Politics

Five Months In: How Does Trump's Presidency Compare to the Greats?

The imagination is a powerful friend

Politics Features Donald Trump
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Five Months In: How Does Trump's Presidency Compare to the Greats?

On Wednesday, Trump informed us of his success in the Presidency.

In a wide ranging interview with Reuters, the president also claimed that his administration “had done more in five months than practically any president in history.” “If you look at Iraq and if you look at Syria and you see the progress we’ve made with ISIS, it’s been almost complete … The White House is functioning beautifully. The stock market has hit a new high. Job numbers are the best they’ve been in 16 years. We have a Supreme Court judge already confirmed. Energy is doing levels that we’ve never done before. Our military is doing well. We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS, which Obama wasn’t. There’s not a thing that we’re not doing well in.”

He came in the door with nothing but a rainy-day hunger for fries, and a plunging capacity to stay awake for eight hours. But now, five months after his sparsely-attended baptism into power, the Orange Greatness has achieved the most tremendous miracles. Every day brings a new rare beauty into view. His son, Donald, a master of subtlety and legal maneuvering. His son-in-law, Jared, soon to be a beautiful prison singer. His daughter, Ivanka, who the Germans booed. Who among us would not wish for such a legacy? No wonder our leader had such a spirited defense of his recent history. It was glorious, in the way all of Trump’s word-paintings are glorious.

“Practically any president in history.” Who are we, the humble authors of Paste, to doubt such a glowing estimation of self-worth? He is, after all, the President. He did drop bombs on defenseless people, which by the exacting moral standards of the Beltway, does make one a kind of hero. Still—much as we might wish—Paste magazine is not (yet) the ultimate and final arbiter on questions of history. We have books for that. How does our current Chief Executive stand next to other great men of the Presidency? Is his claim true?

ROOSEVELT

Start with our greatest President, FDR. The idea of the hundred days—of the first few months being consequential to a Presidency—comes from Roosevelt’s tenure. According to Kenneth Walsh of U.S. News, here is what Roosevelt did:

Roosevelt immediately called Congress into special session and kept it there for three months. He found that the Democrats who were in control were eager to do his bidding, and even some Republicans were cooperative. Raymond Moley, a member of FDR’s inner circle, said many legislators “had forgotten to be Republicans or Democrats” as they worked together to relieve the crisis.

Strangely, being universally beloved seems to have escaped Trump’s wizard powers. Roosevelt went on to pass fifteen bills during the hundred days. “Never before had a president converted so many promises into so much legislation so quickly,” the historian Burns wrote.

FDR quickly won congressional passage for a series of social, economic, and job-creating bills … the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which supplied states and localities with federal money to help the jobless; the Civil Works Administration to create jobs during the first winter of his administration; and the Works Progress Administration, which replaced FERA, pumped money into circulation, and concentrated on longer-term projects. The Public Works Administration focused on creating jobs through heavy construction in such areas as water systems, power plants, and hospitals.

And then he was done. No, wait, I’m sorry. That’s right. There was more.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. protected bank accounts. The Civilian Conservation Corps provided jobs for unemployed young men. The Tennessee Valley Authority boosted regional development. Also approved were the Emergency Banking Act, the Farm Credit Act, and the National Industrial Recovery Act. ... Through it all, FDR bonded with everyday Americans by means of his speeches and “fireside chats”—homespun radio talks that reached millions of listeners as the president explained his objectives and convinced his fellow citizens that he was their champion.

Is this unfair to the Orangeman? Perhaps we ought to pay attention to a Republican president, instead.

LINCOLN

After his election, in the first five months, Lincoln unified his party, placated the factions, and invited his opponents into his government. The United States Government Publishing Office was created. He decided to provision Sumter, and moved quickly after Fort Sumter to put down the rebellion. He blockaded Confederate shipping, disbursed funds before Congress had appropriated them. He kept the Border States close, quelled the Copperheads, and made sure there was bipartisan support. He called for 75,000 volunteers. In August, he signed the Confiscation Act, which allowed the courts to seize slaves aiding in the rebellion. He signed the Revenue Act in August, too, which paid for the war.

Lincoln had greater challenges in front of him—troubles more impressive than deciding which pixie-sized hand to place on a Saudi orb. From Jan Morris’ Lincoln: A Foreigner’s Quest:

On July 21, 1861, the fourth month of his Presidency, his armies suffered a terrible defeat Manassas in Virginia, only twenty miles from Washington. It was the first battle of the war. ... By the end of the day 2,986 Union soldiers were killed, wounded or missing, and all the Northerners, soldiers, spectators and all, were in headlong retreat back to Washington.

According to Wikipedia:

Despite having limited military experience, Lincoln was first and foremost a war president, as the Civil War began just weeks into his presidency and lasted until after his death. Lincoln was called on to handle both the political and military aspects of the war, facing challenges in both spheres.

Perhaps it’s not instructive to look at one of our greatest Presidents. What about a President who didn’t have war powers behind him?

Say, Theodore Roosevelt? He succeeded his assassinated predecessor, McKinley, in September of 1901. On October 16, Roosevelt formally invited Booker T. Washington to be his dinner guest at the White House, breaking the color line at the White House, and utterly infuriating the South. On October 17, he renamed the Executive Mansion to the White House. On November 14, Roosevelt added 200 miles to the Navajo Indian Reservation out of the Arizona Territory. That following Sunday, he received the Isthmian Canal Commission’s results, initiating the lengthy process which would eventually build the Panama Canal. Then he sacked the governor of Oklahoma. He sent a message to Congress demanding a Bureau of Commerce and Labor, an expansion to the Navy, to develop forestry laws. On February 19, he prosecuted the mammoth Northern Securities Trust for its anticompetitive and wholly predatory practices. He even found time to raise the pay of enlisted Navy men by two dollars on December 3.

The President’s greatest achievements—his only ones—are in the realm of fantasy. In that, he has no peer. If he has lied this much in five months, who can tell what four years will bring?

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