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On growing up with real presidents

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By Bob Gaydos

There's something about Donald Trump that has always puzzled me. It's not the fact that millions of Americans could and still do bow at the feet of this inveterate grifter. For a long time I've been of the opinion that there are a lot of people shuffling through life in this country unknowing, uncaring and unapologetic for their behavior. Also racists.

They are here, they listen to Fox "news" and I don't expect most of them to change or go away. It's a free country, even for bigots.

No, what has had me stumped for five years is that so many Americans have carried on as if Trump is just a little anomaly in the history of this nation. No big deal. When can we go to the movies again?

For me, Trump has been a major threat ever since he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. It wasn't just that I knew how slimy he was; it felt just so wrong for him to even be involved in this democratic process. We're talking about president of the United States of America, for Pete's sake, I said to myself over and over. What is Trump doing in this? It's almost a physical reaction for me. It lasted through his whole presidency. Why are all those people on Wall Street behaving as if this is just another 9 to 5 interlude? This man is an insult to the presidency.

That's how I felt. Still do, although the election of Joe Biden has eased my concerns considerably. More to the point,

for the purposes of this column, I think I know why I've had such a strong reaction to Trump. Why I never used the word, "president" with his name attached to it. Why I took it so personally.

I was lucky.

That's what history tells me. Or rather, a bunch of historians. Some 142 noted historians were surveyed by CNN for the cable news network's latest rating of American presidents. It does this whenever there's a change in administration. Trump somehow managed to not finish last. More on that in a bit. What struck me most, personally I guess, is that the historians rated an era that included my first 28 years alive as the best stretch of presidents in the history of America.

Wow.

It started with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 (I was born in 1941) and continued through Harry S Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1969. FDR was Number 3 on the list, behind Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. Ike was fifth, Harry was sixth, JFK was number 8 and LBJ ranked 11th.

Richard M Nixon (number 31) ended my personal winning streak of presidents and it was mediocrity or worse, in my opinion, until Barack Obama in 2008. But boy, those first 28 years! No wonder I resented Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I was spoiled and didn't know it. I grew up with mature, responsible men as presidents, men who put their country ahead of their party and certainly ahead of themselves. Men who surely had their faults, but who each in his own way inspired confidence that he was always trying to do the best for all Americans. That's what president did, I thought. Made us feel we had the right person making difficult decisions. Made us feel confident about the future. Made us proud to be Americans.

FDR created the social fabric we take for granted today. Truman steered us steadily through the end of one war and into another while maintaining his touch with average Americans. Everybody seemed to like Ike, the war hero who warned us of the military/industrial complex. JFK, the orator, had his photo hung in virtually every Catholic family's kitchen, alongside The Last Supper. He dreamed of going to the moon and gave us the Peace Corps. When he was assassinated, LBJ took up the tough fight for the Equal Rights Act and wrestled it through the resistance of southern senators. He knew how Washington worked.

Nixon lowered the bar before resigning. Ford didn't do much as a fill-in. Carter was sincere but disappointing. Reagan got rated 10th by the historians, but I think he should trickle down several spots despite his affable communications skills. Bush senior was unimpressive, Bill Clinton was sporadically effective (he balanced the budget!) and George W. Bush, installed by the Supreme Court, was a disaster. I actually wept with pride when Barack Obama, the first black American president, addressed the crowd in a park in Chicago on his election night. We're back, I thought.

And then came Trump.

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Bob Gaydos is a veteran of 40-plus years in daily newspapers. He began as police reporter with The (Binghamton, N.Y.) Sun-Bulletin, eventually covering government and politics as well as serving as city editor, features editor, sports editor and (more...)
 

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