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Rants & Reason

Hooray! for ‘Give ’em Hell Harry;’ Boo! for Tweety Trump

8/2/2017

Ten words explain much of the news today: Donald Trump does not respect the presidency; his critics do.

Those words are contrary to those who say calling Trump a buffoon, or worse, is disrespectful. Yet even Trump supporters ask him to be “more presidential” — or, in other words, show some respect for the office.

The lack of respect, as evidenced by Trump’s madcap and childish social media rants, is far from what most citizens expect of their mayors and school board members, let alone from the office of the president. That is why the criticisms of the president — like his behavior — are so out of kilt. Citizens respect the office, even if Trump does not. (His predictable loony response would be, “I respect the office of the president more than anyone else in the world” — one more reason why some wonder whether he suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.)

On the other hand, consider the thoughts of Harry Truman (1884-1972 and president 1945-1952). His respect for the presidency seems almost quaint nowadays.

At the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, the voice of Truman welcomes visitors to a mock up of the Oval Office in the White House. Truman’s take on the office is scary — in light of the current incumbent. The Truman audio tells you, “… the office of the President has grown and developed into the most important office of government in the history of the world.”

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So much did Truman separate the office from the office holder that, upon retirement, he turned down lucrative board positions and other money-making opportunities. He was said to tell tempters, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.”

Contrast that with recent presidents — Bill Clinton, W., and Barack Obama — who have raked in millions of dollars in speaking fees, book contracts, etc., but even then they will fall well short of the gains of Trump’s enterprises while he abuses the office.

Truman-Trump contrasts offer some escape from the daily Trump tweets, even if Truman sometimes reveled in shouts of “Give ’em hell, Harry!”

Consider:

• Trump wants his aides to be bootlickers; Truman advised, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog!”

• Trump wants his aides to cover up for him, even lie; Truman declared, “The buck stops here.”

• Trump’s family and staff celebrate and defend his childish, often crude and coarse behavior; Truman’s wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret, were mortified when husband and dad Harry wrote a personal letter threatening a music critic who had panned a recital by his soprano daughter. Margaret and Bess bawled him out.

• Trump said of bankruptcy filings associated with his businesses: “I used the law four times and made a tremendous thing. I’m in business. I did a very good job.” Lynn LoPucki, a UCLA law professor and an expert on bankruptcy law noted, “The people who invested with him or based on his name lost money, but he himself came out pretty well.” When Truman’s men’s clothing store went under in 1922, he and his partners found it immoral to leave creditors with debt. Truman biographer David McCullough said, “After much discussion, the partners decided not to file for bankruptcy — and thereby wipe out their debts — but to try to pay off their creditors as best they could, little by little as time went on… Fifteen years after the store went under, Harry would still be paying off the haberdashery, and as a consequence, would be strapped for money for twenty years.”

• A bone spur in one heel or the other was Trump’s out from serving in the military during the Vietnam conflict. Because of age (33) and family circumstances, Truman need not have served in WWI. Truman volunteered, however, and was affectionately called “Captain Harry” by the men he commanded in combat.

“How quaint,” Trump might tweet, or, in tweety Trump parlance, “DUMB!” ♦

strentz21Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants and Reason column for CITYVIEW.

 

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