Cheating: An American Presidential Tradition

“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” tweeted Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump on April 16, 2015. He clearly had no sympathy for her dual role as First Lady and adulterer’s wife during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Since so many past presidents have cheated on their wives, does Trump’s extensive experience in infidelity make him uniquely suited for the job? Despite the fact that unlike virtually all previous US presidents, Trump has no background in government, the military or politics, bonking babes is one subject he knows a lot about.

Modern-day America has very schizophrenic attitudes towards sex, taking it far too seriously and yet not seriously enough. When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke and President Clinton faced impeachment in 1998 for getting a blow job from an intern, in China and in many European countries, people were baffled by the controversy. What difference did it make if he was married or not? And what on earth did it have to do with his ability to govern America? The Chinese and the Europeans took it for granted that a powerful man would have liaisons with many women.

America itself had different views on this subject in the sixties. At least in terms of bonking babes, President John F. Kennedy made Clinton look like a complete amateur. JFK is on record for having said, “If I don’t have sex every day, I get a headache.” Most likely Jackie Kennedy was far too classy for that much fornication. JFK had many affairs, most notably with Marilyn Monroe. His thousand-day presidency was apparently also noteworthy for its thousand nights of romantic trysts. At that time, no journalist would have been crass enough to report any of them in the newspapers, and seeking to get him out of office for having affairs, or making him have to publicly answer questions about them (as Clinton was made to do on prime time TV) would have been seen as ridiculous and an outrageous invasion of his privacy. At the time of Clinton’s sex scandal, I heard some people claim that since the beginning of the 20th century, the only US president that hadn’t had an affair was Richard Nixon. Even the idea of that guy naked in bed with someone was not a pleasant sight to imagine. Clearly, at least according to American sensibilities, Tricky Dick was the only US president morally suitable for the job.

If you’re a powerful enough man, even being a cripple in a wheelchair won’t prevent you from having mistresses. The 2012 movie, Hyde Park on Hudson tells the story of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s love affair with Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, who was a distant cousin. The film was based on diaries Daisy had written that came to light after her death. Crippled with polio from the age of 39, FDR was President of the United States from 1933 to 1945. FDR also had a long-term affair with Lucy Mercer, his wife’s social secretary. In her book, FDR and Lucy: Lovers and Friends, Resa Willis writes that his wife Eleanor felt betrayed, not only by her husband, but also by this woman whom she had regarded warmly, as well as by friends and family who had encouraged FDR’s affair. When she first found out about it Eleanor wrote in a letter to a close friend, “I have the memory of an elephant. I can forgive, but I cannot forget.”  As Allan Winkler mentions in his book, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Making of Modern America, one factor that would not have helped Eleanor’s husband stay monogamous was the fact that she hated sexual intercourse, describing it as “an ordeal to be endured.” Nevertheless she had six children—although that alone might give some women an aversion to sex. FDR also apparently had a twenty-year relationship with Marguerite “Missy” LeHand, his private secretary. She was obviously providing private services over and above the call of duty. Despite what Eleanor had told her close friend in that letter, it seems that she was unable to forgive FDR for all his affairs, as she and her husband led very separate lives, remaining married in name only and staying together for political reasons. Nevertheless, for the work he did while in office, bonking aside, many consider FDR to be one of the top three American presidents, alongside Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

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