President Joe Biden has issued some major economic sanctions against Russia in the midst of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. These measures have largely been supported by the public, both in America and across the world, as strong displays of condemnation, without taking the next dire step. The question arises everyday then: will such a step be taken? If we consider the trajectory of America’s recent interventionist past, I would say it’s unlikely. (Of course, such postulation may be emboldening Putin so there’s a caveat to consider there.)
Anyways, to take the first view, let’s look back at Syria in 2013. Obama was concerned that if the US didn’t intervene, it would undercut the severity of chemical weapons’ usage there. Rather than go in all-guns blazing like his predecessor had with Iraq though, he instead went to the Capitol to seek approval. It was determined America wouldn’t intervene. Years later, a divide remains over whether they should have with a Guardian piece in 2018 entitled “The Epic Failure Of Our Age: How The West Let Down Syria”. I mention this, not to weigh in on any specific view, but to show that it’s not always clear-cut when, where, and why America should intervene.
Had Syria’s crisis come ten or twenty years before, America may very well have sought a different approach. As it happened, George W. Bush had led the nation into two costly wars in 2002-3 with Afghanistan and Iraq. We know all about how those went but it’s interesting to consider that at the beginning, support for the Afghanistan War was close to unanimous (90% according to Gallup). Iraq wasn’t ever quite as popular but it got a whole lot less so in the following years. But what if it hadn’t gone so wrong? Yes, I understand and completely agree that the invasion of Iraq was wrong from the get-go but in the eyes of the American public, what if there had been less casualties and more success associated with it? Like with the Gulf War a decade before?
George H.W. Bush sent the military in to liberate Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion. It was a quick, bold, and decisive victory that skyrocketed his approval ratings to 90%. The mission was complete but a lot of his supporters felt he should have gone further (into Iraq) and removed the problem of Saddam Hussein there and then. He declined, though years later (under the auspices of the War on Terror), his son determined America could not hold its head high while Saddam continued to violate international laws (and maybe have nuclear weapons???) Perhaps, an invasion in the early 90s would have gone just as poorly, even with the senior Bush proving a formidable foreign policy strategist. Indeed, his interventions in Panama and Somalia (while contested and dubious to many) were well planned out and successful. Well…
With regards Somalia (which began just after Bush had lost election), the people were initially thankful for his swift intervention. His record would then turn out positively when Bill Clinton took over and Somalia descended into chaos (with Black Hawk Down and more). Bush didn’t have to deal with the eventualities such interventions can bring, where Clinton was faced with an uphill battle he hadn’t even sought. The rest of his presidency would be tested on the question of when American intervention should and shouldn’t occur with critics (and himself, later on) citing a late entry to Rwanda and Bosnia as unfortunate, if not shameful, chapters in history.
In 1996, Eric Carson wrote a piece for the Rand Organisation entitled “Public Support For US Military Operations” exploring the factors that restrained presidents, in this sphere. Having come out of the Cold War just a few years ago, America had entered a “more confusing world” where the objective wasn’t always clear as had been with something like World War 2 (where people acknowledged the gravity of the situation). Further to that, political divisions or disagreements were having a knock-on effect on public perception. To bring this back to the present, we can see the potential of this political divide crinkling American support for a “next step” as many Republicans weren’t long ago flaunting a “rather be Russian than Democrat” motto.
Public support is essential when a president has a paper-thin political majority or faces contentions. This is another reason why I feel a strong intervention from the US is less likely today than it was years ago. After 9/11, George W. Bush had the nation’s support, even if he would quickly squander it. Back in World War 2, Franklin D. Roosevelt was a president in his third term. Even though Truman’s reputation would for years be bashed by the Korean War, there was still general support for a policy of Communist Containment.
Vietnam, the follow-up to Korea, truly took on its perception as an abject failure when the public started seeing what was going on through the medium of television. With public marches and demonstrations, bolstered by the counter-cultural movement, a new picture of American interventionism and soldiers themselves (quite harshly) was ingrained in the public’s psyche. What if Vietnam had happened ten years before, however? Well, as already mentioned, Korea was a contentious affair, though the South remained free of Russian influence but it is reasonable to assert it wouldn’t have been as unpopular or ended in quite the fashion it had, heavily influencing an election cycle.
Is it bleak to conclude that Americans will support American intervention then only if success is assured? It seems to be the case though such luxuries are never realistically afforded them. Popular support, as a result of today’s media, rancour in politics, and recent dubious interventions, has become nigh-on impossible. The best a president can do, in this age, is justify the chances of success should an intervention occur, answer how the nation is a threat to US interest, exert all means of diplomacy, and run the usual course of air strikes. Though as much as history has taught us how any conflict resolves in the public’s imagination, it is also worth remembering how easily people forget history. In a 2019, YouGov poll, the people were vary much split on whether the Gulf War was justified, for example. So as an addendum, one must note that we can’t even assume a clear or factual basis for public perception when such crises arise.
Joe Biden has announced his first pick for the Supreme Court: Ketanji Brown. She would become the first Black woman appointed, should she be confirmed. Yes, the should has become a most dubious matter of late, since the Democratic majority hangs by a thin thread, as if taken from a cat-ravaged sweater. They’ll need every Democrat in the Senate on board and likely Kamala Harris too (as the deciding tie-breaker) should no Republicans offer support. Which they won’t.
Sadly, the Supreme Court nominating process has become embroiled in the same petty politics that dominates basically every other major appointment or campaign in Washington. And it’s much more consequential since Supreme Court justices don’t have terms limits (Clarence Thomas has been serving for 30 years now). So a lot is on the line. Plus, this is just replacing one Democratic appointee (Stephen Breyer) with another. The Republican appointees (i.e. conservative judges still hold a majority of 6:3 which is unlikely to change anytime soon. Can anything be done and what’s the best course of action? There’s really no clear-cut answers but we’ll delve into it, after first taking a look at the justices:
John G. Roberts (Chief Justice; appointed by George W. Bush; 2005; confirmed 78-22 vote)
Clarence Thomas (appointed by George H.W. Bush; 1991; confirmed 52-48 vote)
Stephen G. Breyer (appointed by Bill Clinton; 1994; confirmed 87-9; to be replaced)
Samuel Alito Jr (appointed by George W. Bush; 2006; confirmed 58-42)
Sonia Sotomayor (appointed by Barack Obama; 2009; confirmed 68-31)
Elena Kagan (appointed by Barack Obama; 2010; confirmed 63-37)
Neil Gorsuch (appointed by Donald Trump; 2017; confirmed 54-45)
Brett Kavanaugh (appointed by Donald Trump; 2018; confirmed 50-48)
Amy Coney Barrett (appointed by Donald Trump; 2020; confirmed 52-48)
Just at a glance, a couple interesting points can be drawn:
The votes have become increasingly contentious (for the most part)
Donald Trump has secured three appointments in a single-term without even winning the popular vote
It would be incorrect to say this process hasn’t always involved politics or clashes over nominees. Indeed, history shows that as far back as Washington, there’s been rejection and compromise (when he failed to make John Rutledge the Chief Justice in 1795). John Tyler (the first VP to ascend to the top job) only had one of his five men appointed by the Whig-majority Senate. So, it’s nothing new exactly. But… it has gotten pettier and that bit more combative. In 2017, Trump appointed Gorsuch even though it was Obama’s duty to replace the conservative judge Antonin Scalia (the Republicans basically blocked Obama and delayed). Amy Coney Barrett was then quickly rushed through in the wake of Ruth Badger Gisberg’s death in 2020; appointed only a week out from election. (Her nominating process, between hearings and other such matters, took only 28 days, where it’s taken 2-3 months on average the last 50 years for other justices).
