Rob Riemen: It’s still for many people unimaginable, but imagine for a moment that Donald Trump will become President of the United States of America. Would it be “the end of American democracy” or the beginning of a refreshment of American democracy?
Roger Berkowitz: One never knows, but I don’t think it will be the end. I mean, I think it somewhat depends on how Donald Trump governs. I mean, one thing I can say is that I don’t think we know very much about Donald Trump, which is one of the things that’s scary about him but also one of the things that’s exciting about him.
You know, I think one of the mistakes people make is that if they want to understand Hitler, they don’t read Hitler. You should read Mein Kampf. A lot of it was in there. So go and read The Art of the Deal, which is the book Donald Trump wrote. It’s not Mein Kampf. It’s not great literature. But I think you can see page by page, step by step, what he’s doing as a Presidential candidate.
It’s a book about a businessman, who has a chip on his shoulder, who wants to make deals because he thinks it’s fun. He actually has fun making deals. And he takes very seriously the fun about bringing people together and saying, “You’re gonna sell this guy that. He’s gonna sell you this. And he’ll sell me this,” and they say no, and he makes it happen, right? Is he a brilliant businessman? I don’t know. He’s lost a lot of money. He’s made a lot of money. He inherited some money. I’m not involved in that; I don’t care.
But I don’t think Donald Trump’s an ideologue. I don’t think he’s a racist. I don’t think we’re going to have a terribly ideologically racist country if Donald Trump is our President. I do think Donald Trump is impulsive, narcissistic, boorish in the sense of being mean and not very high‐class. But we’ve had Presidents like that before. And we’ve survived.
The President that I think Donald Trump will most remind people of if he becomes President is Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson was a general, low‐class, swore, cursed, didn’t dress well… Really not what we think of as a gentleman. And yet he was one of the most powerful and most important Presidents in the history of America. He’s the one who really made America into a democracy.
Prior to Andrew Jackson, America was a constitutional republic, and Jackson started the political parties as real political forces. And he started fundraising. He was the beginning of fundraising for politics in the United States. He was the beginning of a populist, democratically elected President, who just terrified the elites of this country. Terrified them. And hated them, and they hated him. And he did away with the Federal Reserve, the National Bank of the United States, currently the Federal Reserve, against all their objections. When the Supreme Court told him that he couldn’t kick the Indians—the Native Americans—off their land, he said, “Let the Supreme Court and their army stop me.”
He basically governed as a populist, democratic tyrant. And yet he was probably the most popular and democratic president we’ve had. We survive that. My hope is that Trump wouldn’t be that bad and we’d survive him, too. We may actually get some good things from Donald Trump, just like there’s a lot of good things that came out of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. He’s considered one of the most important presidents in the country. He’s on the twenty‐dollar bill.
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