Donald, a Republican President You Are Not (yet)

Dear Donald,

The Republican Party nominated you. The Republican Party supports you. Republican voters overwhelmingly approve of you. You are the latest in a long line of Republican Presidents. Let’s take a look at the line of sometimes revered, sometimes disgraced, often controversial Presidents. We’ll stop after Teddy. It would be an insult to compare you (and most anybody else) to Lincoln and nobody really remembers those bewhiskered series of late 19th century Presidents. And, as you will discover, enough is enough.

Donald … you are no George W. Bush. You may, like him, be the darling of the Christian Right (for now) and you have the same tendency to “swagger” in public, but you are no George W. We may never forgive George W for the Iraq War. For many, his tax cuts were the beginning of the end of our egalitarian promise. However, even if you hated his policies and his pseudo Texan “swagger”, you felt that what you saw is what you got. He feels like a man of his word, a man to share a beer (or Diet Coke) with, a good neighbor. I dare not go too far ... the smirk, Katrina flyover, Mission Accomplished … frankly, you have done the impossible … something HUGE … you have made George W look presidential.

Donald … you are no George H. Bush. You did not spend your entire adult life in the service of the country. You certainly did not run the CIA or serve overseas or fly bombers in wartime. George H. Bush knew when to start a war and, even harder, when to stop it. You have not shown such skills in a measly press conference. George H. could talk to everybody ranging from those pesky Europeans to the Chinese to the Saudis. He made friends, not enemies. He lost gracefully to Reagan then worked with him. He built coalitions (the Gulf War) and bipartisan bridges (the tax hike). It was never all about him.

Donald … you are no Ronald Reagan. We know that Reagan began with a similar promise to defang government just as you have. His cabinet scared people just as yours does. He had his share of sketchy advisors and made big promises about “morning in America.” There were scary Soviet missiles and bad Ayatollahs on his watch. Like you, he liked to shake a big stick. But, don’t you dare think you are the two-term ex-governor of California. Don’t you dare think you are the charming, jelly bean consuming leader of the free world who could disarm even his most outraged opponents with charm and good humor. We liked seeing him on horseback or chopping wood because he was a man of broad shoulders who assumed responsibility for the Beirut bombing of the Marines, who would forge a life long friendship with his political opponents and who, in a moment of pure idealistic fancy, tried to rid the world of nuclear weapons. No … much to the disappointment of Republicans everywhere, their Messiah has not returned.

Donald … you are no Gerald Ford. Like you, he felt the pressure of not being cleanly elected by the majority. In fact, he was not elected at all. Unlike you, he had a problem going in and out of airplanes. Like you, people made fun of him but he laughed too. Unlike you, his job was to calm things down and restore dignity to the Office of the Presidency. Clearly, yours is a different agenda.

Donald … you are no Richard Nixon (yet). Tricky Dick was not liked. Neither are you (“like” is the operative word). Tricky Dick embarrassed his party. Tricky Dick was caught saying really ugly things about many ordinary Americans. Tricky Dick blamed the media for everything. Tricky Dick hired crooks. Tricky Dick resigned and the American Presidency never recovered. Woops … maybe I’m wrong. Then again … Richard Nixon could work with a Kissinger. His winter White House was a house, not a club. He loved one wife. His victory in 1972 was HUGE. In the end, his skin was too thin to handle the truth and he retreated into the self-referential world of sycophants. We all know what happened. Do you?

Donald … you are no Dwight D. Eisenhower. The list is long. Just to avoid too much embarrassment, we can skip over being a five star general, overseeing the liberation of Europe and being so popular with the American public that he would have won both the electoral college and popular vote with either party. No, let’s just stick with temperament. He lived with constant criticism and scrutiny as the military leader of the free world during a war that killed 50 million. He kept his famous temper under control throughout WWII, the Cold War and two terms as President. He left office ridiculed by many for his restraint only to be exonerated by history. He always knew that every office he occupied, no matter how rarified, was bigger than him. He knew that history was watching him … and it humbled him.

Donald … you are no Herbert Hoover. Yes, you may share a certain hubris with this Quaker from Iowa. He also believed he could solve the all the nation’s problems. The voters tagged him The Great Humanitarian because he did, in fact, save Europe from starvation at the end of the war. He was hubristic enough that he thought he could end poverty in this country – imagine that. Like you he was rich. But his money was entirely self-made, made before he was 30. Unfortunately for him, he believed that he could steer the country clear of the Great Depression by continually telling the American people that the facts are wrong, the economy is fine. In the end, history was harsh as Herbert learned the hard way that facts are facts and news is news.

Donald … you are no Calvin Coolidge. Silent Cal was, in fact, pretty silent. No tweeting for him. His belief in small government was as sincere as his modesty and self-restraint. The two complimented each other almost as well as your use of tweets and your propensity to brag. Cal lost his beloved son while in the White House and endured with a stoic determination as profound as the loss itself. He may have left the office with much unsaid but he left it intact. While the Twenties “roared” and then collapsed, Calvin retired to his modest homestead in Vermont only to reappear in the White House in a portrait moved by Reagan into the Oval Office as an inspiration of good, restrained governance. Oh well, if wishes were horses …

Donald … you do not want to be Warren G. Harding. You must be better than the handsome, utterly inexperienced man picked by the party out of relative obscurity in Ohio for his good looks and malleability. You must be better than the man who poked his mistress in the closet of the Oval Office so shamelessly that some suspect his wife of poisoning him. You must be better than the man who littered the White House with spittoons and poker tables so that his cronies could share stories about all their corrupt shenanigans. He died on a trip to Alaska just as he began to realize what a mess he had made of things. Apparently self-awareness arrived too late. Please note.

Donald … you do not want to be William Taft. He is easy to forget bookended between Teddy and Woody. He would have liked the anonymity, however. Like a few other Republican Presidents, he didn’t like the glare of publicity. He never really wanted to be President. His wife and Teddy insisted on it. Though brilliant and experienced, he botched the job. The party split and Woody ran in and began to change everything. It is hard to do a tough job when your heart, and his was a HUGE heart, isn’t in it. Do you like this job?

Donald … the fact that you are no Teddy is a good place to end. Some people, including you, confuse you with TR. You are both populists, of a sort. You both like the “bully pulpit”. In very different ways, each of you look at life in the binary mode: weak versus strong, big versus small, winning versus losing. A lot of nuance goes to die in this binary world. That may have gotten you through a brief dinner with TR but any substantial comparison abruptly ends. Teddy had a special assistant carry his book around during the day so he could keep up on his reading. He read a book a day. He wrote 34 books. His mind and his White House were magnets for the world’s best and brightest. Along the way he picked up a Nobel Peace Prize, had pillow fights with his children after state dinners and got our National Parks rolling. He said no to JP Morgan and made beef safe for the common man. He was a plutocrat who, unlike you, knew enough about that world to mistrust it.

Donald … I know you haven’t had many of these, but this has been a history lesson, of sorts. You are in a club, the Republican President Club, where many have learned the hard way, where many are still vilified for their errors, where many are missed to this day. Welcome to the Presidency. You think it is about power dinners at your club or summary firings and intimidating executive orders. In fact, some of it is. But, maybe, just maybe, you might get that your real dance partner in that office is history. I think each of those men before you could tell you that. So … get off that tweet, read a bit and go see Hamilton. Watch George Washington closely. He was neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He was our first and greatest President because he knew “that history is watching”.

A History Teacher

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