the leadership styles of JFK, GW Bush and Donald Trump

Today, while searching for information on varied topics, I came across an old interview with Ted Sorensen, a lawyer who was speechwriter for and close adviser to President John F. Kennedy. This segment caught my attention.

The most important event of his life, says Sorensen, was the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The Soviet Union had installed nuclear warheads on Cuba. It was a moment when the world probably came the closest it has ever been to nuclear war. In the heat of the crisis, Kennedy asked Sorensen to draft a letter to Nikita Khrushchev, in effect an ultimatum to force the Soviet leader to back down.

“I was 34 years old. It was up to me to make sure that my life, and your life, and everybody else’s life on earth would continue.” …. Kennedy lifted the economic blockade of Cuba. Khrushchev withdrew the missiles. ….

Where Kennedy was right on Cuba, he says, illuminates where George W. Bush has erred on Iraq. “John F. Kennedy made certain that he gathered to advise him on that crisis people of varying views and backgrounds to make sure he got the best possible recommendation,” he says bitterly. “Mr Bush listened only to Vice-president Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who had been neocons for years and did not present any alternative points of view.”

Graham Bowley, “Lunch with the FT: Ted Sorensen“, Financial Times, 4 December 2006 (gated paywall).

The differences in the presidential styles of JFK, GW Bush and Donald Trump are striking. When he faced a severe international crisis, JFK consulted people with varied views. Bush listened only to neocons. Trump, I fear, consults no-one.

Sorensen’s life was very productive and interesting. Here is a brief introduction to it, drawn from a Wikipedia entry that I accessed today.

Sorensen (1928–2010) was born in Nebraska …. His father was Danish American and his mother was of Russian Jewish descent. …. He graduated from Lincoln High School during 1945. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and attended law school there, graduating first in his class.

During January 1953, the 24-year-old Sorensen became the new Senator John F. Kennedy’s chief legislative aide. He wrote many of Kennedy’s articles and speeches. In his 2008 autobiography Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Sorensen said he wrote “a first draft of most of the chapters” of John F. Kennedy’s 1957 book Profiles in Courage and “helped choose the words of many of its sentences.”


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