US PRESIDENTS – GOOD, BAD, AND UGLY
America has had a lot of bad presidents, many mediocre ones, and a few great ones. Now that Donald Trump has been wearing the crown for a couple years, we thought it might be interesting to do a brief review of some of our past presidents, each leaders in their own ways; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
President Trump is one of a kind, and deserves many firsts, almost none of them good. The first in the history of the United States to gain the presidency without having served in any elected office or the military. He won the election by attacking foreigners, both in terms of immigration and imports, yet his wife is an immigrant from Slovenia and his most energetic supporters seem to be based in Russia.
Trump’s election probably marks the biggest upset in the history of the presidency, as his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was better financed, better organized, and far more politically experienced. Trump is a rich Manhattan real estate developer who somehow managed to establish a political base among the rural working class, with whom he has absolutely nothing in common. Despite having insulted and alienated seemingly every voter base from traditional conservatives to women to Hispanics, he gained victory in the electoral college while losing the popular vote nationwide.
He seems to have an uncontrollable inclination to let the entire world know exactly what he is thinking at any given moment, which is scary, given his thought process, and also weirdly refreshing. While generally acting in a moronic, unpredictable, fashion, his actual polices have veered from really stupid, like imposing tariffs and trying to build a Mexican border wall, to just kinda stupid, like cutting taxes in a time of a massive deficit. However, he has made good judicial appointments, and these might benefit the conservative movement for a long time to come.
But hey, the alternative was Hillary, so maybe The Donald is not so bad. And he does deserve credit for giving a stick in the eye to the tsunami of political correctness that has drowned American culture. The real reason Trump was elected was that so many Americans are disgusted with the way the mainstream liberal establishment and media worships at the alter of political correctness. Trump may be the only powerful man left in America who doesn’t drop to his knees and genuflect when a black woman walks by.
He committed one miracle by getting elected in the first place, but if he gets re-elected that will be the political miracle of all time.
Barack Obama is an articulate, intelligent man, but there are tens of thousands of articulate intelligent men and women in the United States. But very few of them have black fathers and limitless ambition, and in 2008 that made all the difference. Obama was wildly unqualified by anything but his ambition to become president of the United States.
He became a US senator because his opponent was caught up in a scandal. And almost the day he was sworn into the Senate he began running for president. An excellent political tactician, he managed to beat out heavy favorite Hillary Clinton for the democratic nomination. He then proceeded to defeat the war hero, and wildly more qualified candidate John McCain, in the general election.
As president, Obama managed to screw up an already massively messed up medical system with the Affordable Care Act, which may be one of the great oxymorons of our day. He also presided over one of the great spying scandals in history, for which any Republican president would have been crucified. He managed a massive run up in America’s debt. But no matter what, the press loved him – for the white mainstream establishment black is beautiful.
He vetoed a bill to curtail his lavish post presidential benefits, and generally he and his family milked taxpayers for all they were worth.
Not a bad president in terms of policies, but such remarkably poor judgment with women. Trailed by sexual harassment and rape allegations into the White House, he disrespected the most interesting job in the world by having sex with an intern while conducting official business.
He should have been kicked out of office for his choice in women, if nothing else: the most powerful man in the world and he chooses an average looking bimbo like Monica Lewinsky? At least Kennedy had better looking mistresses. Possibly traumatized by having sex a few times with Hillary early in their marriage, leading him to see any other woman in the world as utterly irresistible.
Remembered for napping in the afternoon, jellybeans, and the glamour he and his wife brought to the White House after the lean years of Jimmy Carter. Reagan helped engineer the economic rebound that lead to the roaring 80s, as well as all the excesses of that period.
His increase in defense spending helped lead to the implosion of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not a rocket scientist, but the right man for the time. A good man and a good president, even if he wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box. Apparently, Bedtime for Bonzo is better training for the presidency than Celebrity Apprentice.
Perhaps the most clueless of presidents, at least in recent memory. A good man and an ineffective president, his most memorable foreign policy adventure was giving away the Panama Canal. His economic policies helped contribute to stagflation – a combination of inflation and stagnant economic growth – during his time in office. He lost his reelection campaign by a landslide to Ronald Reagan.
Proof that while bad men can be bad presidents (see Nixon, Trump, et al) good men can be bad presidents as well. Carter wasn’t capable of much delegation, and personally devoted time to world shaking matters such as deciding which staffers would be entitled to use the White House tennis courts. And sorry Mr. President, but wearing WIN buttons (Whip Inflation Now) is not going to actually stop inflation.
Timing plays a role in every politician’s career, but in no case more so than Gerald Ford, who managed to ascend to the presidency having only been elected as a congressman, thanks to the corruption related resignation of Spiro Agnew as VP, and then of Richard Nixon as president as a result of the Watergate investigations.
