Trump Venerates Teddy Roosevelt, But Roosevelt Would Have Hated TrumpRoundup
tags: Republican Party, Theodore Roosevelt, Progressive Era, Donald Trump
David Gessner is the author of 11 books, most recently Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt’s American Wilderness, and the chair of the creative writing department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Donald Trump sees a bit of one of America’s greatest presidents — Theodore Roosevelt — in himself. And it’s true that there are some similarities between the two men. Like Roosevelt, Trump loves the spotlight. As Roosevelt’s daughter Alice famously said: “He wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening.”
Roosevelt would undoubtedly be pleased at how often he has been in the news during 2020. His name has graced the headlines in recent months from the fate of the covid-ravaged USS Theodore Roosevelt to his statue coming down in front of the American Museum of Natural History. Trump even wants to join him on Mount Rushmore, singing the praises of “Yo-Semite” while claiming to be, in the wake of signing the Great American Outdoors Act, “the same or almost as good” a conservationist as Roosevelt.
Yet, despite Roosevelt’s continued relevance, our popular memory of him is a kind of vibrant simplistic cartoon. In reality, Roosevelt was a far more complex figure — with something for everyone in our politically fractured times to like and loathe — and a guiding sense of the world that could help us take on many of America’s problems in 2020.
Roosevelt once described the route he navigated through the political world as being like walking along a high ridge. On either side of this metaphoric ridge were two things he disliked equally. On the one side he despised the merely successful. He would be disturbed to see the way we have continued to glorify results whatever the means in the intermixed worlds of government and business. Mere commercialism for its own sake was despicable to him, and the “predatory wealth” of corporations and the rich appalled him. He reviled what he called, in a phrase that may again be fitting, “the elite criminal class.”
But the other side of the ridge was equally unappealing. This was the domain of the dogmatists. It was here that he encountered extreme do-gooders and pushers of causes that ultimately harmed those causes because their minds would not open to any vision but their own. His dislike of the first side was idealistic, his dislike of the second practical. The one pushed him toward supporting issues such as economic justice. The other helped him get things done. Efficiency for its own sake was if not evil at least amoral. Efficiency toward a greater good was admirable.
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