Sunday, May 15, 2016

Woodrow Wilson versus Donald Trump!

Woodrow Wilson

Nearly a hundred years ago President Woodrow Wilson led the United States into World War I. In April 1917 he spoke to a joint session of Congress asking for a Declaration of War on the Central Powers.  Americans were fed up with the Kaiser's Unrestricted submarine warfare and annoyed by the Zimmerman telegram -- a crude attempt to sign up Mexico as a Central power ally if the USA should intervene.  Congress soon approved the declaration of war.

Over one hundred thousand American servicemen would be killed over about 20 months from April 1917 until the war ended on Armistice day, November 11, 1918.  To put that in perspective, that sacrifice represents about 25X more than the TOTAL American deaths in the Iraq war from 2003 to 2011.  It also represented about 1/10th of the number of Commonwealth, less than 1/13th the number of French and 1/6th the number of Italian soldiers killed in World War I.  The French and British had been fighting the war since August 1914 and the Italians since April 1915.

If Americans were going to shed so much blood in the war then going "over there" had to make a difference.  It was widely hoped that World War I would be "the war to end all wars".

Woodrow Wilson came to the Paris peace conference with his famous Fourteen Points for setting the world right.  These included freedom of the seas, the restoration of Belgian Sovereignty, the return of Alsace and Loraine to France, the creation of a League of Nations, etc.  Clemenceau, the French premier wryly commented,  "The good Lord only had ten!" (Le bon Dieu n'en avait que dix!).  The former President of Princeton University and History Professor was ready to lecture the world.

Wilson can, perhaps, be accused of self-righteousness but he was articulating American values that were deeply felt at the time.  His touching faith in the League of Nations becoming the arbiter of future conflicts between nations may strike us today as hopelessly naive.  The League would not even be ratified by the US Senate and the US would never become a member.

We Americans did not always live up to our own values but we did have a set of values and a president's duty was to articulate these to the rest of world.  Wilson, imperfect though he was, led us through tragic times with a measure of dignity.  Finally, it was the bifurcation of the Republican party in the election of 1912 (sound familiar) that ushered Wilson into the White House (See...

The Donald
When we fast forward to 2016 the political landscape seems utterly different.  Donald Trump is a major party candidate who cynically seems to revel in his own lack of values  Everything is negotiable.  And everyone is subject to personal attack.  One can accuse Donald Trump of many things (bravado, arrogance, narcissism, etc.) but self-righteousness is not one of them.  His foreign policy is based on the premise that America has been getting screwed at the negotiating table and that his role would be to re-negotiate the terms.  And this is a message that resonates with many American voters.

He says, correctly, that NATO member countries should pay more for their defense.  He has, incorrectly, called NATO an "outdated" alliance.  He seems to be unaware of the vast sums that South Korea and Japan now pay to support the American garrisons in their respective countries.  He boasts of being "militaristic" but lacks any strategic or military experience (along with ALL current presidential aspirants).

He does not come to lecture but rather to rant.  He does not seek to inspire with lofty rhetoric but rather to bludgeon the other side into submission.  The Fourteen Points have been replaced by Fourteen Tweets a day -- minimum!

Trump really represents a whole new style of American politician.

The world used to look to America to protect itself from bullies; in 2016 we could elect a bully Commander in Chief.  Wilson, believing that America was a force for good in the world, sought American engagement with the world beyond our shores whereas Trump, fearing the duplicity and treachery of the outside world, seems to want to signal an American retreat into an imaginary walled fortress.

Woodrow Wilson, the Professor, wrote many books including one titled On Being Human.  Trump, the real estate billionaire, has written The Art of the Deal.  Wilson could be an insufferable bore.  Trump can be a unholy terror.

Wilson was a combination of knowledge and naïveté.  Trump is a combination of ignorance and boundless self love.  The former was dangerous while the later could be catastrophic.

You can find signed copies of America Invades
or regular copies on

Coming in the Fall of 2016...

1 comment:

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