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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Edmund Burke, British member of parliament (1766-94) and critic of British treatment of the American colonies.
I have been reading a biography of President Harry Truman. This got me thinking about the other presidents we have had since that time. Like Truman, some were Democrats and some were Republicans. Some were liberals and some conservatives. All of them did some good and made some mistakes. All were ambitious politicians who were not as honest as they should have been. But the contrast between all of them and the current occupant of the presidency is stark and disturbing.
Harry Truman became president after Franklin Roosevelt died in office in 1945. President Truman led us in the final days of WW2 and made the decision to use nuclear weapons on Japan. His administration is remembered for the Truman Doctrine to contain communism and Marshal Plan to help war-torn Europe recover economically. His administration launched the Cold War and took us into the Korean War. But he also tried to continue Roosevelt’s liberal social policies by proposing national health care, civil rights legislation, and integrating the military by executive order. Truman’s legacy is a mixture of world shaping successes and mistakes that still affect us today.
Historian David McCullough presents Truman as a decisive leader and a good president, but also a decent, moral, and honest family man. He cared about people. He was always respectful of others including his opponents. He cared about the office of the presidency and felt a responsibility to preserve the dignity of the office. He approached problems by STUDYING the the issues, gathering FACTS, and CONSULTING advisers – even from the opposition. He worked hard, long hours as a senator and president. He took responsibility. The “buck stops here” was his motto. Truman had many political opponents and critics, but no one questioned his character.
The other presidents since Truman exhibited a wide range of human strengths and failings. Their policies were a mix of good and bad for the country. Dwight Eisenhower was a conservative Republican but, like George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama, was basically a decent person. John Kennedy and Bill Clinton were womanizers. Lyndon Johnson was arrogant and manipulative. He lied about and expanded the Vietnam War. But he created Medicare, advocated for equal rights, and tried to end poverty. Ronald Reagan was an ill-informed ideologue who’s lax management style allowed widespread corruption and mismanagement in his administration. He was called the “Teflon President” because the scandals never stuck to him. George W. Bush got us into two wars and the endless “war on terrorism.” His administration brought us secret prisons, torture, and widespread spying on citizens. He was widely considered our worst president ever.
Richard Nixon’s administration was the only one committing enough illegal, unconstitutional, and immoral acts to be impeached and forced to resign. But even “tricky Dick” proposed a national healthcare program, signed the legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency and the Earned Income Tax Credit to help the poor.
All these former presidents, with all of their human failings, character flaws, intellectual limitations, policy mistakes, and partisan prejudices look like good guys in comparison with the current occupant of the White House. None of these former presidents embarrassed themselves, or the nation, by verbally attacking almost everyone including foreign leaders, celebrities, their own party members, and their own appointed officials. None of them blatantly ignored known facts or repeatedly lied on as many issues as Trump. None of them have had the staff turnover or the number of career professionals quit in disgust as this president. None of them defended neo-nazis and white supremacists. With the exception of Richard Nixon, none of them generated the level of controversy, condemnation, and chaos of this administration. None of them ever created detention camps for children.
Comparing Donald Trump’s behavior with prior presidents makes one thing clear. Donald Trump is unfit to be president. He does not have the personality, character experience, knowledge, or competence to do the job. This is not a partisan statement. There are many conservative Republicans with the same opinion. Writing about the impeachment of Richard Nixon in 1973, the historian Barbara Tuchman said, “Political expediency should not take precedence over decency in government...what we are dealing with here is fundamental immorality.” This applies to our current situation.
When are we going to recognize that we ALL are living with a huge mistake? We all will suffer the consequences. We all must take responsibility for this crisis. We all must take action to either undo his election or mitigate the damage he, and his administration, are causing. None of us can afford sit on the side lines.
You may not want to get involved in politics. You may believe most politicians are corrupt and there is no difference between the parties. But by your silence and inaction you give your consent.
Good people can not “do nothing” and expect our democracy to survive. I recently read an anonymous online comment that made this point well. The person wrote,
“For a radical movement to take over a civilized country requires two classes of supporters: what I call the Nazis and the Not-Sees. While the former are utterly unambiguous about their race war aspirations, the latter will often appear (and consider themselves) to be decent, mainstream folks – your Republican neighbors, coworkers and family members who can always find a way to rationalize what’s going on, not matter how awful it gets.”
If you are a “not-see” citizen that doesn’t vote you are giving your support to what Trump is doing. If you are a liberal who won’t compromise by voting for the “lessor of evils,” you are giving your consent. If you are a conservative who voted for Trump you are complicit.
At this point the only realistic way to reign in the Trump administration is to have Democratic “Blue Wave” in November. All of us must set aside our cynicism, apathy, political purity, and party loyalty for the good of the country. We all must work to elect Democrats.