Comparing Tweeting Trump and Silent Cal

President Trump’s tax-cut plan charts a bonanza for himself, his friends and his family, getting rid of taxes that bite the rich and leaving debts behind for future American generations to pay, say Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Republican Calvin Coolidge, who in 1923 ascended to the presidency following the death of the corrupt and dunderheaded Warren Harding, was a man of few words. But some of the most famous of the few were, “The chief business of the American people is business.”

President Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is often a man of many words, but rarely do they fit together to make a coherent sentence or complete thought. And we know for sure that he, too, believes the chief business of America is business, especially when it’s his business. Oh, and Jared and Ivanka’s, whose junkets on Dad’s behalf appear to be merchandising missions for The Trump Empire. And his two safari-loving sons still holding forth from the family palace in New York, putatively running Pop’s business while protected by a moat of barriers and security guards — take that, you huddled masses.

Coolidge was known as “Silent Cal.” When a dinner party hostess told him, “You must talk to me, Mr. Coolidge. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you,” Coolidge replied, “You lose.” The last thing our current president would be described as is silent. Trump can’t stop tweeting and gibbering. And he doesn’t like losers.

The taciturn Coolidge has been described as the most conservative president in American history. No one is quite certain what Trump is, as his opinions and moods shift depending on the last person to whom he has spoken or something he’s just seen on Fox & Friends or heard from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. They point rightward for sure, but as with so many conservative spokesmen these days, tinged with lunacy and utterly devoid of reason.

And yet there on the august pages of The New York TimesCharles R. Kesler, a senior fellow of the right-wing Claremont Institute, gushes:

“Mr. Trump remains the kind of conservative president whom one expects to say, proudly and often, ‘the chief business of the American people is business.’ Although Calvin Coolidge said it first, Mr. Trump shows increasing signs of thinking along broadly Coolidgean lines, and of redirecting Republican policies toward the pre-New Deal, pre-Cold War party of William McKinley and Coolidge, with its roots in the party of Abraham Lincoln.”

Not Making Sense

Oh brother. Professor Kesler is projecting onto Trump a consistency of thought and belief that thus far seems unproven. Comparing him to McKinley is a stretch, and to Lincoln — well, absurd. Really now, does this remotely sound like Donald Trump?

President Donald Trump delivering his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

On the one hand, Kesler’s adoration of Trump makes sense, given that last September it was the Claremont Institute that published a pseudonymous and now-notorious essay titled “The Fight 93 Election,” basically telling conservative Republicans that if they did not support Trump’s presidential candidacy, their world was doomed.

Why? Because Republican opposition to Trump, the author warned, “is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization that wants to die. Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live.”

Clunky pearls of wisdom from what passes today for conservatism. Where have you gone, George Will, now that they need you? Next thing we know, Ann Coulter will be running the Library of Congress.

Calvin Coolidge would never have gone for such histrionics. Yet it’s worth taking a moment to consider what did occur during his administration. His years in office were the height of “The Roaring ’20s” — a time of economic whoopee marked by wild financial speculation, extravagant bank loans and debt that contributed to the 1929 market crash and the Great Depression.

Coolidge himself was the epitome of frugality and respectability but like Donald Trump (who fancies himself “the king of debt,” by the way — a real conservative, no?) he favored enormous tax cuts, slashing spending, high tariffs on imports and cramming regulatory agencies with pro-business types.

Unlike Trump, he favored a low profile and as far as policy goes preferred inertia to action. Here’s what the noted columnist Walter Lippmann said at the time: “This active inactivity suits the mood and certain of the needs of the country admirably. It suits all the business interests which want to be let alone…. And it suits all those who have become convinced that government in this country has become dangerously complicated and top-heavy….”

At that last part, you can just see all Trump’s plutocratic Cabinet members and advisors nodding their heads in vigorous agreement.

When he died, Calvin Coolidge’s net worth was less than a million in 2016 dollars and he left it all to his wife Grace. Trump, who says his net worth may be as much as $10 billion (how can we hope to know if he won’t release his tax returns?), and his family are using the White House to make the family fortune multiply, as if the presidency were a perpetual goose laying golden eggs. Each news cycle brings more stories of conflicts of interest, and the tax cut plan announced on Wednesday is a sweeping bow to the rich.

“It is striking,” Neil Irwin at The New York Times noted, how much the proposal favors Trump and his kin: “He is a high-income earner. He receives income from 564 business entities, according to his financial disclosure form, and could take advantage of the low rate on ‘pass-through’ companies. According to his leaked 2005 tax return, he paid an extra $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax that he seeks to eliminate. And his heirs could eventually enjoy his enormous assets tax-free.”

