Trump and Presidential Standards
Donald Trump has been receiving a lot of attention, as he desires and as is necessary and fitting, and some of it is painting a picture of Mr. Trump that is less than flattering. Recently, articles have appeared calling attention to Trump’s alleged connections to the mob. Such articles have helped to lay the groundwork for Hillary Clinton claiming that Trump is not fit to be president.
I would be one of the last people to argue that Trump is a man of good character. In fact, I think he is a rather despicable human being. However, in all fairness, it needs to be asked how Trump stacks up against others who sought the presidency in terms of character. After all, we need to be sure we aren’t using standards to judge Trump’s behavior that weren’t used in the past to judge other candidates seeking the presidency. And when we do this, it is quite interesting what emerges.
Allow me to start with John F. Kennedy. Now, Kennedy claimed to have written a book, Profiles in Courage, which was, for the most part, written by his aide Ted Sorenson. In fact, Sorenson was given most the profits from the book, perhaps in the interest of keeping him satisfied. Moreover, while the book became a best seller, there are rumors that it did so because Kennedy’s father, Joe, had the book purchased in large numbers to obtain that rating. And, finally, while the book won a Pulitzer Prize, it had originally not even been nominated and wasn’t considered for the prize until Joe Kennedy prevailed upon a friend, Arthur Krock, who was a long time member of the prize board, to have it nominated. When ABC TV aired a show with Mike Wallace interviewing Drew Pearson, who claimed that Kennedy was the only person he knew who had won a Pulitzer for a book ghostwritten for him, Joe Kennedy threatened to sue ABC for fifty million dollars! Wallace and Pearson stood by their story but ABC made a retraction and an apology.
As far as connections to the mob, John F. Kennedy certainly had them. He was having sex with Judith Campbell, who was also the mistress of Sam Giancana and it seems pretty certain that Joe Kennedy was doing business with Giancana in the bootleg business during Prohibition. Moreover, during his presidency, the CIA used the mob to try to assassinate Fidel Castro, running what Lyndon Johnson called a “Murder, Inc.” out of the White House. That Kennedy was anything but averse to having those foreign leaders assassinated with whom he had disagreements is supported by the assassination of President Diem of South Vietnam a few weeks before Kennedy himself was assassinated. The Cuban operation, which was run by Robert Kennedy, was dubbed “Operation Mongoose.”
Turning to LBJ, I cannot do better than Jonathan Cape did in his review of Robert Caro’s third volume of his LBJ biography, Master of the Senate. Let me quote him at length:
Lyndon Baines Johnson was a monster. Like many of his kind, he was driven by childhood demons, in this case the humiliation and insecurity suffered when his father lost the family ranch in Texas. He was corrupt, cruel, callous, crude, a vicious user of women, a bully of men and a shameless thief of elections. He sucked up to his superiors and kicked down on his inferiors. A favoured device to embarrass subordinates was obliging them to take his orders while he defecated. He liked to pee in the washbasin in his office in front of female secretaries and then wave his member about. Inordinately proud of his sexual apparatus, Johnson was given to bragging: 'Jumbo had a real workout tonight.'
He treated his devoted wife with abominable contempt. As Lady Bird sat next to them, he would thrust his hand up another woman's skirt. He was a physical coward who went to great lengths to avoid combat service in World War II. He was a moral coward. Fearing to be on the unpopular side of public hysteria during the Red Scare, he could have, but did not, mobilise opinion against Joseph McCarthy before that fascist had blighted the lives of thousands of innocent Americans.
Now, is it any wonder that Johnson was capable as president when seeking election to the presidency in 1964 promising not to send American troops to fight in Vietnam while he was planning to do just that at the earliest opportunity? And how does Johnson’s character stack up against that of Donald Trump? It would seem, at the very least, that Johnson and Trump are cut from the same mold.
Then there is Richard Nixon. Nixon steered clear of the mob and corruption, so far as we know, although it is difficult to think that the “Nixon” that emerged during the Watergate scandal was a “new Nixon.” We do know now that Nixon worked to prevent an agreement on the Vietnam War between Johnson and the “North” Vietnamese, thereby extending the war and the captivity of our POWs he claimed later to care so much about. We also know that Nixon and Kissinger were willing to settle the war provided the “North” Vietnamese would grant an “interval” between the settlement and their taking over all of Vietnam, an “interval” that would allow Nixon to complete his two terms in office.
On a more personal note, Nixon apparently was something of an alcoholic, and it is often wondered how well he treated his wife, Pat. There are stories that he actually physically abused Pat, with at least one reporter claiming he had evidence of such abuse. In any case, it would difficult to hold Nixon up as an example of someone who displayed great character, character unlike that displayed by Trump.
And the next person in our panoply of presidents is Bill Clinton. Of course, we know that Clinton was unfaithful to his wife again and again, even cheating on her when he was president. Of course, in this, he was no different than Kennedy who also cheated on his wife, again and again, even doing so with more than one woman at the same time. Jackie Kennedy use to take the children away frequently in order to avoid these trysts, some of which took place in the White House. There are rumors that Clinton used cocaine and it is a fact that his brother, Roger, used cocaine. And Clinton successfully dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, about which he later lied or juggled the truth. And there is so much about Clinton that has raised red flags that it would be quite remarkable to contend that he and Trump are very different people when it comes to personal character.
And that brings us to George W. Bush, whom we know is an alcoholic and probably dabbled in cocaine in his younger years. He claims he reformed when he was “born again,” and I see no reason to doubt that he believes that. But I believe “Christ” came to him in the body of his wife, who told him to clean up his act or she was leaving. We also know that Bush got into the Texas National Guard by virtue of his father’s influence, not an uncommon phenomenon in those days when the Vietnam War was raging. We also know he got a DUI in Maine so it seems pretty certain that he was and is an alcoholic. In any case, his character does not seem to be so different from that of Trump in being questionable.
This is not, as stated above, an endorsement of Trump, whom I take to be a despicable person. Rather, it is to illustrate that were Trump elected president, he wouldn’t be the first despicable person elected president. In fact, there have been several despicable people elected president just in my lifetime. I could go so far as to say that we are quite comfortable with despicable people in public office, the presidency included. And this is an interesting phenomenon, perhaps even more interesting than the Trump phenomenon.