Twain, on TR(ump)

“He flies from one thing to another with incredible dispatch—throws a somersault and is straightaway back again where he was last week."

What would Mark Twain have thought of Donald Trump? We will never know for sure, but we can perhaps get a general idea from what Twain said about the presidency of his contemporary, Teddy Roosevelt.

Twain was a Republican, but that did not prevent him from privately criticizing TR in the strongest terms, calling him “far and away the worst President we have ever had” and “the most formidable disaster that has befallen the country since the Civil War.”

Twain’s criticisms of TR’s peripatetic presidential style were written over a century ago, but they might have been written yesterday about President Trump: “He flies from one thing to another with incredible dispatch – throws a somersault and is straightaway back again where he was last week,” Twain wrote. “He will then throw some more somersaults and nobody can foretell where he is finally going to land after the series.”

The resemblance is uncanny, isn’t it?

So is what Twain said about TR’s often childish behavior: “He takes a boy’s delight in showing off.” And, “he is still only fourteen years old after living half a century.”

And Twain would likely have found President Trump’s popularity with the masses of people to be as dispiriting as he found President Roosevelt’s: “[T]he vast mass of the nation loves him, is frantically fond of him, even idolizes him. This is the simple truth. It sounds like a libel upon the intelligence of the human race but it isn’t; there isn’t any way to libel the intelligence of the human race.”

Twain brilliantly skewered Teddy Roosevelt for his foibles, but neglected to give him proper credit for his considerable achievements in office. History redressed the balance with regard to Teddy’s reputation. It remains to be seen how history will treat President Trump.

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