It’s impossible to predict the future. But some American presidents with a particularly keen understanding of American politics — or human nature — have made some spot-on forecasts of what could happen decades or even centuries later. In fact, some presidents even seemed to predict the rise of a president like Donald Trump.
Below, discover which presidents predicted Donald Trump, and what they had to say about him. And on page 8, learn which president specifically predicted that Trump would be a “winner” if he ever ran for office.
1. George Washington
He warned about “fake news.” | Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The New York Times reports that when George Washington decided not to seek a third term as president, he made an eloquent farewell address raising red flags about extreme partisanship, fake news, false patriotism, excessive debt, and foreign wars. Washington foresaw the possibility of foreign influence over the American political system. And he predicted “the rise of a president whose ego and avarice would transcend the national interest,” reports the Times.
As The Hill notes, Washington’s speech laid out the first president’s concerns about the potential for political parties to undermine America’s democracy. And Washington also warned that “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” would eventually rise to take advantage of the struggle for power between political parties.
Next: This president felt skeptical of democracy. And he didn’t think that our democracy could handle someone like Donald Trump.
2. John Adams
He advised that democracy should not be vain or selfish. | Wikimedia Commons
The National Review reports that during his presidency, John Adams remained skeptical of the concept of democracy. Adams wrote that democracy “never lasts long.” In his assessment, democracy is not less vain, proud, selfish, ambitious, or avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. “Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.”
But as The National Review reports, “The democratic passions that so terrified Adams have filled the sails of Donald Trump.” The publication adds that Trump’s version of democracy “is the democracy that John Adams warned us about.” Adams warned, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. Oaths in this country are as yet universally considered as sacred obligations.”
Next: This commander in chief considered it important for Congress to be able to impeach presidents.
3. James Madison
He worried about foreign powers. | The White House Historical Association
The Washington Post reports that James Madison worried about a future leader who would “pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation” — an archaic term that refers to the theft of public funds — “or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers,” Madison predicted. Years later, critics of the Trump administration say that Madison and the other founding fathers gave us the option of impeachment for just such a president as Trump.
Madison, along with others who had a hand in drafting the Constitution, worried that without the option of impeachment, we “expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate [the president] in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing him.”
Next: This president made a famous speech that stood against Trump’s brand of politics.
4. Woodrow Wilson
He believed the United States should secure global peace. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
The Conversation reports that a speech Woodrow Wilson delivered to Congress “makes a mockery of Donald Trump.” The 1918 address reflected Wilson’s view that the United States should “take a central place on the world stage — securing global peace and stability while furthering American interests at the same time,” according to The Conversation. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has famously decided to put “America first.”
The Conversation characterizes Wilson’s Fourteen Points as the antithesis of the mid-19th century diplomacy that Trump’s policies recall. “Where it fought hard for stability, President Trump’s foreign policy seems more likely to produce instability. Where it fought for openness, the Trump administration turns inwards,” the publication notes.
Next: This president favored some of the same policies as Donald Trump.
5. Calvin Coolidge
He favored tax cuts. | National Archives/Getty Images
The Huffington Post characterizes Calvin Coolidge as “the most conservative president in American history.” Coolidge, like Donald Trump, “favored enormous tax cuts, slashing spending, high tariffs on imports and cramming regulatory agencies with pro-business types.” The Washington Times reports that Coolidge also predicted a “model for checking the U.S. tax burden” that sounds surprisingly familiar in Trump’s America.
Coolidge once said, “I am convinced that the larger incomes of the country would actually yield more revenue to the government if the basis of taxation were scientifically revised downward.” Coolidge also predicted, “Until we can re-establish a condition under which the earnings of the people can be kept by the people, we are bound to suffer a very distinct curtailment of our liberty.”
Next: This president could have predicted Trump’s problem with Obamacare.
6. Franklin D. Roosevelt
He called for further basic rights for Americans. | Keystone Features/Stringer/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Times reports that Franklin D. Roosevelt “warned us about Donald Trump” when he predicted what would happen if the United States didn’t enact a “second bill of rights” guaranteeing Americans the rights to employment, housing, health care, social security, and education. As one reader penning a letter to the editor pointed out, “FDR explained in 1944 that ‘people who are hungry, people who are out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.’”
The Hill notes that Roosevelt might also have predicted the dilemma that Trump faced in trying to repeal Obamacare. “However controversial an addition to the welfare state may be at birth, it soon develops constituencies that come to depend on it. If conservatives can’t manage to strangle a new program in the cradle, they’re stuck with it forever,” The Hill notes.
Next: This president basically gave Trump his playbook.
7. Lyndon B. Johnson
He knew how races could be pitted against one another. | Keystone/Getty Images
Big Think reports that Lyndon B. Johnson, like some of the presidents who came before him, foresaw the election of Donald Trump. Johnson, who held many racist views despite his liberal politics, “knew how to inspire resentment in what today is being called the ‘white working class,’” Big Think notes.
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket,” Johnson said. “Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” In that statement, he seems to have predicted the way Donald Trump would politicize race, ethnicity, gender, and even religious affiliation and leverage certain Americans’ fear of the “other” to gain power.
Next: This president actually predicted Donald Trump’s success as a politician.
8. Richard Nixon
He actually predicted Donald Trump would be a successful politician. | Keystone/Getty Images
Most of the presidents who made predictions that can now be applied to Trump didn’t actually know of Trump personally. One notable exception is Richard Nixon, whom Snopes reports actually wrote to Trump, “predicting he would be a successful politician whenever he decided to run for office.”
In 1987, Nixon’s wife, Pat, saw Donald Trump on Phil Donahue’s TV show and felt impressed by what she saw. She was so impressed that her husband wrote the young businessman a letter. Nixon credited his wife with predicting that “whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner!”
Next: This president talked about the conditions that led to a Trump presidency.
9. Jimmy Carter
His “crisis of confidence” speech might have been a precursor to the Trump presidency. | Rick Diamond/Staff/Getty Images
The Toronto Star reports that Jimmy Carter predicted Donald Trump’s presidency back in 1979. In a speech delivered that year, Carter talked about Americans’ “growing disrespect for government, for schools, the news media and other institutions.” He also talked about how “in a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.”
The Star reports that Carter’s so-called “crisis of confidence” speech “lives on, and is actually looking a lot better with time — not to mention with that Donald Trump fellow in the White House.” The Star reports that the speech demonstrates “how long the conditions have been ripening for a Trump presidency.”
Next: This president didn’t predict Donald Trump himself. But he enabled a magazine to make that prediction.
10. Ronald Reagan
Donald Trump’s interactions with Ronald Reagan started some presidential talk. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Though Ronald Reagan was rumored to have specifically predicted that Donald Trump would become president, Snopes debunks that myth. But Newsweek reports that Trump’s behavior toward Reagan enabled the publication to predict Trump’s rise to power back in 1987.
Newsweek published a story headlined “Trump for President?” on September 14, 1987. Trump ran ads ridiculing Reagan’s foreign policy. Trump wrote, “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help.” And even though Trump was purportedly uninterested in the presidency at the time, Newsweek wrote, “the ads certainly sounded like something from the campaign trail.”
Read more: Could These Eerie Similarities Between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy Reveal the Real Reason They Were Assassinated?
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