Essay #7 on Freedom, This Moment

What Was Old Has Become New Again

Withering criticism often comes with the job that is President of the United States, and every one serving in that office has received his fair share, from Washington on down. Given the non-stop and particularly poisonous (and sometimes violent) railings against the current occupant of the Oval Office, I thought it might be interesting to compare criticisms of him with those endured by two of his Republican predecessors whose legacies have taken on a generally positive luster since their time in office ended…Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

In doing my research, the first thing I found (not surprisingly) is that both Lincoln and Reagan had serious, passionate detractors in real time, some from within their own Republican Party. What was more surprising, though, is how similar the takedowns of Lincoln, Reagan, and Donald Trump were. I wondered…could the layman tell who was being spoken of if I were to simply list a series of complaints, scrambled and with the president’s name replaced by a pronoun where necessary?

So, I did it, and that list is below. Before going there, however, here’s a quick reminder of key (by no means all) accomplishments of each man’s administration:

Abraham Lincoln:

- Preserved the Union;

- Ended slavery in the U.S.;

- Initiated the 13th Amendment to institutionalize abolition, and set the stage for the 14th Amendment.

Ronald Reagan:

- Revived a moribund U.S. economy, setting the stage for one of the longest periods of economic growth in the country’s history;

- Won the Cold War (without it turning into a “hot” war) [this and the economic revival led directly to the “peace dividend” that allowed America to invest more in non-defense sectors throughout the 1990s];

- Restored and revitalized America’s optimism after two lost decades highlighted by political assassinations, the Vietnam War, and economic malaise.

Donald Trump:

- Spurred extreme economic growth in the U.S., an expansion that led to the highest employment rates for American minority populations in the country’s history;

- Achieved critical foreign policy breakthroughs and increased stability in the Middle East, including broader assimilation of Israel with its Arab neighbors, the defeat of ISIS, and substantial diminution of Iranian influence in the region;

- Invoked a pragmatic “America First” philosophy that (counter-intuitively to some) increased U.S. influence abroad by radically reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources, strengthening trade agreements, requiring our allies to step up to commitments (such as monetary support of NATO), and standing firm in support of liberty movements abroad (as in the case of Hong Kong during a time when the Chinese Communist Party has been tightening its oppressive grip on that “special administrative region”).

Again, all three presidents achieved much more than what I’ve listed above. Still, it won’t surprise you that many non-Republicans (and even jealous, embarrassed Party hacks) worked non-stop to diminish or explain away those accomplishments and to heartily berate these men otherwise. And that brings us back to the task at hand…listing some of the most egregious criticisms of these Republican presidents.

Below is a list of thirty disparaging remarks. Some were targeted at Lincoln, some at Reagan, and some at Trump. I’ve intermingled the comments to try and make the task of determining their target more difficult (increasing the fun for you). As you read through each comment, decide the intended victim and make a note of it. Then check your answers at the bottom of this essay.

Here you go:

1. “No one [has] ever entered the White House so grossly ill informed.”

2. “My confidence is terribly shaken. So is everybody’s.”

3. The president has employed “extraordinary and dangerous powers” that the Constitution never granted the executive branch…he’s a “tyrant”.

4. “He ignores expertise…and critical thinking, in favor of his intuition, or as he calls it, his “gut.” He believes what he believes, regardless of the validity of his gut.”

5. “He continues to flaunt conventions and rules in order to surround himself with criminals and ethically compromised persons.”

6. He’s a white supremacist.

7. “You could walk through [his] deepest thoughts and not get your ankles wet.”

8. He sees his as an “imperial presidency”, appropriating to it not only powers specifically and ex­clusively granted to Congress but also some powers forbidden to any branch of the federal government.

9. “He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what the constitutional scope of the presidency is.”

10. “He has no understanding of the economy.”

11. “No president in history has held freedom of speech or freedom of the press in greater contempt.”

