Searching for our American moral compass

“The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit about the shining “city on a hill.”  The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important, because he was an early Pilgrim– an early “freedom man.” He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat, and, like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds, living in harmony and peace– a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

True Reagan, by James Rosebush, pages 258-259,  President Reagan’s January 1989 Oval Office farewell talk.

The above quote comes from a 2016 book about President Reagan, which I found at a dollar store a couple weeks ago.  Along with this $1 Reagan book, I  sprang another $1 for David Axelrod’s book, Believer.  I already have three other books about Reagan – Peggy Noonan’s, When Character Was King, The Reagan Diaries, and An American Life (Reagan’s autobiography), so I really didn’t expect to learn much new.   I certainly didn’t need another Reagan book, but hey, it was only $1 and in this President Trump reality show style presidency, nostalgia for a calmer, more principled presidential style hits me everytime Trump tweets or engages in his daily “one man against the media mob” spin optic skirmishes with the media, which replaced the traditional White House daily press briefing.

Trump, like Reagan, has been accused of  “staging” his presidency, so I’ve been considering this comparison

Reagan did put effort into his public speaking, setting, make-up, even lighting, and he strategized about how he wanted to engage with the media during his presidency, as does Trump.

President Ronald Reagan’s communication style, from beginning to end,  brimmed with a confident, upbeat American spirit.  While offering a respectful nod to our past, Reagan’s unswerving inner compass always pointed us to a brighter American future, to an America always marching confidently forward, with our founding principles unfailingly lighting our path.

Something new, I learned about Reagan in this True Reagan book was that a book Reagan’s mother gave him when he was 11 years old helped him form a model for his own life.  Rosebush writes, the 1903 book, That Printer of Udell’s, was written by former Disciples of Christ pastor, Harold Bell Wright, a proponent of practical Christianity and the theology of good works.  This novel was a prism into the life and character Reagan created for himself.

Rosebush continued, “For Reagan, this was not a book he read and then tossed on a bookshelf.  It provided a blueprint for the life he wanted.  He not only read it several times, he recommended it to others and even brought it to Washington when he was elected President, all those years later.” (p. 33)  That Printer of Udell’s is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free here and here.

Trump runs a one-man, freewheeling reality TV presidency show, where he spews daily about “victimhood” – his own at the hands of a corrupt media and/or America’s at the hands of nefarious foreign entanglements.  Most of Trump’s impromptu battles with the press aren’t well-planned PR efforts, but instead seem to be Trump venting in impulsive tantrums, reacting to news reporting he’s watched on TV that day.   Trump leaves his own staff completely in the dark, as he prances out to engage with the media and ad lib his latest spin battle.  These ramshackle Trump pressers substitute for principled policy positions or carefully planned policy initiatives.  Trump’s daily tantrums become the latest administration “policy”.

There is no deep moral conviction to Trump’s patriotism or American ideals.  In Trump’s view, every American treaty or agreement before his presidency, by virtue of having been negotiated by US officials other than himself, was a terrible deal and is totally unfair.  Trump believes America’s greatness rests solely on his own personal greatness and his ability to cut “great” deals for America.

Back in 2015, I read Trump’s book, TRUMP: How To Get Rich, which I bought at a local antique/used junk store and I stick with that 2015 assessment of Trump’s character:

Last week I bought one of Trump’s books, as I mentioned before, and I read it.  Assuredly, Trump offered many interesting insights into, as the book’s title stated, “TRUMP: How to Get Rich”.  The pride he takes in his children comes across and he offers some worthwhile advice on investing and negotiating, but trying to get to the character of who exactly is Donald Trump, well, he’s a man who has chapters in his book like “Be Strategically Dramatic”, “Sometimes You Still Have To Screw Them”, and “Sometimes You Have To Hold a Grudge”, replete with examples from his life and his guiding principles. Here are some quotes (page 138):

“When somebody hurts you, just go after them as viciously and as violently as you can.  Like it says in the Bible, an eye for an eye.”

Be paranoid.  I know this observation doesn’t make any of us sound very good, but let’s face the fact that it’s possible that even your best friend wants to steal your spouse and your money.”

The chapter on holding a grudge is even more interesting, because Trump relates how for years he had donated huge amounts of money to NY governor, Mario Cuomo and when he called Cuomo to ask for a favor from Cuomo’s son, Andrew, who was running the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Mario Cuomo refused to do the favor (which Trump doesn’t explain in detail other than to say it was an appropriate favor involving attention to a detail). Trump blew up and for any who are confused with Trump’s vendetta against Megyn Kelly on Twitter, calling her a bimbo last night or his refusing to entertain a question by Jorge Ramos from Univision this evening, well, this chapter on holding a grudge (page 142) explains it.  Trump called in a political favor believing it was owed to him, because he donated a lot of money to Mario Cuomo  (crony capitalism is what most people call this greasing of palms).  Here is how Trump describes the phone call:

“I did the only thing that felt right to me.  I began screaming.  “You son of a bitch!  For years I’ve helped you and never asked for a thing, and when I finally need something, and a totally proper thing at that, you aren’t there for me.  You’re no good.  You’re one of the most disloyal people I’ve known and as far as I’m concerned, you can go to hell.”

My screaming was so loud that two or three people came in from adjoining offices and asked who I was screaming at.  I told them it was Mario Cuomo., a total stiff, a lousy governor, and a disloyal former friend.  Now whenever I see Mario at dinner, I refuse to acknowledge him, talk to him, or even look at him.”

When you hear Trump whining about being treated unfairly, here’s what I believe he means: If you agree with him, fawn over him and puff up his ego, that’s treating him fairly.  If you disagree or criticize him, I believe, he will wage an all out campaign to destroy you.

https://libertybellediaries.com/2015/08/25/trumps-his-own-bimbo-eruption/

Trump reveres strong men, especially despots, who wield power over the weak.  Reagan revered individual liberty, as a God-given right to all people, and he abhorred tyranny.

Reagan’s belief in America as a force for good in the world defined not just his presidency, it defined his entire life.  Reagan believed in promoting individual liberty and in clearly speaking out against the forces of tyranny and oppression everywhere.

Trump can’t even conjure up the energy to speak up for peaceful Hong Kong protestors and in fact, not only sides with President Xi, but Trump would support China’s use of force to silence the freedom protestors (that’s the truth).

These trips down memory lane can be interesting, but trying to figure out a better path, in the present, relies more on assessing the current “road conditions” than studying the roads of days gone by, I think.  That doesn’t mean we can’t learn some sound “rules of the road” from past travels, especially when it comes to understanding that the competency of the driver assures us a better chance of arriving safely at our destination, even in the most adverse road conditions.

Trump compared to Reagan… the similarities ended with both men were involved in show business.  For me, I’ll follow Reagan’s moral compass over Trump’s any day of the week.

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Filed under American History, General Interest, Politics

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