Small World: Ranking the rank


Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

A historian friend of mine has listed the men he deems the ten worse American presidents. He didn’t leave a vacant slot for the incumbent, but I wonder whether Mr. Trump might not soon fit in based on this country’s experience of the past two and a half months of his 48-month term of office.

Categorizing roughly, I would say that five of the historian’s ten baddies were listed because of their wrong-headed positions on slavery; two because of their toleration of corruption; two because of lying or criminal policy; and one because of ineptitude in dealing with a national crisis. Let’s see how Mr. Trump makes it through this sieve. Chattel slavery is no longer on the agenda but we might easily substitute how the incumbent treats the middle and lower classes — sometimes called “wage slaves.”

On that score, I would say Mr. Trump shows every sign of becoming a modern day Buchanan. After his campaign appeal for better treatment of educationally poorly prepared and economically threatened whites, he turned on them in proposing health care legislation which would leave them worse off than with Obamacare. Programs that benefit them — Meals on Wheels, regional development funds, etc. — are slated to be cut back. It’s early to say, but I doubt that Trump tax proposals will treat them as generously as they will the traditional big money folks in the Republican ranks — the kind that have been named to fill Cabinet slots. So much for favoring the little guy against the elites.

There is one bit of business where Mr. Trump gives equal treatment to wage slaves and elites: both will suffer from his destruction of Obama’s measures to limit the pace of global warming. They and their descendants will suffer equally.

The next failing among past leaders for which two are held culpable is corruption: Grant and Harding are listed as the major malefactors. Neither, however, dipped his own hands into the till; they simply turned a blind eye when cronies ripped off the public purse. Something like that may be starting under the present regime: the assets of our billionaire president have been turned over to his kin to manage. We may see court cases challenging these and other arrangements on conflict of interest grounds. Another source of foul aroma may be found when a billionaire investor profits from his closeness to the bunch in Washington and successfully advises the elimination of regulations that harm his business interests.

Two scorned ex-presidents (Nixon and the second Bush) have been reasonably accused of lying and putting or keeping us in disastrous wars. The latter was also been accused of wrecking the economy. It’s too soon to accuse our president of pushing us into deeper conflicts, but there are signs in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen that a drift in that direction is building momentum. The economy is doing well during his brief tenure – thanks in good part to inherited momentum and high hopes among investors, which may prove to be ill-founded. When it comes to lack of respect for truth, however, Mr. Trump may establish a new national record. Roll over, Mr. Nixon.

Finally, how might Mr. Trump rank compared to Herbert Hoover and his bungled efforts to deal with the Great Depression? Happily, he hasn’t had to face that kind of severe test. But can anyone vouch for his interest in the mechanisms of government, his knowledge of foreign relations, his skill in persuading recalcitrant members of Congress, or talents for generating sound ideas and reassuring the panicky public? Mr. Trump has faced severe difficulties in the past. Unfortunately there is no bankruptcy court to rescue him if the national economy tanks.

Roosevelt came to the nation’s rescue in the Depression in large part because he picked a staff rich in creative talents. Trump’s staff is just plain rich.

To wrap up this evaluation, I would say that Mr. Trump is headed down the trail to low or lowest ranking. In all fairness we should allow him some more months to manifest his true fitness and qualities for the job — if, in fact, he can scrape up a few.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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