A favored parlor game among the punditry during the Trump administration is to spitball about which prior administration it most resembles. Trump’s rabid foes have a fetish for comparing him to Hitler, but serious commentators limit comparisons to other American presidents. Early on, MAGApedes likened Trump to Jackson, but Old Hickory’s America differed so radically from America today as to have been a different country. Some say that it was.
Of the modern presidents, four tend to invite the most Trump comparisons.
Trump’s saner critics love to portray him as following in Nixon’s footsteps, if only out of wishful thinking. They may have a point, but not the one they think. The Left hated Nixon with a passion and hounded him until he faced the stark choice of utter destruction or sacrificing everything to avoid prison. Nixon chose to lose it all and keep his freedom, after a fashion.
At this point, all Trump really has in common with Nixon is the Left’s insatiable hatred. All similarities break down after that. The Democrat party that destroyed Nixon still paid lip service to patriotism and the working man. Trump faces government, bureaucratic, and media opposition totally unmoored from any loyalty to anything but power. He’s endured an ongoing witch hunt almost from day one. If the ruling class is successful, Trump may prove comparisons to Nixon correct after the fact by trying to use the same escape route. In this sociopolitical climate, I wouldn’t count on a Pence pardon to save him, though.
Carter may seem like the worst Trump analogue on the list, but hear me out. Though he failed to leave a lasting political legacy, Carter’s campaign brought together elements of Southern conservatism that would form a key component of the Reagan coalition. This is another comparison that will only be verified or gainsaid in hindsight. Depending on how the next two years play out, Trump’s legacy may be blotted out by the next administration, but the movement that made him their avatar in 2016 will go on.
I’ve mentioned before how American culture is in many ways turning back the clock to the 80s. Those were the Reagan years, the heady days which themselves felt like a flashy remake of the 50s. Even a cursory glance shows why Trump draws so many comparisons to Reagan.
Trump’s performance in office thus far mirrors many aspects of the Reagan administration. We have tax cuts, tough talk on the world stage, and the communication of ideas that cut against the status quo. In his manner and priorities, Trump is indistinguishable from a time traveler recently arrived from the 80s intent on showing us where we lost our way.
There’s a dark side to being anointed the second coming of Reagan. A common thread runs through Reagan’s legacy and Trump’s accomplishments to date: both have largely benefited Boomers, often at their descendants’ expense.
Reagan pioneered no-fault divorce as governor of California. As president, he signed tax cuts that maximized Boomers’ earnings while signing an amnesty that kept prices low in the short term. Trump’s economic policies are geared toward propping up the value of Boomers’ investments just as they enter retirement.
George H. W. Bush
In many ways, Trump is the anti-Bush. Not only hasn’t he started any new wars, he’s getting us out of some old ones. Still, Trump runs the risk of emulating Bush the Elder in one critical respect: failing to keep a make-or-break campaign promise.
Everybody knows that Bush’s “Read my lips” debacle cost him reelection when he went back on his word and raised taxes. Trump is looking down the barrel of any even more tangible and easily falsifiable pledge. It’s quite simple. Trump promised his supporters a big, beautiful Wall. Only delivering a Wall–not a fence, not drones, not additional ICE agents–will give him a chance at a second term. If he fails, he can expect to suffer the fates of Bush Sr. and Nixon, minus any restraint on his enemies’ part due to residual respect for the office.
In the final analysis, whichever former president one projects onto Trump ends up reflecting the beholder’s reflection.
Which president do you think Trump most resembles?
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