Daniel Ruddy’s recent book on Teddy Roosevelt provides tremendous insight into Mr. Trump.
To understand the mind of our 45th President, Donald J. Trump, one need only go back approximately 100 years in American history and study the character of our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt (“TR”), considered one of our greatest presidents of all time (see Mt. Rushmore). In author Daniel Ruddy’s recent book, “Theodore the Great” (Regnery History, ISBN: 978-1621572640), published in August, just prior to the 2016 general election, an uncanny resemblance emerges between TR and Trump. Ruddy’s intent is to debunk the many misconceptions related to TR, particularly his recent characterizations as a liberal Progressive. It is true Roosevelt helped to build the Progressive Party (aka, “Bull Moose Party”) in the early 20th century, but any resemblance between progressives of that time to today is purely coincidental.
Ruddy picks through history and develops a convincing argument of TR’s conservative legacy. Roosevelt implemented several common sense reforms, but he was hardly someone seeking social change. Interestingly, Ruddy’s book is not written in chronological sequence as most history books are, but carefully subdivided into sections explaining his positions on domestic and foreign policies. By doing so, we begin to see the image of Donald Trump emerge who espoused several of the same thoughts on the campaign trail.
The comparison between the two is remarkable, beginning with the fact both were New Yorkers running as Republicans, from wealthy/affluent families. TR sought public service as his path to greatness, Trump developed a real estate/entertainment empire. Despite their wealth, both felt the plight of the common people and wanted to be considered their voice, hence they were elected more as populist candidates as opposed to any formal ideologue.
Both strongly believed in American greatness and despised liberal socialism. Just like Trump, TR viewed himself as the spirit of America wanting the same things for the country as he was blessed with, such as fame, power, and glory.
Roosevelt and Trump preferred proven experience over theory, particularly as it applied to social schemes, which TR commonly referred to as “educated ineffectives.” Teddy was fond of saying, “It is well to keep in mind the remark of Frederick the Great that if he wished to punish a province he would allow it to be governed by philosophers.”
Roosevelt and Trump both looked for practical solutions as opposed to academic theory. Ideology was not considered as important as getting the job done. In Trump’s case, Republican conservatives and libertarians attacked him during the course of last year’s campaign, accusing him of not being a true-blue conservative. As a businessman, Trump has been trained to look at both sides of an issue before rendering a decision. The same was true with TR.
The morality of Roosevelt and Trump are remarkably similar. For example, both believed each person must lead a worthy and productive life; as Ruddy writes regarding Roosevelt, “that it should be a strenuous life of duty, hard work, and self-sacrifice.” Both see faith and family as important attributes of the American character, and that religious belief was essential for an orderly society.
Both TR and Trump were wary of big government, detesting bureaucrats who wasted money. In Roosevelt’s case, he was accused of making the government too big. The reality though was he wanted to increase the power of the government, which at the time had been ineffective, not to simply create a behemoth.
TR saw himself more as a reformer as opposed to a progressive. To illustrate, he created the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect consumers from such things as tainted meat, food, and drugs. He was widely regarded as a Trust Buster to protect the rights of workers and arbitrated an end to a national coal strike. He also called for the creation of a federal agency to regulate Big Business, hence the creation of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). He did not do this to conform to an ideologue, but out of necessity for the people, which he referred to as a “Square Deal” for them, and the people loved him for it.
In foreign affairs, TR believed in “Speaking softly, but carry a big stick,” a motto which appears to be Trump’s approach for his administration. TR dramatically increased the size of the Navy, and constructed the Panama Canal, which could move the Great White Flight between oceans. By doing so, America became a power to be reckoned with. This did not lead to war, but gave TR the means to quietly negotiate settlements with other countries. By doing so, America became a world power, on the same level with Britain and Europe. In Trump’s case, he wants to rebuild the military so he too can speak softly with other countries.
Roosevelt also negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize. His artful negotiation to settle matters between the Russians and the Japanese, while subliminally protecting American interests, was masterful. It was also at this time when the “special relationship” between Great Britain and America was born, thanks to the diplomacy of TR.
According to Ruddy, without Roosevelt’s belligerent reputation, the world could no longer ignore America as an economic, diplomatic, or military power which, consequently, led to world peace. Never before had America been so respected in global affairs. Trump’s unpredictability will likely earn him a similar belligerent reputation as he will undoubtedly negotiate softly with a “Big Stick,” be it through the military or economics.
There are two other subject areas where TR and Trump share views, in immigration and civil-service reform. TR was happy to welcome immigrants to America provided they adapted to our culture, not the other way around. He further believed, immigrants with “a low moral tendency or of unsavory reputation” should not be allowed into the country. Trump feels likewise. As to civil-service reform, TR acted like a rugged no-nonsense sheriff of the old West, bent on cleaning house. Trump shares these same opinions, particularly in breaking the strangle hold government bureaucrats have over companies, thereby becoming an impediment to conducting business.
Remarkably, both TR and Trump were strong supporters of the Second Amendment for gun ownership. In fact, TR was well known to carry a revolver with him both during and after his presidency.
One area in particular, where the comparison is so vivid, was in their fight with the liberal press, particularly the New York Times and Washington Post who constantly attacked them. Consider these quotes from the Post regarding TR:
“He has taken many prizes…as the very Prince of Bumptiousness and the High Priest of Brutal Arrogance. Habitually, he is a well-mannered, well-educated, quick-witted gentleman. Sporadically, he is perhaps the most thoroughly Boeotian hoodlum who has ever been smuggled into polite society.”
“He is conceited to the point of bursting, and opinionated beyond the resources of descriptive writing.”
Such characterizations of Roosevelt by the press could have easily been written about Trump today, and probably worse.
The parallel between Roosevelt and Trump is striking. They share many of the same opinions and see the world in the same manner. Trump’s edge over Roosevelt is in the area of finance, where Teddy was self-admittedly weak. Trump’s expertise should, in theory, be conducive for improving trade, returning companies to America, adding jobs, and building a stronger economy.
If Trump and TR were to somehow change places in history, there is little doubt the liberal left would want TR’s head on a plate and Trump’s face would be on Mt. Rushmore. By refuting Trump, the liberals are refuting the legacy of TR, the president who made America a world power in the 20th century.
Why the change in attitude among the people? What is different between then and now? Several reasons come to mind, starting with substantial changes in technology affecting us socially, medically, militarily, economically, and politically. In particular, the people now have sophisticated technology greatly affecting communications, entertainment, and used for the dissemination of news and information. By doing so, an enormous media industrial complex has arisen affecting how people think. Over the last 100 years we have also witnessed substantial changes in morality; our perspectives on such things as divorce, bankruptcy, homosexuality, drug abuse, etc. have changed greatly. Lastly, today we have citizens who are far less educated in history and government than our predecessors, making them more amenable to socialist values. Their false perceptions in how the country works has led to an arrogance of ignorance, making them more pliable to manipulate. All of this today impacts how we perceive our politicians, particularly the President of the United States.
To better understand Trump, one must read Daniel Ruddy’s book as his description of TR is amazingly insightful and gives us some idea of what to expect during Trump’s tenure of office. After studying this book, I believe Teddy would agree with Trump that it is time to “Make America Great Again.”
Keep the Faith!