Donald Trump

How Trump Affects the Presidential Rankings

Eisenhower and Jackson now perceived differently. What's going on?


Andrew Jackson
public domain

Any president can change the future. Donald Trump stands out for his ability to change the past, without even trying.

He's already altered perceptions of what happened in America decades and centuries ago. We know that because of a new survey of presidential historians conducted by C-SPAN, asking them to rank presidents on various attributes and overall performance.

The latest scorecard, which included responses from 91 historians, is similar in most respects to those compiled in C-SPAN's first two, in 2000 and 2009. But it holds some surprises that suggest that things look different with Trump in the picture.

Some things are fixed. The greatest president is Abraham Lincoln, who has finished first in each poll. Coming in second, for the second straight time, is George Washington. Franklin Roosevelt is third, just ahead of cousin Theodore.

The worst, three times running, is James Buchanan, who preceded Lincoln and whose indulgence of pro-slavery forces is blamed for helping to bring on the Civil War. Second-to-last each time has been Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln and was the first president to be impeached (though he was not convicted).

This is the first poll to include Barack Obama, who came out ahead of his most recent predecessors. Obama is ranked No. 12, three spots below Ronald Reagan but ahead of George W. Bush (33), Bill Clinton (15) and George H.W. Bush (20).

Obama is one of the lowest-rated presidents in terms of relations with Congress—worse, somehow, than William Henry Harrison, who died a month after taking office—and got mediocre marks on foreign relations, but he scored high on pursuing equal justice for all.

The biggest improvement was registered by Dwight Eisenhower, ranked ninth in 2000 and eighth in 2009. He landed at fifth, jumping over John Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson and Harry Truman, who were ahead of him the last time around.

The biggest decline was that of Andrew Jackson, who slid from 13th in 2000 and 2009 to 18th. Richard Norton Smith, a presidential biographer and member of C-SPAN's advisory team, suggests that the changing fortunes of Eisenhower and Jackson are both partly the product of a "Trump effect."

Eisenhower, Smith told me, benefits from being "the anti-Trump—massively competent, self-effacing, moderate." He had been supreme Allied commander in Europe during World War II, and despite his Army background—or because of it—he warned, "A nation's hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations."

Eight years of comparative peace and prosperity made his administration a stark contrast to those of Obama and George W. Bush, which featured endless war and a deep recession. The disappearance of centrism in the Republican Party doubtless elicits a nostalgia for Ike, who triumphed over Joseph McCarthy and others on the far right.

Jackson, Smith suspects, has declined in public estimation as his slave ownership and brutal policies toward Native Americans have acquired new significance. It probably doesn't help that Trump's approach to foreign relations has been described as "Jacksonian" for its pugnacity, unilateralism and contempt for human rights considerations. Unlike Alexander Hamilton, Jackson inspired a Broadway musical (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) that never found an audience.

Nothing about Trump, however, affects the standing of the highest-ranked presidents. Why not? Because he only highlights their well-known virtues.

Lincoln is revered for his humanity, his unflagging resolve and his capacity for profound thought and eloquent word. Washington was a master of dignity and statesmanship. Franklin Roosevelt had a capacity to inspire and unite Americans during the worst of times. They have as much in common with Trump as they do with Daffy Duck.

Trump might find a role model in Theodore Roosevelt, a fellow wealthy New Yorker with a taste for bold actions and expansive use of presidential power. It might be said of Trump, as it was of TR, that he wants to be the bride in every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.

But Trump lacks his disarming enthusiasm, battlefield courage and love of the outdoors, and he's not likely to leave a magnificent legacy for all Americans, as Roosevelt did with the national parks. Anyone who reflects on TR will not find reasons to admire the new president.

As for other presidents, their fans can take heart from the prospect that they will rate better than Trump in future surveys. There is even hope for James Buchanan.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Academe hates Trump, and that hatred colors other opinions.

    Not surprising.

    1. Ranking Obama 12th is a joke. Even a partisan Democrat ought to realize that Obama was nowhere near as effective as Bill Clinton.

