Donald Trump’s arrival in the UK heralds protests the length of the land, and rightly so. As a head of state, and no ordinary state at that, he has to be accorded the dignity of his office but many will choose to express their dislike loudly and visibly.
It’s not the United States that most are protesting against but him. After all, he no more represents the views of the ordinary Americans, than Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary embodied UK values. Trump didn’t even win the popular vote but lost by several million, yet sadly was still elected due to the electoral college system.
Now I’ve never sought to personalise politics as it’s fundamentally about ideology, not the individual. “Maggie Out” chants deflected from the true nature of Thatcherism – focussing on her, not the wider changes that were being made to our society. It was the privatisation of industries and impoverishment of communities that I detested not her, even when she rejoiced in some of her deeds.
In many ways, it’s the same with Trump as though the focus is on him the real threat’s what those who surround him are doing. When the headlines are all on his outrageous tweets, they deflect attention from his subordinate’s actions, whether rolling back environmental protection or ending affirmative action.
But he demeans the Office of President and that appals me. Others that have gone before him might not have been of my ideological hue, but at least there was an appreciation of their abilities and even some respect for them. But, for him there’s none, he’s simply venal and particularly nasty with no redeeming features.
George W Bush, who I hold responsible, along with Tony Blair, for many of the ills we now face in the world through their supposed war on terror was no fool. The portrayal of him as some bumbling idiot was entirely wrong. Trump though isn’t even a George W Bush.
The president that Trump most admires is Andrew Jackson. The seventh President was a military general and hero of the war of 1812 and was also a political outsider, breaking the monopoly of the grandees who had preceded him. However, any similarities are perhaps more aptly drawn in regard to the treatment of minorities as Jackson opposed the abolition of slavery and enacted the legislation that would see the “trail of tears” – the forcible removal of native peoples from their land.
The presidents during my lifetime have mainly respected the dignity of the office, not demeaned it. Sadly, many whom I wished had been elected weren’t and they include Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.
I was too young to know much about John F Kennedy but feel there’s a bit too much hype about him even if he broke the mould by being young and Catholic. Likewise, I think Bill Clinton was overrated with his undoubted charisma overshadowing a record that saw low-wage jobs and low-intensity conflicts. His bonhomie also apparently masked a foul temper though there’s many a politician like that.
I also suspect that history might not be so kind to Barack Obama. He may be venerated at the moment, but much is predicated on the appalling actions of Trump in rolling back positive actions. Equally though, Obama’s use of drone strikes showed a very hawkish side to a public demeanour of amiability which was far from true for a man who was quite cold in reality.
JFK’s brother Robert I greatly admired and it’s a tragedy that he was assassinated when on course to be elected. I recall Professor Edgar Cahn, the architect of the timebank scheme, telling me about working for RFK as a young speech writer.
Newly moved to Washington, he faced challenges as his wife was black, highly unusual in 1960s America. Unbeknown to him Kennedy found out about it and phoned all his neighbours advising them that he was the Attorney General and needed to get an urgent message to his young assistant. Needless to say, attitudes amongst his neighbours quickly changed, and I’m sure this was a mark of the man. Though, I’ve also been shown photographs of his mistress accompanying him on a family holiday which is truly bizarre, but may be reflective of the Kennedys.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded JFK, is someone I respect and feel hasn’t been given the credit due to him. Visiting the “Texas White House”, now a national park, a few years back I saw a man from humble origins as it includes the cottage in which he was born before a more substantial dwelling was built. He sought to improve public education and drive through human rights laws, no easy thing for a southern senator. His reputation crashed and burned in the killing fields of Vietnam but there I hold idiotic generals who persuaded him a surge would get them out of the war quickly. As in later wars it was not to be.
In turn he was followed by Richard Nixon who shamed the office by his impeachment. However, I recall reading that the Democrats before him weren’t squeaky clean which doesn’t surprise me. More surprising was my friend who’s photographed every president since Dwight Eisenhower, and who provides me with many of these insights, stating that it was Nixon that he liked best. It certainly wasn’t politics but a spending a few days with him at his ranch after he’d demitted office when he saw a man who was humbled and raw.
My friend also advised that Nixon had been planning to introduce a healthcare scheme similar to Obama’s before resigning. That shows how far to the right American politics has moved in 50 years. It started with Ronald Reagan who I found shallow but possessing decency and who replaced the maligned but fundamentally good Jimmy Carter.
There were others like the bumbling Gerald Ford and the “preppie” George Bush senior who whilst never setting the office alight, never demeaned it.
But the narcissism and boorishness of Trump most certainly does. God Help America.