Monday, November 7, 2016

Presidential Greatness

Crooked vs Crazy
Our Dismal choice

In 2016 American voters seem to be confronting a stark choice between crooked and crazy in the tawdriest campaign in our Republic's history.  So this may be an odd time to be considering the nature of Presidential Greatness.  But, in fact, there could be no better time to reflect on the lives of great men.

Two things are required for Greatness in our Commander in Chief: Moral Clarity and Strategic Ability.

FDR, Grosvenor Square, London

By "Moral Clarity" I do not mean to suggest that our president must be morally perfect.  That is an impossible standard.  Presidents, being human, will have their flaws.  FDR, for example, was an imperfect husband but a great American president.  By "Moral Clarity" I mean that a President grasps the central moral dilemma of their time.
George Washington, West Point, NY
George Washington recognized that the central moral issue of his time was whether the thirteen colonies would be independent or remain part of Britain.  Abraham Lincoln recognized that the moral issue of his time was slavery.  He famously noted that the US Civil War had been "in some way about slavery."  FDR recognized that the central moral issue of his day was the global confrontation with Fascism and Imperial Japan.   Many Americans wrongly believed, with Charles Lindbergh, that the central moral issue was the preservation of peace at any price.  Eisenhower recognized that the central moral issue of his time was not the confrontation with Communism (McCarthyism) but rather the avoidance of atomic war between the superpowers.

Lincoln statue, Spokane, WA
Moral Clarity and Strategic Ability are equally the sine qua nons of Presidential Greatness.  Moral Clarity without Strategic Ability gives us Jimmy Carter while Strategic Ability without Moral Clarity elects Richard Nixon.
Eisenhower, Grosvenor Square, London
George Washington did not merely cheer on the Declaration of Independence from the sidelines.  He inspired the Patriot cause and led Americans to victory at battlefields such as Princeton and Yorktown.  Lincoln lacked Washington's strategic gifts but he was a political mastermind who recognized and promoted the talents of Ulysses S. Grant and Sherman.  Lincoln said of Grant, "I can't spare this man, he fights".  FDR could match wits with Winston Churchill when it came to planning for victory in World War II.  FDR also retained able subordinates such as Marshall, Eisenhower and MacArthur. FDR was also refreshingly non-ideological when it came to war-making employing Republicans such as Henry Stimson (Secretary of War), Frank Knox (Secretary of the Navy) and "Wild Bill" Donovan at the OSS (Office of Strategic Services).  Eisenhower was a master strategist who planned the D-Day invasion.  As president he ended a stalemated war in Korea and refused to use atomic weapons in support of the French in Indochina (Dien Bien Phu).
Ronald Reagan, Grosvenor Square, London
What about Ronald Reagan?  Reagan's Moral Clarity could discern the raw evil of the Soviet Gulag.  Freedom is and always has been morally superior to slavery.  Moreover, Reagan had the Strategic Ability recognizing that the West had the means to win the Cold War without igniting World War III.

Commander Kelly in DC
Where does all this leave us in 2016?  Adrift and without a paddle.  Presidential Greatness seems nowhere in sight.  Neither candidate inspires confidence in terms of either Moral Vision or Strategic Ability.  Hillary supported a disastrous intervention in Libya and repeatedly heartens our enemies by announcing her intention to take strategic options off the table ("no US ground troops").  Trump, meanwhile, disparages American heroes such as John McCain and the NATO alliance which has been the guarantor of peace for nearly seventy years. Both candidates lack the fundamental seriousness that is required to be a successful Commander in Chief.  Hillary disdains the most basic security protocols while Trump tweets about his "enemies" into the wee hours.

Meanwhile, Putin rearms Russia ( and laughs up his sleeve.

Postscript: This was written the Monday before the 2016 election.  Time will tell whether the American people handed the "paddle" to an able navigator.  We have many troubled waters to steer through.  Trump is undeniably a hard-working and patriotic American.  Wishing today that Trump will surprise us with unexpected greatness.

You can find signed copies of America Invades

Regular copies are available on

You can find signed copies of Italy Invades

Regular copies are available

Signed copies of An Adventure in 1914
Or regular copies on


John Broskie said...

I am in agreement with Spengler here. Read and

Thus, I already voted for the Donald. Can you imagine Hillary-I-was-named-after-Sir-Edmund-Hillary picking three or four Supremes?! Do not worry about the military, as they can take care of themselves; the rest of us are not so lucky.

Timur Yarnall said...

Some much needed historical perspective in this day of micro tweets.

The country has survived the choice between bad and bad in the past -1928 comes to mind - and will do so again, hopefully with a strong leader called to action as a result.

Anonymous said...

I believe in the IDEA of the United States of America.
The nation will survive a minority of men who value power over the common good.

Japanese-American internment, McCarthyism, dropping Agent Orange on our own troops, institutionalized racism, we've had some dark chapters. But the IDEA of America led us to a better state, in time.

Obviously, I did not vote for Trump. The man attacked some of the very foundations of our national credo: peaceful transition of power, claiming the process is rigged, declaring to lock up his opponent if elected. He has appealed to the County's basest instincts as a means to gain power. Republicans who were repulsed, still backed him as a means to an end - controlling all branches of government.

The moral and strategic crises of our time is intolerance. Unifying the masses against 'the other' is a successful strategy, but it brings tears to the face of 'The New Colossus'