Donald Trump: the US has much to learn from history
The reasons Donald Trump should not be left in charge of a shopping trolley, let alone the keys to the White House, are plentiful and well-documented – from his use of the word “bigly” and lamentable business legacy to his dubious post-modern feminist principles, quite astonishing lack of political acumen and, most worrying of all, his bewildering hair.
But, worse than all that, Trump doesn’t drink. He never has done and, so he says, he never will – which, history suggests, really doesn’t bode at all well. The last teetotal American president was George Bush Jr, yet American political history is steeped in legendary leaders with a deep love for liquor – right from the start.
Famously, the Founding Fathers were constantly in their cups. Thomas Jefferson was the original wine nerd and arguably 18th-century America’s most accomplished amateur oenophile.
Carried around on a pillow by servants as a child, his fondness for Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne (but not the fizzy wines, which he dismissed as a fad) is perhaps unsurprising, yet his wine tastes were refreshingly rustic, balanced out by a passion for frugal French wines from the south west and lesser-known Italian drops, Montepulciano being his favourite. He was also partial to port, had a soft spot for sherry and made a habit of drinking Madeira with a touch of brandy.
A passionate plonk proponent, Jefferson planted European vines at his house and campaigned furiously to lower taxes on wine which, he argued, encouraged sobriety and stemmed the sinister creep of spirits in society. “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage,” he declared. “It is, in truth, the only antidote to the bane of whisky”.
During his eight years as president, Jefferson ran up a personal wine bill of $10, 835.90 which, accounting for inflation, would amount to a modern day equivalent of $146,524.40 – an average of $18,316 for each year in office.
During George Washington’s time in office, a staggering 7% of his income was spent on drink. He had a severe weakness for porter, illegally imported rum to get his inauguration party going, served up his soldiers spruce beer and, on retiring, built a brewery and a distillery and, at one point, was one of the nation’s most prolific whiskey makers. He even grew his own barley.
Benjamin Franklin was the least conservative drinker among the revolutionary heroes and curated more than 200 terms for drunkenness, including “getting the Indian vapours”, “jambled” and “contending with Pharaoh”.
Contrary to millions of beer geek T-shirts, Franklin never said “beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy” but he did write a dissertation discussing why different wines produced different kinds of farts (or perhaps we should call them “Trumps”) and the best scents with which to mask them – bergamot worked well with claret, Lilly with Burgundy and rose with Madeira.
While few could rival Franklin’s cutting edge contributions to 18th-century science, arguably America’s finest presidential drinker was Franklin D Roosevelt, who ended Prohibition and celebrated with a gin Martini – a drink that 10 years later saved the world. At the crucial 1943 conference in Tehran, with talks getting tricky and millions of lives on the line, FDR (quite literally) broke the ice by giving Joseph Stalin his first ever Martini.
When FDR enquired how he liked it, the Russian replied: “Well, all right. But it is cold on the stomach.” Yet, despite Stalin’s initial indifference, its role in Tehran caused Nikita Khrushchev to later declare the Martini “America’s lethal weapon”.
And what did their nemesis Hitler drink? Nothing. He was a teetotalling totalitarian who didn’t moisten his mini-moustache with anything intoxicating – much like Donald Trump.