Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of American Exceptionalism


26. Theodore Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt was once so famous that he could have replaced George Washington on the one dollar bill.  He was a superstar–the first of the great president-celebrities.  He was so much more than just a political animal.  Calvin Coolidge, a few years after Roosevelt died, commissioned that great stone flagrance,  carved into the side of a mountain: Mount Rushmore.  These are the faces of some of our great presidents, people who truly helped change the world: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and TR himself, square and keen-eyed.  This is the adoration with which Theodore Roosevelt once commanded.

In the vast and sprawling library of great Theodore Roosevelt biographies there are literally masterpieces.  The best is Edmund Morris’ masterful trilogy (especially the first volume, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780375756788&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used –about his early years).    (Abebooks.com is the best used bookstore in the world, because it gathers sellers from all over the world.)

Then there is Mornings on Horseback, by the great David McCullough, which also tells of young Teddy making a name for himself in the world. https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&cm_sp=SearchF-_-home-_-Results&an=&tn=mornings+on+horseback&kn=&isbn=McCullough is a warm and wonderful story teller who can depict triumph and tragedy just as well as any writer I have ever read.

We can learn why they named a bear after him, alongside scenes of breathtaking bravery and cowardice, and other adventures details the brutalities of early 20th Century America.  We read about the great blood-thirst of late 19th/early twentieth century politics, which sort of gives birth to a new style myth of vampires–  https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=22851548273&searchurl=kn%3Dbram%2Bstoker%26sortby%3D17&cm_sp=snippet-_-srp1-_-title9  –the parasite in human form.  This is no coincidence.  The nineteen century ended with the great freedom of evil in a forward-looking world.  Mount Rushmore tells us that all our great heroes have gone to hiding in the walls, banished to some obscure state, staring at a cave wall for all time, until the sphinxes finally wear themselves away . . .

H. W. Brands, of whom I am generally not a fan (The writing is too basic.  Factually interesting, perhaps, but learn how to tell a fucking story!), has his best work in the gargantuan TR–   https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?cm_sp=SearchF-_-topnav-_-Results&kn=h.+w.+brands+TR&sts=t  –all praise due to just how interesting was the life of Theodore Roosevelt.  Great little juicy nuggets of gossip, alongside an impressive command of the story.

There are other peripheral and incidental studies of Teddy Roosevelt’s life–  https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?cm_sp=SearchF-_-topnav-_-Results&kn=the+river+of+doubt&sts=t  https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?cm_sp=SearchF-_-topnav-_-Results&kn=the+bully+pulpit+doris+goodwin&sts=t  –are compelling dramas of accomplishment and overcoming fears, or falling prey to them.  Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit (listed above) is probably the most relevant book on this list for some clarity on a modern phenomenon.  It’s not the best book on the subject (outstanding otherwise), but it talks about a runaway media that is especially notable for its discussion of how this began an erosion of society.

There is little effort involved in telling the majestic and spiritually entertaining  stories of Theodore Roosevelt’s life.  Ask the man himself–https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9781931082662&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used  https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9781931082655&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used  –he is a marvelous writer.  He was the sort of stylist that Ernest Hemingway spent his entire life trying to match, with the desperate aggression of a wild punch.

Theodore Roosevelt certainly is an interesting man–a gentleman of great accomplishment and someone more ready than perhaps all of his predecessors to take on the challenges of high office.  He became the youngest man ever to become president upon the death of William McKinley.  He was a metronome.  He was the most famous man in the world.

Here is where I step backwards and acknowledge the marvelous success with which the man’s legend has been spread.  By the time you get beyond Taft, you have Wilson and Harding developing opposing cults of personality.  Taft was a fat, grumbling pessimist who later became an even greater power in his post-presidential years.  Wilson was a snob who led us into World War One.  A tremendously competent man, who managed things pretty fairly, for the time, and seemed to not want to harm anyone.  He ended his time a very sick man, rumors and conspiracy theories abounding throughout the nation just as the suffragists were causing all that trouble, and no one was allowed to drink anymore.  People blamed the wife for all of the sins of her husband and the larger society in general.  Things were going wrong and it was all her fault!  Opposing ideologies grew and became stronger and stronger and more and more fanatical.

We moved into the 1920s into an age of empire.  Crime was good business and no one, ever, has been better than America is at taking things than any nation in history.  And the president?  Harding? Harding had his position bought by giant corporations submitting their vast fortunes into the government in order to get certain laws passed.  Harding was a patsy, a mere crook.  This was how American entered the 20th century, filled with all those regrets and dreams.

After that–the post war years, we kind of sat back and relaxed with the soft-spoken hand of Calvin Coolidge, and the tight, furious aggression of Herbert Hoover, simultaneous with the rise of German Nazis.

Then come Teddy’s name sake, who has a fascinating saga of his own to tell–we have wealth, scandal, love, great success, horrible tragedy, war, defeat, disease and triumph.  We can see the growing cracks to the surface of international warfare.  Sides are taken.  Many forsake the nation in the name of keeping everyone strong and keeping everything safe, and fuck your freedom of speech.  Fuck your civil rights.  We have a war out there that is temporarily delayed.   We start by turning on ourselves.  The ravages of nature can’t be all that far behind (see #s 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 and #32).

I will leave it for my advertisements to accomplish something worth knowing in a broken age of prewar division.  Please visit https://www.abebooks.com/?cm_sp=TopNav-_-servlet-_-Logo  –to discover how the media made Roosevelt’s presidency much larger than it ever would have been, with the disguise of no real public forum to exchange ideas on what is going on in the world.

After Teddy America sank into the political and economic ‘swamp’ that is gets worse day after day in our shared world.  It is a sign, the beginning.  Here comes War.  War.  Maybe some failures can make a name for themselves in the gray, new world.



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