Yes, you read that title correctly. Now, I know most of you will propose that Trump or one of his cabinet members deserves this title but even the top dog himself pursues his reckless course of world destruction with an unapologetic pantomime of confidence. Ryan, on the other hand, is more like a snake, slithering his way to the top of a tree, crossing any and all branches to pursue his ultimate goal of a government that’s… well, we’re not quite sure of that even. Unlike most snakes of course, he’s not that cunning, sneaky, or threatening. He does however try to be all these things and for that reason, we’ll stick with the metaphor.
Last week, former FBI Director James Comey testified against Trump, resulting in a ripple across the GOP’s collective nerve system. Paul Ryan, likely hoping to remind America that he exists (despite his significant position), responded to the allegations of corruptions in the White House by saying that the President was ‘just new to this.’ It was a pitiful display for the straight-laced gym-bound Speaker and one yet of mild disappointment for the people who might have thought him a voice of (some) reason in a party so lost in its way; for this man was not always a reliable source of support for the Trump administration…
It was in May 2016 when the Republican Primaries were effectively over that the Washington Post ran a story on the Speaker ’emerging’ as the party’s leading anti-Trump figure. Like many, he was astounded at the rhetoric being used during the great Orange Surge. After all, Ryan, ever the serpentine, was the archetypal Republican; all about family values, pro-NRA, a Climate Change skeptic, anti-Obamacare, anti-Same-Sex marriage, anti-abortion, and anti-reason. In 2014, he even wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, in which he divided the American people into ‘takers’ and ‘makers,’ which he would later flip-flop on- just like a true Republican. So what he saw before his eyes at the RNC last summer must have disquieted him and moderates subsequently hoped he would stand his own ground. Unfortunately however, he had a lackluster answer even then when he finally decided to support one of his own most vocal critics; ‘Hillary isn’t the answer.’
Ever since, Ryan has been lost in some sort of strange limbo where his agenda is being pushed but he seems all the more insignificant. He can’t keep up with the fresh slew of news being generated by the Trump administration on a daily basis. He’s constantly reacting, in off-beat time, to whatever the latest hurdle is. He denounces Trump every now and again and then stands by him steadfastly, as if to ensure the safety nets stay on a trampoline shot into outer space. He is the stalwart of a party whose principles are as expendable as his own time, for all the people care. Even his haircut betrays the possibility that this man might at all be genuine or interesting.
So why do we pay so much credence to this shadow of a man? The fact of the matter is he is important, or will be again when Trump is impeached and the guy who looks like he’s from Thunderbirds takes over. It will be at that point or some other in the future when he releases his pulped autobiography when he will have to answer for all the hypocrisy he presided over during his tenure. With the likes of former Republican Representative Bob Inglis calling him out (‘You know that you would be inquiring into impeachment if this were a Democrat’), the Speaker has to determine the point of no-return, when none of his party’s principles coalesce with the trajectory of the current administration. Only then, will he be able to justify a non-microwaveable dinner.
I imagine Trump is quite relieved that his 9-day stint in foreign policy is over. Most assuredly, his staff will be cajoling him with ‘true’ news reports that things went ‘just fabulously’ and that it won’t be necessary to head outside of the US any time soon. Now, some of the more cynical ‘thinkers’ of the World Wide Web might be positing that these trips were anything but great with either his hypocritical change of rhetoric being brought into question or else his general disinterest in world affairs. To be fair to the 70-year old year renegade however, he had to endure countless conversations with God-knows-how-many al-somethings in the Middle East whilst others sullied up the good name of Mar-a-Lago. Can’t we give him a break? Well, let’s look at how things went to begin with:
Stop One- Saudi Arabia
It’s not the friendliest neighborhood and most presidents usually don’t choose it as their first foreign destination but you know Trump- straight to the grit! Of course, even he needed a little context for this one as Saudi Arabia has had a long and complicated relationship with the US. They’re the kind of bad-boy BF you know you should give up but they’re always there when you need them and with the goods (oil). Yes, it’s one of the most disappointing alliances the US has ever pursued but it doesn’t look to change anytime soon, despite slight withdrawals in recent times, including a $400 million arms deal last year (when it became apparent that these airstrikes in Yemen weren’t all that popular).
