Why do people describe Donald Trump as the “worst President in modern American history”? Why the qualifier? Why not come out and say “worst President in American history”?
True, news in the Trump era flies fast an furious. For four-plus years, reporters and analysts have been whip-sawed from one horror to the next. They’ve barely had time to dip their toe into one scandal before they’re pulled away to the next, and there’s not a lot of time for in-depth research of the type which might be necessary when making comparisons that span thousands of years or hundreds of administrations.
But it’s not as though American history extends back that far, or that there have been that many presidents.
American history barely goes back two and a half centuries. I can understand that maybe a political pundit wouldn’t want to take the time to fact-check all the presidential administrations if our country’s history went back two and a half millennia. Like, they might understandably hedge if they were arguing “this guy is the worst thing in Persian history!”
Also I get that one might not feel comfortable making a comparison with, say, the medieval kings. Everything was different then — there was no expectation of democratic representation or of limitations on power (like we have now!) or of separating one’s personal interests and wealth from that of the state. Back then it really was “l’etat c’est moi.” One can’t reasonably be expected to compare a modern leader with one from the 13th century.
It’s not like the American Presidency goes back to the time of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut or Alexander the Great or even Julius Caesar. You know, with hundreds of presidents dating back thousands of years. Then you might understandably choose to limit your comparison. But come on, Trump is only the 45th president we’ve ever had. You could do some research.
When people say “modern American history” you’re generally talking about post-World War I. That’s a pretty shallow pool.
I don’t know that much about Chester Arthur or Rutherford B. Hayes, or some of the more obscure presidents, but I think if any of them had done as much to subvert our democratic institutions, personally profit from and enrich his family from his time in office, surround himself with so many convicted felons and agents of foreign enemies and demonstrably incompetent individuals, stoke violence and division, alienate us from our allies and cozy up to foreign dictators, lie so unabashedly, and ineffectually preside over a global pandemic and resulting economic calamity, we’d have probably learned about it in school.
But once this reign of error is over and things return to a semblance of normalcy, there will be more time to stop and do some research. And I think we’ll find that it’s fair to drop the qualifier and call Trump what he is: Worst. President. Ever. OMG.