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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Reprinted with permission from Washington Spectator.

America prides itself on peaceful transitions from one president to the other. No coups. No backstabbing. No backward glances at what might have been. We witness this every four years or, at the most, every eight.

No matter how bitter a presidential campaign or how antithetical an outgoing president’s policies and ideology may be from his successor’s, the newcomer is ushered into the highest office in the land with dignity and courtesy. Such continuity is a fundamental tenet of the United States.

Only in the weeks preceding the Civil War was it violated, when the southern states seceded after the election of Abraham Lincoln. What followed took the lives of roughly 620,000 men over the next four years—approximately two percent of the nation’s population.

Also part of our tradition is the absence of any remonstrance from one president toward another, regardless of the ideological gulf between them. Almost since the founding of the nation, it has been considered unthinkable for a former president to criticize a sitting president.

But as these are the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls, such niceties must cease. Since January 20, the nation’s most fundamental values have been distorted, as the man who spoke of “carnage” at his inauguration presides over a divided and fractious nation. This carnage—a blow to our comity and polity, to our sense of union and of purpose—Trump has personally unleashed. If this is what is in store for us over the next four years, the United States may be unrecognizable by 2020.

If this is what is in store for us over the next four years, the United States may be unrecognizable by 2020.

Confronted by such conditions, it is incumbent upon the five living former presidents—Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—to disregard tradition and form a Presidential Committee of Conscience that would have one purpose: to admonish and correct a sitting president whose actions are a threat to the defining ethos of the nation; whose policies contribute to the shredding of the fabric that bind us together as a people and fracture alliances that have been the foundation of a reasonably calm and sensible global order; whose cavalier utterances betray the dignity and purpose of the office of the presidency.

The first weeks of Trump’s presidency—our introduction to this man as chief executive—visited havoc on the nation. His tweets were impolite, immature, and menacing, from targeting a sitting federal judge to attacks on The New York Times. His executive orders defy any logical and accepted manner of shaping the federal government to a new president’s will: witness his Muslim ban which is a rebuke to the nation’s history of welcoming the stranger, regardless of faith or origin.

As he moved into his first month in the Oval Office, the transgressions continued: He has insulted the leaders of Australia and Mexico; attacked the concept of an independent judiciary; affronted a revered civil rights leader, John Lewis; excommunicated leading news outlets from White House briefings while slandering the press as the “enemy”; suggested a moral equivalence between state-sanctioned killings in Russia and actions of the United States; turned his Florida resort into an open-air situation room; pandered to anti-Semites and racists; persistently lied about his electoral college “landslide;” and impugned the integrity of his predecessor with baseless claims of wiretapping.

There have been exceptions to the veneer of politeness we expect of former presidents. For example, when Teddy Roosevelt was disappointed that his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, was abandoning TR’s pioneering progressivism, he attacked him as a “fathead,” a “puzzle wit” (apparently, an insult 100 years ago), and having “brains less than a guinea pig.”

Unlike TR, a Presidential Committee of Conscience would be dignified while being resolute and constructive. It would comment only when the nation’s rule of law, principles, and values are at risk. It had better be formed soon. And if not a committee, then one or more of the former presidents must begin to speak out. George W. Bush, who for eight years refused to comment on the Obama presidency, has taken the lead. Bush took issue with Trump’s immigration policy, his name calling, and his characterization of the media as the “enemy of the people.”

“I consider the media to be indispensible to democracy,” Bush said. “We need an independent media to hold people like me accountable.”

The other “exes” should join him, speaking with the moral and political authority that only they possess.


Arthur J. Magida is writing for W.W. Norton a biography of Noor Inayat Khan, the Sufi heroine who fought the Nazis.


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25 responses to “Will Ex-Presidents Check Donald Trump?”