Not only have over 10,000 people been killed in these assaults in the last two years, but 17 million people are now facing starvation, according to the UN. On top of that, they consistently rank low in the Amnesty and Human Rights Watch reports on other matters like freedom of speech and women’s rights (though Ivanka did note they had made some progress, if you want to take her word for it). Even former US ambassador Robert Jordan (a Bush II appointee) remarked how the ‘humanitarian’ aspects of this conflict were being outright ‘ignored.’ Heck, even Trump himself has criticized both the regime for its ‘harboring’ of the 9/11 terrorists and Obama for bowing to the Saudi King in 2012.
So naturally, Trump brought in the reigns on his categorization of ‘Radical Islam’ (now ‘extremist ideology’), delivered an all-too diluted speech for his fervent supporters, accepted the Collar of Abdelaziz Saud from King Salmon, and capped it all off with a 10-year projected $350-billion arms agreement. In terms of his own campaign rhetoric, he therein delivered one of the most bamboozling if expected 180-degree turns in US history. On the other hand though, the Saudi press gave him and Melania glowing reviews. In the Trump book, this was therefore the best success ever achieved by a US president.
Stop Two- Israel
Not one to take a rest, Trump followed up his trip to the ‘Middle East’ with Israel, which is of course situated in the Middle East (although the President can’t be expected to know everything now, can he?) Unlike his previous foray however, which involved directly selling out any possible remaining US moral values, this was more of an exercise in tip-toeing delicate grounds- that is the whole Israel-Palestine thing. You see, it only became apparent to Trump in recent weeks that this decades-long tension wasn’t all that easy to solve (after a ten minute explanation). So this was going to prove a real test of diplomacy. Did he succeed? Let’s it put it this way- it was the least pugnacious part of his 9-day tour.
First, there was the media blitz that resulted when Melania swatted his hand away like some annoying fly- injecting life back into the widely held belief that she does not love him at all. We’ll just let that hang there…
Then it was off to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem- without recognizing it as the capital. Pretty slick, right? Of course, this was a historic part of his venture as he became the first US president to actually go to this wall (though frankly he may just have a fascination with walls in general). He then visited the Holocaust Remembrance Center and left a less than eloquent note, akin to something you might find at Disneyland or in a year book: ‘It’s a great honor to be here with all my friends. So amazing and will never forget.’ Obama had written something far more eloquent back in 2008 about the great suffering endured all those years ago but he’s a bit of nerd at the best of times. Trump, unjustly hounded by the press at every opportunity, was merely expressing how awesome it was to have Tillerson and crew along.
It was in his speech that US foreign policy came to the forefront most clearly however and by clearly, I mean ‘vaguely’, as picked up by reporters on site. While reiterating their commitment to regional peace, he managed to avoid the question of recognizing Palestinian statehood and the possibility of an embassy move to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv (a campaign promise.) This meant that things, more or less, remained the same upon exit for his next stumbling block.
Stop Three- Europe
‘He’s something’ Trump said of the Pope, ever the linguist. Now, most of you have probably already determined that this meeting was exceptionally awkward. Exceptionally… Anyways, the two held a 30-minute 1-on-1 meeting in which issues such as Climate Change and terrorism were discussed. The former would haunt Trump the last few days of this sordid tour but the latter is perhaps one of his favorites. These two men naturally must have disagreed, given their polarizing alliances to God and the Devil, but they were nevertheless able to pose for a picture which speaks more words than any review ever could.
It was then on to the G7 Summit, the highlight of this entire trip. Again, there were the awkward faux pas- be it shoving aside other world leaders to get the front for a photo-op or engaging French President Macron in another one of those aggressive Smackdown handshakes. There was also the speech he delivered in which he chastised a majority of NATO countries for not investing enough of their GDP in defense, which he believed made them over-reliant on US military might. Where the real difficulty was always going to lie however was in Trump’s stance on the Paris Climate Accords, committed to under President Obama in December 2015. Long story short, he said he’d make up his mind sometime this coming week. The other world leaders were left in dubious doubt however, with German Chancellor Merkel eluding to the notion that Europe would have to endure on its own and that Germany could no longer ‘rely’ on Trump’s America. Upon departure, Trump told US naval sailors in Sicily that the 9-days been a ‘home run’.
The media largely focused their attention on what was ‘awkward’ during these visits but a few talking points arose between the many reports given: the downplay of his Islamophobic rhetoric; the ‘America First’ policy on display; the reaffirmation of Gulf alliances; the growing division in US-European alliances; and the fact that Trump is still finding his footing on the world stage. For some, it was a meager lightweight trip that amounted to very little we didn’t already know before. For others, it was a calming reminder that Trump can restrain himself at times. For most, it was a meme-centric carnival of diplomatic embarrassment, the likes of which we will never see again until his next foreign escapade or Twitter-bowel-movement-tirade.
