Who will the history books talk more about: Obama or Trump?

Suppose 50 years from now when both men will be gone and their presidencies and first hand accounts a distant memory and left to the archives. The students of the future will have more archival material than ever before because of everything being digitalized.

You’ve got Obama who broke a glass ceiling and did it by captivating and winning the hearts and minds of people not just in the United States as a beacon of a turning of the page to a new chapter in the American story. As the first ever black president, a two-term president, a popular president (near 60% approval by the time he left office) who tackled the worst economic decline since The Great Depression, his place in history is secure. He is a landmark figure.

But then you’ve got Trump who ran really what was a grievence campaign against Obama’s legacy and governed in that manner. He didn’t accomplish anything legislatively to compete with the Affordable Care Act or the Recovery Act that Obama did. Instead he did his best to repeal one and wasn’t given the time to try and institute a recovery of his own because the American people booted him out after one term. What he did accomplish was two impeachments, scandal after scandal, and captivating the hearts and minds of millions of people as a beacon of flipping back the pages to an old chapter when America was last great.

Neither man can be spoken about without the other being connected. But there is always through the teaching of history a narrative which emphasizes a particular figure or a particular event in greater depth than others. Not necessarily for good reasons but because of the consequential importance.

Trump, and it won’t even be close.

Obama was a thoroughly conventional president. In 50 years, one hopes that the fact that he was the first Black president will be more a trivia factoid (because the idea that whether someone is “Black” would have any impact on their presidential ambitions will seem weird). Beyond that, he didn’t really have a particularly exceptional presidency. His role in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis will probably get some attention, but that’s likely to be confined to economic historians. Obamacare may get more widespread discussion, but he really wasn’t that heavily involved in drafting it or securing its passage, despite his name becoming tied to it. His management (or mismanagement, depending on your perspective) of the late stages of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be studied by military historians and political scientists, but even there he’d almost have to take a back seat to GWB. Ultimately, there’s just not going to be all that much to study about the details of his presidency.

Trump, on the other hand, is one of the most exceptional presidents in U.S. history (I do not mean that in a complimentary way). Historians and political scientists are going to be spending decades studying him and his administration. Entire academic careers have been built on studying just one crisis point in a presidency (the Cuban Missile Crisis, Watergate, the Iranian hostage crisis, the Iran-Contra affair, etc.). Trump’s administration was nothing but crisis points, culminating in the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

Obama temporarily shifted some party demographics for the Democrats and had a fairly successful but utterly conventional presidency. Trump fundamentally altered the Republican Party and came close to fundamentally breaking the American political system.

I predict Obama. I agree with gdave that Obama was a pretty conventional president but I feel being the first black president will make him noteworthy in American history.

I think Trump will be mostly forgotten. People don’t want to remember crises if presidents failed at them - and they don’t want to remember those presidents. Trump will be lumped together with Buchanan and Hoover as one of the presidents who couldn’t handle the job. Trump’s memory will only be invoked when future politicians assure voters that they won’t be another Trump.

Trump. In addition to what was previously mentioned, we won’t have good White House documentation from Trump - that will give Historians something to argue about - “when did who know what” Obama’s presidency was done - as most presidencies are, with an eye towards History - they know that people are going to want to know exactly how things happened in the future. Trumps presidency had no such awareness of History, and a issues with wanting to hide things from eyes in the present.

Since you specified history books, then the answer will be Trump. 50 years from now, people will still be drawn to scandal and disaster far more than aspirational stories of good government. The sheer number of scandals, crises, failures and out and out weirdness of Trump will sell more copies, as well as provide source material for a single historian/biographer to write a shelf full of books.
Obama will be noted for his exceptionalism which as other posters have pointed out, will hopefully be less so going forward, and for likely being the touchstone that triggered the racist, bigoted, and entitled elements of our nation to embrace a man just as hideously flawed as themselves.

People used to make a big deal about Kennedy being the first Catholic president. Hardly anybody has cared about that since the last century and even fewer will after four or eight years of another Catholic in the White House.

As for the OP, I predict Trump unless Obama goes on to become a Supreme Court justice (or even more so; a Chief Justice.)

Looking back 50 years, do history books talk more about Nixon or LBJ? Nixon, I think, largely because of Watergate. I think Trump for the same kinds of reason.

What’s the Covid death up to now?

I think Watergate’s mostly remembered because it eventually lead to the only Presidential resignation. If Nixon had been able to cling to the office until the end of his term, Watergate would be just another political scandal.

Hmm. To me the ONLY reason to bring up Nixon any more is Watergate. With LBJ, I guess you can slide by with mentioning Civil Rights Act and Vietnam without actually mentioning the president at the time, but that isn’t completely accurate. Nixon didn’t have the congress, he didn’t have a strong legislative record. The economy went south on his watch. He started getting us out of Vietnam, but not terribly quickly.

Obama over Trump. First black president will be remembered for quite a while. Trump’s going to be remembered for the failed insurrection more than anything else. Otherwise, just an incompetent moron.

Trump is more like Harding. I don’t personally think a history of Trump is all that interesting. I already know he’s stupid. To the extent that he is successful at self promoting et al, I already know that too. I don’t need to read page after page of Trump ignoring what someone says or refusing to read information given him.


I think the jury is still out and he may have broken our democracy. He certainly threatened to.

Obama is interesting as the first black president, but otherwise mostly dull. Obamacare is less groundbreaking than Medicare. It’s way less groundbreaking than the new deal. His wars were minor. His crises were minor.

I don’t think it’s close.

Frankly, if Trump is enough to break our democracy we’re a nation of wimps. Fight for what’s right.

But even if he isn’t enough, if he remains the one who got the closest, I suspect that will be discussed.

And well it should be. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. We need this sort of thing.

The current trend in history books is to start showing the US in its flaws. The Daughters of the Confederacy are losing their power to whitewash everything, and so they likely won’t be able to whitewash what happened with Trump.

And if you, like I, had a negative reaction to the idea that he’s a troll who will get the attention he wanted, I’ll remind you that he’ll be dead, and that he hated when the news as “mean” about him. And the history books are not going to be kind.

That said, being the first Black president will be remembered and made more important than something like “first Catholic president.” Obama is not in any danger of becoming one of the presidents people forget about.

Who was the previous worst President? Or the worst 19th century president? I don’t feel like we talked much about who that was in American history classes.

At this point, no contest and not much of a debate. Trump. For all the reasons people have already posted about. Maybe it will depend on what kind of history book, but pure sensationalism and book selling, it’s Trump.

Harding has usually been at the top (bottom?) of the list for 20th century presidents. It seems like there’s a cluster of worst presidents in the years immediately before and after the Civil War (Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, A. Johnson), which is a little ironic, given that they cluster around one of the greatest ones.

If it’s “history books” then it’s something beyond sensationalism or just making the best seller lists.

Are we talking a single history book, like you might have in a classroom? Or an entire book devoted to the presidency?

I think you nearly always have to go with the two term presidents over the one term presidents. The one termers are voted out, after all. And it’s eight years instead of four. Ike may be boring to you, but he served for eight years, and it seems silly to say that you can skip over Ike, nothing of significance happened from Jan 1953 to Jan 1961.

The history books in school are going to mention both, but I think in fairness to Trump’s single term he will be given less space than the rest.

I’m not sure presidents are really remembered for what they did or who they were as much as what happened while they were President. This actually gives the two Bushes the edge over Obama. Trump (and Biden) was President during the most socially disruptive era in American History since WWII.

Good governance doesn’t sell books.