In April 1945, Harry Truman became the 33rd President of the United States by virtue of the death of Franklin Roosevelt. He had been Vice President for all of 82-Days.
He had been on the ballot for Vice President through the apparent willingness of Roosevelt to allow others’ back room wrangling and cloak and dagger maneuverings at the Democratic National Convention. This was a man who had been barely re-elected Senator amid concerns with his connections to “machine politics” back in Missouri. Yet, the sitting Vice-President had been cast aside in favor of the Senator from Missouri. He had no enemies, and could probably be manipulated.
In the time he was Vice-President, he had met with FDR exactly twice. He had to be told of the existence of the atomic bomb after having become President, and even then only several weeks. He had never been briefed on FDR’s and Churchill’s conference with Stalin at Yalta.
He was seen as an inexperienced “every man,” ill-prepared and perhaps ill-equipped to rise to the Presidency. The American public voted for Roosevelt despite this fact, never apparently realizing just how poor his health actually was, and without understanding it was Truman for whom they were actually casting their ballot.
4-months after ascending to the Presidency, on August 6, 1945, the first of two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
72-years later, the American voting public elected Donald Trump President of the United States. By contrast, the Republican Party not only didn’t try to engineer his election, but actively worked against it. This is a man displaying little of the temperament nor comport one may expect of the leader of the free world; if Truman were ill-equipped and ill-prepared to be President, after having been a judge, county commissioner, Congressman, and Senator, it can easily be argued Trump is ill-equipped to be a judge, county commissioner, Congressman, or Senator.
And yet, Truman – despite some fits and starts – demonstrated a resolve and force of character that allowed him to will himself to acquit himself well. His was a history of hard work, faithful service to both his constituents and family, and fully determined to succeed. He had failed businesses behind him, but the point was he always saw to it to comport himself properly. He was straight to the point, did what he believed correct, and expected those around him to be as well. He treated those around him with respect, and was humble.
America was lucky. An accidental President happened to become what the country needed at the time he was needed. In 2016, America chose perhaps another accidental President, fitting none of the qualities which could be said of Harry S Truman. No one around Trump considers him to be humble, a student concerned with details, or frankly as someone possessing force of character or resolve. Despite the perception he speaks plainly and speaks his mind, I’ve found his pronouncements opaque and not only contradictory of his previous statements, but sometimes internally contradictory.
Despite Truman’s past using derogatory racial and religious terms, he behaved in ways that projected respect – perhaps not by modern standards, but certainly by standards of the day. I don’t find the same to be true of Trump. Believe me, this isn’t to dismiss Truman’s use of the expressions; it is to say that he could perhaps have made for a greater President had he not harbored those beliefs, but he did keep those beliefs private. There was no TMZ, no Facebook Live, no Twitter. These beliefs were uncovered only in his secret diary, not on a 10-year old, previously unreleased video. The world probably didn’t know that he called New York a “kike town” quite the same way we knew how Trump saw himself the ladies man. We didn’t know what we were getting in 1944; we did in 2016.
We voted for this man knowing full well what monstrous weapons the US military has at its disposal, and while the Libertarian candidate was mocked for his apparent ignorance of the tragedy of Aleppo, Syria, we voted for a man who has demonstrated little understanding of world affairs, suggesting that the US should have just taken Iraq’s oil.
Where Truman put careful consideration into his actions, where he wanted to avoid conflict with others, we have Trump who apparently chooses to rule through “controlled chaos.” Trumps plan is to set up situations where personalities duke it out, which presumably will determine the winning ideology.
David McCullough’s biography of Truman demonstrates what decisions a President makes and what role those decisions play in the world. The American public had no idea what power they were giving Harry S Truman on the day they cast their ballots for Franklin Delano Roosevelt back in 1944. With one telegram, Truman authorized the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Japan – a weapon so mindbogglingly devastating, the world had no way to truly comprehend what had just happened. On November 8, 2016, we willingly gave Donald John Trump that authority, knowing just how awesome that responsibility is.
My hope for Donald Trump, for the United States, and for the world, is that somehow he figures out how to be the thoughtful leader Harry Truman came to be. My hope is that Trump comes to understand just how awesome his responsibility is, just how powerful his words as President are, and to not wield that awesomeness recklessly. To this point, we’ve become a society where it’s actually okay for Neil Cavuto to gloat that his networks’ brand of news is now favored, as though there is a “right” editorial slant. We’re less than three days into the Trump era and I think less “Harry Truman” and more ” Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho.” Maybe if we demand more, we’ll get more, but I’m more convinced than ever that we just don’t care enough to demand more. We’ve given up the idea of a leader who really is an “every man,” for that of a Billionaire who appeals to our base instincts and presents as an “every man.”
When Vice-President Truman was led to the White House residence, it was Eleanor Roosevelt who had informed him of FDR’s passing. When Truman had asked if there was anything he could do for her, she asked him the same question, adding, “For you are the one in trouble now.” President Trump, you have a great weight to overcome: that of history. You are the one in trouble now.