From the Left



A key place for Trump: If only he knew

Jamie Stiehm on

Political wisdom says the 2020 election is simple: a referendum on President Donald Trump, even if he ran against the village idiot. It's about the strong feelings he stirs up.

You have your unforgettable Trump moments. I have mine. The nation's would fill a salty sea. Memorial Day in Baltimore made me see red, white and blue.

Baltimore's mayor, Bernard C. "Jack" Young, asked Trump not to visit in the coronavirus crisis. The suffering city is under stay-at-home orders. Defying Young, Trump came to the harbor city he insulted last summer. He landed, brandishing bluster after a pandemic weekend of golf and tweeting.

The president had to be seen at historic Fort McHenry on Memorial Day. The star-shaped fort is where Baltimore defenders witnessed the "rocket's red glare" and "the bomb bursting in air."

There the American president told a tale about the national anthem that was -- wait for it -- lazy and wrong. He bungled the story of "The Star-Spangled Banner" composer Francis Scott Key. Key witnessed the "dawn's early light" after the Battle of Baltimore late in the summer of 1814.

British navy ships bombarded Baltimore in a night attack after redcoat soldiers burned the White House and Capitol. Baltimore prevailed after Washington was attacked and President James Madison escaped on horseback. The War of 1812 ended.

That was the pride of Baltimore. And I know too much about charming Key to give the president a pass.

First, the lawyer wasn't fighting in the battle, as Trump said. Nor was Key standing on any "grounds." He was floating on a neutral vessel in the water, with a front-row view of the fury. (He meant to free a doctor held as a prisoner of war.)

Seeing the battle flag flying from the fort in the silent morning sky indeed inspired Key to pen the patriotic verses that very day.

For the president to make a sloppy speech is no surprise, but you'd think his staff would get facts straight.

Ironically, if Trump told the true story, he'd love Key as a historical avatar. Key was one of the richest-landed slaveowners in Maryland. Proud of his place and fortune, he defended slavery to his last breath.

So, Key's Southern charm soon wore off.


If only Trump knew Key was President Andrew Jackson's "key" adviser in the kitchen cabinet. Jackson, the plantation populist, is Trump's hero in the presidential pantheon. His fierce portrait is in the Oval Office.

While Jackson was president in the dark 1830s, Key was the early abolitionist movement's enemy.

But I haven't told you Key's worst legacy. Nobody knows the secret but me. Does Roger Taney ring a bell? He was a vicious racist and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Author of the 1857 Dred Scott decision, Taney ruled blacks could never be citizens or equals in the eye of the law.

Taney and Key were brothers-in-law. Key urged Jackson to name Taney to succeed the great John Marshall. As Jackson's chosen, Taney lasted for 28 years, upholding white supremacy. He fanned the flames of the Civil War after Key was gone. Abraham Lincoln was sworn in by the aged Taney, an antebellum relic.

With such a checkered past, Key's mug should hang in Trump's White House. It's a shame Trump didn't give his true due in Fort McHenry. Key's grandson, Francis Key Howard, was jailed there with other Southern sympathizers during the Civil War. How fitting, since Trump draws his base on old Civil War lines.

Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee, never was a thought leader or Senate giant. He was on the wrong side of the Iraq War. People like genial Joe from small-town Delaware, even though he talks too much. Telling black radio listeners, "you ain't black," in jest, is vintage Biden's tongue running amok. Gaffe is too good a word.

As a brainy freshman senator was running for president, he turned to Biden, an average Joe. As Barack Obama's running mate, Biden reached out to white moderates, who might balk at the party's first black nominee.

Biden may name the well-spoken Sen. Elizabeth Warren to win the liberal wing -- and cover his garrulous vanity.

But Biden "ain't" the village idiot. That's Trump.


Jamie Stiehm can be reached at To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit

Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate, Inc.



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