Though opinions may vary on the worst President of the United States ever, the name that comes up quite frequently (perhaps most frequently?) among many historians and followers of history is James Buchanan, our fifteenth President. The governing style of "Old Buck", as he was known, went from indecisive and ineffective to one wrong decision after another. He supported various compromises that allowed the spread of slavery, and publicly declared (at his inauguration, no less) support for the Supreme Court's upcoming Dred Scott v. Sandford decision. (The Court ruled that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery among the colonies.) He did nothing regarding states that wanted to secede from the Union, believing the Constitution did not give him any power to get involved. Add to this the "Utah War" (or "Buchanan's Blunder") and the little-discussed "Pig War". (The former being a jurisdictional dispute and the latter being a territorial dispute, both exacerbated by Buchanan's doing.)
What a resumé!
Buchanan's one term as President ended more than 150 years ago and I think it is important to use it as a backdrop against the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, who is already being cited as the worst U.S. President ever, just four months into his term. (For the record, no, I am not a member of President Trump's party saying Americans should just "give him a chance" after everything that has happened so far,) That is not to say that there haven't been other bad occurrences in other Presidents' terms -- a non-exhaustive list might include Teapot Dome, Vietnam War, Watergate, Iran-Contra, The Great Recession, Iraq War, and the "War Against Terror" -- but I will use Buchanan's presidency as my main backdrop.
In comparison to James Buchanan's indecision regarding major issues affecting the entire country, does Donald Trump also operate with indecision? It depends on who you ask. He does not appear to do so when he storms ahead with executive orders. Then again, he does stomp forward and back off on other intentions and campaign promises. He appears to mean what he says and intends to do what he does. Any cognitive dissonance about his saying one thing and doing another as being merely indecision can be quelled with the knowledge that it was not indecision; it was lying ("not being fully forthcoming" in political-speak) about various campaign promises.
That about does it for indecision.
James Buchanan made several poor decisions in his presidency for the wrong reasons or because of not being fully informed. And what about Donald Trump? He absolutely makes decisions for the wrong reasons and without being properly informed; the latter fueled by his own ignorance and his staff and Cabinet's inexperience. (The only decision of his with which I fully agreed was the backing out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, as noted in my posting from two years ago.)
While not a direct corollary, a rather broad similarity can be drawn between Buchanan's "Pig War" and President Trump's action on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Both are territorial disputes with the added element, in terms of the pipeline, of breaking a treaty with the Native American nations. Not to mention the more-direct corollary of the U.S. government's treatment of indigenous peoples. I guess nineteenth century treaties are just too old and no longer apply.
Wait, the U.S. Constitution is an eighteenth century document...
Granted, the job of U.S. President entails far more now than it ever did -- consider that roughly 3/4 of all Presidents did not have the specter of nuclear war hanging over their heads -- but that simply means the likelihood of bad decisions and the breadth of their results have exponentially increased. President Trump's decisions are unfortunately clearer-than-usual examples of such.
His weekend getaways with his family so regularly are not the norm for Presidents; they tend to stay at home in the White House. Trump treats the White House as merely his office ... make that merely an office. American taxpayers, not Trump himself, are paying for his lavish lifestyle. His Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida has been dubbed "White House South", while Trump Tower in New York City has been dubbed "White House North". Apparently, Camp David, the presidential retreat, isn't quite up to his standards. It is important to note than almost all Americans do not, and never have, lived at his standards, and included in those numbers are those who voted for him. They didn't mind him being a successful businessman and enjoying the spoils, but they weren't told they'd pay for those spoils. Perhaps, in light of the climate of the 2016 election, that still may not have mattered to his voters in the long run.
Two ironic terms to already come out of this presidency are "fake news" (thank you, Mr. Trump) and "alternate facts" (thank you, Kellyanne Conway). They're ironic because "fake news", as the President uses it, means facts reported correctly that he doesn't like, and "alternate facts", as Kellyanne Conway used it, means lies.
