In July 1968, I spent 14 days in the ship’s hospital on the USS SPRINGFIELD, and another 20 days at Portsmouth Naval Hospital (PNH) when our ship returned to port. It was the sickest I have ever been to this day, a case of infectious mononucleosis, which most people push through without too much difficulty. While at PNH, I shared a room with an old salt who had served in World War II. Really nice guy who had a lot of great stories that he shared with me when I wasn’t delirious with high fevers.
The door to our room was open, and one morning this veteran cried out in speaking to both himself and me, words that as close as I can recall, “Oh my God, that’s Red Mike!” I looked into the hallway, and there was this old, frail man on a walker. I asked who Red Mike was, seemingly someone I should have recognized by the surprise in my roommate’s voice. He responded that Red Mike---his name stemming from his bright red hair, long since gone---was a legend in the battleship navy of the 1930s. According to my roommate, anyone who had ever served on battleships of that era knew the name Red Mike. I don’t know what Red Mike did to distinguish himself, but he had obviously made an impression, one that decades later remained firm in the memory of my roommate.
I have often thought of that moment, because as we age the realization sets in more firmly that ultimately we become irrelevant, fewer people will remember us, or what we did or accomplished in this world. It can also be a time of reflection of how we will be remembered. To a younger generation, as I was in at the time, I couldn’t imagine that Red Mike was a man of his time, someone who left a mark on the U.S. Navy, but a mark ultimately forgotten as his generation faded away. That is where we all are except perhaps for our families where stories, deeds, legends, and more may live on in that closed circle. The exception, though, applies to those who achieve fame on a large scale. They will live on, for better or for worse, in history books, documentaries, academia, and wherever the lessons of the person’s life can be applied or studied.
Early this Wednesday morning, January 20, 2021, Donald J. Trump will board Air Force One for the last time as president of the United States, and head south to his home at Mar a Lago, Florida. My guess is that when his plane is airborne, and at 12 noon when Joe Biden takes the oath of office as the new president, there will be a small tornado caused by many Republicans who will exhale, who will be relieved that Trump is gone, who will no longer feel threatened, bullied, or intimidated. Among those probably feeling the greatest relief are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Vice President Mike Pence, and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.
I won’t argue that Trump had accomplishments. He did, although few were in the legislative arena where presidential leadership is tested. Ronald Reagan was successful in passing more bills with split majorities of the House and Senate than Jimmy Carter when Carter had both Houses. Trump made several cornerstone campaign promises in 2016, to include repealing and replacing Obamacare; building a wall on the Mexican border that the Mexicans would pay for; passing an infrastructure bill that would also be a whopping stimulus to the economy while rebuilding our country; begin balancing the budget with paying off the national debt over eight years; and eliminating some of the tax exemptions that wealthy Wall Street hedge fund operators got that no one else did.
With Republican majorities in both Houses in Trump’s first two years, he failed to accomplish any of these goals. As for the national debt, it was already spiraling northward beginning after the 2017 tax cuts while the economy was operating on a full head of steam.
I lost count of the number of people in Trump’s administration who he at first praised, until he didn’t, and when he didn’t it was because that person was deemed disloyal to Trump personally even if the “disloyalty” was to offer the best advice and information. And not one of these terminations was done face to face. Trump either fired people on Twitter or through some other source, but never a gentlemanly meeting at the White House to explain why the adviser’s services were no longer needed. No good leader would be so cowardly. It is part of our human nature to have a long memory for being dissed.
The lowlight of Trump’s administration, and how he will be remembered long after his hard core followers continue to praise his judicial appointments, is the insurrection that occurred at the Capitol on January 6th. Trump claimed that he was cheated out of winning the popular vote in 2016, and predicted that same year that the only way he could lose the election would be by fraud. He prepared his supporters for losing in 2020 long before the election, when the polls had him down, and when he did lose and declared fraud, he failed to convince 62 bipartisan judges that the election had been stolen.
To fan the flames of what he perceived as disloyalty by so many who had supported him for four years, Trump has trashed them. He has refused to carry on a great American tradition of being present for the transfer of power on January 20th, and even ignored extending Biden and his family an invitation to stay at the Blair House on the eve of inauguration, never mind that Trump hasn’t even spoken to the incoming president since the election. His treatment of his own vice president, a man loyal to Trump in the extreme, whom Trump called the p word because of the VP’s refusal to overturn the election, and then didn’t even reach out to Pence when the Capitol was under siege, went beyond being disgraceful.
Legal issues aside, Trump at a minimum put the events in motion for the violence that occurred at the Capitol. Most Americans of different political persuasions will remember that. And they will remember his pettiness, his narcissism, and his victimhood. With the exception of his base, Trump won’t be remembered as a great man of his time. Too bad he didn’t know Red Mike.