If you went into a mad scientist’s lab and tried to concoct a worse President than Donald J. Trump, I’m not sure you could do it with 50 Igors and several decades to experiment. Although Trump displays little in common with most former Presidents (especially the good ones), if they do have a flaw, you can bet he has it too. Here, I take a look at the worst tendencies of former Presidents, and how Trump displays all of them…
Note: The list builds as it goes, so if you scroll down to any specific POTUS you might miss something pivotal. I tried not to make things too repetitive, so that’s why I’ve chosen certain flaws for the most flawed Presidents.
1. George Washington…Wealthy landowner who made his money through questionable means. Before Trump, he was the wealthiest President ever elected.
2. John Adams…The Alien and Sedition Acts were aggressively anti-immigrant, made it harder to become a citizen, and the final act (Sedition Act of 1798) criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government. Sounds like the precursor to “Fake News” or what Trump would like to do to CNN, The Washington Post, New York Times, etc.
3. Thomas Jefferson…Not many flaws as President, but the “Embargo Act of 1807” led to economic chaos and had to be abandoned a year later. Trump’s sanctions on Iran (and backing out of a deal with them), tariffs on European imports, talk of trade war with China, and backing out of TPP haven’t inspired long-term confidence in American investing. Plus, Jefferson’s alleged affair with Sally Hemmings and subsequent love-children are possibly America’s first Presidential sex scandal, a proud tradition Trump is happy to carry on with today.
4. James Madison…In his last act before leaving office, Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817, which was essentially a desperately needed infrastructure package, despite conceding its obvious merits. Despite occasional lip service, Trump shows no real immediacy in making necessary repairs or renovations to America’s airports, roads, public schools, etc. instead choosing to focus infrastructure spending on a worthless border wall; seemingly unaware of the invention of the airplane and how nearly three-quarters of undocumented immigrants arrive on it.
5. James Monroe…Unlike Trump, Monroe had a clear, consistent foreign policy that was widely respected and implemented by later Presidents (The Monroe Doctrine). Like Trump, he had little power to actually make good on his policy–since at the time Monroe first declared his doctrine, the U.S. had little naval power, a diminished army, no desire for foreign wars, and nowhere near economic dominance. When The Monroe Doctrine was first implemented, it was largely laughable to foreign powers until Britain (a previously hostile foreign government) decided to keep it as part of Pax Britannica, where they kept an official peace while amassing a very real global empire. The same way Trump’s foreign policy “successes” seem mostly like a smoke screen to allow China and Russia to amass real power behind the spotlight.
6. John Quincy Adams…Trump has little in common with Adams (who is probably closer to Hillary Clinton) except that he was the very first President to lose the popular vote and take office anyway. Despite the electoral college system, it’s actually very rare that a President loses the popular vote, happening only 5 times in our history, although it’s happened twice in the last 16 years.
7. Andrew Jackson…To say he was unconcerned about the rights of minorities is an understatement. Jackson also campaigned for “the common man” against a corrupt elite, although Jackson may have actually meant it opposed to Trump’s replacing “the swamp” with a Trump-branded swamp of his loyalists.
8. Martin Van Buren…Ideologically all over the place, Van Buren was for slavery during his Presidency but repeatedly blocked the annexation of Texas (a massive, resource-rich, and important piece of land) because of slavery concerns before eventually becoming a free soiler. He was a cosmopolitan New Yorker who rebranded himself a Southern-advocate (cough, Trump, cough) to be Jackson’s VP as a Democrat, then he ran as a third party candidate in 1848 to sabotage the Democratic candidate that year, then he returned to the Democratic Party until 1860 when he supported Abraham Lincoln. This sounds more than a little like Trump, who has been a Republican, a Democrat, a Republican, a Reform Party candidate, switched back to the Democrats, and then back to the Republicans.
9. William Henry Harrison…At the time, he was the oldest President ever elected to office (a distinction Trump now holds), and died just 31 days into his Presidency from pneumonia attributed to Harrison giving the longest inauguration speech in American history while in the rain without coat or hat and arriving on horseback instead of closed carriage. Harrison wanted to look tough and vital, sensitive about his age the way Trump might brag about his dick size during a debate or seize medical records from a doctor who talks about him using hair-growth drugs. Also, when Harrison died he sparked a brief constitutional crisis (about who exactly would succeed him) the way Trump threatens to do by asking if he can pardon himself or stay in office even if he’s legally impeached. And Harrison branded himself a Jacksonian-man of the people despite being born wealthy, similar to how Trump evokes Jackson’s name.
