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is donald trump related to george washington

is donald trump related to george washington

is donald trump related to george washington

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What Donald Trump and George Washington Have in Common

In the final days of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Donald Trump boasted that, unlike Hillary Clinton, he did not need celebrities to fill large stadiums with his supporters. “I didn’t have to bring J.Lo or Jay-Z,” he said. “I am here all by myself. Just me. No guitar, no piano, no nothing.” For once, the candidate was neither lying nor exaggerating. During the campaign, Trump consistently turned out larger and more enthusiastic crowds than Clinton. Indeed, in sheer zeal and passion, the crowds were unlike anything seen in American politics over the previous half-century, except for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

is donald trump related to george washington
is donald trump related to george washington

Fast-forward four years and then-candidate Trump has become the president who has presided with jaw-dropping incompetence over the worst public health disaster in over a century, an economic collapse, and large-scale urban turmoil. Yet polls still show him with an approval rating hovering around 40 percent, and a hard core of his base still displays as much fervor for him as at any time since his famous descent of the Trump Tower escalator in 2015.

What is it that explains this continuing, apparently unshakable devotion to a president whom historians are likely to remember as the worst in American history? To understand the phenomenon, one must reckon with Trump’s charisma.

What Donald Trump and George Washington

The word may sit uneasily with the large number of people in America and around the globe who see Trump as anything but charismatic, but this is because of a common misunderstanding about the nature of charisma. In popular usage, it tends to be seen solely as a personal quality—a mixture of charm, confidence, exuberance, and sheer sex appeal. But, in fact, charisma is more of a relationship. The same personal qualities that one audience perceives as exuberant and charming may strike another as obnoxious and overbearing.

A great deal depends on what a particular audience is primed to see, is ready to see, and wants to see. Indeed, in some cases an audience may be so desperate for a charismatic savior that it projects qualities onto a person that the person completely lacks. To understand charismatic appeal, the audience matters as much as the individual. And so do the media through which the audience sees the individual and interacts with him or her.

Trump Says He Would Likely Beat George Washington And Abraham Lincoln In An Election

This is not the first time Trump has compared himself to the historic presidents. In office, Trump claimed he was more popular within the Republican Party than Lincoln, and in April, he said he would have his face on Mount Rushmore if he were a Democrat. The former president has also claimed he was treated “worse” than Lincoln in office, and that he’s “done more for Black Americans than anybody, with the possible exception” of Lincoln.

is donald trump related to george washington
is donald trump related to george washington

SURPRISING FACT

Trump was ranked 41st of 44 presidents in a recent survey of 142 “historians, professors and other professional observers of the presidency” conducted by CSPAN. Lincoln ranked first, Washington second.

TANGENT

Trump spoke to Leonnig and Rucker at his Mar-a-Lago resort on March 31. During the interview, Trump called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—with whom he has traded jabs after the January 6 riot—a “stupid person” and said he was still “disappointed” former Vice President Mike Pence didn’t overturn the election. Asked whether he would run for office again in 2024, Trump responded, “I’ll be making a decision at some point. I will say this: Based on the polls, those polls are great, the Republican Party loves Trump. 97%!”

 

On March 4, 1797, George Washington did something that put him on a historic pedestal above Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte and every past conqueror and crowned head of Europe: He gave up power.

This wasn’t expected of him; most Americans hoped he would remain president—for life, if possible.

He chose instead to return to his farm at Mount Vernon. He yearned for home but also to establish enduring precedents for the nation whose independence he had helped painfully win: No man is bigger than the country. The office is more important than any president. Power is a privilege to be wielded and then handed to another.

When Donald Trump visited Mount Vernon with French President Emmanuel Macron last year, he reportedly commented: “If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it. You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”

There are ironies on top of ironies in the father of Trump Tower offering posthumous advice to the father of our country. But the greatest of them is that, 220 years after George Washington’s death, his name is everywhere and remembered by everyone, largely because he chose not to maximize his own opportunities for self-promotion.

is donald trump related to george washington
is donald trump related to george washington

With his offhand comment, Trump inadvertently revealed a key difference between himself and Washington, though no one, friend or foe, was likely surprised. More importantly, he spotlighted the distance between merely temporal fame—essentially, name recognition in one’s lifetime—and the grail of posthumous recognition that motivates so many people in public life, as much now as in the Revolutionary era.