The short-circuiting and politicisation of this process has not been lost on the public. From August 2019 to January 2022, a PEW Research Center poll found favorability ratings of the court had fallen from 69% to 54%. Democrats are naturally more miffed , considering the general ideological imbalance. Many conservatives, unsurprisingly, find the court to be closer to neutral in their judgment. For Jack Schafer (writing in January for Politico), the differences of perspective are irrevocably hard to reconcile. He writes that Joe Biden’s declaration of Black female justice (motivated by endorsement of S. Carolina representative Jim Clyburn) parallels Reagan’s promise of a female justice in 1980. He also feels that judicial philosophies cannot easily be separated from personal ones (if at all) as evidenced by rulings which “track so closely with the positions of the parties whence they came”. Basically, nobody’s buying Amy Coney Barrett’s bullshit statement of apolitical duty and everyone has an agenda or bias anyways.
Had Joe Biden opted for a moderate justice then, would the path towards a more levelled Supreme Court be paved? It would be entirely naive to think so. Plus, he doesn’t have the luxury of experimenting since (again) they’re at a 6:3 disadvantage. Certainly though, it’s clear that the appointment of Brown has riled up conservatives who will paint her as ultra-liberal counterweight. And unless the current political discourse (as a whole) is tempered, we’re unlikely to see much change in the courts. Perhaps, Pete Buttigieg’s proposal of 15 justices (10 affiliated across both parties with 5 selected by them or something similar) would help dilute matters but it’d likely result in a bureaucratic mess too and given the popular perception of Washington as indecisive, one can’t imagine that playing out well.
Unfortunately, it may be a matter of simple expectations and hopes placed on the justices we have at present. Should Joe Biden add more, one can only imagine what a Republican president would do, in turn (even though they cheated with Gorusch and Barrett). Really, all he can do is try his best to get Brown through and maybe rally public support behind the values of his causes. Of course, then we go down the rabbit-hole of how liberal the Democrats should present themselves, among other things. And so we leave another article on another, nice ambiguous …
On January 6th 2021, things got a little shaky in Washington. Without getting into details, one president was preparing to take office while another’s feelings were hurt. The latter may have said some things that shouldn’t have been said; maybe suggested his followers descend on the Capitol in defiance of a “rigged” election with “fake” results. And yeah, sure, if you want to be technical with it, they may have done just that in a blatant disregard for democracy. It’s hard to remember.
Well, against type, old “Sleepy Joe” remembers. In one of his most defining moments yet, he made a speech last week regarding the “web of lies” the former, “defeated” president had spread resulting in this insurrection. While his rhetoric and performance may have been lauded by his side however, it begs the question as to how prominent Trump and “Trumpism” remains in defining this presidency.
Indeed, a year on now, the battle for the “soul of America” (as Biden put it) rages on. Despite a multitude of major spending bills, the picture being framed by the media is still one of left-and-right friction, via the nitty-gritty of negotiating these bills, mask mandates, and vaccine uptake; its narrative spins every accomplishment or historical event under this paralysis.
For example, the withdrawal from Afghanistan (and the immediate return of the Taliban) was set in motion under the Trump presidency but Biden’s been saddled with much of the blame (not that he should be wholly exonerated from it). The vaccination program, depending on who you ask, has been a disaster. Either Trump had already done “the best job” he could have with it and set everything in place, or else Biden was extolling authoritarian virtues by implementing a federal mandate or even taking credit for what Trump had done before him. Trump criticised Biden’s action and then (at a rally) encouraged his followers to get vaccinated. It’s a little confusing. I think the official position they’ve landed on is that “vaccinations are fine but you shouldn’t have to get one but they’re also a scam”. Plus, masks are “lame”.
Naturally enough, most governments have had to readjust their strategies somewhat to contend with new variants, like Omicron. To a degree, Joe Biden was naive to suggest life would be back to normal by now though. Alas, that’s run-of-the-mill politics at its laziest and yet, he’s taken bold action in this department with the $1.9-trillion stimulus “American Rescue Plan” (passed in March). Unfortunately, with a cling-film, flimsy thin majority, the Democrats have struggled to follow up on the other two parts of the “Build Back Better Plan”- the II) “American Jobs Plan” and III) “American Families Plan”. (Although, parts of II made their way into the $1.2 trillion “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act”, passed in November.) The pressure to regain ground in this debate (publicly contested by Senator Joe Manchin) may play a role in establishing Democratic credibility in the mid-terms.
On that note, what is “Democratic credibility”? For while the Republicans still largely stand by Trump (2/3 even still believe his lies about the election), the Democrats remain tentative in deciding just how progressive they want their party to be and where its future lies. Indeed, many feel Biden’s as-of-yet unrealised plans don’t go far enough- an age-old adage for progressives. Plus, there’s a general feeling that Biden is serving as a temporary, caretaker president with many eyes turning to Kamala Harris for 2024. Biden has stated he plans to run for re-election but even his supporters’ doubts haven’t been assuaged. This, unfortunately, reflects the notion that great, transformative change cannot be expected in these next few years, even if they are needed.
As mid-terms have historically been a disaster for Democrats and many of the same contentions from the Trump years remain, Joe Biden may simply have to contend himself with dulling the rancorous hate that’s divided America. Sadly, it’s not just down to him. It’ll take a degree of bi-partisanship, an acknowledgment on the GOP’s part that Trump lied, and the media to stop droning on about Trump all the time. It’ll take some time for us to acknowledge the success rate of the Biden presidency with a clear filter.
There’s no easy way to do this. Each US President existed in a different context of the young nation’s history and had unique challenges to face; be it economical (with the Panic of 1837 or The Great Depression after 1929), wartime (World War 2), or domestic (slavery). Each had external factors preying on their ability to do the job; from congressional layout to crises (e.g. 9/11) and world-changing dynamics (inflation in the ’70s). Each had different cabinets of support and varying levels of opposition (publicly, politically, and commercially). Really, one could argue it’s not even fair to judge the likes of Washington (from a simpler but creative period for government) against say, Bill Clinton, operating under a much more complex system. However… we’re going to anyways.
How exactly? Well, by accounting for their successes in foreign policy, economics, domestic policy, agenda set, public persuasion, and so on and so forth… Yes, all that, but mainly by addressing the central question: did they live up to the challenges of their time? And don’t worry, we’ll provide justification for these rankings- some may shock you given past rankings on other sites (sorry Andrew Jackson fans) but know this- plenty of thought has been given for each choice- this wasn’t some mere cut and paste job with a few throw-arounds for controversy.
Also, we will be excluding two presidents from this list: Joe Biden and William Henry Harrison. Joe; because, well, he’s not completed a year yet- although if push came to shove, I’d rank him around 15 for a strong response to Covid 19, with partial responsibility for the disastrous end to the Afghanistan war. And William H. Harrison? He served only 30 days in office, dying from pneumonia which he likely contracted after giving a tediously long inauguration speech in the cold. A lot of lists place him around 40, which I consider harsh. So let’s do the honourable thing and just bash his grandson who later became president.
Anyways, without further ado:
43. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
One of three impeached presidents, Andrew Johnson assumed the job in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination and made a perpetual fool of himself by attempting to go back on much of what just been achieved in the Civil War. He opposed the 14th Amendment which granted citizenship to former slaves and acted in a cantankerous manner, causing great friction with Congress, who passed the Tenure of Office Act (restricting Johnson’s ability to fire Cabinet officials). He was only acquitted because no one saw any chance of his re-election (which they were right about).
42. Donald J. Trump (2017-2021)
The former Apprentice host sowed a great deal of division in the country, inspiring renewed racist fervour and idiocy amongst his cohorts and followers. His outlandish statements aside, he will be remembered for making the pandemic far more devastating than it needed to be by spreading misinformation; corruption and nepotism; and refusing to take election results seriously, leading to a national insurrection on the Capitol building in January of this year.
