It’s getting to be an archaic reference, so for you kids out there: Back in 1975 when Gerald Ford was president, upon arrival on a trip to Austria he stumbled down the stairway when exiting Air Force One. (Additional note: Back then it was normal to get off a plane and walk down steps to the tarmac, not a walkway connected to the terminal. I know, primitive.) He had some other mishaps caught on video tape — an avid golfer, on a couple of occasions he sent errant shots into galleries. But what really cemented the clumsy reputation was the first season of Saturday Night Live in which breakout star Chevy Chase played Ford as a bumbling, stumbling idiot.
As the woman in my cartoon said, Ford was a little incredulous about all this (he was a college football star at the University of Michigan and probably the most athletic president we’ve ever had), but he handled it with grace and humor. In fact in 1986 he hosted a symposium at his new presidential museum in Grand Rapids titled, “Humor and the Presidency.” Not only did he invite Chase, but he also invited columnists and editorial cartoonists, including Pat Oliphant who had mercilessly drawn Ford throughout his presidency with an oversized cranium and a band-aid or two prominently on the forehead. Ford was nothing but genuinely charming about it all.
So my cartoon isn’t entirely accurate. (One more additional note: Most of them aren’t.) Another shared trait between Gerald Ford and Donald Trump is that they are both flawed. Obviously the nature of the flaws matters a great deal. But maybe what matters even more is what is done with those flaws. When you fall down, do you get back up, learn from your mistake, and move forward with thoughtfulness and graciousness? Or are you Donald Trump?
(By the way, it was not a flaw but an honor that Ford was never actually elected president — he was appointed Vice President when Spiro Agnew resigned and then President when Richard Nixon resigned. Which is also a pretty good reminder that American politics have always been a least a little screwed up.)