On a visit to Gerald R. Ford’s Presidential Library in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this month I was stuck by the contrast between Ford and fellow Republican Donald Trump.
Ford followed a corrupt, paranoid, vengeful and racist president – qualities that many attribute to the current occupant of the White House. Trump may share many of Nixon’s faults but not his strengths, such as experience, intellect, a sense of history and an understanding of public policy.
Ford had broad bipartisan support for his nomination as the first appointed vice president and many friends on both sides of the aisle. Trump, who lost the popular vote by 5 million ballots, has virtually none. He has been feuding increasingly with the top leaders of his own party.
The differences between the Ford and Trump are vast, but there is one word that sums it up: menschlichkeit. It means integrity, honor, decency.
Jerry Ford understood the need for healing the nation after “our long national nightmare,” as he termed the Watergate crisis. Trump is creating a new national nightmare. That’s not liberals like me talking; that’s the testimony of leaders of his own party, in the Congress and even in his cabinet.
His own secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has reportedly called the president “a f***ing moron.” He didn’t deny it when asked by reporters.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) said the White House has become “an adult day care center,” warning that Trump’s reckless tweets and threats could put the nation “on the path to World War III.”
“I don’t know why the president tweets out things that are not true,” Corker told the New York Times. “You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does.”
Trump has launched vituperative Twitter attacks on fellow Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski and Lindsey Graham among many others. And he wonders why in nine months he hasn’t been able to sign a single piece of major legislation.
Foreign leaders feel American diplomats have no credibility because all that really matters is not what they say but what Trump tweets. He has no qualms about humiliating and attacking people who work for him, including his secretary of state and attorney general.
Of the deep fissures Trump is creating in American society none is more dangerous than his persistent race baiting.
That is on display during every NFL game when a twisted Trump tweets insults at the players who take a knee. It is no coincident that most those he is calling SOBs are African-American.
The athletes’ message is not as Trump misrepresents it, an insult to the flag and national anthem. He’d know that if he were half as smart as he boasts (he isn’t; one of his professors called him “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had.” And he didn’t graduate at the top of his class, as he says, not even in the top 15 percent. Read this: http://bit.ly/2xSce7x, http://bit.ly/2lPw90L, http://bit.ly/2gAXFxQ). Taking a knee during the anthem is not about the song, the flag or the soldiers. It is constitutionally protected exercise of their First Amendment (the one Trump would repeal) right to protest, in this case, police violence. Or worse; maybe Trump knows and just doesn’t care.
Trump never misses an opportunity to stir up racial tensions. It has been on display in Charlottesville, Puerto Rico, football stadiums and even a condolence call to a Gold Star mother. It was seen in his endorsement of a vile bigot like Judge Roy Moore in Alabama or those “very fine people” who marched with KKK hoods and Nazi flags.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports Trump expressed anti-Jewish and other racist sentiments when he starred on “The Apprentice,” according to one of the producers.
Unlike Jerry Ford, this president is working hard to deepen the divisions in our society and exploit them for his own political and financial gain. And that, more than anything else, should terrify a Jewish community that will inevitably become a major target as the animosities this president seems determined to stir up spread like a deadly virus.
Jerry Ford had the respect of his opponents. Jimmy Carter, the man who defeated him in 1976, said, “Nobody ever doubted that when he spoke it was the truth.”
I don’t expect anyone will ever say that about Donald Trump.