10. John Tyler…Assuming the Presidency only because Harrison died and to avoid a nasty fight over succession, Tyler was eventually dubbed “His Accidency” by his own political party. Tyler was never meant to be President and was widely disliked by both political parties, and despised by congressional leaders. Gee, sounds familiar…
11. James K. Polk…Inflamed tensions with Mexico, not sure I need to say anymore.
12. Zachary Taylor…Died a little too early into his first term (16 months) to have developed major faults, he was tripped-up over the slavery question that got many of the early Presidents. [Like John Tyler saying slavery is evil, but owning slaves himself and not even stipulating they be freed after his death.] Like the majority of the first 12 Presidents, Taylor personally owned slaves (the last POTUS to do so while in office) but maintained a confusing position about its expansion. Not all that different from Trump displaying vast personal shortcomings—like literally dozens of sexual harassment allegations—but criticizing others for having them, like inviting Bill Clinton’s accusers to the second debate.
13. Millard Fillmore…Yet another President who thought slavery was evil but declined to do anything about it. [How many Presidents can declare something evil but either own slaves or oversee slavery’s expansion? And is the modern equivalent people that declare mass incarceration or climate crisis wrong, but take donations from private prison or fossil fuel conglomerates?] Fillmore is most like Trump in that he was the last Whig Party President—the way Trump may inadvertently oversee the death of the Republican Party—and then ran as a third party candidate in the nativist “Know Nothing” Party. If Trump had lost the Republican nomination in 2016 or loses it in 2020, nothing would be more perfect (or likely) than him running as a candidate in a resurrected “Know Nothing” Party.
14. Franklin Pierce…Despite being a Northern Democrat, he was weirdly and adamantly pro-Slavery and pro-South, a la Trump as a Northern “Republican.” While running for re-election, he was so unpopular and embroiled in scandals that James Buchanan was chosen to represent the party over him instead. The same way many were hoping for a brokered 2016 convention that would put John Kasich or ABT (Anyone But Trump) in as the nominee, and several are hoping Trump will see a strong primary challenger in 2020.
15. James Buchanan…Buchanan better watch his back, because his usual ranking as the “W.O.A.T.” (Worst of All Time) President in American history is being threatened by Trump. Also, Buchanan was a lifelong bachelor, possibly joining him will be Trump if one more story of an affair and subsequent pay-out breaks while Melania was either pregnant, giving birth, or breastfeeding for the first time.
16. Abraham Lincoln…Lincoln was the first Republican President, Trump may be the last one. Lincoln oversaw the first Civil War, Trump may oversee the second one. Lincoln suspended Habeus Corpus, Trump has emboldened ICE to ramp up deportations, immigration detention centers, and will likely see America’s mass incarceration problem get worse rather than better. There’s a line in “The Death of Stalin” where they say “Stalin destroyed the status quo and built a new one.” In a way, Lincoln did that, and you get the sense Trump would like to as well. Both men were accused of executive branch over reach, and neither men were satisfied with the justice system of their time, although for very, very different reasons.
17. Andrew Johnson…One of the most bitterly partisan Presidents in American history, who fought congress every step of the way and avoided a full impeachment by one senate vote (the way Trump likely would narrowly avoid impeachment if such a vote were held next year). Congress actually passed a law to stop Johnson from firing his cabinet, the way many questioned Trump’s firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson through Twitter. [Unlike Johnson, Trump actually appointed rather than inherited his own cabinet, which makes his treatment of them even more inexplicable.] He also went against federally guaranteed protections for African Americans, the way Trump likewise has no regard for minority rights today.
18. Ulysses S. Grant…Initially thought of as one of the worst Presidents in history (due to a combination of corruption scandals and a severe economic depression that led to breaking yet another treaty with the Indians), modern history has seen him ranked more favorably. You can see this on an accelerated time-table with most of Trump’s scandals getting white-washed daily by his army of minions. Plus, Grant breaking an agreement with Native Americans—taking their gold-filled Dakota land to avoid a prolonged economic depression—can be seen in Trump breaking literally every agreement Obama signed, from the Paris Climate Accords to the Iran Deal.
