How did we get here? From Theodore Roosevelt to Donald Trump

Robert Dallek

Book - 2020

"The struggle to preserve the Republic has never been easy or without perils. The rise of conflicting political parties, which the founders opposed, and President John Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts repressing First Amendment rights made Franklin's observation at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention--"a republic, if you can keep it"--seem prescient. In the twentieth century, America endured numerous struggles: economic depression, World War II, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran-contra scandal, the war in Iraq--all of which gave rise to demagogues, as did the growth and reach of mass media. But this wasn't the Founding Fathers' vision for our leadership. The resistance to putting ...a demagogue in the White House survived the anti-Communist agitation of the 1950s and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. But the latter opened the way for Richard Nixon's election in 1968 and Watergate, which again tested our democratic institutions and the rule of law. Nixon's resignation in August 1974 moved Vice President Gerald Ford, his successor, to declare, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over." But was it? Donald Trump's 2016 election has presented a new challenge. How did past politics and presidential administrations pave the way for this current assault on American democracy? Our nation's history provides reassurance that we will restore our better angels to government. Yet it must be considered that earlier administrations and public outlook facilitated the rise of such an un-presidential character as Trump in the first place. In How Did We Get Here?, Robert Dallek considers a century of modern administrations, from Teddy Roosevelt to today, shining a light on the personalities behind the politics and the voters who elected each. His cautionary tale reminds us that the only constant in history is change, but whether for good or ill the choice is Americans' to make"--

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

1 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 973.9/Dallek Checked In
New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2020]
Main Author
Robert Dallek (author)
First edition
Physical Description
258 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 239-244) and index.
  • Introduction
  • Theodore Roosevelt : "Master therapist of the middle classes"
  • Woodrow Wilson : triumph and tragedy
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt : prophet of a new order
  • Harry S. Truman : the tribulations of a great president
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower : the general as peacemaker
  • John F. Kennedy : the making of an icon
  • Lyndon B. Johnson : flawed giant
  • Richard M. Nixon : America in crisis
  • Jimmy Carter : the moralist as politician
  • Ronald Reagan : the media president
  • Trump : in the shadow of history.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Historian Dallek (Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life) delivers a brisk rundown of U.S. presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan in search of precedents for "the troublesome Trump administration." He lists myriad examples of presidents overreaching established boundaries of executive authority, claiming undue credit for positive developments while shirking responsibility for bad, committing foreign policy blunders, and tangling with the press. Woodrow Wilson's refusal to come clean about his severe health problems "left voters cynical about trusting anyone running for the White House," according to Dallek. FDR misrepresented his private opinions about Joseph Stalin in order to foster post-WWII optimism, the combination of JFK's brief tenure and sterling reputation encouraged the notion that presidential legacies depend more on public relations skills than policy achievements, and Ronald Reagan proved that a media personality turned politician could hold onto popular support despite economic turmoil, international scandals, and rumors of mental decline. Though Dallek writes fluidly and packs his account with intriguing tidbits, he often fails to make the links between the current and previous administrations explicit, and his hesitancy to outright condemn Trump will strike liberals as a cop-out. Still, history buffs looking for reassurance that American democracy can survive Trumpism will find it here. (May)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In light of today's drawn-swords political climate, Dallek, a New York Times best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist (Nixon and Kissinger) focuses on the 20th century to show us history as ever-changing. With a 50,000-copy first printing; promotion at ALA.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A veteran American historian looks back at previous presidencies to see how we arrived at our current one. Dallek--who has published works about Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon, among others--devotes chapters to all the presidents between Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, briefly summarizing their lives and times and assessing their strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and failures. No fan of Donald Trump, the author emphasizes the previous presidents' failures and sees how they have led to Trump, who gets his own damning chapter at the end. Dallek does a good job of seeing the strengths of presidents he does not otherwise admire, and he also explores the weaknesses in those he does admire. For example, he credits Nixon for his advances with China, and he chides FDR for deceptions about his health. Dallek makes clear that all the negative aspects of previous presidents have come home to roost in Trump: Theodore Roosevelt's craving for attention and his self-adoration, Woodrow Wilson's "exaggerated presidential promises," Truman's making war in Korea without Congressional approval, Dwight Eisenhower's moves in Iran and Vietnam, JFK's focus on image, LBJ's "deceitfulness on foreign affairs," Nixon's fondness for imperiousness, Jimmy Carter's ineffectualness, and Reagan's use of celebrity as a political weapon and his displays of ignorance. In the final chapter, Dallek's dagger emerges. Trump is a "retrograde force" whose "abusive language" shreds dignity from the office--as do his innumerable lies, distortions, and overall boorishness. "Making America great again," writes the author, "hardly satisfies any standard for leading us into a better future." The author shifts from the third person to the first from time to time to tell us about a relevant personal experience--e.g., his 1979 meeting with some Soviet historians in Moscow. Informed and passionate words to bring cheers from Never Trumpers and no reaction from Trump fans, who won't read it. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.