What Would George Washington Think?
In a rare interview with the original president (who by the way got 100% of the electoral college vote), George Washington opens up about Trump and the general state of the union.
I had a dream.
There I was on the set of my my own talk show, and in the guest chair was the original president.
George Washington hit his peak when you could send a first-class letter using a three-cent stamp with his face on it. The polls show that Washington hasn't stood the test of time. Gone from the charts and from our hearts, in his time he was number one at everything. Real groundbreaking stuff. Washington, whose sales are slumping, is still one of only four Americans to make it onto the side of Mount Rushmore.
Most commentators and experts agree that America wouldn't be as it is, if George Washington hadn't been born. We owe him a debt of gratitude as the only American who has a state named after him. But his fame has shrunk like the value of the dollar on which his face is seen. Journalistic debunkers and revisionist historians have further diminished Washington's importance.
For those of you anticipating a progressive president who confirms the current concerns over the Trump presidency, you might be surprised. Some of his views were even more extreme than the current administration. Perhaps it is true, that Trump has a bit in common with our founding father.
I found Washington to be honest to a fault. But he did shed light on his original intensions as the founding father as well as the reality of running the country back in his day. Some things never change.
Frank White: Thank you for coming on my show. Why have you been so reluctant to grant interviews these days?
Washington: The media. Same as Trump. I've been taken out of context and badly distorted, look at what's left of my image. Who am I today? I don't want to say anything against any of my successors—at least not most of them—but I resent being depicted as an amiable, muzzy-headed chairman-of-the-board type. I'm not taking anything away from Trump, but by the time he came to office being the commander in chief of the army had become an office job, and I've been thrown in with that image. In my day generals got shot at, but we don't get any credit for that.
You feel you're not getting your due, general?
Look around you, Lincoln has a beautiful memorial and I bet Trump will build his while he is still in office. Madison's got some very nice stuff—not that I'd take anything away from Madison, Jimmy's a nice boy, a nice boy. And Jefferson, he's got everything going for him. He's on the five dollar bill, and I'm stuck on the one. The modern-day editorial writers and statesmen are always talking about the Jeffersonian tradition. When did you ever see the media discuss the Washingtonian tradition? They stick up a big, ugly, marble phallic symbol for me and forget me.
Isn't that what always happens to heroes? Aren't you suffering an adoration backlash?
That's not how we did it in my day. Year after year, decade after decade, there are jokes about my teeth. They're having prestigious seminars at the universities about Hamilton and Jefferson, and I have antique dealers using my name to sell beds. Much like Trump, I am more of a brand than a president these days.
General, there's a lot of discussion about the two-party system's being in trouble…
A good thing, too, when we set this thing up, we didn't want any two-party system. We didn't want any parties. That's another thing. They're always putting words in my mouth, so to speak. The media. They say things like, "Oh, it's awful the two-party system is falling apart. What would George Washington think?" Well, I think good riddance to bad shit. Forget the parties. Next time, just pick the best person, and we wouldn't be in this situation.
How are we going to do that without having political parties, general?
Do it the way we set it up. The people vote for the electors—the members of the electoral college—and they pick the president. That's how I was elected.
You mean you think the electors should pick anybody they happen to consider the best person for the job?
I certainly do. Otherwise, you run the risk of majority rule, and you don't want that, do you?
Isn't that awfully elitist, General Washington?
Of course it's elitist. The elite, the best, isn't that who you want to govern? I don't understand you moderns. You say you're against elitism, but actually the political system in this country, democrat or republican has taken a big turn toward elitism over the last few decades. Perhaps it is because the nation got too comfortable with mediocrity. Then you complain. How are the majority of people in a big nation with such diversity in the states going to know enough to be able to pick the best man? It's hard enough for the people to select wise electors from their own community, men and women of vision and influence who're in a position to know who might be the best president. That's the way we set it up. But you contemporary global citizens, you have elections in which you vote for perfect strangers. That's ridiculous. I don't know where you got your ideas about government, but you didn't get them from me.
As the Founding Father, don't you think we're carrying out what you and the other members of the founding family had in mind? We're fighting for freedom and democracy the way you did. And we're fighting against things like secrecy in government, you know, governmental tyranny.