      1. He gets bonus points for being a historic first, I assume.

      2. I have zero respect for anyone who ranks Obama above the lowest 10 presidents. Obama and LBJ were war presidents and conflict throughout their entire terms in office.

        Lowest would include FDR, JFK, W. Bush, LBJ, Nixon, Johnson, Clinton and Lincoln. The impeached in the House presidents deserve to be at the bottom. FDR just said fuck you to two terms precedent set by Washington and out Americans in concentration camps. JFK got us closer to WWIII than presidents during the Cold War with Bay of Pigs and shady shit with the mafia. Nixon would have been the first president to be impeached from office had he not resigned. W. Bush invaded numerous nations without a Declaration of war and on clear lies, TARP, allowing torture and clearly violating the constitution by allowing domestic spying of Americans. Lincoln used the Civil War to terrorize journalists, dissidents and actions caused hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers to die because he was a horrible Commander-in-Chief.

        The best would be Washington, Jefferson, Madison and then downhill from there.

        1. The impeached in the House presidents deserve to be at the bottom

          For that reason?

          Andrew Johnson was set up. The party in Congress didn’t like him and they wanted to find any way to get rid of him, so they passed an unconstitutional law then impeached him when he violated it.

          Johnson might be a bad President for other reasons, but his impeachment isn’t one of them.

          1. There are quite a few reasons beyond the single one I articulated but being so bad that other government types feel the need to kick one of their own out of office, stands very different. I would feel differently if the particular politician was great at following the Constitution and being good for Americans and then the other politicians turned on him to get them out of office. Not the case here.

            Even Trump will not face impeachment after he gets his agendas done using RINOs and then picks them off one by one or blocks their big spending. He will be too popular for politicians to dare go against the voters.

        2. Lincoln did use an unprecedented level of executive overreach during the Civil War — extreme breaches of constitutional rights — that cannot be disputed. But, (his) “actions caused hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers to die because he was a horrible Commander-in-Chief.” This statement has no justification and is nothing more than a potshot on your part.

          If anything poor generalship is the cause of the war’s massive casualties. You have no cause for laying the dead of Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor etc. at the feet of Lincoln; Lincoln did not order 14 suicidal assaults on the stone wall of Fredricksburg.

          1. Union generals made numerous mistakes and the battles of that time were sometimes fought in the Revolutionary War style of standing lines firing at one another. Lincoln was the Commander-in-Chief and only reaps the glory of winning. He made numerous bad Executive decisions in picking generals; political pushes to fight battles and locations that should not have been fought; and failing to learn from military mistakes until the South beat itself to death through its own military blunders.
            Lincoln military blunders
            Lincoln did some things right, like allowing blacks to serve which fixed a manpower shortage and generally increased sagging war morale in the North. Allowing Sherman to gut the South’s supply lines was another fantastic decision.

            Remember Captains and Generals deserve to suffer the pains of their mistakes as well as reap the rewards of their successes.

            1. Scanning your link I see more glorification of Lincolns acumen as a strategist than a litany of “his” military blunders. I am reasonable enough to concede that Lincoln did press strongly for engagement of any sort in ’61, ’62, ’63 — mostly because the Army of the Potomac languished for months at a time in city-camps, decaying on the inside from disease. I also concede that Lincoln put 7 or 8 generals in charge of the northern army before US Grant, and all of those prior generals were soundly defeated (though Meade did win the decisive battle of Gettysburg) — that can definitely be placed on Lincoln, he and he alone determined who would be the General in charge.

              Overall though, I think you over reached in your pretty decent list of bad presidents by including Lincoln; which I think you mostly did to be provocative. If you are too stubborn to remove him from the list, then I still think at least you should modify your analysis to hammer on his unconstitutional abuse of executive power and tone down the ‘hundreds of thousands of dead soldiers’ as a result of Lincoln’s folly.

      3. Yes. I was surprised Obama rated higher than Bill Clinton. I think this will change a few decades from now.

  2. Join us next week, when Steve Chapman explains how Trump affects ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings!

    1. Chapmansplaining ™

      1. Through the use of his own excrement and the nearest available wall. Though I hear sometimes he has to wet his fingers by licking them too.

