It has become commonplace to hear people, chiefly those on the left, saying that Donald Trump is the worst United States president ever.
According to a recent The Economist/YouGov poll, 41 percent of Americans surveyed said that Trump was the worst president the nation has ever had, with his predecessor in the Oval Office, Barack Obama, right behind him at 28 percent (ironically, 16 percent of those polled chose Obama as America’s best president, one point behind Abraham Lincoln).
Even former Secretary of State John Kerry, who served in the Obama administration, joined in last month, calling Trump the worst on BBC’s Newsnight.
“I think Donald Trump’s legacy will be to have qualified as the worst President in American history,” Kerry said. “Whilst he has had a couple of successes in his agenda, it has not made America safer, it has not made America fairer.”
On the other hand, Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight praised Trump during a recent guest appearance on the Fox News program “Life, Liberty & Levin,” for delivering on his campaign promises to restore conservative principles to government.
“He’s actually doing what he said he would do — an amazing thing in itself, isn’t it?” Voight said. “But he’s actually accomplishing returning to our basic principles of government that were given to us by those guys on the wall there,” pointing to several pictures of the Founding Fathers on the Fox News set.
It is safe to say that few presidents have polarized the American electorate the way Trump has done. Some Americans love Trump for his conservative policies and his perceived boldness, while others hate Trump for those same policies (especially on immigration), his perceived arrogance and also his relatively close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
However, when it comes to “Who is the worst president in American history?” it also might be safe to say that Trump isn’t anywhere close. Consider the following examples of past U.S. presidents who have enacted absolutely cringeworthy policies.
John Adams, our second president and a member of the Federalist Party, was so incensed by opposition from supporters of political rival (and then Vice-President) Thomas Jefferson that he signed the Sedition Act into law in 1798. Basically, the act outlawed criticizing the government — if you badmouthed the government (or the president) or wrote an editorial criticizing either, you went to jail.
Not to be outdone, Woodrow Wilson signed another Sedition Act into law in 1918 toward the end of World War I, which did the same thing. Eugene V. Debs, a vocal opponent of World War I, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for giving a speech that encouraged resisting the draft. Ironically, similar speeches became common during the Vietnam War era half a century later by those opposed to the war in southeast Asia.
But wait, there’s more.
President Chester Alan Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which barred anyone from China from coming to America. That ban stayed in effect for more than 60 years and was only repealed during World War II, when the Chinese were our allies in the war against Japan.
Speaking of World War II, the internment of Japanese Americans in relocation camps (one of which was at Heart Mountain) in the name of preventing fifth-column activities ranks as a very black mark on the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president who authorized it.
However, even that pales next to what Andrew Jackson did.
No fan of Native Americans, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which resulted in the genesis of the Trail of Tears. These forced relocations of Native Americans from their homelands in the southeastern United States were so brutal that some of them have been called death marches. Had they taken place today, Jackson might have been charged with war crimes.
Having said all of this, I am not writing this column to support or criticize President Trump. However, I believe that any evaluation of a president as the best — or the worst — of all time should be done in the context of American history. And by that standard, I find it hard to rank any president in recent history as the best or the worst.