By Patty LaNoue Stearns
I’ve been thinking about all the presidents who have inspired me and enraged me over my nearly 70 years. Looking back, each was remarkable in his own way, even though I despised some for their war-mongering.
I see what Donald Trump, our current man in charge, has wrought, and think of the others. What a difference. Just look at their achievements.
I was too young to care about Dwight D. Eisenhower. But at age 10, WWII hero John F. Kennedy got my attention. He stood up to Nikita Khruschev when the Communist leader threatened “We will bury you” in the early stages of the Cold War. So brave. He also got the U.S. out of recession, got us moving with both the Space Program and his nationwide physical fitness initiative, and he also established the Peace Corps. He, Jackie, Caroline and John-John were the idyllic figures of Camelot, and I was madly in love with all of them. I was in 8th Grade, living in Huber Heights, Ohio, when Jack Kennedy was assassinated. That horrifying day will always loom in my memory.
Lyndon B. Johnson, the Texan who assumed the presidency after Kennedy’s shocking assassination, inherited a growing quagmire in Vietnam that played out during his entire term: A draft that tore the country apart, and a war that killed 58,220 by the time it ended. Despite that horrific hubris, Johnson was responsible for creating the Clean Air Act, the Civil Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, and the Voting Rights Act.
Richard M. Nixon, who quit his office just as he was being impeached after the Watergate Scandal, actually left the U.S. in a better place. He ended the draft, oversaw the peaceful desegregation of Southern schools, ended the Vietnam War, and normalized relations with China. He also established the Environmental Protection Agency.
Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford, Nixon’s veep, took over for 895 days after his boss resigned. He immediately pardoned Nixon, which made most of my friends very angry, but he enacted a conditional clemency for draft dodgers, played a role in the Helsinki Accords, which helped end the Cold War, and got the U.S. out of Vietnam.
Jimmy Carter inherited double-digit interest rates from the Nixon era, and went down in flames because of the Iran hostage crisis. But in his single term, he expanded the National Parks system, created the Department of Education, and brokered peace between Egypt and Israel. He went on to found Habitat for Humanity, and later won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
Ronald Reagan officially ended the Cold War, a glorious achievement for any president. He was enormously popular because of his folksy style and Hollywood past. Reagan’s trickle-down economy ideology was mainly a failure for the working class, as was his wife Nancy’s “Just Say No” war on drugs, but at least he was a likable guy. His heartfelt speeches brought people to tears and made them swell with American pride.
We could look up to WWII hero George H.W. Bush, who had a humble, humorous demeanor, and even if you didn’t agree with his politics, he was extremely likable. Bush won the first Gulf War, which garnered worldwide popularity. But because of his “read my lips—no new taxes” slogan and a sagging economy in which higher taxes were necessary, he lost his second term to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
Rhodes Scholar Clinton was a womanizer, and his rep as Slick Willie was well earned: He was impeached and censored for an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in his second term. But this widely liked president balanced the budget for the first time in years, and everybody but his right-wing detractors felt great about the health of the U.S. economy.
Democrat Al Gore, Clinton’s VP, was my vote in the 2000 election, but Republican George W. Bush, governor of Texas, won the election by 537 votes — after a tumultuous vote count with the infamous “hanging chads” on the hand-tabulated paper ballots, third-party candidate Ralph Nader doomed Gore’s presidency, and Bush’s victory was ultimately and stunningly decided 5-4 by the Republican-appointed members of the increasingly partisan Supreme Court. Then the shocking disaster of 9/11 brought the country to its knees. Bush was able to unite the country at that point, and for a short pause in time, obliterate the partisanship that had seeped into his term. All that changed, however, with the bombing of Iraq (because of suspected weapons of mass destruction that never materialized). After W’s famous “Mission Accomplished” pronouncement about the war, the fighting continued, ringing up a huge U.S. deficit. In 2008, more Republican deregulation policies led to the bank and housing crises, which resulted in the Great Recession that lasted a decade.
My feelings toward W have mellowed over the years. I blame the advice he got from “Uncle” Dick Cheney, his hawkish VP, and the rest of the war-mongering, greedy right wingers for starting a war without end. Their evil and greed continues in today’s Senate.
I cried with joy when Barack Obama was elected America’s first black president. From that moment on, however, he was hampered by the Great Recession and demeaned by Republicans and Tea Party factions of that party as the enemy, needled by conspiracy theorists (led by Donald Trump) that he was not born in the U.S., was a practicing Muslim, and was Satan’s spawn, among other fallacies.
