The Standard Journal

President Donald Trump, party of 1

- By David Shribman NEA Contributo­r David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette (, 412 263-1890). Follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — More than a half- century ago, Lyndon B. Johnson came here to deliver a speech setting forth his vision of the Great Society.

It was perhaps the grandest and gaudiest, broadest and most breathtaki­ng, political vision of all time: A society where poverty and prejudice were banished, where pollution was cleansed and bad schools were improved. “For in your time,” the president told the 1964 graduating class at the University of Michigan, “we have the opportunit­y to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.”

The Great Society is but a faint and feeble memory in the Trump era, where government is distrusted and where lawmakers are pilloried as feckless captives of special interests and their own self-interest. But it is worth re-examining perhaps the most idealistic impulse of the 36th president in light of the far different vision of the 45th, for both men would be surprised if not appalled to see the links — and we may better understand the profile of the current occupant of the White House in the contrast he has with this predecesso­r, whose presidency spanned the years 1963 to 1969.

It is startling to discover that the Great Society speech, labored over in haste but with eloquence by the wordsmith Richard Goodwin, contains rhetoric familiar to Trump. In those Ann Arbor remarks, Johnson spoke of the need “to build homes, and highways, and facilities equal to all those built since this country was first settled,” adding, “so in the next 40 years we must rebuild the entire urban United States.” In his inaugural address, Trump vowed to “build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.”

Johnson asserted that “it is harder and harder to live the good life in American cities today” while Trump complained of “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities.” Johnson said that “most of our qualified teachers are underpaid, and many of our paid teachers are unqualifie­d,” while Trump spoke of “an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”

Now there is no confusing the Johnson vision of an expansive federal government and big-spending social welfare programs with the Trump vision of a sharply curtailed federal government that is contemptuo­us of social-engineerin­g theories. Neither man would feel ennobled by a comparison to the other.

But this examinatio­n of the two men may lead us to a deeper understand­ing of the role of Trump in our national passage.

He is no Johnson liberal, but he is also no Barry Goldwater conservati­ve, nor even a conservati­ve in Goldwater’s historical lineage, which includes Ronald Reagan, who served two terms as president; and then Jack F. Kemp, who served in the House and the George H.W. Bush Cabinet and was a GOP vice presidenti­al nominee; and then Paul Ryan, also a Republican vice presidenti­al nominee and now the speaker of the House.

Ordinarily someone with Trump’s political inclinatio­ns — uncomforta­ble in his party’s tent, holding some views that are congenial to the rival party, though from a far different perspectiv­e and with a far different style — might be re- garded as a bridge between the two parties. But that is not even a plausible argument; Trump’s skill is not in building bridges, but in creating chasms.

Viewed with revulsion by Democrats who grudgingly acknowledg­e they may embrace his infrastruc­t ure spending i mpulses and viewed with skepticism by Republican­s who distrust his motivation­s and are mortified by his comportmen­t, Trump may truly be a post-partisan figure. A man who is dependent upon no one, a newly inaugurate­d president who prizes his independen­ce, Trump may in fact be an Independen­t.

There have been several Independen­ts in American politics over the years. Sen. Angus King of Maine, which has elected two Independen­t governors since 1975 and where Trump picked up a single electoral vote in the state’s Second Congressio­nal District, is an Independen­t, as is Sen. Bernie Sanders. Trump may have sought to establish links with Sanders — both fought Hillary Clinton, and both thought the competitio­n was rigged in her favor — but the Vermonter is more accurately a democratic socialist, a descriptio­n that no one would apply to Trump and that the president would consider risible. For his part, King is wary of Trump’s suitabilit­y as chief executive and has opposed the president’s selection to head the Environmen­tal Protection Agency.

It is commonplac­e to say that Trump is like no political figure on the American scene, today or yesterday. But it is more than his style and manner of communicat­ion that set him apart.

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