I was born in a presidential election year, 1952. Harry Truman was in the waning months of his presidency. Since Truman, there have been twelve presidents over the course of my life, Donald Trump being the 13th. Each of them has had his moments of greatness and also his flaws. But with Trump, we are overwhelmed with only the latter — month after month, going back to the election season itself. Let's reflect on that for a bit. Every president since I was born, has been accorded the respect due to the person we chose to place in the Oval Office. Until Donald Trump where it is now open, unrestrained season.
Harry Truman is still my favorite, and not just because I'm a "Truman baby." History records him as among the top tier of our presidents. Yet, his approval ratings were abysmally low in 1952. Truman's war, in Korea, was an unpopular war — but try to tell that to the South Korean people who bless the veterans of that war. Today, South Korea enjoys one of the strongest economies in East Asia.
Although Truman entered national politics under a taint — his campaign was overseen by a corrupt Missouri wheeler-dealer — ‘Give em Hell Harry’ exposed the war profiteers for the traitors they were while in Congress and early in the Second World War.
But his shining moment, Harry Truman's signature to the Executive Order desegregating America's Armed Forces. Even FDR wouldn't do that.
My early childhood included two other presidents: Eisenhower and Kennedy. Consequently, I was in awe. That's as it should be for schoolchildren, to respect their country's Commander in Chief. They were heroic figures to me. I wonder, are schoolchildren taught the same respect these days?
As I entered my teen years, I began to question, though, to see the flawed as well as the admirable. That's a good thing. No longer was my news limited to Friday's "Weekly Reader"; now I was privy to my parents' Los Angeles Herald Examiner. I watched Walter Cronkite nightly with my dad.
President Johnson escalated the war: Vietnam. Additionally. he gave us Medicare, the War on Poverty, and LBJ was the architect of Civil Rights, a fact lost to many in the 50 years since. All the other presidents who followed did same: good (Reagan's nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court); very good (Nixon ended the war, opened up China, gave us the EPA); disappointing (Jimmy Carter, but distinguished in the after).
I didn't care for Reagan, but I felt pity that such a man would fall victim to the cruelty of Alzheimer's Disease. I heard this story about Reagan when upon entering his office in Century City, looked at the aquarium in the room. Noticing a tiny replica of the White House on the bottom of the fish tank, the former president could only say, "That looks familiar." Whoever isn’t moved to compassion by that story lack basic human emotions.
And so it has been with all these twelve. They did some good and little harm. That includes Richard Nixon who left the presidency in disgrace over Watergate. The press was fair to them all, each and every man. Even in its critiques, journalism, opposing party, and the ordinary citizens, we never judged them cruelly. In fact, we engaged with one another about our presidents. We held the office up high.
Until Donald Trump.
It's not right. It's not in our tradition as a righteous people. It's dangerous, in fact, establishing a bad precedent for how we regard those who will later reside in the People's House.
Since when did it become acceptable to openly and gleefully exclaim one's contempt, downright hatred, for a sitting president and his family? For a Shakespearean company to cast Donald Trump into the role of Julius Caesar? For Bill Maher to continuously bash Trump and the "kovfefe" tweet in his monologue a few weeks ago — and not a word about fellow comedienne Kathy Griffin's "beheaded Trump" video. To even deride those fellow Americans who voted for the man and stand with him. To do all the above not as a fringe hate group, but proudly and with no shame. Who are you?
I am America's daughter. So are you, her sons and daughters. It's our duty to demand that civility be brought back to the public realm. In Congress. In journalism. In our dealings with one another.
Celeste Barber is a retired English professor from Santa Barbara who founded and headed the Great Books Curriculum for nearly 20 years.