John Krull: Sometimes, the bright lights blind us

When he was in the White House, Teddy Roosevelt earned a reputation as the “trustbuster.”

In an America barreling full speed into the industrial revolution, TR was supposed to be the scourge of predatory big businesses and plutocrats. His champions said his administration went after virtual monopolies with a zeal unknown before or after he occupied the Oval Office.

His battles with the trusts were considered more vigorous than those of his predecessor, William McKinley, and his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft.

But that wasn’t the case.

Many anti-trust cases Roosevelt’s administration pushed through to completion began before McKinley was assassinated.

And Taft’s single-term administration prosecuted more anti-trust cases in four years than Roosevelt’s did in eight years.

Why, then, was TR considered the great “trustbuster” and McKinley and Taft lackluster also-rans?


Roosevelt had the gift of commanding the public’s attention in ways McKinley and Taft—both smart, stolid and capable men—could not. His personal presence warped people’s perceptions of what actually happened.

This isn’t an isolated historical phenomenon.

Much of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s early New Deal response to the suffering brought on by the Great Depression imitated the programs of the man he replaced in the White House, Herbert Hoover.

Hoover was an exceptional administrator, a man who had coordinated massive relief efforts following World War I and during the 1927 Mississippi River flood. When it came to coping with disaster, he was the master and FDR the apprentice.

But this second Roosevelt could touch people’s hearts in a way that the cold, analytical Hoover could not. FDR could make Americans feel that big things were happening, even if what took place was more of a course correction than the revolution that the New Dealers touted.

And it’s happening now to President Joe Biden, who by all objective accounts is a thoroughly decent man—albeit one who doesn’t have enough personal magnetism to pull even a paper clip his way.

Many complaints about him from both the left and the right don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Progressives consider him the palest shadow of former President Barack Obama. They long for Obama’s soaring rhetoric and the sense that, in their commander-in-chief, the fulfillment of the essential promise of the American experience, that anyone could become president.

That anyone could help shape the times in which he or she lived—and the times that followed.

The fact is, though, that it has been Biden, not Obama, who has overseen the adoption of the most progressive legislative agenda since Lyndon Johnson was president—and possibly since FDR was in the White House.

Biden is the friendliest president progressives are likely to see in their lifetimes.

Progressives’ failure to appreciate reality is small, though, in comparison with that of former President Donald Trump’s MAGA constituency.

To hear them tell it, Biden has wrecked the U.S. economy and opened the southern border of the United States to invading hordes.

The facts tell a different story.

The U.S. economy has added jobs every month for more than two years running, the best record in more than a half-century. The stock market seems to set a record every week, swelling the portfolios not just of the uber-wealthy but also the retirement accounts of middle-class Americans. Wage growth has also been a steady reality.

Inflation, it is true, has been a problem, but inflation rates in the United States have consistently been lower than those of most industrialized nations.

And, besides, it’s tough to eliminate inflation when wages climb for workers.

The border drama is a similar tale.

Crossings of undocumented immigrants were at historic lows at the end of the Obama presidency but surged under Trump. Trump had two years in which his party controlled the White House, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

He chose to use those years to push through massive tax cuts for people in his bracket rather than ramping up security along the Mexican border. Not long ago, he blew up a border deal that granted the GOP everything it wanted so he could continue to use undocumented immigration as a campaign issue.

Now, as was the case when he was president, Trump cared more about talking points than he did solutions.

Yet, he’s the guy who’s tough on the border and good for the economy.

Just like Teddy Roosevelt was the “trustbuster.”

John Krull is director of Franklin College‚Äôs Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. The views expressed are those of the author only and should not be attributed to Franklin College. Send comments to [email protected].