19. Rutherford B. Hayes…Came to power in the outrageously contentious and possibly corrupt election of 1876, one of only 5 times where a President lost the popular vote but was put into office anyway. [You already know what the most recent time was.] Also, he used federal troops to crush the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, so this is yet another time where a Republican President has over-stepped their boundaries the way Trump frequently threatens everyone and everything from journalists to Meryl Streep.
20. James Garfield…A tough one since Garfield was assassinated so soon into his first term (lasting only 200 days as President). But the majority of his time in his office was spent dealing with interal Republican Party feuds and grievances (at the time between his Secretary of State James Blaine and New York Senator Roscoe Conklin), the way Trump should have theoretically been able to pass his entire agenda by now since Republicans control the House, Senate, Supreme Court, most Governorships, and two-thirds of state legislatures, but has instead spent almost as much time warring with his own party as the Democrats. In an age of unprecedented, conformist partisanship, Trump may be finally splintering the Republican Party.
21. Chester A. Arthur…Arthur signed into law The Chinese Exclusion Act which banned Chinese immigrants for a 10 year period. Although he didn’t agree with it and forced them to shorten the time from 20 years to 10, this was the first immigration to specifically ban a certain ethnicity or nation. It would be used as a legal precedent with Trump’s “Muslim Ban” which Trump never admitted targeted Muslims but banned immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. He signed Executive Order 13769 one week after his inauguration. Also like Trump, Arthur was widely seen as corrupt upon taking office. Unlike Trump, he worked hard to counter that notion once he was in office.
22. Grover Cleveland…You can see the early stages of modern Libertarian failings here. Cleveland—a “classical liberal”—refused many things on philosophical grounds (subsidies for farmers or businesses, pensions for veterans, tariffs, tax increases, and “American imperialism” which meant expanding territory, the only proven way depressions ended in that time period, just ask Grant) which have been proven to work, and his entire second term was mired in the worst economic depression the country had seen, causing the Democratic Party to be unelectable for a generation. Likewise, Trump is hell-bent to throw money away on tax cuts for the wealthy, and the majority of the corporate tax cuts will eventually flow to foreign investors through stock buybacks. We can only hope his Republican Party meets the same fate Cleveland’s Democrats did.
23. Benjamin Harrison…We’re firmly in the middle of that boring Presidential period between Grant and Wilson where I doubt many Americans could name any President other than Teddy Roosevelt. Harrison imposed a tariff so high it led to the disastrous re-election of Grover Cleveland, and tariffs are a favorite way for Trump to punish sassy nations. Although Harrison also did great things like the creation of national forest reserves (essentially National Parks) and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, Trump may complain about Amazon’s monopolistic tendencies—one of the very few things he’s right about—but has so far done nothing but implement policies that make their stock price go up. And like Trump, this is also another case where the popular vote—which favored Cleveland—wasn’t the same as the electoral college.
[Cleveland is also counted as the 24th President since his terms were non-consecutive.]
25. William McKinley…He also thought high tariffs would lead to economic prosperity, although this made much more sense in 1897.
26. Theodore Roosevelt…If Trump were ever to read this list, I can imagine him skimming over the rest to get to Teddy Roosevelt—the last great Republican President—hoping they have something in common, but other than a tremendous ego, they really don’t. Yes, both were loud-mouth New Yorkers, frustrated with the Republican political machine, and Trump threatened to start a third party (like Teddy did The Bull Moose Party when Taft beat him out for the nomination, eventually leading to Republican defeat that year) when it looked like 2016 was headed for a brokered convention. But Teddy was generally fighting for terrific things like trust-busting, the creation of National Parks, environmental conservation, and even clean food and water (the anti-Scott Pruitt). Unlike Trump, Teddy earned his tough-guy reputation (not only being a war hero but taking a bullet during a speech, and not stopping until he’d finished the speech) and Nobel Peace Prize for brokering an actual end to the Russo-Japanese War, unlike Kim Jong Un’s phony gestures. Although you can feel Teddy’s titanic ego when he chose to run against Taft—his close friend and handpicked successor—after Taft didn’t do as Teddy would’ve done, much the way Trump threw another one-time ally, lard-ass like Chris Christie under the bus. Trump displays little loyalty but to himself, and criticizes even his campaign surrogates as “low energy.” [It’s rumored he watched Sean Spicer’s press briefings, and would give him notes the way a pro-athlete’s coach might.]