  3. “he scored high on pursuing equal justice for all.” WTF does that even mean? Also, I’m surprised FDR is still so high seeing as everybody has been obsessing over Japanese internment camps now that Trump wants to halt our refugee program. Abe above George? Really? I mean he may have begun and won the Civil War, but he was kind of a tyrant.

    1. IMO, Washington really should be above Lincoln, as in his own lifetime he earned the reputation of a “modern Cincinnatus”, which is pretty much the highest honor that can be bestowed on a statesman (the recognition of competent, successful leadership that abstains from corruption and willingly cedes power). Lincoln deserves high praise for saving the union and abolishing slavery, but as you mention he had more faults than Washington.

      Your surprise at FDR’s status could also be applied to Eisenhower’s, as both FDR (with Japanese internment) and Eisenhower (with Operation Wetback) committed sins of far greater magnitude than those Trump is being excoriated for.

      1. I’d certainly go with Washington as No. 1.

  4. Fascinating how “contempt for human rights” according to Chappy Bro excludes the presidential duty to fulfill the goddamn job requirement of providing security to the American citizen.

    I’m convinced Reason hasn’t read a goddamn actual word of Ayn while prancing her naked bony corpse about as if they have.

    1. How dare you imply cocktail stains on the Sparknotes of the Fountainhead.

      Busy busy we all are.

  5. My rankings would be

    1 – Coolidge
    2 – W. H. Harrison (died too soon to fuck things up.)
    t-last – every other jackwagon.

    1. 1 – Washington, for willingly and fully relinquishing power after two terms, setting a precedent that was maintained until FDR broke it, and had become so ingrained that a constitutional amendment limiting presidential terms was passed shortly after FDR’s death.

      1. And also being the only president who didn’t really want the job.

        1. He didn’t have Air Force One at the time to take him on his golf vacations.

      2. 1 – Washington, for willingly and fully relinquishing power after two terms

        And also for turning down an offer to be made “king” for life. I can’t imagine very many of his successors doing that.

  6. Historian, n. A broad-gauge gossip.

  7. “But Trump lacks his disarming enthusiasm, battlefield courage and love of the outdoors…”

    That is really the point, isn’t it? I know it has only been one month into the Trump presidency. But to date, he has not Started a war without congressional approval, has not prosecuted leakers under the espionage act, as not subpoenaed the Associated Press, and has not claimed the right to unilaterally murder any American citizen he deems to be an imminent threat to national security.

    These offenses against constitutional government and civil liberties were all committed by Barack Obama. But because he spoke in melodious tones, read grandiloquent words from a Teleprompter, acted cool, hung out with celebrities, and joked about smoking pot as a teenager, it was all ignored.

    I wish we would start paying more attention to substance and continuity over several administrations, and less attention to style. No matter how bad that style may be.

    1. Yemen? He did invade a country that we have not declared war on unless I missed something. So he is well on his way to equaling and/or surpassing Obama and Bush as an imperial president. But ya Obammaaa….

      1. He did invade a country

        You don’t know what that word means.

        1. Yes I do. What he didn’t do is occupy it. But sending armed forces into another country is not an invasion? What an incursion then? A skirmish? Do you really want to parse words on this. Congress has yet to authorize any War in Yemen and yet we are sending troops to die there and for what to protect the Saudi’s who export wahhabism. But I guess principals not principles

          1. Your premises are faulty, and clearly based on a lack of knowledge. One, I was unaware that ‘another country’ apparently equates with a violent rebellion trying to overthrow the national government and the resulting civil war. Is this ‘invasion’ targeting the Hadi government? How odd, it’s not. Two, invasions are long term strategic engagements that require these things called fronts, and active plans to neutralize strategic resources and infrastructure to cripple a nation’s ability to fight. Hmm, I wonder where the American fronts are in this invasion? What national resources and infrastructure have they successful occupied or eliminated? Hmmm, they haven’t, instead they attacked an enemy position in order to acquire intelligence and target specific individuals, then proceeded to withdraw once objectives were complete. In military terms that’s what we call a raid.

            Do you really want to parse words on this.

