CBS journalist John Dickerson has written a new history of the presidency. Naturally, This Morning co-host Tony Dokoupil brought on Dickerson to use The Hardest Job in the World as a way to bash Donald Trump. Dokoupil critiqued, “There's an FDR quote I think we can begin with. He says, ‘I can only go as fast as the people will let me.’ We're in a moment now where it seems the people want to go pretty quickly, and in a very particular direction, and the President in a way is holding them back. Is that typical?”
Apparently Trump is the first president to “hold people back.” Dokoupil moved on to Trump’s apparent affinity for “divisiveness,” wondering, “Divisiveness. There have some hot-button issues that a president might shy away from. This particular president, President Trump, seems to want to push buttons. Is divisiveness, has that always been a hallmark of the office?”
Good thing Barack Obama didn’t offer any divisive policies during his administration. Responding to the question on Trump, Dickerson warned,“While the President doesn't want to move too fast, there is also a problem of moving too slow.”
When he appeared on CBS This Morning last fall, Dickerson blamed a lack of a “common set of facts” and social media that “allows different information” for “destroying institutions” and leading to a possible constitutional crisis in America.
A transcript of the segment is below. Click “expand” to read more.
CBS This Morning
TONY DOKOUPIL: President Trump has been criticized for not delivering a message of unity during the national protests about racism in this country. And this concept of leadership, though, is one of many ways that the presidency has evolved since George Washington took the oath of office. CBS News senior political analyst and 60 Minutes correspondent John Dickerson has a book. It’s called The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency. He spoke with four president as part of his research, including President T rump. And John joins me now. John, good morning. You know, the book is full of some of the best wit and wisdom over the ages about the presidency. Then you add your own wit and wisdom to that. There's an FDR quote I think we can begin with. He says, "I can only go as fast as the people will let me." We're in a moment now where it seems the people want to go pretty quickly, and in a very particular direction, and the President in a way is holding them back. Is that typical?
JOHN DICKERSON: Well — well, you know, I said, you can imagine I spent a lot of time investigating just this question for the book. And presidents kind of have to have a very delicate ear to the public sentiment. They cannot get ahead of the public. No one wants to run up a hill and have nobody behind them. On the other hand, there are times when a President has to frankly run to the front of the parade. That's why most of the social movements in America come from the people. And it's the presidents who catch up. And so while the President doesn't want to move too fast, there is also a problem of moving too slow. And getting that balance right, that's why FDR was so great as a president. Lincoln has an almost identical quote about public sentiment. “With it everything can be done. Without public sentiment, nothing can be done.” The question for President Trump in this current moment is, is he hearing the call from the country? And is he responding in a way that is commensurate with or equal to the challenge of that call? And little response isn't enough. And the response has to hear the call and answer it.
DOKOUPIL: Yeah. And then one more question about the current occupant before we get on to the job itself. Divisiveness -- there have some hot-button issues that a president might shy away from. This particular president, President Trump, seems to want to push buttons. Is divisiveness, has that always been a hallmark of the office?
DICKERSON: Well, divisive in the sense the people that have been unhappy with presidents who are — who they think are doing the wrong thing. But there is a stewardship duty of the job to be the president of the whole country and to speak when – President Trump started his speech at west point, he said, "I come on behalf of the whole country." That's the president's job. You're not president of your base. On the other hand, presidents are both the leader of their party and of the country. But it has traditionally been the job of the president to sew up the country when it breaks apart and to bring people together. Think about Lincoln's address. His second inaugural address. There were assassins in town, Confederate assassins there to kill him. The war was still going on, and his message was “Let's forgive and bind up our wounds.” That is the tradition that presidents have usually tried to meet, that unity tradition.
DOKOUPIL: Well, on the subject of forgiveness, if you are not currently a supporter of president Trump out there in TV land, you might want to give him a break because as you write, Mr. Dickerson, the job has gotten particularly hard. I have a quote here, "The American presidency is in trouble. It is overburdened, misunderstood, and almost impossible job to do." How did it get that way?
DICKERSON: Well, we just kept lumping things on the President's lap. It's always been hard. Presidents have complained about the job since it existed. What's new now, though, and again what I was trying to do in this book was go down to the blueprint of the office, what does the job mean, what do we expect, is it right to expect those things. We've added things on in the national security realm. It's gotten more complex. It's always been a difficult job, but it's gotten more complex.
Threats are now nuclear, cyber, terrorism, pandemics. On the economy, because we're interconnected, the President has to act as an emergency responder on the economy in a way previous presidents haven't. And then because Congress is having -- is no longer a co-equal branch, it sort of the little brother trying to keep up, it puts more things on the President's to-do list while robbing him of a governing partner in Congress. And then we have the partisanship — there's nothing wrong with partisanship. The partisanship of the kind we have now is awful because it locks everything up and freezes everything as opposed to being the useful fighting that's a part of government. And so all of those forces plus social media is a mess, and we end up having public debates hijacked by bad faith partisans as opposed to people acting in the public good. All of those things have lumped together to make a hard job even harder.