27. William Howard Taft…Trump is the fattest President since Taft, and arguably the most sympathetic to big business. In all of the rifts between Taft and Roosevelt, Roosevelt was almost universally correct, with Taft’s administration catering to big business special interests and corporate toadyism. Taft led a divide between progressive Republicans and hardcore conservatives, the way Trump increased the hardcore conservatives stranglehold over more moderate Republican voices. To me, the era of lousy Republican Presidents actually begins with Taft, and has gradually devolved to Trump. And Taft’s son Senator Robert Taft (an ultra-conservative partisan during Truman/Eisenhower’s relatively non-partisan reign) is one of the most obnoxious figures in modern political history, a distinction Trump’s kids seem to be competing for.
28. Woodrow Wilson…Just as the period of great Republican Presidents (like Roosevelt) ended with Taft’s election, the period of great Democratic Presidents begins with Wilson, who created the Federal Reserve System, numerous anti-Monopoly laws, the Fourteen Points foreign policy system, the League of Nations, and helped finish WWI. The only glaring flaw in Wilson’s presidency is that he was–unquestionably–a racist, and made things harder for minorities than they were before he took office, not all that different from…you guessed it, rhymes with Tonald Drump.
29. Warren G. Harding…Widely thought of as one of the worst Presidents ever, his administration was usually considered the most corrupt in American history, but Donald seems hell-bent on breaking Harding’s number of scandals. Harding had an uber-wealthy cabinet like Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon (Trump’s original cabinet was worth more than the bottom 50% of Americans) that advocated for their own economic concerns, he had an extra-marital affair that didn’t become widely known until after the election (Stormy), and he had numerous corruption scandals like the Teapot Dome Scandal, widely thought of as the most blatant bribery case of a President (until it’s now revealed Michael Cohen was taking money from AT&T lobbyists right before Trump’s FCC repealed net neutrality or Ivanka is now allowed to sell her products in China at the exact same time Trump is lifting restrictions on Chinese companies).
30. Calvin Coolidge…What do “Silent Cal” and Big-Mouth Don have in common? While Trump seeks out the spotlight, and Coolidge was content to largely disappear, neither of them seemed particularly focused on actually accomplishing anything. For Coolidge this is perhaps due to ideological reasons, while Trump’s is due to scattered thought and manifest incompetence. Coolidge is one of the laziest Presidents in modern memory, and while Libertarian nut-jobs often love him for accomplishing very little, there can be no question that not much got done during his tenure, including the U.S. joining the League of Nations. Likewise, Trump has expressed serious doubts about the U.N. and wonders “what we get for our money,” as if it’s a haggler’s market place. Even his own Secretary of Defense disagrees with Trump’s ignorant assertion that NATO troops do not largely serve American interests.
31. Herbert Hoover…Oh, how I hate Herbert Hoover. He presided over the greatest economic depression in American history, refused to offer direct federal help when it became obvious the country would need it (finally changing this in 1932 only because he was seeking re-election), not a single proposal he implemented made the crisis better (like the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff), he wasn’t for America entering WWII (he was the American Neville Chamberlain), and repeatedly spoke out against FDR’s every move—from New Deal policies to the American war effort—even after leaving office. Yet his arrogance never wavered despite being wrong about everything, a la Trump. And because he refused to go anywhere, he’s largely conned the country into rehabiliating his atrocious image. When Trump finally leaves office, is there any doubt he won’t openly criticize his successor? Trump still criticizes Obama and Hillary, let alone the people that will take office after him.
32. Franklin Delanoe Roosevelt…One of my favorite Presidents, but FDR wasn’t perfect (who is?). He instituted Japanese internment camps—what Trump would like to do to Muslims and Mexicans, although unlike FDR, there isn’t a major war going on to even remotely justify this—and did little to address Civil Rights in the segregationist South (Trump appears to be running on a Neo-confederate platfrom). Plus, FDR had an affair with his third cousin, perhaps the ickiest Presidential sex scandal until Trump and his daughter lust.
33. Harry Truman…My pick for the most underrated President in American history. Few Americans know he integrated the Army (and passed the first comprehensive Civil Rights legislation), created the United Nations, started NATO, tried to keep China from falling to Communism (and instituted the Truman Doctrine to contain Communism), presided over a booming economy, instituted the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, and tried his best to increase FDR’s New Deal programs, but was repeatedly blocked by congress. I think Truman was so under-valued, that I’m loathe to find fault, but the inevitable question of how necessary his use of two atomic bombs are will come up, and now Trump has access to all those nuclear weapons. I know it’s a reach, but my blood ran cold hearing reports of Trump asking his generals why they can’t use nuclear weapons against ISIS.
