One year on from Trump’s election win, this 2016 podcast is more relevant than ever — This Thing & Why I Like It #2
To which US President does this quote refer to, do you think?
A great deal of paranoia — he converted the office of the presidency almost to an instrument of personal revenge. He would use any instrument of government to get back at the people... He strayed off the path of what the presidency is about.
Or perhaps this?
He went after anyone who was an opponent and wound up attacking the electoral system we have in this country… hiring people to spread false rumours [and] write out false press releases.
You’ve probably guessed Richard Nixon and you’d be right, but you’d be forgiven for thinking Bob Woodward, esteemed journalist who helped uncover the Watergate scandal, was talking about Trump. This quote is taken from Woodward’s appearance on The Washington Post’s podcast Presidential, hosted by Lillian Cunningham, which episodically chronicles the stories of each of the 44 men to have held the office of President of the United States.
I know I’m late to the party on this one. A full year on since Trump was elected. Which in internet years is… etc etc etc. But after finally bingeing on the final few episodes due to a day in bed with a nasty bug earlier this week, I can today confirm that Presidential has secured itself the lofty position of ‘my favourite podcast’ – I can only assume that the good people of The Washington Post will be absolutely thrilled by this admission. You’re welcome.
As a politics grad who got the bug for political history as an angst-ridden teen, this podcast is right up my street. The pomp and ceremony of American politics is a draw for nerds like me. As is the centuries of record and accessible constitutional codification combined with a plethora of quirks, eccentricities and drama. American politics is a far more attractive area for geeking out than the politics of my British homeland — I’m fully aware that that’s probably a bad thing, but hey-ho, FPTP just never did it for me.
But now more than ever, perhaps even more so than when the series first ran in the lead up to that fateful day in November 2016, Presidential is incredibly relevant. It is unnerving that, even with 228 years of context, the Trump presidency still feels somewhat unprecedented. But the podcast will give you some reasons to feel reassured.
We are relieved to be reminded that Trump is by no means the first fragile ego to occupy the White House, nor will be the last. Indeed, you can hear elements of Trump in many of his predecessors from both sides of the aisle and either side of history’s judgement — from the vengeful paranoia of Nixon, to the protean temperament of Jackson, even Kennedy’s innate understanding of how to put on a show. Trump may quite possibly be the least qualified man to hold the office, (if only there were a highly qualified woman, eh?), but it is reassuring to hear that inexperience and a lack of emotional balance in the past has been, in the most part, tempered by checks and balances.
Listening to Presidential, you’ll be somewhat soothed that the founding fathers, for all their flaws (of which there were many – see episodes Jefferson, Adams, Washington) did design their political system to be anti-authoritarian. Perhaps this was a stroke of luck rather than majestic foresight. Perhaps they were early enough to modern democracy not to be manipulated by those who had already figured out how to manipulate it for their own ends — see post-Soviet Russia. But regardless, it’s reassuring to know that Trump can only do so much damage. For now.
It’s also nice to know that Trump’s most comparable predecessor was removed from office in no-small-part due to investigative reporting from The Washington Post, no less. Perhaps that’s why he fears a free press so much? Perhaps he listened to the Nixon episode?
As a postscript, I appreciate that if you’re not a political history buff listening to 30+ hours of US political history might be a bit too hefty an undertaking, so here’s my run down of the ones you need to listen to.
- George Washington – obviously.
- John Adams – the others may get the memorial, but Adams was pretty interesting too.
- William Henry Harrison – the campaign song will stick with you longer than the length of his entire presidency.
- Millard Fillmore – wonderfully meta, plus it will win you pub quiz points one day.
- Abraham Lincoln – I almost shed a tear at the Gettysburg Address. I’m something of a Lincoln fanboy but this really is a beautiful episode.
- Theodore Roosevelt – one of the most consequential presidents and a thoroughly interesting character.
- John F Kennedy – illuminating in lots of ways you might not expect.
- Richard Nixon – there will be bells ringing all over the place.
- Barack Obama – another obvious one.
- Donald Trump – sigh.