Right and granted Kennedy is far more known today because of his assassination, but we all do know him as the first Catholic US President (and, of course, while Catholics were discriminated in the US, it doesn’t compare to what black people had to go through or how prevalent black discrimination was and is in US history).
Historian surveys pretty consistently place the group of James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, Warren Harding, and John Tyler as the worst presidents we’ve had. Some pretty epic fails. How much space in basic American history books is devoted to any of them?
Trump will join that list and be handled in very similar ways. A failed wannabe fascist autocrat. A gasping grasp of those dropping in power as history moves on. A punchline.
General history books lean into the myths, the stories of our history that we want our kids and our citizens to know as the positive lessons of who we are, and less the cautionary tales. Obama, for his style, his intellect, his speeches and writings, feeds that mythos independent of his skin color. No one will reread Trump’s incoherent tweets; Obama’s speeches will be quoted again and again. He led an economic recovery out of the Great Recession that persisted after he left. He achieved healthcare reform, compromised as it was, when no one else from Nixon on had been able to, because he was committed to bipartisan compromise. He will be highlighted as the model for the intelligence, values, and style that we hope our presidents to embody, and someone who avoided crises on his watch more than anything else, in the face of what will be remembered as “the party of no” on the other side.
All those other bad Presidents might have been at least partially corrupt or incompetent. But I think Trump will be remembered for having no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and clearly having no interest in anything that wasn’t directly beneficial to him, or by proxy, his family or close allies. I think Trump is kind of a unique level of incompetent, a unique level of corrupt, and will be remembered and discussed more than the rest because of this.
There is perhaps an immediacy effect operational here. James Buchanan …
Read the details.
Lobbied for SCOTUS to rule horribly on the Dred Scott decision, “tried to protect slave interests, doing everything in his power, including bribery, extortion and voter suppression — all actions that propelled Congress to launch a formal investigation into his administration’s corruption”, “intimidated members of his own party who did not toe the line. Northern Democrats were bullied and removed from their jobs, while pro-slavery zealots were given every crumb that fell from the government’s table”, “the combination of vindictiveness, corruption and poor leadership during an economic crisis split a Democratic Party already divided on the issue of slavery” …
Trump was really in his mold except that Buchanan’s corruption, vindictiveness, and poor leadership, was in service of perpetuating SLAVERY, a bigger crime against humanity than anything pissant Trump did.
And how much space do history books devote to Buchanan? How many Americans would even identify him as a past president? How much is his term taught about in schools, even in college level courses?
Pretty much just that he was a crappy president and move along.
The one fact that might get Trump mentioned is the simple fact that he happened to be president at a time of multiple major crises … not so much how badly he failed at managing each one. From the Russian attack on our electoral process, to COVID-19 of course, to George Floyd and the possible watershed for BLM, to the economic crisis, to the framing his America First approach as the set up to a return to America as a leader in a multilateral global partnership under Biden and new international agreements on issues regarding Climate Change and more.
But then again Buchanan had his multiple major crises that he failed at … and brought us to the cusp of the Civil War. Trump? Tried but couldn’t do it.
There may be academic debates over who was the worst, with Trump in that bottom list favored by some as even worse than Buchanan. But none of the worst get discussed much outside of that.
But as far as I know, Buchanan didn’t routinely and explicitly deny reality. In spite of his many faults, he acknowledged the same reality as everyone else.
Was there in fact a Mormon revolt? Was “The Pig War” based on reality?
What other alternative realities did he promote that are just forgotten because so few care about what our worst presidents have done? We reject them, foresake them, forget them better still. (Apologies to Tommy.)
It may be that Trump will rank even worse. (Certainly though not the only president to tell lies to the public.) The point remains: our worst presidents, who have been in fact horrible people, have done horrific things, are not studied much. We study our own heroes not our own villains and clowns more.
I think it really depends on what happens with Turmpism. If two years from now the Republicna party wakes up with a bad hangover, does the walk of shame and vows never to drink again, then you are right Trump will be a just a foot note.
However if Trump represents a new understanding in politics and he is followed by other who emulate his authoritarian ideals and make use of his discovery that you can fool some of the people all of the time so long as its a lie they want to believe. As I said earlier, we still Joe McCarthy still has a rather significant section in most US history books. Primarily as an example of when we can go astray as a country. Trump could easily overturn McCarthy as that cautionary example.