Editor’s Note: This post was written by Courtland Ingraham.
One of the characteristic qualities of Donald Trump has been how his ideals have been at odds with many, including “establishment” members of his own party. How believable would it be if someone said we’ve already had a president like Donald Trump? Whether or not the name comes to mind, that man was Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Today, in the Trump era, there are many lessons our new president could learn from the Cleveland administration.
By way of background, Cleveland and Trump are as different as can be. Cleveland was a lawyer and a career politician, while Trump ascended to the presidency after being a TV celebrity and real estate mogul. Each of them, however, ran presidential campaigns with similar messages of keeping interests out of politics. Cleveland wanted to do this through extending civil service reform, while Trump had famously mentioned his desire to “drain the swamp” of politicians subservient to special interests. Cleveland gained popularity by moving towards a system where people moved into government positions based on merit rather than loyalty alone. Initially, keeping up with expectations made by constituents based on campaign rhetoric regarding ethics in government is a key lesson Trump should follow, as he works toward gaining the trust of the American people.
Since winning the Republican nomination, Trump has been assumed as the new party leader, ushering in some growing pains for the GOP. This happened with the Democratic Party when Cleveland’s nomination came into conflict with the interests of Tammany Hall, the 1880’s version of Donald Trump’s “swamp.” In running for office, Cleveland ran with the support of anti-Tammany voters, which helped him win in local and state politics before assuming the presidency with their support as well. Because of this rift, Cleveland used executive authority to expand the use of items, such as the veto, to ensure his agenda was accurately pursued. Trump should really consider his authority as an executive, as many look at him as a leader with ill-informed opinions.
Cleveland worked on choosing nominees based on qualifications, not personal connections, a way he tried to bring integrity into the office. Trump seems to be attempting the same, but by picking people for offices who have been loyal to his camp, with a special liking towards non-career politicians, such as Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson. In the process, Trump has selected people who have been criticized as unqualified for the positions they hold, or for being too radical in their positions. Based on the experience of Cleveland, Trump would likely face less criticism and distrust from critics if he picked candidates with less scandalous histories, coupled with well-qualified experience.
Overall, Donald Trump is a president who has bold agenda items and a character which could really expand the authority of the presidency even further. To do this even further, however, Trump should look back to where the kind of expansions he prefers all began, with Grover Cleveland.
Information in this post about President Cleveland was taken from “Grover Cleveland: The American Presidents Series” by Henry F. Graff.