The recent anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration has generated a flurry of reviews on his first year in office. In evaluating his achievements and failures, both his supporters and adversaries alike reflect on his strong personality and the unusual demeanor that he brought to the oval office as compared to his predecessors.
But Trump’s atypical deportment and erratic behavior may not be as historically unique to the presidency as one may think. Before the age of instant news, some previous White House inhabitants had peculiar and eccentric quiddity that received little attention and did not effect their performance in office.
Learning about similar bygone events in our nation’s history may bring a frame of reference and clarity to present day concerns.
President John Adams was not suited for leadership. Because of his small stature, he carried a chip on his shoulder throughout his life. As a consequence, he developed a short temper, acid tongue and a belligerent attitude at times. This all added up to a feeling of persecution and swift mood changes. His private letters often reflected this combative posture, but it did not detract from his achievements. What would have been the reaction of his countrymen if his missives were released as fast as today’s presidential tweets?
President John Quincy Adams, like his father John Adams, had an inherent predisposition to see the gloomy side of everything, resulting in nervous anxiety. He tried to dissipate his inherent foreboding by daily swims in the Potomac River in the nude. Can one image how this would be betrayed in the modern media?
A quarrelsome man all his life, President Andrew Jackson carried grudges. His combative nature resulted in several duels. In the White House, his effectiveness decreased because his angry temperament exaggerated conflicts with both friends and enemies. How would present-day newspapers have covered that disharmony?
In the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt’s great accomplishments may have been a function of his pugnacious leadership style and quirky personality. One wonders if he were in the White House today, whether television’s pundits would characterize his sometimes whimsical disposition as inappropriate for a President?
These are a few, but not all, of the examples of unusual behavior of those strong willed, often egocentric men who have aspired and been elected to our nation’s highest office. Because of the difference in the context of the times, it is difficult to equate and then apply what was considered anomalous deportment in the past to current presidents and vice versa.
But what is certain, contrary to the opinion of many, is that bizarre, disruptive conduct and demeanor in the Oval Office did not start with the election of Donald Trump. History repeats itself.
Stolz is a retired physician living in James City County. He has had a longtime interest in both medical and American history.