For the third time since he entered the presidential race last summer, Donald Trump is the subject of a New Yorker cover:
That’s Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln looking on in disbelief at the mess Trump is making of the American presidential election. It’s pretty funny, at first glance, but the problem with this cover is that the only thing many of those ex-presidents would find confusing about Trump is the television he’s on.
Where to start? Teddy Roosevelt backed a racist imperial war and said white women using birth control were committing “race suicide” by turning their country over to less-fair-skinned hordes. FDR, the architect of Japanese internment, ?actually did the thing? that people are calling Trump a fascist for defending—and kept the internment camps open long after they’d been deemed unnecessary in order to win a presidential election. I don’t know what else to say about JFK other than that his personal life makes Trump look like Ned Flanders, and he started a land war in Asia we’re still recovering from. George Washington owned people and bought an election by getting people drunk. All four were born into privilege. And Abe Lincoln—okay, let’s not speak ill of the dead; that man slayed vampires.
The point here is that what is distasteful about Trump is not that he offends old-fashioned American values; Trump is distasteful because he taps into certain old-fashioned American values—nativism, brash tough talk, slow-burning authoritarianism; family dynasties—that have played a not-inconsequential role throughout our history.
The worst-case scenario for a Trump presidency is that he will do the very things those horrified ex-presidents did.