At first glance, it seems like heresy to compare one of America’s Founding Fathers and most revered political figures in history to the twice-impeached, 91 times indicted former President who slinked away from the White House, refusing to attend the inauguration of Joe Biden as President. Yet there are more similarities than you might imagine, and even their differences create balance.
Jefferson was a prolific writer. He gave us the Declaration of Independence and contributed heavily to the Virginia Constitution, which James Madison used as a model for the U.S. Constitution. He wrote many letters to his contemporaries, providing access to his mind and proving beyond doubt that he was a great thinker. But Jefferson wrote because he could not talk. He was afflicted with a stutter that made him ineffectual as a public speaker. Name one public speech you ever heard of Jefferson giving. He could read a prepared text as he did during his inaugural addresses, given in those days in the Senate Chamber. But extemporaneous speaking was not his spiritual gift, and he availed himself not.
Donald Trump is a prolific talker; he loves little more than hearing himself speak. Some of his speeches will go down in history, like the one he gave on January 6, 2021, urging his followers to join him at the Capitol. Trump speaks because he cannot write, evidence being the tweets he puts out full of misspellings and grammatical errors. Like Jefferson, there is a complete record of Trump’s thinking, though one could go mad trying to understand him.
Trump made headlines when he referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.” It occurred during a discussion on immigration while he pondered why we couldn’t have more immigrants from Norway, for example. Jefferson helped make Haiti a shithole country, joining France and European nations in isolating Haiti after the successful revolution of enslaved people. Jefferson sought to strangle Haiti economically and refused to recognize its independence.
Trump is in the news for having been found liable for sexual abuse against a woman in a New York department store. He also paid off women with whom he had affairs to keep those revelations from damaging his hopes of becoming President. Jefferson had his problems with press reporting of an alleged liaison with an enslaved person and an attempt to seduce a married neighbor. The reporter who made the allegation mysteriously drowned just before testifying in a highly publicized trial. Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, beginning when she was 14 years old, can only be described as rape as she couldn’t say no.
It has been suggested that Trump and his family benefitted financially from his time in office, ignoring the Emoluments Clause while accepting gifts, steering foreign groups to hotels he owned, and courting investments in business ventures. Jefferson personally benefitted from ending the International Slave Trade in 1807. Properly viewed, it was a protectionist measure that helped large plantation owners in Virginia (like himself), Delaware, and Maryland, immediately increasing the value of domestic-bred slaves. Jefferson wrote George Washington about the economic return of having a slave child born to its mother every two years, which would create a 4% additional financial return.
Jefferson was an enslaver, which was perfectly legal at the time. He owned as many as 600 during his lifetime, cultivating an image of a benevolent master. Historian Edwin Betts was shocked to find a letter describing the beating of teen boys in the nailery on the grounds at Monticello. So much so that he covered it up when writing about Jefferson, lest his reputation be soiled. Slavery wasn’t available to Trump while he managed his labor-intensive properties. Trump hires “guest workers” under the H-2B visa program, where he’s supposed to attempt hiring American workers first. Between 2016 and 2017, out of 144 workers at three properties, one went to an American. Trump Tower, on the other hand, was primarily built by undocumented Polish workers. Trump fired them when discovered, owing them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There is one area where Trump distinguishes himself from Jefferson. He’s the far greater liar. Jefferson had contempt for liars, writing in a letter to Peter Carr:
“It is of great importance to set a resolution, never not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth," he wrote. "There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual, he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. this falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all it’s good dispositions.”
Trump is a well-documented, pathological liar on a scale we’ve not seen in America by one who held the power of the presidency. Trump spawned The Big Lie, which currently is tearing America apart. Other presidents have lied; perhaps all have, but Trump is likely the most terrific liar and deserves full credit.