Reflecting on POTUS Libraries in the Trump Era
One of my favorite activities is visiting a Presidential Library or museum when I happen to be in the area. I have been to Kennedy, Johnson, Truman, and Reagan. Last week we were in Upstate New York and after many years of wanting to get there, I finally made it to Hyde Park – to the home of Franklin Roosevelt as well as his Library. This was my first visit to a Presidential Library since Donald Trump assumed the Presidency and the thought of the comparison weighed very heavily on my trip and emotions.
FDR was not perfect. But he was close. Whether he could have done more to save Jews in Europe is still a topic for debate. His internment of Japanese Americans is one of the darkest periods of our history and his attempt to pack the Supreme Court was a legislative folly. But in my mind, even those unforgivable decisions do not diminish him in my mind as one of our greatest leaders. His New Deal programs to guide us out of the depression, as well as his sterling Wartime leadership that defeated Hitler and the Japanese war machine, are the accomplishments of a President placed with us by divine intervention.
That is why when I was walking in the footsteps of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, looking at the home where he personally disclosed to Winston Churchill the existence of the Manhattan Project that I had to shed tears for our country. It is unfathomable to me that Donald Trump occupies the same office as FDR or any of the other men whose memorials I have visited. Trump’s actions and demeanor truly debase this great office and anyone who knows any Presidential History cannot help but come to the same conclusion.
In his 1941 Inaugural Address, Roosevelt articulated his Four Freedoms which still today we should strive for:
– Freedom of speech
– Freedom of worship
– Freedom from want
– Freedom from fear
Can you imagine Donald Trump making that speech let alone adhering to those principles? If anything, Trump subscribes and promotes the opposite view of FDR. And in terms of speaking, while Roosevelt was a master orator either in person or on the radio, Trump communicates through tweets and as a White House beat reporter described it, “a 150-word working vocabulary.”
The revered Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes after meeting the newly elected President Roosevelt commented, “He has a second-rate intellect, but first-rate temperament.”
Holmes understood that to be successful, a President did not have to be a great intellectual, but he had to have a common touch, to be able to relate to all sections of the country. What would Holmes or even any member of the current Supreme Court say about Donald Trump if posed with that criteria? Unfortunately, Trump has not shown us that he meets even the lowest bar of either of these qualities that the Leader of the Free World needs to execute their program and be successful.
I would hope that readers make an effort to visit any of the Presidential Libraries. And I would urge our schools to teach our students American History so instead of just criticizing Trump as a knee-jerk reaction, but rather judge him in the context of the others who have held the same Office. History must always be placed in context. And it is difficult to judge our leaders objectively because the times demand different skills. I am still waiting to see where Trump fits into this test.
As you travel through America, there are many parks, venues, roads, and other places named for Presidents. Some are named after our greatest Presidents, while others carry the names of men who may not have excelled, but they served. Donald Trump has always been the king of branding. My question is when he has left office, will there be any place that carries his name with the exception of a few hotels and condominium developments? Will his grandchildren even want to carry his name?
Roosevelt and Trump. It is very difficult to link the names, but in many ways, we must. My wish is that Donald Trump visits some of the same Presidential Historical sites that I have and then maybe then he might understand the good he can accomplish and the unselfish mission he truly serves. Roosevelt lived every day to the fullest. He was born on third base, but he was able to relate to the most vulnerable in our society. He lived with great physical challenges, but never used them as an excuse or complained. He died a relatively young man. There is no doubt the job and the War killed him. But he died fulfilled and left us a legacy that emphasized a worldview, valued alliances, and provided economic opportunity. So far, the only modicum of comparison I can see from Trump is that he was born on third base, but if he does not begin to attempt to emulate his predecessors, he is going to be picked off.