My article on the three worst US Presidents (George W. Bush, Lincoln and Wilson were my choices) seems rather topical now that Donald Trump is president.
It is of course far too early to form a tentative judgment on President Trump after four weeks. He is promising in some ways, though certainly worrying in others. Never say never but it is hard to imagine that he will be as disastrous as George W. Bush.
Barack Obama was very mediocre, of course. Instead of being a mixed-race Ike who brought his country together and forgave whites for their history of racism, he was deliberately divisive. He used wedge issues like homosexual marriage and transgender people using the ladies to divide Republicans and conquer.
Still, he was not outstandingly bad. Under him the economy improved and he to some extent kept his country out of wars. His biggest legacy, regardless of what you think of it, is creating the conditions in which President Trump won the White House.
The worst president was Lincoln. If you doubt that, try this mental exercise.
Suppose Scotland voted to leave the UK and Theresa May waged a war for four years to keep them in, in which hundreds of thousands died, before she subjugated the Scots.
Wouldn't you think her a cruel warmonger? But mutatis mutandis that is what Lincoln did. Yet even Pope Francis, who like all popes hates war, recently sang his praises.
American historians are pretty united in thinking Lincoln the best president, along with Washington (from a conservative point of view a rebel against his king) and Franklin Roosevelt.
As Professor Paul Gottfried said, American historians without thinking about it start with certain assumptions.
All the major conflicts into which our leaders thrust us from the Civil War on, with the possible exception of Vietnam, are seen as morally desirable actions. … The U.S. is a land of morally driven, energetic presidents who have made us into the envy and dread of the world.To Vietnam may now be added the Iraq war. I don't know whether this will change the way American historians think about previous wars.
A recent survey of 91 presidential historians rather surprisingly rated Barack Obama as the 12th best president. Some historians who took part thought he deserved a higher place.
George W. Bush rose from 36th to 33rd out of 45. Bill Clinton was at number 15, George H.W. Bush at 20, Jimmy Carter 26, and Ronald Reagan at 9.
Dr. Eland ranks Jimmy Carter pretty highly and his five best are:
1. John Tyler
2. Grover Cleveland
3. Martin Van Buren
4. Rutherford B. Hayes
5. Chester A. Arthur
James Buchanan, Lincoln's predecessor, who took the view that the Southern states had no right to secede but the USA no right to go to war to prevent them, is as always thought the worst.
“History will vindicate my memory from every unjust aspersion.”I think he is unfairly treated by historians and I think he deserves praise for not launching a civil war, but his memory has still not been vindicated.
Lincoln's victory is the reason why Buchanan is considered so bad. Had the South won the war he would have looked better and Lincoln would have been seen as disastrous.
As Ed Miliband said, after leading the Labour Party in Great Britain to defeat in the 2015 election,
When you win, everything you did was an act of genius and when you lose, everything you did was the work of a fool.