41. James Buchanan (1857-1861)
At a time when decisive leadership was needed, James Buchanan essentially sat out the slavery issue, setting the stage for the secession of the southern states upon Lincoln’s election.
40. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
Theodore Roosevelt wrote of him as a “servile tool of men worse than himself… ever ready to do any work the slavery leaders set him”. Pierce is best remembered for failing to secure sectional conciliation, supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and aiding the downfall of the Democratic Party for decades to come.
39. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
Named after something that literally sucks, Herbert Hoover failed to address one of the great calamities of the 20th Century: The Great Depression. His perceived lack of concern resulted in shanty towns being called “Hoovervilles” while his tariff act (fuelling an international trade war) only served to make things worse.
38. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
There was a time when this (literal) mad-man was once considered a top 15. In recent years, historians have re-addressed his legacy as that of an American Caesar whose Native Removal policy stands as one of the most heinous of policies ever committed to American soil. Sure, he was the father of the Democratic Party but that doesn’t acquit him of these horrendous charges. Sure, he was a “man of the people” and not one of the elites but his assault on the banks contributed to the Panic of 1837. So beyond these basic labels, why is he held to such lofty heights? (Also, Trump admired him.)
37. John Tyler (1841-1845)
John Tyler succeeded the month-long presidency of William H. Harrison, seeking to establish the legitimacy of his leadership. He even believed the President should set policy rather than Congress. To this end, he was referred to as “His Accidency” by the Whigs. Sick burn.
36. George W. Bush (2001-2009)
Iraq. The economic crash. Besides that, seems an affable enough fellow.
35. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
Harding is usually ranked in the bottom three but beyond his innate incompetence (which he at least admitted to), I don’t consider his (albeit corrupt) administration to be particularly damaging to the US. (He, at least, acknowledged that democracy was a “lie” without political equality for black citizens. He didn’t do anything about it but he acknowledged it.)
34. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
Another spineless leader in the vein of Buchanan, Fillmore’s support of the 1850 compromise opened up the territories of the Mexican Cession to slavery and allowed for the return of escaped slaves to those who claimed ownership. Harry Truman called him a “weak, trivial thumb-twaddler who would do nothing to offend anyone”.
33. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
More like Van Burden, am I right? Van Buren continued Andrew Jackson’s policy of Native Removal and denied the application of Texas to the Union. His presidency was also mired by the Panic of 1837. (Interesting bit of trivia for you: Van Buren was a member of the Old Kindergarten Club for which to gain access you had to say “okay”, thus originating the term.)
32. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
Hayes’ era essentially marked an end to Reconstruction and inconsistent civil service reform. He also championed the Gold Standard and broke the Great Strike of 1877. Nothing particularly striking or memorable or interesting here.
31. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)
A mess of contradictions: owned slaves but wanted to ban the expansion of slavery into western territories conquered from Mexico; a military triumph in that war who wasn’t particularly keen on Manifest Destiny (expanding US borders); a decisive commander in battle who avoided tough decisions as President. Given his strong commitment to the union, historians wonder (had he lived) whether the Compromise of 1850 or the Civil War would have occurred.
30. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
The grandson of former President William H., he was committed to voting rights for African Americans but economically uncertain of how to handle the nation’s affairs, resulting in the 1893 crash.
29. William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
Once the promising successor to Teddy Roosevelt, committed to 80 antitrust suits against large industries, he disappointed his predecessor by reneging and falling into place among the more conservative members of the Republican Party. This led to old Teddy mounting a race against him in 1912 under the “Bull-Moose” party. Both would lose, leading to the Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s rise.
28. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897)
Two non-consecutive terms? Oh, you better believe it happened! If people expected Cleveland to have improved in his off-years, they were sorely disappointed though when he was dealt the hand of the 1893 crash which he failed to deal with adequately. This resulted in Democrats losing support everywhere but the Deep South.
27. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
Harding’s successor has attained some historical reassessment on the part of classic Republicans who admired his small-government and laissez-faire economic approach. He helped restore the reputation of the White House following the corruption scandals of Harding’s cohorts but largely detached himself from the job; infamously sleeping during the day and avoiding mingling with guests. Upon his death, Dorothy Parker remarked “how can they tell?’
26. Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)
Given some of his past associations in business dealings, people expected him to be more corrupt than he was. He fought the spoils patronage system he’d supported in New York and advocated tariff relief for businesses and tackled civil service reform. It doesn’t say much though when your reputation, at best, surmounts to: “well, I guess he wasn’t that bad”.
25. James Garfield (1881)
He only served a few months but contemporaries were impressed by his handling of Roscoe Conkling; a New York senator trying to push his agenda and men in high positions. Historians call him a “what if?”
24. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
Ford’s rise to power was particularly incidental, taking over for Spiro Agnew as VP before taking over the main post when Nixon resigned. A generally decent and uncontroversial politician, Ford, unfortunately wasn’t a great communicator, even if his pardon of Nixon was intended to help move a damaged nation on.
23. Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Besides that whole Watergate thing, Nixon wasn’t a terrible president. Strategically minded, he approached the Cold War in a more pragmatic way than his predecessors or successors ever did, resulting in the first SALT treaty and the opening of relations with China. He even tried his hand at a health care plan and established the Environmental Protection Agency.
22. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
The son of John Adams served as Secretary of State and a senator before becoming president and as a representative after. It’s fair to say he’s best remembered for his later achievements there, focusing on the anti slavery movement. As the nation’s leader, he was generally considered to be too uncompromising to achieve much in an increasingly political age.
21. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
Alas. My favourite president in essence and character but unfortunately not one with the most impressive record, even though he was the only post WW2 leader to not launch a missile. A true Washington “outsider”, Carter’s reign was beset by out-of-control issues like inflation and (more in control issues like) poor congressional relations. In my opinion, he was ahead of his time but legacies rest on effective, perceptible changes and not just rhetoric.
20. John Adams (1797-1801)
Being one of the OGs is a surefire way to knock yourself up the list but Adams paled in comparison to Washington and Jefferson, signing the controversial Alien and Seditions Act which included powers to deport foreigners and make it harder for new immigrants to vote; strange cause for a newly built nation but then it’s hard to find a footing in those early days. He gets marks for not expanding the naval war with France into a greater conflict, however.
19. James Polk (1845-1849)
A lot of land acquisition went on during Polk’s term; Oregon, California, and New Mexico, notably. He also settled the Texas border dispute, established the federal depository system, and lowered tariff rates. Simply put, one of the most accomplished presidents there ever was. Critics charge however that his underestimation of the Mexican War’s effects paved the way for sectional conflict and the troubles that ensued over the next decade.
18. James Madison (1809-1817)
The war of 1812 was seen as unnecessary by some and as something of a 2nd war of independence to others. The new nation, either way, cemented its foundations in this test.
17. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Reagan’s often ranked in the top ten and I can see why… kind of. A great communicator, Reagan brought hope to a nation deflated by inflation, Vietnam, Watergate, and perceived ineffective leadership. He amped the Cold War back up in its last days, oversaw a more prosperous era (while setting the stage with his trickle-down economics for a latter recession) and delivered some great jokes. Let’s face it though; he stumbled when it came to talking specifics, didn’t handle the AIDS epidemic well, and of course, that whole Iran-Contra thing. Sorry Reagan fans. If it’s any consolation, I still like him! What a character.
16. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
Grant’s administration was wrought by scandals involving bribes and a whiskey ring, tarnishing his image for years to come (even though he didn’t personally benefit from the crimes). If we look beyond that, he was actually a pretty effective president who worked to stabilise the post-war national economy, support reconstruction, and crush the KKK.
