Although I suspect that most of you are aware of this, in President Trump’s recent 60 Minutes interview, the camera apparently captured a portrait hanging in the White House painted by a Trump supporter that depicts President Trump sitting at a table in the company of past Republican Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and … Abraham Lincoln. All except Mr. Lincoln (who is shown with his back to the observer) are portrayed with broad smiles on their faces, as if sharing some congenial moment with Mr. Trump. Although – now back from travels – I really do want to get to substantive topics, the irony of this (apparently lost on Mr. Trump, or he wouldn’t have had the picture hung) is more than I can let pass …
What would Mr. Roosevelt – who, despite his wealth and standing, chose to fight in his late 30’s in the Spanish-American War and led the charge up Cuba’s San Juan Hill, as President legendarily suspicious of big business and its abuses, the “Trust [Monopoly] Buster,” the regulator of railroads, the rabid outdoorsman who loved the environment and established and expanded national parks during his term — have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump? (Of all his table companions, if I was Mr. Trump, I’d fear TR, the only one likely to just … slug me.)
What would Mr. Eisenhower – a man who devoted his life to the military service of his country, was a de facto “general-diplomat” during WWII that respectfully, patiently, tactfully, and thoughtfully held British, French resistance, and American forces in alignment, served as the first Supreme NATO Commander, and as President confronted soviet aggression while nourishing the NATO Alliance — have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?
What would Mr. Nixon – a highly intelligent and deeply-schooled foreign policy mind who devoted his life to thwarting soviet aggression – who, despite his personal failings, was as responsible as any single individual for forging and maintaining the American Era between 1945 and 2016, who brought an end to 20+ years of the deepest acrimony between the U. S. and China by forging what has remained a positive relationship with China until the Trump Administration, and established the Environmental Protection Agency [yes, really 😉 ] – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?
What would Mr. Ford – perhaps the most honorable man to live in the White House since President Lincoln, devoted to his wife for 58 years, personally beloved on both sides of the political aisle, who was a trial to his advisors because he was loath to say or think anything bad about anybody, a steadfast supporter of the NATO Alliance, who took the courageous but politically unpopular step of pardoning Mr. Nixon that he knew could cost him re-election because he believed it was the right thing to do – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?
What would Mr. Reagan — who most aggressively of all Presidents confronted Soviet advances, who set the stage for the fall of the Soviet Union (which Vladimir Putin, who President Trump “likes,” has been reported to have called, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”), who amicably compromised at times with the Democrat Speaker of the House, and who described his “City on the Hill” as “… A tall proud city … teeming with people of all kinds … with free ports … open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here …” — have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?
What would George H. W. Bush – a man of gentlemanly demeanor, devoted to his wife for 73 years, who, despite his wealth and family standing, enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday, as the first American representative to China reinforced the relationship established by President Nixon, as President skillfully crafted a multi-nation alliance to conduct Desert Storm and had the political courage to raise taxes when he felt the nation’s finances required it, and watched Mr. Trump shamefully impugn his son, Jeb, confiding to a friend that he was voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?
What would George W. Bush, perhaps overmatched by the presidency but by all accounts a well-read man who as President provided Medicare Drug Coverage for Seniors and, whether wise or unwise, sought to spread the American ideas of freedom, human rights, and democracy into the Middle East, a fiercely loyal Bush who watched and listened to Mr. Trump disrespectfully impugn his father, his brother, and himself – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?
Finally, what would Mr. Lincoln – “Honest Abe,” a reader and self-made man, who fought fiercely to preserve the American Union, declared that “A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand,” freed African slaves and, after a bitter civil war that makes our current travails seem of no account, declared that Americans should move forward “With malice toward none and charity for all” – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump? (Perhaps the painter had the grace to place Mr. Lincoln’s back to the observer because he could only fairly have shown tears in Mr. Lincoln’s eyes.)
The portrait portrays other Republican presidents standing a bit back from the table: Presidents Grant, Hoover, Coolidge, and Harding. I am surprised that the artist didn’t place Messrs. Hoover, Coolidge, and Harding at the table with Mr. Trump, since each seemingly has more in common with him than any of the Republican presidents discussed above: in 1930, Mr. Hoover signed the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act, which implemented protectionist policies that raised U.S. tariffs on thousands of imported items and is claimed by some economic scholars to have exacerbated the Great Depression; Mr. Coolidge most famously proclaimed that “The chief business of the American people is business”; and Mr. Harding, of course, presided over the Teapot Dome Scandal, wrongdoing uncovered as a result of an extensive Congressional inquiry that ultimately resulted in Mr. Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, doing jail time for taking bribes from oil interests …