“If you would only recognize that life is hard, things would be so much easier for you.”
These rather frank words were spoken not by the Cheshire Cat from “Alice in Wonderland” but by Louis D. Brandeis, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court between 1916 and 1939. The blunt opinion expressed by Brandeis might take on some special significance in light of President Donald Trump’s recent chat with reporters as to how he thought the presidency would be “easier” than his former life of reality television, a gold-soaked tower, and promoting the art of the deal. In the interview, Trump also said, “I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life.”
In the aftermath of the interview, a great many people around the world were shocked, amused or angered (or all three) by Trump’s view that the job still considered to be the world’s most coveted and difficult, a job that can involve sending young Americans to death or to grievous injury or making decisions that can hurtle the economy into the netherworld or the beginnings of prosperity, might be easier than firing apprentices, running a beauty pageant or heading a privately held real estate organization.
What would predecessors say?
One wonders what past presidents, none of whom seems to have gone on the record as thinking the presidency might be easier than being an elected official or supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe (Eisenhower), might think of Trump’s musings. Wartime presidents might be especially interesting to query.
Historians have long held strong suspicions that Abraham Lincoln suffered from some form of depression, an affliction that must have been extraordinarily hard to maneuver without modern psychiatric treatment during the ravages of the Civil War that Andrew Jackson was not able to prevent. One might imagine that Lincoln, who appeared at least 10 or 15 years older after four punishing years in office but still managed to keep most of his hair without a combover, might have something particularly wry to say to Trump. The hypertension suffered by Franklin Roosevelt was no doubt made far worse by the need to pull the country out of the Great Depression and then through World War II. Roosevelt’s tastes for martinis and a buoyant, cigar-clenching countenance, along with sage words about fearing fear, were meant to convey determination and resolve during incredibly tough times that did not seem to include much light at any tunnel’s end. Not ease. Not a longing for any former life.
‘Ought to be pretty easy’ traps
While most former presidents and ordinary citizens do realize the American presidency is a job that should be sought and held only by those who will regard it as the exhausting, sobering, and ultimate mental and physical challenge that it is, it’s also true that far too many of us everyday people neglect to employ enough investigation before entering into situations that should require much serious planning and thought. Far too many of us fall into the “this ought to be pretty easy” traps posed by many of the world’s looming opportunities and bright, shiny objects.
For instance, many of us pursue and somehow obtain jobs that markedly differ from or exceed our personal and professional desires and capabilities. If we’re lucky, we leave those jobs before they leave us or even destroy us. How many people get married simply because they are enthralled with the idea of a spectacular wedding or the prospect of being attached to a (pick one or several) rich, famous, handsome, powerful, protective, beautiful, or gullible person? High divorce levels indicate that marriage is indeed not always easier than remaining single or being married to a different person. Or having more realistic views of the hardships as well as the joys of marriage itself. In the final analysis, presidents and ordinary people may not differ that very much. And too many of us don’t realize that life is hard. If we would only admit as much, things might be much easier to bear.
If it were possible for the president to be soothed by a peer, perhaps another president who faced great adversity while championing unvarnished talk, he might wish to consider counsel from one who tried to help the disenfranchised but in the end, was shamed out of office by the millions who did not support a vicious war that hung about him like several dead albatrosses. That president, Lyndon B. Johnson, once said “the presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.”
Because, in the end, the presidency is hard. So is life.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, formerly lived in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”
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