Democracy. I'm against it. Secrecy in government! I'm for it. You can't run a government out in the open. It won't work. I shudder to think what would have happened if we'd tried to write the Constitution of the United States of America in public. We'd still be in there arguing if everybody in Philadelphia had known what was going on. There would have been petitions and protests and demonstrations and whatnot. Keep it secret until you get it done, and then announce it. That's how we wrote your Constitution. It was a closed room—no media, no jokes.
But Jefferson said that a free press was the best.
Tommy Jefferson, Tommy Jefferson, I don't know what you people see in him. He was a flibbertigibbet. Lots of talk—he always loved the French, you know—starting projects and never completing them. A bright fellow, but undisciplined. He died broke. Didn't have a dime because he didn’t have a shred of follow-through. He used to say a lot of wild things about democracy until they made him president. I think they did it to shut him up. You didn't hear any more about democracy or openness in government when he was in office.
What do you think about the imperial presidency? Aren't you shocked at today's presidential pomp and panoply compared with the rustic, republican simplicity of the early days of our government?
I was always a man for an elegant party, used to host lovely balls. The candles and the crystal and the silver plate and the footmen in silk britches. What's wrong with that? I like gold colors on uniforms. That's something your fellow, Trump does with his name, curtains and I am told toilets. I don't understand why you don't have nicer uniforms. Your generals don't wear feathers, and your admirals don't wear lace, and they all walk around in those dreadful short haircuts that make them look like felons and transportees to a Georgia penal colony.
General, are you saying that you're in favor of the imperial presidency? That's unbelievable. You're supposed to be a revolutionary! One of the criticisms people make of America today is that we've lost your revolutionary spirit.
I lost my own revolutionary spirit. I lost it the day I was sworn in as president, but I suppose I shouldn't be saying that.
Let's go off the record for a moment here. See, this one-dollar-bill thing just got to me. Like that photo thing on inauguration day did to Trump. It was all right at first, back in the days when people used to say "sound as a dollar." Then I had some pride in it. A dollar was a lot of money then, but with inflation well, year after year I've seen the purchasing power of the dollar diminish. Every month when the government comes out with a new set of cost-of-living statistics, I'm less of a man.
Don't give up so easily, general. Where's the old Valley Forge spirit?
Valley Forge spirit! The place is overrun with souvenir stands. I've learned that a man who gets his name on television gets into trouble. The media. If it isn't the journalists, it's the debunking historians. Look at what they've done to Franklin. Investigated him, printing all those things about his sex life. And then there was Nixon and his shit. Clinton is famous for one thing and Trump will be remembered for too many.
Do you have a message for your modern American great-great-great-grandchildren?
What do I have to say to your times? Nothing. It's the image thing again. Nobody’ll listen to me: The cherry tree; never tell a lie.
Come again, general?
How was I to know what was going to happen to the dollar? I guess you don't understand what I'm talking about.
Frankly, no, Sir
When I first hired Tom Paine, a long time ago, he cooked up the cherry-tree story as part of the public-relations campaign. It went over very well, the old cherry tree did, but people were different then. They wanted heroes. I was very popular, but now it makes me look naive. A hundred years ago people looked up to a president who never told a lie. Today? A man with my reputation is considered unfit for public office. I want you to put in this interview that I do lie, that I always lied, that my word could never be depended on. I want to look powerful. You have to depict me in terms that Americans seem to appreciate now.
How can we do that, general? You are pretty well typecast, you know.
I can put certain documents into your hands; they would be sensational discoveries, conclusively showing that the picture of George Washington as an obedient, respectful, hardworking lad is a slander perpetrated by enemies of the state. Call them something like the Cherry-Tree Tapes. That should increase their value, and I'd like you to get a little something out of this.
What, for instance, would these documents reveal?
What would they reveal? At last the full, true story of the cherry-tree incident. An over two-hundred-year cover-up exposed. You would hear about little George Washington and his father in the garden that day. There would be a few gaps to give the thing a degree of authenticity, but if you listen carefully, you will be able to hear Mr. Washington say to his son, "Son, put down that hatchet, and don't give me any of your lies. Did you or did you not cut that cherry tree down?" And then you would hear little me say, "Back off, and stay off my case, or I'm going to take this hatchet and cut off your balls."