He is the only president who was never elected to the vice presidency or presidency. Before being appointed VP by Richard Nixon after Agnew’s resignation, Ford was an unknown congressman from Grand Rapids Michigan. He generally seemed like a decent man, but, then again, anyone would have seemed pretty good following Nixon.
Nixon is that rare human being, like Donald Trump, who can be terrible both in style and substance. Elected as a conservative, tough-on-crime Republican, he betrayed every conservative principle on which he had been elected. He sacrificed Vietnam to the Communists, opened relations with Communist China, took America off the gold standard, instituted wage and price controls, and established the EPA. Mao would have been more conservative than Nixon.
His VP, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign due to corruption charges, and Nixon himself would have been impeached if he had not resigned following the Watergate scandal. He ended up wondering the halls of the White House talking to himself. Crazy presidents didn’t begin with Nixon – John Adams was crazier – and they won’t end with the madman currently in the oval office.
On the positive side, his rise to power shows that even someone with absolutely no social skills and a complete lack of commitment to any ideals can be successful in America.
Among politicians worldwide there is intense competition for the crown of most sleazy and repulsive, Johnson is an underrated contender in the low key sleaze division of this contest. He liked to give dictation while on the toilet and engaged in the usual presidential skirt chasing while still finding time for sleazy business deals: He spent his life in politics but ended up owning TV stations, technically held in his wife’s name.
On the domestic front he helped usher in the “Great Society” programs associated with the idealism of the 1960s, greatly expanding the role of government throughout most sectors of society. He accelerated US involvement in the hugely divisive Vietnam War. As a politician, he was known as an abrasive bully. Bad man, bad policies, bad time for America.
His presidency marked the beginning of the trend whereby the president and his family became America’s celebrities-in-chief. He deserves credit for facing down the Soviets in the Cuban Missile Crisis but also ordered the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.
A man basically put into power by his father, Kennedy was of the lowest moral fiber possible, and seems, in retrospect, to have spent most of his time chasing women around the oval office. He was deified following his assassination, which just shows, as in the case of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, that an early dramatic death can bring lasting fame to even the most mediocre of human beings.
The media loved him because he and his wife were young, good looking, well-dressed, stylish, and rich. And isn’t that what really matters?
All politicians are power mad, but FDR broke new ground. In addition to dramatically expanding the role of government, trying to pack the Supreme Court so he could have no legal checks on his actions, and jailing his personal enemies, FDR broke with the “stop at two terms precedent” to cling to power until he died in office early in his 4th term.
If you love taxes, bureaucracy and the welfare state, then FDR is your patron saint. Otherwise, hard to say anything good about him, although you have to admire the way that he didn’t let his physical handicaps limit his lust for power.
Almost all presidents do and say wildly stupid things, but even in that context Woodrow Wilson’s declaration that World War 1 was “The War to End All Wars” stands out. The US entered World War 1 under Wilson after he had won reelection on the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War”.
A former president of Princeton, most things Wilson did sounded better in a college lecture room than in reality; in other words, he was a predecessor to Elizabeth Warren. He presided over a lot of progressive legislation and reintroduced the income tax. His bid for a league of nations was rejected by the Senate. Despite suffering a stroke, he unsuccessfully tried for election to a third term.
Born a sickly child with asthma, he overcame his physical challenges through an active lifestyle. He operated a cattle ranch, became a war hero in Cuba, and fought corruption in the New York City Police Department.
He became president at age 42 after the assassination of President McKinley. After his presidency he went on safari in Africa and hunted big game. He later led a two year expedition through the Amazon. His most lasting achievements may be as a conservationist and his role in establishing the national park system.
If Jefferson was the European ideal of a Renaissance Man, then Abraham Lincoln was the American ideal of a truly self-made man who showed that an American with enough fortitude could do just about anything.
Born in a log cabin, Lincoln survived the death of his first fiance, sister, and mother. His son also died, and his wife went crazy. He failed in business, had a nervous breakdown, lost at least 5 political campaigns, and had total national political experience of one 2 year term in Congress before being elected president.
It was never inevitable that the North would win the Civil War, and if the South had triumphed, the world would look like a very different place, for better or worse. There would be no United States as it currently exists without George Washington, and the same could probably be said of Abraham Lincoln.
Overrated from a moral point of view, but still brilliant and fascinating. Like Washington, Jefferson was a plantation owner. Like 4 of the first 5 presidents, he was a Virginian. Perhaps the most interesting of the presidents, which may account for the cottage industry of biographies he has spawned.
A slave owner who took one of his young slaves as a mistress, he was a spendthrift and indulged a taste for the good life that he could not afford, all the while sewing the false image that he was a simple farmer with simple tastes.