Then there is Russia. Oh my, there is a lot of Russia! In addition to hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and influencing the 2016 American Presidential election, seriously, how many people who are or were on his staff, in his Cabinet, or among his appointees have no connection to Russia whatsoever? Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, original National Security Adviser nominee Michael Flynn, adviser Carter Page, original campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner (Trump's son-in-law), not to mention other family members and business associates of Trump, are among the names of people with ties to Russia.
Does the phrase "stinks to high heaven" come to mind?
Let us not forget that one of the big aspects of business is marketing. That can mean conveying information about a product and targeting a certain audience. In the 2016 campaign and during his young presidency, Trump is not promoting a business, but his favorite product, himself. It is often said that, when presenting yourself on a job interview, you are selling yourself; you become the product, in essence, that you want them to buy (hire). That is meant to instill a sense of self-confidence. In the course of his campaign, and even more so during his time in the White House, Trump's narcissism is the fuel he has used to sell his favorite product. In fact, his worldview is if he likes it, you will, too ... if he wants it, you will, too ... if he says it, you will believe it. It does appear he is finding out his selling tactics have not been as hands-down successful as he thought.
More to consider: Watch this video, which I first posted back in February, and let's discuss.
Let's compare Robert Reich's seven signs to Trump's presidency:
EXAGGERATE THEIR MANDATE TO GOVERN -- Trump's campaign and his Vice-President, Mike Pence, have said publicly, before and after taking the oath of office, that a "huge margin" gave Trump a mandate to do what "the voters want". ✔ CHECK
TURN PUBLIC AGAINST THE MEDIA -- Trump has repeatedly referred to mainstream news outlets as fake news, openly arguing with some of their reporters at press meetings, and even referring to the media as "the greatest threat to democracy". ✔ CHECK
REPEATEDLY LIES TO PUBLIC -- In reality, he cannot successfully do the other six things on this list without lying. He has lied again and again with no signs of stopping. ✔ CHECK
BLAMING ECONOMIC STRESSES ON IMMIGRANTS / CREATING ANTI-IMMIGRANT BIAS / THREATENING MASS DEPORTATIONS / ESTABLISH REGISTRY OF RELIGIOUS MINORITIES / BANNING OF REFUGEES -- (This was a full one!) Trump, like many politicians, have claimed for some time that those who immigrate here illegally are hurting the economy. From the day he announced his candidacy, Trump's rhetoric has been anti-immigrant and his rally attendees were whipped into a frenzy. He hasn't just threatened mass deportations, he has begun them. Last year was when Trump first brought up the idea of a Muslim registry (database), but there has been plenty of pushback. ✔ CHECK
TREAT ALL OPPOSITION AS "ENEMIES" -- Back in February, Trump tweeted that the press wasn't the enemy of the White House, but "the enemy of the American people". (I guess also calling the press the "greatest threat to democracy" wasn't sufficient.) On New Year's Eve, Trump tweeted: "Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!" Clearly, anyone or any entity who doesn't tow the line is an enemy to Donald Trump. ✔ CHECK
APPOINTING FAMILY MEMBERS TO POSITIONS OF HIGH AUTHORITY / APPOINTING GENERALS INTO TOP CIVILIAN POSTS -- As I noted earlier, Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is his Senior Adviser. His daughter, Ivanka, who serves as Vice-President of Development and Acquisitions for the Trump Organization after the President allegedly "fully disconnected" from his businesses, has been attending key meetings without having any official position. She now has a West Wing office with an official capacity of ... an adviser of some kind. Retired General Michael Flynn was Trump's original pick for National Security Advisor; Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster was appointed after Flynn's firing. Retired General James "Mad Dog" Mattis is the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of Homeland Security is retired Marine General John Kelly. ✔ CHECK
KEEP PERSONAL FINANCES SECRET -- Even though the first two pages of the President's 2005 tax return were leaked earlier this year, he has not released any of his tax returns.
Part 2 Tomorrow