Whenever we have a new president, C-SPAN, the cable channel dedicated to televising the actions of the federal government, interviews historians, writers and others and publishes an updated list of our the greatest and the worst presidents.
I was honored to have been one of those invited to participate. The process involved a ranking each past president – George Washington to Donald Trump – in 10 different categories. A score of one meant formidable, 10 a flop.
As usual, there was no doubt about the top rankings: Abraham Lincoln, Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt finished in the top three. In fact, the top 10 remains exactly the same as in 2017, except for the first inclusion of Barack Obama, which pushed Lyndon Johnson to join this elite group.
Would Trump be the worst?
Of course, the real anticipation this time around was about Trump. How would he get out of it?
The answer: bad. Very poorly. But not the bottom of the barrel. Trump comes 41st, ahead of three other mediocrities: Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and, last as usual, James Buchanan. They were absolutely horrible, but they’ve been on the list for a while. Most people want to know more about Trump, the newbie, so let’s focus on him.
Trump was surprisingly easy to notice. I gave it a “10” – as in horrible – in “Moral authority”, “Administrative skills” and “International relations”. Others clearly had similar views. He finished at the lowest, the worst of the worst in the first two categories and 43rd (penultimate) in “International Relations”.
But I haven’t been totally hard on Trump. I placed it in the bottom third – still lousy but not a total disaster – in two categories: “Public Persuasion” and “Economic Management”. He finished 32nd and 34th.
Given how Trump used to suggest he was on Mount Rushmore with Lincoln (# 1), Washington (# 2), Theodore Roosevelt (# 4), and Thomas Jefferson (# 7), he does no doubt he and his supporters will find his ranking among the scum of the US presidency to be nothing more than fake news.
Voters save the nation from bad leaders
Fake news is their term for anything that doesn’t validate what they want to hear, and / or are desperate to believe. But do they really believe that a man who bragged about assaulting women, cheated on his third wife with a pornstar (and paid him $ 130,000 for his silence) and more does not deserve to be the absolute worst in the category “Moral authority”?
Do they really believe a guy whose response to the street protests after the murder of George Floyd was to “just shoot them(As alleged in a new book by Michael Bender of the Wall Street Journal) was really a good crisis leader (he ranked 41st)? Do they really believe that he “pursued equality of justice for all” (he placed 40th)? Enough of this illusion.
Time and perspective could lead to future changes in rankings. In recent years, Ulysses S. Grant and George W. Bush have climbed, while Woodrow Wilson and Richard M. Nixon have fallen. But it’s pretty unlikely that future historians will cast anything other than a contemptuous judgment on a two-time deeply immoral president whose lies helped inspire the worst attack on the United States Capitol. since 1814.
In the meantime, there is a larger point, and a point of hope I think, to be made on the rankings of C-SPAN. Interestingly, many of our Worst Presidents (# 44 Buchanan, # 29 George W. Bush, and # 36 Herbert Hoover) have all been followed by the Top 10 Presidents (Lincoln, FDR, and Obama). As I was filling out the C-SPAN survey, it occurred to me that this was about American resilience. This shows that we have a powerful capacity for self-correction. In the course of our country’s long and eventful history, we have made serious mistakes with some of our leaders. And we replaced them each time with someone better.
It’s early in President Joe Biden’s tenure, but he seems to fit that pattern. In this regard, our system is still working.
Paul Brandus is the founder and White House bureau chief of West Wing Reports, a member of the USA TODAY Contributors Council and author of four books on the White House and the Presidency. Follow him on Twitter: @WingWingReport
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump avoids bottom and Obama goes up: C-SPAN presidential poll