12. “He has very little grasp of the responsibility of a president to unite people.”

13. “In all fields of public affairs — from diplomacy to the economy — the president stunned Washington policymakers by how little basic information he commanded.”

14. His administration is characterized by “incapacity and rottenness…if he is reelected [I’ll] immediately leave the country.”

15. “He is a demagogue, a know-nothing, and a liar” one who “expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself…He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.”

16. “He is poorly educated.”

17. “The task of watering the arid desert between [his] ears is a challenging one for his aides.”

18. He “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity…and his spirit necessarily infuses itself downwards through all departments.”

19. “There is a strong feeling among those who have seen [him], in the way of business, that he lacks practical talent for his important place. It is thought that there should be more readiness, and also more capacity, for government.”

20. “Trying to forge policy,” said [a member of his Cabinet], is “like walking through a swamp.”

21. “He has exaggerated feelings of self-importance, excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.”

22. “All of his disabilities — gross misperceptions and knowledge gaps — he carried into the White House.”

23. “He ignores the ballooning national debt.”

24. “People now marvel how it came to pass that [he] should have been selected as the representative man of any party. His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world. The European[s]…despise us because we have no better material out of which to make a President.”

25. “He is evidently a person of very inferior…character.”

26. “With [him], no one is there. The sad fact is that we don’t have a president.”

27. “As to the politics of Washington, the most striking thing is the absence of personal loyalty to the President. It does not exist. He has no admirers, no enthusiastic supporters.”

28. The president has engaged in “grave Executive usurpation” and “a studied outrage on the legislative authority.”

29. “He…embarrasses the US in front of the world, sabotages necessary government programs that he doesn’t like, doesn’t consider himself answerable to the American people…”

30. “I could not believe…such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon.”

So, how did you do? Unfortunately, I’ve provided no grading chart, scale, or metric for you to measure your knowledge against that of other readers. But then, that wasn’t my point. My point was to highlight the irony of it all. I mean, didn’t you find it interesting how the same criticisms have lingered over the decades, even centuries, almost like some hard-won legacy? Isn’t it stunning that President Trump, so despised in real time by his Democratic detractors and the NeverTrump coven today, is viewed essentially the same as Presidents Lincoln and Reagan were by the pretentious detractors in their lifetimes?

It turns out that people of vision, purpose, and tenacity are always pilloried, and always in about the same way, based solely on which side of the ideological—or party affiliation—aisle they fall. (Can you, for example, imagine any of the maliciousness thrown at Mr. Trump every minute still happening if he were a Democrat, or if he were as strenuously pro-abortion as he is pro-life? Why, he would become an instant saint, giving cnn, The Atlantic, Slate, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times little to do beyond coming to his defense and touting his brilliance.)

It’s worth remembering that, as citizens, our focus should be on what a president does and who he helps and how he contributes to the lives of ordinary Americans. We should take the time to look hard through the fog of disparagement at his actual goals and accomplishments, and not—most certainly not—the phlegm spewed by a president’s opponents, especially those who claim similar ideology while enunciating their own superior judgment. Those types—in Trump’s time, as in Lincoln’s and Reagan’s—have done little more than perpetually churn a bubbling cauldron of verbosity—for their own purposes, not the president’s or the country’s or yours.

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Answer Key: 1-Reagan; 2-Lincoln; 3-Lincoln; 4-Trump; 5-Trump; 6-Lincoln; 7-Reagan; 8-Lincoln; 9-Trump; 10-Trump; 11-Lincoln; 12-Trump; 13-Reagan; 14-Lincoln; 15-Trump; 16-Trump; 17-Reagan; 18-Lincoln; 19-Lincoln; 20-Reagan; 21-Trump; 22-Reagan; 23-Trump; 24-Lincoln; 25-Lincoln; 26-Reagan; 27-Lincoln; 28-Lincoln; 29-Trump; 30-Reagan. [Note: All references and sources are available upon request.]