15. William McKinley (1897-1901)
McKinley’s presidency marked the emergence of an imperial era for the US as he declared war with Spain over Cuban independence. He was also the first president to actively engage the media by holding press conferences and he went on national tours to speak with voters. A new day had come.
14. James Monroe (1817-1825)
Monroe helped further the nationalistic cause by reaching out to all parts of the then smaller US, separating their course and interests from Europe’s with the Monroe Doctrine. Florida was also acquired during his tenure.
13. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Despite being one of America’s most well educated leaders, Wilson held regressive viewpoints for race relations (even for his time). He’s ranked lowly in that regard but otherwise highly for guiding America through World War One and establishing the League of Nations, as well as banking reform, supporting labour and collective bargaining, and more.
12. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
I give some props for rhetoric and inspiring people but when it comes to actual legislative achievement, there’s not much to be said for JFK. And while, yes, he resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis with dramatic flair, he played a major role in starting it. And he set the stage for Vietnam. A great deal of his mythos has been born out of his untimely assassination. Again though, that inspiring stuff does count for something and let’s face it- it’s endured.
11. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
The senior Bush’s reputation has improved in recent years, probably as a result of people’s nostalgic yearning for a conservative who could be flexible. His 1990 tax hike might have irked his supporters after the reticence of his “no new taxes” election pledge but it was the right and responsible thing to do. Plus, on the world stage, he was very well respected for his even tempered, strategic diplomacy- too humble for most when the Berlin Wall fell and too cautious for others who wanted the Gulf War victory to lead onto further gains in Iraq (we later learned how that would work out). A very underrated president, in my opinion; he simply couldn’t sell himself well enough.
10. Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
Clinton’s impeachment was largely based on petty partisan squabbles so I’m not factoring that in as much as others would like. On the whole, he did the job successfully, steering the economy to a surplus for the first time since Truman’s years. While he was initially slow on Bosnia and Rwanda, he later found his footing on the international stage, earning support from the likes of Mandela and helping to establish NATO.
9. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969)
Vietnam escalated to disastrous levels under LBJ so why is he at number 9? Well, under the auspices of Communist Containment, one could argue he was merely maintaining a longstanding foreign policy of the US but really, it’s because his domestic agenda was so progressive and realised. Only a year after pushing the Civil Rights Bill, he got the Voting Rights Act passed. Then, a flurry of the most impressive legislation committed by a liberal president, including Medicare. He was an intimidating, foul-mouthed beast of a man but he knew how to play the political game better than almost any other US president.
8. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
One of the OGs, Jefferson promoted a western expansionist policy with the Louisiana Purchase, effectively doubling the nation’s grounds. He also put an end to the long-standing problem of Tripoli pirates from North Africa, who were disrupting American trade in the Mediterranean. His passing of the Embargo Act of 1807, which suspended all trade with Europe, unfortunately wrecked the US economy and paved the way for the War of 1812 with Britain.
7. Barack Obama (2009-2017)
While many supporters were frustrated with the gridlock of congressional relations in Obama’s years and the supposed let-down in the wake of his meteoric rise, there’s no denying the achievement that was the Affordable Care Act. Not perfect, sure, but something that had eluded America’s leaders for decades. Besides that, Obama helped restore America’s image abroad and took some tough but much needed measures to restore the US economy after the 2008 crash.
6. Harry Truman (1945-1953)
Truman was never given an easy hand to play. He had been virtually kept in the dark by FDR while VP, not even knowing about the development of the Atomic Bomb. To drop that in August of 1945 was perhaps one of the gravest decisions a US President ever had to make. Shortly thereafter, he had to take quick measures to ensure the containment of communism where he could, mostly with success, though a period of uncertainty loomed at the end of his tenure with the Korean War. Initially not popular upon leaving office, his reputation was restored by the time of Vietnam due to the accountability with which he had held himself- a sign upon his office reading “the buck stops here”.
5. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
A military hero who ended the Korean War. A republican who continued the legacies of the New Deal and Fair Deal. Apatriot who opposed communism but would not give the red scare-mongering likes of Joseph McCarthy any time of his day. Yes, Ike was a popular leader who came as a natural choice for many in the post-war era. Perhaps his previous lack of political ambitions paved the way for him being the kind of president who could rule with sense, partisanship aside.
4. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
We’re into the major leagues now. Roosevelt ushered in the Square Deal which aimed to conserve natural resources, control corporations, and protect consumers. And… he was a Republican. Yes,, of the old sort- the kind that believed in containing big government and capitalism where it got dangerous. While something of a bloodthirsty scoundrel, apparently always itching for a fight and building up the US navy, he also brokered the end of the Russo-Japanese War (earning him the Nobel Peace Prize).
3. George Washington (1789-1797)
The first president is often ranked number one or two. While I admire his dedication to the job and setting the tone for the office by stepping down after two terms (where many wanted to make him essentially a king), it must be said that he operated in a time of widespread support and creativity for the new nation. He didn’t have the binds facing other presidents. Still, can’t really fault him on much.
2. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
Elected a record-breaking four times (dying early into his fourth term), FDR brought America through both the Great Depression and World War 2. His legacy is closely tied to the New Deal agenda, which set the course for liberal economic ambitions since, if never fully realised. Plus, he was also inspiring- helping to raise morale with his fireside chats and proclamations such as “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Upon his death, the people weren’t quite sure how another leader could occupy such a space.
1. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
No president has ever faced a test quite like the Civil War. Upon election, several southern states seceded resulting in America’s darkest hour. Lincoln was responsible not only for winning this war and reuniting the broken nation but for passing the 13th Amendment which abolished the original sin of America’s foundation: slavery. This would mark the great turning point in the nation’s history. Managing such a hefty task required a man of great intellect and greater moral fibre.
In the pantheon of presidential historical evaluation, the first 100 days has never been an accurate indicator of what is to come. Often referred to as the “Honeymoon period”, it tends to reflect a more restrained take on the presidency, given its freshness, initial public support, and change of power dynamics. In a sense, everyone’s testing the water and willing (on some part) to give the benefit of the doubt. This is doubly true for the Biden administration, who have come into their own with a long-suppressed sigh of relief following the turmoil of the Trump years.
This is perhaps the most evident thing about the new president; his normality and candour in juxtaposition to the raging clown prince of crime, whose final days saw siege upon the Capitol. Joe Biden has been effective, thus far, in restoring a sense of normalcy and decency in how America tackles its problems. A naturally empathetic man, he’s struck the right tone in addressing mass shootings and the pandemic, in a time when true leadership has been needed.
His words have been supported to by action too; namely, the $1.9 trillion Covid Bill set to alleviate the economic offsets of the pandemic. More liberal commentators, worried that he would prove too moderate, have been surprised by this bold course of action. Thankfully, Biden understands that dramatic times call for dramatic responses and having paid witness to the gridlock of the Obama years, he’s done his base right by practically ignoring the Republicans’ attempts to slim down this bill.
The pandemic has, at this point, reached a turning in the tides with over 200 million Americans vaccinated at this point (a goal set out by the administration). As always, I would be reluctant to give Trump any credit since he only ever served to aggravate the World Health Organization, undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, and meander wildly on the severity of the virus but it is worth at least noting, that some structure was in place for Biden to capitalise on this reversal of fortunes. As a leader, he’s set a good standard however, asking Americans to continue wearing masks while paying respect to the scientists Trump so callously questioned.
The Covid Bill hasn’t been the only bold proposal put forth too. Biden has also unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure plan which has long been overdue (Trump had actually been correct in 2016, assessing this as one of America’s gravest issues but failed to deliver in appropriate fashion). To his critics, this may be overreaching. They’d have a point too, since the buck has to stop somewhere. With that said, with the awesome power of the presidency, it is gratifying to see these major issues tackled with some gravitas. Just remember, that any leader’s going to be popular when spending.
