Could leaders be Time’s Prisoners? This week Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Partisan congressmen and entertainment figures on the left are taking the extreme step of boycotting the peaceful transfer of power. Partisans on the right believe the New York Businessman will right all wrongs and solve all problems. Are we Prisoners of Time? Both sides might take a lesson from the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Johnson is certainly one of the best of the pure politicians to occupy the White House. Serving as a Congressman and then Senator from Texas, Johnson rose to Senate Majority Leader, Vice President and the presidency after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Johnson won the 1964 presidential election by one of the largest popular vote margins in history. Johnson’s administration overcame democrat opposition and managed enough republican votes in congress to pass the The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Johnson’s signature legislation creating ‘The Great Society‘ programs have been a centerpiece of the Democrat ideal that government can help ease the afflictions of the poor and downtrodden.
From that high political perch in 1965 Johnson backed into the war Vietnam and scuttled his presidency. Johnson will be forever remembered as the president who escalated the Vietnam War, rather than the president who did a great deal to ease the afflictions of the poor and downtrodden. It’s important to remember that many of the most experienced and smartest people in Washington backed Johnson’s war initiatives. It was Congress that gave the Texan full authority to do as he wanted in Vietnam after the Gulf on Tonkin incident.
In Podcast 591-Midnight Winter Walk Talk-Time’s Prisoners, I wonder how much the time we live in determines how much a government can do. This is a cautionary question for the vehement supporters of Donald Trump and his vocal detractors. Are the leaders we elect, their lieutenants and advisors prisoners of the time they live in? We can’t know the future and therefore may not be prepared to right all wrongs or avoid fatal mistakes.
We make decisions in everyday life based on the best information available and the best advice. Should I buy the chicken or the steak on sale at the grocery store? Should I buy a car now or later. Should I take that job and move to another city? It is the same with complex decisions and matters of state. State decisions have more weight but in the end, are often made the same way. People do the best with what they have and what they know at the time.
Two movies on HBO NOW depict the Johnson Administration. ‘All The Way‘ features Bryan Cranston as LBJ and depicts his struggle to pass the Civil Rights Act. The other is John Frankenheimer’s ‘Path To War‘ which depicts the Johnson Administration’s decisions to escalate the war in Vietnam ultimately foundering Johnson’s presidency.
Now, these films reflect and bias and perspective. It may not have been the intent of the film makers to show a president’s power is tentative, dependent on the best advice he can get, and his own experience. The presidency is a political office. I think congresses and presidential administrations are prisoners of their time. The decisions they make and the reaction to them are as much determined by the time we live in, and the experience it has given us, as any other factor. Call it fate. Call it blindness. Either way this is a sobering concept if you believe the new president is the second coming, but a comforting thought if you think he is the devil incarnate.