So conservatism under Trump and his cronies now running government has brought back a revised version of the gold standard: How much gold you can mine from privatizing the mother lode of government is the mark of your success.

No wonder Trump admires Vladimir Putin so much: They are the Midas and Ali Baba of autocracy. But conservatives they are not, unless to conservatives greed has become the coin of the realm.

One more thing: President Trump doesn’t sleep much at night, reportedly getting about five hours of shut-eye (obviously, the cause is not a guilty conscience). President Coolidge loved to sleep, as much as twelve hours at a time. When he awoke from a White House nap he often would ask his butler, “Is the country still there?”

He meant it as a joke. Today, the question isn’t funny.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/forget-andrew-jackson-the-right-thinks-trump-is-calvin-coolidge/]

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12 comments for “Comparing Tweeting Trump and Silent Cal

  1. April 28, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    “No wonder Trump admires Vladimir Putin so much: They are the Midas and Ali Baba of autocracy.”

    Mr. Moyers…I have read quite a bit about President Putin, and I get the strong impression that he actually lives quite modestly, that he considers that the wealth that Russia provides is for the Russian people…one of the reasons that he is so trusted there. When someone complained several years ago (from the book “Putin, In His Own Words”) about an ostentatious building, he commented that this kind of show only makes people angry. I plan to spent nearly three weeks in Russia in May, and will ask as many Russians as I can about their impressions of their president. If am wrong I will write back to you.

    On Trump, I agree with you. He is making himself a fool–and worse.

    • SteveK9
      April 28, 2017 at 7:26 pm

      I usually agree with Bill Moyers but was going to make a similar comment. Or, go further, Putin seems to me to be the greatest statesmen in the World today. I base that on reading his speeches, watching interviews, and particularly noting what he does. What I don’t do is watch or read the ‘mainstream media’. I don’t read what someone says Putin has said, I listen to the source. Putin’s real ‘crime’ is that he prevented Russia from being absorbed into the American Empire.

      • Skip Scott
        April 29, 2017 at 8:40 am

        I agree completely that it is much better to actually read Putin’s speeches and interviews than it is to allow the MSM to define him for you. The same goes for Assad. Thank god that with the internet this option is available.

      • Typingperson
        April 29, 2017 at 5:15 pm

        Agreed. Moyers is way off base on Putin. Ali Baba? Putin wrested back Russian resources from the oligarchs.

  2. mike k
    April 28, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    Putin has done a good job for Russia, under very difficult circumstances. His view of a multipolar world would do much for peace, unlike the US drive to be the one world dictator.

  3. April 29, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Trump represents the apotheosis of corruption of a system that is so beyond reform it is hardly even thinkable. Coolidge is way back in history compared to the forces that took over US politics to render it undemocratic and oligarchic, giving us a plutocrat such as Trump for president. We either get plutocrat for “leader” (Trump, Bush), or a plutocrat supporter (Obama, Clinton). Thanks, Roberts “Supreme” Court, for nailing shut democracy’s coffin!

    Putin, however, could be called Russia’s FDR, having rescued Russia from shock market oligarchy capitalism of the 1990s, and represents nationalism. I find, as you folks above do, that reading his speeches shows me a dedicated nationalist with conservative values to protect his country, which he knows is under constant attack by the US and other western nations. They have to call him bad names, because those bad names really apply to themselves and their failings. They really have Putin envy.

  4. Tim Gard
    April 29, 2017 at 10:01 am

    If there was ever a more obvious call for American patriots to wake up, it was somehow missed. Patriots must stand and demand that all control of the nation be returned to the local towns, and the federal, state, and county governments must be returned to the bottom of the pyramid where our American ancestors originally placed them. We allowed the second world war to eviscerate our American principles via the war powers act, and we have been a slave to the federal, state, and county governments ever since. Can we fix that? I do not know. Are there any real American patriots still alive today? If so, you have heard the call, now do your homework!

  5. Bill Goldman
    April 29, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    It is obvious now that Trump is a self serving huckster and always has been.

