At school we all learned about the military leadership of Washington, the morality of Lincoln and the resilience of FDR. Every Presidents’ Day we can see clips of Kennedy’s and Reagan’s speech in Berlin. As time passes it’s easier to mythologize our old leaders. Jefferson becomes a genius. Teddy is rambunctious and indefatigable. Old film presents every president as well intentioned and sternly committed to leading the world, not just the United States. We are told how we ended the WWI quagmire. We saved England and France from Hitler. Our economic might destroyed the Soviet Union in the cold war.
All Americans are joined together by this history and by the mythology. Every country has a version of it. French men grow weak as they recall the glorious victories of Napoleon. England revels in stories of its benign empire. Italy lays claim to ancient Rome and Russia swoons over Peter The Great. Socialists, communists, and fascists are all united by these stories. A limousine liberal in Manhattan has the same ingrained images as the family in Duck Dynasty.
We can discuss how twisted the truth is from the history in our heads but the video snippets linger. It’s as though the nobility of FDR proves that we have a superior system with exceptional people so we too can be exceptional. All of this history provides us with a sort of How to Behave if You’re President guidebook. We have so many examples to work with that we can’t help but construct a model President with regard to demeanor, maturity, and placability. These are the men who kept it together while the world or the country struggled.
Half the country has now selected a President who plainly chooses to not behave presidentially. He tweets his petty grievances every day. He brags and insults. He calls Democratic senators “clowns” and concerns himself with the ratings of his TV show replacement. What I am confounded by is how his voters reconcile this behavior with past presidential behavior they have ingrained in their memories. If they accept him as a good change then they must reject the nature of all his predecessors. Can people suddenly look at the Ich bin ein Berliner speech as embarrassing, – delivered by a philandering liberal who should have been home, cutting taxes?
This is akin to suddenly rejecting your birth religion because someone you liked called Jesus, Mohammed or Moses an idiot. You have to abandon everything you were taught in bible school in one fell swoop. I think it’s more likely that Trump voters believe his behavior is temporary and once he is in office he will conform to historical norms.
If he doesn’t then either:
- their (our) memories of his predecessors will destroy his popularity or
- cognitive dissonance will kill their love and belief in our old Presidents and the office itself.