George Washington was the polar opposite of Donald Trump

tags: George Washington, presidential history, Trump

Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a professor of history and public affairs. He is the author and editor of nine books, most recently "The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office." 

Donald Trump is the first president to fully exploit the presidency for personal profit. Other presidents have benefited financially from their time in office, but none have run a business and driven resources to their business while serving the public.

In a cabinet meeting on Monday, Trump claimed that our first president, George Washington, had done similar things. Trump concocted a very strange image of Washington possessing "two desks ... a presidential desk and a business desk." That is completely false. Washington had only one desk and he did not run a business or profit from his time as president. Washington would reject the self-dealing at the core of Trump's daily behavior.

I have spent more than a decade studying George Washington, among other American leaders. Our first president was far from perfect, but he devoted himself to the public interest and he rejected all forms of personal aggrandizement in office. He refused fancy titles when offered, he lived modestly, and he often paid his own expenses. Washington kept his pronouncements on policy and other matters to a minimum, giving him a somewhat aloof image. He always carried himself with dignity, seeking to raise the quality of political discussion in the country. He was a man of considered wisdom, not a know-it-all.


Above all, he made certain that the early presidency was "stamped with wisdom and virtue."

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