Elsewhere, Biden has marked a contrast with the Trump administration by suspending the Keystone pipeline and rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. He’s also gotten the first notable gun control package in three decade (though limited) and boasted the fastest cabinet appointee approvals in four presidencies. On the surface, it seems like this has thus been a highly successful, action-oriented start. Beneath the surface however…
Well, not to quash people hopes but yes, the tough days are ahead. As eluded to earlier, spending makes one popular but bills have to be settled and the economic downturn of the last year’s events has yet to manifest. (We can only hope this massive investment will curb the worst of this.) The immigration problem, too, is rearing its head, as Biden struggles to set out a new policy, differentiating from Trump’s. (Even George W. Bush has called on his party to act in Congress to work on this.) Plus, while justice was exacted in the George Floyd trial, we’re still seeing disgusting instances of police brutality against Black Americans. Now that a Democrat is in power (and the party has a slight majority), some legislative action will be expected. The Republicans, momentarily out of sorts for now, will return with their combative stances and make this presidency increasingly more difficult.
So, while a dark cloud looms on the horizon, we can at least be thankful that Biden has proven more radical than expected in his approach to the immediate major problems facing him. With his conciliatory inaugural address too, he has hopefully set out a renewed air of compassion for the politics of compromise in Washington. In a sense, reversing the hateful rhetoric of 2016-2020 may prove his greatest feat.
With the start of a new administration and change in power in the Senate, we here at the Washington Walrus thought we’d take the time to recalibrate our takes on the key players of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Basically, a who’s who of the big cheeses; the ones pulling the strings, be it with their positions or influence in the media and political landscape. So without further ado.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, pictured (D)
The 80-year old Speaker looks like she owns a formidable hard candy collection and is known for keeping her party in check. She proved she still had it by taking on Donald Trump, upon retaking the majority in the House in 2019. Now, she is pursuing impeachment against the former President, despite initially holding out on the first one until they had a solid case with evidence. How old school of you, Nancy.
At present, she is navigating a tough transition for the Democratic Party. Despite keeping the majority last election, they lost a number of seats to Republicans. Is it because they’re perceived as moving in too liberal a direction or holding onto old cronies like her? It’s hard to say but most seem glad to have her steady-hand and salon-tempered hair at the wheel in these uncertain times.
Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Lead (R)
What if a bullfrog wished he could be transformed into human form? Now, what if that bullfrog was also kind of a dick? Well, then you’ve got Mitch McConnell. Also ancient in age, he’s proved himself to be one of the least likeable Republicans in American history, by hawkishly prioritising politics over the good of the country at almost every turn; one of the key figures responsible for the gridlock of Washington during the Obama administration. If he had a chance to redeem himself, he sure squandered it during the Trump era, again mindful of what anything but appeasement would cost him (even if he truly abhorred him).
The Senate is roughly 50-50 at present (with Kamala Harris coming in as the deciding vote) but McConnell’s influence unfortunately doesn’t look like it’s going to wane any time soon. To an extent, I suspect he’s glad to be the minority leader because he gets to still effectively oppose new legislation without feeling the burden to present any of his own (or indeed any solutions, as evidenced when both parties’ leaders were brought together in late 2008 to discuss the financial crash).
Ted Cruz, Senator (R)
The Senator’s electability apparently hasn’t suffered despite the fact he is one of the least liked members of the Senate, even in his own party. Like McConnell, he’s all about politics but he’s just that bit more weasel-like to the point he resembles some sort of rat or otter.
Cruz’ immediate test is moving beyond his association with Donald Trump, who once called him a “sleaze” who nobody liked. Cruz helped goad the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol last month without taking any responsibility for his part. If I might liken him to a Harry Potter character, I’d have to choose Wormtail.
Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Lead (D)
He’s a key player in that he’s the Senate majority lead but there’s not much to say about him. Decent, I guess. Where Nancy’s a bit more collected and elegant, he’s a bit more rough and ready with the odd controversial remark on Gaza or immigration. The bulldog of the Senate, why not?
“The Squad”, House Members (D)
Netflix’s casting dream consists of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, and Cori Bush. The former four were elected to the House in 2018 and the latter two in 2020. They’re generally painted as the progressive wing or “future” of the party to some and can’t be criticised, lest you face the wrath of Twitter. So let’s just leave it at they’re excellent and brave and speak your truth and stay true to yourself, cause they are “fire” and move on. Quite quickly.
Elizabeth Warren, Senator (D)
But you don’t have to be young and hip to be progressive, just ask 71-year old Elizabeth Warren who ran the 2nd-most progressive presidential campaign after Bernie Sanders. While undoubtedly impressive, she probably lacked the charisma necessary to ever mount a notable bid. Still, we need someone who’s economically minded like her and just doesn’t speak in platitudes or empty gestures.
Bernie Sanders, Senator (Independent)
Bernie Sanders is both no nonsense and a master of memes; something that should be paradoxical but just works. In a sense, it’s a shame he didn’t get the nomination in either of his bids but with the might of the Democratic Party at hand, it’s hard to move that last boulder. Still, the energy of America’s youth was behind him and there’s no one else who’s been so consistent in his or her values. Thankfully, he’s stayed on long enough that his ideas have become more mainstream and even though he’s not a part of Biden’s administration, it looks at least as if he’ll have some influence.
Amy Klobuchar, Senator (D)
Honestly, I kind of find her annoying. Anyone else? Well, apparently not Joe Biden or Kamala Harris, since she introduced the inaugural proceedings last month.
Lindsey Graham, Senator (R)
Joe Biden admitted his old friend’s allegiances had been something of a “personal disappointment” in an interview with Stephen Colbert. Once described as pretty amiable, even by former Democratic Senator Al Franken, Lindsey Graham’s lowered his standing by association and defence of Trump.
Mitt Romney, Senator (R)
There’s something quite likeable about Mitt Romney, although it may just be a desire to see a Republican act anything other than reprehensible. The 2012 nominee is something of a new McCain, in a sense. He’s conservative in his principles but entirely anti-Trump and willing to to go outside what one would consider regular party behaviour, marching in solidarity with BLM last summer. If there’s a way to restore some dignity to the morally compromised GOP and toe a more centrist line, perhaps Mitt Romney could be looked on as a potential future candidate (again).
Time has a way of changing how we see things. With an ever speculative media and lowering of the bar in our general cultural zeitgeist, it’s only natural that our hearts soften and we yearn for an escape to the past, blissfully ignorant of the fires once ignited in us. We see things differently because we forget, we forgive, we re-evaluate, and re-prioritise our claims to what holds important today. In a broad sense, this has helped out former President George W. Bush a great deal.
Once the ire of liberals and humanitarians around the world, George W. Bush has managed to shift his appeal and image to that of a happy-go-lucky, maybe he wasn’t-so-bad-after-all kooky figure. Perhaps one of the most controversial US leaders of all time has somehow become the least controversial of the former living occupants of the Oval Office.
That might sound a little extreme but when you consider the current climate of divisiveness in the US, it makes sense. Obama and soon Trump represent polar opposites and are each pinatas for the other side due to their current relevance (and in Obama’s case, race). Bill Clinton… well, we wrote a piece on him earlier this year delving into his legacy but to surmise briefly- Epstein, Clinton Global Initiative, Hillary, women, etc. And then there’s Jimmy Carter. While he’s my favourite president, he’s few others’ and has remained a punching bag for “ineptitude” in conservatives and some liberals’ minds since he left office (unfairly I might add).
