It is not exactly surprising that The New Yorker offers us a pristine example of the smugness that permeates the Left these days, especially when we’re talking about everyone’s favorite topic: Donald Trump. But take this cover, which features some of America’s most renowned presidents — George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, John Kennedy and FDR — in various states of dismay as they watch Trump pontificate on television.
They are all deeply concerned about the future. And aren’t we all?
“In most historical portraits, Presidents are noble and dignified,” Barry Blitt says of his cover for this week’s issue. “My biggest challenge was to alter the Presidents’ expressions to make them reflect attitudes of consternation.”
Well, agonizing about Trump’s political ascent is understandable if you happen to be worried about extraconstitutional actions, nativism, protectionism, and economic crackpottery. And The New Yorker cover is a helpful way to point out that extraconstitutional actions, nativism, protectionism, and economic crackpottery is not the domain of any particular party. Then. Or now.
The patron saint of the bureaucratic state, FDR, may have more in common with Hillary Clinton than Ted Cruz, but I’m unsure why Blitt believes he would be distraught by the way Trump intends to wield presidential power. Few presidents, in fact, have ever taken advantage of crisis and fear more effectively than FDR. Roosevelt brandished executive power in ways that would almost certainly make a President Trump look like a piker. I’m not sure even this casino magnate would try to pack the Supreme Court with judges to neutralize anyone hostile to his agenda. That takes a special kind of disdain for process.
Though all right-thinking people were appalled by Trump’s promise to temporarily halt Muslim immigration, would the noble and dignified Roosevelt — a man who forced thousands of American citizens into detention camps for nothing more than their race — be similarly aghast? There’s no evidence to believe he would.
Would the same president who agreed to terror bomb Japanese and German civilian centers — and we can certainly debate the context of that strategy — be disturbed by a candidate proposing to do the same to terrorists’ families? Doubtful. The only difference is, FDR hid the extent of his plans from the American people.
No one, I hope, is under the impression that Teddy Roosevelt — who at one point embraced some of the ugliest pseudoscientific aspects of progressive racism and chauvinism of the early 20th century — would be especially concerned about the intimidation and bluster of Trumpism? He lived for that sort of thing.
And should John F. Kennedy, who was not merely a moral disaster but a middling president who owed his entire political career to the fortune of his family, be distressed that Trump might class up the White House?
In a Politico podcast this week, Obama claimed that, “[The] Republican vision has moved not just to the right, but has moved to a place that is unrecognizable.” Funny, I felt the same way when I heard this State of the Union Address. But since we’re on the topic: What would George Washington have to say about a leading Democrat candidate who deploys calculated class war and diluted Marxist economic theories?
For that matter, what would he make of Bernie Sanders?
What would the self-made Lincoln think of Hillary’s malleable principles and corrupt political career, built on nepotism, favor trading, and identity politics? Would he be more horrified by a loud-mouth mercantilist or a politician who believes the state should be empowered to confiscate private property to satisfy the mob’s call for “fairness”?
This canonized slate of liberal heroes gets away with a lot. You’ll never see Coolidge or Reagan popping antacids as they watch Hillary on the cover of magazine and neither of them had ever put anyone in a concentration camp. But revisionism is one thing. Today there is broader, left-wing effort to place progressivism at the center of American political debate, and acting like Trump is the manifestation of genuine conservatism is a nice way to try and do it. But this isn’t the first time pent-up anger among Americans towards their institutions and political parties has led them to a demagogue. We’ve got plenty of Democrat heroes lying around to help us make this point.
None of this is to say that Republicans have a monopoly on constitutional purity or American values. It’s simply to point out that they don’t have a monopoly on podium-thumping, fire breathers, and dumb ideas.