            No, I prefer to use accurate terms, and not ones clearly intended to invoke emotional responses. You want to call it war? Sure. Because it is one. But screaming ‘invasion’ is to render the word meaningless.

            Did Obama ‘invade’ Pakistan? No, that’s ridiculous. Don’t scream “principals not principles” if you’re ignorant to the concept you’re discussing and just want to play partisan, foot stomping bingo.

            1. Who’s screaming? It was not my intent to invoke emotion only point out quite accurately that Trump has raided (I have no problem with your term) another country without an act of Congress. Would you not agree that a raid is an act of war and requires Congressional approval; despite how Congress has unconstitutional relinquished it’s duties to the president in that department. That was my greater point to Number2’s statement, “But to date, he has not Started a war without congressional approval” .

              1. But he hasn’t started a war, he’s continuing a war that has already been going on. The U.S. military has been assisting the Hadi government since 2015, and they’ve been bombing targets in the region for years before that. The first bombing of Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen was in 2002, and they’ve been ramping up it up since 2010/11.

                This isn’t some new event, this is a product of the media ignoring military action in Yemen for the past couple years for some ‘mysterious’ reason. You can argue that Trump’s wrong for continuing military action in the Yemeni Civil War, but he hasn’t started anything.

              2. YOU are screaming. Now keep it down out there. Damn kids!

              3. Raid is a better term. Commando action. Recon. Hit-and-Run. Along those lines.

                Not invasion though. As John pointed out, invasions involve more than a jump in and jump out type of military action.

      2. Didn’t Obama bomb Yemen?

        The Yemen case is not Trump’s on his own.

      3. Yemen?

        Which was an operation that had already been planned before he took office. I suppose you could fault him for not putting the kibosh on it, but Obama was President during the planning stages and most likely at least knew it was in the works, and didn’t put the brakes on it either. At best Trump is only partly to blame.

        I didn’t vote for Trump and think many of his policy ideas are wrong-headed, but this is weak tea.

        1. Obama was aware of it, but it was put on hold for an extended period while due to tactical considerations, primarily because they were waiting for a moonless night. It’s an entirely fair criticism to point out that the Trump administration ignored that and pushed the mission ahead.

  8. It’s impossible to take any list seriously that has JFK in the top 10. The Baby Boomers and their idiotic Camelot nostalgia can’t die off fast enough.

  9. Holy shit, Chapman takes the idiotic CSPAN ‘Presidential rankings’ seriously. That’s hilarious.

    Here’s a little look behind the curtain:

    There’s two kinds of historians:

    1. Historians who cherry pick sourcing and data to support their pre-determined bias, theory, ideology, etc.
    2. Historians who have been rendered so damn cynical they don’t believe in anything. They drink a lot.

    CSPAN doesn’t poll the second, who at least attempt to be objective (in reality they’ll spent two hours explaining to you why objective history is impossible).

    1. That they put Obama in 12th is preposterous and a joke beyond belief.

      President Potsie belongs way lower than that.

    2. I might add I think the Roosevelt’s may get too much love too. But I can *see* why but according to how view things, they don’t get that much love.

    3. Jackson, Lincoln and FDR would be at or near the bottom of my list for their proven disregard for natural human rights. Washington at the top for willingly turning down power that would have been handed to him on a silver platter if he had accepted it.

      1. I still put Washington at the top or near the top but the Whiskey rebellion was an action that Washington regretted. The tax protestors were violent though and the Constitution spells out the power to tax. A reason to learn from sin taxes but the government never does learn.

  10. What has Trump done that is so out of the ordinary? Put in people that scare idiot progressives without logic or reason? That he signs executive orders like, you know, his predecessors?What about immigration? He said the EXACT same thing as Clinton, Bush and Obama on the matter.

    Like usual, people are reacting to the delivery of the message; not the content. And when they ponder the content they misinterpret it.

    1. “What has Trump done that is so out of the ordinary?”

      Projected a blatant and genuine reality into a decades-old rusty square box filled to the brim with panicky pencil-heads with crushed stone for brains.

      An honest opinion placed directly in the path of these folks is a hulking impediment.

