Column: The words of Lincoln, Truman and Reagan got us through crises. Trump’s words makes everything worse
What a week.
On Monday, Memorial Day, we honored fallen war heroes.
On Wednesday, the COVID-19 death toll topped 100,000 in the United States, nearly four times the count in any other country.
On Thursday, the unemployment rate was at its highest since the Great Depression.
And by week’s end, violence raged and racial tensions flared across the country over the controversial killings of black people, by white police officers in two cases and a white former cop in a third.
As we move ever closer to the next presidential election, I got to thinking about how, since the birth of the nation, our presidents have tried to shine a light in trying times. Like poets and prophets, they reassured, urged resolve and compassion, and appealed to unity.
That was then, and this is now.
President Woodrow Wilson as the world looked for leadership coming out of World War I: “We cannot be separated in interest or divided in purpose. We stand together until the end.”
President Donald J. Trump as the country longed for leadership on the coronavirus crisis: “I’m not running against Sleepy Joe Biden. He is not even a factor…I’m running against the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats & their partner, the real opposition party, the Lamestream Fake News Media! They are vicious & crazy, but we will WIN!”
President Abraham Lincoln on overcoming differences with another person: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
President Trump on his differences with a news broadcaster who has questioned his policies: “When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!”
President John F. Kennedy on the importance of science: “The question in all our minds today is how science can best continue its service to the Nation, to the people, to the world, in the years to come…”
President Trump on the importance of pseudo-science: “I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
President Thomas Jefferson on the Fourth Estate: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
President Trump on same: “When will all of the ‘reporters’ who have received Noble ??? Prizes for their work on Russia, Russia, Russia, only to have been proven totally wrong…be turning back their cherished ‘Nobles’…The reporters and Lamestream Media knew the truth all along…Lawsuits should be brought against all, including the Fake News Organizations…”
President George Washington offering advice to his niece: “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
President Trump, who clearly didn’t receive such advice: “When I took this over, it was an empty box. We didn’t have testing. We didn’t have anything. We had a broken system there…We had a lot of broke systems. And I’m not just blaming President Obama. You go long before that.”
President Barack Obama speaking about the 2004 election: “In the end, this is what this election’s about — do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?”
President Trump on the coming election: “Mail in voting will lead to massive fraud and abuse. It will also lead to the end of our great Republican Party. We can never let this tragedy befall our nation.”
President Harry S. Truman on self-improvement: “In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves…self-discipline with all of them came first.”
President Trump on having no need for self-improvement: “I’ve had great ‘ratings’ my whole life, there’s nothing unusual about that for me. The White House News Conference ratings are ‘through the roof’ (Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale…) but I don’t care about that. I care about going around the Fake News to the PEOPLE!”
President Ronald Reagan on selflessness: “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
President Trump claiming credit and blaming others: “I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic. Yet your Governor, Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer is way in over her head, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude!”
President Lincoln on the need for government transparency: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
President Trump providing government disinformation: “When the professionals need a test, when they need tests for people, they can get the test. It’s gone really well.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on lying: “Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.”
President Trump lying: “I’ve always known this is a real—this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic … I’ve always viewed it as very serious.”
President Kennedy urging unity and leadership: “But I think the American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack. The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high to permit the customary passions of political debate. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.”
President Trump embracing discord and partisanship: “A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right…when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
President Theodore Roosevelt on letting experts do their jobs: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
President Trump on meddling: “Anthony [Fauci] is a good person, a very good person, I’ve disagreed with him…. We want to do it safely, but we also want to do it as quickly as possible. ... We have to get it open. I totally disagree with him on schools.”
President Kennedy on the need to rise above blame: “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
President Trump embracing blame: “Today people started losing their jobs because of Crazy Nancy Pelosi, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, and the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats…”
President Lincoln on humility: “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”
President Trump on his own concept of humility: “I was watching the other night the great Lou Dobbs, and he said when Trump took over, President Trump, he used to say, ‘Trump is a great president.’ Then he said ‘Trump is the greatest president since Ronald Reagan.’ Then he said ― then he said, ’No, no, Trump is an even better president than Ronald Reagan.’ And now, he’s got me down as the greatest president in the history of our country, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.”
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