cover image How Did We Get Here?: From Theodore Roosevelt to Donald Trump

How Did We Get Here?: From Theodore Roosevelt to Donald Trump

Robert Dallek. Harper, $32.50 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-287299-9

Historian Dallek (Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life) delivers a brisk rundown of U.S. presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan in search of precedents for “the troublesome Trump administration.” He lists myriad examples of presidents overreaching established boundaries of executive authority, claiming undue credit for positive developments while shirking responsibility for bad, committing foreign policy blunders, and tangling with the press. Woodrow Wilson’s refusal to come clean about his severe health problems “left voters cynical about trusting anyone running for the White House,” according to Dallek. FDR misrepresented his private opinions about Joseph Stalin in order to foster post-WWII optimism, the combination of JFK’s brief tenure and sterling reputation encouraged the notion that presidential legacies depend more on public relations skills than policy achievements, and Ronald Reagan proved that a media personality turned politician could hold onto popular support despite economic turmoil, international scandals, and rumors of mental decline. Though Dallek writes fluidly and packs his account with intriguing tidbits, he often fails to make the links between the current and previous administrations explicit, and his hesitancy to outright condemn Trump will strike liberals as a cop-out. Still, history buffs looking for reassurance that American democracy can survive Trumpism will find it here. [em](May) [/em]