The term “accidental president” has been around for a long time—Millard Fillmore was the first (1848). The label is generally affixed to U.S. presidents who were never elected but assumed office due to happenstance (death or resignation).
Millard Fillmore (death of Zachary Taylor)
John Tyler (death of William Henry Harrison)
Andrew Johnson (death of Abraham Lincoln)
Chester A. Arthur (death of James Garfield)
Gerald Ford (resignation of Richard Nixon)
In 2017, we were introduced to new brand of accidental president, one who did run for the position and was subsequently elected: Donald Trump. This isn’t how this whole thing was supposed to shake out. This isn’t what Trump was envisioning, he never wanted this. He thought he’d pop in, shake things up, spew some vitriol into the sky and head back to his penthouse. He thought It’d be fun to shatter the framework of the republican party while making fools out of scripted politicians. And it was fun. During those GOP primary debates, Trump was having a ball. Every week there would be a new nickname: Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Low-Energy Jeb, Crooked Hillary, Pocahontas. And the media couldn’t get enough of it.
It was a wild ride, a whirlwind romance.
Trump was having a blast, relishing in the chaos he created and bathing in the adoration. He didn’t spend time thinking about whether or not there would be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, he was too busy staring at the rainbow. Roger Stone and others thought he’d be and interesting figure on the national stage and he sure was. But Donald himself has never had a desire for public service—and that hasn’t changed.
He was attracted to the fame and power attached to the presidency. This was never about a sense of duty, or honoring some patriotic obligation.
The president of the United States is a terrible job. It’s relentless. It beats you down. Every day there are decisions to be made that directly impact the lives of human beings across the planet. And no matter how many trips to the golf course he takes, or how many security briefings he skips, he can’t fully escape the responsibility. Donald Trump is a complainer and a marketer, and he loves when people agree with him. On the campaign trail, the focus is narrowed. Trump bounced from town to town and hit the stage to deafening applause. But as he has some to figure out, campaigning and governing are too wildly different things.
It’s like the end of The Graduate. The film concludes with Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin rushing to stop Katherine Ross’ character Elaine from getting married. Ben arrives at the Church as the ceremony is ending and bangs on the glass at the back and starts screaming for Elaine—it’s love at its most passionate and most desperate. Elaine turns around, entranced by Benjamin’s over-the-top gesture, eventually yelling back and running to meet him. Then a melee ensues as Benjamin and Elaine rush out of the chapel together beaming with freedom—a pair of exuberant love-struck lunatics. They hop on a nearby bus and set off together. But as the bus pulls away, their smiles fade as they begin to contemplate the repercussions of what just happened.
It was a lot of fun until it wasn’t.
The same idea applies here. Trump was obsessed with the idea of being president; it was a purely surface-level aspiration for him. And that certainly factors into his performance in the position. He was used to flexibility and freedom, and the presidency affords neither. He never really wanted this gig; this was an exercise is ego-feeding that morphed into something much more serious.
Like Benjamin and Elaine before him, Trump got caught up in the moment.
It was never true love, it was always infatuation—an accident born out of aimless ambition.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.