According to current polling, Donald Trump’s approval rating is the lowest ever recorded for a president this early in his first term. Of course there’s plenty of time for him to find his footing and accomplish great things as his term unfolds, but there’s also plenty of time for him to completely lose his footing and fall on his face. With his thin skin and seeming inability to consider the consequences of his words and actions, a spectacular failure certainly seems to be within his grasp.
But does The Donald have what it takes to compete for the title of Worst President Ever? To answer that I researched some presidential ranking lists produced by professional historians to find out which presidents they consider to be bottom of the barrel so I could see just how low a bar President Trump would need to slither under to be judged the worst of the worst.
The only name that seemed to come up on these lists consistently for relatively recent administrations was George W. Bush. History is not turning out to be kind to his attempts to jump-start democracy in the Middle East through military intervention and his spending habits really kicked our deficit situation into overdrive. He tended to show up in the bottom 10 of many of the lists I looked at.
Andrew Jackson isn’t quite a contender for bottom of the pack yet, but his stock seems to have been falling since his legacy became a hot topic when there was talk of replacing him on the $20 bill. He has a pretty solid reputation as the biggest racist ever to “grace” the White House. He was an enthusiastic supporter of slavery and screwed over Native Americans multiple times, welching on treaties and instituting the infamous “Trail of Tears.”
But the worst of the worst, according to many historians, were the guys who were in office around the time of the Civil War and not named Abraham Lincoln. Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan held office just before Lincoln and are saddled with a lot of the responsibility for failing to head off the coming War Between the States, and Andrew Johnson is widely panned for badly mishandling reconstruction of the South when he took over after Lincoln’s assassination. All three men consistently rank near the bottom of most historians’ lists, but it’s Buchanan who seems the consensus choice for the worst ever.
James Buchanan seemed to have a unique talent for angering and disappointing nearly everyone around him. He declined to take a stand on the issue of slavery and only gave a tepid response to the possibility of Southern states’ right to secede from the union when trouble started brewing. His failure to act decisively as the Southern rebellion took hold in the waning days of his term left Lincoln in a terrible position to begin his administration.
It’s probably fair to say that a truly disastrous presidency is the result of very bad leadership in the face of a series of difficult situations. The great presidents like Lincoln and JFK rose to the occasion when a crisis presented itself and the incompetence of men like Buchanan caused bad situations to turn into disasters.
What will happen to the country if Trump has to lead us during a time of great crisis, such as a large-scale war or an outbreak of major civil unrest? Can we trust him to make wise decisions and unite the country like Lincoln and FDR did? Or will his pettiness and narcissism take us right over the edge when we are at the brink of disaster?
I really hope we don’t have to find that out. If historians are arguing over whether Trump or Buchanan was our worst president 100 years from now it would mean some very bad things are in store for us in the next four years.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.