"He's The WORST!"

The NY Times tonight posted what can only be called an indictment of the President; more than an "anti-endorsement" (after all, they endorsed Biden last week), it seeks to ground Trump in history as the worst president America has ever had.

Is that true, or is this Trump Derangement Syndrome run amuck? As a charter member of the TDS Society (motto - "He's been living rent-free in our heads since 2015!"), I thought it was worth examining. Herewith - a punchy and hopefully somewhat amusing list of the worst Presidents America has ever had.

Woodrow Wilson | The White House

10 - Woodrow Wilson

Why was he bad?

  • So racist he screened "Birth of the Nation" - the story of the birth of the KKK which painted Black people as sex-mad barbarians - in the White House and said it communicated "history like a lightning bolt".
  • His diplomatic fecklessness in the aftermath of World War 1 led to America's being ignored in the Versailles Treaty negotiations, which were so punitive they helped cause World War 2, and failed to convince the US to join the proto-UN League of Nations he tried to create
  • Near the end of his term he fell ill from Spanish Flu, didn't tell anyone, and his wife ran the country in secret; by all accounts she did a better job.

Any mitigating factors?

  • He helped bring the robber baron era of untrammeled capitalism to a close
  • Helped enact women's suffrage
  • He thought human rights were important (well, if you were white and Christian, anyway)
  • Established much of the ground work for modern American governance, such as a central bank and a progressive tax system

9 - John Kennedy

Why was he bad?

  • Relied on personal charisma and nepotism as an excuse for competence
  • Tried to invade Cuba in a failed proxy invasion (the Bay of Pigs)
  • Almost destroyed the world in a confrontation with the Soviets that could have easily been avoided (the Cuban Missile Crisis)
  • Helped cause American involvement in the Vietnam War (then died, and let his successor take the blame for the whole Vietnam thing)

Any mitigating factors?

  • He looked good on TV.
  • The Apollo program turned out well.

8 - Ronald Reagan

The wit and wisdom of Ronald Reagan explained… – Progressive Culture |  Scholars & Rogues

Why was he bad?

  • Established the Republican tradition of deficit spending combined with tax cuts for the wealthy which, while giving the stock market a boost, both crippled the economy and government's effectiveness
  • Interference in Central America led to the support of brutal regimes, death squads, and civil war in the name of "freedom building"
  • Did almost nothing to address the AIDS epidemic and the drug abuse crisis save a moralistic blaming of the victims
  • Engaged in a frenetic arms buildup which almost literally scared the Soviets into a nuclear war (Able Archer 83)
  • Took credit for "winning the Cold War" which, apparently, involved being alive at the same time as Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Helped establish the "screw you got mine" economic and ruling ethic of the 1980s which extended well into Bill Clinton's tenure.
  • Was most likely incapacitated with Alzheimer's the final year of his presidency. Thanks to the laissez-faire system of his rule no one really noticed that much.

Any mitigating factors?

  • He looked good on TV.

7 - Herbert Hoover

Why was he bad?

  • The original laissez-faire Republican, watched the economy implode into the Great Depression and did nothing to stop it
  • So ineffectual a Republican wouldn't hold the Presidency for 20 years

Any mitigating factors?

  • Outside of politics, he was a genuinely good person who devoted much of his life to charity and famine relief.

6 - Warren Harding

Warren G. Harding | American Experience | Official Site | PBS

Why was he bad?

  • So uninterested in actually being President (he was busy having a series of affairs) he allowed his underlings to get rich off the spoils of their office, thus causing his brief presidency to become a synonym for corruption in high office.

Any mitigating factors?

  • Died before much real damage could be done.
  • Was apparently too busy chasing women to indulge in much corruption personally.
  • If TV existed at the time, he would have looked good on it.

5 - Richard Nixon

A Life in Focus: Richard Nixon, American president | The Independent | The  Independent

Why was he bad?

  • Helped invent the modern Republican party's tactic of playing on divisions in American society as an election tactic.
  • Was paranoid and amoral, drank heavily which only added to his paranoid ravings
  • Campaigned on having a plan to end the Vietnam War, which turned out to be "not ending the Vietnam War".
  • Bombed Cambodia so brutally it arguably drove them insane, helping cause the Khmer Rouge's ensuing genocide
  • The whole Watergate thing
  • Absolutely, positively did not look good on TV.

Any mitigating factors?

  • Enacted a slew of reforms such as the Environmental Protection Agency, OSHA and Medicaid that today would be called liberalism run amuck
  • Ended the cold war with China and moved towards ending the nuclear arms race with the Soviets

4 - James Buchanan

James Buchanan (15th US President) - On This Day

Why was he bad?

  • Caused the Civil War through his incompetence and coddling of the slave-state's attempts to keep Blacks in thralldom.
  • Really, you can just stop there.

Any mitigating factors?

  • No, not really. Civil wars are bad.

3 - George W. Bush

George W. Bush - Paintings, Age & Wife - Biography

Why was he bad?

  • Elected thanks to a fluke of a failed ballot count in Florida followed by Republican shenanigans trying to cancel the vote count and finally a Supreme Court decision which should have never happened.
  • Brought America and its allies into war with Iraq under false pretenses, the impact of which would shape a generation (or at least those of that generation aware the military still existed). Ironically, the last President who fought in the region and had enough sense not to invade and occupy a hostile country was George Bush Sr. You'd think they'd talk!
  • Had the military fight two wars at once while insisting that domestically things could go on like always, helping cause a divide between military and civilian society that still has not healed.
  • Crashed the economy through deficit spending, tax breaks for the wealthy, and a lack of regulation on the financial sector which brought about the Great Recession.

Any mitigating factors?

  • After the terror attacks of 9/11, did not fall prey to racist nativism and Islamophobia and encouraged Americans to do the same.

2 - Andrew Johnson

The Impeachment Trial of Andrew Johnson: An Account

Why was he bad?

  • Essentially overturned the results of the Civil War and handed the South back to its former slave owners, re-imposing serfdom on the former slaves, for little reason other than racism and stupidity
  • No, really, he was really, really racist. He set race relations back 50 years, which is a real accomplishment for one President, because he was convinced giving Black Americans any civil rights was wrong.
  • He vetoed any attempt at giving Blacks anything approaching civil rights (such as the Civil Rights Act of 1866) - finally the 14th Amendment was passed over his violent objections to make official in the constitution that, yes, all men were created equal.
  • His fellow Republican party members, who were mostly abolitionist supporters of Abraham Lincoln, were so horrified by his actions they tried and narrowly failed to remove him from office.
  • Let me just re-emphasize - Johnson was EVIL. Not just corrupt, or incompetent (although he was definitely both of those, too). He thought the wrong side won the civil war because Black people weren't human.

Any mitigating factors?

  • Takes up a spot in Hell a less deserving person might have fallen into.

1 - Donald Trump

Well, I'm not going to go through a list of "why was he bad" - the linked NYT essay does that well enough, and this is fairly long. Really, the standard we're looking for, I think, is "is Donald Trump a worse President than Andrew Johnson?"

When you describe a President who has:

  • well-documented, frequent racism
  • an only passing familiarity with the Constitution
  • a belief that he should rule as an unchallenged executive
  • personally corrupt, with fairly loose morals and untrustworthy
    …you could easily be describing either Andrew Johnson or Donald Trump. So I think they're probably going to be fighting in history for the title of the Worst President.

Personally, I hope Johnson wins, because it would hurt Trump's ego to not win at something.