Throughout his two terms, the disrespect never stopped, yet Obama never sank to the level of his accusers. “When they go low, we go high,” was First Lady Michelle Obama’s gracious motto. Speakers of the House John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and the current Senate’s Speaker Mitch McConnell made it their business to block anything Obama tried to do at every juncture. Despite that, Obama brought America out of the Great Recession, passed the the Affordable Care Act so that millions could have health care without fear from pre-existing conditions, became the most admired president in recent memory, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.” What a class act.
All of these presidents were gentlemen—mostly— who set the bar for decorum, decency, and, despite what I might have felt about their politics, were world-stage statesmen.
And then there’s Donald Trump, who day in and and out reminds us of his utter unworthiness. Reality show star. Bully to women and minorities and people with disabilities. Sexual predator with at least 25 women claiming he attacked them. His own niece, Mary Trump, disclosing hideous things he has done to her and her late father. When the 100,000-and-rising number of COVID-19 deaths were announced a month ago, he could not bring himself to utter a word of sympathy for their loved ones, or even acknowledge the great loss. He denies the deadliness of the epidemic, which is sweeping the Southern states like a hurricane.
Trump has devastated all of the programs I’ve named above that increased America’s greatness in the eyes of its citizens and the entire world. He has repeatedly maligned his predecessor, yet has taken credit for the economy that Obama surgically repaired. Trump’s claim to fame is a massive tax cut for the rich—the trillion-dollar bill for which will come due when he leaves office. Not to mention the ruined economy that could have been saved had Trump shown early leadership during this ongoing, growing COVID-19 pandemic.
I feel morally violated by this president. I am constantly outraged by his abuse of power and his ongoing demeaning of anyone who doesn’t suck up. We are cursed with a boorish, petty, childish, vengeful baby man at the helm, who is not leading our country, but destroying it with every nasty, lying Tweet he puts out from his White House toilet seat.
He is not a statesman, nor is he admirable. He is not even a good businessman, as his soon-to-be-released tax records will certainly reveal. The man would never in a million years be considered for a Nobel Prize. No, Trump is the grand divider. A man who fooled his way into our presidency with threats and lies, like a mobster. A guy who even has to lie that Michigan named him its Man of the Year. Not true.
I’m so ashamed of his lack of compassion and leadership, his attacks on women in power, on Puerto Ricans, on Mexicans, immigrants, the disabled, the disenfranchised, and anyone who speaks against him. He only likes the sycophants, the ones who fawn over him and compliment him, in keeping with his long-diagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Things are getting worse in Trumpland. This man is unfit to lead us out of the twofold disaster we’re in: COVID-19 and the associated economic meltdown. We’ve already heard his blatant statement, “I don’t take responsibility for it,” when any one of our former presidents would have reassured us that they were doing the best that America could do, enlisting every industry to do a wartime-like effort to combat the virus. Instead, what we are seeing is a non-leader attacking the health-care experts and epidemiologists who say we all need to wear masks and stay away from other people until it’s safe to mingle again.
For the first time in my life, I don’t feel good about America. I only feel sorrow. Because I know that every time this president of the United States talks, it’s all bullshit, pure lies, and he will do everything in his power to make himself look good, no matter how it destroys everything in his path. His latest target is the highly esteemed epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIAID Director, who has served six presidents. Trump has made sure that anonymous statements that Fauci is wrong about the pandemic are being leaking by Trump’s staff.
My question is: Where are the men and women in the Republican Party with the balls and the brass ovaries to stand up to this despicable man’s hateful outbursts and tirades? What has happened to their sense of right and wrong? Where is their decency? When will someone stand up and say “Enough!”?
I see a few people straggling in. Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Joe Manchin, Doug Jones, Krysten Sinema. But why not more? Where is the outrage?
Presumptive opponent Joe Biden is not a Kennedy, nor a Reagan, Carter, Clinton, and certainly not a statesman like Obama. But compared to Trump he is a knight in shining armor. Biden will need lots of help as our next president, but he will not be afraid to ask for it. He won’t, as this president claims to do, go with his gut. He certainly won’t insist that people can cure a virus by injecting bleach or by taking drugs not meant for the job.
If Biden wins, and I pray that he wins, his entire first term will be as the clean-up guy. Only then will we begin to make America great again, as it was long before Trump and his criminal family and associates starting dismantling and infecting this country with the worst virus of all—unbridled greed.