By Michael Castaneda
Published: December 5th, 2018
Thanks to our own Brooklyn College Professor Lambert’s so-called humor piece, I am now aware that 19th century America is a white nationalist, also known as white supremacist, referent to what they believe is a whiter golden age. That bit of knowledge made me aware that Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) is seen as an eminence in that group. So, I just wonder how Teddy would stack up to the current president who is so revered in the alt. right/neo-Nazi community. Let’s take a closer look at the issues to see how they compare and contrast in a few relevant areas of American life: patriotism, regulations, the environment, and social justice.
Donald Trump gets into the topic of patriotism right off the bat. In his “American carnage” inaugural address he states, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.” The underlying sentiment here is enough to make a liberal plotz. It follows a tradition of inaugural speeches asking to unify the country. However, it doesn’t really define what he means by patriotism. After going through quotes from deeply pro-Trump websites, I never saw patriotism defined. It is used a lot, but it seems up to the listener to define that word.
I had no such trouble with Theodore Roosevelt. He states, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It doesn’t mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.” This definition should go in the dictionary. So we know clearly what Roosevelt thinks.
The current president makes it clear that he hates regulations. His point is that he believes that government regulation stymies corporate profits, which he believes is anathema. He told the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, “No president has ever cut so many regulations in their entire term, O.K. as we have cut in less than a year.” He, in fact, cut 635 rules in 2017. However, according to the Program for Economic Research on Regulation at George Mason University, federal regulations went up by .065% in 2017. Furthermore, both Obama and George W. Bush withdrew 1,814 and 2,813 respectively.
“The people will not permit… enormous corporations to be free from government control, for the simple reason that they instinctively recognize the fact that unless the great corporations are controlled by the government they will themselves completely control the government.” Yes, this quote came from a Republican – not Trump but Roosevelt. There certainly is not the belief that corporations will always do the right thing and succeed while doing so if only government would just get out of its way. TR makes it clear that there is some danger in letting corporations do whatever they want, and this will lead to dangerous and even deadly consequences. A government run by the current big corporations is no longer a government by the people and for the people.
One 19th century issue was food safety. “The enactment of a pure food law was the recognition of the fact that the public welfare outweighs the right to private gain and that no man may poison the people for his private profit.” This quote is from Roosevelt, not Trump, in reference to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. If you think this isn’t relevant today, look at the 2008 Chinese milk scandal where babies were given milk with melamine, which is a type of plastic used to for countertops and dry-erase boards. There were 300,000 victims.
I tried to find a quote on the environment where the current president gives a point of view about our land – the land of the United States. I couldn’t find one. All I found were provocative statements about climate change. To paraphrase, there is some nebulous enemy, more evil than anyone you saw on Dragon Ball Z, that is trying to control your mind. The nefarious goal is to make you believe that the planets climate is changing. The reason seems to be pure evil. However, if you look closer at it using common sense, if there is ever a cold day, this disproves all climate change by proof by contradiction.
There were no shortage of quotes from Theodore Roosevelt about the environment. One I liked was from the Seventh Annual Message to Congress on December 3, 1907: “We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so. The mineral wealth of the country, the coal, iron, oil, gas , and the like, does not reproduce itself, and therefore is certain to be exhausted ultimately; and wastefulness in dealing with it today means that our descendants will feel the exhaustion a generation or two before they otherwise would.” It’s interesting how the Republican Party has gone from statements like this to “drill baby, drill!”
Theodore Roosevelt created the national parks to protect America’s natural wonders and landscapes for all Americans. The current president campaigned on reducing the national parks so that they can be drilled by corporations. Ryan Zinke, the 52nd Secretary of the Interior has been reviewing 27 national monuments for a reduction in size, drilling for oil (recall the US is energy independent), cooper, and uranium which would likely pollute US water supplies.
Social justice was also hard to find in a traditional sense for Donald Trump. His concept of social justice is that the white man is limited from reaching his full potential by social justice and political correctness. The country must restore the old ways of discrimination by race, creed, sex and sexual orientation. Only then will America be great again.
Now TR says, “The fundamental need in dealing with our people, whether laboring men or others, is not charity but justice; we must all in common for the common end of helping each and all, in a spirit of the sanest, broadest, and deepest brotherhood.” Most major religions have charity as a major tenet. In Judaism is it called Tzedakah, which is often mistranslated to be “charity”, while a better translation is “justice” or “righteousness.”
In going through the current president’s words, it was hard to determine the exact definitions he was using. He seemed to communicate the spirit of what he was saying, which leaves things up to the interpretation of the audience. At first this sounds like a typical trait of a politician, but looking at other American presidents, that just isn’t so. It’s true that not all are as erudite as Teddy Roosevelt, but many have been.
I like that TR said what he meant in plain unambiguous English. I don’t really see much if anything in common with out 26th president and our 45th. As for Professor Lambert’s infatuation with 19th century America, I hope he can experience a little bit of 19th century America by surgery without anesthesia. Just kidding.