Donald Trump is the anti-Teddy Roosevelt

The Rough Rider was a progressive, environmentalist, and Big Oil trust-buster. Trump, not so much.

Presidents Washington, Jefferson, (Teddy) Roosevelt, and Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. CREDIT: AP File Photo
Presidents Washington, Jefferson, (Teddy) Roosevelt, and Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. CREDIT: AP File Photo

Donald Trump’s brazen choice of an utterly unqualified ExxonMobil pollutocrat to be his Secretary of State should kill off any comparison of him to even above-average presidents, let alone those on Mount Rushmore.

Amazingly, former House Speaker John Boehner said last week that President-elect Donald Trump “kind of reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt.” Last year, Forbes tried to label him “the 21st century Theodore Roosevelt.” Even Vox tried to argue the case earlier this month.

In truth, the only way Trump could possibly remind us today of the quintessential progressive is to remind us how far the GOP has drifted from its conservationist roots and how desperately we need a Teddy Roosevelt now.

Roosevelt was a trust-buster who famously fought monopolies like Standard Oil, the world’s largest oil company, founded by John D. Rockefeller. It was ultimately split up into dozens of companies, including Standard Oil of New Jersey (S.O. aka Esso), which eventually became Exxon, and Standard Oil of New York, which became Mobil.

Trump, on the other hand, has named CEO Rex Tillerson of the now-reunited ExxonMobil as his choice to run all of U.S. foreign policy. Tillerson has, unsurprisingly, been a major critic of sanctions on Putin’s Russia. As I explained on Sunday, those sanctions blocked the biggest oil deal in history, a $500-billion partnership between ExxonMobil and Russia’s state-owned oil company.


That deal is so large it actually exceeds the entire wealth of the man “considered to be the wealthiest American of all time by virtually every source, and — largely — the richest person in modern history” — John D. Rockefeller.

“There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains,” Roosevelt said in his famous 1910 speech, “The New Nationalism.” He goes on to say that “it is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced.”

President Roosevelt shown here as the infant Hercules fighting John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil monopoly, which was split into dozens of companies, including the ones that became Exxon and Mobil. CREDIT: Wikipedia
President Roosevelt shown here as the infant Hercules fighting John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil monopoly, which was split into dozens of companies, including the ones that became Exxon and Mobil. CREDIT: Wikipedia

Trump embodies and embraces corporate political activity. Again, he is the anti-Roosevelt.

Roosevelt’s first Secretary of State was John Hay, “an American statesman and official whose career in government stretched over almost half a century.” Hay had started in government as President Lincoln’s private secretary (the “precursor to the modern White House Chief of Staff”).

He went on to serve in various European diplomatic posts, become a journalist, and serve as Assistant Secretary of State and our ambassador in London. Finally, President McKinley named him Secretary of State. After McKinley’s assassination in 1901, President Roosevelt kept Hay on until he died in 1905.


In stark contrast, Trump has chosen as Secretary of State a man with absolutely no government or State Department experience, a man who has worked at ExxonMobil his entire adult life (from age 23 in 1975 through today), a man whose only qualification appears to be that he has negotiated major oil deals with Putin’s Russia and other countries.

In reality, this supposed “qualification” hopelessly entangles Tillerson in an endless series of financial conflicts of interest. The worst conflict is that the future of the company he has given his life to and now runs is largely dependent on ending sanctions to Russia in order to resuscitate a half-trillion dollar oil deal with its state-owned oil company. On top of that is the conflict created by the fact that our intelligence community believes Russia illicitly intervened in the U.S. election to favor Trump.

Roosevelt put a remarkable 230 million acres of this country under public protection. He created five national parks, 18 national monuments, 150 national forests (including the first), and the U.S. Forest Service.

“Trump’s pick for Interior Secretary wants to sell off public lands,” was ClimateProgress’ reaction to news that the job had reportedly been offered to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).


“Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us,” Roosevelt said in his 1910 speech.

“Conservation is a great moral issue for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”

There are no greater preventable threats to the safety and continuation of the nation than unrestricted carbon pollution. That’s why there is nothing more anti-Roosevelt than constantly attacking climate change as a hoax, appointing climate science deniers to be in charge of environmental protection and federal lands and foreign policy, and pledging to block all climate research along with all global and domestic climate action.

Theodore Roosevelt is, after all, a man who wrote this:

The United States at this moment occupies a lamentable position as being perhaps the chief offender among civilized nations in permitting the destruction and pollution of nature. Our whole modern civilization is at fault in the matter. But we in America are probably most at fault… Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements.

Trump, on the other hand, campaigned on not just allowing the destruction and pollution of nature, but on actually accelerating the destruction and pollution of nature. And at a time when the entire world has, at long last, unanimously come together to address the gravest of all threats to the future of our children, Trump named as his Secretary of State a man who has given his entire life to ExxonMobil — a company that has seen climate action as such a threat to its business that it not only suppressed its own science on the dangers of climate change for a half century, but actually became the biggest funder of climate science disinformation in the world.

Donald Trump is the anti-Roosevelt in every conceivable way.