A stark contrast in presidential leadership
Sometimes revisiting the past can help clarify the present. Last year, we spent several days at Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain, Georgia, and visited Roosevelt’s Little White House and Museum in Warm Springs.
Warm Springs is not Mar-a-Lago. The Warm Springs Residence is modest — six bedrooms, 1,200 square feet, and built of Georgia pine. Donald Trump’s retirement ballroom alone is said to be 20,000 square feet and features $7 million in gold leaf.
More importantly, the historical archives, complete with photographs, and a short film on some of the key events in Roosevelt’s life clarify what constitutes presidential leadership and present such a stark contrast to the current occupant of the White House.
There are some similarities: the two were from New York, both enjoyed the benefits of being born into wealth, and both were elected president, but their lives diverged considerably as they grew older. grown and even more once they became president.
Roosevelt took office at a time of national crisis. A quarter of Americans were out of work, banks had closed, manufacturing and agriculture were operating at half their previous level, and despair prevailed.
FDR used the power of the office to speak directly to every citizen, to make sure we could get through the crisis together. He took steps—later characterized by historians as relief, recovery, and reform—to get people back to work, revive the economy, and restore confidence.
Trump, on the other hand, assumed the presidency in times of peace and relative prosperity, but used the office to enrich the already wealthy and divide the country. Instead of leadership, Trump has delivered an administration characterized by chaos and corruption, the fueling of racial prejudice, and a splitting of the United States from our values and our allies.
Trump claims to be a builder, but seems determined to destroy, undo financial regulation, environmental protection and social safety net programs regardless of the impact of these actions on the majority of Americans.
Roosevelt bought a dilapidated resort in Warm Springs and turned it into a rehabilitation center for people like himself with polio. Trump’s sole focus on health care seems to make access to it more difficult.
Roosevelt assured a nervous nation that all we had to fear was fear itself. Trump stokes the irrational fear of others as a cover for his incompetence and harmful policies.
Of immigration, Roosevelt noted, “Always remember that all of us, and you and I in particular, are descended from immigrants.” This is also true of Trump’s family, but he is using immigration to rally his fearful base and play us off against each other.
There is a print of the iconic photograph of an African American naval officer playing the accordion at the Roosevelt Memorial in Warm Springs, tears streaming down his face. Contrast that with Trump’s racial baiting and disturbing images of supporters at one of his rallies chanting, “Fire her.”
FDR is generally recognized as one of our greatest presidents, due to his leadership. Trump will surely be recognized as one of our worst due to his absence of the same.
FDR won four elections, each overwhelming. Trump stole the last election under questionable circumstances.
For the next 15 months, we will be besieged by advertisements and political analysis. The race should be seen as a referendum on leadership against demagoguery.
Greg McGann, LCSW, lives in Gainesville.