Robert Dallek: “The fish rots from the head”Historians in the News
tags: Robert Dallek, Trump
“Politicians lie, but this is different,” says a historian who studies presidential history and estimates the Trump administration easily ranks among the most corrupt in American history.
Robert Dallek is a presidential historian and the author of several books, including his latest about FDR titled Franklin Roosevelt: A Political Life. Writing recently for the Guardian, Dallek lamented the “disaster” that is the Trump presidency but also reminded readers that American democracy is surprisingly resilient and has survived far worse.
Despite Trump’s promises to “drain the swamp,” the first year of his administration has been plagued by resignations, investigations, and scandals. Dallek estimates that historical examples of corruption, like that of the Warren G. Harding administration, don’t hold a candle to how Trump and his people have conducted themselves in the White House.
History will judge Trump, and it will not be kind.
I spoke with Dallek about the history of corruption in American presidential politics and why he sees the Trump administration as “a low point in our history.” What makes Trump exceptionally dangerous, Dallek argues, is how effortlessly he lies and what kind of tone he has set in this White House.
“The fish rots from the head,” he told me, “and the stench of this administration starts at the very top.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for clarity, appears below.
You’ve studied a lot of presidents and White Houses. Is the corruption and the lying in this administration unique in your mind?
This administration is a low point in our history. We’ve been through scandals before, going as far back as the Grant administration in the 19th century and the Harding administration in the early 20th century. Presidents have been accused of bribery and shady gift-giving. So it’s not entirely unique to see scandals subsume a White House. ...
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