But another way to understand Trump’s presidency is as a throwback to a previous era: Trump is — in some ways — a normal 19th-century president; the issue is that he’s serving in the 21st century.
Nineteenth-century presidents are the ones that, with a few exceptions like Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson, most people can’t remember or recognize. In terms of political outlook and accomplishments, they are a somewhat diverse lot, but several factors tie these men, and the way they approached the presidency, together. The presidency changed dramatically in the 20th century; the modern presidency is big, designed to deal with the challenges of an expansive federal government and an interconnected world. But in the 19th century, the presidency was a smaller office, with less of a policy role. Presidents’ staffs were nothing like the thousands of employees who now make up what some call the “presidential branch.” The U.S. played a smaller role in global politics than it does now, and the president played a smaller role in American political life.