Tag Archives: Working class

Teddy and Trump

As is to be expected, Donald Trump is being compared to past presidents (or  previous foreign leaders-like Hitler). I am reading a biography concerning Teddy Roosevelt by Doris Kearns Goodwin,  and through her portrayal I see some unique similarities.

Like Trump. Roosevelt had a  brash personality, was thought by some to be crazy, and was full of energy. When he became governor of New York, Kearns-Goodwin writes that he was “ever on his feet” during meetings, moving back and forth restlessly, carrying a scowl and punching the air with his fists. She notes that despite Teddy’s explosive and impulsive nature that he maintained a precise, to the minute schedule. Even during breaks at the White House as  president, TR would take visitors on physically demanding hikes in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. After the first week of Donald’s presidency, it would be impossible to think that he does not share the same dynamism that propelled Roosevelt.. Thus far, every day and even the weekends have been filled with breathless activity.

Both Trump and Teddy share a trait not commonly found among Republicans: a concern for the plight of the working class. For example, Kearns-Goodwin discusses how TR worked to improve the lot of Pennsylvania coal miners who were under the thumb of elitist owners. He convinced these recalcitrant tycoons to settle a coal strike with miners .Had he not, the labor dispute might have crippled much of the nation during the upcoming winter since coal was the main heating fuel at the time. Roosevelt’s efforts not only benefited the whole United States, but also improved the miner’s working hours and wages.  Donald Trump, even before he took office, persuaded one Indiana company heading abroad to leave a thousand jobs in the state. He has shown a desire to help the people who helped put him in office, the white proletariat.The Donald has wasted no time in meeting with union leaders in the White House, earning their praise for his efforts to keep jobs in the United States.

In addition to being joined at the hip in temperament and outreach to the labor class, both Roosevelt and Trump fooled their opponents. Neither man was expected to become president and they were actively opposed by leading men of their own party. Kearns Goodwin reveals that Roosevelt was seen to be such a loose cannon by the Republican establishment of his day that they shunted him into the vice-president slot under William McKinley. They thought  they could bury him in a job  which the vice-president of Roosevelt’s distant cousin Franklin later called “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” The GOP bosses drew on his popularity with the American people to help McKinley win re-election, but they did not count on the president getting murdered by an anarchist in Buffalo. Of course, in the same way many leading Republicans dismissed Trump as an anomaly and refused to support his candidacy, but he won anyway.

When it comes to workers, both Teddy and the Donald are connected in their low opinion of the civil service system. Roosevelt was charged with reforming the patronage system  in which favored political friends were appointed to federal posts when he became a US Civil Service Commissioner in 1889. A new law required that a quarter of all civil service hiring be made by examination. Teddy began with a bang by exposing a scandal in which New York federal applicants could buy civil service exam questions beforehand. Roosevelt continued his investigation of federal civil service corruption as president. Trump promised throughout his campaign that he would root out corruption in the federal government when he became president. He pledged to “:drain the swamp.” The new president has already made waves by dismissing top State Department officials and the holdover Obama attorney general who defied one of his executive orders on immigration. Another executive order in his first days bans lobbying on behalf of foreign governments when they leave office. Other ethics reforms are in the works.

However, despite their many similarities, Roosevelt and Trump do have their differences. The most glaring one between the two thus far is their approach to the media. Teddy  was very friendly with the press.  Kearns-Goodwin focuses on this aspect of his political life during “The Golden Age of Journalism”, a time when reformist writers like Lincoln Steffens exposed the corruption of the government and trusts. Roosevelt had long, private talks with journalists, sought their opinions and saw them as a tool to get his message out to the American people. Trump on the other hand sees the media as his opponents. Even this weekend he called them “the opposition”, describing them as dishonest. He has few allies among the press, though he does maintain good relations with conservative pundits like Sean Hannity. To counter this weakness, The Donald has taken to Twitter to get his views across to everyday Americans, much to the dismay of the mainstream media.

Theodore Roosevelt has left us a lengthy historical record which reveals a politician who was a one-of-a-kind. We know little about Donald Trump’s  political acumen except for the coup he pulled off in surprising most of us and winning the presidency. He has been a businessman and TV star to date, which in and of itself brings us all into uncharted  territory, but does make him special.

Teddy Roosevelt thought large. He was determined to reign in the entrenched capitalists who put a damper on the American economy through their monopolistic practices,  despite the opposition of his own party. Teddy was able to do so in a way that allowed these business magnates to keep their dignity. Further, his legacy includes an amazing conservationist accomplishment. TR set aside 15o million acres of public land as national  forests. However, TR was not just a progressive reformer. He sent the US Navy on a round-the-world voyage to “show the flag” and demonstrate American might. Roosevelt’s own major pride was the building of the Panama Canal, connection the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

We really are not sure what we can expect from Donald Trump, except perhaps a lot of surprises. However, it would be unwise to miscalculate his potential as a politician. After all,  in his 1987 work “The Art of the Deal” he said that he “thinks big.” He certainly has rattled Washington in his first days with his immense flow of executive orders and other decisions.

It seems from the viewpoint of 11 days into his presidency that Trump has a huge fight on his hands with opposing Democrats and  some Republicans who are still disenchanted with him. But if he can keep a majority of the American people behind him, especially those in the majority of the states that elected him, the new president could very well pull off a Teddy Roosevelt and shock us all with his own landmark achievements.

While he has not yet had time to demonstrate substance, Trump certainly has some of the style and the language of a Teddy Roosevelt.

“Rhetoric is a poor substitute for action, and we have trusted only to rhetoric. If we are really to be a great nation, we must not merely talk; we must act big.”-Theodore Roosevelt

Sounds a little like Trump’s “politician’s are all talk and no action” statement, doesn’t it?

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