The Trump administration serves as a daily reminder of how much the United States lost when President Barack Obama vacated the White House.
More than ever, I miss our 44th president’s grace, coolness, sense of humor, intelligence and empathy. I miss Obama’s crew of competent advisers and his Cabinet, which was filled with members who knew how to do their jobs — unlike President Trump’s pretentious, self-aggrandizing Cabinet members living high on the public’s dime.
But it’s not only when measured against Obama that Trump falls short.
As a steward of the nation’s fiscal health, Trump hardly compares to Bill Clinton, who converted the largest budget deficit up until then in the country’s history to the largest surplus . Stack that against Trump steering the nation toward a trillion-dollar deficit.
Unlike Trump, who is tone-deaf to the cries of people living at the margins, Jimmy Carter understood the problems that too many Americans face in their daily lives and worked with little fanfare to make the crooked straight.
Trump even has me longing for the days of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, who understood their fundamental duty to protect and defend the constitutional order and the rule of law.
Ronald Reagan didn’t leave much of a civil rights legacy. But he never did anything as contemptible as Trump’s failure to call out the white supremacists and neo-Nazis responsible for the racist violence in Charlottesville; Trump’s denigration of African and Latin American nations as “shithole countries”; and his slurring of Mexicans as rapists.
However, what might be most disturbing about Trump, in contrast to his modern-day predecessors, is his lack of any concern that many of his words and deeds are beneath the dignity of the office he now holds.
To be sure, Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton and Obama held disparate views on domestic and foreign policies. They were tried-and-true partisan politicians, and in the cases of Carter and Reagan, and the elder Bush and Clinton, were political rivals for the White House.
But the six leaders had one thing in common: respect for the presidency.
The esteem in which they held the White House came through in the way they behaved. All the presidents, Democrat or Republican, showed class, civility and maturity when in the public eye. Their language was measured and respectful. They exercised good manners.
I disagreed with many of Reagan’s conservative policies. But he was not morally repulsive. Carter’s record of accomplishments and failures is mixed. But his consideration for others shone through during his years in the White House. (Full disclosure: During the Carter administration, I was a deputy assistant secretary in the Treasury Department and later the U.S. executive director at the World Bank.)
Trump’s crude and abusive behavior would have had no place in either Bush White House. Clinton took some hits in office, and he disgraced himself and the presidency with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. But he never publicly denigrated or insulted his staff or Cabinet officers the way Trump has done since Inauguration Day.
And listen to Obama’s take on the United States’ role in the world, as opposed to Trump’s claimed foreign policy prowess. Said Obama: “No other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them.” Trump, asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” whom he talks with about foreign policy, responded, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”
Presidents from Carter to Obama stood up for what they believed, unlike Trump, whose chief belief is in the importance of promoting himself, often at the expense of others.
So yes, I miss Obama. And I would trade Trump for any of those other presidents in a heartbeat.
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