  1. Dominick Vila says:

    Considering the circumstances, and the damage that Trump is doing to our values and democracy, not to mention our credibility, it would be appropriate for our former Presidents to offer a joint opinion of Trump’s behavior and actions. Unfortunately, such action would change nothing. Those who oppose Trump will feel emboldened, and his unwavering supporters will interpret it as another attack by the elite and intellectuals they are determined to marginalize. Contrary to some of the opinions, or hopes of so many progressives, the truth is that Trump continues to enjoy the same level of support, by the same people, that delivered a solid Electoral College victory last year. If that trend continues, the same can be expected in 2020, and when Ivanka, the crowned Tzarina, runs in 2024.
    What we have in our hands is a social revolution of sorts, between the wealthiest Americans and intellectuals, and a segment of our population that has been left behind and blames the so-called establishment and evil foreigners for their misery. Nothing former members of the “establishment” will persuade that segment of our population that the personal limitations or failures of 40% were not caused by an evil system, but by their failure to make the personal sacrifices needed to succeed in the 21st century, and by the advent of high technology. For 40% of Americans, simple slogans, empty promises, facile solutions to complex problems, and the same Russian-sponsored message of fear and prejudice that allowed Marine Le Pen to go to the second round of the French election system, continue to dominate the opinions of those who refuse to work hard to overcome their failures, and prefer to blame others, or the government, for their misery.

    • kep says:

      Obama already did his best at turning America into a communist state Perhaps you should try supporting our President, but Liberals are too stupid to realize what damage OBAMA has done to our country and our American way of life. liberals are traitors ALL..

      • FireBaron says:

        You really are a clueless wonder, you twit!

        • kep says:

          Apparently not near as clueless as you liberals are. Trump is well on his way to fixing all that the Emperor screwed up. Liberals should either support our President, shut up and stay out of the way, or just go back to your Mother Russia. Either option works, but you people are so nutso, you would rather see AMERICA become a third world country under LIBERAL policies.

          • Bill P says:

            Here are some of the issues that President Obama screwed up during his 8 year administration:
            U3 rate on 1/20/2009 – 8.3%, on 1/20/2017 – 4.8% down 3.5%
            U6 rate on 1/20/2009 – 15.1%, on 1/20/2017 – 9.4% down 5.7%
            S&P 500 on 1/20/2009 – 840.64, on 1/20/2017 – 2,271.63 up
            1,430.99 points
            DJIA on 1/20/2009 – 7,949.09, on 1/20/2017 – 19,827.25 up
            11,878.16 points
            Nasdaq on 1/20/2009 – 1,440.86, on 1/20/2017 – 5,555.33 up
            4,114.47 points
            US Dollar on 1/20/2009 vs Euro – 1 USD = 0.77 Euros
            British Pound – 1 USD = 0.71 British Pound
            Chinese Yuan – 1USD = 6.841 Chinese Yuan
            US Dollar on 1/20/2017 vs Euro – 1 USD = 0.94 Euros
            British Pound – 1 USD = 0.81 British Pound
            Chinese Yuan – 1 USD = 6.88 Chinese Yuan
            US annual growth rate for 2010 – 4.56%, 2011 – 3.64%.
            2012 – 3.24%, 2013 – 4.31%, 2014 – 4.07%, 2016 – 3.00% and
            2016 – 3.55%.
            Housing market values and sales rebounded sharply from 2009.
            So if this is what you are calling screwed up then you need to look up the term in a dictionary. You should do some research before you write such blatant bullshit on this siite

          • Dapper Dan says:

            We definitely need more Presidents like Obama who screw up like this ????
            Dummy Trump just slapped a 20 percent tariff on Canadian soft wood. This is going to be the equivalent of killing the Goose that lays the golden eggs. He’s anything but a job creator but a job destroyer

  2. dbtheonly says:

    It is surprising that the Author cites President Lincoln, as the former Presidents, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, & others, (I’d have to look it up) specifically urged Lincoln not to oppose secession with force. Lincoln responded, in essence, that elections have consequences. My own take was that Fillmore was an old “Free Soiler” & so really should not have been on that side of the issue.

    Elections do then have consequences, not just the Presidential, but the Senate, Congress, and all the State and Local elections as well. It is well and good to oppose Trump’s incompetent, inconsistent, and incoherent policies.

