There has been a running debate among historians and many Americans about who should have the dubious distinction of being the worst president* of all time. The emerging consensus is that it will be none other than Donald Trump.
In this piece, I plan to review the records of the men whom I believe to be the worst presidents of all time and share how those records in some respects are very similar to that of Trump. Unfortunately, Trump’s sorry record includes all of the worst aspects of this rogue’s gallery and then some.
Franklin Pierce, 1853 to 1857.
Pierce significantly increased sectional tensions by signing into law the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This allowed territories and newly formed states to determine whether or not they allowed slavery. Before 1854, slavery in the territories had been forbidden. As a consequence, civil war broke out in Kansas over the issue of slavery.
James Buchanan, 1857 to 1861.
Before Trump took office, Buchanan was the consensus choice as the worst president in history. As president, Buchanan further divided the country by pandering relentlessly on behalf of his political base in the south. He made no effort to compromise on the issue of slavery or reach out to those who disagreed with him.
Behind the scenes, Buchanan lobbied the Supreme Court to rule for the slaveholders in the infamous Dredd Scott case. The fifteenth president sided with the slave owners in Kansas even after they stole an election to take (temporary) control of the state.
After southern states began to secede in 1860–61 during the transition, Buchanan took the position that secession was illegal but that the president lacked the power to do anything about it. At the same time, he allowed the traitors to take over armories in the south and arm the Confederate armies.
Andrew Johnson, 1865–1869.
Johnson was a virulent racist who tried to do everything in his power to restore the southerners to their previous dominance of the federal government that they had enjoyed for decades before the Civil War. He vetoed civil rights laws and bills that would have provided relief to the newly freed slaves. He was the first president to be impeached and avoided removal by one vote after his representatives bribed a wavering senator. Johnson’s supporters established a $150,000.00 slush fund to save his job.
Herbert Hoover, 1929–1933
Hoover was of the badly mistaken belief during most of his presidency that the federal government had no role to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression. Instead, the engineer turned president held the belief that it was up to the states, local governments and private sector to end the Depression. Hoover dispatched the army to break up peaceful protesters in Washington in 1932. Troops used bayonets and tear gas to break up the Bonus Army.
George W. Bush, 2001–2009
Many Americans are now mistakenly looking at the disastrous Bush years with some nostalgia in light of the failed Trump presidency.
Bush took the country to war relying upon flawed intelligence that he knew wasn’t reliable. Unfortunately, the Iraq War turned out to be one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history. This war ground on for over eight years and according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, will eventually cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion. Sadly, 4,424 American heroes died in this conflict and an additional 109,000 Iraqi civilians perished.
Bush’s domestic record was equally disastrous. Bush was the only two term president in American history to preside over a decline in middle class incomes during his two terms as president. Moreover, Bush had the worst job creation record since Herbert Hoover. By the time Bush left office, the economy was hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs per month. What’s more, Bush converted the projected ten year surplus of $5.5 trillion that he inherited from President Clinton and turned it into an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion.
Donald Trump, 2017–2021
Since he has been president*, Trump has further divided an already divided country and has made zero effort to reach out to the 54% who voted for somebody else in 2016. The former TV reality star has trafficked in racist tropes and praised white supremacists.
Trump will be most condemned for his disastrous handling of the corona virus pandemic. Due to his neglect, over 200,000 Americans have unnecessarily perished to this dreaded disease. The U.S. has had — by far — the worst response to the pandemic of the First World industrialized countries.
Trump’s failure to mitigate the virus caused the economy to collapse. In 2020, the U.S. economy — so far — has lost a net 10 million jobs. Weekly unemployment claims since March have exceeded the worst week of the 2008–09 recession.
After the GOP railed disingenuously about the deficit during the Obama Administration, they said nothing when Trump increased the annual deficit from $585 billion to $3.1 trillion during his presidency. Interestingly enough, the faux GOP deficit hawks have now remerged from hiding since Trump lost.
Since Trump lost the election, he has simply lost what little interest he had in doing his job as president. Trump hasn’t attended an intelligence briefing or a corona virus task force meeting for months. Trump recently went on vacation and held up relief for tens of millions of Americans.
It is no coincidence that this is the second consecutive Republican administration to lead the United States into disaster. This is the direct result of the GOP’s bankrupt governing philosophy that rejects science, expertise and government itself. The Republicans like to tell us that government doesn’t work and then they wreck government in order to prove it.
After his failed presidency, George W. Bush went down the GOP memory hole. Even though Bush was revered by most Republicans during his presidency, you would now be hard pressed to find a Republican today who will admit that they were once an ardent supporter of the 43rd president. Voter amnesia about Bush’s failed presidency is one of the reasons why we ended up with Trump and an all GOP government in 2017–18. The results of that amnesia were disastrous.
I predict to you that by this time next year, most Republicans will deny that they were ever enthusiastic supporters of Trump. They will point to his deficits and spending and falsely contend that he was never a true conservative. We can’t let the Republicans get away with this again. It is our job as Democratic activists to refresh voter memories. History matters. Now let’s get it done!