Tag Archives: JFK

Review: ‘The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office’

King Trump Confronts American Presidents. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

If someone could use an employee manual, it would certainly be the current occupant to the highest post in the land. Jeremi Suri’s new book guides us through what has become of the American presidency, from its development to its inevitable decline. If Donald Trump were to read it, “The Impossible Presidency” would provide much food for thought.

Suri’s prose has an inviting conversational tone that lifts the reader up. His main argument is that, after a long period of expansion, the job is now collapsing in upon itself. For the first part of the book, we read about the presidents who transformed the office: Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and the two Roosevelts. The second part of the book follows the fall: JFK and LBJ; Reagan; Clinton and Obama. FDR was the last president to fundamentally remake the job and save the country, and the world, in the process. No one else is going to top that. Furthermore, the job has become so complex that no one person, according to Suri, can ever hope to juggle all the responsibility. Spoiler alert: Suri advocates for a two-person job with a president and a prime minister. Of course, we’ve already established a partnership between president and vice-president since Carter. But that may not be enough.

It is Donald Trump who so neatly underscores Suri’s thesis about the decline of the job that he cannot help but cast a long shadow over the whole book. Suri uses contemporary politico lingo currently associated with Trump. Suri describes past presidents as responding to their “base” and “doubling down” on important issues. More to the point, Suri provides numerous highly relevant examples of how presidents have appealed to the male white voter. This is a fact that each president has wrestled with from the very beginning.

THE IMPOSSIBLE PRESIDENCY by Jeremi Suri

In a work full of evocative and highly informative passages, what Suri does with FDR stands out. Suri weaves a series of recollections by Saul Bellow as a Depression era youth who is galvanized by the reassurances of FDR, the man on the radio, with the funny posh accent, that everyone intently listened to. In the case of FDR, his word was as good as gold. When FDR ordered an increase in the money supply, he answered any criticism over its legitimacy by stating, “How do I know that’s any good? The fact that I think it is, makes it good.” As Suri points out, that kind of common sense meant everything to a struggling boy like Saul Bellow. It was real words backed up by real action.

In a very accessible and compelling style, Suri guides the reader in distinguishing the most consequential American presidents. In this excerpt, you get a taste of Suri’s writing as he compares Lincoln to FDR:

“If Lincoln was the nineteenth-century president, Roosevelt was the twentieth-century American leader.

Lincoln’s presidency anticipated Roosevelt’s. The latter had to contend with the collapse of the American (and world) economy, but they both spent much of their presidencies at war. In retrospect, Roosevelt’s ability to respond creatively to the Great Depression and echo Lincoln’s war performance is truly exceptional. No other president faced the same range of existential challenges. As a consequence, no other president had so many opportunities to change the basic structure of American society, and vast sections of the modern world. Roosevelt turned the darkest of times into the brightest of new hopes. He was not only the first welfare president, but, by 1944, the first global president, influencing more parts of the world than any previous American executive. He pioneered the New Deal and then globalized its reach.”

No less heroic is the way that JFK navigated the Cuban Missile Crisis. In sharp contrast to FDR’s time, Suri points out, the job of president had become so compartmentalized that, even at the height of the crisis, JFK was hamstrung with a schedule crammed with activities of little to no real significance. The office had taken on such a life of its own that it was assumed the president would simply pick how his advisors wanted to strike at Cuba not whether to discuss other options. Of course, we know JFK found another option. But, in the case of Vietnam, the system forced his hand. For LBJ, it was more of the same: another president distracted as well as compelled to great action.

Suri states that gradual and incremental progress is the new template fashioned by Clinton and Obama. But, Suri goes on to say, a sense for bold action must not be lost. For Clinton, it was not responding to the genocide in Rwanda. For Obama, it was not responding to ISIS as the threat emerged. In both cases, each president was conscious of the risk of overextending and held back when they should have acted. As for Trump, Suri seems to see him as more of a warning that we’ve hit rock bottom and now we must plan for what lies ahead. This is an essential book for putting our current state of affairs into proper historical context.

How Much More of King Trump? Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

The focus of this book is to show how the modern American presidency has evolved into a colossal apparatus. In turn, the role of a modern American president has become virtually unmanageable, too demanding for just one person. Or has it–or is that the crucial problem? To be sure, it is a problem but solving it won’t resolve other government dysfunction. Suri does not delve into what his proposed solution would gain. A team of president and prime minister, as he suggests, would still be at the mercy of a corrupt and compromised Congress. But one step at a time. A post-Trump America, in and of itself, will be a step in the right direction. More and more Americans, even loyal Trump supporters, are coming to see that something is fundamentally wrong with our current chief executive, his election, his entire administration. One American president who Suri does not cover is President Jimmy Carter. Here is a president who valued integrity and did quite a lot of good while in office. Look it up and you’ll see. This book is just the type that inspires you to keep looking up in more ways than one.

