Walking With the President

Harry Truman Walking Trail
Truman Historic Walking Trail in Independence, Mo.

It dawned on me that our 33rd and 45th Presidents have four things in common: the first four letters in their surnames. Surely someone else already figured this out, but I haven’t heard or read any commentary on this coincidence. Their names also uncannily reflect their character. Truman could be parsed Tru[e]-man. Trump has a variety of meanings, including—in cards—a superior suit or a surprise card that can win the “trick.”

I don’t know that the two Presidents have much else in common. Admittedly, Truman was, like Trump, capable of venting publicly, especially in response to negative critiques of his daughter’s short-lived career as a singer. While Trump follows Truman’s footsteps chronologically, I followed those footsteps literally yesterday. I walked with my dogs along the Truman Historic Walking Trail in Independence, Mo., Truman’s beloved hometown.

I’m too young (Oh, gosh. That was so much fun to write, I’m going to repeat) … I’m too young to remember Truman as President. Eisenhower was the first President I was aware of. His grandfatherly image is the one I’ll always superimpose on the office. Succeeding Presidents either live up to that naive childhood perception, or they don’t.

Only in college did I become intrigued by Truman and the ongoing debate whether he is to be considered one of our “great” leaders. After leaving the presidency, Truman returned to Independence. Reportedly, his daily routine included a walk around town. His walk has been memorialized with maps and large signs. Plaques are embedded in the sidewalk in front of gracious, large homes of the era. You learn where Harry’s poker playing buddies, Bess’s bridge club members, and even a “staunch” political opponent lived.

As I walked, I wondered. What if I were the person who’d approved the unleashing of atomic power to end a war, causing the horrific deaths of innocent civilians. What would I be thinking about on my morning stroll past the homes of my lifelong friends.

I know that if it’d been my decision to make, it would’ve ultimately driven me mad. Perhaps it was returning to these Midwestern neighbors, who just wanted to live their lives simply, as good people, that kept Truman sane. Or so it would seem.

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