Presidential historian talks Trump and risk at UConn-Stamford conference
STAMFORD — United States of America Inc. last year made its riskiest hire to date when its shareholders chose a new chief executive, according to a knowledgeable observer of the enterprise.
In the keynote speech Wednesday at the University of Connecticut’s Risk Management Conference at the Crowne Plaza hotel, presidential historian and author Douglas Brinkley assessed the rise and prospects of President Donald Trump and compared the current commander in chief’s challenges to those of his predecessors.
“He’s never run for anything before running for president; at best we say it’s a CEO mentality, but he’s the boss,” Brinkley, a professor at Rice University in Houston, told an audience of about 125. “He’s a celebrity media hero boss, and our country decided to take a gamble on him. It’s a very risky time to see what to do in America in 2017.”
Trump’s election marked the end of an era that lasted from Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 until the end of Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure, Brinkley argued.
“We’re no longer in the age of FDR or Reagan; you have now really entered the age of Trump,” Brinkley said. “The political alignment is very strange.”
Trump has started his current job with the “worst 100 days in presidential history,” Brinkley said. He did not rule out a premature end to the current administration — a downfall stemming from potential obstruction-of -justice charges, for instance — which would pave the way for a Mike Pence presidency.
“Trump could go down this year, he may be seen as an aberration in history, a weird, strange moment like Roswell, New Mexico,” Brinkley said, to audience laughter.
At the same time, Trump is “showing a kind of resilience in fatiguing everybody,” which he argued could help drive him to a second term, Brinkley said.
The political rancor affecting the country does not make the current era unique, Brinkley said. He cited the 1800 birth of U.S. party politics.
“You have the Democratic-Republicans of (Thomas) Jefferson versus the Federalists of (John) Adams,” Brinkley said. “The two key intellectuals of the American Revolution are ripping each other asunder, just calling them every name under the book in this new party system.”
Nor is Trump the first president to face off against influential media. Brinkley described Theodore Roosevelt as a genius at co-opting the press.
“His big trick was anytime he saw a reporter, he told them how great their recent article was,” Brinkley said. “‘What a great piece you wrote in today’s Washington Post! It was hard on me, but, boy, you can write.’ He would do that over and over again.”
Trump also does not rank as the first recent political figure to pillory free trade agreements. Ross Perot played up the same issue to take 19 percent of the vote as a third-party candidate in the 1992 election.
“Donald Trump saw anti-NAFTA (sentiment) as low-hanging fruit in the Midwest and grabbed the Perot vote,” Brinkley said.
Amid the political contention, Brinkley expressed his confidence in the “humming” U.S. economy. He still rates America as the best place to invest.
“I travel all over, and I’m very bullish on America,” he said. “We’ve got young people, research and development. You look at what’s going on with Wall Street… I still think the U.S. is a safer investment than most of these hotspots in the world.”
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