George W. Bush was a terrible president. He fumbled everything from Katrina to Iraq to the economy. But even he wasn't all bad — his AIDS initiative in Africa was a blessing to that continent, for instance.
Jimmy Carter is remembered as a disastrous president (possibly unfairly) but he's had a post-presidency that's proved him an uncommonly decent man.
Lyndon Johnson's presidency collapsed in the Vietnam War — but hey, at least he spearheaded the momentous Civil Rights Act.
The point is that even lousy presidents have a silver lining ... right? Well, maybe not. It is increasingly difficult to find one nice thing to say about President Trump.
Let's just look at the last month: In that time he and his administration have picked fights with allies, buttered up dictators, accelerated a nascent trade war, and created — purely for the sake of cruelty and cynical political leverage — a humanitarian disaster on our border with Mexico. Oh, and in his spare time, he's used his Twitter account to undermine the rule of law in hopes it will save him from prosecution.
That's a whole term of bad accomplishments for some presidents, but Trump is barely breaking a sweat.
Trump oversees a White House full of chaotic, petty backstabbing. He makes some key decisions, it appears, purely for their trolling value. He changes positions so frequently that no one can rely on his word, but you weren't going to trust his word anyway since he's such a prolific liar. He tolerates obvious corruption in his Cabinet. He can't quite bring himself to condemn Nazis. And what may be his greatest "success" — getting out of Congress' way to get a tax cut passed — was a handout to the rich that will be paid by the poor and middle class for years to come.
He's the worst.
There are other contenders for the title, of course, but a glance through American history reveals that most bad presidents — like the aforementioned Bush, Carter, and Johnson — have at least one thing going for them.
Richard Nixon was the only president to resign, thanks to Watergate, which instantly relegated him to the ranks of the worst presidents. But he also opened relations with the Chinese, eased tensions with the Soviets, established the Environmental Protection Agency and, heck, he even endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment. He was better than Trump.
Herbert Hoover left the economy in such bad shape that capitalism itself needed saving after his term. But like Jimmy Carter, Hoover was redeemed in private life by his tremendous humanitarian work during World War I — and he was even known to raise funds for what is now the Boys & Girls Club of America. He was better than Trump.
Warren G. Harding's presidency was beset with corruption and scandal — though the most famous, the Teapot Dome scandal, wasn't revealed until after his death — and his private life, replete with infidelity, was nothing to brag about either. But he was also an early advocate of civil rights, urging that African Americans in the South be given equal opportunity to vote, and he condemned lynching in unequivocal terms. He was better than Trump.
James Buchanan played fiddle while the forces that led to the Civil War were gathering momentum. This is regarded by many historians as one of the worst-ever presidential mistakes. And he was an early example of a now-familiar phenomenon: a Northern man with Southern principles. Still, unlike Trump, Buchanan also had a long history of service to the public — serving as minister to Russia, ambassador to the United Kingdom, and secretary of state. Even he was better than Trump.
The list goes on. It is near impossible to find any president, no matter how terrible, of whom some nice things can't be said — until we get to Trump.
This raises a question: How might Trump possibly redeem himself? A Jimmy Carter post-presidency of philanthropy seems unlikely, given that New York is suing Trump for using his charitable foundation as a piggy bank to fund his private ventures. The best that can be said of "private life" Trump is that while he's a vulgarian con man, he's at least an entertaining vulgarian con man.
I know Trump has his fans. They don't see him as needing redemption. They're glad he's appointing conservative judges. They want a harsher stance against illegal immigration. Some may even like his trade protectionism. But the polls show that Trump is currently the most popular he has ever been in office — and still, a healthy majority of Americans disapprove of his performance.
What's clear to most of us, then, is that Trump is an awful president. What's less clear? That there's anything nice you can say about him or his presidency. It's catastrophes all the way down. Trump is the worst — and it's Americans who will pay the price.