Trump Has Boarded a Revenge Train to Nowhere
He’s facing the wrong direction, his eyes fixed on the past.
Nothing says Women’s History Month like a same-sex love murder. If you’d like a personalized copy of my first book, Alice+Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis, you can buy signed copies or request something specific over at Oblong—and I love the audiobook!
In the early days of COVID-19, when bookstores and libraries were still closed, I noticed a Corduroy of a presidential biography on my shelf: A dusty, unread Herbert Hoover tome with no cover. And just like that, the comps started flowing. As I endured Trump’s disastrous attempts to manage the pandemic, I told news outlets that Hoover was buffeted by the 1929 stock market crash, too.
When Trump, like Hoover, went on to be an incumbent defeated by someone better equipped to lead the nation in crisis, our brief flirtation ended. I put the book back on the shelf, and the 31st president faded into the background—until Saturday: “I am your retribution,” Donald Trump told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland over the weekend.
After Hoover lost to FDR in 1932, he wanted a second chance, too. At the time, this was no surprise. Hoover broke many of the same ex-president club rules that Trump has: He was a vocal critic of his successor, condemning the New Deal in every medium. He inspired extreme factions in his party, supporting candidates FDR would go on to defeat by large margins. And Hoover, still profoundly unpopular, brazenly lusted after a second chance at the presidency.
But Hoover remained ineffective. In 1938, his efforts to provide international relief in Nazi-occupied Europe failed—and that was with FDR’s backing. When he attempted to once again earn his party’s nomination, he failed at that, too. (To be fair, Wendell Wilkie failed to best FDR as well, but as I wrote in Slate, being primaried never helps.)
Hoover missed, and Trump is missing, a legacy-building opportunity. Rich, one-term presidents who retire to homes far from Washington have options, yet these men choose to spend their time confirming every bad opinion held of them.
Trump has gone from a real Air Force One to an imagined Snowpiercer, his own revenge train to nowhere. It’s not too late to reroute, but he’d have to switch seats. He’s facing the wrong direction, his eyes fixed on the past.
FROM MY ARCHIVES
Jessica Grose, an opinion writer at the New York Times, kindly remembered editing me in her latest.
UPCOMING PUBLIC EVENTS
March 23rd: Keynote on George Washington. Raynham Hall Museum. Oyster Bay, New York.
April 19th: In conversation with Alex Mar. Oblong. Rhinebeck, NY.
May 17th: Interviewed by Christy S. Coleman. The Jamestown Settlement, Jamestown Yorktown Foundation. Williamsburg, Virginia.