Saturday (29th April) will mark the 100th day of the Trump administration and while the reviews have been contemptuously abysmal, the ratings have been ‘huuuuuge.’ This still seems to matter even in the face of overwhelming rejection, criticism, and abject failure. If it didn’t, we could count him out. The struggle, unfortunately, continues for the resistance.
So where do we begin? 100 days is not a long period of time to assess a presidency and Trump does have a point when he discounts it as a ‘ridiculous standard.’ (Yes, this was from a Tweet.) Indeed, most historians would agree on this point, citing LBJ’s commitment to Civil Rights and Reagan’s action on taxes as significant initiatives taken outside this time frame. Even, Clinton was a little slow to start. This president has jettisoned so many disastrous schemes already however that it seems a little naive to conjecture that he may be reading the instruction manual. Trump cannot read. It therefore seems appropriate, as with most administrations, that we should at least consider the tone he has set for what is to come.
Darkness. The tone has been one of great darkness. A little abrupt? Well, let’s flit through some of the things that have occurred these past three months. Before he had even gotten through his first weekend, the women’s march had mobilized millions worldwide in unison against his sexist postulations. Then, his travel ban was overturned as quickly as it had been implemented. (Remodeled versions of this ban continue to dominate the courts, though Trump baffingly still considers this an achievement.) He had little time to reflect on this however, for the American Health Care Act he endorsed was ready to fail, even with a Republican majority. Then, as if that was not enough, he managed to give rise to Cuban Missile-like fears with North Korean relations. While all this was happening, a credibility gap was forming not only between him and his base, but between him and his hapless press secretary, Sean Spicer, who continually referenced tweets, establishing a new low for media relations. To top all this off, he has gathered around him the type of cabinet Sauron of Lord of the Rings fame, would even consider excessive. There’s not enough time to go through every appointee but son-in-law Jared Kushner is basically in charge of Middle East talks and Rick Perry has the EPA. Yes, those are just some of the main talking points…
Trump’s shortcomings as a president not only undermine the values of democracy, civil liberties, and common morality however. They also betray the cause of his campaign, the hopes of his base, and the future of America’s youth. Is rejuvenating the coal industry really a step forward? Is TPP even promising when across the globe, more and more capital has been injected into a green industry? Just who wants this border wall? Yes, there are many questions (and lapses in logic) but don’t expect the answers from Trump. He’s a doer, not a thinker. That is why crude nationalism is the new rationale. That is why diplomacy has been pushed aside in favor of military might. That is why the Age of Terror has been ramped back up to fifth gear. We have suffered in the process but Trump, despite amazingly poor approval ratings for what should be his ‘Honeymoon’ period, only seems to push more and more. After all, in a time of ‘Alternative Facts’, political polarization, and great distrust of the media and the far left, there will always be some band of neanderthals ready to defend him at every turn.
Trump’s first 100 days can therefore be characterized for the tone they have set, in many ways, more so than any other president’s. Besides the fact that there is a steeper learning curve for him than those before (given his lack of political experience), he has moved boldly and without trepidation on many of the causes he said he would address. If Democrats want to succeed, they will need to keep up with the momentum of these past three months as 1,360 days yet remain till the next inauguration.
Early last Friday, 59 cruise missiles were launched by the Trump administration in response to a chemical attack which killed 86 people in Syria. Before the dust had even settled, the media had determined the legitimacy of this presidency by virtue of its military injunction. It is a familiar story which plagues almost every country’s history when such action placates the concerns of before and replaces them with either a patriotic zeal of some level or at the very least, an admission of authority.
A few commentators like the Washington Post’s Derek Hawkins went so far as to describe the images of impending missile destruction as ‘beautiful’ whilst others, such as Fareed Zakaria on CNN, made more restrained, though nonetheless telling observations; ‘I think Donald Trump became president of the US last night.’ The questions of morality and legality in these assaults will undoubtedly provoke widespread debate but our interest for now lies in the area of the President’s perceived image. For just as these strikes have given the Trump the pedestal of ‘Commander-in-Chief’, so too have past events helped to cement previous leaders’ standing.
