Most presidents have had tantrums.
The presidency is a brutal job. The hours are long. The problems, complicated. A president is expected to know everything from the nuclear triad to the housing of Section 8. They are expected to be immaculately groomed – every hair in its place, no gravy on the tie. If they trip or fall off a bicycle, the world notices and comments, almost certainly disapproving. Every word of them is recorded; unlike the rest of us, they are not allowed to mispronounce names or confuse countries.
But the real source of stress for any president is the near-total lack of control over events coupled with the fact that everyone still blames them for everything that goes wrong.
So it’s not surprising that presidents are losing patience. George Washington, the father of our country, was… known to have a violent temper, which he expressed in the rudest language. At some point in the Revolutionary War, he let his anger take over and began beating his own officers for not wanting to fight the approaching British troops. Only the action of an assistant who grabbed his horse’s bridle and led him away saved Washington from the enemy.
Someone who walked into President Warren G. Harding caught him strangling a government official named Charles Forbes with his bare hands. (Forbes was accused of stealing government money, as were many others in the Harding administration.)
Richard Nixon, also famous for his temper, was caught on tape doing his… much abused young press secretary Ron Ziegler to the press on the tarmac of an airport.
Mostly, though, presidents refrain from physically attacking others and are content with lashing the tongue — so the walls of the White House have heard some pretty intense swearing over the years. As someone who has worked in the Clinton White House for nearly five years, I can attest that President Bill Clinton’s tantrums were like storm clouds: suddenly but quickly passed and forgotten. President Joe Biden has been described as: a man with a “short fuse” known to cut off conversations or hang up people.
Among the presidents, President Barack Obama distinguished himself so hard for curbing his temper and presenting the public with a cool and calm appearance that some thought he was a “anger shortage.” In response, comedian Keegan-Michael Key played a character named Luther, the Anger Translator, who… acted out the angry man in Obama’s head.
And so we come to Trump.
According to the testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson before the Jan. 6 committee, Trump was furious on Tuesday for not being allowed to accompany the crowd to the Capitol during the Electoral College vote counting in 2020. Trump would even be so. angry, she said, that he lunged at a Secret Service agent in his car and tried to grab the wheel. Hutchinson also testified that Trump’s anger at his attorney general’s statement that the election was legitimate was so intense that he threw his lunch against a wall, broke the dish and splattered ketchup — one of several incidents where he broke plates in anger. .
So, given that many of our presidents have been in a bad mood, is Trump really unique? The answer is yes.
Trump and two Secret Service witnesses in his car dispute, through unnamed sources, that he was physically violent on Jan. 6, 2021, as Hutchison described, which she herself acknowledged was second-hand information. Trump herself has also dismissed her accusations about the car ride, as well as her report of throwing his lunch. But what sets Trump’s tantrums apart more than whether or not they were violent is the reason behind it.
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After exhausting all legitimate judging methods, from recounts to lawsuits, Trump had litigated the 2020 election more thoroughly than any election in modern history — and still lost. What the Jan. 6 hearings showed is that key and not-so-important White House officials like Hutchinson (not to mention the majority of the country) understood that. Trump’s maniacal insistence on pursuing what others saw as a lost cause led some in his cabinet, according to revelations at a previous hearing, to have serious discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment.
Trump just couldn’t accept his loss and did everything he could to avoid that reality. The Justice Department will have to decide whether Trump and those who followed him in the path of the uprising are guilty of crimes such as seditious conspiracy. But in the meantime we already know that a new low has been reached. Many presidents have been involved in sex scandals, others have mastered financial corruption. But only Trump has undertaken the peaceful transfer of power — meaning he may never take power again.