Chaos and Demagoguery in the Oval Office?

The constant refrain of Trump’s critics on the left and right is that he is a demagogue, and that he is shredding important democratic “norms.” Also, that his White House is a scene of complete and utter chaos.

As it happens, I have come into possession of a forthcoming memoir, heretofore unseen by the public, by a close insider to Trump who has left the inner circle. It is sure to make a splash when it is published. Here are a few key excerpts that bear out the charges:

His knowledge of political and constitutional history and theory is distinctly limited. During all the time I was associated with him I never knew him to read a serious book. . . In the years of my association with him, he has never evidenced any appreciation of the basic philosophical distinctions in the history of American political thought. . .

Perhaps that is why Trump never developed the easy command of language which characterized so many who preceded him in the Presidency. . . Nevertheless he has a keen sense of language, and this is shown in the magnificent manner in which he delivers a written speech. . .

He is intensely loyal to the people in his official family . . . At no time does he seem to doubt that the tried and true leaders of his party would supinely do his bidding.

He has a genuine horror of discharging an incompetent subordinate. . . This reluctance to make clear-cut personnel decisions is the source of some of the indescribable confusions that mar Trump’s administration of the Presidency. Often he would not remove a person who was not doing the work assigned to him, but would appoint another person with a new title such as “coordinator.” Thus, two people would be doing the job which should have been assigned to one. . .

Day after day there is the subtle flattery from those who come to ask favors or to win the ingratiating smile. The endless streams of those who have appointments do not use the time to purvey unpleasant truths. And if a man is told hour after hour and day after day how right he is, he will, unless he has extraordinary defenses, come to believe that he can never be wrong. . .

There was, for one thing, Trump’s spirited disdain of most of the political rules that usually govern such things. He considered himself under no direct obligations to no man so far as Cabinet appointments were concerned. Neither recognized party leadership nor active campaign support figured heavily in his calculations. . .

“Disloyalty” is suspected everywhere by the White House. . .

Never until the moment I heard Trump deliver that speech on that January night did I realize the extent to which verbal excess can intoxicate not only those who hear them but those who speak them. . .  Thoughtful citizens were stunned by the violence, the bombast, the naked demagoguery of these sentences. No one who has merely read them can half know the meaning conveyed by the cadences of the voice that uttered them.

Wait—did I say this is about President Trump? Sorry, I got confused. These are assessments of Franklin Roosevelt from one of his top aides, Raymond Moley, who became disaffected with FDR and the New Deal as it lurched to the left in FDR’s second term. (These are drawn from Moley’s two splendid but overlooked memoirs of FDR and the New Deal, After Seven Years, and The First New Deal. These two books are some of the best ever written about that subject.)  All I did here was swap out “Trump” for “Roosevelt” in Moley’s copy, and changed a few verb tenses to make it contemporary.

I’m not suggesting that the criticisms of Trump are without merit. But it would be good if Trump’s critics had some perspective, as well as some historical knowledge. Few people shredded “democratic norms” more than FDR. His speeches attacking the Supreme Court are shocking, but largely forgotten today. Idea: Trump should give one of FDR’s radio addresses attacking the judiciary—word-for-word—and watch the media animals erupt with fury.

 

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