Wow! You're right, general, that ought to make you recognizable to contemporary Americans.
Without too much trouble, I think I could put something together about my signing a treaty with the Indians and then stealing their land. That would show firmness of purpose and the resolve to dabble in the internal affairs of other nations if it increases American power. We could bring out that old quote about "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."
Surely, general, you're not suggesting that.
We have to take the world as it is, not as we want it to be. Sometimes that means we have to do unpleasant things, wrong-seeming things. But just take me, George Washington, as your example, and remember my nighttime sneak attack against the British on Christmas Eve.
Pretty heavy, general.
Wouldn't you say, though, that this approach would give me an aura of power? I think it would do a lot for me, but I don't want you to tell Mrs. Washington. She's even more of a "then" person than I am. Mrs. Washington admires gentlemen, men with good manners who practice courtesy and hide any roughness in their character or mode of deportment. We must not discuss the "new" Washington in front of her. It would be unbelievable to her that your contemporary men of public life would boast how rough and tough they are. In our time it was assumed that a gentleman was a courageous and spirited man who had no need to affect the manners and speech of a Donald Trump, to reassure themselves and others that they are worthy to command high enterprises.
Of course, there are episodes in my career that you could play up to make me look tough, ruthless, and pragmatic. Yes, pragmatic, a word I’ll take to mean indicating a willingness to kill without compunction. Why don't you do a story showing the parallels between Trump's battles with just about everyone, and my crushing the Whiskey Rebellion? I showed leadership on that one, When those people wouldn't pay their federal taxes in Pennsylvania, I called the army out and made them do it. I'd skip the part about Hamilton wanting to hang the leaders of those miscreants and my pardoning them. Just between us, I think I was justified. We had a different view about taking human life from the one you have. We did have capital punishment, and you don't. But somehow your government kills more people without capital punishment than we did with it. Anyhow, I fear if the public realized that I pardoned the Whiskey Rebels, it would be taken as evidence of weakness on my part, and I would be branded an appeaser, you know, as someone too softhearted to understand that the failure to take the harshest measures merely invites aggression.
No, general, you don't want to look permissive. The Whiskey Rebellion could, if it's handled right, establish you as a strong law 'n' order man, but there are certain other qualities we look for in our presidents nowadays. For example, general, are you sincere?
Well, yes. I am if you mean honest, but don't tell anybody. We're trying to get rid of the cherry-tree image.
There's a difference between being truthful and being sincere. We don't expect our presidents to tell the truth. Nobody actually believes a word out of Trump's mouth. But he does, and that seems to be the point.
I sincerely don't understand what you're talking about.
At a press conference, can you come across as a sincere liar?
As a powerfully motivated, deeply concerned, sensitive human being in touch with his own emotions and aware of the needs of others?
Can I come across as a profoundly committed, searching leader of sincerity and vision, yet still be realistic enough to make the hard decision to lie, cheat, and steal?
Yes, general, can you do that?
I think so, although I might occasionally slip into a truth-hood here and there.
People will overlook that as long as they don't consider you to be a politician.
These days people who are thought to be "political" are judged more stringently than those who aren't.
No, no, I'm not a politician. I was a citizen-general and a citizen-president. I have no use for politics or politicians. During my administration, I stood above politics and only acted for the good of the country as a whole. That's why I was such a successful unifying national symbol. I didn't allow any politicians in my election campaigns either.
Yes, sir, but were you opportunistic? We're supposed to be against opportunists, too.
Let's not get silly about this. I was a general. Part of the business of generalling is seeing your opportunities and making the most of them. You have to do that when you're a president.
I don't see how people today explain their conflict in principles. In my day everything was easier, confess that we lied to our enemies from time to time, to mislead them, you know, but we didn't lie to ourselves. Talk about me and that damn cherry tree. I never believed I couldn't tell a lie. When I had to tell a lie, I knew I was doing it, which helped me keep the lying down to a necessary minimum. But you moderns! You have to turn yourselves into pretzels to tell a lie because you can't ever let yourselves know that you're doing something that's against your principles. So the way it ends up is that you have lots of principles, none of which you ever adhere to in your actions, but I suppose it gives you the feeling of being virtuous.
