I have been around for a while. I was born during the presidency of Harry S. Truman. My first recollection of an inaugural address was January 20, 1957 which I watched on TV when I happened to be home from school sick with pneumonia. I listened to Dwight D. Eisenhower as he was sworn in for a second term. Perhaps that made an impression on me because I was lying on the couch at home, sick. Or perhaps it registered on me because my parents revered Dwight Eisenhower who was a war hero, president, and “presidential” in his demeanor. He was the leader, revered by the nation and my parents as the leader of the free world. He was like George Washington to me, and the only president I would know in my early, formative years.
Later, I would be enthralled by the charismatic, young Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. Again, my parents adored this president because he was Catholic, a democrat, and because he was NOT Richard Nixon. Of course, I loved this president too, and I grieved deeply when he was cut down by an assassin in his prime.
We moved on to Lyndon B. Johnson, JFK’s forlorn successor and the torch bearer for the slain Kennedy. His unfortunate legacy was a destructive Vietnam war which overshadowed his domestic achievements.
Then, Richard M. Nixon, for whom I am proud to say I never voted!
Then Gerald S. Ford, for whom I DID vote- the undervalued man of courage who ultimately lost his only election to Jimmy Carter, largely because he had the courage to do the unpopular but healing act of pardoning Nixon.
Jimmy Carter was (is) a good man, but he was generally a failure as president because he could not appeal to a public who wanted hope. Carter was a dignified man who also embodied the word “presidential”.
We then go to Ronald Reagan, a giant of leadership because he was able to galvanize Americans to embrace that bright future that we had somehow lost sight of. He could appeal to people in both parties, and he demonstrated a humanity to which people could easily relate . He was “presidential”.
George H. W. Bush followed. George H. W. Bush was another (and the last) of those World War II heroes whom we elected to our highest office. He was an honorable man, a “presidential” man. He was underappreciated in his influence and performance, perhaps because he ultimately got tired and could not hold off the energetic and charismatic William Jefferson Clinton in a bid for a second term.
After Clinton, we elected another Bush, George W. Bush, “W”, whose legacy was an entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan for which we continue to pay a price. However, he was, and is, and honorable man. Flawed, (as we all are), he did not besmirch the dignity of the office of President of the United States.
Barack H. Obama, our first African-American President, had his flaws as well. However, he conducted himself uprightly and with dignity. Perhaps he did not use his “bully pulpit” as well as he could have to smooth racial relations, however, we could count on him to be dignified, and proud that he respected the office he served.
Being President is not the only role that a President must fulfill. He or she must be “presidential”- that is, the President must respect the office, and to use its vast power to heal and not to separate or demean. The above named Presidents, some more successful than others, some more popular than others, mostly fulfilled the role of “presidential”.
Then, unfortunately, we come to Donald J. Trump…