The Likability Factor
George, like his father, has mostly stayed out of the limelight since leaving office and for this reason, doesn’t grate people as much. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder, etc.) When he does appear in public, it’s usually for a non-partisan cause like supporting veterans or promoting humanitarian relief. When interviewed, he will explain and reassert his opinion that what he did in Iraq was important but he also seems content that “history will judge” his efforts. In other words, he’ll defend himself without becoming too defensive, like Bill Clinton has. Plus, he’s able to joke about himself (“most people didn’t think I could read, let alone write a book”) and has shown he’s not as partisan as once believed, becoming friends (or at least friendly) with Bill and Michelle Obama. Plus, he’s taken up painting which seems a bit quirky for someone like him.
So, in that sense, he’s re-established his likability factor which was probably his strongest asset against the rather dry Al Gore in 2000. This successful rehabilitation rendered a 61% approval rating in a CNN poll in 2018, compared to 33% upon leaving office. And he’s even been able to appear on Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen. I can only imagine Trump being invited to some wretched right-wing podcast in the coming years.
Likability is just one thing, however. Have his actual acts as commander-in-chief been vindicated? The answer is basically no, although the emphasis has shifted away from what was important in the 2000s. Where the war on terror once occupied the headspace of many Americans there is now a miasma of issues relating to what side you are on. While partisanship has developed bitterly over the last three decades, it’s so much more intrinsic to the nature of politics than even then. Basically, concerns for warfare abroad have been replaced with grisly notions of civil war at home.
That doesn’t mean Iraq is forgiven. In the 2016 Republican primaries, no candidate (except poor Jeb) backed their former leader’s venture into democracy. Four years before that, George wasn’t even present at their convention. So, the Republicans have basically tried to make their supporters forget he was ever a thing. The Democrats meanwhile, have pushed against their own for supporting the war effort back in 2002-3, using it as bait against the likes of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. All in all, it would be fair to say, Iraq probably wasn’t a great idea.
On the other hand, some of Obama’s critics have argued he withdrew from Iraq too soon and that helped facilitate the rise of ISIS. His defence would counter some sort of pushback was inevitable and he was merely fulfilling the obligation of the American people but ultimately, enough room has been left for some blame there.
Afghanistan was a less controversial affair so that’s not been as much of an issue for George, besides relaying the popular assertion that he was a warmonger. And to many, he is seen as a war criminal who should have been trialed or impeached for what he did, particularly with regards interrogative measures in Guantanamo. He and his team have always asserted that they took any necessary precautions to avoid another attack on America, which they point out, didn’t happen. Critics remember the one time it did, of course, and argue that his administration took advantage of the patriotic frenzy following September 11th to pursue goals that were long in place, particularly with Saddam Hussein.
Ten years before, the Gulf War had been a triumphant effort. George H.W. Bush’s approval ratings had skyrocketed for the way he handled foreign affairs but he had played his cards with more caution, not moving beyond a liberation of Kuwait (to the dismay of many). Sanctions and warnings were placed against the Iraqi dictator and a resolution passed with bi-partisan support later on in the 90s which suggested there was actual cause for war should they put a toe in the wrong place (which Saddam did). Of course, principles and ambitions don’t mean much without proper strategy and when your intelligence amounts to nothing. In this regard, even George W. Bush admits things could’ve gone better. No WMDs were found and in 2007, he decided to send a surge of troops in order to relieve the chaos that developed in the aftermath of the liberation effort.
Establishing democracies is not easily done and the absence of a dictatorship does not immediately resolve all problems. Iraq developed into a mess, whatever the president’s intentions, and for this, it’s highly unlikely he will be forgiven.
With that said, it wouldn’t be fair to omit some of the accomplishments of George W. Bush. For one, his PEPFAR (AIDS’ relief) program in Africa was one of the greatest relief efforts America ever heralded, making him especially popular there. His Medicare expansion proved a fruitful endeavour. So too did his No Child Left Behind program, which aimed to hold schools with sluggish standards to account (though criticised for making teachers teach for the exam).
Anyways that’s that. So… there was also his slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which brought his approval ratings to an all-time low and led to accusations of racism on his part. Gay marriage also became a red-hot subject for the 2004 elections under his tutelage, but not in a positive sense. And yes, the 2008 financial crash. Now, of course it’s not fair to place the blame solely on his administration. That bubble had been expanding since the 90s. However… only a year into his presidency, after successive years of a surplus, America was in recession. And he provided, as Republicans always dream of, a massive tax cut, going against much of the work Clinton had built on. Some of this comes down to political perspective but surrounding yourself with controversy and chaos rarely bodes well for one’s resume.
Historians, in their presidential rankings, generally place George W. Bush close to the bottom 10, if not among them. As briefly touched on, this was not an easy or steady presidency. In his defence, it never was going to be with the attacks of September 11th. He was dealt, undoubtedly, a tougher card than his predecessor and had to make some tough decisions, that could’ve gone either way. In this respect, I’m more sympathetic than most. If we think of these world leaders as playing on a chess board, partially obscured with fog, then it can be pretty difficult to navigate your next move.
With that said, it hasn’t gotten any worse since 2009 for George. His party may have severed ties with him (on an official capacity) but the majority seem to have taken a shine to this man. Maybe it’s because they forget easily. Maybe they think he was a good guy, waylaid in his efforts. Maybe they suspect Cheney was really in power. Maybe it’s because he seems so amiable compared to the current occupant. Maybe his candour, since leaving office, appreciated by the likes of Obama, has become symptomatic of something lost in US politics today. There’s all sorts of possibilities.
It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing that this legacy is changing so quickly. Commonality and closing the political divide is certainly important; in that respect, when he teams up with Bill Clinton, it’s understandable why people are happy to see him. On the other hand, he who forgets history is likely to repeat it and in some measure, it feels a bit insulting to trivialise this man’s legacy given the death toll and destruction afflicted under his watch. Popularity, in other words, is no replacement for competency.
Maybe, to toe the line, it’s as simple as one of us thinking what we would have done in his shoes since unlike so many other world leaders, he seemed like one of us.
Joe’s mantra was a simple but powerful one. Over the last four years, America has lost both its integrity on the world stage and its conscience at home. Like many, when the results came through at last, I was delighted and relieved to see the tides beginning to change… and yes, this is only a beginning. America is fractured and the divide must be reckoned with. For all his shortcomings, I believe Joe Biden might actually be just the right man for this essential duty.
One of the reason’s why is that this man’s ethos is his compassion. He’s lost close ones under tragic circumstances, paid witness to decades of political transformation, and still come out of it as one of the more humane politicians I’ve ever seen. That does not mean he’s always made the right decisions (support of Iraq) or exhibited empathy when needed (Anita Hill trial) but in a way, his mistakes speak to his character because he’s at least humble enough to admit he’s made them (as with Hill).
Another reason is that he’s not an ideologue. Initially I was on board for a Bernie Sanders’ administration (and still believe that was a great lost opportunity) but right now, America needs someone who doesn’t lean too left or too right. If the Democrats’ strategy was to appease moderates on both sides, then I think that strategy paid off. Joe will by no means be a revolutionary liberal but in light of where we’re coming from, that’s okay (for now). As is too often the case with politics, any strong measures tend to exacerbate the opposition and therein lead to a swing in the pendulum when complacency sets in with the victors (which happens tragically too often with Democrats come mid-terms).
No, if anything, Joe just needs to steady this ship out of troubled waters. He may not need a second term but in his first, he should do what can be done to restore the divide, so that the chances of an extreme bi-polarity come 2024 are slim. By then, we should be looking back on the period of 2016-2020 as a strange blip of history that no one quite remembers.
