By Michael Adkins
Is Donald Trump the second coming of Teddy Roosevelt?
The new president resembles no past president as much as he does T.R. Both were despised by the elite Republican leadership. Roosevelt’s selection to the vice presidency was a favor to the New York state GOP, who wished he would simply disappear.
Trump also shares many of the excessive character traits for which Roosevelt was famous. Both are known for super-sized egos. Like Trump, Roosevelt was an unabashed self-promoter who bloated his accomplishments beyond reality. It was said of Roosevelt that his book on the Spanish-American War should have been titled “Roosevelt in Cuba.” Roosevelt was known to stretch the truth beyond recognition, though never to the extent of our new president.
I note the comparison because, despite his excesses, Roosevelt was one of our greatest presidents and brought about significant positive changes that still impact America today. His precise understanding of foreign policy and America’s expanding role in the world helped Roosevelt to win a Nobel Peace Prize. His experience in governing a state as well as serving in administrative roles in the federal government prepared him well for the White House.
Trump lacks such experience, but the new president has a unique opportunity. Being no ideologue, he is not tied to any stale policy. Being neither a true Republican nor a Democrat, he is unfettered by party intransigencies. This means he can, like few men before him, pick and choose the best policy concepts from both sides of the political aisle. He is, therefore, afforded an opportunity to work with leaders of both parties to resolve problems with non-partisan solutions and thus unite a divided nation.
Anyone who truly loves this nation must want our presidents to be successful. We can only hope the Democratic party doesn’t take the position GOP leaders took in 2008 and maintained for the eight years of the Obama presidency. One hopes the Democrats place country before party.
But do I believe Donald Trump will be a successful president and unite the polarized people? Honestly, I seriously doubt it.
Trump’s scathing attacks on his opponents and those who dare question his statements make it tough to bring together polarized politicians. His successful campaign was predicated on divisiveness. That will make it almost impossible to weld together the divided people.
Every president has been granted a grace period by the press, but Trump’s vicious attacks on the integrity of the media may well destroy any chance he has to enjoy such a period. One does not succeed with the media by intimidation — well, maybe in Russia, but not here. This is critical for Trump, because he needs the media if he is to unite the American people.
Teddy Roosevelt was a master of the bully pulpit. He used that pulpit to lead a nation. With the media’s reporting, Roosevelt convinced the American people of his agenda, which ran against the grain of the philosophy of the elite GOP leadership at the time. With the people overwhelmingly on his side, Roosevelt stood against his leadership, even recast his party more to his image. The new president cannot do the same without the media who he paints as the enemy of the people.
Teddy Roosevelt was a larger-than-life figure with excessive personality traits that could have ruined his presidency, but he used those traits to unite a nation rather than divide it further. Roosevelt had his flaws, as has every man who has led this nation.
That means that while Trump has deep flaws, he can and must overcome them if he is to be a successful American leader.
Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.