I’ve just been reading Ronald C. White’s wonderful new biography of Ulysses Grant, American Ulysses. Inspiring and depressing at the same time, it’s the story of a modest man with a peculiar foreign-sounding name. Possessed of enormous gifts of organisation and leadership, he rose from a decidedly modest background to become president. He was extremely popular during most of his eight years in office, and pursued vigorous high-minded policies as president, particularly focused on protecting civil rights of ethnic minorities, and repairing relations with other countries after a long war. At the end of his two terms he was still popular enough that he could easily have been re-elected for a third.
His successors set about dismantling everything he had accomplished as president, and later generations judged his presidency an utter failure, partly in order to justify the racist policies that followed.
He was a talented writer, who wrote a celebrated memoir, but political opponents, who held his intellect in contempt, asserted without evidence that it had been ghost-written.
I’m not sure why this all seems relevant at the present moment.