I generally have learned to let most things about President Donald Trump go (although not un-noticed) but recently, Vice President Mike Pence while in Panama, said something that brought me to the edge of my seat. He was in Panama – and as the Panama Canal was one of Theodore Roosevelt’s great achievements I am sure that it brought him to Pence’s mind. My wife and I had traveled to Panama with the Theodore Roosevelt Association to commemorate the 150th year anniversary of the canal. As a long-time member of the TR Association that has done two Friends and Family cruises aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, I have spent time with many who revere the former President. I have been to his boyhood home in NYC, his ranch in the Dakota Badlands and the meeting room in our office is a Theodore Roosevelt library.
What the Vice President said may not have seemed so offensive to some, “in President Trump, I think the United States once again has a president whose vision, energy and can-do spirit is reminiscent of President Theodore Roosevelt.” Yet in that statement, Vice President Mike Pence showed how truly poorly informed that he was about Theodore Roosevelt and the personal and professional qualities that he engendered and displayed in his life and as President. While they both have some energy the two presidents could not be greater opposites in any other aspects of their moral character and policies.
After hearing the Pence statement, when I got to the office the following Monday the first person that I called was Tweed Roosevelt, the great grandson of the President who leads the TR Association. As a novice historian on Roosevelt I found the Pence statement to be appalling and there was no question in my mind that members of the TR Association would share that opinion. I was not wrong. The comments had not gone unnoticed by the Association.
Dr. William Tilchen, the current TR Association President, quickly called me back and used the same word as had I saying that he was personally appalled by the comparison made by Pence. He said that they were working on a statement that they would release later that a.m. which they did. The TR Association is a non-profit so has to be careful about something deemed to be political but by late morning that day had issued a formal statement regarding the Pence comments, saying, “The Theodore Roosevelt Association, a non-partisan organization, does not support any attempts to present Theodore Roosevelt and Donald Trump as similar in any substantive way – Theodore Roosevelt Association.” I thought that was a very succinct and clear message that everyone should understand.
Dr. Tilchen and I ran down a list of differences that separated the two Presidents. Forgive me for being blunt: Roosevelt was a long time public servant, holding many public offices from Police Commissioner in New York to Governor of that State where he stamped out corruption so effectively that his opponents saw to it that he was promoted to become Vice President to get him out of their hair. While he did bask in praise, he was not a narcissist on the unprecedented scale of this president. He overcame personal health and business adversity and earned the respect of everyone from the cowboys in North Dakota to the men who accompanied him charging up San Juan hill. Roosevelt was a prolific writer who could talk and write in complete sentences using far more than 140 characters authoring volumes of books and papers. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his military achievement in the Spanish-American war. One of his sons, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who led the troops ashore on Utah beach in Normandy on D-Day fighting the Nazis was also awarded the Medal of Honor. TR would not have missed the opportunity to have blasted neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. TR had encouraged all of his sons to serve in the military. His youngest son, Quentin, was killed in WWI as a fighter pilot. Both he and TR Jr. are buried together in the Normandy cemetery where I visited their graves.
TR was respected by world leaders having won a Nobel Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo/Japanese war in 1904-05. TR advocated “speaking softly while carrying a big stick” while this President is bellicose with threats meant to intimidate opponents as a bully. TR was welcoming to immigrants but was resolute that they become “Americans” adopting US language and culture.
TR was the first really environmental president establishing the National Park system, bird sanctuaries and National Forests protecting millions and millions of acres of land for the public trust. One of the first acts of the current president was to instruct his Secretary of the Interior to find ways to remove these protections and reverse executive orders of previous presidents who also protected land under the monuments authority.
Roosevelt was ahead of his time on race creating blowback from southern white supremacists by inviting Booker T. Washington as a guest of honor to a White House dinner. The response over his welcoming a black man to the White House was loud and raw and brought out the vilest racist epithets and threats which had negative political consequences for Roosevelt. He knew the reaction his action would cause and did the right thing anyway. Racist-White Supremacist Oklahoma Governor Alfalfa Jones and many other Southern politicians withdrew their support of Roosevelt at the following convention. Theodore Roosevelt broke the path, after-which civil rights champions followed.
Theodore Roosevelt, the man, was nothing like President Trump and I and the TR Association felt compelled to defend Roosevelt from such an association of the two. I have not one smidgeon of reservation that Theodore Roosevelt’s view of President Trump would be that he lacks the moral authority and competence to hold the office. For Vice President Pence to suggest that these two men are of equal stature was grossly absurd when the current President doesn’t measure up to Roosevelt’s bootstrap. President Roosevelt was on the right side of history and hopefully, President Trump who is on the wrong side of history, is an eclipse that will quickly pass.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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