  6. Eddie
    April 29, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    I never harbored any illusions about Trump even being remotely interested in doing anything beyond essentially feathering his own nest.
    As with any politician (or potential politician in his case), it was always most appropriate to primarily judge him by his ACTIONS, not simply his WORDS, and there was nothing in his history that I knew of that would lend itself to thinking that he would intentionally do anything progressive — he was always (as BG notes above) a ‘self serving huckster’, and never even made any pretense of having some sort of epiphany and resultant conversion, it was just more ‘infomercial-grade’ schlock . There was a hope that he might accidentally do something beneficial, or at least not make things worse (vis-a-vis the international situation) just by his lack of a firm political ideology, but as we’re seeing now, a person without a political ideology is often easily swayed by ideologues surrounding him. We need a strong progressive ideologue to stand-up and make headway against the current DC Neo-cons, and Trump was never going to be that person. (I always personally suspected that he was just running for POTUS to enhance his ‘brand’ and of course for the ego-thrill of seeing himself in the MSM ‘news’ every night, but that he had no real belief that he could win. This belief is supported by how wholly unprepared and virtually shocked he was when he DID win — he apparently didn’t even have any ideas of who would fill his cabinet posts.) The problem is that strong progressive candidates are normally ‘filtered-out’ during the nomination process, unless there’s a majority groundswell of support, and I don’t perceive that it’s reached that level yet.

    I think this article is useful in that it gives us a little more background, more info that we’ve been through these conservative policies before, and they’re ultimately NOT beneficial to the broad populace.

    • Homer Jay
      April 30, 2017 at 10:16 am

      Eddie, thank you for saving me the time and stating my sentiments exactly. How so many did not see through this snake oil salesman’s pitch is beyond me. Although I guess others may say the same about me when I really believed Obama was at least somewhat sincere in his promises. Although I would argue Obama at least was a better actor. I also have thought that he didn’t really want the job. However, after watching Obama and Trump both fall in line so fast after months of running as a reformer, I am convinced that these days an incoming president does not have to be prepared…they only need to plug into the existing structure. We the people are given a false believe that when voting for president we are voting for a direcitonal change in every sense. And perhaps we are in some respects. However in terms of the major issues of our time, foreign policy (threat of nuclear warfare), climate, and income inequality, anything short of a systemic change from an outside party will prove to be wholly ineffective. Even then there will be the ever present potential for freshmeat to be devoured by the entrenched establishment who have completely lost all humantiy at this point. Look what happened for example in Greece when the Syriza party sold out the people for more austerity, after running and winning primarily against austerity. This makes me believe that as long as incoming leaders have more to fear from the establishment than they do from the people who voted them in…elections will in large part be meaningless. I don’t know what the answer is…I believe that only God knows.

  7. April 30, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Bill Moyers, Sir, Must admit I loved hearing your thinking so many years ago while having discussions with Joseph Campbell on PBS. Highly recommend it to anyone listening!!! But it seems so sad to see you now as another hater of our new President. Nothing new on that tact. Could you please dream up some scenario, sir, for what is a billionaire President to do, according to you, with his say 564 businesses? I’m certain you’ll come up with some utopian conclusion on how to fairly distribute the man’s wealth!

    • Homer Jay
      May 2, 2017 at 12:04 pm

      I think what you are suggesting David is that Trump is only a product of a political system that has become increasing subservient to the billionaire class, and it would be unfair to lay all the blame for our current dire predicament at the feet of a player who is just playing the game. I actually agree. I think we need a more objective government to act as regulator and not as a facilitator for the interests of billionaires. So never mind that by refusing to unburden himself from the various conflicts of interests he is in direct violation of the emoluments clause of the constitution while being a public servant and therefore should be impeached, let’s get to the real business of overturning citizens united and dissolving the 2 major parties who have played the American people long enough. Being that I was an enthusiastic believer in Obama and seeing as you seem like a dedicated Trump supporter I can identify with the sense of disappointment you must feel now that he has basically crumbled under the pressure of the deep state to become not Putin’s puppet, but Pompeo’s Puppet and Mattis’s Man. After campaigning about putting America first and not engaging in endless warfare he has done just that. I felt the same way after voting for Obama who said he would end our war economy that worked for billionaires and move to a system that worked everyone. I watched with disappointment as he continued to serve Wall Street and continued perpetual warfare. Although maybe you are not disappointed and are very happy with the way things are going. In which case I await your regurgitation of Republican propaganda about how progressives want to distribute wealth. However, while we are on the subject, I think Trump should use his wealth to compensate all the women he sexually assaulted, the families of “the beautiful babies” he killed when he ordered the missile strike in Syria (SANA reports 4 children killed), not to mention the family members of the innocents killed in drone strikes, and he should refund all campaign contributions to everyone who donated to him based on the belief he would work for the forgotten blue collar worker (you only need to look at his tax plan to know that was a crock) and for everyone who believed him when he said he was going to take on the intelligence services and work for détente with Russia. Finally he should dump his wealth into feeding the starving masses in Yemen and elsewhere who suffer today because of wars waged or supported by the US. Those are just a few ideas of how this progressive would redistribute the great Trump’s wealth.

      https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/trumps-ethics-train-wreck/513446/

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