Opinion: Everybody’s better than you-know-who

Feb 23, 2018
  • By Gail Collins
  • New York Times

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.

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.

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.

Andrew Jackson 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.

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.

And personalitywise, Buchanan seemed to be inoffensive. His Twitter account would probably have been full of polite observations and compliments.

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.