Thursday, February 28, 2019

Trump & Truman

Truman & Trump

At first glance Trump and Truman were very different men and very different US Presidents.  Truman was a Democrat and Trump is a Republican.  Truman was a failed businessman (Haberdasher) and farmer from Missouri while Trump was a real estate promoter from New York.  Trump had a wealthy father while Truman did not.  Truman served honorably as an artillery captain during World War I while Trump seems to have evaded the draft with bone spurs during the Vietnam War.  Truman was a founder of NATO while Trump is a frequent critic of the Western Alliance.  Truman used to start the day with a shot of bourbon (he was partial to Old Grandad) while Trump is a teetotaller,  And so on.

Look a bit deeper, however, and one can discover many parallels and similarities between Truman and Trump that go far beyond the first four letters of their surnames.  Consider the following ten points...

2 Harvard men
preceded Truman and Trump

1) Both Truman and Trump were preceded in office by multi-term winning Democratic presidents who had run on Change platforms in tumultuous economic times.  Both of their predecessors had Ivy league educations and well deserved reputations for eloquent public speaking.  FDR was a Harvard undergraduate who went to Law School at Columbia while Obama was a Columbia undergraduate who went to Harvard Law.

2) Remember the famous Dewey Defeats Truman headline from the Chicago Tribune?  Both men were widely expected by the media and pollsters to lose the one Presidential election that each man won.  The many similarities between Truman's victory in 1948 and Trump's in 2016 are, in fact, uncanny.  Both men ran against opponents who had more presidential campaign experience than themselves.  Dewey had been the Republican nominee against FDR in 1944 while Hillary Clinton ran unsuccessfully in 2008.  Both Dewey and Clinton ran lackluster campaigns that were perceived to be mere coronations.  Dewey and Clinton both enjoyed tremendous media support for their campaigns.  Truman launched his famous whistle-stop cross country campaign with an armored train called the Ferdinand Magellan; Trump flew by plane to his many rallies.  Both delivered partisan red meat for their respective audiences.  Truman hammered the "Do-Nothing congress" while Trump attacked "Crooked Hillary".  Both Truman and Trump were tireless campaigners who simply out hustled their respective opponents to gain their electoral victories.  Oddsmakers placed Truman as a 4 to 1 chance in 1948 with Trump around 7 to 1.  Both men carried the state of Missouri and lost the state of New York in their winning campaigns.  The media of 1948 and 2016 ate massive amounts of crow following the unforeseen victories of these two men.

Boss Pendergast went to the Big House

Manafort and Cohen are headed for the Big House

3) Both Truman and Trump had unsavory political associates who got into trouble and did (or will do) prison time.  Thomas Joseph (T.J.) Pendergast was Truman's principal sponsor and mentor who guided Harry to his first political office -- a judgeship.  Pendergast was implicated in voter fraud in Kansas City and convicted of tax evasion.  Boss Pendergast spent 15 months in Leavenworth.  Truman still chose to attend his 1945 funeral.  Trump's political associates, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, have both been convicted of white collar crimes and will begin prison sentences in 2019.

4) Truman and Trump both have faced charges of racism.  Truman frequently used the "N" word, adored Robert E. Lee and even paid $10 for a KKK membership card in the 1920s before changing his mind (Source: Truman, David McCullough, 1992, p 164).  Trump made thoughtless and insensitive remarks following the tragic 2017 Charlottesville riot.  Simultaneously, both men materially advanced the causes of minorities -- Truman with reforms in the US military and Trump with improved minority unemployment figures.

5) Both Harry and Donald were extremely critical of the media.   In an October 1948 Newsweek poll of political reporters, 50 out of 50 picked Dewey to win the election.  Truman dismissed Roy Roberts of the Kansas City Star as "a no-good can of lard".  He referred to Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson as "newsliars"and he nicknamed the Alsop brothers as "the Sop Sisters".  After a Washington Post music critic panned his daughter Margaret's concert recital he wrote a letter to him declaring that "you'll need a new nose" if they met in person (Source: Truman, David McCullough, 1992, p 819 and 829).  Trump has, of course, been relentlessly hostile to the "Fake News" media throughout his political career.

6) Truman and Trump could each be economical with the truth.  In 1946, for example, Truman hosted and introduced Churchill to a Fulton, Missouri audience.  Winston Churchill, prior to his famous "Iron Curtain" speech had provided Truman with the text of his upcoming speech which he read with interest.  In the initial media furor which followed the speech (Churchill as a warmonger, etc.), Truman told reporters that he never knew what Churchill was going to say  (Source: Truman, David McCullough, 1992, p 490).  Trump has a well-deserved reputation for hyperbolic statements and inaccuracies.  At the same time, both men have a reputation for "Plain Speaking".  Truman and Trump told or tell it like it is.  What you see is what you get with both men.  They are among are most transparent presidents.

7) Both men have made serious errors of judgement.  In 1952 Truman nationalized the Steel industry in a clear example of presidential overreach that was overturned by a liberal-dominated Supreme Court.   Wags even taunted him with the phrase, "To err is Truman".  Robert Taft called for Truman's impeachment following his sacking of General MacArthur.  Trump, for his part, has made numerous blunders.  The most recent has been the Trump-initiated government shutdown over wall funding which expired with little to show for it.

Truman Little White House
Key West, FL

8)  Truman and Trump shared a love of Florida.  Truman would retreat many times to the "Little White House" in Key West, Florida.  Trump retires to his real estate development at Mar a Lago.  Florida went for Truman in 1948 and for Trump in 2016.

9)  Truman and Trump have made important determinations on national security that remain deeply controversial to this day.  Truman employed two atomic bombs in the final stages of the war against Japan ( in order to spare the lives of American soldiers who were poised to execute a bloody invasion of the home islands.  In 1951 he sacked Douglas MacArthur for insubordination during the Korean War.  Trump, meanwhile, has insisted that the wall on America's southern border is a vital part of American security.

10) Trump and Truman have each proven surprisingly credulous with totalitarian dictators.  Truman at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 thought he was telling Stalin about the existence of the atomic bomb though we now know that the dictator was well aware of the Manhattan Project as a result of Soviet espionage.  Trump, for his part, readily seems to accept the word of Kim Jung Un that he had no prior knowledge of the brutal treatment meted out to the American student Otto Warmbier.

It is interesting to note that Truman and Trump both share Celtic ancestry.  Truman had Scotch-Irish ancestors while Trump's mother was of Scottish descent.  Both of them are pugnacious and feisty Celts.

Truman's reputation has risen after leaving office and after his death.  Only time will tell whether Trump's historical estimation rises or falls.

In 1950 Kim Jung Un's grandfather initiated the Korean War with an attack into south Korea to which Truman was forced to respond.  Now in 2019 Trump is attempting to negotiate a final peace on the Korean peninsula.  Truman and Trump have more in common than you might suppose.

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