Here’s a prediction. As Benedict Arnold has come to mean treason to Americans, Donald Trump will someday mean corruption. And politicians who support him will be painted by the same brush.
Tale of a War Hero
Benedict Arnold was a successful merchant and an accomplished general in George Washington’s army. He repeatedly distinguished himself for courage and intelligence, and he was wounded serving his country in the War for Independence. George Washington trusted him and gave him command of West Point. But Arnold had several legal problems, and his fellow officers accused him of corruption. Still, a warrior bruised by scandal was nothing new. If Arnold had died in 1779, we would remember him as a hero of the American Revolution. Instead, he turned against his comrades in arms. In 1780, frustrated by his legal troubles and jealous of rival generals, he conspired with the British to surrender West Point — in exchange for a cash payment, among other rewards. Washington’s men discovered the plot, and Arnold fled to the British. Then he fought on as a British brigadier general, against the men he had once led.
Legacy and Lexicon
The War for Independence was the pivotal event in Arnold’s life, and betrayal was his pivotal contribution. So despite his many achievements, we remember Benedict Arnold for nothing else. And in the American lexicon, his name means treason.
I think future historians will remember the administration and impeachment of Donald Trump as pivotal events in the evolution of American democracy. Whether we pivot toward degraded democracy or not, history will see through the distractions thrown up by the President’s defenders and past the passion of his followers. I predict that, as time goes by, Donald Trump will come to mean corruption in the American lexicon. And those with power to block or remove him will be remembered for their choice — for standing with democracy, or not.
- Detail of a color mezzotint of American Revolutionary War General Benedict Arnold, 1776, by Thos. Hart
- President Donald Trump, December 5, 2019
© 2020 by David W. Tollen