic country. These migrants were known as “Scotch-Irish” when they reached the shores of America.

Traveling south from the New England port cities, the Scotch-Irish found a landscape in the southern United States that was not too different from their old home.

The Terrorist Next Door

Tashfeen Malik, Syed Farook

Syed Farook, Sr., a Pakistani immigrant, struggled to adapt to life in America with his family. Though he wore traditional Pakistani garb, he was not an observant Muslim, and he drove trucks for a living. He often had trouble paying the bills. The family filed for bankruptcy at one point and almost faced foreclosure for its home in Riverside, Calif. As the New York Times reported in December, he was also a drinker and an abusive father.

The End of the Republic


In his Republic, Cicero produced one of history’s staunchest defenses for a career in politics. Composed in the late 50s B.C. while the Roman republic enjoyed a period of precarious stability under the triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, and styled after the famous work of Plato, the Republic first addressed the claims of those who want nothing to do with governing the state, and would prefer a quiet life unsullied by politics. Politicians, after all, tend to be “worthless,” according to these critics. Moreover, who would want to try to rule a capricious citizenry, or subject themselves to “foul abuse” from “corrupt and uncivilized opponents?”