Doris Kearns Goodwin Puts Trump's Health Care Defeat In Historical Perspective

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President Trump at a meeting on health care at the White House on March 13, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
President Trump at a meeting on health care at the White House on March 13, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Last week's failure to pass a health care reform bill was a major blow to Donald Trump's young presidency. Author Doris Kearns Goodwin (@DorisKGoodwin) puts the setback into historical perspective with Here & Now's Robin Young.

Interview Highlights

On the Republican health care bill's defeat

"I think there's no question that it is a huge problem that's been created for this young presidency of President Trump. The whole idea when a person becomes president is, 'What are your priorities?' And I remember [former Speaker of the House] Tip O'Neill said something, 'You gotta dance with the person you brought to the dance,' and what I would have assumed would have been the first priority of business would have been infrastructure and possibly tax cuts. The infrastructure could have gotten the Democrats aboard, the tax cut might have been a bargaining thing, which is what the Republicans really wanted. But by going for this crazy, difficult, complicated problem first — without knowing you had your own party behind you — I think it's just gonna cast a shadow on everything else."

On historical precedence for the bill's defeat, and Trump's presidency

"I think we've never had in history before a president who had absolutely no political experience, or military experience. So, that it worked during that campaign because he ran a brilliant campaign in some ways, reaching out to people who felt left behind by the Democratic party, but then the difference between campaigning and governing is so huge. The fact that President Trump didn't stop doing his tweets, which allowed him during the campaign to get a lot of coverage, and he loved them. But then the negative tweets I think just took and sucked up the news, even in these last weeks we were talking much more about wiretapping and Russia much more than that very health care bill that should have been the priority of all the messaging for the last few weeks.

"... I'm sure that there have been times in history that have been worse than this. In fact, I was on a plane the other day and I was telling a woman, who was so concerned about the whole anxiety and fear today, and I said, 'Oh look, it was much worse in the 1850s. I mean the obstructionism of the people in the South versus what was going on in the North, and they brought guns into the Senate chamber, and the guy from the South hit the Massachusetts senator over the head with a cane.' And she said, 'Yeah, but that ended up in the Civil War with 600,000 dead,' so I said, 'Oh I better think of a better example.'"

"By going for this crazy, difficult, complicated problem first — without knowing you had your own party behind you — I think it's just gonna cast a shadow on everything else."

Doris Kearns Goodwin, on how the GOP health care bill's defeat will impact President Trump's agenda

On which period in American history best reflects the current climate

"I think the 1890s actually are the best parallel for what's happening now. Not simply because of imperialism and what was happening abroad, but rather the industrial revolution had created much of the same emotional anxieties that technological revolution and globalization have created today. People were moving from farms to cities. There was a lot inventions going on -- the telephone, the telegraph — a lot of people felt life was speeding up in ways they didn't know. There was tons of immigration coming in from abroad. And it was a time of demagoguery and populism, but luckily for the country, much of that energy got channeled through Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive movement, into modern, rational reform that took care of some of the problems of the industrial era: factory exploitation, women and children working too many hours, railroad regulation and food and drug regulation, so that there was a sense that the problems were being addressed, even though a lot of anger was still out there."

On how she would approach writing about the Trump presidency

"I think the biggest question still will be: can the man who campaigned — and we must say campaigned effectively — and tweeted in the middle of the night things that somehow didn't turn off his supporters during the day, can that man realize that once in office, words matter? I keep arguing that just like Lincoln had hot letters that he would write to people when he was angry with them and he would put them aside and never send them hoping he would cool down and never need to show his anger, that President Trump should have a fake Twitter account. When he's happy he can talk to everybody, when he's mad it doesn't go anywhere. Because you can't allow those negative emotions, I think, to rule and change the agenda of the day. A president's greatest power, in some ways, is to set the agenda and too often these tweets have set the agenda for him, and maybe not even his meaning to, but because he couldn't control back the anger that he felt."

This article was originally published on March 27, 2017.

This segment aired on March 27, 2017.



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