Posted Monday morning, March 19, 2018.
“Another beautiful, warm day. F had his usual morning, with me reading the paper by the window, while he had his breakfast [and] read all the war dispatches in 2 or 3 papers---He has the whole Western front in Europe in his head, knows exactly where each army is at any one moment. He says he has to, for sometimes he has to make decisions about operations. I was surprised at this, thinking that Eisenhower would have the final say about such things, but F explained it this way: Some time ago Eisenhower mad a forward movement in the southern part of the line. Winston Churchill promptly cabled F a protest….F, knowing what the plans were, sent an explanation to W.S.C. backing up Eisenhower.”---Daisy Suckley, Franklin Roosevelt’s cousin and companion and confidante writing from the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia where FDR had gone to get over “a cold”, April 10, 1945, two days before FDR suffered the cerebral hemorrhage that killed him.
Returning from Yalta, Churchill thought all might be well. “The impression I brought back from the Crimea, and from all my other contacts, is that Marshal Stalin and the Soviet leaders wish to live in honorable friendship and equality with the Western Democracies…,” he told the House of Commons. Privately, Churchill said: “Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong. But I don’t think I’m wrong about Stalin.” When it turned out that the facts did not support those hopeful words, Churchill would be the first to take a strong stand against the spread of communism. He would have agreed with Eleanor’s assessment of Roosevelt’s view that politics and diplomacy are stories without end, requiring constant attention, keen thinking, and an appreciation of complexity.---from “Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship” by Jon Meacham.
[President Trump] has complained that [National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster] is too rigid and that his briefings go on too long and seem irrelevant. --- Trump decides to remove national security adviser, and others may follow, Washington Post, March 15, 2018.
In case you haven’t been able to tell, I’ve been reading “Franklin and Winston”, Jon Meacham’s moving and involving dual portrait of Roosevelt and Churchill during their years of friendship and partnership as leaders of the Western Democracies in their fight against the Axis during World War II. Actually, I’ve been listening to it with Ken during our car travels hither and yon over the past month or so, and we’ve nearly reached the end. We’re at the point where Roosevelt is dying. He doesn’t know it yet or won’t admit it. As far as he’s concerned, he’s only suffering from a bad cold that he’ll get over after a working vacation at the Little White House in Warm Springs. The people around him see him failing but they deny it too. But he’s weak and growing weaker, and as he does, the worser aspects of his personality are coming to the fore.
Mostly it’s some expression of his vanity, of which he had plenty. FDR had his vices and flaws and weaknesses, like all of us. It’s a question whether great men and women possess greater virtues and vices commensurate with their greatness or whether they just have greater opportunity to express and indulge both and greater power to express and indulge them to greater effect. Whichever it is, vices are easier to express and indulge.They don’t require work. Virtue, though, uses up energy and strength, and FDR was being drained of both.
He’s irascible, easily irritated, impatient, demanding, jealous of attention, sometimes petty, selfish, subject to sudden bouts of low spirits that could be described as sulking. Just what you’d expect in a sick old man but traits and behavior that marked his character even when he was young and healthy. Only the compensatory virtues and strengths are harder for him to muster. But he does muster them.
He refuses to give in to his illness and pain. He doesn’t use either as an excuse to stop working. His working vacation in Warm Springs is a working vacation. He doesn’t lose sight of his responsibilities. He keeps himself focused on the job at hand---which has become not winning the war but securing the peace. His own most important project is getting the United Nations off the ground and he’s planning to make the trip to San Francisco to preside over the UN’s opening session. He’s determined to do his job as President and that requires a mental effort and discipline that would exhaust younger, healthier minds and did in fact exhaust him. He’s been considering resigning, is seriously planning to when the war is over and the groundwork for the peace is laid, but maybe he shouldn’t wait, at least for his own good. But he’s kept going----possibly his vanity has kept him at it. He couldn’t imagine not anyone else doing his job and receiving the applause and the gratitude he’s earned for saving the country from falling apart during the Depression and for winning the war. But even more so, he’s driven by a sense of responsibility and purpose and pragmatism---at the moment there is no one else on hand who can do his job. No one else has the knowledge and experience that comes from having been doing the job for twelve years.
It’s almost too much of a given to bother saying, but a weak, sick, and dying Franklin Roosevelt was still smarter, more disciplined, more diligent, more responsible, more of a President than almost all his predecessors and all his successors were at their peaks. The current guy isn’t even worth the comparison.
But he is the current guy and the disaster he is and the disasters he’s causing are due to his in no way measuring up to Franklin Roosevelt.
Lately the same story’s been reported in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Washington Monthly, and several other news outlets, which can be summed up by Washington Monthly’s headline on their version:
Trump Feels Liberated to Act on His Impulses
The key word in all the stories is emboldened. That must be the word the White House wants out there replacing words like “unglued.”
The gist of all the stories is that Trump is fed up with the minimal self-discipline aides and advisors have been urging him to exercise and the delaying of ego gratification that’s expected of responsible world leaders and other, well, grownups. He’s tired of being told to look before he leaps, and the only reason he has shown the little self-control and self-restraint he has so far is he’s been un-emboldened by self-doubt. That’s in the past now. Trump thinks he’s got a handle on this presidenting thing at last, and it doesn’t take the constant attention, keen thinking, or appreciation for complexity losers like Franklin Roosevelt thought it did. All it takes is for Donald Trump to do whatever he feels like doing.
Ignoring that advice over the weekend was the decision of a president who ultimately trusts only his own instincts, and now believes he has settled into the job enough to rely on them rather than the people who advise him.
A dozen people close to Mr. Trump or the White House, including current and former aides and longtime friends, described him as newly emboldened to say what he really feels and to ignore the cautions of those around him.
That self-confidence has led to a series of surprising comments and actions that have pushed the Trump presidency in an ever more tumultuous direction.
“Self-confidence”? “Surprising comments and actions”? “Every more tumultuous”
Understatement in a New York Times political news story is not there for humorous effect. It’s institutional timidity at work. But that last paragraph is funny. Or it would be if it wasn't so frightening.
Hasn’t the problem been, from his administration’s perspective and ours, that he already he does and says whatever he wants and doesn’t listen to the supposed adults who are supposed to restrain him and get him to act like a President? What has he wanted to say or do that he hasn’t done?
What on God’s green earth does he want to do now?
End of Part One. Part Two is in the works.