For the past few months I’ve been driving to a class a few times a week. Rather than listening to the radio, I’ve immersed myself in a podcast, Presidential. Lillian Cunningham of the Washington Post began hosting this weekly broadcast 44 weeks before the recent election. She intended November’s historical event to coincide with her final episode which, I believe, turned out to be quite a surprise to her.
I am only up to Dwight Eisenhower, though I admit that I cheated and jumped ahead to hear the episode on Donald Trump. What have I learned? I’ve certainly learned about presidents like Chester Arthur who existed only on the periphery of my historical knowledge. I’ve learned interesting factoids on better known presidents like Abraham Lincoln. I’ve gotten a view of the sweep of American history through the eyes of the executive branch. Mostly what I’ve learned though, is how many hills and valleys, tragedies and triumphs, twists and turns have dotted our past. Personal tragedy, illness and assassination along with national and international events and well or poorly chosen appointees helped frequently to make presidents’ achievements differ greatly from the expectations that existed prior to their elections.