34. Dwight Eisenhower…Polar opposites in many ways, Eisenhower has been the only truly good Republican President after Teddy Roosevelt, and that’s only because Ike is the very definition of a RINO. He opposed radicalism in his own party (McCarthy and Taft’s son Robert Taft), fought communism’s spread, carried on FDR’s New Deal policies, understood the necessity of a post-WWII order where America rules, and created the interstate system, expanses to public education, and NASA. If there’s a downside to Eisenhower’s Presidency it’s tangles in Korea and Iran, leading to a coup in Iran that eventually led to the Iranian revolution and a Korean stalemate that exists today. Trump’s shredding of the Iran Deal and all-over-the-place policy towards North Korea (which he seemingly views solely as a vehicle to get a Noble Peace Prize) shows he’s learned nothing from Ike’s mistakes.
35. John F. Kennedy…Shady family connections, nepotistic appointments, and a sordid personal history are the closest links these two have (Kennedy’s alleged affair with an East German spy might be the 60’s equivalent of Trump’s pee tape). But as much as Trump would like to create his own camelot, I don’t think Don Junior, Ivanka, or Jared will be as beloved as JFK Junior.
36. Lyndon B. Johnson…Admittedly, they don’t have much in common as LBJ was a master of congressional dealings, cared about poor people, and strengthened the social safety net. Their biggest similarities may be using their towering size to intimidate opponents, using Southern racists to achieve political goals, and the near-certainty Trump will become embroiled in his own Vietnam, an Asian war with either Syria, Iran, North Korea, etc.
37. Richard Nixon…Nixon was an avowed bigot who hated minorities (transcripts of the Nixon recordings are full of anti-Semitism and racial slurs), considered the media an enemy, had no regard for opposition parties or checks and balances, and thought the President was above the law. Add to that his very Trump-like personality, full of self-pity—no matter what he did, he was the real victim—and paranoia. Also, Nixon’s often praised “opening up China” was actually disastrous in the long-term for America, leading to a boom for China’s economy (it’s now our chief economic, military, technological, and political rival). Likewise, if Trump actually moderates North Korea—rather than pushing for a unified Korea and the Un family to leave power—you can expect a similar fate.
38. Gerald Ford…Was never supposed to be President, and gave out questionable pardons early on (Nixon), while Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio only six months into his Presidency.
39. Jimmy Carter…A Washington “outsider” who couldn’t get anything done, and had no clue how to deal with Iran. Carter’s Presidency eventually led to crippling gas prices and a sense of “morale malaise.” You might have noticed gas prices going up under Trump and an even heavier mood spreading across the country.
40. Ronald Reagan…Maintained he had no idea what the people around him were up to, and played up his own ignorance of scandals like the Iran-Contra Affair. Trump claims he knows nothing about Russian collusion, while almost his entire inner-circle (personal attorney of 30 years Michael Cohen, top campaign advisor and oldest political friend Roger Stone, campaign manager Paul Manafort, national security advisor and convention speaker Michael Flynn, his own son Don Junior, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner) has been linked to Russian collusion or already indicted. Trump also displays Reagan’s trademark knack for running up huge deficits while pretending to be fiscally conservative, and for escalating the Drug War.
41. George H.W. Bush…Made an ass out of himself by infamously throwing up on the Japanese Prime Minister in 1992, while Trump makes an ass out of himself on most international trips. Also, Bush’s sons are jackasses, a la Trump’s sons.
42. Bill Clinton…During his Presidency, late-night talk shows had a field day with Clinton’s scarfing down cheeseburgers (Trump supposedly eats several a day), how much his icy wife probably hates him (hello, Melania slapping Donald’s hand away and not even living with him during the first year of his Presidency), and how he was almost kicked out of office for an affair with a much younger woman (Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal).
43. George W. Bush…People routinely mocked Bush’s lack of intelligence and literacy (reading “My Pet Goat” while 911 burned and failing to react for several minutes). Trump has said his favorite book after The Bible (which he cannot successfully quote a single passage from) is his own book “The Art of the Deal.” It is rumored he hasn’t read a book in his adult life, and rarely reads from a teleprompter, making some think he’s illiterate. Like Bush, Trump has also been very comfortable with torture, running up huge deficits, squandering money on corporate tax cuts, and John Bolton.
Note About Obama: There’s just no way I’m going to give Trump the satisfaction…