Perhaps you read this week that Donald Trump has replaced James Buchanan as the worst president in the history of the United States.
This was in a survey of experts in presidential politics – people who have an opinion about whether Chester A. Arthur was better than Martin Van Buren. Trump came in last, with a score of 12 out of 100.
Choose the best way to look at this:
A) Why are you reminding me about that man? Why can’t we talk about “Black Panther”?
B) Never thought I’d reminisce about the good old days with Richard Nixon.
C) Hey, at least it’s a story – nobody’s ever going to ask you what it was like living under Gerald Ford.
D) God, I’m so tired of talking about Donald Trump. I hope this is going to lead to a discussion of James Buchanan.
Good news! We are going to talk about James Buchanan right now. Perhaps you’re wondering how his fans are taking his promotion to second worst.
Pretty much in stride.
“Well, time will tell,” said Patrick Clarke, the director at Wheatland, the Buchanan home/museum in Pennsylvania, in a phone interview.
This is definitely the kind of attitude you want to take when your job is centered around a guy whose administration began with the Dred Scott decision and ended with the Civil War. In the Trump era, the folks at Wheatland are mainly concerned about how to keep their tours from degenerating into a discussion of current events. Clarke recently had a meeting with the volunteer guides, after hearing reports that some of them were nodding approvingly when guests made snide comments about who’s now on the bottom.
“We had a frank and very productive conversation,” he reported.
People, when is the last time you had a frank and very productive conversation about politics? OK, the frank part is not currently a problem. But we could do with a little more subtle insight. Or random, non-Trump-related observations.
So about the list. William Henry Harrison came in third from the bottom even though all he did was die a month into his administration. Give the man a break.
“That is kind of unfortunate,” admitted Justin Vaughn, an associate professor of political science of Boise State University. Vaughn and Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor at the University of Houston, conducted the survey, which polled members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section. They did this back in 2014, too, so we have an excellent opportunity for comparison.
Andrew Jackson, for instance, dropped dramatically, a demotion Vaughn and Rottinghaus attributed to “evolving attitudes on his treatment of Native Americans.” But I suspect it’s because Trump made such a big deal about admiring him. Any friend of Donald’s …
Barack Obama soared up into the Top 10. This could be because absence makes the heart grow fonder. But you know it’s about the replacement.
Besides Jackson, Bill Clinton was the only ex-president who suffered a serious drop – out of the Top 10 to 13. The surveyors think it was because even the experts are now painfully reminded of the problems that come with having a hound dog in the White House. But maybe it was just that even for political scientists, the mention of “Clinton” brings back too many painful memories of the last election.
Meanwhile, Richard Nixon moved up to 33. It’s true that he conspired to undermine the Constitution, but at least it wasn’t with the Russians.
Nobody is too obscure to be less bad than our incumbent. The next time you see the current president on the screen, bragging about his great leadership skills, feel free to think: “Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore got way more points.”
Even James Buchanan had pluses. “He understood what was happening in the world,” said Clarke. “He just didn’t understand what was happening domestically.” So already, we have a perfectly good explanation of why Buchanan has moved up. He gets one out of two, which is a lot better than some people.
And personalitywise, Buchanan seemed to be inoffensive. His Twitter account would probably have been full of polite observations and compliments. Meanwhile, the social media would have been diverted with chatter about how the first bachelor president spent his Senate years cohabiting with William King, an Alabama lawmaker who later became the first bachelor vice president.
But it’s not like he grabbed anybody.
Looking at the list, you have to wonder what the Trump Presidential Museum would look like. Where do you think they’d put it? Queens? Mar-a-Lago? Please, God, not at Trump Tower. New York City’s already suffered enough.
Could be a challenge. There’s that golfing place in New Jersey. Culturally speaking, a golf course would really seem appropriate. And given that a certain administration is ignoring the global warming issue, Mar-a-Lago will probably be under water.
One big plus. We’re not going to need a presidential library.