“The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office” is a 368-page hardcover published by Basic Books. You can order this book from Amazon by clicking the image below:

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under American History, Book Reviews, Donald Trump, Editorial Cartoons, History, Political Cartoons, politics

Review: DIVINITY II #3 (of 4)

Divinity II #3 variant cover by Carmen Carnero

Divinity II #3 variant cover by Carmen Carnero

DIVINITY II is a satisfying time travel thriller. I love a good time travel tale and this series from Valiant takes us to some very interesting places. You can well imagine that if Vladimir Putin was ruling over the only superpower on the planet that he’d be quite alright with that. A chilling thought but just the right frame of mind to enjoy this comic. Great script by Matt Kindt and a very kinetic style to the artwork by Trevor Hairsine.

A whisper in Gorby's ear.

A whisper in Gorby’s ear.

We have one rogue character, cosmonaut Myshka, with the potential to shift the balance of power in favor of the Soviet Union that she so dearly misses. Hey, you learn quick that changing history is not exactly a piece of cake. You can’t just whisper into a world leader’s ear, suggest a change of course, and then expect to de-wrinkle a moment in time. Just not gonna happen. Of course, you need a very persistent sort to keep trying and that’s our Myshka. She’s set to give pep talks to everyone from Stalin to Gorbachev. Stay resolute, dudes, Communism is here to stay!

Fun stuff! We’ve seen way too many time travel tales about killing Hitler and saving JFK. That said, I wouldn’t mind a whole series, at least a one-shot issue, dedicated to Jeb Bush going back in time to kill baby Hitler. You remember Jeb Bush, right? Oh, how time flies!

Awesome variant cover by Carmen Carnero.

DIVINITY II #3 is available as of June 22nd. For more details, visit Valiant Entertainment right here.

4 Comments

Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Communism, History, Matt Kindt, Russia, Time Travel, Valiant Entertainment

Graphic Novel Review: JFK: SECRET OPS by Craig Frank

JFK-assassination-graphic-novel-2013

There is something very wrong about following a vengeful JFK in pursuit of his killers but Craig Frank is willing to go there in his graphic novel, “JFK: SECRET OPS.” It is dark humor to be sure. What makes it work is Frank’s unabashed commitment to stay the course. Okay then, giddy up, pardner, cause we’re on a bumpy conspiracy theory-laden crazy ride. Where do I find these unusual works? Well, it ain’t easy but it’s fun.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics, Craig Frank, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, JFK, Kennedy Assassination, Reviews, Satire

JFK Assassination 50 years later and Richard Matheson’s ‘Duel’

Dennis Weaver in Steven Spielberg's "Duel," written by Richard Matheson

Dennis Weaver in Steven Spielberg’s “Duel,” written by Richard Matheson

One of the great writers for “The Twilight Zone,” Richard Matheson, passed away this year. As we observe that fateful date in Dallas, November 22, 1963, I think of how one man created art out of the processing of his emotions from that event. You might find this to be a surprise but “Duel,” the short story about a man fighting for his life against a demonic semi-trailer truck, that went on to become Steven Spielberg’s first major movie, has its origins in the Kennedy assassination. It’s not a direct link. It’s more based on a significantly deep dark feeling of despair and dread.

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under JFK, Kennedy Assassination, Richard Matheson, The Twilight Zone

INTERVIEW: CRAIG FRANK AND JKF SECRET OPS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL

JFK SECRET OPS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Craig Frank

JFK SECRET OPS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Craig Frank

JFK survived the assassination and is out for revenge. That is the premise of Craig Frank’s humorous and thrilling work, JFK SECRET OPS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL. It is currently the subject of a fundraising campaign that runs through May 25. You can visit the campaign HERE.

JFK-Secret-Ops-Craig-Frank

As you’ll see in this video interview, Craig is a down-to-earth guy. He’s very gracious and thoughtful. His idea for this book first took root after a visit to Dealy Plaza and visiting The Sixth Floor Museum. He is a seasoned animator and painter. He has always loved the comics medium and the limitless possibilities of the graphic novel. He comes to this project with the skill and the storytelling sense required for the job.

JFK-Secret-Ops-Kickstarter-2013

As a fellow participant in Kickstarter (I have my own campaign here), I fully appreciate where Craig is now. The timing is just right for his book in more ways than one. It’s the perfect time for him to be taking on such a project. And, it just so happens that we’re observing the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination this year. 50 years later and that event still has the power to haunt, confuse, and strangely fascinate.

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced how appropriate this seemingly “inappropriate” graphic novel really is. It didn’t fully occur to me until after the interview that we can’t lose sight of the fact that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was only human, right or wrong, and the man could be egregiously, horribly, wrong with his treatment of women. What happens is we get caught up in the myth, fostered by powerful interests, run by the Kennedy family, the Democratic party, and, perhaps, the whole damn system that we can only imagine in all its machinations.

There is, of course, the fact of his tragic death that seems to wipe the slate clean for eternity but maybe not exactly. And the fact, and this is even as tragic, is all that was genuinely good about the man. It’s complicated for sure. Give an inch and admit the shortcomings of one leader and look at his lesser rivals swarm to exploit it. All that said, hell yeah, bring the icon down to earth. This graphic novel is a good and healthy thing.

Enjoy the video interview!

Support JFK SECRET OPS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL at Kickstarter right here.

2 Comments

Filed under animation, Comics, graphic novels, Humor, JFK, Kennedy Assassination, Kickstarter, Marilyn Monroe, politics, pop culture, Satire, Thriller