Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize–winning author, shared insight and stories about former U.S. Presidents and what we can learn from their examples at Tuesday's BYU Forum.
Answering the question "Has history even seen a candidate like President Trump?", Goodwin said Trump's attitude and feelings that led him to the presidency are similar to the feelings expressed by former presidents.
"President Trump has no historic counterpart," Goodwin said. "But with a potent mix of strength, anxiety, fear and anger that fueled Trump's momentum, he has a clear connection to the past."
Drawing on the histories of other influential presidents including Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, Goodwin spoke about the qualities that make for great leaders.
Resiliency is "the first pre-requisite for a leader," according to Goodwin. The death of Abraham Lincoln's mother in his early years growing up on the American frontier, Teddy Roosevelt's battle with depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt's polio attack shaped each president's character, fashioning them into strong but compassionate leaders.
"President Trump will go through tough times – every single president does," said Goodwin. "The real test will be how he deals with loss and adversity, and then we will see the man that he is."
Goodwin also spoke about the different ways the presidents allowed adversity into their presidential terms: Lincoln appointed his political rivals to his cabinet, considering them smarter than he was; Franklin Roosevelt built a cabinet of friends, but his wife, Eleanor, was often the agitator who pushed against segregation and discrimination in the military and fought for women's rights.
Some former presidents were better than others in controlling their temper. Lincoln would write "hot letters" to people he was upset with in order to vent his frustrations and then never send them. He would also immediately apologize after losing his temper with his Army generals. Franklin Roosevelt would say terrible things about specific Congressmen in the drafts of his speeches, but never in his final copy.
Goodwin jokingly suggested President Trump set up two different Twitter accounts: one account for reaching out to everyone and a second fake account where he can relieve all his anger privately.
Finding Ways to Unwind
All good leaders have found a way to relax and shake off the stress and anxiety that comes with presiding over a country. Lincoln went to the theater, had a great sense of humor and could spend hours in front of a fire swapping stories. Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed playing an adventuring game while he walked – anytime he encountered an obstacle on his walk he had to navigate over, under or through the obstacle but never around it. Franklin Roosevelt held cocktail hours in the White House where the rule was that no one was allowed to talk about the ongoing war.
Staying Connected to the People
Presidents used different methods of communication to connect with Americans. Teddy Roosevelt spoke simply, yet boldly, to the journalists of his day. Franklin Roosevelt mastered the radio, holding 30 fireside chats over the course of his presidency. John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan set the standard for television. Trump has broken the mold with Twitter.
"Teddy Roosevelt's example to get out of Washington as often as he could to draw energy from the people and get a feel for the country at large is one I hope all leaders would follow," Goodwin said.
Next Devotional: Keith Vorkink, BYU Marriott School of Management
The next BYU Devotional address will be given by Keith Vorkink, professor in the BYU Marriott School of Management, on Tuesday, Mar. 28, at 11:05 a.m., in the Marriott Center.
His remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv and BYUtv.org, KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM and BYUradio.