Opinion: How a Textbook in 2067 Might View Donald Trump

Alternate history that the president didn’t make up

President Donald Trump has become increasingly isolated in the White House, with only his Twitter feed for company, Walter Shapiro writes. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)
President Donald Trump has become increasingly isolated in the White House, with only his Twitter feed for company, Walter Shapiro writes. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)
Posted June 7, 2017 at 5:03am

Perspective is nearly impossible when you are living through tumultuous events on a daily basis. But by slightly bending the space-time continuum, this column has exclusively obtained a copy of a 2067 tenth-grade American history textbook entitled “Many Peoples, Many Voices, Many Perspectives.”Turning to the chapter on America after the 2016 election, it was fascinating to discover with 50 years hindsight how everything turned out. Actually, because of a quirk in quantum physics, three versions of the chapter were provided with radically different outcomes. Some excerpts:

The Trump-Pence Years

“…President Trump remained defiant throughout the early summer of 2017. He often rallied his supporters through a primitive form of messaging called Twitter (see “obsolete technologies” on Page 821). Republicans in Congress, fearing the wrath of Trump supporters, avoided a public break with the president, although many (see “Profiles in Courage” page 619) grumbled privately.

Prominent Democrats began advocating impeachment after former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate that the president had pressured him to drop an investigation of a top aide’s rumored ties to Russia. But no leading Republican joined them until Trump’s approval rating plummeted to 27 percent, which was the lowest reading in the Gallup Poll since Richard Nixon registered 24 percent at the time of his resignation.

Still, President Trump had outspoken defenders. They argued that even if Comey’s testimony (and his backup notes) were true, the president had either been joking or did not understand the legal concept of “obstruction of justice.”

But a turning point came in early September when the president announced that he would hold a four-part White House signing ceremony for his tax-cut bill, his replacement for Obamacare, his infrastructure plan and his immigration legislation. As the president wrote on Twitter, “No world leader, not even Putin, has ever done so much so fast to Make America Great Again.”

At a press conference, a New York Times journalist told the president that no such legislation had ever passed Congress. Trump, in characteristic fashion, denounced the reporter as “a liar offering fake news.” On Capitol Hill, both the Republican House speaker and Senate majority leader declined to comment on the president’s charges.

Then …”

The Trump Years (2017-2033)

“…Even presidents who are later acclaimed by historians as “great” suffer through low ebbs. Examples include Franklin Roosevelt after his failed 1937 court-packing plan and Ronald Reagan following the 1986-87 Iran-contra scandal.

So it was for Donald Trump in June 2017 before former FBI Director James Comey’s controversial testimony before the Senate. Democrats had hoped that Comey would prove that the president had obstructed justice in his efforts to protect former national security advisor (and later Secretary of State) Michael Flynn. Instead, Comey demonstrated that he simply had failed to understand President Trump’s successful private-sector leadership style.

Buoyed by Trump’s rising poll numbers (he crossed the 50-percent threshold in the Gallup Poll in July), Republicans in Congress rallied to pass a $1.8 trillion tax cut and a complete rewrite of Barack Obama’s failing health care plan (see “Democratic overreach” on page 799).

Even the liberal New York Times said in an editorial, “Despite our long-time skepticism about his tactics, President Trump has proven to be a surprisingly successful salesman on Capitol Hill.”

But the major breakthrough in the Trump administration came when Jared Kushner (husband of Ivanka Trump, later the 46th president) orchestrated a White House conference on Middle Eastern peace. Despite the vigorous, but misguided, opposition from the foreign-policy establishment…”

Muddling Through (2017-2021)

“…Unlike a parliamentary democracy, the American political system lacks the ability to remove a discredited president on a vote of “no confidence.” Donald Trump, who is now ranked by historians as just below James Buchanan and Warren Harding, survived for four years as president more out of his stubborn refusal to resign than from an outpouring of popular support.

American politics during the Trump era was defined by bitter partisanship. Republicans and Democrats in Congress could not even agree on simple measures to keep the government functioning, which is why the United States briefly defaulted on the national debt in late summer 2017.

These deep divisions partly explain why Democrats could never win significant GOP support to seriously pursue impeachment.

The explosive June 2017 Senate testimony by former FBI Director James Comey convinced many legal scholars that President Trump’s conduct in the Michael Flynn matter was “obstruction of justice.” But no prominent Republican ever publicly agreed.

With Trump’s approval rating never dipping below 35 percent, American politics entered into a period of nasty stalemate.

Republicans, divided between pro-business moderates and ideological conservatives, failed to pass any major legislation during the two years that they controlled Congress. While the Democrats won a two-vote House majority after the 2018 elections, efforts to aggressively investigate the Trump administration found little to reshape popular opinion.

Yet the enduring lesson from the second decade of the 21st century is that America can survive a mediocre and inattentive president.

Despite a brief recession after the national debt crisis, the economy continued on its upward trajectory. State government, particularly in California, became an engine of innovation in sharp contrast to the paralysis in Washington. And the serious news media, once economically threatened, entered into the 2020s with increasing public credibility as Americans turned against dubious sources of information.

It is also telling that every president after Trump came into office with lengthy governmental experience, beginning with …”