Of course, you might argue that the Trump supporters hardly deserve a break, given the level of vitriol they displayed. I can’t protest the merit of such a point given the basic principles of human rights and democracy they so casually disregarded. But have we not reached a point now where we can appreciate how poor the view is from a galloping high horse? Does it make us so honourable to disgrace and shame those we claim to be the actual bullies? You can rummage through a bag and take out media slant, percentages of hostility, gerrymandering, and all sorts of other indiscretions they’ve chucked in but in the end, perception is what matters. And you’re never going to convince someone otherwise by calling them an idiot. Moral posterity, in effect, won’t get us anywhere.
I think Joe understands this and even if the Democrats lose Georgia come January, he will still have a chance to do the job required of him at this point in time. Once the foundation is rebuilt, then the building can begin again. Without speaking to any specific legislation or policy measures, President Biden needs to set a tone of reconciliation and unity.
In just over a week, Americans will cast their ballots and decide once and for all who has the grit and guts to lead their nation into the mid 2020s- Fat Don or Sleepy Joe. As well as that, they will also be voting on 1/3 of the Senate, all of Congress, district attorneys, and more. Basically, a lot is up for grabs. Now, I don’t want to simply state that this is the most important election of all time because people say that every election. But I do want to highlight what lies in the balance when Joe Biden says “the soul of the nation” is in question this year because he’s absolutely right on that count.
First of all, with regards the Senate and House of Representatives, plus other lower-scale governmental jobs, there is an ongoing tug of war between cultural liberalism and conservatism. This applies to policy, how forces such as the police are dispensed (i.e. Black Lives Matter), and even the attitudes propelled into the zeitgeist. Will they ratify the President’s assertion that law and order has never been more important or challenge the systemic models by which racism thrives? Will a calm tone be struck that attempts to offer compromise on these counts or will the flames of vitriol be stoked? Remember Trump is as much a symptom of the divisiveness of politics and increasingly entrenched cultural welfare as he is a perpetuator of it. Defeating him alone won’t restore faith in government. Many souls folded in his backing last election across the GOP.
Second of all, there’s the question of the Supreme Court. With Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett at the forefront now, it may already be too late for the Democrats to do anything. Even in the case of a Blue sweep in November, a change in power wouldn’t occur until late January. On the other hand, perhaps there will be a chance to delay this and vindicate the process proposed by Republicans when Obama had a chance to nominate six months out from election (as opposed to a mere six weeks). You know, play fair?
Thirdly, there’s the honour of the electoral process at hand. With Trump already lambasting mail-in voting, a sinister suggestion hangs in the air that he may not accept the results of the election or perhaps will declare victory before some votes are accounted for. Indeed, the suspense could last a lot longer than a single night. We could be seeing the next Gore v. Bush and if it comes to the Supreme Court as it did in December 2000, God help us all.
To those who say, well he will have to leave if he loses, I would extend a message of warning. What exactly has this man done by the books so far? How many times should he have been foiled but managed to slip by? Do you even remember this year started with an impeachment? With Republicans gerrymandering districts for congressional advantage, I simply wouldn’t be surprised if the whole electoral process becomes mired in deceit and controversy. Even the Carter Centre is monitoring the US election now and usually, they keep an eye on the most corrupt governments in Africa. So, where exactly are the standards? Let’s stop being surprised all the time.
Lastly and most obviously- yes, the person in charge really does make a difference. In the past, I used to think speeches and rhetoric were not actually all that important to a president’s legacy; that that was fluff for the media and history books. I don’t feel that way anymore. Trump has changed America in many ways but the damage begun before he was even elected, when he descended that escalator in the summer of 2015 and made a speech referring to Mexicans as “rapists” pillaging the good nature of the US.
This is a president who’s refused to criticise white supremacy; whose campaign staff has colluded with Russia; who’s basically followed the 2nd act of The Interview, failing to finish the movie and realise he’s being groomed by the North Korean dictator; and who’s enflamed anti-Asian sentiment with his use of terms like “Kung Flu”. And of course, “grab them by the pussy”. All that, without even touching on his Twitter.
For all his faults and stammers, Joe Biden is a compassionate human being. He’s made mistakes with regards his support of Iraq and his handling of the Anita Hill trial in the early 90s, but I honestly believe he’s learned from them. And even if he doesn’t pass a single credible bill during his tenure as president, his election would mark a notable shift from an aggressive leadership to an empathic one. He’s lost close family members, including his first wife, in tragic circumstances and has learned lessons in life Trump can’t possibly relate to.
For those who would defend the President on the basis that nice men don’t necessarily get the job done, consider exactly what job this man has done and what job it is he should be doing. Leadership used to involve, whether you liked the leader or not, at least some measure of respect or dignity. It wasn’t all about postulating and being stubborn for the sake of strength of appearance. Compromise, whether you like it or not (and this applies to liberals as much as it does conservatives), has always been key to politics. It’s very rare that a great leader has been born out of iron-clad or extremist ideology. Tact and strategy is a far more valuable asset in a president than a hilarious Twitter account.
I can’t argue Joe Biden will be a great president but if elected, he will strike a conciliatory tone where it matters, take foreign policy seriously, put public health above “freedom” with the Coronavirus, and yes (cheesy as it may sound) “restore the soul of America”. For now, that’s more than enough.
With the election less than two months away, it’s time for the candidates to knock their game up an extra gear. And one surefire way to get their peeps talking is through the debates, the first of which is expected to close off this month. Now, some folk (such as Nancy Pelosi) don’t think Joe Biden should even dignify such discourse with the Mad King but he seems intent on holding his opponent’s feet to the fire nevertheless.
Is this a good idea? Here to discuss this with me are two former MA History, UCD classmates of mine- Matthew O’Brien (PhD student, Washington Walrus co-founder) and Declan Clear (our London correspondent). Fellas, what are your initial thoughts- should Joe debate Trump or stay locked in his basement with his toffees and unfinished Sudoku puzzles?
Wow, an email thread – how 2000s of you, Andy!
I mean, Biden is going to have to debate, right? He has remained quiet enough over the last 6-months since becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee in what seems like a lifetime ago.
So much has happened since then, and continues to unfurl, seemingly on a daily basis. I only see that escalating between now and the election. And, if the recent suggestion from Anthony Scaramucci that senior Republican figures are going to abandon Trump at the electoral alter can be believed, it’s only going to get juicier.
Biden will need to robustly address the social and cultural frustration and disconnect that has become a tenet of public discourse since the public execution of George Floyd, and that has in many ways defined this election cycle.
While the debates will presumably have an eerily unfamiliar format this year, the battle for who can clock up a greater number of non sequiturs, memes, gaffs, etc., will be an enjoyable subplot.
There is 100% a need for a debate despite what Nancy Pelosi might say. I do worry about Biden and the debates as he is making a lot of gaffes and lost his cool more than once on the campaign trail. Plus I’m sure Trump will try and push his buttons . Social media memes and gaffes aside (which I am 100% sure Trump will come out worse from), the tone that Biden takes will be interesting: will he aim to appeal to the Bernie supporting left or will he try tap into the moderate voter?
While Matt has pointed to some of the rumours (“the recent suggestion from Anthony Scaramucci that senior Republican figures are going to abandon Trump at the electoral alter”), I feel one of the strengths of Trump is that the Republican Party are more united ahead of the November election. Some of the arguments around the races within the Democratic Party this past month and the gap between the likes of Bernie supporters/ the left of the Democratic Party vs the moderates creates issues.
A left leaning vocal democrat movement might push American moderates to go with what they might see as the safe bet in sticking with the current administration. Obviously there is a lot of time between now and November but I think the election is far less clear cut than the apparent majority Biden will win by according to many main stream news channels.
The horrific murder of George Floyd will undoubtably have a huge impact on this election but which side will it impact more? Will it drive BIPOC people to the polls to vote Trump out or will it come help his law and order narrative?
