Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Trump, Arnold shared traits

The recent revelation that President Trump may have disregarded intelligence reports that Russia had offered a bounty on American soldiers has led the veterans’ group VoteVets to compare him to the notorious traitor Benedict Arnold. While Arnold is generally used as a generic caricature for treason, the comparison is actually apt in many ways, an insult to Arnold in others, and a cautionary tale for all of us.
Like Trump, Arnold was extremely full of himself. While not so overtly narcissistic as Trump, Arnold was confident in his abilities and felt destined for greatness. His early career was dedicated to gaining wealth and achieving the social status he felt he was entitled to. He built his business through hard work, but also lucrative connections, risky investments, and the skillful avoidance of inconvenient laws. He reveled in flaunting his hard-earned wealth by owning the finest house in New Haven and importing the best available goods from around the world.
He borrowed extravagantly when needed to support his ambition and lavish lifestyle. He was extremely sensitive about his lack of a classical education and covered any insecurities with bravado and bluster. Any insult to his honor was met with a challenge to duel (the 18-century equivalent of litigation). Lacking experience as a military commander, he relied instead upon his instincts and unwavering willingness to take risks. His creativity and flouting of conventional tactics made him a formidable adversary. He never surrendered.
While widely admired as a fearless and charismatic field commander, he routinely alienated many of his military peers and was in constant conflict with the Continental Congress over promotions and personal compensation. While he claimed to have lost much of his personal fortune to the war effort, he was frequently accused of profiteering from his military service. Although George Washington was a strong supporter to the end, Arnold felt underappreciated, abused, and slandered. These grievances ultimately led him to lose faith in the Revolution and prefer the tyranny of the king to the tyranny of his countrymen.
However, unlike Trump, Arnold was a genuine heroic character. He really was a self-made man, obsessed with regaining his family’s wealth and reputation that had been squandered by his father. Having achieved that, he was eager to enter into the revolt against the king and became a local leader of the cause. A year before the Declaration of Independence, his enthusiasm and confidence enabled him to co-op joint leadership of the Green Mountain Boys in the capture of Ticonderoga and lead the miraculous march through the wilderness of Maine to the gates of Quebec. His daring command of the fleet at Valcour is the stuff of local legend. It almost certainly saved the colonies from an early defeat. Finally, at Saratoga, he is widely credited with turning the tide of the battle that turned the tide of the war. Seriously wounded twice, courageous in battle, always at the head of his troops, he was by any measure a legitimate war hero. That is, of course, what made his ultimate treason so despicable.
Had Arnold been killed at Saratoga, his image would almost certainly be on a coin or bill. Instead, his fall from grace has become the emblem of treason and betrayal.
While the accusations against the president are much more modest, the comparisons are striking. Trump’s character and fitness for office have been analyzed and attacked throughout his public life. Certainly, he is someone who is devoted to cultivating his own image. Despite that effort, his three-year tenure has been riddled with scandal and even impeachment. Criticism of his handling of the economy, pandemic, social protests and foreign affairs are reported daily, and now the suggestion of treason for disregarding the safety of American soldiers. The resulting anger and sense of grievance are on full display in his rally speeches and endless Tweets.
The coming political campaigns and election will almost certainly be bruising and possibly humiliating events. Beset by similar circumstances, Arnold ultimately lost faith in the cause and chose self-interest over duty to his country. It is sad to even imagine that any president of the United States could do the same.
Richard Isenberg
Cornwall

Share this story:

More News
Op/Ed

Faith Gong: How to be an undertaker

Our family said goodbye to two remarkable women this past December: My grandmother and my … (read more)

Op/Ed

Editorial: Sheriff reform needed; not so easy to do it

A bill introduced last week to reform the way Vermont sheriffs operate is a step in the ri … (read more)

Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Reflecting on Dr. King’s dream

Equality is not equity. Dr. King made this point repeatedly. He argued that while white Am … (read more)

Share this story: