The late reign of the Russian Tsars was marked by their near total inability to exert their will over anything.
At Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation festival:
Before the food and drink was handed out, rumours spread that there would not be enough for everyone. As a result, the crowd rushed to get their share and individuals were tripped and trampled upon, suffocating in the dirt of the field. Of the approximate 100,000 in attendance, it is estimated that 1,389 individuals died and roughly 1,300 were injured. The Khodynka Tragedy was seen as an ill omen and Nicholas found gaining popular trust difficult from the beginning of his reign. The French ambassador’s gala was planned for that night. The Tsar wanted to stay in his chambers and pray for the lives lost, but his uncles believed that his absence at the ball would strain relations with France, particularly the 1894 Franco-Russian Alliance. Thus Nicholas attended the party; as a result the mourning populace saw Nicholas as frivolous and uncaring.
The guy can’t even get out of sports with his uncle:
From there, they made a journey to Scotland to spend some time with Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle. While Alexandra enjoyed her reunion with her grandmother, Nicholas complained in a letter to his mother about being forced to go shooting with his uncle, the Prince of Wales, in bad weather, and was suffering from a bad toothache.
Nicholas’s stance on the war was something that baffled many. He approached the war with confidence and saw it as an opportunity to raise Russian morale and patriotism, paying little attention to the financial repercussions of a long-distance war. Shortly before the Japanese attack on Port Arthur, Nicholas held firm to the belief that there would be no war. Despite the onset of the war and the many defeats Russia suffered, Nicholas still believed in, and expected, a final victory, maintaining an image of the racial inferiority and military weakness of the Japanese.
As Russia faced imminent defeat by the Japanese, the call for peace grew. Nicholas’s mother, as well as his cousin Emperor Wilhelm II, urged Nicholas to negotiate for peace. Despite the efforts, Nicholas remained evasive, sending a telegram to the Kaiser on 10 October that it was his intent to keep on fighting until the Japanese were driven from Manchuria. It was not until 27–28 May 1905 and the annihilation of the Russian fleet by the Japanese, that Nicholas finally decided to sue for peace.
A second Duma met for the first time in February 1907. The leftist parties—including the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries, who had boycotted the First Duma—had won 200 seats in the Second, more than a third of the membership. Again Nicholas waited impatiently to rid himself of the Duma. In two letters to his mother he let his bitterness flow:
A grotesque deputation is coming from England to see liberal members of the Duma. Uncle Bertie informed us that they were very sorry but were unable to take action to stop their coming. Their famous “liberty”, of course. How angry they would be if a deputation went from us to the Irish to wish them success in their struggle against their government.
He can’t even stop people from coming into his country!
Then, of course, there was that little matter with WWI.
The Tsarina, Alexandra, complained that she couldn’t so much as change the scones they were served at tea time. Each detail of the tea service was set, determined by a system of rules and patronage already put into place and now immutable.
I wish I could find now the book that discussed this, but my search skills are failing me. But in short, despite being the ostensible autocratic monarchs of a massive empire, the Tsar and Tsarina were remarkably incapable of altering even the most minor aspects of their lives. Despite titles like autocrat, emperor, tsar, etc., few men rule alone–most monarchs are enmeshed in multiple overlapping systems of authority, from their relatives–the rest of the royalty–to the military, bureaucracy, the local upper class, feudal obligations, rights and privileges, etc.
Even Henry VIII had to resort to inventing his own religion just to get a simple divorce–something we peasants affect with far more ease. Henry’s difficulties stemmed from the fact that his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was daughter of the king and queen of Spain, and the Pope (whose dispensation was needed for a royal divorce) was at the time being held prisoner by Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V.
But Henry did eventually manage.
We might criticize Henry for murdering two of his wives, but Britain had just emerged from a century of civil war and he knew the importance of producing a clear heir so succession could not be contested and the country would not descend again into war. He was descended from the guys who were ruthless enough to come out on top and he was willing to chop off a few heads if that’s what it took to keep his country safe.
And the product of Henry’s reign was peace; his daughter, Queen Elisabeth I, oversaw England’s golden age.
