Over the last year, Donald Trump has been compared to everyone from Adolf Hitler to Andrew Jackson to Ronald Reagan. His detractors fear he compares to the worst figures in modern history, while his boosters equate him to the greatest.
The fundamental problem is that it’s dicey to compare one person to another. Trump also isn’t Theodore Roosevelt or Silvio Berlusconi—and attempting to force him into that mold isn’t necessarily enlightening.
But that’s not to say that we can’t learn something from studying historical figures or that Trump hasn’t, himself, attempted to take a page from their playbook. In fact, what other tool do we have in our toolbox for attempting to understand a political figure than comparing him to others and putting him in historical context?
And if we are going to compare Trump to the worst and warn against history repeating itself, we should also hold out for the possibility that Trump might also be better than we thought — and hope that history repeats itself.
Since one of my recent posts pondered whether we should be afraid of President Trump, I wanted to take Donald Trump’s recent phone call with Taiwan as an opportunity to point out how it reminded me of Ronald Reagan. That’s what my new column at Roll Call is about. Here’s an excerpt:
Worried about Trump’s pointed tweets? Remember that Reagan’s joke about bombing Russia (considered a gaffe, but who knows?) might have had serious ramifications. According to UPI, “In October 1984, the independent U.S. military newspaper Pacific Stars and Stripes, quoting Japan’s Yomiuri Shinbun [sic] newspaper, claimed the Soviet Union’s army in the Far East was briefly placed on alert after Reagan’s remarks were made public.”
Concerned that Trump might not be utilizing the advice and counsel of career foreign policy experts? As was noted in The New York Times about Reagan’s famous “Tear Down This Wall” speech, “When Mr. Reagan’s speech was first drafted, senior officials at the State Department and National Security Council tried repeatedly to get the words out. They believed the statement might jeopardize Mr. Reagan’s developing relationship with the Soviet leader.”
Trump has alarmed a lot of people who had grown used to a certain brand of political protocol. Depending on who you are, this new brand could be seen as either dangerous or refreshing. I’ve always there was a lot of range with Donald Trump — that his presidency could either be a stunning success or a huge disaster. I don’t think we should dismiss the possibility that the former might occur.