Pitifully stupid. That “respectable” historians would even agree to rank a president who’s completed a quarter of a single term tells you all you need to know about this.
It speaks poorly to the field of presidential scholarship that political scientists have Trump ranked as the worst president of all time **after only one year on the job**, below presidents who e.g. helped blunder us into the Civil War & Great Depression. https://t.co/QGjW2gwCU4 pic.twitter.com/VpddS46Rkb
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) February 19, 2018
Some presidents have brought about national or foreign catastrophes but the current guy embarrasses himself on Twitter so he’s rock bottom. Ignore the state of the economy and the lack of any majors wars (does Afghanistan still count?), I guess. The charitable view of the list is that what they’re really measuring is presidential comportment; it may well be that no president has behaved less like how we imagine a president should behave in public as Trump has. But “comportment” is a silly metric with which to judge a job that commands massive military and policymaking power. It’s a notch above rating the “best” presidents according to how hot each one was. It’s not quite that superficial — comportment speaks to basic fitness for office — but you’re still ignoring policy in the interest of grading the paper before the student’s done taking the test.
The less charitable view is that the list is exactly what it looks like, a glaring case of “motivated reasoning” by professionals who should know better. Of note: Trump’s also in the bottom five of the rankings by Republican scholars, which means there’s more to this than standard partisanship. I think it’s a case of intellectuals recoiling at his reactionary populism. They can forgive weakness towards slavery; they can forgive interning American citizens; they can forgive Watergate; they can forgive all sorts of misbegotten wars. But God help you if you seem to celebrate anti-intellectualism. That’ll fast-track you to the bottom of the list.
Scan the whole list for yourself as there’s obviously more to it than just Trump’s ranking. Obama is now a top-10 president, implausibly, presumably because his intellectual persona is so drastic a contrast with the despised Trump’s. Bill Clinton has fallen because his personal conduct is getting a second, dimmer look in the wake of #MeToo. Andrew Jackson has also fallen as awareness of his persecution of Native Americans has grown — but Woodrow Wilson has barely budged despite his own major racist liabilities, continuing to hover just outside the top 10. The difference between Jackson and Wilson, I think, is their relevance to the modern left-wing vision. Wilson wanted a czarist federal government with control of ungood speech; he’s still of some use to them historically whereas Jackson has been banished to de facto Republican status.
Oh, and as Ben Shapiro notes, Jimmy Carter currently outranks Calvin Coolidge. Ludicrous.
One bright spot: The sainted JFK has slipped two notches and now sits 16th in the rankings, just a spot above Bush 41. As Boomers age out of the population and more public attention is paid to Kennedy’s reckless lechery, I think that trend will continue — among historians. Among the public, though? Sigh:
There’ll always be sympathy for JFK due to his horrible, untimely death, but sympathy alone wouldn’t drive blockbuster public approval like that. If you ever doubt how successful the Camelot myth has been, call up those numbers and give them a hard look again. There’s a reason Joe Kennedy got the call for Democrats in this year’s SOTU rebuttal. The dream — and it is only just a dream — will never die.