Abraham Lincoln and FDR, for example, whilst exceptional in many degrees, were able to ascend to the highest level of presidential grandeur because their legacies were so fundamentally interwoven with the great conflicts of their time. In less obvious circumstances however, such as Bill Clinton’s handling of Bosnia, we have also seen the ascension of rodents from the sewers to the street (not that Bill Clinton is a rat). Praise is not an essential factor in identifying the confluence of this change but inaction or weak, diplomatic-heavy procedures do little to reassure the public’s confidence in their leader. Our old favorite, Jimmy Carter, springs to mind at this point. Had he launched even a single missile during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, he would likely have garnered a tighter circle of supporters. He chose every other option first however and for that, he suffered the image of a weak, submissive Commander-in-Chief.
Military action may be the quickest way of mobilising public support; it does not create the strongest footing however. George W. Bush, after the attacks of 9/11, peaked at a 90% approval rating and garnered the support he needed for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. We know how the rest goes but even to this day, loved or hated, he is acknowledged as a strong leader. So whilst the likes of W. Post’s Margaret Sullivan has duly noted that ‘praise flowed like wedding champagne’ in the wake of the strikes, we must take such observations with a grain of salt. Trump’s popularity has not been assured in this instance. Questions over his legitimacy, however, are finally fading. A hundred days have almost passed and the media have now come to accept him as their president.
And in this unholy shitstorm, the vacuum of the media’s irresponsibility has once again magnified. We will leave this with a passage from what renowned Dan Rather had to say however because he puts it best:
The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as “presidential” is concerning. War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike.
The divide of cultural thinking in America is becoming more and more apparent with every passing day of the dystopian Trump administration. On one side, we have the so-called backwards’ thinking red-necks keeping Kid Rock clocking in the millions and on the other, we have high-minded intellectuals who will take down anything even approaching the shade of intolerance in the comments’ section of their Facebook newsfeed. A few months back, we discussed this latter conglomerate in relation to Clint Eastwood’s denouncement of the millennial generation. Today, we will delve into that ever-relevant subject in the context of the student body and protests at universities; not for any particular instance but because in this new environment, liberals (whose ideas such as health care are widely more popular with the public) must realize that not every little thing is worth losing their minds over.
Colleges should be bastions of free speech and open-mindedness. Third-level education is about exploring new ideas which not only intrigue but challenge you. You do not necessarily have to agree with someone’s line of thought (even the professor’s) but you should be exposed to it because intellectual thought gains credence when it is tested and critical thinking, as we have also discussed before, is pertinent to keeping power and established notions in check.
So how come in many cases, colleges have come to exhibit the exact opposite philosophy?
Well, let’s take a look first at how many students’ intolerance of perceived intolerance has manifested:
In 2014, Condoleeza Rice (US Secretary of State under Bush II) was supposed to deliver the commencement address at Rutgers University in New Jersey but was protested over her administration’s handling of the Iraq War. Although the university’s president Robert L. Barchi defended their choice of speaker on the grounds of her being ‘one of the most influential intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years’, she decided to drop out, stating that the occasion should be a ‘joyous’ one and that her involvement might prove a distraction.
Later on that same year, comedian and political pundit Bill Maher was opposed by the students of Berkeley for criticizing Islam. In a viral debate with Sam Harris and Ben Affleck, he contested that as a set of ideas, Islam was a tough one to tackle because of the connotations associated with attacking a religion. In a change.org petition, signed by nearly 6,000 people, the student body objected to his ‘blatant [bigotry] and [racism]’, furthering that Maher’s kind of beliefs only served to conflate the ideas of extremists with the greater Islamic population. Maher went on to deliver the commencement address anyways but not before commenting that ‘liberals should own the First Amendment the way conservatives own the second’.
Women’s rights’ activist Ayaan Hiris Ali, meanwhile, was scheduled to receive an honorary degree from Brandeis University until the throngs came out against her. The offer was rescinded owing to the fact that past statements of hers against Islam were not compatible with the ‘core values’ of the university. Her activism, of course, can be attributed to a more controversial nature than Bill Maher’s but the student body’s disavowal of her, in light of the other causes she has promoted, spoke volumes for the culture in which we live.
Richard Dawkins, the famed biologist and atheist, has posited that political correctness has been replaced by an ‘unofficial’ Orwellian Thought Police. With instances such as the ones mentioned above, he believes that we have seen a ‘betrayal’ of the free speech movement which grew out of Berkeley. This philosophy, for many, undermines the values of a true democracy and lends gravity to the arguments of conservatives who conjecture that the left are out of touch with the common man.
