Ever since Donald Trump was elected president a year and a half ago, I have been reading biographies of presidents, trying to assure myself that we will somehow get through all this Trump craziness because we’ve been through it before. Maybe not in the same way, but in some other similar way.
I’ve found drunks among the presidents, I’ve found stubborn, I’ve found paranoid and I’ve found corrupt. Now I have stumbled on a president who did many things similar to what Trump is doing. This president was Warren G. Harding. He was elected president in 1920, and what is so striking is how he went out of his way to undo everything that the prior president, a popular president, did. No matter what it was.
The president before him was Woodrow Wilson, a Princeton professor with high ideals, a belief in rooting out corruption and a strong foreign policy that could uphold democracy in the rest of the world. He was so adored that everything he wanted to put into effect got passed and was signed by him.
Wilson, who did have flaws, is consistently rated as #9 or #10 on lists of best presidents. There have been 43 presidents before Trump. So this is pretty good.
Harding, when elected, went after Wilson’s good deeds with a hatchet. Harding lowered taxes for the rich, raised tariffs on imports, passed strict laws against immigrants—especially Italians and eastern European Jews—tried and failed to have government regulate radio stations, refused to even speak to anybody in the League of Nations (which his predecessor had espoused), and helped businessmen make huge profits at the expense of the workers, whose unions he hated.
Workers rioted during his presidency. He turned away war veterans who wanted bonuses for their service. He had, from his perspective, the good fortune to name four very conservative Supreme Court Justices. Ever hear of the Teapot Dome scandal? This was a national park in Wyoming, and his cabinet members were found to be taking bribes in exchange for favors for oil drilling rights.
Personally, Harding was a man without morals. He drank. Although married, he had a slew of girlfriends on the side, including some he invited to bed down with him in the White House. Harding fathered a child of one of his mistresses.
Eventually, after three-and-a-half years of very bad presidential behavior, Harding died while in office. In bed. At night. Of a heart attack. His wife wouldn’t allow an autopsy to be done. Many claimed that she killed him.
Fortunately, the president who came after him, Calvin Coolidge, was on the up-and-up. He was called Silent Cal. Things got better—a little anyway.
Warren G. Harding is consistently ranked as either the worst or next to worst of our 43 presidents.
The part of Harding’s presidency that seems so close to what Donald Trump is doing is his apparent determination to wipe away any laws passed by his predecessor—who in the current case is, in Trump’s mind, that African-American with the fake birth certificate.
Trump’s latest twist in that regard this past week has been to quietly cease government payments to physicians and hospitals to cover losses incurred when they give services to poor people who have Obamacare. As this will shortly drive up the price of health insurance for the rest of us, it is another example of Trump doing something that will enable him to say the price of Obamacare is now really soaring—how could that happen?—and it’s as bad as I said it was.
But let me tell you how not only Trump, but the rest of the government and our media, works. We are in a very bad way here.
The other day Trump tweeted “I have an idea for them. Both the US and the EU drop all Tariffs, barriers and subsidies. That would finally be called Free Market and Fair Trade! Hope they do it, we are ready – but they won’t.”
How he came up with this, I do not know, but I can guess he got this from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who probably did the math and found it a good thing.
What happened? The negotiators agreed to work toward exactly that. Tariff wars with the EU are on hold.
The next morning, The New York Times wrote on their front page that this very thing is what Obama proposed several years ago.
Brilliant! Now, probably, Trump won’t do it. How helpful is The New York Times! The pride of New York.
So life proceeds in the land of lies, Congressional inertia and a president who is angling to be ranked as #45, the worst president. Please God, make this be over.