Peter H. Brown
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A Look at Three Unexpected Presidential Winners

A Look at Three Unexpected Presidential Winners
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Donald Trump. Photo: Gage Skidmore


The resiliency of American democracy and its institutions is reinforced by the outcomes of these three unexpected winners.


Harry Truman, 1948

The New York Times morning edition next day headline read “DEWEY defeats TRUMAN!” Later that day it was retracted. Harry Truman, Vice President to Franklin Roosevelt, was a purely political choice and he turned out to be an accomplished President (ending World War II, making the tough decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, the G.I. Bill, initiating the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, and managing America’s transition from war to peace). Many Americans feared Truman was incompetent. He proved them wrong, and was cheered on by “Give’em Hell, Harry!”


Ronald Reagan, 1980

People feared the smooth talking “movie actor” and former sports announcer, who surprisingly managed to become governor of California. He came across as a rigid conservative idealist, who would bring an end to the successes of Roosevelt’s New Deal. His conservative “Reaganomics” agenda, however, cut inflation and stimulated growth, as he took a tough Cold War stand against the Soviet Union, which led to its collapse. His famous quotes resonate today: “Get the government off the backs of the people,” and “Mr. Gorbachev tear down that wall.” Today his revered by the Republican Establishment.


Photo: Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump, 2024

Despite his brash and unpredictable manner, Trump surprised everyone with his appeal to the forgotten rural/suburban “Blue Collar” America, and to those fed up with “gridlock” in Washington. Will Trump be another Harry Truman? Perhaps because he appears to be an outsider and a fighter. Another Ronald Reagan? Not likely, but he will probably shake things up in D.C. like never before. Eventually, that may have a positive outcome. He could also self-destruct? Let’s not wait and see. Let’s stay involved!

Conclusion: One inexperienced or incompetent winner cannot wreck our democracy, and Presidents unusually rise to the challenges.

Finally, whether it is a real estate deal or a personality contest, let’s remember that Trump insists on winning — whatever it takes to win, to reach that lofty goal. Making a mess out of the presidency is not “winning.”

Now catapulted onto the national and international stage, let’s hope that winning means building a stronger economy, strengthening American values and influence around the world, and somehow rebuilding our broken infrastructure. Let’s hope that it means fixing our failing neighborhoods, lifting families out of poverty, eliminating bureaucratic waste, getting tough with failing programs, increasing justice and opportunities for all, and eventually unifying our diverse populace. This would be a big win for Trump, particularly reinstating the American Dream. This is not out of the realm of possibility. Can Trump possibly lead a national transformation? It will be a rocky road, but maybe?

Like Harry Truman, Trump may surprise us. Given his character, proving his naysayers wrong may be a powerful motivator. This little discussed scenario could be our real hope in a time of uncertainty and unexpected change.

Let’s then have faith in the American spirit, that has served our democracy so well for so long, to shape a bright future in this time of extraordinary uncertainty.

Finally, Pedestrian Pete, for now, puts worrying about presidential support for “walkable urbanism” on the backburner. We have loftier concerns, and fears – an even more divided nation, antagonizing our global partners, undoing essential global alliances, mass deportations of Latinos, mounting pollution and global warming, the widening wealth gap, and the dreaded nuclear red button. Let the dust settle, and surely we will get back to making our cities and towns wonderful livable places of a new found civility, and of quality of place. Walkable urbanism will rise again!