Not all liberals are ‘regressive leftists’ however (to borrow a phrase popularised by Sam Harris.) Many, like former President Obama, have espoused the need for students to balance their ideals with an open-mind. Militant political correctness, he stated in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopolous, serves as nothing more than a ‘recipe for dogmatism’. Even the leadership of the Civil Rights’ movement, he furthered, ‘sought to understand the views… of the other side,’ no matter how appalling. Students have become ‘coddled’ in today’s world, he asserted; a view shared by the likes of Robert L. Shibley, the vice-president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (a non-profit organisation), who stated: ‘Colleges and universities are teaching students to think like censors… [fueled by] overboard harassment policies, free speech zones that render most of campus a censorship zone, and a focus on civility and comfort at the expense of lively debate’.
On the flip-side to be fair, one can argue political correctness has been born out of necessity. After all, hateful or embittered rhetoric can be influential- just look at the effect it had in driving anti-semetic practice in the 1930s. Plus, the need for racism or any alternative forms of exclusiveness is about on-par with the need for two more season’s of The Big Bang Theory. (Seriously, cancel the f*#$ing thing already… not to make light of this…) Let’s face it however; universities err on the side of caution a stretch too far. It may be because they have always been havens of progressive thought; it may be because the media thrives off sensationalist stories; it may be the power of a group mentality; and it may be because even the slightest association of a racist, homophobic, or sexist thought is enough to ruin one’s social standing today, but such thinking does not always precipitate action.
Free speech is ‘indivisible’ for Mick Hume, the author of Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? When one makes it a ‘privilege’ and not a right, ‘who are you going to trust to make the decision about where to draw the line through [it]?’ That does not mean we should allow bigotry, sexism, or any other forms of discrimination to thrive but if their preachers or their ideas have gained enough momentum, why not give them a forum from which to be challenged? Why not ask Condoleeza Rice, herself, about Iraq? Because her answer will offend you? It’s high time we ditched the emotional baggage of our PC culture and adopt an idea so foreign to America today, that you would swear its visa had been suspended- reason.
“Kim K. wore WHAT to this Holacaust remembrance dinner?-”
A black dress… or something like that. I’ll be honest though- this headline is made up. I merely employed the use of this not-so sensational teaser to entice you to click on- or in this case, read on- so that I may gather more views and thus more revenue from advertisements to continue this farce of what is now largely accepted to be online journalism.
Of course, this kind of miserly trickery is not proper journalism and we must distinguish between quality and crass. The problem is however that clickbait and its affiliate tropes are infecting the mainstream media we rely on. Not only do these types of articles diminish the once respected nature of the profession but with their often inaccurate projections, they blur the lines between real, fake, and satirical news, thus giving credence to claims like Trump’s that the media, as a whole, cannot be trusted. How did we let this happen?
Firstly, journalism is a lot more flexible than it used to be. Yes, it is still a college course and yes, there are still exceptional reporters in Iraq but there are also many more freelancers and bloggers, who slunk through when the floodgates of social media opened. Some of them have been exceptionally innovative and clever, outside the old model but just as Youtube has allowed for the best (kind of) and worst of today’s entertainment, so has the blog-o-sphere given rise to the truly inhibited. So how does one get their voice to be heard then in such a swirling vortex? As a BBC piece on clickbait put it; ‘[it] is a golden rule of journalism [taught from the beginning that]… your introduction should grab the reader straight away.’ This is nothing new- you sensationalize and provoke with an outrageous title. Tabloids have been doing it for decades. Tabloids, however, could never wholly surmise what exactly the rabid gossipers were flicking through to. Online articles can.
Even sensationalism alone won’t do it now however. The public have grown accustomed to bank robberies and murders. What works better, as Wired put it, is ’emotional arousal.’ We click on to many of these articles, whether they deal with some phony hair regrowth method or how to tell if someone ‘can’t even’ in a specified situation, because they provoke our curiosity and elicit a response in us. Mankind, by its very nature, is uncomfortable with not knowing, especially when the answer is just a click away. Yet, we are manipulated easily and many online sites capitalize on this, resulting in fast-food journalism.
