The worst president in history? It’s complicated. (Update #2)

Updates

  1. Originally published, October 24, 2020, at 1:30 pm.
  2. October 25, 2020, 6:21 am:

Presidents

Attempting a comparison of U.S. presidents, Nicholas Goldberg

quickly realized [he] was in over [his] head trying to determine who was worst among them. Is a corrupt president worse than a incompetent president? Is it worse to separate children from their parents at the border or to allow fugitive slaves to be caught and delivered back to their owners? Is killing thousands of Native Americans worse than denying the existential dangers of climate change? Do the 12 presidents who owned slaves belong automatically at the bottom of the list, regardless of their other achievements or the times in which they lived?[1]

This is a problem with a quantitative approach, as with IQ tests: It can attempt to rank things that compare more like apples and oranges on a single, linear scale. The questions Goldberg raises here will always be problematic.

Nicholas Goldberg, “Is Trump the worst president ever? He’s got some competition,” Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-10-20/the-worst-president-in-american-history


California

Ryan Sabalow, “‘That is unacceptable.’ California megachurch faces local backlash for dismissing COVID-19,” Sacramento Bee, October 23, 2020, https://www.sacbee.com/article246671032.html

Ryan Sabalow, Lara Korte, and Jason Pohl, “Rural California is divided, armed for revolt. What’s the matter in the State of Jefferson?” Sacramento Bee, October 24, 2020, https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/article246652603.html


Social conservatism

The carefully choreographed dance goes like this: Moral character in public officials matters quite a lot when the public officials who morally fail are Democrats; it matters hardly at all when they are Republicans. If it’s a liberal who has crossed ethical lines, emphasize righteous conduct; if it’s a conservative, emphasize forgiveness and verses like “Judge not lest you be judged.” If it’s Bill Clinton in the dock, savage him; if it’s Donald Trump, savage his critics.[2]

Peter Wehner, “Evangelicals Made a Bad Bargain With Trump,” Atlantic, October 18, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/the-evangelical-movements-bad-bargain/616760/


  1. [1]Nicholas Goldberg, “Is Trump the worst president ever? He’s got some competition,” Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-10-20/the-worst-president-in-american-history
  2. [2]Peter Wehner, “Evangelicals Made a Bad Bargain With Trump,” Atlantic, October 18, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/the-evangelical-movements-bad-bargain/616760/