Trump’s comment, while squiring Macron and his wife around Washington’s estate, no doubt reflected the truth of his experiences as a New York City real estate developer, reality-TV star and rookie presidential candidate who defied the odds—and all political norms—to win the office. In the worlds where Trump forged his reputation, few points were awarded for reticence. The opposite, however, can be true in posterity. In the long, considered judgment of history, selflessness is far more honored than self-aggrandizement.

Washington was neither modest nor lacking in ego. He was, by some measures, the wealthiest American of his age, combining his inheritance with his wife’s fortune and an extremely lucrative series of land purchases that made him proportionally far wealthier than his 43rd successor. But few people today either know or care that he was so vastly rich. He’s entirely remembered for the qualities that made him an outstanding steward of a young and fragile nation: the good judgment and sense of propriety that led him to put the national interest ahead of his own.

is donald trump related to george washington
is donald trump related to george washington

Washington understood that institutions outlive individuals. That may not seem like a radical notion, but it’s striking how unfamiliar it was in Washington’s day. Even more shocking was the idea that one could gain power and esteem by not coveting it. After leading the American Army to victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington made his first decision to retire to Mount Vernon, even though there were calls for him to be the monarch of the new nation.

Eight years later, after the failure of the Articles of Confederation showed the need for a stronger central government, Washington answered the call to become the nation’s first president. After eight successful years, he heeded his own instinct to step down. He was entirely conscious of the statement he was making. He stayed in the temporary capital of Philadelphia to attend the inauguration of his elected successor, John Adams, and then made a point of walking behind Adams as the crowd of worthies dispersed from the podium: The office is more important than any man.

The American tradition that even the most revered former officeholders must humbly stand behind their successors, recognizing that they are only guests in the house of power, is almost entirely the product of Washington’s exertions. So, too, are other traditions handed down from the Washington presidency, including the chief executive’s commitment to share power with Congress and the courts. It was one thing to sketch out such a system of government under the Constitution, but it didn’t become real until individuals—Washington foremost among them—actually chose to abide by those rules, creating a precedent we still follow today.

These concepts are now so widely accepted that they seem inevitable, like the products of natural law. They are the pillars of the American system. And even in a presidency as committed to pushing boundaries as Trump’s, they are barriers he can’t cross.

None other than King George III of the United Kingdom understood the force of Washington’s precedent, how in renouncing power for himself he was bestowing power on the nation he helped create. There’s an oft-told story of how the king once asked the British-American painter Benjamin West about Washington’s plans after the Revolution, to which West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world,” the king supposedly replied.

It’s unlikely that the conversation was so succinct, but the American diplomat Rufus King did relate in a letter a conversation with West in which the painter described the king as saying that Washington’s ability to climb to the heights of power and then climb down “placed him in a light the most distinguished of any man living” and that “he thought him the greatest character of his age.”

Indeed, at the tail end of the tour of Mount Vernon, a guide stationed in Washington’s study dutifully relates the story that he was the first person in all of history to assume so much power and then renounce it. So all these centuries of reverence, symbolized by the unending stream of visitors to Washington’s home, are the product of a decision not to call attention to himself.

Two hundred and thirty years after Washington assumed the presidency, the nation is shaped by forces Washington couldn’t have imagined—not just technologies like television and social media, but a whole ethos that conflates fame and success, money and virtue, and which gave rise to a leader who literally engineered his own fame through sticking his name on every building, and every product, he could manage.

It’s hard to imagine a more different sensibility than the one that guided the young Washington when, in 1761, he inherited the family plantation. He chose to keep the name his half-brother had given it—Mount Vernon, after Lawrence Washington’s former commanding officer. There is no evidence that he ever considered Trump’s suggestion that he name it after himself.

To this day, the white mansion on a hill remains Mount Vernon, not Mount Washington. But Wikipedia reveals that there are currently no fewer than 15 Mount Washingtons in the United States.

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