By contrast, Nicholas II couldn’t produce a viable male heir (hemophiliacs are right out). Alexandra’s failure resulted in neither divorce, a rupture with the Orthodox Church, nor execution (had any of Henry’s wives associated with the likes of Rasputin, their heads would have been off.) He couldn’t even get out of frivolous amusements with his uncle.
It’s not that lopping of Alexandra’s head would have saved the Russian Tsars, but that having a system with enough flexibility that the Tsar could actually make important decisions and leaders capable of using said system might have.
Meanwhile in America, it amazes me that Trump is not capable of simply firing anyone in the executive branch he so desires–including the entire executive branch. After all, Trump is the head of the executive branch; they answer to him. If Trump cannot fire them, who can? How can bad actors be removed from the executive branch?
Take the incredible recent 60 Minutes Interview with McCabe, a former FBI agent who was fired for conspiring to overthrow President Trump during the election:
Tonight you will hear for the first time from the man who ordered the FBI investigations of the President. Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe is about to describe behind the scenes chaos in 2017, after Trump fired FBI director James Comey. In the days that followed, McCabe says that law enforcement officials discussed whether to secretly record a conversation with the president, and whether Mr. Trump could be removed from office by invoking the 25th amendment.
Who the fuck does this McCabe asshole think he is? The power to impeach lies with Congress, not the FBI. The FBI is part of the executive branch. It doesn’t even make sense for the executive branch to investigate its own head, much less try to oust a sitting president for firing someone.
That’s how the entire CHAIN OF COMMAND works.
After Comey was fired, McCabe says he ordered two investigations of the president himself. They asked two questions. One, did Mr. Trump fire Comey to impede the investigation into whether Russia interfered with the election. And two, if so, was Mr. Trump acting on behalf of the Russian government.
The media keeps trotting out a line–they’ve been trotting this out since before the election–that Trump needs to believe the intelligence on Russia. But nobody–outside of a few folks inside the intelligence service itself and perhaps Trump–gets to see the actual evidence on the matter, because it’s all “classified.” And frankly, I don’t think they have any evidence. Because it’s not real.
If you can’t prove any of this, there’s no reason to believe (or not believe) any of it.
Imagine if during the ’08 election, the Republicans had become convinced that Obama was an Islamic foreign agent working together with Muslim countries to subvert America, and the FBI under Bush started an investigation into Obama. (There are Republicans who thought this, but it has always been fringe.) Now imagine that two years later, the media is still insisting that Obama needs to “believe the intelligence agencies” about Saudi interference in the election and that the FBI is trying to secretly wiretap him because he fired the guy who was pushing the “investigation” of his supposed links to Osama bin Laden.
Would you not think that the FBI had gone a bit insane?
Whether you like Trump or not is beside the point.
There is simply no accountability here for the FBI’s behavior. The FBI is pushing whatever harebrained conspiracy it wants, and if Trump tries to do anything to reign them in, they threaten him with “obstruction of justice” and threaten to team up with Congress to get him impeached.
Even if you don’t believe in democracy, you may still be concerned that random guys in the FBI are trying to run the country.
Remember, in the midst of the destruction of the Russian regime, the best the royalty could manage was murdering an annoying monk. They couldn’t save themselves–or their country–from disaster.
11 thoughts on “Trump can’t fire anyone and neither could Tsar Nicholas II”
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I don’t understand the Russo-Japanese War example. Based on the quoted text, it looks like Nicholas II had the discretion to carry on with the war or sue for peace, and wanted to go forward with the war. That’s not being unable to rule, it’s just doing a bad job.
True. This might just be filed under “utter incompetence.”
Thanks for the reasonable assessment of Henry VIII, it makes a refreshing change from all the soap opera rubbish I normally read.
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It’s funny how we process distance. Chopping off a wife’s head: terrible and cruel. Getting into a pointless civil war in which thousands die: well, that’s just history, right?
One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.
Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 –
Battle of Tsushima DOCUMENTARY https://youtu.be/jm4w2n1KjfQ The Japanese were already known to be formidable, for their level of industrialization at the time.
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I try to relate big things to small for my children. Today I touched on just this topic by explaining how, in an emergency, I’m in charge. Power and authority needs to be vested in a single point to accomplish time sensitive tasks. Both “sides” claim that the other has power, and both are wrong.
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