You can't talk that way in public, general. At press conferences, most politicians just say that everything they do is based on moral principles and that they never act out of their own self-interest but only for the good of others. Trump said he works for the American people.
I can't say that.
If I say that, they'll laugh at me. All mankind acts out of self-interest.
Today a president puts business holdings and stock in a blind trust, and you can never do anything that will benefit you personally.
My lord, what a doctrine! In my time if we'd really believed rubbish like that, we'd never have started this country. You know why we started it? To benefit ourselves. We thought if we could get out from under the yoke of George III, we'd be freer. If we were freer, then we'd be richer.
You'll also be expected to take a stand on the issues, general. The trick here is to be forthright, dynamic, innovative, and very vague. Let's see if you can do that. I'll give you a trial question. What's your position on the Equal Rights Amendment for Women?
I'm against it.
No, no, General Washington. That's forthright, dynamic, and innovative, but it's much too precise. You have to talk in such a way that when you're finished speaking everyone thinks you agree with him or her, as the case may be. Let's try it again. What do you think of the ERA, General Washington?
I'm very much in favor of the ERA. I believe I was the first president to appoint a woman to a high position in the government. I'm sure I was since I was the first president. My administration has always been sensitive to the rights and the legitimate aspirations of women, but on the other hand, this isn't really a federal issue. Washington DC can give moral leadership and certainly should, but the question is essentially one for local determination. What is more local than a woman? Women simply do not exist at the federal level. They are to be found at home, in the kitchen, in the bed, and in other places, too–all of them local. There is no such thing as a national woman; so there is nothing that the national government can do.
Very, very good. No one would know that was George Washington talking.
You mean if I say that, people will believe it? Incredible... don't know, though. There must be a few smart Americans left, and I'd hate for them to think the father of their country was an idiot. Equality! Hah! Women aren't the same as men. People still know that, don't they? What's the point of giving them equal opportunities if they can't use them? Why turn a whole society upside down for such a silly abstraction? If women must have as equal an opportunity as men to be stevedores and ditch diggers, then what about the disabled and those with special needs? Why don't you arrange things so that they will have an equal opportunity to compete in the Olympics? And should those with special needs have the same right to Harvard PHDs as geniuses?
Oh, no, no, no, general. That's terrible talk, if you allow me to be so bold, sir. You're talking like an aristocrat. That's worse than coming out in favor of monopolies.
Well, I am in favor of monopolies. What's wrong with a monopoly?
These are very un-American thoughts. People are not going to stand for George Washington saying a lot of un-American things. The George Washington we love and revere believes in equality and the free-market system.
This George Washington doesn't. Do I have to point out to you that Adam Smith invented the free-market system and published The Wealth of Nations in the year we promulgated the Declaration of Independence? We didn't know anything about those economic theories.
You do now, general. And if you want to get promotion, you will have to embrace these sentiments because the public-opinion polls show they are held by all of your fellow citizens.
Well, all right.
I knew you could be counted on to be flexible.
I don't suppose it matters. The way to do it nowadays is simply to say, "I believe in the principles of equality and the free market," and then it's permissible to do anything I want. Is that right?
General Washington, you could be a gifted politician again. Have you ever thought of running for office? You're electable, sir, definitely a salable commodity. But I do have a few more questions. Do you have a hobby?
A hobby, sir, a hobby. Do you play golf?
I am a grown man. Grown men do not play games. We work.
They do now, general.
I understand... So which game will attract the most support?
You're learning, sir I don't understand how you got your reputation for being a little slow in the head, if you'll pardon my candor. Let me ask you, exactly how many beds did you sleep in?
Well, many. I was traveling around a good bit, you know, fighting the British.
Were you alone on all those occasions?
I think you're intruding into my private life.
The people have a right to know, general.
Damn they do!
This is beginning to sound like a cover-up, General Washington.
All right… I was alone. Mrs. Washington is a very attractive lady, whom I love and am devoted to. Nobody else was in those beds
Even the big ones?
Even the big ones. Oh, why do I submit to this humiliation? I'm the victim of my own ambition for a degree of respect from my posterity.
No, don't worry about it, general. If the news of your fidelity got out, it could cause a problem. But there are ways of circulating stories about you. We'll start a whispering campaign that you were gay.