Donald Trump represents an America tired of scandal laden and ineffective politics. Is he channeling President Theodore Roosevelt?
WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2015 — Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the presidency after the assassination of President William McKinley. The 58-year-old McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz on Sept. 6, 1901, and died on Sept. 14, 1901.
Roosevelt, a Republican, was seen as a “new age” or modern president following McKinley, our last president to have served in the Civil War. Roosevelt expanded the influence and power of the executive office, seizing power previously amassed by the U.S. Congress.
Our 26th president believed that the chief of the Executive Branch had the “right to use all powers except those that were specifically denied him to accomplish his goals.” (Miller Center)
As president, Roosevelt was known for being bigger than life, demanding that others follow him into the fray of change that surrounded the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Roosevelt possessed a force of will and an ability to unapologetically speak his mind.
Donald Trump represents an America tired of scandal-laden and ineffective politics. For many, Trump is the cure for a weak and wobbling government, tipped into failure by the Obama Administration and the lack of leadership by Republicans in Congress.
During the early 1900s, America was, much as it is now, a rapidly changing country. It was an America struggling with racial division and brutally partisan politics, a nation struggling with the aftermath of wars, from the national unrest of the Civil War to the border wars against the Spanish.
Roosevelt’s comments on partisanship, patriotism and racial division are eerily prophetic of the state of affairs in 2015 and might be worthy of contemplation by Mr. Trump and his GOP rivals. For instance:
What makes the hero a hero is the romantic notion that he stands above the tawdry give and take of everyday politics, occupying an ethereal realm where partisanship gives way to patriotism, and division to unity, and where the nation regains its lost innocence, and the people their shared sense of purpose.
Roosevelt was known for his bold exploits in the Spanish-American War, including his service as a colonel with the legendary Rough Riders, the colloquial name for the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry.
Roosevelt was instrumental in the success of the Battle of San Juan Hill, capturing the area from more than a thousand Spanish soldiers. Roosevelt’s Rough Riders also assisted forces in the taking of Santiago de Cuba, a stronghold of the Spanish military.
The resulting armistice meant that the United States gained the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, which some saw as elevating the U.S. to a level of imperial power and beginning our tradition of foreign intervention.
This is when the United States began its ascent to global leadership of men and governments.
Roosevelt, born of New York privilege, was a leading proponent of the concept of progressive government, which was later championed by his fifth cousin, Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor (Theodore Roosevelt’s niece).
Theodore Roosevelt was known for his tireless push, bushy mustache and cries of “Bully!” when he was pleased. He was faced with many of the same challenges we still face, including race division.
He stated that to be American means being 100 percent American, not a “hyphenated American.”
Roosevelt wrote about immigration in 1894:
We must Americanize in every way, in speech, in political ideas and principles, and in their way of looking at relations between church and state. We welcome the German and the Irishman who becomes an American. We have no use for the German or Irishman who remains such … He must revere only our flag, not only must it come first, but no other flag should even come second.
Trump has his wall. President Roosevelt had an island,and one of the first acts of his presidency was the reorganization of Ellis Island, stating, “We cannot have too much immigration of the right sort, and we should have none whatever of the wrong sort.”
A bit of deja vu, no?
It is unwise to depart from the old American tradition and discriminate for or against any man who desires to come here and become a citizen, save on the ground of that man’s fitness for citizenship… We can not afford to consider whether he is Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Gentile; whether he is Englishman or Irishman, Frenchman or German, Japanese, Italian, or Scandinavian or Magyar. What we should desire to find out is the individual quality of the individual man.
Like our leaders today, Roosevelt was challenged by a racially divided citizenry – and not just black and white. He was the first president to appoint a Jewish cabinet member—Secretary of Commerce and Labor Oscar Solomon Straus, (1906 to 1909) to oversee immigration into the United States and the passage and implementation of the U.S. Immigration Act of 1907.
And he spoke his mind, criticizing Native American Indians in 1886, Roosevelt said of the demise of their morals after being shuttered to government funded reservations:
I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian. Turn three hundred low families of New York into New Jersey, support them for fifty years in vicious idleness, and you will have some idea of what the Indians are. Reckless, revengeful, fiendishly cruel, they rob and murder, not the cowboys, who can take care of themselves, but the defenseless, lone settlers on the plains.
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner dubbed it the “Gilded Age.” Women seeking the vote created the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
A post-Civil War America was a racist America. White Democratic governments in the South passed Jim Crow legislation, creating a system of legal racial segregation despite the Civil War that abolished slavery, Roosevelt inherited a nation at the apex of racism.
Not long after taking over the presidency, Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington, educator, author and orator to dinner at the White House, for which he was gravely criticized. Roosevelt responded to the often harsh and hateful comments by media and politicians, mostly Democrats: I shall have him to dine as often as I please.”
I have not been able to think out any solution of the terrible problem offered by the presence of the Negro on this continent, but of one thing I am sure, and that is that inasmuch as he is here and can neither be killed nor driven away, the only wise and honorable and Christian thing to do is to treat each black man and each white man strictly on his merits as a man, giving him no more and no less than he shows himself worthy to have. – Theodore Roosevelt
Roosevelt appointed many African-Americans to federal offices, including Walter L. Cohen of New Orleans, a leader of the Black and Tan Republican faction, whom Roosevelt named registrar of the federal land office.
Roosevelt has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. presidents and is one of four that make up the Mount Rushmore monument, including Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Roosevelt is also the father of our National Park system, designed to keep America’s great spaces for future Americans.
In 2006, Time put Roosevelt was on the cover of Time magazine with the lead story, “The Making of America—Theodore Roosevelt—The 20th Century Express.” It said, “At home and abroad, Theodore Roosevelt was the locomotive President, the man who drew his flourishing nation into the future.”
Today’s wide support for Trump is based on conservative America’s being let down by conservative leadership on key issues such as the Iran Deal and Obamacare. They are now waiting to find out if the Republican Senate led by the feckless John Boehner will actually take the steps necessary to defund Planned Parenthood. Not shut down. Not outlaw Roe vs. Wade. But stop taxpayer-funded support of a lawless group of questionable morals.
In 1912, The Progressive Party’s New Nationalism launched the progressive movements that have influenced the Obama’s administration’s Hope and Change as well as cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, President Harry S. Truman’s Fair Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson.
Roosevelt introduced “charisma” into the political equation. He had a strong rapport with the public and he understood how to use the media to shape public opinion.
He was the first president whose election was based more on the person than the political party. Will Donald Trump be our second? Will American voters channel their forefathers who voted for Roosevelt the man, not Roosevelt, a puppet of the Republican party?
Like Trump and his high-energy, we-will-do-it platform, Roosevelt also used his bigger than life, bully-take-all, confident tone to win America’s votes, shape issues and sway opinions.
Roosevelt changed the Presidency and the role of government; he worked hard to unite a post-Civil War country divided racially and politically to usher in civil rights for blacks and promote prosperity for all. The unexpected support for Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and, moving up in the polls, Carly Fiorina, is telling that America is tired of politics as usual.
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