Trump is 'lightning rod' but TCC professor says U.S. has been through this before

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20 made some Americans happy and hopeful, while others are disappointed and rallying against him.
“I think the country is clearly divided.  There are times it has been divided before. There has also been extreme rhetoric before,” said Professor John Fry, chairman of the history department at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights.
Fry sees some parallels between the current situation and the responses to the elections of Barack Obama eight years ago and Ronald Reagan in 1980. But the professor, who teaches classes on American history, said there are similarities with races in more distant times.
“FDR was called a fascist and a communist. Lincoln was called ugly and all sorts of things,” said Fry. Indeed, according to a 2009 issue of Hallowed Ground magazine, Lincoln was lambasted in an editorial in The Salem (Illinois) Advocate, basically his hometown newspaper, while he was making his way by train from Springfield to Washington for his first inauguration in 1861.
In part, the editorial states, "The illustrious Honest Old Abe has continued during the last week to make a fool of himself and to mortify and shame the intelligent people of this great nation. His speeches have demonstrated the fact that although originally a Herculean rail splitter and more lately a whimsical story teller and side splitter, he is no more capable of becoming a statesman, nay, even a moderate one, than the braying ass can become a noble lion. His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world. The European powers will despise us because we have no better material out of which to make a president.”
 Some of those descriptions sound very similar to things said about Obama and Trump.
“People are worried about very basic issues, about life, about government. They are called culture wars, but I think of them as cultural shouting matches. These have been going on for the past 25 years or more. But it’s been peaceful for the most part,” said Fry.
He said the current situation is different than generations ago because, “as the federal government gets more powerful, the election for the president gets more important. We now have this lightning rod [to direct anger at].”  
“Now, the Internet allows people to say whatever they want. There are pros and cons to that. There are a lot of interactions on computers but people are less able to talk to each other in person. It is not good practice. You just type in your 140 characters and send. We now have a president who does that too.”
“No one expected (Trump’s election) to happen. At first, it was a big shock. In a place like Trinity, we get students from a lot of backgrounds, from Chicago and other cities and suburbs, and rural areas of the Midwest.  People have different opinions. We tried to provide space here for students to talk with others who don’t already agree with them. And it has worked out. The intention is to allow people to say what they want. The nice thing is, we try to do it with Christian love,” said Fry.
 “We had a similar situation eight years ago. It looks like a lot of Obama voters voted for Trump this time. Not because they liked Trump, but to vote against Hillary Clinton,” said the professor.
Fry said that because President Trump does not come from a traditional political background, there are more questions than usual with a new president.
“The thing is, we don’t know what he will be able to accomplish,” said Fry, because getting things done will require working with both parties.
He noted that even though Republicans now have control of the White House and majorities in both the House and Senate, it might not be as simple as it looks. “Donald Trump, during the campaign, didn’t show any willingness to listen to the people in his own party who opposed him.”
Despite the uncertainty, Fry said he is optimistic looking ahead to the next four years.
“I am a Christian and I teach at a Christian school. So I am always optimistic because God is always in control,” he said. “If people are unhappy, I would just advise them to get involved locally in politics or join organizations working on the issues you feel strongly about,” said the professor.
“One of the great things about living here is, we have the freedom to assemble and the ability to make our voices heard. If people don’t think government is listening to them, they can get involved locally to get people they want elected,” Fry said.