This could have been just a silly side-show to the dominant force of actual journalism. In recent years however, newspaper sales are down, broadcast ratings have fallen, and people have increasingly been getting their news online, via their Facebook newsfeed. This is very dangerous. With Facebook, we can choose to follow and unfollow whatever suits us. News is not designed to tickle our fancy and play to what we agree with though. It’s designed to inform on important subject matter. This partly explains why 2016 was such a politically divisive year. The people stuck to either the Republican or Democratic camps and whatever fell between became no-man’s land. The mainstream media, too, when it was most needed, played to wherever the action followed. Why else was Trump given so much coverage, even before the Primaries rolled out? Why else were the most important issues such as the Wealth Gap and Global Warming continually ignored? They are not alone to blame of course; we too, chose to accept the framework in which this circus operated because otherwise, we would have been forced to think critically and engage with complex, adult dialogue.
The results stand as such; the US now has a demagogic sociopath for a leader and a media with no sure confidence. They lost their credit, according to Bill Maher, because they became ‘eyeball-chasing click-bait whores’ and to restore that, they will need to go through a period of self-examination and self-improvement. As Jon Stewart put it, they should ‘take up a hobby. I recommend journalism.’ I agree with Jon. Alexis DeTocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, the press is one of the most integral facets of a free society. They are needed to hold those in power to account. Even, George W. Bush has asserted this lately and he hardly had a rapport with them.
The remedy to this ailment is simple but it will take time. The press needs to focus on reporting the important and proper news, even if it means losing a few hits. The public need to mature their interests and curb moronic list-based articles, Buzzfeed exposés, which peripheral Friends’-character-are-you based quizzes, and Facebook videos explaining brief, trivial news (by the way, Emma Watson was ‘very excited’ to take on Beauty and the Beast). Real news is often grim and unpleasant but burying our heads in the sand is never an acceptable solution; not when there is so much at stake, as there is now. Curb your outrage too- headlines like Christopher Hitchens’ famous ‘Why Women Aren’t Funny’ may elicit instantaneous backlash but when you read the actual article, you may find something deeper and more intellectual afoot. Outrage, as a form of sensationalism, is a self-multiplying currency and even three angry comments can eclipse a hundred measured responses. Use this currency well. Do not comment some diatribe about whitewashing with Matt Damon in The Great Wall. There are giant lizards. Save it. Please. Clickbait may seem insignificant but you know what?-
We here at the Washington Walrus feel passionately about US presidents in a way that can only be described as ‘slightly obsessive.’ And while the Oval Office has been hijacked by a demented Sasquatch, we still felt it was worthwhile taking a look back at better times. Unlike C-SPAN however, we will only be ranking the leaders of the post-war years. Besides a list of 45 being exhaustive and frankly tedious to most (have you even heard of Rutherford B. Hayes? oh… you have?), the position as we know it today really began to take shape in the wake of the New Deal and with the Cold War.
How did we decide? Well, we evaluated each president against the others on an extensive range of factors including: economics; foreign policy; domestic policy; leadership qualities; the tone they set for their times; the context in which they led; bi-partisanship; lasting legacy within these factors; chat show appearances; and more. Some of our choices may raise eyebrows but we didn’t choose frivolously, there was a very definite consensus reached. So, without further ado, to celebrate Presidents’ Day- the United States Presidents from worst to best as ranked by Andrew Carolan (AC) and Matthew O’Brien (MOB):
13. Donald J. Trump (2017-hopefully 2017)
It hardly seems right to rank a president of one month but then nothing he’s done has been fair. Even if the current president (shudder) was ranked on the hilarity of memes alone, he would still lose to Obama and Biden. Also, his policies are over-rated. Sad. AC & MOB
12. George W. Bush (2001-2009)
The affable younger Bush never ranks highly in these lists and… well, do we need to justify this one? The invasion of Iraq, notwithstanding, he had already turned a surplus into a defecit by the time of 9/11 and his slow, baffled response to Hurricane Katrina proved he was anything but fit for the job. America lost its stature of respect across the world where most people could not have imagined this man getting re-elected, much less, surviving another four years without impeachment. And yet, he hung on, leaving the US in the ‘mess’ Trump thinks Obama brought about. It’s easy to criticize Bush though, so for the sake of some balance, we should note that his Medicaid package has proved very popular and PEPFAR has made him nothing short of a hero to Africans, even if it was at the cost of the American taxpayer. AC
11. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