He died deeply in debt. But he was a brilliant man who read widely in a number of languages, constantly toyed with architecture and inventions, and made some truly lasting contributions: most important of all the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the US. He was also principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statue for Religious Liberty, and founder of the University of Virginia.
On the other hand, Jefferson was a coward who fled advancing British troops, but, like many cowards, his language was violent and prone to glorifying bloodshed. He opposed Hamilton’s efforts to develop a commercial society, believing that agriculture – which was based on slave labor – was the key to a successful democracy. He lionized the French Revolution, even when it became drenched in the blood of innocents, including French officers who had fought in the US revolutionary war. Jefferson was a classic politician, adept at presenting the image of a humble servant of the people when in fact he was constantly trying to manipulate public opinion behind the scenes in his battle for power. Unlike Washington, he never freed any of his slaves.
In a different time and place, Jefferson could have become a Mao or a Castro, except that he didn't like doing the dirty work himself. Jefferson even dressed the part; after being quite the dandy while serving as Ambassador in Paris, he adopted a very simple look once he became president; a look that has much in common with Castro’s fatigues and the Mao jacket.
Adams was vice president under George Washington and became his successor to the presidency, but was nothing like him. He was generally paranoid, suffered delusions of persecution, was considered by his contemporaries to be extremely vain, and thought his own cabinet was out to get him.
Adams also didn't much like being in the capitol city, Philadelphia. As vice president, he spent up to 9 months back home in Massachusetts, nursing his wife who was ill with rheumatism. Even as president, he seemed more concerned with the health of Abigal than the nation. During his first year in office he spent 4 months in Massachusetts and at one point was gone for 7 continuous months, running the government by dispatch as if being president was a bothersome side gig.
As commander of the Revolutionary Army, in large part thanks to sheer force of will, he managed to keep America’s rag tag army together and defeat the far better organized, trained, and experienced British army.
George Washington was truly the indispensable man; the one man so respected by all the factions at the time of the US founding that there was no real question who would be named president, and, had he so wished, he probably could have had himself named president for life, or perhaps even King. But he relinquished the position after two terms, setting a critical precedent.
Yes, he owned slaves, and he was not a great military tactician, but, nonetheless, one of the few truly indispensable men critical to the founding of the country. At a time when the US was deeply divided over so many issues, and when so many processes had to be invented from scratch, it was Washington’s respectability, dependability, and personal honor that everyone looked to keep the country together in it’s early days.
The polar opposite to a man like Donald Trump, it’s interesting to see how the presidency has devolved over time. If there was a man in the present American political firmament who was most like Washington it would be John McCain, a war hero who valued military service and personal honor. Neither Washington nor McCain were nearly as smart as Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, but they were both good men who made great sacrifices for their country and, while making mistakes, tried to do their best as they saw it.
Table of Contents
- MOST UNLIKELY, MOST RESEMBLING AN IMPULSIVE, ANGRY CHILD, MOST HATED BY THE MEDIA - Donald Trump - (Republican, 2017-?)
- LEAST QUALIFIED, MOST FORTUNATE TO HAVE A BLACK FATHER - Barack Obama - (Democrat, 2009-2017)
- BEST MATERIAL FOR TABLOIDS - Bill Clinton - (Democrat, 1993-2001)
- BEST PRESIDENT WHO WAS NOT TOO BRIGHT AND DIDN’T WORK TOO HARD - Ronald Reagan - (Republican, 1981-1989)
- MOST CLUELESS - Jimmy Carter - (Democrat, 1977-1981)
- LEAST DESERVING OF THE OFFICE - Gerald Ford - (Republican, 1974-1977)
- BIGGEST TURNCOAT - Richard Nixon - (Republican, 1969-1974)
- MOST GENERALLY REPULSIVE AND SLEAZY, BUT IN A LOW KEY WAY - Lyndon Johnson - (Democrat, 1963-1969)
- MOST OVERRATED, TIE - John F. Kennedy - (Democrat, 1961-1963)
- MOST POWER MAD - Franklin Delano Roosevelt - (Democrat, 1933-1945)
- MOST FOOLISHLY IDEALISTIC - Woodrow Wilson - (Democrat, 1913-1921)
- MOST ADVENTUROUS, LAST MANLY PRESIDENT - Theodore Roosevelt - (Republican, 1901-1909)
- MOST RESILIENT AND SECOND MOST IMPORTANT - Abraham Lincoln - (Republican, 1861-1865)
- MOST OVERRATED FOUNDING FATHER, MOST BELOVED HYPOCRITE - Thomas Jefferson - (Republican, 1801-1809)
- MOST LIKELY TO HAVE BEEN RELATED TO DONALD TRUMP AND TO BE MIA - John Adams - (Federalist, 1797-1801)
- MOST INDISPENSABLE, BEST HUMAN BEING - George Washington - (Federalist, 1789-1797)
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