The real question is will Trump once again silence the political experts? 2020- the so called battle for the heart of America is a stage set to far surpass the drama of 2016.
Good points.I fear that a debate could be a no-win scenario for Biden however. Yes, he will look the part in comparison to the tyrannic wreck opposite him but will he draw the media’s attention away? I doubt it. I don’t know if the issues that matter to liberals will become more important as people pay attention. It may simply revert back to charisma, character, and vague notions of authenticity.
If he chooses not to debate, that will of course lend Trump a different kind of victory too. Biden’s too scared to get out.
But seeing as he’s willing to go head to head and assuming he doesn’t fall asleep or try to kiss a female moderator or something, how can Biden tackle Trump? How does one fight someone devoid of reason- whose campaign is epitomized by emotion? What can he learn from Hillary, Jeb, and others who’ve been slain by this man?
I think Biden needs to appeal to a wider base then the mainstream democrats are currently targeting in the debates. I think he needs to come across strong on condemning violence across the board. The shooting of 2 LA Sheriff department cops last weekend is something that Trump is obviously lording over and blaming the democrats for. But it will be interesting to see how the democrats react to this.
While the murder of George Floyd and countless other Black Americans across the USA is not compareable to the incident in anyway or the shooting in Dallas in 2016 of a number of cops, a lack of compassion from Democrats might play into Trump supporting law and order. Then again Biden needs to be careful not to upset the movement that has emerged from BLM.
While Biden should in no way start posing with a Blue Lives Matter flag he needs to at least show that he does support the police and the military. Otherwise Trump could say Biden only cares about appeasing liberals and BIPOC people!! further mobilising his white voter base.
What is interesting is despite the number of developing stories about Trump, the virus, etc, the one issue which has now become embedded in every part of American life is the debate over BLM. The true question is who will it help! Will it be Biden unifying the nation or Trump pushing the gap between Black and White even further.
Hard to believe that in 2020 race relations are at its worst since the Rodney King Riots.
Lets also not forget that BLM has existed as an organisation since 2013, and that movement has been building to its crescendo, which appears to be 2020. A lot of scholar activists, and highly respected scholars like Robin Kelley have posited that there is something different this time, something more real about the activism taking place. When you break the scale of these demonstrations down, it’s pretty phenomenal; not to mention this is all happening to the backdrop of a pandemic that will usher in monumental social, cultural, economic, and political behaviours. The pandemic has served to magnify the iniquities of US society, and usher in critical dialogues on concerning the politics of care. As Declan said, the debate over BLM is ubiquitous, and is an issue which will largely define this election.
Biden’s response has been largely milquetoast, and part of me cannot help but think that he feels that in selecting Harris as his running mate, this will placate those fighting for social justice. Biden was always going to score better with Black communities, and while the Democrats can’t rest on their laurels as they did 4-years ago, I think it’s a fairly safe assumption that Biden will win the Black vote. I’ve no doubt that Harris will speak eloquently on the issue of race, and the contemporary discourse on law and order. As Andy teased out, the question of emotion versus logic will be a critical factor throughout. I don’t believe we fully clasped that in the last election cycle, but we sure see it now; it’s inescapable.
On the theme of that somewhat despondent time 4-years ago (lets not forget Brexit, too), Andy has prompted the comparison between Biden and Clinton. Most of the mainstream media outlets approach this in a very similar way: Biden will outperform Clinton with white male voters; Biden will outperform Clinton with older voters; Bidden will outperform Clinton among working-class voters; Biden will outperform Clinton with women; Biden will outperform Clinton with younger voters. The latter is broadly considered to be true because it seems the Bernie Bros have formed a consensus to “Settle for Biden” – which has created a rather hilarious Instagram account. As all three of us have discussed in the past, the presence of celebrity voices of support in politics can be grating – Clinton was unabashed in rolling out Jay-Z and Beyonce, among a litany of others. This strategy is phoney and saccharine. Lets hope Biden doesn’t do the same.
As far as Trump’s campaign goes he really seems to just have one thing going for him: Law and Order. A few weeks ago there was anAtlanticarticle (not the one about Trump calling the glorious dead losers) that drew historical comparisons to Nixon’s Law and Order campaign in 1968. The funny thing is that Nixon inherited this rhetoric largely from the actions of the Johnson administration’s War on Crime, which evolved into the War on Drugs under Nixon. This was marshalled at a precarious stage of the nation’s history and had a number of markers that helped create the narrative, which mainly pivoted on police and state sanctioned violence to quench violence in the streets. While it worked with Nixon’s “silent majority,” I am not so sure the pallet is there among the wider US public – perhaps I’m giving them too much credit, who knows?
The “lame stream” media as actually lame people call it has, to a certain extent, exacerbated this division between chaos and order. Interestingly, each side sees the other as the chaotic one.
Black Lives Matter and the issues concerning race relations have always been pertinent in the US. In recent years, the spotlight has intensified, partially due to increased coverage with camera phones and partially due to a more zealous call for accountability on the parts of liberals. I think the election of Trump really stoked a flame in the culture wars. People felt so cheated and perhaps even ashamed of their political inactivity before that they fervently moved to take up arms (in a socio political way).
We see this in the BLM movement and even in the #metoo movement. Trump represents more than just one man’s vision for America. (If he even has one.) He represents a constituency of emotional appeal for the ways of old and an end to the perceived climate of political correctness being ushered in by the “radical left”.
I think we’ve touched on the pulse of what matters this election season but let’s consider a couple more questions to conclude this session.
1) Does defeating Trump defeat Trumpism (i.e. the cultural values of his support)?
2) Just as an afterthought- Even if Biden wins, will Trump sail away calmly into the night?
1, No a. Trump defeat will not change the cultural values of his support; they have always been there. Trump just put them in the public eye.
2. If Trump is defeated, he will leave. I know a lot of people are like will Trump accept the result etc. I reckon if Trump loses he will retire to his tower with his bucket of KFC and 24 piece Chicken Nuggets and get about planning a golf tour. Mind you the tweets will be fun.
I would be interested to see how the Democrats react if Trump gets reelected- will they allow the party to become more radically left or will a moderate emerge from the doldrums and tone down the narrative which a very small vocal minority of the party have pushed to the front of the agenda.
I can’t see it being a smooth transition, no matter what. Perhaps, years down the line, Barron will even try to avenge his father. What say you Matthew, on the first two questions and what Declan brings up as regards Democrats’ reaction should Trump succeed?
In response to the first question, I agree with Declan. Trump’s politics unlocked Pandora’s box as it were… his actions, and the fact that they come from the office of the President help to legitimise this further. The thing about ‘isms’ is that they’re totally malleable and relatively indestructible… they’re almost zombified. As Declan said, those values have always been there just below the surface… but in a weird way, I think for all of the hate Trump has whipped up, it has focused people a little more, given more people a reason to pause, and think,”wait… what? Is this really happening?” We need to continue to be appalled by what Trump says and does, because the more comfortable we get with his Janus-faced behaviour, even making light of it, the more he will get away with in the future.
As for the second question, I also think Trump will leave office if defeated at the polls. However, I think his post-presidency will be torrid. The DOJ have been biding their time, massing their evidence. We know that they cannot investigate a sitting commander in chief, but when it comes to lame ducks, it’s open season!
And there you have it! Tuesday, November 3rd is not far away so for any Americans who may be reading this, be sure to register and vote- early, if possible.
The first of three debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump will take place September 29 with one scheduled also between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence. The stakes are high and the ratings will surely be HUGE!
Join us next week as we rank the best and worst outfits of Kim K in 2020 so far and discuss what Kendall had hidden away in that clutch!