I have been watching, these past few evenings, Ken Burns’ richly described and absorbing account of the Roosevelts, including Presidents FDR and Theodore (‘The Roosevelts, An Intimate History,’ on Netflix). The past two episodes have focused on FDR – the extraordinary story of his polio, his ascendancy to the Presidency, the whirlwind first 100 Days which laid out the cornerstones of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the enduring legacy of bridges, dams, roads, Social Security, that map the country that is the US today.
Watching these clips of FDR in action – that jaunty grin, the gritty optimism, the ability – despite his patrician upbringing and bearing – to connect with everyone – I could not help but think of the current incumbent of the Oval Office: the Hitler-esque sneering and jibes, the lying and insults, the hatred and narcissism laying waste to everything.
To yoke one of the greatest of American presidents – certainly the greatest of the 20th century – together in the same sentence with probably the vilest of the lot – is to remind ourselves of the gulf – the huge, yawning, appalling chasm – between the fundamental decency – notwithstanding his imperfections – of the one, and the slimy, venal indecency and incompetence of the other.
It’s about actions, obviously, and it’s about behaviour. But also, fundamentally, it’s about values and character. One man had them, the other wouldn’t recognise them if he fell over them in broad daylight.
As I think about the world around me, and my own small role in it, it is values that matter. Hopefully, when Trump and all who serve and enable him, are mere footnotes in history – shameful and shamed, but eminently forgettable – it will be values that last.
Not only in America.