      So, being ordinary and direct is exactly what the fucking president has accomplished that is so ‘out of the ordinary’.

      Perfunctory qualifier: I am no supporter of the Orange Devil- merely one who has no choice but to offer Trump under the penalty of compliance to reams of citizen regulations the same leeway to fuck shit up that I offered Obama under the penalty of compliance to reams of citizen regulations.

      1. Why Reason hasn’t hired you is beyond me.

        1. Probably because he actually holds libertarian ideals

  11. Jackson still comes in first when ranked by ass-whoopin’ ability.

    1. Ass-whoopin ability power rankings
      #1 George “Washington
      #2 Andrew Jackson
      #3 Ted Roosevelt
      #4 Gerald Ford
      #5 George HW Bush/JFK?

      1. There’s a lot of ass-kicking ability in Presidential history. I’d bet on Ford, Washington, and Jackson in some order just out of physical ability, but there’s a ton of guys who know what it takes to bayonet a horse with their musket.

        The bottom is definitely Wilson, the Adamses, Obama, and FDR in some order. BO has always struck me as the type of guy that’s never been punched in the mouth.

      2. Reagan stared the Russians down into collapse without ever firing a shot. JFK telegraphed enough weakness to Khrushchev (documented in Khrushchev’s own journals) that it emboldened the Russians to try and put nukes in Cuba.

        1. Reagan was an actor and rolled over on his colleauges in the HUAC. JFK, while a punk, did win the MOH.

          1. While I’d dispute that JFK was a “punk”, I will point out that he did not receive the MOH; his highest award was the Navy and Marine Corps Medal – a prestigious medal (in order of precedence somewhere between the Silver and Bronze Star medals), but not an MOH.

            1. and if JFK hadn’t been drunk at the wheel of his PT boat he would have never crashed into the Japanese navy vessel thus he wouldn’t of had to save anyone and wouldn’t of been awarded anything. Drunk at the wheel seems to run in the Kennedy family. History would be different if everyone was sober

      3. Not Grant or is this personal physical ability?

  12. I don’t take seriously any presidential list that has FDR ranked 3rd. Maybe they should just stick to historical facts and leave out the commentary.

  13. Hm. It seems that all of the activist presidents that expand the power of the gov’t and presidency are the ones that get high ranking (i.e. Lincoln ((but don’t even get me started on Lincoln)), FDR, Teddy, Wilson, LBJ, etc.) The ones that simply do the job of office and/or reduce the power of the gov’t and presidency (i.e. Coolidge and everyone of whom you’ve never heard) are ranked lower. Curious.

    1. The activist ones are more interesting to write about. Especially if, like most historians seem to, you have a bias towards a big, powerful government.

      There is a distinction to be made between a great president and a good one. The high ranking ones you list are all great in the sense that they did big things and were influential well past their terms. The boring presidents who just did the job and respected the constitution were good presidents, but not great in the way the others were.

      Of course, Hitler, Stalin and Mao were also great world leaders in the sense that I am talking about.

      If you look at it that way, the rankings make more sense.

      1. If you look at it that way, the rankings make more sense.

        I agree with all that. I was merely being facetious in my comment.

  14. #1. G Wash-succeeded while having the hardest job
    #2 T.J.-Understood the job perfectly
    #3 Coolio-Used restraint, while the rest of Govt had itchy fingers
    #4 Eisenhower-Went a little crazy with the cold war became the monster he sought to destroy.
    #5 Monroe-didn’t have the tools or the hubris to screw anything up

  15. Another weak effort from the mind of Chap-Man.

  16. Best Black President?

    Morgan Freeman or The Geico Guy on 24?

  17. The headline, “How Trump Affects the Presidential Rankings,” was misleading. I was expecting an article to investigate Trump’s collaboration with Russians who hacked the rankings.

  18. Poor Buchanan,last again. So just what could Buchanan have done, except cave in to all slaveryocracy demands, to avoid a Civil War or the breakup of the Union?

  19. Glad to see the Lincoln Myth remains firmly intact, sad but predictable.

  20. DAM IT! I thought Reason replaced Chimpman.

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