Friday, November 11, 2016

Truman: On What Ruins a President

I was going to wait until January 20th to post this, but considering all of the unrest about Trump's election, I thought it might be beneficial to post it now.

Trump (#45) and Truman (#33) - sharing the first four letters of their surnames, and not much else

Truman: On What Ruins a President

One of the best biographies I have ever read is Merle Miller's Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (1974). There are many memorable (and quotable) passages in this book, but when I think about the upcoming inauguration of our 45th U.S. president, two passages come to mind. The first is about the the danger of becoming a President. Harry Truman said:
"You see the thing you have to remember. When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one-gun salutes, all those things, you have to remember it isn't for you. It's for the Presidency, and you've got to keep yourself separate from that in your mind ... If you can't keep the two separate, yourself and the Presidency, you're in all kinds of trouble." 
[Miller said to Truman:] Jonathan Daniels says in one of his books that - I hope you'll forgive me - he was very upset when he was a boy, and he and a friend were passing the White House, and his friend reminded him that the President - I believe it was Coolidge at the time - the President had to go to the bathroom just like everybody else.  
"That's right. We've had a few Presidents who've not remembered a thing like that, and the minute it happens, you can't possibly do the job" (pp.203)
The second passage is about what ruins a man:
[Truman] said, "Do you want to know what I think causes the ruination of a lot of men?" 
I said that I most certainly did. The question is one that has occurred to me now and again. 
"Well," Mr. Truman said, "I've made a great, long study of these things, as you can see up there if you've looked." 
He pointed to the bookshelves, which, as I've said, mostly contained biographies and histories. 
"Three things ruin a man if you want to know what I believe. One's power, one's money, and one's women
"If a man can accept a situation in a place of power with the thought that it's only temporary, he comes out all right. But when he thinks that he is the cause of the power, that can be his ruination
"And when a man has too much money too soon, that has the same effect on him. He just never gets to understanding that getting enough money to eat and getting a roof over his head is the thing that throughout history most people have spent their lives trying to do and haven't succeeded. ... If you've got too much money too soon, it ruins you by setting you too far apart from most of the human race. 
"And a man who is not loyal to his family, to his wife and his mother and his sisters can be ruined if he has a complex in that direction. If he has the right woman as a partner, he never has any trouble. But if he has the wrong one or if he's mixed up with a bunch of whores, why, then he's in a hell of a fix. And I can name them to you, the ones that got mixed up in that way. But we won't do it now. 
"Those three things, though, in my opinion, power, money, and women in that order, are what most often contribute to the ruination of a man. You read your history and you'll find out" (pp.342-343).
If we accept Truman's theory about what ruins a man, then we can be quite certain that Trump will be ruined. We know he has problems when it comes to women: his fidelity to his wives, his treatment of his daughter, and most of all, the way he treats and views women in general. We know he has problems with money: he definitely "got too much money too soon," and it is fair to say that he lives a life "too far apart from most of the human race." And Trump's desire for power, while maybe not as great as Hillary Clinton's, is evident in everything he does.

Suffice it to say, this does not bode well. 

The real question to my mind is whether Trump will be able to keep himself and the presidency separate. I am inclined to think not. The only source of hope I have is that Trump has consistently surprised everyone, and has defied almost all predictions. I hope this will be the case here as well.

Let us pray that our new President can keep himself separate from the Presidency, and that his power, money, and his way of relating to women do not lead to his ruination and the ruination of our country.