The ghosts of John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur welcomed a new member to their exclusive club on August 9, 1974, the equally unexceptional, equally un-elected, Gerald Ford. It’s hard to postulate as to whether Ford would have ever considered running for president but there is no doubt that he inherited a poisoned chalice. Perhaps his biggest claim to fame came at the beginning of his presidency as he granted Richard Nixon a presidential pardon for the trials and tribulations of Watergate. This would set the tone for the next three years. Yet, many historians have credited Ford with strengthening the frayed fibers of the country through projecting a positive outlook for the American future. His foreign policy was marked by the signing of the Helsinki Accords, which aimed to strengthen the relations between Europe and the Soviet Union. Domestically, Ford struggled to work bilaterally with Democratic majorities in Congress, which tested his parliamentarian ability. Ford, unlike so many of his predecessors, was never destined for the White House. MOB
10. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
It pains me to put Jimmy Carter so far down the list. He’s my own personal favorite because I wrote my MA dissertation on him and he has the most moral fibre of any of these fellas (no shots fired during his time). He set a tone of restraint and fiscal conservatism for America, for energy conservation, and for the promotion of human rights internationally. While this may have seemed amicable on the surface; combined with his unfruitful relations with the Democratic base, it only served to corroborate the popular image of him as a weak leader. This, along with the Hostage Crisis, paved the way for a resurgence of the Right in 1980 and his eventual defeat. Carter’s batting average with Congress, on the otherhand, was not bad but many of his measures and examples for the country (including solar panels on the White House) were promptly abandoned in the following administration. Thankfully though, he has gone on to boast perhaps the finest post-presidency. AC
9. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
The iconography will never be dispelled but I’m sorry, the ‘what if he had survived…’ postulation is not enough to have him deemed a great president. Man landed on the moon by the close of that decade and yes, the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved but Kennedy merely made an epic speech in the former’s case and with the latter, helped spark the fuse in the first place with the Bay of Pigs operation. I like him and the image of his presidency remains a great inspiration for many politicians today but I’m sorry, he’s over-rated. There’s no two ways about it. AC
9. Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
For Richard Nixon, it was nearly a case of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” He had served as Eisenhower’s VP for eight years, and lost out to JFK in the Presidential election of 1960. Yet, he emerged as perhaps one of the most misunderstood presidents in U.S. history. There is no doubt that if you remove Watergate from the equation, Nixon would rank higher. Tricky Dicky assumed control of a country that was deeply bifurcated. Nixon’s domestic record is chequered, yet while he is credited with the progressive initiatives of ‘New Federalism,’ such as Affirmative Action, he is criticized for his economic policy in which inflation drastically increased during his time in office. Unequivocally, his greatest achievement lay in his foreign diplomacy as he opened a previously moribund diplomatic channel with China, and simultaneously eased tensions with the Soviet Union through Détente. Nixon also had to deal with the national dilemma of Vietnam, exercising a policy of Vietnamization. While this was an admirable move, the Christmas bombing campaign in 1972 would set a morose tone for the remainder of his presidency. MOB
7. Harry Truman (1945-1953)
When Truman took over from FDR, he had only been vice-president for three months and had no prior knowledge of the Manhattan Project. He had big shoes to fill and daunting decisions to make; perhaps the toughest of any US president. He’s often ranked highly in these lists for that reason as well as setting the tone for US morale and policy in the Cold War, with the Berlin Airlift, Marshall Plan, and Domino Theory. From an outside perspective, these measures can be interpreted as a signs of an increasing American aggression however. The Atomic Bomb and Korean War too, while necessary to many, are hotly contended by others as sinful acts. In my opinion, the former may never have been needed to defeat Japan (they were on the verge of surrender) but Truman saw no need for further American loss (and a sneaky chance to show Russia what’s what). For that reason, he is a patriot but his values of leadership elsewhere are (let’s say) controversial. AC
6. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
Dwight Eisenhower can be cast in the old American romanticism of a military hero turned Commander in Chief. A denizen of European battlefields, Eisenhower was a progressive Republican that continued the legacies of both the New Deal and the Fair Deal, which placated Congress. His domestic policy advanced the Social Security Program and increased the minimum wage while creating the Interstate Highway System. He brought an end to the Korean War and strengthened the mandate of NATO. Ike fostered a staunch anti-communist policy both at home and overseas with various counter-communist CIA operations. Through the ‘Red Scare’ anti-communist sentiment reached fever pitch, aided by the unchecked actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy who was only silenced when he targeted a sacred U.S. institution, the Army. Eisenhower also loses face for the apathetic national implementation of Brown Vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, which found that segregated schools were unconstitutional. MOB
5. William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001)