    But without voting against Republicans and Tumpism in all elections; it is vain to hope or expect some deus ex machina to somehow save us.

    • Wolfesgang says:

      Yes, you’re absolutely right! And one more thing, given the fact that Trump and Putin were jointly endorsing the feckless fascist Le Pen in the French presidential elections – let’s never lose sight of the issue of Russian meddling in the last U.S. presidential election! Plus Trump’s tax returns!

  3. Wolfesgang says:

    “His tweets were impolite, immature, and menacing, from targeting a sitting federal judge to attacks on The New York Times.” Add to this Trump’s foolish attempts at utilizing a terrorist attack in Paris to influence French voters in favor of Le Pen. Even a sizeable part of the French Le Pen voters, nationalists as they are, will have resented this – aside from the fact that Trump acted in defiance of good diplomatic practice.

    • Dominick Vila says:

      Not to mention the logic of supporting a pro-Russian, anti-American, anti-EU- and anti-NATO candidate. Then again, that may not be as perplexing as some of us think. If Le Pen succeeds and wins the second round, she will join Trump as part of Putin’s strategy to control Western Europe. The only obstacle will be Angela Merkel, and we can bet money on Putin using his oligarchs to support whichever neo-Nazi runs against Merkel. A Trump-Le Pen- and Merkel’s successor would be the perfect trifecta for Putin. Talking about winning a war without firing a shot!

      • kep says:

        That sounds like your Emperor Obama, ” a pro-Russian, anti-American, anti-EU- and anti-NATO” , pro-Muslim, pro- Islamic terrorist, pro-racist.

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    • kep says:

      And how was that different from Emperor Obama interfering in the Israeli elections? Hypocrites=LIBERALS

      • FireBaron says:

        He did? Did Israel hear about it? Wow. That must explain why Netenyahu won again – because of President Obama’s support!

        • kep says:

          Got that head of yours WAY up the Emperors butt, don’t you? Try reading something other than liberal communist propaganda. Emperor Obama hated Israel, and did almost as much to destroy them as he did America. Obama IS MUSLIM. He did all he could to support Islam over America.

  4. FT66 says:

    I do think people tend to regret later instead of listening first in order to avoid catastrophe. Folks, we were warned during the primaries in 2016 election cycle. All living ex-presidents who had been in the White House and saw how difficult the job is, said in one voice that Trump is not the right person suitable for the job. His supporters suddenly became deaf and didn’t listen. For better or worse, the alarm bell was pressed by ex-presidents.

  5. InformedVoter says:

    There is no authority whatsoever that would allow former presidents from overruling the president. This is just another example of FAKE MSM garbage. TNM was a leader in publishing the FAKE polls that showed HilLIARy leading. Now they are trying to dupe folks into thinking that they have hit upon some new scheme to remove President Trump.
    All the FAKE MSM sources are the ones trying to make it look like President Trump is not sailing along smoothly. World leaders have changed from their disdain of the US under obozo and now view America being the world leader once more. Yet if you believe the FAKE MSM, you’d think we’re worse off now. And that’s just a plain lie.

    • kep says:

      Liberals lie. FACT.

      • InformedVoter says:

        Boy, you got that right! They claim they’re open minded, yet, as soon as someone disagrees with them, they go ballistic. They are extremely naive too. FAKE MSM keeps telling them that President Trump can be impeached for his tweets. How dumb.

  6. dpaano says:

    I like the idea of a Committee of Consciousness…..I think it would be a good idea, but I sincerely doubt if 45 would pay much attention to it. He will listen intently, as he usually does; promise to do better; and then go on and do what ever he wants and to heck with anyone’s advice! That’s his usual game, and he won’t change just because a few ex-presidents try to “advise” him on how to go about getting things done the RIGHT way. He’d also probably end up blaming them for anything that might go wrong for him, even if they had NOTHING to do with it.

  7. Wayne Thorson says:

    Obama showed his birth certificate. Now it is time for Trump to show his income taxes.

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