Interview with Ike— a Great, If Dead, American President

An adult.

American presidents have come to be judged by their first 100 days since FDR in 1933. As I write this, the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency is still in the future, but some are already naming him a great president.

So now that we’re making America great again, under the latest incarnation of GOP noble grandeur, I searched for a time many Americans — white ones, in any case — would think of as “great”. There can be little argument that the period from 1952 to 1960 would be in the running, and that just happens to coincide with two terms of a Republican president. I want to help inform the discussion about Republican presidential distinction, so I was delighted to be granted an interview with Dwight David Eisenhower, via a special dispensation from Death and his published comments. I present that interview here in an attempt to understand by comparison where Donald J. Trump’s presidency really stands among those from his party who have gone before.
 Craig Heath: Thank you for speaking with me, President Eisenhower.
 Dwight David Eisenhower: I thought it completely absurd to mention my name in the same breath as the presidency.
 CH: Yes sir, I’m sorry. Mister Eisenhower.
 DDE: Oh, that lovely title, ex-president.
 CH: Yes sir — before, during and after your tenure in office, you were known for a reluctance to become president and to accept any sort of “mantle of greatness” as a result of your service.
 DDE: Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy.
 CH: (Laughs) yes sir. And you are — or, uh, were — not an egotist nor crazy. You were a decorated war hero, honored by America and more than a dozen other nations. You led the Allied military to victory in World War Two, led the United States through two administrations marked by incredible expansion and grave threat from abroad, yet you always spoke modestly of your own achievements and your position in American life.
 DDE: Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.
 CH: But can such humility really serve someone who must lead others, let alone a powerful nation, especially through difficult times?
 DDE: Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all. I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him, he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.
 CH: On that note — scaring people into following a course of action. You served as president during a time of great uncertainty and peril — the beginning of the Cold War. Today, we face another peril, perhaps as great, and are reminded of it often in ways that can only be called alarming. Isn’t fear of such great dangers normal, and doesn’t it serve the country to keep us alert?
 DDE: This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America. You don’t lead by hitting people over the head - that’s assault, not leadership.
 CH: Do you mean that preparation for warfare is not as important as some would say?
 DDE: In most communities it is illegal to cry “fire” in a crowded assembly. Should it not be considered serious international misconduct to manufacture a general war scare in an effort to achieve local political aims? The people of the world genuinely want peace. Some day the leaders of the world are going to have to give in and give it to them. The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without? The purpose is clear. It is safety with solvency. The country is entitled to both.
 CH: Some presidents who have served since your day have said much the same, but also say that we must fight potential enemies before we are attacked in order to preserve the nation and its freedom.
 DDE: When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity. The most terrible job in warfare is to be a second lieutenant leading a platoon when you are on the battlefield. There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs. War settles nothing.
 CH: If that is true — that war settles nothing — what course can America take to ensure both its safety and its solvency?
 DDE: Controlled, universal disarmament is the imperative of our time. The demand for it by the hundreds of millions whose chief concern is the long future of themselves and their children will, I hope, become so universal and so insistent that no man, no government anywhere, can withstand it. Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
 CH: But disarmament — especially nuclear disarmament — is not being sought by our government now, nor even discussed as much or with the immediacy it was in your time.
 DDE: If men can develop weapons that are so terrifying as to make the thought of global war include almost a sentence for suicide, you would think that man’s intelligence and his comprehension… would include also his ability to find a peaceful solution. The free world must not prove itself worthy of its own past. The history of free men is never really written by chance but by choice; their choice!
 CH: The choice of the federal government f the United States has for some time been to escalate war. It is a different kind of war, but it is global in scale. With the possibility of nuclear weapons, it is seen by some as threatening human life on the planet.
 DDE: Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. You can’t have this kind of war. There just aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.
 CH: Making those choices today — war and peace, freedom and security, has proved contentious to the point of dividing Americans deeply. Some who question the government’s direction or overtly dissent are facing charges of sedition not heard since the McCarthy hearings of your day. Does the dissenter help or hinder the defense of our country?
 DDE: Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels — men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.
 CH: So you believe even average Americans should engage the government, question it, and demand accountability, even in a time of war?
 DDE: Politics is a profession; a serious, complicated and, in its true sense, a noble one. Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.
 CH: But doesn’t dissent weaken the ability of the nation to secure itself against its enemies?
 DDE: We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security. If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
 CH: What privileges are being valued higher than our principles?
 DDE: In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. Only Americans can hurt America. Only our individual faith in freedom can keep us free.
 CH: Well, I see we are almost out of time. Do you have any parting thoughts you would like to share with us?
 DDE: There is nothing wrong with America that faith, love of freedom, intelligence, and energy of her citizens cannot cure. We seek peace, knowing that peace is the climate of freedom. 
 CH: I’m very glad you were able to spend this time talking with us.
 DDE: I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens.
 CH: Well…you’re dead, and this interview will be transcribed, so there’s no threat of that.
 DDE: No one should ever sit in this office over 70 years old, and that I know.
 CH: Yes sir. Well again, thank you, and good…
 DOUGLAS MACARTHUR: Old soldiers never die…they just fade away.
 CH: General, please don’t interrupt! This isn’t your interview! Uh, Mr. Eisenhower, of course you know General Douglas MacArthur?
 DDE: Oh yes, I studied dramatics under him for 12 years.
 CH: Uh…very good. Thank you gentlemen, and good night.
 DM: I shall return!

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