Clinton’s sexual forays remain much of what he is remembered for, unfortunately. The context in which his impeachment arose, however,sheds light on the environment of Washington at the time. Much like Obama, his was a presidency mired by what Hillary referred to as a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy.’ Unlike Obama however, he managed to eventually hammer out a relationship with New Gingrich and the Republican-run Congress, leading to a productive if unintersting string of bills tackling issues like crime. In terms of foreign policy, he is remembered for early blunders in Somalia and failing to act more decisively in Bosnia and Rwanda, but he even found his footing there, leading a substantive effort in the late ’90s in Kosovo. Plus, the country was left with its first surplus since Truman and the North American Free Trade Agreement. It was a time of steady progress which brought America into the Globalized Information Age. AC
4. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
“You know there’s a ten-year delay in the Soviet Union on the delivery of an automobile…,” so went the intro to one of Ronald Reagan’s Soviet jokes. Known as the ‘Great Communicator,’ Reagan’s rhetoric resonated with the average American. Inheriting a rotten economy, Reagan went about his policy of supply-side fiscal reform, appeasing many while neglecting minorities. The detriment of ‘Reagenomics’ later manifest in swollen national debt that was bequeathed to H.W. Bush. Foreign policy under Reagan rapidly evolved to establish America as the only dominant global force. Military spending was increased in tandem with the Reagan Doctrine. The faux-pas of the Iran Contras damaged the reputation of the president and exposed the ugly, insidious actions of political back-channeling. However, through escalated efforts to tackle the de-escalation of tensions, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the ground-breaking INF Treaty, eliminating short and intermediate range missiles. A man who, even by his own admissions, was not the brightest, shone like a beacon for many Americans who believed that he had instilled a sense of pride and reignited the flames of patriotism. Just as with JFK, image was important to the successes of Reagan. His unique eloquence restored a nations confidence in an office that had lost all credibility. MOB
3. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
By 1992, the elder Bush’s image was one of a jaded veteran fazed by the economic troubles of the MTV generation. Perceptions change however. Historians now, have come to recognize the importance of a steady hand like his in a time of great international upheaval. When the Berlin Wall fell, he acted cautiously, mindful of the consequences this left for Gorbachev. When the more militant hearts called for an invasion of Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait, he thoughtfully withdrew, claiming the mission had been accomplished. When a recession encroached, he put the country ahead of his own political credit, abandoning his pledge to not raise taxes while working with Democrats. And while it may be hard to envisage such a policy with a Republican today, he actually passed a Clean Air Act. In a word- underrated. AC
2. Barrack Obama (2009-2017)
A popular sentiment that emerged in the aftermath of Obama’s historic election in November 2008, was that America had transitioned to post-racial era. This, of course, has not been the case. Elected on a wave of optimism and hope, Obama would face vicious partisanship with a Republican controlled Capitol. Obama initially took the pragmatic approach, but later was forced to use executive powers as he tried to implement his agenda. A historic stimulus package was signed within his first two months of his presidency, much to the chagrin of his friends in the emerging Tea Party. There can be no doubting that his Magnum Opus, the Affordable Health Care Act, is now deeply in jeopardy, and with it, a large portion of his presidential legacy. Obama has been criticized as being weak on foreign policy issues; Benghazi, Russia, Syria, and yet he excelled in restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, and reaching agreements with China to substantially reduce carbon emissions. We at the Walrus are admirers of Obama, not quite in the same category as the doughy-eyed former VP, Joe Biden, though. Through his presidency, he exemplified integrity speaking to Americans as if they were adults rather than children – perhaps an error, retrospectively. MOB
1. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969)
There was almost immediate consensus in establishing LBJ as the number one on this list– particularly when we decided that FDR wouldn’t feature because it just simply wouldn’t be fair. In recent years, there has been a rekindling of LBJ’s presidency in television series, and films, namely relating to his landmark racial domestic policies. First the Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by the commensurate Voting Rights Act in 1965. While some historians are critical of Johnson’s motives, I believe that he was a moral man (at least in regards to civil rights), who had seen the perniciousness of segregation first hand as a school teacher in Texas. Johnson was a spectacular bully, who, unlike Ford when he inherited the White House in freak circumstances, could assert his dominance over just about anybody. The legacy of his domestic agenda was the herculean vision of the Great Society. This encompassed many socially progressive streams such as the War on Poverty, and a plethora of Welfare programs. Johnson’s vision was to provide Americans in need with a hand up, not a handout. The Vietnam War dominated Johnson’s foreign policy and rapidly escalated through his presidency. It remains the major black mark on his presidential record, and discouraged him from seeking re-election in 1968. MOB